Archive for the ‘streetcar’ Category


The City of Vancouver has released an initial draft of its Transportation 2040 Plan for public consideration. Within the plan, the city spells out its transportation mode priority for the next 30 years and its target mode share.

At the recent Velo-city Global 2012 Conference on cycling, international experts called the city’s cycling component of the plan and its target as too slow and not enough. Experts from around the world sensed that the next growth in cycling and attracting motorists to use cycling for transportation will come from physically separated bike lanes and from combined mobility trips of cycling and transit.

Cycling growth in the City of Vancouver has been very slow. From 1991, the mode share has climbed from 1.3% to 3.8% or 0.114% per year while Copenhagen has increased cycling by 4% in two years and Seville has increased it by 4.5% in 5 years.

The City is proposing that the target cycling mode share for the next 30 years should show growth of 3.2% from the current 3.8% level to 7%. With this target the growth rate will continue to remain slow at 0.11% per year. This growth rate is certainly not at a pace of a world-class green city. This growth is more like that of a follower city. One Transportation Planning Manager was trying to placate an audience at a consultation session by stating that the City normally reaches targets very early in its transportation plans lifecycle. Well, the question may be asked to the value of a target if it can be easily met rather than be challenging for city staff and the public and also be a signal of change in how we travel.

Transportation Plan 2040, City of Vancouver, June, 2012


The city wants to be the greenest city in the world and has committed to achieving the Kyoto protocol calling for reduction in greenhouse gases to 6% less than the 1990 level. Basically, the Kyoto commitment means that all trips originating from population growth must be by active transportation modes, not by car.

Future cycling growth will need to come from those who drive today. The easy growth has been realized. Now is the time to shift into social marketing of cycling. Social marketing will not be effective unless a robust and highly desirable cycling infrastructure is in place. With the city’s desires and with the strong commitment from the public to the greenest city and Kyoto goals, it might be appropriate to adopt more challenging transportation mode share.

An aggressive set of transportation mode share targets will contribute towards this city to becoming a world-class green city, reducing air and noise pollution, helping improve individual health, and reducing the associated health care costs. Guided by the City’s gains in reduction of car trips within the downtown core and accomplishments of other cities in reducing driving and increasing cycling, consideration should be given to adopting aggressive targets for the 2040 transportation mode shares. Transportation mode share is usually defined by driving, transit, walking, cycling, and by others. For more effective direction of future efforts, a more detailed set of targets may be appropriate. Also, the current set of targets understates the use of each mode, as combined trips are not accounted fully in the statistics.

The accomplishments of other cycling-active cities and of the City of Vancouver in the downtown core would suggest a set of appropriate transportation mode share targets of:

  • Walking                             17%

Walking to transit stops >450 metres                      3%

  • Cycling                                20%
  • Transit                                20%
  • Combined Mobility               15%

Transit and Cycling – Personal bicycle                      7%
Transit and Cycling – Public Bike Share System       3%
Driving and Cycling – Personal Bicycle                     4%
Driving and Cycling – Public Bike Share System       1%

  • Car                                     27%

Driver                                                                   24%
Passenger                                                               3%

  • Other                                   1%

With this set of mode share targets, cycling would be involved in 35% of all trips, transit in 30%, and car trips in 32%.

With aggressive targets, staff has clear direction on strategies and speed of implementation for realizing the next transportation plan.

Some comments on the City of Vancouver’s initial draft of its Transportation 2040 Plan will be published on August 26, 2012. 


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Mix of cyclists, including a couple on right using blue bikes from city's public bike share system. Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Mix of cyclists, including a couple on right using blue bikes from city's public bike share system. Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 Melbourne, just recently named the most liveable city in the world, wrenched that boasting right from Vancouver.  Vancouver, has now been relegated to the third rung, not the second.  A time for reflection as the world keeps on moving.  Status quo is not an operative word if one wants to be on the first rung.  If one wants to be the boaster.

Impressions Leaving its Airport
So, stepping off the plane after a two-night stop in Seoul, the question is what 

Interurban rail station connected to transit. Buses don't have bike racks yet. Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Interurban rail station connected to transit. Buses don't have bike racks yet. Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 makes this city so great to live in? No rapid transit line for one to take to downtown core, as is the case in Vancouver or Seoul. Just a high frequency bus service to the Southern Star railway terminal, that runs every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day. The bus is a specially configured articulating bus that wheels passengers through the 20 minute ride to the railway station. Not like Eugene Oregon’s bus. There is no space for bicycles on the bus. There is no cycling facility easily spotted that lets one cycle to the city. Maybe there is, but where?

