Motordom
June 29, 2020

Survey Gives Green Light to Vehicular Speed Cameras in British Columbia

During the Covid Crisis and the last three months of working from home, there’s been one surprising constant~traffic on roads has significantly lowered in volume but drivers are travelling much faster.

Last  May  Vancouver Island’s  Saanich Police impounded 16 vehicles for speeding in four weeks compared to 2 impounds in the same period last year. All were going more than 40 kilometres an hour over the posted speed limit. In April Coquitlam RCMP stopped 12 vehicle drivers for speeding in a two week period, including one driver that was travelling 50 kilometres an hour faster than the posted speed limit. The Province’s public safety minister Mike Farnsworth stated “It’s really quite shocking”.

I have been writing about my personal experience in Switzerland where speed is rigidly enforced by camera technology with some surprising results. Enforced slower speeds (the maximum travel speed is 120 km/h and that is rigidly enforced) has made Swiss motorways the safest according to the European Transport Safety Council.  In 2019 there were 187 road deaths in Switzerland with a population of 8.57 million. In 2018 in  British Columbia with a population of 5.071 million people there were 314 road fatalities.

Mario Canseco’s Research Co.  has been gauging attitudes to speed camera technology in  British Columbia and the results may surprise you. After following these trends for two years, Mario observes:

“In 2020, we continue to see a high level of support across the province for four different types of automated speed enforcement. Seven in 10 British Columbians (71%) approve of using fixed speed cameras. These devices stay in one location, measure speed as a vehicle passes and can be placed in school zones or on other roads. This year’s findings are remarkably consistent with what the province’s residents told us in the 2018 survey (71%) and in the 2019 poll (69%).”

And in terms of the reintroduction of intersection cameras which record high speeds through intersections 70% of  those surveyed supported them. The Province has has already issued over 20,000 tickets for this type of intersection speeding.

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How many times will we go through this?

Hornby Bike Lane.  Burrard Bridge Bike Lanes (three times).  Point Grey Road.

Same arguments – Carmageddon and business catastrophe confidently predicted – and the same results: no serious negative consequences and a better, healthier city.  And once the temporary bike lanes are in, as Commissioner John Coupar noted, we don’t go back.

There’s an obvious reason for that which, oddly, he didn’t articulate: they worked.  They helped build the city we said we wanted.   (Which, if John has his way, will stop at the borders of our parks.)

Last night before the Board of Parks and Recreation Board, it was the same old debate with a twist.  For those who want to return to the way it was, it’s a fight now on the side of the marginalized, the people who, they say, need most of the asphalt in the park to provide access and parking – meaning by default full Motordom for all, forever.  Definitely what Lord Stanley had in mind.

But here’s the one piece of new information that came out that really is important, by way of Park Commissioner Dave Demers: Park Board staff estimate visitation within Stanley Park is up by 50 percent since May 1.  They have counted 350,000 cyclists over the last 67-day period, compared to about 60,000 vehicle trips in the same period last year, a quarter of which were thought to be using Park Drive as a shortcut to bypass the Causeway. Motor vehicles, in other words, were 17 percent of all trips with something involving wheels.

That increase is extraordinary.  And that’s without tourists in the mix.

But what those opposed to providing a separate lane on the drive seem to ignore is this, at least if they presume much of that increase can be accommodated on the seawall:

A shot from the late 1990s prior to the construction of the Seaside Greenway’s separated lanes and still the condition of some parts of the seawall around Stanley Park.

Inducing congestion on the seawall by trying to avoid vehicle congestion on the drive is going to have some unpleasant consequences.

I was wondering whether the NPA commissioners would have anything positive to say about the need to accommodate this desired growth in walking and cycling in a harmonious way.  But no.  The NPA has made a calculated decision to appeal for the support of people who work up a lather in condemnation of taking space from vehicles – people like Nigel Malkin, quoted here in a CBC story:

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As someone who has been doing presentations on the physical form of Vancouver and how it has changed, I’ll admit I’m guilty of misrepresentation.  A statistical sample of my images would show the city as seen on its sunny days, which, I think we might all agree, would not reflect its meteorological reality.

