Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for March 27th, 2008

German plans for maglev derailed

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My readers seem to like high speed train stories. So here is another one. From Auntie Beeb. I think I may detect here a bit of gloat. It was an English scientist, Eric Laithwaite, who invented maglev. And linear induction motors – as used on SkyTrain. He used to appear on one of those geewhiz science programs “Tomorrow’s World” when were I a lad. On BBC tv as it happens. And LIMs and Maglev were to be the future.

The UK was first to introduce maglev trains for commercial use in 1984 in Birmingham to bridge a short distance between the city’s airport and railway station.

But after 11 years in operation, reliability problems and the sheer expense of extending the network, which are incompatible with traditional railway lines, prompted its replacement with a conventional system.

I think that this may have been a forerunner of the SkyTrain. I have certainly read that UTDC thought its application was going to be as an airport people mover – though only New York bought into that. The idea of a frictionless, no moving parts propulsion system sounds great in theory. But the reality has been a great deal different. It is perhaps ironic that the only city in the world to have a major LIM driven transit system will have conventional electric trains serving its airport.

Maglev has had some spectacular failures – and only Shanghai (illustrated)  now has an operational system. Meanwhile more conventional electric trains have done very well indeed both for local transit and high speed applications. The conventional electric motor being the heart of both systems but electronic control technology making the real difference between modern systems and those first demonstrated by Frank Sprague back in the 1880s.

I think that the problem with Maglev was it was a solution looking for a problem. Conventional electric traction has been very versatile and efficient and quite amazingly reliable and long lived compared with say internal combustion engines. And electrical transmission systems for ic power sources are still together one of the most efficient ways of turning the energy in fossil fuels into motive power. It may be that I will be proved wrong as energy efficiency and need for speed continue to pose ever greater challenges. But not for a while, I think. Maglev to me looks a lot like the monorail – it looks pretty but it really doesn’t work very well.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2008 at 7:46 pm

Posted in Railway

Tagged with

Bike Lane Built for Two

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Bike Lane Built for Two, originally uploaded by Fußgänger.


New York City’s new, physically-separated 9th Avenue Bicycle Lane safely and comfortably accommodates two cyclists side by side. If drivers can have a conversation between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat, why can’t two cyclists enjoy the same pleasure – rather than yelling at each other in single file in a narrow, 5-foot wide bike lane?

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2008 at 3:02 pm

Pacific Spirit Park

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Due to the duplicitous action of Mr. Campbell’s provincial government a chunk of Pacific Spirit Park, which is on the Western edge of Vancouver and is kind of like Stanley Park only wilder, will soon fall under the Developers’ axes.There is only one faint hope, which is that our Civic pols might actually show some gumption and say ‘hell no!’

And they’re meeting to talk about it tomorrow.

Thus, I have a post up asking/pleading with anyone living in the Greater Vancouver Regional District (pretty much all of the lower mainland) to Email these civic pols asking them to take a stand.

Ross K

I was going to take this post down once the meeting was over – but instead here is an

UPDATE March 29

Metro leaders vent anger at new expropriation law

Victoria can grab Pacific Spirit park land without compensation

Just when you think that things cannot get any worse, they do. Pinecone Burke was the exception – not the dawn of a new era.

A view of the forest at Pacific Spirit Regional Park. (Metro Vancouver/University Endowment Lands, BC, Canada)

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2008 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Environment

Metro Vancouver Planning Coalition

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Who? It was a bit of a surprise to come across this quote thanks to Beyond Robson and 24hrs

“The so called top planners do not even have the end of cheap energy, global warming, or mass migration on their radar,” said Balfour, director of the Metro Vancouver Planning Coalition. “We cannot keep on making the same silly mistakes of the last hundred years and that includes most current planning and engineering in our urban environments.”

And not to my surprise he’s promoting his new book. But what is this organisation? It’s a new one on me. And the web site does not have an “about us” page

But I did find this on

From Rick Balfour, MVPC: “The Metro Vancouver Planning Coalition is a Sustainable Planning and Urban Design Think Tank organized on an informal network structure, overseen by a Steering Committee of practicing and retired Architects and Planners. It has a number of committees and tries to cover public issues others want to avoid. The area of concern has grown to encompass what many see as the greater city area of Vancouver, the ecological basin ‘from Desolation to Hope’. The MVPC grew out of community level activities started from former urban design and discretionary zoning committees in the Architectural Institute of BC some 15 to 20 years ago now.”

