June 23, 2016

Paying For It – Lessons from New York

In 2008, the single most publicized element of NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s PlaNYC – an $8 Congestion Pricing cordon around Manhattan – met an abrupt and ignoble death in the legislative hospice known as Albany. It was a sound plan technically, but politically, there were problems.
Chief among these were cries of inequity from the outer boroughs who felt that ‘walling off’ downtown with an $8 fee was “elitist”. Unlike the iconic East River bridges, the bridges connecting further-flung areas of the city have some pretty hefty tolls already.

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Williamsburg Bridge – no toll

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Queensborough Bridge – no toll

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Verrazano- Narrows Bridge to Staten Island – $16 toll (I’m not kidding)

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Cross Bay Bridge to the Rockaways – $4, with $2.50 rebate for residents

These folks were not down with being asked to pay another $8 to cross onto the precious island of Manhattan, despite the fact that none of them drove there anyway, and their dutiful elected representatives in City Council and Albany obeyed.
OK. Move forward to 2014. The Metropolitan Transit Authority, who everyone hates in a good year, is still strapped for cash. Transit is suffering. The city and state each claim they’re too broke to fund basic maintenance, let alone expansion and improvements. Everyone kvetching. Sounds familiar.
Enter the Move NY Plan. It’s about as catchy as PlaNYC, but with some lessons learned in optics and equity. The plan still calls for a congestion pricing cordon south of 60th Street in Manhattan, but spreads the load with variable-rate pricing and more importantly, reducing tolls to the outer borough bridges. Despite the reduction in these tolls, it is a net gain in revenue of over $1.2B per year, which could be used to further bond up to $15B in projects.
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A more equitable plan – Streetsblog

In addition to outlining where the money is coming from, the plan sponsors have been equally clear about where the money is going to. This includes plans to address under-served areas in those same outer borough areas that will see their bridge tolls reduced.
Some of these are extensions of existing BRT routes, but larger ticket items such as the Triboro commuter rail line and Utica Avenue subway line, too. Without this plan, these big-push projects are nothing more than lines on a piece of paper. A gleam in a blogger’s eye.
Which gets me thinking about objections to road pricing to help fund Translink. Clearly none of us pay enough in taxes to fund our road network. If we did, there’d be no toll on the Port Mann. If we all paid enough, the province would have simply bought it outright. But they didn’t have the money, so they put the bridge on layaway. The imminent Massey Bridge is no different.
These bridges’ tolls are essential to reimbursing the cost of their construction, plus interest. In order to guarantee against the same toll-avoidance behaviour that goes on with the Port Mann and Patullo bridges, would the province be willing to place tolls on more or all of its bridges – in a more equitable manner – so that everyone pays a little rather than only a few paying more?
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Annacis Hwy Bridge – a $2 toll to keep the Massey folks honest?

There’s certainly a compelling case against this, mainly that some of these bridges have already been tolled and paid for. But thinking regionally, could this be worked to the province’s advantage? The region gets a windfall of transit funding and the province gets some guarantee that its $4B bridge will actually be paid off on schedule.
Lastly, I’m curious to know what ‘blue sky’ projects PT readers would promote with, say, an extra $500M/year in transit funding. There are the obvious ones (Surrey Light Rail, Broadway skytrain/underground extension, etc.). But what other big, exciting projects further on the horizon? If equitable tolls and/or road pricing becomes a reality, what are we looking to plan for and build in 2026?

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  1. New projects:
    An extension of the Millennium Line eastward out of Waterfront station via Main Street station to tie into the Millennium Line at/near the GNW Campus – making the Millennium Line a continuous loop. The Broadway subway would be then be the Evergreen Line.
    A continuous upgrade of strategic bus routes toward BRT and eventually LRT until there is a more cross connected network throughout the region.
    Hybrid streetcar/LRT from Main Street Station to Olympic Village Station under Granville Bridge at 6th ties to Arbutus Corridor to Broadway and on to UBC. (No subway to UBC)
    Expansion of West Coast Express to Abbotsford looping back to the city via Langley, Surrey, New Westminster.

    1. Post
      1. Subways should be used sparingly for high density – high capacity nodal corridors – not to give overly expensive service to low density outlying areas that will likely always remain that way.
        If urban planners think massive density increases on the west side are a good idea, and if west side / UBC residents and decision makers agree to it we can always revisit the need for a subway.

  2. Rapid Transit to the North Shore is needed.
    As for Paying For It. We see today that toll charges are increasing on the golden Ears Bridge. It’s something many people want. User fees including equitable tolls for infrastructure. We’re obviously going to be considering user fees for some of the cycling infrastructure. The $10 million bridge for bikes under the Canada Line Bridge, which runs along the same route as the already existing crossing (Oak Street Bridge) is obviously one that needs to be considered.

  3. My blue sky suggestion: Cycling is the least expensive way of providing mobility in an urban setting and also offers huge benefits in terms of improved health, reduced pollution, noise and traffic congestion. City of Vancouver is leading the way on this and modest investments in cycling have yielded impressive results – already 10% of commutes by CoV residents are by bike compared to 20% using transit. My vision is for a network of cycling highways throughout the region combined with finer grained cycling networks in all municipalities including safe routes to school and to transit nodes. George Poulos provided some interesting research on the cost/benefit to society of different forms of transportation:
    Each km cycled contributes $0.15 to society while each km driven costs society $0.56. Transit is somewhere in between. So why don’t we put a priority on funding cycling?

