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

Archive for November 2008

Today’s port story

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Actually the original article is more about how the global credit crisis is much worse than earlier crises because the system is “overoptimimized”

But the paragraphs I want to draw your attention to are below

As for the vulnerabilities across multiple fronts, one need look no further than the world’s ports. The financial crisis has slowed many to a crawl as exporters worry that importers on the other side of the ocean may not be able to pay them. Banks are reluctant to issue letters of credit guaranteeing payments when they can’t be sure the bank on the other side of the transaction is sound. This has driven dry cargo rates down 90 percent from their highs this year forcing some shipping companies to simply idle freighters. In addition, several shipping companies are on the verge of bankruptcy. And, that means orders for new ships are plummeting as well driving shipbuilders toward bankruptcy or at least consolidation.

The tight coupling and vast size of the globe’s major economic actors, once hailed a triumph for economic efficiency, has now become an Achilles’ heel. Only a few months ago the globe’s just-in-time delivery system was strained beyond the limit. Now, as demand has fallen off a cliff, it’s spewing out so much stuff that the Port of Long Beach doesn’t know where to put all the imported cars coming ashore. Feast or famine, the system wasn’t designed for surges or sudden drops in demand.

Now the question that occurs to me is how long is the current crisis going to last? No one seems to know so the general reaction is to “hunker down”. Those who have jobs are busy paying off the credit cards as fast as they can. Companies are cutting frills – like office parties, trips to conventions and so on. But those “frills” are someone else’s job. It is not just that no-one can borrow more money, no one feels confident that they will be able to pay off their debts if things keep declining. So this spiral of lack of confidence continues. This is not a good time to be considering expanding the port.

But at the same time the great opportunity to change direction is not being perceived by the current federal government.

Times of global economic uncertainty have caused priorities to shift.

Whereas not long ago Canadians listed the environment as their number one concern, the economy has understandably jumped ahead to take over top billing.

However, our government was right to long-ago state that, always, we would fight climate change by striking an acceptable balance between measurable environmental progress and steady economic growth and prosperity.

One must not – ABSOLUTELY CANNOT – come at the expense of the other.

If this means re-examining the way forward in the face of present-day economic realities, then so be it.

But please, don’t misinterpret the facts.

This government is still determined to move ahead, but will do so prudently. To do otherwise – to take short-term action that could jeopardize our ability to make long-term progress – would simply be short-sighted and in nobody’s best interests.

We will not – and let me be clear on this – aggravate an already weakening economy in the name of environmental progress.

This is Jim Prentice Minister of the Environment to the Bennet Jones Lake Louise World Cup Business Forum November 28, 2008

But he does seem to be quite happy to weaken the environment if someone tells him that will be good for the economy. (The Port is still federal jurisdiction, don’t forget) The port expansion would fail any objective environmental assessment – but not Canada’s.

The opportunity is the one that has been recognised by other countries. The Danes are now world leaders in wind powered electricity generation. The Swedes are successfully weaning themselves off oil altogether. The Norwegians – another major oil producer – have managed to both reduce ghg emissions and increase their GDP.

What Canada should have done – and still could – is to look at what the world will be like shortly, and what kind of changes need to be made to our economy to deal with that. All we are doing now is moving the deckchairs on the Titanic. We like to think of ourselves as great hockey players – like Gretzky who skates to where the puck will be. But we have continued to try and steer by studying our wake, not by looking ahead.

Or, if you really want to feel gloomy read the rest of this

Earth’s climate appears to be changing more quickly and deeply than a benchmark UN report for policymakers predicted, top scientists said ahead of international climate talks starting Monday in Poland.

(Acknowledgements – this post was made possible by posts to the BCEN LW list by Bill Henderson)

Written by Stephen Rees

November 30, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Posted in Economics, Environment

Road Emissions Dominate Global Transport Emissions

with 13 comments

Science Daily

The world’s car park is growing. It has become so big that the impact of emissions from today’s road traffic on the global temperature in 2100 will be six times greater than that from today’s air traffic.

