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

Archive for January 24th, 2008

Hide your money before the TransLink Gang turns you into roadkill

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Fazil Mihlar,
Vancouver Sun
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2008

This is actually yet another reaction to the Premier’s transit announcement. Fazil Mihlar only sees it as yet another “cash grab”. And blames it on Translink, which I think is a bit rich as it was made very clear to me last night that this is a provincial initiative – the Ministry of Highways is being made to realise that it is, in fact, the Ministry of Transportation.

So “Yes” to buses and SkyTrains, but not if it means not having enough money to pay the mortgage, buy the kids a pair of shoes, save for their education, pay car insurance or replace a worn-out furnace.

So obviously even if there are lots more buses and skytrains, no-one will actually think twice about how much it costs to insure a car. It is clearly as essential to living in this region as shoeing the off spring. Of course, the fact that many Canadians have given up on the idea of having children, and many Vancouver residents – and others – are discovering that there are real alternatives to owning or leasing a vehicle has not occurred to the Sun editorial board’s graduate of the Fraser Institute.

Most people are sophisticated enough to realize that if we want better public services, we must be willing to pay for them. What we are not willing to pay for are boondoggles and lousy investment decisions. Ask most people if they think we should upgrade our schools to make them earthquake proof, or run more frequent bus services or cut waiting lists for surgeries and they will say “yes”. Of course they are not happy to pay for that, but then that is because they are also paying for the mistakes of the past (the fast ferries, the Millennium Line, residential schools, Mirabel airport) all of which still show up on government balance sheets, as well as the mistakes of the present (widening the Sea to Sky, the Gateway, the Convention Centre extension) . And actually it doesn’t matter which particular level of government has this debt – it’s servicing all comes out of the one pocket. Ours. And most of us were ignored and kept well away from the decision making that resulted in these mistakes – and I am only listing those that are top of my mind – not lacking for shortage of examples.

This is why I advocate tax shifting – but also much better decision making and more public input. Sadly, Fazil and his ilk are part of movement to ensure that there is less democracy, less accountability and a reduction in national sovereignty. Not that you can tell that from this piece, but look at his oeuvre and you can see a supporter of neoliberalism. And better transit does not fit into that mold at all.

This was also the argument that killed photo-radar. Not that it was a well run program, or could not have been made much more effective, but by reacting in knee jerk fashion to the “cash grab” argument, Gordon Campbell ensured that more British Columbian residents and visitors would die in high speed road crashes. Because the evidence is clear that well run photo radar programs reduce crash severities – and if they didn’t ICBC would not have promoted them.

It will be really sad if once again the same transit plans we wanted implemented twenty years ago are killed again by this anti-tax attitude.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 24, 2008 at 2:52 pm

Posted in Economics, transit

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Driven by mischief

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Judging by their ads, some companies now revel in taunting environmentalists. Leo Hickman reports in The Guardian,
Thursday January 24 2008

This a sort of secondary source since what he is writing about is actually a web site

The website, which “explores the psychology of climate change denial with observations and anecdotes about our weird and disturbed response to the problem”, has been inviting visitors to send in their best examples from around the world and, surprise, surprise, the motoring industry has been generous enough to dream up the majority of candidates for “Best in Show”.

This of course ranks right up there with the ads for cars that featured a bus with the destination sign “Wet Dog Smell” and the recent Ford offering “Drive it like you stole it” which is offending Canadians on the Prairies.

Car ads have never been about reality. Indeed I think a lot of road rage is underlain by the subconscious feeling of let down. ‘ I bought this thing and it cost me a fortune and it isn’t making me any happier. But of course that’s not my fault so I will blame it on that silly twerp in front of me who has left his left blinker for the last three kilometres.’ Cars were supposed to give us freedom but they brought us servitude. The lifestyle we bought into did not include being stuck in traffic. Or feeling dinged at the gas pump. Or sitting around in a seedy body shop waiting for the dings to be knocked out of the fenders. In one car ad the traffic actually magically disappears completely. In others the car becomes jet plane. We know this is nonsense but we get suckered in by it, then feel annoyed by being taken in so easily.

And the sense of entitlement and empowerment of driving a really fast car goes to the heads of the socially inadequate who have no conception that their thrill of wheel screeching acceleration and getting to the traffic light 2.5 seconds before that geek in the minivan is actually a real threat to the health and safety of all about them. But that doesn’t stop the company that sells basic family transport as “zoom zoom”. And they are owned by Ford too.

