The following is Professor Patrick Condon’s response to my post “is speed obsolete?” including many ideas raised in the comments. His reply will make sense only if you have read the original post, and it focuses specifically on the current Broadway transit debate in Vancouver. For a more general presentation of the same views, applicable to any city, see Chapter 2 of his new book Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities (Island Press, 2010). I will do my own post responding to Condon’s views in the next few days, tying the issues back to larger themes that readers in any city will care about. Meanwhile, I’m sure HT readers will join me in expressing appreciation to Prof. Condon for his constructive engagement with the critiques raised by me and by many commenters.
Q, Why bother with trams when buses are just as good?
Well, why not bother with trams, if you can have one for the
same money? On heavily traveled streets in Vancouver, with buses already
at 3 minute headways, we are getting constant pass bys at rush hour.
Ridership on these routes is sufficient to merit switching to tram as
over time they are cheaper. They are certainly easier to ride for the
infirm. And a key motivator is GHG reduction, at least for our design
center. Diesel buses produce a lot of GHG, and the particulates they
spew are very bad for air quality on our crowded arterials. Yes trolley
buses do that too, and ok, lets save the planet with trolley buses.
Fine. Sign me up. But for the same money you can have tram. I will take
Q. But fast transit competes with cars and freeways!
Trams compete with walking and bikes. I would rather compete with freeways!
A. Good point. As i say in our “learning from
Portland publication”, IF we are building a region where we expect the
average trip to continue to get longer and longer then go with skytrain,
by all means. But if, on the other hand, you can put policies in place
that will, over the decades, produce shorter and shorter trips, then
start investing in tram. I am explicit in tying our promotion of trams
to the necessity for more equal distribution of affordable housing and
jobs in the region. But without those shifts in both land use and
transit i fear that our sustainability targets are beyond reach. Most
importantly, reaching our Provincially mandated 80% reduction in GHG
target seems very much out of reach . Again, our centre approaches all
of this not from a “transit” perspective. Rather its from a
“sustainable communities” perspective. This perspective provides a very
different “frame” and a much longer time horizon for our work. But
believe me, working in Vancouver makes a difference. If i was in Houston
i would have a different point of view. Or at least it would be
mitigated to account for the reality of the crushing amount of freeways
characteristic of such places.
Q. Isn’t it “classist” for you to promote slow
transit ? Its easy for you to say, living close to UBC. What about those folks who live 40 KM away in Maple Ridge?
Yes it would be classist if we were saying that the poor should live in
Maple Ridge and the rich close to UBC, but we are not. We are saying
that there can and should be a paired initiative for affordable housing
close to where you want to be, and a reasonably priced transit system
suitable to the needs of the 22nd century. This is not naive. Most UBC
students already live close to the school. This is largely because they
can live in secondary suites scattered throughout the city of Vancouver
at a price of about 500 dollars per bedroom. Not cheap but not out of
Q. Streetcars dont really produce the kind of
investment along corridors that Condon suggests.
A. Trams bythemselves are no silver bullet, agreed. But as part of a vision for a sustainable future they start to make sense. Imagining corridors revitalized that are currently in tough shape, not so much in Vancouver but in other cities in our region and in other parts of North America, makes sense. I explicate this point at sufficient length in chapter two of my new book: Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities.
Q. There is tons of land around the University. Why
not put housing there?
A. Well, they are. The university is
building a ton of new housing in its “University Town” initiative. In
time there will be enough beds to accommodate the majority of students
and staff. Its mostly market housing though so its an admittedly open
question as to whether it will actually be occupied by students and
staff. But the attempt to balance housing with job and student slots is
Q. It makes no sense to have a region of just trams.
People have to make long trips, at least some of the time.
Agreed. I never said, nor do i advocate, regions of just tram transit.
But here in Vancouver, the existing skytrain already provides this
region wide transit function to a large degree, and will do a better job
if and when the Evergreen line connection to Coquitlam town Centre is
built. Also there is commuter rail between downtown Vancouver and
Mission. The question is, when do you acknowledge that a “transit
backbone” system cant serve a very large portion of the population
within walking distance of their homes. At what point do you stop
extending the backbone and do something different. I would argue that
2.8 billion to go to the very tip of a peninsula with no demand beyond
that point other than the fishes is most certainly that point.
Q. Speaking of 2.8 billion. You pulled that number
out of the air to make skytrain look bad, didnt you?
A. I wish i had. That figure is still on the Province of BC.s web site. Go
there and find “transportation plan” for confirmation. At that figure
they can only be imagining deep bore tunnels very far below grade. Its
about 240 million per km.
Q. How can you
believe a guy that misquotes the auditor general’s report?
LRC list i put a number out that was wrong. I corrected that on that
list serve as soon as i was convinced of my mistake and with my regrets.
The information on trip costs per mile and per trip for skytrain found
what should be looked at. I regret the error. You have no idea how much.
I trust that my honest and timely correction is evidence of this good
faith, but am no longer surprised that, after watching US presidential
politics for a lifetime, a gaff is never behind you. How do you spell
potatoe Vice President Quayle?
Q. A hierarchy of service types
that provide a robust network with the base mode of walking (and cycling
too!) should be the framework design, rather than proliferating routes
that want to restore a blip in history when streetcars was the best mode
(1889 to 1919)?”
A. That short time in North America is showing itself
to be a longer time in France, Germany, and the North American
exception Toronto. And I too think the challenge is to find the mode
that can extend the walk trip. I believe it to be tram because you can
afford to get the tram close to almost everyones front door (if regional
densities are over 8 upa double gross density). You cant possibly
capture and extend the walk trip with skytrain. You can only capture the
three part trip: the walk, the bus, and THEN the skytrain.
Q. To do what
Condon suggests would require the deforestation of Pacific Spirit Park.
Where would all those Condos go?
