Tag Archives: transit

America’s Bias Against the Common Good

From the New Yorker

There is a popular notion at large, part of a sort of phantom “bi-partisan” centrist conviction, that the degradation of American infrastructure, exemplified by the backwardness of our trains and airports, too, is a failure of the American political system. We all should know that it is bad to have our trains crowded and wildly inefficient—as Michael Tomasky points out, fifty years ago, the train from New York to Washington was much faster than it is now—but we lack the political means or will to cure the problem. In fact, this is a triumph of our political system, for what is politics but a way of enforcing ideological values over merely rational ones? If we all agreed on common economic welfare and pursued it logically, we would not need politics at all: we could outsource our problems to a sort of Saint-Simonian managerial class, which would do the job for us.

What an ideology does is give you reasons not to pursue your own apparent rational interest—and this cuts both ways, including both wealthy people in New York who, out of social conviction, vote for politicians who are more likely to raise their taxes, and poor people in the South who vote for those devoted to cutting taxes on incomes they can never hope to earn. There is no such thing as false consciousness. There are simply beliefs that make us sacrifice one piece of self-evident interest for some other, larger principle.

What we have, uniquely in America, is a political class, and an entire political party, devoted to the idea that any money spent on public goods is money misplaced, not because the state goods might not be good but because they would distract us from the larger principle that no ultimate good can be found in the state. Ride a fast train to Washington today and you’ll start thinking about national health insurance tomorrow.

The ideology of individual autonomy is, for good or ill, so powerful that it demands cars where trains would save lives, just as it places assault weapons in private hands, despite the toll they take in human lives. Trains have to be resisted, even if it means more pollution and massive inefficiency and falling ever further behind in the amenities of life—what Olmsted called our “commonplace civilization.”

Part of this, of course, is the ancient—and yet, for most Americans, oddly beclouded—reality that the constitutional system is rigged for rural interests over urban ones. The Senate was designed to make this happen, even before we had big cities, and no matter how many people they contain or what efficient engines of prosperity they are. Mass transit goes begging while farm subsidies flourish.

Explains the bias against public transit in places like, you know, Saskatoon.

How much does your commute cost (or save) taxpayers

Commuting costs

“Although these costs are easy to overlook, that doesn’t make them any less real,” says George Poulos, a transportation engineer and planner who analyzed the data behind the Cost of Commute Calculator. “Sometimes we pay them upfront, other times indirectly. But, at the end of the day, we still pay them, so we should consider them in our calculus when making big decisions.”

Here is another chart that takes into your costs.  Transit is less popular because it costs you more.

Infographic 1 scenario map v04

Invest in transit now or suffer severe consequences

Same thing could be said about any city that has inferior transit (ahem Saskatoon)

Last week, the Premier of Ontario’s Transit Panel — comprising 13 citizens from across the region and the political spectrum — unanimously recommended a strategy to fund transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. The report’s title, Making the Move: Choices and Consequences, highlights the urgency of investing in transit expansion today, failing which there will be severe consequences tomorrow.

Road congestion and transit crowding in the GTHA have already reached a tipping point. With 2.5 million people and one million more cars expected to come into the GTHA in the next 18 years, the existing severe state of congestion will become intolerable.

We have come up with a revenue plan that works. Our recommendations call for a fair and balanced contribution from all stakeholders, without asking too much of any one group. Because new transit infrastructure benefits all of society, costs should be shared — by business, drivers, and transit users. Since riders contribute through fares that rise regularly with inflation, the panel chose not to ask more of them. We have asked the government to redeploy the HST revenue it earns on gas and fuel taxes.

As for the tools, our report outlines two variations on a new funding model. The first combines a phased increase of gasoline and fuel taxes starting with 3 cents per litre in year one, a modest increase of 0.5 per cent to the general corporate income tax, and a redeployment of the GTHA portion of the HST charged on gasoline and fuel taxes. The second option is almost the same, but proposes less from gas and fuel, and more from HST.

Taken together, the combined increases would raise between $1.7 billion and $1.8 billion annually for transit in the GTHA. This revenue stream would then lever the additional borrowing to build three-quarters of the Next Wave sooner than expected. People would see the benefits from this investment, thereby generating support for The Big Move in its entirety. This revenue strategy also provides enough money to pay for local transportation improvements and to retire the debt over time.

We researched the possible options rigorously. We favour the gas and fuel taxes because they match usage, affect travel behaviour, are simple to administer, raise a lot of money, and haven’t been raised in more than 20 years. Even with the increase, the GTHA would be below Montreal or consistent with Vancouver.

The impact on households is very tolerable — about $80 per household in year one, just $260 per household after eight years. Compare that to the cost of the gasoline wasted due to stop-and-start commuting for 32 minutes on a daily round trip if we don’t remedy the situation. This amounts to $16 every week or $700 per year. The choice is obvious.
The most common and forceful message that emerged from all of our public meetings and consultations is that the public has very little trust in how transit decisions are made, how money is managed, and how projects are delivered. When it comes to funding transit, the public told us: “Dedicate it or forget it.”

