Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for June 3rd, 2008

GM axes four SUV and truck plants

with 10 comments

Chevy Suburban

I just heard this on the CBC News, but the BBC News gives a broader perspective.

It is very tough for Oshawa and the workers at the plant, but they did not decide which models to build. As the shareholder in this story notes “Unfortunately, it’s just a sign that once again they’re behind the curve”. Just as they were with the EV and with fighting the California ZEV mandate, and concentr5atin on trying to find ways around the CAFE standards than ways to make more efficient cars or better transportation systems (they got out of buses and trains some years ago).

The big three North American automakers have been out of step with the changing world for years. They preferred lobbying in Washington and fighting court battles to facing up to the inevitable. Petroleum is a finite resource, and demand for it has been escalating, and the smart boys on Wall Street have been making a killing driving up the price. The consumer is naturally responding by turning to vehicles that meet a real need – and also to other modes where they are available. Demand for big trucks and SUVs used for personal transport is dropping fast.

GM has lost a combined $51bn over the past three years. Can you imagine the uproar if that was a public sector organisation? But just as the people of Flint Michigan suffered (and produced Michael Moore) so the people of Oshawa, Ontario, Canada; Moraine, Ohio; Janesville, Wisconsin; and Toluca in Mexico will suffer now. And of course so will the pension funds and other investors who have held on to their GM shares. For this corporation has no conscience. It does not understand the concept of corporate citizenship or social responsibility. And it cannot even be said to understand the expectations of its shareholders either.

Chrysler was the first of the big three to wobble dangerously – and is now back on its own after Mercedes Benz decided it was better off without it. Ford also looks very shaky. I wonder why those corporate raiders who areso keen on bustign up big corportations and selling off the bits have been so reluctant to get involved.

GM used to pretend that “what was good for GM is good for the USA” but that is very obviously no longer the case. And the people who bought their products out of misapplied patriotism have been paying too much for the wrong products. And anyway a lot of Toyotas and Hondas are built in North America these days.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 3, 2008 at 4:35 pm

Posted in Economics

Tagged with

UBC Researchers to investigate cycling safety

with 5 comments

VANCOUVER: Today marks the beginning of Bike Month, an initiative designed to promote cycling and to encourage people to trade four wheels for two.  However, many would-be cyclists may be hesitant to take up cycling due to concerns about safety.  That’s why a research team based at the Universities of British Columbia and Toronto is launching a study to investigate which types of cycling routes are safest.

“When you ask people why they don’t cycle more often, the most common answer is safety, yet the best evidence for improving safety is for more people to cycle,” says Kay Teschke, Professor at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health and lead investigator of the new study. Many northern European cities boast cycling levels many times higher than those of Canada or the United States and cyclists there are less likely to suffer serious injuries than in North America.  Cycling also provides many health benefits (increased physical fitness, decreased obesity and chronic diseases, reduced air and noise pollution), so it is a wonderful mode of transportation to use.

There are a number of theories for why cycling in Europe is both safer and more popular than in North America.  One theory relates to transportation infrastructure: European cities most often feature cycle paths separated from motorized traffic, while Canadian cyclists are more likely to be sharing the road with parked and moving cars.  “The relative safety of these two styles of infrastructure has been the subject of much debate among cycling researchers and advocates, but little research,” explains Teschke.

The new study will attempt to fill this knowledge gap by collecting extensive data about cycling injuries in Vancouver and Toronto.  The research team is working with hospitals in both cities to recruit patients who have visited emergency rooms due to a cycling injury.  They will interview injured cyclists, and then will conduct site observations to collect information on route characteristics.  The team will record information about the injury site and about two other randomly selected sites along the route.   This will allow the team to estimate the risks of different route types (for example, designated bike routes compared to mixed-use routes), and of distinct points on routes (for example, intersections compared to straight-aways).

