Archive for November, 2013

Ottawa’s Transportation Master Plan (TMP) Needs Reorientation next time it’s reviewed

2013/11/15

Presentation to Transportation Committee on the Transportation Master Plan
Chris Bradshaw, November 15, 2013

My comments are comprehensive and more appropriately apply to the next review of these various plans, although I offer seven suggested changes to the current Master Plan.  I am not addressing the pedestrian or cycling plans, despite my strong support for those two modes.  Today, I am concentrating on driving, and mostly car-ownership.

Since 1978, I have had two passions: 1) bringing political awareness and stature to pedestrians and 2) reducing the footprint of cars.  Since that time, I have practised using all modes by what I call the “green transportation hierarchy.”  I can also count time at a U.S. college that forbid students from having a car and most professors walked to the campus, and my employment soon afterwards with General Motors in Canada.  My wife and I live in Sandy Hill; we have been “car-lite” since 1995.

What I have come to conclude, and share with you today is that “The Emperor Has No Clothes.”  My fascination with transportation has resulted in much published writing and speeches.  In one of them, I created a way of measuring transportation by any mode so all trips could be compared.  The result was the Neighbourhood-Radius Foot-Unit of Transportation, NRFUT (or “Enerfoot”), shows the following “footprint” of the different modes:
= = = = = =
NRFUT Hierarchy of Modes:
Mode Used             #2      #3      #4     #5     #6        #7
Drive owned car    30         5       1.2    120     10      1250
Drive shared car    30         3       1.33      7     10        670
Rideshare                30         5       2.5     60    15         900
Taxi or ride-share  30         4       1.2*    96     5         480
Use Transit            100         3.5  20*     17.5 13.7     240
Ride a bike                 3          2        1         6      4          24
Walk                            1           1         1        1       1.2         1.2
Notes: Column #2: space occupied; #3 SPAM factor (1-5); #4: Avg. no. of travelers; #5:Total Footprint; #6: Avg trip length; #7: Total NRFUT score.  NRFUT=neighbourhood-radius foot-unit of travel; SPAM= Storage (parking), Pollution, Anxiety (caused to others), Manufacturing/Morbidity; * Not counting driver, who is tied to the vehicle
= = = = = = =

The ratio from the largest to smallest NRFUT count is roughly 1:1000.  The great differences have to do with the vehicle size, the longer distances “enabled” by vehicles, the low occupancy “enabled” by private ownership.  Private ownership also ensures the vehicles are used often and are large and “amenitied” enough for not average trip but the few most demanding ones.

It is accepted around this table that people are free to pick whatever mode they want.  But many over here would suggest there is much favouritism granted the private car:

1)    It supposed benefits to “the economy,” although not so much the local economy.”

2)    Federal housing policies that promote home-ownership in new houses and provide energy subsidies.

3)    Provincial policies that tax property on its retail value, not its and its occupants’ demand for services.  Note that local roads are not supported by gas taxes or provincial fees.

4)     Zoning that requires oversupplies parking, making it “free” (which is a subsidy “buried” in prices, wages, rents/mortgages).

5)    Auto and housing advertising that ties ownership to “freedom” and “status”

6)    Car owners, in a sense “subsidize their own cars by ignoring 80% of car costs that are fixed, some of which the CAA also ignores (owner time costs, parking at home), in costing trips.  [I have campaigned with the Envirocentre to do household transportation audits, to overcome this.]

But there is a rising tide of concern:

1)     Environmental concerns have reached an “immovable” object: Climate Change

2)    Health has focused on inactivity and its contribution to many conditions.

3)    Oil is used as leverage by “rogue” states

4)     “Peak Car”has arrived: the decline of auto use, auto-ownership, and delays for young people in getting licensed has occurred since 2006, before the financial melt-down.  Part of this decline is the increasing reality that driving in cities is no longer fun; while walking always is, especially when it means always being connected to one’s social network.

Think of the automobile’s historic century of ubiquity as a pendulum: the first 50 years were downhill, the last fifty has been uphill, to the point of it coming to a stop and reversing direction.

