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

Archive for September 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!


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

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Al Gore is coming to Vancouver

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“An Inconvenient Truth” has been a great success, and Al is still touring, doing his slide show. He will be attending a reception at the Westin Bayshore Hotel. Gore will be introduced by PREMIER GORDON CAMPBELL, after which he will present “An Inconvenient Truth” to an audience of Board of Trade and Industry executives. DAVID SUZUKI is Special Guest.

Gordo has, of course tried to show that he can be the greenest premier by announcing a great target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But the biggest challenge we face here is transport – it is the biggest single source of ghg and the hardest to reduce. And even the Province now admits that the Gateway program will lead to a significant increase in emissions. So why is it still on the agenda? Why is the (completely bogus) Environmental Assessment going on? Why are they pretending to consult the public when they have no intention of cancelling a stupid, retrograde step that will destroy everything this region has tried to achieve for the past 25 years. And, by the way, why doesn’t Gordo remember writing the Livable Regional Plan?

There is going to be a rally outside the Westin Bayshore. See you there.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 23, 2007 at 1:47 pm

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Gateway Consultation Process

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There are currently open houses being held around the region as part of the Environmental Assessment process. There has been some discussion on the lrc-general list as to whether it is worthwhile participating

…from my point of view (and I have a Ph. D. in Community & Regional Planning and have taught Planning, Development and Policy for three years at SFU’s Urban Studies Masters Program, currently teaching Urban Sustainable Development there), the public consultation process of the MoT has been nothing but a sham. There is a classic “ladder of citizen participation” designed by Sherry Arnstein to evaluate degrees of citizen participation in public processes that I and many instructors of planning use to illustrate democratic public process. On this ladder Kevin Falcon’s MoT’s Process falls on the bottom step of the ladder (which Arnstein calls manipulation and non-participation). In the ministry’s own words, “from letters, petitions or other submissions that only state a position for or against a given project cannot generally be considered”. Thus, we as citizens have no real participation in making a decision NOT to approve this Gateway Project, but merely to comment on improving or adding bike lanes or slightly shifting on or off ramps, etc. As I said, what a sham! However, I do think people should go to the open houses and tell them what a sham this process is, and what a shame for democracy. So, I am going to do that myself at the Vancouver Open House on Tuesday, 5-9 PM at the Italian Cultural Centre.

Mike Carr

I cannot say I agree with Mike that going to these affairs does any good. It is not about should the project go ahead as Falcon has said that it is a “done deal”. That deal excluded anyone who might have a legitimate interest in it except those who stood to profit from it. The Deltaport expansion is not part of the process either, even though that is said to be one of the drivers for both Port Mann 2 and the South Fraser Perimeter Road. In fact, it is clear now that part of the SFPR is to be funded by the PM2 tolls! Not only that but the Liberals out manoeuvred the opposition by tying the port expansion into the Tsawassen Treaty proposal. Now no-one could argue that the TFN need a treaty – after all the first stage of the port expansion destroyed their traditional way of life with no compensation. And we have not had much progress in the treaty process to date, so understandably Carol James did not want the NDP to oppose it. Even though the process has been highly suspect to say the least.

When the consultation process is so clearly flawed, we should not participate in it, because that lends the thing credibility that it does not deserve. I will not take part, but I will be part of the protests next weekend. And I hope you will be too. Because when they patronize and marginalize us – and set up bogus “astroturf” groups to appear to speak for the proposal and run ludicrously obvious biased “surveys” – we have no other course of action than to turn to protest. Which is, in human history, the only way that progressive change has ever been brought about. Resistance stopped the freeway through Chinatown and downtown. It will stop this one too.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 22, 2007 at 5:52 pm

Public happy with transport times

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BBC NEWS | UK | Northern Ireland |

Public confidence in Translink is at an all time high following the latest punctuality figures, according to the Consumer Council.

Well, you will not be as surprised to see this opening paragraph as I was, but then you know where it comes from. “Translink” is as name that has been widely adopted in public transport around the world. But when you consider how absolutely dreadful these services were a few years ago, the achievement is remarkable.

During “the troubles” buses were a favourite target. Indeed the “republicans” operated their own “paratransit” service using discarded London taxis, partly as a way of raising funds, and providing employment for their friends, but also controlling access to the areas they controlled.

The other thing noticeable is the independent research conducted by “The Consumer Council”. Would that we had such a body here. As far as I know the only thing approaching a service aimed at meeting consumer’s needs is the Better Business Bureau. We do not have anyone like the Trading Standards Officers common in other countries – usually employed by the local authorities. The laudable exception here are the Public Heatlh officials who protect us from raw shell fish. Of course, they are powerless to protect us from the practice of the regional municipality dumping raw sewage into the waters where the shell fish live, which causes the problem in the first place.

Frankly, I have great difficulty taking consumer research published by Translink here in the same spirit as that produced by an independent agency, even though I know that the market research officials at Translink and the companies they employ are at least ethical. (Which is more than one can say for “getmovingbc” who have produced one of the most mendacious survey reports I have ever seen purporting to show support for the Gateway program.)  Indeed, you would think that Translink themselves would understand this, and should welcome independent analysis of their performance. One of my personal heroines is Sheila Fraser, the Auditor General of Canada and one of the most fiercely independent and effective critics of government policies in the country.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 22, 2007 at 10:53 am

The Canadian Press: First Canada-wide survey ranking urban transportation puts B.C. cities on top

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The Canadian Press:

VANCOUVER – The first Canada-wide survey ranking green urban transportation policies puts two B.C. cities at the top of a list of 27 urban areas.

The GreenApple Canada study, backed by the Appleton Foundation, gives Victoria the best marks for environmentally friendly transportation but Foundation spokesman Barry Appleton says the city still receives a “B” because it has lots of room for improvement.

Vancouver ranked second, followed by Ottawa-Gatineau in third place with Winnipeg fourth and Toronto and Montreal tied for fifth.

Twenty-seventh spot went to St. John’s, N.L. because Appleton says the city announced acceptable green transportation policies but failed to follow through.

Appleton gave special nods to Hamilton for its leadership on anti-idling bylaws while Calgary is applauded for providing free transit in its downtown core.

The survey, which will become an annual event, considered everything from public transit infrastructure to air quality measures, anti-idling bylaws and even the total number of hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles in taxi or bus fleets.

And that’s it. The entire story. I tried to find the study but so far with no luck. What I cannot for the life of me understand is what they mean by “public transit infrastructure” – since the only fixed facilities in Victoria would be the place where buses are stored and maintained out by Gorge Road. There is no other fixed facility that I am aware of that BC Transit provides. And there are no “air quality measures” in Victoria either other than those which apply to BC as a whole. And “alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles in bus and taxi fleets” cannot be a large number either – unless they count 10% biodiesel as an alternative fuel, and even then I cannot recall if that is used in Victoria. There is certainly no natural gas for vehicles on the Island – apart from one compressor at the leg put in for Moe Sihota and not used, and an installation at the Sidney municipal yard, which at least stopped misuse of municipally provided vehicle fuel.

And how does Vancouver come second? I assume it covers the entire Metro area. Yes, we have a few Prius taxis and there is quite a bit of fixed infrastructure (does Canada Line under construction count?) but it’s coverage is nowhere near as comprehensive as the Montreal metro, or even the TTC’s combination of subways and surface light rail (and streetcars of course).

What worries me with surveys of this kind is the readiness with which this kind of nonsense gets picked up by local pols and pr puffs. They are complacent enough already. And complacency is one of the best ways I know to convince yourself that you don’t need to try harder. And if any region needs to try much, much harder in the field of “green urban transportation policies” it is Metro Vancouver, since our current fetish for expanding freeways, covering prime agricultural land for container storage and railyards, and filling the shallows of Roberts Bank with yet more fill cannot be seen in any sense as “green”.

I suggest that GreenApple (whoever they are) need to look at outcome not policies. Look at indicators that actually means something. Like percentage mode share for transit, walking and cycling – which is very good in downtown Vancouver and pretty poor most everywhere else. Or percentage of the registered vehicle fleet which is oversized SUVs, old full sized cars and trucks used solely for personal transportation. It takes a lot of hybrids to offset that kind of fuel consumption.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 22, 2007 at 9:37 am

The Georgia Straight’s “Best of…” Edition

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Best double dipping

The premier’s former deputy minister, Ken Dobell, is a shoo-in. What can you say about a guy who contracts himself out as a provincial lobbyist (or “content consultant”, as he put it) for the City of Vancouver on housing issues at the same time he has a desk in the premier’s office as Gordon Campbell’s special adviser? Dobell, a former Vancouver city manager, managed to duck controversy for many years, despite playing a role in a couple of serious public-policy blunders. While he was CEO of TransLink, he was the real father of the Canada Line rapid-transit project, which has forced local businesses into bankruptcy and which could eventually do the same to TransLink. He has also been the premier’s point man on the ever-more-expensive expansion of the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre. It started out at $495 million but has since crossed the $800-million threshold (which is an overrun that is $55 million more than the $250-million fast-ferry overshoot that was seized upon by the B.C. Liberals to crush the NDP in the 2001 election). Back in the old days, he even recommended tearing down those lovely old houses in Mole Hill. Fortunately, he was overruled by the council of the day. But it was only when Dobell decided to get into the lobbying game that big media started questioning his activities. Not too seriously, mind you–just enough to ensure the public got a whiff of trouble.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 21, 2007 at 1:34 pm

Pay as you drive car insurance

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Richmond Review

Quite a useful piece from the Review’s “Wheels” section, perhaps to offset the accompanying glowing reviews of the new Jaguar XK, Chevy Suburban, Cadillac SRX SUV and the 2008 (much larger, bigger engined) Dodge Caravan, with the useful thought that you could cut emissions if you could opt for PAYD.

Of course, opting for a more fuel efficient car in the first place would also help (he said, smugly, having just swapped his old Caravan for a Yaris) as ICBC has not really been willing to give this idea its due. Since it was they who commissioned Todd Litman to research this issue in the first place, he might perhaps feel a little under appreciated. Which may account for his organizing a letter-writing campaign to pressure ICBC brass and MLAs.

In fact you might do no better than read his new research paper on the topic.

I think it is an excellent idea since it seems to me that the risk is clearly greater the more kilometres the vehicle is driven. Perhaps the way to do it is to have a flat fee to cover risks like theft (which may go up if a vehicle is left idle longer) and a rate which varies depending on the vehicle size/cost and the driver’s rating. Or how about a rebate: you pay the standard rate up front, but get some money back if you do less than the specified kms? Though my personal preference would be something that leaves more money in the drivers pocket and gives him an incentive to drive less (and I do think it is the hims we need to get to!).

Written by Stephen Rees

September 21, 2007 at 1:30 pm