Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

The urban mobility revolution | Peter Ladner

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Written by Stephen Rees

December 15, 2018 at 6:45 pm

Posted in Transportation

Regional Transportation Strategy

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This graphic came to me via Twitter. I think it needs to be seen in a larger format

Mayors Council strategy

Written by Stephen Rees

December 13, 2018 at 10:26 am

Posted in Transportation

Breaking with the Green Party

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At today’s meeting of Vancouver City Council, all three Green Party councillors voted with the NPA.

Vancouver city council has decided to oppose the additional school tax by the province on homes valued at least $3 million.

Council voted 7-3 to ask the B.C. NDP government to withdraw the tax that will take effect in 2019.

Casting the affirmative votes were Councillors Rebecca Bligh, Melissa De Genova, Sarah Kirby-Yung, and Colleen Hardwick of the Non-Partisan Association; and Adrianne Carr, Pete Fry, and Michael Wiebe of the Green Party of Vancouver.

This is the last straw for me. I will no longer send any money to the Vancouver Greens, nor will I count myself a supporter. I will allow my membership to lapse.

Provincially the Green Party is working with the NDP – and I, like many others, have had to concede that the working arrangement is clearly better than continuing to have a BC Liberal government. But that means not saying what needs to be said about LNG – which earns the province little in the way of revenue, and employs very few people, but depends on fracking which produces far more fugitive methane than the industry admits. Worse than that it also is built on the case of liquefying the gas using hydro power – which is supposed to cut its carbon footprint, but seems to ignore the damage that  building a large scale earth dam on dodgy foundations will do, and the abysmal track record of major hydro projects both environmentally and economically.

Moreover, I have had to put up with the Leader of the Green Party promoting Uber!


Elizabeth May, federally, seems to be the best of a bad bunch but even she has been pushing for more oil refineries in Alberta.

We have a very short time to turn the world around in its present track – which has seen ghg increases this year. The IPCC and the US federal government have made it clear. We cannot go on like this.

Since the Green Party at local, provincial and federal levels seems not to understand that human caused climate change is our biggest problem, I can no longer call myself a Green Party member. We have to stop producing oil, gas and coal altogether, and we need to be working hard to replace those energy sources by renewables and by the reductions in consumption that will be possible if we embrace energy efficiency and well understood Transportation Demand Management techniques such as promoting transit expansion over highways!  It is actually easier now to do this as both solar and wind power are cheaper than fossils. We have plenty of capacity in our highway and urban road systems, as long as everybody understands they cannot drive a big SUV or pick up truck for each trip by one person over quite short distances. Cut the parking requirements, build walkable cities, spend money on LRT not freeways. This is not rocket science and we do not need any of Elon Musk’s crazy “innovations”. We know how to do this because we used to do this not so long ago. It is not about more tunnels or atmospheric railways – it is streetcars, buses and bicycles.

Next week the NDP is going to reveal its strategy for the Massey Tunnel “replacement”. If it isn’t a rail based additional tunnel then I will not be cheering for that either!

Written by Stephen Rees

December 12, 2018 at 8:28 pm

Why “Green Growth” Is an Illusion

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Power Lines

Photo by Pixabay on

Again, found in my in box but intriguing enough for me to go and find out something about the people who sent it to me

Changing the Conversation

Economists and finance professionals still promote free market fundamentalism, shrinking from drawing even obvious conclusions about the dangers of unfettered markets. Fiscal austerity and deficit reduction continue to be watchwords of both policymakers and theorists, even as global inequality increases exponentially and unemployment equals or exceeds levels of the Great Depression in many countries. Politics chokes reforms that could bring growth and relief to millions, while the many challenges of sustainable development and environmentally friendly innovation are brushed aside.

Neoclassical economics fails to address these challenges, but the resistance to change is substantial — both inside the discipline and in the world at large.

So that in itself recommended the article to me, but there are other things right now that need my attention. So I am going to simply cut and paste the text (with the links) from the email – and expect to get some reaction in the comments below.

