Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for December 2007

Year End Review

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The image above shows how this blog has grown over the year. Because WordPress uses GMT I have delayed copying as late as I can – so there may be one or two more views today. In fact the blog did break 9,000 views this month – but it doesn’t really matter. The growth has been pretty steady in recent months with a noticeable – and perfectly reasonable – dip over the holidays. I am glad that so many of you had better things to do – and no doubt will also have tonight. I have been trying to set up a meeting for tomorrow and nearly everywhere seems to be closed on New Year’s Day, so I suppose everyone is expected to be nursing wicked hangovers.

One or two subjects really seem to have hit a nerve. My championing of the Evergreen Line, for example, seems to be very controversial in the TriCities and has attracted over 2000 views. The other regular top of the list posts have been about the new high speed train services into St Pancras – there ‘s more than one post in that series and they all got more than a thousand views each.

Overall this blog has had 54,000 views since it started. And I want to say thank you once again to everyone, but especially the regulars and those who take the time to comment – which includes people who come here for an argument.

What I have noticed is that people who profess to have no interest in these issues are only too happy to talk about them. And a common theme that comes up again and again – especially with people who have lived here a while – is how we used to have a really good, rail based transit system with local trams and long distance interurbans. It was a shame, most people say, that we ripped them all out just before we realised we would need them again. But we still have many of the tracks in place. Our officials seem incapable of recognizing the opportunity they represent. We seem to keep on repeating the mistakes of the past.

So the New Year seems like a good time to wish that we will come to our senses, and stop repeating the same mistakes, and start some much needed renewal of our transit system. It is long overdue.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 31, 2007 at 1:14 pm

Posted in transit, Transportation

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Interview with Gordon Campbell

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Vancouver Sun

The editorial board plays pat-a-cake with the premier – no hardhitting questions and not much of substance in his answers.

He of course takes credit for the upswing in the economy. Even though it has very little to do provincial policies – and, of course, he will distance himself next year if the economy slides due to circumstances outside of his control.

I think the climate initiatives we’ve undertaken have really engaged the public, the public service and the community as a whole in a way that is pretty exciting and bodes very well for the future.

Actually most of us are still waiting to see you actually do something – so far the announcements have been administrivia and blatant PR “photo ops”. Not much of any substance so far, apart from determination to widen a freeway and refusal to acknowledge the long term impact that will have.

we set out a goal for ourselves in the 2005 election to have the best air and water quality bar none in British Columbia and we’ve carried on with that sort of a process

Really? You mean there are no longer any beehive burners in BC? That every community has access to safe water and does not feel threatened by your relaxation of control over logging companies in watersheds? And that cloudy stuff that was coming out of our pipes recently – is that the best we can expect?

the transit legislation we just passed is going to be critical in terms of helping us reduce our greenhouse gasses and emissions.

Incredibly there was no follow up to that assertion. And since what follows is all about self determination for First Nations, why can’t Greater Vancouver have a bit of self determination over its transportation system?

Finally, I think the Asia-Pacific remains a huge opportunity for Canada and for British Columbia. We’ll be maintaining the momentum behind that, not just this year with the opening of the Port of Prince Rupert . . . .

Interesting that he tails off there. Again, recall that he is talking to a Vancouver newspaper – and environment is supposedly high on this man’s agenda. Yet the interviewer does not raise the impact of the SFPR on Burns Bog, or the expansion of Deltaport on an area identified as critical habitat.

Unfortunately we are not in control of the international currency challenges . . . . I think the critical thing is we have have a softwood lumber agreement that works, I think, to our interests.

See what did I tell you? And I doubt that the residents of all those places in the interior that saw their mills close this year, and the loss of projects to use woodwaste for energy that died when those mills could not sell their primary outputs when the bottom dropped out of the US dimensional lumber market, will agree that is is working in our interests. The softwood lumber deal was the best that could be rescued from an aggressive, protectionist US that we showed we were not prepared to stand up for our rights. Just about every legal proceeding had found the US claims to be unfounded and its actions to be illegal – but we still lose our primary industry. And no Campbell does not carry that can alone – Mr Harper helps with that one.