Today’s global road emissions have a strong and long-lasting effect on climate. After 100 years these emissions will lead to a temperature increase that is six times greater than the temperature increase from today’s air transport, according to a new CICERO study. The study includes the effects of all climate-relevant components of the emissions, not only CO2.

The Livable Region Strategic Plan in 1995 introduced a policy of increasing transportation choice. Not what many opponents of sensible land use and transportation planning say “forcing people out of their cars”. This emotive appeal to anti-planning sensibilities (“government bad, market good”) had no foundation in fact. The old GVRD (and the new Metro) had no powers to force anyone to do anything. The idea was that if the alternatives – walking, cycling and transit, could be made more attractive then car use would fall.  Perhaps not in absolute terms, as the population was also expected to grow – and again there is nothing regional government can do about that either. But if walking and cycling could be made safer (cars are much safer now than they were, but casualties among road users not encased in a steel cage have got much worse) and transit service made more frequent and convenient it was expected that the share of trips by single occupant vehicles would decline.

That has not happened. There are a number of reasons for that, often discussed here, but the most obvious and glaring departure from the LRSP is the continuing spread of urban development based around car use. In much of the region density remains low and access to transit is therefore very poor. Not only that but investments in rapid transit have been concentrated in one part of the region and most car users can realistically say that the choice of other modes is not available to them. Most of the region’s homes are on streets that have no sidewalks and are remote from both safe paths for cycling and good transit service.

The current provincial government has been trying to claim that it is concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, and makes much of its (for Canada) unique carbon tax.  But that so far has had no discernible effect and at its planned levels with not have much. As gas prices have recently fallen significantly much of the fuss made about the carbon tax’s supposed impact on remote communities looks a bit overdone. And for as long as the lack of reasonable alternatives continues, this is not going to change. But incredibly the provincial government is also pressing ahead with expansion of its freeway network in this region. And houses are being pulled down – and trucks routed past schoolyards in the name of increased trade. As though plastic toys from China were more important than having schoolyard air free of diesel particulate.

The truck superhighway will be less than 300 feet from the schoolyard. Diesel particulate is measurable up to 500 metres. There is no safe level for exposure to diesel particulate, which is a known carcinogen.

Bridgeview Elementary School from the South Fraser Perimeter Road. The truck superhighway will be less than 300 feet from the schoolyard. Diesel particulate is measurable up to 500 metres. There is no safe level for exposure to diesel particulate, which is a known carcinogen.

Not only that but there is a great deal of trumpeting of a transit plan – even though it is not funded and the one new rapid transit line that has been committed to (the Evergreen Line) still is not fully funded, and is not expected to start construction any time soon. Even though the South Fraser Perimeter Road preload is going in long before a P3 partner has been selected. The haste with which this particular project is proceeding is hard to understand, given the steep decline in the justification for this road due to changes in the world’s economy that are not going to be short term. Deltaport two years ago was badly congested. Long line ups of trucks backed up along Deltaport Way as far as Highway #17. That is no longer the case. Container ships at the berth are now an infrequent sight – and there is never more than one at a time. It is unusual now to see a train waiting outside the yard to unload.

The overwhelming conclusion one is forced to draw is that Gordon Campbell and Kevin Falcon pay transit and greenhouse gas emissions reductions lip service – no more. The road expansion programs are, in fact, much more to do with property speculation than anything else. Just like the Sea to Sky Highway was really about opening up Squamish for high priced residential development for commuters (the Olympics being a PR ruse and nothing more) the SFPR is about industrial development along the south bank of the Fraser and the expansion of Highway #1 is to create more suburban sprawl in Langley and beyond.