So here’s some balance: two views of the Beach Flow Way, one from June 5, the other from June 13, from the same view over Sunset Beach, with appropriate soundtracks from Bach.

A lot less bikes on rainy days (duh).  But the same may be true here for cars.

Thanks to PT music director, Andrew Walsh. 

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As the debate heats up and polarizes on how Stanley Park should allocate road space while accommodating everyone in a time of pandemic, here’s the bigger question:

Does access for the disabled and seniors require ‘Full Motordom’ – the default 20th-century road-and-parking design that gave us auto-dependence?

Here are several examples of Motordom design from the park, including this one:

The roads are designed almost exclusively for driving – banked and angled curves, no stop signs, unaligned crosswalks, limited sidewalks.  Of course, no bike lanes.

Some park commissioners and supporters have a new line of defense to prevent change: Motordom is necessary to provide access for the disabled and seniors (who are presumed to be car-dependent), while at the same time implying or accusing those who desire a more balanced approach of demanding a car-fee Stanley Park.  They’re not and it isn’t.

 

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PT: With respect to the future of urban transportation, we are in a fragile moment: the pandemic has resulted in some very bad consequences (a crash in transit use), some good trends (a growth in cycling) and some dangerous possibilities (Motordom Redux).

In the next few months, local government in particular will have to decide whether the temporary responses (like slow streets and flow lanes) become permanent, whether past commitments (like the Granville Bridge greenway) will be sustained, or whether it will all be swept away in a wave of single-occupancy vehicles and an attempt to accommodate their demands.

A survey Mustel Group conducted for the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade showed that 36 per cent of respondents in Metro Vancouver said they plan to increase their car use or ownership because of the pandemic.

These trends and choices are, like the pandemic itself, a global condition, as described in The Economist (registration required):

Cycling is one industry that probably won’t need any bail-outs.

Where statistics are available, they show huge rises in bicycle use across Europe and America. In Switzerland, the number of kilometres cycled since early March has risen by 175% (and fallen by 11% for trams). In Philadelphia cycling is up by 151%; usage of New York’s bike-share scheme rose by 67% in March, year-on-year. Even in Copenhagen, the two-wheel capital of the world, Jens Rubin, of Omnium Bikes, says his shop has been “busier than ever”; sales doubled in April and May compared with the same months in 2019. In March sales of bikes in America increased by about 50% year-on-year, according to NPD, a market-research firm.  …

Western governments are seizing on cycling’s big moment to try to make such temporary measures permanent. Because social distancing is likely to endure for months, or even years, public transport won’t return to normal soon; it may never do so. So the bike will remain an essential tool in many countries’ strategies to taper their lockdowns. As the French environment minister, Elisabeth Borne, put it, “the bicycle is the little queen of deconfinement” …

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Everyone has been enjoying bluer skies, better views, great sunsets and better air quality with the reduction of vehicular and air traffic during the Covid crisis. ,Mount Everest is visible from the city of Kathmandu for the first time this century, even though it is 240 kilometers away.

In short, air quality has vastly improved in cities during the time of quarantine. BBC News reports that vehicle drivers are also willing to change their behaviour to maintain cleaner air and to be more environmentally prudent.

In Britain the lack of vehicular traffic resulted in a  17%  reduction in carbon dioxide emissions  recorded in  early April. Surface emissions from industry and brake dust were reduced by 43 percent.

In a survey of 20,000 drivers conducted by the British Automobile Association, fifty percent said they were willing to walk more, and forty percent intended to use their car less frequently. Remarkably 80 percent of those drivers surveyed said they would “take some action to reduce their impact on air quality”.

Just as in the national  Canadian survey  conducted by  Mario Canseco,  many Britons expect to continue working from home. While 73 percent  of Canadians expect to continue to  work from home, 25 percent of Britons driving said they would work more often from home, while twenty percent said they would be cycling more.