What is the focus of this Master Plan?  It is peak-hour travel, a product of jobs times geographic scale of the “commutershed”: the territory within which the car has made daily commuting possible.  Car ownership and jobs have conspired to create a problem that we never solve, plan after plan: too many cars carrying too few people going to jobs too far from where the people live.  How can roads be congested, when the cars causing the congestion aren’t near to being full?  Why doesn’t the Plan consider more options than two pages describing “ridesharing” to get more people in those cars to reduce the number of cars using the roads at the same time.  The current problem is the treating private car ownership as sacred, in which driving is good and “passengership” is bad.

A couple years ago, I had a private audience of PGM (Planning & Growth Management) staff, including Ms. Scheppers, to pitch a concept, which I called “Trans-Seat,” a hybrid of carsharing and ridesharing, which would overcome all the problems of ridesharing as well as the problems of transit: greater flexibility for ridesharing, and overcoming the reality that people who use either one are deprived of car access for half the week.  Trans-seat uses carshare vehicles with two stations each, one in a residential suburb and the other in a suburban employment area.  The cars are stationed at the former on evenings and weekends (to replace second-cars), and at workplaces on weekdays to provide a vehicle for personal or business trips, even including some ridesharing (lunch, going to the same remote meeting).  The car is driven between the two as part of a ridesharing plan each weekday morning and evening.

Even though it is too late to start this review over, I have a few changes to suggest for the next one in 5-7 years.

1)    Commit the city to reducing car-ownership, downsizing democratically the car “population” to fit the road capacity, not the other way around.  This should be done through shared fleets in private hands.  Note how many carsharing companies have been bought by car-rental firms (for example, Discount has just started its Student Carshare, now at three campuses in Ottawa).

2)    Second, make transit service better at off-peak times, getting more use out of buses that sit idle for most of the service week.  This would draw “transit-choice” riders to use it for trips other than commuting, and improve life for the so-called “transit-captive” half of the population that don’t have cars or aren’t allowed to or aren’t supposed to drive, the “PED-CIVS”: Poor, Elderly, Disabled, Children, Ill &Infirm, Visitors, and what I call Simplicists, those who actually choose to live without a car.

3)    Adopt the Affordable, Low-NRFUT Transportation Hierarchy – Walking, Cycling, Transit & Trucking, Shared cars, with private (and usually single-occupant) vehicles at the bottom.  This will require each report to Council for a transportation expenditure, including transit, will include a statement of how many NRFUTs (“enerfeet”?)will be saved.

4)    Exert more control over subdivision design and the location and scale of retailing.  This is needed to make the 150 or so local communities “complete.”  Parking requirements – except setting maximums– should be eliminated, leaving parking to be a market of its own.  Saying “mixed-use” is not specific enough.  Make the neighbourhood associations more relevant by giving them a role and letting them tax their residents and businesses to have the resources for full participation in their planning.

5)     Start telling commuters that they can only use so many NRFUT for their peak-hour commute, and any excess will be charged for through some form of road pricing.  Tax all off-street parking as well [see University of Ottawa’s Sustainable Prosperity’s The Costs of Sprawl].  And tell them that their affordability model should consist of tracking housing and transportation together, and that living close to work and “conveniences” translates into saving fixed car costs as well as variable ones.

6)    Abandon any further “rapid transit” projects until you have done all upgrades to walking and cycling infrastructure and to bring in streetcars to all main street spines feeding the core (which were once part of the City’s plan, but were dropped several years ago, another example of the myopic focus on having transit compete with subsidized car-commuting).

7)    Finally, require that the next review include two additional plans: a) A transit plan that will finally have clear numbers for costs by km and time of day and data from PRESTO on how the resources are used. B) A car plan to ensure that the car “population” is reduced by a target amount.

NOTE: on terminology: “Complete Streets” conjures up a characterization of our current arterial roads as “compete streets” (e.g., road rage, etc.)   The “master” plan seems like a plan prepared by the “masters” of our automobile-dependent complex (congestion at rush hour – like freedom to cross streets anywhere, anytime – is seen as an impediment to higher car-ownership rates).  After seeing the films, “The Human Scale” and David Chernushenko’s “Bike City, Great City” at the Mayfair Theatre in the last week, I am reminded of my little ditties: “Car-Full, Careful; Car-Free, Carefree” and “Cars scar; parks spark.”