A. In a separate analysis on demographics that can be
found on our Sustainability by Design research page we find that the
city of Vancouver has enough unused capacity on its existing bus route
arterials to add an additional 250,000 units or another half million
people, all without exceeding 4 stories in height. No forests required. http://www.sxd.sala.
Q. Why would
you want people to go slower than they want to? People hate to waste
A. I DONT want that! I want them to go as fast as is
practical, compatible with a host of other balanced objectives. But the
reality of the Broadway line is this. At the most a Skytrain line would
shave 20 minutes off the speed of a tram (assuming more frequent stops,
more mixed traffic, and limited signal priority). At the least it would
shave 10 minutes (assuming widely spaced stops, dedicated lanes and
complete signal priority). The reason for the modest gain is the large
number of stops anticipated for the Skytrain, roughly one per mile on
average. I am all for speed, but not at a rate of 200 million per
minute saved, and not when this expenditure empties the transit coffers
for decades to come.
I appreciate all of
the thoughtful comments and hope that this adds depth to the impression
your readers have of this work.
Patrick M. Condon.
New book: The Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities: http://islandpress.org/
I guess my first issue is with this:
Yes it would be classist if we were saying that the poor should live in Maple Ridge and the rich close to UBC, but we are not. We are saying that there can and should be a paired initiative for affordable housing close to where you want to be, and a reasonably priced transit system suitable to the needs of the 22nd century. … Trams by themselves are no silver bullet, agreed. But as part of a vision for a sustainable future they start to make sense.
Here, Condon seemingly presents a broader program of socio-economic equity as part and parcel of his vision–all well and good. A “paired initiative”. But in the practical advocacy–the actual policies being advanced in the Vancouver situation, don’t include any program of degentrification or of otherwise encouraging additional infill development along transit corridors. The Broadway corridor is already quite dense east of Arbutus, west of there it is dominated by very expensive (and exclusive) housing. It seems to be the consensus that any attempt to change land use patterns in places like Point Grey is a non-starter.
If we are limited in our ability to upzone or to de-gentrify, does it still make sense?
“Argghh…… In my haste on ONE post to our local LRC list i put a number out that was wrong. I corrected that on that list serve as soon as i was convinced of my mistake and with my regrets. The information on trip costs per mile and per trip for skytrain found at http://www.sxd.sala.ubc.ca/8_research.htm are what should be looked at. I regret the error. You have no idea how much. I trust that my honest and timely correction is evidence of this good faith, but am no longer surprised that, after watching US presidential politics for a lifetime, a gaff is never behind you.”
The mistake that Condon refers to is in this local blog:
“The BC auditor general report indicated that the cost per trip on the Canada line was 25 dollars per trip and will stay that way until the bonds are amortized. That line was around half as much on average per kilometer than the 2.8 billion budgeted for the 12 km Broadway project by the Province. Simple math suggests that the cost per trip will be 50 dollars per trip or 100 bucks a day per round trip. Cheaper to buy every student a new condo on campus.”
Well, I’m glad that he admits making a mistake on a public forum, where incorrect, non-verified information can spread quickly as Prof. Condon is a recognized UBC faculty member and people will believe what he says without thinking critically.
Interestingly, there is no retraction/correction from Prof. Condon on the above web forum.
If theres no fast transit for the slow transit to at least feed into, its going to be inconvenient for many, and some of these people will choose to drive. Look at San Francisco, and thats a small city. A London or New York would not be such without rapid transit. Worrying about the GHG emissions of transit riders is nuts when theres still the 90% of the population who dont ride any transit at all.
“the very tip of a peninsula with no demand beyond that point other than the fishes”
Isn’t that the best rather than worst possibility? Great big giant source of demand with nothing whatsoever beyond it? No “empty” units running out in the hinterland where people in their SUVs will gripe that “the thing is empty, no one rides it, it’s a waste of *my* money (which should be spent on more highways and parking)”?
Now I don’t mean mean to be a troll, but this is what Condon’s opinion of Skytrain sounds to me: Skytrain is great, the existing system is necessary and important, and even some extensions would be useful. Just not this one extension that to UBC. Which just so happens to be where Condon lives, practically in his back yard. It all really does have the air of very elaborate, academic way of justifying “Not In My Back Yard”.
On a more positive note, I do agree that streetcars are a good capacity upgrade on streets where buses are running at headways so short that reliability suffers, as seems to be the case in Vancouver. Now that I think about it though, I’m not sure “extending the walking trip” is actually a good idea. The way I see it, there’s two kinds of destinations for trips. There’s the generic kind, such as the local store, the movie theater, the cafe, where you’re likely to pick the nearest one, which will ideally be within walking distance. Then there’s the specific kind, such as your job, a particular specialty store, or the city opera house: something where there’s only one of them in your city (at least for any given purpose). If you’re lucky, it’ll be within walking distance, but that’s just not possible a lot of the time for a lot of reasons. For those, you want an effective transit network. Ideally, such destinations would be clustered around rapid transit, so you’d need to transfer at most once.
He seems to forget too that even with housing policy changes, it’s not always possible for everyone to live really close to work. Many households have two (or more) workers and they have to compromise on a location between the two jobs.
Strange as it may sound, maybe Vancouver needs to look more closely at Houston. They carry 40,000 on a weekday at 25 km/h, stations ~1 km apart, with a right-of-way almost entirely dedicated to light rail. The line is running during weekday daylight hours at 6 minutes apart, double-units at rush hour. The frequency could safely be escalated to 3 minutes. The automobile traffic lights are tightly synchronized with the light rail cars.
Nominally called light rail, this is really an express streetcar. By sacrificing two automobile lanes and cutting out stops every two blocks, Houston has effectively doubled the speed of a traditional streetcar.
Does it have to be a choice between traditional streetcars and rapid transit? Can’t light rail do both?
