The Hong Kong LRT

January 8, 2015

The topic of this post is the Hong Kong New Territories LRT, not to be confused with the double decker Hong Kong tram
HK_LRT_1mnFrequency

Preamble
The french approach: Some remarks
We have examined the french LRT approach and its history in a 2012 post: Some call it the art of the insertion to design Complete Streets [1][2].

It is also important to note the Certu (a French agency) limit for optimal surface operation conditions (signal preemption possible, perfect interval maintained) [4]:

  • A minimum frequency interval of 3mn. (in practice very few french LRT operate as les than 4mn interval)
  • A maximum capacity of 6,000 persons per hour per direction (pphpd)
test

The 2006 Paris Tram T3 ridership prediction didn’t forecast more than 3,800pphpd, and an average trip length of 3.5km (click for larger picture- source [3]

Indeed most french trams offer a capacity lower than 6,000ppphd and frequency interval greater than 3mn.
The parisian tram T3, probably the french busiest Tram, while having an excess of ~250,000 boardings/day, is not carrying much more than 4,000 pphpd [3] (that is almost the today transit capacity on the Vancouver Broadway corridor). Another important metric is the average trip length, it is 3.5km on the Parisian trams. For comparison the average transit trip length is 8km in Vancouver. The shorter the trip length is, the less important is the travel speed.

The Hong Kong LRT

The Hong Kong LRT illustrates it is certainly possible to go beyond the french limits, but it also illustrates the issues that entails.

The MTR suggests than in theory their LRT can carry 33,000pphpd, to recognize in practice that is not achievable due to street crossings. It is also worth to note than the MTR uses a very optimistic standard of 6person per sq meter: a crowding level Hong Kongers accept less and less. That said, it is probable that the Hong Kong LRT carries an excess of 10,000 pphpd on some corridors:

traffic and pedestrian congestion, slow (<15km/h) LRT prone to bunching even in their own ROW, all this in the middle of a high rises environment

traffic and pedestrian congestion, slow (<15km/h) LRT prone to bunching even in their own ROW, all this in the middle of a high rises environment

A first myth the Hong Kong LRT helps to dispell, is the supposed relationship between a transit technology and a building form. A myth unfortunately still alive in too many urbanism circles.

It also allows us to verify that a LRT can’t achieve any significant speed, with high frequency

  • The LRT is operated by line of sight: a frequency close to 1mn is possible, and is essentially limited by station dwelling time.
  • We have measured the average speed on the route 761P, which run in its own ROW, at less than 15km/h (this off-peak period)
    Due to the high frequency, LRT vehicles bunching are frequent and signal preemption not possible. Narrow crowded platform make also for long dwelling. For reference, the 99B average speed is around 20km/h

But the main issue is one of crowd management:


crowd management at level crossing, strict jay walking regulation, and ultimately grade separated platforms access, are all consequence of high LRT patronage

LRT and bike in Hong Kong
Where the street ROW allows, bike track exists along the LRT:

bike path along the LRT

A bike path along the LRT, notice how the pedestrians are prioritized on bike using a narrowing at the interaction. Also worthwhile to note that the LRT average speed is no more than 15km/h in spite of having a protected ROW on its full route length

and cycling is a well used mode to access the LRT stations:

bike parking at a LRT station

bike parking at a LRT station

However, while pedestrians get priority over cyclists as they should, the interaction between the both mode can be a bit clumsy, in fairly high traffic area:

narrowing bike lane, give pedestrian priority over bike at crossing

narrow sas, give pedestrian priority over bike at pedestrian crossing, but complicate cycling

Was the LRT the right choice?

As we have seen before, the quality of the urban environment is of little concerns to the Hong Kon authorities: The already anachronic high floor design of the LRT, at time of its opening in 1988, reflects this lack of concern. Poor LRT platform design and potential overuse of overpass is certainly a HongKong trademark too. Nevertheless, they have a “geometry” issue to address, which is the consequence of potentially too high pphpd for a nice integration in the urban fabric.

The Hong Kong LRT (top left on the map) is a feeder to the MTR West rail line

The Hong Kong LRT (top left) is a feeder to the MRT line

Since the opening of the West Line rail in 2003, the LRT is not a backbone transportation mode anymore, but a feeder to the mass transit line accomodating longer travel. That makes the LRT a right choice in regard of the short trip pattern to accomodate

That said, Sydney is building a LRT supposed to accomodate 9,000pphpd on its downtown segment, but

  • this segment (George street) would be fully pedestrianized
  • A single LRT line allows to operate long but less frequent trains, at least resolving some potential operational issue and trafic interaction

[1] Complete Streets: From Policy to implementation G. Thomson and T Larwin and T. Parkinson, TRB subcommitte on International Light rail develovpment – Rail-volution, Mineapolis, Sept 22, 2014.

[2] got it thru rail for the valley blog and Stephen Rees. We address here a question in a MB’s comment on the Stephen rees blog regarding the frequency of the French LRT

[3] Dossier du débat public: extension du tramway (T3) a Paris, – janvier 2006, Paris

[4] 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.


