The automated city: do we still need humans to run public services?
From John Graham:
Further to your piece today on autonomous trucks, here is a mind-blowing graphic I found the other day which shows the most common job in each state. It suggests that getting rid of truck drivers is going to be interesting. The source is CB Insights, one of the most respected data around.
Two items that landed in the box. First, from Business in Vancouver:
A report released Monday (September 19) from a group of Seattle-based tech experts suggests autonomous vehicles are needed to better link their city’s economy to their northern neighbours.
The report is pushing for the creation of dedicated traffic lanes for autonomous vehicles throughout the 225-kilometre stretch of highway between Seattle and Vancouver.
… the report suggests that within 10-15 years, self-driving cars would supplant existing vehicles along the I-5/Highway 99 corridor. Human-driven cars would not be permitted on highways except for times when there is little congestion such as weekends or between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. on weekdays.
Here’s a question I’m hoping comes up at Monday’s presidential debate: Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump, what would you do about self-driving trucks?
According to the boosters, autonomous trucks would avert lots of accidents, saving thousands of lives annually. They could reduce congestion and carbon emissions by cutting the number of trucks on the road, as each truck would never have to sleep. In the short-to-midrange future — before they are good enough to dispense with a human driver entirely — they may make the job of driving a truck far more comfortable and enjoyable than it is today. And they could also slash the cost of interstate transit, possibly sparking wider economic prosperity. …
In the long run, if the trucks prove successful and our logistics infrastructure adjusts to accommodate them, they could begin to displace the three million Americans (mostly men) who now drive trucks for a living, not to mention truck stops and the small towns that depend on them. …
How Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton think about autonomous trucks is in some ways a test case for their ideas about technology generally. It might reveal how they would weigh the benefits of innovation — which usually accrue diffusely to the nation at large — against the particular burdens borne by a small group (the truck drivers who might lose their jobs, in this case).
PT: The question could equally apply to our leaders in Canada, where the job-loss estimate, for all kinds of driverless vehicles, tops well over 100,000.
Think about just dumping tens of thousands of low-skilled aging men out of work, with little prospect of retraining for similarly paying jobs, and imagine what the social and political consequences would be. Actually, Trumpism gives you a pretty good idea.
There is also the question of wealth inequality and redistribution as transportation services get increasingly concentrated among a handful of ever-more-powerful service providers who control and integrate an many modes as possible – all with the intent of delabouring trucking, transit, taxis, etc.
This is not a recipe for social stability. Political leaders would be crazy to unleash these forces without preparing for the consequences.
The Business Insider has a compelling article about the street grid. For millennia we designed and developed the street grid as the most functional way to develop a place.
Emily Badger with City Lab confirms what we always suspected. While going to the suburbs for a “safer” life, people have actually been going to suburban communities composed of curving street plans that “ make us drive more, make us less safe, keep us disconnected from one another, and that may even make us less healthy”.
A key part of the 20th century Garden City movement and the development of the Radburn Plan for suburbs in North America was discarding the grid pattern and going for organic, round street shapes. Norman Garrick and Wesley Marshall started researching street network designs commencing with bikeable Davis California. Even though Davis has more than 16 per cent of the population biking to work, it also has the lowest traffic fatality rates in the USA. By looking at the data of over a quarter of a million crashes in 24 California cities over 11 years, these researchers discovered that “the safest cities had an element in common: They were all incorporated before 1930″. And they all had the grid pattern.
A lot of people feel that they want to live in a cul-de-sac, they feel like it’s a safer place to be,” Marshall says. “The reality is yes, you’re safer – if you never leave your cul-de-sac. But if you actually move around town like a normal person, your town as a whole is much more dangerous.”
The researchers also found out that people who live in curvilinear suburbs versus grid pattern suburb spend 18 per cent more time driving and have less contact with local shops and services. Grid cities have better connections for walking and biking, and with less car crashes, are safer.
Cul-de-sac roughly means bottom of the sack in French.Time to reorder and get back to the grid.
Ford … is acquiring Chariot, a private, crowdsourced shuttle service based in San Francisco, and is investing in Motivate, the largest operators of bike-share programs in the US. It also announced plans to set up a new division within the company tasked with advising cities directly about “mobility solutions,” CEO Mark Fields told The Verge Friday.
