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

Archive for April 2007

In Tsawwassen, a Cow for the Killing

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An impressive round up of the issues surrounding the removal of land from the ALR in order to sign a treaty and expand the port. And a neat summation of how the Liberals have cornered the NDP who simply cannot make a decision without offending someone.

Fortunately the treaty is far from a done deal, and its approval by the band is by no means certain. The creation of Deltaport produced degradation to the environment of both the sea and the land approaches. Its expansion will make matters much worse, and it is hardly essential. Indeed, if China trade does not continue to expand the way it has been, it may not even be needed. In fact the operations of the port could become more efficient, and better use could be made of the existing facility.

I  think the acid test for the NDP should be if the BC Liberals think its a good idea it probably isn’t and it is not worth the risk. And if we do need more ports in BC why put them in one of the most sensitive and pressured areas when Prince Rupert could be a better choice both in terms of regional development and shorter sailing times.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 30, 2007 at 11:42 am

“Richmond at Risk, UN Flood report warns”

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By Martin van den Hemel
Staff Reporter

Apr 28 2007

Climate change due to global warming places Richmond at risk of flooding as the sea level rises, warns a United Nations report that’s expected to be released next Friday.

The report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change names Richmond and Charlottetown, P.E.I., as vulnerable centres in Canada, according to Don Forbes, a research scientist with Natural Resources Canada. Forbes is one of the lead authors of the chapter in the U.N. report—expected to be released during a press conference in Bangkok on May 4—that refers to Canada.

Because of the odd way the Richmond Review web pages work it is worth quoting quite a bit of this story in case it isn’t there when you want to refer to it.

What must also be factored in, Forbes said, is land subsidence, the dropping of the ground level due to settling and other factors over time.

Richmond’s dykes have been designed to a statistical analysis of what water levels have been historically, and that planning mindset needs to change, Forbes said.

“The change in thinking that has to happen is that the engineering profession has to think in terms of the climate, the water level statistics not being constant, but being on an upward trend.”

And in a nice bit of timing, given His Honour’s latest photo op assuring the populace that the current high level of the snow pack does not mean we need more money from the province (with much scrambling in places like Delta (seen below) and Pitt Meadows to raise their dykes)

Dyke Works Westham Island 2007_0511

University of Western Ontario professor Gordon McBean said Richmond’s dykes need to be fortified and raised to account for a gradual sea level rise of up to 60 centimetres, or nearly two feet, this century. McBean chairs the International Scientific Committee for the World Climate Research Programme.

“That should be part of their planning premise. It’s called an adaptation strategy,” the former Lower Mainland resident said.

News of the United Nations report broke April 20, the same day the city held a press conference to reassure Richmond residents that the city is prepared for flooding threats.

So are we actually doing much about this threat?

Terry Crowe, manager of policy planning for the City of Richmond, said it will be extremely costly over the coming decades to protect the city from flooding. But the city is tapping into the latest science and preparing for the climactic changes to come.

Not only are dykes going to be built higher, but they may also need to be widened, he said.

Despite the annual steps to maintain, test and reinforce the dykes, the cost over the coming decades has been estimated at $91 million. A proposed mid-island dike could cost $16 million.

Crowe said a good strategy involves a range of things, and the city is, among other things, requiring that new homes be built a little higher than normal, and adjusting entire neighbourhoods, such as West Cambie, when it’s appropriate.

So I take that as a “no” – Crowe seems to recognize that we need to do a lot more than we currently have planned but he expects resistance from those who will be worried about the cost. But we citizens cannot buy flood insurance. It’s all very well bleating about the cost, but I suspect that it won’t be the City on the hook for the disaster relief funds – that will be the province. And if the flooding is widespread then don’t expect that provincial funds will cover more than a percentage of the loss. And those houses that are ” a little higher than normal” also put up the chances that local flooding of older homes will be much more severe. Notice too that the new houses cover much of their plot in either building or hard surfaces for parking, reducing the amount of soil to absorb rainfall and increasing run off and hence the pressure on the ditches and pumps we all rely on to stay dry.

