The Wayfinding team at Vancouver's TransLink has finally unveiled their new network map, with Frequent Network designations. In this case … orange:
Download the whole thing here: regional transit map
The term "FTN" (Frequent Transit Network) also appears on the map here and there. This term has already been used for several years in TransLink policymaking. In fact, four years ago in Transport 2040 TransLink committed to this goal:
The majority of jobs and housing in the region are located along the Frequent Transit Network (frequent, reliable services on designated corridors throughout the day, every day).
Now, finally, the public can see it too! Disclosure: I had a review-and-comment role in a few stages of this process, but it's definitely TransLink's work, led by their excellent Wayfinding team.
This 15 minute or better service runs until 9 p.m. every day, and starts at 6 a.m. on weekdays, 7 a.m. on Saturdays and 8 a.m. on Sundays. This level of service might be provided by one or more types of transit, such as buses or SkyTrain.
People traveling along FTN corridors can expect convenient, reliable, easy-to-use services that are frequent enough that they do not need to refer to a schedule. For municipalities and the development community, the FTN provides a strong organizing framework around which to focus growth and development.
As longtime readers know, I've long advised that high frequency services must stand out from the complexity of a transit map, and be promoted separately, so that people can see the network that's available to people whose time is highly valuable. Many individuals, and a few agencies, have drawn Frequent Network maps as a result. For more, see the Frequent Network category.
Meanwhile, this is a hugely important moment for Vancouver, especially because of the way the Frequent Network can organise future land use, and help everyone make better decisions about location. This map should immediately go up on the wall in every city planner's office, and in the office of every realtor or agent who deals in apartments. It's far more useful than, say, WalkScore's Transit Score in showing you the actual mobility that will arise from your choice of location, in the terms that matter to you.
Admit it: You've always cared, at least in secret, about how you compare to your peers: your friends, your fellow students, your graduating class, your co-workers, your generation. Well, deep down, transit authorities and city governments care too, which is why comparing a city to other similar cities always gets attention.
Sometimes peer comparisons cause complacency, especially if you choose the wrong peers. Wellington has the highest transit mode share in New Zealand, but in a country with only one other big, dense city, that obviously shouldn't imply that it's reached nirvana. Working in greater Vancouver I always have to emphasize that they are doing so well by North American standards that they have to start comparing themselves to European port cities in their size class (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Marseilles). My general advice: If your peer comparison says you're wonderful, throw a party and revel in this for 48 hours, then look for a more motivating group of peers.
At the other extreme, nothing is more motivating than being told that you're dead last among your peers. Earlier this year I worked (through my Australian employer MRCagney under the leadership of Ian Wallis Associates) on a peer comparison study for Auckland, New Zealand, which compared Auckland's transit performance with all the five biggest Australian cities plus a selection of North American ones. Download the full report here. Remember, if you're in any of the peer cities that it uses (Wellington, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, Edmonton, Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver, Honolulu, Portland, Seattle) this is your peer study too! Just keep the tables and refocus the text (citing the source of course!).
More generally, the report is a good illustration of how peer comparison can work at its best, and also of the cautions that must be shouted from the sidelines once the conclusions take fire in the media, as they certainly have in Auckland. From yesterday's New Zealand Herald:
Consultants have ranked Auckland last out of 14 cities – in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States – included in a benchmark study for the average number of public transport trips taken annually by its residents.
Aucklanders also pay the highest fares of any of the cities, amounting to 24c for every kilometre travelled on the average 44 public transport trips they take each year, compared with 17c in Wellington.
The rest of the article is further grim statistics, plus quotations from political leaders demanding that something be done.
