…and the Vancouver Canada line case. The remarks apply also to LRT unless specified (another post has been dedicated to buses

In a nutshell, the person per hou per direction capacity a subway line can offer, is

    (capacity of a train) × (number of train per hour).

Like for buses, the capacity of a train is a function of different parameters, mainly person per square meter occupancy standard, and seat arrangement.

At the difference of low floor buses (and LRT), is little “protuberance” (such wheel room) on high floor train, and technical room present in a train cabin rather under floor or on roof, are often the result of a tradeoff:

    train capacity vs easy maintenance

The theorcal capacity of a train, is in fact a direct function of its surface:

    (length of the train) × (width of train).

…and train length, is constrained by the station’s paltforms length, which are typically very expensive to expand.

Train capacity

below is an example of compared train capacity, expressed in term of surface able to accomodate passengers

Train consist Platform length width surface
Vancouver Canada Line 40 3 120
Vancouver Canada Line 50 3 150
Vancouver Skytrain (Expo line) 80 2.65 212
Paris typical subway line 75 2.37 178

For matter of comparison, the theorical Canada line capacity (with 50meters platform) is just 15% lower than on most of the parisian subway lines, such as its line 2 or 5: those lines carry ~100million riders a year.

Behind the seating layout, a train needs in practice several features to effectively reach its theorical capacity. Among them

  • Minimal unusable space between cars (and in cars)
  • Allow passenger to “overflow” from a car to another one

Intercirculation between cars, usually allows that, but again, some interciruclation layout can be more efficient than other:

skytrain


MP89CA_interior On top the skytrain MKII (second generation interior)intercirculation is narrow, impeding free flow movement from car to car, and blocking line of sight at the difference of the Parisian MP89-CA (bottom picture), where the train look like a single “big room”- credit photo top, the Translink’s Buzzer, bottom: wikipedia

Dwelling time and frequency

homogeneous occupancy of a train is also function of the door disposition, but the door layout affect primarily the dwelling time. Short dwelling time is important for a host of reasons, frequency being one of them, and frequency affcet the line capacity:

    interval between train can’t be shorter than the station dwelling time

It is hence important to have as much as possible doors, but also have them wide enough, to allow good in/out flow movement. It is also important to avoid that some doors, slow down the boarding/alighting time because they have to handle more traffic flow:

  • From a boarding viewpoint, where passengers have no apriori on the location of door on platform, the best way to do that, is to have all the doors equidistant (It make also the best use of the platform space)
  • From an alighting perspective, all doors on a car should be equidistant
skytrain

A 68 meters Vancouver skytrain consist, compared to a 75meterParisian MF01 5 cars consist (operating on line 2,5 and 9): the later has lower theorical capacity because it is narrower, but it has greater practical capacity due mainly to a better intercirculation. Furthermore, all doors are equidistant on the MF01 [1], while on the skytrain MK2, people waiting in red zone have to report on a nearby door zone slowing down the boarding. Similarly people standing in red zone aboard the train are too far from a door slowing down the alighting (or conversely limiting the practical capacity of the train by passenger reluctance to stand to far away of a door).

Track issues

A single track, vs a double track, at the end of a line could be used as a cost saving measure, but obviously it affects the freqeuncy of a train line. That said, if the single track portion is short enough, the impact can be relatively minimal.

    Frequency can be be obtained by using a tail track to store trains

The possible frequency is then:

    ((time to travel for and back the single track) + (dwelling time × number of train to be stored) ) / (number of train stored).

As an example, at Richmond Brighouse station, on the Vancouver’s Canada line

  • the tail track past the station can accomodate one stored train [2], and the station another one
  • the travel time between Lansdowne and Brighouse is ~90s and a typical station dwelling time ~20s
2 trains run in one cycle on the single track , by using a tail track behind the termini station

2 trains run in one cycle on the single track , by using a tail track behind the termini station

2 trains can run every 4mn on the Richmond Brighouse branch of the Canada line.

Because one train can run every 4mn on the Airport line, it is possible to get a train every 80s, or 45 trains per hour, on the common trunk (Bridgeport-Waterfront)

Even, with 40meters long train, the Canada line could provides a caapcity of ~15,000pphpd, assuming 330 passengers per train: that is 3 times of the actual capacity. Greater frequency are theorically possible with the introduction of short turn train (avoiding the single track section):

3 trains running in one cycle, one being shorturned before the single track section, 2 using the single track section

3 trains running in one cycle, one being shorturned before the single track section, 2 using the single track section

PS The above numbers for the Canada line, assume the availability of rolling stock, power supply, track signalling, and fast operating switch: All those could need to be upgraded, as well as the stations along the line to handle the corresponding increase in ridership, but it could be no need for heavy civil engineering work/track reconfigutation toward a capacity increase of 15,000+ pphd


[1] Materiel roulant MF2000, seance 12/12/2000, Conseil d’administration du STIF

[2] Addressing Canada Line capacity questions, Translink, June 3, 2010.

At a time when “both TransLink and the City of Vancouver are aiming to establish a common vision for bus service in downtown Vancouver“, it is still interesting to have a look at what has been done in past in that respect

In 1975, the Bureau of Transit Services, then depending from the Minister of municipal affairs prepared a transit service plan to complement the City land plan [1]:

1975 Vancouver Downtown transit Plan

1975 proposal for the Vancouver Downtown transit Plan, extract from [1]

This plan is important in many aspects, and mainly the adopted methodology

It lays down the general picture in which a downtown plan can take shape

Thought not in service in 1975, the West Coast Express concept were already discussed, and the terminals and vessels, for the seabus, were under construction. The skytrain was still a quite distant concept [2], but the LRT discussed in the plan is clearly considered as a pre-metro, aimed to be underground in the Core Business district.

