June 27, 2008

Explain to me again: Why are we building Gateway?

From the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce:

We stand at a turning point for US transport. Real gasoline prices have already surpassed the peak levels that followed the second OPEC oil shocks, and even when adjusted for potential fuel efficiency improvements, have increased to the point where they will dramatically change driving behaviour in America.

Gasoline consumption is ultimately about how many people drive, the distance they drive and the type of vehicles they drive. On all three counts American face a massive change.

Us too.  But we’re going to spend our billions on widened highways, new bridges and plans to extend the freeway network to every part of this region.

UPDATE: Sun writer Pete McMartin added the following at the end of his weekend column:

… it doesn’t look like gas prices will be falling soon, if ever — then governments are going to have to reconsider their infrastructure priorities. Why invest billions in twinning a Port Mann Bridge for car traffic, when what the Fraser Valley suburbs will desperately need in the future is rapid transit rail and bus lines, not more freeways?

What are the economics of building the premier’s vaunted Gateway Project and environmentally irresponsible perimeter roads when rising gas prices might render them economically unviable? Why consider road expansion of any kind when there will be fewer and smaller cars on the road?


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A few items on cycling during Bike-to-Work week.

First up, if you missed John Pucher’s great talk – Cycling for Everyone: Lessons for Vancouver from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany – then check it out here

Said the “Copenhagenize” blog:

I can only say that it is absolutely brilliant. It’s an hour-long filmed seminar with legendary John Pucher at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.   See the film now.  Quickly.  It’s wonderful.

John wasn’t at the Car-Free Cities Conference in Portland last week (“Live Free or Drive”) – but he would have loved it.  Best part was hearing about what’s happening in places like New York, San Francisco and Amsterdam.  The panelists were educational and entertaining – and confirmed that Vancouver is way behind when it comes to new initiatives.

And what issues are they working on in, say, Amsterdam?  Well, this:

Actually, this is in Portland – but it’s indicative of what’s coming.  Namely, bike trailers and attachments of all kinds that make the bicycle more useful for real life – and that take up more road space.  Typically, these pedal people are moving more slowly with wider loads, and start to back up the cyclists behind them on narrow paths.  Amsterdam is recognizing they have to provide passing lanes for faster cyclists if they’re to avoid bike rage.

Yup, it’s come to that.

It’s not new, but more cities are adopting Bogota’s Ciclovia – the temporary or permanent closure of a major street (or streets) to motorized vehicles so that people are free to use the roadway without concern for their safety.  Portland had a Sunday Parkway event at the end of the conference.  Gil Penalosa (brother of former Bogota mayor Enrique Penalosa, and now executive director of Walk and Bike For Life in Ontario) gave a great presentation – and here’s his interview with BikePortland.

In Vancouver, we have Critical Mass, of course, and the Vancouver Cruisers.  I confess I was unaware of this group, which hold rides periodically around the city on their classic cruisers, until they showed up at Leg-in-Boot Square on the South Shore of False Creek last weekend.

You’ll notice that no one is wearing a helmet, and they’re all dressed in street clothes.  No Lycra to be seen.  I think this a deliberate attempt to ‘Europeanize’ cycling in Vancouver, to make it accessible to everyone, a normal activity integrated into daily life. 

Loek Hesemans nailed it in Price Tags 99: Cycling has been a subculture in our cities – a way to express identity: “to create a sense of togetherness, of companions in adversity finding support with each other.”  It may be a necessary phase, but as John Pucher stresses, cycling must be for everyone if it’s to truly effect change on the scale we need.

The time is right: major issues are coalescing – climate change and peak oil, obesity and public health, traffic congestion and livable cities.  Decision-makers are more open to ideas that previously would have seemed too fringy to be comfortably embraced.  Budgets – the sincerest form of rhetoric – will follow.

And speaking of dollars, what I am I doing with my Campbell Cash?  The Tyee’s helpful campaign to direct the hundred-dollar dividends to organizations that can make better use of the money than most of us gives you some choices, and mine is the High School Bike Crews – another grass-roots campaign by Arthur Orsini.

Giving away money for cycling is the next best thing to actually doing it.


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Yet another starchiect – Zaha Hadid – doing yet another pedestrian bridge (or passerelle, as the French call them), this one across the Ebro River in Zaragoza, Spain.

More here in the Independent on the 270-metre bridge which also houses a pavillion for the 2008 Expo being held there.

More than ever, it’s apparent to me that we have to seriously examine the possibility for a ped-bike bridge across False Creek, rather than a widening of the Burrard Bridge.  The obvious location is under the bridge itself, using the cuts that were made through the columns to accommodate an anticipated streetcar line extension.

Yes, there’s a problem accommodating high-masted boats at high tide.  But this should be considered an oppportunity for innovation rather than an intractable problem.  Perhaps a separate structure should be considered – a commission to the world’s best architects and engineers – so that Vancouver gets something practical, beautiful and iconic: a statement that, really, honestly, we do take sustainable transportation seriously.

There are some fascinating politics involved with the bridge widening: Ladner cannot support the use of existing lanes for bike routes, while Robertson must.  Ladner will be able to use the threat of congestion to solidify his west-side base, while Robertson will use Ladner’s position to peel off support from the cycling and heritage communities.

