Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Into the Sprawl: Spaces, Places and Popular Culture

Photo by Brandon Yan
At the beginning of August, Arcade Fire released their third album entitled The Suburbs. It's a 16-track record that has gathered much acclaim in its first month. While I'm a huge fan of the band *bias alert* this album has piqued my interest for other reasons. It's a great example of city planning critique in pop-culture. Though, the Arcade Fire aren't the first artists to critique Suburbia.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Events: Cities, Bicycles and the Future of Getting Around

I'm going to this!



Jennifer Nesselroad at 604.986.1911x3523 / jnesselr@capilanou.ca

For Immediate Release / Photos Available Upon Request
Pacific Arbour Speaker Series presents: Cities, Bicycles and the Future of Getting Around

Featuring David Byrne, Mayor Gregor Robertson, Amy Walker and Erick Villagomez

Monday, August 23, 2010


Chinese Traffic Jam Enters Ninth Day - CBC

"Typical Traffic in Beijing" - Scottmeltzer @ Wiki Commons

Wow. Check out this CBC article on an on-going nine-day traffic jam in China. If you think you have it bad in Vancouver, think again. Sadly, it seems their reasoning for the jam is based on 1960s highway building policies: Congestion is caused by insufficient space - build more highway! This is a dangerous mentality as China becomes increasingly wealthy and more people start driving and demanding more road space. Where there was once millions and millions of bicycles, the car is starting to dominate (consider the Beijing games constantly hampered by smog). Chinese cities are again trying to push people back onto their bikes.
A nine-day traffic jam in China is now more than 100 kilometres long and could last for weeks, state media reported Monday.Thousands of trucks en route to Beijing from Huai'an in the southeast have been backed up since Aug. 14, making the National Expressway 100 impassable, Xinhua News reported.
A spokesman for the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau reportedly told China's Global Times newspaper that the backup was due to "insufficient traffic capacity … caused by maintenance construction."
The construction is scheduled to last until Sept. 13.Stranded drivers appear to have few options when it comes to dealing with the jam. At least some drivers have complained that roadside vendors have increased their prices to take advantage of the traffic jam. One truck driver said he bought instant noodles from one vendor for four times the original price. Another driver, Wang, told Xinhua he'd been stuck in the traffic jam for three days and two nights.
"We are advised to take detours, but I would rather stay here since I will travel more distance and increase my costs," Wang said. This is not the first time the highway has faced such congestion. A similar backup in July kept traffic to a crawl for nearly a month, Xinhua reported.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fare gates are actually Fair gates

Turnstile in Stockholm Metro - Leo Johannes @ Wiki Commons
During Jarrett Walkers lecture in Vancouver, I had the privilege to ask him a question. I asked him how he sees the debate over fare gates because it will be a debate that will becoming up much more often. At the moment, Translink is in the process of seeking bids for a smart-card and fare gate system. Check out the Buzzer Blog and the Translink website for more info on this.

Jarrett said that the fare gate debate is one that is rooted firmly in psychology because it's all about perception. It's not a debate that can easily be justified with numbers because fare evasion is difficult to calculate - you can't easily measure an absence. Jarrett then brought up two major subway systems: Paris and Berlin. Paris has fare gates and Berlin, like Vancouver, does not. He said "it’s a cultural and psychological thing, and a genuinely difficult concept with no clear answers. So there are political answers (Buzzer transcript)." Indeed, I would argue that this is true. Translink is often under political pressure given that it seems to exist at the leisure of the Provincial Government (re: the Canada Line debate).

Personally, I think fare gates for Vancouver is a poor idea. It seems like a huge capital expense to only potentially recoup money from fare evasion. Remember, Paris and London have gates but they also have fare evasion. They also have safety issues. If Translink wants to spend almost $200million dollars on a gates just for the perception that people have paid their fares to use the trains and that they're more safe for doing so, by all means.

Indeed, check out the wording on the press release "Timing is right for fare gates" on their website:
Over and above overcoming funding and logistical issues, the federal/provincial announcement will effectively respond to important public perceptions.  Metro Vancouver residents have perceived for some time that a greater sense of security will result from the introduction of fare gates, particularly in the off-peak evening hours.
The public firmly believes that fare evasion on SkyTrain is higher than has been measured in past audits.  The belief that the system is losing revenue due to fare evasion is very often cited as a reason not to support additional revenue measures needed to sustain and expand the transportation system. 

Translink seems to be a bit schizoid on the topic, too. They have fare evasion audits that you can read on their website. Here's a snippet from the Buzzer from June 2004:
Buzzer, Translink 2004.