But More importantly,

It lays down 7 principles guiding the plan
Those principle are subdivized into 3 common service characteristics:

  • Direct Routing
  • (1) Don’t divert routes to serve specific needs: Diversion means a less attractive service for most of the travellers
    (2) Use secondary services connecting to main ones, to serve “out of the way” area (rather than divert main routes)

  • Minimize unecessary transfers
  • (3) Use the downtown grid for “random schedule” transfers

  • Minimal walking distance to final destinations
  • StraightThru
    (4) Go Straight thru the “center of gravity” of an area, and not its periphery, which increases the total walking distance by half.
    (5) Transit and pedestrians: the concept of pedestrianization and transit must not be treated independently.
    The study cites Jane Jacobs [3] to support the idea of bringing together the transit network with the pedestrian area [6]
    (6) Prefer two way operations over one way, since it offers the maximum coverage
    (7) Prefer nearside bus stop over farside, sinec it allows the passengers to alight before have to wait at a traffic light.

Many, if not all, of this principles are what Jarret Walker calls the geometry of Transit, and that is the reason why they are still as valid in 2013 as they were in 1975:

  • Principle (7): Thought some cities like Montreal and Toronto, have bus stopa on the nearside, most of the cities adopt a farside model, since it usually allows a better general traffic output, and modern LRT/trams use also farside bus stops, since it allows a more efficient signal preemption
  • Principle (1), (4) and (6): They are very strong transit geometry principles which have justified the conversion of Manners Mall in Wellington New Zealand, from a pedestrian only street to a transit mall.
  • Principle (4) and (5) are why transit needs to be considered as part of the urban fabric

Some comments on the DT plan
The geometry of transit largely comfort the relevance of the historic streetcar grid:

Robson bus 5 ( Ex-Saskatoon Brill trolley 2363), at Robson square, in May 1980. Note the “Shoppers Free” Bus sign – Photo, courtesy from Angus McIntyre

  • The choice of the streets is guided by principle (4)
    • At the time of drafting the plan the Robson bus was using the couplet of one way streets Smythe/Robson: a two way service along Robson is clearly the privilegied choice.
  • The streetcar service along Hornby, was expected to use the Arbutus line outside the DT core: the routing thru Hornby plan is consistent with the 1972 Erickson plan developped for the court house complex.
    • The advent of the Canada line kind of fullfill this vision.
  • The Robson square is envisioned to be a pedestrian oriented area, serviced by transit in full accordance with principle (4), and the Arthur Erickson’s vision for Robson square:
      The only traffic through the square will be inner city buses, linking the West and and False Creek. Since buses function as people movers, they are seen as a compliment or enhancement to the pedestrian activity of the civic square [...]


The underlying philosophy leading to the plan, articulating pedestrian areas around transit, and not the reverse, illustrates the dramatic shift of the current Vancouver council approach, which dismiss the transit geometry, as illustrates the Robson bus circling the square
to serve a “specific need”.

At the end a transit service is envisioned on Nelson to complement the planned development of the westend, as well as a pheripheral line, to serve the “social and recreational” place on the pheriphery of downtown:

Remarkably, they are echoing recurring wishes for Transit in downtown, but the plan warms that “…there really is not much to be gained in professing support for programmes to get more people to use public transit without commitment to actions to give transit priority use of streets in Downtown Vancouver and in other urban centres in the metropolitan area.”

Alas, the current Vancouver council policies could not be farther apart of this commitment to transit.

One can also consult [5] for a different coverage of [1]


[1] 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. (13.6MB file)

[2] the underlying concept had been drafted by Harry Rankin by 1970, see The Case for Rapid Transit…in 1970

[3] The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs, Random House, New York, 1961

[4] 51-61-71 Project, block 71 Schematics, Arthur Erickson Architects, 1974

[5] Vancouver’s 1975 downtown transit plan, John Calimenete, April 7, 2010

[6] This view is echoed by Jan Gehl, among others, providing rational for Transit on Sydney’s George Street.

That is from their May 7th, 2013 issue, which is rich of Transportation perspective,…,
and eventually illustrates the dichotomy of thought on it between the Western world and Asia

Jaywalking is responsible of the Beijing traffic woes

As you could know, Beijing is facing massive traffic issues, and here like too often in North America before, it is considered that the pedestrians are the problem. Enforcing the jaywalking laws is not an easy matter but it is deemed necessary by chinese,…this to be a “world class” country… at par with the USA…
In Vancouver, Councillor Heather Deal, whose devoted great amount of VPD time and taxpayer money to enforce the local jaywalking laws, couldn’t agree more [5].

In the Meantime, it is worth to note that in the not so “world class” countries such UK or France, jaywalking is legal as in many other European countries, and still it is generally safer to be a pedestrian there than in Vancouver and more generally in North America.


Cycling in Hong Kong raises a safety issue

The edition contains not less than 2 articles related to cycling in Hong Kong: “Cyclist see open roads up ahead”, and “Cyclists face uphill ride on buses, MTR”.

Cycling is pretty much foreign to Hong Kongers: the fact that the Chairman of the Hong Kong Cycling alliance, Martin Turner, is a British raised individual is tale telling…And when cycling is considered it is mostly for recreational purpose, could lament Martin. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidences seem to show that cycling is on the rise in Hong Kong, like anywhere else, but it seems to be little appetite to quantify that:

Cycling seems on the rise in Hong Kong, and it becomes increasingly difficult to find a free spot to park your bike, before boarding the Transit system

Cycling seems on the rise in Hong Kong, and it becomes increasingly difficult to find a free spot to park your bike, before boarding the Transit system – notice Police can seize bike tied to the handrail – Credit Photo (4)

Statistics show that bike accidents are on the rise too. Helmet laws and bike licensing, are called by some quarters, to reverse this worrisome trend!

