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Bixi Close to Launching First Ambitious North American Bike-Share in Montréal

Montreal Bixi Bike Station3,000 bikes, 300 stations will grace the streets of Canada’s second biggest city

Montréal, eager to promote itself as one of the continent’s most important cities, looked to Paris rather than modesty when developing its Bixi bike-sharing plan, which it will launch early in May. The service, which will begin with stations in the core of the city and close during winter months, will offer 3,000 bikes and 300 stations, putting it at a similar scale as Barcelona’s Bicing program, though still far smaller than Paris’ enormous 20,000-bike Vélib’. Like the latter project, though, Montréal has plans to expand into the neighboring areas, eventually much of the city. Check out the service’s stations page to note the number and density of stations in the system’s core area.

No U.S. city has yet to make such an ambitious commitment to bike sharing, a concept that has proven quite successful in the European cities that have undertaken it. Each program includes stations located throughout the central city, usually with at least 10 bikes apiece. Users can rent bikes by the day, month, or year, at quite reasonable prices, and then return the bikes to any other station in the city within 30 minutes free of charge and then at increasing rates over time. These services provide an ideal alternative to automobiles and traditional mass transit and allow people to take short commutes without waiting on buses or riding their cars; they also promote exercise. Quality of service is ensured by remote monitoring, service crews; users are unlikely to steal because the service is connected to one’s credit card.

Programs that have over 1,000 bikes each in service – usually subsidized by urban advertising – include Lyon, Montpellier, Toulouse, Copenhagen, and Stockholm, as well as Paris and Barcelona. Dozens of other, smaller cities have hundreds of bikes in operation, and Germany has several “Call-a-Bike” operation in major cities that differ slightly from the aforementioned model but offer via phone the same easy, immediately accessible, rental model.

The U.S.’s only examples of bike-share progress are in Washington and San Francisco, but it would be difficult to put either program in the same league as what’s about to open in Montréal. D.C.’s program – currently in operation – has 120 bikes distributed among 10 stations; San Francisco’s proposal will include an embarrassingly small number of bikes: 50.

What’s disappointing about both programs is that they’re designed to fail. Bike-share can only work when there are stations located every few blocks all over a dense city; otherwise, bikers aren’t provided ease of use that encourages cycling between multiple and sometimes unplanned locations, just as private automobiles allow. The fact is that systems like D.C.’s and San Francisco’s can serve only a tiny percentage of total commutes within the urban core because of those limits, while Paris’ and Montréal’s programs can be game-changers and completely replace auto commuting over short distances within proscribed service zones.

We would do well to emulate Montréal’s example in the U.S., and perhaps we’re on the way there. On Wednesday, New York City’s Department of City Planning released a proposal for a massive bike-share program in the country’s biggest city (via Streetsblog). The project would – if approved – encompass a 50,000-bike roll-out, phased and beginning with 10,000 bikes in Lower Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn, and thereafter expanding into the other dense areas of the city, including Queens and the Bronx. New York’s got it right in asserting that the only way to make bike-share work is to work ambitiously from the start, rather than assuming that a 50 or 100 bike program will “be successful” when it simply cannot. In major cities, only projects with thousands of bikes placed every few blocks in dense urban cores will be effective in allowing bikes to acquire a significant market share. New York’s proposal would be such a project – it’s just got to be funded first…


Images above: Bixi station, from Bixi; proposed New York City bike-share roll-out, from DCP

Montréal Toronto

Canadian Conservatives Again Downplay Plan for Montréal-Toronto High-Speed Link

Government will instead invest in capacity upgrades to get trains running at speeds last seen in 1973

A month and a half ago, Canadian conservatives agreed to a $3 million study for a high-speed rail link between Windsor and Québec City, via Toronto, Ottawa, and Montréal, far and away Canada’s most important corridor. But their support may have been ephemeral.

Yesterday, Transport Minister John Baird said that the state would invest in upgrades to speed the connection between Montréal and Toronto, but that the government wasn’t necessarily focused on expanding the program to include a true high-speed connection between the cities.

The investments proposed so far, part of a $516 million package adopted in 2007, include two more round-trips daily between Ottawa and Montréal and infrastructure investments that will decrease the travel time between the latter city and Toronto to four hours. Today on Via Rail Canada, that trip takes between 4h40 and 5h30, depending on the time of departure. The slightly longer-distance trip between Paris and Valence in France on the TGV takes 2h10 today, so it’s obvious that the government’s investments won’t amount to anything close to true high-speed service.

Mr. Baird made clear that he wasn’t interested in moving forward quickly with high-speed plans, suggesting instead that “Before we make a $30 billion decision … what we should do is get the facts in front of us. That’s what Canadians would expect.” The problem, of course, that the facts have been considered again and again, at least 16 times since 1973. The Quebec-Windsor corridor would make for an efficient and well-used high-speed system. Studying the same-old-same-old, without a commitment of financial or political support, is not going to solve the problem.

