Governance & Politics
November 9, 2018

SFU: Want More Skytrain? Do the Numbers (Part II)

Yesterday’s post about the Vancouver Sun op-ed by Alex Boston scraped the surface of what could comprise an effective business case for Skytrain south of the Fraser, let alone what numbers may (or may not) have been used to justify LRT in the first place.

Did Translink miss some data? As I hinted in Part I, perhaps they simply missed communicating the most relevant, top-line numbers the public have an appetite — and capacity — to understand (no offence to all of us).

But let’s assume they made a whole raft of calculations, such as those that can be found in “Regional Transportation Investments: A Vision for Metro Vancouver (Appendices)“, pointed to me by  Boston’s colleague Keane Gruending from the Centre for Dialogue. The Centre’s own analysis on this file is reminiscent of their Moving in a Livable Region program around the time of the 2015 transit plebiscite, which attempted to hold our leaders accountable (and the politics in check), using a facts-first approach.

Boston’s deeper piece on the Renewable Cities website also reminded me that a lot of the debate on whether to pause Phase 2 and 3 of the Mayors Plan to once again deal with the Skytrain question often fails to deal with two important metrics tied to land use: jobs density, and CO2 emissions.

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This week, Alex Boston, the Executive Director of the Renewable Cities program at SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, wrote an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun on the proposed two big changes threatening to upend phases 2 and 3 of TransLink’s Mayors Plan.

Boston’s piece is a call, if slightly veiled, to Vancouver’s Kennedy Stewart and Surrey’s Doug McCallum to do what they were elected to do when it comes to regional matters — understand all the issues in a city which are regionally dependent or impactful, obtain support and confidence from your respective councils on big ideas, and work collaboratively with the other mayors and the TransLink Board to realize them.

But of course as you may know, it’s never that easy. And much like the housing crisis, there may not even be agreement on what the two problems are. 

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Beth Osborne, Director of Transportation for America, was asked: Can you paint a vivid picture of your nightmare scenario of what our cities look like when AVs are all over the roads?

“My nightmare scenario, which I can visualize perfectly,” she responded, “is sitting in the middle of stand-still traffic in which I am the only human being there.  And all the other cars are clogging up the roads but there are no people in any of them.”

The full response can be found here:

It’s a podcast with Slateand this episode is the best exploration I’ve heard of the context for autonomous vehicles (and what the history of Motordom can tell us).

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More common sense from Jarrett Walker.  In The Atlantic:

Microtransit, or “Uber for public transit,” as some advocates call it, is a new name for an old idea: “dial-a-ride,” or demand-responsive transit. A van roams in a neighborhood….

Superficially, it might seem that offering riders a more convenient service—especially one that comes directly to their door—would increase ridership. And for individual riders who don’t use buses or rail for whatever reason, it might. But for a municipality with a fixed budget for service, shifting resources from fixed routes to microtransit is a way of lowering ridership overall, not increasing it. …

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Some recent stories about the impact of ride-hailing companies, particularly Uber, and the longer term implications.

First, another confirming story that ride-hailing is measurably increasing congestion – from Tech Crunch:

In San Francisco … ride-hailing services are undoubtedly partially to blame (for the rise in traffic and congestion), but not entirely to blame, according to a new study from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. …

Between 2010 and 2016, according to the SFCTA, ride-hailing services accounted for:

  • 51 percent of the increase in daily vehicle hours of delay
  • 47 percent of the increase in vehicle miles traveled
  • 55 percent of the average speed decline
  • 25 percent of total vehicle congestion citywide

So not surprising, then, that Uber wants to address the problem of congestion by supporting a mechanism that would reduce ‘free-riders’ on the streets they help congest.

From the Seattle Times:

Uber says it plans to spend money lobbying for congestion pricing in Seattle as part of a $10 million push for “sustainable mobility” policies in various cities.

The ride-hail app company and its rival, Lyft, have previously expressed support for the idea of tolling downtown streets in Seattle, where Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration is working to develop a proposal.

But Uber’s new commitment to actively press for congestion pricing in the city, shared with The Seattle Times last week, could be the biggest boost yet for an effort certain to encounter political roadblocks, including concerns about affordability.

Uber thinks big and it thinks strategically – literally globally.   It can afford to.

From Vanity Fair:

The Wall Street Journal reported that the company had received proposals from Wall Street banks estimating its initial public offering at a market valuation as high as $120 billion, virtually twice its current private-market valuation, and larger than the combined market capitalizations of General Motors , Ford Motor Company, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. …

Uber … has a large, global footprint, and is possibly a primordial holding company for a series of future companies …  Uber already has one of the largest food-delivery platforms around today, and it is expanding its freight business, which has the possibility to grow infinitely. And then there’s the driverless car I.P. that the company owns, not to mention the investments in other global ride-sharing services …

“Some people see Uber as a car company,” (an Uber insider said).  “Uber sees itself as the next potential Amazon.”

I think this is bigger than even the evolution of another Amazon (if it first doesn’t buy or dominate Uber.)

We’re still thinking about transportation as essentially a problem of hardware: expensive pieces of metal crammed with technology, jamming the streets and highways. Motordom 1.0.

We analyse the problem from the point of view of the user, each distinguished by the hardware of choice: car or truck drivers, transit users, cyclists (and okay, maybe shoe wearers).

We assume this is primarily a problem for government – the owner of the streets, the licensor of vehicles, the regulator of traffic.

We need to shift our focus to Motordom 2.0 – the integration of every imaginable mode of movement, joined by information technology, delivered to us by a service provider who sells us transportation in the way telecommunications providers sell us data.  The TSP: the Transportation Service Provider.

We should be thinking not about hardware but about what Motordom 2.0 will really be about – issues of ownership, regulation, taxation and equality.  Above all, the vision we have for our urban environments, what we build, for whom, and who gets to decide.

Uber or its successor will likely want to be that decider – the shaper of cities, the creator of wealth, the leader of civilization.  Because that’s what we call what we build, how we move, and who rules over it all.

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Further evidence of the rise of the ‘Transportation Service Provider’ – a single entity that, Uber-like, tries to consolidate as many transportation choices as possible.  Especially, in particular, Uber.

From The Sun:

But what if Uber has larger ambitions for Express Pool and the rest of its suite of services, and it’s actually aiming to compete directly against public transit system? Andrew Macdonald, the company ’s Toronto-based vice-president for Uber’s Americas operations and global business development, was unfazed by the question. He said he sees Uber and transit as complementary services in taking on Uber’s real competitor: individual vehicle ownership.

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Big things start with people coming together over big ideas. In this case, it’s a set of ideas to foster and increase regional growth through economic integration between Metro Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.

PT has previously covered Cascadia material HERE and HERE.

Your chance to mix, mingle, network and learn is on its way to Vancouver.

2018 Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference

Vancouver (Hyatt Regency Hotel)

Tuesday October 9, 2018
Specialized sessions, Registration, Kick-off reception

Wednesday October 10th, 2018
Main Session

p.s. It’ll cost ya $C 400.

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Finally, an article which deals with a critical question regarding self-driving cars: will they require isolation in the urban environment and have to be given their own restricted rights-of-way?  Or will other users, especially pedestrians and cyclists, have to be trained and regulated to give autonomous vehicles priority?  

This article deals only with pedestrians and the problem of jay-walking.  But what if the presence of cyclists sharing space with vehicles proves too problematic, especially when the cyclists are an annoyance as much as potential fatalities, to automated vehicles.  Will the progress made toward complete streets and shared spaces be sacrificed in order to facilitate another utopian vision, another variation on Motordom?

 

Whether self-driving cars can correctly identify and avoid pedestrians crossing streets has become a burning issue since March after an Uber self-driving car killed a woman in Arizona who was walking a bicycle across the street at night outside a designated crosswalk. … Meanwhile, other initiatives are losing steam. Elon Musk has shelved plans for an autonomous Tesla to drive across the U.S. Uber has axed a self-driving truck program to focus on autonomous cars. Daimler Trucks, part of Daimler AG, now says commercial driverless trucks will take at least five years. Others, including Musk, had previously predicted such vehicles would be road-ready by 2020.

With these timelines slipping, driverless proponents like Andrew Ng, a machine self-learning researcher, say there’s one surefire shortcut to getting self-driving cars on the streets sooner: persuade pedestrians to behave less erratically. If they use crosswalks, where there are contextual clues—pavement markings and stop lights—the software is more likely to identify them. …

Rodney Brooks, a well-known robotics researcher and an emeritus professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote in a blog post critical of Ng’s sentiments that “the great promise of self-driving cars has been that they will eliminate traffic deaths. Now [Ng] is saying that they will eliminate traffic deaths as long as all humans are trained to change their behavior? What just happened?” …

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