I'm sympathetic to Auckland Transport in this case. Remember, a city's transit performance is mostly about the physical layout of the city and the constraints on other modes; the quality of the transit system by itself can't overcome problems in those areas. The nature of the economy also matters. Wellington is much smaller but it has much more severe chokepoints in its urban structure. In fact, all travel between the northern and southern parts of the city must go through a single chokepoint less than 1 km wide, which is also the (very dense) downtown. Wellington's economy is dominated by government, which is generally a sector disposed to use transit heavily. All of these features are hugely important in driving Wellington's mode share above Auckland's, and yet they don't include anything about the respective quality of the transit systems.
Peer comparisons also carry the false assumption that everyone wants to be the same kind of city, and is therefore working to the same kind of goals. (This attitude, taken to extreme, produces the absurdity of top ten "best cities for transit" lists.) Low mode share for transit may mean your transit system is failing, but it may mean that it's not trying for mode share, or at least that it has other objectives or constraints that prevent it from focusing on that goal. It may just mean that your city has different values. It may mean the city stikes a different balance between cycling, transit, and walking based on its own geography.
Still, service quality matters, and there's a lot that Auckland can do. I hope the city's opinion leaders are listening to Auckland Transport as well as berating it, so that they understand the real choices that must be made to move Auckland forward. If there's a real conversation, great things can be accomplished.
TransLink in Vancouver has a great opportunity for a manager of service planning (10+ years planning experience, including some in management). They do more junior hiring as well, so keep an eye on their careers site. This one, though, is especially critical for the agency, so I wanted to feature it.
I'm under a long-term contract with TransLink doing work on their Regional Transit Strategy and similar planning tasks, so I hope to be working a bit with this person.
To apply see the "Manager of Transit Planning" item here. Full job description is attached. Move fast; it closes on Oct 14.
TransLink, and Vancouver in general, is a great place to work on transit and sustainable urbanism. Even more remarkable, their colleagues in city governments mostly share that vision, though the usual tensions arise as you'd expect anywhere. The agency's position as a single regionwide authority makes it relatively easy to think across boundaries. Few metro areas in North America have such a strong pro-transit consensus as metro Vancouver.
Their regional long-term plan, Transport 2040, is also the only one I've seen whose fundamental goals refer to the extent of a Frequent Transit Network. It's Goal #3. To me this is especially strong evidence that despite all the thrills of their extensive driverless rapid transit, the agency's thinking is focused on mobility outcomes, and their urban livability consequences, but not on technology for its own sake.
If you'd like to work in a region where suburban cities compete over who can build the most vibrant high-density centers around transit stations, but where you can still, as they say, ski in the morning and sail in the afternoon, Vancouver's the spot.
Fine print: If my experience in 05-06 is any indication, the days when you can ski in the morning and sail in the afternoon will be heavily overcast and drizzling, but you will still be enjoying the warmest winter weather in all of Canada. Think of it as the Canadian Riviera!
Most cities that I know have one or more major downtown streets where parades and other major civic celebrations tend to occur. San Francisco's Market Street, Chicago's State Street (pictured), and New York's Fifth Avenue are obvious examples.
These same cities, if they value transit, often want this same street to be the core of their transit system, because they want transit to deliver customers to the "front door" of the city.
So it's normal to see huge, complex reroutings of transit service when one of the civic events is happening. The legibility problems of this shift are accepted because they happen only a few times a year.
Vancouver, however, does something different, and I want to verify how unusual it is. Vancouver's core downtown transit street, Granville Mall, is closed to buses (and all vehicles) every weekend evening. Specifically:
On Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, Holidays and the day before a Holiday, buses will run along Granville each day until 9pm, then switch to the re-route, travelling northbound on Seymour and southbound on Howe. The re-routes will stay in place until the close of service.
So many of Vancouver's most important street-running transit lines (mostly trolley buses in this case) shift from one downtown street to another at 9pm on almost half of all days. So the process of explaining and remembering where to find the bus is complicated all the time, which is quite different from finding the street closed for a very rare parade.
What North American cities do this routinely with their main transit street? Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis is the only example that comes to my mind, but its role in the transit network is much less important than Granville's.
