Sunday, August 31, 2008

Historic Interurban Rail Cars

I discovered a blogger out of London, UK that wrote about the old US Interurban systems and included some great historical photos of some rail cars that would be pretty need to see today. Rather than copy them, I thought I'd just provide a direct link to this blog so that you can enjoy the history.

Unlike some US Interurban rail systems, the Greater Vancouver Interurban from Chilliwack to Vancouver ran successfully and profitably from the early 1900's to the 1950's. It was only when passenger cars became popular and plentiful did we see this vitial rail system destroyed in the name of "progress". Enjoy the great photographs.

Friday, August 29, 2008

OnTrax champions separate study

The Langley Advance has picked up on the story that we broke on our blog this Thursday about the Fraser Valley Region District's (FVRD) Transportation Study which will include looking at the interurban corridor through the FVRD. The Ministry of Transportation has also joined the study. We are concerned that this study's terms of reference makes a bus-only transit system the only possible recommendation. We are also concerned that the study may be combined with the Interurban Study that Kevin Falcon personally promised this year.
The provincial Ministry of Transportation has joined the FVRD study, and now there is a perception among some people that this is the Interurban study promised by Falcon, Zaccaria said.

OnTrax is concerned that the provincial government won't go ahead with a light rail study.

"This is our concern: that the Ministry of Transportation will use this and say, 'We have a study,'" said Nathan Pachal, another On Trax member.

The two men say they will try to get assurances from Falcon that the light rail study will go ahead as promised.

Ministry media spokesperson Jeff Knight was not aware of any other study, and said the FVRD study will look at more than just that jurisdiction.

"The transit needs of Langley and Surrey will be part of the study," he said.

We will keep you posted as this story continues to develop. In the meantime, please read this article in the Langley Advance.

Update: The Advance also has a story about Rapid Bus (Bus Rapid Transit) compared to Light Rail which can be viewed on their website.

Wachtel on the Arts

I have to say that I normally delete CBC Ideas podcasts that start with “Wachtel on the Arts”. It’s just not my thing. But this morning, I had to listen because it was call “The Beijing Building Boom”. The description from CBC is as follows:
Eleanor Wachtel returns from a trip to Beijing, where she witnessed the biggest contemporary building boom in the world. In the lead up to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, Beijing is awash in construction cranes, as Chinese and foreign architects prepare the city for the influx of athletes and tourists. Architect Yung Ho Chang tells us what he thinks of foreign "starchitects" creating flashy buildings in China in the run-up to the Olympics.
Architect Yung Ho Chang talks about the importance of building at the human scale, and how that really isn’t happening right now in Beijing. He touches on the need for mixed-use neighborhoods and the need for a great public transit system. It was very interesting during the interview to hear that China is making the same mistakes that we have already made: gated-community, massive highway projects, and even mass-scale “urban renewal” aka slum clearing. Anyway, this show is will worth the time to listen as it also covers politics and our perceived notions of freedom.

Right click to Download Wachtel on the Arts - The Beijing Building Boom

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Announcement of Transit Study Creates Mass Confusion

An article that appeared on August 22, 2008 on BCLOCALNEWS.COM appears to have created some confusion with some local transportation pundants. As we have all been anticipating a big Ministry of Transportation's long-awaited light rail transit/interurban study that we all anticipated would encompass the entire South Fraser Region. When news of the MoT's RFQ entitled "Strategic Review of Transit in the Fraser Valley", one can understand why some people declared that this RFQ (that is supposed to become an RFP very soon) was the much anticipated study that was promised by BC Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon.

BUT, back on August 8, 2008 the South Fraser OnTrax blog first reported about a transportation study that would be initiated by the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD). As most of our readers are aware, the FVRD covers only the member communities of the City of Abbotsford, City of Chilliwack, District of Hope, District of Kent, District of Mission and the Village of Harrison Hot Springs. In July, 2008 some Terms of Reference have been compiled for the project, and FVRD staff commented on them on July 21, 2008. But as our readers can see from these highlighted sections of FVRD Minutes for May 27, 2008, shows that the FVRD Board of Directors voted in favour of a Consulting Services contract for the FVRD Transportation and Transit study. It further agreed to single-source this contract to SILEX CONSULTING INC. It should be noted that on January 31, 2008, the same SILEX CONSULTING INC. issued a draft report to the FVRD entitled, "Background Paper: Developing a Transportation Vision for the FVRD."

While BCLOCALNEWS.COM reported a Ministry of Transportation official as saying this study will look at the Southern Rail corridor, the scope of the study will certainly have to take into account the research and conclusions that have been established by the Provincial Transit Plan (PTP), TransLink 2040 Vision & Area Transit Plans, BC Transit Business Plan, and the Fraser Valley Regional District - Regional Growth Strategy, which are all refererenced in the RFQ. I'm certain this study will not overlook the FVRD's Background Paper as well, especially if Silex Consulting Inc is awarded this contract. How can this FVRD-sponsored report be ignored? The FVRD study has a budget of $400,000 according to the RFQ.

South Fraser OnTrax is current contacting Minister Kevin Falcon's office to confirm whether this RFQ is the same light rail study that has been long-promised by the ministry, perhaps as long as 18 months ago.

South Fraser OnTrax commends the FVRD, Ministry of Transportation, TransLink, and BC Transit for being able to take on this new initiative in light of 2010 Olympics, and all the projects that are in progress in support of 2010. If the time lines in the RFQ are upheld, this project's final report will be completed by December, 2009. The RFQ currently lists an interim milestone year of 2013 to gauge at a conceptual level, the phasing, needed resources ad initiatives for the scenarios outlined in the RFQ. Some have recently questioned this planning date, but with 2010 being combined with knowledge of the government budgeting, planning and scheduling process, it seems like a very realistic date to us.

