Park Avenue

May 21, 2010

Avenue [ˈævɪˌnjuː] from the old french arrival, has eventually got a different meaning in english, as well as in current french, due to the current usage we give to it nowadays.

Here after is a very simplified history of it:

XVIII century

At the eventual difference of other roads or streets, avenues were usually work of urban planning, and primarly designed as radial promenade at the edge of the city with function to great in a ceremonial way the arriving visitor

Avenue du Mail, Rennes, France. concept plan from the XVIII century. the leisure aspect is the dominant factor, at the expense of the mobility one. credit photo (1)

XIXcentury

Though that not matching to the original vision, the primary promenade function is still well respected.

The same location at the turn of the century. The leisure aspect of the promenade is still well alive

XX century

The advent of the automobile and other social change will involve deep cultural shift:

  • Urban people will eventually prefer spend their free time elsewhere than lingering on the street becoming less pleasant due to the surrounding roaring motors and gas smell (we don’t speak to much pollution those day).
  • the free space is then occupied by the new mobility device

With the advent of the automobile, the promenade change of function! (it is still Avenue du Mail, lately renamed Mail Francois Mitterrand, Rennes France)

XXI century

Another relative cultural shift appears in the 80s, eventually learning of the american experience: it appears very apparent that the adaptation of the European city to the car has no future: and a better use of the scarcely city’s available real estate need to be devised. the LRT, trams in Europe, will be part of the solution, and the large French avenues, will be ideal Right of Way candidate. The vision of the future century is then eventually represented by this artist rendering:

the future Starsbourg tram, line F, riding on what used to be a parking lot...at least in the recent history. credit photo (5)

One will note, it is pretty seldom to see modern tree lined trams, eventually for the following reasons:

  • the tree roots system could compromise the integrity of the trackbed
  • the tree branches could interfere with the overhead wires
  • the falling tree leaves could grease the rails, compromising the acceleration/braking capabilities of the train

In the Strasbourg F-line case, those aspects are mitigated by the integration of the bike path along the tram ROW. the integration of the bike path is an addition to the late LRT project.

Obviously, the vision is a significant progress on the current situation, in the sense it returns to a pleasantly greenish aspect of the avenue.

The park and ride model

Where we should not give more credit to the french than they deserve is here:

  • In most of the case the space allocated to the automobile traffic is not compromised, and the Strasbourg example shown above is basically no exception to the rule: while that the parking space is removed at the benefit of the trams, there is no reduction in automobile traffic lanes benefiting then of a freer flow, since not impeded by car looking for or negotiating parking spot
  • there is no increase of space for pedestrians, and the leisure and social interaction aspect, like lingering on the street, is not part of the picture either

The removal of parking space could be considered as a progress, but usually, a french tram projects barely means reduction of parking space either, but rather relocation of it according to the well known park and ride model.

The picture below feature one P&R in Bordeaux having 603 stalls [6], more than at the Canada line Bridgeport one [7]. Bordeaux has 14 other structures like this along its 3 trams lines…


park and Ride in Bordeaux, france. Notice the state of the track's lawn as soon as you get out of Downtown. credit photo (6)

One can clearly suspects that the motivation to introduce trams in the french cities has not been to challenge the general car centric culture, but was more guided by more pragmatic space constraint requiring a P&R model in order to preserve good vehicular movement on the city arteries and accessibility of the city to an ever greater number of people, including by car.

In that aspect, it has been a more successful model than the US one, eventually due to the greater scarity of

  • downtown parking stall
  • road access

and,

  • the preserved heritage specificity of the European cities could have contributed to maintain the attractiveness of their downtown in despite of access impediment
  • the short length of the European trams line, typically not venturing much farther than 5km from he town center, allow for short trip time, in despite of relatively low average speed [4], the later allowing good integration in the urban fabric

All those factor, in addition of social one going beyond the scope of this post, could have saved the middle size European city to know the fate of their American sister cities, in term of Downtown life.

But, if one considers the public transit market share in 14 french urban areas with LRT; 11% (for weekday trip) [8]; it is hard to speak of a successful strategy, to be emulated.

At the end of the day, the avenue original vision, which cheer size was to provide “park” space for people, devoided to be “park” space for transportation device, has not been restored. Indeed it is now used to “segregate” space according to transportation modes (in a vision where “lingering” is also a “commercialized” activity at the benefit of the sidewalk coffees).

It is a progress on the dictatorship of the automobile reign, and it is possible that the LRT has been an ingenuous tool to legitimate the displacement of the cars toward the outer edge of the city, but is the result the most efficient allocation of the city surface space? or in other term, is it the best we can do?


[1] from archives municipales de Rennes, France

[4] Average speed of european trams is usually below 20km/h, 18.5km/h in the above mentioned case of Bordeaux

[5] from Tram-Train/Tram F, Strasbourg-Bruche-Piémont des Vosges, June 2008

[6] Picture and number from le tram de Bordeaux”

[7] Bridgeport park has 600 stall for Canada line rider according to Translink

[8] Transportation mode share of 14 metropolitan area with tram in France, from “Les deplacements a Nantes metropole Etude N 80, decembre 2009, Insee Pays de Loire, France citing “enquêtes nationales transports et communication 1993-1994, transports et déplacements 2007-2008″, Insee, SOeS and Inrets.

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2 Responses to “Park Avenue”

  1. David Says:

    Thanks voony for a very interesting post.

    Basic math tells us that if you draw a circle with a dozen radial lines the distance between those lines increases the farther out from the centre you go. Eventually the space between them is so great that efficiently covering the expanded area requires more radial lines.

    The problem is that most cities have their greatest demand generators in the middle and their fewest on the edge where the most lines are needed to cover the geographic area. Thus the areas that require the most lines are those least able to support them. In fact there is always a point where even the base radial lines no longer make economic sense. At that point you simply cannot provide transit service without operational losses and must rely on the passengers coming to you. Thus the park and ride.

    Now that you’ve defined a geographic spacing where transit is no longer justified you can move to the next step.

    The situation in the real world is much more complicated. Almost no town exists in complete isolation with no other centres nearby.

    A useful model takes each demand generator and assigns a number of radial lines to that location. The web of radial lines is the transit network you should have to meet demand. Where multiple lines occupy the same space more substantial service is warranted. Sometimes nearby lines can be combined into one to save money or justify a higher cost service, but since all the lines are radial they diverge and rather quickly that combined service must branch.

    The decision to branch or use feeder lines is made in the same way. Projected future demand generators and growth of existing ones is, of course, included in the model.

    Civic governments have different priorities. They inevitably want growth in some locations and not in others. This leads to the establishment of uneconomical services funded by subsidies in order to shape growth rather than simply react to it. This is an important function of transit so most systems operate with some regional subsidies in place.

    Finally there are routes that make no sense either from an economic or growth shaping perspective. These exist for social welfare or political reasons and should only exist where a 100% operating subsidy is provided by the senior level of government responsible for social services.

    Any deviation from this type of model will lead to serious problems.

    TransLink broke the model by choosing to run empty buses without the requisite subsidies and the provincial government broke the model by over spending on some routes and downloading the costs.

  2. voony Says:

    David, in most case, the P&R are heavily subsidized: In the example of Bordeaux I have used for illustration purpose: fare is 3€ return trip for all occupants of a vehicle + vehicle parking in a “securized” parkade.

    I will write another post more dedicated to the P&R model later on.

    That said, I kind of agree with the fact that social aspect of transit operation should be supported by the relevant level of government (letting the transit agency working on more economic ground).


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