The image is Main at Cleburne in Houston at just under 60 km/h, the speed limit for all traffic on this street. Is Vancouver willing to entirely sacrifice some automobile lanes for transit and space passenger stops further apart? If so, service will be faster than a traditional streetcar.
A Mezzanine: “Interestingly, there is no retraction/correction from Prof. Condon on the above web forum.”
It probably got deleted from the Livable Blog for being “off topic” (i.e. didn’t adhere to the editor’s bias).
I believe there has been a shift in Prof. Condon’s message since he first published articles a few years back knocking a Broadway subway and SkyTrain extensively.
People in our society seem to attach a greater value to mobility than he gives them credit for, which other professionals like Jarrett picked up on. To me, mobility is equal with local access in priority, and a balance needs to be struck between the two, especially in established neighbourhoods with a tremendous volume of commuters.
I do sincerely appreciate Prof. Condon’s views and research on sustainable cities, notably housing, design charrettes and energy conservation, as well as his willingness to engage in democratic debate about his published works, but I also reserve the right to vehemently disagree with his idea that trams or dedicated light rail specifically on Broadway is the best solution.
This idea — as he readily says it now — applies just as much to other arterials and cities. THAT I can agree with, especially in Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island communities from a local perspective.
His parting comment: “I am all for speed, but not at a rate of 200 million per minute saved, and not when this expenditure empties the transit coffers for decades to come.”
The transit coffers have always been and continue to suffer from a shameful and deep emptiness. I don’t have the numbers, but I sense that though the per capita transit expenditures in Vancouver may be slightly higher than the North American average, they would probably pale next to the per capita expenditures of the average European or Asian city.
It is a pitiful and demeaning act for transit advocates to fight amongst themselve for crumbs. Divided we fall, folks, and we get what we pay for.
Note how he completely ignores the facts that Portland light rail has nearly double the per-rider construction costs of Skytrain and that Portland has three times Vancouver’s per capita GHG emissions. I guess he couldn’t think of a way to pretend the numbers were different.
@ Mike Harrington.
That’s a cool Houston streetcar, but the road doesn’t remotely resemble Vancouver’s Central Broadway which is packed with 25-storey commercial/retail office towers, high density low and mid-rise residential development, and with a very dense pattern of signalized cross streets (every intersection in CB).
Engineer Scotty commented on the “lower” density West Side of Vancouver. Well, West Kitsilano is primarily multi-family with large houses carved up into three or four suites. Point Grey also has an inordinate number of secondary suites.
There is also a relevant policy that allows infill where small cottages are built in the back yards of primarily large corner lots with large strata’d houses. We now just recently allow small lane houses to be built in the space currently occupied by backyard garages of every standard lot. Lane houses cannot be sold or subdivided from the lot, just rented.
These policies have and will contribute much to increasing density in a city that has almost run out of land (without filling in the sea) while maintaining neighbourhood character. In effect, much of West Broadway and 10th Ave already has the human scaled urbanism that Prof. Condon promotes, while also possesing a higher density than at first glance.
Don’t be so sure about it. European and Asian cities by and large have lower per-rider subway construction costs than Canadian cities, which in turn have lower costs than US cities.
Well said. By continuing the transit wars, Condon is really not doing the city and the region a favour. The reality is that we need both SkyTrain expansion and streetcars. But as long as some people insist everything has to be one form of transit and continue the battle, we really won’t get anywhere. People need to work together and convince the Province to provide more funding for all forms of transit.
The problem with per-rider stats, Alon, is that they depend greatly on the presence of competing infrastructure (freeways), other existing land-use patterns, and existing cultural attitudes towards transit. The logical conclusion to the line of argument you seem to be espousing is that we should essentially give up on cities (including places like Portland, which do have a significant urbanist consensus in the inner city) which nonetheless have pre-existing freeway networks, sprawl, and extensive car culture. Which, unfortunately, sounds a lot like the arguments that Cox and O’Toole like to make–much of the US is a lost cause, so we should just give up, regardless of the environmental consequences or costs should petroleum get Real Expensive.
I’m pretty sure that ISN’T the argument you intend.
The reason that Vancouver ought not look to Portland isn’t due to a particular failing of Portland’s transit infrastructure. Portland Streetcar is inconsequential as an overall piece of the puzzle, and MAX doesn’t really resemble either SkyTrain or the sort of surface rail network Condon envisions. Vancouver should not look to Portland because the land use and cultural contexts are different–and a step in the wrong direction.
Vancouver should be instead looking to places like Hong Kong–and for the past twenty-odd years, it has been. Condon seems to want to reverse this trend; however–the backbone of Hong Kong’s transit system is a grade-separated metro system and an extensive bus network–not surface rail. Which sounds a lot like Vancouver, but on a larger and denser scale.
Surface rail, as Condon proposes, would be a step back in a place as dense as Hong Kong. The historic trolley that putt-putts down Queensway does a yeoman’s job, but is strictly a legacy system, and modern light rail is only found in the lower-density New Territories. The idea of new surface rail in Wan Chai or Kowloon would be laughed at if proposed–it would be too disruptive of the existing urban fabric to be even worth considering.
Portland might well look to Vancouver, I agree–but even then, the context is different. Too many trips are easily made by car here; which is a big reason why the transit system we do have is so downtown-focused–outside of places like the airport and a few college campuses; downtown is the only place in town where parking is inconvenient and/or expensive–and even then, it’s cheap compared to many places, as Jarrett noted a while back.
I don’t disagree with Condon’s idea that “everything” should be located within your neighborhood. That should be the first step of transit/planning. But ultimately transit needs to go outside of any given neighborhood and when it does, it should go towards the fastest and most reliable system for the best use of money.
That’s usually anything but a streetcar system.
“The information on trip costs per mile and per trip for skytrain found at http://www.sxd.sala.ubc.ca/8_research.htm are what should be looked at. ”
Clicking on the link, it just takes you to a page of different studies.
