COVID Place making
November 3, 2020

A Brilliant Strategy: Disabling Our Priorities in the Name of the Disabled

Do you see what NPA Park Commissioner Tricia Barker is doing here?

From a Province op-ed:

In Vancouver, the civic government has a “transportation hierarchy” list. I propose we put compromised seniors and people with disabilities at the top of this list and give them first priority. …

For too long we’ve put seniors and people with disabilities last. The city’s “hierarchy of transportation modes” says it will consider the needs and safety of each group of road users in the following order of priority: 1st walking; 2nd cycling; 3rd transit and taxi/shared vehicles, and 4th private auto (Vancouver’s Transportation 2040 condensed plan, Page 13). Seniors and persons with disabilities aren’t even mentioned.

Of course seniors and the disabled aren’t mentioned.  They’re people, not modes of transportation.

Seniors and disabled people* can be walkers, cyclists, transit and vehicle users.  What Barker implies without having to say explicitly is that they’re all dependent car users.  So in order to give them top priority, motordom must be maintained.

On that she is explicit:

As we move forward, let’s make a promise to never take away something that has already been given. … Let’s enact a policy where you can’t take away a necessity because it’s convenient or others may like it.

What are these necessities that can’t be taken away?  Parking.  Road space.  Motordom: the city designed for the car, which, by her argument, seniors and the disabled see as essential.  Hence, any diminishment of motordom is a sign of disrespect.  Their right to easy access everywhere by automobile must be maintained as a first priority – something to be encoded in policy to be used as the basis for planning.

It’s kind of a brilliant strategy: use the disabled to disable progress towards active transportation, towards progress on climate change, towards safer cities and greater choice – all the policies you don’t want to publicly oppose but can frustrate by out-woking the progressives.

Here’s another example:

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PT: We’re in a sudden, massive, global real-life experiment in how we live and move in our cities.  While there is lots of theorizing going on (we’ll now work mainly at home – except when we won’t), the reality on our roads will tell us what we’re really doing.

Here’s an ominous report from New York:

Traffic jams are a familiar sight again in (New York City). “This traffic is just ridiculous,” said one driver waiting to turn onto traffic-choked Morris Avenue in the Bronx. “We live in this neighborhood, it doesn’t make sense for it to be this way.”

Traffic engineer Sam Schwartz, better known as Gridlock Sam, said car traffic is now 85 to 95 percent of pre-pandemic levels.  Truck traffic is at 100 percent, and some days more.

The increase appears even more striking considering that only 15 percent of workers have returned to their Manhattan offices, according to Partnership for New York City.

The biggest problem, experts say, is that many New Yorkers are not yet comfortable riding buses, the subways and commuter railroads again…. “The same thing happened in other parts of the world,” MTA Chairman Pat Foye said. “Riders had a multitude of alternatives to commute into the central business districts, starting with Wuhan and other parts of both Asia and Europe. So it’s not surprising.”

While the scale and complexity of New York is substantially different from us, we do share one thing in common: growth in population and business travel has been accommodated on transit, not through an expansion of road capacity.  There just isn’t a lot of room available on the asphalt to handle even a small shift from transit to car – and, as the report notes, only a small percentage of workers have returned to CBDs and other work spaces so far.  This is not looking good, especially if transit use permanently declines.

It’s easy to forecast one political fallout: there will not be an appetite to take road space away from vehicles if it’s already saturated.  Or worse, to return space reallocated for other uses – notably patios, slow streets, bike lanes, transit priority – to ‘reduce congestion’.

We need a similar update on what’s happening in Metro Vancouver – especially where congestion is emerging, how much and how fast.  It may be more in the suburban and ex-urban parts of the region (what’s it like out there, Abbotsford?) than in the Metro Core.

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Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) are the automotive darling of this century, growing in popularity as safe and secure for occupants, but are killing machines for other vulnerable road users. The SUV rides high above the road to give drivers good visibility.  I have been writing about how SUVs and trucks which make up 60 percent of all vehicle purchases have been responsible for a 46 percent increase in pedestrian deaths.

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 into the vehicle ranking system was halted by opposing automakers. Writer and city planner Angie Schmitt has just written the excellent book  “Right of Way” which details how road deaths in the United States have increased with rising sales of the SUV.

SUVs are also ‘Climate killers’. There has been little progress on reducing  road transport carbon emissions in Europe, comprising 27% of all emissions. While the automobile industry blames regulators for turning away from diesel (lower in carbon but more toxic)  regulators blame the lack of progress on SUVs “driven by carmakers’ aggressive marketing”.

Yet none of these factors have deterred the auto industry in marketing bigger, larger, more den-like SUVs with all kinds of driver assisted systems and even a 38 inch OLED screen.

