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On Tuesday I cracked myself up in prep for an evening with Janette Sadik-Khan (JSK), former NYCDOT Transportation Commissioner and author of Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution. Here are the highlights.
Whether you livestreamed it under the covers or attended at the Vancouver Playhouse, you probably had at least one moment of inspiration, imagining the delight that street transformation can bring to where you live. What if the City of Vancouver became the largest real-estate developer in town like JSK was for NYC?
Her statistics were all US based but we’re used to that. When we translate their numbers to our population, the information is uncomfortably more relevant than we would like. She included in her slides pictures of Vancouver and local examples to go with them. For those of us who attended her last visit, a few of the NYC successes were the same and still had a stunning, audible impact on attendees; she has more data to back her up now. She is confident and motivating.
Gordon Price is consistently a top-notch moderator and interviewer. He was a gracious Canadian host, animated, and entertaining. He had a great rapport with JSK. Price asked the pertinent questions and got solid answers.
What’s as interesting is who attended. At $5 a ticket, there were all ages and abilities present. I wondered how many business owners or BIA staff were there. Did Nick Pogor attend?
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch all of the electeds who introduced themselves from my perch on the balcony. I was pleased to see Vancouver’s Deputy Mayor Heather Deal front and center, who is also a Councillor Liaison to the City’s Active Transportation Policy Council and Arts & Culture Policy Council, among others. It was announced for the first time publicly that Lon LaClaire is the new City of Vancouver Director of Transportation. He introduced JSK. At least one Park Board Commissioner attended.
There was at least one City Councillor from New Westminster, Patrick Johnstone there – a fan of 30kph. I was tickled that Nathan Pascal, City Councillor for Langley City was there in his first week on the job! I was even more delighted to hear that the Mayor of Abbotsford Henry Braun was there. It symbolizes a shift in decision-makers toward at least open ears and at most safer, healthier city centres in the Lower Mainland.
The first rule of Hollywood is: Always thank the crew.
JSK started by thanking the 4500 within New York City’s Department of Transportation. She acknowledged that they implemented the changes her team tried – often quickly. Being fast and keeping the momentum up is key.
Interview well. Be yourself. Be bold.
When JSK was interviewing for the top transportation job with then NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he asked: Why do you want to be Traffic Commissioner? She answered: I don’t. I want to be Transportation Commissioner.
A City’s assets – the public realm – need to reflect current values. Invest in the best use of public space.
JSK on streets: “If you didn’t change your major capital asset in 50-60 years, would you still be in business?”
“We transformed places to park [cars] to places people wanted to be…we created 65,000 square feet of public space with traffic cones.” “Broadway alone was 2.5 acres of new public space.”
JSK talked about the imbalance between the space for cars and space for people. Crowded sidewalks of slow walking tourists that fast-walking New Yorkers were willing to walk in car lanes to pass or avoid. In Vancouver, we already see this imbalance in our shopping districts and entertainment corridors.
She appreciated working for a Mayor who would back her up on her bold suggestions and who asked her to take risks because it was the right thing to do.
Consultation + Visualization = Education + Transformation
“People find it hard to visualize from drawings and boards. Create temporary space and program it.” Basically: traffic cones, paint, and planters are your friends.
“We need to do a better job of showing the possible on our streets.”
“Involve people in the process…Just try it out. Pilot it. We [all already] know the streets aren’t perfect.”
She estimated that once [in 5-10 years] shared, driverless cars are operating in our cities, most of our on-street parking won’t be needed. In the meantime, one of the many community requested programs is time-of-day based pricing for on-street parking. Of course, the higher turnover of vehicles is better for business.
Even better for business is putting in bicycle lanes. Some of the areas where businesses were most opposed have some of the highest bike volumes now.
It takes 4 things to increase bicyclist volumes significantly and NYC does them all.
JSK saw 3 of the above steps to fruition. Mayor de Blasio lowered speed limits to 25mph in November, 2014.
When Broadway closed to cars and opened to people, in Midtown:
Ciclovias, Car-free Spaces and Street Art
“The Public Domain is the Public’s Domain.”
“We asked the community where they wanted plazas and they took ownership of them.”
“The canvas of our streets was transformed by artists.”
Ciclovias involve closing streets to vehicles and allowing people to roam on them via any active transportation mode, often on weekends. In NYC it’s known as Summer Streets. Every Saturday in the summer from 7am-1pm they have about 300,000 people take part. Small businesses along the way have seen sales increase by 71%.
On making parts of Robson Street a car-free space, JSK said: “Try it; you’ll like it.”
Three words: Dedicated. Bus. Lanes.
These are enforced by cameras. Green traffic lights are synchronized with bus use. Like in Colombia, they have off-board fare collection. [Senior planners at TransLink would love dedicated bus lanes on Georgia Street, Hastings Street, or Broadway in Vancouver.]
NYC needs to up our game on the following:
Migration Astonishment: 1M here, 1M there
I was astonished (and by the looks of it so was Gordon Price) that NYC estimates that they will have 1 million more people living there by 2030. That’s the same number we expect in Metro Vancouver by 2030! Clearly, the impact here will be a much larger transformation. There’s a lot of work to do.