It’s another sign that Ford, one of the oldest and most storied car makers in the world, is aware of that the writing on the wall is not favorable to car companies. Consumers are trending away from personal car ownership, and toward ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, which have both been recently emphasizing carpooling as the next big idea in transportation. …
Chariot, which has been operating in San Francisco since 2014, is part of a recent trend of bus startups that use algorithms to develop transit routes based on user demand. Using the app, customers can book a seat in one of the companies blue-and-white shuttle vans for around $4 a trip. …
This isn’t Ford’s first flirtation with quasi-public bus services. Last February, the company teamed up with Bridj, a data-driven pop-up bus company, and the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to roll out a fleet of shuttle vans that residents can summon with the tap of an app. Ford has also unveiled several “smartbike” prototypes in recent years that it envisions as part of a broader mobility system that integrates cars, bikes, and various other forms of transportation into a seamless, networked whole.
It is 8.30am on a weekday rush hour and the Voie Georges-Pompidou along the right bank of the Seine, normally one of the busiest highways in Paris, is eerily quiet.
Around 43,000 vehicles a day used this expressway, built in 1967, to cross central Paris from west to east, but they are nowhere to be seen. Instead, teams of workers are there, planning playgrounds, wooden terraces, waterside gardens restaurants and rectangular terrains for playing boules.
The drone from traffic on the parallel Quai des Celestins, higher up the river bank, suggests traffic there is moving along at a respectable pace – confounding those doomsayers who suggested the controversial scheme to pedestrianise two miles of city centre highway would bring neighbouring roads to a standstill.
While this section of the Seine closes every summer to host the Paris Plages – in which temporary artificial beaches are created along the right bank of the river – this time the expressway has not been reopened.
Instead Paris’s prefect of police – the state representative – this week approved the closure of the riverside route for a six-month trial. Socialist-run city hall says it intends to keep the highway closed to vehicles for good. …
Few issues have so bitterly divided Parisians than the closure of Voie Georges-Pompidou. The move, one of the pillars of Hidalgo’s 2014 election campaign, has pitted city hall against the regional council, right against left, motorists against pedestrians, in increasingly bad tempered exchanges. …
Christophe Najdovski, Paris deputy mayor responsible for transport and public spaces, and a member of the Ecology Green party, said the new project is all about changing attitudes. “The first few weeks will be difficult and then it will become normal. As we have seen with this type of project across the whole world, including places like New York and Rio, is that when an urban highway is transformed or closed, there is an evaporation of traffic. Either people modify their route, or they use their car less and take other forms of transport.
“Behaviour will change. Habits will change. And our objective, to reduce traffic and thus pollution, will be achieved.”
Najdovski added: “We have done all studies necessary for this project and we’re convinced that after six months, a year, everything will be fine and nobody will be talking about this any more. That’s what happened with the right bank three years ago.
“If Anne Hidalgo wants to ride a bicycle then that’s up to her, but why should motorists suffer? Let’s make no mistake, her goal is purely electoral and this stupid idea will please two or three bobos (bourgeois-bohemians) and upset 10 million others. She doesn’t care about the people in the banlieues [suburbs] because they don’t vote for her.”
“If you close a major road, it’s obvious the cars aren’t just going to disappear. Anne Hidalgo isn’t David Copperfield. They’re going to turn up elsewhere and there will be traffic jams elsewhere,” Chasseray told the Guardian.
He added: “City hall wants to change people’s habits by force, but we’re not a dictatorship. Instead of closing the highways, they should find a way for cars and pedestrians to coexist.”
The Ile-de-France regional president Valérie Pécresse, of the opposition centre-right Les Republicains (LR) party, said the trial should last a year to take account of “spikes in pollution” in summer months. She said the pedestrianisation project was “seductive” but added: “It all comes down to how it’s done.”
“Paris cannot take brutal decision without real consultation and without taking into account the impact on the banlieue,” Pecresse told Le Monde.
There are several posts in Price Tags that have followed the inception and building of the Tsawwassen Mills mega mall located on Tsawwassen First Nations Land in Delta,nestled between the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and the Port lands, under the control of the Federal Government. An article written in 2013 by Daniel Wood in the Georgia Straight outlines a conversation with City of Richmond City Councillor Harold Steves, who is also a founder of the Agricultural Land Reserve incepted in 1973. Full disclosure, Harold is a member of a very old farming family that not only tilled these lands, but started up the first seed companies in the province. And that place, Steveston? It’s named after his family.
In that Georgia Straight article, Harold noted that over 400 hectares (which is 988 acres) of Class 1 agricultural land in Delta would be lost to port expansion, and another 100 hectares lost to the residential units being built to the west of the megamall. This does not include the 80 hectares of Class 1 agricultural land sitting below the megamall site.
“That’s the best soil in Canada,” says Steves, incensed by the shortsightedness of corporate capitalism. “You’re looking at the Richmondization of Delta.”
