Stephen Rees's blog

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

Sustainability Dialogue: The Role of the Region – Economy & Transportation

with 6 comments

Hollyburn Country Club, West Vancouver February 14, 2008

The meeting was facilitated by Rafe Mair whose opening remarks included the following thoughts:Rafe Mair

  • what will be the impact of Gateway on region?
  • who really benefits from port expansion?
  • are we using public funds wisely?

He also raised the issue of its impact on land use and noted that the Environmental Assessment Act “kicks in after the decision has been made”. He said that he does not see how it can be made to balance with a sustainable region. And he also condemned the “total lack of public consultation”.

Each member of the panel had five minutes for opening remarks

Professor Anthony Perl was unabashed about promoting his new book.


He noted that oil prices are now sending a clearAnthony Perl signal about transportation. Since the dialogue process had started they had risen 63% and yesterday were at $93.33 per barrel. He noted that we now need to be concerned about oil depletion. Conventional oil (the “Beverley Hillbillies stuff”) has peaked: unconventional oil (tar sands and shale) would need to triple output by 2050 to replace the decline of conventional oil. He thought that we cannot expect growth in oil production beyond 2012. This will produce a doubling or tripling of energy prices. It also made sense to replace oil for transportation as we have much more pressing needs, for example pharmaceuticals. He thought will see both rationing and wars but also a greater use of electricity for transport, and more use of rail and water. In contrast to the current vogue for privatization he thought that the networks will need to be socially managed. In short “when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.”

Cheeying Ho started by talking about the Gateway too. It is a nationally significant project but it should not just be about goods. This region will also be a source of international services, the place where the flow of ideas and innovations starts and the flows of capital to make them happen. The Gateway of services, ideas and capital needs to be fostered, goes much beyond the number TEUs. We need to look at indicators like the percentage of the population with post graduate degrees . A Gateway must have adequate and affordable infrastructure, but that is not just roads and bridges: it includes things like universities and an industrial and agricultural land base.

cheeying2.jpgShe then went on to deal with affordable housing. The demand for affordability has lead people to seek housing where it is cheaper and that is at the edge of the built up area. We also continue to segregate uses rather than build the compact, complete communities the LRSP calls for. Transportation is now second only to shelter costs in the household budget. With better choices available to them they could spend less on transportation if they don’t need to own two or three cars per household.

To achieve this we need stronger regional planning and governance. It has been recently calculated that the efficiency gains in cars in recent years has been exceeded three times by the increases in distances travelled. The only way is to have stronger land use management. “LiveSmartBC” will need to include tax empowerment for municipalities to create more vibrant communities.

Larry Frank said that evidence is not used in decision making here. We seem to keep research separate from action. ForLarry Frank example, his research shows the clear link between obesity and car ownership which is a clear predictor of health outcomes. We also know that the air quality impacts will be the complete opposite of what is being predicted. We know that greenhouse gas emissions are tied to development, yet the EA of Highway 1 ignores development. We also now that only 40% of the ghg reduction we need will come from technology. It won’t solve the problem. We seem to have become adept at externalizing problems: the EA process treats all the big issues as externalities and does not include them in its Cost Benefit analysis. We need to do the opposite of what we are currently doing. For a start we need distance based insurance for cars, and transportation efficient land use. It is plain that we need to do things now, not some remote future. There is, he thought, the potential to link congestion pricing for roads to affordable housing: the revenue from time of day road pricing could pay for affordable housing near stations. He also thought that the Canada Line should be the centre of a “before and after” study to determine what effect it has on travel pattern

Anne Murray spoke about the role of the airport as an economic engine which she said has direct economic benefits for theAnne Murray region (although she did not attempt to quantify them). She noted that changes in the economy to services and information still requires face to face meetings which means more travel. In recent years there has been renewed growth of air travel and the airport has invested in the Canada Line. The airport is an important employer but we must also recognize the important social benefits of air travel, including keeping families in touch. Aviation worldwide account for only 3% of ghg emissions and within BC between 1 or 2%. The airlines have been very focused on fuel efficiency as it is a large part of the cost cost operations. The airport has seen “double digit growth” in bus passengers since the opening of the 98 Bline and expects a higher transit mode share when the Canada Line opens. The airport uses forecast scenarios that enable them to deal with uncertainty. They don’t plan for a specific date, but rather for when demand rises. They need a robust plan as an economic generator and provider of 26,000 jobs to maximize the benefits for the region.