 Also , I've seen the argument come down to a mentality of "It's not fair that I have to pay and others don't."A perception of what is fare...er, fair.
Everybody agrees we need better public transportation in the Lower Mainland. The only question is how we are going to pay for it all -- especially if thousands of transit riders continue to get a free ride.
Coun. McNulty [Richmomd] said he'd personally seen people without monthly passes walking directly past ticket-purchase machines and hopping onto trains, with Canada Line staff doing nothing to stop them.

I'm not sure how he knows that people don't have monthly passes but if he has some super power, he should probably share it with Translink.

I support the smart card system but I think we could leave the fare gates out of it like London does on it's DLR.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


  • Crosscut (Seattle): Bike lanes will destroy jobs! The sky is falling! Down is up! Black is white! According to the Crosscut, a proposed road-diet is 'forcing' an employer to pack up 400 employees and move elsewhere (where, apparently, cars roam free as deer).
  • Price Tags: G.P.'s on going series called Annals of Motordom. This post talks about flying cars and, my home town, Langley. A Councillor and well known blogger, Jordan Bateman, talks about the effect of the new Golden Ears bridge on Fort Langley but some of the conclusions that he draws are a bit off. You can read my comments on the post even though much of it is me rambling/ranting.
  • Sustainable Cities Collective: A top 20 list of urban planning success...Granville Island comes in at #7. Really? I still would like to see less cars on G.I. and the streetcar put back on it. ALSO, a post that looks at why parking regulations matter. (Related?)
  • Re:Place: Policy, Density and Population Distribution.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shameless Plug: Hire Me!

As part of my quest to get into the Urban Planning field, I'm looking for a job that can start me on the right career path. I've added my resume as a page to this site (Good idea/bad idea?) If you know anyone that is looking for a great team player let me know!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Video: San Francisco Smart Parking

SFpark Overview from SFpark on Vimeo.

Debate: Cycling

Add caption

Over the last week I've been debating all things cycling on facebook and on Translink's Buzzer Blog. If you want, you can read the post I've been commenting on here. Jhenifer Pabillano, the site's editor, injected some great and impartial facts into the debate that I would like to share (Disclaimer: *** Translink in no way endorses any position and what was posted was based on research that they know of ***):

Info on travel patterns in downtown Vancouver - First: TransLink doesn’t tell municipalities how to allocate their road space, so it’s not up to us how municipalities choose to use their roads.

- There is some data that provides context for the City of Vancouver’s decision to pursue bike lanes, including:
—–Private vehicle trips to Downtown Vancouver have been falling both in absolute terms and in comparison to other modes. Between 1992 and 2004, total trips to the Central Business District increased by 22% while private vehicle trips decreased by 7%. Since the road space downtown is serving fewer vehicle trips, it may be reasonable to reallocate some space to other roads. (This data comes from the City of Vancouver’s Downtown Vancouver Transportation Plan, 2006 Progress Update.)

—–Downtown Vancouver is an extremely busy area with a high concentration of destinations. While transit is an important mode for getting into downtown, it is difficult to maintain fast, reliable bus service in a place that is crowded with cars, other buses and pedestrians (if you’ve ever taken the 5 Robson you will be aware of this). Because of this, many people prefer to make trips within the downtown core by walking and/or cycling. The Downtown peninsula is a cluster of residential neighbourhoods as well as a key employment centre, so there are lots of trips being made within Downtown itself in addition to trips coming to Downtown. These trips also need to be served. Also, because buses and SkyTrain are often full near Downtown, cycling and walking are important for taking pressure off the transit system.

—–Research from Portland estimates that around 60% of the population is interested in cycling but is deterred by fear of traffic. TransLink has seen confirmation of this in its own market research which has found that traffic is one of the main deterrents to cycling. Separated routes, such as the Burrard Bridge, Dunsmuir, Carrall Street and urban sections of the Central Valley Greenway are designed to address this discomfort by separating cyclists from traffic.

Info on park and rides
Here’s some information on park-and-rides, which are NOT intended to argue for or against park and rides, only to outline some of the tradeoffs. Since every situation can’t be addressed, the examples here are for the SkyTrain which carries high ridership to Downtown. The situation for West Coast Express or the future Evergreen Line may be different.

- The importance of park and ride lots differs for different services and depends on land use near the stations and feeder bus service. For example, a larger percentage of West Coast Express ridership accesses the station by park and ride. However, for SkyTrain the story is very different. For the Expo Line carries about 140,000 passengers per day and has about 1,700 park and ride spots. Assuming that most park and ride spots are occupied by a single vehicle for most of the day and that capacity utilization is 100%, that means about 1.5% of passengers are accessing the line by park and ride. So right now the Expo Line carries very high volumes of passengers and feeder bus and pedestrian access, rather than park and ride, are the backbone of system access.