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Ottawa’s Official Plan’s Fatal Flaw

2013/11/08

“The Plans’ Fatal Flaw,” A presentation to the City of Ottawa Planning Committee on the issue of adopting a revised Official Plan

by Chris Bradshaw, resident of Sandy Hill, November 8, 2013

I retired from planning almost 20 years ago.  I have used a good part of my retirement to scratch an itch that was already bothering me.  I wanted to solve the car problem.  Four of the five plans going to Council see it don’t see any car problem; instead they see a peak-hour road-congestion problem.  They see the limited roadway space and think the solution is to build more roads and getting a few people to shift to other modes, a drop in the driver share from 55% to 50%.   I see it as there being too many cars and having a roads that don’t work for any of the other quality of life metrics of the plan.

Cars were invented for rural folk and for those wanting to visit rural areas from cities, not to be used in cities.  But it grew, as any market does, to fill needs that it itself invented.  Using them to drive to work each day took several more decades.  From the device to escape the city, it became more: the all-purpose family car, and now the indispensable personal car.  Everyone is assumed to either own a car or to yearn to own one.  Municipal councils’ role, historically, has been to widen and otherwise improve roads; you are a handmaiden to its growth, and more importantly your every action is a promise to car owners that you place their interests foremost, despite all the window-dressing about walking, cycling, and transit.

We as a society don’t understand cars.  They are essentially personal possessions, but designed to be used only on public rights of way, and too large to keep in a bag or purse.  They essentially convert public space into private space.  Used in large numbers – as private ownership induces and enables – they degrade the places where citizens meet and do commerce, into corridors to be traversed as quickly as possible.  Why did cars become personal possessions in the first place?  Cars, like buses, as we see in car-rental, taxi, and carsharing, can be a shared community resource, like buses.  Technology has arrived that can make it happen, both that used by taxi-like services like Uber to match owner with user, and the self-driving technology on the horizon make it possible.

Ironically, the City has a plan for walking, and another for cycling, but not one for either transit or for cars (which could address private and fleet/communal uses, although perhaps that could (and should) be part of the transit plan.  I consider these communal uses MASC, or Metered Access to Shared Cars (in some ways they are more metered than transit, which does not base fares on distance driven).

By using MASC to replace OPOCO (the one-person, one-car orientation), Ottawa will no longer have a car population big enough to create congestion, and will reduce parking demand significantly, for 6-8 times as many cars in the population, thanks to the car’s mobility and its 22.5 hours a day of “inactivity.”  Not only are there too many cars, each car is too big, as its owner chooses a model that meets the the most demanding (but usually rare) trips over 4-5 years, despite most trips being able to by done via a bike.

Planners accept the problem as being theirs because they assume that each person who owns one, freely chose it to meet their transportation needs, and that it is up to government to help them reap value from their annual outlays of $10,000 or so in insurance, gasoline, depreciation, maintenance, finance costs, and license fees, which doesn’t include the owner’s labour and his cost of off-street parking at his residence.  Sustainable Prosperity’s Costs of Sprawl documents otherwise.

I’m here to say there really is no problem.  How can roads be congested if the cars on it are mostly empty?  How can a road ever be “efficient” and “safe” but be full of inefficiently used cars and drivers are moving at a legal speed ensures death if there is a minor error in judgement by either the driver or a vulnerable road user?

What can we do here?  Perhaps it is inappropriate that I raise my deep concerns during the brief public consultation exercise of what is a “refresh” of these documents.  But I can suggest a few changes to you, so that the next review will dig deeper and start earlier.  First note that 95% of the capital budget for the next 18 years is being focused on the rush-hour problem, and the continued commitment to bedroom communities. [Sustainable Prosperity, based at the U. of Ottawa, says in its recent Costs of Sprawl report that rapid transit is actually a sprawl-inducing expenditure].  This plan is, as the introductory sections worry, unaffordable, not just to the City, but to its citizens, who have to own a car and buy monthly unlimited-use bus passes it they behave as planners hope.