But let's take a peek at reality here:
  1. None of the reports and research have ever concluded that light rail transit would be an option for the FVRD or the South Fraser for that matter.
  2. There is great discussion and mention of bus and rapid bus in the TOR and the related reports.
  3. BC Transit is a stakeholder and they run buses.
  4. This work is focused on providing options for service in 2020 to 2030. It is anticipated and assumed that the actual funding of the results of this project will not commence conceptually until 2013.
My personal prediction (as well as Nathan's) for the outcome of this study that could save the Province of BC and the FVRD $400,000 today:
  1. Continue bus service and ValleyMAX with the current population of the FVRD estimated at 260,000. Dramatically increase bus service as required.
  2. As the population of the FVRD is predicted to be 410,000 by 2030, BC Transit will then be happy to consider "new transit types (such as Rapid Bus)".
  3. Take all of the current individual FVRD member contracts with BC Transit and turn them into a single master regional contract.
Now #3 would command all of the big bucks. Wand some cost-efficient details added in, this would be viewed as a bargain by the FVRD for sure. But why would we, the light rail transit advocates who live, eat and sleep this every day put forth such blasphemy?

All one has to do is read the Executive Summary of the January 31, 2008 Silex report to see the self-fulfilling prophecy in the making:

Page 1 - A region at a cross-road - "The materials in the background paper on transportation identified and confirms much of what was documented in earlier studies and reports including the FVRD's 2004 "Choices for Our Future" Regional Growth Strategy and the 2000 Long Range Transportation Plan. These documents remain substantially valid today, and together set out many of the key attributes of a transportation vision for the valley and its communities. As such, while a few matters need to be updated, it is concluded that there is no need for a new set of "plans" to address the issues the FVRD faces."

Page 1 - Expanding Transit - "What is more, any proposals to expand transit should consider the needs of all communities and not be confined to Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Mission."

So, even though Abby is much different in terms of densification than say Hope, any expansion of transit should be across the board. This is a re-occurring theme in the Silex report.

Page 2 - Expanding Transit - "However the returns on transit investments will not yield optimum benefits unless the region's communities densify considerably and create truly pedestrian bicycle friendly communities."

"A further comment on transit is that while there is some appetite for expanded rail into the valley. The current reality is that the levels of demand can easily be met, probably for many decades, with rubber-tired solutions."

The report goes on to contradict itself in that it stated the current plans are adequate, but section 1.3 on page 2 of the main report says that the existing data is "inconsistent and often limited or poor data available."

It further states, "The valley's rapidly growing urban centres only occupy around 1 percent of the land in the FVRD..."

Silex does document the fact that 86% of the traffic is local or stays within the region (or inter-region with Langley and nearby communities), and that 39% of daily trips by people within the FVRD are to Langley. The report and the RFQ speak about 2040 planning and the RFQ speaks to the TransLink 2040 documents. So, long-range planning has been addressed in the context of the FVRD, contrary to what some pundants have have said.

Read the Silex report for yourself and look at the other documents that we have assembled for your review. It will give you a fairly clear picture of what could result from this new study. Of course the more viable LRT communities of Langley and Surrey will not be a primary focus of this work. The danger here is that the results of this study could preclude LRT in the near future for the South Fraser Region as a whole, unless Minister Falcon has a yet to be announced passenger rail study waiting in the wings and that will address these other expanding communities.

We asked Township of Langley Councillor Jordan Bateman to review our materials, as he is very familiar with the transportation issues in the South Fraser. We offered our joint assessment of the facts to the media today, so that the public will be better informed as to what this study is all about. We also held the publishing of this blog until all sources could be interviewed and all documentation could be double-checked. I've been working away at validation, along with Nathan and Jordan since the news broke. Stay tuned. Your comments are most welcome!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Downtown Vancouver

This weekend I had the chance to stay in downtown Vancouver and celebrate a birthday (not mine.) I ended up staying at the Hotel Vancouver, and took the following picture from my room’s window. This is Burrard Street.

Only a few years ago Burrard Street was a 6-lane thru-fare. It has been reduced to a 4-lane thru-fare with two bus lanes and a bike lane. In fact all over downtown Vancouver, bike lanes and bus lanes are popping up reducing general travel lanes. It almost seems like reverse logical, but as downtown Vancouver has exploded in size over the last 20 years, the total number of single occupancy lanes has been reduced. Today walking is the number one way of getting around downtown Vancouver.

Vancouver was lucky compared to other areas like Surrey and Langley. Vancouver’s streets and buildings were setup for streetcars, and built up around transit and walking since day one. If Surrey or Langley is to become truly walkable and transit-friendly, we will need to invest in a transportation system that will attract people-friendly development. I’m sure you can see where this is all heading: restoring the Interurban and building modern streetcars.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Traffic Lights

Yesterday’s post on light rail in Sacramento had me doing some more research, and I came upon the following clip on YouTube. One of the problems that people bring up about light rail is at-grade crossing and how it can tie up traffic. You can read more about it on a previous post. Of course if your light rail line happens to run by a traffic light, you can solve that issue. As a note the Interurban line run right through the intersection at Fraser Highway and 200th Street near the Langley Bypass.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Streetcars in Sacramento

I received a very good report in my email last night called Next Stop: Sacramento. You can download the complete report from our document archive. The report looks at the benefits of adding streetcars back into urban areas. The report states that since the Portland Streetcar opened in 2001, it has attracted $1 billion in development. I would like to point of the Five Principles of Streetcar Implementation from the report:

1. Streetcar is not Light Rail. So goes the mantra of Portland Commissioner Charlie Hales, one of the Portland Streetcar’s chief advocates. Both modes are shiny, sleek, and operate on steel rails and wheels. But streetcars are smaller, lighter, quieter, considerably cheaper, and work more easily in urban surroundings. They fit into the existing fabric and scale of the downtown business district and neighborhoods easily, and reinforce the existing environment without major disruption.

2. The Streetcar is not just a transportation tool—it is a development tool. Some of the Portland Streetcar’s greatest champions have been real estate developers who recognized the connection between livable, high-density urban neighborhoods, and the ease of mobility offered by the streetcar. In fact, during the last flurry of streetcar building, in the early 20th century, rail-line expansions were closely tied to land development. Cities and agencies that can understand and harness this connection—for livability and tax-base expansion benefits—will get the most out of streetcar projects.