Turner has another opinion, and is lobbying for bike rack on bus, like in San Francisco, or Vancouver,…a North American specificity not seen Europe. This promise to be a tough sell, but there is lot of things to do to improve cycling in Hong Kong beside that:

MapHongKongBikeLaneIntersec

Hong Kong bike lane (Along Ting Kok Rd, Kong Kong NT): More often that not, Hong Kong's cyclists are expected to walk their bikes to the Bike path... and dismount at intersections...what by the way is usually not respected! -credit photo left (4), right, Google


Light Rail or Monorail in Kong Kong

The debate concerns the redevelopment of the former Hong Kong’s airport: Kai Tak, which still look pretty much like below:

View on Kai Tak, the Former Hong Kong Airport.

View on Kai Tak, the Former Hong Kong Airport.

The Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) of Hong Kong has a grand vision for the site, which seems reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s cite radieuse, including a “people mover” under the form of a monorail [1]:

Proposed Monorail for Kai Tak new districtHkMonorailArtistView

Proposed Monorail for Kai Tak new district

Veolia operating The Hong Kong Trams, is making the case for a tramway. Many readers of the South China Morning Post support this idea. Norman Y. S. Heung, project manager at the CEDD Office, explains it is “Practically impossible to accommodate tram system at Kai Tak”, because taking too much road space (sic)…Worth to note that most of the area is not even built yet!

Many other arguments are advanced in favour of the Monorail, which is also presented as a tourist attraction… but at the end the quality of the urban environment is not one of them. It is also explained that the “walking environment will be improved by provision of footbridges and [underpasses]“ (sic).

So Does the Kai Tak’s monorail will look like the Chongqing one , or does Hong Kongers will push for a different street experience, may be on the model of the Kunming’s Zhengyi Rd?

Left, Chongqing (China): An avenue with a Monorail (opened in 2011) - Right, Kunming (China): Zhengyi Rd offers a Bld experience, which at par with the ones more traditionally founded in Europe - credit photo left (3), right, (4)


[1] See the video and other information at Hong Kong CEDD

[2] Old Cat

[3] South China Morning Post

[4] VivenDesign

[5] Vancouver launches campaign to educate ‘fragile’ pedestrians, Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun, February 07, 2012.

Contribution to the debate:

Adam is sharing an illustration to support his proposal, which has been the object of a Sun column:

A LRT line roughly following 2nd, then the Arbutus railtrack up to the 16th avenue

A LRT line roughly following 2nd, then the Arbutus railtrack up to the 16th avenue


As many, the Adam’s proposal apparently assumes that the main demand is on UBC. It is worth to mention that the numbers ran by Translink suggests that the highest demand is on the central Broadway portion [1]

2041 ridership prediction AM peak WB in the case of the RRT line

2041 ridership prediction AM peak WB in the case of the RRT line – source [1]

The Translink ridership predictions west of Arbutus (4000pphpd) is in fact less than a third of the one predicted on Central Broadway

This finding effectively strongly question the relevance of a subway west of Arbutus, or at least justify a phasing of the subway construction, a solution we have started to investigated in our previous post. In fact [1] has studied a first phase ending at Arbutus, costed at $1.5B, and states that:

The economic assessment of phasing RRT is positive with a benefit:cost ratio of 2.7, vs. 2.3 if built to UBC initially


[1] UBC Line rapid transit study: Phase 2 Evaluation report Steer Davies Gleave, August 2012

Sydney: BRT tunnel and trams

December 17, 2012

Sydney is confronted to bus congestion in its Core Business District (CBD):

6,000 bus enter into the Sydney CBD per day, 1000 during the peak hour. Too many bus routes lead to a poorly legible network

Beside a poorly legible network (Sydney has 850 bus routes) [7], the great number of bus routes is also a source of inefficiency : thought that the offering bus-seat capacity could be great, the practical one could be much less on a given corridor (over-supply on some bus routes is not compensating under supply on others)

The European solution

It is a problem many European cities are facing, and in Europe, it is in general the impetuous to switch to LRT – the rational is simple:

  • A modern Tram replaces 5 buses
  • Associated network consolidation allows a better adjustment of the offer to the demand, as well as a better legibility of it
  • A Tram, being electric powered, generate less noise, and pollution

Hence trams improves the livability of the city. Generally, European modern trams are not justified by speed or urban development opportunities, which are very limited in mature cities but mainly by ridership. They operates on trunk lines fed by bus routes:

  • Passengers have to transfer

The fact that the transfer from bus to tram, is not compensated by a time gain (like it could be from bus to subway) is one of the main drawback of such an approach. Providing a superior service and experience is a way to compensate for the disagreement. The European solution in Sydney’s CBD could be the vision proposed by Gehl Architects [2]:

Pedestrian George Street with LRT, in a typically European arrangement.

Pedestrian George Street with LRT, in a typically European arrangement – credit picture (2)

The Australian approach

Australia is land of the finest BRTs. Tunnel a BRT is a solution, natural enough in Sydney, to be considered, in despite of its price tag; $2 Billions, for a ~2 km tunnel. The rational is simple:

  • A BRT can avoid a transfer

The debate

BRT vs LRT, the context of the debate - Left: Bus volumes entering the Sydney City Centre during the two hour morning peak - Right: proposed BRT and LRT alignment and cost. The full LRT is 12 km long with implementation cost estimated at $1.6B

You could expect the government agencies, ministries and other actors to debate on facts, and not on opinions to lobby one system over another:

reading the different reports [3][4][5] will prove you wrong.

