Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for March 29th, 2008

Weak Economy Slows Cargo, Idles Railcars

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Associated Press

Those of you who subscribe to the lrc-general mailing list will have seen this already: thank you Richard Campbell for posting it.

As some of you may know I have a harmless obsession – I like to watch trains, and take their pictures. And one of the places I go to do that around here is Deltaport. And I have been noticing recently that it has been very quiet. I usually like to take pictures of trains as I think shots of empty railroad tracks are less interesting. Though there are people who do that too.

But you cannot extrapolate a trend from a few anecdotes. But this is actual data

Texas-based BNSF Railway, a division of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., has parked upward of 1,000 cars in Montana alone, spokesman Gus Melonas said. More are parked in other parts of the company’s 32,000-mile system, which operates in 28 states and two Canadian provinces.

They decline to provide a figure for the whole system citing reasons of confidentiality. But the truckers are not so reticent.

One of the nation’s leading trucking companies, Schneider National in Green Bay, Wis., says it believes a freight recession began about 20 months ago, well before signs of a downturn closed in on consumers.

“We have been in a freight recession longer than people have been expressing deep concern about the economy,” said Bill Matheson, Schneider’s president for intermodal transportation.

or the ports

In January, Long Beach posted a decrease of about 12 percent in overall volume compared to January 2007

The trajectory of ever increasing imports into North America was never going to be sustainable, but the extent and speed with which things have turned around seems to have taken the province of BC by surprise. The Gateway program is still steaming along with no slackening of its pace. Despite increasing concerns about the impacts on the environment and local communities Gordon and Kevin are determined to press on regardless.  But as we also know the justification for both port expansion and the associated road program was never really very well thought through. It was simple opportunism, not long range planning at all. And the road expansion appealed to other groups. I think that for a while there a lot of people thought that the apparent economic case – more trade means growth and jobs – was good cover for what they really wanted. Freeways and suburban development. Business as usual. And I think that cover has been blown.

And I have no doubt at all that when confronted with this story their reaction will be that it is a cyclical effect. The recession, they will say, will be temporary, and when things turn around we will be in a stronger position to compete. Except that this is no ordinary recession, and more than one commentator is drawing comparisons with 1931. And I suspect that as usual the US response to difficult times will be to retreat back into protectionism.

There is also another effect of the credit crunch that is more direct in its impact. It is becoming increasingly difficult to finance P3s. Because the organisations that were really keen on such things were once awash with funds. They had these wonderful new financial instruments, which looked a bit complicated, but people thought were backed by real estate. Securitised mortgages – and lots of them, thanks to the removal of federal oversight of the financial community and exactly the same type of instrument by the way that caused the 1931 collapse. That is when the recession started. Not the 1929 Wall Street crash. The banking crisis which looks the same as the one the US has now. When people could not make their mortgage payments and the banks foreclosed and then found the properties they had repossessed were unsaleable. Which meant the value of the paper they had been flogging was now impossible to determine.

So how long before the penny drops in Victoria?

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2008 at 5:32 pm

Posted in Economics, Gateway

Local news items

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Richmond Review

I must admit a sense of surprise – but gratification  – to read an editorial in a local paper that wants photo radar back, as well as more red light cameras. Good.

A new greenway is to be built to link No 3 Road to the Oval. It seems to have all the right things to including muich better access to the top of the dyke and a “series of public plazas”. Which is just what I have been talking about here for a while.
Also Good

and also

Another project that motorists will notice is a plan to run hydro lines underground along Lansdowne, between No. 3 and Cooney roads.

Which I think makes my trifecta.

It makes me wonder if someone at City Hall is reading this blog. If not it doesn’t matter where the ideas come from, just that we are doing the right things for a change.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2008 at 4:37 pm

Save-On-Foods opens first Vancouver location

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This is in the Business section

The newest store lies in the heart of a Cambie corridor that’s experiencing a massive retail transformation, with new stores like Best Buy, Home Depot and Whole Foods open or about to open soon.

Store manager Bruce Brown said the 42,398-square-foot outlet will be a “full-size, full-scale, full-service” grocery store.

