July 2, 2013
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 :
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 , 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
- Minimize unecessary transfers
- Minimal walking distance to final destinations
(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)
(3) Use the downtown grid for “random schedule” transfers
(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  to support the idea of bringing together the transit network with the pedestrian area 
(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:
- The choice of the streets is guided by principle (4)
- 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 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 […]
- 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 advent of the Canada line kind of fullfill this vision.
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.
 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)
 the underlying concept had been drafted by Harry Rankin by 1970, see The Case for Rapid Transit…in 1970
 The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs, Random House, New York, 1961
 51-61-71 Project, block 71 Schematics, Arthur Erickson Architects, 1974
 Vancouver’s 1975 downtown transit plan, John Calimenete, April 7, 2010
 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
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 .
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
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:
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:
The debate concerns the redevelopment of the former Hong Kong’s airport: Kai Tak, which still look pretty much like below:
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 :
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?
 See the video and other information at Hong Kong CEDD
 Old Cat
 Vancouver launches campaign to educate ‘fragile’ pedestrians, Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun, February 07, 2012.
March 15, 2013
Contribution to the debate:
Adam is sharing an illustration to support his proposal, which has been the object of a Sun column:
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 
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  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
 UBC Line rapid transit study: Phase 2 Evaluation report Steer Davies Gleave, August 2012
December 17, 2012
Sydney is confronted to bus congestion in its Core Business District (CBD):
Beside a poorly legible network (Sydney has 850 bus routes) , 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 :
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
You could expect the government agencies, ministries and other actors to debate on facts, and not on opinions to lobby one system over another:
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 . The different system are assumed as below by the different actors:
|System||InNSW ||Transport NSW ||Certu |
|LRT Capacity ||9,000||12,000||6,000|
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:
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 
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 :
- 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 ||Surface LRT |
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  (There is very few street of this wide successfully fully pedestrianized ). the Bus BRT is considered as a rapid transit with 2 underground stations .
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 :
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
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:
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 , 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 :
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
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 $
 flickr user SHOROC
 George street Urban design study, Gehl Architects for City of Sydney, January 2012
 Sydney Light rail’s future, Transport for NSW, December 2012
 First things first, Infra NSW, October 2012.
 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.
 Transportation Master Plan, Transport for NSW, December 2012
 transportsydney.wordpress.com blog.
 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
 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.
January 31, 2012
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 , 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 
- Tax credit 
- 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.
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?
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 
It is worth to mention, that, first the conclusions of Patrick Condon are grounded on the finding of the other referenced book, and secondly,  presents numbers which should be subject to caution .
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  where one will have hard time to find which aspect of  leads the report to such a conclusion. In fact  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  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…
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?”
 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: )
 Debunking Portland The City That Doesn’t Work, Randal O’Toole, July 9, 2007
 Eric Richardon
 Jarret Walker
 Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities, Patrick M. Condon
 In term of operating/capital cost: Number provided by APTA and Translink could suggest a pretty different picture, from the one stated in , see for example this post.
Bus Rapid Transit and Transit Oriented Development, Breakthrough Technologies Institute, Washington, 2008
Portland Streetcar Development Oriented Transit, Office of Transportation and Portland Streetcar Inc.
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.
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!
In the meantimes, on Granville Mall, it could be no LRT, but we don’t need car either to bring life…
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.
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 :
|cost per revenue vehicle hour|
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:
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 
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  for Sacramento).
|Sacramento South line||vancouver Evergreen line|
|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.
 Operating cost as reported in evergreen line executive summary
 number from South Sacramento corridor phase 2
 2011 and 204 2nd quarter ridership number from APTA