Transportation planners from Vancouver and Toronto are involved in the study, contributing technical expertise and information about transportation networks to the project.  “We are always happy to obtain more data about potentially risky situations for cyclists, especially when the data is directly related to our local conditions” says Peter Stary, the Bicycle Program Coordinator for the City of Vancouver.  Stary says that the study results may be used to help develop countermeasures for route characteristics found to contribute to bicycle crashes.

More information about the study can be found on the ‘Cycling in Cities’ website at  The study is funded under a strategic Request for Applications in the area of the Built Environment, Obesity and Health launched by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and its partners the CIHR Institutes of Aging; of Circulatory and Respiratory Health; of Human Development, of Child and Youth Health; of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis; of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes; and of Population and Public Health.


The Centre for Health and Environment Research is a multidisciplinary research centre funded by the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.  It provides infrastructure support for investigators who research and prevent diseases caused by hazards in outdoor and indoor environments.  For more information, please visit

For more information, please contact:

Christie Hurrell
Executive Director
UBC Centre for Health and Environment Research
Tel: 604-827-5622
Fax: 604-822-9588

Kay Teschke
School of Population and Public Health, and
School of Environmental Health
Tel: 604-822-2041
Fax: 604-822-4994

Written by Stephen Rees

June 3, 2008 at 4:08 pm

Gateway to Global Warming Rally

with 3 comments

The BC government’s massive highway expansion program will dramatically elevate the Lower Mainland’s greenhouse gas emissions and undermine efforts by the people of this province to combat global warming.

The Gateway 40 Citizens network invites Gateway opponents to a rally on Thursday June 12th (11: 30 to 1:30) outside the Premier’s Climate Change greenwash to the Board of Trade.

Speakers’ lineup and other details to follow.

For more information, contact Donna Passmore, Coordinator, Gateway 40 Citizens Network:  604-536-2790 (r) or
604-313-0635 (c).

Written by Stephen Rees

June 3, 2008 at 2:04 pm

Posted in Gateway

Premier’s testimony sought in BC Rail trial

with one comment


At long last – after four and a half years – it looks like the court may actually start hearing evidence which the government has been desperately trying to hide using cabinet privilege to prevent the defence getting access to documents. And there are thousands of them. It may be that both Campbell and Dobell will be called to give evidence which means that they will be subject to questioning and cross examination. So that the murky story of improper influence and rigged bids will become public. Remember that bidding for BC Rail was spoiled by CP withdrawing in disgust with the process. And the spur to Roberts Bank is still in provincial ownership because of the shadow cast by these protracted proceedings.

And one interesting result of the government’s strategy of procrastination and deferment is that the juiciest evidence is likely to be fresher in the minds of voters when they go to the polls.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 3, 2008 at 2:02 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with

Becoming a leader on global warming

with 4 comments

Matt Horne, Pembina Institute in the Sun

Not a bad opinion piece, which ties together support in public opinion polls for action on climate change and the new carbon tax with what the government of BC needs to do next. Unfortunately it falls short when it comes to transport – which is one of the largest contributors and one of the things that changing people’s behaviour could affect.

For the tax to be effective, the government also needs to make sufficient investments to ensure that there are solutions available to help all British Columbians decrease energy consumption and emissions. The government has already taken steps in this direction with announced increases in public transit investment and new funding for home energy retrofits.

But the “announced increases” are not in current spending, but far into the future and mostly comes from other levels of government which were not even consulted before the transit “plan” was announced. And the future spending the government committed to included sums already being spent on the Canada Line which arguably makes transit a less attractive option for commuters from South of the Fraser.

