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.

The Gordon’s Lanes

March 5, 2010

recently the BC government made some budget announcement concerning transportation [7] and transit observers will have noticed a shortage of funding for “number one priority” transit project when the deep unbalance between transit and road investment could call for a better equilibrium as we have already noticed…but to add insult to injury, the government is not hesitating to make up the number for transit…and the Gordon’s Lanes illustrate how.

These Gordon’s Lanes are the bus lanes announced with great fanfares (and funded at 50% by the provincial government):

  • 16$ millions for a “bus lane” on highway 7 in Pitt Meadows [1] where there is no bus route
  • 13$ millions for a “bus lane” on Highway 99 in Surrey [2] where there is only one regular bus route serviced every 15mn [3] and little congestion

Every one in Lower Mainland, with a little sense of observation, can easily think of way better transit investment [4]: If the government was serious about transit it could have easily found some investment bringing more bang for the buck!

So what is the real reason of those bus lanes?


Those Bus lanes will be also HOV one obviously!

Not that there is something wrong with it, but what is certainly wrong is to tout an investment as “transit” when the obvious reason is only to create more road capacity, which will be marginally used by public transit services if any.
Where the cynicism of government proves to be boundless is that it will fund this road investment from earmarked “transit money” [6]

.

The Gordon’s bus lanes fallacy shows how our shameless government is willing to ostensibly burn our tax money on complete useless project while it refuses to address real pressing public transit need. This strategy will accredits the idea in the general public that public transit is no more than a waste of tax payer money…
It shows that the contempt of our Government for the public transit matter is even worse that most could suspect


[7] Prime minister, premier announce 15 new projects, March 1st, 2010

[1] Governments partner to create jobs, stimulate economy- 174 B.C. infrastructure projects to be funded. Sept 24, 2009

[2] Ottawa and Victoria invest $35.4 million in B.C. transportation upgrades, March 2nd 2010, Business In Vancouver

[3] it is the bus 351, Crescent Beach, Bridgeport. route 352 and 354 are peak service only

[4] Examples of sounder investment include the Surrey 399B line (which has been ditched due to lack of funding) or improvement of the bus traffic on Highway 99 in its Richmond part : for example the Hy 99 North bound doesn’t have bus lanes south of Westminster highway, there is no queue jumper at the Bridgeport exit, used by all suburban buses connecting with Canada line, ..investment here could benefit to the existing bus route targeted by the government funding among other converging to Bridgeport station. One could also give a look at the 699B line idea to foster an attractive transit presence in our suburbs…

[5] Eventually the government will deny it (remember the HST?), but there is no doubt on the fate of under used lanes

[6] The Blog follower will have also noted that the “hydrogen bus” experiment is funded from transit “earmarked money”…

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