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

Archive for February 10th, 2008

The Impact of Twinning the Port Mann and Expanding Highway #1

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Most readers of this blog will know that the Livable Region Coalition came about because of concerns about the impact of highway expansion on this region. Specifically the proposal to both twin the Port Mann Bridge and expand the freeway from the Vancouver boundary out to Langley. There is currently an Environmental Assessment under way, which should try to address these issues. And because it is required to be an open process you can read all the documents. The proponent is the province, and the comments of others on the proponent’s assessment can also be read there.

Over the Christmas holiday, Environment Canada sent in its comments. The EA Office waited a month before putting them on its web page. This may well explain the extraordinary rush to get out the allegedly “new improved” transit plan. For the document from Environment Canada (and also one from Health Canada) is quite extraordinary. While written in the careful language of bureaucrats, it is a damning indictment of how the province has fudged, falsified and failed to produce an assessment that anyone can trust.

Of course, in BC, former Minister for Deregulation (Kevin Falcon) made sure some years ago that EA processes would be so useless that they would not be able to delay, let alone stop, a favourite government project. Even so, the LRC and others have been pointing out the obvious failings of the work done by the Ministry of Transportation to justify the project, in the hopes that something might change. And now we have an endorsement from the Federal Government.

I strongly recommend that you download both documents and read them carefully. I would not want anyone to think that by selectively quoting them here I am trying to distort the message. I leave that sort of thing up to the Gateway Program, who have been aware of these failings – I think long before the feds put them on paper – but have chosen spin instead of an effective response.

Let’s start with Health Canada – emphasis has been added

the assessment generally focuses less on the effects of the PMH1 project, and more on the anticipated improvements in air quality over the baseline case (2003), which would be due to improvements in the efficiency of fuel use by the vehicle fleet and reduced sulphur in the fuel and associated vehicle technology changes. These improvements are independent of the proposed project and will take place regardless of approval. While they may be a useful additional consideration, and while some information comparing build vs. no build is included in the application, the misdirected focus of this assessment is inappropriate and may be misleading to the general reader.

Gordon Campbell is on record as saying that the Gateway program will improve air quality. This is because he says that it will reduce congestion. But that would only be true if the total amount of traffic in the region in future years was the same in the “with project” and “do nothing” case. Of course, no one would or has seriously suggested that we do nothing at all – but that was the “base case” used in all the province’s modelling.

All indented quotes from here on are from the Environment Canada document with emphasis added

We believe that decision makers will require additional information to assess the full extent of potential air quality impacts associated with the project. Our key advice and concerns are as follows:

There is a significant level of uncertainty associated with traffic forecasting. The report does not adequately explain assumptions or the sensitivity of the model’s output to these assumptions. The traffic model potentially underestimates growth in traffic and resulting emissions and air quality effects due to induced traffic resulting from the Gateway program.

The report predicts exceedances of several relevant ambient air quality standards. Predicted ambient pollutant levels are higher in the 2021 “with Port Mann / Highway 1 (PMH1)” scenario compared to the 2021 “without PMH1” scenario. We therefore advise that the project as described is predicted to contribute to some deterioration of air quality and an increase in GHG emissions in the study area over the baseline.

Don’t forget that this is the same government that is trying to portray itself as “green”. It is also the government that was proud of its achievement of using the EA process in Whatcom County, Washington to stop a power station at Sumas – because of its impact on air quality in the Fraser Valley. We do not have accurate information on the deterioration that will be caused by PM2H1 but I would not be at all surprised if the impact was not equal to or greater than SE2.

The Proponent states that none of the functionally different methods analyzed are able to meet all of the objectives of the project. However, the Proponent has not analyzed the potential for a combination of functionally different methods to meet the needs identified. A combination of alternative measures of approximately equal budget to PMH1 will allow a meaningful comparison.

Further, the relative environmental impacts of the various options available to meet the needs of the project have not been estimated. Although the Proponent is not obligated to select the option of carrying out the project with the least environmental impacts, it would be useful to review agencies if the relative environmental impacts of the various options were described.