To better understand what bring the Mayors council plan (called “expansion plan” below), we ignore the spin and prefer to compare it with the Translink 2014 base plan (what is ensured to happen disregarding of the “plebisicite” result)

Congestion and gas tax

Fiat striking point: both plans estimate exactly same revenue for both the gas tax and parking tax. That is an implicit recognition that the Expansion plan will have no traffic impact, and per extension congestion impact (or if it does, it is mainly by the introduction of the Pattullo bridge toll): something we have already mentioned before.

Capital investment: $7 Billion above the $3Billion already included in the base plan

The $10 billion Capital funding is expected to be financed as below:

capitalfund

(*) The Pattulo bridge revenue is estimated from the 2024 operating budget ($50M/year) [3].
Notice that the figure doesn’t include debt service:

The “Congestion Improvement Tax” (CIT) finances ~22% of the capital funds needed.

Funded Operation (including debt servicing)

Revenue stream

FundedOperation20142024

Base numbers (e.g. “Transit revenue”) are presented for the the base plan, and increment numbers (e.g. “Inc. Transit revenue”) represent the additional revenu provided by the Expansion plan. the bump in 2017 is due to the sale of the Oakridge transit Center (planned in the base plan…but forgotten in the Expansion plan)

The original Expansion plan was targeting to raise $2 Billions over the next 10 years from a new tax to be triggered in several stage. The mayor having elected a 0.5% PST, will allow to raise ~2.7 Billions [1] over the next 10 years, creating lot of room for a more aggressive implementation that originally envisioned.

That said, at the end of the 10 years period, it looks like the PST revenue align with the original plan forecast.

Transit operation: $1.5B added on 10 years

In the next 10 years, the plan is apparently to put 400 more buses on the road, that is increasing the bus fleet size (actually ~1400) by ~30%…to increase service by 25% -it could be an issue here we will certainly revisit.

This, and other rail expansion services, will translate into an additional $1.5B of operating cost (including Transit police and Translink corporate overhead), generating $237M of additional transit revenue [2] as computed on 10 years : The new CIT tax, and additional senior government contribution (UPass) is expected to cover the $1.3B shortfall

Expanded Transit operation represents a relatively marginal increment on the base plan, but mainly funded by tax

Expanded Transit operation represents a relatively marginal increment on the base plan, but mainly funded by tax

The farebox recovery ratio of the added service is anemic [2]:

fare box recovery is expected to go up to 62% in the base plan. it will be 53% in the Expansion plan, thanks to an anemic 17% farebox recovery on the added transit services

Operation vs Capital Investment
In the first 10 years, nearly 50% of the expected CIT revenue will be devoted to operation (it could have been much more in the original plan). The partition look like below

nearly half of the CIT will be dedicated to operate the added service

In 2024, more than 70% of the CIT will be devoted to operate the added transit services, which will have a disastrous 17% fare-box recovery in 2024. That could even compromise the ability of Translink to pay back its debt, according too the CIT variation (inherently very sensitive to the economic climate).

It is possible that, some expanded service could pick-up steam in the years following 2024. If not, it looks those expanded transit are not sustainable in the long term, and will keep Translink on a train wreck course

That said, it is possible that our assumption on the PST growth rate is too conservative (the growth rate of the Metro Vancouver PST tax base is probably greater than 4%, but we have no solid number at this time)


[1] we assume a growth rate of 4% for the PST revenue. That is a conservative estimate, the PST growth rate province wide has been ~5% since 2008.

[2] we haven’t included the provincial contribution to the Students pass program

[3] the $1 billion figure represents the amount of debt which can be reasonably reliably financed by the Pattullo bridge toll. The Pattullo toll revenue forecasts are much more reliable than in the Golden Ears bridge, since it is an infrastructure upgrade

The Metro Vancouver mayors council plan, proposed to a 2015 referendum, calls for $765 millions of expenditure on the Expo an Millennium line over the next 10 years. This could result in an increase of 50% of the vehicle fleet and skytrain operating cost: Are those investments justified or just an extravaganza?

As of today, the Skytrain comfortably copes with the demand, thanks to the recently added vehicles in the years leading to the 2010 Olympic games, and should be able to serve the Evergreen line without hiccups, considering the expected addition of 28 cars. In fact the vehicle productivity (measured as rider/vehicle) is 20% lower from its 2008 peak. When the average increase in vehicle capacity is considered (83 passengers, before 1999, to 108 passengers in 2014), Skytrain vehicles productivity is at a 20+ years low (see our spreadsheet for detail).

To define the fleet requirement, Let’s see what the future ridership is planned to be:

Ridership prediction [1]
without a Broadway subway

2041 AM peak hour transit flow (without a Broadway subway)

2041 AM peak hour transit flow (without a Broadway subway)

..and with a Broadway subway

2041 peak hour transit flow with a Broadway subway up to Arbutus

2041 peak hour transit flow with a Broadway subway up to Arbutus

[1] doesn’t give explicit peak hour numbers for year 2021, but we can still infer them from [1] and [5] for the year 2021:

Maximum passenger per hour per direction (pphd).

without Broadway extension 2021 2041
Millenium Line 8400 10000
Expo Line 16000 23100
with a Broadway extension 2021 2041
Millenium Line 10400 12600
Expo Line 16000 19000

Thought the above projections could not have factored other transit investments such as the Surrey LRT or B lines, as contained in the Mayors council plan [3], they are not expected to significantly affect the peak pphpd requirement on either the Expo or Millennium lines.