3. The Streetcar is a local transportation project; it does not directly address regional transportation issues. The local scale of streetcar projects impact what constituencies are likely to support them, how they must be marketed to the public and decision makers, and perhaps most importantly, how they will be funded.

4. The devil is in the details. It’s easy to focus on the big picture, but of course, the details are just as important. This is where creativity comes into play - bringing together unique business models and strategic thinkers to overcome the challenges of attracting development and building major infrastructure in the middle of a thriving urban environment.

5. The Portland Streetcar is an excellent model, but it is not the only model. As we note at the end of this paper, there are numerous other streetcar lines in operation or in the planning stages across the country. Leaders interested in establishing a streetcar line in Sacramento may also want to review—or ride—the lines in San Francisco, Tacoma, or even Tampa, Florida, to see how those cities did it.

The report also outlines some of the lessons learned from the Portland Streetcar and how to fund a system. Its a very good read.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Saturday News

I started writing an article for the blog this morning and after four hours of research and cross-checking, I decided that SFOT would need to interview a news source before the post was ready for prime time. Its interesting and is something that is big for our region. Stay tuned.

Friday's Langley Advance provided a couple of interesting articles that should get us thinking...

The first is about a 15 year old cyclist that was struck by a truck while riding on Douglas Crescent and crossing 204th Street. The RCMP pointed out that the boy was not wearing a helmet and was trying to cross against a red light. We have written about the need for complete roads many times, but even a complete roadway is not going to prevent someone crossing against a red light from serious injury. Bicycle safety helmets are required by provincial law in BC. Its very unfortunate that this young man didn't have a helmet on when he was thrown to the pavement. We hope he will recover soon. Our thoughts and prayers are with this boy and his family.

The other article that caught my attention was the Incredible Edibles sustainability tour. I think its GREAT that we are promoting local farms and local products that don't require long-distance freight and truck hauling, and all the energy and resources that go with it. I'm learning myself that the 100 mile diet is the very best for our communities and for our health.

I find myself search out the local wealth of good stuff that is available to us if we just look for it. I buy BC over California. There's just something about fresh fruit and vegetables from local farms, and when these things are in season, its a special treat. Eating this way gives you a variety of foods and not something you have week in and week out 365 days per year. A big thanks to our local Langley and BC farmers who work very hard for our benefit! So search out that local farmer's market or if you are traveling through Chilliwack, stop and pick up some of that good corn. Of course if you find yourself in the Okanagan I will envy you as you have your fill of some of the best fruit around. Here's a harvest calendar for your enjoyment.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Transit News

Well I was a bit shocked today. I got on a packed C64 to Langley Centre from my place to catch a packed 502 to Surrey Central. In fact the 502 was so packed, the bus drive had to pass on two riders while we were still in Downtown Langley. This was all at 11:00am! Anyway, this got me thinking about TransLink’s “big” transit improvements starting on September 1st. You can read more about it at their website, but here is a taste of the improvements for the South Fraser.

Improvements for Surrey/White Rock

323 Surrey Central Station/Newton Exchange
324 Surrey Central Station/Newton Exchange
325 Surrey Central Station/Newton Exchange
-Weekend/holiday service improved to run every 30 minutes along each of the three routes.

345 White Rock Centre/King George Station
-Monday – Friday service improved to run every 30 minutes, 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Also, schedule adjustments will create better service coordination with the improved 375 service (see 375 listing below).

375 White Rock South/Guildford
-Service improved to run every 30 minutes, Monday – Friday 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. and weekends/holidays 6 a.m. – 9 p.m. Also, schedule adjustments will create better service coordination with the improved 345 service (see 345 listing above).

C74 Fraser Heights/Guildford/Surrey Central Station
-Westbound Monday - Friday morning service starts earlier with two new trips from Fraser Heights.

Improvements for Langley

*Tumble Week*

In other news, the province is finally getting started on a transit improvement study for the South Fraser and Fraser Valley region that includes the promised Interurban study. According to an article in the Langley Times:
Everything from paratransit to commuter rail would be considered, according to the request for qualifications document posted by the ministry.

And ministry officials confirm it will also examine the use of the former interurban passenger rail corridor, which is now used only by freight trains but favoured by groups demanding a new light rail service connecting communities from Surrey to Chilliwack.

"The study is definitely going to be considering the Southern Rail corridor," ministry spokesman Dave Crebo said. "That is one of the options we'll be looking at."

Transportation minister Kevin Falcon pledged in January to take a wide-ranging look at valley transit options, including the old interurban corridor.
The report will be complete by the end of 2009. Just in time to miss this year’s municipal and next year’s provincial election.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More News about our Tram Expert

So, I was going to blog about how the Ministry of Transportation finally cleared the sand and broken bits of glass/car/truck from the 3-foot sidewalk that is 1-foot away from trucks going 90km/h at my bus stop by my work at 192nd Street and Highway 10. It only took 6 months... but, I came across another great article about our tram/light rail expert Brent Graham in the Langley Times.

How would LRT change Langley? Substantially, by all accounts. “People will be more relaxed,” Graham said. The elderly and handicapped will stay connected to the community, and carbon emissions from vehicles will be reduced. Trams could easily navigate the hill on 200 Street.

Asked about the merits of trams vs rapid buses, Graham replied: “You will get riders on a tram that you won’t get on a bus . . . the tram is in a different class.”

Councillor Charlie Fox said that while council’s eyes are opened to the benefits of trams, TransLink’s are not.

It’s a challenge for the transportation authority to understand the value of looking at alternatives to buses, he said.

“It’s difficult to believe that they don’t already know,” Graham replied.

“It’s not a great secret. This is easy stuff we’re talking about.”

Please read the whole article on the Langley Times website.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

More TED

If you haven't already, I suggest you check out the site TED: Ideas worth spreading. There is hours of interesting talks that range for high technology to urban planning. Anyway, today I thought I would share a clip about sustainable development and the inner-city. This is the description from the website.