We don’t often think of this, but the Fraser River delta which supports and nourishes Metro Vancouver is similar to the great deltas in the world that provide agriculture to surrounding populations. It is also because of its agricultural status and relatively low land values that it is the most vulnerable to use as industrial or commercial lands. Somehow we don’t value food production and the protection of farmland with a high monetary price.
This area of Delta is also on the great Pacific Flyway used by millions of migratory birds on a route that extends from Alaska to Patagonia. Annually this route is used by birds travelling to food sources, breeding grounds or warmer climates. Boundary Bay and this part of Delta are used by birds for a rest stop on the journey, and has been federally recognized.
But back to Tsawwassen Mills, now a 1.2 million square foot mall built by Ivanhoe Cambridge. With 6,000 parking spaces this will be on of the biggest malls in Canada, with a second 600,000 square foot “more local” shopping centre to the east of it. It is a “drive to” destination. And that is what the developer thinks we will do.
To the west of this development a total of 1,700 housing units are being built, again on Class 1 agricultural land. Half of the new housing will be single family homes; 35 per cent are townhomes, and 15 per cent are apartments. A new road is being constructed connecting this residential development directly with the mall for easy shopping access by car.
Tsawwassen Mills has been having a challenge getting employees to staff the mega mall’s stores. At a recent job fair, 3,000 jobs were available but only 500 potential applicants showed up. The minimum wage jobs and poor transit connections will hinder hiring. The lack of a good separated sidewalk and protected bike lane from Tsawwassen to the mall will also thwart local residents who are active transportation users.
Tsawwassen Mills mall is now lit up at night. While there is shielded light in the parking lot ostensibly to minimize migratory bird disruption, no such regard has been made for the large illuminating signage visible for kilometers on the south side of the mall, as noted in this letter to the Vancouver Sun. Subsequent to that letter being published, another illuminated sign has appeared.
For a mall that is slated to open on October 5 with 150 retail outlets, 90 businesses are concerned they will not have adequate staffing. There is the supposition that shoppers from across the region will drive here to spend a day shopping instead of going to the United States or shopping online. While some light is shielded to minimize disruption of migratory birds, new commercial signage seems to be exempt from any concern.
We as a region have lost hundreds of acres of Class 1 agricultural land that will never be retrieved. A mega shopping mall perches on the sensitive delta which is also on the floodplain. There is no active transportation or good transit to the mall. It looks like any other mall you have ever seen. Just bigger. With 6,000 parking spaces.
In many ways, we are witnessing a motordom experiment of the ilk that the 1950’s and 1960’s would have dreamed about. It’s too late for the agricultural land, and I have not seen an environmental impact study on the migratory birds. What remains to be seen is how this 20th century rendition of shopping can be a commercial success with the high cost to the future of our agricultural food security and disruption of natural wildlife patterns. Would you spend a day driving your car here and shopping? Is this really a viable use of this richly arable land in this century?
This time I think we went too far. I will end with a photo taken yesterday of the bus stop just outside the mall on Highway 17. That bus stop too is so last century. And it tells me that for Tsawwassen Mills, motordom and the twentieth century way of doing things is all that matters.
KPMG has published an interesting take on what policy changes need to be in place for the rise of autonomous or driverless vehicles. Given that so many enterprises are working on this technology, KPMG feels that this will be the car of choice within twenty years.
Realizing that such a dramatic and drastic change in driverless technology will mean a reboot in policy at all levels of government, KPMG has identified five areas where there are major policy ramifications. These are:
1.Transport Infrastructure Investment-Since decisions on public investment are based upon cost benefit analysis, driverless cars are a certainty in the future. Because of that, financial analysis of transportation projects today should be factoring in the use of driverless cars. It is suggested that with no need for crash barriers, lanes could also be closer together, with significant less cost for roads, and use of land.
2. If in a driverless world there is no need for driver’s licenses, there are implications for countries that have dual licenses, for example, British Columbia where the license is also the Medical Services Plan card. Other countries use the driver’s license as a citizenship card. Time will be needed to separate the systems apart. Traffic regulations will need to change to reflect driverless technology standards. Vehicle registration may form a basis of raising revenue for the use of a driverless car.
3.Revenue-Driverless cars still need roads and there will be investment in digital technology for the vehicle’s bandwidth and for communication to other vehicles.Government may want to create the control centres for these vehicles and not leave it to the private sector, providing a usage tax to replace gasoline tax revenue.
