Design & Development
January 4, 2010

The ALO Triangle – Aberdeen

[The third of a series.  Start here.]

It may be one-and-a-half times as long as the route from Lansdowne Station, but Olympic organizers will recommend to spectators heading for the speed-skating oval to get off at Aberdeen and walk the 1.5 kilometres along the Richmond River Walk.

To the north, the best features of Richmond: the Fraser, the mountains, life along the river. 

To the south, the less appealing industrial landscape of the ALO Triangle along River Road.

The block from Cambie to Gilbert is possibly the longest in the Lower Mainland – an unbroken kilometre, without a sidewalk.

Not that the dyke itself was designed to handle a lot of people.  Part way along, the Richmond Yacht Club leaves only a strip of gravel as a half-hearted bypass.

But that’s changing.  Richmond has crews out working on what will obviously be a significant transformation of the river walk.

New  construction promises to grandly welcome the pedestrian – and, I’m assuming, a separate path for bikes. 

It’s a real turn-around for Richmond, where, even in its more recently developed parts, the gap between a true pedestrian- and transit-friendly cityscape and what’s on the ground is regrettably wide. 

For instance, take the route – only half a block – from the south side of Aberdeen Centre to the Canada Line station:

At point 2:

At point 1:

Obviously the city is waiting for redevelopment to resolve these embarrassments.  Here it will happen.  But the ALO Triangle?  Should another industrial zone be scrapped, even if in return we get a transit-oriented, pedestian-friendly, high-amenity neighbourhood?

That leads to one of the more critical planning issues – maybe the most difficult challenge of the upcoming regional plan.  More later.

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The ALO Triangle lies between the Aberdeen and Lansdowne Canada Line stations and the Olympic Oval – the territory to be traversed by many thousands of Olympic visitors.    It’s only a kilometre from Lansdowne to the Olympic Oval – but it’s a dreary kilometre.

Here are a few of the enticing streetscapes along Lansdowne Road:

This is sure to impress the Europeans. 

At least Lansdowne Road has sidewalks on a few blocks (though at Minoru Boulevard it turns into an industrial lane) and has been extended from Gilbert to Hollybridge.    But try walking on Minoru Boulevard and you’ll find that there was never any intent to accommodate you – unless you’re making a trip from your car seat to a storefront, both placed as close together as possible.

It’s all too clear that the only critical urban design that went into the ALO Triangle at the time it was zoned for industrial (the 60s?) was done by the traffic engineers and the road builders.  At that time, sidewalks were a needless expense.   The only serious mode for good movements was truck – and so the roads were designed for them.  They had no foresight of an alternative future, except for one of unlimited automotive travel. 

Fortunately, for the Olympic visitor, there will be a choice.  More Monday.

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December 30, 2009

Another piece from the Globe, this time Ian Bailey’s evaluation of the Canada Line.  (I include my own quotes because (1) I hope they’re of interest to PT readers, and (2) it’s an easy way to keep track of quoted comments.)

Gordon Price, a six-term Vancouver city councillor who is now director of the city program at Simon Fraser University, said things appear to be going “pretty damn well” for the system.

He said he has been struck by the number of passengers toting and pushing their luggage. Mr. Price said he was skeptical business travellers would be interested in taking a system that compelled them to take their luggage to and from the stations.

“What I hadn’t taken into account was the downsizing of luggage to carry-on and wheels. You can sure see it, pretty dramatic,” he said. “It brought a class of people, who normally didn’t take transit into their thinking and got them aboard … both literally and enthusiastically.”

Mr. Price has been using the line to get from his home in Vancouver’s West End to the downtown campus of SFU, taking a bus to the Vancouver-City Centre stop for the line.

“It’s kind of an enjoyable trip in the sense that I get to see that transit culture in action, which I kind of enjoy.”

He also uses it to get to Vancouver City Hall, the airport, and has used it to go for dim sum at the critically acclaimed Chinese restaurants in Richmond.

His one big criticism: No station in the midst of the shops, restaurants and other businesses of bustling Cambie Village.

“Particularly after the hardship they went through, it would have made sense,” he said.