JSK advised: “Leverage the density. Recognize the value of density.”
“People want safe streets (and affordable housing) and are ahead of politicians and the media.”
“Inaction is inexcusable,” JSK said.
“Leaders in the Shadows: The Leadership Qualities of Municipal Chief Administrative Officers” is the title of a recent book by David Siegel, a Professor of Political Science at Brock University. Yes, it’s about city managers – those who stay out of the limelight, but who directly influence the decision-makers, making recommendations that they are then charged with implementing, hence influencing both the inputs and the outcomes. All very ‘Yes, Minister.’
It’s a perfect phrase for those whose names you didn’t read about or may not even know, but who must have influenced the Premier in her decision to announce the building of the Massey Bridge as a done deal, prior to the transit referendum in 2014.
These Leaders in the Shadows have contacts up, down and across the decision-making apparatus, notably those in the Gateway initiatives. They then have to provide the justifications for a policy or project, even if the stated reasons aren’t actually the ones that determined the decision. (Which in the case of Motordom is sometimes just the need to keep feeding the machine with multi-billion-dollar projects on a regular basis. See ‘Sunshine Coast Connector.’)
The Massey Bridge proposal had no relationship (or even mention) in the regional transportation plan, or for that matter in any of the current provincial transportation plans. The previous Minister, Kevin Falcon, had even ruled it out. But the LitS can come up with a new set of justifications. Hey, it solves the worst congestion in the province! Plus whatever other arguments are needed to justify a $4 billion exercise in excess. (Sure, throw in another lane; we can get this sucker up to at least ten.).
So far they’ve been able to avoid having to explain just how the decision-making actually worked and what factors went into the process – or did not. Here’s an obvious one:
Did you take into account the possible impacts of new technologies and new ways people will be using vehicles – whether automated vehicles, car-sharing or Uber-like ride-sharing? If so, do share the results.
With respect to the impact of automated vehicles, we can be pretty sure that no serious work was done, if other jurisdictions are any indication – as noted in this piece from today’s New York Times:
Self-Driving Cars May Get Here Before We’re Ready
Even though fully autonomous cars could be ready for the road within the next decade, only 6 percent of the country’s most populous cities have accounted for them in their long-term plans, according to a study from the National League of Cities, an advocacy and research group. …
Google, Uber, Tesla and a host of automakers have been moving at full speed to develop driverless technologies. Although the federal government has expressed support for autonomous vehicles, it has so far left regulatory decisions to state and local governments.
“Paradoxically, despite a lot of cities’ thinking this technology is coming, very few have started to plan for it,” Mr. Mitchell said.
In the case of Massey we can reasonably conclude that it is being planned in spite of whatever technology might bring or the consequences of road pricing and the ability to regulate traffic volumes through market mechanisms. But shovels have to be in the ground by the time the 2017 election rolls around.
Prediction: the Massey Bridge may be one of the greatest boondoggles in a province that historically has had no shortage of them.
… the biggest winners in Tuesday’s election appear to be Seattle’s urbanists — its advocates for more bicycling, transit and density. Candidates they backed have won or are ahead in every race as ballots continue to be counted.
And the Move Seattle transportation levy they championed is all but certain to pass, as well. …
Cascade Bicycle Club, Seattle Transit Blog, Seattle Bike Blog and Seattle Subway, urbanist-type organizations that endorsed in the council election, are getting their way. No council candidate endorsed by any of those groups is currently losing.
“This election is a huge win,” said Owen Pickford, executive director of The Urbanist, a Seattle-based organization and blog. …
An influential think-tank says Vancouver can’t solve its traffic problems without some kind of road tolling system.
The case for road pricing — in Vancouver this would probably mean a comprehensive system of tolls that go up or down depending on traffic volume — is clear.
What remains muddy, however, is how to overcome a unique obstacle preventing implementation of this sensible solution to Metro Vancouver’s traffic woes.
This obstacle is Premier Christy Clark and her turf war with municipal leaders. Clark holds the hammer in terms of legislative authority and control over revenue, and she uses it to insist — despite counter-productive examples of plebiscites on both the HST and TransLink funding — on holding another vote if/ when the region decides it wants to use tolling as a tool to rein in congestion. …
But how Clark’s own government collects and spends money? On this, the voice of the people matters to her not so much — leaving her free to, among other things, unilaterally decide to spend $3 billion or so to replace the congested Massey Tunnel south of Vancouver with a bridge that may or may not be tolled.
Still, she has no qualms about hobbling municipal leaders by imposing a vote that, history suggests, will be influenced more by strident populism than thoughtful analysis. …
Of course, comprehensive, variable tolling for the region was proposed almost five years ago by a senior group from the Ministry of Transport, TransLink and the cities of Vancouver and Surrey. The regional mayors, who have weak powers to oversee some aspects of TransLink, have renewed this call from time to time.
But Clark keeps saying No — or she sets the bar so high that any proposal is near-certain to fail.
