July 23, 2014
On Thursday July 17th, the SkyTrain system was shut down during the evening peak travel period due to a failed computer component. This left many passengers stranded both at SkyTrain stations and in SkyTrain cars for many hours. Then on Monday July 21th the skytrain system was brought to halt due to a tripped electric breaker protecting the SkyTrain’s operations centre. The power outage also halted the public announcement system
Having two skytrain melt down in a row is statistically improbable. Improbable but not impossible…drawing some hasty conclusions on the general state of the system based on exceptional event shouldn’t be done at this stage:
Some observers have been quick to link the skytrain glitches to lack of funding. We notice that the latest meltdown is linked to the extension of the Skytrain (Evergreen line work)…
Identifying the root cause of the trouble is a good step. Translink, which seems to have learnt how to manage crisis in Pyonyang, thinks it has then took the adequate measure: suspend the electrician whose is alledgely responsible for the tripping of the breaker.
We will note that if a breaker exists in the first place, it is to allow it to trip, and the consequence of a tripping should be known as well. so a first question
- Does the risk of accidental tripping of a critical breaker due to electrical work was properly assessed? and its corollary: Does the electrical work was appropriately scheduled to minimize risks on skytrain operation?
The handling of a crisis communication
A tripping breaker or something else shutting down a whole transit system is a rare occurence, but not something unprecedented:
During the great 2003 North east blackout, whole transit systems, in cities such as Toronto or New York, grind to a complete halt…
In such occurence, The question is: What is the response of the Transit authority and is it adequate?
- Does Translink expect people to roast in trains for hours without any information?
If a train evacation plan was in place, something one could have excepted to be decided in the minutes following the skytrain halt (a tripping breaker is a priori something quick and easy to troubleshoot, and the consequence on the time to “reboot” the system should be well know).
- Why Translink didn’t inform its customers about it?
Thought the passenger announcement system was down, medium like twitter was available (but used only to mention an unspecified “technical issue”). That brings us another aspect of the issue.
Is the Skytrain system rightly designed?
- In crisis situation, more than ever, communication is key: the passenger information system should be insulated of other control systems (be able to run on onboard battery…)
Wrong per design, is also the fact that a Skytrain “glitch”, seems always to bring the whole Skytrain system on its knees. The system seems to be too much centralized. The corollary of it:
The more the system expand, hence add complexity (be by mile of trackage or by number of trains in operation), the more the chance to have catastrophic glitches.
The occurence of it can be reduced by increasing the reliability of the system as is (that can be typically achieved by providing redundancy on key part …but eventually that will not prevent embarassing issues where the whole skytrain system break down, due to a too centralized management of it.
Better overall resilience could be achieved by a more decentralized system: having the different lines operated as much as independently as possible is a step in that direction . That could not necessarily means less over-all break down, but a break down could be of much minor consequence on the system (typically confined to one line). In that regard:
- With the advent of the Evergreen line (VCC-Douglas college), the Millenium line should be shortened to be (Watefront-Lougheed) which should reduce catastrophic break-down effect
- the poor design of the Lougheed station which can be already criticized for the lack of same platform transfer between future Evergreen line train (VCC-Douglas) and Millenium train (Waterfront-Lougheed), can also be blamed, for preventing to operate one line in total disconnection of the other in normal operation (excluding OMC access)
- We have to celebrate as an an eventually uninentended advantage, the fact that the Canada line is operated totally independently from the rest of the skytrain network
The Skytrain reliability is touted at 95%: that measures the % of train running no later than 2mn of its schedule.
A measure providing little meaning for the customer:
- train can run late, but as long as speed and frequency is maintained, the level of service for the customer is maintained.
The measure of the skytrain reliability doesn’t provide us with a good idea of how “late” or “slow” the 5% of trains not “on time” are.
The problem is that when a Skytrain is “running late”, it can very quikly means hour delay for the customer. In that light, 5% trains “running late” could be then considered as way too much (a bit like if a driver was facing incident like flat tire or engine break down once a month, but should feel content because the rest of the month, or 95% of the time, the drive is unevenfull…).
For matter of comparison, the reliability of french driverless subways is usually north of 99% 
To the risk to be at odd with Translink, a review to all of the above question is necessary: the findings could eventually help to reduce the occurence of skytrain systemic issues and more certainly will provide some guidance to help to improve the handling of such occurence in the future
 see Twenty Years of Experiences with driverless metros in France, J.M. Erbina and C. Soulas. As an example, the Paris automated line 14 reliability (percentage of passengers who waited less than 3mn during peak hour or less than 6mn during off-peak hours) is at 99.8% on the Paris automated line 14
 Per definition a “back-up” system is not working when the main system is…and back up system issue are typically discovered when we need it if not thoroughly and recuurently tested what involve significantly ongoing maintenance cost.