Below is how the debate has occurred between two New South Wales (NSW) government outlets, Transport NSW, favoring the LRT, and Infrastructure NSW (InNSW), an “independent agency”, supposed to not base recommendation on politic allegiance, favoring the BRT:

InNSW estimates the current demand at 9000 pphpd in the corridor [5]. The different system are assumed as below by the different actors:

System InNSW [5] Transport NSW [3] Certu [6]
BRT Capacity 20,000 3,500
LRT Capacity [9] 9,000 12,000 6,000
LRT Frequency 2mn 2mn 3mn

The numbers provided by Certu (a French agency), are for reference. They are considering optimal surface operation conditions (signal preemption possible, perfect interval maintained) signaling the typical area of relevance for a given technology. Thought the numbers advanced by the Australian authorities are theoretically possible, they most probably supposes a compromise on the level of service:

High capacity BRT, like the one pictured in Brisbane come at a  cost

High capacity BRT, like the one pictured in Brisbane come at a cost – credit photo (1)

The InNSW report contains lot of fear mongering on LRTs, but what is noticeable in the case of the both approaches, is that none quantifies travel time, neither expected operating cost, not even speaking of a cost/benefit ratio.

More importantly, beside removing bus of the surface, the BRT tunnel tries to address a problem different from the LRT: the former addresses regional access-and so doing tend to largely duplicate an existing rail corridor- while the later addresses the more local access into the CBD. One will find some more detail, especially question about the BRT approach in [8]

The urban approach: George Street

As suggested before, the tram choice over a tunnel BRT is not only a transportation choice, it is an urbanistic one too: George street is a 2.5km long street, it is the major Sydney spine. Jan Gehl compares its potential to the one mile long Barcelona’s las Ramblas [2]:

  • Both are bounded, by the sea on one side, and by a major commuter railway station on the other
  • Both are of similar with, 22 to 30m for George street

The Cost of the different approaches for George street:

BRT Tunnel [5] Surface LRT [3]
$2B $500M

InNSW suggested that George street -20 to 30m width- is not wide enough to accommodate both a tram and pedestrians, and explains that segregation of transport and pedestrian activities, or aggressive pedestrianization, is a better objective [5] (There is very few street of this wide successfully fully pedestrianized [10]). the Bus BRT is considered as a rapid transit with 2 underground stations [5].

George Street cross-section – as proposed by Gehl architects – credit (2)

Jan Gehl touted the concept of overlap use, with trams sharing the urban space with pedestrians, supporting thriving activities on the rather wide George street, and the neighboring alleys and lanes. In fact Transport for NSW states in [3]:


International experience indicates that the pedestrianization of George street without activation by light rail could reduce safety and accessibility, leading to a decline in retail activity.

The surface tram option is envisioned with a stop every 350m, so the tram is considered as a people mover. Evolving in a shared space, its average speed will not be much better than 10km/h on George street – Rest of the alignment is in a more “suburban” environment, so average speed outside the CBD should be more competitive with existing option

Some questions

At the end the LRT has been chosen over the BRT. Nevertheless, considering the expected passenger volume, one could still question this choice:

Shared spaces work well when traffic is light :

  • Crossing the street is unimpeded by traffic (that is one advantage of fewer trains over more buses)

In the George street case, the demand suggests a train every mn, so starting to create a “wall” of trains:

Too heavy LRT traffic can compromise the "sharing space" concept

Too heavy LRT traffic can compromise the “sharing space” concept

But what could be of more concern, is that the system could be under-sized. The considered 9,000 pphpd requirement suggests that the debate should not have been a BRT versus trams one, but eventually trams versus a heavier rail mode, including a grade separated LRT – that is the Ottawa direction – or extension of the Sydney Cityrail (a S-bahn or RER equivalent). The later is fortunately on the menu [7], and hopefully will go in a direction to reduce the pressure on the tram.

Lessons for Vancouver.

Th Sydney LRT choice has generated some interest in Vancouver here and there : The Sydney choice is done to address problems very different of the ones faced either by Vancouver or Surrey. Still, the underlying motivation, for the heavy transit investment, is mainly to address existing demand. It also shows you are better to understand what objective you are trying to pursue, before embarking into a technology debate, which can lead on exaggerated and misleading claims.

If there is one lesson to be directly learned for Vancouver, it is the idea that [3]:


separating pedestrians and transport is contrary to good planning practice and international experience, which shows transport and pedestrians should be integrated to support thriving cities

Transit at  Sydney Town Hall

Transit at Sydney Town Hall

Integrating transit into pedestrian oriented streets, is also the only way to have an extensive and still successful pedestrian friendly street network. In other word, let transit work, is the first and probably most important step toward bold pedestrianization scheme: An important lesson we could learn more especially fromWellington, NZ.


All $ figure in Asutralian $


[1] flickr user SHOROC

[2] George street Urban design study, Gehl Architects for City of Sydney, January 2012

[3] Sydney Light rail’s future, Transport for NSW, December 2012

[4] Metro Transport Sydney’s position on LRT

[5] First things first, Infra NSW, October 2012.

[6] Tramway et Bus à Haut Niveau de Service
(BHNS) en France : domaines de pertinence en zone urbaine
from Transport/Environnement/Circulation (TEC) n° 203, September 209.

[7] Transportation Master Plan, Transport for NSW, December 2012

[8] transportsydney.wordpress.com blog.

[9] That is considering a 45m long train. Fine grained Sydney downtown grid doesn’t allow for much longer trains on George street without hindering access to lateral streets

[10] New York City’s Broadway at ~80 feet wide is one example, but the pedestrianized block around Times Square see a traffic of 350,000 pedestrians/day – a uncommonly high volume.

Or how some streetcar advocates make their case by using the Iraq war’s lobbyists strategy.

Such strategy is not to be embarrassed with facts, but to express an opinion legitimated by an ample corpus of previously expressed opinions, which are presented as facts. It becomes then a mythology, because it is asked to people to believe unquestionably in them. and if it succeed at it, the unsubstantiated “facts” become “truisms”!

The streetcar example with a report : Streetcar Land Use Study

It is a report commissioned and published by the Planning department of the District of Columbia- so must be serious (We refer to it as “the report”)- which explains that a Washington D.C. streetcar network could generate $15Billion of investment along its corridors.

How it arrives to such a conclusion?

Basically it is grounded on a Portland streetcar company‘s paper [9], analyzing the real estate development in the years 1997-2008, which eventually happens to coincide with a global real estate boom, and general gentrification of cities’ downtown across the continent.

