Stephen Rees's blog

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

Olympics will increase road traffic by 15%

with 4 comments

Vancouver Sun

Don’t anybody say that they are surprised by this headline. This is not actually “news” to anyone who has been even remotely aware of what the government and VANOC have been planning for years. Any involvement I had ended 4 years ago and even then was peripheral – which tells you a lot given my previous position was with Translink. Essentially, all the decisions were taken centrally – as is the case with most things under the Campbell administration. Agencies are not consulted, they are told what they will do.

All the planning rejected any rail initiatives – though somehow the Canada Line got included in the mix, even though it has always been portrayed as not an Olympic project. You have to understand doublespeak to make any sense of this. Electric trains are a feature of most European or Japanese alpine resorts. In fact some are not accessible by road. We don’t do things that way in North America of course, giving places like Aspen dreadful headaches.

Campbell was, of course, determined to sell BC Rail – despite his campaign commitment not to – so any evaluation of the Sea to Sky had to discount rail. In fact paving over the tracks was a very early favourite. For a two week sporting festival, hiring in trains used elsewhere for summer peak traffic is an obvious solution. So it was discounted very quickly since it was said that any rail service had to serve downtown Vancouver directly. Not that any reason was given – nor were any other options seriously looked at, such as including a new BC Rail station as part of the lower Lonsdale development. That would have made perfect sense, of course.

The only surprise was the choice of Richmond over SFU for the speed skating. And the lack of planning there is glaringly obvious as the Canada Line stub ends in a single track miles away from the Oval site – and the access road was built along a former CP rail freight line. Of course, now it becomes apparent that the real plan in Richmond was to get rid of industry as quickly as possible, and recent tax valuations demonstrated how to close functioning, viable businesses so that property development can proceed unhindered.

The choice of an upgrade to the Sea to Sky Highway was also mostly to help the development of land (mostly in Squamish, but other roadside locations benefitted too) for housing. In utter contempt for the principles of regional planning it was always clear that this would encourage long distance car commuting.

What this article talks about is what happens during the Olympics. What it does not say is that the problems the Olympics have created in terms of distorting development patterns will be with us for another generation.  Also recall that this was supposed to be the “greenest Olympics ever” – but with one of the major sponsors being General Motors please do not say you expected better.

I intend to be out of town for February 2010 – but I will be in a good position to see how London is going to be building its way into a similar mess for 2012.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 24, 2008 at 12:17 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Actually, it is feasible for passenger trains to service Whistler from downtown Vancouver, the problem was and ever is, the politicians did not and do not want passenger trains.

    Malcolm J.

    July 24, 2008 at 7:51 pm

  2. Whistler is a fairly pedestrian and bike friendly place; lots of trails and paths. With some improvements to transit, cars would not be necessary to get around the valley. With an affordable and convenient alternative to driving, such as a train, road traffic could be reduced, and the stress of driving the highway eliminated.
    In the mid-1990’s a large rock slide closed Highway 99 between Whistler and Squamish for several days. As a solution, BC Rail used passenger coaches from the Royal Hudson to move people between Whistler and North Vancouver for several days, in addition to the regularly scheduled train. It is possible for people to commute between Whistler and Vancouver by train, and it shouldn’t take a rock slide for it to happen again!

    Andrew L.

    July 24, 2008 at 10:57 pm

  3. Stephen,

    A bit of a side note, but I thought you’d find this interesting. The Coachella music festival in Southern California partners with Amtrak to provide a special train for people attending the festival. The train ride is included in the cost of every festival ticket. So, people can either choose to drive their cars to the festival and pay for gas, or take the train for free. This would have been a great service for the Pemberton music festival being held this week this (or for that matter the Olympics in 2010). Of course, no mention of this in the media this week.

    Andrew L.

    July 25, 2008 at 4:31 pm

  4. Pemberton, of course has a railway station, but no passenger train service.

    It looks like the whole thing is a bit of a cock up so far

    Stephen Rees

    July 25, 2008 at 5:29 pm

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