The region’s transportation authority has been directly complicit in these plans. And when it looked like it might actually raise serious questions about the government’s intentions, it was reorganised to ensure its compliance. The major projects that the agency is currently engaged in  – and which are seriously threatening its financial viability as a transit provider – are major roads. The Golden Ears Bridge does nothing for traffic congestion but wonders for encouraging suburban growth in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows – something never contemplated in the LRSP. Yes, people who now wait for the Albion Ferry will have a quicker journey – but what no one seems to have noticed is that those people have deliberately chosen a route which gives them a nice quiet break in their journey so that they can relax and read for a while. The total trip time via the nearest available crossings not being much different to waiting for the ferry. But why are two low density municipalities outside the Growth Concentration Area the first priority for a major capital project? Because it can be built and paid for by tolls.

Translink abandoned strategic planning some time ago. It now simply wants to be “seen to be doing something”. The decisions are made in Victoria – and any pretense that the region’s growth strategy is important has been abandoned too. It is the Port’s growth strategy that is cited as the reason for the new freeways.  But the Port is not publicly accountable and can pursue any strategy it chooses as it has the financial ability to finance its own expansions. And has been allowed to proceed with them regardless of any environmental impact. The processes of evaluation and mitigation of these effects being a transparent sham. Thanks largely to the efforts of the same Kevin Falcon when “Minister of Deregulation” and Gordon Campbell’s slashing of the ministry responsible for our environment.

At the same time a series of tv advertisements nearly indistinguishable from party political ads have been running trumpeting BC as “the best place on earth”. Pure propaganda. Because under this government’s mandate the salmon and the orcas have declined close to extinction. The pine beetle has had free range. The forest industry has almost completely disappeared – with only the export of raw logs and the production of wood chips for fuel continuing. Yes the economy has been remarkably buoyant – but with oil and gas prices at record highs for most of the last few years that was not exactly difficult. the impact on communities impacted by drilling of course has been largely ignored – since they are remote and small. Mines, coal bed methane and lots of run of the river hydro projects – many of which are much more environmentally destructive than anyone imagined a few years ago – have also helped.

It is not just that we have resolutely stuck to “business as usual” in this province. We had an opportunity to turn things around, and change our ways to create a better future for everyone. BC was once a leader in environmental regulation, and in creating new technologies that held (its was said) great promise for the future. There is not much evidence of any of that now. The Premier’s ridiculous “hydrogen highway” looks like it will not be started, let alone completed, since there are still no hydrogen cars in any numbers. One BC manufacturer of electric vehicles has moved to Asia in the face of official obfuscation.

Most urban regions of the world now do much better than we do in terms of pedestrian streets (we have none) cycling facilities and rapid transit provision. Everywhere else has recognised the role of government is getting transit oriented development [see footnote], with vibrant mixed use areas, easily accessible and highly sought after. We are no longer going to be the region planners come to visit to see how it was done. Once upon a time, Vancouver said no to a city centre freeway, and started a new direction in high density development in its city centre. But what people coming here now remark on is how poor our suburban development is, and how little progress we have made outside of the downtown of Vancouver.

The only thing that has stopped the Gadarene rush to satisfy the greed of the markets was when a private power project threated the Pitt River and its park.  One public meeting was all it took. But there is still only sporadic small scale opposition to freeway expansion, and it is largely ignored, even though the case against this development is much stronger than that of the Pitt. Do we really care more about parks than our children? Is the ability to go for a nice hike at the weekend more important than having breathable air in our communities? Do we really not care about global warming and the emissions that are accelerating it?

Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO). “Road Emissions Dominate Global Transport Emissions.” ScienceDaily 28 November 2008. 29 November 2008 <­ /releases/2008/11/081121081355.htm>.



