Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for February 4th, 2008

Between Hope and Politics

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Richmond Art Gallery until February 28

a new body of work by senior BC photographer Jim Breukelman. Many large scale prints are shown from a vast photo essay documenting the construction of the aborted fast ferries built in British Columbia for the BC Ferry Corporation. The detail, sense of space and compositional integrity of these pictures evoke the formal abstraction of modern painting and architectural design. This epic visual meditation on a mega-project, with its attendant expectations, achievements, pitfalls and controversy, speaks to global concerns (alongside the work of artists like Edward Butynsky or Andreas Gursky) while retaining a poignantly local perspective.

The selection shown has none of the people involved, for most did not want to be photographed. They are very high quality images, and many of the parts of the vessels shown are extraordinarily beautiful. Shining new aluminium in extravagant shapes.

My involvement with this project was glancing at best. Some at BC Gas (as it then was) thought they should run on CNG or maybe LNG. But I could not find anyone at BC Ferries, or Catamarans International or whatever they called it, who would even talk about the project. It only became apparent afterwards why. Many people must have realised that there was no case made for this spending: no transportation study, no demand forecast, no CBA, no business case. Just a bright idea in the mind of Glen Clark and a bunch of professionals who could not stand up to him. Bullying being his, and his henchmen’s, favoured method of ensuring progress. Not arguments or analysis, threats.

Fast ferries and working ferry SeaBus

My picture of the fastcats as they are now

It would be nice to think that the disaster of the fast ferries taught us something. That sometimes it is worth listening to the expensive hired help and actually let them do some real work, instead of preferring the spin doctors and pr flacks. Curiously the same “we can do anything” mindset seems to be a permanent fixture in Victoria. Exactly the same contempt for rigorous analysis and an open process that allow it to be subject to criticism, infected the Millennium Line, the Canada Line and now seems to be going full steam on the Evergreen Line and the PMH1 projects. (Not to mention the convention centre which is even worse than the fast cats in cost overruns and no real need established).

I would not make a special trip to Richmond for this show – it is very small. But it is a useful reminder – and the word you need to bear in mind is “hubris”.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 4, 2008 at 4:29 pm

Posted in Economics, ferries, Transportation

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Urban transit will need $40 billion in next five years for upkeep, expansion

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Canadian Press

Odd that this little item did not show up anywhere else this morning, but Shaw gave it second billing. It is the usual CUTA push for more federal funding – an ongoing campaign.

…about half that sum is covered by existing financing arrangements.

“The renewal portion – to keep transit systems operating in a state of good repair – is $11.8 billion of the total,” said association president Michael Roschlau. “The expansion needs – allowing transit to keep up with ridership demand and population growth – amounts to $28.3 billion over the next 5 years.”

But, he added, present financial programs cover only about $20 billion of the total.

Given that Montreal and Toronto are already heavily in to actual planning for their expansions, how much BC’s current effort gets them will be interesting to see. Getting votes in Central Canada matters: BC is much less significant from that point of view. Quebec is always a special case – and everyone hates Toronto. In terms of quality of planning, I would put Montreal on the top of my list if I were a federal minister. But somehow I do not think that additional government funds necessarily flow to those with the best made case.

I also think that keeping up with population growth  is simply Not Good Enough. We need to increase transit’s share of the urban travel market for all the reasons that you, as regular readers of this blog, will already be familiar with. $40bn is just the start! I also think that one of the things the feds could do with a program like this is have a lot of money available but make it’s use conditional on a well run, objective and apolitical regional planning process. Another country already does this. It is called the United States.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 4, 2008 at 11:43 am

Posted in politics, transit

UK’s first emissions zone begins

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BBC News

Now here is an idea I would like to see adopted here.

 The most heavily polluting lorries are facing charges of £200 per day to enter Greater London as Britain’s first low emission zone (LEZ) comes into force.

The £49m scheme uses cameras to check all lorries over 12-tonnes entering the zone against a database of vehicles certified as meeting EU exhaust limits.

The emissions zone is much bigger than the congestion charge zone. London lies in a basin with low hills to the north and south. So bad air tends to fill up the bowl, and despite clean air legislation introduced in the 1950s, the growth of internal combustion engine use has meant that air quality is getting worse. And since the industry and the port shut down and moved away, transport contributes half of of the air pollution.

Here our air quality is pretty good – on the whole. Off shore breezes ensure that most of our activity’s by-products blow up the valley, where the AQ is markedly worse. But along the routes used by heavy duty trucks (I love seeing that word “lorries” again, but I won’t use in deference to our location) diesel particulates do make the air dangerous to breathe. There is a very distinct bell curve that transects Knight Street for instance.

Missing from the Gateway strategy is any action to deal with pollution. We are expected to put up with a lot more shipping – and ships have the worst standards and little enforcement, and sit running their engines while at anchor – and a lot more trucks too. You cannot put a heavy truck through an AirCare station – in fact last time I looked the only equivalent test rig for heavy duty vehicles was in Ottawa. AirCare On Road is better than nothing, but seems very low profile to me.

BBC transport correspondent Tom Symonds says other UK towns and cities with pollution problems will be watching the implementation of the LEZ with interest.

I hope someone here does too.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 4, 2008 at 10:33 am

Posted in air pollution, Gateway