Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for September 2008

Townhouse evictions highlight city-wide fears

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Globe and Mail

Region wide fears I would have thought. This has been happening in Richmond for quite a while now. On Gilbert Road opposite Minoru Park, Richmond Gardens has been “renovated” in the midst of a great controversy which played out in the local press but did not, so far as I am aware, grab attention elsewhere. And the tenants who had the temerity to go the the Landlord and Tenant office, or talk to the media, were targeted for escalating harassment by the (new) management. Last week there was trumpeting of how well Richmond was doing in the affordable housing field when the real story was that the development would produce a significant net loss. Anbd that was not refurbishment of buildings but wholesale redevelopment.

The Canada Line angle is interesting too. Maybe this is the usual “any incident near a SkyTrain” media policy. But certainly Richmond Gradens is an easy half mile walk to Brighouse Station.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 23, 2008 at 3:40 pm

Posted in housing, transit

Another reason I won’t be voting Liberal on Oct 14

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Stephane Dion launched his “Green Gateway” plan today. The previous link is to the pdf file, this one is to the press release.

Public Transit is an essential component of the Liberal 10-year $70 billion plan for infrastructure. An increase in the volume of cars and trucks on our roads is only sustainable if we encourage more people to use public transit.

The first bit is ok, but the second is just plain wrong. Because of the length of time it is taking to bring in alternative fuels that actually reduce ghg emissions (biodiesel from food crops and ethanol from grain don’t) we need to reduce vehicle kilometres travelled. We cannot afford an increase in traffic volume and should be working hard to cut it. So far, improved vehicle fuel efficiencies have not produced much less demand – although a spike is gas prices did, the current drop seems to be bringing back the false sense of security. Peak oil will ensure that some price effects will be seen – and I would expect that sooner not later. But that just gives the oil companies more profits and does not wean us off the addiction.

In urban areas we must stop new road construction and expansion, and steadily reduce the amount of space for both travel and parking. We must get a huge mode shift to more sustainable modes for both passengers and freight, and many other countries have showed the way to do that. Freeways are not green. Highways are not green. Car oriented new development is not green. Business as usual, with a carbon tax and higher transit spending bolted on is not a solution because we must reduce ghg emissions drastically – and soon. Not slow the rate of increase, not hold it steady, but reduce it.

Canada has a disproportionately high greenhouse gas footprint – and has not made any progress in recent years despite its claims to be “trying”. Stephen Harper simply ignores the issue and keeps on pumping billions of dollars in subsidies into the oil patch. Stephane Dion does not seem to understand what needs to be done – on the basis of these documents at least. He may have copied the Green’s play book – but he certainly doesn’t understand why transport is one of the biggest issues he has to tackle – right after the tar sands.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 23, 2008 at 2:55 pm

One Click To Plant A Free Tree

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I copied this from an email I got from Alternet – seems like a good idea to me

Dear Friend,

It has the power to protect farms from disastrous flooding.

It can provide medicine and fuel for poor villages in the developing world.

It even helps purify drinking water.

What’s this breakthrough technology? A tree. Planting a tree may seem simple, but at GlobalGiving Green, a new program that helps people and the planet at the same time, we know it has the power to change lives.

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Click here today and GlobalGiving Green will plant a tree in your honor – absolutely free!

At GlobalGiving Green, we believe people can lift themselves out of poverty while also helping the earth. We hand pick local projects around the world that help poor people achieve economic stability – without leaving a big carbon footprint.

Just imagine all the good your tree will do.

* Your tree might grow in India, where it will provide food for livestock, water, and medicine in poor villages.
* It might grow in Haiti, where it will protect against flooding from hurricanes that destroys homes, lives, farmland and ecosystems.
* Or it might help restore the Yucatan rainforest, home to 60,000 species including the threatened jaguar.

And wherever it’s planted, your tree will help local people make a living, promoting economic benefits that can last for generations. This is one of those rare opportunities where a little can really go a long way.

Click here now to plant your FREE tree and start changing lives.

Thanks for your support!

Mari Kuraishi, Founder/President, and the GlobalGiving Team

Written by Stephen Rees

September 23, 2008 at 2:05 pm

Posted in Environment

MicroPoll : Do you like the new look of this blog?

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Written by Stephen Rees

September 23, 2008 at 12:54 pm

They revised my theme and told me afterwards

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It took me by surprise and I do not know yet if it is an improvement. On principle I would rather that they offered me a choice first. I can switch back to the older style – it is still available. But should I?

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Written by Stephen Rees

September 23, 2008 at 12:50 pm

NDP candidate supports agriculture

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Richmond News

In the interests of equal space for all the candidates in my local constituency (erm, “riding”) here is a news piece about the selection of the NDP candidate.

It is not without controversy, but that is not really of much interest to anyone but NDP insiders. They have chosen a local (good) woman (to meet their self imposed quota) who cares about the ALR and power lines. As a recent immigrant herself she is also well informed about the shameful treatment they get once they arrive in Canada. Since the NDP polled 15% of the vote here last time she stands no chance at all. But I would hope that she will feature the SFPR and the port expansion somewhere in her campaign, because the federal government can and should stop both these useless and damaging projects.

I will of course be voting for the Green party’s Matthew Laine.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 23, 2008 at 12:30 pm

Posted in politics

Bogus Budget Consultation Paper

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Some days I have to do a bit of searching to find something to blog about. This morning it landed on my doormat. If you live in BC, Canada Post will be delivering yours too. It is supposed to be the Budget 2009 Consultation Paper. But in reality it is a party political announcement for the BC Liberals, who are demonstrating to Mr Harper why fixed election dates work so well for governments. You know when the election is going to be so you can use the taxpayers’ own money to send them blatantly promotional items. If the Opposition is hammering you (as the NDP has started to do on the carbon tax) you get a forum where they cannot answer back. It also helps of course that you can cancel sittings of the legislature, where you might get asked awkward questions with live tv footage that can be cropped for sound bites by the suppertime newscasts.

Page one boasts “lowest income tax in Canada”. Page two talks about the growth in GDP and how the carbon tax puts “more money in your pocket”. The top of page three talks about how spending has been increased on education and health. So now we are over 50% through the thing and then we get to the budget forecast – and suddenly the type face gets smaller and there are lots of qualifying footnotes. The back page has a nice graph on employment levels.

So less than 20% of this sheet can be said to actually deal with the budget. It lacks a photo of the premier (thank goodness) and Carol Taylor gets no mention either – but then she isn’t running next time.

I hope and trust that if you live in BC you will take the time to write letters and email to the media. Hopefully the opposition will also get into this in a big way.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 23, 2008 at 12:07 pm

Posted in politics

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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