“It’s a true Save-On-Foods store, not a boutique store,” he said in an interview. “Our consumers can come here and do a primary shop — fill their baskets with whatever they need in their household.”

It is actually Cambie and 7th so it is some way north of the area that had really got everyone’s attention “Cambie Village” which is up in the teens. Now I do not pretend to know much about this area and what is happening there. But at first reading these stores do not seem to me to be the sort of places you pop into on your way home from the transit station. Home Depot and Save On in my experience are car oriented retailers – at least the ones I have used. And I would expect that they will be very attractive to the car owners within the 20 minute “isochrone” (drive time) that I used to draw on maps back when I did retail impact analyses many years ago in another city. Mind you, back then a store half this size was a “superstore”.

Fortunately we do have a number of regular commenters now, and I look forward to reading their reactions, but I must start out with my guess that this area will not be much like TOD as I know it

Brown said all the new residential developments nearby ensures a lot of people will walk to the store while it’s proximity to the Canada Line — with a station about two blocks away — will also attract more business.

“Also” – in other words people who walk in are a bonus – it’s the drivers they really want!

UPDATE April 1 2008

Save on Foods

The development has a number of retailers – including Home Depot – and housing on the top. Mixed use is a Good Thing – but is this too much of a Good Thing? I also blogged about this on the Metblog.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2008 at 10:48 am

Transit and Property Speculation

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In today’s Sun there is an editorial and an opinion piece by Miro Certenig

And as the editorial notes, this is not Hong Kong and SoCoBriTCA is not the MTR. Nor is it the CPR. And the less said about John Les at this stage the better.

The CPR was encouraged to build its line across the country by a straightforward strategy. The Government of Canada gave it land grants along its right of way. Even so, the CPR was not an easy enterprise to fund. And, just like the UP/Central Pacific across the US, had to be rebuilt soon after completion as a number of cost saving construction measures had to be corrected once the revenue stream started to flow and some of that land could be sold. And that is not a model we can emulate either –  nor should we.

We have needed TOD here for a very long time. And apart from exceptions like Joyce Station have not seen a lot of it yet – although there are stirrings in the undergrowth. But development funded transit is also not the only model. Just the one that seems easiest to finance. And that is what seems to appeal to our leaders these days.

It does not necessarily produce the optimum decision. For instance, when GVTA lost its expected revenue stream from the vehicle levy, its priorities changed. And all of a sudden a replacement for the Albion Ferry leapt to the top of the agenda. And the only reason it did so was that it could be funded by user tolls, and thus built by a P3. Whether or not it was a Good Idea or consistent with a plan to try and restrain car dependent sprawl in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows were questions that were never even asked, let alone answered.

Left to its own devices, the market produces some very poor outcomes. That is because the market is unconcerned with social or environmental objectives. Not that that prevents the market from having profound social and environmental impacts – which is why we used to have legislation to control it. As we now know to our cost in BC we have given up trying to protect our environment except where the protests get really significant. Though quite why they listened at Pitt Lake and not Eagleridge Bluffs I cannot determine.

Once upon a time, we decided collectively that we needed an activity called “planning” to try and control some of the worst excesses of developer’s greed. Not that it always worked – or very well  when it did. But people do still come to Vancouver from elsewhere in North America and they think we did better in some ways than they did. I do not trust the present provincial government – or its appointees. The real estate development model may get us more transit and more TOD. But I would not be at all surprised if in another twenty years we are still stuck in traffic with an 11% mode share – and a very profitable agency that used to be public but will have become a “publicly traded corporation.” Which will no doubt please the “man whose last job was with The Fraser Institute” who writes the editorials at the Sun.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2008 at 10:33 am

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

Earth Hour

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I have just signed up

I really don’t think I need a page of tips to tell me how to turn off the power – or what to do while it is off. Nor do you. Sign up if you want it to have some PR impact. But cutting your kwh will show up anyway even if you don’t

Just remember what happened nine months after that huge North East power outage a few years back and be careful, OK?

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2008 at 9:54 am

Posted in energy