For those of who were following Architect This City during the Gardiner Expressway East debate here in Toronto, you might remember that Darren Davis (transport planner with Auckland Transport) wrote a guest post called, Three minutes that rule the world – Will demolishing the Gardiner East actually make traffic worse?
It was an incredibly popular post at the time, so I’m thrilled that Darren volunteered to do another one on road tolls. This is a topic that I’m very interested in and have written about a few times. Road pricing, as you’ll see below, puts us in a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. But sooner or later I think we will need to get our head around it, as will many other cities.
In a world where time is money, we are constantly berated about the economic costs of congestion. In 2011, the Toronto Board of Trade estimated that congestion in the Toronto region alone cost the regional economy $6 billion a year, rising to an estimated $15 billion in 2031 should no action be taken. More recent research by the CD Howe Institute pegs this figure at up to $11 billion.
Given these sorts of eye-watering figures, one might be tempted to think that car drivers, and in particular the goods industry, would be flinging their wallets open at the chance to buy their way out of congestion. And in fact Toronto has the 407 Express Toll Route which has elements of variable road pricing. However, while the 407 ETR carries around 350,000 vehicles per day, price increases have been matters of controversy. …
Similar stand-alone efforts to address congestion in Metro Vancouver with tolled routes, such as the Port Mann Bridge on the Trans-Canada Highway and the Golden Ears Bridge, have fallen well short of their projected traffic volumes, while nearby untolled bridges such as the Patullo Bridge are heavily congested. We have a similar experience in New Zealand where our two tolls roads, with car tolls of $2 and $2.20 respectively, experience diversion rates of up to 30% to the alternative but substantially longer and slower free routes.
This brings up a fundamental paradox: Congestion costs the economy a fortune and congestion is a top-of-mind frustration, yet people seem reluctant to pay even comparatively small amounts to bypass congestion. …
The very few cities that have actually had significant success at reducing traffic congestion – notably Singapore, London and Stockholm – have done this through cordon-based congestion pricing wherein if you pass the cordon, you pay the congestion charge. … The latest Travel in London report states that “Over the 10-year period from 2003, total trips have increased by 11.4 per cent … Car driver trips decreased by 12.7 per cent over the same period.” …
Stockholm has experienced a permanent reduction in traffic of about 20% across the toll cordon and congestion decreased by 30 – 50% – which demonstrates that traffic volume reductions have a disproportionately positive impact on congestion. About half of the “disappearing” drivers changed to transit, the rest to other alternatives such as different departure times and destinations and taking fewer trips.
For more on Stockholm, I suggest reading the Tools of Change case study on Stockholm Congestion Pricing.
Before and after congestion charge photos of traffic levels in Stockholm
While this sounds very promising, congestion charging has significant equity implications and requires upfront investment to provide people who either choose to or can no longer afford to drive with transportation alternatives. Both Stockholm and London invested very heavily in public transit in advance of implementing congestion charging.
And this brings up a big issue for Toronto.
For congestion charging to have a meaningful impact on congestion without stifling economic activity or impeding people’s ability to move around, the core capacity of Toronto’s transit system would need to be addressed first. In particular the Yonge Line capacity enhancements, Metrolinx’s Regional Express Rail and most likely the Downtown Relief Line would need to be in place to provide both capacity and choice for people who either needed or wanted a travel alternative to any congestion charge. This would mean that Metrolinx’s Big Move might need to get even bigger.
So what is the implication for Vancouver? If road pricing is the logical route to take following the defeat of the referendum, does the defeat of the referendum (and hence the unlikely possibility of expanding the transit system) mean that road pricing cannot be introduced?
” … people get frustrated by traffic congestion, which costs them considerable time and inconvenience. They demand that ‘government’ fix the problem — just don’t raise their taxes. Someone else should pay. When it comes down to forking over their own money, people display a remarkably high tolerance for congestion. If they have to pay for it, they’ll usually opt to plug in their iPod and put up with an extra ten minutes of driving.”
The idea of enticing drivers to use the new Port Mann Bridge is being panned by transportation analysts and critics a day after CTV News learned the crown corporation in charge of bridge tolls is considering an incentive program.
“In this case it looks like we’re going to be in the business of subsidizing sprawl,” said Gordon Price, Director of SFU’s City Program. “In order to feed the bridge, we’re going to give incentives so that people will drive more and further out to cheaper land.”
The idea appears to go against a regional growth plan to make the Lower Mainland a greener, less car-dependent region with multiple options for transportation that include driving, transit, biking and walking.
The Transportation Investment Corp’s vice-president of tolling, Max Logan told CTV News Monday that the crown corporation was considering a frequent flyer-type rewards system for regular bridge users.
“I’m pretty sure that’s the opposite of what we said we wanted to do,” said Price.
New numbers released last week showed Port Mann Traffic has fallen below levels seen before the new crossing was built as drivers opt for the aging Patullo Bridge, which has no toll.
“We’ve got a bill now of $3.6-billion for a bridge that nobody’s using,” said NDP transportation critic Claire Trevena. “They’re using any other option except the Port Mann, so this is something the government has got to find a solution for pretty quickly or else it’ll never pay off this debt.”
