Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for October 22nd, 2007

City Business: Gordon Price

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Business in Vancouver:

Gordon posted this week’s article to the lrc listserve: it is worth reproducing in full. Well done Gord!

Liberals’ Gateway transit commitment too little, too late

Twenty buses in six years.

That was the extent of the commitment the premier made as part of the Gateway project for service south of the Fraser. When the twinned Port Mann Bridge opens around 2013, there will be an express bus service running across it.
If you were a planner south of the Fraser, would you now want to reorient your community transportation plan? If you were a developer, would you now cut back on the number of parking spaces? If you were a home buyer, would you change the location of where you buy so you wouldn’t need a second car? If you were a student, would expect to get around by U-Pass?

Will 20 buses in six years turn the valley away from car and truck dependence?

Obviously, no – not just that. But it could be a start.

In the meantime, for at least the next six years, most people in the valley south of the Fraser will reasonably expect to get around solely by car.
Given that the biggest promise of Gateway is improved vehicle mobility, the fastest growing part of Metro Vancouver will build itself out on that expectation.

The valley will be a northern version of southern California.

That’s the real consequence of Gateway: putting the pattern of car dependence in place.

For the next six years, we will design our built environment – our buildings, our streets, our subdivisions, our shopping centres – on the assumption that the car will be the No. 1 and only. A few places will be different: Surrey City Centre, uptown White Rock, Langley City. But most of the valley will be designed for the guys who drive big trucks.

Six years from now, however, our assumptions might be different. Mother Nature is already starting to punch back. The reality of climate change – not the theory – is changing our expectations about the future. Add in peak oil, the geopolitics of energy competition, unexpected financial fallout – and a fossil fuel-dependent transportation system, with no Plan B, doesn’t look to be as promising as its assumptions.

Even using current plans and projections, Gateway doesn’t pass the smell test, in part because it lowballs the carbon impact. The Sightline Institute in Seattle estimates that every one-mile stretch of lane added to a congested highway will increase climate-warming CO2 emissions by more than 100,000 tons over 50 years. Gateway rather deceptively focuses only on congestion-related emissions, resulting in an estimate that bears little relationship to reality.

But beyond that, Gateway’s model doesn’t take into account the changes induced by the project itself. And in the end, it’s not just about the road and the bridge; it’s about city building.

It’s hard to get an answer from Gateway supporters to this essential question: what place in North America would you like Metro Vancouver to be more like? Calgary? The 905 Belt of Toronto?

Is there any growing region that has solved the problem of increasing vehicle congestion by building more roads and bridges – and is that what we should be more like? Atlanta? Denver?

Examples given so far: none.

We’re going to need a few alternatives, and soon. Change is coming at us, and fast. If we stay on the present course, we’re going to be increasingly vulnerable as things turn ugly.

The premier, showing the leadership that continues to outflank his critics, has called for us to shape a different reality: 33% fewer greenhouse emissions by 2020. Twenty buses, I assume, are a downpayment to start us moving in that direction, but it’s a very small downpayment and a very long time in coming. There’s no reason why the queue jumpers couldn’t be built now. The problem for bus service is not the bridge; it’s the roads leading to it.

The premier still has to define a much larger strategic direction for Gateway, as he did for the region when he was chairman of the GVRD – a vision expressed in land use, in city building, in a valley that is less vehicle-dependent, not more.
So much remains to be done – transit plans completed, land-use plans revised, serious resources committed – if planners, developers, home buyers and students are going to reach a different set of conclusions than the ones they’re getting so far from Gateway.

Gordon Price is the director of Simon Fraser University’s city program and a former Vancouver city councillor. His column appears monthly.Gordon Price

Written by Stephen Rees

October 22, 2007 at 7:28 pm

Electric Cars

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Lengthy, thorough and highly positive piece on electric vehicles. Basically it takes the line that you either have to build your own car conversion or buy an electric bike. Which must make some local manufacturers a bit miffed.

UPDATE October 25

Watching the CBC News this evening, I learned that the real problem is with Transport Canada who have refused to allow IT or Zenn low speed vehciles on the roads in Canada. IT have given up and will close the Annacis Island manufacturing plant and go off shore, Zenn in Quebec (approved in the US undert the same rules that Canada adopted years ago) is on the point of giving up on Canada. And, of course, I cannot find this story on the CBC web page

But the best bit for my money is the article’s debunking of the nonsense of the “hydrogen highway” that the Province and Arnie are pushing

Unlike fossil fuels, hydrogen is not an energy source. The gas is bound up chemically with other compounds such as oil, gas and water. It needs to be separated from those compounds, which requires more energy than hydrogen provides. Hydrogen is a net energy loser, and the amount of hydrogen needed to power automobiles in North America would be staggering.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 22, 2007 at 4:04 pm

Tsawwassen Treaty and development

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Miro Cernetig, Vancouver Sun

Published: Monday, October 22, 2007

Miro thinks that the requirements of the Treaty (that they must create an Official Community Plan) and that they will continue to live on their lands is enough to ensure that development will be, in Kim Baird’s words “done right”.


He goes on

But there’s no carte blanche here for the Tsawwassen First Nation. After that plan is put into effect, something unprecedented happens: The Tsawwassen First Nation will become a full member of Metro Vancouver — a first — and be one of three dozen voices shaping the region. From that point forward, it will be required to show how its land development fits into the broader region plans for all of Metro Vancouver, a first for any first nation.

Which is laughable in its naiveté. Richmond and Surrey have both been developed in ways that are almost entirely contrary to the spirit if not the letter of the LRSP (the region’s growth strategy). Richmond’s population growth, and its determination to spread out industrial/commercial development all over the island really do not conform. Neither did former Mayor Doug McCallum’s determination to produce auto oriented development along all of Surrey’s major arteries and the provincial highways. I think he was made Chair of Translink in the hopes that it would get him back on-side: if that was so, it didn’t work.

Metro has no real power over the municipalities – basically because of the workings of the old pal’s act. One Mayor is not going to start rounding up his fellows against the adjacent municipality, in case it prompts retaliatory action. They will bend over backwards to be collegial and accommodating – since there aren’t any real powers that can be invoked, except perhaps the weight of public conviction. The LRSP did not want office parks or highway oriented retail or dispersed employment. Yet that is what we have got. I would think the Tsawwassen will be able to do pretty much what they want, especially if anyone who murmurs any kind of dissent based on say environmental quality or greenhouse gas emissions will simply be labelled as a troglodyte opposed to First Nations having what the rest of us have.

And when you drive to Victoria along Highway 17, what do you see that you do not see on other Highways?

Written by Stephen Rees

October 22, 2007 at 3:44 pm