Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for February 2008

Langford to sue highway protesters

leave a comment »

Vancouver Sun

A Vancouver Island community plans to sue a group of protesters to recover the costs of their interference in construction of a new Trans-Canada Highway interchange, says its mayor.

“It’s trying to get money out of people who can’t rub two nickels together, but we have to go after some of them,” Langford Mayor Stew Young said Monday.

So as long as you are penniless you can protest with impunity. But if you have any assets, and dare to oppose people who you think are abusing a pretty thin excuse of a “process”, then expect to lose everything.

“You may not be criminal, but if you put masks on and you block our surveyors and impede us . . . then we can sue you for our costs. They may not be criminally charged by the RCMP, but we’re going to now go after damages,” Young said.

Which is exactly what Betty Krawczyk has been complaining about. The law is open to everyone – just like the Ritz Hotel. All kinds of torts go unpunished because the legal costs of getting redress are ludicrous. Indeed, if there is a low probability of recovery, maybe the citizens of Langford might ask their Mayor is he is not just throwing more money away. Maybe he might consider actually listening to what people have to say next time, instead of just allowing developers to do what they like. Why do people feel the need to protest? The media love to dismiss protesters and paint them as antisocial malcontents, but there is a real issue here. And the decision making process is far from adequate in terms of satisfying people that their legitimate concerns are being addressed. In general, elected municipal politicians are seen to be far too closely allied with developers. That perception may or may not be correct, but action like this does nothing to dispel it.

And the basic principles of freedom of speech, or the need to protect our environment, simply do not get a look in.

Young said he understands that people might think the municipality is trying to intimidate protesters, but that is not the case.

“You might think that. You might very well think that. I could not possibly comment.”

Written by Stephen Rees

February 26, 2008 at 8:13 am

Have you tried the blogroll recently?

with one comment

One of the most recent additions is Alex Waterhouse-Hayward – who I met at Northern Voice. His blog doesn’t allow comments. He explained why. He once took a photo of the industrialist EdgarKaiser. One day he got a phone call from somebody, who wanted to ask something about the photo. Alex hoped this might be an opportunity to make more photographs. The question however was “Do you know where he bought that chess set in the picture?”


I stole this picture from David Drucker’s blog and he has a good summary of the conference too.

Every so often I click through the links on my blogroll, partly to make sure they all still work (Jak has a new WordPress blog by the way). And so far I have got as far as K. Which brings me to me my recommendation. Keefer has another of his brilliant photo essays together with a brief but enlightening history of Annacis Island. It demonstrates very forcibly what you miss when you drive through a place at 90kph. Keith walks, and in places where I would hesitate to go. But he shows us what you need to do to understand where you live and have your being. And you cannot do that inside a metal box.

Over on StreetFilms Ethan Kent has a fascinating slide show of Havana street life which is well worth four minutes of your time. “If children playing in the streets is an indicator of the success of a city, then Havana’s streets may be some of the most successful in the world.”

One duplicate removed, a couple of typos corrected – all the links work

Written by Stephen Rees

February 25, 2008 at 7:50 pm

Posted in Blogroll

How Will You Spend Your $100?

with one comment

Don’t tell me tell the Tyee

I will tell you what I intend to do. I intend to donate it to SPEC/LRC, to help fund the fight against the Gateway. That may help to defeat a proposal which, if it proceeds, will increase ghg and local air pollution despite what the provincial government continues to claim — all the evidence to the contrary.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 25, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Geneva says “no” to free public transport

with 7 comments

Tram passengers will get no free ride in GenevaSwiss Info
Image caption:

Voters in canton Geneva have turned down an initiative to allow people to travel on local trams and buses for free.The controversial proposal, which was supported by leftwing groups, unions and an association for retired people, was rejected by 67 per cent of Geneva voters on Sunday.

Geneva senator Robert Cramer told journalists he was both pleased and relieved by the result.

“If it had been accepted, it would have led to a considerable reduction in the quality of the Geneva public transport system,” the Green Party politician commented.

Very sensible people the Swiss. Unlikely to be swayed by appeals to emotion. The basic question the proponents had not dealt with was how they proposed to replace the revenue from fares since taxes already cover 55% of the costs. Is that a tax increase you would like, or a cut to some other service like health?