The actual skytrain fleet is composed of

  • 150 MK1 cars.
    The 114 oldest car are currently refurbished, for an estimated amount of $38million [2], providing them an additional 15 years life span, so they are good to go up to ~2027
  • 108 MKII cars + 28 cars to be delivered in 2016 (Evergreen line).

The below table illustrates the usually used consists and associated train capacity:

4 car MKI train 4MK1cars-consist
332 passengers/train
6 car MKI train 6MK1cars-consist
498 passengers/train
2 car MKII train 2MKIIcars-consist
256 or 264 passengers/train
4 car MKII train 4MKIIcars-consist
512 or 528 passengers/train

We place ourselves in a scenario post Evergreen line:

  • The Expo line operates from WaterFront to King George (one branch),and to Lougheed (other branch): that is also called split-tail service by [2]
  • The Millennium line operates from VCC to Douglas college
The 3 skytrain lines, after integration of the Evergreen line spur

The 3 skytrain lines, after integration of the Evergreen line spur

Thought we are aware that Translink is considering to extend the Expo branch from Lougheed to Production Way, we are not considering it for the below reasons:

  • It doesn’t make good use of the skytrain capacity due to the poor expected ridership on the considered section
  • It creates operational and reliability challenge, due to the meddling of the Expo and Millennium operation
  • It significantly limit the capacity of the Millennium line: this one could be not required in the short-term, but discontinuing a service people get use to consider as granted, could prove to be troublesome in the future

2021 Rolling stock requirement

  • As per [2], we assume a minimum 93s headway and a 87mn round trip on the expo line and 78mn return trip on the Millenium line. Due to the ill designed Lougheed station, headway below 108s on the Millennium line could be challenging.
  • The extension of the Millenium line up to Arbutus increases its round trip by 15mn [1], and increases the pphpd requirement to meet by 2021, from 8000 to 10400.
  • We don’t consider short trains such as Commercial (or Metrotown)-WaterFront. They could still be used to reduce the fleet requirement or increase the spare ratio. Such strategy is not without issues [6].

No ext Broad. ext
Expo line Desirable (2021)
headway 93s 114s 114s 120s
train requirement 56

(31 4xMKII cars
25 6xMKIcars)
46
(21 4xMKII cars
25 6xMKIcars)
46

9 5 cars MKIII consists
12 4xMKII cars
25 6xMKIcars)
44

15 4 cars MKIII consists
26 4xMKII cars
1 6xMKIcars)
capacity (pphpd) 19,900 16000 16000 16000
Millennium line Desirable (2021)
headway 150s 120s 108s
train requirement 32
(32 2xMKII cars)
40
(40 2xMKII cars)
52
(36 4xMKI cars
16 2xMKII cars
capacity (pphpd) 3,000 6,000 8,000 10,600
Total Desirable (2021)
train requirement 150 MKI cars
136MKII cars
150 MKI cars
136 MKII cars
150 MKI cars
136 MKII cars
9 5 cars MKIII consists
150 MKI cars
136 MKII cars
15 4 cars MKIII consists
~10% spare ratio 6 5xcars MIII 8 4xcars MIII

The Broadway subway extension will involve at least the command of 7 new train consists (6 train consist to operate the segment + one spare)[1] which will be accounted as part of this project. So the extra rolling stock required to continue to meet the demand on the Expo and Millennium line in the next 10 years is:

Without Broadway ext. With Broadway extension
15×5 car MKIII consists 16×4 car MKIII consists
$262.5 millions $224 millions

the refurbishing of the remaining 36 MKI cars, estimated at $10 millions from [2] need to be added.

In the case of the Broadway extension, all other Expo line upgrades are already financed (federal gas tax subsidiary) and continue to carry on on schedule, so that the non yet financed cost is ~$240 millions (some minor egress improvement could be required here and there, especially on the Millennium line))

Potential additional storage requirement should be seen in the context of the Broadway extension project: The Coquitlam vehicle storage facility should apriori be expanded to accommodate, with the Burnaby OMC, the fleet up to 2031 [7].

Regarding the 5 and 4 cars consists

  • If the Broadway extension is not built, the expo line will require 5 cars train consist before 2041, so it eventually makes sense to consider to start to add such trains on the rolling stock from now, but that supposes also ancillary cost to adapt the line and the OMC, to longer trains it could also require upgrade of Waterfront and Stadium station, which are not yet funded. It requires also an upgrade (stage 3) of the propulsion power to enable the delivering of 25,000pphpd [6].
  • If the Broadway extension is built, there is no need for 5 cars train in the next ~30 years or the usual lifespan of a train: 4 car trains (MKII and MKIII generation) will be able to absorb the 2041 demand, and the line is already prepped out (or upgrade funded).

