Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for May 2007

We Need More Dikes! Or Do We?

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:: News ::

An interesting examination of alternatives to raising the dykes – or building more of them. As practiced in the Netherlands, where the entire country is in a similar situation to the Lower Mainland

The new strategy has a descriptive name. It’s called “Room for the River.” The name captures the essence of a nine-year, €2.2 billion (C$3.4 billion) program to give the Rhine delta’s residents better protection from future floods while improving the aquatic and riparian environment by, as the name implies, giving the periodic flows of high water more room to spread out over portions of the river’s historic floodplain.

It’s being done several ways:

  • Where it can be done without harming healthy ecosystems, foreshore areas between the river and dikes are being excavated to lower their level and leave more room to hold floodwater.
  • A dozen dikes are being moved further away from the river, again to give the Rhine room to flood; some homes and buildings will be torn down to accommodate the realignment.
  • Land along an upstream reach of the Dutch portion of the river is being set aside as a “last-resort retention area” that will be flooded in extreme high-water emergencies.

And similar strategies are in place elsewhere. Even in the United States

Florida, on its Kissimmee River, and Wisconsin on its Menominee, have implemented similar strategies. After the worst flood ever on the Mississippi, when it breached its levees in some 500 places in 1993, killing 50 people and doing C$18 billion worth of damage, a federal study group recommended giving the Old Man River more room to spread out in future floods …

So have we looked at it?

Making room for rivers to do what comes naturally when their waters run high is neither rocket science nor a novel concept. But remarkably it appears to have been given little if any serious consideration in British Columbia. “I’m not sure how much it’s been looked at,” Steve Litke, the program officer in charge of coordinating flood research and planning at the Fraser Basin Council, confided. “I haven’t seen anything in the last five or 10 years that I’ve been here.”

Why am I not surprised?

Written by Stephen Rees

May 28, 2007 at 9:33 am

Posted in flood watch

Waste: The bad . . . and the good

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Waste: The bad . . . and the good

Christianne Wilhelmson and David Lane, Special to the Sun

Published: Monday, May 28, 2007


Only three of GVRD’s five sewage plants have secondary treatment, none have tertiary. The Lions Gate plant in West Vancouver and Iona plant in Richmond treat sewage at a mere primary level. Primary treatment screens out solids, but leaves behind in the liquid effluent most of the oxygen-depleting organics, heavy metals and bioaccumulative chemicals.Consider this: Every day, Iona dumps the equivalent of 221 Olympic-sized swimming pools of toxic sewage at the mouth of the Fraser River. A growing body of research suggests that this threatens the billion juvenile salmon that migrate annually through these waters. The GVRD acknowledges that primary treatment is inadequate. Its Liquid Waste Management Plan also requires Lions Gate and Iona to be upgraded to secondary.

In other words, everybody agrees: To protect Burrard Inlet and Georgia Strait, the GVRD must upgrade Lions Gate and Iona plants to secondary treatment.

Actually some of us think all five plants need to upgraded to tertiary – like most of the rest of the developed world. Frankly I regard BC’s “thumbing their nose” at the federal government (the article’s words not mine) as shameful. BC is supposed to be a world leader. We invented Greenpeace. We tout ourselves as “The Best Place on Earth”. We strut our stuff on the international stage – and we put on showcases like the Olympics – which, by the way are supposed to lead the world in sustainability. Poisoning our in shore fisheries of course is not seen as part of sustainability in Victoria or Vancouver. That’s why visitors to our beaches will continue to see warnings about the shell fish and locals will warn visitors not to eat farmed salmon. And don’t paddle at Garry Point. Even breathing near Annacis Island is an unpleasant experience.

Odd that governments have deep pockets when dragged before the courts – they will fight this all the way no matter how high the fees run.  I think I would rather my tax dollars went to clean up the muck, rather than defend our “right” to foul our own nest.

