Transportation
September 19, 2006

Contested congestion 2

Stockholm extra — more analysis of the congestion-charge vote from Streetsblog:

On Sunday, residents of Stockholm, Sweden voted to continue their city’s seven-month long experiment with congestion pricing. The referendum represented a definitive success for a system that reduced traffic congestion by as much as 50 percent and decrease noxious air pollution by 14 percent. Yet, even after the referendum in which 53 percent voted in favor of congestion charging, Stockholm is still stuck in political gridlock over its gridlock. The same voters who approved the congestion charge also catapaulted into power the center-right political parties who are most opposed to it. We spoke with James Savage, the editor-in-chief of The Local, an English-language, Internet-based, Swedish newspaper in an effort to sort it out and see if he had any advice for
New York City:
 
Streetsblog: So, what happened in yesterday’s election?
James Savage: The tradition in Sweden is to hold all elections on the same day so we have municipal elections, we have a general election and local referenda on various issues. The general election resulted in a change of government with the ruling Social Democrats thrown out after twelve years. In Stockholm, the local municipal authority, which was also Social Democrat, was thrown out and replaced by a center-right coalition.
SB: The headline in your newspaper describes the result of the congestion charging referendum as “Neither a Ja nor a Nej” — I’m sure I’m not pronouncing that correctly — but what did you mean by that?
JS: Yeah [laughing], you’re not. The congestion charge was introduced by a Social Democratic municipal authority that had gone into elections in 2002 saying that, in fact, there would be no congestion charge. But then the Social Democratic Government, in order to get the support that it needed from the Green Party at the national level, agreed to impose the charge on the municipality in Stockholm. The Social Democratic leadership in Stockholm cooperated with their national leadership even though it was against their manifesto’s promises.
SB: Annika Billström (pictured right) is the leader of Stockholm’s municipal authority? She’s the mayor?
JS: She was the mayor. That’s one of the things that happened yesterday. She is no longer the mayor and how much that depends on the way congestion charging was introduced — that’s one of the questions that people are asking now. People suspect that it played quite a large role in her defeat.
SB: How come?
JS: She started out against congestion charging and then basically lay down as soon as the Central Government tried to impose it. That annoyed people even though, ironically, residents of Stockholm eventually started to appreciate the congestion charge and voted to keep it.
SB: So, the party that brought on congestion charging was essentially punished for they way they went about it and yet the referendum still voted in favor of congestion charging.
JS: It’s rather contradictory isn’t it? But that is basically what happened and the center-right alliance that has been elected to replace Billström and the Social Democrats is broadly opposed to congestion charging.

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Transportation planners around the world were waiting with anticipation to see how the electorate in Stockholm would vote on whether to continue with their controversial congestion charge.

Results are in, and they’re tight. From the International Herald Tribune:

Near-complete results for the Sunday referendum showed that 51.7 percent of Stockholm voters approved the traffic toll, while 45.6 percent voted against it.

The congestion fee was contested when city officials introduced it in a seven-month trial that ran between January and July.

But public opinion swung in favor of the charges after studies showed that weekday traffic on average dropped 20 percent during the trial, while pollution decreased 9-14 percent

A city analysis showed permanent congestion fees would bring a net profit of nearly 500 million kronor (€54 million; US$69 million) a year — money that would be spent on improving public transportation and better roads.

The debate is not over yet. New centre-right governments (still left by the rest of the world’s standards) at both the national and civic level are not predisposed to support a permanent introduction of the charge, given opposition from the Stockholm suburbs.

Which points again to a fascinating anomaly about road pricing.

You would think, in principle, that right-wing governments would be strongly in favour of road pricing. Here, after all, is a way for the market to regulate the distribution of a scarce resource by sending proper pricing signals to individuals, who can then make their own informed choices. Better yet, it provides a stream of revenue to fund the alternative – more transit – that also serves those negatively affected by the charge. And the money doesn’t have to come solely from general revenues or other taxes. Best of all, the system actually works, and delivers what it promises.

What’s not to like?

And yet proposals for road pricing turns right-wingers into raving socialists. There’s nothing so heart-warming as to hear a conservative politician defend the right of the poor working person to use the road already paid for through taxes. So let’s spend billions to build more roads to deal with the congestion created by building all the ‘free’ roads in the first place. It’s all about ‘the psychology of the previous investment’ – and to hell with ideological consistency.

One other observation for the moment: the effects of congestion charging seem remarkably similar in those cities that have introduced it. A 20 percent drop in traffic occurred both in London and Stockholm.

The debate is not over yet

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Vancouver planner Jeffrey Patterson sends along a media release from the Congress for the New Urbanism, which has decided to weigh in on Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct controversy. Or more particularly, on the flaws in the analysis done by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT):

… WSDOT holds up its computer models like “the Wizard of Oz, saying the model says this, and we must accept it.” But in truth, WSDOT has adjusted the models with inflated traffic to fit their “mental models.”
WSDOT calls this practice “conservative,” but the authors note “this suggests that only the risk of building too little capacity is considered, and not the risk of purchasing too much capacity at an extravagant cost.”