In any case, what should be ordered are trains able to maximize the capacity at a given length: The idea to order 3 cars train is a flawed one, since it doesn’t allow to realize the maximum train capacity, but more importantly prevent platform door installation (due to train assymetry making train doors location not always the same):

It is more than time to order rolling stock which will:

  • enable future platform screen, since such installation allow much greater system reliability than the current passive track intrusion detection model.
  • minimize dwelling time

That should imposes constraint on the train door location for any future procurement.

4 car MKII train 4MKIIcars-consist
512 or 528 passengers/train
4 car MKIII train 4carsMKIIconsist~540 passengers/train
3+2 car MKIII train 3and2MKIIcars-consist
~670 passengers/train
5 car MKIII train 5MKIIcars-consist
~680 passengers/train

~2030 Rolling stock requirement

Circa 2030, the original 114 MKI car will reach their end of life, as well as the 60 MKII (ordered for the opening of the Millennium line). we place ourselves in a scenario where those cars are still in service, and before a decision is done regarding their eventual life extension or replacement

By that time, the Expo line should be able to carry ~18,000pphpd and the Millennium line, ~12,000pphpd (number inferred of both the 2021 and 2041 projection). The rolling stock could be assigned as below:

Expo line (2030) Millenium line (2030)
headway 108 150
train requirement 48
26 4xcars MKIII consist + 22 4xMKII cars
37
25 6xMKI cars + 12 4xMKII cars
capacity (pphpd) 18,000 12,000

Considering a ~10% spare ratio, 36 new 4 cars train should be ordered by 2030. More likely 30 in the next 10 years with an option to order 6 more circa 2025. That includes the 7 train part of the Broadway extension project, so the effective requirement could be 29 4 cars train – or 23 train in the next 10 years period, that is ~$320M (with a 6 additional 4 cars-train option to exercise ~2025)

Furthermore,

  • the possible availability of second hand MKI car (from the Scarborough RT or the Detroit People Mover), and potential acquisition for refurbishing should be considered
  • the decision to go with 4 or 5 car consist order should be reexamined in the next 10 years, in light of the ridership evolution

The Mayor council plan

In brief the Mayor council plan[4] calls for the below

% increase
increased operation cost 53.5 50%
capital cost $765 millions
new vehicles ($500 millions) 145 50%

The above doesn’t account for 27 vehicle to be procured between 2025 an 2029

In the light of the previous sections, this seems to be an inconsiderate expense to

  • address purposeless goals; such as doubling the capacity of the Expo line by 2020 (the main reason for the mayors plan extravaganza)
  • and still failing to address basic requirement, such as the 10,000 pphpd ridership on the Millennium line in the case of the Broadway line (the Mayors council’s plan consider only 8,000).

The Mayors council’s plan implicitly assumes 3 cars train: This is a bad idea as we have seen before

A fundamental reason to put the Broadway subway as the top priority transit investment is to spare the considerable expense to upgrade the Expo line to meet the ~23,000pphpd 2041 demand; which could happen only on the very short section Commercial-Stadium:

A Broadway subway will reduce the Expo line demand at ~19,000pphpd: something achievable as of today, and could save ~$300 million of investment on the Expo line, according to the council mayors numbers [8], and associated operating cost, otherwise necessary.

The fact that the passenger load is much more balanced along the Expo line, in the case of a Broadway extension, make a much better use of the line capacity.It is still possible to operate short train in the other case, between Commercial (or Metrotown) and Waterfront, but it doesn’t come without issues ([6]), such as passenger bunching or platform crowding (due to passenger waiting for the expected less crowded short train)

It is unfortunate the Council of Mayors missed this important point.


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

[2] Translink 2013 Business Plan Operating and Capital Budget Summary

[3] Regional Transportation Investment: A vision for Vancouver – Appendices, Mayors council, June 12 2014

[4] Regional Transportation Investment: A vision for Vancouver – Appendices, Mayors council, June 12 2014

[5] TransLink’s Rapid & Regional Transit Model , PTV America Inc. and Translink, Vancouver and Wilmington, DE, February 2007 and December 2008

[6] Expo Line Upgrade Strategy, SNC Lavallin and Steer Davies Gleave, Sept 21, 2010

[7] We estimate the current storage capacity at 114 MKI + 126 MKII at the Edmonds OMC, 36 MK1 and 34 MKII on the main line an the Coquitlam Facilities storage center. See the Translink Finance Audit – Specific Project Approval. Subject: SkyTrain OMC Expansion – Phase 2. October 19, 2007 and an ensuing discusssion on the skytrainforsurrey blog

[8] That is the difference between the Mayors council plan, $765M and our ball pack numbers, $320 for rolling stock expansion/upgrade and ~$150M for infrastructure upgrade, including storage/OMC expansion: Those numbers are in fact consistent with [6]

