Transportation
August 21, 2006

Car-less in Vancouver

I first met Alan Durning, the executive director of what was then Northwest Environment Watch, in the mid-90s when he was writing “The Car and the City.”  An enjoyable excursion around the West End turned into a chapter in this still-read book.
That meeting turned into a long-standing relationship.  Northwest Environment Watch turned into the Sightline Institute, and I became a board member.  And this month, the Durning family came back to Vancouver.  Without a car.
That’s actually a pretty big deal, because it’s part of a commitment the entire family has made to living car-free for a year.  So when it came time to think about a family vacation, they had to choose a place all of them could enjoy on foot, bus and bike.
 
Alan came away with some insightful lessons from the experience, and about Vancouver:

Our week was devoted to biking the city, lounging on beaches, kicking our soccer ball in various parks, attending the theater, and visiting kid-oriented shops. Highlights included kayaking at English Bay; the amazing public swimming pools at Kitsilano Beach, Second Beach in Stanley Park, and at Newton in Surrey …; the great mobs of Canadians (most of them seemingly happy, most of them – statistically speaking – unarmed, and all of them covered by health insurance) on the sidewalks and walkways and bikepaths and roller-blading paths of central Vancouver; and, of course, Stanley Park.

He doesn’t shy away from the negatives: 

On the other hand, as Vancouverites take to the streets on foot, the density of pedestrians has created other kinds of markets as well. Drug dealing and aggressive panhandling are definitely becoming a drag on Vancouver’s walkability, as two recent Vancouver Sun articles point out.  

You’ll want to click here to read about the trip, and his subsequent meeting with Mayor Sam Sullivan.

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August 20, 2006

Here’s a revealing editorial from the Langley Times

Caught up in the congestion, Seattle experience shows advantage of rapid transit

By Frank Bucholtz
Aug 16 2006

On many occasions, I have stood up to support expansion of Highway 1 and the Port Mann Bridge.
I continue to do so. There is too much traffic now to delay any longer. However, an experience last week reinforced the importance of ensuring that rapid transit be a part of expansion of the bridge.
At the Gateway Project open house, many Langley residents said they supported the bridge expansion, but also wanted to see rapid transit built down the freeway at the same time. Green Party leader Adriane Carr, who opposes the bridge expansion, also calls for rapid transit down the freeway, with plentiful park and ride lots.
My experience? Last Wednesday, a group of us attended the Real Madrid-D.C. United soccer game at QWest Field in downtown Seattle.
I researched driving, transit and parking options on the Internet, and found that there was a free park and ride at Northgate Shopping Centre in north Seattle, just off Interstate 5. A bus from there would take us directly to the field, while making stops throughout downtown Seattle.
The park and ride lot was easy to find, and parking was plentiful. However, traffic was badly congested on the freeway from a point north of Everett until well past the downtown area, so we didn’t arrive at the lot until just after 6 p.m. No problem — the game was at 8.
It’s important to note that the freeway is four lanes wide (in each direction) from Everett into Seattle. It has been constantly widened over the years, but congestion has followed just as quickly. (Emphasis mine.)
 
The bus we were to take was 20 minutes late arriving at Northgate — likely because of congestion. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. The articulated bus (filled with riders) travelled downtown on the freeway, so we were moving at a crawl amidst the congested traffic.
We finally arrived at the field at 7:30 p.m.
The bus stop for the ride back was quite easy to find. But the traffic congestion because of the game (which attracted 66,000 fans) and a Mariners’ game at the same time was so intense that the bus, which only runs once an hour at that time, was 15 minutes late getting to the stop. It was now 11:20 p.m.
We arrived back at Northgate fairly quickly. But the fun wasn’t over yet. At 12:30 a.m., we got stuck in a horrendous traffic jam between Lynnwood and Everett, because two of the four northbound lanes were closed for paving. It took an hour to get through that mess, because there was far too much traffic at that hour for two lanes to handle.
Had there been a rapid transit line along I-5, from Everett into downtown Seattle, all this could have been avoided. The transit system would not be subject to the vagaries of congestion.
Seattle has chosen to expand its freeway system steadily, as it has grown. The expansion of transit, particularly on rail lines, has come much more slowly. There is now a commuter rail service between Everett and Tacoma, but mainly during rush hour. Most transit is in the form of buses, and they get caught up in the long line-ups of mainly single-occupant cars.
Rapid transit along Highway 1 would ensure that a similar scenario doesn’t happen here.