I assume he is referring to this study:
I still think that he is making the “skytrain isn’t as cost-effective because it’s not full” argument (Figure 10 on page 4 of the PDF). And looking at his conclusions he finds that a prius is more cost-effective than a diesel bus, which I find hard to believe except for the most narrowly defined situations.
And this is what I find most frustrating about Prof. Condon – he has an good idea, (human-scaled neighbourhoods with good access is important long-term) with a contensious idea (trams are key to this and skytrain detrimental) and cherry-picks ideas that support his point and tends to disregard others, even to the point where these supporting ideas contradict each other. Condon’s approach leads to no middle ground and invites polarization. Look at this quote below, posted in its entirety:
“Well, why not bother with trams, if you can have one for the same money? On heavily traveled streets in vancouver, with buses already at 3 minute headways, we are getting constant pass bys at rush hour. Ridership on these routes is sufficient to merit switching to tram as over time they are cheaper. They are certainly easier to ride for the infirm. And a key motivator is GHG reduciton, at least for our design center. Diesel buses produce a lot of GHG, and the particulates they spew are very bad for air quality on our crowded arterials. Yes trolley buses do that too, and ok, lets save the planet with trolley buses. Fine. Sign me up. But for the same money you can have tram. I will take tram.”
Trams costing the same as trolley buses, where we have to install tram infrastructure and have existing trolley infrastructure? GHG reduction and being lower cost not being in conflict? Minimizing the role trolleys have in vancouver? I’m sure happy that Prof. Condon thinks that we can “save the planet with trolley buses”…. 🙁
I’m not sure that the idea that “everything” should be located within your neighbourhood is even a good idea from an environmental point of view. Definitely is a good idea for stores and services that most people use everyday but what about more specialized goods and services that only a few people use everyday or that everyone uses once and a while. It maybe more efficient to have them centrally located.
Also, back in the heyday of the streetcar, fewer households had 2 people who worked outside of the home. Now with everyone working and jobs being often more specialized, the chances of two people finding good jobs in their own local neighborhood is small meaning that one person has to commute somewhere else. Also, it is common for one person to be working and another going to school. What are they supposed to do? Have one person move out and live on campus? How sustainable is that?
It is also probably better for the reduction of GHG emissions that children live with their parents rather than get places of their own. It is much more energy efficient to have more people living in a household. People living in suites in households throughout the region when they are going to school is likely preferable to building a bunch of new housing on campus for them (helps people pay the mortgage as well). Again, this likely uses less energy and resources even if a subway is built to help them get to UBC.
If Condon actually did some real peer reviewed research of cities around the world to support his theories, that would be great. Until I see some real evidence that what he is proposing actually has a chance of decreasing driving and total GHG emissions, I remain very skeptical.
Providing slow streetcars I suspect is a great strategy to increase cycling in the city. Just watch out for the tracks.
‘The question is, when do you acknowledge that a “transit backbone” system cant serve a very large portion of the population within walking distance of their homes. At what point do you stop extending the backbone and do something different.’
Well, I’m all for that! That makes perfect sense, of course.
Since most of the US is missing the transit backbones, we are understandably eager to get them.
In NYC, on the other hand, trams make perfect sense, because apart from a couple of sections (Second Avenue) sufficient backbones are there (and substantial) but the local distributor buses are simply painful.
Toronto is an example where the subway backbones are there, the locals downtown are there, but the locals for the slightly more spread out suburban areas are missing. Which is why Transit City is such a well-balanced plan.
Good comments, Alon + Engineer Scotty. I need to roll them around in my head a bit (per-capita vs per-rider transit infrastructure costs).
While my head’s rattling, I’m wondering about the “cupboard is bare, don’t eat anything but the crust” extension of Condon’s thoughts on the ‘unaffordability’ of a subway vs trams. In Canada we have an aversion to private sector ownership of public services, probably validly due to bad experiences with privatization being used as an ideological club against public services in the 80s and 90s. Even the Canada Line maintained a healthy proportion of public funding while courting private investment in design, construction and operations for 30 years, recouped through fares, topped up by TransLink to a negotiated level when required.
But Hong Kong’s subway system is at least quasi-private, isn’t it? And I’ve read it’s completely self-funding primarily through development rights at stations. This door was opened to TransLink by the province, probably not because they believe in it, at least to the extent they are stingy. But it does involve third party money and stimulates the construction economy.
However, do we in Vancouver want to entertain HK densities yet? It certainly blows to bits human-scaled urbanism. So, perhaps development rights near stations could be explored by TransLink on a limited and controlled basis, and a reasonable levy could be applied to the floor area of offices and residential located within, say, 300 m of stations ($10/m2/yr?). Said condos could still be priced lower than average if there was a policy to eliminate the 1.2 parking stall per condo requirement for a portion of new developments within the 300 m radius.
Just food for thought.
Anyway, from what I can tell of Vancouver, the western SkyTrain extension down Broadway is appropriately dense for SkyTrain.
Where do we stop with extending the backbone? Right there. That is the last dense area of Vancouver which is notably unserved by a “backbone”. After that SkyTrain extension it’s time for a streetcar network. (Don’t make Toronto’s mistake where practically EVERYONE advocates for MORE SUBWAYS into suburban, rural, exurban areas, despite the sheer insanity of it).
I won’t bother to comment about the Professor’s “ideal world” and his fond for trams. Not everyone like “trams” though, I have lived in a city with slow-as-walk traditional tram and slow-as-bike modern LRT, both systems combined have 10+ times ridership over the Portland one. To study realistic performance of trams/LRT, I always think you have to go to bigger city to learn.
Here I do want to give two real-life sample of facts in Vancouver transit:
1. Translink just announced that the Cambie Street bus (#15) will get further service cut soon because of the empirical fact it lost much ridership to Canada Line. A solid proof that residents do want to reach the destination fast, even if it means that they have to walk further to a station!
