Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for November 2006

Bombardier wins Vancouver SkyTrain contract

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Bombardier wins Vancouver SkyTrain contract

Is this news? No one else can build SkyTrain cars. They are Bombardier’s proprietary technology. I suppose at a stretch you could put someone else’s car bodies on Bombardier’s running gear, but that is not likely cost effective. There is no competition for building SkyTrain cars, so why pretend there is?

Written by Stephen Rees

November 23, 2006 at 11:12 am

Posted in Light Rail

Authorities propose increasing use of Vancouver International’s northern runway

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Vancouver Sun

NavCanada officials said Wednesday they are examining a number of proposals involving increased takeoffs from the north runway at Vancouver International Airport as part of plans for improving efficiency there.

The proposals involve allowing between 20 and 45 per cent of departures to use the runway, those headed for northerly and westerly destinations. That would include jet and propeller aircraft headed for Europe, Alaska, Hawaii, and the Orient, as well as Canadian cities such as Prince George and Edmonton.

The north runway, which is closer to houses than the main south runway, is currently restricted to use between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. except during emergencies or maintenance of other runways, or by the quietest of the modern aircraft. The vast majority of its use is for landings

“It is a two-runway airport,” added NavCanada service analyst Rob Bishop “At some point we must use both runways to full capacity.”

I used to live under the flight path of the north runway. Over five years ago but even then it was awful. And we lived off No 5 Road. At the airport end of Bridgeport it was much worse. And sure newer planes are quieter, but you would be surprised how long old planes keep going – and the hours that the older planes used for air freight keep. And if you ask why I would choose to live in such a place, you only have to look at the cost of housing and the shortage of available to places to rent, especially if you own a dog. BC still has not established the right of tenants to own animals (something Ontario did years ago). So putting up with aircraft noise was the price we had to pay to keep a member of our family.

Perhaps we need to utilise some of the data we have readily to hand to calculate what the benefit of more flights costs society at large. I find it hard to believe that the needs of a realtively small number of air travellers outweigh those of the population of north Richmond and south Vancouver.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 23, 2006 at 10:25 am

Offshore drilling may be several years away: premier

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Offshore drilling may be several years away: premier

I have a better idea. Why don’t we leave it where it is for now? Whatever the risks and costs of extracting it shortly might be, you can be sure that the payback is going to be very much higher in future. Because the price of oil and gas, while it will continue to wobble around, will inevitably be much higher in the longer term. And while we may (in sh’alla) find alternative fuels, as chemical feedstock for a huge variety of products oil and gas are going to be in increasingly short supply even as demand rockets. By then we will be (probably) in dire need of the resource. At the moment we seem to be managing – not well, but getting by. And we can do much better through conservation and better planning at a much lower cost per unit of energy saved than current energy production costs. We know how to insulate homes better – both retrofit and new build. We know how to utilise our new engine technologies to get better gas mileage – it is currently being wasted in performance we can’t use legally and bigger vehicles that spend most of their time more than half empty. We could easily develop ways to make shutting down ship’s engines and diesel locomotives economic: they are currently left running on idle, or to generate “hotel power” which would be easy to tap from the existing electricity supply. We could even burn used chip fat in our diesel engines instead of exporting it as “yellow grease” – unfit for human consumption here we seem to have no qualms about selling it to third world countries for this use.

No Gordon. We don’t need it yet. We probably will, but that can wait until we have sorted out how to do it without wrecking what is left of our increasingly fragile marine environment.

And by then we may also have figured out how to get the gas out of the deep sea hydrates. They are still there too.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 23, 2006 at 9:48 am

Heart and soul of the city | Conservation | Guardian Unlimited Environment

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Heart and soul of the city | Conservation | Guardian Unlimited Environment

The demolition of a vast motorway through the centre of South Korea’s capital and the restoration of a river and park in its place proves that mega-cities can be changed for the better.

I missed this the first time around, so I am grateful to Babara Docherty for posting it to the Livable Region Coalition list.

It’s not often you get post graduate transportation economics in a daily paper but this is really important

Braess’s paradox, named after mathematician Dietrich Braess, gives the lie to governments and local authorities that argue that building more roads reduces congestion.

According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, it works like this: “For each point of a road network, let there be given the number of cars starting from it, and the destination of the cars. Under these conditions, one wishes to estimate the distribution of traffic flow. Whether one street is preferable to another depends not only on the quality of the road but also on the density of the flow. If every driver takes the path that looks most favourable to him, the resultant running times need not be minimal. Furthermore, it is indicated by an example that an extension of the road network may cause a redistribution of the traffic that results in longer individual running times.”

The article talks about a number of other Asian cities that have done this, but we should all be familiar with the removal of inner city freeways in Toronto and San Francisco which had precisely this effect. This is not just theory – there are many examples that have been extensively reported – so many in fact that Phil Goodwin and others produced a study of studies.

