Friday, April 27, 2012

Next weekend (May 5th, 2012), I'll be leading a Jane's Walk, exploring some features of the downtown walking environment and bringing people to the bridgehead to talk more about how the new bridge will connect back into the city's transportation network, with an emphasis on the walking environment and cycling links from the Galloping Goose.

More to come, but here's the description that will pop up at the central Jane's Walk website soon.

Victoria's new Johnson St. Bridge is a few years away, but planning is well advanced and the city and its citizens are ever watchful.  Road re-alignments and changes to downtown approaches will emerge along with the new bridge.

What will the new walking environment look like?  Downtown Victoria has many features that support walking and invite people to explore some of the unique connections and design elements that create an appealing and supportive pedestrian environment. 

It will be a good start then to re-imagine the bridge connections and new infrastructure that will connect people to the Galloping Goose regional trail that will reach into downtown, the harbour pathway that will eventually connect along the city's waterfront and through the bridge lift mechanism, as well as a new sidewalk to be cantilevered off of the bridge deck, opening up space and providing more comfortable viewpoints form which to enjoy the vibrancy of Victoria's Inner Harbour.

Connecting the bridge, the trails and the pathways into the fabric of the downtown walking environment has been sketched out, but how can we join the conversation to envision how it will present to those on foot and what ideas can we share and offer back to the city to suggest enhancements to the landscape to give more primacy to those on foot,to make it safer, more comfortable and convenient, as well as more inviting as a walking connection or destination.
There are many projects planned along with the bridge and our walk will give us an opportunity to bring more ideas to the table and make sure that the walking environment (and some of the cycling connections) fit seemlessly back into the streetscapes of downtown.

And here's a map of the walk route, planned for 10 a.m. to 12 noon.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Today's email to Mayor and Council in advance of their stategic priorities session this afternoon.  Hope that some have time to give it a quick look.

Quick thoughts for Victoria Strategy:

As a citizen I would focus on many issues; as an advocate focusing on particular issues I’ll be more brief.

·         Protect, if not grow investments in and work on pedestrian, cycling and greenways facilities.

The city’s vision statement celebrates our “world class” status.  When it comes to livability and economic vitality, our advantage is in support for healthy lifestyles, active transportation and a green, environmentally friendly city.  Attract and retaining sustainable businesses will require more investment in supporting new generations of workers who will walk, cycle, or take transit for transportation.  North American trends show a significant decline in driving and Victoria will lose if we don’t keep ahead of that curve.  Reducing auto dependence also allows us to provide housing more cheaply, allowing people who work here to also live here.

·         Keep investing in parks, trees and our green-space.  It builds the kind of environment we will want to live in, and supports walking and cycling – an attractive environment and clean air to breathe support active lifestyles.

These initiatives would also help the city advance sustainability objectives and commitments to reducing carbon emissions and our contribution to global climate change.

·         Restore public advisory committees

Last term several committees were collapsed into super-committees where agendas were too broad to attract enough interest or enough focus on key issues facing the city to be effective.  The lack of connection to departmental staff and the absence of council liaisons deprived citizens of meaningful engagement and council of useful feedback on policy and projects undertaken by the city.

For many services and projects (and for the interests I represent), this gap undermined efforts to respond to key needs in the community for more and better walking and cycling facilities.  Losing the cycling committee and the transportation committee distanced citizens from a useful forum in which the decision to choose a new bridge over refurbishment could have been more effectively communicated, gaining more early support and capturing positive ideas on details of design – an opportunity that can still be useful on road approaches on either side of the new bridge, and particularly on improvements to the walking and cycling environment.

This too would help the city improve citizen engagement, another key objective in your Corporate Strategic Plan.  A good model exists in Saanich where, for example, a bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee, chaired by a member of council, provides a very useful forum in which to review plan priorities and design details.  Better committees would be useful in other areas where citizen engagement is withering.  We need stronger connections between council and citizens.