What I recommend when you start your debate of this plan, is:

First, put back into the plan the statement that your first priority is to create a city in which one does not need to own a car or drive in order to live a full life (“car-optional” lifestyles, if you will).  And focus the plan on the core metric of reducing car-ownership, through alternatives to private car-ownership, MASC as a transition from “car-lite” to “car-free”.

Second, drop all parking requirements in zoning bylaws, except setting maximums, with the expectation that off-street parking should be a privately provided commodity, and that with a properly controlled car population, on-street parking might be all that is needed.

Third, petition the province to revamp the property taxes and development charges to bear no hidden persuasions to opt for low-density, isolated suburban bedroom communities, including allowing cities to tax all off-street parking and require landlords to recover such costs solely from the parties that use the parking – including MASC users.

Fourth, formalize the hierarchy of travel modes (walking, cycling, and transit, followed, by MASC, ahead of OPOCO-SOVs).  The upper modes are ranked in order of the space they occupy, the embedded energy & pollution of the vehicles they use, and their impact on affordability, health, social, and environmental “goods.”  When reports come to Council for each transportation-infrastructure project, each needs to be required to justify itself in terms of inducing further shifting UP that modal hierarchy and to reduce average trip lengths.

Fifth, get a grip on the scale and location of retailing and other public-serving institutions.  Bring back the old retail dichotomy – “Convenience” and “DSTM” (department-store type merchandise) — that belong, respectively, in each “complete community” (neighbourhood) and “complete” district (including the downtown core).  Then look to bringing back the corner store to serve the sub-neighbourhood level.  It needs to be studied first, and I would recommend going to my website, http://www.hearthhealth.wordpress.com, to see more details of what I call “DePoTs (delivery and points of transfer, which include functions to mail delivery and a higher grade of recycling, in the “Walk ‘n’ Roll City” essay).

 

Ottawa Needs a Transit Plan

2013/11/04

To: Members of the Ottawa Transit Commission

Topic: Comments on the Master Plans [in draft form: Official Plan, Transportation Master Plan, Pedestrian Plan, Cycling Plan, Infrastructure Plan]I have attended a good many commission meetings.  I have been trying to understand the transit “biz,” and to influence the development of better transit, which included addressing the commission both as a representative of the Ottawa Seniors Transportation Committee — of which I am still an active member — and as an individual.  In submitting comments here, I act in the latter capacity.

My wife and I live in Sandy Hill.  We are retired with three grandchildren, two living in Ottawa.  We do not own a car, using Vrtucar a bit, but mostly walking, cycling, and transit.  This combination meets our needs for frugality and health.

I know that most of the delegations to  the Commission over the current  term have addressed service and fares of both the “fixed-route” and Para services.  The master plans are not something these groups and their “publics” easily relate to, and I suspect, you will not get that many comments on them.

But I suspect part of the fault of that is the lack of a specific “transit” master plan, as the two modes of cycling and walking get.  The gap leaves many matter untouched.  That goes for the two modes of driving cars and being a passenger in cars, plus freight transportation.  The TMP only addresses matters that are, in fact, not the domain of the commission: building infrastructure to speed up transit-passenger movement, and development around transit stations (ignoring the failure to put transit where people live and shop, which calls for streetcar service, that was in a previous plan but was not even mentioned here).

The TMP allocates $3 billion to transit infrastructure and almost $1 billion to “roads,” while beggaring walking and cycling.  And yet, the TMP, OP, and of course, the Cycling and Pedestrian plans clearly recognize the superiority for Equity, Efficiency, Affordability, and Environment/Energy factors, not to mention road congestion, to having major shifts away from car use.

I am asking, therefore, one simple thing: That the Commission request that Council, in time for the next review, prepare a master plan for transit.  I would suggest that plan would address the following matters:

1. Examine car-ownership rationale.  Why are cars purchased, and what mix of improvements to the other modes would make it possible for households to not purchase a car, including the availability of car-sharing across the whole urban area, which makes it possible to get access to cars without ownership?