In addition of the global factors above, it has been also some more local factor attracting development in Portland:

  • A green belt constraining the development area
  • Other transit development (3 max line, an aerial tram…), all converging in downtown
  • Insitutional development [1]
  • Tax credit [1]
  • A street car loop

What is the exact contribution of the streetcar loop among the above cited parameters? It is not deciphered by the Washington D.C. study, apparently considering that the entirety of the developments occurring in the 2 blocks of the streetcar are triggered by virtue of its track presence.

No streetcar related redevelopment example: left, The San Fernando Building in LA, A successful revitalization effort in Down-town Los Angeles by developer Tom Gilmore- photo credit (3)-right the Woodward building neighborhood in Vancouver

What are the inherent quality of the streetcar provoking that?

The report describes it as a “Premium transit” transit service that is “reliable, predictable, and offers a high-quality ride—in other words, Metrorail [Note: the DC subway] or the streetcar“.

What about speed and frequency? does it really doesn’t matter? …and in what aspect a streetcar operating in mixed traffic can be more reliable-or predictable- than a bus?

A streetcar operating in mixed traffic is subject to the same reliability issue faced by a bus...with even less ability to avoid road impediment- credit photo (4)

What are the involved cost of the streetcar?

The venture of the report in this area is rich of learning. It states that: “Evidence [...] suggests that streetcar vehicles offer better long-term cost-benefit value than buses”. Where are the evidence? 2 references are cited:

  • Street Smart: Streetcars and Cities in the Twenty-First Century – Gloria Ohland & Shelley Poticha; 2009
  • Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities from Patrick Condon [5]

It is worth to mention, that, first the conclusions of Patrick Condon are grounded on the finding of the other referenced book, and secondly, [5] presents numbers which should be subject to caution [6].

Circular referencing, but no cross checking…That was also the strategy of the Iraq war lobbyist

In anyway, a blanket statement like “streetcar vehicles offer better long-term cost-benefit value than buses” is discounting too many parameters to be taking seriously: one of them is that the long-term cost-benefit of a vehicle is tied to its productivity, which depend in part of the ridership.

What about other alternatives

The bus alternative is briefly investigated to be better dismissed: “Although well-designed BRT systems attract some development, their impacts are typically much less than those for rail”, this by citing [7] where one will have hard time to find which aspect of [7] leads the report to such a conclusion. In fact [7] suggests that “there is growing documentation of [BRT] positive development effects; however, given the newness of most BRT systems, more information is needed” while another [8] find that “the type and level of investment occurring near BRT stations appears comparable to the experience with TOD near rail transit”. Notice that this later reference provides relevant number:

“Since the Silver Line BRT was introduced, there has been over $571 million in investment along this corridor, and the tax base grew by 247%, compared to a city average of 146%. “

Relative growth on tax base in the corridor versus average… The Kind of information the streetcar report fails to provide.

And, outside transportation… does there is no other cost-effective avenue to shape development? Institutional impetuous as seeing in Surrey BC, seems to produce good effect, other large scale development like the Woodward building in Vancouver also…

Mythology building

Like in any mythology, with the streetcar mythology, facts are second to beliefs. The Streetcar myth just needs a critical mass of believers. If enough developers and buyers believe in it, the prophecy will be self fulling…that is why all the produced literature referencing itself is paramount.

Vancouver’s believer will then ask the question as Gordon Price did: “why not at least a return of the heritage tram to Science World?“, but the question shouldn’t be framed like it, it should be

  • “what you want to try to achieve by returning the heritage tram to Science World?”

[1] Numerous of land lots, developed around the streetcar, are or were institutional, and a 10 years property tax waiver has been put in place to “faciliate” development in the streetcar corridor(source: [2])

[2] Debunking Portland The City That Doesn’t Work, Randal O’Toole, July 9, 2007

[3] Eric Richardon

[4] Jarret Walker

[5] Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities, Patrick M. Condon

[6] In term of operating/capital cost: Number provided by APTA and Translink could suggest a pretty different picture, from the one stated in [5], see for example this post.

[7]TCRP Report ıı8: Bus Rapid Transit Practitioner’s
Guide
, 2007

[8]Bus Rapid Transit and Transit Oriented Development, Breakthrough Technologies Institute, Washington, 2008

[9]Portland Streetcar Development Oriented Transit, Office of Transportation and Portland Streetcar Inc.

Some Translink statistic

November 28, 2011

Some preliminary statistics essentially compiled of Translink Annual performance reviews (BC Transit service plans before 1998) and APTA for ridership and US data.

Ridership evolution since 1986 (unlinked trip)

Ridership per mode since 1986 (unlinked trip)

Translink ridership 1986-2010 (unlinked trip)

  • Due to the Olympic Games in 2010, it is probably prematured to draw conlusions, but if the trend maintains in 2011, and preliminary result of APTA shows that, it clearly demonstrates that canada Line has boosted the ridership by a significant number…
  • Of interest is also the slow erosion of the ridership on the trolleybus system, the avent of the Canada Line, not only didn’t have stopped it, but seems to have amplified it:

Things happen like if rider having to take a trolley all the way to DwonTwon, could now prefer to take a bus (especially north of 41st) to the Canada Line: That trend seems corroborated by the recent surge in ridership on route like 49, and seems to say a lot on how the transit rider behave in front of choice -direct but slow route- vs -fast with transfer-

Ridership per capita since 1986 (unlinked trip)

Unlinked Transit trip per Capita 1986-2010


In agrowing region, it is important to see if ridership effectively growth on a capita basis, it is…
The figure above also indicates – in relative to ridership number normalized in 2000 – the gas consumption per capita.

  • It appears clearly enough that the gas tax, which has increased from 10c, in 2000, to 17c/l recently, is not a sustainable funding option to Translink… neither property tax, is!