4.Spatial Planning-Having access to a vehicle without owning it means more accessibility and universality in usage, with more vehicle miles being travelled and higher usage of vehicles.Street widths can be narrower and KPMG suggests that there is no need to use sidewalks and curbs to separate pedestrians from the technology.With no need for garages or parking lots or on street parking, this could mean a revamping of land use on a scale not seen since the introduction of the car.
5. Security-There will need to be a protocol to ensure that the systems cannot fail, nor can they be undermined by malicious intent.With falling accident rates and little fatalities, the insurance companies will need to refocus their businesses. Personal data associated with the use of these vehicles will also need to be secured in a way that can access the payment systems in the cars, but still be confidential.
KPMG sees this time as an opportunity for policy makers to commence the thinking of how best to maximize efficiency and revenues with a technology that will have great social and economic ramifications. It will be curious to see in a few decades whether their perceived policy direction forecasts were accurate.
There is a lot of chat about driverless cars-but this article from the New York Times and this one in the Atlantic Monthly identify a fear that is being expressed by many-how will driverless cars interact with those pesky uncontrollable pedestrians who will want to cross streets and otherwise get in the way? How do you build trust and share the road from the perspective of the driverless car passenger and those on foot or bicycle?
Drive.ai a California start-up is figuring out how a driverless car would communicate with other cars, and those pedestrians. John Markoff notes in his article
The company is emphasizing what is known in the artificial intelligence field as “human-machine interaction” as a key to confusing road situations.How does a robot, for example, tell everyone what it plans to do in intersections when human drivers and people in crosswalks go through an informal ballet to decide who will go first and who will yield?
There are five situations discussed where driverless technology is being challenged.You can control the behaviour of a driverless car, but what if it interacts with a car driven by a real human, subject to split second decisions and thought patterns? And what happens on snowy or icy roads when laser sensors may not compute where the road surface is. For a technology that is based on GPS, a temporary detour or a changed traffic pattern on a road could be an obstacle. Couple that with potholes that sensors cannot read and may be misinterpreted on the road surface. Lastly, and perhaps the most crucial in a life and death situation, does the car save its occupants, or does it sacrifice its occupants to avoid hitting a group of pedestrians? And who will make these ethical calls on autonomous car performance?
This year Drive.ai was licensed in California to road test driverless cars, and is relying on “deep learning” technology which is “a machine-learning technique that has gained wide popularity among Silicon Valley firms. It is used for a variety of tasks, like understanding human speech and improving the ability to recognize objects in computer vision systems.”
Drive.ai plans to revolutionize commercial vehicles for parcel delivery and taxi services.But in these investigations of new driverless cars (and there are over 20 initiatives with this technology in Silicon Valley alone) there is still no cogent discussion on street design or active transportation movement for bicyclists and pedestrians. It would seem to me that cities and citizens need to have an active say in how driverless technology will or will not impact city streets and the ability of people to randomly walk or cycle across streets. There is not much information on how this technology will interface with community liveliness and street use. It’s an important subject and I’d like to see it addressed.
As stated in Markoff’s article quoting a roboticist
“A lot of the discussion around self-driving cars has no human component, which is really weird because this is the first time a robotic system is going out in the world and interacting with people.”
An interesting article in the Globe and Mail on Saturday, describing the sale of space in HOV lanes to single-occupancy vehicles in congested Toronto. Having recently driven from Montreal to Toronto, and experienced the monster traffic on the outskirts of the city on the 401, it caught my interest, as did the recent post here about the congestion on Vancouver’s north shore routes.
[For the permits,] The price is $180 for the three months, which works out to about $2.75 per weekday, with the promise of drivers saving up to 10 minutes each way. If provincial projections hold true, this would mean motorists paying about $8.25 for each hour of driving they eliminate.
This is much less than the $20 to $30 per hour of a person’s time often used by transportation planners when trying to justify a new project. If the QEW permit seems like a bargain, there are around 3,500 applicants who might agree with you, a level of demand that suggests the price was set too low.
Indeed, an internal government projection shows that they could have charged $150 per month – equivalent to about $20 per hour of time saved – and still had more applicants than the available number of permits. Their assessment concluded that 1,800 to 2,400 people would apply for the pass at that higher rate, compared to a projected 2,500 to 3,300 applicants at $60 per month.
Commuters’ behaviour seems to get locked in very early, making it even more important to try to establish effective transit into expanding areas.
Commuting patterns can be difficult to break.
Researchers say that one of the few times it’s possible to convince people to change how they get to work is when they change jobs or change homes. Without those major shake-ups, commuters tend to remain creatures of habit.