The Verge’s Andrew Hawkins details his day driving the new 2021 Cadillac Escalade. It is the size of a small boat, nearly 18 feet or 5.5 meters long and nearly 6. 5 feet or nearly two meters high. It is bigger and longer than the model from the previous year and as Mr. Hawkins duly notes, is called by Cadillac ““the largest and longest Escalade ever.

But there’s more.

“Sitting in the driver’s seat, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the outside world — mostly because you can’t see a lot of it. The grille was like a sheer cliffside, obstructing my view several feet out in front of the wheels. An entire kindergarten class could be lined up in front of this vehicle and I wouldn’t see them.”

He used social media to send out images of his three year old son in front of the grill of this SUV to show how impossible it was to see a child in front of this vehicle. Mr. Hawkins also referenced this sobering study produced by WTHR News in Indianapolis last year  which shows how huge the “blind spot” in front of SUVs are. And the Escalade had the longest blind spot. In the horrifying video attached to this article news reporters had a group of crosslegged school children sit down in front of the SUV in a line, and kept adding school children until the driver could see them.

The Escalade had the largest front blind spot of 10 feet, two inches, with the driver sitting in a natural, relaxed position. It took 13 children seated in a line in front of the Escalade before the driver could see the tops of their heads.”

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You have to really like a pollster that uses the word “blunder” in describing driving habits in Canada .

Mario Canseco the principal of Research.Co has just released a new national poll conducted at the end of September with 1,000 Canadians. In the poll, people were asked what driving behaviour was like, and whether it was getting better or worse on Canadian roads. Surprisingly the poll found that people “are expressing a higher level of satisfaction with drivers, and there is a decline on the incidence of specific negative behaviours” on Canadian roads.

The survey found that that the number of people that said drivers in their towns were worse than  five years ago dropped by 8 percent from the same survey in 2019 to 39 percent. A total of 44 percent of survey takers said the quality of drivers had not changed, while 7 percent “believe they are “better” than five years ago”

Mr. Canseco found that Canadians over 55 had a more negative view of driving ability, with half saying driving was worse now. Surprisingly younger drivers in the 35 to 54 year old cohort and the  18 to 34 year old cohort  were more optimistic,with  43 and 20 percent respectively saying drivers were worse today.

Mr. Canseco specifically asked about six driving “blunders” or behaviours including drivers not signalling at a corner, or drivers not stopping at an intersection. Vehicles straddling two parking spots, doing incorrect lane changes, and (real blunders) potentially catastrophic bad driver behaviour requiring veering off the road or stopping abruptly.

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On Thursday, the Eno Transportation Centre presented another of their webinars, this one with an irresistible title:

The webinar hosts three authors from the UCLA Luskin Centre for History and Policy who summarize the results of a just-released study:

We examined a century of programs to reduce congestion and found that several strategies were pursued over and over again in different eras. Los Angeles repeatedly built new street, highway, and transit capacity, regulated drivers and vehicle traffic flows, increased the use of information about traffic conditions, and controlled land use to influence traffic.

So what were the consequences?  No surprise, but here’s the spoiler anyway:

Congestion has been addressed in every era and in numerous ways, but always has returned.

The report gives the details decade by decade – every possibility from expanded road capacity to land use.  Except one:

Congestion pricing … based on proven theory of human economic behavior promoted for a century, proven in application to sectors of the economy other than transportation, and enabled by recent advances in telecommunications technology. It has a proven track record …

Big picture conclusion: except for a handful of cities in the world, congestion (or mobility) pricing is a policy intervention that has often been proposed but never adopted.  Despite the fact it works.  And may be the only thing that does.

TransLink, the Province, Metro Vancouver – they’ve all studied the issue, most recently in 2018 with the Mobility Pricing Independent Commission.  The conclusion was the same: some form of road pricing makes sense.  And then saw the concept under whatever name rejected by most political leaders literally within a day of its release.

Within a few hours of the Eno webinar, there was another Zoomy opportunity to get a local perspective.  A coalition of transportation interests – Moving in a Livable Region – held an all-candidates forum online with representatives from each party:

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Here’s more data showing  that simple changes to speed and design of city roads can make all the difference in reducing pedestrian and cyclist fatalities and serious injury.

Planner Eric Doherty posted this article from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that shows that ‘centreline hardening’ using rubber curbs and bollards at intersections to force drivers to slow down and proceed carefully through intersections  reduces left-turn speeds and increases safety for pedestrians in the intersection.

In the United States pedestrian fatalities have risen 53 percent from 2009 to 2018 and are 17% of all traffic deaths. As over half of Vancouver’s fatalities are with turning movements in intersections, tightening the corner for drivers to proceed slowly would also be safer for pedestrians.

