Road, rail and Canada’s emissions up 21%

The province has just committed $500,000 to a study of using the E&N rail line as a commuter route. I think Les Leyne says it best in his column when he said “E&N study could lead to right track“. Like Les, I am skeptical. We have been drowning in studies over rail transport of one kind or another, mostly involving LRT but most involving the Victoria – Langford section of the E&N. The most recent study found that for a mere $16 of initial capital cost, we could have something rail-like running out to the westshore (Source: C4CR Study – PDF ). Last year, a one day run of the E&N route in the morning took 21 minutes and was packed full, despite the $10 cost. In the past election, 93% of the Langford and Colwood voters voted to ask the provinical and federal governments to fund light rail.

Of course, all this talk of rail ignores the question of what emissions the roads and the cars that use them produce. After all, Canada’s emissions are up 21% from 1990, which makes us the worst offender in the developed world. While a lot of this increase comes from the oil sands, that oil is going to fuel our vehicles. A recent study found that the effects of road travel is higher than that of air travel, on a emissions basis. Stephen Rees of Vancouver talks a little bit about what this means for the lower mainland region. Of course, Gateway is championed by the same Kevin Falcon that today announced the study.

So what is the future? I hope it is one of action. Of course, you can help. Call Kevin Falcon or John Baird (the Federal Transport minister) and tell them you want rail here on the Island.

The need for complete streets

Complete street transformation in University Place, Washington
Complete street transformation in University Place, Washington Image Source:

One of the biggest challenges of the next 50 years is the return to a balance of transportation options, something that has been heavily skewed towards the car for a very long time. Founded around the idea that our current streets are incomplete due to this skewing, the Complete Streets movement seeks to restore that balance.

What does this mean for Oak Bay? At first glance, you would think we are doing fairly well here. Our bicycling percentage is fairly high (6% according to the 2006 census data – PDF) and Bike to Work Week has been growing for years.

What can a municipal government like Oak Bay do? While we cannot do as much as California, which recently passed complete streets legislation, we can make certain that our little part of the world is better for everybody. Usually this takes money, as streets need to be physically reconfigured to allow better access by pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users. Thankfully, the provincial government, via Bike BC and its Cycling Infrastructure Partnerships Program, has been cost sharing with muncipal governments for a few years now.

Of course, one of the key challenges Oak Bay faces is our older population and how to help that population stay active. One of the major barriers to physical activity is the incompleteness of our streets and thus it is not surprising that the American Association of Retired People (AARP) is one of the strongest supporters of complete streets in US. Their surveys have found that many older people would walk, bike or take transit more if the streets were better built. You can read more in their press release.

Getting to complete streets requires residents stand up and ask their governments to help them bike, walk and ride transit more. Thankfully, the people have a great page up on how to get complete streets in your community.

Calming traffic by removing roads?

Controlling traffic speed and volume is a problem that has vexed planners and governments for almost 100 years. Most of the time the end result has been a misguided attempt to reduce congestion and speed flow by adding and expanding roads. Why is this misguided? Because you can’t build your way out of congestion and also, it seems, more connections can lead to worse congestion.

You can’t build your way out of congestion. There is even a fancy term for this: induced demand. Essentially, if you provide it, they will use it. Grocery stores understand this perfectly well. Why do you think all those candy bars in their shiny wrappers are right at kid height at the checkout aisle? This coin has two sides and if adding roads adds traffic, then removing them will reduce it. Sounds crazy, right? This isn’t just conjucture, both Seoul and San Francisco have both removed major roads and have reaped the rewards.

For more information, the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute‘s Todd Litman has a excellent summary report: Smart Transportation Investments: Reevaluating The Role Of Highway Expansion For Improving Urban Transportation (PDF).

Now what about closing connective roads to reduce congestion? This works on psycology of human driving behaviour: provide fewer choices and you will have an easier time choosing. Not only that, people instinctively choose the “fastest route”, which has predictable results. A little bit of mathmatical modelling and suddenly you can see what roads you need to keep, what ones can be cut and what roads should be cut. Sightline Daily has a good story and for the mathmatical modellers in the audience, the paper can read online: The Cost of Anarchy in Transportation Networks (PDF).

What does all this mean for Oak Bay? We need to be proactive. We need to figure out what streets are actually critical for traffic flow and which we can sever without causing major issues. All this would allow us to have the seeming paradox of safer streets with increased traffic flow and making Oak Bay a better place to live.

Cycling in New York up 35% after millions in new bike infrastructure

Streetsblog, a New York blog dedicated to the Livable Streets movement, is reporting that bicycling is up 35% over 2007. Given a Portland State University researcher just showed how a lot of bicyclists will go out of their way to ride on bike lanes and bike boulevards and New York City has spent millions building new bike lanes, paths and a host of other improvements to help bikes, pedestrians and transit, this increase is not exactly shocking.

It is high time that Oak Bay ceased being the laggard in bike infrastructure in our fine region. We need a comprehensive network of bike lanes, boulevards and paths to help get people out of their cars and into bikes.

Henderson Road bike lane or parking lane?

The Henderson Road bikes lanes, a half-baked solution to a real problem, is proving to be a bit of a headache. From 7am to 8pm on weekdays, cyclists have right of way on the side of Henderson Road. The rest of the time, cars have the right to park at the curb, while cyclists navigate a riskier trip weaving among cars.  Confused? So is everyone else.

This confusion became apparent to me on Thursday, when during two hours in the middle of the day I saw three vehicles parked in the bike lane.  Why are people parking in these bike lanes? Maybe they didn’t check their watch, or maybe the new by-law is too inconsistant to sink in. After all, Henderson Road has the only bike lanes in the city that aren’t always bike lanes.  What a lovely “made in Oak Bay” solution.

One ray of sunshine in this affair is the quick, professional way the Oak Bay Police department responded to my report. Within 20 minutes they had returned my call and informed me that the drivers had been spoken to and the cars moved.

Of course, that we have bike lanes on Henderson Road at all is due to the tireless work of Lesley Ewing and Safer Cycling Oak Bay. She collected more than 3000 signatures from Oak Bay residents by pounding the pavement and making calls, 3000 signatures that only got us half way. All this effort aftter council voted 4-3 against full bike lanes in 2007. What a difference one vote makes.

Isn’t it clear that half-way solutions aren’t enough? If we make it safer and less intimidating for people to get on a a bike, they might reach for a helmet rather than their car keys, saving their pocket book and tax dollars. What will it take for council to take biking seriously?

Colwood takes the rail question to voters

Colwood is going to the voters to ask its residents about using the E&N for commuter rail. With the massive headache of the Colwood Crawl, I wouldn’t be shocked if Colwood voters go for this proposal in a big way. The kicker, of course, is the following phrasing: “are you in favour of the government of British Columbia in partnership with the federal government, providing funding to improve the rail infrastructure on the Vancouver Island…” This commits no municipal money (not that there is any to be had), but it does tell those levels of governments that they had better start listening to what people want.

What about Oak Bay? Commuter rail from downtown Victoria to Colwood/Langford really doesn’t help the average Oak Bay commuter. So why should an Oak Bay resident support such a line? Because the second rail line is always easier than the first. The first proves that the project is viable, that people will ride it and that it can be built at a reasonable price. So call your friends in Colwood and tell them that they need to vote yes for rail on November 15th.

Source: Times Colonist story