The LRC has been saying that options are available now that would relieve some of the congestion on the Port Mann. One, a bus service, was actually planned for implementation by Translink. But that does not matter to the province, for in all their work they assumed that if the Gateway did not go ahead, nothing else would happen. Which, given the time period we are talking about is unrealistic – even if we kept on re-electing the BC Liberals until 2021.

Note also that EC recognizes that they cannot stop the project – no matter how badly the assessment has been biased or how poor the proposed mitigation measures will be.

Reductions in vehicle emissions and predicted improvements in localized ambient air quality impacts from 2003 to 2021 are expected to occur completely independent of the project. The project as proposed would reverse a portion of the improvements in air quality that will eventually be achieved through these investments. We suggest that additional mitigation and / or offsets are required to avoid such backsliding.

we advise that the project as described is predicted to contribute to some deterioration of air quality and an increase in GHG emissions in the study area over the baseline scenario. We recommend additional mitigation of emissions or impacts are necessary for pollutants including diesel PM; PM2.5; road dust; NOx; and GHGs.

Although the language is careful, what has got up EC’s nose is that they have been working hard at producing new regulations nationally to get cleaner vehicles and fuels, and that the benefits of those are what produces the expected improvement the province has tried to claim for its much bigger highway. There is not much point coming up with cleaner cars if there are so many more trips – which, of course, will also be longer – that the overall air quality gets worse. “Backsliding” is not a word that a bureaucrat uses casually.

A review of the sizeable scientific literature suggests that new highway capacity generally encourages more vehicle kilometres travelled, influences land-use planning, enables car-dependent lifestyles and decisions, and induces traffic for vehicle trips that would otherwise not occur. These factors can contribute a significant volume of traffic beyond business-as-usual growth projections.

For example, Noland (1999) found that “Increased capacity clearly increases vehicle miles of travel beyond any short run congestion relief that may be obtained… While other factors, such as population growth, also drive increases in VMT, capacity additions account for about one quarter of this growth.”3

The 2005 technical report Planning and Traffic prepared by Delcan for the Gateway Program cites several studies and reports. For example, Boarnet (2002) found that induced travel is a true phenomenon, and that increases in highway capacity can facilitate changes in urban development that are associated with longer trips and thus more vehicle-miles travelled.4

It appears as though the modeling of future traffic in the “with PMH1” scenario did not incorporate the effects of induced or generated traffic. For example, on p. 9-5 it states that future regional air emissions are based on the GVRD emissions inventory forecast for the Lower Fraser Valley, which incorporated projected changes in population, land use, and industrial activity along with changes in emission rates or controls. The report then states that the traffic emission estimates were replaced with more recent estimates based on the effect of the Gateway projects. We note that the 2000 GVRD emission inventory forecast did not incorporate Gateway projects. The location of population growth, transportation demand, and land use planning assumptions that GVRD used may be significantly altered by the PMH1 project.

For me this is the heart of the matter. Kevin Falcon has been saying that the growth will occur anyway. That the freeway will not change the future land use. We know that is not true. And so does he. For he has said exactly the opposite to the realtors of the Fraser Valley at his breakfast meetings – where he invited them to “get on board” the freeway expansion for it offers opportunities for making lots of money. For Kevin should know, being a former realtor himself, and having had such success with the Sea to Sky Highway project in opening up new development opportunities.

And we also know that induced or generated traffic has always followed the opening of new and expanded freeways. This is not new or surprising information. Indeed I can recall this being one of the reasons cited for the abandonment of London’s proposed “motorway box” back when I was still learning how to run a four step model, and being surprised at how crude and unrealistic it was then. And still is now, as the emme/2 model used to forecast this project simply ignores induced travel and assumes the same land use in both future scenarios. It is not that the proponents did not know about these effects – they have been well understood for many years – they simply chose to ignore them. In fact, in most project assessments for public transport it is usual to find ways to enhance model results – which is one reason why the Millennium Line has not yet achieved the demand usage forecast for it. So it is not surprising that with a freeway expansion designed to blow a hole through the Livable Region Strategic Plan, the province went out of its way to make sure it got the sort of results that would allow it to paint itself green, and deliberately chose a methodology that would minimize the traffic forecasts. After all, while most people like the idea of a quicker trip down the freeway, no one wants more traffic in their neighbourhood. And in the short term this is about getting votes: making money from property development takes a little longer.