Geneva, just like Vancouver, needs to deal with congestion, and would like to see fewer people driving and more using public transport. But if you give up a big revenue source, you need to replace that just to stand still, let alone cope with an influx of new users. And once there is no fare revenue, additional ridership just increases costs or crowding. The only way to improve the system is to go back to the taxpayers and ask for even more money.

When something is free to use, it gets over consumed. That is why we have a problem with traffic. There is no additional cost to use a car at peak periods other than delay. And the increase in delay caused by the last few people who decide to add themselves to a peak hour flow has a huge impact on delay for all concerned. Oddly, our politicians cannot seem to get their heads around the need to ration road space. Yet we use the price system for nearly everything – and where we don’t, we get “line ups” or “waiting lists”. Time and money are substitutes. So people with time to waste don’t worry about how long they will sit in traffic, and are oblivious to the delay they cause everybody else.

The price system of course does not help people on low incomes. But that is not a reason to abandon it. We all have to pay for our food, and our power, and our shelter – and no one (so far as I know) suggests that these essentials should be free. Income redistribution has been gradually removed from our tax system, with the inevitable result of increasing inequity. Food banks have not solved poverty and neither will free transit.

Now, do not misunderstand me. I am not against free. I really like free software. Open source is also safer, and gets better the more people use it. I also like free education and free health care – and think there should be much more of both. Because both are consumed based on need, and because society is better, the more educated and healthy its people are.

But simply giving away mobility is strangling us. It is not that transit should be free. It is that road space must stop being free to the user. We can no longer afford to pay for infinite amounts of road space. We are, quite literally, running out of planet. And mainly because of the way we have organised personal motorised transportation. Making the next best alternative adopt the same disfunctional distribution system cannot make either better.

And isn’t that a nice looking tram? Wouldn’t look at all out of place on West Broadway – and it’s a darn sight cheaper than a bored tube!

Written by Stephen Rees

February 24, 2008 at 7:32 pm

Posted in Economics, transit, Transportation

Tagged with

Northern Voice

with 5 comments

On Friday and Saturday I am at a conference for bloggers at UBC. Moderated comments may not appear until later – depending on how busy I get.

It is a high energy, fun place already – and there is to be another transit camp session and one on using blogs for social change. Interesting!

Northern Voice making a human graph

Lunchtime update

I got props from the CBC lady ( Lisa Johnson editor of Your Voice) – and from a real economist I think half the people here have ADD or as they probably like to think of “multi-tasking ability”. Their lap tops are open, but very few are blogging or making notes on what is going on. It is a bit like a party where people who are talking to you are also looking over your shoulder to see if there is someone more interesting just coming in. Though the people I have talked to have been all very polite and good company

Last time I looked there were over 1,000 photos of this event on flickr

Northern Voice standing around

Written by Stephen Rees

February 22, 2008 at 10:50 am

Posted in blog update

Tagged with , ,

Bike Lanes on Burrard Bridge

with 23 comments

West End Residents Association at SFU 22 February

Burrard Bridge Facing South

This meeting was called, I thought, to build the case for lane reallocation on the bridge. It turned out that it was supposed to be a forum. And contributions from the floor were supposed to just be questions of the experts on the panel. Yet more than one panel member admitted to be unfamiliar with the issues and there was a lot of expertise in the room.

John Whistler of WERA introduced the meeting with a quick run through of the history, starting with the 1960 freeway plan, which gave rise to the Hornby Connector. While this is still part of City Policy it now seems highly unlikely. Bikes have always an issue on the bridge but up until 1988 shared the roadspace. The city bike plan and city bike network followed but on Burrard Bridge pedestrians and cycles have to share a narrow sidewalk which is a poor solution for both groups. In 1994 Delcan was appointed to look at False Creek crossings and many options were looked at including new bridges. The lane reallocation on Burrard rated highly. In 1995 Vancouver produced its City Plan, and on transportation priorities pedestrians and cyclists were the top two priorities.

Eventually a six month trial of lane reallocation was started in 1996 but stopped within a week when motorists called City Hall on their cell phones. A staff report of the brief trial showed that most of the 9% reduction in motorists trips simply “disappeared”. In 2006 another trial became an election issue and was cancelled by Sam Sullivan. Delcan was then hired to do widening study.

