COVID Place making
December 23, 2020

A Concrete Transformation of Beach Avenue

Curbs are being poured along Beach Avenue from Stanley Park to Hornby Street.

The City approved this permanent change from cones to concrete after a few months of consultation – albeit a ‘temporary’ permanent change, subject to the English Bay master plan currently under design by PFS Studio and Snøhetta.

 

These interventions also deal with some of the confusion and conflict resulting from this fast pandemic response in the spring when bikes were removed from the seawall.  Cyclists tended to ignore stop signals primarily designed for vehicle traffic – so now the crossings provide clarity, safety and a slowing down of two-wheelers.  (Hopefully eye-level signals for bikes will be installed where necessary.)

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Jon Burke, the London Councillor for Hackney responded to Britain’s plan to ban all gas and diesel vehicle sales by 2030 by pointing out that this only addressed  half the issue.

In an opinion piece  in the Huffington Post, Mr. Burke reminded that it was not gasoline powered vehicles that destroyed communities but the presence and use of the vehicles themselves.

Outstanding issues remain with continued private vehicle use regardless of how it is powered.  Those issues include congestion, speed, automotive pollution, and the fact that the trend to larger SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles) means more road fatalities.

This view is counter to that of many of the electric vehicle companies, who perceive the change away from the ICE (internal combustion engine) as being the way to continue manufacturing vehicles. As technology becomes self driving, it has also been thought that autonomous vehicles will provide transport for seniors, who need to retire from driving vehicles.

Mr. Burke quotes Jane Jacobs from the book Dark Age Ahead  who stated

“Not television or illegal drugs but the automobile has been the chief destroyer of American communities”.

It’s been suggested that the invention of the affordable automobile is the 20th century device that most shaped cities, to the point that car use factors into how we perceive space, time, independence and ourselves.

While we are in the second wave of the Covid pandemic in Vancouver, an article written by Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail in June showed that one-third of those surveyed expected to take transit less and use a vehicle more. The need for physical distancing and worries about  the proximity of people on transit has translated in a new reliance on the private vehicle.

That new adaptation of car use for personal virus bubble protection is part of a trend in Canada that has seen bigger vehicles dominate the market. As Matt Bubbers in the Globe and Mail notes nearly 75 percent of all vehicles sold in this country are “light trucks” inclusive of SUVs.  Cars, pickups, SUV’s and cube vans also contribute to nearly 50 percent of all GHG emissions from transportation. Large “heavy-duty” vehicles make up a further 35 percent of GHGs with rail transport contributing 3.8 percent and motorcycles .2 percent.

There has been an increasing tie-in with  private vehicle ownership and wealth. The SUV with higher seats, all terrain capability is marketed with a rugged persona, and available from all vehicle manufacturers. In North America Ford  will no longer sell cars, just trucks and the very profitable SUVs.

While using electric vehicles is noble, it still does not address the issue of congestion and the deadly statistics with SUVs.  Statistics show that SUVs with the high front end grille are twice as likely to kill pedestrians because the higher engine profile is a driver’s blind spot and directly damages pedestrians’ vital organs,  but this information has not been well publicized.

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It’s all out in public now:

Updated Interim Design: Room to Move- Beach Avenue

Work starts soon on new features along Beach Avenue to improve access for people walking, taking transit and driving while maintaining the two-way protected bike path and increased walking space.

  • Improved pedestrian crossings at key locations
  • Eastbound travel restored for vehicles and transit between Denman St and Jervis St. following completion of other project elements
  • Replacing traffic cones with sturdier and harder-to-move concrete barriers
  • Working with the Park Board to provide accessible parking in the waterfront parking lot near Bute St
  • Retention of the two-way protected bike path

Construction starts in December.

Notice the difference between the City and the Park Board.  No theatrics.  Interim but satisfactory.  Another step forward.

Jeff Leigh went to take a look:

Very happy to see the confirmation that it will remain to Park Lane, with one way westbound vehicles, so the rat running through Park Drive from the causeway will not dump onto Beach.

Inspected the site work today, and the widths look reasonable.  Not always as wide as it is now, but not cramped down – except at some crossings, where the median islands (safer crossings for those walking) mean potential pinch points for people cycle.  We will watch that one as they proceed.

 

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When I first heard about the proposal for ‘Transport Pricing’ in the City of Vancouver’s Climate Emergency Action Plan that went to council a few weeks ago, I thought, sorry, that’s a lost battle.