In an emotionally charged talk, MacArthur-winning activist Majora Carter details her fight for environmental justice in the South Bronx -- and shows how minority neighborhood suffer most from flawed urban policy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Pros & Cons of Telecommuting

The world of blogging is tremendous, because you never know who is out there until they write to you. This week I received an e-mail from Kate Lister, an expert on working from home and telecommuting. She was responding to my post on my Starbucks off. Kate is just ready to launch a new book with a co-author. Kate's extensive research with facts and figures are awesome. You will hear much more from Kate Lister in the upcoming months, as South Fraser OnTrax partners with Kate Listerand others to deliver some tremendous public educational opportunites. And now the wisdom of Kate Lister....

About the Author: Kate Lister and Tom Harnish are telecommuting researchers and authors. Their academic study of the topic is balanced with practical lessons they've learned from over twenty years of home-based work and business ownership. They are currently working on a book, Undress4Success—The Naked Truth About Working From Home for John Wiley & Sons (March 2009). This will be their third book for Wiley. Their web site,, offers advice on work at home jobs, freelance opportunities, and home-based businesses.

The terms telework and telecommuting were coined by Jack Nilles, a former NASA engineer, more than three decades ago. "One of my colleagues at NASA was carrying on about if we can put a man on the moon, we ought to be able to do something about traffic," recalls Jack. So that's what he set out to do. Today, about five million Americans earn a full-time paycheck working at home. Our research shows than another fifty million could. While the concept of telework has been simmering for years, soaring gas prices are fanning the flame such that we may have finally reached a tipping point.

I've been working from home for over 25 years. Two years ago my husband and I sold the vintage aircraft flightseeing business that we operated for over sixteen years—from home. More unemployed than retired, we were determined to continue to live the at-home lifestyle to which we'd become accustomed, and set out to look for home-based work. It was a real eye opener to find that in spite of all the individual, corporate, and community benefits of telework, a huge number of stigmas and biases about it persist. So we decided to write a book on the topic. As part of our research, we've synthesized information from over 250 studies of telecommuting and related topics. We've interviewed dozens of telework enthusiasts and naysayers including researchers, Fortune 500 executives, virtual employers, venture capitalists who support the remote work model, and dozens of home-based workers in a wide variety of professions.

What we've concluded is that while there are some very real barriers to telework, the industry pioneers have proven it can be done and it is worth the effort. Telework offers a pull, rather than a push solution to a wide range of problems. It benefits employers, employees, and the community. A strong national telework strategy would increase GNP. It would substantially reduce our Gulf Oil dependence. It would bring traffic jams to a halt and reduce the carnage on our highways. It would alleviate the strain on our crumbling transportation infrastructure. It would help reclaim many of the jobs that have been lost to offshoring, and provide new employment opportunities for at-home caregivers, the disabled, and the un- and under-employed. It would improve family life, and emancipate latchkey kids. It would substantially bolster pandemic and disaster preparedness. It would reduce global warming. And it would save companies and individuals billions of dollars.

Naysayers argue that not every person or every job is right for telework. I don't argue that point. But studies show that 40% of jobs could be done from home and two-thirds of the working population say they'd prefer it. What's more, the companies that have tried telework have proven that the negatives can be easily overcome and the pros far outweigh the cons. Don't take my word for it, read on and decide for yourself:

Advantages of Telecommuting for the Community *

Reduces our foreign oil dependence
  • If the 40% of employees who could work from home did so half of the time (approximately the national average) it would reduce Gulf Oil dependence by almost 60% and save Americans (and Canadians) more than $40 billion at the pumps
Slows global warming
  • Half-time telecommuting could reduce carbon emissions by almost 80 million metric tons a year
  • Tougher environmental laws are coming
  • Telework offers easy Clean Air Act compliance
  • Additional carbon footprint savings would come from reduced: office energy, paper usage (as electronic documents replace paper), roadway repairs, urban heating, office construction, and business travel
Bolsters pandemic and disaster preparedness
  • Three quarters of teleworkers say they could continue to work in the event of a disaster compared with just 28% on non-teleworkers
  • A decentralized workforce would reduce the chance of another World Trade Center or Pentagon-like target to attack by removing the temptation that a large population center provides. If an attack does occur, fewer people will be effected, economic stability will be maintained, and continuity of operations is assured.
Redistributes wealth
  • Location-independent job opportunities offer better employment options to rural workers
  • Higher productivity among teleworkers will increase GDP
  • Cost savings from telework will encourage home-shoring and bring back many of the jobs that have been lost to foreign labor