- Transit is now serving a lot more trip patterns than suburbs to downtown. While Downtown is still an important destination, a lot of trips are subregional. In some cases, logical locations for park and ride are also logical locations for regional destinations (for example, in the Surrey/Delta/Langley region 79% of all trips originating in that region also terminate there – Source: South of Fraser Area Transit Plan). In response to this type of trend, Surrey is now envisioning the area around SkyTrain stations as a second Downtown for the region. In cases like these, bringing important regional and subregional uses close to good transit access may benefit more residents than using this space for park and rides that facilitate trips to Downtown and other central areas.

- While park and ride can allow passengers to access stations, there are tradeoffs. These include:
—–Land in Metro Vancouver is very valuable and parking is a low-value use. If you have a park and ride beside a station it means that you can’t have anything else there. Imagine there is an empty lot beside a station where you could either build housing or a park and ride. In a space where you could fit 300 apartments could fit around 700 parking spots. If the apartments rented or sold for the equivalent of $900/month, the parking spaces would cost $4,500/year or $12.50/day to generate the same revenue. That isn’t to suggest that park and ride spaces have to be rented at cost but it’s a thought experiment that gives an idea of the opportunity cost of the parking spaces. So if people are willing to pay $12.50 a day to park at the park and ride then they value the parking spots as much as someone would value an apartment. And if people wish to have those park and ride spaces more than living space, this can certainly happen. Also, similar to the park and ride, the apartments would generate ridership for the station (transit ridership for people living near SkyTrain stations is much higher than the surrounding areas). So areas around SkyTrain stations are valuable areas and parking is going to compete with other potential uses.

—–Park and rides make it difficult to create a safe and welcoming environment for passengers. While transit police and station attendants can improve safety they are not a substitute for the natural surveillance that come from having active uses around the station. They also cannot create a pleasant walking environment and the convenience of amenities (ex. grocery stores) for passengers walking to access the station. Park-and-ride design can mitigate these issues but a park and ride will never feel or function the same way as an actual neighbourhood.

Who spends more: walkers, cyclists, public transit riders, drivers? 
With regard to which type of traveller spends more at businesses, we only know of a few research studies done on this. Have a look at the data from one study done on Bloor Street, a central area in Toronto. The summary states, “Most visitors to the Bloor Annex are walkers. They also spend the most money there per month. The next highest number of visitors are cyclists. They spend the second most amount of money. Public transit riders are the third highest number of visitors and the third highest spenders per month. Drivers are the lowest number of visitors and spend about the same amount as public transit riders.”

And that’s all I have on that… again, this is not to argue for or against any side in this debate, but to provide you with some useful research and facts.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Canada Line: Expansion

In regards to my post about the Canada Line's (CL) first birthday, I looked into its design and how it's supposed to handle expansion. While I tried search for an 'official plan,' I managed to gather some more informal information. According to a post from the Seattle Transit Blog, the CL's platforms are 40m (I believe that the Expo Line's are 80m since a 6-car train is 72m). This length is expandable by 10m, to 50m. In doing to, they can fit an extra car in between the two cars that a station can currently hold. Not much of an expansion plan - and I don't think I want to hear how much it costs to lengthen the stations further. Hopefully it will be a while before they get to that point. I had also heard a rumor that since everything is automated they can run two 2-car trains (4 cars) together and have their front and back ends stick outside the stations and then only doors with access to the platforms open. I do not want to see the mess that turns into.
Arnold C @ Wiki Commons

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Video: Bike Saftey...Pirate Style!

Pirates of the Broadway: Salmon from Laura on Vimeo.

Smart Parking: Supply and Demand

San Francisco is rolling out new parking meters that are able to detect the amount of open spaces and calculate the parking rate based on demand. Ideally, smart prices should always ensure that there are open spots - as long as you're willing to pay for them. Engadget has the story:
San Francisco has been working on making parking "smarter" for quite a while now, and it's just recently taken another big step in that direction by starting to replace over 5,000 older parking meters with the snazzy new model pictured above. Those will not only let you pay with a credit or debit card (and soon a special SFMTA card), but automatically adjust parking rates based on supply and demand, which means you could pay anywhere from $0.25 to $6.00 an hour depending on how many free spaces there are. Those rates are determined with the aid of some sensors that keep a constant watch on parking spaces, which also means you'll be able to check for free spaces in an area on your phone or your computer before you even leave the house.
Library of Congress @ Wiki Commons
More: http://sfpark.org/

Friday, August 6, 2010

Canada Line is One, Plus 100,000!

Congrats to the Canada Line, you're almost one! And, like an energetic one year old, you've found your legs.

I've ridden the Canada Line many times and found that every time I used it, no matter what time of day it was, it seemed crowded. Well, apparently they've hit 100,000+ users a day in June. This wasn't expected until 2013. This means that they're bringing in extra revenue and that they should hit their break-even point sooner than 2025. More at Frances Bula's Blog.

But, is there room for growth? I want to look into how they plan to handle more passengers over the next 25 years. Remember, stations were shortened to reduce costs and can only handle one two-car train. Frequency is also a problem since it's a split line (and I assume they can't change that given that YVR has invested a lot of money into the line). To be investigated!

Dan Uday @ Wiki Commons

Lecture: Transit Debates

Tonight I had the honour and the privileged to attend a free lecture by Jarrett Walker (Human Transit) at SFU's Harbour Center campus. You can find information on the lecture here. Jarrett explained that he is out there to explain ideas and solutions and to not promote them. We can call him a Transit Philosopher of sorts.

In a nutshell, Jarrett explained some of the background behind transit debates. I'm going to provide you with the notes that I took (I hope I can adequately convey his basic ideas).

Jarrett explained a lot of thing using a 'spectrum of authority' from individual to universal - why is it that we are convinced that what we think is true? It falls on this spectrum:

my feelings our feelings culture psychology biology physics geometry and math 

Here's what he means by each category:
  • Geometry and math: things that are true anywhere in the universe. 3+2=5, etc. 
  • Physics: laws that are true not only on earth by perhaps the universe. 
  • Biology: things that are true for humans/species on the earth. ex. Mammals need water to survive. 
  • Psychology: specific to one species on this planet.
  • Culture: subsets of the human species and the categories that we use to organize ourselves.
  • Our feelings: Our immediate cohort - my friends, etc.  "I know many people who don't like to take the bus."
  • My feelings: the 'ultimate authority,' our own personal feelings. "I don't like taking the bus."
It is a cold to hot spectrum, from the most passionate of arguments on one end to the cold, boring (un-sexy) facts on the other.

He brought up an interesting idea in psychology called the "fundamental attribution error." He explained that humans tend to underestimate the rationality of the actions of others (and over estimate their own). His example of this was the common claim that Los Angeles has/is a 'car culture' which explains why everyone there drives so much. However, what if their actions are completely rational to their own situation? Perhaps they are responding to a situation or something that we don't entirely understand.

Jarrett used an example of streetcars on how transit debates work on this spectrum. He said that street cars in mixed traffic are easily stalled by things in their path while buses can easily go around any obstacle in their route. This is a geometric fact. However, someone may counter with the argument that cars are more likely to give way to streets cars than buses. This is a culture fact for that particular culture for that particular moment but, as Jarrett said, culture can change but geometry wont. He cautioned about using a cultural generalization as a reason not to worry about the geometric one.

The geometry and math side of the spectrum is the 'practicality' side and the my feelings side is the vision and NIMBYISM side. Jarrett said the idea is to engage the emotions (my/our feelings) without undermining reality (physics/geometry and math). There are some cautions about either side:
  • Jarrett said that too much practicality without vision becomes habit and too much how, not enough why (Highway engineers and conventional bus operators are like this - 'by the book'). 
  • Vision without practicality leads to boondoggles (projects driven by excitement that over-rule practical concerns - the Seattle Mono-rail, slow transit projects).
Klaus with K @ Wiki Commons

 While the meat of his lecture was focused on how transit arguments/debates/quarrels are framed he did talk about some other interesting things.
  • Transit technology choice often makes no difference to mobility outcomes. Speed, reliability and frequency are usually unrelated to technology. 
  • If you branch routes, you divide frequency. He said that it's infinitely better to provide simple routes (network simplicity) with  lots of transfers/connections than to have long, convoluted routes that require no transfers. 
  • The power of the 'map in your head' is how he referred to simple transit maps that are easily memorized so as to enhance the spontaneity of trip planning. He applauded Vancouver on this. I also talked about Translink's new maps here.
  • If you double the density, you more than double the transit ridership. 
  • You can abolish traffic congestion if you find the right price...I posted a link to his blog post about transit and traffic congestion not long ago - you can read more about this here.
Perhaps my favourite quote from the evening was, "suburban business parks are a direct assault on civilization."

There are posts from other blogs about Jarrett's trip to Vancouver:
More to follow.