Public Transit
June 19, 2019

Washington State Going for Electric Transit Buses with Volkswagen’s Settlement Funds

Via Tom Durning this story from Washington State which is just starting to receive the settlement that Volkswagen is required to pay to all fifty states. In 2015 Volkswagen was found liable for working around emission standards on their diesel vehicles and were required to pay out almost three billion dollars to the states to “reduce diesel dependency and related pollution” as Hannah Weinberger describes in Crosscut.

Washington State allocated the first $13.3 million dollars among six transit companies that purchased fifty zero-emission electric transit buses, and plans to also invest in electric school buses. In total Washington State  will receive $112.7 million from the settlement, and will be directing half of those funds to electrifying existing buses and trucks. Of the nearly 3,500 transit buses in the state, many use diesel as their fuel.

Volkswagen settlement funds represent a critical opportunity for states to accelerate the transition to zero-emission vehicles. Washington is taking a big step in the right direction here, and we hope other states — some of which are still spending on dirty diesel buses — will take heed,” says the National Resources Defense Council’s Luke Tonachel, who directs its Clean Vehicles and Fuels Group.

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There are two stories here. One is told by Lloyd Alter in Tree Hugger that young people are just not into cars, and carmakers haven’t figured out how to get that group interested. Even an analyst for the J.D. Power research firm detailed the problem:

“Gen Z buyers’ participation in the new-car space is declining year after year. We expect to see them get their first job and buy a car. But we’re not seeing this.”

In the United States in 1983 46 percent of 16 year olds had drivers licences; in 2016 that figure was 26 percent. As Lloyd Alter observes “young people just might care more about the air they and their kids are breathing  than they do about the conveniences in cars.” He also points out that this socially responsible tech-savvy cohort chooses to live in places where they don’t have to drive.

The other story and it is Big News is that anyone 18 years or younger living in the City of Victoria will get a free transit bus pass, no matter what school they are going to. The 6,000 passes will cost $850,000, and will be covered by the City’s Sunday downtown parking fees. This is a great way for students to use the transit system and become accustomed to public transit, of course also meaning that there will be less vehicles on the road.

That was echoed by Susan Brice, chair of the Victoria Regional Transit Commission:  “Anytime we can get more kids riding the bus and making bus riding a part of their life and a habit, that’s good for all of us.” 

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Hopefully, PT readers are following my exploration of Tel Aviv’s White City on Instagram. As mentioned in the leading post above, this historic neighbourhood shares a lot of characteristics with others of its ilk:

Mid-century modernist beachfront neighbourhoods have an eclectic combo of dense housing, a mix of uses, unique businesses all kinds of restaurants, stirred together with social tolerance.  There’s often a gay village embedded within.

They were often the first suburbs of rapidly expanding cities or linear developments strung along beaches, a few blocks deep, served initially by streetcars and transit with limited parking.   Like Ipanema in Rio, like Miami Beach in Florida, like Venice in California.

They’ll have their beachfront attractions, of course, but usually a block in or leading perpendicularly from the waterfront will be a commercial street cluttered with restaurants and shops, still served by the transit that shaped them   Think Denman and Davie.

They’ve had their up and downs, starting off as attractive middle- and upper-class developments, sometimes as beachfront escapes, sometimes as single-family speculative real estate, sometimes as apartment districts and then gone into decline in the early 20th century until after World War II.   Like the West End, some were largely bulldozed and replaced with higher density rental apartments, some were simply passed by – until rediscovered in the late 20th century and then increasingly gentrified in the 21st.

What shall we call these districts?

Despite their variations, they share enough in common to have a generic name.   MiCe,Hi-Di-on-the-beach.   Okay, not that one.  But help us out.

Scot and I have been developing a list.  Here’s what we have so far:

  • White City – Tel Aviv
  • West End and Kitsilano – Vancouver 
  • Santa Monica and Venice Beach – Los Angeles
    Ipanema and Cocacabana – Rio
    Miami Beach – Florida
    Sea Point – Cape Town
    St. Kilda – Melbourne
    Potts Point and Bondi – Sydney
  • Oriental Bay – Wellington
  • Surfers Paradise – near Brisbane
    Waikiki – Hawaii

Add your own below!

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TransLink was recently asking Vancouverites for suggestions on the best seating design for new SkyTrain cars.  Hopefully they saw this video from Cheddar on a study done for New York’s transit system:

Are the cars the MTA uses currently the best for the way we ride the subway? In 2013, researchers from Operations Planning Group at NYCT submitted their improved design to the Transportation Research Board.