And he doesn’t like freeways and thinks we should build light rail. Well, it’s always nice to come across an ally you didn’t know you had.

Update 31 March: he is also interviewed by the Tyee

and from the discussion section of that post

Richard was educated in Engineering (RCAF/ROTP, Royal Roads Military College), Sociology
(UBC B.A., 1972) and Architecture (UBC, B.Arch. 1974). He has spent 30 years working in the
planning design and construction professions in British Columbia. As a Council member of the
Architectural Institute of British Columbia, Richard has served on professional committees and task
forces dealing with community and government affairs including the Urban Design Committee and
the Housing Committee. In addition he has chaired the Discretionary Planning Task Force and was
a coordinator of the Vancouver 2001 Public Planning forum (1982). Recently he served as vice-
chairman of the Design Panel for the Corporation of the District of Surrey. Richard is particularly
sensitive to the concept of community and is concerned about the complex issues which affect a
community’s growth and change. He is a founding member of the Metro Vancouver Planning
Coalition, and a director of the New City Institute. Since 2004 he has been a member of the
Vancouver City Planning Commission and is currently Chair of the Strategic Sustainable Planning
Committee of the VCPC.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Passenger rail a long way off

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Chilliwack Mayor Clint Hames responding to an FVRD report

as the report says, we don’t have anywhere near the commuting population to support a system like this at this time

So both the FVRD and Clint have been sucked in by Falcon’s folly. The technique of repeating something untrue often enough so that it becomes accepted.

“A system like this” is also not what anyone was actually suggesting, right off the bat. And all you need to make a dmu on existing tracks worthwhile is enough people to fill the cars every so often. And all over the world people having been happily ripping up railway tracks, and then wondering why the roads are so congested. If you continue to do what you have always done, you cannot expect a different outcome. And that is what Mayor Hames and Kevin Falcon are worried about. Because they are heavily invested in business as usual. And the idea of Rail for the Valley is – why don’t we try something different for a change? Just like the people in Victoria who said why can’t we time the train on the E&N to bring people to work in the morning and take them home again in the late afternoon? Not exactly earth shatteringly different, you might have thought. Not really risky in any sense. But it was never even attempted.

Perhaps like Mrs Thatcher something nasty happened to them on a train once. She never rode on a train once all the time she was PM. I am sure she hates the fact that rail passenger ridership is up in Britain and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (something she fiercely opposed) is now doing so well.

Rail for the Valley is not a panacea – but it really would not hurt to try would it? A demonstration project using hired rolling stock with minimal station facilities – a portacabin and a bit of hard standing for the platforms. And just on the bits not needed to run coal and container trains.

Of course there is one major risk that we must not ignore. The Mayor and the Minister might have to admit they were wrong. The planners at the FVRD won’t have to worry about that.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2008 at 1:39 pm

T5 launch marred by delays and cancellations

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I do not often resort to blogging about blogging. But this is an exceptional case. Anyone who tries to keep a daily journal, or newspaper or any other medium, is going to cast about for “content” every so often. And BA really did its best to get bloggers interested in its new terminal at Heathrow, London’s largest airport. I got emails from someone there who offered me all kinds of material and “insider access” ahead of its opening. I will also admit I did ask if they would send me air tickets to attend some of their media events. I was not all surprised to learn that was not, unfortunately, possible even though I was willing to fly tourist.

Heathrow Terminal 5 under construction 2007/03/09

I have not flown by BA in recent years, so I did not use T4 – their previous Heathrow home. Air Canada flies into T2 which approaches the third circle of hell as far as my experience there is concerned. Overcrowded, long line ups for both security and overpriced coffee, immensely long treks to the gates, and nowhere quiet to sit if you did not qualify for a VIP lounge. And never once did I experience a flight delay or baggage loss, but I still did not like it.

Not all the problems on opening day were due to BA or BAA not being ready. A “a flash-mob of 250 environmental campaigners” didn’t really help – but then given the current level of frustration over the proposed third runway, some kind of event should have been anticipated. But the excuses for 2 hour luggage delays – and flight cancellations – really do sound a bit thin. And no doubt it will get better in time.