·         Take leadership on transit issues

Take a cue from Waterloo, where the high tech industry is speaking in unison in support of their LRT plan.  Building a stronger economy and attracting the kinds of businesses that Victoria is suited to will not be in catering to more roads and parking lots.  LRT is the best tool for addressing key public transportation challenges; it can aid in the development of more density and living space in downtown and along the Douglas corridor; and it will help meet many other objectives in building a sustainable community at all levels.

There are many other issues and responsibilities that the city needs to take on to renew our aging infrastructure and build an economic model that supports dynamic and sustainable growth to maintain our “world class” status.  It will not be advanced by cutting investments in arts and culture, active transportation and other green initiatives and key services the city provides.  We can’t build a better city if our focus is on cutting more of what makes our city “world class”.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Today's letter to the CRD about issues emerging on the E&N Trail with new construction.

Geoff Young, Chair, Capital Regional District
Director Susan Brice, Chair, Parks Commitee
Barb Desjardins, Mayor, Township of Esquimalt 

I am writing to request that CRD Parks halt work on intersection treatments along the E&N Rail Trail to review designs that may compromise the utility of the trail for cyclists and other intended users. 

Funding for this project was secured to support commuter cycling, and while rail crossings may need more robust controls, sections where the trail connects only with minor roadways are being designed to present hazards and frustrate the needs of the most important user group.

The proposed gates and chicane, while consistent with federal railway regulations, are not supportable for connections from the trail through the road allowance in Esquimalt parallel to Wurtele Place.  I know of no engineering standards that would support this treatment, nor is it consistent with local precedent in the design and management of our regional trails.  The application of this treatment may, in fact, expose the CRD to liabilities associated with the construction of treatments that deliberately present hazards to trail users. 

There are a number of issues with the designs as proposed and sketched out on the trail already:

·         Traffic volumes on the road allowance that connect to the trail are very low while trail traffic is likely to exceed vehicle volumes on the roadway very soon after connections are completed.  Right of way assignments typically favour corridors with higher traffic volumes, as has been done along the Galloping Goose through Saanich between the Victoria border and the Switch Bridge.  Why is this chicane treatment even being contemplated before completion of the trail, an assessment of traffic volumes or review of hazards presented to users by the design?

·         There are many locations along the Goose and Lochside in particular where the trail connects to roadways with much higher traffic volumes and higher vehicle speeds than will be seen along this laneway.  At no location are there chicanes – only bollards and signage – to inform trail users of potential conflict points.  The proposed treatment in Esquimalt has no local precedent that would indicate this is the right approach to designing this connection.

·         There are similarly oblique connections between trails and roadways along the Galloping Goose – at Harbour Rd in Victoria and also between a connecting path alongside the Delta Ocean Pointe and Esquimalt Rd where cyclists using existing pathways alongside the rail can merge into traffic.  At this location in particular, chicanes that had been used were removed to eliminate hazards for cyclists using the trail.  The roadway that trail users enter at this location has many thousands more vehicle trips per day than the small laneway in Esquimalt where this failed treatment is being introduced again.

·         All other proposals along the Goose or Lochside where chicanes or other problematic design approaches have been contemplated in the past have been rejected in favour of more sympathetic designs.  Why would a design that fails to support the intended users of the trail project be contemplated at this location?

There are several other issues that this proposal raises:

·         What consultation has taken place, if any, with other stakeholders or users (beyond local residents and the local municipality) to inform design choices to support the intent and performance of the trail?

·         What protocols are in place to review and assess designs for other elements of the trail project that can now proceed with clarity on the return of active rail to the corridor?  There will be numbers of other issues where engagement with user groups will be critical to successful design and operation of the trail.