Price also matters. For all that people grouse about traffic on Highway 401, which tens of thousands of Toronto-area drivers clog every day, the tolled alternative nearby remains notably less busy. And the price difference between two options sometimes doesn’t have to be much for commuters to stick with the congested one. Although the QEW permits are over-subscribed now, the demand may drop if people don’t really feel they have a meaningful amount more time for the money they’re spending.
“Free time, it just gets sucked up by other things, we don’t really even notice it,” said Ms. Whillans, the UBC social psychologist. “Can we make time feel more valuable by reminding people that they can do other, better things with it?”
In an ongoing study in Vancouver, she is looking at people who use two particular bridges. In a phone interview she explained that the Port Mann is tolled while the Pattullo is free to cross. But the Pattullo is under construction and drivers face 15-to-30-minute delays compared to the tolled bridge.
“Even among people who say that the Port Mann would save them time, they would still prefer, hypothetically, to take cash, the equivalent amount of cash, as opposed to taking the toll bridge,” she said. “People kind of underestimate the value of having those 30 extra minutes of free time. So they kind of think having $6, which is how much the toll is, will make them happier than having 30 better, non-stuck-in-traffic minutes.”
There is not much that can deviate the Trans-Canada highway, but this 300 year old Douglas Fir located beside the east bound lanes between the 176th and 200th Street exits did.
It was not much to look at these days and you probably saw it, a tree stump covered in English Ivy with a white cross, a wreath, and the moniker “Charlie’s Tree”.
Five life long friends as children used to swim and fish near this Port Kells location in the early 20th century. Five of them went to World War One in Europe. Only one, Charlie Perkins, a Royal Flying Corps flight instructor returned. To honour the memory of the four friends who had died in war Charlie Perkins memorialized a grand Douglas Fir with ivy, wreaths and flags.
The memorial was accepted by the community and was never questioned until the Surrey leg of Highway 1 wanted to locate the road through the field-and the tree. Charlie was incensed. As reported by True Surrey
“Charlie was a senior but that didn’t stop him protesting. In fact, he hauled a chair out into the middle of the road, placed a gun across his knees and didn’t budge. It wasn’t long before he was joined by friends, neighbours – true Surrey citizens. Folks who valued this living epitaph enough to make a stand. And amazingly, they won! Highway 1 weaves around Charlie’s tree to this day.”
More information about Charlie Perkins is available here.
The tree had been torched by vandals in the past and had been topped. But the Whalley Legion still places a wreath at the base of this old Douglas fir every year. On the weekend the stump of the tree split, and crashed on the highway. While there was a car crash, no one was hurt. Let’s hope the memory of Charlie’s Tree continues on this British Columbia Day.
A tragedy occurred yesterday on Vancouver’s federally controlled Granville Island. Three pedestrians were struck by a vehicle apparently trying to exit one of Granville Island’s parking lots. One pedestrian died.
As a pragmatic and sympathetic colleague stated, this accident could have happened anywhere. But should it be happening on Granville Island? Should we be allowing cars coming for a daily shopping trip to be accessing Granville Island? Should we be encouraging cars to be parking off site, developing a tram service, or upgrading bus service to the island?
Granville Island was created in 1915 by the Harbour Commission and morphed into a 37 acre island of dredged land. The history of the island and its industrial past is available here. Early tenants reflected the industrial history of Vancouver with the forest, mining, construction and boating companies located here, close to water access.
One of the earliest tenants, Ocean Cement which arrived in 1917, has a lease which expires in 2046. The island still retains some of its industrial past, and the open houses hosted by Ocean Cement are legendary for children of all ages.
As befits a working waterfront, Granville Island was developed without sidewalks, curbs or pedestrian amenities specifically to ensure that loading and unloading of cargo was not fettered.
Under federal jurisdiction, CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation) manages Granville Island and has an advisory trust which provides guidance to CMHC’s Granville Island Office. Towards the future, the Granville Island 2040 Plan will look at the uses for the next several decades, with an advisory committee chaired by Simon Fraser University’s vice-chancellor, Michael Stevenson. The recently announced advisory committee panel is a polyglot of passionate place makers in architecture, industry and the arts. As Dr. Stevenson notes:
“Granville Island enjoys a world-renowned reputation as the epitome of successful mixed use development. Its future success is of great significance to the citizens of Vancouver as well as to our many visitors.”
As part of this visioning process the use of Granville Island for day tripping car traffic should be re-examined. While there is historic industrial traffic that will continue to serve the location, the 21st century should also reinforce sustainability, by having consumer and tourist traffic come by foot, bicycle and transit. For some reason the car has maintained a 20th century dominance on Granville Island, with covered parking and open parking lots. Is it time for a more friendly reboot to active transportation and accessible convenient transit?
