Friday, April 25, 2008

Of Road and Transit

I was going to write a post about stats today (how SkyTrain and CTrain in Calgary carry about the same amount of people even though Calgary is less than half the size of Metro Vancouver), but I got distracted.

As I was researching, I came across a great document on the BC Gateway Program’s website called “Road Pricing Review.

The report explains the Ministry of Transportation’s views on tolling based on their 2003 Guidelines. One of the points is very interesting: Tolls will be implemented only if a reasonable untolled alternative is available. We know that 58% of the Port Mann traffic is going to North Burnaby and the North East Sector Communities.

Travel distance to Coquitlam Centre from 200th and Fraser Highway via:
Port Mann: 25km
Golden Ears/Pitt River Bridge: 25km
Pattullo Bridge: 34km
Alex Fraser Bridge: 47km
George Massey Tunnel: 71km

The Golden Ears Bridge will be tolled. Are the other three bridges reasonable alternatives? I surely hope not.

Anyway the Gateway folks will admit that without road pricing, the Port Mann project will be pointless. The report concurs. “The phenomenon of induced traffic demand (increase in capacity leads to additional traffic) is clear.” Road pricing is the only way to go if this project will even remotely meet its main goal of long-term (and even short-term) congestion relief.

The report explains the different types of road pricing schemes, but I will focus on corridor and areas schemes as they are the most relevant to our region. Variable road pricing is the way to go if we want to reduce congestion, and has been proven effective.
Variable road pricing (higher prices under congested conditions and lower prices at less congested times and locations) is intended to reduce peak-period vehicle trips. Tolls can vary based on a fixed schedule, or they can be dynamic, meaning that rates change depending on the level of congestion that exists at a particular time.
The report then goes on to explain the effects of road pricing on traffic when new capacity it added.
New highway links (even when tolled) attract traffic from surrounding road network, improving conditions on the routes being relieved and often in turn leading to more traffic on these routes, so called induced traffic demand.
Let me try to tie this all together.

The provincial government is trying to get people out of their cars and into transit. (Because of green-house-gases and global warning, if you believe all those pinko scientist.) Either way, with gas prices going nowhere but up, people will want to get into transit. There is one major problem for people in the South Fraser. Transit service is currently inadequate. As it stands now, all our major road improvements will be complete around 2012. Quality transit improvements will be complete around 2020 (2030 for Langley). Building roads before transit is a very creative approach to get people onto transit.

I would suggest an alternative time-line and projects if getting people into transit, reducing congestion, getting goods moving, and reducing green-house-causing-gas is important.

On the people moving front:

-Improve frequent bus service in the South Fraser as quickly as possible.
-Get started on building light rail in the South Fraser.
-Complete the rapid transit network in the North Fraser.
-Once all this is complete, road price all the river crossings.

Road pricing has been proven to manage congestion. How does this relate to the Port Mann? Do you want managed congestion with 5 lanes or 8? At the same time, we still need to replace our aging infrastructure. The Lions Gate Bridge comes to mind. As Liberal MLA Ralph Sultan said, “we can't squeeze more cars over the [Lions Gate Bridge]. So one point they make, and I think it's a very green point, is that we've got to focus on moving people across the bridge, not vehicles, in the future.” Moving people, not cars is the key.

I had a conversation with a Translink planner a few months ago. We got talking about the Golden Ears and Pitt River bridges. He admitted to me that these two projects should a have major impacts in reducing the demand for the Port Mann. The Golden Ears Bridge is a great project and is long over due; creating new connections offers more value than expanding existing ones.

I truly believe that by putting transit first, using our current transportation (and almost complete) infrastructure more efficiently, and putting people first will reduce congestion and reduce green-house-gas causing emissions.

On the goods moving front:

As I blogged about earlier, rail is the solution that a recent Transport Canada paper suggests. Investing in rail will allow for better connections within and out of our region. The federal government will need to step up to the plate to make this happen. Also, a major side benefit of road pricing is that congestion will also be reduced for important local commercial traffic.

One finial provocative though. What would happened if we let private enterprise manage our major river crossings and roads? I’m sure they’d be creative in making our current infrastructure last longer.

1 comment:

erika said...

Hey Nathan, just a note to see if you know about this event; maybe you've already applied.