This by the way is not new. Here is a citation which Braess himself gives

J.G. Wardrop, Some theoretical aspects of road traffic Research in Proc. of the Inst. of Civil Engineers, Part II, 325-378 (1952)

So we have known for over fifty years that building new roads generates traffic and taking roads out of the network does not increase congestion it actually reduces it. But somehow that message has still to get through to the BC Ministry of covering the world’s best place in concrete.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 20, 2006 at 5:34 pm

Van City Water Still Not Safe :: thetyee.ca

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Van City Water Still Not Safe :: thetyee.ca

The boil water advisory was lifted for Richmond and other suburbs quite quickly, but that doesn’t mean our water is clean – far from it. I have been doing some refurbishment on our washroom, and the toilet cistern was full of sludge, which had accumulated over the years. Since the water here is somewhat acidic, rubber fittings like washers and flap valves rot, and there were also pin holes in the stainless steel feed pipe.

We use a Waterpik filter on our kitchen tap, for drinking and filling the kettle mainly to reduce the amount of black stuff the builds up on the element. It also removes the smell and taste of chlorine. In an excess of caution I bought a new filter on Saturday of the type that also takes out cysts and sediments. It was full of crud and useless two days later!

There will be a GVRD filtration plant in a few years time, but officials are already saying that it will not be able to cope with the volume of muck we’ve got in the water at the moment. (UPDATE Nov 23 : Although more recently that story changed). We also get regular doses of “tea leaf scale” which is rust from the inside of the pipes en route to us. The City comes and flushes the pipes by turning on the fire hydrant outside our front door fairly shortly after each complaint that I have made. No-one else seems to bother.

The strange thing in all this is that people here (and in Portland and Seattle) boast about their water – and turn their noses up at London’s water which, they say, has been through five people before you drink it. But that water is treated, and looks and tastes a lot better than the stuff here and I don’t mean now, I mean normally. I never felt the need to filter water in Britain – though with this essential service now privatised I might consider it.

When we lived in Victoria (which also has untreated water) there was a scare about cryptosporidium. Apparently caused by dead cats in the water intake of the Humpback reservoir. So much for “pristine watersheds” where no-one is allowed to go. Presumably if the water shed was open, someone might notice the dead cats. In Britain, sailing on reservoirs and picnicing next to them is common. Once again, I never heard of parasites in the water there.

I don’t think it’s about cleanliness at all. I think it is just a way to avoid paying more for water – and, in the case of Victoria, notoriouly, sewage treatment too.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 20, 2006 at 2:18 pm

College students may balk at transit rates | Straight.com Vancouver

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College students may balk at transit rates | Straight.com Vancouver

TransLink spokesperson Ken Hardie told the Straight that TransLink has told the colleges the price difference is due to the “revenue-neutral” model TransLink uses. This model ensures colleges “at least all pay their way” with regard to the U-Pass program, he said. Hardie adds that UBC and SFU are large schools and the students who do not use U-Pass are offsetting costs for those who do.

I feel sorry for Ken. No, I really do. It is not easy being a spin doctor for an organisation that has lost the plot. And Ken doesn’t have much of a grasp of economics either.

“Revenue neutral” has nothing to do with “paying your way”. It just means that there is supposedly no loss of income attributable to UPass. But it says nothing about cost. The SFU and UBC prices regime reflects relatively low transit ridership at two somewhat remote locations prior to UPass. So a “revenue neutral” formula produces a low fare if everyone pays for the pass, since transit riders were a small percentage of the student body at these locations *before*. Now transit ridership at the colleges is much higher now (without the UPass). Because they have urban locations, a tighter catchment area (though some people do commute from Langley to Langara) and a broader socio-economic demographic. And fewer parking spots. So the formula produces a higher UPass fare.

If SFU and UBC were “paying their own way” i.e. reimbursing Translink for the incremental costs that UPass has imposed on the system then a lot more money would be on the table. But of course the UPass would then be much less popular with the students and unlikely to pass a referendum. One way to deal with this would be to raise parking prices on the campus, but that would not sit well with unionised staff. Or neoconservative economists who think that cross subsidisation is evil. At UBC parking prices were tied to the one zone cash fare on transit (not sure if that is still the case, but I am sure my reader will let me know if I am wrong.)

Written by Stephen Rees

November 19, 2006 at 11:26 am

City must brace for flood: Report

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Welcome to the Richmond News – News

Richmond’s dyke system might not hold back the sea and the Fraser River during a major storm surge, says a new report by the Fraser Basin Council.

The report predicts widespread dyke failure from Chilliwack to Surrey, as a result of spring flooding.

It also predicts dykes in Richmond and Delta could be topped during a winter storm surge.

So we don’t even have to wait for the sea level to rise (as it will, due to global warming) . The City is somewhat smug “we’re well ahead of it” but the point is

Richmond’s dykes may be a full foot lower than they need to be, during a one-in 200-year storm surge.

The huge amount of rain we’ve been getting lately, together with gale force winds, and high tides have already seen the water close to the top of the dyke at the end of Gilbert Road. Unlike last year, we have not had to go to the City’s works yard for our free sandbags as the water lapped at our door sills. Then we had high tides (meaning the pumps had nowhere to put the water) and so much rain the drains were full. My back garden became a pond.

I really doubt that we will see much dyke raising in time to meet the threat. Why? Well we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars and involvement by multiple levels of government. Not a recipe for fast – or even any – action.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 17, 2006 at 7:24 pm