But by far the gravest ommission is the failure to even mention the Gateway to Global Warming. For, as far as we know, the Province is going to proceed with the construction of major highway expansions, at a time when car use is actually declinig in North America for the first time in many years. This is in order, they claim, to help port expansion which depended on a booming American economy and increasing transpacific trade (the reverse is true of both), which will in fact increase greenhouse gas emissions becuase the much vaunted transit expansion will not happen – if at all – until after the freeway widening. Just to make sure that the people South of the Fraser keep on doing what they always have done which has made so friends of the BC Liberals so wealthy.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 3, 2008 at 1:39 pm

Eco Density fight continues

with 9 comments

A Group of Vancouver Neighbourhoods is continuing to oppose the proposals for EcoDensity® . The third draft goes to Council on June 10 and a letter writing campaign is being ogranised to set out the concerns of the citizens and members of this alliance of neighbourhood groups.

The text that follows is the suggestion of material that the Mayor and Council need to consider. I think many people will probably be tempted to cut and paste, but of course if the recipients start to notice that the communications are all the same that will probably reduce the impact a bot. Much better for citizens to use their own words I think, but I do recognize that takes time and effort. Which, of course, is exactly why more personal communications work better.

And, for what it is worth, I find these arguments compelling – especially the bit about public input. It seems to me to be a very risky strategy to upset a lot of people just before an election.

We support the letter from Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) dated May 28, 2008.

Please post this letter to the City’s website for public access as soon as you receive it, as per Council direction at the meeting of April 15, 2008.

The previous six main concerns remain:  EcoDensity is not required for the ‘eco’ part, EcoDensity is not required for the ‘density’ part, EcoDensity is not required for implementation, concerns about density bonusing, advantages of reusing existing buildings for increased density; and protection of rentals.  The third draft fails to address these concerns and in many cases, increases our concerns because of new language in the draft.  We especially emphasize our third concern (EcoDensity is not required for implementation) because of new language that undermines the work of CityPlan Community Visions and residents associations.

1.  EcoDensity is not required for the ‘eco’ part.

The Community Climate Change Action Plan can handle the ‘eco’ part .  In 2005 Council passed the Community Climate Change Action Plan (CCCAP), which covered all aspects of environmental sustainability including smart growth through implementation of CityPlan Community Visions for more compact neighbourhoods.  The Community Climate Change Action Plan needs the City to put more resources into implementation, not to waste more time on EcoDensity.

2.  EcoDensity is not required for the ‘density’ part.

The third draft contains misleading density projections.  EcoDensity continues to create an illusion of scarcity of density which is simply not true.  Based on the City’s own estimates, there is easily enough existing zoning capacity for well into the next few decades.

3.  EcoDensity is not required for implementation.

CityPlan Community Visions and local area plans are how smart growth have been planned through a neighbourhood grassroots process of consultation and implementation, which should be respected by the City.  New language in the third draft undermines this community consultation and implementation.

4.  Concerns about density bonusing.

The role of density bonusing, and how this is being managed, is of continuing concern.  The third draft still facilitates governments to use density to fund an ever widening list of under-funded programs.

5.  Advantages of reusing existing buildings for increased density.

There needs to be more explicit action to craft zoning so that additional infill and secondary suites are used as an incentive to retain and upgrade existing character buildings.  In areas like the Downtown Eastside and Heritage Districts, zoning needs to be used more creatively to make retention of the existing buildings the highest and best economic use.  This means outright zoning heights must be lower than the existing building heights.  We note that ‘Action 12 – Increased building height and density in Gastown, Hastings, and Chinatown Districts’ in the second draft has been changed to ‘Action B-1 – Historic Precinct Height Study’ which continues to promote increased height and density in these areas.  Therefore, we continue to oppose this action which will undermine heritage retention and put increased pressure on land values that make affordable housing options less viable and increase evictions.

6.  Protection of rentals.

We are pleased that the third draft acknowledges that existing purpose-built rental buildings are more affordable than new and need to be retained.  But there are no actions to protect these buildings from redevelopment.  Recent development applications show that the Rate of Change Policy is not adequate when affordable market rental older buildings are redeveloped with less affordable new rental units at a rate less than 1 to 1 replacement and developers are given 50% density bonuses to do it.  Replacement should be required at no less than a 1 to 1 rate, (based on equivalent sized units) and not bonused.  The Rate of Change Policy should be improved, expanded and extended indefinitely. There should also be tax incentives for owners to upgrade and maintain the existing purpose-built rental stock.

