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

Archive for December 2007

Gateway should have been “newsmaker of the year’

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I am going to publish here a piece that Dave Fields wrote for the Vancouver Courier. It will be on the LRC website soon, but I thought it worthwhile to bring to your attention

Hi All- So Homelessness took the Courier’s Newsmaker of the Year. Carmen and I both submitted Gateway of course, below is my full submission from the web edition. I will add to it for a year end piece for the blog.

Happy Solstice!


If Vancouver is to be a flagship city for sustainability then we must
look at projects like Gateway through a carbon lens to evaluate them in
terms of our carbon budget, not just as P3’s. Priority should be given
to projects that meet or exceed green targets as well as meeting other
project goals, like moving people and goods for instance.
The premier has yet to reconcile Gateway with his legislated green
targets. It’s a kind of denial really. A double vision in conflict.
Choosing instead to hype the transit portion of the Evil Twin, which
will not reduce car traffic at all, according to Gateway Program
figures. A lot of marketed faith is being invested into the California
emissions standards but the numbers just don’t bear that out, according
to the Pembina Institute’s Mind the Gap report. A transit first approach
to transportation in our region will help correct the balance of our
network which sees single-occupancy vehicle rates as high as 90 per cent.
The premier should give thought to reconciling Gateway with his green
commitments over his Hawaiian holidays because it is through Gateway and
the Green Budget primarily that his new green cred will be tested.
Vancouver city council stands firmly against freeway expansion and is
now challenged to make good on transportation policy through the
so-called Eco-Density initiative. We must come to understand, however,
that what is bad for the region is also bad for Vancouver.
2007 has been a breakthrough year for the campaign for better transit,
not freeways. We have seen closer analysis of the greenhouse gas
emissions impacts from Gateway and SPEC, City of Burnaby and Metro
Vancouver all agree that the car centred project will increase road
source emissions by four per cent above a business-as-usual scenario. No
analysis has been done of the emissions from land use because the
province won’t recognize the fact that freeways cause sprawl. A
province-wide poll of 500 people found that 73 per cent support
prioritizing transit over building freeways to tackle climate change.
There must be similar results regionally because the NDP came out in
support of a transit first approach at the UBCM in September.
It is a heated topic everywhere, it seems like it is always being
discussed on talk radio and has even split newsrooms, evidenced by Pete
McMartin’s three articles in the Sun this fall. Letters fill local
papers and it has gained national attention as well. For what it is
worth, I have over 430 articles, letters and editorials collected over
the year.
New groups are sprouting up over the region and in Vancouver calling for
better transit like more rapid bus and rail instead of car heavy road
building. The Livable Region Coalition is becoming a source of news on
regional livability and green issues, its new blog, started less than a
year ago, is now getting over 35,000 hits a month. A Langley
businessman, Jim Leuba, teamed up with SPEC this year to run a $50 000
advertising campaign calling for transit first; through dozens of
outreach efforts over the year, thousands of people have gotten to know
the issue and the transit option.
Climate change and transportation are the two hottest issues in
Vancouver and they both come together in the Gateway Program-the
twinning of the Port Mann Bridge and freeway expansion. Green targets
have been legislated but not reconciled with the freeway building
megaproject and the port expansion. In no other project is so much at
stake. The debate between transit first and road building has been
taking place everywhere, even dividing newsrooms, while the popular
movement continues to grow. Vancouver faces pressure from the province
as it addresses future sustainability planning, putting Eco-Density and
freeway expansion at odds. This issue is red hot, look for things to
come to a boil in 2008 as the premier’s new green cred is put to the test.
-David Fields, SPEC

Written by Stephen Rees

December 22, 2007 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Gateway

“The worst travel day of the year”

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That is what they were calling it on CBC tv news tonight. Mostly about not taking wrapped presents though security at the airport – but there were also references to the roads and ferries. Well, I went over to Victoria on the 9 am and came back on the 1pm – no reservations. I had an easy trip both ways and neither ferry was anything like full.

The worst issues for me were the young women talking at the tops of their voices and all sounding exactly the same

“And so I’m like, ‘really” and he’s like ‘whatever’ and it was sooo …”

And then sitting outside the cafe trying to eat a brioche with my coffee and being assaulted by the noise from the Arcade shoot ’em up games.

But to brighten my day were lots of little kids, at least one of whom is now convinced he met Santa Claus on the ferry!