Environment Canada agrees that tolling may offer a disincentive for single-occupant automobile users and possibly reducing the future GHG and CAC emissions associated with the project.

We would like a description of the assumptions and traffic modeling inputs for various TDM measures such as tolling and HOV lane allocation, along with the sensitivity of these assumptions on predicted future VkmT and emissions. We are particularly interested in whether the Proponent considered allocating all of the additional lanes from the PMH1 project to a combination of HOV / freight / transit, and what the predicted effects would be on VkmT, CAC and GHG emissions.

EC missed an important point here. The tolls only apply to the bridge. They do not apply where the growth of traffic will be greatest – short trips along the freeway on either side of the bridge, where there will be no tolls, because the government says it will not consider them. And as I have argued elsewhere, there is not enough freight transport across the bridge (8% of vehicles in the am peak hour) to make exclusive lanes worth considering in an expanded scenario. And the province refuses to look at a bus only queue jumper lane one the Surrey approach to PM now!

Environment Canada recognizes that the Proponent has proposed several measures to reduce the environmental impacts of the project, including a mitigation of air impacts during construction; allocating a portion of the new highway capacity to HOVs; a cycling plan along with financial commitments; enabling transit service across the bridge; etc. The Proponent should be commended for demonstrating leadership in this area.

However, despite these proposed measures, the Proponent is predicting an increase in emissions of GHGs and CACs, contributing to some deterioration in air quality over the future baseline. Further, from the information provided in the Application, there is significant uncertainty surrounding the predicted future traffic, emissions, and resulting air quality. If the growth in traffic and related congestion exceeds the modeled forecasts, the resulting emissions and air quality impacts could be much greater.

Environment Canada therefore believes that additional mitigation measures are necessary to ensure that the project will conform to the Canada-wide Standards for PM and Ozone, and will not result in unacceptable increases in GHG and CAC emissions.

Did you notice that? Campbell and Falcon have both been saying that it makes things better when their own studies show a deterioration. Spin is one thing. Telling porkies is another.



Written by Stephen Rees

February 10, 2008 at 4:01 pm

Blogging about blogging

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This post is not important for what it says so much as for what it does. I spend too much time at home at my computer. I need to get out more. And I also need to have more variety in how I blog, as I have a painful case of “blogger’s shoulder” – repetitive strain injury from mouse use.

Tai Chi

So this post is being created at the Library using a wi-fi hot spot and my new notebook. In future I am going to try live blogging. Maybe I should also learn tai chi too.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 10, 2008 at 1:32 pm

Posted in blog update

Burrard Bridge – Let’s Do It Now!

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Burrard Bridge Facing South

The West End Residents Association (WERA) is hosting a public forum on the Burrard Bridge on Thursday February 21, 7:00 to 9:00 pm, in the Fletcher Challenge Room at SFU, 515 West Hastings St.

At this time conditions are unsafe and uncomfortable for pedestrians, cyclists, public transit and other non-motorized users. Their growing numbers need to be managed and encouraged now for Vancouver to Eco-Densify and to mitigate impacts from Climate Change and Peak Oil. The best value option is to reallocate two existing traffic lanes, however Mayor Sam Sullivan has committed to widen the bridge to accommodate single occupancy vehicles. This project is expected to go to City Council for approval to proceed in the next couple of months.

This forum will have a panel that includes:

· Bonnie Fenton: Chair, City of Vancouver Bicycle Advisory Committee
· Dr Larry Frank: UBC Bombardier Chair in Sustainable Transportation
· Donald Luxton: Hertage Vancouver
· David Rawsthorne: Project Manager, City of Vancouver Engineering
· TBA: Representative of Business Community

The forum will be moderated by Andrew Pask: Vancouver Public Space Network. It will be followed by a public question and answer period.

Further details of the widening project can be found by searching “Burrard Bridge” at or

Written by Stephen Rees

February 10, 2008 at 10:23 am