Governance & Politics
December 29, 2007

Cool Stuff, TransLink division

This popped up in the email a few weeks ago from Dan Freeman, a transportation planner at TransLink:

I know it may come as a shock to some of you, but cool things do happen at TransLink…
We’ve been doing some playing around with Google Earth as a platform for displaying passenger load profile data for almost a year now… One of my colleagues (Graeme Brown) devised a way to display our passenger load data in kml – the programming language for Google Earth. It allowed us to create some really cool 3D load profiles. We’re pretty excited about it, and we’re also pretty sure that no one else has done this before.
Graeme recently posted an example load profile (route #3 – Main St), along with a brief explanation of how to create it …

Take a look – it’s pretty cool – and send it along to other transit/transportation nerds you know who might be interested. We’d love to hear what you & others have to say, including suggestions to improve it.

You don’t have to be a data nerd to appreciate the importance of this.  I remember, when I was a TransLink director, seeing some figures which showed that the daily ridership on just one trolley route – Fraser/Granville – was greater than the expected ridership of the proposed Evergreen light-rail line at its inauguration.   (The visual display of this quantitative data would have made that apparent at a glance.)
Of course, the real difference was that Evergreen line would cost millions in capital and require significant operating subsidies, while the trolley routes paid for themselves.

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Lorin, a PT reader, reminds us: 

Metro Vancouver is getting to the end of public meetings on the new regional growth strategy (there are a few more in January). I noticed they’ve extended the comment period from January 15 to January 31.
I have seen almost no commentary or analysis in the blogosphere. But perhaps I’m not looking in the right places.
MV has set up an online forum, but so far it’s got just three members (2 are MV staff) and ONE non-staff posting.

The problem is two-fold, I think: there’s nothing particularly contentious in the proposed strategy.  The options are nuanced versions of past directions, and the strategy as a whole is another iteration of the vision that goes back to the Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board in the 1950s: “Cities in a sea of green.”
But hey, it’s been a vision that’s worked – at least when our decisions are consistent. 
The other reason why there may not be a lot of response is the requirement to register.  People are too used to commenting with a single click, as with this blog.
No excuse not to participate of course – and that works best at the public meetings.  But almost by definition, those who attend meetings are not typical of the citizenry in general.
And that’s why, too often, because those who care or are generally satisfied with the status quo do not speak up, the debate moves to the extremes, and it’s easy to denigrate the achievements we as a society actually make.  
I think that’s what happened to TransLink: failure to recognize what it did well, constant criticism of its failures and general contempt in the media made it easy for the provincial government to dismantle it.

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December 28, 2007

I ask it today in the Langley Times:

More Fraser bridges urged Get Moving B.C. lobby group offers up transportation wish list
By Jeff Nagel – Langley Times – December 28, 2007
With the new Golden Ears bridge linking Langley and Maple Ridge under construction, a Lower Mainland transportation lobby group is calling for more Fraser River crossings ….
[Get Moving B.C.] wants the province to build the Tree Island Bridge to connect Highway 91 directly to Marine Way at Byrne Road.
That would create a straight route for Vancouver-bound traffic heading over the Alex Fraser Bridge that now dog legs either east or west via the Queensborough or Knight Street bridges.

SFU City Program director Gordon Price said he wouldn’t be surprised if the transportation ministry does pursue more Fraser crossings after Gateway is built….
“What these guys want to do is continue locking people in to their cars and trucks,” he said of Get Moving’s wish list. “What you’re building is a complete freeway web.”
He also asks how such an expansion can be reconciled with the premier’s goal to slash B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions one third by 2021.
“What are the places they want us to be more like? Is it Calgary or Phoenix or where?”

It’s a question I’ll be asking the new TransLink directors – “What’s your vision for the region?” – and it’s one that Jordan Bateman answers in his blog, Langley Politics Dotcom:

I would like us to be more like Portland (rated the #1 most sustainable city in the US in nearly every poll): with plenty of bridge lanes, light rail and excellent bus service; none of which is stopped by a Berlin Wall of a river. And following Portland’s example of continuing to invest in all three: roads, rail, and buses.

Nice finesse, Jordan, and I appreciate the attempt to argue for a ‘balanced’ transportation system.  But the Portland described in the report is the consequence of a generation of road-and-bridge building that would not likely be duplicated today.  They would not, for instance, run I-5 down the east bank of the Willamette, nor build some of their bridges, like the Morrison, as extensions of the freeways.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they removed lanes from some of them in the future, as they did the expressway that ran down the west bank.
Today, Portland doesn’t build new roads and bridges or replace old ones without first establishing that transit – whether streetcar or light rail – will be budgeted into the project, and will shape the land-use that accompanies the infrastructure. 
Langley is doing nothing of the sort.  In fact, the message is clear: the Province is building roads and bridges – big ones – and not budgeting seriously for transit that will make a difference in shaping land use.  You’d be nuts to move to Langley without a car or truck, since there will be no other option from now to the foreseeable future.

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In today’s Guardian:

Ministers ordered to assess climate cost of all decisions.
Coal-fired power stations, airport expansions and new road schemes could all be put on hold following a decision by Gordon Brown that ministers must in future take account of the true economic cost of climate change damage.