I will say this. During my career there was initially a sort of consensus (known as “Butskellism“) about the need for public sector investment and social programs. That was overturned by the arrival of Thatcher – and a lot of people I found myself working for, who were genuinely convinced of the integrity of the intellectual underpinnings of neoclassical economic theory. I was at best skeptical, but over time became convinced that it was simply the same old reactionary attitudes of the privileged. Yes communism collapsed, but that does not mean that Marx was entirely wrong, and anyway Leninism – and later Stalinism and Maoism – were some distance away from Marxism. Not only that but I was sure Keynes was right since I had grown up during the period when people from my background were at last seeing some benefit from his policies. At least, once we had paid off the huge US dollar loan, which the rest of Europe had escaped due to the Marshall plan. What I also saw was the sheer greed of the people who always yacked on about the Dutch “problem” (of gas revenue being spent on social welfare programs) while they gleefully stuffed their own pockets with the profits from oil and gas drilling in the North Sea and the increasingly dodgy Private Finance Initiative.

In the wake of this fall’s IPCC report on the growing dangers of climate change—including to the economy—a new paper and supplementary analysis from the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) find that the conventional wisdom of the dynamics between climate change and the economy actually understates these dangers. It finds that, contrary to popular belief, we cannot have it both ways: We cannot have carbon emissions reduction while also maintaining current levels of economic growth. There is instead an inexorable tradeoff between economic growth and preventing climate catastrophe. The paper is from leading economists on climate change, Enno Schröder and Servaas Storm.

Among its highlights, based on original research and a new set of data regressions:

  • “Green growth” is an illusion: Contrary to optimistic claims by Barack Obama and a host of others, you can’t grow your way to a better climate; consumption growth necessarily drives increasing CO2 emissions. The research finds that outsourcing production to other countries may hide this relationship between economic growth and emissions, but it’s not possible to de-link the consumption that accompanies rising living standards with rising emissions.
  • To stabilize the climate, future economic growth must be well below the historical income growth rate of 1.93% (1971-2015)—even with unprecedented reductions in carbon and energy intensity. The hard truth is that, based on even optimistic assumptions concerning future reductions in energy and carbon intensities, future global growth will be compromised by such climate constraint.
  • The present fossil fuel-based socioeconomic system, which was built over two-and-a-half centuries, now must be comprehensively overhauled in just 30 years, and not in a few countries, but globally.
  • To avoid a climate catastrophe, a radically different strategy—a concerted policy shift to deep de-carbonization—is needed. That means a dramatic shift from current practices: a fundamental disruption of hydrocarbon energy, production, and transportation infrastructures, a massive upsetting of vested interests in fossil-fuel energy and industry, and large-scale public investment.

The supplementary analysis I mentioned is the full debate INET is hosting on the topic. It includes analysis by Gregor Semieniuk, Lance Taylor, and Armon Rezai that reinforces many of Schröder and Storm’s findings, as well as a comment from Michael Grubb, professor of energy and climate change at University College London, who offers a more optimistic view of growth during decarbonization, and subsequent response by the aforementioned scholars.

Like I said I hope that others will take a hard look at this, particularly since I am immediately concerned about issues like climate justice – fair and equitable climate action. Plus, of course, reversing the recent rapid growth of inequality.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 6, 2018 at 3:19 pm

Crowdfundraising: A new type of bus shelter

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I am posting this story as the result of a request from UBC’s Public Engagement: Campus and Community Planning. It has already been picked up by Daily Hive and I don’t feel much need to copy and paste their content. However if the idea of a green roofed bus shelter that mimics forest tree canopy is intriguing to you I suggest you look at the project webpage at UBC . There is a useful video which neatly summarizes the proposal.

We regularly get to enjoy the benefits that humans experience by walking under the tree canopy – most often at Pacific Spirit Park and most recently out at Harrison Mills. I am not sure that a bus shelter offers the same scale of benefits – and I am also not sure that the people working on this project have taken into account the somewhat anomalous situation of bus shelters at UBC compared to the rest of the region. Being street furniture, bus shelters are the domain of the municipality, except for off street locations like bus loops, transit exchanges and some SkyTrain stations. The municipalities do not actually provide the shelters but contract this out to advertising companies (in the City of Vancouver it is presently J.C.Decaux) who make their revenue from the advertising panels. The target market is not bus passengers, or even pedestrians but the people driving past, and that is what determines the likelihood that a stop will get a shelter. Plus of course the availability of enough space. On many city streets, such shelter as might be available is often the canopy of the building at the back of the sidewalk.

