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/