2.  Revisit the business plan that is common to all public-transit agencies in North America, which is wholly based, as the draft TMP admits, on making a small dent in the modal share for drive-alone commuting at peak-hour.  That results in a certain “respect” for the residents with cars — considered “transit-choice” people — who can use their cars as a threat at rush-hour, vs. those without cars (the “transit-captive”) who must accept whatever off-peak service that is offered them.  As I’ve pointed out during previous presentations, it is most easily summed up as “walking twice as far; waiting twice as long, for a trip less than 20% as long, and still paying as much (or for seniors, about 75% as much) as “AAAs” (active, affluent adults) pay.  The current poor off-peak service will never attract those who can buy cars, even if challenges their household’s affordability standards.  So most households face the most inefficient arrangement of all: bus passes for all members over 13, and a car for each person over 16 for the rest of their trips.

3.  The TMP gives figures for the length of the average transit ride and the average car ride.  I have to suspect the figures come from the O-D Survey, which is done once every five or so years, and for a small sample of households based on one adult member’s knowledge and memory of what travel they and the others in the household did the previous day.  Thanks to the Presto system, OC Transpo can now get more data.  But here’s the question: Why has the Presto system been implemented without any way to find out where Presto users disembark?  Vrtucar and Bixi know that information, even if they have to hide identities of users to share with others; and Metrolinx’s system allows for “tapping” when disembarking, since many systems in the GTA have “zone” fares that are a crude, old-technology way of charging by distance.

4. Related to the previous question, could the Transit Master Plan examine a fare system that charges by distance?  All other modes charge some or all of their costs by distance (e.g., gas for cars, km charges for carsharing, time for bikesharing), but a 20-km cross-city commute on the transitway at peak period — when buses are in short supply and extra drivers cost a premium for split-shift work — costs the same as a senior riding at midday to go five stops to a shopping centre or health/recreation complex.  Remember the latter user has a longer walk and wait (and the probably most of the total travel time is spent on those ancillary two activities rather than sitting on a transit vehicle).

The focus on the decision of households to buy a car — or a second or third car — is going to require a great deal of research: focus groups, review of psychological and economics research to understand what choices people face, what they value most, and how they plan for their futures.  It will mean exercising leadership, rather than being happy with “peer reviews.”  Ottawa was a leader when it created the bus-based transitway system (now called BRT internationally), but now it is following again.

I want to ask for one other thing: Restore and expand that is part of the 2008 TMP: “In 2031, the ability of residents to access essential opportunities will not depend on their ownership of a car. Urban residents will be able to meet daily needs by walking, cycling, taking transit or ridesharing. . . . .”  (p. 2 of Section 3.1)  This should be carried over in this new Transit Master Plan, as a core goal of transit: to focus on reducing private car-ownership, not just on increasing ridership at peak-hours, which will not be successful if car-ownership is not tackled head-on.  The TMP does include a statement critical of “automobile dependence,” but no plan to really reduce it, including improving off-peak service, a better fare system, and making further improvements in Presto (or replace with another system).  [The lack of capacity for Para is also something that should be addressed.]   The non-transit components of these plans also need to help: by understanding that roads for cars can never by “efficient” if the owners of cars refuse to use them efficiently (most cars at rush hour carry no more than can easily be carried by cycling or walking), partly because they are not charged for most of the public costs (remember that cars are used only in public places — and much of their storage occurs there as well, and the rest requires removal of street-parking spaces for access).  The TMP recognizes the recent downward trend in car-ownership and use but doesn’t seem to understand how profound this is, since the “driver” of the trends are young people who will be around a much longer time than my generation.

In closing, let me say that the way the public consultation program for these documents has been handled has been poor.  Staff missed announced deadlines (the documents were to have been released in June, giving the public the summer to read, mull, and discuss their contents and implications).  The “slippage” has not been accommodated by extending the date by which Council wants the documents adopted by Council, which has chosen not to waive its rules to allow delegations to address the whole of them, which cannot be done at the fractured committee stage.  My decision to speak as an individual is related to this problem: groups of citizens, the executive of which usually meet once a month (and thus have only one chance to meet after the documents’ release), and their memberships meet much less frequently.  I attended the one open house in my part of Ottawa, and stayed the entire four-hour duration, but still have felt the need to ask more of them as I pore over the documents.  To all this, I have to ask, “What’s the rush? It’s a 28-year plan, FGS!”

Chris Bradshaw
494 Besserer Street, Ottawa
hearth@ties.ottawa.on.ca