Times are changing – traffic volumes across the bridge have decreased, transit riders, cyclists and pedestrians have all increased. We also now have to deal with climate change and peak oil, neither of which were an issue 16 years ago when this debate started. A report from Delcan to is due to go to council in the next few months.

The moderator was provided by the Vancouver Public Space Network: Andrew Pask

He chuntered on about urban fabric, residents, sustainability and said that questions are being asked about our ecological footprint. He also mentioned the bridge’s importance to our urban experience and quoted Bing Thom’s remarks at that iconic buildings meeting that it is his favourite place. “Burrard Street is designed for speed” and creates all sorts of conflicts but there are a multiplicity of perspectives. Sadly he did not use the amount of time he took to explain the way he was going to run the meeting, which led to conflicts later. He seemed inexperienced in moderating meetings.

Tara Scollard represented the City Engineers Department but was the first to admit that she had not been part of the process and had in fact fairly recently arrived in Vancouver. Throwing her at this meeting was unfair on her and her audience, but she was treated very gently. I suspect if the man responsible for the current mess had been there that would not have been the case. She also recited the history and said that the current condition is that SOVs are “constant” across the bridge while numbers of bikes and pedestrians are increasing. [In fact traffic volume dclined 5% from 1996 to 2004] In 2005 design direction was determined by Council (expansion of the footway) with final design in next month or two. There are two choices either widening both footways for the length of the bridge or retaining “pinch points” at the arches to preserve the current design.

Larry Frank

“I use the bridge every day and I see near disasters every day. How much money are we really saving? I am all for accommodating non-motorised travel. I think we need a Cost Benefit Analysis of how much we should accommodate the car. Since I arrived here, we seem to be in the dark. The problem is analogous to the Port Mann twinning: the policy here is to preserve the roadway. Why do we need to accommodate capacity for cars? Is there to be a transit lane on this bridge? If not, then it’s wrong! Don Buchanan [who was in the audience] has pointed out that transit is the missing piece. There is a significant volume of latent demand for cycling but people are currently afraid to ride their bikes over the bridge. This is due to a combination of conflicts with pedestrians and the high curbs, which threaten an errant cyclist with being tipped off into fast moving traffic. There is not enough space for both pedestrians and bikes on the sidewalk. Take a lane for bikes and then leave sidewalk for pedestrians. This not only mitigates vehicle use, it sends right message. How does that accommodate transit? By diverting cars to Granville Bridge which has spare capacity and is designed for cars. All my research on obesity and physical activity shows that we need to get moire people cycling and walking. Of the present plans pinch points are just a way to create accidents: neither is consistent with the vision for the region or the city but only one option (widening) is being looked at.

Donald Luxton of Heritage Vancouver has been “saying the same thing since 1990s. The only alternative that we oppose is the widening of the bridge. We are not against change, but the outriggers (the worst design solution) keep coming back. We are trying to work productively but we don’t need to wreck the Burrard Bridge. It is the No 1 endangered site of Heritage Vancouver list. The present design would see masonry railings replaced with metal – and metal hoops at the piers. This will cost at least $50m, maybe more and does not address real problem which is at the bridge heads. It is on the 2006 top ten list produced by Heritage Canada and is an internationally significant art deco icon. Heritage issues do not run the show but there are times when they are paramount. We need to tackle the issue but why mess up the bridge to do it? The cost is too high and it is wrong.

Bonnie Fenton,asked why we need to do this when we don’t have to? Re-allocating lanes will not save the world or destroy the city. The major issue is the need to make the bridge safe for bikes and pedestrians. There are actually two cycling camps which she labelled pragmatists and idealists. In 15 years of talking nothing has been done. Lane re-allocation would send a strong signal about what we need to do in this city. In the 1996 trial there were 870 cyclists, a 39% increase but a 9% decrease in car trips. these were not diverted but trips not made. This suggests that these trips were discretionary and their loss caused little inconvenience. Car drivers made the adjustment quickly. And at the end of the week there was a 50-50 split in comments received by the City – for and against. Fred Bass’s motion to the last Council was visionary and would have include a major communications package – something omitted in 1996. She also quoted at length a Business in Vancouver article by Peter Ladner which conclude that if the trial was successful it would be a potential bonus for tax payers. We now that traffic disappears. The modelling assumptions used by engineers do not include this. But we know that people have brains and do not try to go where they cannot. We also know that of the trips across the bridge by SOVs, 50% are not regular. In other words those trips can be made in other ways. Logic is not being used by the City.