Below we provide mainly some number coming from [1], using a data base; the “registre du Rhone” (Lyon district, France); recording detailed information for 14 478 cyclist victims of road accident in the Rhone county (France). The data under studies have been collected from 1996 to 2007. The level of detail is very high compared to some other data base, and they can help to clarify the helmet debate:

see wikipedia for the AIS and IIS definition and meaning

Injured Body part among cyclists
reported numbers are only for cyclist where the helmeted/unhelmeted status is known

helmeted 1461 unhelmeted 5620 helmeted 1461 unhelmeted 5620
Body region %yes %AIS3+ %yes %AIS3+ yes AIS3+ yes AIS3+
head 16,6% 1,0% 19,5% 2,3% 242 15 1095 128
face 18,3% 0,1% 24,3% 0,2% 268 1 1367 9
neck 3,3% 2,7% 0,0% 48 0 152 1
Thorax 9,6% 1,8% 6,3% 1,0% 140 26 355 55
abdomen 3,9% 0,1% 3,6% 0,2% 57 2 200 14
spine 7,5% 0,3% 5,0% 0,1% 110 5 281 8
Upper Extremity 53,5% 3,2% 44,7% 3,4% 781 47 2513 189
Lower Extremity 33,7% 1,8% 31,2% 1,9% 493 27 1751 107
skin 17,8% 15,2% 260 0 857 0

This table shows that the helmeted cyclist are less often severely injured to the head, less often injured and seevrely injured to the face. But they are more often injured and severely injured to the Thorax and spine, and more often injured to the upper extremity. This suggesthelemeted cyclist get involved in more severe accident. 2 reasons can be advanced for it

    • Helmeted cyclists have a different cyclist practice that non helmeted one (that relate to the infamous MAMIL)
    • There is a risk compensation at play along helmeted cyclist

the effect of it is to give an over estimate of the helmet efficiency

The figure below illustrates the % of head injuries oberved for injuried cyclists with an helmet and without:

The bike helmet seems to have no significant effect at reducing superficial head injuries but it reduces the risk of severe head injury (AIS3+) by 50%. However such severe head injuries represent less than 2% of the total cyclists injuries

So we are looking at a global effect of 1%, but severe head injuries can have long term disabilities consequence, so a reduction by 50% of severe head injuries could be considered a worth endeavour:

Below a more detailled view of the head and face injuries specificities:

Head or face Injuried cyclist: type of lesion according to helmet wearing or not

Helmeted 238 Unhelmeted 1078
lesions N = % N %
Unconsciousness without additional descripted lesion or head trauma without further indication 194 73,5% 668 49,3%
skin lesion 43 16,3% 459 33,9%
brain 21 8,0% 150 11,1%
skull 6 2,3% 65 4,8%
little brain 0 4 0,3%
nerves 0 4 0,3%
brainstem 0 2 0,1%
Destruction skull and brain 0 2 0,1%
Total 264 100% 1354 100%

In despite of a pretty huge database, significativity is not reached on many lesions types.

According to [1], Among the 222 cyclists injuried to the skull or its content

  • 30 are dead
  • 42 will have severe heavy brain disabilities (IIS3) – that represents 0.3% of the injuried cyclist
  • 146 will have light brain disabilities – that represents 1% of the injuired cyclist

The effect of the helmet on long term disabilities seems to be measured on a very small cohort:

unhelmeted 35 helmeted 3
fatalities 15 0
%fatalities among total injuried 0,3%
%fatalities among head injuries 1,4%
Severe head disabilities (IIS3+) 20 3
% Severe disabilities among total injuried 0,4% 0,2%
% Severe disabilities among head injuried 1,9% 1,3%
% Other severe disabilities in addition of severe head disabilities [10] 19,8% 21,4%

Again, we don’t reach significativity to be able to conclude that a “bike helmet saves life”, but it could well reduce significantly the risk of severe head disabilities. The number could suggests 50%, but again with very little confidence.

In anycase, the effect is measured in tenth of 1% of the total injuries: the absolute number of victim is very small.

How bike injuries compare to other transportation mode?

When involved in an accident, cyclists have the lowest fatailities rate compared to other individual transportation mode. They have also the best chance to survive an accident without long term disabilities. Urban cyclists are even much safer than rural or suburban cyclists:

Cyclists
Injury severities Uurban 6584 Rural 1726 0-10years 3364 Pedestrians 10131 car 53151 Mopette Motorbike 21831
MAIS 1 63,7% 53,7% 72,5% 60,4% 81,6% 61,7%
MAIS 2 28,7% 35,3% 22,4% 24,7% 13,4% 27,0%
MAIS 3 5,8% 7,9% 4,2% 10,0% 2,8% 8,6%
MAIS 4 and 5 0,9% 2,0% 0,3% 2,3% 1,0% 1,5%
fatalities 0,6% 0,8% 0,1% 2,6% 1,2% 1,1%
no disabilities 78,4% 73,8% 88,2% 66,1% 55,3% 73,7%
light diabilities (MIIS1-2) 20,2% 23,8% 11,1% 29,6% 42,8% 23,8%
severe disabilities (MIIS3-6) 0,6% 1,2% 0,2% 1,6% 0,7% 1,3%

When urban cycling is considered alone, helmeted cyclists are observed to have 20% less chance to be severly injured that non helmeted one, whenever involved in an accident, however significativity is not reached [1].

The figures below eventually help to compare the different pattern of injuries, according to transportation mode, and eventually relativize the impact of a bike helmet on the total number of both severe head injuries and severe disabilities.