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Globe reporter Rod Mickleburgh does a nice year-end summary on the Burrard Bridge bike lane.  And, in addition to the Monty Python bit above, he also captured a quick summary of ‘post-motordom’ in his quote of my comments:

Urban expert Gordon Price, the former councillor who spearheaded the 1996 experiment, said the tactic worked better this time for three reasons.

Officials communicated the change effectively, they closed the southbound lane to cars instead of the northbound lane used in the morning rush hour, and Vancouver is a different city than it used to be.

“It’s moving into post-motordom. By that I mean, everything used to be designed around the car. Now, we have to have other choices, or the car fails,” he said. “That’s happening.”

Full story here.

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Years ago I came across a description of the Khazzoom-Brookes Postulate (it has several names) and wrote about it in my essay on urban transportation

First of all, I loved the name (after the two economists who devised it.)  And secondly, it made counter-intuitive sense.  Simply stated: as you increase the efficiency of any resource, it can result in increased resource use rather than less.

Here’s my latest example: high-speed rail (HSR) in Germany. 

HSR is promoted as something that can sort out nasty carbon-producing aircraft on domestic routes. It has done this on the Paris-Lyon and Madrid-Seville lines, but this ability to trash a single air route should not be interpreted as something than can dent the growth of air travel.

Germany has one of the largest HSR systems in the world yet has seen an explosion in internal air travel. HSR does not reduce the fuel consumption of domestic aviation or reduce annual carbon emissions from aircraft ….

(From Stephen Ingrouille’s Transport Newsletter 136.)

PS: Stephen also quotes from an Australian Senate report on public passenger transort:  “Australia is unique in being the only OECD country which does not have some Federal role in funding and supporting public transport’

Oh? I thought that unique honour went to Canada.

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“How many people, right at this moment, are stuck in traffic on their way to ride a stationary bicycle in a health club?”

That’s the question Congressman Earl Blumenauer asked at this Brookings Institution discussion: Cities, Bicycles, and the Future of Getting Around.

Why, indeed, would people endure stifling traffic just to hop on another form of transportation that goes nowhere? How is this not similar to walking around outside without a coat while complaining of the chill?

What are people thinking? Children can’t get to school on their own, while childhood obesity skyrockets. Yet the evident solution to bicyclists, as simple as putting on the sweater, is simply to ride to school. Yet few do.

Responses from David Byrne and Janette Sadik-Kahn here.  (Thanks to Brent Toderian.)

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Jarrett Walker responds to the ‘transit isn’t green ’cause it runs empty’ argument in his Human Transit blog:

If public transit agencies were charged exclusively with maximizing their ridership, and all the green benefits that follow from that, they could move their empty buses to run in places where they’d be full.  Every competent transit planner knows how to do this. 

Just abandon all service in low-density areas, typically outer suburbs, and shift all these resources to run even more frequent and attractive service where densities are high, such as inner cities…. 

The outcry would be tremendous, the politics toxic, the prospects for implementation zero.  I would never propose it.  But there’s no question that such a service change would dramatically increase ridership, dramatically reduce the number of empty buses, and thus improve how transit scores on the kind of tally that Cox and his allies propose.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, transit agencies have to balance contradictory demands to (a) maximize ridership and (b) provide a little bit of service everywhere regardless of ridership, both to meet demands for ‘equity’ and to serve the needs of transit-dependent persons.

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My post on the Sun’s Community of Interest blog:

Kevin Libin has apparently never heard of an electric trolley bus.  Otherwise he wouldn’t have written a story that advises “Save the Environment: Don’t Take Transit.”

Based on American statistics, the article maintains that “the average motorized city bus burns 27% more energy per mile than a private car and emits 31% more pounds of CO2.”  From there he concludes that “once eco-conscious urbanites realize the bus is worse for the planet than cars, they’ll have little reason to keep riding.”

So, he concludes, scrap the subsidies, privatize transit, pass out car allowances, build roads, and don’t worry.  Car emissions will take care of themselves.

Silly stuff.   

And like arguments over climate change, the selective use of sources and statistics isn’t likely to change anyone’s mind.  But let me try. 