We address these concerns head-on. Our recommendations, when enacted, will ensure that new revenue will be held in a segregated Fund to be spent solely on transit expansion in the GTHA. And they will guarantee accountability and transparency for how funds are spent and reported on.

We emphasize the importance of comprehensive, publicly available business case analysis prior to project approvals. We cannot afford to waste billions of dollars on projects that result in low ridership and huge operating subsidies.

We also cannot afford more congestion and more gridlock. We cannot afford continued losses in productivity and missed opportunities to create more jobs. We cannot afford more pollution and commuting stress. Above all, we cannot afford to wait.

Urban Lego Design

This is a great idea by the City of Calgary

The City is inviting Calgarian’s of all ages to use their imaginations and creativity to play with an iconic toy that will help turn stations into places.

In an effort to design communities that require less time behind the wheel of a car, you’re invited to show us what you think Transit Oriented Development (TOD) could look like by building miniature communities using LEGO building blocks.

Transit oriented development (TOD) is a walkable, mixed-use form of community development located within a 600m radius of a Calgary Transit Station (LRT or BRT), creating convenient, accessible and vibrant neighbourhoods for residents and visitors.

Our first of several TOD events scheduled throughout the summer attracted hundreds of ‘builders’ and observers, and no two designs were alike.

Thinking beyond commuting

During the winter I tend to drive to work and once spring comes, I walk the 16 blocks to work and once spring comes, I can see myself stopping by Collective Coffee on the way home for a coffee or a cold drink to go… so much so that I am wondering if I can get a volume discount deal.

The walk through Riversdale and Caswell Hill is a great one.  Since a lot of our former clients live in some apartments near the Centre, I often run into them on the walk home and have a chance to chat and see if everything is fine and depending on if I take Avenue C or D home, I get to ask myself again what AODBT was thinking with their exterior design of their offices,  and if Safeway looks slow as I walk by, I can go in and see Wendy for a couple of seconds, while trying to steal her mayorship on Foursquare.

I never take the bus to work because it takes me longer to get there as it does to walk which is fine.  When I was in Winnipeg, I was surprised to see the amount of people taking the bus and I was surprised to see how comfortable it is, especially downtown.  Heated bus terminals with doors that close, up to the minute updates on how far away a bus is, and bus shelters that look like they were designed by an architect, not a bulk Plexiglas salesman all add up to a much better winter transit experience.  I know Saskatoon has been trying to add a couple of shelters a year but as I was driving down Warman Road near Assiniboine Drive, this is what I saw (photo from Google Street View)

Google Street ViewShelter from only three sides.  Small, no seats inside (those outside seats probably are used a lot during February), and what kind of protection from the cold is that going to give you?  What’s scary is that it may give you more protection than some of the other bus shelters.  The shelter near the Saskatoon Farmer’s Market doesn’t even have this much protection (Google Street view’s shots are older than the shelter) and the downtown terminal doesn’t fare much better.

Google Street View of Downtown Bus MallAlthough there are benches and it is a little bit more sheltered than your average street but still it isn’t the most pleasant experience and that is what is missing.  For all of the effort into upgrading the Saskatoon fleet of buses, we are forgetting the most unpleasant part of any bus excursion, waiting for the bus.  As I checked out Google Street View of this shelter on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg, I realized it’s architecture matched the building.

Google Street View This shelter is integrated into Portage Place and serves the IMAX theatre.

imageSaskatoon's new bus shelter design The shelter’s aren’t that cheap, between $23,000 to $44,000 each to build but in these two cases, they add a lot to the downtown.  Winnipeg has 6000 stops, around 800 regular shelters and 71 heated shelters.  Saskatoon has under 700 stops and hopes to get to just over 200 shelters.  None heated that I know of.  According to this post by Sean Shaw, the city is considering GPS tracking on all of it’s buses and I assume (hope actually) they are planning to bring online a real time bus tracking service as well.   Saskatoon’s long term ten year transit plan includes adding more bus shelters.  The plan recommends adding up to 215 (unheated) bus shelters (30% of our 700 bus stops), or 22 per year over the course of the plan, up from 3 or 4 per year that are currently installed. This would include shelters at all DART stops.

Why the interest in public transit?  If we are entering into an age of resource scarcity, public transit becomes a bigger and bigger part of our everyday lives for more and more people who will be using it in far different ways than we did before.