Below, are some statistics, published now, to provide numbers to substantiate a discussion following a recent post on the priceTag blog.

Operating cost per trip

Operating cost per mode

To benchmark the operating cost/trip per mode, we have choose the US average per mode data, mostly because they are readily available, and also because the size of the LRT sampling is big enough to be meaningful. because the perating cost is mainly dependent of the wage, the $US currency has been kept. There is 2 remarkable things to note in the graph above:

  • The operating cost per trip of LRT or bus is very close. When you consider that in a typical system the LRT will operate the trunk route, while the bus will be asked to operate “social” service, which provide endemic ridership, it is hard to single out a mode as better than another one when taken on average on the basis of operating cost. that has been true for the last 25 years
  • The Translink bus operating/trip growth less than the US one, but what is the most striking is that in 1987, the operating cost/trip of the skytrain was $1.35. In 2010, it was $1.12. Nowadays, the average operating cost/trip of a US LRT is $US3.03…

Total Skytrain trip cost

Skytrain Operating plus Debt service cost (1986-2010)

With heavy investment, the operating cost is only part of the story. Usually the debt service is pretty great, an the Sacramento example previously presented illustrates it as well for “cheap” LRT.
The Skytrain debt service has been computed assuming a 30 years amortization at fixed rate, the rate was the 10 years+ Canada bond rate, at the date of the delivery of the purchase (opening new line, delivery of vehicles… It looks a pretty reasonable assumption since the number align pretty well with the one reported by BC Transit before 1998-Translink doesn’t carry the debt of the Skytrain). So far $2.7 billions of initial capital investment in the Skytrain network (Expo and Millennium lines have been accounted.

Obviously the opening of the Millennium line in the aftermath of a strike, has impacted severely the debt/trip.
The overall ridership on the network has absorbed it, and the Skytrain debt level was estimated at $2.87 per trip in 2010.

For Matter of comparison the total cost per trip of the Canada line was $3.99/trip, so like the Skytrain, in 2010…

non edited spreadsheet with original number available here (google docs spreadsheet ).

Sacramento, a LRT success?

November 15, 2011

Between 2 rants, a wellknown blog from time to time, post pictures of empty trains wandering in some soulless NA districts. those pictures are supposed to advocate by themselves for LRT everywhere in BC.

A picture of the Sacramento LRT; somewhat qualified as a success by the LRTA ; gives us the opportunity to shed some light on the claims advanced by some disengenuous LRT advocates.

a train wandering on a deserted k street, once the heart of Sacramento: where are the people gone? (credit phot (5))

Urban renewval.

Usually people cite Portland as an example of urban renewval induced by LRT: one of the main reason is that there is no other example to cit.

The vancouver LRT advocating blog suggests that we should follow the example of Scacramento K street for not less than our Granville mall.

After been closed to motor traffic in 1960, the once vibrant Sacramento K street mall, has started to spiralling into business slump, pretty much like Granville did…In 1987, the introduction of the LRT was eventually the tool supposed to revert the K street bad fortunes.

Alas, the LRT didn’t bring urban renewval in Sacramento. Some other efforts has been put in without success and it appeared lately to the local that the LRT was more part of the problem than from the solution…and, this very week-end, resident of the city was celebrating the reopenning the K street to motor traffic, as the latest attempt to bring urban renewval!

people are coming on K street to celebratre the return of car on a once LRT exclusive corridor (it was Saturday Nov. 12, 2011)

In the meantimes, on Granville Mall, it could be no LRT, but we don’t need car either to bring life…

Service

while people of the Valley complain about bad service, bad service because poor frequency, like 30mn headway…others explain that rapid transit should be available 24h/day.

The Sacramento Gold line extension, connecting the Folsom suburb to vancouver, offer a 30mn frequency…peak day…no service after 7pm on week-end…and the 30km journey will take you 1hour. Enjoy!

In the meantime, on the skytrain lines…

Notice that Park and ride are plentifull along the Sacramento LRT lines:

whereas Vancouver people come by bus to meet the Skytrain, in Sacramento people drive to the LRT…Some in Vancouver believe it is a superior alternative but it is certainly a less efficient use of land and it contribute to maintain a reliance on the car are primary transportation mode, and per way of consequence is certainly not the most efficient way to prevent urban sprawl.

Operating cost

A frequent claim done is that a train is no more costly to operate than a bus, here again, Sacramento provides a resounding rebuttal to this claim [4]:

cost per revenue vehicle hour
bus $133
LRT $239

In short, he same operating cost expenditure can buy a 8.5mn bus frequency where LRT doesn’t offer better than 15mn.

it is more than probable than the Sacramento LRT 15mn frequency can’t be justified by ridership level, but is maintained as a floor frequency to keep some relevance to the service. In despite of this minimum, the Sacramento LRT farebox recovery hoover in the low 30%.

generalized LRT Cost

Sacramento LRT has been built on the cheap, and is still built on the cheap…the latest extension under construction will come-up at 40$ million/km…Explanation:

the LRT follow a track ROW, then a canal ROW

this 40$ million/km give probably a good proxy to evaluate the cost to build an LRT in a BC hydro right of way…for other case, we will refer to a previous post

But do we really get the bang for the buck ?

The Gold line extension

What some lenient LRT fans conveninetly forget is that we need to confront number toward benefit:

A 12km extension of the Gold line toward Folsom has been built at a cost of $20 million/km and opened in stage between 2004 and 2006 and was expected to attract 6,000 more rider at opening. That ends to be an investment of $100,000 per additional customer…

Alas again, after $300 million spent, and in despite of some press report qualifying the ridership as at “healthy level“, it looks like the new rider hasn’t show up as expected, since the ridership in 2011 is virtually the same as it was in 2004 before the openning of these extensions [6]

That is not overly surprising, since the extension also shows the limit of the LRT concept: the LRT needs one hour to travel the 30km between Folsom and Sacramento, otherwise well linked by an Interstate hwy.

