Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for January 25th, 2008

Protesters intend to turn up heat on Stelmach

with 2 comments

Globe and Mail

“I’ve never been at a rally supporting Gordon Campbell before,” organizer Christopher Hatch of Environmental Defence acknowledged yesterday. Traditionally, Mr. Campbell and his Liberal government have been at odds with environmentalists.

“But Gordon Campbell is taking a leadership role on climate change and it feels great,” Mr. Hatch said. “His government has done a complete 180 – we hope to see other governments do the same thing.”

I am now going to reveal a distinct split in the BC environmental movement. I am going to discuss, in the open, a disagreement. I do not accept that the government has done a “complete 180”. I think Campbell is feeling that he is a bit out on a limb and I am more inclined to chop it off than cheer. Stelmach is a dinosaur. So what else would you expect? And actually some parts of Alberta have actually not been as slow getting off the starting blocks as their backward provincial government. But let’s put that aside for the moment.

We know that the Gateway is not necessary. We know that its Environmental Assessment was a sham. And soon, so will the poor old Nooksack Dace. We also know that it will dramatically increase greenhouse gas emissions – much faster than its stilted demand forecast would have you believe, and will generate a lot more car oriented suburban sprawl. And few pie crust promises for more buses will do little to change that.

So I for one will not be there cheering for Campbell. If he wishes to claim a leadership role on this issue, he can cancel the Gateway on the opening day. I do not know of any administration that thinks expanding freeways reduces emissions – of ghg or common air contaminants. No leader trying to demonstrate environmental leadership produces a shoddy EA and says that more freeway lanes will reduce idling. Or spends public funds needlessly to allow for property development on a unique habitat area. And I am ashamed that this province, which gave birth to Greenpeace, has been suckered in by this cheap huckster. What is worse is that this same individual actually authored the documents that I am sworn to defend. When he was Mayor of Vancouver and Chair of the GVRD he wrote many of the key papers that lead to the LRSP. Yet once in the Premier’s chair he forgot all about the Livable Region, and the need for the municipal level to control its own destiny.

I am still at odds with the Premier and his so-called Liberal government. I am not cheering. I do not pretend to speak for anyone else on this issue, and I may be a minority of one. But I am used to that.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 25, 2008 at 7:25 pm

Posted in Environment

“Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics”

with 21 comments

That quotation is from Benjamin Disraeli, a Victorian British Prime Minister

The Georgia Straight this week has a piece by Matt Burrows that includes this gem from BC Transport Minister Kevin Falcon. Responding to Eric Doherty’s remark that we don’t need a twinned Port Mann Bridge with all this promised transit he replied

But he also keeps ignoring the fact that this is the most important commercial-goods–movement corridor in the province of British Columbia.”

Falcon and Doherty have participated in a back-and-forth debate since the first announcement of Gateway in 2004. Doherty, a member of the Livable Region Coalition, is also completing a master’s degree in community and regional planning at UBC. Falcon sarcastically referred to Doherty as “one of my biggest supporters”.

“He always talks about transit, but he has never addressed the fact that you cannot put container trucks on top of buses,” Falcon added. “So it has got to be dealt with, and I guess he disagrees with me on that. We are just going to continue to have to have an honest discussion and an honest disagreement, but we are going forward with it [Gateway].”

It is significant that Mr Falcon is no longer talking about the port specifically. “commercial-goods–movement corridor” is an awkward mouthful – but nicely vague. Does that include the trains – or the tugs and barges? But note he does reference containers. And note too that Matt had to insert the word Gateway. Are you wondering why yet?

The assertion that the number of trucks on the Port Mann Bridge and on Highway #1 is somehow essential to the Port of Vancouver has been around for some time. And my esteemed colleague and transportation planner Stuart Ramsey at the City of Burnaby was called upon to write reports for Burnaby City Council on the Gateway. And he did some sums, so that this notion could be examined.

