Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for September 24th, 2007

Man causing climate change – poll

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I begin to wonder if “denial” is just a North American condition.

Large majorities in many countries now believe human activity is causing global warming, a BBC World Service poll suggests.

A sizable majority of people agreed that major steps needed to be taken soon to address global warming.

More than 22,000 people were surveyed in 21 countries and the results show a great deal of agreement on the issue.

The survey is published a day after 150 countries met at the United Nations to discuss climate change.

An average of 79% of respondents to the BBC survey agreed that “human activity, including industry and transportation, is a significant cause of climate change”.

Significantly even in the US 59% of respondents said that it was “necessary to take major steps very soon”. I think in fairness I also should note that the US has actually been doing something – “since 1990 U.S. emissions have increased less than half as much as Canada’s on a per capita basis” according so a substantial opinion piece by Patrick Moore in today’s Sun. It’s pretty good, as far as it goes, but because he is hung up on technology, he misses some of the more obvious behavioural changes that can be made – like increasing transit use.

It may be that the only problem we have is leaders like Bush and Harper – they seem to be well behind the rest of us on this issue.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 24, 2007 at 7:25 pm

Beware of “balance”

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I have seen this word a lot lately. It was prominent in Stephen Harper’s address to the UN about climate change. It features largely in the Gateway apologists recent publicity.

But it is neatly summed up by this quote – which is about Australia and “then” but applies very much to the here and now

While the planning rhetoric of the 1970s turned towards “balance” in transport planning, this was mostly a fiction. For the past 40 years most transport planning effort has been focused on supporting cars with big roads.

For the benefit of Harper fans, you cannot “balance” environment and the economy – because when you get the environment wrong you don’t have an economy any more. Some recent illustrations could be the collapse of the Fraser salmon fishery, or the Exxon Valdez, or the mountain pine beetle. Or you could go further afield, and further back – Chernobyl or Bhopal or PG&E in California.

We cannot “balance” our transport infrastructure by planning to spend a lot on roads now and “promising” to spend on transit later. Transit has been neglected for far too long. And as for the assertion that nothing has been done to the road infrastructure in recent years – poppycock! Huge increments to the road network have been added – and mostly by developers or at their expense. But also by sneaky, underhanded methods such as adding HOV lanes to Highway #1 – a contributory cause of the present discontent I suggest – since they did not replace general traffic lanes (as on Barnet/Hastings) but supplemented them. Plus all those upgraded intersections developers paid for so that they could develop land adjacent to the freeway – which had been set aside in careful prudence against future needs – but was sold off by the present improvident lot who also sold off BC Rail.

Moreover, the rhetoric that suggests that transport spending has not kept pace with population growth includes the extraordinary unstated assumption that there was something “right” about earlier years spending patterns, or that earlier generations did not build in spare capacity for future growth. How dumb do they think we are? Is anyone taken in by this sort of stuff? Obviously not the kids

“I, for one, am sick of being ashamed of my country and its poor behaviour on the world stage,” P.J. Partington of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition told a news conference.

“The government keeps saying Canada’s playing a bridging role in the negotiations, but with our current plan we’re on the road to nowhere.”

Catherine Gauthier, who told leaders the future is in their hands and that too many world capitals are “spinning” their positions, was equally scathing.

“Canada needs to step up our action on climate change or get out of the way of progress,” said Gauthier, a member of the Quebec-based Environnement Jeunesse.

“Our current targets won’t yield real action until I am about to retire, which is completely out of line with the urgency of the science. We cannot play a constructive role in the international negotiations with our current plan.”

Written by Stephen Rees

September 24, 2007 at 1:54 pm

Returning from a two-decade road trip to find a region at the crossroads

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Miro Cernetig, Vancouver Sun

Being a broadsheet, the Sun gives its opinion writers a lot more space – 3 times as much for the new municipal affairs writer. In a substantial piece, he compares Metro Vancouver with other cities around the world – using sources like Grist – and finds us wanting. He also flags up Gordon Campbell’s upcoming announcement at UBCM and notes

I’m also keen to hear just how our hybrid-driving leader squares building bigger bridges and wider highways for more cars with the hard fact the automobile is the region’s biggest source of greenhouse gases.

And he’s not alone there. I am looking forward to reading more coverage of the region from him. But so far I do not think there is going to be quite as much to argue about, as he seems to be a lot “greener” than his colleagues or his editorial board

Wherever you stand on climate change — believer, denier or agnostic — there are undeniably big ideas at play that will shape the next generation of cities.

