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

Archive for February 11th, 2008

The Monday Collection

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Quite a haul of transit stories today.

First up The Province has an op ed from Ian Bruce, a climate-change specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation. He has picked up on the idea that using the existing capacity on the SkyTrain bridge between Columbia and Scott Road could provide more people carrying ability than “20 lanes worth of traffic across the Fraser River”


SkyBridge, Patullo Bridge, New Westminster Rail Bridge 2004_0517

Over in Ontario, that province is looking a cutting back on its Environmental Assessment process to allow for faster implementation of its transit expansion projects. The Toronto Star has an approving column from Christopher Hume.

He says that transit is by definition good for the environment but

the subtext to the whole EA process had little to do with the environment and everything to do with politics. It can be manipulated to reach any conclusion, or prove any point. Mostly, though, it was a very effective way to delay, to stall indefinitely, to put off to the next decade what might cause political discomfort now.

Which is quite a contrast to the EA process we have here now. I would be a bit wary of going in our direction if I were them. But I do have to declare that I once worked on EAs in Ontario – one for the TTC. The “Rapid Transit Expansion Program” did not build much, but Howard Moscoe, a Toronto councillor, observed it was very effective as the consultants’ financial relief program.

TTC 4054 on Spadina 2006_0111

The “Business Newspaper for Suburban Chicago” has a supportive piece on Transit Oriented Development, and it is nice to see this in a business as opposed to a planning publication. Hopefully this will get picked up out in the Valley by some of our business oriented media. It is also nice to see some good news out of Chicago, as the press in recent months has mostly been about the imminent financial collapse of the CTA.

And transit ridership is continuing to grow in New York City.

“The continued investment in new subway cars and buses is not going unnoticed by our customers who are responding by increased usage of our system,” said MTA NYC Transit President Howard Roberts, Jr.

Well that is of course nice to know. Buying more buses and trains gets you more riders. I wonder why that doesn’t occur to our politicians.

Oh, and just to blow my own trumpet a bit, I am on News 1130 right now.



Written by Stephen Rees

February 11, 2008 at 3:00 pm

Feds call Gateway Program air quality studies inappropriate and misleading: Study of transit solutions required

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Livable Region Coalition

February 11, 2008

Vancouver-Today the Livable Region Coalition (LRC) revealed documents from federal agencies that identify major claims and studies by the provincial government about the Gateway Program as inappropriate and misleading and others shown to be groundless.

The LRC’s submissions to the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) challenged, among other problems, the treatment of alternatives to Port Mann Bridge twinning and the inadequacies of provincial traffic modeling which in turn lead to artificially low estimates of air quality impacts. These deficiencies and more have been echoed by Health Canada and Environment Canada.

Despite the lack of evidence, provincial government officials continue to bait the public with misleading claims:

  • Public comments by Premier Gordon Campbell that the Gateway Program will improve air quality are not borne out by any analysis made available to date. All air quality improvements claimed under Gateway would happen even if the mega project did not go ahead due to policies already in place, whereas the project will actually reverse some of these projected air quality improvements. In its critique of a Gateway study on air pollution, Health Canada asserts that “the misdirected focus of this assessment is inappropriate and may be misleading to the general reader.”
  • Greenhouse gas emissions will rise due to Gateway even with mitigation measures already announced. The province claims the GHG increase will be 0.3% above business-as-usual, Metro Vancouver says 2%, or 176 000 tonnes per year by 2020, based on figures provided. Environment Canada says the increase would likely be higher but deficient traffic modeling to date makes it impossible to know for sure.
  • The assertion by the BC Ministry of Highways that the Gateway Program will not impact land-use are contradicted by studies cited by Environment Canada. Furthermore, provincial government traffic models did not include induced or generated traffic and did not account for automobile dependent sprawl induced by freeway expansion. Environment Canada states that: “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.”
  • Provincial government claims that no other option but Gateway would work for moving people and goods are contradicted by Environment Canada which notes that: “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”

When it comes to proving the bold promises that come with doubling the Port Mann Bridge and Highway 1, the provincial government is running on empty,” said David Fields, a campaigner with SPEC and LRC Coordinator. “ We know it, federal agencies know it and it is about time the province comes clean before they commit the region to what amounts to an $11 billion illusion.”

The entire Gateway Program could cost over $11 billion dollars. Other bridge projects under construction in the province, such as the William R. Bennett Bridge, are up to 70% over budget. The return on this investment could be quite minimal if expert opinion is correct. George Stalk, Senior VP of the Boston Consulting Group and supply chain expert, has said that the provincial Gateway Program will only add 1% or 2% goods movement capacity because it focuses on roads and trucking instead of ports and railways.

Environment Canada has stated the obvious. A meaningful environmental assessment requires comparing the environmental effects of a $4 billion package of transit and efficient goods movement solutions to the proposed $4 billion freeway expansion,” said Eric Doherty, SPEC Director. “Kevin Falcon does not want this comparison because it would show what a dumb choice freeway expansion is. The federal documents show that you can’t build your way out of congestion with wider freeways and more bridges because freeways cause automobile dependent sprawl and more traffic. And more traffic means accelerating global warming, more smog and more kids with asthma.”

SPEC and the LRC have proposed a suite of transit measures that could alleviate traffic congestion in the Port Mann corridor (download  See also SPEC’s Cooking the Books). The LRC proposal seeks to maximize existing infrastructure to reduce costs and environmental impact. For example, the SkyTrain bridge to Surrey only carries one third the trains it was designed for, bringing it up to carrying capacity would produce the people moving equivalent of 20 lanes of freeway. The LRC proposal costs about one sixth of the cost of doubling the Port Mann and Highway 1. Much more is possible.