But as we note here from time to time, business as usual is no longer an option. Airport and freeway expansions in a world that is losing its ice coverage and running out of fossil fuel are not really appropriate responses to continuing rises in transportation demand. I do feel genuinely sympathetic to the unfortunate travellers promised much and disappointed – and hope that BA cares enough to give them a coupon or something (their usual response to cock ups, like being caught price fixing). But on the whole I cannot help but feel a touch of schadenfreunde.

Update – March 28 problems continue

March 29 and get worse

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2008 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Air Travel

Tagged with , , ,

Proponent’s response to public comments PM2/Hwy1 EA Application

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With no fanfare at all, and the provincial EA about to close on March 31, the Ministry of Transportation (the proponent) has produced its response to the comments made to their EA Application.

It was posted to the EA web page on December 13, but no notification was sent to those who provided comments. It is a table 152 pages long, and each comment is organised by the chapter headings to which comments were addressed. The download is 715kB.

The Ministry’s response can be readily summarised. Essentially what it says is that we looked at each comment and then paraphrased the section of our original document into the response section. None of the issues raised is therefore dealt with in any meaningful way.

The responses to official agencies – those who have seats at the working party tables such as federal ministries or local municipalities – are dealt with somewhat differently. In those cases individual agencies get letters – and the correspondence is, by now, voluminous. But the outcome does not seem to be very different. It may be that the EA under federal requirements could be different – because that is unaffected by the March 31 deadline. And so far, important issues raised by federal agencies remain to be addressed, let alone resolved.

If you sent in a comment, you might want to trawl through the table to see if you can see your name, or that of your organisation. But you will not learn anything new. Induced traffic, for example, is simply dismissed:

Traffic induced by growth in excess of that predicted by regional
and municipal landuse plans and its effects are beyond the scope
of this assessment as set out in the Application Terms of
Reference (ATOR), which identify the issues to be addressed and
the information to be provided by MOT in its Application.
source: Chapter 8 – Local Air Quality and Human Health Impact Assessment

So the traffic induced by increasing road space is not even acknowledged, and the land use effect is the responsibility of the municipalities.

Just to be quite clear about this, every major road expansion in a congested urban area has always produced an increase in vehicle kilometres travelled – and this occurs even when there is no change in land use. Equally, when the capacity of a road network is reduced – for example by a road closure or a bridge collapse – the volume of traffic (again measured as VKT) declines. And again this is not anything to do with land use. Both of these phenomena are well documented, and have been part of the transportation planners lexicon since the 1960s. These effects are not included in the GVRD regional transportation model used for this EA Application – because the total number of trips in both cases is assumed to be exactly the same. This is not due to some shortcoming in the software, or the lack of skill in its operation. It is a function of the way the model is constructed. It ignores induced traffic just as it ignores land use changes that result from major transportation investments. Neither of these assumptions is realistic.

And of course there was no examination of any realistic alternative: the only comparator used was the “do nothing scenario” supplemented later by a few extra model runs that included imaginary bus routes that no one experienced in transit modelling would expect to attract ridership – but not a simple direct rapid bus connecting Surrey and Coquitlam Town Centres. One route examined ran from Maple Ridge WCE station over the Golden Ears, along Highway 1 and then up to the Coquitlam WCE station. This route had never appeared in any Translink plan.

I really wonder why we waste so much time and effort on such a pointless exercise. Like nearly every other major provincial project, no real hard questions were asked or answered before it was decided to proceed. This is an old idea, dredged from the back of one the MoTs plan chests were it has resided for many years. The BC MoT has never been interested in transportation. It builds highways. Period. No serious consideration was given to any other method of dealing with the transportation issues of this region by the MoT or its consultants. “Out of scope” answers everything in their minds.

They indulge us with a “public consultation” process, but never intended to listen and would not dream of changing anything is response to what they heard from the public. The fight with the municipalities is similar – and anyway places like Vancouver have just rolled over. Only Burnaby has raised any serious objections. And again they might just as well have saved themselves a lot of work for all the good it has done. So the crunch question is, will the federal government do anything effective?

In advanced western civilised democracies citizens are treated with respect by their governments. That is not the case in BC.

The Premier of British Columbia wants us to believe that he cares about the environment and climate change. The decision this week on the Upper Pitt – after one public meeting – is very encouraging. But what sign is there that any of the equally well argued objections count for anything when it comes to Highways?

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2008 at 11:19 am

Posted in Gateway