Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for August 2007

Canada Line construction photos

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New Canada Line Fraser Bridge under construction 2007_0825

Construction on the new Fraser River crossing August 25, 2007

Stephen Rees Photo

As you know I have been trying to document the construction process here and on flickr. But I am not alone, and I have seen many phtographers doing the same thing – and all of us are frustrated by the lack of access, and ubiquitous fencing with blue fabric used to limit dust, which also limits visibility.

However, one guy seems to have got around all that. Like many of the rest of us he is not a professional – he is not even very experienced in digital photography since he credits someone else with basic image manipulation. What he does have is a helmet, hi-vis vest and big boots and somehow permission to go where none of the rest of us have been allowed a peek.

So for the pictures I was not allowed to take go to the official Canada Line site

Written by Stephen Rees

August 26, 2007 at 10:37 am

Posted in photography, transit

The triumph of style over substance

with 4 comments


Photo by Carl Spencer


This photo is of a regular transit bus operating in York, England. I do not know why it was painted like this but I am prepared to speculate. It was someone in the marketing department who thought that this bus (which is designed to look as much as possible like the latest generation of rapid transit rail vehicles) needed to be made even more “cool” to appeal to the target ‘yoof’ demographic. The sort of people who like graffiti, who think that “the bus sucks”. I can hear now the presentation made by the designer to the marketing committee, banging on about how this will increase ridership by upgrading the image of the service.

Note that the bus is running in mixed traffic. What transit needs is more transit priority. The best image improvement I can think of is that the drivers stuck in the traffic jam see the fast frequent bus service swishing by them, as they drum their fingers on the steering wheel in frustration.

If there is money to be spent on tarting up buses, don’t waste it painting the outside in fancy schemes. Make the inside better. Cleaner, more comfortable. More and better seats, that have no rips or tears – and definitely no duct tape (which seems to be all that holds the CMBC bus seats together). Safe stowage for impedimenta of all kinds. Lights that come on when it gets dark outside. Windows that are so clean you can actually see where you are at all times. Air Conditioning so the windows do not steam up when it rains. That kind of basic amenity.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 26, 2007 at 9:53 am

Posted in transit, Transportation

The end of traffic jams?

with one comment

Innovative study suggests scientific solutions to global transport problems within the next 50 years

Juliette Jowit, transport editor
The Observer
Sunday August 26 2007

Two New Zealand professors trot out all the usual guff about how technology is going to solve all our current problems.

Actually I think that fifty years will see only some of these technologies emerging, and then being far from all pervasive.

What is missing from the article is how technology could be used to make transit better. My specification for future transit is something better than a bus but cheaper than a taxi. It needs to have no driver, but must be utterly safe. It should be usable as a private mode or shared mode at the choice of the user. Not exactly door to door but at least curb to curb. Zero emission of course. Capable of conveying wheelchairs, buggies, shopping trolleys or rolling suitcases. It won’t need to carry bicycles because of the flourishing of power assisted recumbent bikes with optional weather protection. It will link itself up to other like vehicles on arterial routes, where it will have priority when in shared mode over other modes. Freight versions will take care of distribution from railway and waterway depots.

It will operate the way that taxis work in the movies – it will appear exactly when you want it and vanish when you have finished with it. It will offer privacy (at an extra cost) or sociability with small groups of users. It will always be able to pull up right outside where you want to be, as there will be no more need for on street parking of anything. Or very much off street parking either. This will free up vast amounts of space for better uses. It will also offer communications technology so that people will no longer want to drive much of the time as they would rather be internet surfing, emailing or watching tv or movies on demand, or even interacting socially. Now there’s a thought!

For longer distance transport there will be high speed trains de luxe (with real dining and sleeping cars) airships and cruise liners – sail assisted of course. There will still be cars, but they will not be allowed to dominate cities. City centres will be pedestrian zones and cars will have to drive around them – never through them. The privilege of driving will only be granted to the socially responsible: the price will be far greater supervision, and much less freedom to drive wherever and however you want. Transit will be so good that the notion of “owning” a car will seem quaint , and will be largely confined to the older generation.

As for “flying clothes” – I don’t think so, Tim.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 26, 2007 at 9:17 am

Business interests dominate new TransLink panel

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Richmond Review

No surprises there then.

The panel consists of:

•Graham Clarke, chosen by the province. He is chair of the Vancouver International Airport Authority, governor of the Vancouver Board of Trade and owner of the Clarke Group of Companies.

•Former NDP premier Mike Harcourt, nominated by TransLink directors and Metro Vancouver mayors.

