January 1, 2008

Bill the Billboards

According to this article in The Tyee, Councillor Peter Ladner would like to introduce bike-sharing a la Velib to Vancouver.

In Paris, a single company is footing the bill in exchange for exclusive rights to the city’s more than 1,600 billboards.

That company is JCDecaux which now goes under the name of CBS Outdoor Media, and has a similar, albeit less lucrative deal with Vancouver involving bus shelters and street furniture.

“I’d love to see it so that we wouldn’t have to spend any public money on it, and it would be entirely self-supporting and somebody would look after it all for us, just like we do with the bus shelters,” said Ladner who has spoken to JCDecaux about expanding their operations in Vancouver to include bicycles.

“They’d love to do it, but they don’t know quite how we’d pay for it. They might come back and say you’re gonna have to let us build this many billboards and then we’d have some pretty tough decisions to make,” he said, pointing out that Vancouver doesn’t have a 1,600-billboard bargaining chip and people might not be so keen on having more giant ads around.

It seems to me we do have a chip: the 1,600 existing billboards.  They make money because they have access to eyes travelling in the public realm.  They make money because of the City’s acceptance of their intrusion.

In fact, most cities in Metro don’t allow billboards.  The City at any point could make them illegal, and put in place a phase-out time after the current leases expire.  Why not, instead, put in place a surcharge to fund the Velib program – a public benefit that justifies the private benefit?

After years of frustrated hopes of bringing bicycle schemes to Vancouver, Ladner has no stated preference for the model the city may adopt. With one stipulation: “I’d like to see something that works.”

 This would.

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This popped up in the email a few weeks ago from Dan Freeman, a transportation planner at TransLink:

I know it may come as a shock to some of you, but cool things do happen at TransLink…
We’ve been doing some playing around with Google Earth as a platform for displaying passenger load profile data for almost a year now… One of my colleagues (Graeme Brown) devised a way to display our passenger load data in kml – the programming language for Google Earth. It allowed us to create some really cool 3D load profiles. We’re pretty excited about it, and we’re also pretty sure that no one else has done this before.
Graeme recently posted an example load profile (route #3 – Main St), along with a brief explanation of how to create it …

Take a look – it’s pretty cool – and send it along to other transit/transportation nerds you know who might be interested. We’d love to hear what you & others have to say, including suggestions to improve it.

You don’t have to be a data nerd to appreciate the importance of this.  I remember, when I was a TransLink director, seeing some figures which showed that the daily ridership on just one trolley route – Fraser/Granville – was greater than the expected ridership of the proposed Evergreen light-rail line at its inauguration.   (The visual display of this quantitative data would have made that apparent at a glance.)
Of course, the real difference was that Evergreen line would cost millions in capital and require significant operating subsidies, while the trolley routes paid for themselves.

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Lorin, a PT reader, reminds us: 

Metro Vancouver is getting to the end of public meetings on the new regional growth strategy (there are a few more in January). I noticed they’ve extended the comment period from January 15 to January 31.
I have seen almost no commentary or analysis in the blogosphere. But perhaps I’m not looking in the right places.
MV has set up an online forum, but so far it’s got just three members (2 are MV staff) and ONE non-staff posting.

The problem is two-fold, I think: there’s nothing particularly contentious in the proposed strategy.  The options are nuanced versions of past directions, and the strategy as a whole is another iteration of the vision that goes back to the Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board in the 1950s: “Cities in a sea of green.”
But hey, it’s been a vision that’s worked – at least when our decisions are consistent. 
The other reason why there may not be a lot of response is the requirement to register.  People are too used to commenting with a single click, as with this blog.
No excuse not to participate of course – and that works best at the public meetings.  But almost by definition, those who attend meetings are not typical of the citizenry in general.
And that’s why, too often, because those who care or are generally satisfied with the status quo do not speak up, the debate moves to the extremes, and it’s easy to denigrate the achievements we as a society actually make.  
I think that’s what happened to TransLink: failure to recognize what it did well, constant criticism of its failures and general contempt in the media made it easy for the provincial government to dismantle it.

