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

Archive for September 22nd, 2008

B.C.’s transit plan faces funding shortfall

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Kevin Falcon was on the Radio 1 morning show today (no, I didn’t listen) so I suppose that is the genesis of this story today. The shortfall on Translink’s funding is not news – that has been around for some time. And it does not help that as increasingly happens there is clearly some confusion – certainly in this story – and probably elsewhere too – between Translink and BC Transit (the crown corporation) and BC transit (i.e provision of transit service in places outside of “Metro Vancouver”).

The famous $14bn figure was never a provincial commitment. It was the sum of what was expected to be contributed by all three levels of government – and came as a complete surprise to two of them, since the province had not bothered to consult either of them before it made its announcement.

After 2012, TransLink is projecting a deficit and plans to reduce service levels, slowing projected growth to just 1.5 per cent each year.

That is because they have taken on board too many major capital projects – many of then nothing to do with transit at all – and the only prospect of additional funds comes from real estate. Which, in the current state of the market, looks like a decidedly iffy proposition. Rather like the much vaunted P3s that were supposed to both assume risk and somehow cost less, even though their financing costs are higher than government issued bonds.

“If you do not set a goal, you’ll never reach it. Can we fail? Of course we can fail. but for goodness sakes, if we care about climate change and we’re serious about reducing greenhouse gases, let’s set an ambitious target and do our very best to try and reach that,” said Falcon.

OK Kevin I will help out here. If you care about climate change and are serious about reducing ghg – here’s how to cut them. Cancel the Gateway. Easy. Do not build the South Fraser Perimeter Road, which will allow Burns Bog to continue to suck up carbon from the air. Something peat bogs do very efficiently. It will also allow agriculture to continue in Delta – though the extent to which that is carbon neutral is debatable,  it at least cuts our need to import stuff from California. Do not widen Highway 1 or twin the Port Mann. That means road traffic levels will stay about the same as they are today. You can then switch the funds you were going to use to improve transit south of the Fraser, giving people who live and work there a real alternative for the first time. All those things you say you will do in ten or twenty years time can then be done sooner – before the expected population increases, which means they may have a chance to increase transit mode share. You can also start reducing the amount of road space that can be used by single occupant vehicles by turning existing lanes into exclusive transit lanes. This has two immediate effects. It reduces the attractiveness of driving and improves the service quality of transit (which become both faster and more reliable). In just the same way as traffic expands to fill the space available, it also contracts when capacity is reduced. And when current expectations of very much higher gasoline prices are realised, your current forecasts based on 80c/litre gas are going to look even dafter than they do now.

Stop the construction of the Port expansion at Roberts Bank. It is not needed anyway, and will be a great relief to a stressed ecosystem. We may even continue to see sandpipers and sand cranes migrate through the region. Not much money in that for developers of course, but you can’t have everything. Not pouring all that concrete onto farmland has got to be a good idea, just from eliminating the construction ghg alone. The continuing ability to get small potatoes and green beans from fields close to home helps too.

You could also cancel the construction of the Broadway tube tunnel. For that price you could buy streetcar service for all of Vancouver, but since they have electric trolleybuses already, there’s not as much to gain there in the way of ghg. BUT if you built surface level LRT and used existing railway rights of way you could greatly extend the coverage of of high quality, zero emission electric trains to the whole region – and beyond. You would also have some money left over to start on the serious business of building a high speed rail line to Seattle – or at least to the Douglas border crossing. Cutting SOV car trips on Hwy 99/I5 has to be good news for ghg, don’t you think? Especially if, as has happened in Europe you also get a cut in the short distance jet plane travel betwen Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. (Jet planes produce more ghg than any other mode.)  It seems likely, given the drop in demand for air travel that the third runway at YVR will also be dropped and if another airline goes but it seems probable that Abbotsford airport could be closed too.

We are of course stuck with the Golden Ears and the new Pitt River bridges and the suburban sprawl that will engulf Pitt Meadows and Maple ridge, so getting on with LRT for these areas assumes a very significant priority. The good news is that all you need to do is allow Translink to actually operate a bus over the Port Mann – something they have been trying to do but you stopped – by utlising the northbound hard shoulder as an exclusive bus queue jumper. That cuts a lot of the need for people to drive from North Surrey to Coquitlam every morning. And of course a pilot project for a train on the old BCE Interurban can start almost immediately, using the funds that were going to pay for that completely redundant study you promised for after the election.

