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

    Blocks 51-61 and 71 are the ones sitting between Howe and Hornby, and between Georgia and Nelson, numbered from North to South

    the early XX centuries

    The first courthouse built in Vancouver in 1888, and will be demolished in 1912. It will become Victory square in 1924.

    At the turn of the century the court house was located on what is now Victory square. It will be relocated on Georgia in 1912 in the building designed by Francis Mawson Rattenbury. (nowadays house of the VAG). The annex facing Robson will be added in the 30s.[7]

    In those days, the building main entrance face a ceremonial square onto Georgia street [1]:

    The Vancouver court house circa 1912


    While the South side seems to use to be a lawn:

    The South side of the Vancouver courthouse seems to use to be a lawn

    The 50’s

    City of Vancouver was eyeing the Block 61 (South of the today VAG), to transform the whole area in a civic center, by relocating noticeably the public library and the BC electric building.

    • An Auditorium is considered for block 61 in 1949
    • After an exhaustive study to select a location for a public space in 1958, block 61 is selected in 1960.

    Most of the block 61 is acquired-thru expropriation- by the city by early 1964. At this time Downtown Vancouver is a sea of parking lot:

    Aerial view of block 61 and surrounding circa 1964 – credit (2)

    The 60’s

    The Province had expansion plan for its court house since 1955. The original 1955 plan to add a building on Robson having encountered firm opposition, the Province had acquired the land behind Hotel Vancouver and some parcels on block 61… But in 1963 it was considered critical to add a parking structure to the Hotel Vancouver. a deal was stroke:

    • The Province sold its land north of Hotel Vancouver to the Hotel, for purpose of building a parkade
    • The City sold block 61 to the province, for the court house expansion and other governmental uses, understanding it will also include a civic square

    The sale occurred in 1964, and land ownership was then as illustrated below, with Eaton owning block 52 and 71:

    Land ownership in 1964 of blocks 51, 61 and surrounding

    In 64, the block 51-61 was envisioned as below by the Vancouver city planning department:

    1964: City intention for blocks 51-61 according to (4)

    The Province was seeing the things slightly differently, with the adding of building on block 51, and some commercial developments:

    The Province intention for block 51 and 61 not revealed before April 65 according to (4)

    Retail corridors like Hasting were already seriously declining and the city was not seeing commercial development on block 61 as desirable. The city strongly opposed to the Province proposal for this reason.

    …At least, it is the story telling of the city brief [4] to be presented in 1965 to the Premier W.A.C Bennett:

    The 1964 Redevelopment plan

    The redevelopment plans published by the city in 1964 [2] were already integrating an additional building on block 51

    Block 51, 61 and surrounding as envisioned by a 1964 city report

    The design then considered by the city didn’t seem to consider a major public square. The development of pedestrian precinct, fully segregated from motorist traffic, was considered along the lines below:

    Vancouver 1964: considered Pedestrian precinct fully segregated of motor traffic

    That said, the city will have the Vancouver art council to commission Arthur Erickson Geoffrey Massey and Bruno Freschi to offer a counter proposal for which we have a specific post:

    the 1966 Erickson/Massey proposal

    Robson square and the provincial court as originally envisioned by Erickson in its 1966 proposal

    Needless to say the Province was decided to move on with its plan leaving the square question open:

    1966-1972 : Where is the square?

    The Province design was not considered offering an attractive enough space for a civic square. The city approached the Province to buy back block 61 without success. so the city resolved to consider [8]

    • block 71 as a civic square., a then considered very poor alternative.
    • block 42 because it was owned by the city (purchased with the proceed of the block 61 sale).
    • a one block in the area bounded by Hasting, Seymour, Georgia and Hamilton street
    • have scattered open space in the city

    And a last alternative, echoing the Erickson 66 proposal:

    • Acquisition of block 51 for a civic space

    In the meantime, the city acquired block 71 from Eaton, since the site was considered as suitable for a ‘central’ park, if not a civic square, and could be used to trade with other properties, again echoing the erickson 66 proposal.