Bad news, Frank: this scenario is going to happen here. (1) Kevin Falcon, your MLA and Minister of Highways, is determined to widen Highway 1 freeway to eight lanes. (2) There is no intent to build rapid-transit.
The important point of this article is that the writer at least recognizes it won’t work. Seattle tried. Result: “congestion has followed just as quickly.”
Presumably the logical position of the Langley Times now is that the freeway should not be widened unless rapid-transit is guaranteed.
Then we can have an important discussion about what kind of transit – and more importantly, what kind of land use and form of development – should follow.
But at the moment, South of the Fraser is heading for the worst case scenario, and a tragedy as sad as Seattle’s,

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Here’s a cool thought for a hot day:
As far as I can tell, the diverter at Chilco and Robson marked the first traffic calming of its kind in North America.
It was part of a system of miniparks and barriers constructed West of Denman Street in 1973 to discourage short-cutting traffic. Thirty-three years later we can appreciate how literally ground-breaking it was.
A much more detailed story of how it came to be can be found in the current issue of SFU City – the e-magazine of the City Program. You can find it here.

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July 19, 2006

Couldn’t say this better ….

Translink Report: Commuters will abandon transit and take cars
19 July 2006
VANCOUVER – Today the Translink board voted to support the provincial government’s Highway1/ Port Mann Bridge expansion plans, despite its own study that found transit ridership would decrease if the roadway was twinned, said the Livable Region Coalition, a group of concerned citizens, city planners, environmental organizations and transportation experts.
“This is a huge U-turn for the GVRD,” said Ian Bruce, climate change campaigner with the David Suzuki Foundation. “We’re heading down the same congested road as cities like Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, and Toronto.”
If the highway1/Port Mann project goes ahead as planned, Translink staff stated, ridership on the SkyTrain Expo line would decline by as much as 500 trips during the morning rush hour, while the proposed Evergreen Line would lose as much as 5% of its potential commuters. Construction of the Evergreen Line is already in jeopardy due to a lack of funding commitments from the B.C. government. A forecast of lower ridership numbers as a result of Hwy1/Port Mann expansion means operating costs for this line would be more expensive than budgeted for….
“Putting a priority on more roads makes future rapid transit projects like the Evergreen Line less feasible, if not impossible,” said David Fields, Transportation Campaigner with Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC).
The project has yet to go through an environmental assessment and will go before the GVRD board this fall.

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More evidence from Stats Canada that we’re getting what we say we want.
“B.C. Residents Driving Less,” reports today’s Sun: “British Columbians … travelled five billion fewer kilometres in their cars than the year before.”
How come?
A shift to public transit, says TransLink.
Price at the pump, says the B.C. Automobile Association.
Is it possible that we’re seeing the consequences of good local and regional planning? As we build more of our communities with the right combination of density, mix, proximity and transportation choice (the latter a result of the former), we’re getting positive results.
The evidence accumulates in Vancouver: commuter trips are not lengthening, transit use is up significantly, car trips are dropping in the central core, walking and cycling are up dramatically.
Apparently, compact, complete communities with transportation choice – you know, the livable region stuff – actually work.
But then skip over to the business section: “$1-billion development proposed for Abbotsford. Highway interchange would come with retail, commercial and residential project.”
Since the company will construct the interchange on the Trans-Canada Highway in order to service the development, one can pretty much anticipate the design of the components, all separated, all provided with abundant parking.
Apparently, though, this doesn’t work, given the experience of places that have tried it. “Widening and building new highways actually causes, not relieves, traffic congestion in Cincinnati and other major U.S. metropolitan areas. … up to 43 percent of traffic in Greater Cincinnati is caused just by expanding the area’s road network.”
The evidence accumulates: no matter how many billions we spend on nore roads – in fact, because we widen highways and build interchanges – traffic gets worse. In the places we haven’t built freeways and have offered alternatives, things get better.
Check this out, and more, at the Livable Region Coalition site. The link is in the Blogroll on the left.
Update: Clark Williams-Derry at the Sightline Institute weighs in with some well-founded scepticism about those Stats Canada driving figures here.

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