Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for May 25th, 2008

The forecasting problem

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A little while ago I posted Ben West’s piece on the Gateway forecast, which used a gas price of 80c/l. The chart above I stumbled upon. The source is Bespoke Investment Group and I have no idea who they are and I am not recommending them. And the chart could be updated to $135 a barrel last week.

The Gateway modellers used 2003 data, which if you look at the chart was just around the time when the trend turns upwards. Now, I am not saying that what they did then was wrong – although I think most modellers would throw in some additional “what if scenarios” or “sensitivity tests” just to show what could happen if the assumptions are out. And also note that other forecasters were blindsided by the way that oil prices have taken off. Just like the climate change scientists have been proved wrong. Climate change is actually happening much faster than anyone predicted.

What is bizarre, however, is the way that Kevin Falcon and Gordon Campbell are sticking to their guns. The forecast is now five years old – and obviously by steering the ship from looking at its wake, missed something very important up ahead. Like the fact that VMT in the US is actually dropping – and that has not happened on a month to month basis since 1979.

Of course, the Gateway folks want to pretend that their plan is not going to depend on people driving more. They like to maintain the fiction that it is “necessary” for the port to expand, which is why we “need” a twinned Port Mann, a widened Highway #1 and the SFPR. (Forget the fact that the freight goes by rail for now.) And, of course, if you steadfastly refuse to expand transit but fob people off with a $14bn pie in the sky, someone else will pay for it, transit “plan” you could even be right that many folks will have no choice but to keep on trucking. For rapid transit will not reach places like Langley in my lifetime the way things are going.

But the other things that have been happening, that this oil price spike illustrates, is the collapse of the US dollar and the horrendous impact this is having on trans-pacific trade. Which was supposed to grow rapidly, forever, according to the Port officials, but has actually been declining. Because China now prefers to ship to Europe whose currency is much stronger.

It is very unfortunate that in North America there is a perception that being decisive and holding your ground indicates a strong politician. One who adjusts policies to changing circumstances is said to “flip flop” or be indecisive. As a result we have had a long history of quite dreadful decisions based on “stay the course” when it is quite obvious to all around that it is monumentally stupid to do so.

The world has changed. America is no longer #1. The dollar is not the most favoured store of value. The US economy is not growing. They do not like to use the word “recession”, but that is the one that everyone outside the US is thinking. Gateway was never a very good idea, because it ignored a whole number of external influences. It assumed away any inconvenient facts. But that was then. Now it looks like the daftest idea since prohibition. Because it assumes that the Port of Vancouver can get more trade here that would otherwise go through US west coast ports.

“When circumstance change, I change my mind. What do you do?” (often attributed to John Maynard Keynes, though there seems no evidence that he said it)

Written by Stephen Rees

May 25, 2008 at 7:57 pm

Posted in Gateway

City of Surrey trying to halt radio orchestra’s swan song

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Province

I have tried to keep my personal views about the deliberate sabotaging of culture here and on CBC Radio 2 off this blog. I have another one for that. But this article shows how Surrey is really leading the region. They understand that a real city is more than just real estate and property taxes.

“This is an opportunity looking us square in the face,” says Surrey Coun. Linda Hepner, who introduced the resolution. “Bringing the orchestra here marries nicely with the shift in direction that we’ve taken to develop our city centre core.”

Mayor Dianne Watts agrees.

“We’ve already crunched some of the numbers and we certainly think that bringing this orchestra to Surrey can be done,” she says.

The mayor explains that establishing a resident symphony orchestra fits hand-in-glove with Surrey’s larger plans to move city hall from its current hinterland location on Highway 10 to the emerging downtown core in Whalley, where the new Simon Fraser University campus, an increasing number of high-rise buildings and SkyTrain are located.

It is Surrey’s good fortune that Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan has been far too busy fighting off a challenge from Peter Ladner to notice what is happening to culture in his own city. And the idea of Surrey City Centre finally rising out of the disaster area that “Whalley” was when I got here ten years ago is very encouraging. And Surrey is, of course, much more a Central Place than downtown Vancouver geographically for the region as whole .   Surrey has been growing faster than Vancouver for some time, and it will be salutory for the people who have been overly confident that the downtown core will always be the centre to realize that the competition is real. There is more to a city than thin high expensive condos.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 25, 2008 at 8:09 am

Posted in Urban Planning

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Sealife at risk from rapid acidification

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Guardian

This might have been picked up here by the local press but if so I missed it.

The study referenced was published on Friday in the journal Science. The increase in CO2 emissions is taken up by seawater, which turns it into carbonic acid. The survey was done of our coastline – the Pacific from Canada to Mexico – and the rate of change is much faster than had been anticipated.

“It’s very worrying,” said Dr Carol Turley, at Plymouth Marine Laboratory. “The marine food web is extremely complex so [the effects are] very hard to predict. Whether it will support the kind of food web we are used to seeing and depending on in future is anyone’s guess really.”

But we are already seeing declining fish stocks and changes in species seen off our coast. And we have already badly damaged our local marine environment by allowing salmon farming, dumping partially treated and untreated sewage, over fishing using trawl nets that leave the ocean floor denuded of all life, plus all that plastic waste and oil spills. Throw into that the idea that we can continually expand our port onto sensitive habitat areas like the mudflats, and maybe drilling for oil and gas in areas currently closed, and the possibility that there will be edible fish and other sea food seems very uncertain indeed.

And we actually need to be eating more fish, if we are concerned for our health, as we know that red meat is not a good choice environmentally, ecologically or from a dietary perspective.

It was not that long ago – well alright maybe it was, as in those days it was a BBS on a dial up modem – when I asked what we expected to do when we had cut down the last tree and taken the last fish. Which was a rhetorical flourish that got me labelled as an “ecoloony” but it now seems to be uncomfortably closer to the truth.

I also have the distinct impression that the people who run things in BC and Canada are still blind to what is happenning, and dismiss rather too easily the concerns that more and more of their constituents are expressing about what sort of future our gas guzzling ways are bringing us.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 25, 2008 at 7:47 am