Allen Domaas said he was interested in the complexity of the discussion, and the amount of change that is occurring here.Allen Domaas He pointed out that our prices of housing are not at “world levels” yet, which he feels means we will still be a favoured destination for people to move here. While some of our communities are changing there is a lot of resistance in general – for example in New Westminster the overriding concern is traffic congestion from being the centre of the region. “We need to commit ourselves to going forward” to make the most of opportunities for the future. “We need to empower a group with a common vision to make the links work”. He liked the idea of pulling residential developments into compact nodes and thought our industry could also be concentrated into similar compact nodes. The Port is aware of its responsibilities to the environment and has a truck licensing system which rewards cleaner exhausts. they are also tackling emissions from ships and have on of the first hybrid switching locomotives (the “Green Goat”). With 50,000 jobs the Port represent a significant piece of the economy as as primary industry (fishing , logging etc) jobs are declining will become more so. In terms of “keeping the economy whole” a $48,000 pa average wage is also significant and keeps wealth in the region. the major concern for the port’s future is its land base.


Eric Williamson a North Shore tour bus operator said that he runs his buses on waste vegetable oil they collect from restaurants. He noted that most people cannot change quickly enough, but they will if given the right incentives. For example he encourages his customers to get to the North Shore on SeaBus by an incentive on price levied: $150 at your hotel or $50 at the SeaBus terminal.

Anne Murray noted that YVR has a clean vehicle license for taxis that is lower

Allen Domaas thought that road pricing should be viable – a “toll for entire road system” – and that high gas prices will also have an effect

Larry Frank noted a role for location efficient mortgages

John Fair of the VACC noted that there had been very little emphasis on cycling. We need to recognize that the buses over crowded and we need more cycling infrastructure.

Larry Frank cited recent expansion of the cycling network as a good example and the way that other European cities have very much higher percentages of people cycling. We have integrated cycling into transit but we need a regional bike plan. Chee Ying did not like the idea that the region fund cycling: she said it should remain a city responsibility. She pointed out that cycling had doubled in Vancouver as a result of a program of quite simple ideas – often just a painted line.

John Fair responded that other municipalities have lagged, and often do not have matching funds to qualify for senior government schemes.

Jane Thornthwaite, a school trustee said that she was concerned about our food: we need to protect the ALR to ensure future sustainability. there is a disconnect in where and how we buy our food with the price of locally produced food exceeding imports from far way places.

Chee Ying responded that we can protect the if we build more densely on the land we have. there is capacity to absorb another million people without further loss of agricultural land.

Allen Domaas like the idea of eating within a 100km radius but wondered how we can do that if locals and municipalities object to to greenhouses. Is the ALR for food or green space?

John Huszar from the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce suggested that the North &South Fraser Perimeter Roads be designated exclusive commercial routes “off the bat”.

While Allen Domaas supports that, Anthony Perl said that the “dirty little secret” of the Gateway is that we will have to disappoint someone as freight logistics and real estate development can’t both happen. Rafe Mair noted that development has always followed highways.

Judy Williams raised the issue of the expansion of the tank farm at the airport. 500m litres of jet fuel is delivered now by in barges and a barge off load on Sea Island is in the YVR plans.

Anne Murray replied that the jet fuel used to come from several Burnaby refineries but not only Chevron is operating. The pipeline is old and at capacity, but currently barges bringing jet fuel here off load in Burnaby and use the same pipe. Alan Domaas said this would need to be considered as part of the larger dialogue about land for port uses.

David Hawking from Bowen Island asked if we need to go for road pricing? Would we follow the example of London? How should it be done?


Larry Frank said the he was concerned about privatisation: no company would do anything other than maximise its own returns. We need a broad policy and we should look at what happened in Atlanta, where both road and rail were built but development followed the road. We should also include peak pricing and deal with equity issues, as present schemes seem designed just to price poor people off the highways. Anthony Pearl said that the record so far was that road pricing does not get people voted out: on the contrary, politicians who introduced it were re-elected. Some “lobbyists and bagmen” have skewed politicians view into fear.

Anne Murray favoured the use of technology to that would allow airport users to have an advantage over commuters. “We pay for transit, so why should we not pay for roads?”

Barbara Pettit asked has there been research on cost of road transport’s externalities such as the provision of parking etc? And if that were taken into account wouldn’t free transit be justified?

Larry Frank said that in BC externalities are not accounted for and thus the CBAs that are useless

Anthony Pearl said that there is an extensive literature on environmental cost of roads but the problem is what is counted. For instance some have suggested that being stuck in traffic should be counted as a benefit not a cost as it provides rest and recovery time. It always depends on how you count things.