Advantages of Telecommuting For Companies *

Improves employee satisfaction
  • People are sick of the rat race, eager to take control of their lives, and desperate to find a balance between work and life.
  • Two thirds of people want to work from home
  • 36% would choose it over a pay raise
  • Gen Y’ers are particularly attracted to flexible work arrangements
  • 80% of employees consider telework a job perk
Reduce attrition
  • Losing a valued employee can cost an employer $10,000 to $30,000
  • Recruiting and training a new hire costs thousands
  • 14% of Americans have changed jobs to shorten the commute
  • 46% of companies that allow telework say it has reduced attrition
  • 95% of employers say telework has a high impact on employee retention
Reduces unscheduled absences
  • 78% of people who call in sick, really aren’t. They do so because of family issues, personal needs, and stress.
  • Unscheduled absences cost employers $1,800/employee per year; that adds up to $300 billion/yr for U.S. companies
  • Teleworkers typically continue to work when they’re sick (without infecting others)
  • Teleworkers return to work more quickly following surgery or medical issues
  • Flexible hours allow teleworkers to run errands or schedule appointments without losing a full day
Increases productivity
  • Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical and many others show that teleworkers are 35-40% more productive
  • Businesses lose $600 billion a year in workplace distractions
  • Sun Microsystems’ experience suggests that employees spend 60% of the commuting time they save performing work for the company
Saves employers money
  • IBM slashed real estate costs by $50 million
  • McKesson saves $2 million a year
  • Nortel estimates that they save $100,000 per employee they don’t have to relocate
  • Average real estate savings with full-time telework is $10,000 per employee per year
  • Partial telework can offer real estate savings by instituting an office hoteling program
  • Dow Chemical and Nortel save over 30% on non-real estate costs
  • Offers inexpensive compliance with ADA for disabled workers
  • Saves brick and mortar costs in industries where regulations or needs require local workers (e.g. healthcare, e-tail)
Equalizes personalities and reduces potential for discrimination
  • Hiring sight unseen, as some all-virtual employers do, greatly reduces the potential for discrimination
  • It ensures that people are judged by what they do versus what the look like
  • Communications via focus groups, instant messaging, and the like equalizes personalities. No longer is the loudest voice the only one that’s heard.
Cuts down on wasted meetings
  • Asynchronous communications allow people to communicate more efficiently
  • Web-based meetings are better planned and more apt to stay on message
Increases employee empowerment
  • Remote work forces people to be more independent and self-directed
Increases collaboration
  • Once telework technologies are in place, employees and contractors can work together without regard to logistics. This substantially increases collaboration options.
Provides new employment opportunities for the un and under-employed
  • 18 million Americans with some college education aren’t working
  • Less than a third of disabled Americans hold jobs (compared to 80% of rest of the labor force); 41 million disabled Americans are unemployed
  • 24 million Americans work part time
Expands the talent pool
  • Over 40% of employers are feeling the labor pinch; that will worsen as Boomers retire
  • Reduces geographic boundaries
  • Provides access to disabled workers
  • Offers alternative that would have otherwise kept parents and senior caregivers out of the workforce
  • Offers geographic, socioeconomic, and cultural diversity that would not otherwise be possible
Slows the brain drain due to retiring Boomers
  • 75% of retirees want to continue to work—but they want the flexibility to enjoy their retirement
Reduces staffing redundancies and offers quick scale-up and scale-down options
  • Having access to a flexible at-home workforce allows call centers, airlines, and other to add and reduce staff quickly as needed.
  • The need to overstaff, just in case, is greatly reduced
  • 24/7 worldwide coverage is easier to staff with home-based help
Reduces traffic jams
  • Traffic jams rob the U.S. economy of $78 billion/year in productivity
  • They idle away almost 3 billion gallons of gas and accounts for 26 million extra tons of greenhouse gases
  • Every 1% reduction in vehicles yields a three fold reduction in congestion
Prevents traffic accidents
  • Highway deaths cost $60 billion a year and result in 3 million lost workdays
  • More than a quarter of accidents occur during commuting hours
Take the pressure off our crumbling transportation infrastructure
  • Crumbling transportation infrastructure - new roads are being built to meet needs of 10-20 years ago. Less than 6% of our cites roads have kept pace with demand over the past decade.
  • By 2025 we’ll need another 104 thousand additional lane miles - that will cost 530 billion
Insures continuity of operations in the event of a disaster
  • Federal workers are required to telework to the maximum extent possible for this reason
  • Bird flu, terrorism, roadway problems, and weather-related disasters are all drivers
  • Three quarters of teleworkers say they could continue to work in the event of a disaster compared with just 28% on non-teleworkers
Improves performance measurement systems
  • Drucker, Six Sigma, and management experts agree that goal setting and performance measurement is key to successful management
  • For telework to work, employees must be measured by what they do, not where or how they do it
Offers access to grants and financial incentives
  • A number of states, including Virginia, Washington, and Connecticut, offer training and financial incentive for businesses that adopt telework.

Advantages of Telecommuting For Employees *

Saves employees money
  • Employees save on gas, clothes, food, parking, and in some cases, daycare (provided they can flex their hours to eliminate the need)
  • Average savings is $7,000 to $13,000/year per person
Increases leisure time
  • Full time telework results in an extra 5 workweeks of free time a year—time that would have been spent commuting
  • The majority of teleworkers report they have more time with family, friends, and leisure.
Reduces stress, illness, and injury
  • 80% of diseases show that stress is a trigger. Because telework reduces stressful commutes and alleviates caregiver separation issues, teleworkers are likely to suffer fewer stress-related illnesses.
  • Teleworkers are exposed to fewer occupational and environmental hazards at home
  • Teleworkers suffer fewer airborne illnesses because of lack of contact with sick co-workers
  • Teleworkers report being able to make more time for exercise
  • Anyone who has ever dieted knows it’s harder to stay the course when you dine out. Teleworkers often eat healthier meals and are less inclined to consume fast food lunches.

The Holdbacks To Telework *

Management mistrust
  • 75% of managers say they trust their employee, but a third say they’d like to be able to see them, just to be sure.
  • Company culture must embrace the concept at all levels, sweatshop and typing pool mentality has to be abandoned
  • From Peter Drucker’s introduction of Management-By-Objectives in the mid-1950’s, to Six Sigma which was popularized by General Electric’s Jack Welch in the 1990’s, setting and measuring goals has long been held as the key to good management.
It’s not for everyone
  • For some, social needs must be addressed. Telephone, email, instant messaging are a solution for some. Innovative solutions such as virtual outings, online games, and even Second Life have proven successful as well. Occasional telework is also a solution.
  • Telecommuters must be self-directed
  • They should be comfortable with technology or arrangements should be made for remote tech support
  • They should have an defined home office space
  • Home-based employees need to understand that telecommuting is not a suitable replacement for daycare unless they can schedule work hours around their children’s needs.
Career fears from ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality
  • Some employees cite career fears as a reason not to telecommute. Successful teleworking programs overcome the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ issue with performance-based measurement systems, productivity versus presenteeism attitudes. Teleworkers who maintain regular communications (telephone, email, instant chat, even the occasional face-to-face meeting) with traditional co-workers and managers find career impact is not an issue.
Co-worker jealousy
  • Employees need to understand why they were or were not chosen for telework
  • Employees should see telework as a benefit that is earned, not given
  • Standards of selection should be uniform
Security issues
  • Security issues are easy to solve, but must be addressed
  • 90% of those charged with security in large organizations feel that home-based workers are no a security concern. In fact, they are more concerned with the occasional work that is taken out of the office by traditional employees who lack the training, tools, and technologies that teleworkers receive.
  • Security training should be provided for all employees
IT infrastructure changes may be necessary
  • Teleworkers need access to company systems, software, and data
  • Infrastructure changes that support telework improve efficiency for office and traveling employees as well
  • Companies need to address remote technical support issues. Off the shelf solutions exist.
All roads point to telework. As a nation, it’s time to make the road less traveled, our way to work.

* Statistical information contained herein comes from a wide range of studies. For more information post your comments and questions here on the blog and also check out Kate's website.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Must Read Book

So, I was doing some research on the Internet and came across a book called Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). According to
Amazon Best of the Month, July 2008: How could no one have written this book before? These days we spend almost as much time driving as we do eating (in fact, we do a lot of our eating while driving), but I can't remember the last time I saw a book on all the time we spend stuck in our cars. It's a topic of nearly universal interest, though: everybody has a strategy for beating the traffic. Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) has plenty of advice for those shortcut schemers (Vanderbilt may well convince you to become, as he has, a dreaded "Late Merger"), but more than that it's the sort of wide-ranging contrarian compendium that makes a familiar subject new. I'm not the first or last to call Traffic the Freakonomics of cars, but it's true that it fits right in with the school of smart and popular recent books by Leavitt, Gladwell, Surowiecki, Ariely, and others that use the latest in economic, sociological, psychological, and in this case civil engineering research to make us rethink a topic we live with every day. Want to know how much city traffic is just people looking for parking? (It's a lot.) Or why street signs don't work (but congestion pricing does), why new cars crash more than old cars, and why Saturdays now have the worst traffic of the week? Read Traffic, or better yet, listen to the audio book on your endless commute. --Tom Nissley
There is also a great question and answer section with the author on the Amazon site too… I think I might just buy this book.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Employers Get a Little Creative

Today's Province newspaper carries an article about companies getting a bit more flexible with employees based on environmental concerns and high gas prices. The article says that almost half of the 236 companies that responded to their survey offer some kind of flexible work locations, telecommuting, flexible hours or condensed work weeks. But they claim that its more about employee wellness than reducing the commute times and environmental impact.

Twenty years ago or longer I can recall the predictions of the majority of us working from home or a sleek telecommuting centre near our local community. After all these years we still have crowded highways and long commute times during peak hours. Its the same the world over. For many years I have enjoyed the freedom of working from home. While I have a small office in my home, as well as a professional office strata unit that I own, I find myself more often than not at my "telecommuting centre". For me and many others, this telecommuting centre is the local Starbucks. I know of 10 or more business people that work routinely from my Starbucks. Some don't have any office or headquarters for their business. They choose to meet their clients and close deals over a coffee. We all know each other well enough to chat, share contacts, network, and talk about our work week or personal life.

I really feel that in many locations, Starbucks is missing the boat. At my Starbucks they could easily add a second floor and call it The Work Space or something similar. They could have meetings on boths sides of the space that are available for rent (along with coffee, pastry and sandwich catering), fax machines, a photo copier, etc. Rows of work stations with WiFi and VOIP would allow the net savvy to work away. Perhaps this business floor would even have its own coffee bar, with staircase access gained with a special "executive membership card". Heck, the people I know would even pay a monthly fee for such a service. Just imagine, a local Starbucks telecommuting centre!

Working from Starbucks and at times I personally am more productive and efficient can't be beat. I can choose to take today off and work tonight when I know I can pound out a 50 page report better at 10:00pm when things are cooler and quiet. I can work three hours this morning, and accomplish eight hours of work. This flexibility is so much a part of my life that I believe I am not unemployable any longer, at least not to any traditional firm. But guess what? I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm out of the rat race.

Recently I purchased a GSM modem that uses a cell phone network to provide me with wireless broadband internet. I've decided to start transitioning out of my long-time consulting practice, and back into FOREX currency trading. The FOREX market is open 6 days a week, 24 hours per day. I can work when I want to and take advantage of market opportunities. If I miss an early New York session, I can sleep in and catch the Asian or European sessions. Last week I took my beefy laptop trading station and GSM modem over to White Rock. After breakfast on the strip, I set up my trading station on a picnic table and traded FOREX as I watched the waves roll in. Life is tough, but some of us have to work at the beach! It sure beats a long driving commute and being held hostage in an offie tower.

We as people have options. Many of these options are not without risk. I really think the business community needs to take a bit of risk and empower some of their trusted employees to work from home. With nearly one job or every resident of Langley, combined with another chunk of the population working from home, we could greatly reduce our carbon footprint and make local and regional LRT much more viable. It would certainly be a great community environmental initiative for a company like Starbucks as well.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Meeting Last Night - A recap

Last night we had special guest speaker Paul Cordeiro, Manager of Transportation Engineering for the Township of Langley, at our meeting. He delivered a presentation about the many transportation plans that are currently in the work that will affect Langley. This included everything from Community Rail to the Gateway Program. Here is his presentation.Paul brought up some concerns about getting the Interurban activated through Langley. While most of the line would be easy to reactivate, due to the freight rail volumes and road traffic on 200th Street, Fraser Highway, and the Langley Bypass, the 10.4km section through Langley presents some challenges. Of course, these challenges could all be overcome with political will. As is on the SFOT website:
On the most difficult stretch of the Interurban rail, the link between Pratt and Livingstone, where heavy rail shares the route from west of Fort Langley to Cloverdale, BC Hyrdo has retained passenger rights and the right to assign them. Passenger rail doesn’t pay cost until it reaches 33% of wheelage which is a lot of passenger trains. CP has already agreed to sharing their rights with passenger service.
SFOT has always believed that the 200th Street corridor would be a prime candidate for a streetcar system. This system would be able to feed right into the Interurban rail line. While Paul said it would take more studying to see if streetcars or a quality bus system would be the best for 200th Street, he strongly believes that the street should be a high-quality, frequent transit corridor.

He also believed that the Township should be building Transit Oriented Development (TOD) along the 200th Street corridor. We couldn’t agree more.

Speaking about 200th Street, Paul told us that the street will have a greenway (bike/walking network), proper on-street bike lanes (hopefully with some separation), four lanes of auto traffic, and two lanes only for transit (hopefully streetcars) when complete. It seems to me that 200th Street might actually become a complete road that would allow for and support equal access to all modes of transportation such as walking, cycling, transit/trains, and driving. Of course this road will only truly be complete if we build TOD in that corridor.