It is not a matter of faith. The “deniers” can only attack by throwing doubt where there is none in the scientific community. There has not been one single piece of research in a peer reviewed scientific journal which challenges the consensus that has existed among scientists in this field for many years. The same technique was used by the tobacco industry to throw doubt on the link between smoking and lung cancer. You cannot be agnostic in the face of evidence such as the recent reports of the shrinking of the arctic ice sheet – global warning is not only happening it is accelerating, and we have no alternative but to reduce our growing use of fossil fuels, as well as mitigating the inevitable rise in sea level. Certenig should be alright for a bit in Kits – but I am seriously considering moving from Richmond.

Our fast-growing region needs better rail service, not more crowded buses

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Derek Moscato, The Province

I am quoted – indeed I seem to be the only source, other than his personal experience. But I am quoted selectively. Which is not surprising considering how short Province pieces have to be. He “interviewed” me by email. Which means I can reproduce both his questions and my answers.

1. Why is bus service in the Lower Mainland seemingly so inadequate? Users are complaining of not only full buses and late buses, but also of cramped quarters (standing room only) and other issues related to lack of comfort. Year after year the complaints are the same, but the level of service is only getting worse.

Bus service has been inadequate in this region since I came here to work for BC Transit ten years ago. There are a number of reasons offered for this state of affairs, but obviously money is at the heart of the issue.

The creation of the GVTA in 1999 was supposed to offer a way forward as it was supposed tor remove the regional transit system from direct provincial oversight (an anomaly among Canadian cities). However, while the legislation made provision for a new funding source, this did not happen (the vehicle levy). An attempt to reduce bus operating cost through the use of contracting (as is used everywhere in BC except Vancouver and Victoria) also collapsed, despite the GVTA “winning” the four month bus strike.

A lot of money has been and is being spent on transportation in this region, but improving the parts of the transit system with the widest reach (and arguably greatest need) is not part of that. Current projects are still determined by the Province. So billions on the Canada Line, the Sea to Sky Highway and mandatory P3s for Translink which means that the Golden Ears Bridge is their biggest single project. While there has been some improvement in the bus system, these have been well below the targets set by Transport 2021, and well below the original Translink Strategic Transportation Plan – now abandoned.

Even though it was clear that there was no spare capacity on the bus system before it introduction, Translink brought in the UPass at UBC and SFU. This has been the biggest single cause of overcrowding on buses. Translink does not have the ability to increase the size of its bus fleet quickly – because that would also need more operating centres (garages) and more staff. There is already a shortage of operators and mechanics, and it is difficult to recruit more in a tight labour market with very high housing costs.

2. Do you think the ongoing situation could have the unintended result of pushing frustrated transit users back into single occupant vehicles?

The extent to which use of SOVs has changed is difficult to estimate since the data we have on travel in this region is so inadequate. It does have the effect of deterring people who would be willing to switch from their cars which we know from various opinion surveys taken over the years. It is poor quality of service which deters car drivers from using transit – not fares.

3. In your opinion, could the bus crunch have been avoided if adequate rail transit was in place? For example, in many metros in Asia and Europe, the long-haul routes (such as our B-Lines routes) are taken care of by subway or light rail?

In my opinion we could have done much better by choosing cheaper, more strategically important rail transit lines. For the type of demand seen here, grade separation as used on the SkyTrain and Canada Line is not necessary but is very expensive indeed. Surface light rail would have had a much greater reach, producing more route miles for the same expenditures. The objection that surface light rail would get in the way of the cars is, to my mind, precisely the point. Transit is a much more efficient use of a 3m wide strip of land. A general purpose traffic lane on a city street can carry 1,000 vehicles per hour. At current occupancies that translates into 1300 people. An exclusive bus lane can carry 10 times that – and light rail system 20 times – and that is with simple traffic signal priority at intersections, not grade separation. As my teachers always told me “the best is often the enemy of the good”. SkyTrain is technically very good indeed. We just could not afford it – and we still are not able to utilize its potential capacity as we cannot afford to buy enough cars to run on it!

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And given his remark “The under-construction Canada Line is a good addition, but it’s not enough” let me hasten to add that the Canada Line is not going to be easy to expand, as it has been designed down to a price not up to a standard comparable to SkyTrain. For one thing the station platforms are only long enough for the length of trains on opening day. SkyTrain stations could accommodate 8 car Mk1 trains, even though only 4 car trains were run until recently. Sections of single track running will also be expensive to double once demand warrants it.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 24, 2007 at 9:12 am

Posted in transit

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