And it is too late now to reflect on what the studies prior to the LRSP said about building in flood prone areas. Because we have and a lot of people live here now and not all of them are on the upper floors of high rises. So they will be ok for a while, but I doubt they will be able to use their elevators – or their HVAC or lighting either. Not too sure about drinking water either.

And all this makes the article I found on the Tyee seem prescient – it was published on August 10, 2006

UPDATE June 11, 2007 

The immediate risk seems to have passed but to keep up to date the City now has a flood watch web page 

Written by Stephen Rees

April 29, 2007 at 8:22 pm

UN: we have the money and know-how to stop global warming

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Climate change | Guardian Unlimited Environment

The Guardian claims an exclusive leak of the the UN report from the IPCC which will be officially released on Friday. I must admit that I am surprised by the optimism, that it is technically possible to stop global warming. We certainly need to do it and (with the possible exception of Dick Cheney and crew) most people concede this now. But do we have the political will? Certainly Canada’s “plan” launched with much trumpeting last week is less than impressive.

I think I may have become cynical. I worked on BC’s first greenhouse gas action plan over ten years ago. That identified 48 things the government could do that would pay for themselves within a tear or so. That plan was shelved, the Energy Management Branch of MEMPR was scrapped and most of the expertise dissipated. Most of that plan was never implemented.

Similarly the UN extracts promises of action from governments when each disaster strikes – and usually the solemn undertakings are never met, the pledges never fulfilled, the money is simply not forthcoming. That has happened with wars, famine, diseases, natural disasters – you name it. Will climate change be any different?

Anyway here is what the report says about Transport

Despite breakthroughs in cleaner options, such as hybrid cars, the sector is the fastest growing source of emissions, the report says. It highlights emerging technologies such as cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells and biofuels. Some campaigners warn that increasing use of biofuels could worsen problems such as food shortages, as farmers scramble to meet demand. The IPCC suggests this could be eased by a switch to biofuels made from waste cellulose. The report says government policies such as mandatory carbon dioxide emission standards are crucial, but that hikes in car tax, fuel duty and moves such as road pricing will be less effective as incomes rise. Better public transport can make a significant contribution.Potential saving by 2030 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent: 3,200

Well waste cellulose for biofuels has been promoted for as long as I have been in alt fuels – twenty years or so. And we have lots of waste cellulose from woodchips to wheat stalks. For a long time the strategy in BC was to “turn the forest floor into the fuel supply”. I think Canada had one experimental plant producing ethanol from switch grass. But that was a long time ago and I haven’t seen much about this lately.

But there is better public transport again. Just as it was on that Suzuki Foundation survey of Canadian public opinion. If only we don’t waste it on needlessly on over priced systems like SkyTrain or the Canada Line. Or the subways in Toronto that got filled in when they realized that they simply could not fund all those extensions at the same time. Lets go for simple, easy and restrictive of car use. Street cars. Rue de la Haute Montee, Strasbourg, FranceUsing existing lanes in the existing roads that are then closed to cars. And really cracking down on speeding – which wastes huge amounts of fuel and costs many lives. Use the fines from photo radar and bus lane violators to buy more trams. Car co-ops, and cheap shared ride taxis. Subscription based commuter coaches – commuters take the same route most days. It should be easy to sign them up for door to door services once the parking lots have been turned over to food production and the highway has only one lane for General Purpose traffic and all the rest of the capacity is dedicated to shared ride, essential freight and so on.

And I am sure there is a market for retrofitting small engines with hybrid drives into existing vehicles. I would much rather retrofit my old minivan than buy a new car.