For those who didn’t catch The Toronto Star’s piece on Don Mills, it’s an interesting and refreshingly neutral take on why suburbia was so popular in the first place. It is common these days to associate this type of suburban development with social and economic isolation as well as crippling dependence on the automobile. But once upon a time, some very intelligent people would not have disagreed more.
Even if some of our contemporary criticism is undeniably true, it’s useful to remind ourselves that we are products of our times; and that our decisions and judgements are not divorced from the contexts in which we make them. These developments were originally sold on and commonly perceived as the embodiment of personal and economic freedom. We couldn’t possibly be this wrong again, right?
Today we’re supposedly more enlightened. But considering the absolute, unquestioning enthusiasm with which city planners once promoted suburbia is an opportunity to ask ourselves if the trends we currently hold to will stand up to future scrutiny.
Whether it’s protected cycle lanes, automated vehicles, underground parks, or bioswales, what will we look back on forty years from now and ask, “Just what in the Hotel-Echo-Lima-Lima were we thinking?”
Local developer, writer and resident Michael Geller has written a compelling commentary in the Vancouver Courier about Vancouver’s lack of taxi culture.
Talking about taxis is interesting. Everyone has a strong reaction to the topic. I have to admit my bias-I love taking taxis anywhere in the world, but not in Vancouver. I have taken a taxi driven by a famous jazz musician in Chicago, and been driven by the coach of the British Olympic Rowing Team in London. Perhaps the best experience was a cab driver in Nevis that taught me Nevis’ National Anthem during the ride.
In Vancouver, the city regulates taxi cabs. There is a taxi cab detail at the Vancouver Police Department, and you can call 311 and report bad behaviour of cab drivers. I have had cab drivers follow my car home when they felt I had cut them off in my car, and I have had cab drivers refuse to pick up senior citizens because the trip was too short. I am always apprehensive about getting a cab, because there is no uniformity of service. And I do feel uncomfortable getting in a cab and having the driver talk away on his cell phone while driving. I would much rather walk or take transit.
Thirty years ago I was in Council chambers when then Mayor Gordon Campbell asked the taxi detail the cost of taxi licenses. It was interesting to listen to, because the cab companies would not disclose what the value of each license was. At that time it was assumed that the licenses were trading around $800,000 each. That is a lot of money, but then again, driving a cab is a cash business, and cabs can be in operation for 24 hours a day.
Earlier this year I went to a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre with a friend who is in his 90’s. At the end of the performance, my friend told me he had reserved a cab. He knew the dispatcher, and he was sure the cab would come for him. I later found out that this elderly man waited two hours before slowly walking on two canes back to his apartment which took another hour. The senior had called the dispatcher repeatedly, and been repeatedly told yes, the taxi was coming. It never did.
Part of a mature urban city is a taxi service that is convenient, reliable, comfortable and uniform. Michael Geller has written another piece on the need to improve Vancouver’s broken taxi system in January 2015 following an SFU City Program discussion on Uber.
Michael notes “Having often waited for a cab, I was not surprised to learn Vancouver has the lowest ratio of taxis per capita of any major Canadian city, and fares are approximately 15 per cent higher. I found it significant that not one new taxi company had been allowed to enter the Vancouver market in 25 years. Compare this with any other retail or service industry.
I have again been thinking about taxis since attending a recent Greater Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon with Peter Gall, Q.C., counsel to the Vancouver Taxi Association. The session was billed as an opportunity for the association to present its solutions to better meet the needs of the public.For many years, the Board of Trade has had concerns about the taxi industry. Under president and CEO Iain Black, it commissioned a paper that revealed Vancouver would need to add 1,900 new taxis just to meet what is on the road in Calgary.
It went on to recommend a number of changes to the regulatory framework which would allow taxis and ride sharing services to co-exist.While many in attendance at the Board of Trade luncheon wanted to see major changes and improvements, Mr. Gall was protective of the industry, noting that taxi drivers have invested $500 million in the 800 licenses currently in existence.Many challenged this position, noting that in other sunset industries, investors have lost out when their industry became obsolete. Just ask the owners of Blockbuster Video.If Vancouver is to truly become a less car-oriented region, we must improve our taxi system. Hopefully, the province will pay attention to the Board of Trade’s recommendations.”
Super City was a toy released in 1967 and consisted of plastic frames and shapes to create-well, your own city. It had very cool television commercials-here is the 1968 commercial in French on Youtube . If you were a kid and had an interest in design or engineering you wanted Super City. Unfortunately the toy was too complex for children, and the product was pulled from the market. Artist and author Douglas Coupland said that “anything made from Super City looked like a Craig Ellwood, or a Neutra or a Wallace K. Harrison“.