According to Price, car use peaked in North America 10 years ago and that wasn’t taken into account when building the new Port Mann, which was overbuilt.
“I think it’s going to be looked upon like the Granville Bridge. It was a huge structure for its time in the 50s but we never needed to build a bridge that wide, that many lanes and we can’t fill it up. Now we can take two lanes out,” he said.
Price fears the same sort of planning is occurring with the 10-lane replacement for the George Massey Tunnel that will not include any major transit improvements, nor does it take into account disruptive change of technology and decreased car ownership.
Regardless of future plans, the government still needs to come up with a plan to recoup the more than $3.6-billion it owes on the Port Mann.
Currently the bridge is losing $80-million per year.
Pete McMartin critiques the PMB in The Sun:
Oops. Another shiny new tolled multibillion-dollar bridge, another fiduciary horror story. The twinned Port Mann is better at racking up debt than traffic. …
Not only are traffic numbers headed in the wrong direction, so is the Port Mann’s indebtedness. The Transportation Investment Corp., the Crown corporation responsible for the bridge’s construction, is projecting a debt of $3.61 billion. That single, singular sum is equivalent to 48 per cent of Trans Link’s entire panoply of transit initiatives that Metro Vancouverites will consider in the upcoming plebiscite.
There are some instructive lessons here to be learned. Some of them can be applied to the plebiscite, which, as I have stated repeatedly, I support. These are:
1. Stuff costs money. Making life easier for cars especially costs money. That’s why the bridge was tolled. But drivers still expect a free ride, as if driving a car was somehow different than any other public utility. Those days are over, or soon will be.
2. We need a comprehensive plan, not stopgap measures like the Port Mann. Tolling, of the pick-and-choose variety we have here in Metro Vancouver, does not work. A more comprehensive strategy, like universal road-pricing, will come eventually, but not in the immediate future.
3. Comprehensive road-pricing is, at the very least, a decade out, and probably more because of the reluctance of our provincial government to embrace it, and because of the costs of megaprojects like the Port Mann, which have to be recovered. That takes time.
4. In the meantime, the Trans Link plan is the best alternative to get us from here to there — that, or we can face growing gridlock as our population explodes in the Metro area. To vote no out of anger with the Trans Link executive or on the misinformed notion that there’s nothing in it for your part of the city or because British Columbians are taxed to death (we aren’t) will only end up costing taxpayers more, not less.
5. The entire predicament we are in, transit-wise, has been engineered by the provincial government, although it likes to pretend it’s had nothing to do with it. It wrested local control of Trans Link away from the municipalities and installed the present governance model; it insisted upon a plebiscite before O King the Trans Link plan; it set the terms of the plebiscite and set the ridiculously short time limit for Metro mayors to come up with a comprehensive 10-year plan; it restricted the forms of revenue production Trans Link could use to fund its plan, refusing to consider road-pricing or other forms of revenue that trespassed on its bottom line; it has refused to campaign for the plan so as to distance itself from a popular tax revolt, à la the HST.
Meanwhile, our premier wants her bridge built to replace the Massey tunnel, without going to plebiscite because, well, she can. Cost? A rumoured $3 billion. Reasoning? Purportedly, to relieve traffic congestion, though, incidentally of course, a bridge will do away with that pesky tunnel, which, once gone, will allow deep-draught oceangoing freighters and tankers up the river for the first time, which will lead to the industrialization of the lower Fraser, which is quite the coincidence, don’t you think? Where will all that uncontested traffic go once it hits the Oak Street Bridge? Good question.
Will it be tolled? Without doubt, since one study showed — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before — an untolled bridge would attract too many commuters looking for a free ride.
By Michael Mui in 24 Hours – curiously, one of the only papers to high-profile this.
The tolled Port Mann Bridge is seeing a decline in the number of drivers using the span as the province holds its breath for traffic volumes to “mature.”
But while government waits, Transportation Investment Corp. — the Crown corporation overseeing the bridge — reports projected debt levels for this year have reached $3.6 billion, and its deficit is expected to reach $459 million by the 2016/17 fiscal year.
Dermod Travis, executive director for Integrity B.C., said it’s taxpayers taking a hit as government waits to receive revenues from the Crown corporation.
“They’re saying the traffic is coming back now that people can see they’re saving so much time — well they’re not coming back because traffic is down in 2014 compared to 2013,” he said.
“They have dampened their goals every year — they’ve increased taxpayer exposure to the bridge.”
The bridge replacement was intended to be funded by public-private partnership, but it was announced in late February 2009 that the province would build the bridge under a fixed-price contract of $2.46 billion.
The project was always going to lose money at the beginning, but the plan was for the debt to be paid off using tolling revenues.
In 2012, according to the B.C. government’s budget and fiscal plan of the time, which details revenues from Crown corporations, the province had anticipated revenue shortfalls of $125 million between 2012/13 and 2014/15, to “reflect operating losses during the construction phase” — expecting those to change to “net income as tolls are introduced.”
But by the time of the 2014 budget and fiscal plan, those forecasts had been significantly changed, now showing a $240-million revenue shortfall for the same years, with more losses predicted ahead.