On May 31, Sierra Legal and Chapman will be back in court. The big question is: Will the federal government now help to prosecute these polluters — or will it shield the GVRD and the province by shutting down the prosecutions?Christianne Wilhelmson is the Clean Air and Water Co-ordinator with the Georgia Strait Alliance. David Lane is the Executive Director of the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 28, 2007 at 9:11 am

Approaching the freeway

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Approaching the freeway, originally uploaded by keefer79.

The line up on 152 Street to try and get on the Port Mann Bridge. Taken at 2007:05:10 15:40:40 – so the beginning of the afternoon peak. The bridge itself is not the location of congestion, but rather the convergence of 152 St on ramp and the two or three earlier on ramps as well. The local traffic radio stations all measure the length of the queue in terms of which ramp it has backed up to. A simple ramp metering system, such as is used “downstream” of the bridge on the Coquitlam side would lengthen this queue but shorten the one on the freeway.

 On ramp meter

Most of the traffic on this stretch of Highway 1 is local commuting between North Surrey and the TriCities.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 27, 2007 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Transportation

Regional Planning

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One of the ways to find material to put into a blog is to use Google News and its alerts. I was thinking about setting one up on “regional planning” – but as this article points outs

It lacks an emotional spark, and nobody has joined it up with a publicity campaign that would commend it to busy, preoccupied people. Therefore it never reaches the wider world of movie-goers, TV-watchers, players of video games, workplace automobile commuters, seniors, juniors, and moms and pops who drive to school to pick up their children.

And the only reason I looked at that article was that it was the first one in three pages of Google links that was not about the United States. And it may seem surprising, given what we Canadians like to think – and say – about Americans and their free market ways. But it is clear that communities – and their media – in the US take regional planning very seriously indeed.

It may be because it actually matters what is in the regional plan because that is a condition of getting federal funding. And that is critical for most infrastructure (that big word again) but especially for transport. It would be unthinkable for someone like a state Governor or Secretary of Transportation to simply announce a $2bn project as a “done deal” and just go through the motions of patently insincere “public consultations”. Indeed, in most states the citizens actually get to vote on projects such as the extension of light rail, and the widening of a freeway.

That does not happen here. The province yesterday announced a “request for qualifications” for a P3 contractor to build the Highway 1 expansion which includes the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge. As though it was going to happen. The endorsement of the environmental assessment is simply taken for granted. Because the officials at MoTH know that the EA is not really going to look at what the highway expansion will do to the environment or the regional growth strategy. They know the greenhouse gas forecasts are as bogus as their dismissal of the transit alternative. They know they are going to increase sprawl, and generate lots more traffic, and drain the transportation budget. You can hear them now in 2014 telling why we “cannot afford” the promised LRT – or even rapid bus – across the new bridge. Because transit is seen as something that might be nice to have but it not as essential as the opportunity to sell more houses and more cars and make more money by building things.

I am going to use my tombstone again, and I make no apology for doing so. Thank you for reading this. I’ll bet very few people do. The article on this blog that gets the most hits is the one where David Berner chose to copy the title from a frankly pornographic novel.


Written by Stephen Rees

May 26, 2007 at 12:51 pm

One-fee transit card eases pain of commute

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Article – The Mississauga News –

I read this article with a strange sense of déja vu.  I came to Canada in October of 1988 to work as a consultant. The firm that had recruited me from London had won a contract under the Fares Integration and Service Co-ordination program to create a single ticket that would allow commuters in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to cross municipal boundaries. The hardest thing we had to do was come up with a ticket acceptable to the TTC and GO transit. And the greatest opposition came from the TTC staff. That is very nearly twenty years ago.

 A new one-fee GTA Fare Card to be introduced as a pilot project in Mississauga will put speed in the travel time of commuters, says Minister of Transportation Donna Cansfield.

Well once upon a time, GO Transit riders got free bus rides to the station on municipal buses (outside what was then Metro Toronto) because the GO parking lots were full and this was cheaper than building more. The Twin Pass was actually two tickets – because the TTC was mag/swipe and GO was optical. And the only way that got through the bureaucracy was that someone at the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) cut the Gordian knot and said “Give them all a $20 discount and we will pay for it.” So all the careful research into cross elasticities and revenue models went out the window, and our contract was not renewed and I had to go find another job. Not that I am bitter or anything. After all the new job saw me spend my winters in the Caribbean.