And of course you do know that Henry Ford was a nazi, don’t you?

Written by Stephen Rees

January 24, 2008 at 12:40 pm

Car dependence increasing

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More Canadians are relying on their cars as their exclusive means of transportation, owing to an increase in suburban construction far from the downtown cores, according to a Statistics Canada study released Tuesday.The study, which examined the travel habits of Canadians in one given day, found that 74 per cent of Canadian adults said they made all their trips — as either a driver or a passenger — by car in 2005. By comparison, 70 per cent of Canadians reported they travelled everywhere by car in 1998 while 68 per cent said the same in 1992.

A Statistics Canada report said that 74 per cent of Canadians over the age of 18 made all their trips exclusively by car in 2005.A Statistics Canada report said that 74 per cent of Canadians over the age of 18 made all their trips exclusively by car in 2005.

In the study, Statistics Canada analyst Martin Turcotte links the growing car culture to the development of new low-density communities built since 1991. Statistics Canada characterizes low-density communities as those in which two-thirds of the housing units are single, semi-detached and mobile homes.

“There are very clear links between living in a peripheral neighbourhood and depending on the automobile as the primary mode of transportation for day-to-day travel,” he said in the study, which culled data from the 2005 General Social Survey.

“The farther people live from the city centre, the more time they spend behind the wheel.”

read the rest of the story on CBC News

This is why I worry. Toronto and Montreal have larger, denser urban centres than our region, better transit and better commuter rail services. They are also larger in terms of population. We are bigger geographically, but thinner spread: there are pockets of density far apart, and a many to many trip pattern. All eminently predictable – and predicted – all supposedly tackled by our regional plan and growth strategy and largely ignored up until now. For as has been noted here many times, now we are at a crunch point. With a target to reduce CO2 emissions, rising oil prices and ditinctly iffy economic outlook now is the time to change direction.

It is not to late to cancel the Gateway. The province has a transit “plan” – actually a bunch of old plans but never mind that now – which with a bit of tweaking would produce a much better return on investment. So since we have the funds and we should not build the roads, we can get on with what we do need now. And do it quickly. We simply cannot afford the increase in car dependence that freeway expansion brings in its wake.

Also worth a look is the this column in the Globe & Mail on the same report. It is entitled “Transit in Canada. It’s a joke” by John Barber. And also an opinion piece on Tolls by Christopher Hume in the Toronto Star which is about Ontario but could be about here – or anywhere else in North America

Written by Stephen Rees

January 24, 2008 at 11:13 am

Last night’s meeting in Abbotsford

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It was late when I got back last night, so I went straight to bed.

The meeting was full and standing – although it didn’t have to be. People apparently prefer to stand at the back rather than sit at the front. John Van Dongen the Abbotsford-Clayburn MLA chose to open the meeting, but turned the podium over to Frank Blasetti, the ADM from the MoT, who went through the government’s announcement, but added very little to what we know, though it had some pretty pictures of Victoria style BCT double deckers behind New Jersey Barriers on exclusive bus lanes with their own freeway ramps. Missing of course was any new bus service from Surrey to Coquitlam and new to me was the “promise” that SkyTrain would be extended to Langley by 2030 or earlier if the construction continues from the presently indicated end of track on the Fraser Highway. Frequent bus service would reach Abbotsford by 2020. Also Mr Blasetti noted that the three transit sytems Translink, Mission/Abbotsford and Chiliwack do not tend to talk to each other. Their planning is not co-ordinated and they all are inward looking.

Mr van Dongen was very determined to point out, more than once, that anything that happened in the Fraser Valley would be determined by the local municipalities, and funding was dependent upon local contributions. This reflects the policy on SoCoBriTCA being expanded. I could not resist intervening at that point, since it is in stark contrast to the way municipalities inside Metro have been treated.

I got to follow his presentation: five minutes really is not enough for my style of informal, unprepared talk. I had too much to say of course, and spent far too long pointing out that they had not cancelled the freeway expansion, and that the consequential impacts on the area would be worse than SE2 in terms of air quality but worse would be the impact on land use. That lead me off to a diversion on the model and its inability to change land use in response to the freeway or deal with generated traffic, but my example of the Alex Fraser Bridge experience got a very warm response. By the time I got to the reason why rail is needed ahead of development I was out of time.