The political capital required to start ‘taxing the road’ is so high, reports that recommend it – like this one – are typically dead on arrival.  As elections approach, political leaders jump over each other to reject anything that looks, sounds or smells like a toll.  Here’s Bowinn Ma from the NDP, passing along the blunt words from John Horgan (who won the 2017 election by taking tolls off the Port Mann): “I have to be clear: it (congestion pricing) is not in our platform … and John Horgan has stated very clearly today that it would not be supported by our government …”

Not that it matters.  Congestion charging as it has been demonstrated in a handful of cities so far, notability Singapore and London, is way out of date – so 20th century.  Using gantries, cameras, IED passes and other visibly intrusive technology to establish a geographic cordon for pricing entry and exit for one particular part of a region will never pass the fairness test.  Why wouldn’t we include other places – for instance, the North Shore – where congestion is bad and getting worse?  (Minimally, there will have to be ‘discussion’ among the municipalities on either side of Lions Gate Bridge.)

Again, so much more political capital required.  Add in an equity requirement*, and good luck in getting a majority vote.  That’s why so few cities have done it.

So I was impressed when Council, by a bare majority, voted to support the part of the report that had actually recommended Transport Pricing (despite media, and my own, perception of what was being proposed).  Staff, having played in this rodeo a few times before (a previous report listed 14 examples), really wanted one key thing from council:  ‘Authorize us to develop a road map that will get us to Transport Pricing (TP).  Do not take it off the table, ship it off to the region, qualify it into irrelevance or remove any deadline for response’ – and that’s what they got.

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This one is definitely worth getting up early for: Here’s a great discussion about Vision Zero or the Safe Systems Approach and the data behind it. In the United Kingdom 20 miles per hour or 30 kilometres per hour road speeds are being universally adopted as residential municipal speeds. And to those that say signage alone will not slow traffic, this panel begs to differ~it was Rod King in Great Britain that showed that 85 percent of traffic slowed to the posted speed on signage alone in neighbourhoods.

USE OF DATA TO SUPPORT SAFE  SYSTEMS

The safe system approach combines strategies and actions that are demonstrated by evidence to improve road safety faster and to a greater degree compared to more traditional approaches to road safety. Data can play many roles in the development, monitoring and evaluation of an appropriate road safety program for your city based on the Safe System and Vision Zero. This webinar will present an overview of how data is used in Sweden, the pioneer country of Vision Zero, as well as other examples, such as Colombia, and will invite questions about how to make the most of the data available in their cities.

This webinar will be conducted in English with simultaneous translation into Portuguese and Spanish. Professor Fred Wegmann, an early developer of the Safe Systems Approach will be one of the speakers.

Date: Thursday November 19, 2020

Time: 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time

To register please click on this link.

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The Cities Health and Active Transportation Research Team  (INTERACT) led by the very capable Dr. Meghan Winters is known for studying the important intersection between active transportation and population health in cities.

The team is looking at an important question~Can urban design changes in our neighbourhoods make us healthier and happier?

In a study led by INTERACT,  researchers at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia, in collaboration with the City of Vancouver and scientists across Canada are examining that question.

In 2018 the team  launched a five-year study to uncover how the development of Vancouver’s Arbutus Greenway is impacting physical activity, social participation, and well-being of nearby residents, and whether these impacts are felt equally across different socioeconomic groups.

You are invited to participate, on two on-line data surveys and join a national community of scientists, urban planners, public health experts, and engaged citizens with a common interest in designing healthier cities for all.

Please click this link for more information.

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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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Translation: Will the increase in people working at home mean we’ll drive less?

Answer: Apparently not.

Here’s a summary from the terrifically named Center for Advanced Hindsight:

While there may be less commuting, there will be more local trips for shopping and, no doubt, Zoom breaks.

There’s another big implication that’s not mentioned: possibly less congestion during the traditional drive times, but heavier traffic throughout the day.  More accidents too, I’d bet.  And more conflict in how we allocate or reapportion road space.  (In other words, bike lane wars.)

The real-time experiment as a consequence of the pandemic in how we manage our transportation network shouldn’t be wasted.  Minimally we should be measuring and reporting on the day-to-day changes that are occurring out there (as discussed here in “How do we start limiting congestion NOW?“)  and then trying out different options so we don’t lose the gains we’ve made even as we respond to the ‘climate emergency’.

(Of course, ‘climate emergency’ is not a concern of the Park Board apparently, which showed how easy it is to succumb to the desire to go back to ‘just the way it was.’   Even though we never can and never should.)

 

 

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The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) presents a two day on-line event that is free with registration.

The 2020 AARP Livable Communities Transportation Workshop is a virtual gathering of AARP staff, volunteers, community partners and livability practitioners.

This national workshop will explore transportation options that improve health; support vibrant neighborhoods; and connect people to economic, social and civic opportunities in their communities.

Through three core transportation themes — Safety, Accessibility and Resilience — the workshop will share best practices, insights and inspiring next steps for delivering a more effective transportation network for older adults and people of all ages.”

The keynote address is by Toks Omishakin the Director of  California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

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