    The Province, on its side, was busy moving on the new court house:

    The Plan in early 1972

    The year 1972 starts with the following design, from aprioiri Thompson, Berwick, Pratt and Partners, poised to be built:

    the court house at block 51-61

    The proposed high-rise, beyond its height, 698feet accomodating 55 storeys, was a 200 feet wide slab tower along Smythe, twice bigger than the Electra building (by the same architect). It was obviously against any by-law; the Province is not legally bind by city by-law; but this was not the major contentious point with the city administration. The proposal have its fair share of oddities:

    • Block 51 and 61 was needed to be zoned commercial
    • No sidewalk was planned on the south side of Robson
    • A 14 feet passageway between the old court house and a new building was planned, to connect it to a 25 feet wide interior court yard
    • The proposal was assuming that the block 71 should be a park, providing an open setting to the tower

    While the city engineering department was considering the provided parking space (630), as noticeably insufficient (they were asking for 1200), the civic design panel had considered that “the tower structure itself, is well designed and in an acceptable location” but that the “most important problem is considered the lack of open space separation between the proposed new building and the [old] court house”[6].

    …Needless to say the resident had a very different opinion on the slab-tower.

    August 30, 1972

    The W.A.C bennett government is defeated by the NDP, in the Provincial election: The project is stopped, but it is not the end of the story, to be continued here

    all source from [4] unless otherwise noticed

    [1] More informal gathering space was at Larwill park, at Georgia and Beatty.

    [2] Redevelopment in downtown Vancouver : report No 5, City of Vancouver, 1964.

    [4] Block 51 and 61, D.L. 541 City Planning Department, Vancouver BC, June 1965

    [6] Memo to Vancouver City council- “BC Centre and court House additions Block 51 and 61″, May 31, 1972

    [7] date from [4], Notice that there is a discrepancy with what say Wikipedia

    [8] Memo to Vancouver City Council- “A civic square for DownTown Vancouver”, September 22, 1969

    in the 1960’s the Province and the city of Vancouver were in thorny discussions regarding the development of critical downtown blocks known as block 51 (where the Vancouver Art Gallery sits) and the block 61 on its immediate southern edge. The city, unhappy with the direction imposed by the Province, had the Vancouver art Council to commission Arthur Erickson and Geoffrey Massey, to develop a counter-proposal [1], what they will do in 1966:

    Robson square and the provincial court as originally envisioned by Erickson/Massey in their 1966 proposal

    The Erickson/Massey proposal was redefining an area much larger than block 51 and 61. It was including also block 71 and 42, among other:

    The Massey/Erickson’s proposal for block 61 and the downtown core

    One will eventually draw some parallels with the Le Corbusier‘s plan Voisin for Paris. While the cold reception of the plan Voisin had contributed to make Le Corbusier person non grata in Paris…Vancouver gave a much warmer reception to the Erickson modernist ideas! [2]

    In detail, this plan, extend the government activities on block 71, reserving the block 51 to civic activities. Erickson was considering that:

    “If the downtown is to survive as a shopping center street, it must compete on equal term with the suburban shopping center, it must provides adjacent parking, free pedestrian traffic flow without crossing traffic lanes and some degree of shelter and pleasant surrounding for the shopper.”

    Accordingly, the traffic movement was addressed in a multi-layered system, in which car and pedestrian were atop, while bus and truck, considered as service, were put underground:

    1966 Erickson/Massey proposal: traffic organization, notice that most of car traffic crossing is done using under/over pass, like suggested for the Burrard/Georgia intersection

    His rationals for the segregation of traffic per mode -also promoted by Le Corbusier then for different reasons- lead him to design Robson street and Granville street, the identified main retail Malls (by Erickson, as by the city), on at least 3 levels:

    1966 Erickson/Massey proposal: Granville Mall is multi level, transit at lower level, pedestrian-called “shopper”, above

    • atop, a covered pedestrian mall on one to 2 levels
    • below, a bus tunnel, where the bus, in the Erickson view, are understood as parking shuttle
    • and at lower level, a service lane for truck traffic

    A case of more interest to us in the context of the current city plan

    1966 Erickson/Massey proposal: Section along Robson street, showing the transit tunnel, the truck tunnel, and 2 level of covered shopping level above.