On the LRC web page we have copies of the Burnaby reports – and also one by Clive Rock, when he was with Translink, which identified the Port Mann bridge as the bridge with the most trucks – which is where we get the 8% of the vehicles figure. Yes 8% is higher than most other main routes in the region. But to my mind that would hardly justify exclusive truck lanes – or High Priority Vehicle Lanes as the Truckers prefer to call them. Certainly the City of Vancouver has not yet accepted the need for HPV lanes to either the port or the airport on any of its streets – and I expect there will be a few where the percentage is higher. By the way, Clive only looked at Westbound am peak period. Since the container trucks only start lining up at the Port to pick up containers around 8am, and they would then head eastbound if they were going over the Port Mann, this data is not actually very useful.

But now we come to the interesting question. And at one ITE meeting I did ask a Gateway Spokesperson what the percentage of these trucks on the Port Mann were destined to or from the port. She said she didn’t know but would get back to me. That was a couple of years ago and I am still waiting.

What Stuart did was look up the VPA Annual Report to find their statistics. And by the way this was before the Fraser River and North Fraser ports were rolled in – that started this year. It doesn’t affect our quest much since the Surrey Fraser Docks lost their containerised services, and the North Fraser is mainly raw logs in and wood chips out both “short sea” traffics. So from that we can determine that containers acount for around 17m of the 79m tonnes of cargo handled by the port. (When Stuart did his sums he had to use 2005 data, but the proportions are similar). By the way that’s 2.2 million TEU (twenty foot equivalent units) but note that is double counting – as the many of these boxes get emptied here and while some are reloaded a lot will be shipped back empty I think, although port boosters tell me I am wrong.

The stuff that is not in containers is known as bulk and break bulk cargo. Very nearly all of this moves by train. Now this is not in the report but comes from Jim Cox, Vice President, Infrastructure Development, Vancouver Port Authority, speaking on 2006 September 25 to the GVRD’s “Future of the Region Sustainability Dialogue”. When we look at containers, about 70% of the tonnage moves by train (same source) and the rest goes by truck.

In 1999 Translink conducted a survey of trucks in the Lower Mainland. An origin destination sample survey was conducted at two of the container terminals – Centerm and Deltaport. It found that nearly all of the trucks from these terminals were operating to and from places in Greater Vancouver. Of the 1498 trucks that were surveyed leaving Deltaport, only 20 were headed out of the region. And not all of them would go over the Port Mann but we will ignore that, as the figures are so small. It is of course quite possible that since then the percentage of traffic has changed, but it seems unlikely as diesel prices have been rising and all across North America the shortage of long distance truck drivers has been a serious problem. The railways are basically winning the long haul market.

What that means is that as far as the Port of Vancouver is concerned, the number of trucks headed over the Port Mann Bridge is so small as to be insignificant. Or as the City of Burnaby report puts it

The very name “Gateway Program” emphasizes the role of Vancouver as a gateway for the overseas movement of goods and people. The competitiveness of Vancouver as a “gateway” has often been given as a key reason for PMH1 and the other projects. However, very little long-distance freight travels by road. Of all the peak-hour
truck trips on our roads, only a small minority begin or end their trips outside the Lower Mainland. Trucking is primarily a means of local goods movement, with longer trips relying more on rail.

Now there is a wrinkle here that is not addressed, which is that much of the freight unloaded from these containers in the Metro region is not for use here. It is sorted and then loaded onto other containers and trailers destined for other parts of Canada – for companies such as Canadian Tire and The Bay. But even then, if it is travelling further than BC it will probably be loaded back onto a train – which is what happens at CP’s Pitt Meadows facility, for example. So not even much of that crosses the Port Mann on a truck.

Most of the trucks crossing the Port Mann bridge are engaged in local haulage. It is simply not a significant Pacific Gateway issue. It is probably very significant that you will never find any statistics about truck traffic in the arguments presented for the Gateway. Because the competitiveness of the Port of Vancouver is clearly unaffected by long distance trucking.