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December 28, 2007

I ask it today in the Langley Times:

More Fraser bridges urged Get Moving B.C. lobby group offers up transportation wish list
By Jeff Nagel – Langley Times – December 28, 2007
With the new Golden Ears bridge linking Langley and Maple Ridge under construction, a Lower Mainland transportation lobby group is calling for more Fraser River crossings ….
[Get Moving B.C.] wants the province to build the Tree Island Bridge to connect Highway 91 directly to Marine Way at Byrne Road.
That would create a straight route for Vancouver-bound traffic heading over the Alex Fraser Bridge that now dog legs either east or west via the Queensborough or Knight Street bridges.

SFU City Program director Gordon Price said he wouldn’t be surprised if the transportation ministry does pursue more Fraser crossings after Gateway is built….
“What these guys want to do is continue locking people in to their cars and trucks,” he said of Get Moving’s wish list. “What you’re building is a complete freeway web.”
He also asks how such an expansion can be reconciled with the premier’s goal to slash B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions one third by 2021.
“What are the places they want us to be more like? Is it Calgary or Phoenix or where?”

It’s a question I’ll be asking the new TransLink directors – “What’s your vision for the region?” – and it’s one that Jordan Bateman answers in his blog, Langley Politics Dotcom:

I would like us to be more like Portland (rated the #1 most sustainable city in the US in nearly every poll): with plenty of bridge lanes, light rail and excellent bus service; none of which is stopped by a Berlin Wall of a river. And following Portland’s example of continuing to invest in all three: roads, rail, and buses.

Nice finesse, Jordan, and I appreciate the attempt to argue for a ‘balanced’ transportation system.  But the Portland described in the report is the consequence of a generation of road-and-bridge building that would not likely be duplicated today.  They would not, for instance, run I-5 down the east bank of the Willamette, nor build some of their bridges, like the Morrison, as extensions of the freeways.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they removed lanes from some of them in the future, as they did the expressway that ran down the west bank.
Today, Portland doesn’t build new roads and bridges or replace old ones without first establishing that transit – whether streetcar or light rail – will be budgeted into the project, and will shape the land-use that accompanies the infrastructure. 
Langley is doing nothing of the sort.  In fact, the message is clear: the Province is building roads and bridges – big ones – and not budgeting seriously for transit that will make a difference in shaping land use.  You’d be nuts to move to Langley without a car or truck, since there will be no other option from now to the foreseeable future.

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December 27, 2007

Roger Kemble ends the year with a sardonic missive from Nanaimo on the emerging Olympic Village:

Yup, Vancouver is still singing the same old, same old . . . world class, paradise, the mountains, views. Oh no!

From the sub-prime to the ridiculous. Well, at least we are not Dubai!

When will the hucksters grow up?

The Olympics are coming and for a few days in the winter of 2010 the town will have a ball. In the meantime the local socialites and crony capitalists are hard at work making money off the taxpayer.

Vancouver’s Olympic Village on the South East Shores of False Creek is about to emerge from the old industrial detritus of an illustrious past.

More here.

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In today’s Guardian:

Ministers ordered to assess climate cost of all decisions.
Coal-fired power stations, airport expansions and new road schemes could all be put on hold following a decision by Gordon Brown that ministers must in future take account of the true economic cost of climate change damage.

Ministers have been instructed to factor into their calculations a notional “carbon price” when making all policy and investment decisions covering transport, construction, housing, planning and energy. That price – which will increase annually – is intended to frame all day-to-day policy and investment decisions for the next 30 years…. The “shadow price for carbon”, representing the cost to society of the environmental damage, has already been agreed for every year up to 2050 by government economists. It will be set at £25.50 a carbon tonne for 2007, rising annually to £59.60 a tonne by 2050. The climate change minister, Phil Woolas, said: “This will have huge implications for [the] government. If for instance a new power station is due to cost £1bn, but it will add £200m worth of carbon emissions, we will decide that the cost of the power station is £1.2bn, even though its cash price is £1bn. We are creating a new currency.” In theory the carbon price will create a bias against roads and carbon-emitting coal stations and make new “zero carbon” building regulations appear more economic.
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December 21, 2007

Magic Highway USA

The Disney version of the future: so optimistic and naive it’s almost impossible to believe they took it seriously.
Four things jump out for me: (1) an assumption of unlimited energy without consequence, (2) traffic densities less than a minor arterial on overscaled roads (never, ever acknowledging the possibility of congestion), (3) a future without any remaining remnants of the past (except in third world countries where they’re still using rickshaws), (4) fins, everywhere.

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