Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for April 30th, 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