We refer here to the Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission report on congestion pricing, which received very large coverage in the medias, but also on Pricetags and the Stephen Rees blog.

We did a post series in 2011 on congestion pricing applied to Vancouver:

Frankly, I have failed to see a more comprehensive study since our 2011 series, putting hard number, and making “hard choice”. I am afraid the Ecofiscal report misses the mark too, however it is getting lot of media air, what can’t be a bad thing for advancing the congestion pricing case. We are going in a detailed analysis below:

The good

The report recommends a cordon pricing (in the form of a tolling of all water crossing in the region), something we have also recommended:

    Considering the Vancouver topography and the choke points responsible for most of the lower mainland congestion, the equivalent of a “cordon pricing” on the bridges seems the natural way to go.

Such scheme seems to raise many opposition we had already noticed in 2011. The mood is to not oppose frontally to the road pricing idea, but it is to rationalize the inaction toward it:

    Anything other that the “ideal” road pricing is not “fair” to the motorists

Those critics could be right, assuming the generalized economic gain largely offset the implementation and operating cost of the proposed model. Considering the overwhelming complexity of implementation of such a model, and the limited amount of congestion in the lower mainland, which limit the potential revenues, it is probably wrong headed:

    The model could be fair to the individual motorists, but could be unfair to the general interest: It could cost more to operate than the general economic gain it allows.
Some people are against road pricing, inferring it is unfair on the poor. - same could be said of pay parking, transit fare...

Some people are against road pricing, inferring it is unfair on the poor. – same could be said of pay parking, transit fare…

Of course, a cordon pricing is a cost/benefit trade off which is not perfect- driving from Langley to Ladner could be exempt of toll, when short haul using the Pattullo bridge could be… but the “choke point” are on the bridge not on the Highway 10… Of course the very idea of road pricing involve that poor people could also pay…but all the argument raised against also apply to:

  • Pay parking or gas tax
  • Transit fare, especially the zone system with its arbitrary boundary making the trip across the Fraser twice more expensive that the long trip from Langley to Ladner…

…and like the transit fare structure, the type of congestion pricing structure has not to be seen as permanent, but is a trade-off which can be reviewed in function of the technology progress.

The inescapable reality is that the road space is a scare resource, and so far the best known way to manage a scare resource is to put a price on it to align the demand with the offer. This can have some social and fairness implication: let’s address them, instead to use them as an excuse to do nothing.

The bad

The Ecofiscal report seems essentially geared for media consumption. Beside giving some air to the idea, what is already a lot, the report doesn’t seem as well researched as one could have expected, and it doesn’t bring any new element to the discussion. Data from [1] are mainly used afterward to make our points.

What is congestion?

Some, in their hostility to road pricing, don’t hesitate to argue, that road congestion is a good thing: doesn’t are vibrant and economically prosperous cities, crowded places? assuming that crowding is another word for congestion

It is not. here we take the pedestrian paradigm to illustrate the difference, since usually crowded pedestrian places are considered as a positive quality

pedestrian congestion in New York (left): people can't move freely and smoothly, traffic is typically stop and go and unpredictable: that is Level of Service F- heavy pedestrian crowding in Istanbul (right): it is dense traffic imposing slow speed, but still smooth and predictable moving: that is Level of Service E. Credit photos (2) and (3)

In the above examples: one could consider that the Istanbul picture is a desirable outcome for a place, the case is more difficult to be made with the New York picture. Transposing the above paradigm to the road traffic:

  • Busy roads are a desirable outcome, since it is a sign that the urban land space use is maximized
  • roads congested to a level where the traffic become not smooth and predictable is undesirable

Finding the desirable sweet spot is an exercise in itself, but generally speaking, people will agree that the congestion at the approach of the tunnel or the Pattullo bridge has well past its point of desirability. However we could have wished from the report a relatively clear definition of the researched “desirable” level of traffic.

