November 3, 2014
Some numbers extracted from the Translink GTFS feed  (for the day of Sept 5th, 2014), for the 2km segment between Hasting and Broadway. The current average speed is ~11.5km/h, could be increased to ~15km/h with a bus lane…or reduced to ~9km/h according to the tradeoff done to implement bike paths
- number of #20 runs: 304 (but I counted only 276 between Broadway and Hasting) requiring a minimum of 19 vehicles in revenue service 
- time and speed between Broadway and Hasting :
- ~15,700 annual operating hours meaning $1.57 millions in annual operating cost (at $100/hr, in line with )
|Min time||Average time||Max time|
|Max speed||Average speed||Min speed|
bus lane Impact on Commercial Drive
We are considering the previously presented Commercial Drive proposal as illustrated below
- This bus lane, featuring clearly marked corridors (protected in one direction) and transit priority signal, suggests that average speed typical of BRT or urban LRT could be achieved: that is ~20km/h.
- That said, noticeabily because the stop are closely spaced, an average speed of 15km/h could be more realisticaly and conservatively achieved:
- That is roughly the average speed of the bus 20 outside the Commercial Drive segment.
Annual operating cost
|average speed||Average time||Annual operating cost|
The potential operating cost saving is in the tune of of $300,000 to $600,000/year.
Similar configurations, be on Davie or Robson, suggest a reduction of the average speed to ~9km/h; That could increase the route 20 operating cost by $400,000/year:
- the bus+bike lanes proposal is conductive of $1 Million in operating cost saving versus a proposal favoring street parking over transit.
A bus lane + traffic signal priority, allows an increase in the bus schedule reliability: lay over can be reduced accordingly, increasing the operating saving
Operating cost is only part of the picture:
the slower a bus route is, the more buses are required at same frequency/seat capacity:
The bus requirement is compounded by two conflating issues:
On the route 20, afternoon peak hour traffic cost ~4 buses:
A bus lane, making transit more immune to traffic congestion, allows to reduce drastically the peak hour buses requirement (in our example, the average speed maintained at ~15km/h, vs 9.5km/h currently in peak hour)
Adding a peak hour bus is a very expensive proposition: it means (to preserve spare ratio, and other contingency)
- the Purchase of an additional bus
- Adding storage capacity for this bus (even if in use 20mn a day)
- Adding maintenance cost
- adding a driver on payroll and all ancilliairy cost (training, administration)
According to a conversation with a former Toronto Transit Commission employee, the TTC is costing an additional peak hour bus at $100,000 a year (that is for a 40footer, typically sold a ~$300,000)
It is worth to note that Translink is in very short supply of articulated trolleybus, estimated each at $1M
It is no secret that the faster a transit service is, the more ridership it will attract. That has been again recently verified in Seattle, with a quasi linear relationship:
- an increase of 20% in speed is conductive of a similar increase in the ridership, which de facto increase the bus operator revenue
This coumpounded to lower operating cost makes Transit much more financially sustainable.
When all the effects are combined, it is relatively conservative to estimate that a bike lane, done at the expense of transit on Commerical, could end up to cost more than $1 million/year to Translink, when compared to a solution improving both
…and here we have analyzed only the direct cost for Translink…
 New markings aim to keep drivers out of Battery Street bus lane, Aubrey Cohen, SeattlePi- Tuesday, October 21, 2014.
 That makes the route 20 the 4th most frequent bus route of the network, behind route 99,9 and 41.
 See our reference spreadsheet (which has been updated with the 2014 data) for further detail.
 We use here the hourly operating cost as stated in the 2013 Bus Service Performance Review (see Annex A): it is worth to note that this hourly operating cost doesn’t include neither bus lay over and dead end trips. It doesn’t differentiate artics buses from standard ones too: the $100 mark is a very significant under estimate of the real operating cost of a route. A $180 per customer hour service could be closer to reality as we have seen before.