High-Speed Rail Montréal Toronto

Canada Considers Québec-Windsor HSR Corridor, Again

High-speed line running through Toronto and Montréal getting another think-over

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said yesterday that Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper is frowning on the idea of a high-speed rail line between Québec City and Windsor, via Montréal and Toronto, reports the Canadian Press. Mr. McGuinty, along with his centrist Liberal Party ally Québec Premier Jean Charest, have been strong supporters of the line, which would do quite a bit to connect the biggest cities in the two provinces. Mr. Harper’s conservative party has been notoriously uninterested in the project over the past twenty years of proposals, though recently the conservatives made a few moves that indicated they were interested in supporting the line.

Conservatives have agreed to spend $3 million to study the 1,200 km corridor once again. It will be considered by Wilbur Smith, an engineering consulting firm; Deutsche Bahn, the German rail operator; and a few other groups. According to the Toronto Star, the corridor has been studied at least 16 times since 1973. Ontario’s NDP Party leader Howard Hampton, on the left of Canada’s political spectrum, criticised the government’s reluctance to get moving:

“They’re going to study it again? You don’t need to study it again. The biggest issue is purchasing all of the land and purchasing some of the rail bed that belongs to CN or CP that you need to make this run… Everybody wants to study it because they think it will give them a good headline. We’re long past the study stage. Where’s the money to start doing it?”

The project, which I ranked as relatively worthwhile in the transport politic’s study of high-speed corridors,  would cost upwards of $30 billion if built at international high-speed standards, using electric propulsion and 200 mph trainsets. It would require a massive federal government intervention that doesn’t seem to be forthcoming from the ruling conservatives, but it would reduce the travel time between Canada’s two biggest metropolises from 4h today to 2h18. Air traffic between the cities likely would, based on international experience, be almost entirely replaced by train travel.

The Québec-Windsor line has become Canada’s top rail priority over the past few years after Québec province dropped its efforts for a fast line between Montréal and New York City. Long-time Montréal mayor Jean Drapeau dreamed of implementing such a corridor and saw it as the third step in realizing his city’s dominance over rival Toronto, after the successful Expo ’67 and less praised (and very expensive) ’76 Olympics there. Those dreams have slowly faded as Montréal’s position compared to Toronto has diminished since the 1970s as a result of anglophone business moving to the latter city because of fears of a French Québeçois secession.

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Big News Day: DC, NYC, Chicago, Philly, Minnesota, and Canada

Chicago Bus Rapid Transit Corridors» Today’s Big News Day Update, from Washington, New York, Chicago, Rochester, Philadelphia, and Ottawa

  • The Overhead Wire brings us news we’ve been expecting for a while: the Dulles Rail Project, extending Washington‘s Metro system from East Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue, via Tysons Corner, is approved and will start construction soon. This project has been the subject of manipulation, deception, and outright lies by the Bush Administration over the past several years. Here’s the WaPo article.
  • But the Bush administration, whether we like it or not, will remain in office for the next week and a half, and so it continues to wreak havok. Chicago‘s $153 million plan for bus rapid transit lines across the city has been cancelled by Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters after the city council failed to enact downtown congestion reduction fees on parking and deliveries by the deadline of December 31st. No extension was given – the funds were simply forfitted by the city’s mayor, Richard Daley. This makes the city’s Summer Olympic bid for 2016 seem a bit shaky, especially considering that transportation problems in the Windy City already had the bid on the rocks. By the way, this money (as well as $300 million more) was once designated for New York City before its congestion reduction plan failed.
  • Ben over at Second Avenue Sagas describes the State of the State Address given by David Paterson, Governor of New York. Though the state is facing a giant budgetary mess, the Governor pushed the Ravitch Report recommendations, the Second Avenue Subway, and the reconstruction of the Tappen Zee Bridge as part of a “brighter future.” Here’s the NYT interpretation.
  • Rochester, Minnesota‘s Mayor is interested in developing a high-speed rail link from Chicago to Minneapolis, via his city. Meanwhile, Canadian Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro is pushing for a link between Toronto, Ottawa, and Montréal, which would shorten travel times between the cities by half. Both are good plans – we’ll be coming out with a high-speed rail plan for North America as a whole, including these links, next week.
  • Montréal-based Bombardier, a train (and airplane)-making company, is considering how it might expand in the wake of the upcoming economic stimulus in the United States. The company is banking on the stimulus paying for new rail cars in Chicago, San Francisco, and New Jersey, all of which are in the process of refreshing their fleets. Meanwhile, Amtrak, whose funding has recently shot up, has already signed Bombardier for the renovation of its Acela Express trains, and replacements for the decades-old fleet of rail cars in the next few years is likely. Though the company currently has factories in New York and Pennsylvania, it may need to build new ones in the U.S. to handle the extra business.
  • The Delaware River Port Authority’s plan to expand the PATCO Hi-Speed Line from Downtown Philadelphia to Southern New Jersey has advanced a bit, with a locally preferred alternative being selected. The project, which may also involve the creation of a new LRT line instead of a simple expansion of the existing heavy rail PATCO, will follow the Conrail Right-of-way from Camden to Glassboro. The expected $3 billion cost of the project, however, is a real limitation: the project has received a $500 million commitment from the State of New Jersey, but that’s about it so far.
  • The Washington Post, finally, reports that light rail is overwhelmingly the preference for the Purple Line from Bethesda to New Carrollton, via Silver Spring, in the Maryland suburbs of Washington. Though LRT will cost more to construct than the BRT alternative being considered, it will likely attract more riders and more transit-oriented development. Prince George’s and Montogmery Counties – on the poorer, eastern side of the line, and on the rich, western side, respectively, will vote individually on the matter in February or March. If one voted for LRT and the other BRT, trouble could ensue, but an LRT preference is looking increasingly universal.