Harbour Centre

This is also the case by the way for benches at stops: they seem to appeal a lot to realtors.

We've got a new bench

Of course now that Vancouver is declaring its intentions to become Greenest maybe they will be keen to do a different kind of deal rather than getting their share of the ad revenue – or perhaps the Mark II bus shelter will incorporate a solar panel and lighted ads in the walls that appear to be missing from the current design (the current contract runs until 2022). From the rendering supplied by UBC at the top of the post it looks like they do not understand that shelter is also needed from wind – and wind driven precipitation.

The green roof would be a distinct improvement over the current glass roof of the most common Vancouver bus shelters

No shade here

But in other cities like Edmonton shelter at the busiest stops offers much more than a roof

ETS Bus Stop 100 Street

Looks like all this one needs is its own wind turbine!

I was in Beyond Bread getting a loaf and as I came out realised what a great bus stop this was. Once again no actual shelter but there is a bench and a canopy on the building. Of course if you wanted to you could wait for your bus inside the cafe and enjoy a cup of coffee at the same time. Just keep that Transit app open to be warned of the bus’s imminent arrival – when Translink gets their GPS API working again!




Written by Stephen Rees

December 6, 2018 at 11:33 am

The Surrey Decision

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The Mayor’s Council has decided to support the choice of the electors in Surrey who want SkyTrain over LRT. I am not going to get into why that might be, since they are mostly new Mayors (good) and I have no doubt that the strongest instinct for human beings in group situations is don’t be the awkward, difficult critic. Try and find some consensus, or if you prefer, don’t block their favourite project this time as next time they will block yours.

The difference between SkyTrain and LRT is not the technology. The whole point about the Plan was that it was a real effort to try to match transit technology to the desired land use. There was actually a diagram I saw, not so long ago, that showed how buildout of Surrey LRT would see service on all of the major arterials. This would have facilitated building four to six storey apartments over commercial at street level all along the main roads while a mixture of “missing middle” would fill the bits in between. The Light Rail trains would have priority signals at intersections and exclusive right of way – so not streetcars. This produces journey times door-to-door comparable to grade separated – but without the escalators. Stations on LRT are cheap, and can be relatively close to each other. While the train is loading/unloading, the traffic crosses in front of it.

SkyTrain’s main selling point for electors (boomers: older white males) is that they don’t get in the way of the cars. Because the trains are small, and automated, you can build elevated structures (much cheaper than tunnels) along the highway alignments – see Millennium Line, Evergreen Line. Stations are more widely spaced than LRT. That is because to get people up to the platform you have to offer a faster ride for longer distances. Basically SkyTrain endorses sprawl: it makes longer distance commutes tolerable because the train is faster.  The Canada Line, by the way, is not SkyTrain and it isn’t fast. It’s just not as slow as the jammed up traffic on the surface.

SkyTrain does not have a driver. That means instead of running long trains with long gaps between them (like Edmonton) you can run short trains at shorter intervals, like the Millennium Line, as the cost is the same, but the service level much more attractive. Stations are expensive as they have to have elevators and some escalators. Ideally lots of entrances and exits to make transfers convenient (something the Canada Line deliberately ignored to keep the initial capital cost down) as the punters don’t like to have to cross two six laners just to catch their connecting bus which stops far side of the traffic signals and won’t wait for you.


The development pattern produced by SkyTrain is now most clearly visible at Brentwood. The Lougheed Highway and Willingdon are both wide stroads with fast traffic. The station is surrounded on three sides by high rises. This does not look like a Walkable City. Yes, it is indeed Transit Oriented Development. But it is not at human scale. I used to think that the views made possible by living high up, would compensate for the inconvenience of waiting for the elevator (no one walks up to the 40th floor). But if all you can see out of your windows are the serried windows of the high rise across the street …

That is what the region has now endorsed for Surrey. The population and the overall density won’t be much different, but the point density at transit stations will be very different. But that allows the bits in between to stay something like they are now for longer. So not only do you not have to wait for a streetcar to finish loading, but you can also stay in your present accommodation.  No wonder it appeals to the sort of people who will vote for Doug McCallum.