Toll and Congestion Pricing

To clarify the conversation, it is critical to characterize what discriminate congestion pricing of other road tolling types. the report is at best fuzzy, and seems to mention the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges toll as examples of congestion pricing. They are not, they are here to finance an infrastructure. A typical Congestion toll varies according to the level of congestion -and eventually become free on low level of traffic (night and week-end). below are the 3 main types of road pricing.

tolling type Main objective toll structure classification typology
financing finance an infrastrcuture vehicle size | weight classification
environemental reduce pollution vehile emission classification
congestion reduce congestion time of day/day of week

It is also good to feature the different congestion pricing coverage types:

tolling type tolling method example
infrastructure vehicle using the infrastructure Sydney harbour bridge/tunnel, HOT
cordon vehicle crossing the cordon Stockolm, Milan
zone vehicle moving inside a zone London

Some other more comprehensive or “ideal” coverage, mainly relying on GPS, to price the exact trip could be under study, however, so far we are unaware of a deployed one: let’s keep down on earth and rely on proven collection methods

Congestion pricing scheme around the globe

it is good to come with a general overview of what is existing today, to identify some possible trend, category, all this to identify more successful model, but also to get a better understanding of some failures (the failed experiment of Hong Kong, modeled after the successful one of Singapore should deserve a explanation):

urban toll overview, graph/classification from (1)

urban toll overview, graph/classification from (1)

the graph above purposely excludes most of the american city using HOT, or the Toronto ETR407 (at considering its purpose is to relieve congestion, what is open to discussion), under the rational they are usually located in a suburban context

Congestion toll Effectiveness

Cordon or zone tolling tend to significantly reduce the congestion by 15 to 85% [1], the case is more moot for infrastructure tolling.

In short: The Toronto ETR407 could have lot of merit and purpose, but general experience shown such type of infrastructure doesn’t reduce existing congestion

A recurrent and unfounded critic is that congestion toll revenue doesn’t cover the toll collection operation. In that instance the Eco-fiscal report would have misreported some numbers on the Copenhagen congestion pricing operation (see [5] for more detail on it). However the trend is toward lower operating cost.

Case studies

In the context of Vancouver, Stockholm is an interesting case study since it seems to share many characteristics with Vancouver, and its congestion pricing model can be transposed to Vancouver. However, it could have been interesting to study the difference, such as in term of transit ridership, urban form, and tolling area.

toll area surface and ratio tolled area/urban area

toll area surface and ratio tolled area/urban area

For reference Vancouver alone is already 115km2: a cordon pricing using the Fraser crossing could make the Vancouver area the greater area subject to congestion pricing.
The implication of this could deserve further investigation. Notice that, in theory the bridges surrounding the downtown peninsula doesn’t support enough traffic to justify a congestion toll [6]


Beyond the technicalities of road pricing, the acceptability need to be studied: Stockholm having passed the test of the referendum after experimentation is a good starting point: [7] gives some pointer toward acceptability.

  • Benefits may turn out to be larger than anticipated. Several authors have noted that a major reason for the resistance to congestion charges is that they assume they will not work.
  • The downsides of charges – increased travel costs and/or changes in travel behaviour – may prove to be not as bad as expected. Once the charges are in place, many people may discover that the charges do not in fact affect them as much as they had thought
  • Once the charges are decided, resistance may decrease due to the psychological effect known as cognitive dissonance. A phenomenon that can be simply summarized as “accept the unavoidable”. In other words, once the charges are in place, it is less worthwhile spending energy on opposing them.
  • Familiarity with road user charging may reduce the general reluctance towards pricing a previously unpriced good. There is evidence that “people in many cases do not like prices as an allocation mechanism”, but once familiar with the concept that road space is in principle a scarce good that can be priced – much like parking space – this reluctance may tend to decrease.

One will notice that the above paradigm would apply to bike lane too!

[7] mentions also the “environmental card”. It should also be noticed that the transit offer has been increased in the experimental phase, however most of the added transit is “self financed” by increased transit revenue from higher ridership according to [5].

Milan and its referendum

The “environmental card” should bring us to Milan, Italy, where road pricing has originally been introduced in the objective to reduce the pollution. However in 2011, Milan got a referendum. the question was

Would you like to extend the toll zone to the whole city and to all vehicles categories to fund transit and other sustainable alternative to the car?

The answer has been a resounding yes: 80%!