So we go back to Mr Falcon and ask him – what containers?

If you are going to spend all this money on transit (and, speaking for myself, I doubt it) why do you need to twin the Port Mann and expand the Freeway, when a rail transit line or even an exclusive bus lane can carry an order of magnitude more people than a lane of cars? And cars – and light trucks used as cars – account for 92% of the traffic across the bridge. Buy enough SkyTrain cars and you could have the equivalent capacity of more than the PMH1 project crossing the existing SkyTrain bridge. Which might leave a bit more room for those local truck trips you think are so important.

I would like to acknowledge the generous assistance of Stuart Ramsey in preparing this article, but I remain solely responsible for any comments or opinions expressed outside of direct quotations.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 25, 2008 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Transportation

The Budd Survey Results

with 2 comments

I have decide to close the survey. Here are the results


Since the way I have copied them from the web site does fit this page too well (just click the image to see it full size on a new page) there were 64 visits to the poll, but only 34 votes. Of those only 7 said ban him. The majority said ignore him or leave him alone. Here are the write in comments of those who did not want to pick one of the three suggestions


So by your votes he will not be banned. But I am not going to respond to him any more. I note that someone already has answered one of his inane questions.

I wish to make it clear that silence in this case does not signify consent. I do not think that Budd is the slightest bit interested in discussion – he just likes seeing how much disturbance he can create. I have decided that he is “vexatious to the spirit” (no prize for identifying the source of the quotation) so I will just let him blather, for now. I do not wish to spend my time moderating comments. But if things get out of hand, that does remain an option.

If someone knows who Audra and Michele are (see response #10)  perhaps you could clarify – is this ban or not?

Written by Stephen Rees

January 25, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Transportation

BC Transit gets a rough ride

with 8 comments

Victoria Times Colonist

I got a strong sense of deja vu as I read this news item. BC Transit wants to put bus lanes on Douglas Street in downtown Victoria. The shopkeepers are not happy. It is like a rerun of Richmond RapidBus (it became the more prosaic 98 B-line) all over again. “Say No to Granville Highway” had very little truth, but it had a huge impact.

As with the merchants of Cambie Street – and those on Broadway worried about the new tube – and no doubt people impacted by the other proposals – they have a valid point. What needs to happen is that we – or rather – the people responsible for implementing these projects – need to take this into account. If a highway impacts an endangered species – say a rare variety of dace – then mitigation measures are built to protect or replace its habitat. Well, that is what is supposed to happen anyway. With the Highway #1 expansion in Coquitlam, Kevin Falcon has just decided to ignore its existence. The dace is as doomed as the red legged frogs at Eagleridge Bluffs. But anyway, the process we have for the natural ecology is to try and protect it. What the system does not recognise is that there is an urban ecology as well. That a thriving community needs to be able to function, and that happens when there is extensive interaction within a small area. Density in and of itself is not enough. Services – economic activity – depend on accessibility and proximity.

And what I am talking about here is not just planning for buses, and using a fewer trees in tubs to make it look a bit less grim than most transit exchanges. But integrated planning that starts with understanding what is going on in your city in great detail. And just showing them some pictures and talking about U turns is not enough. You have to understand why they are worried if you are going to satisfy their needs. Part of this is accepting responsibility for your mistakes. Because we are human and our understanding is always partial, mistakes always happen. The trick is to learn from them and not make them disasters by pretending it’s not your fault. In the case of Cambie Street, compensation is long overdue. But the methodology adopted ensured that compensation was not allowed for. Instead of correcting that mistake, Jane Bird and Kevin Falcon made it much worse, by treating the rightly aggrieved business people with contempt. And thus making the job of future transit expansions even harder.

The worst sin of governments with secure majorities is arrogance. It led to the downfall of Glen Clark, and looks like it is going to lead to the downfall of Gordon Campbell. Because he cannot admit that his government has made and is making mistakes. And that is unforgivable.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 25, 2008 at 8:43 am