Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Canada


Vancouver's most joyful bike trail makes commuting fun

There's a common misconception in some circles that bicycling is merely for recreation, as opposed to a legitimate transportation mode. Of course that's wrong, cycling is often the most convenient way to get from point A to point B in a city. But why can't transportation facilities be fun too?

According to Vancouver, they can.

Vancouver "Whoopdeedoo." Photo by Paul Krueger on flickr.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


These videos teach bike etiquette with LEGO

How can we show cyclists, drivers, and everyone else on the street how to share? The city of Edmonton, Alberta produced these five six excellent videos using LEGO figures teaching the new rules of the road.

Interactions between cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers can often be contentious. Lighthearted videos like this can help everyone understand their rights and responsibilities in the urban realm.

Thanks to WABA for the heads-up.


Streetcars are more flexible about capacity

Streetcars and buses have different strengths and weaknesses, and are better at accomplishing different goals. Flexibility is often touted as a major strength of buses. Although buses are legitimately more nimble in some ways, when it comes to flexibility of capacity, it's streetcars that have the edge.

Image from the American Public Transportation Association.

It's true that buses have tremendous routing flexibility. Since buses can operate on any normal traffic lane, routes can be reconfigured on a whim and individual buses are free to move around obstacles. These are real benefits, and sometimes they mean that a route is best off using buses.

At the same time, streetcars are customizable for high-capacity service in ways that aren't available for buses.

Streetcars can be longer

In simplest terms, streetcars can be longer than buses. Since streetcars run on tracks, there is no danger of jackknifing. Likewise, since streetcars are powered by overhead wire, there's not a single engine distributing power. Thus there's no physical limit to their length.

For example, streetcar manufacturer CAF offers its Urbos model in options ranging from 60 feet long up to 141 feet long. Bombardier's similar Flexity model comes in any length from 69 feet up to 148 feet.

Portland's famous streetcar is a relatively diminutive 65 feet long, but longer vehicles are beginning to show up in North America. Cincinnati is using a 77 foot long Urbos for its future line, and the first 78 foot long Siemens S70s have already been delivered to Atlanta. In Toronto, 99 foot long Flexities will soon ply the continent's largest streetcar network.

99' long Toronto streetcar. Image by Bombardier.

And that's just single streetcar vehicles. Streetcars can also be coupled into trains of multiple cars, so transit agencies that own shorter vehicles can still get the benefits of extra length without needing new railcars.

Agencies that want to run longer trains do have to provide longer stations, but since streetcar stations are typically simple, that's relatively easy to accomplish.

Ultimately the limiting factor on streetcar length is the size of city blocks. Streetcars can't typically be longer than one city block, lest they block traffic on perpendicular streets. But city blocks are usually hundreds of feet long, so streetcars can still be much longer than buses.

Streetcars can have diverse interiors

Even compared to buses of exactly the same length, streetcars can support a higher passenger capacity. Since gliding along rails is so much more smooth than rumbling along asphalt, and since there's no need for huge wheel wells, it's more practical for streetcars to have a lot of open space that maximizes standing capacity.

Interior of one of DC's streetcars. Photo by BeyondDC.

The 3 streetcars that DC has in storage use this strategy. They're 65 feet long, but they have much more capacity than a 60 foot long articulated bus because of the open floor plan. The trade off, of course, is that they have fewer seats, but only streetcars practically offer the choice.

What kind of flexibility is more important?

Faced with the choice of operational flexibility or capacity flexibility, which one rules?

It depends on the needs of the corridor and the goals of the transit line. Sometimes buses are the correct answer, and other times it's streetcars.

Sometimes it might make sense to use both on the same corridor. For example, streetcars capable of providing very high capacity might serve most passengers along a line, while buses capable of skipping around traffic might serve longer express trips on the same road.

There are 157 WMATA bus routes in the District of Columbia alone, with hundreds more WMATA and non-WMATA routes around the region. The majority of them are probably better served with buses, but some of them are undoubtedly better fits for streetcars.

