Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for January 29th, 2008

Wider Roads Touted as ‘Green’

with 3 comments

The Tyee

The other day I posted a satirical piece from the Onion. Not everyone got it.
Now this.

Tom Lehrer used to do satirical songs, but gave up satire when they gave the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger – the satirist said there there was no way he could top that.

I am at a loss for words. Although “chutzpah” comes to mind.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2008 at 3:34 pm

82% of Canadians would rather work than retire: poll

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CBC News

I am not surprised. The information comes from Royal Bank and is part of the spring RRSP campaign. What is important is that for most of us, work defines who we are. “I am an economist” sounds so much better to me than “I am retired”.

For me, this is my work. Blogging is only part of it. Once upon a time I used to be paid to try and implement the Livable Region Strategic Plan. Somehow that ceased to be the most important thing my employer was supposed to do. Not that anybody back then bothered to change the legislation – or even the rhetoric. When I came to BC I had not even heard of the LRSP. I remember looking at Transport 2021 and wondering where the new freeways were going to be. It took me quite a while to start to understand the concept of “liveability”. Indeed, I remember very clearly being invited to help organise a conference on “sustainable transportation”, and simply not being able to decode what to me was a meaningless catch phrase.

Trouble is, once I began to see what it was supposed be about I was struck by the dissonance between what we said we were doing and what we were actually doing. Which, truth be told, was not a whole hell of a lot really. Lack of available funding being a terrific all purpose explanation. But now there seems to be a lot of money on the table. $11bn for Gateway apparently. $14bn for transit (which turns out to be quite a bit less).  But still, not chump change.

So now we are at a turning point. And this self appointed job seems to me to be the most important thing I can do. It gives me a feeling of some worth. What do retired people do? Can you think of yourself sitting back and saying, “My work is done here”? I suppose if I had been working on turning out widgets I could have stepped away from that easily enough. But my work has always been about what kind of place I live in. Or what could be done to some other place to make it work better. And frankly, as a transportation economist, I killed a lot more projects than got built, because there are some really nutty ideas out there. And often there is a charismatic politician (or, worse, one who thinks [s]he is) promoting some scheme [s]he dreamt up in the bath. Sadly we have had more than one of those inflicted on us in recent years. And you would have thought by now that we would have become a tad more sceptical of mega projects in general and transportation mega projects in particular. But, as someone observed, the price of not understanding history is to repeat it. And every time you do that, the price goes up.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2008 at 3:08 pm

Posted in personal thoughts

Is caucus ready for a carbon tax?

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Keith Baldrey, Richmond News

The premier says the decision on a carbon tax is up to Carole Taylor. Baldrey doesn’t believe that. And to illustrate the point he gives some more inside information about the transit announcement.

The premier dressed it up as a climate change initiative, when in reality the transit improvements will have a marginal impact (1.6 per cent) on meeting the reduction targets he has set.

It was rather amusing to watch Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon try to explain the climate change element of a plan he obviously views as simply as a bus-and-road network, not a grand scheme of taking on global warming.

When the transit plan was presented to the caucus last month, the climate change aspect of it wasn’t even included to a substantive degree. But now that the premier has decided everything has to do with climate change, presto! The theme of the announcement was now different.

The point being of course that up to now we have not seen any cracks in caucus solidarity. No disunity in seven years is pretty impressive, and hopefully it cannot last. Fingers crossed.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2008 at 1:05 pm

Getting on the transit bandwagon by going carbon-neutral

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It is not often that I find something to cite from the Parksville Qualicum Beach News but today Tom Fletcher has these observations about travel here. {this turned up in other papers later}

a single-engine float plane is a more environmentally friendly way to get from Fantasy Island to Lotusland than a car, ferry, helicopter, commercial jet or twin-engine plane. Flying low not only gives a better view, it saves fuel. (Watching for orcas instead of exit signs: priceless.)

Which is nice to know. But my most recent trips to and from UVic were as much about baggage hauling as people moving. And in winter, float planes stop flying very early in the afternoon.

I am sure he is right about but there have been warnings that not all schemes are equal – or even honest.

Then he gets on SkyTrain – at Burrard Station

The thieves and drug dealers around the station look just as ghastly.