AIS4plusandTransportationMode

Injuries type according to transportation mode (from [2])

Long term severe disabilities type according to transportation mode (from [2])- head injuries represents ~60% of the long term disabilities fro both pedestrians and cyclists

those figures provide absolute numbers for the Rhone district (1.7Millions) inhabitant for years 2007-2010…
Even if a bike helmet is able to reduce the severe head injuries and disabilities, by 50%, the saving in term of public health could be relatively insignificant but the more generalized economic cost can be real: It has became clear that an helmet legislation is counterproductive, but even promotion campaigns in favor of bike helmet could be counter productive:

  • The money spend on helemet couldn’t justify the health care saving, and could be better invested somewhere else
  • Helmet campaign promotions paint cycling as a dangerous transportation, discouraging people to cycle, conducting to a less healthy population

One could object that a low absolute bike injuries number is due to a relatively low cycle ridership. The dramatic increase in cycle ridership over the last decade, especially in urban area, is well documented, and still the number of total injuries has not increased but is decreasing [2]:

Bike accident evolution in France

Bike accident evolution in France

The more people bike, the more a bike helmet becomes irrelevant…unless you believe pedestrians should wear an helmet too!


More citation to come

[1] Vélo et casque, Journée spécialisée, jeudi 28 mai 2009, Rapport UMRESTTE 0908, May 2009

[2] Bilan 2011 de la sécurité routière en France

[10] doesn’t express it like it, but I am assuming it is due to a typo.

The strong bike helmet lobbying push seems to have started with a widely quoted 1989 paper from Thomson & Rivara, [1] that makes the bold claim that:

“we found that riders with helmets had an 85 percent reduction in their risk of head injury … and an 88 percent reduction in their risk of brain injury”

That finding has been a foundation for helmet legislation calls. Alas, after legislations were passed, be in Australia or in BC, leading to a significant increase in helmet wearing [6][17], numbers suggested by [1] never materialized [6][7][8]. Worse, the bike helmet legislation seems to have no impact on bicycling safety [7][8], the later study justifying a British Medical Journal editorial advising against helmet legislation [9].

It quickly appeared that [1] had many flaws as debunked in [10][11], and effectively recognized in a BMJ editorial [9] …That has not prevented an author of [1], Rivara, to publish many more papers always claiming impressive efficiency for bike helmet, but always presenting similar flaws as identified in [1] (confounding factors) [11]. A meta study published in 2001, [4], was also associating bike helmet with an impressive 64% reduction of risk of head injury and [3] confirmed those results and reported even more impressive reductions in the risk of head injury. Alas the studies included in both [3] and [4] have been demonstrated to be the result of a severe selection bias. After correction of this selection bias, [5] found that a bike helmet was reducing the risk of head injury by ~15%. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)  dropped claim that bike helmets reduce head injury by 85% as this number has no credible basis.

While initial claims on the head injury risk reduction offered by bike helmet has been proven unfounded, and bike helmet legislation shown ineffective at increasing bike safety, it appears that such legislation could discourage cycling [18], what is eventually conductive to lower bike safety and less physical active population with detrimental effect on the population health [23]. Overall, a bike helmet legislation can quickly be considered as having a negative impact on public health [12]. Wherever more general economic impact is considered, the picture can become even bleaker [16].

In despite of the above, the bike helmet controversy has side tracked the research community…which focuses more on the way to mitigate the consequence of bike accidents rather than addressing their causes. As an example, several studies have reported an alarming rate of alcohol intoxication among injured and deceased cyclists, but the helmet lobby has totally seized the debate to a ridiculous point: [15] observing that half of the cyclists who died in Oregon, were alcohol intoxicated, has -in fine- no better recommendation than promoting bike helmet…among drunk cyclists!

It also take considerable energy by cycling promoters to counter misleading claims advanced regularly by the bike helmet lobby. A recent example below:


Following the publication of [19], The University of Washington and Washington State University, issued a press release titled “Study correlates presence of bike-share programs with more head injuries” stating [20]:

“Risk of head injury among cyclists increased 14 percent after implementation of bike-share programs in several major cities ”.

That has quickly being debunked as a flat lie [21], but that has made alarming headline in some media outlet (Washington Post, NPR,..).

The journalists, who are not epidemiologists can’t be reasonably blamed to reporting what is told to them by some unscrupulous researchers, considering that the study has been published, after a peer review (How to argue against that?). However in despite of evidence of misrepresentation of facts reported in various social media, they didn’t issued appropriate correction to their original story (and have preferred to close the comment section) and that is a fault.

The unscrupulous researchers can certainly be blamed for their absence of ethic:
We will pass on the unprofessional self promotion of the previous authors’ publications, such as the now well discredited [1], this, in no uncertain term:

“Solid data from well-designed studies support the effectiveness of bicycle helmets and legislation mandating their use”

As we have seen, that can’t be farther from the true, but the real problem is the thrust of the article and a misplaced conclusion, as well exposed by [22]

However, the bulk of the blame should go to the American Journal of Public Health editor; Dr. Mary Northridge; to have accepted to publish what appears to be a scientific fraud. Such an article should have never been accepted under such a form and it has clearly not been properly peer reviewed:

    Peer reviewing to work, suppose trust in the ethic of the authors (no intention to deceipt…), however, just the name of the authors should have already been sufficient to raise an eyebrow: Frederick P. Rivara, not stranger to deeply flawed studies and scientific controversy, is considered by many as nothing more than a charlatan; noticeably for reason exposed above; and considering this infamous record, the minimum of precaution could have been to choose at least some reviewers showing more scrutinity ability than complacency.