To be clear, I'm not interested in reopening the Granville Mall debate, where many advocated closing the street to buses entirely. I am interested in the precedent as it might apply to other important transit streets, in Vancouver or elsewhere.
On livable cities lists (like this one):
Ricky Burdett, who founded the London School of Economics’ Cities Programme, says: “These surveys always come up with a list where no one would want to live. One wants to live in places which are large and complex, where you don’t know everyone and you don’t always know what’s going to happen next. Cities are places of opportunity but also of conflict, but where you can find safety in a crowd. “We also have to acknowledge that these cities that come top of the polls also don’t have any poor people,” he adds.
And that, it seems to me, touches on the big issue. Richard G Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s hugely influential book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (2009) seems to present an obvious truth – that places where the differential in income between the wealthiest and the poorest is smallest tend to engender a sense of satisfaction and well-being. But while it may be socially desirable, that kind of comfort doesn’t necessarily make for vibrancy or dynamism. If everybody is where they want to be, no one is going anywhere.
Edwin Heathcote, Financial Times
Heathcote’s whole article is superb. (Small caution: anyone who loves Vancouver will need to stifle some outrage at the sweeping and sometimes false generalities about the city. But the larger point is worth taking in.)
I have a fast, fun project for a cartographer or map-geek adept at making maps that are both beautiful and accurate. The project is to help me create a map of a fictional city, for use in my transit planning short course. The final product will be a map about 1×1.5m, showing arterials, landforms, and shadings to indicate density. There’s lots of opportunity to interact with me in refining the ideas and helping me make choices that speed up the process while improving the product.
If interested, please hit the email button under my photo in the next column, and send me a quick note about your experience, relevant samples, and some sense of rates. If desired, free registration for the course could be part of the package.
Tough part: Fast turnaround. Final final needed by June 9, which means complete draft needed by June 1, which means we need to get started next week. Probably not fulltime, but certainly some focused work.
I've arrived in Vancouver, and will be starting in my new part-time role with the transit agency, Translink, on Tuesday. At the moment I'm preoccupied with looking for housing for this six-month stay. Home is so important to me that when I don't have one, it's hard to focus on anything else. So between that and the book, my posts may be light for few days.
Meanwhile, if your city is on a river or very calm harbour, you should know about the micro-ferries of Vancouver's False Creek. They're the smallest-scale passenger ferries I've seen in the developed world. They carry 12 passengers on a perimeter bench while the single operator sits in the center and handles driving, docking, and fares.
They're ideal for short runs at high frequency over calm water, which is what they do. More on them soon.
The planning for the missing link in Vancouver's transit network has taken the next step. Newly refined options are out for public comment. The corridor corresponds, at least in its endpoints, to the orange line on this map, where the existing Line 99 runs one of the most frequent and crowded bus corridors in the west.
The west end is the University of British Columbia (UBC). The east end is Commercial/Broadway station, the main transit gateway to the entire eastern two thirds of the region. In the middle is Vancouver's second downtown, Central Broadway, which includes City Hall and the main hospital, as well as a station on the Canada Line to the airport and the southern suburbs. (Skytrain and the Canada Line form the region's driverless rapid transit network.) It's hard to overestimate how central this corridor is not just to the city, but to the region. For example, many trips between southern suburbs and northeastern ones (Richmond to northern Burnaby say, or Coquitlam to the airport) will be made much easier, or not, depending on this project's outcome.
The newly refined options include rapid-transit options (widely presumed to be extensions of the Skytrain Millennium Line) either to UBC or possibly just to Arbutus Street, which makes sense to consider because it's the end of the dense or densifiable portion of Broadway, and completes all of the regional-connection needs except for UBC itself. They also look at light rail options and Bus Rapid Transit, both of which would need an exclusive lane. Light rail options are suggested both on Broadway and also veering off onto an alignment closer to False Creek, feeding into Great Northern Way.
It looks like an interesting process, one that will impact the transit mobility options for a vast part of greater Vancouver.