·         Chicanes as marked out will affect tandem bicycles, those pulling bike trailers or trail-a-bike attachments for children, who may not be able to negotiate the barriers, even when dismounted.  Apart from the many hundred, if not thousands, of commuter cyclists that can be expected on the trail, it will also serve leisure cycling and visiting touring cyclists for whom the design will also presents hazards or obstructions difficult to navigate, and suppressing demand.  Chicanes as mapped out on site may also pose difficulties for those pushing strollers, in wheelchairs or using other mobility aids.

·         While properly designed chicanes can work where the trail crosses the rail line, more thoughtful designs must be used.  Chicanes are unnecessary where the trail merges into a low volume, residential laneway where only a few dozen vehicle movements a day are likely to conflict with much heavier trail traffic.  Better approaches using signage, bollards and textured pavement are available.

Designs and installations along this important trail must first serve the intended user groups, particularly commuter cyclists, who are the client market who were central to successful funding applications by the CRD.  Compromising levels of service for this market reduces the chance that the use of the trail will meet targets used to sell this project to funding agencies. 

The need for consultation to ensure the design process incorporates “customer feedback” must be integrated into your design process.  A good model remains the original Galloping Goose design advisory committee that helped to shape that project in the ‘90s and ensured that the users for whom the trail was constructed had a forum in which to provide feedback on design issues.  A similar task force or advisory committee should be established to ensure that E&N trail projects are similarly reviewed by representatives of user communities, something that is clearly missing from the currently proposed works now being advanced.

Yesterday’s endorsement by the CRD Parks Committee for renewed expenditures and construction along the trail is a timely and welcome and will help move the trail forward to completion, but design issues need to be reviewed with users as has been the practice with past phases of the project.   Expressions of concern by residents or the municipality should not be sufficient to ignore appropriate design standards, and a lack of reference to user groups is not a satisfactory approach to further trail development.

Capital Bike and Walk will file this correspondence with legal counsel as a notice that we believe a hazard is being created by this proposed installation.

 We are asking, therefore, that any further work on these treatments be suspended pending further review and that the chicane treatment at the Wurtele Place laneway be discarded.  I am available to appear before committee to present further on this issue or to discuss options with staff to ensure more responsive and appropriate designs are used along the trail, and that further works along the E&N corridor are vetted through a more appropriate process to ensure users have opportunities to provide feedback on designs that will affect their safety, comfort or convenience on the trail.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Parking in motion

No surprise that discussions about pay parking downtown are drawing howls of outrage from the gasaholics.  They can’t wrap their heads around the idea that there are other ways to get around, or even the fanciful notion that free storage for your empty car is a subsidy everyone else is paying.

Still, the prescription has to be approached with care.  Squeezing too hard will impact downtown business and if we are going to charge for parking we need to offer alternatives.  Shellie Gudgeon has it right – free parking hours don’t necessarily translate into more customers, as those spaces are often used by people working downtown.  Ironically, it does frustrate those who may be actually shopping or visiting downtown for entertainment, services etc, who are competing for those spaces (there are more than 10,000 spaces downtown).

What’s missing from the discussion, at least so far, is that you can’t just beat people with a stick; you have to offer the carrots too.

During my short tenure on council, we were working on a plan to use parking revenues to support investments in active transportation infrastructure (bike lanes, pedestrian plan, more bike parking etc.), that would offer alternatives so people would have more options. 

Transit has to be part of that too, and Sunday service is not sufficient to be efficient.  If we charge for Sunday parking, there has to be better bus service to help people who work downtown, travel to and from conveniently and efficiently.  We did some work on the late shift – extending transit service later into the night to give downtown bar workers options, but more needs to be done.

Better still, we have to make it more attractive and affordable for people to live downtown, and vehicle storage is a real cost driver for downtown living – it can add $50,000 or more per unit in development costs (for underground parking) – making housing less affordable and driving them out to the ‘burbs.  How ironic.  Banks won’t finance development without “adequate” parking and residents too long dependent on their cars are very resistant to variances that allow developers to reduce parking minimums attached to zoning.  “Car free” or “car light” housing was also something I was working on – shelter for people, not for cars.