Conclusion

The minimum the American Journal of Public Health can do is to issue a correction, clearly stating the observed reduction in head injury in cities having a public bike share program as pointed by K. Teschke [24], this in a proeminent place and endorsed by its editorial board

In the meantimes, this episode will have helped to make clear how deep is the lack of ethic among the bike helmet supporters, to the point to even embarrasse some of them [25]. It will help to convince more people to be not only very critical of the bike helmet lobby claims, but also aware that a peer review process is unfortunatly not synonym of quality.


[1] “A case control study of the effectiveness of bicycle safety helmets “, Thompson RS, Rivara FP, Thompson DC , New England Journal of Medicine v320 n21 p1361-7; 1989

[2] “Effectiveness of bicycle safety helmets in preventing head injuries: a case-control study “ . Thompson DC, Rivara FP, Thompson RS., JAMA 1996 Dec 25;276(24)

[3] Helmets for preventing head and facial injuries in bicyclists. Cochrane Review. Thompson, D.C., Rivara, F., Thompson, R., 2009. The Cochrane Library (1), 2009

[4] Bicycle helmet efficacy: a metaanalysis. Attewell, R.G., Glase, K., McFadden, M., Accident Analysis and Prevention 33, 345–352, 2001.

[5] Publication bias and time-trend bias in meta-analysis of bicycle helmet efficacy: A re-analysis of Attewell, Glase and McFadden, 2001. Accident Analysis and Prevention 43 1245–1251, 2011

[6] Head injuries and bicycle helmet laws, Robinson DL, Accid Anal Prev. 1996 Jul;28(4):463-75.

[7] “Bicycle-related head injury rate in Canada over the past 10 years” ,Middaugh-Bonney, T.; Pike, I.; Brussoni, M.; Piedt, S.; MacPherson, A. ; Injury Prevention 16: A228 2010

[8] Helmet legislation and admissions to hospital for cycling related head injuries in Canadian provinces and territories: interrupted time series analysis.Dennis J, Ramsay T, Turgeon AF, Zarychanski R. BMJ 2013

[9] Bicycle helmets and the law, Wellcome G. And Spiegelhalter Winton D., BMJ 2013

[10] misguided doctors or marketing agents? June 11th, 2012, Cyclists Rights Action Group

[11] Misleading claims, Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation

[12] The Health Impact of Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Laws, de Jong P. ,Risk Analysis, Vol. 32, No. 5, 2012

[13] New Zealand bicycle helmet law—do the costs outweigh

the benefits? Taylor M. And Scuffham P. Injury Prevention 2002;8:317–320

[14] Bikes, Helmets, and Public Health: Decision-Making When Goods Collide. Bateman-House A. ; American Journal of Public Health ; Vol 104, No. 6, June 2014

[15] Injuries Resulting from Bicycle Collisions Frank E, Frankel P, Mullins RJ, Taylor N. Academic Emergency Medicine, Volume 2, Issue 3, pages 200–203, March 1995

[16] Few study exist – except maybe [13] suggesting that the social cost of outfitting every cyclist with an helmet was not economically justified – But as far as we know, there is no comprehensive study examining the implication of transportation mode substitution, under a transportation economic perspective (time saved or not, infrastructure cost…)

[17] Bicycle helmet use in British Columbia, Foss RD, Beirness DJ, UNC Highway Safety Research Center; Traffic Injury Research Foundation, as cited by cyclehelmet.org

[18] Bicycle helmet legislation: Can we reach a consensus?, Robinson DL, Accid Anal Prev. 2Volume 39, Issue 1, January 2007, Pages 86–93.

[19] Public Bicycle Share Programs and Head Injuries; Janessa M. Graves, Barry Pless, Lynne Moore, Avery B. Nathens, Garth Hunte, and Frederick P. Rivara.; American Journal of Public Health: August 2014, Vol. 104, No. 8, pp. e106-e111

[20] “Study correlates presence of bike-share programs with more head injuries” College of Nursing; Washington State University, June 9, 2014

[21] “As if we needed another example of lying with statistics and not issuing a correction: bike-share injuries”, Phil Price, andrewgelman.com, June 17, 2014.

[22] “Hard Evidence: do bikeshare schemes lead to more head injuries among cyclists?”, Woodcock J. and Goodman A.; Theconversation.com ; August 28, 2014

[23] Health effects of the London bicycle sharing system: health impact modelling study, James Woodcock, Marko Tainio, James Cheshire, Oliver O’Brien and Anna Goodman. BMJ 2014;348:g425

[24] letter to American Journal of Public Health Editor, Dr. Mary Northridge, by K. Teschke and M. Winters, June 24, 2014

[25] Shared Bicycle Rental Systems and Helmets, Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute June 17, 2014.