Edmund King, president of the British Automobile Association stated

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Sandy James and I were both struck by Daphne Bramham’s recent column in The Sun.  She asked the question many have been wondering:

By the end of May, Seattle will have permanently banned cars from more than 30 kilometres of city streets, making permanent a temporary response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s imperative that people maintain physical distance.

In Vancouver? The city has closed a single street — Beach Avenue along English Bay — and parking lanes on 10 streets to allow space for people to wait to enter the few stores that are open. …

While other jurisdictions have acted boldly and swiftly, Vancouver council’s pandemic response has been slow and muddled.

It’s true, there’s not a lot of overt enthusiasm from Council on reallocating street space, even when it seems to be a win-win-win: good for local community, climate change, active transport and good health.  Council is supportive of all that, of course; they’re just not rah-rah.  Maybe it’s too Visiony, too associated with different politics and priorities. Urban design is not the Mayor’s forte.

It’s not that Council has failed to articulate its ambition.  With recognition of a climate emergency and the approval of Six Big Moves, Council committed to accelerating things we coincidentally need to do now to respond to the covid emergency.  Here’s what they moved just one year ago:

That Council accelerate the existing sustainable transportation target by 10 years, so that by 2030, two thirds of trips in Vancouver will be by active transportation and transit …

The pandemic response seemed the obvious time to compress that 10-year commitment into a month.  And it looked, briefly, that the City and Park Board were on their way.  In what seemed like a weekend (but must have involved a lot of preliminary planning), Park Drive in Stanley Park and Beach Avenue were turned into flow ways with cones, signs and not much consultation.

But in the weeks that followed, except for a few queuing lanes in commercial zones … not much.

As Daphne noted, that required ignoring a lot of what was happening in the rest of the world.

All through March and April, city after city announced a slow or open street strategy of some kind.  From Oakland to Milan, from Edmonton to Seattle, Vancouver was practically surrounded by ambitious plans and responses.  Yet in that time, no enthusiastic embrace from the Mayor of Vancouver, even when the mayors of Toronto and New York, after initial tepid responses, came back with more ambitious agendas for immediate action.  Not Vancouver.

Little response emerged from City Hall until late April when, surprisingly*, NPA councillor Lisa Dominato came forward with a call for action – and a motion to instruct staff to do two big things:

  • Expedite identifying and implementing reallocations of road space
  • Come back in the fall 2020 with options for mobility and public realm use.

The motion made it on to the agenda on Tuesday, May 12, with a briefing before the final vote expected on Wednesday.  CBC reported:

At Wednesday’s city council meeting, conducted via conference call, senior Vancouver staffers mapped out a vision for “short-term actions for long-term transformations” of city streets in response to the health crisis.

The coming weeks will see 50 kilometres of Vancouver roads designated as “slow streets” with traffic-calming measures to promote walking, rolling and cycling, while other side streets could be closed to car traffic altogether to make way for temporary plazas.

An easy vote, one would think – an opportunity for Council to reinforce the city’s leadership in sustainable transportation.  Vancouver has been a world leader in what are now called complete, open or slow streets – from the traffic calming in the 1970s, to the greenways and bikeways of the 1990s, to the reallocation of street space on bridges and arterials in the 2000s.  We had the experience, the staff and the political will – and here was a chance for the Mayor and Council to make their mark.

Instead, when the motion finally came up for debate, hours were taken up addressing the issue in the Downtown East Side, a neighbourhood that,

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Traffic went effectively overnight to nothing at all.   Didn’t expect that.

But what now?  Will it return to previous levels – maybe even drop a little, given that so much else has changed, from working at home to not working at all.

Or will a significant percent of people, fearful of transit, take their cars and compete for the remaining space.  Result: congestion city.

In this real-time experiment we now live in, we can watch from day to day to see what happens.  For instance, here’s the Causeway on Friday, May 15 in the afternoon.

Better yet, check the video.

