Tag Archives: transportation

Why Public Transit is Under Funded

The reason that public transit (and bike lanes) are underfunded is that the rich don’t rely on them

Another report has come out in support of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), an innovative way to provide public transit at a low cost with dedicated bus lanes, stops, and schedules.

The study (PDF), from pro-transit group Embarq, found that BRT drastically reduced commute times, improved air quality, and cut road fatalities in congested cities like Bogota, Istanbul, Johannesburg, and Mexico City. And we already know that BRT is one of the most cost-effective public transit investments a municipality can make.

The catch? In most cities examined in the report, those benefits only extend to low- and middle-class residents. (In Johannesburg, the poorest residents did not use BRT).

“Since the dominant benefit is travel time savings,” the study’s authors wrote, “the majority of benefits tend to accrue to the strata most represented by BRT users — typically lower- and middle-income.”

While it’s great to have a system that improves transportation access for the majority of a city’s population, BRT’s mass appeal could — ironically — be a political concern that prevents its adoption, at least in the U.S. As Alex Pareene wrote in Salon, public transit often suffers because politicians and donors rarely rely on it. The results show in the states, whose existing BRT systems lag behind those in cities around the world.

Even in densely populated and traditionally liberal cities like New York and Minneapolis, politicians neglect transit. And “because they don’t know or interact with or receive checks from people who rely on it every day, there’s almost no hope for cheap, efficient mass transit options anywhere,” Pareene wrote.

Indeed, the Embarq report echoes the public transit wealth gap, and cites that most BRT systems are often paid for by tax revenue collected from those who may never ride it. Bogota’s famed TransMilenio was financed by increased gasoline taxes, and all the systems required both substantial investment and support from municipalities.

But the Embarq report also showed that BRTs benefited cities with environmental and productivity gains more than they strained financial resources. For example, the average commuter in Istanbul now gets to and from work about an hour faster thanks to the Metrobüs, and Mexico City’s BRT system reduced air pollution enough to save 6,000 sick days a year.

As cities continue to grow and congestion increases, the benefits of BRT may become impossible to ignore — even to the rich and powerful folks who are stuck in traffic.

You see the same thing here in Saskatoon.  After last night’s City Council meeting, you could almost say the same things about bike lanes.

Do Bicycle Helmet Laws Really Make Riders Safer?

Actually bike lanes make a bigger difference

Typically in transportation — and most social arenas, for that matter — laws promoting safety precautions lead to an increase in public health. Legislation on speed limits, drunk driving, and seatbelt are a few of the most obvious examples. Even bans on the relatively new phenomenon of driver-texting seem to be doing the trick, according to early evidence.

With bike helmet laws, however, the connection isn’t quite so clear.

Take a recent study published earlier this month in BMJ [PDF]. The Canadian research team, led by Jessica Dennis of the University of Toronto, analyzed the rate of cycling-related hospital admissions for head injuries across the country between 1994 and 2008 — an enormous research sample of more than 66,000 people. The size and length of the study allowed Dennis and collaborators to track the injuries against the emergence of bike helmet laws in various provinces.

What they found initially seemed to suggest that this legislation improved public safety. In provinces with helmet laws, the rate of head injuries among young people decreased 54 percent and the rate among adults decreased 26 percent. At the same time, in provinces without the laws, the rate among youth riders dropped only 33 percent and among adults remained constant. (It bears mention that the study was the first to examine the effects of helmet laws on adults.)

But upon closer inspection, according to Dennis and company, this positive effect failed to stand. On the contrary, the researchers concluded that head injuries were decreasing across the country at a rate that wasn’t “appreciably altered” by the new helmet laws. Other rider health initiatives — namely, public safety campaigns and the introduction of better bike infrastructure — rendered the contribution of helmet laws “minimal”:

Also, here is how not to kill a cyclist

The most important urban design decision ever made

From Brent Toderian

When it came to my turn, my answer took a big picture and perhaps surprising approach, depending on your definition of urban design. In Vancouver, a city often referred to as “a city by design”, the most important urban design decision we ever made, the decision I loved most, is actually usually referred to as a transportation decision.

In 1997, the city approved its first influential Transportation Plan.

It was a game-changer for our city-making model in many ways, most notably in its decision to prioritize the ways we get around, rather than balance them. The active, healthy and green ways of getting around were ranked highest – first walking, our top priority, then biking, and then transit, in that order. The prioritization then went on to goods movement for the purposes of business support and economic development, and lastly, the private vehicle.

Vancouver still spends a considerable amount of energy trying to make driving a greener and healthier proposition, with examples from electric vehicle charging station pilot projects, to policies and zoning incentives that have contributed to our incredible growth of car-sharing. However the private vehicle remains the last priority. I always note that we are not anti-car, and we rarely ban the car, but prioritizing it last has a dramatic effect on the way we design our city.

