COVID Place making
September 17, 2020

How do we start limiting congestion NOW?

A challenge question for PT readers:

How should we start to limit congestion before it becomes unacceptable?

There’s a real-life experiment unfolding on our streets – one that will fundamentally affect our future – discussed here in “Our Real World Experiment in Traffic Congestion. “

As people switch from transit to cars, it won’t take much to fill up available road space.  It may only take a 10-15 percent to reach a level of inefficiency and frustration where we reverse the gains we’ve made in this region, notably with transit, in the last half century.   Without response, something has to break, even if we don’t yet know what that level is.  Waiting until we get to a breaking point seems kinda stupid knowing how much more difficult it is to reverse something if instead we can limit it before it happens.

Knowing we will have to slow, stop and reverse a move to post-Covid motordom worse than pre-March, what steps should we take now?

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A report from Global News reporter Nadia Stewart, with a headline that distorts the story:

The protest had three dozen people – surely worth a qualified ‘some’ when the headline starts “Vancouverites upset.”  But that quibble doesn’t matter when judged against the absence of data and other points of view (like, say, comments from passing cyclists).  Importantly, the video story was supplemented in the online print version, where reporter Simon Little provided important information:

Vancouver Park Board manager Dave Hutch says about 93 per cent of Stanley Park Drive is open to vehicles, and that about 70 per cent of parking in the park remains open.

He said after talks with the city’s disability advisory committee, the board also added 10 new handicapped parking spaces.

“We’re seeing that the park and parking is nowhere near capacity this year. The busiest day was in mid August, we had 63 per cent capacity. We would expect about 90 per cent in August,” he told Global News.

Still, impact-wise, the protesters had the visuals and screen time.  There have been demanding that Park Drive be restored to two lanes for cars and have all the parking returned – in other words, back to the standards of mid-century Motordom.  That’s what we did in the post-war decades, and the roads of Stanley Park were designed accordingly: a transportation system where cars are given most of the space, there are no separated bike lanes (cars and bikes fight it out for priority), parking is provided in excess, and the seawall has to accommodate the crowding of all active transport users.

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CBC Science reporter Emily Chung writes for CBC’s excellent “What On Earth?”  podcast and weekly newsletter that  explores environmental issues.

Last week I spoke to Dr. Chung and we pondered an interesting question~why are we not connecting the fact that slower speeds on highways and cities are also a way to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution?

As Dr. Chung writes “According to Natural Resources Canada, driving a vehicle with an internal combustion engine at 120 km/h burns 20 per cent more fuel than driving at 100 km/h. An Ontario law that requires trucks to install technology to limit their speed to 105 km/h was estimated to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 4.6 megatonnes between 2009 and 2020. That’s largely because air resistance increases exponentially at higher speeds, reducing a vehicle’s fuel efficiency and generating more pollution per kilometre.”

I have already written about  The Netherlands where under European law nitrogen oxide emissions must be mitigated before roads, housing and airports are built. In order to build 75,000 new dwelling units this year, the Dutch government lowered daytime highway speeds. In the Netherlands 50 kilograms of nitrogen compounds per hectare  are released into the environment annually  where the average in the rest of the  European Union (EU)  is 15 kilograms per hectare.

The  EU is restricting levels of air pollutants based upon World health Organization targets, and in the Netherlands 11 percent of nitrogen compounds come from vehicular traffic. It made sense to reduce that to meet pollution targets.

It is NOT the chemical element of nitrogen that is the issue but the chemical compounds created when oxygen or hydrogen is added. As DW.com reportsAmmonia contaminates groundwater and nitrogen oxides contribute to respiratory diseases and, according to the European Environment Agency, were responsible for 68,000 premature deaths across the EU in 2016.”  

 I wrote about the new handbook put out by NACTO (the National Association of City Transportation Officials) that recommends the adoption of slower speeds in cities to make them less deadly  and more livable. While the handbook has great data, it does not include any correlation between speed and increased emissions. The handbook does point out that 2018 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that speed factored into 25 percent of all fatal crashes that year.

It is people like Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou, Canada research chair in Transportation and Air Quality at the University of Toronto who is leading the way in making the connection for North Americans. Dr. Hatzopoulou points out that it is  not only speed that factors into nitrogen oxide  emissions but speed changes in accelerating and braking.

Dr. Fred Wegman,  an emeritus professor of traffic safety at Delft University of Technology is  credited as a  developer of the “safe systems” approach to road management and recognized as such at the 2019 International Road Safety Symposium in Vancouver.

By adopting principles aimed at recognizing the safety of all road users, The Netherlands experienced a 49 percent reduction in road fatalities.

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Berlin has been struggling with what to do with SUVs (sport utility vehicles) especially after four people were mowed down by one in September 2019. As the Tagesspiegel reports, the Berlin Green party now wants to charge more for parking permits for SUVs in Berlin. These vehicular behemoths narrow down streets and their bulk gobble up more than their fair share of available parking spaces.

Just as in North America, Berlin estimates that of the 1.2 million cars registered in the city most of them just sit on the street waiting for an average of 23 hours daily. By basing the fee for a resident parking permit on the size and weight of a vehicle, the price could be 500 Euros a year, roughly equivalent to $785 Canadian dollars. A smaller more efficient vehicle could get the same parking pass for 80 Euros (125 Canadian dollars). Parking passes are currently only 10 Euros, about 15 Canadian dollars.

It was also felt that the higher annual permit parking cost would be a deterrent to SUV ownership in the city.