The key for decision makers is to embrace the differences inherent to each mode, and decide accordingly.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Public Spaces

Could Vancouver's ferries work in the Anacostia?

A fleet of tiny ferries zigzags back and forth between neighborhoods and major tourist attractions on both sides of Vancouver's False Creek. Could the same work on the Anacostia River, connecting sites on Buzzard Point, Near Southeast, Poplar Point and Anacostia Park?

Photo by Potjie on Flickr.

When visiting Vancouver a few years ago, Greater Greater Wife and I took a hop on-hop off bus tour. When we got to the city's aquatic center, the guide suggested catching a small ferry to Granville Island, where a major food market draws locals and tourists. After we took in the market, we rode the ferry to other neighborhoods where we could get back on the bus.

Most ferries we're familiar with in eastern US cities are huge 1,000 passenger, car-carrying ferries like the Cape May-Lewes ferry, or 150-250 passenger water taxis like in New York. These ferries are far, far smaller, closer to the size of a van and hold only 12 or 20 passengers.

Top: The Spirit of False Creek 3. Bottom left: Cape May-Lewes ferry.
Bottom right: NY water taxi. Images from Wikipedia.

An operator stands on a platform in the center and drives the boat with a few joysticks and handles, while passengers sit around the edges. It operates a lot like a bus; in fact, the drivers even cruise past some of the docks and won't stop if nobody's waiting to get on or off.

The False Creek ferries only ply a route about 2 miles from end to end as the crow flies, or 3 route miles, zigzagging back and forth across the waterway.

Besides Granville Island and the science museum, they stop at a maritime museum, science museum, and a space museum with a planetarium and observatory. A stop in Stamps Landing takes you to a neighborhood with a lot of restaurants, and another, Yaletown, is a district with many new condo towers.

False Creek Ferries route map.

Each stop is only about 2-5 minutes apart, and costs $3.25 to $6.50 CAD depending on how far you go. The most popular route, the aquatic center to Granville Island, runs every 5 minutes from 7 am to 9 pm, or 10:30 pm in the summer. The other routes run every 15 minutes from about 9 am to 5-6 pm (depending on destination) in the winter and 7-9 pm during summer.

Best of all, the ferries actually operate completely self-sufficiently. In fact, there are 2 ferry companies that compete with one another!

Is this relevant to DC? It turns out that False Creek is about the size of the Anacostia:

False Creek (top) and Anacostia River (bottom) at the same scale. Images from Google Maps.

While not very wide, the Anacostia is a mighty gulf separating two sides of the river. For a long time, there was little on the banks of the Anacostia, on either side. But that is changing. We already have the ballpark, and Yards Park. Buzzard Point could get a soccer stadium.

On the east, Poplar Point is slated for development, possibly including a boulevard from Anacostia Metro to the water's edge. Historic Anacostia is not far from the river. Plus, if DC builds the 11th Street Recreation Bridge, we could have a significant attraction right on the river.

A ferry bouncing back and forth across the river, with stops at all of these attractions, could bring the two sides closer together than ever before and make the water a public space. These 7 stops cover a route about 2 miles long, or about the same length as the part of the the False Creek Ferries route network east of Granville Island.

Potential ferry stops on the Anacostia. Image by the author on Google Maps.

The Buzzard Point stop would be near a future soccer stadium and the Poplar Point stop at the end of a retail-lined avenue leading to Anacostia Metro. A stop at the 11th Street recreation bridge would connect directly to the streetcar and to all of the activities on the bridge, as well as being a short walk to Historic Anacostia.

A set of office buildings is going in the triangle east of the 11th Street Bridge and south of the freeway, and once the freeway segment to Barney Circle gets turned into a boulevard, there could be a pedestrian connection from the water up to Capitol Hill and Potomac Avenue Metro. Sadly, the CSX railroad bridge is too low for boats to travel under, so the ferries couldn't reach Hill East.

None of this precludes other types of ferries, like the longer-distance water taxis from places like Alexandria or Georgetown, or even farther south in Virginia, if those make sense. Those would use larger boats, running much less often.