In the document, government was also less optimistic on when TI Corp. would begin generating net revenues, saying TI Corp. would start turning a profit “as traffic volumes mature.”
But it doesn’t appear traffic volumes are growing. In 2006/07, according to a statement from TI Corp., the average weekly summertime “peak” traffic numbers were around 127,000 vehicles per day.
In August 2013 — the highest average daily figure for that year — traffic volumes were at 112,700 per day. In August 2014, which was also the busiest month that year for Port Mann, the figure fell to 110,600.
TI Corp is blaming transit:
“These volumes are lower than the 2006/7 number because of a number of factors, such as the 2008 recession, drivers avoiding the corridor during construction, as well as the popularity of the new ExpressBus service, which all occurred after the original traffic forecast were developed during the PMH1’s design phase,” reads a statement from TI Corp.
The corporation said a revised forecast has now been developed.
TI Corp. says its new forecast confirms its ability to meet financial obligations without taxpayer support, and expects to pay off its debt by 2050.
And then, in a poll below the article:
As I don’t have to remind PT readers, Sightline was on to this years ago, as part of their “Dude, Where are My Cars” series:
Just one of many examples of ‘Motordom Fail’ in traffic forecasting, documented here.
Motorist response to Port Mann – still current, as the above poll indicates – confirms that tolls create behaviour change. Assumptions about increased convenience and time saved are not a reliable basis for making multi-billion-dollar decisions. And yet, that is exactly what is happening with the Massey Bridge proposal: “B.C. moves forward with bridge to replace Massey Tunnel.”
For Immediate Release
2013PREM0095-001430Sept. 20, 2013
Office of the Premier
Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure
B.C. moves forward with bridge to replace Massey Tunnel
VANCOUVER – Today, Premier Christy Clark announced that the Government of British Columbia will move ahead on the project to replace the George Massey Tunnel, with construction of a new bridge on the existing Highway 99 corridor to begin in 2017.
“We are keeping our promise to replace the George Massey Tunnel and improve the Highway 99 corridor, starting in 2017,” said Premier Christy Clark. “Congestion at the tunnel is frustrating for families and stalling the economy. A new bridge will improve travel times for transit, commuters and commercial users, and open the corridor up to future rapid transit options.”
Consider the double irony here:
(1) Billions will be spent on the bridge – without a vote by those who will be paying for it, most likely by tolls – on the basis that it will address congestion, something that could be done tomorrow by putting a toll on the tunnel and using the revenues to vastly improve transit south of the Fraser, especially in South Surrey.
The first action would, like the Port Mann, reduce existing traffic, possibly enough to mitigate congestion, and the revenues would provide another transportation option that would reduce car traffic even more. And yet, this is considered to be politically impossible, and violates existing provincial policy which requires a free alternative to the tolled project, which then undermines its financial viability.
(2) The requirement for a referendum on transit means, if it fails, that there will be no funding for the “future rapid transit options” that the bridge is being built to accommodate. Why, then, is transit funding not included in the budget of the bridge? And of course, as PT has noted repeatedly and will continue to do so, why is there a vote required for one and not the other? (And why is there still not an answer to that question from the premier?)
Why, in short, do we overbuild road infrastructure and underbuild transit? Why is one guaranteed funding and the other put at risk by the plebiscite requirement? Why is TransLink condemned for incompetency and yet the provincial decision-makers not called for accountability when Motordom Fails on the scale of the Port Mann?
Brisbane planner Greg Vann – home of internationally infamous Clem7 tunnel failure – has been keeping an eye on other expamples, documented in this Streetsblog series.
This is the final piece in a three-part series about privately-financed roads. In the first two parts of this series, we looked at the Indiana Toll Road as an example of the growth in privately financed highways, and how financial firms can turn these assets into profits, even if the road itself is a big money loser. In this piece, we examine the shaky assumptions that toll road investments are based on, and how that is putting the public at risk. …
Given the large sums of money involved, even small errors in traffic projections can result in huge problems down the line — and, as Streetsblog has reported, traffic projections everywhere have tended to be wildly off-target. A whole financing scheme, meant to last for generations, can easily be sunk in just a few years by exaggerated traffic projections. The Indiana Toll Road, purchased in 2006 for $3.8 billion, is a great example. The firm that owned it, ITR Concession Co. LLC, declared bankruptcy in September. …
Randy Salzman, associate editor at Thinking Highways North America, has studied these types of deals for years. He’s never seen a case where a private consulting firm like CDM Smith or AECOM underestimated toll revenues on a privately-financed highway. “If there was honest predicting, some percentage of them would under-predict traffic,” he said. “There would be a bell curve. Instead… what we have is these projections that are always immensely above what the actual traffic is.”
There is ample incentive for these firms to inflate numbers. Firms that predict high levels of traffic attract investment dollars and regulatory approvals, which lead to construction projects, and the same firms often end up directly cashing in. …
Marketed to taxpayers as infrastructure they never have to pay for if they don’t want to, many privately-financed highways are actually bailouts waiting to happen.