I have often wondered how far up the MTO that decision went.  And I do know that one of my colleagues at the engineering firm had recently left MTO because he was furious about a new senior official being parachuted into the job he wanted, in the name of employment equity, despite a notable lack of qualifications in the female, not an engineer, candidate appointed.

So the quick and dirty fix may have put an end to the bickering, but, it seems, did not to solve the problem, since they are still trying out “pilot projects”. And of course everyone in the GTA knows that systems that have worked well in other places – large metropolitan areas with many transit providers and municipal governments – could not possibly work in Greater Toronto. I was going to provide links but frankly you could pick almost anywhere outside Canada and find they have had revenue sharing systems in place for many, many years.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 26, 2007 at 12:18 pm

Draft charter calls for leap in housing density

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Draft charter calls for leap in housing density

Frances Bula, Vancouver Sun May 24

Expect a howl of outrage from Granville Street. Increased density along major routes is an obviously essential part of eco-density, but don’t expect that to carry much much weight with the movers and shakers of the NPA who have already one major scalp: they stopped bus lanes (they called it “Say No to Granville Highway” to make it sound respectable).

It is probably worth spending some time at the web page devoted to the initiative, because the document itself is very brief. This is what it says about transport:


  • Create communities that allow people to live closer to most of their day-to-day destinations, including work, parks, shops, community centres, park and recreation areas, child care centres and other services.
  • Reduce transportation’s carbon footprint by favouring more sustainable transportation modes and introducing disincentives to car use.
  • Design neighbourhoods to be highly walkable and cyclable with good access to transit, bicycle and pedestrian networks to provide connections to other areas in the city and the rest of the region.

That’s it. There’s a slightly longer bit in “Sample Tools and Actions” – but not much. And anyway it is all about “could” not “will” or “should”. I detect a certain air of diffidence about the whole thing. It does not seem that NPA is going to get at all worried about the challenges facing the planet – or the region – any time soon.

Toronto has had a similar strategy for some time. That was based on the realization that they simply could not afford to expand their subway system – and that it made little sense to build a subway under a neighborhood and at the same time promise no increase in density. Which is what happened with the Bloor – Danforth line. They decided that the major arterials would see both an increase in density and improved transit. The density would be three and four storey apartments on top of the groundfloor commercial/retail, with townhouses in the streets behind with tapering density as you got further in to the residential areas. Not clusters of highrises around subway stops, as had occurred on Yonge as was anticipated on Sheppard East. However, so far as I know, the streetcar system has not yet seen any significant expansion. For, as usual, that depends on finance from the province.

The City of Vancouver has wanted streetcars for its downtown for some time. That has never been part of the regional strategy. In fact is is quite easy to sell trams to city dwellers – even on streets like Broadway. What they don’t want is people from outside Vancouver using their streets to get through their neighborhoods. In their minds, Granville is a “residential street” . Significantly, Portland decided to add streetcars to its city centre, but as a separate venture to the regional rapid transit system.

VPL #6674, Philip Timms, 190-, streetcar on 600 block West Hasting

Vancouver developed as a streetcar city, and the basic structure is still there. Of course in those days, through traffic was carried by the railways. The major commercial streets could cope with the traffic they generated and did not have to carry the self propelled commuters and the heavy trucks of today. Which is why we cannot just rebuild the past.

But I have a strong suspicion that the outcome will be something that can appeal to the pressure to keep neighbourhoods pretty much as they are, while providing a good opportunity for the developers and realtors to carry on making huge amounts of money.

(This post was updated on May 26, 2007)

Written by Stephen Rees

May 24, 2007 at 9:30 am

Rush Job on Dikes: ‘Band-aids’

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:: News ::

This is one of those stories that you just hope is not prophetic. I am hoping that the great flood of 2007 will turn out to be as bad as the y2k disaster that never happened.