OK I will admit I do not often get a SkyTrain – but I have used that station and I am quite suprised at his characterisation of the people who hang around there. There might be the occasional bin diver looking for bottles – but this station seems to have a fairly frequent attendance by the transit cops. And I am not at all sure I can determine someone’s preferred modus operandi just by looking at them. I have never been offered drugs – anywhere. But the panhandlers seem to think I have a sign on my forehead that reads “Here’s a gullible mug”.

Back in Victoria, I drove out to the UVic campus to hear Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon defend the RapidBus option for Metro Victoria, seen as second-best by those with rail-envy.

Articulated buses with dedicated lanes will actually be faster than surface rail, and the level stations create a “rapid-transit feel,” he said. It also conditions people to transit, and allows urban density to build up to support rail.

Let’s not get into the argument about rapid bus vs rail. Let us deal instead with this “density build up” idea. It is twaddle. It does not happen. If you move into an area, and there is good transit easily available, you will probably use it if it goes where you want to go. If you live south of the Fraser where the entire transit system – apart from a short length of SkyTrain (and even that is not as good as it was) is lousy the probability of a convenient ride is very low. And a few rapid bus routes do not change that – especially if the high floor design means they cannot be taken off the special freeway lanes to get close to where people want to be. You just get the need to transfer to the existing bus system.

It is not “rail envy” that drives Rail for the Valley. It is frustration. The tracks are there. They belong to us – the people of BC. And they are not being used for much of their length except for an odd way freight. Passenger service could be started easily and cheaply very quickly by a determined government. Waiting for the new freeway lanes and the special one off buses to be built adds delay that is not necessary. Developers will start to build denser projects within walking distance of stations. The rail stations can appear in a year. The valley will have to wait until 2013 or later before anything happens with RapidBus.

The transit announcement was greenwash.

The Rapid Bus is just another way to justify a bigger freeway. In exactly the same way that the Gateway argument was used, it is also bogus.

If we do transit properly we do not need to widen the freeway or twin the bridge.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2008 at 12:14 pm


with one comment

George Monbiot covers the important issues. Up to now he has avoided dealing with those who claim that human population growth is as the heart of our problems.

to suggest, as many of my correspondents do, that population growth is largely responsible for the ecological crisis is to blame the poor for the excesses of the rich.

That is his conclusion. To find out how he gets there you should read the article.

It affects us in the same way it affects Britain. Immigration. And that means that the people who talk about population most tend to be against current levels of immigration. And because most of our immigrants come from poorer countries, where natural population is still increasing due to the birth rate exceeding the death rate, and better infant survival, this is not going to change any time soon.

Monbiot deals more with the issues of economic growth, since our politicians are still determined that western economies must continue to grow. We seem now to have abandoned any ideas about the redistribution of wealth, or rather we seem to accept that wealth needs to be transferred from the poor to the rich. This, it seems, is an essential part of the platform of those who argue in favour of greater incentives to wealth creation. Or as J K Galbraith said – social conservatives think the wealthy need more money and the poor less. Ever since the neoliberal revolution of the 1980s the myth of the rising tide raising all boats has persisted. The fact that the wealthy only spend extra money on self indulgence, luxury goods and foreign travel, whereas the poor tend to spend any increase to their money on essentials like food, shelter and healthcare (not many minimum wage jobs give you Blue Cross too) is usually ignored. And indeed for most people on low incomes, they have not benefited as much from the growth of the economy – except they are now more likely to have multiple low paid jobs, and see even less of their families as a result. And food banks here serve the needs of the low paid – due to shelter cost – not just the indigent.

Canada is still a phenomenally wealthy country and still has huge resources at its disposal. I think we have a more important role to play in the world than propping up the United States, which I think could be entering on a period of decline, since its recent policies are clearly unsustainable even in the very short term. I have always felt a bit uncomfortable around people like Maude Barlow, because I distrust nationalism. But I do begin to see that vassalhood to the US is not a great idea either. And our growth strategy for this region has to be seen as part of a broader national approach, which means I think we need to question the role in the world that the Conservatives are seeking for us. Personally I do not see propping up the current Afghan administration as being especially important.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2008 at 10:05 am