Seattle’s Transportation Engineering champion Dongho Chang has reported out on the implementation of leading pedestrian intervals at forty locations in Seattle.

I have written about Leading Pedestrian Intervals that give pedestrians an advanced green crossing time ahead of car traffic, enabling a pedestrian to be well into the intersection before any driver turning movements through the same space.  The leading interval time is usually between six to eight seconds.  Over 2,200 of these devices  have been installed in New York City which has seen a 56 percent reduction in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities.

In one year Seattle has seen a 33 percent reduction in pedestrian collisions  with the installation of Leading Pedestrian Intervals compared with three years of previous data at the same intersections.

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Everyone knows someone who has been “doored”. That’s the awful mishap that happens when you are riding a bike along a line of parked cars and someone opens a driver’s door and the bike and you make contact with the door. There have been many serious injuries and fatalities that have resulted from this awful, and very avoidable experience. Drivers are simply not trained to look behind before opening the driver door of vehicles when exiting.

Last month the Province of British Columbia increased the fines for opening the door of a parked car when it is not safe to do so to $368, four times the current fine of $81. But the second part, teaching a good method to ensure that drivers specifically checked behind their parked cars before exiting, was not addressed.

Of course the Dutch have already thought about this and have developed the “Dutch Reach”.

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North Van City does it again.  Whenever the City or Park Board of Vancouver looks like they will consider doing something risky – like allowing liquor to be consumed in parks and public spaces – CNV does it first.  Curbside patios?  CNV did it years ago on Lonsdale.

And now as Vancouver just starts the process for the redesign of Beach/Pacific, CNV will redo Esplanade – a six-lane arterial the divides Lower Lonsdale:

The English Bay masterplan is a different kind of project, at a different scale, and definitely not the first time for Vancouver has redone a vehicle-dominant arterial. (Burrard and Hornby Streets!)    But this a major step in Metro for a small municipality to undertake.  Not without some nervousness.

The Esplanade) corridor works fairly well for transit, goods movement and people in passenger vehicles. It is, however, not an optimal experience for people on foot, travelling by bike or for local businesses.

Cycling groups have been adamant the street’s bicycle infrastructure must be improved from the current painted bike lanes sandwiched between the road and the curbside parking.

Coun. Holly Back signaled she would be very protective of parking out front of businesses.  “That’s a major concern for me, having been in business in lower Lonsdale. I totally understand the safety concerns for cyclists and everyone else but those businesses are going to suffer hugely,” she said, adding she hopes the Lower Lonsdale BIA will be included in the consultations. …

Mayor Linda Buchanan said the city depends on the Esplanade corridor for a lot of things and warned that Complete Street Project will have to balance those many needs.

 

“This is as a trucking route. We can’t take trucking off of this. It’s a major road network for TransLink, and we do need to be able to move goods,” she said. “I just want to make sure that when we are engaging with the public that they are very clear on what are the givens for this road – what can change and what can’t change.

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This is a big deal:

Kevin Griffin at The Sun reports on the Parks Board approval of a $2.56 million contract to develop a master plan for the parks and streets from Stanley Park to Burrard Bridge for the next thirty years. Kenneth Chan at The Daily Hive describes the area and issues:

The design firms chosen are impressive: PFS Studio is of Vancouver – known for many years as Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg – partnered with Snøhetta, based in Oslo, well known for their architecture (like Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre).  But unlike that Danish starchitect Bjorke Ingels, they’re also known for a better integration of building with public space.

This promises the production of a masterplan of international caliber, which given the location and opportunity, is to be expected.  Indeed, the challenge (for the Park Board in particular) is to imagine a rethinking of this city/waterfront interface beyond its aesthetic and recreational opportunities for the neighbourhood.  This is city-building, writ big and historic.

It will also be the third major transformation for this stretch of English Bay – first the summer grounds of the coastal peoples; then, from the 1890s on, houses and apartments (left) all along the beachfront, cutting off everything except the sands of English Bay.  For over most of the 20th century, the City purchased and demolished these buildings, even the Crystal Pool, until the by the 1990s there was unbroken green, sand and active-transportation asphalt from Stanley Park to False Creek.

But it was all on the other side of Beach Avenue, a busy arterial that served as the bypass for traffic around the West End – the legacy of the original West End survey in the service of motordom.  For some this will be seen as unchangable.  As the reaction to the Park Board changes this summer on Park Drive revealed, even a modest reallocation of road space diminishing ‘easy’ access for vehicles and the parking to serve them is upsetting to those who associate motordom design with their needs, special and otherwise.

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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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