    The Strasse becomes a Shopping arcade

    The Robson Strasse, transformed into a shopping arcade. there is some opening -for light and ventilation- allowing you to see the buses at lower level

    The access to Robson square is done thru the second level of the Shopping arcade – to not impede car traffic on Hornby street.

    The Square

    1966 Erickson/Massey proposal: Georgia cross Burrard thru an overpass. Robson square is connected to Robson street on the West via a passerelle…on the East the connection is unclear. It seems the pedestrian is expected to go/from Eatons and pacific shopping centre.

    How to get there?

    Of course, all that had to be serviced by an appropriate network of freeway, and Erickson was also calling for a ring road:

    A ring road was proposed to connect all of the then envisioned extensive freeway network including , Brockton, a third crossing of the Burrard inlet

    Some comments

    Eventually there is a rational to believe that Erickson was better architect than urbanist, thought some will probably explain that the Erickson mastery is not enough understood:

    The general development form, with strict separation of movement according to transportation mode, implicitly negating the social function of the street, was a staple of the time, and is usually concomitant to a general organization of the space on multi-level. Such schemes have almost universally proven to be a failure

    That said this proposal is important, because it lays down many concept which will be applied in the design of the existing provincial court house complex. One of the most important is not to consider an extension of the Provincial court (from block 51 to block 61), but a relocation of it ( from block 51 to blocks 61/71), freeing block 51 to civic usage. The concept of the sunken plaza, is also introduced in this proposal.

    Some other concepts will appear in a different form in the Vancouver urban landscape…like the covered mall of the proposal, which will later translates into the rain-screen above sidewalk- in fact more inline with what was envisioned by Eugène Hénard in its vision of the Parisian street of the future…in 1900.

    The street of the future, as seen by Eugène Hénard, shares significant commonalities with the Erickson vision. The main difference being that Henard keeps the transit and all human activities on the surface. he eventually didn’t fathom the space required by the automobile

    It also states some important analysis:

    • bring the people as close as they want to go

    While the car was considered as the mean of choice. Tansit was considered as an important complementary component to the accessibility, and was brought right into the high street of the town, including of course Robson street and square.

    Analysis/critics and concern expressed on the Eatons centre; can also be considered as prescient for the time:

    “Cemp-Eaton development could very well help the surrounding commercial areas instead of showing a blank face to them. We see the Cemp_eaton project as a vital catalyst to the downtown but are anxious that it not to be inward-looking and self-cenetred, threathening the existing shopping of Granville Street by creating its own subtarrean shopping centre, divorced from the existing shopping pattern.”

    As well, a good analysis of why the downtown Vancouver didn’t follow the path of other downtown in North America:

    “The downtown Vancouver has strong characteristics, principally from the uniqueness of its site, the surrounding sea, the beaches, the harbour, Stanley Park, and the crossing to the mountains.Largely because of this, the West End has emerged as one of the unique residential precincts in the world”

    Cities downtown will eventually learn later, that to be thriving, they don’t have to compete on equal term with the suburban shopping center, but have to offer what they can do the best: a “real” urban experience in all its complexities… which supposes a certain level of “entropy” in its spatial organization

    source: A Proposal for Block 61 and the Downtown Core. Erickson/Massey architects, Vancouver, 1966

    [1] Bruno Freschi was also part of the team (source, VancouverSun, May 18 1966) thought his name didn’t appear on the author list of the proposal

    [2] It was of course some dissident voices. The more noticeable was the one of the jurists, and the attorney general of the time, Robert Bonner. They had commissioned the architect Vladimir Plavsic to draft a “counter-counter proposal” (I don’t have more information on it, but for the record, Plavsic was a “brutalist” architect: he has designed the 805 Broadway Medical Dental Centre known as the Frank Stanzl building).