Vehicle Trip Reduction Impacts of Transit-Oriented Housing

A survey of 17 transit-oriented developments (TOD) in five U.S. metropolitan areas
showed that vehicle trips per dwelling unit were substantially below what the Insti-
tute of Transportation Engineer’s Trip Generation manual estimates. Over a typical
weekday period, the surveyed TOD housing projects averaged 44 percent fewer vehi-
cle trips than that estimated by the manual (3.754 versus 6.715). Vehicle trip rates of
transit-oriented housing projects were particularly low in metropolitan Washington,
D.C. and Portland, Oregon, both known for successful TOD planning at the regional
and corridor levels. Trip rates also generally fell as neighborhood densities increased.
Local officials should account for the lower automobile use of those residing in TOD
housing through such measures as traffic impact-fee adjustments and reduced off-
street parking requirements.

Robert Cervero, University of California, Berkeley, and G.B. Arrington, PB Placemaking in  Journal of Public Transportation Volume 11 No 3 2008

Written by Stephen Rees

November 29, 2008 at 9:29 am

Liberals will try to bring down government, form coalition

with 3 comments


Good. That is what should have happened after the election. While the Conservatives won more seats that they had before, and got more votes, they still did not have a majority. And because of the “first past the post” system the wishes of the majority of voters – who clearly did not want another Conservative government – were ignored.  (37.6% voted for the Conservatives versus 61.2% who voted for other parties) The first priority for the coalition – after producing the stimulus package that the Conservatives refused to provide – should be electoral reform.

Sorry, Michaëlle, your trip is going to be cut short. But it will be worth it.

Events are moving quickly. The opposition parties are in talks to form a progressive coalition government. We need to show them that Canadians support this. Canadians for a Progressive Coalition is a non-partisan grassroots organization that has organized a petition and organized phone calls to show our MPs that Canadians support a new kind of politics in Ottawa. Canadians from coast to coast have joined this movement.

We need you to act now. Check out our youtube video: Canadians for a Progressive Coalition.

Here’s what you can do:

1. If you haven’t already, please sign the petition. You can find it on our website or click here for a direct link.

2. Please spread the word by forwarding this email to everyone you know. Many Canadians do not understand what a coalition government is. They can learn more at our website,, and watch our video: Canadians for a Progressive Coalition. We have found that the more people know about a progressive coalition government the more they support it.

3. Please call or email your MP directly. They need to hear from their supporters to know that we want them to act.  If you haven’t already signed the petition, you can find your MP’s contact info by signing it.  Or, you can visit:

Finally, if you can spare any additional time we would love to hear from you.  Please read more at or send us an email at

Written by Stephen Rees

November 28, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Posted in politics

B.C. funds commuter rail studies

with 18 comments

BC Local News

I was interviewed on the phone today by News1130 for my reaction to this announcement. I am afraid I was very unimpressed. Kevin Falcon has always opposed rail – he wants to expand freeways because they support the sort of development he and his developer friends like. So spending money on a study is just another way of delaying rail while freeway construction proceeds.

Translink has stacks of reports – all of them gathering dust in stock rooms. This one will just join them. What I have been saying – and all the groups that now want to see real transit alternatives now agree – it that we need a demonstration project, not a study. Because you cannot fudge the results of a demonstration. Run a train on a section of the line and see who uses it and why. This was the approach used by Ottawa for their O train and is being used in Vancouver for the False Creek “Heritage Railway” which will have modern trams borrowed from Bombardier for the Olympics.

“Commuter Rail” like West Coast Express is actually the last thing we need. All day bi-directional local community rail provides for many more trip types than commuters, and is much more economical. Both shape growth. West Coast Express has made it possible for people who work in Vancouver to live in Mission and have a comfortable commute. Any surprise then that developers want to add more single family homes to Mission? A frequent local train service, on the other hand, would reduce the need for long distance travel by improving accessibility. The more people and destinations within walking distance to the stations the better – so you would see “transit oriented development” which is what this region should have been concentrating on. Joyce and Edmonds stations are two examples of the sort of high density housing developments that can be achieved. Sadly neither can be said to be mixed use and the range of incomes in both should also have been wider, but both are far better than 29th Avenue or Nanaimo Stations where no change in land use has occurred at all.

