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The NPA transportation plan: counterflow lanes on major arterials, more buses, an “affordable” subway

October 24th, 2014 · 21 Comments

I’m a few days late with this, I know. Getting kind of hectic out there.

Anyway, the NPA’s Kirk LaPointe presented the party’s plan on transportation, which was mainly more buses, an “affordable” subway built within five years (or at least aim for that), and something a lot of reporters were intrigued by — counterflow lanes on major commuter routes in Vancouver. My Globe story on it is here.

It was a bit of an odd one. You wouldn’t think it would have appeal for a lot of Vancouver residents, since the counterflow lanes would likely be most appreciated by commuters coming from the east (Burnaby/Coquitlam/North Van), north (West and North Van) and south (Richmond, Surrey, Delta).

Anyway, at least it was a new idea, so we all jumped on it.

After deadline, I got a callback from a couple of people I respect on transportation issues who gave me their assessment of the idea.

One was Dave Rudberg, the city’s former head of engineering under mayor Philip Owen and city manager Judy Rogers. He’s the calmest guy I know and a very straight shooter.

Dave said the city has looked from time to time at counterflow lanes and concluded that they’re not that practical.

In his words: “You’d have to search far and wide to find applications that would work. I wouldn’t dismiss the idea but the application is fairly limited.”

Counterflow lanes really only work in places where you have a bottleneck and where all traffic flow surges in one direction. So the Lions’ Gate Bridge and the Massey tunnel, which have them now, are ideal. Dave said that a lot of the major streets in Vancouver have heavy two-way traffic at rush hour. So putting in a counterflow lane for traffic flowing in one direction would just back up the people going the other direction.

As well, engineers have found that there’s reasonable good flow on the major streets. (I know those of you stuck on Cambie Street going north or south between the bridge and 25th, for example, might not feel that way, but it’s all relative.) The major clogs are around the bridgeheads. So there could be some kind of system for pooling cars that are waiting to get on. But that’s not a counterflow lane.

Another issue, Dave pointed out, is that it takes a fair amount of expensive infrastructure (overhead lights, removal of left-hand turn bays, concrete dividers) or labour (people moving cones around) to create counterflow lanes. On the city’s already complicated streets, “the logistics would be fairly difficult.”

UBC professor Robert Lindsay, an economist who specializes in transportation modelling, said that unless a street has multiple lanes on each side, a counterflow lane would take away too much capacity. He also said the need for suburban-commuter lanes in Vancouver diminishes a little more every year. Commuting trips account for a smaller and smaller percentage of the city’s overall trips.

So that’s the word from the experts.




Categories: 2014 Vancouver Civic Election