The big deal really is looking at that $14bn “plan” and turning it into reality. Mostly that is about priorities – and the more of that the province provides the more likely it is to happen. You could try funding it from the increasing carbon tax – though that might strike at the “revenue neutral” aspect. Or use some of the money the province has been scooping up from drilling rights. The less you have to depend on banksters the better, and anyway until this ABP mess is sorted they will be too busy fighting off fraud charges and related civil suits for misrepresentation. Don’t wait for the feds or the munis – the feds really don’t give a stuff about ghg anymore and the prospects for a Conservative majority in Ottawa could set all progressive ideas back for another five years. Municipalities simply don’t have $500m, as you well know, as they have already have had to hit up property taxes for all that decayed infrastructure you have been steadily dumping on them for the last few years.

Even better all this info is provided free of charge as a public service and I will not charge you a consulting fee. Don’t bother to thank me – just get on with it!

Written by Stephen Rees

September 22, 2008 at 3:56 pm


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For Immediate Release

Sept. 22, 2008


VICTORIA – Draft regulations leaked today are proof that the Campbell government doesn’t care about protecting species at risk in British Columbia, New Democrat environment critic Shane Simpson said today.

“These draft regulations are an embarrassment,” said Simpson, the MLA for Vancouver-Hastings. They miss the point completely, utterly failing to take the action needed to protect species at risk. It shows just how out of touch the Campbell government really is on this issue.”

The environmental groups Western Canada Wilderness Committee and Ecojustice received a briefing document outlining aspects the Campbell government’ long awaited species at risk regulations. That document shows that only 38 species and 57 plants, out of more than 1300 that have been identified as at risk, will receive limited protection. Further, the regulations fail to recognize habitat protection as a key piece to the puzzle.

“How can this government expect to protect species at risk when they ignore the role habitat protection plays in the effort?” said Simpson. “This legislation is weak – merely lip service.

“The Campbell government has been promising tough action on protecting species at risk,” said Simpson. “Clearly, all they are really committed to is watered down regulations that will accomplish little.”

Simpson said that last spring he introduced a private members bill, the Wildlife Protection Act. “My bill is comprehensive and would provide real protection based on science, while ensuring balance for other essential habitat uses when warranted. It provides a template for the Campbell government to move on, but they just are not interested.”

Simpson added that it is vital to legislate species-at-risk protection – not just regulate. He noted that BC is one of only two provinces in Canada that don’t have legal protection for species-at-risk.

“The Premier may claim to be green, but weak regulations like these shows the Campbell government really has no interest in doing what is right for our environment,” said Simpson.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 22, 2008 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Environment

Underground tourism

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Globe and Mail

A not very serious story from the travel section that claims “There’s no better way for travellers to tap into a city’s real centre than hopping on a subway.”

Actually I disagree. And I am a train enthusiast, and I always use subways – or rapid transit – when I can. But they are not “the real centre” – and they are remarkably similar in most respects. Though, of course, like all train geeks we obsess about the detail differences that I am sure the rest of the world is unaware of. For instance the Hollywood film industry regularly tries to pass off the TTC as NYCTA.

In London, the dank tiled stations resemble defunct psychiatric institutions, cruel mazes of narrow tunnels and long flammable escalators. (Martin Amis’s novel Success depicts someone afflicted with a fully rational fear of entering this troglodytic pit.)

No, this is only applicable to a few older stations. The “flammable escalators” were all taken out and replaced after the Kings Cross fire. Yes there are labyrinthine passages but mostly for changing trains (“transfers” in Amerispeak) but Paris exceeds London in these. The stations have been mostly modernised and some (like Baker Street on the original Metropolitan Railway which gave its name to all the imitators in other cities) have been very nicely restored. What is really striking (in comparison to, say, Edmonton) is the amount of advertising on the Undergound – and the posters have always been the major way to while away the time on a platform or escalator. Though I noticed on my last trip that the number of bra adverts on the escalators seems to have fallen foul of the feministas.

The new Jubilee Line through the docklands has some very impressive stations

Southwark Station Jubilee Line 2002_0804

Harry Beck’s iconic diagram of the Underground, a classic of 20th-century graphic design, indicates the scope of this challenge [to visit every station]. This map is not the territory; it is not even a map. Beck’s diagram does not pretend to correspond accurately to the city’s geography.