 As an example in Paris, each automated subway lines (taht is line 1 and 14 has its own central command center. That is also true of the Lille VAL system, which has 2 lines opened in 1983 and 1989
April 26, 2014
Adam Fitch will be leading bike tours on Saturday May 3 and Sunday May 4 as part of the Jane’s Walk Vancouver series – An Alternative to the Broadway Subway
Also in New Westminster on May 4th
Walk The Route That Could Inspire Our Transit Future
And in Vancouver on May 8th (07:00 to 09:00 PM)
Passenger Trains in Canada – their current status and future potential. A Transport Action Canada town hall meeting for the National Dream Renewed project with Transportation expert Dr. Harry Gow. Brix Studio, 102 – 211 Columbia St., Gastown. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 25, 2014
This blog uses many reference documents, sometimes not available online except thru this blog: This post gathers those “odd” documents and is aimed to be updated whenever needed.
- Rail Rapid Transit for metropolitan Vancouver, study by the Province of British Columbia, 1962
- The Erickson/Massey plan, commissioned by the Vancouver art council, 1966
- “Beat the Traffic Rush”, The case for rapid Transit, Alderman Harry Rankin, Vancouver 1971
- A Rapid transit study for Burrard Inlet, William H. McCreery, Vancouver, B.C, circa 1972
- Draft memorandum on transit service planning to complement downtown peninsula plans of the City of Vancouver, Bureau of Transit Services, BC Minister of Municipal affairs, Sept 19, 1975
- Environmental Assessment Certification Application for the Richmond Airport Vancouver Rapid Transit Project, December 2004.
- TransLink’s Rapid & Regional Transit Model , PTV America Inc. and Translink, Vancouver and Wilmington, DE, February 2007 and December 2008
- Expo line upgrade strategy, SNC Lavalin, May 2012
- referenced in the post “Rail Rapid Transit for Vancouver in 1962″
- This document focusing on the Block 61 has been presented in “Vancouver 1966: The Erickson/Massey proposal for block 61 and the Downtown core “
- Extensive verbatim is done in “The Case for Rapid Transit…in 1970″
- It is a monorail proposal across the Burrard Inlet
- The key points of this document are presented in The Downtown Vancouver Bus Service vision in 1975
- It is a 144MB zip file
review of the Phase 2 consultation: loop and connectivity issues
This review is eventually done in light of previous ideas exposed in those posts
- Vancouver Downtown Transit network: the local view
- Vancouver Downtown Transit network: the regional and city view
Bus 17 and C23
The new route alignment are the same as the one suggested in our previous posts, so we obviously consider them as good. In order to avoid Cambie (a street targeted for aggressive pedestrianization by the City), a byzantine alternative proposal (B2) is proposed: it induces operating costs 5 time higher than the more straightforward Cambie routing .
- That should be enough to rule out this alternative…and the closure of Cambie
Bus 4,7 and 3,8
The improvement is obvious for route 4 and 7. For route 3 and 8, there is an issue. Thought the consolidation of the both service directions on Pender (avoiding the 30km/h Hasting speed limit) improves the legibility of the routes in the DTES, it is done at the expense of the network connectivity:
- lost of direct Transfer with the Hasting buses
- bus 4,7 (and 200’s) East Bound, are also 2 block away of Pender, making the transfer poorer than today
We are of the opinion that e Main#Hasting is a major transfer point between bus 3,8 and Hasting buses (#14,#16,#20,#135), and for this reason we have some reservations on the 3 and 8 proposal.
The Robson and Davie loop
About the loop
Loop touch things deep in the human psyche. When community leaders are asked in a meeting to talk about their transit needs. it’s not uncommon for one of them to say, usually with circular hand gestures, that they need some kind of loop [...]. Straight lines can seem aggressive, whereas loops offer a sense of closure [...].
If your agenda in life is to to enjoy every moment and never worry about a destination, then the appeal of loops is undeniable [...].
But however much we may savor every moment of life, most of us still have jobs and families. so sometimes we just need to get there. We are at point A and need to be at point B as soon as possible. The shape of that desire is not a loop. It’s a straight line.
Loops also creates some operating challenges: a disturbance (delay in Transit) introduced in a loop never disappear unless the loop is opened (think Larsen effect). What is usually done is that loops are either open (London Circle line) or operated in segments (Tram T3 in Paris). Bus loops are much more prone to disturbance that segregated railway loop.