2. Last Tuesday (April 27), there was a car crash at the intersection of Victoria Drive and 49th Ave, with one car crashed into Royal Bank. You get the idea it is pretty bad crash with lots of emergency vehicles blocked the intersection. Both north-south #20 and east-west #49, two of the top 10 bus routes in Vancouver, could de-tour easily, although with the traffic backup there was few minutes unavoidable delay. I can’t imagine how the bigger-size trams with fixed guideway can de-tour that readily.
I’ve been reading this exchange of ideas between Jarrett and Prof. Condon and have found it extremely interesting. I want to thank both of them for sharing the discussion. I’m especially impressed by the professionalism of the exchanges here, both by the principals and especially by the commenters. It’s so refreshing to be able to peruse an intelligent exchange of ideas without having to descend into the usual name-calling antics that so characterize so many “neighborhoods” on the Internet.
I appreciate Prof. Condon’s point of view, and during my youth I lived in central Toronto (on Jarvis and on Wellesley Streets) and experienced first-hand the benefits of their multi-tiered bus, streetcar and subway system. Each tier is well suited to meet particular needs.
But I’m a proponent of extending Skytrain’s Millenium line to at least Arbutus because I strongly feel that the Broadway Corridor IS a backbone. It hosts by far the region’s largest medical district and is anchored at the west end by the University. Both of these are REGIONAL assets which CANNOT be replicated in every neighborhood area of the city. By their very nature they require a strong, fast transit connection to the whole of Greater Vancouver, and in my view a grade-separated rapid transit system is the only solution that can meet these needs over the near to long term.
There ARE areas in Vancouver where Prof. Condon’s ideas could be applied to great benefit. But IMHO Broadway is most certainly NOT one of them.
The idea that “everything” should be located within your neighbourhood is a really bad one, when you start thinking outside upper middle class white males (such as Condon). Now, if you happen to be of a different ethnicity, it’s likely that you like that ethnicity’s food, and would like easy access to stores and restaurants of that ethnicity. That’s why you get ethnic neighborhoods: it’s convenient, and with good transportation, it doesn’t matter as much where you work. But without easy access to good transportation, it gets harder to access jobs outside, and you get a much more homogeneous self contained neighborhood where people rarely leave: a ghetto.
Thanks to Prof Condon for his comments. I found solace in the big flaming IF in the second answer in his self-interview. The broader more theoretical problems of his plan are diminished if he wants to make trips short first, then serve them with streetcars.
I found more conciliatory talk regarding rapid transit in this iteration. I still don’t like his plan, but at least I don’t think he’s an idiot any more.
Meanwhile, I have an article on PRT on my blog that i am shamelessly plugging: http://thomasthethinkengine.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/car-future-part-iii-personal-rapid-transit/
Commentary on PRT, pro or con, is probably best left out of this thread.
Sorry for beating a dead horse, but this has been bugging me all day:
“Argghh…… In my haste on ONE post to our local LRC list i put a number out that was wrong. I corrected that on that list serve as soon as i was convinced of my mistake and with my regrets.”
This also incorrect. He actually made 2 posts a day apart that espoused mistaken info as fact:
Post 1 on 17/4/10, 0855:
“The BC auditor general recently reviewed the Canada line finances and determined that the cost per ride on that line was roughly 25 dollars per ride. This cost would not change appreciably for 30 years. Most of the cost was a consequence of amortizing the billion plus cost of the line….But using simple math, and the methodology used by the auditor general, it seems likely that the cost per ride on a deep bore skytrain/subway system out to UBC would be between 40 and 60 dollars a ride. ”
Post 2 on 18/4/10 at 1946
“The BC auditor general report indicated that the cost per trip on the Canada line was 25 dollars per trip and will stay that way until the bonds are amortized. ”
It seems like small stuff, but it’s small things like this that drive me crazy in his assumed role as public advocate. He seemed to be confident of his info in his first post, enough so that he re-iterated it on a second post.
“In a separate analysis on demographics that can be found on our Sustainability by Design research page we find that the city of Vancouver has enough unused capacity on its existing bus route arterials to add an additional 250,000 units or another half million people, all without exceeding 4 stories in height.”
The problem is that very few people want to live along a noisy arterial. In spite of all this development potential and Vancouver being a real estate boom, there are relatively few of these types of developments in Vancouver.
The most successful commercial areas in Vancouver have one story commercial buildings along the arterial and higher density housing off the arterials. The advantage is that the streets are bright and sunny because they are not shaded by tall buildings. As well, businesses are allowed to paint and decorate the buildings as they feel fit. This creates a colorful, interesting street environment with lots of people walking on the sidewalks. In places where there are taller newer buildings, they often have dull boring frontages that don’t age as well. These streets tend to be much less lively.
I think that the model of stringing areas with old shopping centres and strip malls with rapid transit and then redeveloping these parking lots and cheap buildings into mixed use neighbourhoods works better than Condon’s model
I also suspect that if you dump half a million new residents onto the main bus routes, the bus system wouldn’t be able to cope with the influx of ridership, and a streetcar likely wouldn’t either. Large segments of Manhattan, and pretty much all of the outer boroughs in NYC are built with a similar height, and they have plenty of grade separated rapid transit.
Jeffrey Wood (www.theoverheadwire.com) submitted this comment:
If I may take this in a different direction, a major issue here is also the stop spacing of the rapid transit. While the Skytrain on Broadway might have 8 stops in 8 miles, a streetcar with quarter mile spacing has 32. That is 24 more chances to have your building closer to a station and that people will be able to hop off a vehicle and access your store or condo development of even single family home. I think something missing from this discussion to a certain extent is travel sheds and markets as well as what the stop locations mean to developers. For example, If you’re on a corridor where there is a store you want to access that is halfway between two skytrain stations and you live halfway between two skytrain stations but the distance is only 2 miles, you’re likely to take that more local transit. If you’re a developer, you’re not going to be able to get the reduced parking ratios further away from the station because the planners tiered it as a distance from the station.