At least there is evidence of things happening – in communities outside of Richmond. We seem to be continuing in our complacency, which I trust is not misplaced. On Westham Island rip rap has been placed on the dyke north of Canoe Pass Bridge, and some gravel added to the top. A few concrete blocks have appeared at the bridge foot too, but without the plastic wrapping that is being used in New Westminster. But in Coquitlam, near the Port Mann Bridge, there is no evidence of anything being done. Here there has been a lot of development of “industrial parks” (what a lovely oxymoron) in recent years so I suppose the work has already been done.

Lock Blocks and sandbags

Written by Stephen Rees

May 23, 2007 at 9:23 am

Posted in flood watch

Draft bill starts Britain down the road to pay as you drive

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| Guardian Unlimited Business

· Local schemes a precursor to a nationwide network

Quite a contrast to our own situation where we will see some new tolls but only on new infrastructure (that long word means “bridges” as far as the MoTH is concerned) and not to control congestion but to help pay for the building work.

What I think is really telling is the insistence by some local authorities that a commitment to public transport must come first. In fact that is exactly what happened in London, where since the tube was already bursting at the seams and projects take forever to complete, Ken Livingstone invested heavily in more buses. And bus lanes. So that when the traffic declined as the charge bit, and it did, the buses could get through where they didn’t before. People even came up to the surface and started enjoying seeing London as they travelled.

There are some people who think that sticking transit in a tunnel is a solution to congestion. There are others, like me, who think we have better things to do than allow cars to clog our streets – either as traffic jams or parked vehicles. We need to rethink what all that expensive tarmac and concrete is being used for and why we let the richest use it for free.

Update May 26

The Guardian is now reporting

Motorists will be charged for travelling during peak times on the busiest roads under a new scheme in Manchester, which was unveiled yesterday.

Rush hour drivers face charges of between £2 and £5 per day, with those travelling furthest paying most.

An electronic tag will monitor journeys on 15 of the most congested routes into the city centre.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 20, 2007 at 6:01 pm

Posted in Transportation

Fare increases

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I have refrained up until now from commenting on Translink’s recent decision to raise fares. But at the bottom a piece on the British Network Rail organization deciding not to give its executives a bonus this year, I came across this

South West Trains, Britain’s biggest train operator, will tomorrow put up off-peak fares by up to 21 per cent, and passengers on Arriva Trains in Wales will see ticket rises of up to 34 per cent.

which puts Translink’s 25c hike into some perspective, I think. Not saying it’s right, just not as much as others pay, that’s all.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 20, 2007 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Transportation

The use of waterways for freight

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This program was broadcast recently on BBC Radio 4. The issues they deal with are almost identical to the problems we face here trying to keep the Fraser as a major freight carrier. We don’t have the problem of locks, or vessel beam and length. But the issue of depth and the lack of dredging is just the same, as is the attitude of the developers and the new residents who have now got the water views and don’t want nasty trucks in their neighborhood.

What is missing in the discussion on greenhouse gas emissions is the actual efficiency of a diesel engine in a boat versus that of a heavy truck. There is actually no more energy efficient method of moving freight, since a boat floats and just needs steering weigh to navigate. So there is none of the energy lost in braking, or tire resistance, or even basic inertia. And many things do not need to be moved quickly, since they are of low value and do not represent a lot of capital tied up in inventory. So sand and gravel, domestic refuse – and in this region – lumber, woodchips and paper – are all very economically moved by barge. The costs start to rise when you add in intermediate handling – which is why the reservation of waterside sites for freight is so important. But who is going to carry that cost? In Britain, BW was starved of resources to meet its basic remit, so it had to develop what land it had just to keep going. Land banking is not something you can expect a commercial operator to do, although many developers in this region simply hold land in the hopes that one day the planning rules will change and they can cash in. Land is a safe store of value, and can have very low holding costs. Governments at all levels have a role, but they need to get their priorities straight. Sadly, most politicians are small business people who seem to lack the right sort of knowledge.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 20, 2007 at 1:04 pm