New Concerns in the third draft:

The previous concerns raised by NSV remain, and new wording raises fresh concerns about the rights of neighbourhoods to be involved in shaping their future and includes significant proposed changes to zoning and land use policy which we do not support.  The third draft:

  • proposes an Interim EcoDensity Rezoning Policy that would allow direct implementation of housing types that Visions had labeled ‘Not Approved (Uncertain)’ because they had relatively small neighbourhood support (Action C-2 of the draft Initial Actions),
  • allows the creation of ‘a new city-wide plan, that builds on … the many Community Visions’ and would ‘build on existing density and population potential under existing policy and zoning’ (Action C-1), but ‘build on’ seems to mean ‘take as a starting point’, allowing Visions and local area plans to be overridden,
  • defines consultation as including ‘future or un-represented voices’ (Part VII. a. of the draft Charter) that could be used to override the actual voices of the existing community, and
  • allows Visions and local area plans to be overridden (‘consciously reconsidered’) by Council ‘after appropriate process and consultation’ (Part VIII. c. of the draft Charter), based on a flawed consultation process (see above).

After three unacceptable drafts, we request that Council withdraw the entire EcoDensity Charter and Initial Actions. The City should simply move ahead and implement the Community Climate Change Action Plan, CityPlan Community Visions and local area plans which are already well thought-out, supported by the individual neighbourhoods and Council-approved.

This draft of the Charter raises new concerns about community consultation and land use policy, and fails to adequately address our previous concerns, we also request that Council allow citizens to directly address the Council meeting when this latest draft is brought to Council for consideration. In a democracy, the community deserves the right to directly address Council about such concerns at a public hearing.

Further, since there is no provision or process at all for the incorporation of the public’s comments on the third draft, we are concerned that Council intends to ignore the public’s comments.

We demand a more democratic process that allows the public to speak when the third draft comes back to Council for consideration, and a process for revision of the third draft to incorporate the public’s concerns.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 3, 2008 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Urban Planning

Tagged with

Transit gets accessible

with 25 comments


As of yesterday …the region’s transit system, which includes buses, the SkyTrain, West Coast Express and SeaBus, became completely accessible.

KRISTEN THOMPSON/METRO VANCOUVERThe big difference being the retirement of the old E901 trolleybuses, which occurred sometime ago. I am not sure what happened yesterday that made a difference. I do hope it was not just a photo op for the Mayor.

It is an important landmark, and it shows admirable determination against people who kept up a constant barrage of complaints against the reduction of seats on low floor buses. Unlike the United States, we do not have the same legal framework, which imposes duties such as specialised van services for people with disabilities restricted to areas served by inaccessible conventional transit – that is within a mile of a bus route.

Since the trolleybus system was mainly in the City of Vancouver, and the demographics of the City are different to the region as a whole, demand for HandyDART – always more than can be provided everywhere – was a particular issue. However, it is not possible to make every bus stop accessible, since there needs to be a level landing pad and space to turn around – as well as step free access to that area by sidewalks and so on.

So while this is a big step forward, we are still some way back from a “completely accessible system” – we now have accessible vehicles. Much of the work that still needs to be done is the responsibility of the municipalities, and some of that requires retrofits to ill thought out cheap solutions. For example, the many ramps at intersections that are at 45 degrees. Saves money but shoots the user into traffic! Mostly it is fighting with property owners to get thin strips of land to make decent sidewalks – and often the expectation is that they will also pay for this provision!

But door to door service with operator assistance is still going to be needed for many people. And the growth of HandyDART has not been tracking the growth in demand for service.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 3, 2008 at 11:38 am

Posted in disability, transit