Nathan Pachal also had a very neat PowerPoint, but was stymied by technical issues. I am really glad I no longer am required to use it. I reproduce below the very useful table of the range of costs that have been quoted for various levels of rail service. This is taken from the VALTAC blog. What was news to me, and is very helpful indeed, is that the Province owns the track and SRY merely leases it for freight service. The Province retained the right to reintroduce passenger service at any time – and that includes the section used by CN and CP to run freight to the BCR Deltaport line. He also pointed out that the interurban had shaped growth when it operated and the areas around the former stations were still the most walkable urban parts of the valley. Nathan is another of these very young, very bright transit enthusiasts and he displayed great aplomb and wisdom for his age. With young people like him and Paul Hillsdon getting this involved in the system I am optimistic for the future.

Here are the costs, per kilometre, of various proposed or under construction rail transit projects in the Lower Mainland:

Interurban Line:
DRL Report: Deluxe Electric LRT: $27,000,000/km
UMA Report for Surrey: Community Rail: $6,000,000/km
FVHRS: Tourist: $325,000/km

SkyTrain(ish) Line:
Canada Line: $105,000,000/km
Evergreen Line: $127,000,000/km
UBC Line: $233,000,000/km

The average cost to build a light rail system in North America is about $35,000,000/km.

Dave Fields deferred to the “experts” (playing down his own considerable fount of knowledge and expertise) but offered his services saying to the audience that SPEC wishes to help the people of Abbotsford get what they want.

Jim Houlahan of CAW 111 did pretty much the same speech as he gave at the Unitarian Church, but it still impresses me that he is able to summarize all the earlier plans. His reaction to the government’s announcement was one of weary cynicism. “I have seen this play before”. He disgreed with my stance of rail preceeding development, saying that present needs come first since we are playing catch up, and are well behind were we should be.

John van Dongen scored a hit with his remark that there was far too much talk about Greater Vancouver – and not enough about the Valley. As one audience member noted, the Mayor of Chilliwack has made it very clear he wants nothing to do with SoCoBriTCA or Metro. In general, Abbotsford has had a very poor level of service from BC Transit, largely due to local resistance to increases in property tax to pay for it.

The questions were wide ranging, and tended to be statements and complaints about current conditions. I tried to pick up on my sense of the mood and stressed the need to do something for the area now and not wait until the freeway expansion (to Langley) is open. Given that the Province has the upper hand, it really would be far easier than I anticipated to get a demonstration project going. Indeed in 1986 a British Rail Class 142 railbus was brought over to run a service on the line in connection with Expo. (I would like a picture of that event!)

142010 Cardiff Central photo © Simon Edwards

I talked about how OC Transpo has Bombardier “Tament” dmus that they are using in a similar project (“O Train”). People wanted to know why the trolley wire could not be restrung between the existing power poles (the route is still used by BC Hydro as a transmission line) – and I said anything can be done for a price – how would you like to pay for it? For a demo, I think the easiest and quickest is best. I also pointed out that they are plenty of rail operators who would respond to a Request for Expressions of Interest.

I also learned that Surrey has committed $5m to a “heritage” service using former interurban cars – of which there are several now in running order – and a trailer with a generator using hythane as a way of appealing to the province’s promotion of hydrogen. All that is required is $250k from the province! However, the service would be more like the Vancouver Heritage Streetcar than a commuter or local transit route.

The audience was attentive and polite, and generally well informed. A couple of people made points about the importance of impressing developers with the long term commitment of rail investment as opposed to the ease with which buses can be moved elsewhere. Also noted was passengers willingness to walk twice as far to a rail rapid transit station as the average bus stop. There was also skepticism, about the government’s timetable but also the lack of capacity on the existing SkyTrain bridge. Here Dave was able to get in his point about how much track capacity exists – but the lack of rolling stock means that capacity remains unused. That crossing could move more people than the evil twin!

The meeting wound up on time, but they didn’t want to let us go. All the speakers had a line of people wanting to talk to them and we were very late leaving. I found myself talking to the President of the Abbotsford Ratepayers as we crossed the frosty – and now empty – parking lot. He is not only keen on rail for the SRY but a downtown, free, streetcar too.

My impression of Abbotsford has changed. As a former BC Transit planner I was overly influenced by the reactionary political stance of the council. There are many people in the Valley who are way ahead of their politicians in their understanding of the potential role for transit there.


Press coverage of the meeting – Abbotsford Mission Times

Abbotsford News
misquotes me – I actually said that the freeway would make SE2 lok like “a walk in the park” – which, come to think about it, does not make sense either

Written by Stephen Rees

January 24, 2008 at 8:20 am

Posted in Railway, transit

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