Needless to say, Vancouver has one thing or 2 to learn from Milan, …and we could have expected some element of response from the Ecofiscal report.


The Ecofiscal report is short on the technicality and specific of the proposed congestion pricing sheme. It could have been good to past the generality and get some hard and substantiated numbers to help the conversation.
While the Ecofiscal report apropos suggests experimentation, it doesn’t substantiate the rational for it (more especially its importance for public acceptability). More generally, the report falls short on recommendations enabling the acceptability of road pricing by the public. It doesn’t bring a new narrative making the whole congestion pricing concept more “sellable” to the “commons”. However, its main merit has been its ability to gather tremendous media coverage triggering conversation on road pricing: so it is probably good enough

[1] “Etat de l’art sur le péages urbains” (in french), Ademe, June 20142014

[2] Flikr user “Howard Brier

[3] “The Pedestrianization of Historic Istanbul

[4] Road Congestion Pricing In Europe: Implications for the United States H. W. Richardson and C. H. C. Bae , Edward Elgar Publishing, 2008.

[5] see the Cost-benefit analysis of the Stockholm congestion charging system, Jonas Eliasson, Transek AB, 2009. for more detail. This is inline with the used reference [4] in our 2011 post on the toll economics.

[6] see our previous post

[7] The Stockholm congestion charges – four years on. Effects, acceptability and lessons learnt, Maria Börjesson and al.

…or perceived safety and objective safety of the cycle tracks

A study on Toronto and Vancouver (Canada) from [4]: the risk of bike infrastructure separated of traffic is under-estimated. Note the result carried for the cycle track is an aberrant and irrelevant one for reason explained in [8]

Usually, Urban segregated bike lanes (cycle tracsk) are perceived as safer than non segregated one, by many cycle advocates and public alike. Alas most accident statistics say otherwise, and most scientific studies conclude, consistently overtime, that segregated bike lanes impair safety by ~20% ([1] summarizes and complete previous studies, see also a list of studies at [9]), some older studies putting this number up to 4 time higher [2].

    Of course, it is possible to find some studies saying otherwise, but usually those studies show significant methodology shortcomings. To focus only on recent Canada centric examples: [5] draws conclusion on cycle track from a field study conducted in cities not having such infrastructure per sei, as seen in [8] and obvious selction biais discredit results from [3] (more critics here and there):

Montreal, QC: In (3), a separate bike path in a one lane residential street (rue Brebeuf) is compared to an up to 6 lanes thoroughfare (rue st Denis) on a 1km section (Rachel to Laurier), where St Denis has more intersection, and higher speed limit than Brebeuf...to conclude that separates bike lane improve cyclist safety! (no indication of motor traffic volume is provided) -

    The most recent study extended to the USA by the same authors, [10], seems to suffer similar flaws [11].

In urban area, most of the cyclist accidents are due to conflict with motor vehicles (85% in French cities according to the OSNIR), and most of them occur at intersection: In Canadian cities, 50% of fatal accidents and 72% of accidents resulting in serious injury occurred at intersections [12].

Thought, that a separated bike lane can remove potential conflicts along a road, and is recognized to reduce risk in such cases, it makes matter worse at intersections: This is mainly due to the fact cyclists, not on the road, tend to be overlooked by other road users, generating conflict at road intersections. The increased risk for cyclist is illustrated below:

According to some study, the cyclist could be up to 4 time safer on the right side of the street - credit photo (6)CycleRisk

According to (2), the cyclist could be up to 12 time safer on the right side of the street - credit photo (6)

Aware of this fact, Some transportation professional organizations don’t recommend separated bike lane: it is the case for the AASHTO in the USA, or the CERTU for urban area in France. A position supported by numeorus cyclist organizations, be in France (FFCT, Fubicy) or Germany (ADFC), which have been at best rather neutral on the development of segregated cycle track, in some case opposed, and consistently advocating against the mandatory use of it. That eventually became the case for most of the french cycle track, circa 2000. For this later purpose a new road sign has been introduced, and Germany is following track:


The cycle in a blue square sign has been introduced circa 2000: it indicates a recommended cycle track. The cycle in a blue disc indicate a mandatory cycle track ... except of course in UK Which has not ratified the Vienna convention on road sign, from which those signs are derived