Speaking of Brisbane’s Clem7, Peter Berkeley provided this update:
Here’s one for the Department of Irony: Transurban who have purchased the Clem 7 have conducted a survey and found the price is not the overriding factor why people are not using the tunnel. Main reasons are that it is too slow and confusing to use. (Story here.)
Hmm, what was all the rhetoric about travel time savings during the business case and public offering! How many billions did we spend to achieve this magnificent disbenefit? More than $3billion.
I really don’t get people. A cyclists riding through a red light gets more of a pillorying than (the mayor at the time) as had for this monumental F-up. But maybe it matters not about the outcome just than a monument is created in the process.
This really shouldn’t be necessary to post (certainly not to most readers of PT), but apparently it’s needed when those running for office in Vancouver don’t get that trying to reduce congestion by increasing the efficiency of the road network – whether through widening or counterflow lanes – isn’t going to work:
This article from Vox begins with a stunning revelation. Well, it would be if it wasn’t so consistent with the ‘fundamental rule.’
Decades of traffic data across the United States shows that adding new road capacity doesn’t actually improve congestion. The latest example of this is the widening of Los Angeles’ I-405 freeway, which was completed in May after five years of construction and a cost of over $1 billion. “The data shows that traffic is moving slightly slower now on 405 than before the widening,” says Matthew Turner, a Brown University economist. …
He and University of Pennsylvania economist Gilles Duranton call this the “fundamental rule” of road congestion: adding road capacity just increases the total number of miles traveled by all vehicles. …
In an influential 2011 paper, they looked at the total capacity of highways in each metropolitan area in the US and compared it with the total number of vehicle miles traveled.
They found a one-to-one correlation: the more highway capacity a metro area had, the more miles its vehicles traveled on them. A 10 percent increase in capacity, for instance, meant a 10 percent increase in vehicle miles, on average. But that, on its own, wasn’t conclusive. “This could just be telling you that urban planners are smart, and are building roads in places that people want to use them,” Turner says.
So, to try to isolate the effect of building roads, the economists then compared changes in highway capacity between 1983 and 2003 to the changes in vehicle miles traveled. “Again, we saw a direct one-to-one correlation across all cities,” Turner says. This correlation also held up when the economists compared roads within cities: added road capacity consistently led to more driving. Still, even this wasn’t conclusive. It could, after all, simply be a function of planners making good decisions — perfectly anticipating unmet driving demand.
However, if your goal is reducing traffic congestion, this research shows that adding road capacity won’t do it. But there is a way: congestion pricing.
Now that would be a discussion worth having in an election campaign. As far as I know, no party has put it on their platform.
Peter Whitelaw passes this along this piece from the Guardian Australia on the East West Link – “the most contentious, emotionally charged flashpoint in next month’s Victorian election.”
It’s a textbook case on how, after the failure of other road projects like Brisbane’s Clem7 and Sydney’s tunnels, Australian governments seem to have learned nothing, even as the momentum of Motordom overrides evidence and common sense.
… Swirling around the politics, the court challenges and the price tag is a question: is this 18km toll road a good idea? And even if it does have merit, are there better ideas that would ease Melbourne’s gridlock more cheaply?
The expert view is consistent – the East West Link may bring some benefits, but it should not be the top priority for a city expected to be home to nearly 8 million people by mid-century.
All are sceptical of the finances, dismayed by the secrecy surrounding the project, and convinced that the state needs a big shift in thinking if it’s going to cope well with a surging population. They say what’s needed is a tilt towards a mass public transport system.
But experts don’t make decisions. Politicians do, taking into account a range of factors other than expert opinion. …
Those against all new major road projects may not care about the figures one way or the other, but those who follow these things closely say the project is unprecedented for its lack of transparency. …
“Normally we would see more detail, and historically it’s been much clearer on what basis we are proceeding with projects like this,” William McDougall says.
“This is new for Australia,” says John Stone. “The fact that through all these court cases and all this political focus the government has never released its business plan – it released a back of envelope estimate – means probably there’s nothing to back it up. If they had a better number they would have put it out there.”
The government released a 10-page executive summary business case in June last year justifying the project. Included was the benefit cost analysis (BCA) of 1.4, which means that for every dollar invested, there was an expected return of $1.40. That single number isn’t the only reason projects are approved, but it is considered critical in allowing a comparison of projects to ensure public money is well spent.
The government refused to release the full business case for “commercial in confidence” reasons, arguing it would jeopardise its competitive advantage as it sought bidders – that they would up their price if they saw what the government’s projections were.The secrecy goes against the increasing demand to release more information so that Australia’s big expensive infrastructure projects are decided rationally, not politically. Infrastructure Australia wants more transparency, as does the Productivity Commission. …
“The business case does not stack up, of what we know of it, it’s kind of crazy that they get away with it again and again,” March says.As for the 1.4 figure, it was a Senate hearing that prised out the fact that the government had included “wider economic benefits” in its calculations. Without that, the figure would be a less defendable 0.80 – a return of 80c for every dollar spent. So-called “agglomeration benefits” can be slippery, the experts say, and refer to the supposed benefits to business when urban density increases. They’re not settled practice and Infrastructure Australia doesn’t use them. And again, we don’t know the details of what “wider economic benefits” the project took into account, because the government won’t release them. …
The experts, too, know that they’re losing the political argument, at least most of the time. The public is warming to the public transport argument, but governments still love roads. Tony Abbott has prioritised road funding, saying the commonwealth will not fund urban rail.