Bike-pedestrian bridge. Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Bike-pedestrian bridge. Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 Downtown Core For Shopping, Work, Not for Living  –Yet
The downtown  core, Melbourne’s prime real estate asset, is all about business and retailing.  It is all destination shopping and working, since there are no places for people to live.  Slowly, residences are being introduced into the city both downtown and also into the docklands as well as other small real estate properties that fall within the City’s boundaries.  Imagine, a city where the overnight inhabitants are primarily hotel guests. That is the City of Melbourne.

But Streets Alive with People
With 96,000 inhabitants at night, and 778,000 during the day, the city has a very active street life.  No matter if one is strolling along the pathway by the  

Melbourne Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 river flanked by retail outlets on the land side willing to feed your appetite or pacing yourself along the downtown shopping streets, one is not alone.  You are just an entity among a mass of people vying for sidewalk space.  Storefronts are open to streets as feet traffic brings warm cheer to merchants.  Some laneways have been populated with tables and chairs for serving food and drink, places where people now rule where cars were once here.  Slowly, streets are reconfigured and  squeezing our cars by only leaving essential service and delivery vehicles to do their job.  Instead, there are stream of pedestrians, cyclist, and tram riders with noise of conservation on the streets, instead of engine noise and pollution emitting from exhausts.

Streetcars in Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Streetcars in Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 Impressions of this city:  It does  feel like nirvana when encountering one arterial street after another with ribbons of steel down the centre of the roads.  With motorists who do not enter the tram space, the steel network allows efficient and fast service through downtown.  Each tram swishes from stop to stop, carrying about 200 or 300 customers to downtown live.  An extensive network of metro trains brings in 1,000 people at a time from the proliferation of suburban homes.  Downtown life without cars is made possible by a high service tram network, supplemented by a dense network of cycling facilities, and also wide sidewalks.

Road Planning Under State Authority
With 4.1 million inhabitants, Metro Melbourne encompasses 30 municipalities.  The roads are not under the control of the municipalities, but of the state.  Joint planning is just a new word here.  Street priority and allocation of space may not meet the needs of City of Melbourne’s priorities.  Something to work on.

Inside interurban rail station. Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Inside interurban rail station. Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 Commuter Cycling Facilities At Destination, But Not Multi-Modal –Yet
In Metro Melbourne, the vision for cycling seems to be providing a true capacity for people to embrace that mode of transportation to destination.  The vision does not seem to include combined mobility with transit beyond the most frequent European model of cycling, to a train station and leaving your bike there.  In fact, Parkateers or caged bike parking seems to be springing up in suburban train stations.  Suburban train cars may have the European design with place for bicycles but none are allowed.  Nor are they allowed on trams or buses.  No bike racks on buses here.  There is a punt or a bike ferry that makes its way across the Yarra River to allow faster commutes to the west.

Public Bike Share Run By Car Organization
A public bike system has emerged last winter.  Not widely used.  Elsewhere in cities where helmets while cycling are mandatory, the local helmet law is upheld as the public bike killer.  Locally, the story is different when listening to 

Melbourne's public bike share system run by a car organization. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Melbourne's public bike share system run by a car organization. Some lack of initial marketing and initiative driven by state authority, not under responsibility of municipality which contributed lower usgae at beginning. Helmet law was less of a factor. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

  politicians and city staff.  It seems that there is a culture of wearing helmets while cycling in Melbourne.  If one forgets to wear one’s helmet one day, a passing motorist may just roll down the car window and remind you of that. Implementation of the scheme by the state, without consultation with the city emerges as an issue.
The system was introduced during the winter, with no spring advertising and marketing program.  The bike stations are not dense enough with a catchment area that would appeal to potential customers.  The stations are not located close enough to where potential customers want them.  The system is run by an automobile club that is not inspired to market the system nor make it a winner.  Nuisance is a word frequently heard instead.  Now back to the helmet.  Despairing remarks have been made that the provision and access to helmets was not well thought out.  One does not see briefcases on the street designed for carrying a helmet or backpacks with that provision.