Above: scuttled plans for the Chicago Bus Rapid Transit Program, from the Chicago Transit Authority.

Charlotte Montréal Triangle NC

Transit in North Carolina's Triangle; CR in Québec

Today’s news updates:

In North Carolina, there’s an increasing effort to sell transit alternatives in both the Research Triangle Area (Raleigh, Durham, Cary, and Chapel Hill) and in Charlotte, which recently completed its first light rail line. There’s been an effort over the past twenty-odd years to push for the development of regional rail, which I chronicled more extensively two years ago on another website. Back then in 2006, it seemed obvious that the federal government, then firmly in the hands of transit-hating Republicans, was not going to push for the funding of such a rail line. This seemed especially true since North Carolina’s own (and now defeated) Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole was against the project.

But the tides seemed to have turned. Earlier this summer, the North Carolina Railroad, a state-owned, for-profit corporation, released a study in which it presented the possibility for a new commuter rail service running through the Triangle, with stations going out as far east as Goldsboro and as far west as Greensboro. Though this service would provide minimal service compared to what the Triangle Transit Authority had been proposing in the past, since freight and commuter rail trains would continue to operate on the same tracks, it would mean a significant expansion of rail options in the region, which currently is served by just a few Amtrak trains a day and no local intercity lines.

And a local group working with the Triangle Transit Authority and regional governments, the Special Transit Advisory Commission, released a study arguing for the development for a massive network of regional rail lines, light rail lines, and inner city circulators criss-crossing the region. And additional local group in Durham has been pushing for the development of a downtown streetcar even more recently. The result would be a large network that would get the region up to speed with transit networks around the country and finally give people in the area a chance to commute more easily without a car.

But news comes of a dramatic change to the original concept of the system. Whereas before, the plan had been to run diesel multiple units from Raleigh to Durham (along the side of existing freight rail), and then to run light rail vehicles from Durham to Chapel Hill (in their own right-of-way), which would have meant a transfer for riders, the newly transit-happy North Carolina Railroad sees light rail as feasible along the entire route.

This change would pose several advantages for the system. One, as already written, it would eliminate that transfer and allow riders to connect all the way between Chapel Hill and Raleigh without getting off the train. Second of all, it would allow the system to run on electricity, an increasingly environmentally-friendly alternative to diesel engines. Third, it would mean that the system could function as something akin to a  streetcar in some sections of its route, which would be ideal for the downtowns of Durham and Raleigh and potentially allow the train’s stations to be closer to top destinations than originally planned. We’ll be keeping our eyes on the Triangle for future news about the development of its transit system.

Meanwhile, down the road in Charlotte, there’s plenty of good news about the now one-year-old Lynx Light Rail system. Not only have the trains acheived record ridership, but they’ve encouraged the city’s leadership to push for more transit, more quickly. Though Charlotte’s Mayor, Republican Pat McCrory, a big advocate of transit, lost his bid for the governorship, it looks like the state’s two big new Democratic politicians – Governor Beverly Purdue and Senator Kay Hagan – are also transit supporters. So they’ll be looking positively at the success of Charlotte’s system – and probably be inclined to fund further expansions around the state.

Out in Québec, commuter rail transit is becoming a big political fight in the election scheduled for December 8th. The Parti Québécois is arguing for a $3.5 billion (canadian) expansion of the Montréal rail network, which they argued would better serve the surrounding area. Meanwhile, Liberals, under the leadership of Jean Charest, are also pushing for such an expansion. Unclear whether either party, if they win, will actually be able to undertake the kind of expansions their leaders are suggesting. In this economic climate…