John Tylee was the other newcomer to the issue and represented the Economic Development Commission for Vancouver. He was the only speaker who said “I think the city is doing the right thing.” He said that strong downtowns are vital to the City and the region. “The suburban challenge is eternal and relentless.” Downtowns set the identity of the community, and you only get once chance to make a good impression. Currently Vancouver’s downtown is profitable: 25% of the region’s population is in Vancouver but 50% of its commercial property value. It is necessary to balance a large critical mass of “people like us and and people unlike us” and Vancouver has a great mix of ages, races and occupations. It must be easy for people to get in and out. Downtown is the high cost option so it has to provide a better experience than its competitors in the suburbs. “Change can be sudden and hard to spot .” There will be a tipping point: a lot of assessment left downtown Toronto for “905 area” because of congestion. San Diego and San Francisco both had similar experiences and the VEDC has “reasons for concern” as business is becoming difficult to do. Richmond and Surrey both have ambitious plans for commerce in their downtowns. Removing lanes from cars makes downtown less attractive. He said that he thinks adaptation is more interesting than preservation, and noted the way that Berlin had modernised the historic Bundestag by adding a “glass bubble” to let in more light. We can find a way but we do need to deal with the “attitude of cyclists”

At this point my battery waring flashed and we moved on to discussion, so from here on we must rely either on contributions from the small number of people who were there – or my notoriously unreliable short term memory.

I do not recall anyone supporting the City’s position. Reallocation seemed to be the most popular option though I also liked Ned Jacob’s idea. Sidewalks for pedestrians only. Two lanes for cars and cycles with a 25kph speed limit, and the centre lanes for transit only with no speed limit.

I did get to point out that the car volume across the bridge was not determined by the number of lanes but by the intersections at each end. And Don Buchanan said that the intersection at the north end is the second most dangerous in Vancouver – with a casualty number higher than all the fires in the city.

One recent immigrant from Holland was adamant that pedestrians and cyclists should never be expected to share the same path.

l to r Tara Scollard , Bonnie Fenton, John Tylee and Donald Luxton

Written by Stephen Rees

February 22, 2008 at 9:22 am

Diesel buses hit by carbon tax

with 2 comments

Jeff Nagel

Of course. Only in Canada do we pay tax on tax. Only in Canada does tax supported transit have to give some of that support back in fuel tax.

BC wants to reduce ghg emissions? Get people out of cars and get them on the bus. That’s hard enough but hobbling them with taxes is plain stupid. But then stupid is as stupid does. Like taking tax from transit riders and using it to build more freeways!

Written by Stephen Rees

February 21, 2008 at 5:46 pm

Posted in Transportation

It’s really all about winning the next election

with 5 comments

Michael Smyth, The Province

Published: Thursday, February 21, 2008

And people call me cynical!

What he does not mention is that prior to the budget there was a consultation process. And just like Campbell had to shift gears on health care “reform”, when people told him in no uncertain terms, they did not want more private care, so when the groundswell in favour of a carbon tax was heard, he decided to respond. How much credit Kevin Washbrook can take for this movement I do not know, but like many others I joined his facebook group, and sent in my twopence worth to the minister.

And no $10 a tonne is not enough, but we have to start somewhere. I was surprised to read somewhere (and now I can’t find it again) that the petroleum producers had even suggested $15 as a good starting point. And as for the pleading for the truckers, that is the fault of the industry who have moved away from employing people as truck drivers and making them subcontractors who bear all the risks. It is a similar sad story to the taxi industry, and a stern warning to those who see the potential of “self employment” as a way to financial independence. It isn’t – it is just a different kind of serfdom.

And the whole point of revenue neutrality seems to be deliberately missed, which is odd because moving to expenditure taxes instead of income taxes has long been the mantra of the right.

it will damage the British Columbia economy in the process.

I doubt it somehow. For one thing we are less carbon dependant than some. The more we move to services that can be delivered electronically, the more robust we become. Equally, reducing our dependence on imports, which will cost more as oil costs rise with or without carbon taxes, is also better for our long term survival. And speaking of which, while BC cannot change global climate on its own, it does need to start looking after its environment a lot better. Because the economy is a subsidiary of the environment – and if we do not have a healthy environment there will be no economy at all!