Ministers have been instructed to factor into their calculations a notional “carbon price” when making all policy and investment decisions covering transport, construction, housing, planning and energy. That price – which will increase annually – is intended to frame all day-to-day policy and investment decisions for the next 30 years…. The “shadow price for carbon”, representing the cost to society of the environmental damage, has already been agreed for every year up to 2050 by government economists. It will be set at £25.50 a carbon tonne for 2007, rising annually to £59.60 a tonne by 2050. The climate change minister, Phil Woolas, said: “This will have huge implications for [the] government. If for instance a new power station is due to cost £1bn, but it will add £200m worth of carbon emissions, we will decide that the cost of the power station is £1.2bn, even though its cash price is £1bn. We are creating a new currency.” In theory the carbon price will create a bias against roads and carbon-emitting coal stations and make new “zero carbon” building regulations appear more economic.
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Bike-sharing systems are gaining momentum: at least 75 cities have implemented similar systems, with many more cities in various stages of research and development. In July 2007 Paris unveiled the most ambitious system to date and now has 20,600 bicycles at 1451 docking stations – one every 300 meters.
Will it work in Vancouver? 
TransLink has started to do the research, and they’re asking for help.  If you go to this link, you’ll find a spreadsheet with every city involved in bike sharing.  If you’d like to add something, you can sign in or register with Google, get an invitation to contribute, and add comments.  (Seems a bit convoluted to me, but I suppose it helps with quality control.)
Interestingly, TransLink has hopped aboard a blog – here – devoted to bike sharing to get the word out. 

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December 9, 2007

From the Oil Drum:

Somewhere along the way, we-the-people seem to have reached a consensus that when it comes to allocating natural resources, money should do the talking. In fact many true believers contend money is the only legitimate communicator.
“How much oil should I be able to burn? Every barrel I can afford.”
“How big a house – how many houses – should I be able to buy? Just as many as I can afford.”
“How much CO2 should I be able to emit? Not one damned molecule less than I can afford.”
“And if I want to burn and buy and emit more, then acquiring more money naturally gives me the right to do so.”
If our economy fails to charge us the “true cost” of denying future generations the fossil energy they might need to feed themselves 50 years hence; if our economy suffocates vast swathes of bio-productive land beneath highways and parking lots for our Happy Motoring convenience, if our economy fails to extract “flood money” from us to recompense millions of coastal dwellers for the loss of their ancestral homelands beneath rising oceans; well…perhaps the solution is to internalize those costs somehow.

More here.

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December 9, 2007

Another mayor is calling for a bike sharing scheme a la Lyon and Paris.

Brisbane to get free bikes

Sophie Elsworth From: The Courier-Mail
December 09, 2007
FREE bicycle hire around the city could be introduced to Brisbane commuters and tourists next year.
Lord Mayor Campbell Newman is concerned about ongoing traffic pollution and congestion in the city, and hopes to introduce a public bike-hire system like those in some European cities.
“I hope that once people see how easy it is to get around the city by bike they’ll start thinking about using the car less for those quick trips down to the shops and other short journeys,” he said yesterday.
Click here to read the full article on the website

What was once at the fringe is now at the centre.
Thanks to Peter Berkeley in Brisbane.

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When you’re waiting for a bus, time slows down.  People perceive, (according to some study) that it takes 1.35 times longer for the bus to arrive than it actually does – or something on that order. 
It can be stressful.  Let’s say you have a choice: wait for a bus or walk to your destination.  The bus will be faster (or dryer), but only if it arrives in the next few minutes.  So you have to do a risk assessment: wait or walk. 
If you walk, you know what will likely happen: the bus will show up, but you’re probably between stops so you miss it.  If you wait,  well, time slows down so it seems like it would have been faster to walk.  And that’s why you’re pissed off, no matter what you do, and another reason why people prefer to drive.
What you needed to know was simple but unavailable: how long until  the next bus shows up.
Now, at last, a solution – at least for those with cell phones:

Here is how it works:

1. locate the 5 digit unique bus stop number, in yellow, in the upper right hand corner of all bus stops (or look on the TransLink website)
2. text the five digit bus stop number to 33333 from your cell phone
3. receive the times and route numbers for the next six buses at that stop

If you just want times for a particular route, text the 5 digit stop number followed by the route number with a space in-between and you will be sent the next six times that route will stop at that location.

Even better would be a GIS system and a readout at the bus stop itself – real time info at a glance.  You can go to the TransLink website to try to find the number of your closest stop here – but it didn’t work for me.  Not even “Georgia and Gilford Streets.”  And Google Transit doesn’t have the stop numbers on its site.
That’s the transit challenge in this world of instant information: everything has to work all the time for every individual’s needs.  And because the single-occupant vehicle seems to do so, it’s generally the first choice. 
But transit is catching up.

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IanWasson, the urban-design planner in Burnaby, sent along a rendering of the Busby-designed bike bridge for one of their urban trails.  Detail here.  He also noted that another bridge was on its way – this one designed by Patkau Architects, award-winning architects in this region.  They were doing up a design for the Winston Overpass along the Central Valley Greenway, but it hadn’t yet been appoved.
Good news: it has.  And here’s what it looks like.

Architectural concept by Patkau Architects Inc.

Engineering and Project Management by Delcan

Landscape Architecture by PWL Partnership

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