The south line extension

How it compare to the Evergreen line? (all number from [3] for Sacramento).

Sacramento South line vancouver Evergreen line
length 6.8km 10.9km (1)
stations 4 5 (1)
inter stations 1.36km 1.81km
Capital cost (in $M) $270 $1400 (2)
Yearly Operating cost (in $M) $8.84 $10.2 (1)
Yearly Ridership forecast(new trip)* 3.5(0.8) 17(8) (2)
operating cost per trip (per new trip) $2.5 ($11) $.6 ($1.27)
capital cost per trip (new trip)** $4.93 ($21.6) $5.86($11.1)
total cost per trip (new trip) $7.43 (33.6) $6.46 ($12.37)

* ridership come from transfer of other transit mode + new customer, trip generated by new customer only are in (), and cost per trip in () generated on the basis of new customer’s trip only.
** Capital cost assuming an amortization period of 30 years at 5%.

On one hand the Sacramento rider, will have a train at frequency no better than 15mn, 30mn after 6:30pm, last train at/around 10pm. On the other hand the Vancouver rider will take for granted a service level which stay the exception in the LRT world, but can come at a marginal operating cost increment in the realm of the automated trains.

When a “cheap” LRT can quickly reveal to be a more expensive proposition than an “pricey” skytrain

Numbers strongly suggest that in despite of looking “cheap” the Sacramento extension will be significantly more expensive than the Evergreen line on a rider basis. When considered new rider only – the eventual reason to go with LRT being it attracts more new customer otherwise reluctant to take bus- the Sacramento extension is a proposition nearly as three time more expensive that the Evergreen line.

Sacramento could have its own reasons to extend its LRT network, but considering that by tyical metric standard, the Sacramento LRT hardly qualify as a success, it is also highly probable that the Vancouver area doesn’t need to follow the path of Sacramento, and can continue to pursue avenue providing more leverage for its scarce transit bucks. This assessment is not based on the love (or hate) of a technology, but on the use of the appropirate technology

…and when a technology is appropriate, there is no need for disingenous and misleading claims as too often read on some rail fan blogs, to make its case for.


[1] Operating cost as reported in evergreen line executive summary

[2] ridership forecast as reported in Translink 2012 Moving Forward plan. notice that this number are less optimistic than the one reported in [1]

[3] number from South Sacramento corridor phase 2

[4] Sacramento Sept 2011 performance report

[5] world.nycsubway.org

[6] 2011 and 204 2nd quarter ridership number from APTA

Friday is the last day to provide input to the phase 2 of UBC Rapid transit study. Below, we consider some challenges associated with a surface solution, noticeably LRT on Broadway

Safety question

The suggested average speed, in the vicinity of 30km/h, can be considered relatively high: It is the speed achieved by the 99B when traffic is light. Thought such speed is very achievable by LRT, example of LRT running at such average speed in area presenting similarity with Broadway hasn’t been provided.

We could think of the blue line in Los Angeles, one of the busiest in North America, with over 80,000 boarding/day. The inconvenience of this example, is that with over 100 people killed on the track of this LRT line since its inspection in 1990, it is also one of the most treacherous LRT line in North America.

Unfortunately, like I have previously noticed, accident rate and ridership can be pretty well correlated. European tram achieve good safety record by running simply at much lower speed than their american counterpart in urban environment comparable to Broadway.

Confidence in travel time

  • Is the modelling for surface transit assuming a perfect world?

On this topic, one will notice that, not unlike other French tram project, the Paris tram T3 average speed had been over estimated by more than 25% during the public consultation. the given reason is that the world was less perfect that expected, since you will find jay walker undisciplined car driver and other behavior affecting the average speed [6]

Capacity

An LRT line can move huge number of people, and Translink advance number as high as 10,000 person per hour per direction, but what is the price to pay for it?

there is a limit on frequency possible while still having traffic signal preemption. this limit imposes either capacity or speed/frequency reliability. credit (3)

At some frequency point, traffic signal priority can’t get granted. That is the reason why Translink provide slower travel time with a BRT (which need to be more frequent) than a LRT.

  • what is the highest frequency achievable with the posted travel time. or
  • what is the maximum capacity for the system without compromising travel time?

As a matter of reference, In European literature, we will find a capacity limit of a tram at around 6,000 persons per hour per direction, in normal condition (headway enabling traffic signal preemption) [5].

Platform width

narrow platforms could be quickly overcrowded thanks to high ridership. credit photo (1)


Again, comparing with the Paris T3 trams with a ridership of 110,000 people, similar to the one envisioned for Broadway…In the Parisian T3 case, the boarding is done at 17 stations with platform of 5 meters width..when the Translink study suggests boarding at as little as 13 stations of around 3 meters width…In Edmonton, the LRT has central platform width of 8 meters.

  • That is, the suggested boarding area proposed by Translink could be more than twice smaller the one offered by the Paris tramway T3.

Paris tram t3 side platform (right) are 5 meters wide, and Edmonton central platform (left) are 8meters wide...does 3 meters platform wide will be enough to handle expected ridership on Broadway? credit photo right (2), left (3)

  • How platform crowding gonna impact the dwelling time? Waiting experience?

Interference with local bus routes

It has been admitted by the Translink planners that a surface LRT will impact negatively local route along Broadway, what is not hard to fathom…
According to the frequency of the surface LRT it will also impact the travel time of crossing route due to signal preemption by the surface LRT. The measured impact of it has not been provided.

street-scape

The 99feet wide Broadway is mostly dedicated to vehicular traffic. Does the streetscape could provide more space to pedestrians and be more cyclists friendly? credit photo (8)

Broadway is not that wide, and implementation of an LRT supposes some compromising. Note surprisingly, parking lanes could disappear, but may be more of a concern could be the reduction of pedestrian space on sidewalk required at station location. Platform wide inline with the one seen on system with comparable ridership, suggest that an broadway LRT could reclaim 11 to 12 meters ROW, at station location, that is close to the equivalent of 4 lanes of traffic to remove. Cyclist are not expected to be on Broadway, and anyway current preservation of sidewalk width could prevent bike parking.