Hours after I first posted this opinion piece some new analysis came to my attention from the Georgia Straight 

Written by Stuart Parker it is worth your time

…why Surrey could choose an LRT without sufficient public buy-in for the project and then have that project defeated by a candidate claiming that he could fund a $3-billion asset using $1.6 billion of other people’s money that they had set aside for a different project.

Who is Stuart Parker? “Stuart Parker teaches international studies and history at Simon Fraser University. He ran for Surrey council in 2018 as a member of Proudly Surrey.”

Note also there is a comment by Frank Bucholtz under the article which endorses it.

Towers at Marine Drive Station

High rise towers at Marine Drive Canada Line station


Written by Stephen Rees

November 16, 2018 at 8:25 am

Book Review: Trains Buses and People

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An Opinionated Atlas of US Transit by Christof Spieler

Published by Island Press October 2018  ISBN 978-1-61091-903-6 Paperback Full color 290 Photos 185 illustrations 248 pages Price US $40.00


This review will be mainly of interest to my US readers. While there are some references made in the book to how other places do things, this book is concerned with how transit is provided in the US and how to do it better. In the same way that “Walkable City Rules” spells out how to improve car oriented cities – which is most of them – this book identifies what needs to be done to make transit more useful. Given this morning’s events here – where the Mayors’ Council voted to suspend work on the Surrey LRT and start on the process to switch priorities to SkyTrain to Langley – his thoughts on modes are very relevant.

“…mode is not the most important aspect of transit. What riders care about most is where transit goes, how fast it is and how reliable it is. It is better to think of modes as tools … one mode or another may be a better fit in terms of capacity, cost or capability”

It is also significant, I think, that he lives and works in Houston, Texas and takes light rail for most of his journeys. It is frequent – every 6 minutes – and has its own right of way with signal priority at intersections. So he gets pretty much the same sort of on board experience as someone who rides SkyTrain here – but without the need to use an escalator or elevator. He probably has a much better chance of getting a seat. For me that is another essential but then I am very nearly as old as Prince Charles.

” most importantly … it goes to the right places” so it can be used for a wide variety of trip purposes not just the journey to work. Far too many US railroads with passenger service take Commuter Rail far too literally – and West Coast Express is one of the prime examples of how useless it is for anything other than the weekday commute to downtown.

Fortunately not only is there a really good book, with lots of information, there is also a web site.   And that will do much more for you than reading any review.

This is a reference document which you will want to keep handy. It is also something that is worth just idly skimming – for places you know or those you might want to visit. And yes there is a list of best and worst – you can learn from both. Toronto does get a couple of mentions. Vancouver none at all. Neither does Montreal rate a mention. I hope that one day Mr Spieler comes here. I would be happy to show him around.

I would also say that I would disagree with him about speed. The actual pace of the mode over the ground is much less important than how long the overall journey takes, and how convenient it is. If there is a lot of stair climbing and hanging around in grim surroundings, the fact that you get onto a fast train eventually is less than adequate compensation. The Canada Line is downright slow – but it is still better than the #15 bus for almost any trip. And if you want to avoid the traffic congestion that often impacts the bridges to the airport, more reliable than driving, on most trips. In my most recent travels the impact of a two hour wait for a METRA train from Naperville to Union was far more significant than the fact that it never seemed to get much faster than 30 mph, and stopped even more frequently than the CTA Blue Line to O’Hare airport. And the walk from the end of the train to the taxi was a significant issue too.


And when we got home we felt that is was worth splashing out on a cab rather than struggle with our bags on and off a train and a bus – and then a drag through the streets. Had we not been so encumbered then the transit ride would probably been a comparable time but considerably cheaper. You note that fare doesn’t even get mentioned in “what riders care about”.

I would recommend this volume for everyone who likes maps and data, and is interested in US transit. I would also like to see something that does like for like comparison with cities around the world. We used to like to compare Metro Vancouver to Zurich – and Phoenix – just because they were comparable but very different indeed.  I know that I am going to find myself thumbing through it quite a lot. It is a lovely production.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 15, 2018 at 4:30 pm

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

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