An issue is that motorists tend to ignore the difference, and harass cyclists not using the cycle tracks

Traffic engineers, on their side, sometimes eager to remove cyclist of the road for their “good”, have worked to increase the safety of separate bike lane:

Reintroduction into general traffic at intersection

Rennes, France: Bike paths merging in general traffic at intersection, and resuming after it

bikeLaneEntranceBdArmorique Rennes, France (Armorique Bld): Cycle track merging in general traffic at intersection, and resuming after it

Treating cyclist as pedestrian at intersection


Hong Kong (Along Ting Kok Rd, Kong Kong NT): Cyclists are expected to walk their bikes to the cycle track... and dismount at every intersections...what by the way is seldom respected in despite of the British style staggered pedestrian crossing! -credit photo left (16), right, Google

Cycling Commuters are generally not impressed by those treatments, which are just slowing down their commute, even when the obligation to walk the bike at intersections (Hong Kong case), is obviously widely disregarded by cyclists using such facilities.

The Copenhagen’s Treatment: Blue cycle crossings

Copenhagen, DK: An intersection where potential conflict zones are highlighted in blue

Copenhagen, DK: An intersection where potential conflict zones are highlighted in blue – credit photo (13)

It has been “invented” in Copenhagen in 1981: The basic idea is to mark the area of conflict between motor vehicles and cyclists so road users pay more attention to this conflict and cyclists have a lane marking through the junction area. Alas, while it is found effectively reducing the number of accidents (and injuries) with one line, it increases it with 2 lines or more, according to [13].

A reason for that is that, it becomes too much solicitation for the motorist than he can process – resulting in an increase of rear ending collisions and red light runnings; and provides a false “sense of safety” to the cyclists, becoming more complacent- not doing head check or using hand signals according to [14]– what is consistent with the “naked street and risk compensation theories.

…and more often that not:

Separated bike lanes come with a panoply of restrictive sign

All, in the name of cycling safety of course…

Left, Bideford UK; center, Harlow UK (now dismantled); right Vancouver, CA - credit photo resp (5),(unknown),(16)

But at the end, it is sometimes better to give-up

…than to cut the trees:


Rennes, France (Clos Courtel Street): A once mandatory segregated bike lane, has been replaced by a painted bike lane, allowing much better visibility of cyclists by other road users - credit photo Google

Should we be Against the separated bike lane?

or…Should we support the helmet law under evidence of greater safety provided by the helmet

Both generate passionate debates, and unfortunately, both generate biased scientific literature too.

  • Supporters of the helmet laws are because they are concerned by the safety of existing cyclists, they will be obviously against separated bike lanes for the same reason. Not surprisingly, most of the anti cyclist lobbyist will fell in this category
  • Supporter of the helmet laws supporting separated bike lane are not logical with themselves and probably grossly misinformed
  • Opponent to the helmet laws, will explain that, while the safety of existing cyclists is important, it is not paramount- One have to take a more holistic view to assess the benefit/drawback of such safety tool than the existing cycling population- and opponent to the helmet laws, without necessarily denying the positive safety effect of the helmet on an individual, will oppose to a law on the ground that it discourages sufficiently cycling to have a general negative effect for the society.
    Same logic apply to the cycle tracks: there is no need to deny their negative effect on road safety, or to produce biased studies to try to counter evidence, to support them: that is only conductive of complacency with poorly designed cycle tracks which do no good for cycling. Former Vancouver Planning Director, Brent Toderian was able to implicitly recognize the safety issue and supporting it [17]: What is important is to produce evidence that the positive effect they induce outweigh their negative ones

  • [1] Traffic safety on bicycle paths – results from a new large scale Danish study, ICTCT workshop Melbourne, 2008

    [2] Signalreglerade korsningars funktion och olycksrisk för oskyddade trafikanter – Delrapport 1: Cyklister. Linderholm, Leif, Institutionen för trafikteknik, LTH: Bulletin 55, Lund 1984

    [3] Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street, Anne C Lusk, Peter G Furth, Patrick Morency, Luis F Miranda-Moreno, Walter C Willett and Jack T Dennerlein, Injury Prevention, February 2011. doi:10.1136/ip.2010.028696.