“It’s time for an act of political courage, Minister” Sir Humphrey Appleby, passim

Written by Stephen Rees

April 28, 2007 at 9:52 am

Transportation ideas for a healthy planet

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I have worked alongside Stu Ramsey for lo these many years, and I am pleased to say that he is not like any other engineer I have ever met. I am pleased to unconditionally recommend his new web site

His presentations are exceptional – and he has some very funny images in his gallery that I have no doubt I will be borrowing

Written by Stephen Rees

April 27, 2007 at 12:56 pm

Posted in Transportation

Tougher sewage rules for cruise ships

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Vancouver Sun

The federal government, which has declared itself “extremely sensitive” to the pollution risks posed by the fast-growing cruise ship industry, will bring into force next month regulations that could lead to jail sentences and fines of up to $1 million for violators that illegally dump raw sewage close to land.

It is coincidence, surely, that this front page story appears only one week after the Georgia Straight did a feature on dumping here?

Vancouver has wooed the Mercury away from Seattle this year, becoming the 1,900-passenger ship’s home port for the 2007 Alaska cruise season. On May 4, the Mercury will make its first visit of the year to Vancouver, passing under the Lions Gate Bridge, slipping through Burrard Inlet, and tying up at the pier under Canada Place’s fake sails.

The Celebrity Cruises, Inc. ship will return more than 20 times this season, and on November 2 it will be the last cruise ship to leave the port. Vancouver cruise boosters–including the Vancouver Sun, which called it a “major victory”–have greeted the Mercury moving in with unabashed enthusiasm. An estimated 65,000 extra passengers will visit the city because of the Mercury. The cruise sector generates more than 13,000 jobs annually, the Vancouver Port Authority estimates, and each ship brings $2 million to the region every time it ties up at dock.

What they fail to mention is that the Mercury got into a spot of trouble last year in Washington state for spewing sewage into Juan de Fuca Strait, between Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and southern Vancouver Island. During the investigation, the ship’s owners admitted fouling Canadian waters three times. The infractions cost Celebrity Cruises $100,000 in fines in Washington. In Canada, it paid nothing.

“The excuse was, ‘We’ll pay the fine in Washington but we won’t pay the fine in Canada because Canada doesn’t care,'” said Ross Klein, a social-work professor at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and a leading critic of the cruise industry. “Even if you’re brain-dead, it’s obvious if you’ve got to follow regulations in California, Washington, and Alaska, and you don’t in Canada, what are you going to do in Canada? That in itself speaks volumes.”

Of course, the feds could not possibly move that fast, but the good news is that they are moving at all. Of course it will be a very long time before the sewage produced by the 2 million people in this region gets treated properly. Right now most of it is just screened for solids then dumped into the Strait (off Iona Beach) or the Fraser (Annacis, Lulu Island – just upstream of Gilbert Beach and Garry Point, where swimming has to be banned due to high fecal coliform counts year round).

Locals here like to compare our water to London’s, which they say has “been through five people before you drink it” which displays woeful ignorance about the hydrological cycle in general and sewage treatment in particular. London’s treatment plants produce water that is of drinking quality purity – plus fluoride that has put an end to dental caries. And salmon have returned to the Thames.
The new rules mean

Discharges within three to 12 miles must be “broken down, diluted and disinfected prior to discharge,” according to Transport Canada.

It would be nice if those discharges much closer to our beaches of our own effluent could be treated to a similar standard.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 27, 2007 at 11:23 am

TransLink Restructuring – Amendments the GVTA Act

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Yesterday the BC government put out a Press Release about its plans to “make Translink more accountable”. It is pretty thin on detail, for that you have to go to the Backgrounder. That actually sets out the amendments. The important bit is

The board of directors will be appointed by the Mayors’ Council from a list of qualified individuals submitted by a screening panel. The screening panel will consist of five persons representing all key transportation sectors in the region, plus appropriate financial and business experience.

§ Each of the of the following will appoint one member to this board:

o Minister of Transportation;

o Mayors’ Council;

o Institute of Chartered Accountants of BC;

o Vancouver Board of Trade;

o Greater Vancouver Gateway Society.