When I was going to school, I got on the old #13 bus on Redberry Road and road it to the University.  My bus driver saw me running towards the bus and one day said, “I’ll pick you up at your house.”  which saved me from having to wait outside.  The bus driver on the afternoon route would drop me off at my house which is the closest thing I have ever had to a car service in my life.  I never used the bus for anything other then going to and coming home from school.  It’s all it was.  The bus was full of commuters from Lawson Heights to downtown.  It was the same for them as well.  Most took it to avoid paying for parking.  I know Saskatoon has cheap downtown parking and it’s awesome but this was cheaper and I am sure many of them got picked up at their home and dropped off as well.

Yet when I wanted to shop, run errands, or go out; I drove.  So did most of the people I took the bus with.  With gas hitting $1.25/litre this summer (as gleefully predicted by the oil industry) a quick trip to Wal-Mart, even in my Festiva, starts to add up to real money.  Even more so for those that are apartment owners who have to deal with rising rent costs.  As I have said here lots, most of the staff that I work with that are renting have $100/month rent increase every year and salaries don’t keep up and that money has to come from somewhere (CTV Regina has a great video on this topic here).  If public transit can save that money, it’s good for them and the environment.  I don’t know how high gas prices have to get to drastically change transportation patterns but if it gets to $2.00/litre gas or even $1.75, you will see more and more people using public transportation for more and more other than commuting.

If I am a business owner, I start to see bus stops as a competitive advantage downtown and If I am a mall owner, I want to take advantage of transfers.  When I road the bus home to Lawson Heights, I either got off and walked home on a nice day or miserable days, I sat on the bus because I didn’t feel like getting out and having to freeze while waiting for the next bus.  If I am Confederation Mall, I am trying to do everything that I can do to get people off the bus, if even for 20 minutes to run in and spend some money in the mall.  The same with downtown business owners.  A heated bus shelter like the one at Portage Place that makes it easier for transit riders to get off and stay for even a short while is a big bonus to business.

Are heated bus shelters going to sweep Saskatoon?  Even in Winnipeg they are only 1.1% of their total stops and less than 10% of their sheltered stops.  Saskatoon has 600 bus stops and even 20 heated shelters downtown, SIAST/University, along 8th, 22nd, and at the malls would make a huge difference in how people moved around in winter.  You could also see them being incorporated into new buildings or incorporated into existing places where it made economic sense.

Saskatoon may be too small to build a light rail transit system but we big enough to start investing in making city transit a more and more important part of our lives.  Better shelters that contribute something architecturally to the community as mini terminals start that process in helping us all adjust to an age where public transit is a bigger part of more of our lives.

The weekend

I am back from a week in Winnipeg and have just enough time to do some laundry, hug the kids, toss the ball to the dog before I have to head back to Winnipeg for some more meetings.  Of course it wouldn’t be so bad if the drive wasn’t so unbelievably boring.  The scenery doesn’t change from the time you leave Lumsden until you get to Winnipeg.  It’s just flat.  No rolling hills, no nothing.  Just windswept prairie.  There wasn’t even radio for part of the trip.

I did bring a couple of cameras along with me and manage to take some photos of what I found interesting in Winnipeg.  First of all, since it was mind numbingly cold there, I could not help but notice that they have some great covered and heated bus shelters

Bus shelters in Winnipeg

Bus shelters in Winnipeg

Each bus stop has two entrances/exits which keep the garbage from blowing in, a common characteristic of the city of Saskatoon bus shelters.  The doors also keep the heat in which are located under the bench seating.  The other feature that I liked is that it looks like there was some architectural creativity put into their design, not all of them are alike and quite a few had some great design characteristics (I would have taken more photos but I was driving).

As you can see, they also include real time updates on when the next bus is going to be there, which is quite helpful when out exploring the city and on an unfamiliar line or when you are trying to figure out if you have time to run to Tim Horton’s before you next bus comes along.

Bus shelters in Winnipeg

So there is at least one thing that Winnipeg does better than Saskatoon.  I may be hard pressed to find another one.

Calgary LRT to grow by 70 kms in 30 years

70 kilometres of new track, 45 new stations.

With three more decades’ worth of expansions essentially mapped out, it stands to stretch out more than 70 additional kilometres, becoming a six-legged monster with more than 45 new stations.

And yes, that includes an airport LRT stop.

Most plans are still many years, engineering studies and billions of dollars away.

"As much as we love the C-Train — and we do — there are two drawbacks with C-Train: it’s very expensive and it’s very inflexible, so we have to be really darn sure when we lay those tracks that’s exactly the right thing to do," Mayor Naheed Nenshi says.

The article does a good job of showing hard it is to retrofit a city with rapid transit and it might be a good idea for the City of Saskatoon to start planning for it, even if we don’t start building it for some time.  Neighbourhoods that are designed from the ground up for LRT make it a lot cheaper then acquiring land down in the future.

In case you are wondering what it costs Calgary to build the LRT,

Fifty million dollars per kilometre is the crude measurement for LRT. Go above ground or below, and that becomes a lowball figure.