 It seems that the average speed of the route 20 is decreasing year over year, almost 10% reduction in the last 7 years according to our spreadsheet  (which also depends of the Translink data quality): A probable consequence of the city council inaction on Transit front
October 25, 2014
September 22, 2014
The first round of segregated bike tracks has essentially concerned non essential transit corridors (Dunsmuir, Hornby…), but it is natural for cyclists to expect similar bike facilities on the Main arterial of the city, where shopping destination are located. Not surprisingly some groups are making pressure toward it. That should be an opportunity for the various municipal candidates to offer their vision and their differentiators on a complex problem which will require significant trade-off, and priority setting. Since transit has been much neglicted by the current council, the prospect of bike lane along transit corridors become a matter of concerns for Transit advocates
Below is an exert of the “Commercial Drive Campaign” by “Streets for Everyone” :
The main strength of this proposal is that it exists and provides a basis for discusssion. It also highlight the reason of our concerns in regard of Vancouver bike lanes: They obey to a disturbing sense of priorities:
- “Our plan leaves parking intact on both sides of the street”
…The same sense of priorities which could have lead to pave Kitsilano park to save street parking. Here there is no park, but there is the very important transit route 20, which is neglicted: It is nevertheless called a “win-win-win” proposal by some bike lanes advocates for the reasons below:
|Pedestrians||Cyclists||Transit Users||Car Users||Emergency Vehicles|
This layout, where the bus can be hold back by left and right turning cars, as well as the occasional parking car, is obviously very detrimental to Transit:
- On could expect the average speed of the bus 20, actually ~ 14km/h, to slow down to the one of the bus 5 or 6 (lower than 9km/h), which face similar street configuration (single traffic lane + parking lane). Speed is an issue, reliability is another one.
Such a slow down can have a dramatic impact
- On the attractivity of Transit, defeating a purpose of a street calming effort (get more people to choose alternative mode to car)
- On the operating cost of the line. so such proposal can be in be fact very costly .
It is hence very important to find a compromise which not only is not detrimental to Transit but can also be an opportunity to improve it:
Thought Commercial Drive is relatively narrow (80feet), it is possible to find an arrangement which improve the bike experience as well as the Transit experience:
The width of the all purpose lanes is what can be seen on most of the Vancouver residential street, such as 6th avenue (#Commerical),
- It is enough to preserve a parking lane, but that means drivers must be willing to “share the street” and negociate with other drivers, as illustrated in the above rendering, on some uncommon but possible traffic case involing large vehicles
- Traffic lane are ~3m wide, not unlike the traffic lanes on Number 3 road in Richmond (North of Westminster Hwy)
- The bus lane on the parking lane side is “protected”, both from dooring and ill parked vehicles, while the one on the other side can be infringed (“mountable obstacle”) to allow occasional passing of large vehicle
- The Bus+bike lanes are 4.5meter wide, a parisian standard . Could it be possible to slighlty separate them, in a Dutch way (that is by having raised bike lane)? may be, but the preservation of a parking lane make the proposal difficult.
- The bus lanes morph in emergency lane when needed
- Narrow traffic lanes are a powerful device toward traffic calming
All in all:
|Pedestrians||Cyclists||Transit Users||Car Users||Emergency Vehicles|
The above is a suggestion fitting better the objective of the 2040 Vancouver transportation plan: It must certainly exist better layouts. A complete economic analysis of a street layout could be useful to determine the objective value of one layout vs another one .
This proposal, as the “Streett for everyone” one, is uncompatible with the Mayors council idea of a hierarchized (local+express) transit service on Commercial, idea proposed for the Transit referendum
“Street for every one” suggests “dutch intersections” pretty much every where:
We prefer a more traditional bike box (doubled of a “queue jumper”) on street bereft of bike lanes: A solution avoiding some unnecessary conflict, and also more friendly to pedestrians (no detour imposed around the dutch “circle”):
 Here, we mention only the Transit operating cost, which could increase in the tune of million of $ due to lack of bus priority, but Transit lack of efficiency has more generalized social cost, in term of lost time,… as suggested by George Poulos on Price Tags
 The blue car in the rendering is a Toyota Passo, it is a sub compact car, not seen in North America. We have included the same car in our rendering along other more common model seen in the Vancouver street to provide a better idea of the width of the different lanes.
 The STM is also experimenting a 4.5 meter wide bus+bike lane on Viau Street in Montreal, albeit with slightly different configuration (see “Can buses and bikes safely use the same reserved lane?, Montreal Gazette, July 14, 2014 )/p
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 email@example.com.
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.