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

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

    The streetcar example with a report : Streetcar Land Use Study

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

    How it arrives to such a conclusion?

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

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

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

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

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

    What are the inherent quality of the streetcar provoking that?

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

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

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

    What are the involved cost of the streetcar?

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

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

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

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

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

    What about other alternatives

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

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

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

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

    Mythology building

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

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

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

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

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

    [3] Eric Richardon

    [4] Jarret Walker

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

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

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

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

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

    Last week, Dr. Kee Yeon Hwang, president of the Korea Transport Institute, was in town for two enlightening presentations [5].

    the dismantling of a downtown freeway to restore the Cheonggye Stream,

    SightLineDaily has a good report of this lecture [6]. As noticed in the report, Dr. Kee Yeon Hwang, has insisted on the historically cultural and spiritual (Feng shui) importance of the stream in the Seoul context.

    Thought that the dismantling of the freeway was a campaign promise of the then mayoral candidate Lee Myung-bak, it is not clear how central this promise was in the campaign, since Dr. Kee Yeon Hwang himself admitted he was not expecting to see this promise fulfilled.

    It is not clear too how much of the Seoul electorate was using the freeway versus the suburbanite not participating in the vote. In that instance, Seoulites heavily relying on public transit could have got a different opinion of its suburbanite neighbors, like did the Londoner or Stockholm people on congestion charge, or Parisian on the Delanoë program to close the freeway on the Seine river banks (at least during summer month) and introduce bike and bus lanes in the city.

    Nevertheless, the point to retain, is that in Seoul; like in Paris with Delanoë or London with Livingstone;

    • once invested in a mandate legitimated by recent election, civic leaders have to act fast to ensure that the their constituents are able to measure the positive effect of the controversial shift, that in the time of a mandate.

    That is what has been achieved by the very controversial congestion charge in London, that s what has been achieved by the bus lanes and other initiatives from Delanoë in Paris, and that is what has been achieved by the restoration of the Cheonggye Stream in Seoul.

    Cheonggye Stream before and after the restoration project: freeway has disappeared, and new space is enjoyed by people. credit photos (3)

    Another important thing to retain and key to the success of the Cheonggye Stream restoration is that in Seoul, like in New York with pedestrianization of Time square, that has eased the congestion.

    • the reduction of road space has not to be done at the expense of the mobility in the city

    More, the freeway dismantling was part of a package on refocusing transportation on public transit, object of the second lecture presented at Surrey SFU.

    The improving of Seoul’s bus service by reforming operating practice

    you will find some materials similar to the one presented in [1] and [2].

    Considering the Vancouver political context, you could have think sensible from the part of SFU to schedule this second lecture in Surrey, since South of the Fraser is well known for not lacking of full time whiner when come to talk of bus service in Surrey and other low density suburbs of the valley.

    After waiting 30mn at this bus stop on Garden City at Richmond, if you believe this bus gonna be yours: you are heading for disappointment! Only one route among 3 servicing Garden city stop here. How to know which one? neither the bus stop, the bus livery or transit map will tell you...there is certainly room for improvement of bus service in Vancouver area too

    If I have spotted Jonathan Cote, from New Westminster council, I have failed to see any of those SoF “full time” whiners, including their civic leaders in the very scarce attendance. They seems in fact to show little appetite at listening ideas on how to improve transit in their jurisdiction…may be because they follow a different agenda which is more driven by the promotion of a pet project than anything else.