Still, the discussion has to be engaged, though the first iteration of easy targets to cut (bike and pedestrian plan funding, greenways), should be transparently counterintuitive to the evolutionary erosion of free parking.  You have to provide alternatives.  The discussion is a good start, but it has to be thoughtful and comprehensive rather than just reactive, on both sides of the issue.  I’ve got no problem charging more, and more often, for parking, but the bus, the walking route and the bike lane has to be in place before the grinding starts.

For those free associating on new revenue sources, or grousing at paying more, here’s a more in depth look at the high cost of free parking from Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California in Los Angeles.   See:

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

For whom the bridge tolls

Tolls again are being suggested to help pay for new costs for Victoria’s Johnson St. Bridge project.  It’s a bad idea and wouldn’t likely work even if funding partners allowed for them in the city’s partnership agreements.

The federal government provided $21 million in “Build Canada” funding for what is now a $93 million dollar project.  Another $16.5 million recently came from federal gas tax transfers back to the province and local governments for programs that support sustainable transportation infrastructure – key features of the new bridge.  Tolls are not supported in the Build Canada funding and it raises issues also for the gas tax funds.  While the city is on the hook for $49 million, and is understandably interested in the revenue, other funders would lay their own claims to any new revenue to reduce their costs. 

The real problem with bridge tolls is more complex, especially in a city like Victoria.  There are so many idiosyncrasies of place that what might be a solution in one city will fall short of expectations somewhere else and that’s particularly so in Victoria where we do not have a grid pattern transportation network.

There are several approaches to tolling, and at least a few that I am aware of that are instructive for our situation here.  Here are some thoughts on some of those approaches that could be deal breakers for tolls on the bridge, even if the funding agreements allowed for them.

First, there are those tolls that provide an advantage to drivers – they allow them to purchase road services to speed up their trip or pay for shortcuts that will free them from the congestion of everyday traffic.  Toronto has one in Highway 407 that cuts across the north end of the city, cutting travel times for those willing to pay and making goods movement more efficient for the trucking industry, which has a bottom line interest in paying to save time.  Time is money and time spent in traffic is very unproductive, so buying time returns a real benefit.

The tolls may pay for the basic infrastructure but everyone else picks up the tab for externalities.  Police, fire, emergency services, sprawling development etc., are all costs that private roads use, but don’t pay for.  Once off the toll road, drivers have to find their way through traffic on the public road system like everyone else, but at least for some of their trip, time and money have been saved.  What it doesn’t account for is the induced traffic affect.  Expanding road capacity, public or private, makes it more attractive to drive and the impacts are felt everywhere, including across the public road system that the toll road feeds into.

Another problem of private toll systems is the sense of entitlement.  Those who pay for the roads get to use them and typically they exclude traffic they don’t want to see on the roads, like cyclists or pedestrians (not that they would want to use the 407 but tolling our bridge, for example, would certainly generate pressure to expand or improve vehicle capacity at the expense of other users who might not be paying).  Toll highways are very much designed for homogeneous users, not for diverse travel needs.  They suck up transportation dollars for capital costs and maintenance of the toll facility.  More broadly based road pricing schemes will draw from the same pockets, but invest in more equitable and diverse systems.  Tolls may also drive up the cost of all roads to the extent that they compete for the same supplies of materials, labour, resources etc., driving up (literally) costs for everyone.

The Johnson St. Bridge doesn’t really offer much of an advantage for drivers.  To be sure it would be inconvenient, to say the least, if it wasn’t available, but that minimal advantage over say, the Bay St. Bridge, wouldn’t be enough to draw traffic to choose the bridge over alternative, free routes.

