July 13, 2018

10th Avenue in Vancouver ~ Health Precinct Changes Phase I

To make it easy for people to choose the bicycle as a way to get from “A” to “B”, you start by planning a network; step two is safe and effective infrastructure.

Vancouver’s 10th Avenue corridor spans Victoria Drive in the east to Trafalgar Street in the west, and connects to several north-south bike routes, like busy-busy Ontario, Heather, Cypress and the Arbutus Greenway.

The corridor sees around 500,000 bike trips per year, a good portion of which passes through the hospital precinct between Heather and Oak streets, which now has mostly-completed separated cycling and walking paths.

Here’s a gallery of some of the facility.

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Having just finished reading The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, I was struck by how much remains relevant today, even though it was published in 1975. The book is a biography of Robert Moses, the legendary and polarizing New York city planner who controlled various government offices (up to twelve at one point!) from 1924 to 1968, a span of 44 years. Moses displayed an unparalleled aptitude for gaining and leveraging power, which he frequently abused to build the infrastructure and housing of New York in his image – which (spoiler alert) relied heavily on the private automobile. For a sense of magnitude, Moses built 669 km of parkways and 13 bridges.
At 1162 pages long, I will spare the reader from a comprehensive review, although I would recommend that this book is compulsory reading for anyone who is interested in how we became so reliant upon the automobile. What follows are two excerpts which are particularly salient when compared to the Massey Bridge project, a local example of this struggle, of which there are already a treasure trove of articles posted on Price Tags.

On accepting traffic as a normal part of one’s day:

It was during the early 1920’s that such traffic first overwhelmed New York; in 1924 and 1925 and 1926, the public reacted with indignation and protest against the jams in which – seated in the vehicles that had promised them new freedom – they found themselves imprisoned instead. Traffic was news, big news; clockings* were a front-page staple. By the late 1920’s, however, a kind of numbness – measurable by a slackening in angry letters-to-the-editor and campaign statements by both-ears-to-the-ground politicians – was setting in. Psychologists know what happens to rats motivated by mild electric shocks or the promise of a food reward to get out of the maze when the maze is excessively difficult to get out of; for a while, their efforts to find an escape become more and more frantic, and then they cease, the creatures becoming sullen, then listless, suffering apathetically through shock or hunger rather than making further efforts that they believe will be useless. People caught in intolerable traffic jams twice a day, day after day, week after week, month after month, began after some months to accept traffic jams as part of their lives, to become hardened to them, to suffer through them in dull and listless apathy. The press, responding to its readers’ attitude, ran fewer hysterical congestion stories, gave fewer clockings. A city editor seeing a couple of reporters with their feet up on their desks on a slow Friday afternoon found other make-work than sending them out to discover how long it took to get from the Queens-Midtown Tunnel to the Lincoln Tunnel. Only in editorial columns – written, it sometimes seems, by men selected through a Darwinian process in which the vital element for survival is an instant and constant capacity for indignation and urgency – did the indignation and urgency endure. Traffic was still news, but it was no longer big news.
*Note: clocking refers to travel time to the Lincoln Tunnel from various locations
Caro, Robert A. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 1975. Part VI: The Lust for Power Chapter 39: The Highwayman P.912

On attempting to alleviate traffic by building larger highway projects:

Highways competed with parallel mass transit lines, luring away their customers. Pour public investment into the improvement of highways while doing nothing to improve mass transit lines, and there could be only one outcome: those lines would lose more and more passengers; those losses would make it more and more difficult for their owners to sustain service and maintenance; service and maintenance would decline; the decline would cost the lines more passengers; the loss in passengers would further accelerate the rate of decline; the rate of passenger loss would correspondingly accelerate – and the passengers lost would do their travelling instead by private car, further increasing highway congestion. No crystal ball was needed to foretell such a result; it had already been proven, most dramatically perhaps in New Jersey, where the Susquehanna Railroad has lost over two-thirds of its passengers in the ten years following the opening of the George Washington Bridge,

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From the Transport Politic:  Should the U.S. spend $1 trillion on new infrastructure?
Donald Trump wants to make a big splash by supporting a huge new infrastructure bill ….
From a financial perspective, the tax credits would do nothing to support projects that don’t make money, meaning all hope is lost for fixing Flint’s lead-in-water problem through this legislation, for example. The plan would provide automatic 10 percent pretax profits to contractors, just as a matter of general policy. Credits could be distributed even to projects that were already planned, meaning that there is no guarantee that the investment would actually increase investment or produce new jobs. Meanwhile, the proposal provides no source to actually pay for those tax credits, meaning they could be “weaponized” to “justify future cuts in health care, education and social programs,” as Ronald Klein has put it.
Writing in The New York Times, Paul Krugman focuses on the proposal’s secondary effect, which would be shifting infrastructure from public to private hands. This is “not a plan to borrow $1 trillion and spend it on much-needed projects,” he writes. “It is, instead, supposed to involve having private investors do the work both of raising money and building the projects—with the aid of a huge tax credit that gives them back 82 percent of the equity they put in.” Krugman’s point is that the proposed tax credits are, in reality, giveaways to companies that will then own and operate infrastructure permanently at little to no costs to themselves. The plan, in this way, is privatizing future public assets. …
In the transportation space, as many have noted, profit-motivated investments will mean, overwhelmingly, toll highways. Given that the vast majority of transit lines—perhaps all of them in the U.S.—are deficitary, and the fact that it is inconceivable to imagine developing pedestrian and biking projects that charge customers to use them, a transportation investment structured on these lines seems likely to be very auto-oriented, at least compared to current federal transportation expenditures, which are distributed 1-to-4 transit-to-highways.
What would be the direct consequences of thousands of new miles of grade-separated highways? Massive incentives for increased sprawling, unwalkable development, destruction of greenfield and agricultural land, and disincentives for investment in urban infill. Significantly more vehicular travel generated through induced demand. Massive new carbon emissions.

Full article here. There are, of course, lots of parallels to what is already happening in B.C. and proposed at the federal level.

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