What seems to me to be most significant is that the only interests represented are those of the minority. In terms of Translink spending, most of it is devoted to the transit system, yet there is no one here who represents transit users. Indeed I doubt if any of these people ever get on a bus. And why are Chartered Accountants thought to be the fount of wisdom? (A good accountant is the one who answers the question “What’s two plus two?” with the answer “What figure did you have in mind?”) Isn’t one of the critical issues in this region the development of transit to increase transportation choice? Gordon Campbell is now on record (thanks to recent broadcasts on PBS and the BBC) that he wants to see a change from business as usual, and he claims to have the boldest targets for greenhouse gas reductions in this province. Perhaps Kevin has not been listening very carefully to what his boss has been saying. Certainly we cannot expect the Greater Vancouver Gateway Society to deliver these greenhouse gas reductions, since they still believe that doubling the width of Highway 1 will somehow reduce emissions. And why does this self appointed group of special interests get a seat at the table? If they are qualified then why not BEST or SPEC? Or even BRU. Or why not COMPACT? These are people who can be expected to understand something about transit, since they not only use it but also represent views that increasing transit service should be central to Translink’s remit. They are also the least likely to buy, uncritically, into the views put forward by Translink staff.

I wonder if Ken Dobell will be too busy to take up one of these seats?

(This post has already appeared on the trans-action listserve)

Written by Stephen Rees

April 27, 2007 at 11:01 am

Ah yes, I remember…

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Ah yes, I remember…, originally uploaded by Billy Reed.

It never ceases to amaze me what people will photograph.

I saw an invitation to join the flickr group that collects pictures of bus stops. I was looking through their collection when I came across this. And I hope I am not the only person I know that will go “Ahh” at this picture

see also Wikipedia and Google maps

and the poem

I wondered if I had any of stops per se – the answer was no, but but there were some that had buses and stops, so now I have a new hare to chase.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 27, 2007 at 7:50 am

Posted in Transportation

Official: beer is the answer

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The Guardian | Food and drink | Life and Health

Throughout history, beer has been at the vanguard of revolutions. Brewing enabled the agricultural revolution. It was integral to the scientific and technological innovations that drove the industrial revolution. Today, beer could be at the centre of another revolution: sustainability.

However, brewers around the world, particularly in America, are once again fomenting a revolution, this one led by a band called the anti-globalisation crowd, but more accurately termed the sustainability movement. Sustainability embraces the values of community and equality and maximises the benefits of science and technology, while respecting the sanctity of nature.

Or, to put it more simply, people have got tired of mass produced, tasteless beers sold by heavy advertising, and are turning to beer which tastes better, and tends to be produced locally.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense that we spend so many resources hauling water around in bottles. And that is mostly what beer is. There are exceptions to every rule of course. Beer made in Dublin or Burton on Trent travels the world and I am glad of it. BCL stores have Youngs and Fullers on the shelves – most of the time. But when I go out for a pint I want to try something made locally at a small scale microbrewery, preferably not one owned and run by a conglomerate. Because the propensity of the big breweries to keep buying up the competition worries me. I don’t think they are doing it to improve the product line, but their bottom line.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 26, 2007 at 9:13 am

BC Rail – curiouser and curiouser

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The story that it beginning to emerge in the BC Supreme Court, as two low level political aides are being thrown to the wolves, gets more and more intriguing. And I am not going to pretend to understand it. I am just going to remind you to keep reading Bill Tieleman

Did the B.C. Liberal Party pay large amounts of money to manipulate talk radio shows?

Did Campbell’s press secretary Mike Morton tell Premier Gordon Campbell about a paid “team” in place to make positive calls to a CKNW radio talk show?

Was Campbell tipped off by B.C. Liberal Party Executive Director Kelly Reichert about an RCMP investigation into that media manipulation?

Those are just some of the highly controversial defence allegations made in the B.C. Legislature raid case last week and yesterday.

So while former provincial government ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk may be the ones on trial, Campbell and his party could face a tough political reckoning as a result.

The allegations made in B.C. Supreme Court are unproven and the Crown has not yet responded. But those defence allegations were detailed and disturbing.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 24, 2007 at 8:01 pm

What is a clean bus?

