Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for July 3rd, 2008

Washington diary: Oil addiction

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Matt Frei 
BBC News, Washington

Matt Frei travelled to Houston to debate how America is going to get itself off oil. And, of course, most of this can apply equally well to other North American cities – including ours.

Worth reading not becuase he says anything especially new or different – but it is good writing. For example

Houston is not so much a city but a climatic disaster masquerading as one.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 3, 2008 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Transportation

High oil prices put the brakes on a future of endless progress

with 57 comments

Pete McMartin in the Sun continues to surprise me with his well balanced and thpoughtful commentary.

In particular, I wouldn’t want to be an engineer or urban planner these days. All those former projections of the future, with their steady reassuring growth rates climbing nicely toward the upper right-hand quadrant of a graph? Gone. Or, at least, in doubt. Nothing can be taken for granted any more. And that not only includes the cost of fuel, but how we progress as a region.

Take the Gateway project. The premier’s vision to streamline truck and auto traffic with new perimeter roads, the construction of a tolled bridge over the Fraser and the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge exists on the premise that traffic will increase to the point of gridlock in the near future.

That the provincial government is spending billions to promote more vehicular traffic while introducing a carbon tax seems a little illogical, but forget that for the moment. There’s a greater, unintended logic within it.

It’s this. The carbon tax was introduced to change our driving habits, to force us to drive less, and with less environmental impact. That is good.

And which is why I believe the carbon tax is a good thing.

But this, high fuel prices have already done, and will continue to do so. Car buyers are abandoning SUVs and minivans, and using mass transit in growing numbers.

But a greater impact may be just down the road. A recent CIBC study I mentioned in Saturday’s column predicted there would be 10 million fewer cars on the road in the U.S. within five years, and 700,000 fewer in Canada.

I think the headline may well be the result of some sub-editor’s inability to command the English language. There will still be “progress” – infact reducing reliance on fossil fuels and driving seems to me to be very progressive indeed. The whole ethos of the regional plan was “increase transportation choice’. You will notice that all the critic try to ignore that. They talk about “socail engineering” or “punishing car drivers” – when both those statements are deliberate falsehoods. Getting from 11% transit share – where we have been stuck since I got here ten years ago – to 17% which is where we should be by now but won’t be at the current rate of progress in any forseeable future – still means more than 80% of trips in cars. A modest shift in priorities, and probably not enough, but hardly a massive change in direction.

But even that is not enough for Kevin Falcon who is convinced that not only is population going to rise, but all of the new people will want to drive for every trip – even though we cannot accommodate that or afford that. And he acknowledges that there has to be some transit expansion – just not before the people get here and not before he has built his roads. So this becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, for without more transit capacity in the right places right now there can be no transit mode share increase.

But Falcon is in league with those who also want to see an end to the Green Zone, and end to protection of agricultural land and ever more opportunity to keep on doing all those things that have got us into this mess in the first place.

But note how Falcon has stopped talking about the port and the airport – or the need to accomodate trucks (though the Mayor of Surry, Diane Watts, still does). For the imnpact of high oil prices is already causing considerable rethinking of how – and why – we move stuff around. The current model of free markets is all based on cheap oil – and that’s gone. So while we may not see a return to protcectionism (thopugh I would not bet on it) we are seeing repatriation of manufacturing.

I do expect there to be more innovation – humans are nautrually inventive, and many inventions formerly squashed by big oil will start to re-emerge. Hydrogen seems the least likely, sicen it is not a source of energy, merely a way to store it – and a very expensive and awkward thing to store it is too. Better batteries, better business models and plug in hybrids will be the first. So will the use of waste as fuel – including human waste.

But building freeways does not help produce a sustainable future. Firstly because it diverts resources away from transit expansion but also becuase it promotes low density sprawl. You do not get transit oriented development without transit! This region needs to hang on to its peat bog – the best way of sequestering carbon we know of – and it’s ability to grow food. We do not need more roads – we need to use them more efficiently. We need to use the underused railway tracks, and the river, more.