And perhaps Douglas’ remarks are apropos as Tech Insider has written that the startup accelerator Y Combinator wants to create a city from scratch. These are the same people who brought the world Airbnb and Dropbox.
Y Combinator wants to design the smartest city possible using technologies that would be challenging to implement in existing cities. They are hiring researchers to review housing affordability, ponder zoning, and review current and future technologies. This is similar to the work that Google’s parent company Alphabet embarked upon in their Smart Cities competition won by Columbus Ohio. This competition was jointly sponsored by the U. S. Department of Transportation and the winner receives up to 40 million dollars to become the first city to “fully integrate innovative technologies – self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and smart sensors – into their transportation network.“
What is curious is how the media around innovative technology integration is not addressing active transportation as the super city’s synergistic foundation. Lets hope the researchers being hired by Y Combinator remember that every journey begins with a walk, and plan the town of tomorrow around people walking and biking too.
The Province reported this morning on a follow up analysis of ICBC’s 1998 Gradated Licensing Program. The authors’ determination, after selectively gerrymandering some original data, was that fewer “young people” were getting their drivers licenses. This fits with a friendly narrative of ‘the impending end of motordom’, but neither the data they present nor the story they tell back this up.
The article relies almost exclusively on personal testimonials of a few of them who’ve decided to forego – or forestall – getting their licenses.
I can appreciate having to personalize a story, but this is clearly just fill. It isn’t proof in support of anything. You could just as effectively claim that “more and more” Metro Vancouver teens are worshiping the devil, then interview some goth kids at the mall. Boom. Proof.
It is not merely my cantankerousness. Lazy puff-piece articles such as this are so easily picked apart and dismissed that they cast illegitimacy on the very notion of societal change. It’s not difficult to see why the right casts the entire narrative of ‘fewer cars’ and ‘sustainability’ into suspicion when this stuff is part of a reputable paper’s drumbeat of truth.
It comes across as propaganda. It’s not; at least intentionally. It’s just very lazy journalism: a few selectively-framed half-facts packaged to tell a little story that we want to be true. Fabricating a trend, and then over-implying its significance, does more harm than good.
And there is some truth in there. Some portions of teens – the 16-18 year olds – really are getting fewer licenses, according to the data. However, this is quickly offset by equal increases in licenses from 19-21 year olds. The result is a minor net increase in the numbers of these “young people” getting licenses between 2003-2013.
“Our future will be carbon-neutral (because young people are getting fewer licenses)!”. “US abandoning suburbs for city living!”. These narratives carry a lot of weight, and a lot of people would like them to be unreservedly true. But at present they’re not. They’re not even trending towards those absolute ends.
Minus the bombast, there are some relative truths. There are fewer young drivers of certain ages than before. The ratio of suburban-to-urban home construction is slightly less exaggerated than in previous decades. This is good news.
But middle class white flight has never abated in the US, especially in the northeast. New highway construction still wildly outpaces new transit, especially in Alberta. A lot more new homes are still built in the suburbs than in the city, especially everywhere.
It’s good to recognize sustainable trends, but better not to overstate or misrepresent their significance. Our problems aren’t solving themselves, no matter how badly two reporters from The Province are in need of a paycheque.
Ontario announced an expansion of its High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes on the 427 in Toronto with a similar pilot project on the QEW, the Star reports. Unlike the electronic tolling system on the 427, the QEW pilot will be a low-tech sale of 1,000 permits at $180 each for drivers of single-occupant vehicles to use the existing HOV lanes whenever they choose. More information is linked here.
How this will be enforced is not immediately clear. Will cameras pick up single-occupant vehicles in the HOV lanes, check those plates against the list of registered permits, and forego a ticket where there’s a match? Will drivers risk being pulled over by OPP and let off after showing their permits? Or will it be the honour system?
There is no shortage of critics of this pilot project. One predictable dissenter is Conservative MPP Michael Harris who claims the inclusion of these single occupant vehicles will reduce the quality of the HOV lanes to the point of rendering them useless and thus counter to their whole purpose. It is therefore nothing but a money grab.
He’s wrong about the numbers (1,000 vehicles, even if all travelling at the same time, will have virtually zero impact on the HOV lane’s operations or speed), but not wrong that it’s a ham-fisted approach that will likely not provide any measurable improvement to either the ‘normal’ or HOV/HOT lanes.