    However in this lecture, Dr. Kee Yeon Hwan has put himself more or less in the shoes of the typical SoF bus rider:

    • Low bus frequency with pass-up at that
    • Low reliability with lack of information
    • slow and circuitous routes
    • lack of readability of system
    • no fare integration

    In brief, the bus system was built to serve a “captive” market, with little regard for its patrons, and in numerous regard was falling behind the rest of the world standard in many aspect.

    In the 80’s, Seoul has aggressively developed his subway network- it is one of the busiest in the world- eventually at the expense of its bus system… and global impact on the overall transit modeshare was tiny.

    It was becoming clearly evident that an “all subway” policy -limited by funding- couldn’t be good enough to address the mobility needs of Seoul.

    Numerous actions have been taken to change it, the first one being the governance of the public transit system. In that instance, the system was apparently one looking like a “leasehold” bus route offering little flexibility for adjustment in the public interest, and has been changed to one of public service concession of 3 years in length. Notice that the later model has became the modus operandi of most of the public transit agencies in Europe and Australia.

    This change done, the route network has been rationalized according to the served market, trunk route, feeder route,… straight route preferred to circuitous route… beside it the main change could be considered as marketing ones

    • bus route numbering representing origin destination
    • bus colored according to the served market
    • Real time information of patrons
    • All buses running on CNG

    The list couldn’t have been complete without the introduction of the smart-card, which address the problem of fare integration (transfer). Some of the most visible change have already been discussed in Regarding Place.

    It could be some case (right picture), where a more complex livery like the one adopted by the operator of route X5 in London northern suburbs, could provide more useful information to the not yet transit rider -the bus advise route, price, frequency (notice that the advised frequency is 30mn...) -than a simpler color code understood mainly by already transit rider (left picture)

    Lot of expectation was carried with those changes, and aggressive targets was set. the conclusions of the exercise are more dim.

    While the reform of the bus system has lead to a dramatically improved service on several metrics like bus speed or bus punctuality…in despite of a significant increase in ridership, it has failed to reach the very aggressive goal originally set in that aspect, and eventually has translated in concerns over the subsidiary level of the bus system which is greater than expected. A noticed problem is that the route concession is paid on a mileage bus service basis disregarding the ridership, hence providing no incentive for the bus operator to increase it.

    But the main lesson is that an extensive subway network shouldered by a massive bus network will never replace the -at least perceived- convenience of car. and at some point you have also to take action to control the usage of it to avoid road congestion, and that is road pricing.

    The idea seems to have been introduced in Seoul in the 90’s [4], but the currency crisis in 97 will have stopped the implementation of it (it is not clear why it has no been resumed later on). The Chair of the lecture, will conclude it by the very relevant question:

    What level of public transit is good enough to reach before introducing congestion pricing?

    The answer of the speaker will be not less interesting, and was understood like it:

    If you listen the naysayers, it will never be good enough transit

    [1] Seoul Bus System Reform Project, D. Kim and S. Gaham, fall 2009

    [2] Environmentally Sustainable
    Transport Policies in Korea
    , S. Lee, 2009

    [3] http://stlelsewhere.blogspot.com

    [4] Four year old Namsan Tunnel Congestion Pricing scheme in Seoul: success or failure?. B. Son, and K. Y Hwang, Int Assoc Traffic Saf Sci journal, vol. 26, no 1, pp28-36, 2002

    [5] You will aslo find an interview at the Translink’s Buzzer blog

    [6] VPSN has also blogged on this lecture. Geoff meggs has also written on the topic.

    Bridge Traffic

    December 1, 2010

    For purpose of illustration, below is a map overlaid with the traffic volume on the main bridges of the Vancouver area.