But he is right about one thing

while the government played the role of planet-savers on Tuesday with $1.8 billion worth of carbon taxes, the same budget pledged just $2 million toward rapid rail transit this year.

If Campbell is serious about getting drivers to switch to transit, he must supply fast, comfortable and efficient transit options first.


his government is spending billions of dollars on expanded highways and bridges

which is just plain stupid

Written by Stephen Rees

February 21, 2008 at 12:21 pm

Transit stories in the Straight

with one comment

Lawyer queries college students’ B.C. transit costs

“I would say it might be possible to construe the differential rates or differential in fees as a barrier to accessing a public service,”

I would say that the students would be crazy to try it. It is simply the outcome of price negotiations, based on the “revenue neutral” formula. And, in the case of UBC, the fact that the university kicked in some money it would otherwise have spent on parking facilities.

Now it would be interesting to see what would happen if the policy were to be changed, and took other considerations into account. But then I suspect that other groups might get more attention. It would depend on what policy end was in sight. The current negotiating structure militates against the interests of colleges that already have a high transit ridership. Which is why for some time there has been an effort to get all the colleges negotiating as one, which would produce a lower price for places like VCC. But that did not work because one or two colleges decided they were not interested.

B.C. transit cop board complaint dismissed

This is very odd – but only because the way policing is organized here is chaotic. A separate force was needed for SkyTrain because of the number of boundaries it crossed.  There are all sorts of reasons why a metropolitan police force would be better, but don’t tell the Mayors that. They like to feel they are in charge of their own fiefdom. Public accountability is not a strong suit anywhere in either transit or policing these days here. And I doubt it will change much anytime soon.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 21, 2008 at 11:56 am

Posted in transit

TransLink commissioner in doubt

leave a comment »

Jeff Nagel, Richmond Review

The Mayors don’t think we need one.

The commissioner’s office is expected to hire its own staff, including inspectors and outside consultants.

The annual budget of the commissioner’s office is capped at 0.2 per cent of TransLink’s farebox revenue—an effective limit of $600,000 per year.

The commissioner is supposed to:

•Analyze spending and revenue plans to determine if they’re sound;

•Approve or reject fare hikes above the rate of inflation;

•Approve or reject the sale of major assets;

•Oversee TransLink’s public complaints system and customer satisfaction surveys;

•Conduct public hearings;

•Maintain a website making orders and findings public.

While the legislation puts the commissioner in charge of authorizing fare hikes that doesn’t extend to a complete veto.

Well somebody needs to do those things and I have no faith in the Mayors or the “professional” board to do any them properly or effectively. In the UK it is common to have some kind of regulatory body to oversee what used to be nationalised but are now privatised industries, and some of them have been very effective indeed. However, the big problems here have always been not nearly enough money for buying buses, mainly due to provincial preference to spend money on needlessly expensive rapid transit system for a small part of the region, and a general disregard for the need to get operating cost under control. More recently adding the burden of the Major Road Network and some very dodgy bridges downloaded from the province has distracted the organisation from what it was supposed to be doing – increasing transit mode share. The Gateway and the demands of the trucking industry inexplicably seemed to command much more attention than the old problems that were never effectively sorted out and remained political footballs.

On the other hand, the personality of the commissioner will be key – if there is one. And the appointee will need to show that they are independent, and concerned much more for the transit users than the other interests who have shouldered their way to the trough. If you can do that for $0.6m, that is good value for money in anyone’s book.

“We didn’t feel we wanted to spend that kind of money on that position,” Watts said.

And the noise you can hear is the sound of the stable door being bolted after the horse has gone. The money has gone to the new Board. And that body is not accountable and does not want to do things in public. The Commissioner seems to be the only appointment that could look at broader issues in the public interests. Mayors look after their constituents, so they do not have – and never have had – a regional perspective.

The last word, of course, goes to the Ministry spokesperson

Jeff Knight said it seems unlikely TransLink could continue without a commissioner indefinitely.

UPDATE February 21

Metro Vancouver mayors have backtracked and agreed to hire an independent TransLink commissioner after a warning from transportation minister Kevin Falcon.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 21, 2008 at 9:16 am