The second kind of toll I’ll call a turnstile toll.  It forces drivers to pay a toll to get to somewhere that they can’t get to by any other route, or at best, a much more distant alternative that would cost more in time or fuel (assuming that drivers make that rational decision).  Montreal’s Champlain Bridge has been raised as an example of a new toll bridge that the federal government will fund to connect the city of Montreal with south shore municipalities.  There are no alternatives to that crossing that make sense.  They are too distant and out of direction to be an option for most drivers using that bridge.  They’ll simply pay the charge, use their usual route, and most will recognize that it is a small price to pay for the convenience.

There are numbers of other examples of “turnstile” tolls where alternatives are untenable or non-existent and the toll really does pay for a connection that serves drivers most of all.  Vancouver is contemplating tolls on some bridges where extra capacity or new infrastructure is needed to support growing volumes of vehicle traffic.

The model doesn’t easily fit Victoria’s Johnson St. Bridge.  The alternatives are close enough to dislocate traffic to less suitable routes (Bay St. is already at capacity), and the dollar return so much less than one might predict from current traffic volumes.  Tolling would likely drive traffic volumes down, depressing revenues along with those other impacts.  Again, the sense of entitlement associated with road tolling would apply to our bridge and drivers would put up the pressure to service their needs above all others.

The third kind of toll, and one more likely fitting to our local situation, but equally problematic, is what I would call a punitive charge.  It’s anti-car by design and serves no other purpose than to extract money from drivers, by whatever means possible, to pay for the infrastructure they use, regardless of who they have to share it with or whatever purposes the route may serve.  (About 30% of traffic on the bridge is already on foot or traveling by bike so the target market for tolls is a lot smaller than traffic counts might suggest, and tolling bikes and pedestrians would be, to say the least, unfortunate if not unworkable.)

This too would drive traffic elsewhere.   People have options, and some of them might not include downtown at all.  Langford would be happy if Victoria charged punitive tolls, as would Saanich and their Uptown partners.  Sucking business out of downtown is part of suburban economic development strategies.  Their staunch commitment to free parking, and plenty of it, would help starve downtown of business (and how fast would the declining tax proceeds overwhelm the revenue from tolls?).  Tolls have their own infrastructure and administrative costs.  You have to ask if this is really worth it.

No surprise that I support user pay concepts for our transportation system – drivers in particular do enjoy a heavy subsidy already and need to pay more for the land and resources they use.  But I’m most interested in practical solutions that work in the real world to either solve transportation problems or ensure real equity in our transportation system. 

Location specific tolls may work, in some places, not so easily here.  What is more effective, if not equitable, are fuel taxes collected at the pump (efficient systems are in place already), and redistributed back to support transportation capital projects in the communities those taxes are drawn from.  We get some of those dollars back for transit in Victoria, and lately more through those gas tax funds rebated to municipalities accessed by application (the city already gets the first source and the bridge gets money from the second). 

Transit, and the CRD is working now on a study of alternate transportation funding models, mostly to support LRT, but whatever tools they might adopt could, much like current the Vancouver model, be used to support major regional infrastructure projects from bridges to bike lanes.  It could very well include tolls, additional fuel taxes or parking space taxes, but don’t expect it to be so simple as a coin box on the bridge.  A more fine-tuned toll system might be “road pricing”, where vehicles are equipped with a “black box” that records mileage and drivers or vehicle owners get charged accordingly.  It applies system wide so it doesn’t dislocate traffic, keeping decades of system design intact and securing a reasonably stable supply of funding.

Cost issues have got everyone running for cover, looking for ways to cover the real costs of dealing with aging infrastructure, and our bridge is just the most visible, and expensive challenge that the city is currently facing.  Other municipalities will have their own challenges and are looking for their own solutions.  But unlike bigger cities, with grid systems or distant connections over natural barriers, Victoria’s transportation networks are more organic and eclectic, and have grown into place for as long as the city has been here.  We need to find more thoughtful, practical and effective ways of paying to keep them operating and renew those pieces of critical infrastructure, like our bridge, (and some others in the region that are likewise at the end of their service life).  Tolling our new bridge though, is not that solution.