    1. Cycling is great .. in fair weather in flat terrain for short distances (say sub 10km). It is pretty hilly in Vancouver and often rainy. Unless the city subsidizes e-bikes or trikes like these http://www.velometro.com this idea won’t help 90% of society. We need more RAPID public transit.
      Only a carrot and stick approach will work. Subsidies for e-bikes and riding buses or trains and heavy surcharges / user-fees / tolls / per km charges for cars will work. In Berlin, London, Munich, Singapore or New York I would dream of renting or owning a car. Vancouver can get there too but it is a multi-decade road in a city designed for cars.

  4. Bluesky? Westcoast Express type service to the Fraser Valley regional hubs (Langley – Abbotsford – Chilliwack); Replacing the Seabus service with a rapid transit connection to North Vancouver, and an east-west line across the shore; Light Rail connecting New West to Cambie through the new developments along the Fraser River; light rail along River Road developments in Richmond; Gondola to SFU; Rapid transit connecting Surrey to Maple Ridge…
    But in the short term, and recognizing our skies are currently overcast, I would settle for a decent B-line network, night buses, HandiDart investments, and the myriad of other less sexy service improvements that are seldom mentioned, are critical to the the viability or our integrated multi-modal system, and make up the real guts of the Mayors’ 10-year plan.
    Failing even that modest request, I will settle for putting a halt to the service cuts that are currently impacting established higher-density neighborhoods in New Westminster, never mind dreams of connecting far-flung places like Burke Mountain. We are moving backwards so fast, It is hard to imagine what moving forwards looks like sometimes…

  5. Transit projects depend on what priorities one has. My priorities focus on:
    – Capacity and future network completion
    – Regional access (high speed)
    – Low operating cost
    – Reliability
    – Local access
    I.e. local access, for which walking, cycling are competitive modes and placemaking is the work, is at the bottom of my list. With this:
    1) Broadway subway to Arbutus
    2) King George Skytrain to Newton and frequent network expansion in Surrey.
    3) Burnaby Mountain Gondola
    4) BRT to Maple Ridge and Langley with frequent network expansion.
    5) Inner BRT network (41st, North Shore, Scott Rd, Willingdon, etc…)
    6) Hastings subway to Willingdon (Expo line extension)
    7) Subway/elevated to UBC
    8) Skytrain to Langley
    9) Canada line extension to Lonsdale/Upper Levels (if technically feasable; else, a new Lonsdale line pointing towards Arbutus.)
    10) Canada line extension to Steveston
    11) Arbutus elevated Skytrain to Kerrisdale
    This project prioritization (below point 6) would depend on the willingness of local communities to densify and on observed network growth.

    1. Buses are blue sky ? Buses will NOT work to lure people from cars into public transit as they are as slow, less comfortable, wobbly and often poorly ventilated. We need trains i.e. subways in dense parts and LRTs in less dense parts.
      The following subways are all missing in 2040 plan:
      Subway on North Shore, from Dundarave to Lonsdale Quay, then further east to Deep Cove, forming a north shore loop via Lionsgate bridge and Second Narrows, via E-Van.
      UBC loop under Broadway and then back via 41st to Skytrain in Burnaby.
      Second line south under Burrard to Broadway.
      Loop under Robson, Denman, Davie to connect with Burrad line, Canada line and SkyTrain.
      Then heavy fees for car use downtown and driving over any bridge, say $10 one way and $20 in rush hour. That will mean traffic will flow for those that are willing to pay.
      Heavy parking fees on any surface, say $10/h.
      Reclaim surface for pedestrians (and yes, bikes) and more green ways / linear parks.

      1. “Subway on North Shore, from Dundarave to Lonsdale Quay, then further east to Deep Cove, forming a north shore loop via Lionsgate bridge and Second Narrows, via E-Van.”
        Can we please keep our discussions anchored firmly in reality?

        1. The reality of perpetual traffic jams and diesel buses and bike lanes as “solutions” for getting around ?
          My reality is bigger than that.

        2. Thomas, traffic volumes are falling in Vancouver’s core and appear to have peaked elsewhere. Encouraging longer commutes no matter by what mode is just an endless cycle of demand for more expensive infrastructure. Your subway-to-mom’s-house-mentality won’t solve traffic problems because we can’t afford it. We can afford denser mixed use developments that encourage walking and cycling.
          Excellent regional public transit should be the second priority

  6. I’m stealing my first three points of a Blue Sky solution from fbfree:
    1) Broadway subway to Arbutus
    2) King George Skytrain to Newton and frequent network expansion in Surrey.
    3) Burnaby Mountain Gondola
    Perfect. I might quibble a little with the order – I think the Burnaby Mountain Gondola could be built really quickly for relatively cheap and have a great long-term impact on transit usage, especially since it’s primarily for university students who are developing transit habits, but still. Those are all tops. Then I’ll add:
    4) increased frequent bus network with 200 meter bus stop spacing (why? So that buses will be faster and more reliable than the existing 100 meter average)
    5) LRT to Langley.
    6) If I can really dream, a streetcar running down the median of 1st Avenue in East Van and a 41st Avenue subway.
    7)Extension of the Evergreen Line to Coast Meridian and David Avenue.
    8)Subway up Lonsdale to 21st with stops at 15th, Keith and Esplanade.

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