Written by Stephen Rees

December 21, 2007 at 7:38 pm

Posted in Transportation

Container port in Mission?

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This item is from Ron Coreau. He originally submitted it as a comment to “Free Ride” but I think it deserves its own space. Thanks Ron!

I thought I would pass this along because I think this news article is symbolic of planning in the Lower Mainland and really points to the need for a mechanism that supports regional planning. The Fraser Ports plan was discovered by a community group trying to monitor the Genstar plan to build a community for 40,000 people in the Silverdale region of Mission.


New information causes concern
By Carol Aun – Mission City Record – December 20, 2007

Council would not have forwarded an application to remove property in Silverdale from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) last month if it had the information it has now.
Councillors debated removing the properties located at 30302 and 30313 Cooper Ave. from the ALR at the Nov. 19 meeting, and voted 4-3 to forward the application to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), reasoning that the land floods every year during the spring freshet, and some say can’t be farmed.
“At the time, council was not made aware the federal authority might purchase the land and put a container port there, if it was out of the ALR,” said Councillor Jenny Stevens. “If we had that information, it would’ve affected our conversation.”
At the last council meeting Monday night, councillors received information from the Neighbourhood Plan Advisory Committee that Fraser Ports has made an offer on the property, subject to it being removed from the ALR.
Establishing a container port here would decrease truck traffic in Metro Vancouver, but would increase truck traffic in Mission.
“All the truck traffic would be on this side of the river,” said Stevens.
Since a procedure bylaw prevents council from reconsidering the motion for six months, council will send a letter to the ALC outlining its concern.
Council is also asking staff to prepare a report detailing the implications of municipal land purchased by a federal authority.
Stevens says she’s concerned municipal laws will be overruled, and she also requested a meeting with MP Randy Kamp to discuss the issue.
The Silverdale Neighbourhood Plan Advisory Committee discussed removing the subject land from the ALR at its last meeting Nov. 29, and opposed to the move.
According to the minutes of the meeting, having a container port in Silverdale would be “devastating for this project commercially, and for the land.”
The southwest urban reserve area residential development is under a lot of scrutiny, and the scrutiny should apply to the entire area as well in order to plan an “excellent community,” states the report.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 21, 2007 at 3:46 pm

Posted in port expansion

Tagged with , , ,

Free Ride?

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Translink P3355 Braid Stn New Westminster 2007 1220

If you produce a free paper to give away to transit riders, it is probably a good idea to have a big front page splash of a story that has “a member of the premier’s influential climate-action team ‘advocating for free public transit'”

Problem is that it is not much of a story. Naomi Devine is a student at UVic – and thinks that UPass should be available to everybody. There is no analysis of this idea, just Maurine Karagianis “having concerns”.

I think it would be worthwhile to look at how much Translink depends on fares – just look at their recent proposals to hike fares next year and every other year thereafter. And how short of cash for more transit they claim to be – despite sitting on a pile of it. And, of course, Kevin’s plan to deny any fuel tax increase that is not matched by fare increases and property tax increases.

That means if you give up fares you need to replace them with some other source of revenue. And while the feds and the province also are sitting on budget surpluses that does not mean they are even willing to consider a steady commitment to pay for transit operating costs.

But also we need to look at what else you could do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Certainly getting more people to use transit is probably going to be a better solution than many others – as APTA has found. But free fares don’t get many people out of cars. Better transit service, on the other hand, does. And if you took the view that we should get a big cash infusion for transit from senior governments, I think that at long last providing adequate transit service across the region would get you more new riders than eliminating fares – which would also cut your ability to run better services.

Hopefully this is the sort of analysis that will be done by, or for, the “climate action team”.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 20, 2007 at 4:09 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with ,

All aboard

with 9 comments

Richmond News

reporting on the unveiling of the Canada Line cars – covered here in more timely fashion.

Note that the new cars cost around $4m a pair.

I was very surprised this evening when my neighbour gave me this – an original Buzzer from1925 when new two car trains for Richmond cost $42,100. Yes they were cheaper (in today’s money about $0.5m) but then they needed a crew of two to operate them – the new ones are driverless. But the old ones  did have more seats.

I am probably violating copyright by doing this, but until someone stops me here is a scan of that document.



Written by Stephen Rees

December 19, 2007 at 6:41 pm

Posted in transit, Transportation

Even better than a hydrogen bus

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I stumbledupon this story

Tindo, a solar-powered electric bus, was introduced just last week in the city of Adelaide in Australia. The best part? It’s free to ride the supercute, supersolar Tindo.

Designed and manufactured by New Zealand-based Designline International, Tindo is charged by a photovoltaic system installed at the Adelaide Central Bus Station. It’s the largest grid-connected solar photovoltaic system in South Australia and charges the bus’s 11 batteries, which power the fully electric zero-emission engine. The bus has a range of 200 km between charges, more than enough to accomodate services within the city. It carries up to 42 passengers, a number that includes 25 seated passengers, 2 seats for disabled passengers, and 15 standing persons. And as for the name? Tindo is the Kaurna Aboriginal word for “sun.” Quite appropriate, we think.

By having a fully solar-powered bus, Adelaide has created something that other cities should follow. Here’s hoping that Tindo does not remain a one-off model, but becomes the future of mass transportation. And did we mention that it was free to ride?

“Tindo is at the cutting edge of sustainable solar energy technology – using the power of the sun to drive a commuter transport vehicle which operates with zero tailpipe emissions, and is also fully carbon neutral.” said Lord Mayor Michael Harbison.

+ Tindo Solar Bus @ Adelaide City Council

Written by Stephen Rees

December 18, 2007 at 5:02 pm

Posted in transit, Transportation

Hydrogen Dream Not Adding Up

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BC’s new buses aren’t ‘zero-emission solution’ as claimed.

By Andrew MacLeod Published: December 14, 2007

Hydrogen buses are devilishly expensive. Any new technology is going to cost a lot because the first vehicles adapted to use have a lot of components that are not mass produced. As anyone who has bought an armchair will testify, you get a much better price if you buy one from IKEA than if you get one custom made. And the only thing that you care about is, is it comfortable?

If you have to bring the hydrogen from Quebec by diesel trucks (why they can’t put it on a train is not explained) it no longer is the best bet in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions either

B.C. Transit did what are called “well-to-wheel” calculations, [B.C. Transit’s manager for the fuel cell project, Bruce] Rothwell says, looking at the total greenhouse gas emissions involved in getting either hydrogen buses or standard diesel buses on the road. The hydrogen buses do better.

To power a diesel bus, he says, generates the equivalent of 2,000 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. Using hydrogen, he says, even when it is shipped across the continent, emits 800 grams per kilometre. About 65 per cent of those emissions are from transporting the fuel.

“It’s a 60 per cent reduction from diesel,” he says.

That may be, says the David Suzuki Foundation’s climate change specialist, Ian Bruce, but there are better options. Hybrid diesel-electric buses for instance, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 40 per cent, according to Translink’s website, and they are much cheaper.

The Tyee appears to think that it may be something to do with Campbell wanting to demonstrate confidence in Ballard – the BC company that has been developing fuel cells but has recently backed out of the automotive market.

That may be true, but I think a more simple explanation is pure pig headedness. Campbell has bought into ghg reduction in a big way but really does not seem to capable of understanding simple arithmetic. You cannot reduce ghg if you insist on widening freeways – or bringing hydrogen here from Quebec. You can easily reduce ghg emissions and do it while saving money. Many techniques will pay for themselves really quickly now that oil is close to $100 a barrel. All you have to do is dig out all the old reports commissioned by previous governments. After all, that is what Stephen Harper is doing.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 17, 2007 at 6:09 pm

Posted in greenhouse gas reduction, transit

Tagged with

Translink Hijacked

with 2 comments

Regular readers will know that I was very much against the creation of SoCoBritCa, and I even cast aspersions on the new board before it was selected . That prompted a “pounce” from Ken Hardie – who thought I was not being fair. Since then I have reported on the views of Mayor Derek Corrigan, who, in his inimitable fashion, was much less retsrained than I was. And now in the Tyee, Rafe Mair has a go.

It is worth reading the whole thing but here is a clip to give you the flavour

Nine members of the business community all approved in advance by Premier Campbell to represent the needs of two million Vancouverites.

To hell with citizens

How do you feel about this TransLink if you live in a part of Metro Vancouver who doesn’t vote right?

These men and women with no mandate from taxpayers will decide how hundreds of millions of your taxes will be spent. When the argument is made that they were approved by the mayors, remember that the only discretion the mayors had was to pick nine names from Campbell’s list of 15 friends of his government.

We’ve seen it before

All of this, of course, fits into a well established mode of operation by the Campbell government. Let’s revisit a couple of projects where local mayors, councils and citizens have been shut out of the process — unless you consider being consulted after the deal is done due process.

There’s the expansion, upgrading and dramatic changing of the Sea-to-Sky highway.

There is no question that this is a dangerous highway but were it not for the 2010 Olympics, much could have been done to make it much safer by modest changes and much better policing.

What now will happen is a series of developments along the highway and considerable expansion of Squamish with the public only consulted after the decision was made. On the axiom “Build it and they will come,” it will not be long before the new four lane highway will be no better at handling the traffic than the present one.

Another obvious area which will be similarly impacted is the Municipality of Delta, one of the oldest, if not the oldest farming community in British Columbia. The South Fraser Perimeter Road will have a substantial impact on sensitive environmental areas and, as “progress” continues, more people will arrive and roads and other infrastructures will need more expanding and upgrading.

Cruel farce

Government environmental impact studies are a cruel farce. By the time the government orders them the deal has already been done. Consultations with the public are about as fair as “show trials” used to be behind the Iron Curtain.

What happens when Victoria wants to do something against the wishes of a local council?

The Campbell government does it anyway and to hell with letting citizens and their councils into the project before it’s a done deal. The politicians closest to you, your municipal councils, can do nothing because Victoria in the person of Gordon Campbell has stripped away its rights.

Now as I think you may recall I am currently reading Jane Jacobs’ “Dark Age Ahead” and she has some pertinent observations

Susidiarity is the principle that government works best – most responsibly and responsively – when it is closest to the people it serves and the need it addresses. Fiscal accountability is the principle that institutions collecting and disbursing taxes work most responsibly when they are transparent to those providing the money.

As I think I have made clear before, the old GVTA was somewhat lacking in responsiveness. People felt that it was remote from them. They also blamed the GVTA for decisions that were actually being taken in Victoria (the route and construction method of The Canada Line, the lack of an Evergreen Line and so on) . So I do not say that the GVTA could not have been improved. But it is also very clear that the new SoCoBritCA violates these two important principles in a far more significant way than the GVTA did. Jane Jacobs goes to describe what happened historically to cities which followed the two principles – they grew and were successful – and those that don’t – they decline. And the real ire of her Chapter “Dumbed Down Taxes” is directed at the position of Canadian municipalities that cannot succeed no matter what they do thanks to our adherence to “principles” that are said to be constitutional but really are just provincial politicians who are greedy for power and refuse to give up any control. Sound like a premier we know?

So on the one hand we have Gordon Campbell, Kevin Falcon and Ken Hardie.

And on the other we have Derek Corrigan, Rafe Mair and Jane Jacobs.

Who would you rather trust with the care of your wallet? Or your transit system?

Written by Stephen Rees

December 17, 2007 at 5:49 pm

104 years ago today

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Chuck Davis
Vancouver Sun

When Vancouver’s first streetcars went into service in 1890, the electricity required to run the system was generated by a little steam powerhouse on what is now Union Street (a block south of Georgia, east of Main.)

As the city and the service grew, more power was needed. So the B.C. Electric Railway Co. started looking for a spot near the city where hydroelectric power could be generated. They found it at what was then called Trout Lake (or Beautiful Lake), just east of Port Moody, and built a tunnel to carry water there from Coquitlam Lake. The difference in water levels between the two lakes — Coquitlam was nearly 10 metres higher — would provide the motive force to generate the power. An annual rainfall of about 3.7 metres didn’t hurt.

The BCER’s general manager, Johannes Buntzen, a Dane, supervised the construction of the system, the first hydroelectric powerhouse on the mainland, and it went into operation Dec. 17, 1903 — 104 years ago today.

Buntzen’s work didn’t end there: he went before Vancouver city council and urged them to attract new industry that could use this new source of power. He’s been called the “grandfather” of electricity here.

Everyone was so pleased with the results, they renamed the lake for Buntzen.

For more local history:

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

Written by Stephen Rees

December 17, 2007 at 1:26 pm

Posted in transit

Other voices

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In order to keep up to date with what is going on elsewhere I have set up alerts on Google News, and every day I get links to stories about transit, transport and transportation.

This morning the first two stories come from the United States. It is of course common here for us to feel superior to them, since we did not build a freeway through downtown Vancouver and therefore like showing off how well we have done since. Meanwhile, of course, most of the rest of the region was becoming like the rest of suburbia all over North America. We became “Zurich surrounded by Phoenix”.