•Hugh Lindsay, chosen by the BC Institute of Chartered Accountants, is president of FMG Financial Mentors Group Inc.

•Dave Park, nominated by the Vancouver Board of Trade and that organization’s chief economist.

•Bob Wilds, nominated by the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council. He is the council’s managing director and is on the board of the Business Council of B.C. and a member of the Vancouver Board of Trade.

The five panelists are to propose 15 qualified candidates, from which a group of area mayors will select nine directors who will form the new TransLink board in January.

[Burnaby Mayor Derek] Corrigan, who has boycotted the process, said he’s “astounded” [former NDP Premier Mike] Harcourt agreed to serve on the screening panel but noted the ex-premier has recently served on the airport and port authority boards.

“He’s rubbed shoulders with those guys for some time,” he said.

Worse he showed in his remarks at the launch of his new book that he has swallowed their justification for new port capacity uncritically. Like many Board members he has come to rely on the advice on the staff of the organization, rather than bringing a fresh outside view to the table, which I think people like him are expected to do. After all while the staff have deep but narrow expertise, he has the broader, if more shallow, view.

Moreover why do the Gateway Council get a seat at the table at all? They are simply a self appointed group of special interests set up to lobby for policies that favour their industry. It’s a bit like inviting the Canadian Petroleum Producers Association to sit on a Board concerned with making recommendations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions!

There is no-one there to represent transit users – who provide most of the revenue from their fares and property taxes.  And I doubt you will see any of these upper middle class, white, older males on a B-Line the morning after Labour Day.

(Note: I am also a white, older male, and I will also not be on a bus that morning, so I definitely feel I should be excluded from consideration for the new Board. Thank you.)

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2007 at 10:48 am

Port Mann twinning myths

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This is over at the LRC web site – but the link to the Burnaby News Leader letters page does not work and the letter itself is no longer there. But then very few letters are there, and the way the Black Press portal is set up seems to defy its use as an archive. But perhaps that is deliberate – so I make no apology for duplicating it – not because I endorse it but I think views like this need to be widely disseminated

Port Mann twinning myths

At the core of our transportation system is the Trans-Canada Highway which spans this great nation of ours.

In B.C. the Port Mann Bridge and Highway 1 connects Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster and Coquitlam with Surrey, Langley and the rest of Canada.

The curved Port Mann Bridge cost five times more per lineal foot (30.5 cm) than a straight bridge, which I learnt as an engineering student in 1979.

“On June 12, 1964 The Port Mann Bridge opened. Its construction was unique in North America, and at the time it was the most expensive piece of highway in Canada,” according to

Since no other authority in North America can afford to build a curved bridge, why would B.C. twin the curved Port Mann Bridge if B.C. knew that the cost was going to be at least five times more than a straight bridge?

If you were an investor, say in a company that was going to bid on the contract that would make you many times richer wouldn’t you want to build it?

In 1964, investors got B.C. taxpayers to make them many times richer by building the curved Port Mann Bridge. Engineers got the opportunity and higher pay to design and build a curved bridge which no other province or country could afford.

When you design for profit of the wealthy, taxpayer money is easy to find, even if the project is obviously not going to solve any traffic or environmental problems.

Why would B.C. twin the Port Mann Bridge when B.C. won’t pay for seismic upgrading?

“In 1994, Buckland & Taylor Ltd., in conjunction with Geomatrix Inc. of San Francisco and MacLeod Geotechnical of North Vancouver, performed a seismic evaluation and prepared recommendations for the bridge retrofit. This work included:

  • Liquefaction and ground movement assessment;
  • Dynamic testing of the main span and south approach span;
  • Dynamic analysis for multiple earthquake time histories;
  • Push-over analysis for typical concrete bents;
  • Preparation of retrofit recommendations.

“In 2001, the Company completed the design and preparation of tender documents. Due to budget restraints, the construction of the retrofit has been put on hold by the Owner, according to “

You get what you vote for? For a real solution look at the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia built in 1926 (nine years before the Pattullo Bridge) with 12-16 lanes, and designed to last 1,000 years. The Sydney Bridge reached nearly 90 per cent of maximum capacity in the late 1980s due to good planning for transportation and the environment.

In B.C. we’re still doing it wrong. Three billion dollars to twin the Port Mann Bridge is equal to building 32.7 fast ferries, based on a cost of $275 million for three ferries.

Think the Pattullo Bridge is safe? Drive under the Surrey side supports and look up at the two feet of steel shims propping the bridge up.

What’s happening to B.C.?