There’s one really excellent reason for car drivers to support transit.   Good transit makes for better driving.

How come?  Because of the Road Builder’s Paradox.

Actually, it goes under a lot of different names, but this is what it means:

People will tend to balance car trips with rail trips until the two are at equilibrium in time and comfort.  The equilibrium speed of car traffic on the road network is determined by the average door-to-door speed of equivalent journeys by (rail-based or otherwise segregated) public transport.

It follows that increasing road capacity can actually make overall congestion on the road worse.  This occurs when the shift from public transport causes a disinvestment in the mode such that the operator either reduces frequency of service or raises fares to cover costs. This shifts additional passengers into cars. Ultimately the system may be eliminated and congestion on the original (expanded) road is worse than before.

The general conclusion, if the paradox applies, is that expanding a road system as a remedy to congestion is not only ineffective, but often counterproductive.   (From Stephen Ingrouille’s Transport Newsletter.)

Because a good rail system like SkyTrain is also dependent on the feeder bus system, you can’t just cut out other forms of transit and rely on rail.  But even for buses, the efficiency of the transit system will increase if there are segregated rights-of-way. 

Once a transit system serves enough people effectively, car traffic will operate more smoothly than it otherwise would – so long as the equilibrium isn’t disrupted.  Without good transit, congestion builds on the roads, leading to the argument for more roads, which simply generates more traffic – and so on. 

Conclusion: car drivers and transit riders are in this together, each dependent on the other for the benefit of the transportation system as a whole.

As for emissions, electric cars and hybrids are nice, but they still can’t beat the virtues of a quiet, zero-emission, high-capacity trolley bus.   And believe me, you won’t see a trolley bus in Vancouver with only one passenger.

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Here’s what New Yorker architectural critic Paul Goldberger listed as No. 2 in his summary of the Ten Most Positive Architectural Events of 2009:

  • 2009 really was a good year for public space in New York, since it also brought the conversion of Broadway in midtown into a pedestrian mall, thanks to the city’s extraordinary transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Kahn, who seems able to accomplish in a brief time what has frustrated others for a generation.
  • The key here wasn’t just closing a portion of Broadway, it was in recasting the entire street before the closure for a mix of cars, bicycles, and pedestrians, phasing out the cars block by block. New York may yet become a bicycle-friendly city.

    One of our most popular (and positive) lectures in the “Shifting Gears” series on transportation was Janette Sadik-Kahn’s presention.  In this video of her lecture last October 19, find out how she transformed New York.

    UPDATE: More on New York’s public spaces in Lisa Rochon’s column in the Globe and Mail.

    The pedestrianization of Broadway at Times Square is part of a massive initiative that has affected 50 acres throughout New York City. Janette Sadik-Khan, appointed NYC’s Commissioner of the Department of Transportation (DOT) in 2007, is driving the change hard and fast to satisfy Bloomberg’s mission to dramatically reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

    “I’ve been a New Yorker for more than 30 years and there’s nothing more satisfying than contributing to a better city,” she says, during our meeting at her Lower Manhattan office. That’s an interesting piece of motherhood, but here’s what else she says that actually astounds me: “Eight-five per cent of the public space in New York is taken up by roads. Roads are our most valuable space.”

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    As work proceeds on the Gateway project – $3.3 billion worth – and as we put on hold any investment in transit, here’s an intriguing phenomenon to note (from Stephen Ingrouille’s Transport Newsletter):

    The Pigou-Knight-Downs paradox is the observation that people will tend to balance car trips with rail trips until the two are at equilibrium in time and comfort. Building more roads attracts commuters away from rail, which reduces or diverts investment and increases the travel time, forming a vicious cycle.

    This means that building more roads and not investing in faster rail transport results in a general overall decline in traffic speed. This is nowhere more clear than here in California where, despite enthusiastic freeway building, a bike is a competitive mode.

    The solution is simple and necessary: invest real amounts in improving rail transport, in particular improving the grade-separated heavy rail network and linking the feeder tram network to stations.”

    Ref: Nathan Hurst, The Age, 5/9/09

    More below on the Pigou-Knight-Downs Paradox.

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