A dynamic pricing model would work better by posting capacity-based prices on the use of the HOV lanes for single-occupant drivers. It would make a lot more money and be more responsive to the balanced needs of revenue and car poolers.
Alternatively, the province could just tell single-occupant drivers to buck up. If their time was so much more precious than everyone else’s they could use the HOV lane as part of a legitimate carpool. But that’s never going to happen. At present, the QEW pilot program is: 1) a small money making scheme, and 2) an experiment to see how many more permits can be incrementally sold before the HOV lanes actually do start to fail.
Closer to home, HOT lanes are not high on the current provincial government’s list for revenue generation – unless/until it’s discovered that yet more money is needed for the Massey Bridge. However, should the NDP take over next year (this is a theoretical question), would they be amenable to HOT lanes as part of a transit funding package? What do you think?
The Urban Land Institute’s Next Generation Transportation Thinkers speaker forum was held at Bunt’s downtown office yesterday morning. Thanks to ULI, Simon Fraser, and Bunt for hosting; and Gordon for moderating.
The speakers were engaging, the discussion was good, and like a good infrastructure policy geek, I was disappointed it was over so soon.
The talk inevitably veered toward autonomous vehicles; because that is what will happen when two or more transportation engineers gather in a setting. It is very much a thing right now whose impacts are poorly understood and disagreed upon, especially among experts. The diagram below explains their popularity among a particular Genus of nerd cohort.
The subject always brings to mind this old Disney promo cartoon from 1958 on the Magic Highway of the Future. I wonder how much of this imagery has subconsciously driven enthusiasm for the technology among engineering managers of a certain age. Anything – anything at all – to keep the cars forever moving.
Autonomous vehicles are a potentially life-changing phenomenon and transportation professionals talk about them in wistful, excited, and uncertain tones – like how Cavaliers fans talked in 2003 about this “LeBron James guy”. Dare we get our hopes up?
Before Vancouver’s Georgia Viaduct was implemented, there was an active community that existed between Union and Prior Streets in Vancouver. This excellent 16 minute film Secret Vancouver: Return to Hogan’s Alley features stories of Hogan’s Alley, the residents, the stories and the music of a very connected, talented neighbourhood. Narrated by native son and historian John Atkin, the erasing of this community was a direct result of the superiority of motordom.
Just like other North American cities, the downtown areas home to Asian and African Canadian populations were targeted as clearing blight for the technological advantage of the car in the 1950’s. Finding out the community that was is the focus of Chris and Melissa Bruntlett’s article Women in Urbanism: Stephanie Allen on correcting past errors. Stephanie Allen has researched what happened to the small community of Hogan’s Alley as part of her Master’s thesis. In her current work she identifies the importance of public engagement in the redevelopment of this area when the viaducts are removed, and believes that developers and government should give priority to people who “cannot or will not have the same access to housing as other more affluent citizens”. Ms. Allen references the City of Portland’s Right to Return Program which provides incentives for displaced people to return to the areas where they originally formed communities.
Ms. Allen is now looking at creating models of successful mixed-income developments, allowing people with diverse backgrounds to form new communities. She identifies the importance of day-to-day management and equal involvement of market and non-market residents from the time of move-in to ensure a shared sense of responsibility and ownership. It is interesting work, and the rediscovery of the history of Hogan’s Alley illustrates the richness of what was lost-and what could be recreated.
After the excitement generated by the driverless car’s flypaper technology to deal with hitting pesky pedestrians, patented by Google, the Friday File reports a patent filing showing that the Zee.Aero company is working on an all-electric plane that can take off and land vertically-a flying car. This is another of Larry Page’s initiatives. Mr. Page is the co-founder of Google.
In this article from Bloomberg Businessweek a new way of independent air travel free of busy streets full of vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians is being visioned. There have also been sightings from other pilots of a strange-looking airplane taking off from a nearby Hollister airport. Mr. Page’s two companies, Kitty Hawk and Zee.Aero are cloaked in secrecy. However it appears that advancing technology, materials, and navigation systems means that this could be a reality.
Paul Moller a retired professor from University of California at Davis developed the M200X Skycar that flew at 50 feet above the ground. Speaking at the Palo Alto Research Centre in 2000, Moller spoke to a young Larry Page that was very interested in the technology. There has since been forays into this new technology over time, with thoughts of of parking garages, roofs and highway verges seen as access points for aerocars.
The Bloomberg article is compelling reading on the history of the inventors and development of the aerocar, with an inkling of how far this technology has come. While there are loads of liability, navigational, and general legislation that would need to be enacted, the technology may indeed be possible. Will this be the next disruptive technology?