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

Archive for December 12th, 2007

A letter from Mr Falcon

with 2 comments

Below is the text of a form letter that the Minister of Transport is sending out to people who dare question the Gateway program. I am not going to waste my time arguing with him – but I will insert my responses into his text.

Gateway Program

Premier Gordon Campbell has asked me to respond on his behalf to your
recent correspondence regarding my ministry’s Gateway Program.

I understand you believe the improvements we have planned as part of the
program are unnecessary, but on that point, I must respectfully

The Gateway Program is part of a multi-faceted strategy to meet the
transportation needs of Greater Vancouver for both personal travel and
the movement of goods in a manner which is environmentally responsible
and will facilitate the Province achieving its greenhouse gas reduction

No it won’t. For a start the demand forecasts for traffic used by the Province deliberately ignore both induced traffic and the long term impact on land use. Falcon knows that the land use will change (compared to “do nothing”) because he went out to the real estate agents at a breakfast meeting in the Valley and told them exactly that. A realtor who was at that meeting was also at the “Dissent” meeting and relayed what Falcon had said. Moreover if the province was pursuing a better alternative – expanded transit for the valley – we would see transit oriented development rather than highway oriented development, and that would be more sustainable, less reliant on car use and also leave land for food production. Putting electric trains back on the interurban line would produce very little greenhouse gas from construction – unlike all the concrete used for highways.

The Gateway program is not at all multifaceted. It is a bunch of road expansions – one of which (SFPR) will irreparably damage Burns Bog – and the port expansion impacts a highly sensitive marine habitat. These proposals cannot by any stretch of the imagination be termed “environmentally responsible” and have already been criticized by Environment Canada for their lack of adequate mitigation.

The strategy encompasses investing in rapid transit services, as
manifest by our investment in the Canada Line and our commitments to the
Evergreen Line and to a new rapid bus service over the Port Mann Bridge.
The strategy also involves investing heavily in the development of
cycling facilities and in facilities to enhance railway access to our

The Canada Line and the Evergreen Line are NOT part of the Gateway. The Canada Line has been built down to a price not up to a standard and will be very expensive to retrofit when its inadequacies (short stations, lack of escalators, extensive single track sections) limit its ability to carry increasing traffic. The provincial government has still not announced its support for the Evergreen Line that was supposed to happen simultaneously with the Canada Line, and has prevaricated – asking for an utterly unnecessary “business case”. A few million for rapid bus in seven years time is simply not good enough compared to the billions currently being wasted on the Gateway.

The Gateway Program is an important part of our strategy. It will
extend the high occupancy vehicle lanes on Highway 1 in part to
accommodate the recently announced rapid bus service for the corridor.
The expansion of the Port Mann Bridge will allow transit service to be
reinstated over that crossing for the first time in 20 years.

Transit service could have been reinstated at any time. It wasn’t in order to direct ridership to the SkyTrain.

I’m very proud of our government’s recent announcement that we’re
committing $150 million to introduce rapid buses across the new Port
Mann Bridge. Once it’s in place, this service will allow people to
travel between communities like Langley and Burnaby in less than 25

But $150m is not much compared to the billions for the Gateway, and is several orders of magnitude below what the Mayors of the area have identified as necessary to bring their municipalities up to the average enjoyed by the region a whole. However, Mr Falcon is not going to release enough funds to let that happen and refuses to increase gas tax without matching increases in property tax and fares.

Some have wondered why bus service couldn’t be introduced without
expanding the bridge or widening the highway. I am aware that TransLink
has considered the possibility of queue-jumper lanes to try to
accomplish this goal. However, during ongoing discussions between
ministry and TransLink staff, we were advised that TransLink would not
be moving forward with their plans, as there was simply too much
congestion to make them feasible.

Sorry but that is simply not the case. The Livable Region Coalition has put forward a clearly argued case for a queue jumper that would be easy to install now. It has been on their web site for months. I rather suspect that people at Translink were told to pull back on a proposed service across the bridge which had been in their plans for this year.

All of the facilities contemplated under the Gateway Program are
intended to facilitate the movement of goods internationally and within
the region. In addition, we are committing $50 million through the
program to new cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, the biggest such
investment in our province’s history.

Hardly any of the goods moving through our port to the rest of North America, or exports of our raw materials, move by truck. The vast majority of the Port traffic moves by train. Hardly any trucks on the Port Mann Bridge have anything to do with Port traffic. The Gateway Program fails to address the biggest rail transportation issue in this region – the need to replace the New Westminster Swing Bridge. And again $50m for cycling and pedestrians is peanuts compared to the billions being thrown to drivers – and since the province has previously spent even less, much more is needed now to catch up.