Maybe a serious examination of a separate low-level structure would be something they could both support.

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I’m preparing for the Car-Free Cities conference in Portland all this week.  Given current events, it should be quite a gab-fest.  What were once fringe issues and ideas have moved to centre stage, and will be taken with a new seriousness.

So, what could be more appropriate to fill in the week when I’ll be gone than some pics of the Car-Free City celebration in the West End last Sunday. 

Denman Street was just one four streets closed to traffic, including parts of Commercial Drive, Main Street and numerous blocks in Kitsilano.   The sun sure helped to put everyone in a good mood, but the unquestioned success of the occasion is just another indication that our city has had a change of attitude.  We’re ready to think differently about how we use our roads.  They’re not just for moving traffic.

They’re also for singing.

And dancing.

Even square dancing.

Local merchants and restaurants spilled out onto the asphalt to display their wares, serve their food and make more moolah than they ever could when the street was full of traffic.  All except the gas station.

But this was my favourite entrepreneur.

The entertainment was great – particularly the chance to hear some local bands.  But the best enterainment was, as usual, people watching and checking out the scene.

A chance, above all, to see ourselves.  The West End is full of the most eclectic mix of people.

And this event was for us – the West End for West Enders.  As much as we may enjoy (or not) the closure of West End streets for fireworks and races, we don’t often get to use our own spaces just for us.  Today we did.

Thanks, of course, to local organizers and volunteers, the city staff and police.  It really was well organized.  But special acknowledgement must go to the inspiration for Car-Free Days – Carmen Mills. 

No matter how great the resistence or oblivious our leaders, Carmen has always believed that society was ready to move towards real sustainability.  This time she may be right.

See you next week.



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I have read (though I can’t find the source) that the maximum length of a commute is forty minutes.  Any longer, and people make changes in their lives to shorten it.  And so it has always been, from chariots in Rome to SUVs in LA.

A four-part series on commuting in the Los Angeles Times seems to provide some proof.  Accompanying the articles is a Google map of average commuting times for cities throughout the Southlands.  (The national average is 25.5 minutes.)  Take a look:

I could find only one instance where the average commute time was longer than 40 minutes.  Obviously, an average requires that there must be many Angelenos with times longer than that – but it does reinforce the conclusion made by Rand Corp transportation expert Martin Wachs:

The solutions are not unknown,” Wachs said. (Congestion pricing has worked around the world in about 100 different places, 100% of the time.)  The fact that we are inhospitable to all of the solutions must indicate we would rather have the problem as we have it now than solve the problem.

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On the day that oil almost hit $140 per barrel:

Ironically, GM once enjoyed a significant lead in the electric car business. In the late 1990s, it produced more than 1,000 experimental EV1 electric cars – one of the greenest vehicles ever made. GM leased the cars to hundreds of enthusiasts, who fell in love with the plug-in vehicle.

But in 2000, the company pulled the plug on the plug-in after sinking $1-billion into the venture, convinced that it would never make money selling a fringe car to geeks.

Eight years and a quadrupling in the price of gasoline later, (GM CEO) Rick Wagoner now readily admits killing the EV1 was one of his biggest mistakes.

Globe and Mail, Report on Business

Just one, mind you – just one of his biggest mistakes.

Will GM and Ford be going to government to bail them out and finance their transition to ‘green’?

Detroit and Oshawa, with the Texas and Alberta oil culture, have taken us down a tragic road.

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In Price Tags 101 – on the Paris bike-sharing system known as Velib’ – I wondered what patterns would emerge, given that the system collects real-time data every time a bike is used.

Well, here’s the answer:

This is an animation of the Velib’ system for a full day (February 10th) based on the number of bikes available at each station.  More here.

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Next up: London

We’ve already seen the massive success of urban bike sharing in Paris, but now the super-smart Velib Bike program is taking to the streets of London! 15,000 bikes, 1,000 stations and more than 7.5 million miles of combined biking later have already been implemented in London, and the new scheme will contribute £75 million and 6,000 shared bikes to the mass biking scheme. Spearheaded by London Mayor Ken Livingstone, the new ‘granny bike’ sharing scheme will reduce traffic congestion and help clear up the air of England’s sprawling capital city.

More here.

In Vancouver, we’re waiting for (1) the report out by TransLink on recommendations of the task force set up to examine bike-sharing for this region.  And (2) support by those running for office in the upcoming election.

How about we ask them.


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Brisbane looks set to become the first Australian capital city to join several European centres in introducing a public bike hire scheme, with the city’s council launching a call for proposals for the project at the weekend. Lord Mayor Campbell Newman said the scheme would be similar to the Paris and Barcelona models.

There’ll be bike (stations) every 300m in the inner parts of Brisbane and in terms of the price structure, it could be similar to Paris, where the first half-hour is free’. Mr Newman said the initial stage of the project would have 2000 bikes at 150 stations across innercity Brisbane, from Newstead in the inner-north to the University of Queensland at St Lucia in the city’s southwest.”


[Thanks to Stephen Ingrouille]


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