John Huszar from the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce asked if the development industry would not be a replacement for the loss of primary industry. We should look at the economic benefits of absorbing population as building infrastructure was big business.

Anthony Pearl responded that it is important to build right infrastructure. Canadian cities in the 1970s didn’t make the wrong decisions [that US cities made]. We don’t want to be the last place to build a freeway.

Larry Frank pointed out that land use will organise around transportation which is why we must be careful about the kinds of transportation investments we make.

Chee Ying noted that we have a low supply of housing. We need to increase the supply and do it right to make it affordable.

Anne Murray thought that the jobs of the future will be services for export , consulting etc, and the “hotbed of up and coming technologies”.

Allen Domaas said we must build infrastructure to accommodate growth. But what do we want to pay for? He cited Riverport, the development of cinemas and other recreational facilities literally miles from other development. He pointed out that free transit would get paid for by property tax. One issue is that current federal funding is only only for capital projects not running costs.

Dominique Berbeeke from the District of North Vancouver asked why privatisation was seen as the answer for infrastructure provision.

Anthony Pearl called it “blame avoidance”: when the private Highway 407 in Ontario raised its tolls the government could point to the company as the responsible party.

Larry Frank said it was because governments do not have the money to build, so the go the private sector to get the capital [to avoid the need to increase either public sector debt or taxes]

Anne Murray said we need a pricing mechanism to get better utilization of what we have: for example a toll on the Arthur Laing bridge that allowed free access to the airport but charged commuters had been discussed with the City of Richmond. YVR owns the Arthur Laing.

Chee Ying said she supports innovative financial mechanisms to support smart growth. For example, HOT lane can be used to help pay for transit. [A HOT lane is free to high occupancy vehicles like buses and van pools but SOVs pay a toll]

Graeme Noble from BEST said these were all “top down ideas, what we need are bottom up actions.”

Anne Murray agreed that every organisation has to look at their options such as the green commuter financial incentives used at YVR which resulted in more car pooling

Allen Domaas thought we are more concerned about our neighbourhood than the broader region. “We need to see ourselves as a regional community.”

Larry Frank noted that the tax base changing and compared us to Minneapolis. [My notes are inadequate at this point and I cannot recall what this was about]

Another question from the floor suggested that we encourage people to take actions that would cost little – e.g. 24hr operations of for trucks.

Allen Domaas agreed that we can spread our use but we to isolate the freight hubs to reduce the impact of noise on residential neighbourhoods.

Larry Frank said some truckers want to expand the hours of operation but their customers don’t and Alan Domaas agreed saying that the port alone is not big enough. Anne Murray said the airport is a 24/7 operation now but they have to balance operations against the impact on the community of aircraft noise.

Lisa Turpin of Lions Bay said that over 200 residents there work from home. She suggested that there needs to be more incentives for a shorter work week in return for longer working days.

Anthony Pearl “the incentive is the oil price”

Larry Frank said that the province should provide start up funds for TDM associations. Anne Murray said the airport needs unsocial hours transit to help its shift workers.

A councillor from the District of North Vancouver said the Sea to Sky is now like Highway #1 in the way it has atracted development. We needed rapid transit but there was massive resistance from the local population, whom did not want to see the necessary development. How do you persuade people?

Anthony Pearl said he had considered moving to North Van but after the evening peak the SeaBus frequency goes to once every 30 minutes. We must expand what is working.

Larry Frank suggested that visualisation would help: create a design that is palatable by using techniques such as those used by Patrick Condon: after all this creates value in land and these people are the land owners.

Allen Domaas noted a generational difference: young people are making different choices to their parents, but they are not voting.

Chee Ying said that a recent West Vancouver forum on change attended by 175 people supported density because they want more choice both for older people to stay in their communities and to allow young people the chance to own a home.

Trish Panz from the Western Residents Association pointed out that the Sea to Sky highway P3 over the 25 year life of the project will cost 300% more than a conventional project. “There is a toll but it is hidden” She wanted to know how to engage province in discussion of these issues.

Larry Frank said that the Ministries of Health and Environment had to become involved since they bore the brunt of the costs, but so far they have not interfered with the Ministry of Transportation.[That is called Cabinet Responsibility]

Ken Bassett of the District of North Vancouver asked if there were studies of communities that have reduced road space

Anthony Pearl said there weren’t, at which point I intervened. Copenhagen has reduced space devoted to cars by 2% a year for many years – and this will no doubt be covered when Jan Gehl comes to the Gateway Theatre at the end of the month. Professor Pearl said smartly, that was parking not roads – and we should pay people to park and charge them to drive. If nothing else this reduced my respect for his academic prowess since it is obvious to me that every motorised vehicle trip has to start and end in a parking spot. I have long been involved in developing parking strategies to manage traffic – as has every transportation engineer of my acquaintance. I think too that replacing parking on street with wider sidewalks, treed boulevards and bike lanes also helps, but I know that here people think parked cars protect pedestrians from traffic. Larry Frank also noted that some places replace general traffic lanes with HOV lanes. [In general here HOV lanes have been a way to expand highways].