Then take a guess as to which way it’s going to go.

 

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As a consequence of flattening the covid curve:

… we’ll also have to flatten these curves:

The hand-drawn chart above reveals the obvious: the morning and evening rush-hour peaks coming in and out of the CBD. Even though the chart was done in the late-1970s, the TV helicopters tell us it’s still true twice a day.  At least they did until March 16.

Of course there has been one big change: there are less cars coming into the CBD than a half century ago:

Why is that green line below the blue one?  Transit mainly.  No SkyTrain or Frequent Transit Network back before Expo 86 – and since then, the region has largely accommodated growth in transportation demand by expanding transit supply.  That allowed the existing road network to serve a larger population, increased jobs and more demands without having to build a lot more road space.

Simply put: without transit, the road system doesn’t work.  Transit was our way of both serving population growth and taming motordom without having to build and expand the freeway and arterial network.  It didn’t reduce congestion very much (as any commuter will attest) since drivers took advantage of a free good – road space – and pretty much filled it to the maximum anyway.

So what happens post-covid? Here’s a simple thought experiment, based on nothing but speculation.  (That’s why PT asked for someone to model this.)

Transit has seen a drop in ridership of 80 percent.  Past experience, even today in China, tells us that it will take some time for ridership to recover.  And even if it does, there will be a lot less capacity to accommodate transit users, given the need for physical distancing.

Let’s be generous and say half the riders in that 80 percent drop return to transit.  The other half decide to drive.  They’ll certainly have the rationale: transit can be crowded and contagious, cars are clean and spacious, gas is cheap and roads are free.

There are also pluses and minuses to consider: how many will work from home, or not have any work to commute to?  How much road space, particularly curb lanes, will be repurposed, especially to allow more distancing for pedestrians, cyclists and restaurant patios?  How many job locations will disperse from the centre (and will that alleviate or worsen congestion)?

But here’s the critical question: what will be the impact on the roads and bridges of those additional numbers that do begin to commute by car, who will be competing for the modest amount of free road space available, especially if they all want it at roughly the same time?

Well, we should soon find out.

For that matter, it won’t be just commuters in vehicles.  Commuters in trains too.

Top state and city officials (in New York) are already contemplating the need for radically different routines, including transit systems with limits on occupancy for trains and buses. That could require staggered shifts for millions of workers.

I don’t know that it’s going to be possible to have rush hours,” said Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates commuter trains to and from Manhattan.*

There really is only one practical way to address the resulting congestion, whether on trains, buses, roads or sidewalks.

Don’t have rush hour.  Flatten that traffic curve.

If in the short term, there’s going to be a net increase in driving, the best case would be a redistribution of traffic across the day and across the network.  Yes, it could in theory be done by road and transit pricing connected to apps that allow people to make informed decisions, adjusted as needed to flatten whatever peaks emerge (somewhat like flattening the covid curve to make sure hospitals are not overwhelmed).

But that assumes a social and political consensus (and the technology) to intervene, to rethink our priorities, make radical changes in how we live our lives, manage our transportation systems and respond to the previously unimaginable. A very unlikely scenario.

Except we just did.

 

*Why the Path to Reopening New York City Will Be So Difficult

 

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Cities large and small are moving to create a network of streets for the same reason – as reported in the Seattle Times:

SDOT will evaluate streets based on whether they reach dense areas, allow people to stay close to home and keep parks from getting crowded, among other factors.

Seattle, some say, is following a movement of ‘open streets’ that started in Oakland.  Now it’s global.

But Vancouver, once a leader, is trailing. Council will have to decide on May 12 whether we will catch up

It may be the best pre-emptive move cities can take to shore up the barriers against another tide of Motordom – a return to vehicles, only more of them, being driven more often, to more places.   Confronted with congestion of their own making, many will want to have more road space to drive.

But if those same people experience the convenience and enjoyment of their own neighbourhood streets when they’re on foot and bike, they’ll fight to keep them.

 

 

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