Relaxing by river waterfront. Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Relaxing by river waterfront. Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 The city does have an extensive network of bike lanes for cycling the public bikes.  The philosophy seems to be squeeze in whatever you can without disturbing the movement of cars, the parking of cars, the stopping of trucks, or the stopping of cars all on bike lanes.  After all, for a metro area where comments have been made that there are more streets for car,s than in other cities, is this not what one would expect.  Sometimes when cars are lined up next to the bike lane, the lane is so wide that one needs to use the curb and push the bicycle forward in the less that half meter space.  On the positive side, there are designated spaces for cycling and the cycling lanes are painted green.  Will it encourage many motorists to cycle who are not the most confident or skilled?  I doubt it.

The network design toolkit is extensive with small catchment areas to the closest cycling facility.  The infrastructure design toolkit has any concept in it that one can find in any city.  The combined mobility toolkit is limited to cage parking at suburban train stations.  The social marketing toolkit is minimal, including bike to work day celebrations and cycling maps.

Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 The most prominent design from infrastructure design toolkit that is evident on the streets, is the advance green painted stop boxes with bike stencils.  Beyond that, bike horizontal and vertical separation from cars with bike lanes, can be found easily. In new developments like the Docklands, more comprehensive designs can be found, along with bike signals.  However there, the bridges are not really intended for cycling.

Docklands has Potential
The Docklands is a stretch of waterfront lands that is being transformed from old industrial use to residential and commercial use.  Not bad. Though not to the level of European people streets.

Docklands area, formerly an industrial, has potential to become more pedestrian-cycling oriented. Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Docklands, formerly an industrial area, has potential to become more pedestrian-cycling oriented. Melbourne, Australia 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

  While sitting on a bench along an old pier, an urban planning student approached me and asked questions.  He and his mates are working on a uni project.  What do you like about this development?  What needs to be done to it?  After my dissertation on the topic, he advised that their polling of Dockland users, brought forth the same thinking.  Simply, the strengths of the Docklands combined with Vancouverism along the waterfront, would yield a very desirable people street and places that would compete with the best of what Europe can offer.  Sterile is the most predominant word used to describe the Docklands.  The architects have not quite left the 1960’s and 80’s to join in with the best of Vancouverism architecture that makes people streets and places.

What really stands out from visiting Melbourne for a couple of weeks, are the trams system and the right hook turns that cars make when the street have tram tracks.  One is used to seeing cyclists do it, but not cars.

Melbourne a windy city that grows on you.

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B.C. Stadium. Spectator line-ups for pre-game security checks. Vancouver, BC. Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Chong

B.C. Stadium. Spectator line-ups for pre-game security checks. Vancouver, BC. Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Daily  we  see orderly streams of people walking down streets.  By B.C. Stadium, they are shepherded by voices from bull-horned crowd management folks perched on their high lifeguard chairs.  People are directed into security check line-ups every time there is a Stadium event or competition game. On Cambie Bridge, flow continues along the multi-use pedestrian and bike paths, sidewalks and then down the access ramps.

Cherry tree by Kitsalano Beach. Vancouver, BC  Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Becker

Cherry tree by Kitsalano Beach. Vancouver, BC Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Becker

Spring-like weather causes tree buds to break free early and encourages more people to stroll and sit by the paths.  On the Seaside Path, cyclists are forced off the cycling path since foot traffic exceeds the capacity of the walking path.  Cyclists divert onto the adjacent roads. Fortunately, neighbourhood roads are only sprinkled  with occasional cars since temporary road closures and lack of low-cost car parking discourages car traffic. With a $35.00 parking fee, a parking lot across the street from a BC Stadium entry gate remains empty.  Thus, cyclists are able to clip nimbly along in their own space. 

Davie St. at Pacific Blvd. Near Yaletown-Roundhouse Canada Line Station.  With some road lane closures during Olympics. Vancouver, BC. Feb. 14, 2010

Davie St. at Pacific Blvd. Near Yaletown-Roundhouse Canada Line Station. With some road lane closures during Olympics. Vancouver, BC. Feb. 14, 2010

If car traffic is kept light during these massive people movement events, with alternative transportation options close-by, then the neighbourhood is not overly stressed.  One wonders why some streets are not closed off to roving car traffic with only residence access permitted.