It’s about money in the end. If Labor wins next month and scraps East West Link – at huge cost – and champions its Melbourne Metro rail, where will the money come from? There will be nothing from Canberra, and state Labor has committed just $300m for planning and design. The projects that get up are funded, and the big ones right now are roads. …
Its rationale may be dubious and the process may have been scandalous. But the money has been raised, the contracts signed and the cost of pulling out would be crippling. If Labor wins the election despite all that, it might be a sign that the public really does want to get serious about public transport. That, as they say, would be a game-changer.
Says Tim Barton:
Wow! $17b. That’s gotta be a few light rails lines worth.It will encourage new trips (induced demand) and clog up the streets at either end. Always dubious of cost benefit analysis based on reducing congestion as well.
Add another one to the list:
In filing for bankruptcy, the company that operates the Indiana Toll Road has reignited an old debate about the controversial privatization of the Toll Road in 2006. …
Debt-ridden ITR Commission Co., a spawn of the Spanish-Australian company Cintra-Macquarie, on Sunday filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Chicago in a prepackaged plan to restructure its approximate $6 billion debt.
The General Assembly narrowly voted for the lease, allowing then-Gov. Mitch Daniels to sign a contract with the company in 2006 to exchange a lump-sum payment of $3.8 billion for a 75-year lease of the road that runs between the Illinois and Ohio state lines.
But the toll revenue failed to meet the company’s expectations, as traffic volume fell short of predictions.
Thanks to Neil21.
Just back from a panel on “Innovative Design and Development for World-Class Roadways for B.C.” (One of several cross-Canada events held by the Transportation Association of Canada to celebrate its centenary).
Some quick notes:
Andrew Coyne’s February 25 lecture, “Easing Congestion in Metro Vancouver: Prices without Subsidies“.
And while we’re here, for your consideration.
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This new online program is designed to help mid-career professionals use next-generation transportation strategies to advance livable and sustainable cities of the future. Program applications are due July 29. Please note a special offering of the first course in the program, Next Generation Cities and Transportation, starts April 15.Certificate Details
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Starts online April 15.
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I wrote the original of this essay back in the 1990s, and then submitted an update to Plan Canada, the magazine of the Canadian Institute of Planners, in 2002. Much to my surprise, and pleasure, it subsequently received the ‘Article of the Year’ award.
While still searchable, it’s likely to disappear unless reprinted – which is the point of including it here.
CANADIAN INSTITUTE OF PLANNERS
2003 Plan Canada Award for Article of the Year
The View from ’56:
by Gordon Price
A few years ago, the Ford Expedition assembling plant in Wayne, Michigan, made more money in after-tax profits than the combined budgets of every municipality in British Columbia. The number of SUVs sold in North America has roughly doubled since 1996, now totalling about four million a year. They are classified as light trucks (in order to drive through various legislative loopholes) and are expected to soon surpass passenger cars as a percent of the market.
If you want to know the future of transportation in North America, start there. That’s where most of the money has gone, and where people’s expectations reside – in big cars on big roads. The future, apparently, is like 1956, only more so.
I choose 1956 for a reason. That was the year American President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act that funded the biggest public-works project in human history. The Interstate Freeway System – over 40,000 miles of superbly engineered roads, criss-crossing the continent many times over – changed everything in its path, from cities and regions to popular culture. They were called ‘freeways’ for a reason: no tolls, no stoplights, no limits.
Canada had a more modest program to build the Trans-Canada Highway. But given the success of the car culture, both countries have embedded in the collective consciousness a set of assumptions, reinforced countless times a day through advertising, that will continue to shape transportation policy and funding priorities in the short-term future.
First assumption: ‘As We Buy More Cars, Government Will Build More Roads.’ It doesn’t matter so much who builds the roads (even if they’re tolled) so long as there’s always the expectation of more asphalt.
At the personal level, when it comes to the purchase and use of vehicles, a second assumption holds sway: ‘There’s Always Room for One More.‘ No one goes into an auto showroom wondering if there’s space out there for one more car, nor would it be acceptable for government to say, hold on, we’re full up. With no upper limit on capacity; it’s effectively infinite. You will rarely get a planner or engineer to tell you what the ultimate capacity of a road system should be; their job is to translate infinity into reality.
Thirdly – and this is the message conveyed in every auto advertisement – ‘The Car Should Never Be Constrained by Other Cars.’ The image of the open road is iconic; free-flowing traffic is assumed to be the natural state of affairs, if only our tax dollars were effectively used for their intended purpose (back to Assumption 1).
France Bula does an even-handed article – How Vancouver’s Olympic Legacy Is Shaping the Future of Transit – for ULI’s UrbanLand magazine here.