G. Pettipas
New Westminster

Just to nitpick a bit, the bridge main span itself is not curved – it is the approaches that curve. And the province’s neglect of seismic upgrading of major bridges is widespread and not just confined to this one. The bridges handed over to Translink (Knight Street, Patullo and Westham Island) were all badly in need of retrofitting after years of neglect. And as we saw in Montreal and Minnesota this is not an attitude unique to BC.

Secondly, I am not sure the Sydney Harbour Bridge is evidence of “good planning for transportation and the environment”. As the author himself points out the capacity was not adequate for the design life, and the suburbs of Sydney sprawl over huge distances. Note too he counts the traffic lanes and not the electric train tracks. Australian cities tend to have much better rapid transit systems than equivalent Canadian cities (see Newmann and Kenworthy).

Thirdly, are not the “steel shims” on the Patullo evidence that something has at least now been done to “prop the bridge up” – by Translink, who could ill afford it, unlike the province which could but didn’t, preferring to give its friends tax breaks and pay off the debt.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2007 at 10:32 am

Posted in Transportation

A survey on the Evergreen Line

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Mike Clay is a Port Moody Councillor who has a web site, on which he has been running a survey of opinions on the Evergreen Line. One of my readers wrote to me and asked me to draw it to your attention, and hoped it would provoke some discussion.

I will kick things off by noting that the response rate is very low – 104 total. Of those, only 35 say they come from Port Moody and another 30 from the rest of the TriCities. The other thing that needs to be said is that this is a self selected sample: people who knew about the web page and its survey and could be bothered to go there and complete it. So in no sense can it be said to be representative of the opinions of those in the area. And it is quite easy, if you put your mind to it, to work out ways in which one individual could answer more than once.

I have commented here before on the Evergreen Line and the group which has been pushing for SkyTrain rather than light rail. So the link will take you there and I won’t cover the same ground again. And I have also noted that Port Moody is a bit of an anomaly in the suburbs as it has got transit oriented development – and could get more – but so far has only a B-Line and the last stop inbound on the West Coast Express.

What is also instructive is the extent of the comments that were posted at the open ended questions in each section – which again shows that those who did respond have a much higher level of commitment than the “average punter” type interviews – usually people who are not skilled enough to avoid market researchers who phone them at suppertime.

The real problem for the TriCities was that the provincial government decided to proceed with the Canada Line – and I have also written about how that decision was rammed through. At that time the completion of the LRSP “T Line” – essentially Lougheed Mall to Coquitlam Centre at one end and VCC to the west (and no one now agrees how far west it would have gone) at the other – was supposed to be the first priority. After all the original idea of developing the North East Sector was that it would be transit oriented, but there has never been and still is not adequate transit service in that area. So the traffic congestion through the area was entirely predictable. Especially around the interchanges at the north end of the Port Mann Bridge.

It now makes it very hard for me to answer the question put me earlier in the week by a journalist on my priority list for LRT in the region in future. We should have built both the Evergreen Line and the Broadway Line extension from VCC by now. But equally with the province determined to expand Highway #1, something to directly link North Surrey to Coquitlam is also essential, as well as rail for the Valley. Now if the sort of money being spent on Gateway were devoted instead to electric trains/trams, especially on existing tracks, we could actually build quite a lot of this. But asked to prioritize between them and I am afraid I had to duck. But I did make it clear that electric trains in general are to be preferred over highways.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2007 at 10:03 am

Metro Vancouver downplays location-efficient mortgages

with 4 comments Vancouver

From a pure mortgage underwriting perspective, it appears that CMHC would not consider the transportation-linked mortgage to be a viable commercial product

I do not think that CMHC is actually helping Canadians. For a start the need for mortgage underwriting seems to me to be grossly overrated. And before you write to me about the recent US sub-prime problems, they arose from people using the equity in their homes to pay off their credit cards – or finance some more consumer spending – not first time buyers struggling to get in to the market.

CMHC first of all regulates how much you can borrow – but nobody regulates how much you spend on transportation. So it is not surprising that we see people moving out to where they can buy something with what CMHC is prepared to guarantee, where they will spend a lot more on commuting. Secondly in order to get a high ratio mortgage – one where you do not have to have a great wad of cash on hand to slap a big down payment – you pay more in insurance. In fact the last house I bought, I decided to add some money that had been earmarked for some much needed renovations to the house we were buying, just so I could get a lower ratio mortgage: it reduced my monthly payments so much it was worthwhile to defer the new roof and windows a few years. Of course that probably increased our energy consumption too, but I doubt CMHC is interested in energy efficient mortgages either, and in those days hydro was still cheap.