- That is the reason of the lay-over at Davie and Denman, and all Translink loop proposals involve a second layover on Cambie
- Stay in the bus if the operator allows this during his break
- Transfer to a bus ahead in the queue at the layover
Those layovers undermine significantly the attractiveness of a loop for the transit user whose has either the choice to:
The Davie route
All options extend the Davie bus to Yaletown, then loop it back with the Robson bus via Cambie:
This shouldn’t be controversial, and respects some good Transit principles:
- We have a single bus route serving the entire Corridor
- And the route is anchored at Yaletown station
The Robson route
The L shape option
It is built up on the existing route 5, but instead to loop on itself via Richard, branches into the Davie bus via Cambie to make a “downtown loop”:
As such, beside a greater legibility (bus running both directions on all served street), this route mainly carries the same advantages/drawbacks of the current route:
- The route, is not serving Robson east of Granville, (hence not serving Yaletown when it is natural to extend the Robson route eastward)
- As we have seen before, it doesn’t make for a grid oriented network improving legibility and general accessibility
The option avoiding Robson square, is mainly the current seasonal routing. Beside the removal of the hook at Burrard and Robson, it doesn’t address most of its current shortcoming already pointed many times :
- The route is disconnected of the Granville bus corridor, and offers a back-ward connection with the Canada line
- The disconnection between Yaletwon and the Robson Strasse is even greater
All trip toward South Vancouver or Yaletwon are penalized
The Rectangular Loop
The drawback of this option? The loop is pretty insulated of the rest of the network:
- No reasonable connection with the Expo line is offered
No reasonable connection is offered with the Hasting buses too
But, the option has its advantages on the L shape loop:
- It covers all Robson street
…and more generally it offers good foundations based on sound Transit principles (a grid oriented network with one bus route per corridor), from which we can elaborate to cover the connectivities weakness of the option: That is what we have done in our previous post:
What we have proposed for routes 5 and 6
See our previous post for further explanations and interaction with other routes
We hook the Rectangular loop to Stadium Station, offering a connection with the Expo line. From there, the question is:
- Where the buses turn back and make their lay-over
As we have seen before, we extend the route up to Hasting#Main (lay over on Gore), to connect the downtown routes with the Hasting and Main route.
A consequence of this proposal, is that it introduces bus services redundancies with the Translink option C1 (routes #3 and #8 on Pender): it provides a reason to short turn those bus at the north end of Main.
Short turning of the bus 3 is something which has been done in 2008, but Translink has reverted this in face of public hostility at a time it was not as actively as now looking for better operation efficiencies. In 2014, the short turning of artics bus #3 and #8
- pay the extension of standard bus #5 and #6 on Pender
- The lost of a direct route between Fraser and Hasting, is also compensated by a better access to the Westend via route #5 and #6
- A short turning at the north end of Main preserves a good connection with the Hasting corridor
- That makes those routes otherwise very short, also more useful by enabling to circulate in an downtown extended to its neck and Chinatown, without the need to transfer 
At the exception of the proposal B2 (route #17 avoidng Cambie), the Translink option are generally a step in the good direction. Some ideas discussed in our previous post still fit and could be still valid with whatever option is proposed.
We notice, that in despite of many efforts, not only no good Transit solutions have been found to accommodate a potential closure of Robson square, but all proposed alternatives trying to accommodate such a closure end up to be tremendously expensive ($300k to $400K additional operating expense …that can buy ~2 community shuttle routes).
Who is willing to pay for it?
What the Downtown Transit review has demonstrated is that
- Closure of Cambie should be forgotten
- Closure of Robson square to Transit is simply unreasonable and irresponsible
The city council should accept that a good surface transit is a necessity, and that pedestrianization of streets should be done to complement it and not to impede it, as we have said many times before.
 Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives, Jarret Walker, Island Press, 2011
 Downtown Bus Service Review – Phase 2 Technical Summary City of Vancouver and Translink, 2014
 See also Jordan’s comment at the buzzer blog
 Downtown Bus Service Review – Phase 1 Consultation Summary Report City of Vancouver and Translink, 2013
 See also the PriceTag’s circling-the-square serie as an example where a critic of the proposed seasonal route is proposed.
March 31, 2014
The below work is built upon our previous post on the regional view. However, more important that the exact route alignments are the principles driving them: Many of those principles have already been spelled , among them:
- Direct Routing
(1) Don’t divert routes to serve specific needs: Diversion means a less attractive service for most of the travelers
(2) Use secondary services connecting to main ones, to serve “out of the way” area (rather than divert main routes)
Minimize unnecessary transfers
(3) Use the downtown grid for “random schedule” transfers
Minimal walking distance to final destinations
(4) Go Straight thru the “center of gravity” of an area, and not its periphery, which increases the total walking distance by half.
As we have seen before, the most efficient coverage is achieved by 3 bus corridors.
Those bus corridors are Robson (#5), Davie (#6) and Pender (#19).
With the development of Yaletown, and more generally the Eastern side of the Downtown peninsula, it is only natural to extend both routes (5) and (6) on the eastern side of their natural corridor (resp. Robson and Davie).
Connection with the City and regional network: The waterfront station issue
From the above, it appears relatively clearly it is not possible to get both:
- A grid oriented local bus network in downtown
- And a good connection with Waterfront station
Furthermore, especially for the Davie bus, it is not possible to get both
- A good connection with The Canada Line (Yaletown)
- And a good connection with Waterfront station
We also observe that:
- Most of the connecting ridership is generated by the Expo and Canada line
- The actual connection between the Seabus and route 5 and 6 can be considered as poor
- It takes 4 mn to reach Davie by the Canada line, vs ~10mn per bus
The potential Broadway subway will enhance this trend
-360 meters between the bus 5 stop on Hasting and the Seabus deck (versus ~200 meters between thr Expo line and the Seabus)
Due to all of the above, we prefer put emphasis on both:
- A grid oriented local bus network in downtown
- And a good connection with the rail rapid transit
An emphasis on the quality of the Transfer with the Expo line
To improve the connectivity of the bus 5 and 6 with the rest of the network:
- both route 5, and 6 are extended to the north end of Denman, to connect with bus 19, and the North shore buses
- Both route 5 and 6 are extended to Main#Hasting, to connect with the Hasting and Main street buses (bus #3 and #8 being short turned at the North end of Main street).
The bus 19 can preserve a direct connection between the downtown and the Main Corridor.
This proposal has some inconveniences:
- There is dispersion of service on Beatty and Cambie
- There is no good connectivity between the local route 5 and 6 in the Yaletown area
- There is no good connection between bus 17 and bus 6 either (bus 17 is on the Cambie bridge above the Pacific bld)
The one way service on Expo and Pacific is also a drawback, but one can expect some change correcting that in the area with the re purposing of the viaducts
An emphasis on the Routes corridors
Local routes are consolidated (instead to be dispersed).
- Hasting corridor is used for City/Regional transit, while Pender street is used for local service (similarly to georgia vs Robson)
- Eastern connection is done using Cambie preventing bus dispersion, and enhancing the attractiveness of the Cambie bus corridor
- Different stop intervals could be used to speed up city service while still offering good accessibility on the Pender street
To increase the legibility of the bus network, The Pacific Boulevard is served from one end to another by a single bus line (actually served by C21 West of Yaletown, and C23 East of Yaletown)
- Placing ourselves in a “post viaduct world”, the natural extension of this route is Prior: For this reason we keep this bus On Keefer (as close as Pacific Boulevevard), bus still allowing it to connect with the Skytrain
The Gastown coverage
Nowadays, it is done by the bus 50. The proposed route doesn’t cover gastown anymore, but it could…as well as bus #5 or #6.
Gastown is in fact in the Hasting and Pender bus coverage area. A specific service to increase this coverage can be considered but is not part of the structuring network (as well as any other bus route to provide specific needs.
The bus network, and the Pedestrian street network
The City’s goal for its bus network review is to get rid of the buses on many city streets (and especially Robson Square ). Instead of taking the City approach; “decide which street to pedestrianize and let the bus find its way more or less clumsily to serve the rest of the city”; we take the opposite approach: “which streets spring as natural candidate for pedestrianization, to complement and enhance the attractiveness of the transit network?”
The Pedestrianization of some Gastown streets, starting with Water street, could be done at no expense of the bus network. It is obviously not the case of Cambie, or Robson. For the later one, a shared space arrangement based on a European model is a natural solution . Streets making good candidate for pedestrianization are
- Beatty street, already routinely closed to traffic for Canada Place event, and offering a much better potential than Cambie street (proposed by the City), and still providing direct access to the future AGO site
- Hamilton and Mainland in Yaletown
- And potentially others street in Westend like Bute
The network of bus lanes
In this probable priority order, regional route, then city corridor where bus traffic is heavy:
- Georgia street (North shore buses) should have all times bus lanes
- Hasting street
- Main street
- Burrard street
- Potentially Cambie street
Routes #5 and #6 (as well as route #19) providing mainly a local service in downtown (short trip distance, often competing with a walk), can be considered as people movers, and as such should have relatively short bus stop interval (~250m): Bus lanes for them could be great but they are not much critical, from a customer perspective:
They could be nevertheless useful to increase the reliability of the routes (in fact one of the principle advantage of a bus lane)