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Object conflicts in the greening of urban transit

I have been around the fuel choice for buses argument in North America since 1988. And reading this article forcibly reminded me of why I am not an academic and why I never considered going for a PhD. Apart from the density of the text and the abstruse language it almost completely misses the most significant points of the debate. Or rather it falls into exactly the same trap as all the participants.

The choice of fuel for buses does not, in the great scheme of things, matter very much. What needs to happen is that more people need to chose to use public transport over private cars. That has been a key issue for urban planning and regional development for a generation, and the current levels of use and trends are not encouraging. What fuel is being burned to run the bus, and how, really is a side issue.

Introducing Clean Air Buses

Air pollution is only one among many issues of urban sustainability, and may even be not the most significant one. But the way the debate is currently structured you would think it is the only one. In this region we were supposed by now to have increased transit mode share from the 11% it was when we adopted Transport 2021 (which became part of the LRSP) back in the mid 1990s. But so far from hitting the 17% target, transit mode share remains at 11.5%. And the transit providers carefully avoid using this figure and keep on about the number of riders – because that looks like a big number. And it isn’t.

Increased transit use would bring us less traffic congestion at peak periods. You do not have to get many cars off the road to make a huge difference because of the nature of congested networks. For that to happen, transit has to appeal to more people who have the option of driving a single occupant vehicle. In some parts of the region there have been reasonably successful incursions into this market segment. For example, South Surrey has a big park and ride lot next to the #99 freeway. That means some people who could drive into town, don’t. They ride the bus. Probably because of the queue jumpers at the Deas Tunnel. But these useful devices have been steadily downgraded to HOV lanes since local politicians do not understand the difference between an “empty” bus queue jumper (which was working) and a congested 2+ (Highway #17 only) HOV lane – which I would argue, doesn’t. And when the Canada Line opens these good people will be dumped off their bus and expected to pack into the train at Bridgeport Road.

W e should be building not only residential areas but also employment and commercial centres in ways that allow for more transport choice. We don’t, on the whole and widening Highway #1 will encourage the present inimical land use patterns. Roads designed to discourage short walking and cycling trips. No access to buses. Everything designed around car use and the assumption that we will all drive for every trip.

The number of buses is now somewhere above 1000. But there are over a million vehicles in the region, and car ownership and use is growing faster than transit use. And the idea that the type of fuel being burned in the bus makes the slightest bit of difference to either regional air quality or mode choice is laughable. And the really big contributors to local air pollution we have no control over. Ships and airplanes are effectively exempt from effective controls as they are covered by international treaties solely designed to facilitate trade.

But when we spend lots of money on buses that are cleaner – or appear to be cleaner – we effectively reduce the size of the bus fleet. And one thing we do know is that potential riders are put off by unreliable , overcrowded buses. More frequent service is always the best way to get more passengers, and that takes more buses. Improving service frequency is a far better use of investment dollars per new rider than any other measure. Indeed generations of declining bus use in Britain were reversed at deregulation since the first thing the new operators did was flood the market with minibuses. As a short term strategy to win riders, it was not sustainable, but it did show that people will get on the bus if they know that they won’t have to wait an indeterminate period at the bus stop. If you can look down the street and see a bus coming, you will probably jump on it.

Now I will be the first to admit that I like trolleybuses. And there is no doubt that SkyTrain has the gee whiz appeal that gets young men to use it (the hardest segment of the population to attract onto transit). But both represent “the best” being the enemy of “the good”. If we had gone for diesel buses and light rail, there would now be much more transit service in the region as a whole, and the mode share would be much higher than it is now. (Assuming that the same number of dollars had been spent.)

And one of the reasons we did not make that sensible choice was what the decision makers here term “optics”. It doesn’t matter if we make a good decision (one made on rational assessments of issues such as value for money, or compatibility with larger objectives). Just make a decision that we can make look good. And then we can chastise those who dare to criticize the decision as being against progress.

To return to the air quality issue, briefly, if BC really cared about the health impacts of fine particulate it would have banned beehive burners years ago, back when everyone else did. But the lumber interest was more important than children with asthma.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 24, 2007 at 4:54 pm