    [4] Route Infrastructure and the Risk of Injuries to Bicyclists: A Case-Crossover Study, Teschke K, Harris MA, Reynolds CC, Winters M, Babul S, Chipman M, Cusimano MD, Brubacher JR, Hunte G, Friedman SM, Monro M, Shen H, Vernich L, Cripton PA., American Journal of Public Health: December 2012, Vol. 102, No. 12, pp. 2336-2343.

    [5] Safe Cycling: How Do Risk Perceptions Compare With Observed Risk?, Meghan Winters, Shelina Babul, H.J.E.H. (Jack) Becker, Jeffery R. Brubacher, Mary Chipman, Peter Cripton, Michael D. Cusimano, Steven M. Friedman, M. Anne Harris, Garth Hunte, Melody Monro, Conor C.O. Reynolds, Hui Shen, Kay Teschke, Injury Prevention, Canadian Journal of Public Health , Vol 103, No 9, 2012

    [6] Bicycle Quaterly

    [7] Gary James

    [8] Conclusion of both [4] and [5] are drawn from a study carried from May 2008 to Nov 2009 in Toronto and Vancouver. To the bets of our knowledge, it was no “cycle track” in Toronto, and the only ones able to qualify in Vancouver, were an experiment started on July 2009 on Burrard Bridge, with no intersection along the ~1km cycle track segment, and a ~300m segment in one direction on a quiet street (Carral street) with ~300 cars at peak hour with only one very quiet intersection (Keefer street) featuring ~120 car at peak hour (From City of Vancouver’s 2006 traffic count) what is barely representative of a typical cycle track: The result provided for the cycle tracks is hence certainly irrelevant, and that is the reason it stands as an outlier.

    [9] Bicycle Infrastructure Studies review by Ian Brett Cooper

    [10] Bicycle Guidelines and Crash Rates on Cycle Tracks in the United States, Anne C. Lusk, Patrick Morency, Luis F. Miranda-Moreno, Walter C. Willett, Jack T. Dennerlein, American Journal of Public Health, July 2013

    [11] [10] draws conclusion by comparing current crash rate on some cycle tracks with some numbers collected, sometimes in specific situation- like a study on Boston’s bike messengers- more than 10 years ago, without correcting them of external factors, like significant general crashes reduction rate in the last decade, and well documented safety in number effect affecting more particularly the cyclists. Furthermore, one could argue that the “crash rate” is a very poor, if not uncorrelated, proxy, to qualify the safety of a road infrastructure: Roundabout are well-known to increase the rate of crashes, vs a signaled intersection, but they are also well recognized to reduce the risk of serious injuries, most of the crashes being limited to fender-bender type. In other word, a crash rate ratio is not representative of the safety social cost of an infrastructure…what ultimately matter. More awkward [10] suggests that “The AASHTO recommendations may have been influenced by the predominantly male composition (more than 90%) of the report’s authors” without being able to substantiate this assertion, showing that we have here more a opinion paper: attacking the gender of authors to disqualify their works, seems pretty petty at best!

    [12] Vulnerable Road User Safety: A Global Concern, Transport Canada, 2004.

    [13] Safety effects of blue cycle crossings: A before-after study, Søren Underlien Jensen, Accident Analysis & Prevention, Volume 40, Issue 2, March 2008

    [14] Evaluation of Blue Bike-Lane Treatment in Portland, Oregon. Hunter,W.W., Harkey, D.L., Stewart, J.R., Birk, M.L., Transportation Research Record 1705, 2000

    [15] The finding of [13] seems in fact to suggest that the increase in accident and injuries are mainly among motorists, and eventually moped: so that in fact the blue line could effectively be not than “unsafe” for cyclists. Unfortunately, the paper doesn’t provide detailed break down of the injuries according to the transport mode. In any case, the measured global effect is a negative one

    [16] www.vivendesign.com

    [17] Vancouver Embraces Bikes, Adds Lanes, Tim Newcomb, Planning;, Vol. 77 Issue 2, Feb2011


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