If you’re a driver who is worried about a “war on the car”, remember this – our model of city building understands the “Law of Congestion” and proves that when you build a multimodal city, it makes getting around better and easier for every mode of transportation, including the car. It makes our city work better in every way.

This decision to prioritize rather than balance our ways of getting around has affected everything in how our city has been designed since then. It’s a huge part of the essential DNA that our city has grown from. It’s guided every decision, from thousands of physical design decisions, to our budget allocation. Has every decision followed it perfectly? No – there are many illustrations around the city where the prioritization hasn’t been perfectly reflected. However, enough decisions have reflected this prioritization to make our city design fundamentally different.

So my answer to Gordon’s question “what urban design decision do I love?” It’s our ahead-of-the-curve 1997 decision to prioritize active transport rather than trying to balance ways of getting around. A decision we reinforced and are taking further in the recent Transportation Plan Update I had the pleasure of working on.

For the record, Saskatoon has gone the opposite direction in emphasizing the car.

King of the Road

From the Chicago Tribune.  Truck driving is a lot harder job than you think.  Most of these guys work pretty hard for very little money.

Let me tell you a little about the truck driver you just flipped off because he was passing another truck, and you had to cancel the cruise control and slow down until he completed the pass and moved back over.

King of the roadHis truck is governed to 68 miles an hour, because the company he leases it from believes it keeps him and the public and the equipment safer.

The truck he passed was probably running under 65 mph to conserve fuel. You see, the best these trucks do for fuel economy is about 8 miles per gallon. With fuel at almost $4 per gallon — well, you do the math. And, yes, that driver pays for his own fuel.

He needs to be 1,014 miles from where he loaded in two days. And he can’t fudge his federally mandated driver log, because he no longer does it on paper; he is logged electronically.

He can drive 11 hours in a 14-hour period; then he must take a 10-hour break. And considering that the shipper where he loaded held him up for five hours because it is understaffed, he now needs to run without stopping for lunch and dinner breaks.

If he misses his delivery appointment, he will be rescheduled for the next day, because the receiver has booked its docks solid (and has cut staff to a minimum). That means the driver sits, losing 500-plus miles for the week.

Which means his profit will be cut, and he will take less money home to his family. Most of these guys are gone 10 days, and home for a day and a half, and take home an average of $500 a week if everything goes well.

via

Red Arrow Coaches

My colleague and I were talking about Red Arrow coaches the other day and I found this great article by Jeremy Klazus who writes about them in Alberta Venture

The Red Arrow Red Arrow carries business travellers, mostly. But its fares aren’t out of reach for students and others making personal trips. “Our typical demographic is a professional or a student that does have access to a vehicle, and they choose for reasons of safety and efficiency to travel with the coach,” says Stepovy. “The decision they’re making is: ‘Do I drive, do I fly or do I take the coach?’” Most drive. In 2006, cars accounted for more than 90 per cent of trips between Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary. Air travel accounted for six per cent, and buses, including Red Arrow, accounted for only three per cent of trips.

It doesn’t sound like much. But when somebody gets on board the Red Arrow, they usually come back; its customers tend to be enthusiastically loyal. “If we get them to ride it once, they’re sold – absolutely sold,” says Mike. “And they’ll tell 10 other people how happy they were.” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith and former premier Peter Lougheed and his wife, Jeanne, have all been spotted on the black coaches that cruise along Highway 2 at about 120 km/h. “I find it very civilized,” says Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons, who uses the Red Arrow to get to Calgary and enjoys being “above the fray” of highway traffic, especially in winter. “If I’m going down to make a presentation, now I have three hours in which I can actually sit and think and read and research and prepare.” This is perhaps Red Arrow’s strongest selling feature: Travel time that’s enjoyable, comfortable and useful.

It was a tough sell, initially. The first Red Arrow coach that pulled out of Calgary on July 9, 1979, was even roomier than today’s coaches, seating 25 passengers at most. The coach had sandwiches, a big closet, flip-down work tables and cassette tape players pumping music into headphone jacks on each seat. Unfortunately, there were precisely zero customers on board to partake in these unconventional luxuries. “Very disappointing,” recalls Rick. Both Rick and Mike had become involved in their dad’s company as kids – working their way through the maintenance pit, the wash rack, the body shop and the dispatch office – and both were committed to their dad’s vision of an upscale coach service. But barely anyone noticed when Red Arrow launched. “For a while, we were the best-kept secret in Alberta,” remembers Wilson.