You can get Smart Mobility’s whole report here, and WSDOT’s report here.
There are substantial differences between Alaskan Way and the Gateway Project, but when it comes to models and analyses, there’s one fundamental similarity: the reports produced to justify the billions to be spent use many of the same devices to come to the same pre-determined conclusions. The analyses done for Gateway, particularly with respect to transit and land-use, are almost embarrassing in their superficial brevity. So here’s an even briefer summary:
Yesterday’s solutions at tomorrow’s prices.

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Here’s the latest from Todd Litman.  He’s the guy behind the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, which, if it were somewhere other than on an island, would be more recognized for its importance.  An amazing resource.
Todd has just put out two complementary reports:
“Smart Congestion Reductions: Reevaluating The Role Of Highway Expansion For Improving Urban Transportation”
This report investigates claims that highway capacity expansion is a cost effective and desirable solution to urban traffic congestion problems. It identifies errors in proponents’ analysis that overestimate the congestion reduction impacts and economic benefits of roadway capacity expansion, overlook negative impacts of induced travel, and ignore more cost effective alternatives.
“Smart Congestion Reductions II: Reevaluating The Role Of Public Transit For Improving Urban Transportation”
This report investigates the role that public transit can play in reducing traffic congestion and achieving other transportation improvement objectives. It evaluates criticism that urban transit investments are ineffective at reducing traffic congestion and wasteful.
Bedtime reading for Kevin Falcon, the Highways minister.

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The GVRD has politely asked the Province whether it would like to talk about our future. It wants to know whether the Province is truly committed to sustainability (one of the Premier’s Five Great Goals) in its rush to widen Highway 1 and twin the Port Mann Bridge.
On September 12th, the Land Use and Transportation Committee accepted the recommendations of a staff report that clearly identified the problem with the Gateway Project: there are no strategies to deal with its impacts. There’s no regional goods movement strategy, no transportation demand management, no mitigation for the land-use impacts, and no cost-sharing for alternatives.
For me, the best part of the report was the exposure of how the Gateway Program disingenuously used the GVRD’s own model to justify its project. The provincial staff and consultants used a modified version of the GVRD’s own Growth Management Scenario to forecast traffic to 2031. And while they acknowledged the connection beween road improvements and development patterns, they concluded the land-use impacts could not be estimated. It’s all up to the municipalities, you see. And so they based their forecasts on the assumption that the bridge and highway widenings would have no real effect.
Let me explain what’s really going on here. The Province knows that when the bridge and highway are widened, it will unleash forces that will sprawl across the green fields of the Fraser Valley with auto-dominated development. That’s what has happened with every other bridge we’ve ever built in the Lower Mainland. Only the Province doesn’t want to have to admit that such development will fill up all the new road space with more congestion – as it has every other time – thus defeating the whole purpose of Gateway. And it will never, ever acknowledge this inevitability in a report.
So it’s positioning the municipalities to take the hit. Even though the regional plan is opposed to more general-purpose highway capacity into the valley – for the very reason that it will undermine the plan – the Province is going to go ahead and build it, and then blame the municipalities for the consequences which it refuses to predict.
The GVRD is asking for “a provincial commitment to provide adequate mitigation and compensation for the impacts of the Port Mann Bridge and Highway 1 projects on agricultural lands, regional parks and ecologically sensitive areas.” It wants to develop “an appropriate regional growth strategy which ensures the Gateway Program has minimal negative impacts on the desired pattern of land use in Greater Vancouver.”
That’s the nice, polite way of putting it.
We’re talking about the destruction of a half century of wise planning, of the legacy of our regional plans, including “Creating Our Future” which Gordon Campbell pioneered. We’re talking about one of the last chances to avoid screwing up the Lower Mainland. Ironically, we’re talking about whether, after several billion dollars, the Gateway Project itself will deliver what it promises.
That is – if the Province is willing to talk.

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Mary Jo Porter from Seattle knew I’d love this piece from Monday’s Seattle Times: a ladybug painted on an intersection in Wallingford by the residents.

Thinking of it as a traffic-calming device, more than a dozen residents joined Sunday to create the ladybug artwork, surrounded by flower petals in vivid yellow, black and red paint.
With a radius of 26 feet, it stretches across the intersection, with some painted leaves spreading onto the adjacent pavement.
“Our goal is to cut down traffic and bring the community together and create a sense of neighborhood,” said Eric Higbee, who lives on the corner and helped lead the project.
The intersection artwork, a pilot project for the city, has been in the works for about five months, he said, adding that the neighborhood received a $1,400 city grant to pay for the paint and perm

It’s an idea that comes, of course, from Portland – the City Repair Project.  Hopefully it will spread across the border.

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September 7, 2006

Okay, TransLink, get on the phone immediately to Google – (650) 253-0000 – and ask to be the next partner for Google Transit.
What’s that? Go here.
TriMet, the Portland Oregon transit agency, has become the first (and so far only) agency to integrate Google Maps with their schedules. So you can now get instructions on how to get from A to B, map included, anywhere they go. So cool.

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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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