And of course it is now four years since the raid on the leg and we still have not seen the case come to court. I would like to think that it will all blow up just in time for the election but I guess we will have to just wait and see.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 29, 2007 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Environment, politics

New Light Rail Line for San Diego

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Union Tribune

This is the sort of thing that I would like to see here. We have a lot of railway track in this region – most of it has plenty of spare capacity. Upgrading it is not cheap but is much cheaper than new build. This particular example came in at “$21 million a mile …the lowest-cost new-start project in the nation by far.” The train is a diesel multiple unit built by Siemens and called by them a “Desiro” – of which many examples are in use – and will be operated by Veolia : there is a bit more information on wikipedia

I tried to find a decent sized image of one of the new trains but it turns out that my own picture of one used in Ottawa is better than anything else available at present. I can envisage these running on Arbutus or the old BCER line in the valley

Otrain approaching Bayview 2006 0608

Written by Stephen Rees

December 29, 2007 at 9:41 am

Why cars are bad

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This should link to another WordPress blog on transit, which has some US figures comparing the cost of using a car and transit.

What makes this relevant to readers of this blog is that our media is currently full of stories about the transit fare increase here. And this aspect, of course, was not covered at all. ( Or perhaps was not covered by the sources I have checked so far.) Now the media types will of course point to pressure on space and time. Even though most media have been filling up on reviews of the year and even more agency clippings than usual, to cover for staff holidays and the subsequent news shortage. But there is also a sneaky suspicion that I have that local free newspapers utterly depend on adverts – and the CBC looks just like a commercial tv station with its frequent interruptions of every program for commercials. And a big slab of those come from companies that make or sell cars or the fuel for them or bits to keep them going. It is not often that these ads slag off transit (remember the “wet dog smell” bus sign in a GM ad published by the Straight last year?) but that does not stop the news side of the business picking up all the bad things it can associate with transit.

The worst bit of the story on the CBC last night was the dramatic improvement that Translink is now claiming for its approval rating. Apparently the comparison made by the Translink report was with the year of the bus strike.

I watched “Citizen Kane” again this week. Back at the end of the last century, many more people in major cities were dependent on transit, which was run by a private sector concern. So for a new young publisher, stories that targeted the “transit trust” were sure to sell more papers. Things don’t change that much.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 29, 2007 at 7:42 am

Posted in transit

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It’s enough to make you cry in your milk

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William Watson, Special to the Sun
Published: Thursday, December 27, 2007

William Watson teaches economics at McGill University. So you can probably expect this was special to more than one paper

It is the standard rant against subsidies for Canadian farmers. So far as I am aware, I have not seen many stories about people being stopped at the border and having cheese confiscated – though it would not surprise me at all to learn that if you declare it, they make you pay duty on it. (I did do a quick check on Google too and found little of relevance)

But of course what is missing from this story is the 100 mile diet angle. Fortunately, most Canadians live within 100 miles of the US border, so we could get cheap dairy products and still not break the carbon tax bank. But the real thing that would suffer would be quality. There are some very good Canadian cheeses that I am quite happy to pay a hefty premium for – Balderson being as essential to me as fair trade, shade grown, organic coffee beans. There is very little American cheese that I have eaten with pleasure – and most of it seems to be designed to be melted over something else – including tuna! Then there are cheese playthings – cheese that looks like silly putty and tastes very similar.

The real reason for all this nonsense is that as long as there are props for local businesses they do not have to try very hard to compete on quality. And that is why I will and do pay more for things that I consider are better than their cheaper competitors. Remember too when Japanese cars were first exported they were regarded as cheap and nasty. That changed very quickly indeed. Honda and Yamaha did not crush the UK motorcycle manufacturers by selling cheap bikes but better bikes. We now pay a premium as Japanese cars (Toyota, Honda and so on – even though they are often built on this side of the Pacific) are obviously better built, more economical to oeprate and last longer than the Detroit equivalents.

When free trade was first discussed in Canada in my hearing in the election at the end of 1988, I thought of the changes we had seen in Britain as a result of the EU. And despite all the frothing in the popular press, most of it was positive. But the deal Mulroney did was much, much worse than anything in my experience, and completely lacked all the safeguards that the Brits liked to chortle about when they went after Brussels bureaucrats. But a lot of it was driven by quite proper distaste of poor quality British products that the French and Germans did not want to flood their markets. British beer for example is made out of all sorts of things – not just the barley, hops, water and yeast permitted by German law. Their sausages actually had to have meat in them. Their chocolate had to have a minimum cocoa content and so on. Mrs Thatcher’s claim to scientific fame was to produce soft “ice cream” for Walls – which contained almost no dairy content. The French were quite properly appalled by what was sold as cheese in many British shops. However, they also inflicted their dreadful golden delicious apples on us.

Anyway, the point I am not making very well is that we do not have “free trade” within Canada – let alone within North America. And the fact that we still have border guards along the 49th parallel is proof that NAFTA means nothing. But before we start to move in that direction, we do need to think a bit more carefully about how to protect what we value – and that includes the “family farm” which is a Canadian icon, and has a lot more political power than concern for the cities where most of us live.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 27, 2007 at 4:34 pm

Posted in Economics, politics

Canada Line Construction: Stations on Sea Island

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Not much happening at the YVR terminal end, but progress at the central station opposite the Air Canada Hangar.


And out at Templeton – near the new long term parking lot what looks like a more substantial concrete structure is going up


Written by Stephen Rees

December 26, 2007 at 5:40 pm

Posted in Light Rail, transit, Transportation

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There goes the nieighbourhood

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An instructive map of the Lower Mainland showing what happens when the sea level rises

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December 24, 2007 at 8:50 am

Nanosolar Update

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Nanosolar Update – First Panels Now Shipping » Celsias

I blogged about this development when I first heard about it and thought I should keep you up to date.

UPDATE – Dec 30 more information now in The Guardian 


Written by Stephen Rees

December 23, 2007 at 3:41 pm

Posted in energy

Give the streets back to the people!

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This photo of Rambla de Canaletes in Barcelona, Spain is by Claire Pendrous and can be found on flickr. It is just what I need right now – on a cold dark, dank day of the Wister Solstice – the shortest day of the year. A bit of Catalonian sunshine – and a good lesson in how cities ought to be organized. Barcelona existed long before there were cars, and its streets are organised around human beings. Cars take second place. In North America most of our urban areas have been built as cars accelerated the process of urban sprawl. Most cities quickly dispensed with the streetcars and interurbans – and many people now recognize that was a mistake, and simply played into the hands of the automobile makers.

The wisdom of car free streets is now commonplace in Europe and has been picked up quickly in the rest of the world. The Chinese are now beginning to learn that having everyone own a car is not necessarily progress over everyone having a bicycle.

In most older cities there are places like Las Ramblas. London still has many streets that are turned into marketplaces every week – some every weekday, like “The Cut”(actually Lower Marsh but we never called it that) behind Waterloo Station where, one upon a time, I used to spend my lunchtimes listening to the spiel of the costers. This is what civilization looks like. You can find pedestrian streets and street markets in most cities of the world but not many in Canada or the US.

UPDATE – London had a car free day before Christmas

Written by Stephen Rees

December 23, 2007 at 3:03 pm

New TransLink under scrutiny

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Surrey Leader

Mostly Jeff Nagel is reporting Marvin Hunt’s concerns.

While the new board is one Hunt said will delight the business community, he said it doesn’t have enough people with transportation experience or environmental credentials – particularly as Victoria leans on TransLink to make a difference in the fight against climate change.

Actually that one is quite easy – spend money on transit and not roads. Unfortunately when the GVTA was created the province was busy downloading its roads – and some bridges in very poor condition – to the municipalities. And getting their hands on the gas tax to pay for road improvements was the main interest of the municipal politicians. This skewed the attention of the Board and the staff to road building, and left the operators like CMBC with much less direction. Honourable mention should go to the City of Vancouver: becuase its road network has been pretty well complete for a while, they were much more interested in getting Major Road funding shifted to issues like pedestrians and bicycles. The other cities’ engineers resisted.

SoCoBritCA will also have an in built pro-road bias. Firstly because they are business people which means that they will have much more knowledge around issues that the truckers and the Board of Trade will say merit attention. And secondly because they have always been too busy and too important to do anything like get on a bus or a bike to go to work. And they are certainly not going to defy Kevin Falcon. I doubt that any of them has ever thought of voting for anyone who does not represent the right wing, dominant view of the world and its economy. But that does not count as a conflict of interest.

Business sees all government as a way for them to make more money – either from government spending, or less business regulation. They certainly have no experience in the complexities of policy making – the kind of decision making that has to look far beyond the “bottom line”. The reason we have “authorities” and not companies doing this kind of work is that business decision making is, by comparison, very simple -how to make the most profit. Public policy is about how to satisfy the widest possible constituency while at the same time serving the best public interest in terms of sustainability or environmental stewardship or whatever the objectives are called.  And very often those issues conflict. At the same time the new Board will have to take some direction from a bunch of politicians who now have been relieved of all responsibility and just want something to get themselves re-elected. Like coverage in the local press.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 23, 2007 at 8:32 am