Transportation
September 18, 2006

CONTESTED CONGESTION CHARGE

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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