  • An LRT is often considered as an opportunity to improve the street-scape but it also imposes constraints

Since Allan Jacobs is scheduled to be a keynote speaker at an upcoming SFU conference on the future of Broadway, it could be interesting to compare Broadway to Boulevard Saint Michel in Paris. the later Boulevard is 30m wide, so similar to Broadway, but with a significantly different space allocation since it has only 4 lanes of traffic making room for ample sidewalks allowing coffee patios…Boulevard Saint Michel is what Allan jacobs consider a Great Streets.

  • Does the need to accommodate an LRT will not compromise a similar fate for Broadway?

Ample sidewalks allow for life and social interaction on the 30meters wide Boulevard Saint Michel in Paris. Large sidewalks grant airspace for majestic trees. This Boulevard is considered a 'great street'by Allan Jacobs. credit photo left (7)

But more important, as noticed by Allan Jacobs, with the Champs-Élysées Avenue, and as we know it here with Granville Street, a street could needs several iterations of work before becoming a “great street”.

  • Does the permanence of an LRT will not compromise the ability to correct unavoidable mistake, or rather to allow the streetscape to evolve in function of new and unforeseen future needs?


[1] Keegan Bursaw

[2] Живые улицы

[3] one42chrisp

[4] Simon Chambers

[5] BHLS or tramway in France : scope of application and choice, Sébastien RABUEL, CERTU, French Ministry of Transportation, July 13th – 2010

[6] A french audit has mesured the average speed of the Parisian tramway t3 at 16 km/h instead of the the planned 20km, ibid. “Le tram se traîne“, Dec 23, 2009, Le Parisien

[7] Adrian

[8] Boris

[8] Great Streets, Allan jacobs, MIT Press, 1995

Post updated on April 6th

As mentioned by Stephen Rees, I was at “a special blogger breakfast” about the project where Jeff Busby and Margaret Wittgens from Translink provided a description of the different options and was answering our questions [1]. Translink has provided significantly more material in this phase than in phase 1.

The consultation process

Like in Phase 1, translink has scheduled several workshops. In those workshops, Translink staff engage conversation where you have the opportunity to discuss your concerns, opinions not only with staff but also with your ‘neighbors’ and understand others viewpoints. It is a very constructive approach, and I warmly recommend people to attend those workshops and provide feedback as soon as possible in the process to Translink.

Some comments:

In the preliminary phases, it was unclear what Translink was meaning by “LRT”, an LRT in the American sense, or a tram in the European sense? A later solution apparently favored by noticeably UBC professor Patrick Condon and a relatively active Broadway merchant group called BARSTA.

  • The Phase 2 gives a clear answer: the option is an LRT in the american sense.

Compared to the “business as usual case” (assumed to be the bus 99B) [4] the cost required to attract additional ridership is around $25,000 per new rider, as suggested by the graph below comparing the different solutions proposed by Translink

cost per new rider is around $25,000, except two outliers, the RRT above and the BRT below. Numbers from (4)

That is, the additional ridership could be at the expense of local bus routes, so if the goal is to increase the Transit mode share, and that is a goal of both the Province and the City of Vancouver [5], the figure become more striking, and solutions providing net gain time on the Commercial Drive to Central Broadway seems at a net advantage in term of “buck for the bang”.

Capital cost per point of additional Transit mode share in the corridor, compared to the 'business as usual' case. Numbers from (4)

Some solutions provide clear advantage in time of access time from Commercial to Cambie, and convenience from the Millenium (lack of Transfer), over others; and at least from the cost/additional rider perspective, looks reasonably priced. Obviously it couldn’t be the only metrics to look at…among others are the travel time to UBC [2], operating cost…

Under this regard, the lately added Combo 2 , RRT+BRT, could require more refinement:
The redundancy of service East of Arbutus doesn’t seem to provide the bang for the buck, noticeably in term of serviced area. We could have preferred something looking more like the rubber tire version of Combo 1 or looking like the figure below

Combo 2 could have been maybe better served by a 'BRT' reusing the 84 alignment terminating at Main, and a potential rerouting of the 44 to serve the RRT

The regional perspective

That is, as reported of this week workshops, and already outlined here, it is hard to ignore the regional significance of the connection of the Millennium line to the Canada line, which could have a “shaping” effect probably as great as if not greater than an extension of the existing Skytrain in the confins of the GVRD.

A discussion has been engaged by Stephen Rees on the trip model used to generate ridership. It appeared that Translink consider the Evergreen line built in its modelling. That says, they also rely on growth projection provided by external agencies; and this growth projection could not have considered a transit network effect

The network effect

The gap in the Vancouver rapid transit network is hard to ignore. credit (3)

On this topic, Jeffrey Busby mentioned that the scope of the study is really the Broadway corridor, and not addressing the question of the “extension” or not of the Millennium line.

  • According to the selected option, this question could be still open, leaving customer of the Millennium line to their frustration for very long time.

In that sense, an apparent cheaper solution, not based on an extension of the Millennium line could prove to be a costly mistake, but obviously all of that need to be quantified and LRT could make sense at least on part of the corridor


[1] You will find other account of it at Southfraser.net, vpsn blog or citycaucus.com

[2] The choice to prefer to compare travel time between Commercial and central Broadway rather than UBC is deliberate since UBC bound riders, mostly students, could be less sensitive to travel time than the more general users.

[3] Illustration from Jarret Walker

[4] UBC Line Rapid Transit Study Evaluation Summary – March/April 2011

[5] Province call for a doubling of the Transit ridership by 2020. Vancouver call for 50% non-auto mode share in the city by 2020

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 42 other followers