Guest Posts

edmonton: strasbourg of the prairie?

A Guest Post by David Marlor

David Marlor was raised in the UK and is currently a regional planning manager working on the coast of British Columbia, Canada in a coastal rural setting.  He holds a planning degree from the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC, where his thesis was on an integrated approach to transportation planning in the lower mainland.

In the past couple of years, led by Bob Boutilier (general manager of transportation) the City has been planning the expansion of the LRT using low-floor technology.  Edmonton is credited with leading in transit innovation twice in the past. In the mid-1960s, transit superintendent Don MacDonald introduced an early version of a hub and spoke [or pulse] transit system. This is still widely used in Edmonton and in many other North American cities. The second was the introduction of the modern LRT to North America in 1978.

What’s different about the current LRT plans in Edmonton is that instead of fast LRT trains moving commuters from suburbs to the city, the LRT will be a European style system, still in its own right of way, but with stops closer together, smaller and more intimate with the community, low floor vehicles and replacing car lanes with LRT lanes. That last is a paradigm shift for Edmonton.  LRT up until now has been about building it without removing road capacity for private automobiles. The new LRT lines, the cost of which is currently pegged at about Cdn$3.4 billion, will see extension of the existing high-floor system to the north-west north-east and south as demand warrants, but the lines will fit the community better than before.

The approved plans includes a completely new low-floor network running on the street, even in the city centre. It is a system designed to support future TOD at the stations, to encourage higher densities. Unlike the existing system, only five stations on the proposed 29 station low floor line have bus stations attached to them and only two have park and ride facilities, both adjacent to freeways. This is about shaping the city, not moving commuters from the suburbs to the city (although that is part of it, it is not the focus).  The plan includes future low-floor line linking the downtown with the Old Strathcona business district on the Southside of the river and a line out to the eastern suburbs.

In fact, the proposed the proposed Edmonton system may remind some readers of Strasbourg. Like Strasbourg, Edmonton is envisioning completely remodeling the streets the trams run on – in many cases removing lanes of traffic, restricting turn movements, closing or redesigning intersections, and where possible, widening and improving the pedestrian infrastructure. Like Strasbourg, the stations (stops) will be located every 3-4 blocks (300-400 metres) in the city centre and further apart outside the core. The aim is around every 800 m, but in reality the stops will be placed at convenient nodes or logical locations that best fit the fabric of the city.

The City of Edmonton website has extensive information, including design details, routing, and illustrations. Unfortunately, the project is not funded yet, but City Council and the Mayor are keen to see it happen and want to get it built in the next 6-8 years. The plans are ambitious, and it's exciting to see a car-oriented oil producing city like Edmonton be thinking and supportive of this direction.

Illustration: Simulated image by City of Edmonton


Guest Post: Richard Lenthall on the Busways of Almere, Netherlands

Richard Lenthall is the founder of Sight of the Navigator, a European travel and transit advisory website based in Amsterdam. It aims to improve tomorrow’s journey experience by bringing together transit providers and their passengers.

Transit and urban planners will no doubt be familiar with the “Bus Lane”, the concept of designating a lane or segment of road exclusively for the use of buses and other permitted vehicles.  When properly executed bus lanes can save time over the same section of a journey made with a car, and provide operators the means to keep to timetables during the rush hours, both of which can promote the use of public transit. Continue Reading →

Guest Post: Aaron Priven on the AC Transit (Oakland-Berkeley) Transit Map

Continuing the recent series on frequent network maps, today’s post is by Aaron Priven, who actually managed the redesign of a network map. I don’t agree with everything he says, but the resulting map (current version here in PDF, here in a version that you can pan and zoom online) certainly shows a lot of thought.  It’s interesting to see the thought process explained.  I’ll share my own responses to this map in a near-future post.

Jarrett’s post on frequency mapping, and a number of the comments there, referred to the AC Transit system maps. (AC Transit is the bus system for a large portion of the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, including cities such as Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, and Fremont.) Continue Reading →

Is Speed Obsolete? Professor Condon Responds

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
well underway.

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?

A. 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 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. 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.

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.

Respectfully submitted,

Patrick M. Condon. 

New book: The Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities:


Guest Post: Samuel Scheib on Parking, the Field of Nightmares

Samuel Scheib is the senior planner at StarMetro (Tallahassee, Florida) and the editor of Trip Planner Magazine: the art and science
of transit
.  He holds a master’s degree in planning from Florida State University, as a Transit Fellow. 

Parking was one of the earliest problems associated with the widespread automobile ownership that began in the 1910s and 1920s; having a place to leave cars—the terminal capacity—is as important to the transportation system as the carriageway that moves them.  By the 1930s, urban streets were filled with cars that were driving in circles searching for curb parking.  The accepted solution to this congestion problem was off-street parking.
Soon, cities around the United States had enshrined off-street parking requirements in their zoning laws.  According to Donald Shoup (The High
Cost of Free Parking
) a 1946 survey found that only 17% of the cities in the study had zoned parking requirements; just five years later that percentage was 76.  Today free, unlimited parking is the expectation for most drivers:  parking is free for 99% of all automobile trips in the U.S. Continue Reading →

Guest Post: Families and Children on Transit

This guest post is by EngineerScotty, a software engineer and part-time transportation geek from the Portland, Oregon areaHe is a frequent commenter here on Human Transit.

Kids_on___bwayI’m a father of several small children, including twin boys (now four years old).  [Not those in the picture — JW]   Using public transit provides parents with several challenges not faced by childless passengers; and conversely, families with children provide transit authorities with challenges–and opportunities–that are unique.  In a recent thread on, one poster, a dedicated urbanist with a bit of a temper, made it clear to myself and other parents that he considered kids–our “screaming brats” as he put it–unwelcome on transit.  Continue Reading →

Guest Post: U.S. Transit Needs an “Emergency Operations Fund”

This guest post is by Ron Kilcoyne, General Manager/CEO of Greater Bridgeport Transit in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Ron’s previous posts include CEO of Santa Clarita Transit near Los Angeles and manager of research and planning for AC Transit in Oakland, California.  The views expressed are his own and not those of his agency.

What will it take to restore all the transit service cuts over the past two years and prevent additional service reductions? I haven’t found an exact number but 10% of the total cost of providing transit service nationally would be good rough estimate.  For example, at least two suburban transit systems – one in Cleveland OH, another in Atlanta — have or will shut down completely this year. The Chicago Transit Authority anticipates eliminating 14% of it service on February 7. Colorado Springs CO reduced service by 53% on January 1. Between late 2008 and this spring Orange County Transit reduced service by 22%. Continue Reading →