“Environment Canada’s response is a very effective endorsement of what the Livable Region Coalition has been saying,” said Stephen Rees, an independent transport economist. “The BC government now needs to rethink this Gateway proposal, and work towards a truly sustainable regional transportation and land use plan with municipal and regional governments. This requires putting transit first.”

The Premier promised to make BC a global leader in transit. Current global leaders like Zurich have invested heavily in transit instead of freeways, producing a transit system that is fast, safe, reliable and inexpensive. Zurich’s transit priority program has taken 30 years to build and has one of the highest riderships in the world. BC’s freeway expansion is scheduled to be completed first and major elements of the recent transit announcement will not start to appear for another six or seven years from now.

This release comes with a 5 page backgrounder which contains excerpts from Health Canada and Environment Canada submissions to the EAO. Links to original documents and page references are provided.

The Port Mann/Highway 1 EAO project page can be found here:

Written by Stephen Rees

February 11, 2008 at 10:04 am

EcoDensity raises fears of crowding without amenities

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Frances Bula, Vancouver Sun
Published: Monday, February 11, 2008

resident groups have banded together to express their concern that the policy — marketed as a way to make Vancouver a more environmentally sustainable city by promoting compact living and green building — may result in density just being shoved into their neighbourhoods.

As well, they worry there isn’t enough emphasis on creating affordable housing or complete neighbourhoods with libraries, transit and community services to go with the density.

They are right to be worried, because the city does not control transit. Vancouver gets much better transit service than the rest of the region now – so the idea that  it can get more when nobody else has nearly enough is bizarre. Except of course now the province is making decisions the next rapid transit line but one will serve the Premier’s constituency. Can you see a lot more density in Point Grey? The eastward march of the towers into Chinatown and out to Commercial Drive is much more likely I think.

Brent Toderian is quoted as saying “It’s an unusual process and it was launched in an unusual way, so it’s a challenge for the community.” And there is a lot more to that than meets the eye. Vancouver has long had an enviable policy of consultation with neighbourhoods as part of its planning process. That is in strong contrast to what happens in other municipalities. I think Sam Sullivan has very badly misread what his supporters will let him do. While I am sure the people who contribute such huge sums to his campaign funds like this initiative, it is not going down well with the voters – and mainly not because of what it says but because of the way it is being done.

I also think that the city may be able to screw a few more libraries and community centres out of the developers – but that requires huge projects. And the way density needs to be done to be acceptable is gradual change. A sort of “natural” process as the neighbourhood changes  at a rate that residents can adjust to. Also known as the “boiling frog” syndrome. The residents won’t notice incremental change as that happens all the time. But go away and come back in a few years and it will look very different. Cities are more like organisms than most planners and developers are prepared to acknowledge. They like to go for the urban equivalent of “heroic surgery” – but that is going to have a much bigger effect on the body – and the city – than less invasive procedures. But a bunch of small scale projects will not provide the huge gobs of cash and land that municipal services need.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 11, 2008 at 9:51 am

Posted in Urban Planning

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Pay hike self-indulgent for public service board

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Miro Cernetig, Vancouver Sun

Published: Monday, February 11, 2008

Opinion piece continues the expressions of disapproval of the new SoCoBriTCA Board’s big pay increase. Miro points out that Jimmy Pattison ran Expo for $1 – and so does Jack Poole at VANOC. Of course we do not want to limit board memberships to the super rich. He talks about the public service ethic, which of course is always used to justify low pay to councillors, so very few do it as a full time job.

The issue I think is the use of the term “professional” about the Board – and the confusion with what companies pay their board members. For a Regional Transportation Authority is not a company and should not be treated as though it is. Because it is part of the system of regional government. Yes, the Authority needs professionals and it has them – they are called staff. Just like the municipalities employ engineers and planners and all the rest. And have to pay rates equivalent to what these people could earn if they went to the consulting companies in those fields, less a bit to reflect much better terms and conditions of employment and what should be more job security, as the workload is much less variable.

The current model was a retrograde step, imposed by the whim of a politician who makes decisions first and thinks (if at all) afterwards. The job his professional advisers have is coming up with justifications for his increasingly capricious decisions. What the GVTA needed was more accountability and that required (in my opinion) a directly elected board. For Mayors in this region show that they are first and foremost responsible to their municipality – as they should be given who votes for them. Their reactions last week to the pressing need for a metropolitan police force are merely the latest manifestation of this local focus. For at the regional level, we need people who are focused on regional issues. The regional authority needs to be concerned with both land use and transportation. Pretending that these are separate issues is the root cause of the current mess we are making – which let the province back in, with a vengeance. So any reform of the GVTA needed to deal with “Metro” too – which is also not directly elected but at least has population weighted votes on issues of regional importance.

Maybe “self indulgent” is a bit harsh. After all it was Mike Harcourt who determined their pay levels – and they had only two choices – take it or leave it. And given the overheated hot tub they have jumped into, I am not all surprised they feel in need of compensation. I just somehow doubt they are worth it – or are going to earn it. They are doing Falcon’s bidding, so they feel they are worth what is being offered. I will be very surprised indeed if anyone else does.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 11, 2008 at 9:06 am

Posted in regional government, transit

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