This regional versus local seems a bit silly to me as there are going to be a number of different travel markets on any given major corridor that are going to necessitate a number of different modes. For example, places like Market Street in San Francisco have three different rail modes serving the same street. But two of them are rapid transit and one is the local streetcar. The local streetcar serves more of upper market and the points people want to get to between stops. That’s why you see the F Line well used from the Castro. The fact that it comes often enough to be useful is helpful, making it seem like the basic argument is that we are underserving and underinvesting in our major travel corridors in such a way that we’re having this argument.
Finally, on Houston and Phoenix, the reason those lines work relatively well in low density cities is that they are not low density lines. They actually connect the densest employment centers in the region with Houston serving way over 200,000 jobs (doesn’t include students) in just a seven mile stretch. In actuality, the largest driver of rapid transit success is actually not residential density, but employment density along the line.
— Jeff Wood, http://www.TheOverheadWire.com
“On heavily traveled streets in vancouver, with buses already at 3 minute headways, we are getting constant pass bys at rush hour”
That is a reason to have trams – when buses simply don’t have the capacity. A tram route with five minute headways can carry more people per hour than a bus on three minute headways, and be substantially cheaper to operate as well.
Comparing trams and skytrain makes as much sense as comparing buses and skytrain.
“I am all for speed, but not at a rate of 200 million per minute saved”
200 million per minute, for 150,000 riders a day? That sounds pretty good. The infrastructure will last 50 (trains, rails) to 100 (tunnels, right-of-way) years. Let’s use 50. Also, I will divide total riders by 3, assuming that the average ride will be half the length of the Skytrain extension, and use 300 days for the year, assuming lower ridership on weekends:
200 million / ((150,000 /2) * 250 * 50) = 18 cents per minute saved.
Is your time worth 18 cents per minute? If you value your time at 11 dollars or more per hour, it is.
So, Skytrain is cost-effective versus tram/streetcar, merely based on minutes saved per rider over the life of the infrastructure.
Maybe these views of Houston are more like the density of Central Broadway in Vancouver:
Downtown, Main @ Commerce about 10:00 AM on a weekday:
Fannin going under Holcombe, in the Texas Medical Center. About 1:00 PM on a winter weekday:
Fannin @ Dryden, afternoon rush hour, medical center:
This, along with more door space and more floor space due to the lack of bus wheel hubs, is why light rail can handle loads that would swamp a bus:
Houston actually has four high-density areas: downtown, Greenway Plaza, the Galleria and the Texas Medical Center. Eventually, light rail will serve all of them.
The existing line is 70% low-density and 30% high-density. Since the medical center and downtown are separated by 7km, rush hour loads are fairly balanced in both directions.
I am a former Vancouver resident that still returns a couple of times a year. I can’t offer anything new to the discussion, but am impressed with the civility on the forum. While disagree with many of the ideas Professor Condon presents (at least for the real world)I am pleased that he was willing to post/defend his ideas on this site (where I am sure he knew his ideas would be challenged). Also for the record I agree with what seems to be the majority on this board that anything other than grade seperated rapid transit in the Broadway coridor is moronic….and it probably should be a subsurface continuation of the existing Skytrain line…at least as far as Arbutus.
@ Mike Harrington…. yes, the first photo is especially like Central Broadway, perhaps slightly denser. Thanks for that. Good photos, BTW, and the landscaped median makes a difference.
Clearly a tram service would fit on the 30m (99 foot) Broadway road allowance, and I don’t have a problem at all with removing car traffic, especially SOVs.
However, the main issues to me are quality and frequency of service, and safety at crossings. Good urbanism is also important, but neither trams or subways or BRT can guarantee that without a concurrent planning effort. Those who advocate a tram service are leaning more toward slower speeds, although the trains can scoop up hundreds in each sweep.
Broadway is a corridor with regional significance, and is just waiting for the gap to be closed with the existing regional SkyTrain service (Millennium Line), which moves at 80 kph (50 mph) between stations.
There is no way you can move as many people as fast on a busy corridor without grade separation. For light rail advocates to suggest you can acheive such speed in a dedicated median is ignoring the pedestrian traffic at each intersection and putting them in danger where crossings do occur.
Moreover, Broadway is an important commercial truck route with no nearby parallel alternatives. Removing traffic lanes could be done by using the outside parking lanes to create curb bump outs and mid-block cross walks, therein increasing the pedestrian realm while also permitting four midle lanes of traffic to remain open for commercial use — entirely possible with a subway, but not with a surface tram in its own median.
@ Rico. I second your motion on the civility of this and other debates on this blog. Thanks to Jarrett.
While it would be nice to be able to afford a feeder streetcar netowrk layered over top of a SkyTrain line to UBC (akin to SF’s Market Street), that’s not financially feasible for Vnacouver.
That said, TransLink solves that issue for the Canada Line by running a local bus on Cambie Street over top of the line providing local service for those who cannot or don’t want to walk the distance to the nearest station. The same would be true for SkyTrain along the Broadway corridor. In fact, the existing 99 B-Line express bus service has limited stop service with stop spacing similar to station spacing for a SkyTrain Line.
^ As I mentioned, the Cambie Street local bus now has very poor ridership, despite its 12-15 minutes daytime frequency. It is not uncommon to see less than 10 people on #15 outside of rush hour. Translink decided that its service can be further cut to free up buses to service other much need routes.
The same thing will happen to Broadway if a much faster alternative (light metro/Skytrain) is built. #9 trolley buses can be mostly freed up to service other routes. Currently hundreds (perhaps thousands) of customers are forced to take the slower #9 when 99-b express is too crowded or “passup”.
I can firmly state from my observation that most Vancouver transit riders has a big-city mindset: they want fast commute, not a slow one so that they can do “window-shopping” while riding.