Much of the piece is about the legal and financial structure of the Canada Line that was used to transfer risk from the public to private sectors – or at least the justifications used for the P3. Bula sums it up:
Before the project was built, a TransLink subsidiary determined that the public would save C$92 million (US$84 million) overall, compared with the cost of doing the project the traditional way. That assessment, however, is based on assigning $260 million to all those risks InTransitBc was assigned—risks that may or may not actually cost the company real money. Take that risk premium away, and traditional construction penciled out $141 million cheaper.
Matti Siemiatycki, a University of Toronto professor of geography and planning, notes that P3s often appear on paper to be a better value because of these risk premiums. But he says there often are “no publicly available data to determine whether such large premiums are empirically warranted.”
After reviewing “value for money” reports from Vancouver and other Canadian P3s, Siemiatycki concluded that P3s “are an expensive way of delivering infrastructure.” Then again, cost overruns often made traditional projects expensive, too.
TransLink did accept the risk of ridership: if the Canada Line didn’t draw sufficient patronage, it would have to make up payments for the difference. But because of the line’s success, drawing well over 100,ooo passengers per day, that turned out to be a safe bet.
All the more interesting, then, to see how little debate there is over the risk assumed by such motordom projects as the Golden Ears, Port Mann and now the Massey bridges. Even as more data comes in on the drop in driving and the failure of tolled projects to meet their projections (see, again, Clem 7, etc.), the multi-billion dollar projects still keep rolling out.
So here we are: unquestioned success with transit, failure with motordom. And yet, we will be putting transit at risk with the referendum and, if it fails, plowing ahead with more road-and-bridge projects.
Here’s an easy prediction Even if the referendum includes the Pattullo Bridge in its list of projects to be funded – and the initiative is defeated – the bridge will still go ahead.
Regardless of risk, it’s always Motordom by Default.
The SFU City Program, thanks to support from TransLink, is able to offer a first-class line-up of speakers on the highly relevant theme of transportation. Last month was Anne Golden from Toronto. Now up for registration: national columnist Andrew Coyne.
Reserve early – but only if you fully intend to come. Otherwise, others will miss out.
February 25, 7 pm
Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (at SFU Woodwards), 149 West Hastings,
Vancouver Admission is free, but reservations are required. Reserve here.
Andrew Coyne, a national columnist for Postmedia/National Post, will talk about a unified approach to pricing cars and transit.
Transit advocates commonly suppose that subsidizing transit more heavily will induce more people to give up their cars, thus alleviating congestion. The evidence for this is scant, while a better solution is at hand: pricing roads.
Pricing road use is the only effective way to induce people to drive less: indeed, as road use is at present rationed by time rather than money, other proposed methods (wider roads, carpooling, synchronized lights, etc) end up inducing people to drive more, since they reduce the time-price of using the roads.
Put the revenues from road tolls toward subsidizing transit? No: subsidized transit suffers from much the same defects as subsidized roads — both mask the real price of resource use, and both encourage sprawl. Moreover, to the extent subsidies make transit less dependent on riders for revenues, they lessen incentives to innovate and improve service.
Here’s the post in the Sightline Daily that more fully explains Clark Williams-Derry analysis of forecast traffic on the Port Mann Bridge:
I’m old enough to remember the episode of The Simpsons when Homer Simpson, after 22 minutes of serial idiocy, wraps up the show by proudly declaring: “Marge, my friend, I haven’t learned a thing.”
Well, it seems that BC’s transportation officials are now treating The Simpsons as an instruction manual.
As I pointed out a few months back, British Columbia’s transportation planners have long been nursing a delusion that traffic across the Port Mann bridge will magically start to soar any day now … even though actual travel across the span has trended downward for the better part of a decade.
And they’ve apparently done it again:
There are 5,000 to 6,000 fewer cars a day on the bridge, compared to traffic prior to the toll being introduced a year ago, said Todd Stone…”But we expect is that those numbers will bounce back as people really sort it out, and determine: how much is their time worth?”
Revenue forecasts for the next three years are being adjusted to 20 per cent lower than first anticipated: to $144 million for fiscal 2014, $159 million for 2015 and $174 million for 2016.
So revenue is down by 20 percent … but still projected to rise rapidly in the next few years!
Just to be clear, the light blue dotted line may not be perfectly accurate. I haven’t accounted for changes in the mix of motorcycles and heavy trucks, or any shifts in enforcement or other toll revenue. Nor do I know what inflation rate the province is expecting. (I plugged in 2 percent into my estimates.)
Still, I bet that the blue line is pretty close. And if it is, it reveals something truly remarkable: rather than adjusting their their forecasts to match reality, BC’s transportation officials doubled down on projections that have repeatedly been proven wrong.
Marge, they haven’t learned a thing.
What do the revised Port Mann revenue forecasts mean for traffic? Clark Williams-Derry at the Sightline Institute compares past and current projections:
The province is still forecasting that Port Mann traffic will start soaring any day now.
Traffic is assumed to grow in step with reported revenue projections, after adjusting for inflation in toll rates.
Possible sources of error: