Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Field Guide to Transit Quarrels

SFU's City Program hosted Jarrett Walker, international transit consultant and blogger of Human Transit, at their free public lecture last night. I had the change to attend and want to share a few highlights of the evening.

Jarrett looked at what he called the Spectrum of Authority and used this framework for his discussion about how people talk and debate on transit. At one end of the spectrum there is the dull, cold and calculated world of geometry. Fact such as: only one vehicle can occupancy the same place and time or when you branch a rail line, you get half the frequency in the two branched section (think Expo Line in Surrey). He noticed that highway departments and many bus operating companies are stuck on this end of the spectrum doing things "by the book" and how it's always been done. Most of today's road standards come from "The Green Book" that was first published in first half of the 20th century. On the other end of the spectrum is personal feelings and ideas: "I hate buses", "SkyTrain is sexy", and nimbyism. Transit plans that come from this end of the spectrum include Personal Rapid Transit, monorails, and other Utopian ideals that have no viable path from now to their future. Jarrett's main point was that we need a better balance in North America between vision (feeling) and practicality (geometry).

He went on to talk about how we waste too much time talking about transit vehicles, something he calls "vehicle-love", and not enough time talking about what makes a great transit system. He made the point that all things being equal, the choice of transit vehicle should be determined by the capacity that is needed on a route. One point he made was that transit service needs to be frequent and reliable which depends on giving transit vehicles real priority such as transit-only lanes and dictated right-of-ways. Another major point was that transit systems need to be easy to understand and have great connectivity. I tend to think of this as the single transfer system, this is how the bus routes in the City of Vancouver are setup as opposed the insane routing of the community shuttles in Langley. The final point was that a successful transit system is dependent on all levels of government and agencies working from the same plan, something that we are still struggling with in Metro Vancouver.

After his presentation, there was QA time. I said my piece about density in the South Fraser to correct the large chunk of the folks in the room that still believe that we all live in single-family houses and commute to Vancouver. One audience member asked about how we can move from the ideal of reducing GHG by using transit and how we can practically get there. Jarret had a great, cost-effective answer: remove vehicle/parking lanes and give them to transit, pedestrians, and cyclists. This will give transit the frequency and reliable needed and send a signal that transit is the priority. Another audience members asked about Jarret's thoughts on road pricing. He believes that road pricing is a good idea because without it we have distorted the economics of roads. From his blog:
Congestion is the result of underpricing. If you give away 500 free concert tickets to the first 500 people in line, you'll get 500 people standing in line, some of them overnight. These people are paying time to save money. Current prevailing road pricing policy requires all motorists to act like these frugal concertgoers. Motorists are required to pay for road use in time, rather than in money, even though some would rather do the opposite and our cities would be safer and more efficient if they could. Current road pricing policy requires motorists to save money, a renewable resource, by expending time, the least renewable resource of all.
Anyway it was a great evening and I believe Joe will be blogging about his thought on it later this week.


Robert in Calgary said...

How did you like his response to your "say".

Nathan Pachal said...

It was OK. The problem is that many of our planning don't spend any time in the South of Fraser and tend to demise the area as the suburbs even though the South of Fraser is really its own Ecosystem that doesn't really need Vancouver.