@ Jeffrey Wood:
“That is 24 more chances to have your building closer to a station and that people will be able to hop off a vehicle and access your store or condo development of even single family home. I think something missing from this discussion to a certain extent is travel sheds and markets as well as what the stop locations mean to developers”
Not to be too cynical, but a streetcar with that many stops in a given distance is 24 more reasons (for me at least) to walk instead of taking the streetcar in the first place. Good urbanism always promotes pedestrianism first, and if we’re quibbling over getting off basically to your destination every time (vs. a decent walk), then we’re missing the point of urbansim in the first place.
To make an overtly extreme point, if more stops are better (I’m not exactly saying that’s what you think, just playing the other side of the issue), then why not 48 stops? Certainly you’re basing your criteria for stop-spacing based off of a 1/4 mile shed which is standard, but nonetheless I had to make the point.
Also, a very fast transit option of a grade separated system with 8 stops with a decent walk mixed in to your destination is still going to be faster than a slow, slow, slow streetcar line with many stops, high headways, and still a small walk to your destination to top it off.
Anyways, someone could probably still take a local bus stop to get closer to their destination if they got off on one of the 8 (very fast and reliable headways) stops.
Humans are a species of convenience, and we will never be able to engineer around that fact.
And further to your point, is that streetcars were rapid transit in the period Condon describes in his book. They enabled people to live in sprawling houses in land that used to be forest or farm. If it weren’t for the streetcar back then, people would have lived in denser walkable areas closer to downtown.
It is truly puzzling why he chose to evoke the streetcar days of old in making his argument for slow transportation.
EngineerScotty: yes, competing infrastructure has a lot to do with it. But it’s not everything. Toronto has a large network of freeways, but its budget and ridership projections for Transit City are in the $10,000/rider range.
Culture is nearly irrelevant. Political and business cultures sometimes matter, but they’re both reformable. Calgary didn’t seem like a place where you’d get a consensus for transit until it went ahead and built the C-Train. (Why it isn’t trying to export its construction techniques to other cities I’m not entirely sure… it would provide it with a nice hedge against environmental legislation restricting tar sand development.)
Cost per rider is really two different metrics – cost per km, and ridership per km. In both cases, most of it isn’t culture, but local planning issues. In particular:
1. The lack of political consensus around transit means that it’s impossible to implement parking restrictions or toll the freeways.
2. For similar political reasons, there is little upzoning around stations. Usually the main driving force behind TOD is developer interests, which maximize profits instead of transit utility.
3. FRA regulations make it impossible to run modern commuter rail, which is surprisingly cheap to build. This forces cities to build light rail or subway tracks in highway medians for suburban service, leading to disasters like the outer reaches of BART.
4. Lack of forethought means that cities acquire ROW late in the planning stage, when it’s more expensive.
5. Transit scheduling doesn’t always optimize ridership. For example, the US is more averse than Canada to reducing buses to the role of rail feeder service. The notion of a one-seat ride to everywhere really hurts ridership.
6. Work rules force really high construction costs in legacy transit cities, which are the only places in the US that are dense enough for problem #2 not to apply as much.
I believe that the most brutal reasons for the failure of American light rail are 2 and 6, but I’m not completely sure.
The reason Cox and O’Toole are so wrong is not that they criticize transit construction. It’s that they on the one hand say transit won’t work because density is too low, and on the other hand lobby for government regulations restricting density. There’s a big difference between proposing to fix problems and proposing to make them worse.
I really shouldn’t be commenting this late at night now that I’m away on conference… But I have one more thing to say. The Hong Kong MTR is private and has real estate dealings, but there’s more to it than that. It was public for decades, and was only privatized in 2000. And while it makes a profit on real estate dealings, most of its revenue and profits come from transportation services. It’s not using real estate development to subsidize transportation, but to create demand for it.
There are often good reasons to privatize transit, but in reality public companies can be remarkably competent in construction. Conversely, private companies can suck when their incentives aren’t aligned with good transit service. You’d much rather have your transit system run by Toei than by Veolia.
It may be that several levels of rail services are not financially feasible, but I’m not sure about this.
Stations for underground rapid transit tend to be extremely expensive. This is especially the case for deep bore. Might it be possible in given cases to build less stations and use the money to add surface rail as well? If you only have rapid rail, you will often end up adding more stations than is really necessary for fast trips. If costs for surface rail could be kept under control, these might actually cover the costs.
Where I come from we can build 2 to 5 km of surface rail for the cost of one underground station. If we can for example take the station spacing from 1 km to 2 km for the undeground, this will cover the costs of the surface rail. This is a bit extreme though, but a believe that in certain cases the equation can work and actually optimize both systems. Especially if you can set up the rapid and surface systems to complement each other for connectivity as well.
As examples of such dual solutions from Europe I would offer Prague (http://www.dpp.cz/download-file/3136/Metro+tram_den_new20100307optimal.pdf) and Warsaw (http://beta.um.warszawa.pl/sites/default/files/attach/aktualnosci/Zdazysz_transport_szynowy_mapa.pdf). Note that Warsaw only has one rapid metro line and some local rail built so far although the trams are quite fast there too.
Prague and Warsaw actually has shorter interstations than Vancouver – 1.1 and 1.15 km versus 1.5 km.
Very glad to see this post, but a few areas were missed.
His comment on speed gains by skytrain over a tram being just 10-20 minutes doesn’t take into account transfer penalties or frequencies, which would be far lower with a tram service compared to skytrain, especially in the evening, as our friendly host on this site has elaborated on many occasions. That is hugely important and Mr. Condon didn’t address that point. Although I thank him for his discussion on the other points, I would like to see him talk about that point specifically, because I think it’s a huge omission in his response.