Voony’s library

April 25, 2014

This blog uses many reference documents, sometimes not available online except thru this blog: This post gathers those “odd” documents and is aimed to be updated whenever needed.

Note 1 Most of the Translink documents can be found in their library
Note 2 Different Reference spreadsheets are maintained in a specific post

Grounded on principle previously exposed, we present here some more concrete ideas of what could look an ideal transit network in downtown. In a top down approach, we naturally ensure that the regional and city transit lines are optimized: that is the main purpose of this post

The regional transit network:

The regional bus network: the extension of the North sore bus route to the Main street Station

The regional bus network: the extension of the North sore bus route to the Main street Station

The Hasting buses (named HSB) such as bus 135 are considered as regional bus, as well as all buses heading to the North Shore (named NSB for the one using the Lions gate Bridge).

A major change is with the North shore buses.
All routes coming are extended to Main terminal:

  • The actual connection with the Granville station is preserved, but patrons will eventually find that Stadium or Main will provide better transfer: that will reduce crowding pressure at the Georgia#Granville stop
  • Georgia street, sometime called a traffic sewage, is where some want hide Transit and its users: it is not without creating challenges.

    Corwding at Georgia#Granville bus stop is reduced by the extension of the north shore buses to Main station

  • It resolves North shore bus layover issues in the downtown core: there is ample space at The Main/Terminal
  • It provides a direct connection with the Main street bus routes (3,8, and 19)
  • it provides a direct connection with the train and intercity buses station.

A potential extension to the future Broadway line station, at Great Northern Way# Fraser, could be doable too


City Bus routes:

the city bus network

the city bus network

A major change on the main street corridor:

Bus #3 and #8 are short-turned at the north end of Main. It is a result of an observation: most of the patron of those routes, transfer onto the Expo line at main terminal, leaving bus #3 and #8 wandering empty in the downtown core. It is also a follow up of a previous Translink recommendation [1].

  • The saving in term of operating cost is tremendous, and it helps to address bus congestion (mainly at bus stop) on the hasting corridor

Bus 19 can preserve a direct connection between the downtown and the Main Corridor.

The route 22 toward the Knight street corridor
In the context of the 2013 Bus service optimization consultation, we came up with a “counter proposal” to improve the bus 22 and C23 route (then proposed to be extended to Terminal Avenue) which has been discussed in comment section of the buzzer blog:

proposed extension of route C23 (in blue) and rerouting of bus 22 (in red) to serve the Terminal avenue area, and provide a good connection with the Expo line

The bus is permantly routed thru terminal avenue (instead of Prior and Gore).

  • it improves the connection to the expo line (for people using its East branch)
    • to avoid a left turn at Main street(preventing to have a bus stop in direct connection with the Expo line), the route 22 is routed thru Columbia and Quebec street.
  • The actual 22 use Pender street, but Hasting could be a superiori choice (direct connection with hasting bus corridor, and closer to Waterfront):
    • Toward it a section of Columbia (North of Pnder) could need to be reverted as a two-way street.

The Bus 17

It is used to provide a North south service East of Granville from Waterfront (bus termini on Cordova). Due to the street layout, Cambie street is the only reasonnable choice:

  • Beatty closer to the Staidum station end up at pender, is often closed to traffic with special event at Canada place.
  • Hamilton and all western choice, are to too far away of the Statdium station, and roverlapping too much with the Granville corridor.

The route 50 case.

This aim of this route is to provide some transit service to Granville island and on the South False Creek slope. That said, the routing of this route make it of little value for too many people:

We redesign this route as a peripheral one, linking Broadway#Granville, Granville Island, Olympic station, Main street station and Main#Hasting:

bus 50 as a peripheral route connecting Main#Hasting to Bradway#Granville via Main station, Olympic station and Granville Island

bus 50 as a peripheral route connecting Main#Hasting to Bradway#Granville via Main station, Olympic station and Granville Island

Among other benefits: Such alignment allows to improve the transit offer in the South East Flase Creek area, and remove one diesel bus route of the Granville Mall.

The inconvenience of this design is the eventual lost of a direct connection between Downtown and Granville island: The implementation of an elevator between granville island and the Granville bridge span could be a good solution, which could be part of the Granville Bridge greenway proposal

The route 15 is then prolonged to downtown, following the alignement of route 17, able to provide a more consistent bus service on the peninsula section of Cambie

The Hasting bus corridor

We include the bus serving Powell in this corridor (essentially route #4). Even with the removal of bus #3 and #8, there is lot of bus service redundancy (#7,#14,#16,#20): The rationalization of it should be the object of a study focusing on this corridor rather than a down town study.

The Burrard bus corridor

At this time, it consists only of bus 22 and 44. If the Broadway subway is designed to terminate at Arbutus, it is expected that this corridor will see much more bus traffic, and a revamped route 44 -using Broadway to connect with the subway line- could see a level of service similar to the actual bus 99.


[1] Vancouver/UBC Area Transit Plan , Translink, July 2005.

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