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Postcard from Vancouver

This is the first of what will hopefully be a series of picture heavy postcards from great transit cities. City number one is Vancouver, something of a poster child for how to retrofit transit, walking and cycling to a young new world city.

First up we have the amazing skytrain system, which despite the name also runs underground and at ground level. These trains are small but have very high capacity and frequency due to the efficiencies of driverless operation. Also as they are custom designed for passenger transit only, they can manage very steep grades and tight curves. Note the curve coming into the station below, and also notice the clear example of transit oriented development being built. The last picture also shows the silent alarm that switches on the camera and microphone system and alerts the transit police. I’m convinced this is the sort of system we should use for any new rail line in Auckland, especially on the North Shore where the steep grades, tight curves, narrow width and small cross section would care billions off the cost of a new rail line. Also the driverless operation would make super frequent all day service affordable. If we want metro style service levels, this is how.

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Next we have a cycleway, classic two way separated cycleway retrofitted to a busy city street. Let’s do tons of these in Auckland. I also noticed the pedestrian phases at intersections are automatic and very frequent, and their intersections don’t splay out into a zillion turning bays and pockets for every intersection. If it’s a two lane road it stays two lanes, and sometimes you just have to wait.

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Finally some shots of the SeaBus ferry to North Vancouver. Extremely efficient operation, two of these ferries shuttle back and forth every fifteen minutes. They dock in a custom designed receiving bay with multiple automatic gangplanks either side. You board from the middle but exit to the outer side like many busy metro stations. This thing can turn over a full load of several hundred people in a minute or two. At the city end it has an air bridge style connection to the main metro and bus station, while on the north side it has an integrated feeder bus system. Devonport eat your heart out.

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26 comments to Postcard from Vancouver

  • mini me

    We lived in Vancouver for 6 months. The whole public transport network is centered on the skytrain lines. The buses simply weave around the skytrain, thus feeding people onto the network. The fact that the skytrain cars are small and driverless meant that they could increase capacity very quickly. The concrete beams were just part of urban living, and property values around the skytrain sky-rocketed. I wish we could justify system like that in Auckland…

    • On what grounds is it not ‘justified’ in Auckland? It is the plan; Rapid Transit [Rail +BRT] with feeder buses. It does keep getting watered down in practice however, mainly by a meddling single mode obsessed government not funding it, but borrowing to build endless motorways, but also by the differing levels of determination in Council, Auckland Transport, and NZTA, plus of of course the fact that the bus operators still have too much power over route design.

      • Hi Patrick, your observations of Vancouver match those from our own visit. They really know how to get things done and they know the true benefits to the region of coordinating public transport (including cyciling and pedestrian modes) with urban planning objectives and doing things quickly with an aligned value chain. Their recent study comparing economic and other factors in areas around the Frequent Transit Network compared to non-serviced areas was an excellent example of the wider benefits that public transport brings (Translink: Tale of two regions).

        On route design, I think your comment in respect of the power of bus operators over route design possibly reflect a somewhat historical perception, perhaps influenced by the existence of commercial service rights. In recent years your description couldn’t be further from the truth.

        For example, in 2011 NZ Bus worked very closely with Auckland Transport to redesign the highly successful Flagship Service routes – the CityLink, InnerLink and OuterLink services which also benefited from new fleet and enhanced in-bus features. We have also worked with Auckland Transport to enhance the very popular 881 service from the Shore and we have been extremely supportive of the new network designs which will provide outstanding connectivity and integration benefits.

        We agree that bus services that support rather than compete with rail or BRT will drive growth of the network. Frequent networks are key and must be supported by quality infrastructure and priority measures.

  • My friend tells me that there is an off-peak (after 6:30pm) ticket price the equivalent of a 1 way fare for travel anywhere in the city. We should introduce something similar here for at least Weekend travel and maybe travel after 8pm or something like that.
    They also have some free late night buses.

  • Sanctuary

    Wow, those ferry docks are something else. *sigh* *dreamy eyed stare*

  • Luke E

    That ferry dock looks like something out of a dystopian sci-fi movie…

    • The “Ferry” in Vancouver is called the Seabus, becuase that is essentially what it is, two vessels go back and forward across vancouver Harbour on a 12 minute journey.

      The reason it is such a busy serviecs is that the lions gate bridge is only a three lane bridge, which they tidal flow.

      You could argue that the Devonport Ferry might be just like this if they had not built the clip-ons on the Harbour bridge and it had remained as a four lane structure,

      • nonsense

        Who wants to go to Devonport anyway? Zombies?

      • The key difference in Vancouver is that they don’t have any particularly central bridges and their SeaBus terminal is the natural nexus of buses from all across their north shore suburbs. Devonport on the other hand is only good for serving Devonport and bayswater. The equivalent for us in Auckland would be if the ferry terminal was in Akoranga and all the buses stopped there.

  • nick1234

    If we really want to make Auckland like Vancouver can we build a 1200m mountain somewhere around Glenfield where you can go floodlit skiiing after you finish work? I’d vote for that instead of a cycle way, in fact I’d vote for that instead of the CRL.

    • Dayne

      Snowplanet 20kms up the road from Glenfield not good enough? (I’m not into skiiing/snowboarding so wouldn’t know)

    • 1200m wont cut it for auckland, :(
      Auckland is 36S, while Vancouver is nearly 49N,

      The nearest comparision would be Mammoth Mountain in CA, (37N) only prob is it tops out at 3300m ,

      So with the 2-5 mm uplift in the eastern end of the Australian Plate, we should have that knocked off in about a million years or so, ( Although the next glacial in 10-50K years, might make it a whole lot easier) :)

    • Steve D

      Since dreams are free: sleeper ski train. Leaves Britomart at about midnight so you can still go out on Friday night. Sleep till Ohakune, get up and hit the mountain for the weekend. Back on Sunday evening. Sure beats a four hour drive leaving in Southern Motorway rush hour traffic and eating up your whole evening.

      • Sailor Boy

        I honestly don’t know why they don’t do this. Wouldn’t even need to be a sleeper for me, just a seat will do.

        • Mike

          A ski train from Auckland operated in the 1990s, sponsored by Kiwi Lager – locos and 56′ seated carriages were repainted in Kiwi Lager livery. Unfortunately It didn’t last long.

          • Greg N

            You got your answer right there about why it wasn’t successful – A Bar on rails and little else.

  • Kent Lundberg

    Preach: “their intersections don’t splay out into a zillion turning bays and pockets for every intersection. If it’s a two lane road it stays two lanes, and sometimes you just have to wait.”

    • mfwic

      Are you saying that on a four lane road they only have two approach lanes at intersections? Or dont they do 4 lane roads?

      • Sailor Boy

        You may have missed the bit where he said “if it’s two lane road”.

      • Yes, if the road is two lanes in each direction then the intersection is still only two lanes in each direction. Most city streets are two lanes each way.

        I was reliably informed by an Auckland traffic engineer that doing so would create immediate gridlock and cause the sky to catch on fire or something. Luckily for Vancouver that doesn’t seem to be the case.

        • MrV

          They also make use of the flashing green traffic light. A curiosity for the unfamiliar, but at these interesection the cross street only faces a stop sign. The light will only change to solid green, then orange>red if a pedestrian wants to cross. The flashing green indicates to cars a car may turn into their path, as they are allowed to do if there is a gap in the traffic.
          Seems to work really well by not impeding traffic flow on arterial routes.

  • Have I crossed a black cat in the Matrix? I swear I read this article a few days ago?????

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