I have always thought that this level of service would do really well between Saskatoon and Regina, even could be run by STC from different bus stops (by the Bessborough or downtown someplace).  A partnership with wifi on the bus give a business traveller a couple of hours of time to work, relax or just unwind at a fraction of the amount it costs to fly to Saskatoon and Regina.   I just did a quick last minute search on AirCanada.com for what it would cost me to fly from Regina and back to Saskatoon.  I had to fly through Toronto.  $458 (one way) for a last minute flight (via Toronto).  I can also take Express Club for $124 plus fees, which is still almost twice the $138 that Red Arrow charges for a return bus trip.  STC by comparison is $80 return for Saskatoon to Regina but the quality of service is… how do I say this… really, really poor.

Air Canada rates for July 13th I am not a business man but I think there is a but of margin for a high end bus (oops, coach) service to run from Saskatoon to Regina.  It would be interesting to see STC run a business class express from Saskatoon to Regina.  There seems to be a big gap in the middle of that market.  Whether the numbers support it would the next question I have. 

Nuclear Waste Moving Through Europe

Nuclear Waste Moving Through EuropeNuclear Waste Moving Through EuropeNuclear Waste Moving Through Europe

From National Geographic

A Castor railcar glows ominously in a thermal image, but the scene shows only that the cars’ contents are warm—no hotter than a sweltering summer day—said Matthew Bunn, of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

"The decay of these atoms in the fission products from nuclear reactors releases a fair amount of heat, so [the canister] will look red" in thermal pictures.

The CASTOR trains are always hot topics, Bunn added. "For people concerned about the whole issue of nuclear power and whether the disposal or storage of nuclear waste is safe, the trains provide an obvious political symbol."

While the waste looks ominous, the temperature is a lot cooler than I thought it would be.  It reminds me of being in California and the surfers surfing outside the nuclear reactors because the waste water heated up the ocean in the immediate vicinity.  I like to be warm like the next guy but that takes it a little too far. via

Warren Buffett’s $26 billion gamble on the next big thing

This is huge

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad is purchased by Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway

Most investors looking for the "next big thing" seek out whiz-bang investments like alternative energy, lifesaving biotech drugs, handheld Internet devices and, for doomsayers, hard assets like gold.

Railroads, which had their heyday in another era, are rarely mentioned as a must-have investment for those looking to get rich.

So why is Warren Buffett, arguably the world’s most famous and successful investor, betting more than $26 billion of his spare cash to acquire all of Texas-based railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe?

On Tuesday, Buffett turned heads on Wall Street when he placed his biggest bet of his career on rails — and the battered USA economy, for that matter.

Here is why he is doing it.

"Burlington Northern Santa Fe last year moved, on average, a ton of goods 470 miles on a single gallon of diesel, and society has an enormous interest in using less oil to transport goods," Buffett says.

Indeed, Buffett very much likes the green component to his rail investment, likening it to an energy-saving play.

"Each train displaces 280 trucks on the road," Buffett says. "When it comes to spewing pollutants there is nothing more efficient than trains. It is very much in line with the future goals of society. While the railroads won’t take over the world it is something that is part of the future."

Okay, this is why this is interesting to me.  Buffett is making a massive investment based on the idea that Peak Oil is real and it’s going to influence how we travel, move goods, and our way of life.  You also can’t notice that in some ways, he is betting against cars or at least how expensive it is going to be to get from Point A to Point B.  That is something that will reshape not only the transportation of goods but cities, how we interact as communities, and where we live.  It’s something that you never hear from government officials, probably because governments are good at a lot of things but planning for the future is not one of them.

It’s a conversation that the church needs to have.  For the last two decades the idea has been big campuses with lots of parking on the outskirts of town or in the suburbs.  The question I have is as gas prices rise, those in lower income brackets will see their world get a lot smaller, will the churches just be refuges for those who are rich enough to get to them or even worse, will the impact on the church, be the same as it expected for sprawling and emptying out suburbs.

Shipping costs crimping globalization

The New York Times has a good article about how shipping costs are changing production patterns.  I think the article misses the point that this could mean that many of the goods that we take for granted as being cheap are going to cost us more and more over time.  It isn’t just the shipping costs oil effects but almost everything we manufacture today.  While there is a small trend towards localization again, that also means that North American wages are going to have to be factored in.

The cost of shipping a 40-foot container from Shanghai to the United States has risen to $8,000, compared with $3,000 early in the decade, according to a recent study of transportation costs. Big container ships, the pack mules of the 21st-century economy, have shaved their top speed by nearly 20 percent to save on fuel costs, substantially slowing shipping times.

The study, published in May by the Canadian investment bank CIBC World Markets, calculates that the recent surge in shipping costs is on average the equivalent of a 9 percent tariff on trade. “The cost of moving goods, not the cost of tariffs, is the largest barrier to global trade today,” the report concluded, and as a result “has effectively offset all the trade liberalization efforts of the last three decades.”

If I was a low end importer of goods like Dollarama or even Wal-Mart, I would be worried right now.