Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for October 13th, 2008

The Decuax Brothers Innovation

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Paris has a striking new hallmark, as anyone who has visited the city in the past year can attest: thousands of gray bicycles that can be rented for a small fee and dropped off at will at high-tech bike stands around town. The Vélib’ self-service scheme has been a roaring success, with more than 30 million rentals since the launch in July 2007. As a result, bicycles have become a mainstream — and very green — form of public transportation in the French capital.

I have written about velib (just click on the tag below) here a number of times and am an admitted fan. This article from Time magazine is from their “moguls and entrepreneurs” series, and is mostly about the business aspects. And I have included it here because I think iot offests some of the rather snarky stuff about thefts and vandalism that seemed to permeate some of the coverage I linked to.

I did not know that it had started in Vienna – or that it has now spread to 49 other cities. Which makes me even more irritated that it seems to be going nowhere fast here, mostly because of all these elections. And probably Vancouver’s long standing distaste for billboards.

(hat tip to HBreen)

Written by Stephen Rees

October 13, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Posted in bicycles

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Blogger wins Nobel Prize

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Paul Krugman, the Princeton University scholar, New York Times columnist and unabashed liberal, won the Nobel prize in economics Monday for his analysis of how economies of scale can affect international trade patterns.

Krugman has been a harsh critic of the administration of President George W. Bush and the Republican party in the New York Times, where he writes a regular column and has a blog called “Conscience of a Liberal.”

MacLeans is a Canadian print magazine and therefore does not bother to insert links into its posts. So I have added them.

And you do not get any Nobel prizes for opinions or blogs but because you do a really good job at expanding knowledge.

Krugman has also come out forcefully against John McCain during the economic meltdown, saying the Republican presidential candidate is “more frightening now than he was a few weeks ago.” Krugman also has derided the Republicans as becoming “the party of stupid.”

Which is actually very interesting in itself. Because the rise of neoconservatism can be traced to a small number of academics who decided to make a determined assault on what is called liberalism in the US, but is really much more a carefully selected assortment of policies adapted to present needs and drawn from a wide spectrum of thought. Determinedly middle of the road, not ideological but practical. Known in Europe as Social Democracy. In fact I became very concerned when I saw that being dismantled by a bunch of people who had the light of conviction in the eyes, brushed aside any and all criticism, cl;aimed the intellectual high ground and talked about “monetarism” and Hayek. I am referring to Margaret Thatcher and her guru Sir Keith Joseph. I was even more distressed when I got here and found that one of her admirer’s was getting elected (Brian Mulroney).

I doubt that this award will stimulate a lot of ineterst in international trade (though it probably should) but it is nice to see that the pendulum is swinging back at long last. The Swedish Academy says of course that this has nothing to do with politics. Sweden has, of course, been the poster child for social democracy for generations.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 13, 2008 at 11:41 am

Posted in blogging, Economics

Declining bird numbers could be swan song for ecosystem

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Vancouver Sun

The Asper empire moves further into blog territory with a new one by Rob Butler on birds.

Butler retired in January after 28 years as a federal researcher with the Canadian Wildlife Service, and is now both a scientist with Bird Studies Canada and coordinator of the B.C. Bird Atlas, the latter an effort to tap the talents of birders to produce a catalogue of nesting birds.

It is a worthy enterprise and I applaud them for it. But the intro piece makes disturbing reading

Population surveys over the past 20 years on the south coast show that olive-sided flycatchers are down 75 per cent, common nighthawks 72 per cent, barn swallows 80 per cent and red-eyed vireos 85 per cent. The list goes on.

And there is only speculation about what is causing this

Whatever the reason — global warming, habitat loss or other factors — the declines could be part of a much bigger picture.

Yes and that bigger picture is human greed and selfishness – as well as the hopelessly ineffective legislation in BC that is supposed to protect the environment, but in reality is aiding its destruction.

Locally we know that the Port Expansion and the Gateway project threaten birds. I have written here many time about the sandpipers – who depend on the slime of the mudbanks near Deltaport. The same banks that will be gone once the port expansion is finished. The sandhill cranes who depend on the unique ecosystem that will be obliterated by the SFPR. The construction of the two long causeways at Tsawassen irreparably altered the coastal ecosystem on which that Nation has depended on for food for millennia. The farmland there will soon be covered in more railway tracks and container storage yards, neither of which will provide must sustenenace for the herons and the hawks that can be seen there now.

Great Blue Heron near Deltaport recently - my photo

Great Blue Heron near Deltaport recently - my photoGreat Blue Heron near Deltaport recently - my photo

Of course Larry Pynn doesn’t mention port expansion, or the Gateway. Or the fact that no project in BC can be stopped by an EA – and even the mitigation that gets offered is often inadequate or simply not done, without any penalties. That the legislation was gutted by Kevin Falcon when he was Minister of Deregulation, and the staff at what was once the Ministry of the Environment has been slashed so that monitoring and enforcement are both a shadow of what they once were. The “beneficiaries” are of course the businesses that support the BC Liberals.The sort of people who like to rub shoulders with the Aspers and their editors at expensive functions.

It is curious that the misfortune of the heron and barn swallow is that no one thinks of shooting them – and that is what is leading to their demise. Where I am now I hear fusilades of shots every morning as the duck population is reduced. But their habitat is protected – because Ducks Unlimited is very wealthy and very well connected. And they have made sure that much of the area around the Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island is protected. So that they can have ducks to shoot at. Quite why the duck hunters are so well organised and salmon fishermen aren’t is perhaps beyond the scope of this blog. But we do begin to hear that the tourism industry that this government is also supposed to be supporting is suffering since there are few fish to be caught by “sportsmen”. And the numbers of the “charismatic megafauna” that tourists like to see (whales, bears) are in trouble too.

There is now a crisis. And it is loss of species. The bees are gone. The salmon are gone. The birds are going too. It is the result of human activity. And the worst culprits are those who removed what little protection there was in this province, and who now turn their backs on anyone who suggests that they should be doing a better job. And their apologists who like to think that somehow our economy does not depend on the environment – and that continued development and growth (“business as usual”) is the only policy that they can understand.

While bird habitat everywhere is important to preserve, Butler notes, B.C. needs to devote special attention to four key areas in the Strait of Georgia: the lower Fraser River from Hope to Delta; the southern end of the Gulf Islands, where the plume of the Fraser River mixes with the waters from Juan de Fuca Strait; the northern end of the Gulf Islands, around the Discovery Islands; and the area around Baynes Sound and the Courtenay River estuary.

The lower Fraser River is seeing an unprecent assault. The gravel extraction below Hope. The South Fraser Primeter Road. The Deltaport expansion – which is where the “plume” is actually, not the Gulf Islands. Here.

l to r Richmond, Ladner, Westham Island

l to r Richmond, Ladner, Westham Island

Written by Stephen Rees

October 13, 2008 at 8:08 am

Posted in Environment, Gateway