We cannot afford the Gateway – and the Gateway is not “progress” at all. It is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 3, 2008 at 12:47 pm

Posted in Gateway

Rallying in the face of despair

with 6 comments

A guest post from Donna Passmore addressed to those fighting to protect the region’s environment

I know you feel defeated and frustrated. I know how hard you’ve  worked, how generous you’ve been of your time and talent and money. I know how heartbreaking it is when you watch the politicians that you  believed in and worked for betray their promises to you. I know how sickening it is to watch developers buy their way to destroying the environment so they can have “a little more’.

I know how disgusting it is to watch the green wash flow out of  Victoria and Ottawa and City Hall while the actual policies  threaten the health of your children and the ability of our environment to sustain us.

Three thousand Delta citizens stood in the pounding rain for more than two hours to send a message to the premier that they don’t want high voltage lines over their homes, electrical lines that the medical
professionals have told them are likely to impose cancer on their children….and for power that is going to the US. And after watching  the newscasts of that demonstration our provincial government’s callous response was that it was unmoved.

The Gateway Program will destroy nearly 2000 acres of farmland all told, will seriously harm Burns Bog, will impose toxic diesel particulate on the children of 17 schools in Delta and Surrey (80% of which are elementary schools), will support the expansion of Deltaport  that will take massive tanker traffic into critical habitat for our already endangered Southern Resident Orcas and will probably destroy the last of the salmon habitat in the Lower Fraser Estuary, threatening the survival of salmon for the entire Fraser River… and do so at a time when changes in energy and shipping tell us it is not only bad environmental policy, but bad business.

Gordon Campbell is spending hundreds of millions of dollars celebrating 150 years of white settlement in British Columbia, while destroying a 3,600 year old FN village and 3,500 – 9,000 year old First Nation sacred sites, to support his massive road expansion.

The Mayor of Delta has lied to the people who elected her. Her former campaign manager and executive assistant have divorced themselves from any further association with Lois Jackson because of her  unconscionable betrayal of voter trust.

The Mayor of White Rock campaigned on a platform of limiting the height of buildings. She betrayed that promise, but prolonged the decision through a subsequent election campaign so that she could hold
on to power. This is not an invitation to debate the ceiling on density.

The City of Surrey threw out its slogan of “City of Parks” and its wildlife logos and adopted an “anywhere USA” line of high rise apartments as its new logo… while the Mayor – who campaigned for office accusing her predecessor of having “chopped down 50,000 trees”  – has herself destroyed massive amounts of the richest biodiversity in this city. She has allowed developers to build right up to the edge of our streams and rivers, to take down trees during nesting season, and to sell viable farmland for massive sprawling industrial parks.

Developers have made a killing in this region for the past 15 years – they have a hell of a lot of money, and are prepared to use it to buy influence. They have large staffs of lobbyists that spend their days working the halls of government while you and I are trying to earn enough money to keep our bills paid and a little extra to print brochures to our neighbours about the environmental problems we are creating.

Here are our choices:
We can give up. Most people already have – that’s the only reason Campbell and Falcon and Harper and Lois Jackson are able to get away with what they are getting away with. Developers win when people stop fighting.

Developers have lots of money – but they don’t have the votes. We do.

And within the next 18 months we have municipal, provincial and federal elections – and an incredible opportunity to reclaim control.  We can do more than throw out Gordon Campbell and Kevin Falcon –
we can throw out their legislation that robbed local governments of the power to resist them.

We CAN stop Gateway. When honourable people get control of the board of Metro Vancouver, we can rebuild the Green Zone. We can protect our foodlands, our fisheries, our communities, our children. We can set limits on growth and development.

We must continue to stand together, we need good, honest people to put their names on the ballots.

To quote hereditary Chief Red Jacket’s remarks to the Upper Pitt River meeting, “When we step forward together, we can run the bastards out of town.”

On Monday, August 4th – at the 11th hour – a spiritual and scientific vigil will be held in Delta to support preservation of FN sacred sites. Watch the Stop Gateway facebook group for details.

On Saturday, July 27th , the Farmland Defence League is bringing together the founders of the Agricultural Land Reserve and the FDL for a kick-off fundraising dinner to celebrate and re-attest our  commitment to protecting our foodlands for future generations. Tickets are $35… and I can provide.

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every  time we fail.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense”
Winston Churchill

Donna Passmore

Farmland Defence League of BC
Fraser Valley Conservation Coalition
& Gateway 40 Citizens Network

Written by Stephen Rees

July 3, 2008 at 8:41 am