Paul also believes that the Township of Langley should slowly and gradually reduce its parking requirements. Reduce parking encourages people to think about walking, biking, and taking transit before using their car. Downtown Calgary has been reducing its parking slowly since the early 1980’s. Because of this, today the vast majority of trips into its downtown are by transit. Of course this is all dependent on getting quality transit. Also as urban Langley develops into a TOD community, large surface parking lots becomes increasingly unnecessary.

Paul talked about how transportation and land use planning must go hand-in-hand. IE: One cannot build a freeway and expect TOD. Luckily, the Township is working on a suitability charter. As I said in a previous post:
I was chatting with a planner at the Township and he told me that the Sustainability Charter, once approved, should have a ripple down effect on every procedure and policy in the community. This would be truly exciting. Imagine a road built for sustainability modes of transportation like walk, biking, and streetcars. Or a storm water collection system that filters water back into the earth on site. Or neighborhoods that can sustain a person from birth to death. These are all possible today. I truly hope that we are moving out of the lip service to sustainability stage, and into putting sustainable principles into practice.
Finally, we talked about roadway design. From what I could tell, Paul seems to support complete roadways as is evident in some parts of Willoughby. He said that the Township designs road for their posted speed to improve safety for all users. IE: the Township wouldn’t build freeway style roads for a 70km/h roadway. As an example, 200th Street has about 10 foot lanes with bike lanes on the side. Some residential streets are even narrower. Compare this to Ministry of Transportation road that are all designed to freeway dimensions. Our municipal transportation planners are light-years ahead of the Province. Again from a previous blog post:
The Ministry of Transportation builds ALL new roads to have 12-foot width lanes and big shoulders. What's the matter with 12-foot lanes? Not much from the perspective of a semi, but from everywhere there is much.

12-foot lanes are the standard of the Interstate highway system in the US, being able to handle traffic at speed in excess of 100km/h. Do you ever wonder why its so easy to go 130km/h on a freeway and not realize it, yet going 50km/h on a side street in Vancouver seems like the suicide mission? It’s all about the geometric design (lane width, parking, trees, etc.) of the road. Narrower road tend to lead to lower speeds while wider road lead to higher speeds.

Wider roads are less people and less city friendly. The City of Surrey along with many of municipalities in North America want to keep traffic moving, but not at the expense of livability. The current City of Surrey Transportation Plan calls for roads with narrow lanes, bike lanes, sidewalks, and trees. This keeps the speed of vehicles reasonable while allow other users to take advantage of the road. While talking about good streetscape is beyond this post, these pictures speak more than I could type.
I encourage everyone to download the audio from our meeting.

Download August 14 Meeting Audio

Our August 14th, 2008 meeting audio minutes are available for downloading.

Download the MP3 Audio File

(Remember to select "Save As" if you want to save it to your desktop, otherwise it will play in your browser.)

Turnstiles Everywhere

As you know, there has been much talk about Translink installing turnstiles. You can read about it at one of our previous blog posts. The debate focuses around fare evasion and safety on the SkyTrain system. Whatever you opinion is on turnstile, it won’t do one bit to help the safety or fare evasion rates on the largest part of our transit system (and really only part on in the South Fraser), the bus network.

When I lived in Brazil, I made use of the public transit system. On each bus were two employees: the driver and the fare collector. You entered the bus from the rear door, paid your fare, then when through a turnstile to sit on the bus. Sound like a pretty good system, eh?

Two nights ago, I was on the 502 between Langley Centre and Surrey Central Station. That night, there were five people that didn’t pay their fare. One person started swearing at the bus driver, so the driver let him on the bus. Another person just walked on. The other three people made up lame sob stories. Maybe they should have fare inspector on the bus like they do in Vancouver. Or better yet, if our government is really serious about fare evasion and safety, they should run the system like it was in Brazil. Forgot about just turnstiles on the SkyTrain, I say let’s put turnstiles on every transit vehicle in Vancouver!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Meeting Tonight - The Transportation Planning Process

7:00pm – 9:00pm
Township of Langley Municipal Facility
4th Floor, Nicomekl River Meeting Room
20338 – 65 Avenue, Langley

Download a Copy of our Agenda


6:45pm - 7:00pm Self-Registration /Greeting (NP)

7:00pm - 7:10pm Group introductions (all)
-Place of Residence

7:10pm - 7:25pm Reports
-Financial Report (JZ)
-Township Roundtable & LRT Expert Update (JZ)
-Help Needed – Workers (NP)
-Society Status (NP)
-Advertising Budget - $83.90 per month (JZ)

7:25pm - 7:30pm “The Transportation Planning Process”
- Introduction of Paul Cordeiro, M.Sc., P.Eng., TOL & Disclaimer (JZ)

7:30pm - 8:30pm “The Transportation Planning Process” (Paul Cordeiro)

8:30pm - 8:45pm Group question provided to Mr. Cordeiro in advance of the meeting (NP & PC):

In your personal and professional opinion, what would you consider to be the ideal transportation system and what would that look like in the Township of Langley? This is given current and future projections of population, density, etc., as well as if money and politics were not issues.

Q & A / Feedback (participants)

8:45pm - 8:50pm Closing Items (NP)
-Help Needed Workers
-Sponsors Needed
-Keep watching the Blog and send people to it and the website!

September Meeting – To Be Announced

Meeting Adjourned

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Love Affair on a Rocky Road

The Marietta Register newspaper in the State of Georgia reports today that America's love affair with the "freedom of automobile ownership" is now coming with an expensive price tag of several thousands of dollars each year for the average family, with $100 fill-ups, insurance, car payments, repairs, and registration fees.

Here in Langley, I have a neighbour that is a baliff. Checking his vehicle auction page today, there are at least 20 vehicles available immediately, and he has sold hundreds over the past few weeks. Business is booming for him as he scrambles to open more offices and hire more staff.

Its interesting to see that that the local council leaders in Georgia are taking a wait and see attitude, failing to see the massive economic benefit that some 60-70 US cities in the midst of streetcar and light rail development projects are seeing. It all appears to be a question of who will pay, and in the USA local officials want that to be the Feds. Another parallel to our home here in BC.