Today’s lessons come from Sheboygan Wisconsin (the butt of a joke in “Some Like it Hot“, but I bet it does have a great music conservatory) which has now decided to get with the Complete Streets program.

The primary premise for the movement is that many of our transportation corridors are designed only for cars. A fitting analogy is: “you build a road like a shotgun barrel, people are going to travel like a bullet.” Situations as these not only decrease safety for motorists, but pedestrians and bicyclists as well.

We all know parts of our communities like this and we all know how unpleasant they are. Why do we continue to let it be done?

Can you imagine King George Highway getting this treatment? Or the Langley Bypass? Or even (whisper this bit quietly) Granville Street from Broadway to Marine Drive?

And the second lesson is from New Jersey (pronounced “Joisey”) which Connecticut wants to emulate

“You can’t build your way out of congestion.” It is a common refrain heard from transportation experts and urban planners nationwide. But what does it mean?

Basically, it means that widening roads, highways and bridges will do absolutely nothing to solve congestion problems in the long term. The newly widened infrastructure will fill with cars in only a few years’ time, and the exorbitant sums of taxpayer dollars spent on widening projects will be for naught.

Why then does the Connecticut Department of Transportation insist upon allocating the plurality of its funding to doing just this? Currently, the DOT spends 61 percent of its budget on highway expansion and road-building. Only 36 percent is dedicated to maintaining existing highways and bridges. This trend, at the very least, needs to be reversed.

The sad thing, of course, is that our current administration in BC either does not or cannot read. Or rather, prefers not to be reminded that we have made some progress in transportation and land use planning since the 1950s

But we are not alone. Tel Aviv is also struggling with the same mind set

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), chairman of the Knesset’s Social-Environmental lobby, criticized the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality harshly, saying that the conference carried an important message to the Israeli public that was only part of a “greater, worldwide realization, which would eventually reach even Tel Aviv.

“In the 21st century, parking isn’t part of the solution, but rather part of the problem,” Khenin declared.

“Environmentally, [cars] are a hazard,” he continued. “They are the cause of excess death from health problems. The more vehicles there are, the harder it is to get anywhere and the city is becoming more and more congested. Not everyone can own a vehicle, but everyone ends up paying for it,” he argued.

Khenin noted that Tel Aviv lagged behind the other large cities worldwide that were shifting to a paradigm that marginalized the private vehicle. “[Tel Aviv] doesn’t create or promote a comprehensive public transportation system. In fact, it’s obstructing the creation of such a system. The Finance Ministry has suggested turning Ibn Gvirol Street into a major public transportation artery [see box]. The mayor [Ron Huldai] halted it because he wants a subway tunnel there, but building such a tunnel will take time,” Khenin said. “So what does the city do in the meantime? It encourages the construction of giant parking lots… against recommendations.”

Sounds to me like they want to make the same mistake that we are making with the Canada Line. Build a subway, to keep the transit out of the way of the cars. All that achieves is continued car dominance of the surface. I am also torn by the parking question. I think if you want a walkable city centre you need to have very few, but common lots – and they will certainly need to be in structures as a result. This ends the need to drive from lot to lot when they are dispersed around a city centre designed for car traffic – like Richmond – rather than ones that have grown from walkable centres to transit based centres – like Victoria or New Westminster. But most of all of course you need easily accessible transit. And as soon as you force passengers to use stairs, escalators or elevators to get to the transit platform, you have added inconvenience and access time, limiting transit’s attractiveness for short trips. “Hop on a bus” worked very well for Central London – though it took them a while to appreciate that.

“In the city, everything is connected to everything else.” That is why you need to plan in a “joined up” way. It actually speaks against the current mind set that all we need are a few large projects – until they are finished, when we will need a few more. What is missing is a strategy. Or rather, a commitment to a strategy – as opposed to lip service to a mirage that depends on spin doctoring. Just like Bali will not actually deal with climate change effectively (even though it is better than Kyoto but not much) so our current efforts are just made to look good enough – but leave the business community content that their current comfort level is not disturbed too much.

We have known for a very long time that the slogan “What is good for General Motors is good for the USA” was quite wrong. Why, I wonder, do we think that what is good for the Board of Trade is good for BC?

Written by Stephen Rees

December 16, 2007 at 11:24 am