    Traffic on the Main bridges of the greater Vancouver area (click on the map for more detail)

    Some comments on it:


    • Traffic volume distribution is hourly, for weekday, and estimated when data is not available [3]
    • truck traffic on Knight bridge is estimated at 15% of the overall traffic
    • Red line indicate the capacity of the bridge, assuming a 1400 vehicle/hr capacity per lane
    • For bridge over the Fraser, A suggested Congestion pricing toll [5] has been added in yellow

    below is the tabulaton of weekday daily traffic, and source for the considered bridge

    Bridge Juridiction Lanes Traffic
    Arthur Laing Bridge YVR 4 84,000 [2]
    Oak Bridge Province 4 80,700 [1][4]
    Knight Bridge Translink 4 99,500 [2]
    QueensBorough Bridge Province 4 84,000 [2]
    George Massey Tunnel Province 4 89,500 [1]
    Alex Fraser Bridge Province 6 117,500 [1]
    Pattullo Bridge Translink 4 74,500 [2]
    Port Mann Bridge Province 5 116,000 [1]
    Iron Workers Bridge Province 6 127,400 [1]
    Lions gate Bridge Province 3 63,000 [1]

    Comments on the Congestion pricing data

    They come from the thesis of Peter Wightman [5], which is the most complete work I have uncovered on the topic applied on the Vancouver area, but still limited on the Fraser crossing bridges.

    • toll is applied once the traffic volume exceed the road capacity
    • Price elasticity demand is assumed at -0.2 peak hours, and -0.25 off peak, That is pricing evaluation has been done in 2006, assuming the transit option of the time, i.e. no Canada line and no transit over Port Mann bridge. Another study suggests a price elasticity demand closer to 0.35, in case of improved transit (i.e. Congestion regulation could be achieved with significant lower toll that those envisioned by [5], and revenue of congestion pricing too)

    For information, below are the estimated revenue of congestion pricing, in the case of all bridge crossing the Fraser tolled (this assuming the 2006 situation, and a relatively low elasticity of -0.2 peak, and -0.25 off peak period) according to [5].

    Bridge daily revenue (South dir) daily revenue (North dir)
    George Massey Tunnel 89,600 64,400
    Alex Fraser Bridge 126,000 67,200
    Pattullo Bridge 35,000 21,000
    Port Mann Bridge 271,600 90,300
    Total (daily) 765,100
    Total Annual 191,275,000

    It is worth to note that congestion pricing could apply only when bridge reach capacity. At the exception of the Port Mann bridge West bound, that is an average of only 4 hours per bridge (or put in other way, crossing a bridge could be free 20hours per day),… but still generating close to 200 millions of annual revenue only on the bridge crossing the Fraser river.

    it is also worth to notice that under a congestion pricing scheme as proposed by [5], the Port Mann bridge toll could have been lower than the one considered by the province (in green on the map above) most of the time…and the Pattullo bridge needs to be tolled less than 3hrs per day (per direction).

    [1] Number from BC MOT as of Sept 2010 (weekday average on the month

    [2] Number from Bridging the Infrastructure Gap, Get Moving BC, Sept 2008. Data are mostly from 2006

    [3] I got hourly distribution only for BC MOT bridge, hourly distribution is estimated for other bridge to provide an idea of level of congestion on them (and eventually pricing level/period). While data Provincial bidge are from 2010, and other bridge from 2006, it has been no noticeable increase in traffic in the interim, what is consistent with a longer trend already exhibited in a gateway program definition report of january 2006

    [4] There is a discrepancy with number from the MovingBC report[2] eventually due to the fact, that the authors of this report overlooked the fact that the traffic counter is installed south of the Sea Island exit ramp on the Highway 99 south bound. That explains why there is a traffic increase on that bridge

    [5] From Freeway to feeway: Congestion pricing policies for BC’s Fraser River crossing, Peter Wightman, Simon Fraser University, 2008

    [6] Estimating Commuter Mode choice: A discrete choice Analysis impact of road pricing and parking charge, Washbrook, Haider and Jaccard, Transportation, 2006.

    [7] Toll for new Port Mann Bridge will be $5.15 for casual users, Damian Inwood, The province, June 2010.


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