Also, I find it ridiculous that he could at least appear to support the skytrain technology in for the Evergreen Line corridor and not the Broadway Corridor, especially when the Broadway corridor would carry far more people and is far more integral to cross-regional trips and connecting our somewhat fragmented transit system. If I misinterpreted him, please I would like to hear, but I find that very bizarre. There would be much more than fishes riding a skytrain system to UBC.
He also didn’t address capacity. I would like to hear his thoughts on that point as well, if possible.
Admittedly I haven’t read through all the comments yet, and will have to do that to see if these points were already raised or addressed.
I'm not sure Prof. Condon endorsed the Evergreen Line so much as accepted its inevitability. But I should clarify that in follow-on conversations with me, Prof. Condon agreed that extension of the Millennium+Evergreen Line to touch the Canada Line is a project he would support, in the interests of making the most of the existing investment.
Lauri: few things to keep in mind about Prague:
* it’s urban core is pretty compact, so short stop spacing of Metro and fairly slow trams and buses make sense there. Sprawling suburbs are served by commuter rail or suburban buses
* the trams have been operating continuously since 1875 without any massive ripping of tracks, so extensions dont’t have to be built quickly, they can be prioritized to corridors where buses run at capacity or are slowed down by traffic
* the metro was built since late 1960’s to mitigate tram congestion in the city center
* metro planning and construction was severely impaired by mayor Bém in last decade, late extensions of Metro C didn’t lower operating costs by making most of connecting surface transit redundant and ongoing extension of line A will be even worse, having no real benefit (like capacity upgrade and time and operation cost savings), it will only partially “fulfill” mayor Bém’s pre-election promises
* heavy rail has only been used for transit since 1990’s and there simply isn’t infrastructure that would allow it to work as a rapid transit
On any given street you will have a certain number of lanes in each direction. Whether there are 1,2,3 lanes. Someones the curb lane is parking all day long. Other times during certain times of the day you can’t park in the curb lane it then becomes a through lane.
Now if your build a tram system. You have to take up one of those lanes for the tram. And that would be a permanent removal of a lane.
So instead of building a tram. Why not just ban parking 24/7 in the curb lane and run only buses on that lane. Of course you’d have the whole where are people going to park their cars. Which makes no sense because if a tram is built you most likely are going to loose that parking anyways.
So in the case of Broadway. I’d say build the skytrain out to UBC. See what ridership is like on the local trolley bus route #9. It most likely will loose ridership as evident of what happened to the #15 on Cambie with the Canada Line. But if in the future the #9 really starts to gain ridership because more people are doing more local trips along Broadway. Then at that point make the curb lane a 24/7 bus only lane. It would be no different than having a tram.
I question some of the numbers related to Skytrain in the follow paper
It is stated that Skytrain capital costs are $2.34 per passenger-mile and that the average passenger travels 4.7 miles. Let’s apply this to the Canada Line. There are approximately 100000 boardings per weekday. There are probably fewer boardings on weekends and holidays. Let’s estimate 30million boardings per year. I multiply 30 million * 4.7 miles * 2.34 per passenger mile, to get about $330 million. The system cost $2 billion, which means the capital cost number doesn’t make sense unless the amortization period is low or the interest rate is high. What interest rate is assumed in his calculations? What amortization period? What capital cost? What ridership assumptions?
Using a capital cost of $2 billion, a 7.5% interest rate, a 30 year amortization period, and a mortgage calculator, I find that the annual capital cost is $168 million or half of that above. This implies a capital cost per passenger mile of $1.19. When combined with the operating cost of $0.29 per passenger mile yields a total cost of $1.48 per passenger mile. This number is less than the total costs of other modes listed in Figures 20 and 21, except tram and prius.
Note the paper’s results are in USD$. I have assumed an exchange rate 1 USD = 1 CAD. On average the CAD has been below par, so the capital cost calculated above should be less than $1.19, when expressed in USD.
As you can see from my own calculation, the precise assumptions can have a significant effect on the final results. We need to see the assumptions used in the paper before we can truly believe the conclusions.
First, I’d like to thank Professor Condon for taking the time to respond to these comments. It allows him to explain his rational in far greater detail than before.
It seems that Professor Condon’s focus is on intensifying density, thus the need for speed is less important. This is something I think we can all agree on.
Later he mentions that Skytrain already meets Vancouver’s regional needs – well last time I checked, it doesn’t meet the need to get to the university! Post secondary institutions make excellent transit destinations since not only do you have a large number of people concentrating to a single area, but a large percentage of these people have limited, if any, access to a car. If rapid transit doesn’t go where people need to go, then people will not take it.
The big question for Vancouver is whether the Broadway to UBC corridor is of regional significance and worthy of rapid transit, or is a local corridor that can be served by an intermediate mode like trolley buses or LRT/trams.
The 99 B-Line has shown that there is intense demand for a faster-than-local level of service and, while the quoted number of daily passengers differs, at least 70,000 people per day use this service. This is almost double the anticipated initial ridership of the Evergreen Line which few question as being necessary for the region’s development. Quite simply Central Broadway and UBC are the second and third largest trip generators in the region after the downtown core. In my opinion there is no doubt that Broadway Corridor and UBC warrants rapid transit.
Futhermore, the commuting public does value its time and as Patrick Condon notes the SkyTrain option will save between 20 and 40 minutes a day in round trip travel time versus a tram option. Moreover the SkyTrain option offers service reliability that is simply impossible to match with a non-grade separated mode. 20 to 40 minutes a day of extra time with one’s family, in pursuit of leisure, or simply running errands makes a very big difference in quality of life. That adds up to between an hour and a half to almost three and a half hours a week, between six and a half and thirteen hours a month. That is nothing to scoff at.
There is no question that extending SkyTrain to UBC will be expensive but that is no reason to refrain for undertaking the effort. SkyTrain has been an unqualified success in the realm of public transit and it is absurd to think that an extension of SkyTrain to UBC would be anything less than a success that will help shape the region, get people out of their cars, and improve quality of life.