As you’re probably aware, we’re also planning to toll the new Port Mann
Bridge. Doing so will accomplish a variety of objectives, such as
moderating traffic growth and greatly extending the useful life of the
bridge. Tolls will also encourage the use of public transit, high
occupancy vehicles and cycling over the crossing. I would also stress
the fact that tolls place more of an emphasis on a “user-pay” system
rather than burdening the tax payers.

Unfortunately the province’s purblind determination to stick to its outdated tolling strategy means that tolls are much less likely to reduce demand than could be achieved with congestion pricing. For one thing, just covering the cost of building the bridge will likely produce a lower rate of toll than one based on the willingness to pay of highway users. But until the P3 contract is awarded we will not know – and even then we may need FOIs to ferret out information that is likely to be shielded by “commercial confidentiality”. Certainly the experience of P3 toll road operators elsewhere is instructive, but given the current soothing noises the province is making to dull opposition from potential users, and the lack of a process to secure a region wide congestion pricing system I cannot say I share Mr Falcon’s confidence. And the bridge toll will not affect highway users who do not cross the Fraser.

The measures we’re taking as a part of the Gateway Program are the
result of extensive study and consultation, and we’ve worked hard to
ensure they’re right for this region. To that end, we’ve studied many
different alternatives, including extending rail service down the
Highway 1 corridor and out towards the Fraser Valley. However, our
findings indicate that such a service would not attract the ridership
needed to be sustainable at this time. That said, we still take the
option very seriously, and that’s why both the new Pitt River and Port
Mann bridges are being specifically designed to accommodate a light rail
line in the future.

But unfortunately all of the extensive study and consultation were deliberately designed to produce the conclusion that this is the right strategy. At no time were realistic alternatives seriously studied, because that might well have thrown doubt on the outcome. As with the Canada Line, the solution was chosen long before any of the studies were even started. Ask any of the academics who have looked at consultation processes and they will tell you that this has been one of the worst in recent history. In any event, in order to get transit oriented development built, the service has to be there. The trains may not be full in the early years, but they have to be provided for people to adapt their travel patterns to them.

As with all of our major projects, we’re working to ensure the Gateway
Program has as little impact on the environment as possible. That’s why
every Gateway project will undergo a thorough environmental review, and
issues like pollution, noise and the effects on vegetation and wildlife
will be addressed rigorously. The environmental applications,
accompanying studies and reports are available on the BC Environmental
Assessment Office web site at

Yes and we have read the review and we have published our findings. They show a complete absence of rigour: just take a quick look through what we found missing from the biosphere section. There is an identified endangered species which is not even mentioned in the Gateway report. Mitigation sites are proffered which turn out to be already in use as mitigation for earlier expansions. Our expert called it “etch a sketch planning” – shake the box and ignore what went before, then present what is already there as new and improved! Pollution and noise are underestimated since the demand forecasts on which they are based are completely wrong. Even Pete McMartin of the Sun saw through them and asked “how long before you have to double it again?”

The bottom line is that no one mode of transportation is going to solve
our traffic problems, which is why we’re initiating a balanced approach
to infrastructure development. By focusing on improvements to roads and
bridges that allow for better public transportation and make car pooling
and cycling easier and more efficient, the Gateway Program will provide
people with real transportation options. In doing so, we can encourage
a shift away from the single-occupant vehicle, decrease congestion and
vehicle emissions and develop a more sustainable and environmentally
friendly transportation system.

A balanced approach would not spend $2bn on roads and only $150m on transit! A balanced approach would try to redress the previous concentration on road spending. If you really want to encourage a shift away from the single occupant vehicle, then you will have to abandon highway building as a solution because we know there is nowhere where that solution has worked. Even Gordon Campbell said “We know we cannot build our way out of congestion” so why are you still trying?

You can be sure the ministry will continue this responsible approach to
transportation planning, so we can continue to enjoy a healthy economy,
a healthy environment and a high quality of life for many years to come.

Your ministry’s approach to transportation planning is the most irresponsible that I have ever seen in forty years of experience. Use of a four step model with no feedback loop, no land use changes and no induced traffic looked pretty bad back in the 1970s when I started in this business. Back then it took a computer the size of a house all night long to run a network with 50 traffic zones. We can now do bigger, more complex networks in minutes on a laptop. To continue with such an outdated approach now is worse than irresponsible, it is deliberately concealing the inevitable – and you are only fooling a very few of your own cheer leaders. The assumptions for future traffic levels in the region were based simply on population forecasts, and bear no relation to the size of the network. The total number of trips in the region is constrained to be the same in both scenarios – with and without freeway expansion. Anyone with any experience of new bridges and highway expansions knows that traffic expands to fill the space available. And since you are only going to toll the bridge and 80% of the trips south of the Fraser do not cross any bridge, there will be no control of traffic growth until it gets just as congested as it is today. And I think that will take months not years simply due to the current “suppressed demand” which your consultants made no attempt to estimate.

I hope this has helped to address your concerns. However, if you have
any further questions or concerns about this matter, you may wish to
visit my ministry’s web site at If you
can’t find the answers you’re looking for, Gateway Program staff would
be pleased to assist you. Write to them at 4710 Kingsway, Suite 2400,
Burnaby, British Columbia, V5H 4M2, telephone them at 604 775-0348 or
e-mail them at

No it has not addressed any concerns, because all you have done is recite the same list of “talking points” you have been using since the process started. Most of it is inaccurate – some of it downright mendacious.

Thank you for taking the time to write.

Best regards,

Kevin Falcon

Next time Minister, why don’t you actually read what has been submitted and think a bit more clearly before dictating this kind of twaddle. You are dealing with intelligent, experienced people, and you are not fooling us with this pr guff. Do not give us spin. Start some real process, where genuine enquiry replaces foregone conclusions. Start thinking about a world where we have passed peak oil, where we are desperately fighting to keep global warming below 2 degrees. Where the mantra of the Livable Region is actually taken seriously

Protect the Green Zone, Build Complete Communities in a Compact Urban Region and Increase Transportation Choice.

Widening a freeway – twinning the Port Mann Bridge – building the South Fraser Perimeter Road on Burns Bog – expanding Deltaport – none of those things achieves any of those objectives. In fact singly or together they will work very effectively to destroy the Livable Region and produce the wasteland of suburban sprawl that we have been trying to avoid since regional planning started here.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 12, 2007 at 7:31 pm


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I have added pdfs of the comments made by Barbara Pettit and Ned Jacobs at the Dissent meeting – just click on their names in the text.

I have made a correction to the commuter rail piece – Montreal does have electric trains on the Deux Montagnes commuter rail line

And Montreal also now has smart cards

Often I will just add a comment to the tail of a discussion or put an UPDATE at the end of a piece – but I wanted to draw attention to the pdf files. WordPress does not host files so the links point to files on my home page. Let me know if you find this method of dissemination useful – it sure saves a lot of cut, paste and reformat time!

Written by Stephen Rees

December 12, 2007 at 4:10 pm

Posted in Transportation

Tagged with ,

Auditor: GO Transit Not Ready For Future

with 3 comments

City News

Overcrowding. Unreliable timekeeping. Fare Evasion. Expansion not linked to demand but government spending. Oh dear, but what a familiar story.

One common thread is the role of the major railroads, who own and control most of the tracks that commuter rail runs on in three Canadian metropolises (Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal). These service providers did get together, and lobbied the federal government – the responsible body for national railway regulation – over the unfair contracts that they have had extorted from them by CN and CP. Legislation was introduced by the last Liberal government but died on the order paper and, so far as I am aware, has not been revived. Basically, freight railroads are utterly unconcerned about passenger travel and do the absolute minimum required. They also extort money from governments – especially for infrastructure upgrades – before allowing access to commuter rail to their tracks. The fact that governments usually gave them their right of ways and a lot of land to go with them is an irrelevant historical fact. As far as the railways are concerned, governments are simply another way to increase their revenues. The operational “window” that a train occupies is of course their revenue earning opportunity – and a track occupied by a GO Train cannot be used for a long line of freight cars. It is also the case that tracks optimized for freight transport are much less than ideal for passenger trains.

Canada needs to be concerned about commuter rail. There is not nearly enough choice for commuters in Canadian cities, and our use of cars is nearly as high as the US. One consequence, our greenhouse gas emissions per capita are high and rising. Moving things and people by train is one of the most efficient ways of turning units of energy into passenger or tonne kilometres, and hence should be on the list of things to invest in for the future. (Electrification of those trains would be even better as it would give us much wider options for future energy sources – currently all our freight trains and most commuter service (except the Deux Montagnes line in Montreal) is handled by diesel electrics. Good but Not Good Enough.)

However, while Boys Like Trains, they do not have quite the gee-whiz of other technologies which tend to grab the headlines and hence the attention of politicians – who have the attention span of a lightning strike. Like that other rail based technology – streetcars – it is tried and true, works well, but looks a bit old hat. Other countries – especially in Europe – have been investing heavily in railways and thus will be much better prepared for the future than we will. A competitive advantage for their cities which, you might have thought, would have caught the attention of our grasping neocons. But no, all they can see are subsidies. And the small subsidies to passenger rail get much more attention than the vast subsidies that prop up automobiles and their energy supply – because we are still stuck in the mind set that oil-and-gas plus automobile making are good for jobs and thus good for the economy. A very simplistic, and wildly misleading, cost benefit analysis.

This auditor is talking to the Ontario government, but Ottawa should be paying attention. But it isn’t.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 12, 2007 at 11:53 am

Last Translink Board Meeting

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This morning at 9am the final meeting of the GVTA Board took place at Richmond City Hall. I did consider going but frankly I have very little attachment to that organisation. It was at least under the control of locally elected representatives, and as George Puil learned, people did make the connection between what the Board members of the GVTA did and how it affecetd them. But it was not directly elected – and even the GVRD, who selected its members from amongst themselves, regarded GVTA as separate – and would have made it subservient if it could have.

We need to plan and manage transportation and land use in a coherent and mutually supportive manner at the regional level. We need a regional growth strategy that has some teeth. There must be some regional restraint on municipalities that sign on to the growth strategy, produce development plans of their own, but then allow suburban sprawl and highway oriented development of office parks and big box retailers. The Vancouver region is still far too tightly controlled by the province, leaving the most important urban area with inadequate services in order to placate smaller rural communities that have a disproportionate representation for their population in the legislature. Vancouver envy and resentment is holding back BC – and has done for many years.

It is sad and too late that the Mayors are at last finding that they had an effective voice. The rejection of the South of Fraser transit plan is the first time that I can recall that there has been such action. The new arrangements are not going to serve the region well. I do not think that they are intended to. Kevin Falcon is elected by and supported by a business community that makes its most of its money from selling houses and cars, and that is what he intends to facilitate. We cannot expect decent transit service from a lobby that wants to see more low density sub-divisions, more WalMarts and office parks. Organisations that simply do not understand why the region is growing – why it is so attractive – and therefore destroy its environment, its unique ecosystems, in pursuit of their greed. People who think that loading and unloading containers of cheap Chinese consumer goods is worthwhile employment, and somehow a key to an economic future. Who threaten the security of the place we live in – threatened by rising sea levels and severe weather events – by lying about their intentions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

I take no pleasure at all in the demise of the GVTA. It was an experiment that failed. And it failed some time ago. It showed that BC is still very immature politically. It is part of a wider issue, that governance of metropolitan areas in Canada does not recognise their crucial role in promoting economic and social well being. We are stuck with a nineteenth century perception of cities, outdated paradigms that did not work in the last century and are even more irrelevant now.

I would like to think that SoCoBiTCA will have an even shorter life. I think that is is imperative for our very survival that we deal more effectively with the challenge of global warming, the inevitable decline of finite natural resources and the need to invent a new way of measuring success that is more inclusive of our wants and needs than simply what we spend on consumer goods and services. Sustainability must replace planned obsolence. Ideas like renewable energy supplies, recycling and reuse of commodities, healthier places to live that promote community over commercial profit must replace what we currently do. The GVTA was not doing that – and neither was the GVRD, although it talked a good game, it could not and has not delivered. Metro (as it now calls itself) is by no means the Best we could do, but it is the least worst of what we have right now. A bit like democracy as a method of government. In fact, I do think that we ought really to have more faith in democracy, and have many more opportunities to vote. I am intensely suspicious of the motives of politicians who tell us that we do not want an election, or cannot be trusted with making decisions about the place we live in. And that we should leave it all to their hand picked “professionals”.

I come not praise the GVTA but to bury it. And to hope that we will be able to do much better next time. I also hope that time comes soon.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 12, 2007 at 10:18 am

Posted in regional government

Tagged with ,


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Drizzle, originally uploaded by driek.

I caught this image this morning on my contacts page on flickr. I thought that it would make the point that even in the rain – a useful reference point for Vancouver residents – shopping streets without cars (and other motorized traffic) still work to attract people.

Note also the classic Dutch bike – which of course you can also buy here at Jorg and Olif – they did not pay me to advertise but I know the guy who started it. He used to work with me.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 12, 2007 at 8:32 am

Posted in Transportation

US, Canada and Japan blocking Bali Climate Change talks

with 5 comments

I just signed an emergency petition trying to  save the crucial climate change talks in Bali, Indonesia right now by telling the US, Canada and Japan to stop blocking an agreemement. You can sign it here:

Almost all countries have agreed to cut rich country carbon emissions by 2020–which scientists say is crucial to stop catastrophic global warming, and will also help bring China and the developing world onboard. But with just 2 days left in the conference, the US and its close allies Canada and Japan have rejected any mention of such cuts.

We can’t let three governments hold the world hostage and block agreement on this desperate issue.

There’s still 2 days left to turn this around –  click below to sign the petition – it will be delivered direct to summit delegates, through stunts and in media advertisements, so our voices will actually be heard. But we need a lot of us, fast, to join in if we’re going to make a difference. Just click on the link to add your name:


Written by Stephen Rees

December 12, 2007 at 7:50 am