Usually, sporting events from B.C. Stadium or GM Place (now “Hockey House” temporarily for Olympics), did not attract such high volumes of foot traffic nor cyclists over several hours in the North False Creek area by the Seaside

Seaside Path. North False Creek near Cambie Bridge. Vancouver, BC. Feb. 14, 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Seaside Path. North False Creek near Cambie Bridge. Vancouver, BC. Feb. 14, 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Path, except near Science World.  Usually, the Seaside Path to the Main St. SkyTrain station, would be useless for cycling after a concert or hockey event for a half hour when streams of pedestrians overtake the multi-use path.

During the Olympics, it is quite different. Even on rainy days, there is a consistent flow of people for hours, walking in Yaletown to various pavilions and then flowing into the downtown core towards Robson St.  Walking and cycling crowds appeared quite orderly without much litter left behind.

Olympic streetcar line stop passengers to Granville Island. Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Becker.

Olympic streetcar line stop passengers to Granville Island. Vancouver, BC. Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Becker.

The Yaletown – Roundhouse Canada Line station entrance is often crowded with people. So far, Translink estimated for Sat. Feb. 13 a total of 210,000 passengers used the Canada Line.  On a Saturday  at 9:30 am and onwards, there was a growing stream of people leaving Olympic Village Canada Line station to board the free Olympic streetcar line. As someone observed from riding the streetcar line three times during that morning, each time the streetcars were filled to standing room capacity to and from Granville Island. One streetcar has full capacity up to 180 passengers.

LiveCity Yaletown Fireworks & Waterworks Show. Feb. 2010 Photo by J. Becker

LiveCity Yaletown (David Lam Park) Fireworks & Waterworks Show. Vancouver, BC. Feb. 2010 Photo by J. Becker

Does a neighbourhood die when cars are detoured from its roads or does it come alive with people?  Just ask the local retailers and eateries.  Urban Fare, a grocery store with an eatery section, cannot keep up with customer orders.  Restaurants on main pedestrian routes, are filled with diners.  As we walked from the evening fireworks display down the street past these eateries at 11:00 pm, the rooms were still full.  Usually, these restaurants are dark and shuttered much earlier.

Noteworthy is that careful people routing reduces tension on a neighbourhood.  A wise move is guiding pedestrians on sidewalks along undeveloped blocks, parkland or along retail streets without adjacent residences.

Good streetscape designs also reduce neighbourhood tension with a milieu of people passing by.  Wide sidewalks reduce crowd stress and promote orderly

Olympic bike valet parking. Nelson St. & Pacific Blvd. Vancouver, BC  Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Olympic bike valet parking. Nelson St. & Pacific Blvd. Vancouver, BC Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Chong

passage without people jostling each other.  Careful landscape design with raised curbed plant beds and lawns, keeps people on sidewalks.  Trees surrounded by concrete eliminate trodden landscaping.  Laneways connecting streets helps thin out traffic.

A palatable mix of car traffic reduction, combined with convenient alternate transportation options and strategic streetscape designs, can increase life on streets and liveability of neighbourhoods.

Additional Reading:
TransLink. The Buzzer Blog. Feb. 17 2010.
Sinoski, Kelly. “Record Weekend Expected for Transit as Olympic Fever in Vancouver Deepens. In Vancouver Sun, Feb. 19, 2010.” (Addendum provided after this article was published.)

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Olympic streetcar line, Vancouver BC. Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Becker

Olympic streetcar line, Vancouver BC. Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Becker

 The environmental “carrots” for  balking car drivers are here now: Granville Island has more active transportation options.  Different approaches to transportation during the Olympics on Granville Island, have been well underway for the past month before the official Games start on Feb. 12, 2010.

The Olympic streetcar line between the Canada Line Olympic Village Station and Granville Island,  already has a steady stream of passengers. After all, it is free for anyone 6:30 am – 12:30 am, Jan. 21 – Mar. 21, 2010.  My informal observations  of the pedestrian traffic from the streetcar onto the Island appear  to be at least  30 to 50 people getting off each streetcar.  Even on Mondays.  Streetcar  capacity is for 178 people with 50 seated passengers. 

Passenger demand is expected to increase during the Olympics, particularily with 3 welcome  pavilions  for the public –Atlantic House, Francophonie and Swiss House on Granville Island  in addition to regular market business.

Bike Parking. Granville Island Public Market on winter day. Jan 2010.

Bike Parking Granville Island Public Market on mild winter day. Jan 2010. Photo by J. Becker

 Now paid parking is in effect as of Feb. 8 for 1,200 parking spots. Rates are $3.00 per hour and $5.00 for two hours, with a parking maximum of two hours.  Free car parking is only before 10:00 am during Feb. 2010.