Metro Vancouver did not help its case by examining places like Langley, Port Coquitlam, North Surrey, and Maple Ridge as potential LEM markets. As they remark – there’s no transit there to speak of (ok – the exact quote is “did not have the transportation infrastructure needed to successfully support these initiatives”.) What they should have looked at is how LEMs would have made places like East Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster affordable and attractive for the people whom otherwise are going to head out to the suburbs. A bigger mortgage can be handled if your household does not need two cars – forget the gas, just look at the lease payments you are not making. Especially if you can join a car co-op to act as back up to your transit pass.

And exactly what risk has there been in Metro Vancouver lately in terms of mortgage defaults? House prices have been steadily increasing. A house bought seven years ago for under 250k now sells for over $500k. So that $200k mortgage looks like a safe bet to get paid off after transaction costs by year two or three. Not much risk there!

So why do we actually need CMHC? Why is it a federal institution? And anyway, what the heck happened to all those federally funded housing programs that were the centerpiece of so many of the seminars my planning colleagues went to at LSE? (I did the transportation option, but most of them did housing – in the seventies it was the bigger issue for those with a social conscience.) Hard to believe now, but Canada used to be seen as a model in places like Britain.

One of the great tragedies of the right wing’s victory of the last few decades has been the loss of progress that had been made in getting low income citizens out of slums. Now we have homeless people begging on the streets of the world’s most liveable city. And in the suburbs the invisible homeless continue their couch surfing, and hope to find a tiny, illegal and unsafe basement suite they can share with someone.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 23, 2007 at 6:57 pm

Posted in housing

Transportation | Tipping point for hybrids?

with 6 comments Vancouver

Citizens are finally demanding electricity-powered cars—many years after David Suzuki bought Canada’s first hybrid.

Well this citizen isn’t and I have lusted after an electric car for years. But when it came time to replace the 12 year old minivan I had a bad case of sticker shock. One good thing about Toyota is that there is no dickering, so you can do price comparisons on line and know before you go to the dealership what the bottom line is. For you do not pay the often quoted “price” because you are going to have to pay taxes and fees, delivery and you will probably want something more than the absolute base model.

So for me the choice came down to the hybrid Prius at around $40k – and fuel consumption of 4.1 l/100km or the slightly less exotic Yaris for which I paid around $20k and am expecting 6.3 l/100km. These figures do not include the Government rebate since you cannot actually get it yet ($2k for the Prius, $1k for the Yaris) – though the claim forms are expected to be available … in due course.

You can buy a lot of gas for $20k – so for someone who does not too many kms (there were only 150,000 or so on the old van after 12 years) the economic case is not there. And the rebate is, frankly, irrelevant. And anyway, I do not want to invest an extra $20k upfront in my mobility for not very much return other than bragging rights. And I will be burning a lot less fuel than I was in the old van too – that was getting around 12 l/100km at the end.

And if I was going to throw that kind of money around on a car I think I would expect a bit more than better fuel consumption.

My Yaris

Written by Stephen Rees

August 23, 2007 at 6:10 pm

Running off the rails

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Melbourne | Herald Sun

There is a sort of wicked glee that comes over me when I read this sort of stuff. The Germans have a word for it. “Schadenfreunde” – delight at the discomfiture of one’s friends.

It goes to show that Vancouver is not alone in the way it mismanages its public transport. Melbourne has made an even greater cock up of it, and for much the same sort of reasons. They did go down the privatisation road that Translink was tempted to take but turned back from. They also cut the fares when there was no spare capacity. Yes cutting fares does boost ridership. But it also creates dreadful conditions and has a significant impact on revenues and hence ability to do anything about new capacity. Vancouver seems to have actually added more to its system in recent years. Mainly it is a matter of neglect and lack of investment (sound familiar?)

Anyway, as you cram yourself aboard a crowded bus on Broadway, or a packed SkyTrain, you can comfort yourself that there are some places where they have got it even worse.

And of course once again the Economist has picked Vancouver as the most liveable city.  (source: CBC News ) Apparently it is because we are so safe – such a low crime rate and no threat from terrorists – and really good transportation links. Which I can only assume refers to the airport, as the trains are not up to much (one a day to Seattle and three a week to the rest of Canada) – and, according to the provincial government – neither are the highways.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 23, 2007 at 7:56 am

Posted in transit, Transportation

Blog Stats

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WordPress has just produced a new feature. They now allow bloggers to see not just the number of views per day but also per week and per month. So in a spirit of shameless self congratulation – or rather, thanks to my readership – here is the new graph.


Written by Stephen Rees

August 23, 2007 at 7:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized