Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for April 2008

How Do Green Roofs Work?

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Scientific American

There was a story last night on Global TV News about Richmond’s proposal that from next year all new large commercial and industrial buildings will have to have green roofs. (By the way that link will probably not work after this evening’s news replaces what is there as I write)

What really got to me was the sight of Ken Cameron, formerly head of Planning at the GVRD now with the insurance industry group that provides homeowner’s insurance throwing doubt on the idea.

If StumbleUpon had not thrown up this page I doubt I would have thought about it again, but there is a wealth of information in SciAm article and no doubt you could find more with a Google search. I wonder if Ken did?

He was also the co-author of the City Making in Paradise book. But he seems to me to have lost some of his credibility with his new job. First of all, there is no proposal to make people’s houses have green roofs. The proposed Richmond by law does not apply to homes – so his locus in this bit is tenuous to say the least. But what on earth did he think he would achieve? Or maybe they have got all gun shy after the leaky condo affair. The insurers did not cover themselves in glory over that one – but it was fairly well established I thought that CMHC should bear the greatest responsibility for imposing standards designed to work in Winnipeg on the wet coast.

I am not going to pretend to be an expert, but I certainly applaud Harold Steves and his concern with rainwater absorption which is a real issue on our Island. I also wonder why the attention was focussed on the under construction Convention Centre and not one of the many successful green roofs that have been in place for some time – like the one on the Vancouver Public Library?

Written by Stephen Rees

April 30, 2008 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Environment, Urban Planning

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GM posts big loss as U.S. sales hurt

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I could have chosen one of 580 articles from the Google News engine – this one just happened to be top of the list.

The main reason that GM is not doing well is that it is having a hard time selling big trucks for use as passenger vehicles – something they have pursued aggressively ever since the introduction of the Corporate Average Efficiency Standards in the US. Trucks do not count towards that target, and in very crude terms, the bigger the vehicle, the bigger the profit margin. Or, as Henry Ford II put it, “minicars, miniprofits”. In fact a recent prolonged strike at one of its parts suppliers helped, since there was excess inventory in trucks, SUVs and minivans (which of course are not “mini” in any meaningful sense).

GM did try to sell small cars – and built the CAMI plant in Ingersoll Ontario as a joint venture. But sales of the Geo Metro/Suzuki Swift never met expectations. I suspect because of the market sentiment their own campaigns had created. I have always been surprised at the persistence of the “bigger cars are safer” myth. The plant now builds “crossover SUVs”

Both Toyota and Honda are doing better, but both sell large trucks to households too. They just concentrated on building cars that met the increasingly stringent California standards, rather than fight expensive court battles against them. If GM had spent as much on R&D as it did on lawyers, it might have done better. And it has certainly woken up recently

“Four dollar gasoline won’t kill the industry, but it will force it to change,” said Tynan [an auto analyst at Argus Research]. “Demand for hybrids will grow, which will force GM and Ford to compete with Toyota and Honda’s new technology.”

So far as I can see, the US makers would rather put hybrid drives in their bigger vehicles and make them more fuel efficient first than go head to head with the Prius and Civic hybrids. But they also have very little to offer against conventional smaller engined cars that get very good fuel economy at much lower prices.

Underneath the restyled front fascia, hood and fenders is a powerful 320-horsepower 5.3L V-8.


It does not say anything about gas mileage

Written by Stephen Rees

April 30, 2008 at 9:51 am

Posted in cars

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Bombardier makes a pitch for piece of $14b Metro rapid-transit work

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I did get an invite to the Board of Trade for this speech – but they charge a lot for attendance. I do not think I need to pay to listen to a commercial.

Worth quoting

“Mobility is a critical issue for any region striving to be a true player on the global stage,” Betler said. However, when it comes to moving people, transportation systems in regions such as Metro Vancouver are out of whack and weighted too heavily toward roads. Traffic congestion is one of the results, the cost of which has been calculated at $700 million to $1.2 billion per year in the Metro Vancouver region.

“We simply can’t build enough roads to accommodate the volume of people that need to have access to our urban centres,” Betler said. “Not today and certainly not when you consider what’s coming in the future.”
Transit trains, he added, can help balance out the transportation formula. A modern transit system, he said, can carry 40,000 people per hour heading in either direction, versus 6,000 people driving on a two-lane highway during the same time frame.

Betler did not disparage the province’s other transportation plan, the Asia Pacific Gateway Strategy, which calls for new perimetre [misspelled in the original] roads, twinning of the Port Mann Bridge and expansion of the freeway. “[Transportation is] personal preference,” he added. “But at some point in time, economics and environmental conditions are going to force a solution.”

Transportation is a lot more than personal choice. Transportation shapes development. Transit makes denser, walkable centres possible. Building freeways means there has to be more parking and more vehicle circulation space – and roads which are designed to deter through traffic on distributors. The dendritic street pattern that gives rise to low density sprawl. We need rail based transit systems; not so that  Bombardier can make more money, but to secure a future that is sustainable and does not threaten the ALR and the Green Zone. Trains and trams can run on electricity which can be generated from a wide variety of sources. At the moment that is not a very practical or economic option for road vehicles – and that includes my beloved trolleybuses.

“Making a pitch” is a waste of effort if we have an objective, fact based bid appraisal process. It is not that the lowest price should win: there must be a value for money evaluation. Some things are worth paying extra for.

We do not need the Gateway. We do need a livable, sustainable and affordable region.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 30, 2008 at 9:15 am

Panel Finds Link Between Smog and Premature Death

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Hat tip to Cycling Mama on the LRC blog for this New York Times article.

It is about a controversy in the US. The White House has been doing its usual trick of doubting the science that links exposure to low level ozone with morbidity. A bit like they were doing on climate change and greenhouse gas (though they seem to have reversed that one now).

It does not apply here. For example in the SFPR studies there is an acknowledgment that local air pollution will get worse and there will be health effects. What is stunning is the effrontery of the analysis which suggests that as this will increase expenditure on healthcare that will be good for the economy! This is a well known mistake long recognised in cost benefit analysis and known as the “broken window effect”. It stems from people who used to claim that repairing broken windows was economic activity that added growth to the economy. It is, of course, nonsense. What it actually does is divert spending away from other activities that would have lead to an overall improvement in “welfare” . For example, the shopkeeper whose windows were smashed must pay to put them back as they were instead of investing the money in improvements, which would have increased his business.

It is also worth noticing that ozone is the product of emissions – mostly from gasoline powered cars – that react in sunlight. The SFPR will also increase emissions of ultrafine carbon particulates as well – and the health impacts of those are not in doubt. Diesel exhaust is a known human carcinogen – and increased truck traffic near homes and schools guarantees increased exposure to the most vulnerable members of the community – the young and the aged.

At least with the SFPR there is an admission that traffic will increase. Somehow that is not supposed to happen on the Freeway or the Port Mann Bridge. Apparently that will just divert increases in traffic that would occur anyway. And amazingly there are people who believe that – or say they do.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 30, 2008 at 8:39 am

What I did on Sunday

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There was a final trolleybus ride organised by TRAMS last Sunday. Jason Vanderhill was among those I shared the experience with and he has a wonderful set of images on flickr.

Mine – as seen on the Vancouver Metblog – were very ordinary.

Stanley Park loop

Photo by Jason Vanderhill

Written by Stephen Rees

April 29, 2008 at 6:00 pm

Posted in transit

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Estimate for bike lanes on Burrard Bridge hits $57M

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Photo by Chris Piggott on flickr


The cost of adding bicycle lanes to Vancouver’s Burrard Bridge has quadrupled, according to the latest estimates.

“The estimated cost to do the work necessary to make the improvements in 2009 dollars would be $57 million,” Coun. Kim Capri told the CBC on Monday.

And the final cost could rise further, as high $63 million, since the work would have to be put off until after the 2010 Olympics, said Capri.

The numbers were presented to city councillors on Monday by city engineers at a special workshop on the latest plan to add bike lanes to the heritage-listed bridge.

It was always a very stupid idea. Say thank you taxpayers of Vancouver to your Mayor and the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association. It all stems from their inability to understand basic traffic management. City staff, and Kim Capri, are infected with the same disease.

The news reopens the debate about whether the city should reconsider an older plan, which called for closing traffic lanes to make room for bikes, said Coun. George Chow.

That plan was adopted by the previous council, but dropped by the current council immediately following the last civic election, in 2005.

But staff warned against reconsidering it because it would back up traffic on both end of the bridge and lead to gridlock, said Capri.

If anybody ever uses the word “gridlock” you know they are grandstanding. Gridlock is a temporary phenomenon caused by drivers entering an intersection when their exit is not clear. Networks quickly sort themselves out – which is why the idea of a trial of lane closures preceded by a public information period was also rejected by the City. Because that would demonstrate that closing lanes to cars on the bridge (to allow for bikes and buses) would work. And we don’t want that do we. Otherwise people would start saying things like “Why can we not close more lanes to through traffic?” – just like they have been doing in Copenhagen for the last forty years and seeing a dramatic rise in the use and popularity of the City Centre.

The number of lanes on the bridge is not the critical issue for traffic flow. It is the capacity of the junctions at each end. And if all the traffic from West Vancouver (and some of North) can be accommodated into the three lane Lion’s Gate Bridge, which does Kits and Point Grey need six? And why would you wreck an art deco jewel with bolted on excrescences?

The City has a Transportation Policy. It states that priority will be given to pedestrains, cyclists and transit ahead of cars. That policy has not been rescinded and is part of the City Plan. So how come this nonsense continues? Because a very small group of very powerful people put their self interest ahead of common sense.

If they have $57m to spend I can think of a lot of things that could be done with that sum that would make the City a much nicer place to be. And the Burrard Bridge could stay pretty much as it is: a bit of paint for lanes and some road signs, and a bit of re-jigging of the intersections ought to do it for well under $1m I reckon. But the people carrying performance of the bridge would be enhanced significantly – and it is people that need to be counted not vehicles!

Brent Granby of WERA advises that there is a survey on the CBC web site

Written by Stephen Rees

April 29, 2008 at 11:26 am

Posted in bicycles, Traffic, Transportation

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‘Validators’ endorse Liberals’ tax bill even before public sees it

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Vaughan Palmer is getting a bit annoyed about the Liberal legislative process – or rather that he got some press releases from interest groups about the Carbon Tax Bill before it got to the house. Now it happened that one of my pieces yesterday was about this same issue and positive, but I want to assure you that I was not being lined up by Campbell’s spin doctors. It was conincidence. But it was driven by my irritation at the rural and northern mayors who “believe what is consistent with their self-interest, not with the evidence.” Nic Rivers has been doing some research which shows that people who live in small towns in the interior tend to commute shorter distances than those who live in the Lower Mainland. Which is really no surprise at all.

Currently the carbon tax is in for a round of mock indignation and parliamentary show boating. Debates in the leg are not about making the Act better, or discussing issues in the hopes of finding solutions. It is for sound bites and bits in the constituency newsletters. Vaughan Plamer is right to be irritated by the process, but that is how he makes his living. I am certain that more people read his column than read Hansard or watch the leg on tv. And the nitty gritty of parliamentary procedures and details of sub section 95 paragraph 1 c are not exactly gripping stuff.

The Liberal’s Bill is a small start. It is far from perfect of course. But we have to start somewhere. For one thing climate change is producing a shortage of hops. But someone is going to have to tackle the fact that as things stand our school boards are going to be giving back to the province money that should be going to educate our children but will instead be spent on carbon tax. Expect howls from the colleges, universities and hospitals too. And, of course, in a monument to bureaucracy that only Carole Taylor could be proud of, transit will also be hit by both higher fuel costs and carbon taxes, as well as loss of revenue as gas sales fall, at the very time when transit service is more desperately needed than ever.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 29, 2008 at 10:53 am

Sweden’s carbon-tax solution

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In 2007 Sweden topped the list of countries that did the most to save the planet – for the second year running – according to German environmental group, Germanwatch.  Between 1990 and 2006 Sweden cut its carbon emissions by 9%, largely exceeding the target set by the Kyoto Protocol, while enjoying economic growth of 44% in fixed prices.

It has not even got started here yet, but we are being flooded with tales about how terrible our tiny carbon tax is going to be.

Jeppe Gustafsson/AFP

Sweden can lay claim to the world’s first train running solely on biogas.

Photograph: Jeppe Gustafsson/AFP

Well, we can expect some teething troubles, and nowhere does a policy translate directly. Bit I think Canada and Sweden have a bit in common. They just don’t have the space, oil and gas that we do. Which is why they pursued this initiative with such vigour. They realised early on that reliance on imported oil was not a good idea. The ghg reductions were kind of a bonus.

I know a lot of environmentalists – and others – now regard “growth” as a dirty word, but the Swedes have shown you do not necessarily need to trade off the environment against the economy.

Anyway, I thought it was about time for something positive for a change.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 28, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Landmark land settlement

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Canadian Geographic

Canada’s first modern, urban treaty gives the Tsawwassen First Nation control of its land and the chance at a prosperous future

The hat tip goes to Damien Gillis who alerted me to this in depth analysis which includes his video of Bertha Williams, which I linked to some time ago.

This treaty was driven by the Gateway process – not any concern for the TFN. The collapse of the US dollar ought to be the danger signal that makes the port start to doubt its forecasts. The airport has a much more prgamatic approach – it does not start the next stage of expansion until the demand is clear, and is very reluctant to attach dates to projects in their plan. They expand at need, not on a whim.

I have also been noting here how the flawed environmental assessment and the cavalier rush to construction will have a dramatic effect on the Pacific Flyway and the feeding grounds of the sandpipers. Given this government’s shabby record on issues like farmed salmon and the Sea to Sky don’t expect much noise from our designated environmental agencies where the staff are more concerned with hanging on to their pay cheques than actually doing anything effective. At one time professional public servants acted in the best interests of the province. Now they are little better than lackeys to their political masters.

Well worth spending some time on the in depth coverage.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 28, 2008 at 4:33 pm

Driven to the Brink

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Those of you following the fortunes of the US and who read Chris Leinberger’s article will find the following somewhat familiar

A new analysis shows that high gas prices are not only implicated in the bursting of the housing bubble, but that the higher cost of commuting has already re-shaped the landscape of real estate value between cities and suburbs. Housing values are falling fastest in distant suburban and exurban neighborhoods where affordability depended directly on cheap gas.

Author Joe Cortright wrote to me “Our contribution is to use some current and very detailed data about real estate markets to flesh out that [Leinberger] story.”

Read the press release here.

Download the full study here.

Download File (PDF 107 KB)

Of course I do not expect that this will have any impact at all on Kevin Falcon – who will just stick his fingers in his ears and start singing the zoom zoom song

Oil $120m a barrel, gas $1.30 a litre – and we are going to widen a freeway and build the SFPR across Burns Bog

Written by Stephen Rees

April 28, 2008 at 4:17 pm