Also the number of bicycle racks around Granville Market have increased from 5 to 10.  I have observed from mid-morning onward, rack usage has increased to summer levels.

Both ferry shuttle companies, Aquabus and False Creek Ferries, have extended their operational hours during the Olympics. Each company has slightly different hours for different destinations.

Granville Island vehicle and pedestrian traffic.  Jan. 2010. Photo by J. Becker

Granville Island vehicle and pedestrian traffic mix. Jan. 2010. Photo by J. Becker

The big question will be whether or not  the streetcar line and more bike parking,  will generate sufficient traffic to off-set normal car volumes on Granville Island.  It may take time for local residents to rethink and change their normal transportation modes  long  after the Olympics and ParaOlympics.  Will  Vancouverites fall in love with the streetcar line that they will want to keep the streetcar in operation indefinitely?

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I like to see this type of discussion.  There is a large group of bus lovers and users around.  I am glad there is support for trolley buses, not the stinking diesel ones.

Streetcar versus buses: when I am in modern cities, such as Toronto, which have viable transportation systems, I have choice of transit travel with layers from fast rapid transit commuter lines to subways, streetcars, trolley buses, diesel buses, community buses, buses for people who need assistance, and even private buses for apartment development owners.

Streetcar on Granville Island Olympic line. Near Olympic Skytrain station. Dec. 2009

Streetcar on Granville Island Olympic line, Vancouver. Dec. 2009

 When I can choose between taking a bus and taking a streetcar, I will walk a few blocks out of my way to take the streetcar. 

Why?  It is all about passenger comfort.  No longer are there jerky manoeuvres by bus drivers.  No longer are there panic stops by bus drivers.  No longer is there terrible bouncing around in aging buses.  No longer are there the diesel smells of buses.  Now instead, there is a steady, quiet ride especially appealing when I am standing inside a streetcar.

Then there is speed.  With streetcars, it easier to implement good transportation demand management measures which give streetcars the right of way. 

It is all about speed of travel and passenger comfort.

That is why I prefer streetcar routes to buses –trolley or not.

Getting back to the headline premise and with a new, parallel streetcar route, trolley buses could be moved to another route and more diesel buses diverted off the roads of the City.  Now, is this idea not a positive step towards the Greenest City Agenda? Besides a larger portion of electrical-powered transit comes a transit line with smoother, time-efficient, consumer-appealing transportation.

A layered structure of transit capability from fastest movement to speeds of local streets provides an effective capacity for moving people.  Some cities have achieved it for transit.  For car drivers, there is also a layered network in place within cities and in rural areas from super fast highways to local lanes.

For those who wish to cycle for transportation, there are bits and pieces of layered cycling network usually in place, depending on the city.  If a similar, comprehensive, and layered network were in place for cycling within Vancouver, from slow speed cycling to fast commuting, there just might be significant improvements in cycling efficiency and trip time.  Along with cycling efficiency for commuters comes growth in cycling traffic.


Third Wave perspective of a comprehensive cycling network within an urban environment includes layered cycling facilities starting with bike routes on quiet streets up to regional, rail-trail type cycling highways, along with feeder layers taking cyclists to transit stations, schools, and shopping areas.

Interesting reading: 

Current Trends in Rail Transportation, 2009-10-07

Mass Transit: Resurgence and Reinvention, 2009-10-09 , page 29 GHG emission by mode of transportation

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Photo taken Dec. 7, 2009. At lst Ave. and Cambie Bridge

Finally!  In time for the 2010 Winter Olympics and ParaOlympics:  the arrival of the first streetcar shipped on loan from Brussels to the City of Vancouver.  This is a demonstration project  which will include the operation of 2  streetcars on a newly retrofitted light rail line along lst Ave., from 2nd Ave. Canada Line  rapid transit station to Granville Island Public Market.  The public will be able to ride this streetcar free during the Olympics from Jan. 21  to Mar. 21, 2010.  Given forecasted road congestion and up to 35,000 daily visitors at the Market during the Olympics, this line should be well-used soon.  Streetcar tram was manufactured  by Bombardier .

A thought:  Is a large city truly sustainable if it does not have a good streetcar network? Is a streetcar network truly complete if it does not also easily accommodate the transport of bicycles?

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