Of course SUV owners were outraged at the suggestion of such a high parking tax, and as one association noted “It is doubtful that the size of the car and the income of the vehicle owner go hand in hand. The renunciation of the car should not be forced through prices, especially since there are many people in the city who depend on the car and short distances to the car”.

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It’s no secret that while over 60 percent of North American vehicle purchases are for SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles) or trucks there has been a 46 percent rise in pedestrian deaths directly attributable to these larger vehicles on the road.

Between 2009 to 2016 single vehicle crashes involving  SUVs striking pedestrians increased 81 percent, more than any other type of vehicle.

SUVs with the high front end grille are twice as likely to kill pedestrians because of the high engine profile. This information has not been well publicized. Indeed in  the United States a federal initiative to include pedestrian crash survival rates into the vehicle ranking system was halted by opposing automakers.

As Great Britain negotiates a new transatlantic trade agreement the lack of oversight on SUVs and the spike in pedestrian injuries and deaths in United States  road crashes has meant that the vehicles must meet British standards.

As the BBC reports,  the  British Parliamentary Advisory Committee on Transport Safety has written to the Trade Secretary saying: “We are concerned that pressure for lower safety standards will be applied in negotiations regarding the automotive sector.US vehicle safety standards are much lower than those permitted for vehicles sold in the UK.”

The president of the Global New Car Assessment Program,  David Ward, was even blunter.“US crash standards are much lower for pedestrians… we simply can’t let American vehicles into the UK if they don’t meet our standards.”

In Europe Ford has publicly stated that they will not bring vehicles into the continent that do not meet European and British regulations.  If they did, crash barriers that are designed for the continent’s standard vehicles would have to be upgraded for the larger American style SUV.

It’s no surprise that Matt Blunt, president of the American Automotive Policy Council, tried a positive spin in saying that the safety standards that are used in the United States would be equivalent to those used in Europe and Great Britain.

What appears to be needed is a design change  according to the  Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

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We seem obsessed with bigger is better in vehicle purchases, with over 1.4 million sport utility vehicles (SUVs)  and crossovers sold in the first three months of 2018 in the United States. The SUV is a vehicle built on a truck platform, while a crossover is a unibody construction on a car platform, and is supposed to be more maneuverable and parkable. Both of these are large vehicles and are outselling sedans.

Trucks and SUVs comprise 60 percent of new vehicle purchases in the United States.  From 2009 to 2016 pedestrian deaths have risen 46 percent and are directly linked to the increase of these larger vehicles on the road.

Statistics show that SUVs with the high front end grille are twice as likely to kill pedestrians because of the high engine profile, but this information has not been well publicized. In the United States a federal initiative to include pedestrian crash survival rates into the vehicle ranking system was halted by opposing automakers.

When a SUV hits a pedestrian the vehicle hits a person’s internal organs; in a lower profile vehicle or sedan the vehicle is striking at the knees. SUVs also have more  powerful engines and SUV drivers exhibit riskier higher speed behaviours which researcher Kelcie Ralph says is an ongoing trend in North American culture.

We’ve seen cities like Berlin actively discuss banning SUVS after  a SUV driver in Berlin lost control of his vehicle and killed four people on a sidewalk, a grandmother and grandson and two twenty year old men.

Think about how radical even suggesting a municipal  ban on  SUVs  is~car manufacturers design vehicles for the safety of the occupants, not for the safety of a vulnerable road user  that might be crashed into  and killed by the vehicle. Talking about banning these killing machines is a  new way at looking at the problem and a 180 degree shift from what vehicle manufacturers have been saying for over 100 years.

The auto industry has historically maintained that vehicle drivers are not the problem, but  pedestrians are.

Look at the creation of the class laden word “jaywalker” first used in 1917 to describe  “an idiot, dull, rube, unsophisticated, poor, or simpleton”. A jaywalker described someone who was “stupid by crossing the street in an unsafe place or way, or some country person visiting the city who wasn’t used to the rules of the road”.

Today the jaywalker myth is perpetuated in “educational” campaigns that say  pedestrian distraction is a function in pedestrian deaths. Studies prove that it is not, although the focus on saying pedestrian distraction is a problem takes the onus off the real culprit~the automobile manufacturers and the vehicle drivers.

This compendium report by the New York City Department of Transportation shows that while pedestrians using a mobile device walk slower and increase their crossing time, they are still faster crossing than those walking in group or senior citizens. Instead New York City is targeting drivers’ unsafe speed or behaviours by expanding their speed camera program, undertaking street safety redesign, and installing leading pedestrian intervals.

And this research review just published in Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives shows that one-third of transportation planners erroneously think distracted walking is a problem and want to support pedestrian education campaigns instead of slowing speeds. The report authored by  Dr. Kelcie Ralph and  Dr. Ian Girardeau show that headphones do not impact walking and that distracted people are actually more likely to stay in the crosswalk.

Talking on the phone or texting while walking has the same impact as the perceptions of  a person over 65 crossing the street. In their review, Dr.  Ralph and Dr. Girardeau found that the people  most likely to be hit crossing the street were people that could not change their crossing speed.  There is no correlation between distracted use of the phone and deaths in studies in campus towns where cell phone use is rampant. As  Dr. Ralph states “Beware of publication bias and hype” that prefers to victim blame.

As the researchers  point out:  “Concern about distracted walking detracts attention from more deadly risk factors, more effective policy approaches, and, most importantly, is inconsistent with the ethos of making streets safe for all users,

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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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