While the money for an E&N study is new, the idea of yet another study of the old BCER Interurban is old news. It has been announced many times. It is not an indication of any chnage of heart as the final paragraph demonstrates

Falcon said the studies cost money and take time, but they are essential. He noted that TransLink, the Lower Mainland transit authority, was recommending surface light rail for the Evergreen line extension east along the north side of the Fraser River, but a study showed that it wouldn’t attract enough riders and SkyTrain service is a better option despite its higher construction cost.

That’s the good thing about studies.Write the terms of reference around a “buisness case” (not a development case) and appoint the right consultant and you can get the result you want. The idea that SkyTrain can be built for only 20% more than light rail and attract more riders – as the Evergreen “study” calims – simply is too silly to be worth analysis.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 28, 2008 at 3:21 pm

Even more on Port Expansion

with one comment

This morning I have a link to the LA Times. In Vancouver, the Port hired a local firm, Intervistas (spun off from YVR some years ago) to do a selling job for its ten year capital expansion plan. In LA they looked at the broader picture

a recent report by London-based Drewry Supply Chain Consultants, a maritime industry research firm that has about 3,000 clients in more than 100 countries. West Coast ports will see increased competition from the Panama Canal, which is undergoing a bigger-than-expected expansion due to be completed in 2014, Drewry said. In addition, rising Chinese labor costs will push some manufacturing back to Mexico and South America.

Irritatingly, the Times does not provide a link to the original report, and anyway I am writing this in a hurry. I am supposed to be somewhere else soon.

The main hook to the story is the expanded Panama Canal

As a sign of the new esteem with which the project is now regarded, Panama Canal Authority Administrator and Chief Executive Alberto Aleman Zubieta was honored Monday with an excellence award at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Lima, Peru, for “successfully moving the canal from a profit-neutral utility to a business-oriented enterprise.”

Now, Drewry says, West Coast market share is about to take a serious hit, “possibly forever,” from a “rejuvenated, aggressive and soon-to-be widened Panama Canal” that will have locks capable of handling cargo ships carrying as many as 13,000 containers — much larger than the 8,000-container ships it was originally expected to accommodate.

Drewry isn’t the only one who thinks so.

“With the ability to handle most of the world’s largest ships, the Panama Canal will begin to enjoy better economies of scale than its primary competitor, which is the transpacific intermodal route from Asia to the West Coast and to the rest of the U.S. by rail,” said Asaf Ashar, head of the Washington office of the University of New Orleans’ National Ports and Waterways Institute.

“It’s cheaper to move cargo by ship than it is to transfer it to rail and go overland,” Ashar said. “The logical conclusion is that market share will be lost.”

So there are going to be new routes opened up to the north and the south. The trade itself is likely to decline as the low cost manufacturing advantage China once enjoyed is lost. Moreover there is going to be a shortage of oil in future. The current drop in price is not going to last very long, so the marine mode will become more competitive over road and rail, simply because you get more ton miles per barrel of oil in a big ship than either land mode.

And, of course, none of this is news to regular readers of this blog

Written by Stephen Rees

November 28, 2008 at 10:19 am

Posted in port expansion

Now is the time to reshape our cities

with 10 comments

Jack Diamond in the Globe and Mail

Jack Diamond is principal of Diamond and Schmitt Architects Inc. He was one of five commissioners appointed by the Ontario government to examine the governance, taxation, land use and transportation for the Greater Toronto Area, producing proposals known as the Golden report.

He likens the crisis in the auto industry to the crisis facing Toronto. But what he says applies equally here too.

If we expand the major freeway from the Vancouver- Burnaby boundary to the Langley – Abbotsford one, then we will see low density development that does not support transit. We will not see transit oriented development in areas where there is no transit. Equally, we can no longer afford to spend billions of dollars on rapid transit systems that run through established areas that remian obsitnately wedded to their current densities.