We long for some political leaders with a good dose of leadership, vision, and guts to get this job started. I do believe that we have a few here in Langley. I wonder if their colleagues will put politics aside for the sake of the people and allow light rail transit to take root here. If there was the political willpower, we already have the bright people in place to make this vision a reality.

Last night I was preparing for our South Fraser OnTrax meeting tomorrow night and I printed out a biography for Paul Cordeiro, Manager of Transportation Engineering for the Township of Langley. Not only is Paul is accomplished civil engineer, but he also possesses a master's degee in transportation engineering. Guys like Paul and other Township staff could realy put legs to light rail with some motivated leadership behind it. As a former planner, I know that Mayor Kurt Alberts is giving thought to the development potential of light rail, and is continually discussing transportation and funding options with his regional counterparts. As we pointed out the other day, all of the Township council members have publically endorsed light rail options in one form or another, but a few still haggle over who will pay, without seeing the 15 to 20 times the investment costs for LRT, that will come back to them in new development. And this is not counting the huge economic and environmental benefits that we would receive.

As The Province newspaper said the other day, its not rocket science!

Will the real investment please stand up...

Someone recently told me that when people talk about spending money on roads, it's called an investment, but when talking about transit, and other non-auto improvements, it's called a subsidy. While this might seem like 1960's style thinking, it's still happening today.

Example: A politician would be unelected if he proposed system-wide tolling on all roads in the Lower Mainland, but no one would blink if transit fares went up. (which they do every year.) Why is that? It seems that in this era of climate change and "going green", the car is still king. All other modes of transportation are still an afterthought. Matthew Claxton of the Langley Advance wrote an article on bus options and unreliability here in Langley. Its an interesting read on the Langley bus system, and its inability to attract people out of their cars. The second article was carried by the Advance, and is also about another form of alternative transportation, specifically biking and the lack of proper, wide bike lanes. (I have always been a fan of separated on-street bike lanes.)

You would think that these forms of transportation would get large sums of funding to help equalize and give people real transportation options out here. Sadly, all we are getting is SkyTrain by the time I'll have kids the same age as I am today. Our governments must invest in biking, walking, transit, and supporting programs. To be provocative, maybe it's time to end the auto subsidy.

I'll leave you with one final thought. I cannot think of a single memorable, and highly desirable, area in this region that was built around the auto. White Rock and Fort Langley were built with walking in mind. While areas like Downtown Vancouver, and even North Vancouver, were built around the streetcar. So when we talk about in investment, walking and transit are the true lasting investments in the well being of the region.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Healthcare and Transit Oriented Development?

An interesting opinion piece from the Island can be found here. The author speaking about the linking of transit oriented development (TOD) not just to transportation, but also to health care. The author says....

"We need to accept the make-it-happen mindset, and sign on for Transit-Oriented Development  (TOD). If TOD is to help build a greener world, it must reach  beyond the conventional boundaries of transit. It must be woven into the fabric of health care and other public services,  blend into land-use and taxation policy, and integrate with  residential construction and economic development."

We previously wrote about Langley developer Leo Mitrunen and his plans for such a link on 200th Street. Leo lived overseas for many years as I did, and has a different perspective on things. Perhaps this TOD and Health Care link has come of age?

We like it!

Monday, August 11, 2008

South Fraser OnTrax LRT Expert in The Province Newspaper

Today's Province newspaper editorial quotes South Fraser OnTrax Light Rail expert Brent Graham, and recounts some highlights of our discussion with Township of Langley Council and his interview with Langley Advance reporter Matthew Claxton. In a strongly-worded opinion The Province says,

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that, with a fast-growing population, higher fuel costs, increased gridlock and rising air-quality concerns, the future of public transportation in Greater Vancouver is clouded indeed. Why then does the B.C. government appear to be dragging its heels when it comes to such options as using the old Interurban line for a state-of-the-art, light-rail transportation system? Despite rapidly increasing public support for light rail in the Fraser Valley in recent years, Victoria has shown little interest in the idea."

Graham, a former Langley resident, specifically mentioned the rapidly densifying Willoughby area. "It's ready for a tram system, if I've ever seen one,"
he said.

"In our view, this is another textbook case of how the public's thinking has advanced far beyond that of the politicians they elect."

South Fraser OnTrax thanks The Langley Advance, reporter Matthew Claxton, and The Province newspaper group for their vision, deep understanding of this critical issue, and their strong support for the Interurban and trams in the South Fraser region. We also thank Langley Township Mayor Kurt Alberts, Cllrs. Ward, Vickberg, Richter, Long, Kositsky, Fox, Ferguson and Bateman for allowing Brent Graham to speak. We know that each and every one of these community leaders supports some form of Light Rail Transit in our region. Please continue to show your leadership and vision to make these LRT solutions a reality sooner, rather than later.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Picnic in the Park - A Review

Well, as promised here are some pictures from VALTAC’s Picnic in the Park event. It was great to see all the rail groups from Chilliwack to Surrey out today. The Fraser Valley Heritage Rail Society showed their video of riding the Interurban in the last day before it was shut down. There is a clip available on facebook. Also, we had the opportunity to watch “City Reflections” which was produced by the Vancouver Historical Society. It follows the downtown Vancouver streetcar routes in 1907. I certainly learned a lot about the early years of Vancouver. At the end of the video, there was a side-by-side comparison of the routes then and now. Anyway, you can buy the video from the Vancouver Historical Society’s website.

There was live music, food, a replica (rubber-tired) trolley tour around Downtown Langley, and lots of talk about getting rail to the Fraser Valley now. The (literally) biggest part of the event was VALTAC’s trailer ad that you can see below. It was truly impressive to see.

Blogger Stephen Rees talked about the need for better transit and shared his thoughts about the Provincial Gateway Program. City of Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender also spoke and shared his thought on the Provincial Gateway Program (which were different from Stephen Rees’.) I also believe that Township of Langley Councillor Jordan Bateman spoke about streetcars, though I didn’t get to hear his talk. Rail for the Valley was also out in force spreading the word about restoring the Interurban.

It was a great event for a rainy Saturday. Now here are some more pictures.