Could this ferry system work here? I'll give my take in Part 2. Meanwhile, what do you think?


Weekend video: Toronto's Pedestrian Jar

Safety for bike riders and pedestrians has become a big issue in Toronto lately. One workplace there has come up with an innovative idea to help improve safety for people crossing the street.

Maybe money raised from the jar could help Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his allies on city council pay for the $375,000 study of a popular "Barnes Dance' pedestrian scramble already installed at a major intersection that handles more pedestrians than automobiles.

Thanks to Where the Sidewalk Starts and Walk Silver Spring for the link.


Montreal shows the way for Metro Forward

Montreal's subway and bus operator undertook a six-year modernization effort, rebranding itself, rebuilding stations, replacing track, buying new buses, and developing new ways to communicate with riders. Hopefully WMATA's newly-minted Metro Forward campaign can emulate this success in the Washington region.

Image from WMATA.

Last month, WMATA launched Metro Forward, a six-year action plan and media campaign. Metro's infrastructure has suffered badly from decades of underinvestment and deterioration, and Metro Forward is all about changing that.

It's an ambitious plan. It will take serious time and money, and riders will face disruption along the way, but it is absolutely essential for the system's longevity.

Metro Forward resembles Mouvement Collectif ("Society in Motion"), a similar program by the STM, Montreal's public transit authority.

When I arrived in Montreal in 2005, the STM struck me as being, well, good enough. The buses and metro ran (usually on time), and most buses ran frequently enough, but there was still a lot of room for improvement. STM's old trip planner was a fiddly home-grown affair. There was very little real-time information available for rail passengers, and no real-time information for bus passengers.

This was before Twitter, but the STM didn't post disruption information on its Web siteeven in the case of major disruptions. The fare collection system wasn't ancient, but it wasn't modern, either. There were some new buses in the fleet, but no hybrids or articulated buses, and the new buses were catching fire.

Then, in May 2009, the STM launched Mouvement Collectif. Mouvement Collectif signified big changes at the STM, not just a marketing gimmick. How has the STM changed? Its bus fleet now includes hybrids and articulated buses, improving the STM's carbon footprint and increasing capacity on high-ridership routes. They've fixed the incendiary problems with the first-generation LFS buses, too.

The OPUS fare collection system was launched, providing riders with a contactless smart card which can be used across the services of the STM, as well as other regional bus systems: STL, RTL, RTC, and others. The subway doesn't have new rolling stock yet, but the MPM-10 rolling stock is now in the design stage.

The STM has a public presence on social networks, and a new Web site which is a lot better than the old design. Passenger information is getting better, too; there are now MetroVision screens in more stations across the network.

The STM has made tangible improvements to its bus network, with the réseau 10 minutes max (a network of bus lines boasting 10-minute headways), a better night bus network, and an airport shuttle which is more convenient for riders than previous options and which has proven to be a real success in its first year of operation.

It takes longer to make real changes to a rail system than a bus network; it's going to be a few more years before the MPM-10s start running. But the STM continues to work on renovating the rail system, too; elevators have been installed at key transfer stations, among other improvements. Tous azimuts ("Full Circle" in English), the STM's trip planner, is still there (although it, too, has gotten better), but more importantly, the STM's schedules are in Google Transit now.

Mouvement Collectif is also about making public transit a more attractive option. Sustainability is a major component of Mouvement Collectif: not only mass transit as a sustainable transportation choice, but also the sustainable operation of transit services, through the use of biodiesel and other energy-saving measures. This advertisement conveys the authority's green messaging:

Thanks to Metro Forward, tomorrow's WMATA has the potential to be a far better transit agency than it is today. For the STM, Mouvement Collectif has paid off; in 2010 the STM was recognized as an Outstanding Public Transportation System in North America.

Metro Forward puts WMATA on the right track to celebrate a similar achievement six years from now. It will take time, and there will be a lot of disruption along the way, but we'll get there.

Crossposted at Raschke on Transport.

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