When the meeting wound up I found myself surrounded. This was probably due to my use of my alloted slot for a question to go over our recent press releases and the lack of response from the press. Hopefully this will stay in the broadcast when it happens. The whole thing was also caught on videotape which should be on the Metro Vancouver web site in due course.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 14, 2008 at 9:08 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Thanks for the great summary. I was especially interested that many in west Van supported increased density – I hope the feeling spreads! Metro Vancouver is such a low density place and I think people here don’t realize how great dense cities can be.

    On the topic of parking and wider sidewalks… what is your professional opinion of multi-way boulevards? I have been reading “The Boulevard Book” recently (this is because I felt that one of this region’s most unpleasant aspects is the commercial districts with 4 lanes of traffic whizzing through it). Anyway, I thought that streets like Kingsway would be vastly improved for pedestrians if those boulevards were installed (the kind with local lanes and parking at the sides and through traffic in the centre).

    “Take the streets back” for pedestrians, so to speak. Even better if there’s a streetcar running down the street.


    February 14, 2008 at 10:08 pm

  2. Stephen – a great post. Your effort is sincerely appreciated.

    From your notes it seems all the speakers were excellent. Cheeying Ho’s perspective was especially illuminating to me in that a Gateway Project would ideally not be limited merely to the flow of cargo and traffic, but would also include the flow of ideas, innovation, services and capital. One is reminded of Jane Jacobs’ notion that economically sustainable cities replace a good portion of their imported goods and services with their own.

    Anthony Perl’s comments confirm yet again the unbiased publications that: Huge price increases in petroleum are expected to be firmly underway roughly halfway through the next decade; the worldwide economic impact will be felt by 2020; and beyond that lies the potential for collapse, but also of hope.

    One wonders what Campbell & Company’s response would be to a direct question on how they plan to mitigate the expected hardship on British Columbians as the result of peak oil. My conclusion is that our leaders are currently the people, not the politicians (who are, in effect, followers), and that we must plan now – today, not after the Olympics – to look out for ourselves regarding rooftop solar panels, backyard gardens, moving to locations with better public transit, buying a bike, saying goodbye to the car (or at least to downsize), to establish networks of like-minded people, and try to elect the same to office.

    Corey – our streets do leave a lot to be desired. Efficiently engineered, poorly designed. They are so bland and ubiquitous as to be invisible in our part of the world. We usually hear demands for better public services, amenities and architecture, but where is the demand to take back just a modicum of the astronomical acreage streets occupy for greater human scale, beauty, and to foster more sustainable activity? Something is wrong when a simple, lowly curb bulge becomes the focus of celebration or damnation, depending on your perspective (pedestrian vs. driver).

    You are probably aware that Allan Jacobs’ The Boulevard Book accompanies his other book, Great Streets, which is also one of the more unique studies on the urban public realm. I especially like the range of his hand-drawn graphics, from perspective sketches to scaled sections. Books like these really emphasize what a powerful public asset streets can be (think of the social cohesion of street markets and narrow pedestrian lanes brimming with activity), and they bring to light near ideal streetscape models we can learn from.

    I hope this Google link to Great Streets works:,+great+streets&btnG=Google+Search&sa=X&oi=print&ct=title&cad=one-book-with-thumbnail


    February 15, 2008 at 11:44 am

  3. […] Posted in Traffic, Urban Planning by Stephen Rees on February 15th, 2008 Yesterday I wrote Ken Bassett of the District of North Vancouver asked if there were studies of communities that have […]

  4. WRT housing costs, I thought this may be of interest – a UW professor says that over- regulation has added $200K to the average house cost in Seattle:

    Ron C

    February 15, 2008 at 4:07 pm

  5. […] traffic.” (Please note that this directly contradicts the assertion made by Anthony Perl at the West Vancouver Metro meeting, where he said that only parking space had been reduced.) He went on to show the city of […]

  6. […] growth and the economy public dialogue yesterday. The panel was different to the one I did go to at West Vancouver. But what really surprises me is that Randy Shore did go to Surrey. The press has not been at many […]

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