(Click headline of post to show video.)

Yeah, it’s fodder for ELMTOTs*, but it also an exploration of human behaviour in confined spaces and how design affects us.

 

* Urban Dictionary: “Stands for Expo Line Memes for TransLink Oriented Teens. It’s a Facebook group for over 1300 kids-with-no-life to share memes of Vancouver.”

And doesn’t that screen capture above look like Vancouver?  It’s probably Long Island City, as the East River shoreline transforms into False Creek.

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Dr. Bridget Burdett in New Zealand sent along this link to a new article in Science Direct published in  the Journal of Transportation and Health.  Researchers included Corrine Mulley, one of the editors of “Walking~Connecting Sustainable Transport with Health”.

The study looked at the qualitative experience of over three hundred individuals who relocated to suburban areas without good transit or active transportation links to work centres. Since residential development in outlying areas often arrives before public transportation infrastructure, researchers wanted to assess the health impacts of longer and changing commutes on commuters.

Using multiple regression techniques, researchers had some surprising conclusions. Longer commutes and changing the time needed to leave for commutes was found to be directly related to lower mental health levels and the perception of a decrease in wellbeing. But researchers also found that independent car use and not using public transport was associated with “increased happiness”.

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Seattle’s Crosscut columnist Knute Berger thinks it might be – in this piece: Is Seattle freeing itself from the automobile age?

In South Lake Union, you see folks zipping along on monowheels, hoverboards and electric bikes and scooters. These electronic gadgets seem less intrusive and more versatile than, say, a Segway, and some can be carried by hand or in a backpack.

Other innovations are in the works. Boeing is testing a pilot-less “autonomous” air taxi — a kind of flying Uber. Is the era of the flying car, as envisioned on The Jetsons, finally at hand? In Snohomish County, Amazon is testing a small delivery bot, named Scout, that can bring Amazon Prime customers their order. It looks like a robotic cooler on six wheels. It could someday be more efficient than fleets of street-clogging delivery cars and trucks.

The quest for car-free city living is speeding up, not slowing down. Seattle was reshaped and improved by a technology that arrived as a circus toy. Don’t be too quick to dismiss the driverless novelties that might be flying overhead or rolling along the sidewalk to deliver goodies in your neighborhood.

Of course, ‘careful what you wish for.’

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TransLink is hosting regional conversations on Transport 2050, the latest version of its strategic plan.  Last week at a packed Robson Square theatre, it began with “The Future of Mobility” – lots of thought nuggets from TL’s strategic planner, Andrew McCurran and a panel of those in what we used to call alternative transport (not any longer) – ride-hailing, car-sharing, bike-sharing, electric mobility, and scooters!

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Here are a few tasty items:

Say good-bye to the ‘bike lane’;  hail the ‘mobility lane.’  Since it’s illegal for electric scooters to use the sidewalk (yeah, right) and it’s obvious already that electrification is leading to new kinds of vehicles faster than self-powered two-wheelers, they will all use the bike lanes or demand their own right-of-way.  Expect conflict.

(By the way, in cities with both bike- and scooter-share, the latter outperforms the former.)

Will there be space available on a reconfigured road as the number of traditional vehicles (you know, cars) diminishes?  Assuming, of course, that the number of cars really does drop.  Data from the use of Uber and Lyft in American cities indicates just the opposite: more cars and more congestion.

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TransLink sums it all up in two conveniently tweet-able sentences:

Public engagement is a key component of rapid transit planning. We value your feedback and want to hear what you think about the proposed Surrey Langley SkyTrain, and rapid transit options for the 104th Avenue and King George Boulevard corridors.

They do indeed, but apart from the project team’s appearance at tomorrow’s Vaisakhi Day Parade in Surrey, opportunities to have your say in person are over.

Public engagement is only open for one more week (through April 26) via online survey.

Before taking the survey, be sure to check out the engagement boards, describing the project and the various options considered for transit over the past few years, including this handy graphic comparing the different modes and technologies considered.

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Kudos to TransLink, for making some space for Indigenous art that doesn’t shy away from engaging people on social and even political themes.

Marianne Nicolson is a member of the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nations, an artist, and the creator of “The Sea Captain”, the new public installation at the recently upgraded Surrey Central Skytrain.

As she explains in the following short video, she’s interested in interactions between peoples, particularly related to colonial encounters, and bringing something different to the public realm.

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