Diamond ties this to the cost for municipal government

we’re going broke – for every $1 earned in real-estate taxes in low-density areas, the city pays $1.40 to service the land.

at the top of the article but his conclusion is one that I thought I might have written

… lays the foundation for future sustainability, and therefore a globally competitive and environmentally responsible economy. If we don’t take the opportunity created by the current crisis, suburbs will be like an SUV in the next decade – unwieldy and unwanted.

And remember “suburbs” cover most of the City of Vancouver too

Written by Stephen Rees

November 27, 2008 at 1:42 pm

Vancouver port plans big spending for expansion

with 4 comments

Journal of Commerce Online

Port Metro Vancouver plans spending of just under C$1 billion to improve and expand operations between 2008 and 2018.

The 10-year capital investment of $950 million, not including expected land acquisitions, is by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, known as Port Metro Vancouver, out of its own resources. The authority is owned by the Canadian government but gets no funds or subsidies from it.

Terminals and other cargo-related tenants of the port plan to spend an additional $3.2 billion on capital investments, in an overall spending plan by port tenants of $4.25 billion, according to a consultants’ report published Tuesday.

The report says some firms planning capital expenditures reported doing so “with the caveat that business continued to be ‘good.’

This is more from that press release and Intervistas report I wrote about yesterday. I am amazed that anyone now thinks that business is ‘good’ and even more that the Port thinks it needs to expand. The era of continuous growth must be over. Not just because of the economic downturn – which started to impact trans Pacific trade over two years ago. But because humanity’s continued existence on this planet means we have to find some other way of managing ourselves without growth. And since no-one seems to be willing to consider dealing with our population explosion, that means the consumption habits and waste generation of the richest nations have to be reduced, if only to allow the poor nations to catch up.

But even if that vision of the future for the world is not shared, what happens to this region if the Port, which is responsible to no one and is able to finance itself keeps on expanding? It means that the regional growth strategy gets abandoned, as the green zone and the ALR are paved, freeways expand and with them the associated sprawl development that we always said we did not want. It means we, the people of this region, get no say in our future because it is being decided in a few board rooms. And by people who simply have no conception of any other way than “business as usual”.

The hamfistedness of  the release of this report at this time is a good sign of how poor the awareness of the Port’s management is of what is going on – not just here but all around the world. Just to give give one example of the many links that come into my in box on an almost daily basis NASA scientist cites ‘global-warming emergency’

Physicist James E. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said hundreds of millions of people will lose fresh water sources and hundreds of millions of others will be displaced by rising sea levels if fossil fuel emissions remain on their current course.

“We’ve reached a point where we have a crisis, an emergency, but people don’t know that,” Hansen told a packed Stanford audience Thursday night.

“There’s a big gap between what’s understood about global warming by the scientific community and what is known by the public and policymakers.”

Certainly the Port of Vancouver Board of Directors appear to be completely oblivious. Meanwhile, from Reuters via the IHT

With Europe and the United States staring recession in the face, a growing chorus is calling for heavy public investment in clean, green energy to revive economic growth while fighting climate change.

And not just energy – the whole way we conduct ourselves. The current model of conspicuous consumption, and short product lifetimes with constant built in obsolescence creating vast amounts of “waste” cannot continue. That is “sustainability” is supposed to be about. Reducing our demands on the earth’s resources to the point where we do not threaten the security of future generations. Or if Hansen is right, this generation!

We have known for some time that our ecofootprint would require there to be three planets for everyone to live like us. And we have already seen plenty of evidence that our rates of consumption of supposedly renewable resources – like fish stocks – are completely unsupportable.  BC has lost huge amounts of “harvestable” timber to the pine beetle. The salmon fishery is on the point of collapse (mirroring what happened to the east coast cod fishery). That is why the bears and the orcas are starving – but it is not just charismatic mega fauna whose days are numbered. So are ours if we do not change our ways. And we do not have much, if any, time left.

But who here is able to say NO to the Port of Metro Vancouver?

Written by Stephen Rees

November 27, 2008 at 1:01 pm

Posted in port expansion