And is one reason why I advise tourists not to be guided by it. If you follow that diagram you can be making long journeys on several trains when it would be quicker to walk or take a bus. Even the famous pop song based on the underground (“Finchley Central is two and sixpence, from Golders Green change at Camden Town”) looks sensible on Beck’s diagram but is stupid as there is a much more direct route on the surface.

The tube from Heathrow to Central London is the cheapest way to travel – but the route is deliberately indirect. It was built by a property developer intent on maximising the number of semidetached houses he could get near to. Heathrow Express and the cheaper (and not much slower) Heathrow Connect only get you as far as Paddington, whereas the Piccadilly Line crosses the centre from south west to north east serving most major destinations and has interchanges with more of the other underground lines. But if you get to choose an airport, Gatwick may be further out but is quicker to get through than Heathrow and has direct non stop surface train service to Victoria. Of course, a lot of the suburban bits of the Underground are on the surface too: the original tube lines could not make enough money, so they either built – or more often took over – existing branch lines on the surface into the newly developing suburbs. Usually the trains arrived long before most of the people.

For tourists wanting to see the sights, walking, cycling or using the regular bus is usually the best option. In Paris velib would be my first choice now. Buses are not well integrated with the Metro, but in any event buy a ticket that gives you freedom to travel for however many days you plan to stay. You can still get a carnet of tickets but they are poor value by comparison. In London get an Oyster card. In either city the river boats are also essential – but in London they are better integrated with the rest of the system. Paris is also better connected to its airports by RER (a regional system of  fast electric trains) – but baggage can be a problem if you are not young and fit thanks to the barriers at stations.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 22, 2008 at 9:38 am

Posted in transit

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Highway route just more proof gov’t doesn’t care

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A letter to the Editor of the Delta Optimist published on September 20

Re: Farmers fear loss of land if highway built as planned, Sept. 13

At a meeting with the Agricultural Land Commission, Delta farmers made it clear the provincial government is expropriating valuable farmland for the South Fraser Perimeter Road. What are the chances the Agricultural Land Commission will refuse exclusions for the new freeway?

At the 11th hour, the proposed route was shifted westward into the Crescent Slough, which is first class farmland. The planners stated the intent was to protect the hydrology of Burns Bog.

However, they neglected to consider the impact to the agricultural community and to the prime migration feeding grounds of the greater sandhill crane.

The B.C. Ministry of Environment has written that no other large aggregations of sandhill cranes are known to occur in the region and the Crescent Slough is a critical fall staging area.

The cranes, which have been using this area since the 1800s, are very sensitive to disturbance and it is irresponsible of the B.C. government to claim that a monitoring program can mitigate the destruction of this area for the South Fraser Perimeter Road.

Contrary to accusations that environmentally-concerned people want the freeway to go through the Crescent Slough, the fact is the original and new alignments will have irreversible impacts on farmland and productive habitats that support a unique aggregation of wildlife.

The B.C. Ministry of Environment wrote to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office on Aug. 21, 2007:

“It is our opinion that the highway corridor, as proposed, will have substantial irreversible impacts on associated ecosystem values; particularly at the western side of Burns Bog and the wetland/stream complexes associated with Fraser Heights…

“The biophysical conditions associated with the western edge of Burns Bog represent a distinct culmination of ecological values including: the last remaining natural bog forest edge (transition area to a swamp forestland), productive habitat for a unique aggregation of wildlife, involving several threatened or endangered species and an endangered plant community. While any one of these features considered in isolation has distinctive value, the combination of these attributes is unique to the region and province.”

There are no satisfactory options for a route through this area.

As a solution to the loss of farmland, the Delta farmers have suggested to the Agricultural Land Commission that existing corridors should be upgraded to accommodate the new freeway. However, that’s not possible because it is logical and makes sense.

Discussions were held 15 years ago and the public made it clear that a freeway through farmland and along the edge of Burns Bog was unacceptable. That was in the days when public input meant something.

Since that time, the current route of the South Fraser Perimeter Road (freeway) has been imposed on Delta and Surrey because it maximizes the development of industrial land. It’s all about land development and the industrialization of the south arm of the Fraser River.

As the saying goes, “Follow the money.” It’s very clear that our decision-makers don’t care about farmland, locally-grown food, fish habitat, cranes, endangered species, critical wildlife habitat, important archaeological sites, air quality and the quality of life in Delta and Surrey.

If they did, they wouldn’t even suggest the current plans for the South Fraser Perimeter Road, let alone force them on the public.

Susan Jones

Written by Stephen Rees

September 22, 2008 at 8:01 am

Posted in Transportation