Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for November 12th, 2008

The loan story just keeps on going and going …

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You might recall that this story started with Gary Mason in the Globe and Mail. He now has some more reaction to some of the shennigans over the last few days.

Basically he is saying that neither side has covered themselves in glory – and indeed he is remarkably even handed in his criticisms of both sides. Of course he is also the only one who knows who leaked the story – and of course he is not saying. Good journalists protect their sources. But he does seem to cast some doubt over the presumption that he has seen the copy of the report that Peter Lander says he left on the table in the meeting room and that later turned up on the desk of B C Lee. Or does he?

Anyway, he now has a series of Very Good Questions – but somehow I doubt that either side will be in a hurry to answer any of them.

The politicians haven’t been nearly as forthright with the public as they should have been either before or after details of the loan came out.

And on that front, Vision Vancouver has just as much to answer for as the NPA.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 12, 2008 at 3:59 pm

Posted in politics

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Ottawa was warned of biofuel problems

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Vancouver Sun

Using the Access to Information Act, the original briefing notes sent to former environment minister Rona Ambrose now reveal that despite knowing that fuel produce from corn and wheat was not worthwhile the Conservative Government on Ottawa pressed ahead anyway and mandated

that gasoline contain an average renewable fuel content of five per cent and that diesel contain an average renewable fuel content of two per cent by 2010. The government has also offered $1.5 billion in subsidies mainly to support farmers, agricultural and energy companies which produce ethanol from corn or wheat.

The briefing notes look at a wide range of issues (as they should) but the point it that this legislation is supposed to reduce ghg emissions and this programme actually increases them!. Not only that, but we – the taxpayers – are actually subsidizing people to make matters worse!

Corn based ethanol is a scam – and it has been known to be a scam for a long time. In the US it is really difficult to do much about it since Iowa with its caucuses dominates the early rounds of the presidential primaries, so every candidate has to take the “ethanol pledge” just to get a chance to stay in the running. In Canada the political advantage of supporting farmers is somewhat greater. For one thing, votes have always been more valuable in low density rural areas. Which of course tend to be small c conservative. But this is much more about funelling money to companies who spend huge amounts of money lobbying. The job of the civil servants is to provide objective and well reasoned arguments. The lobbyists, of course, are under no such constraint. And what seems to be happening across federal government is that qualified, professional people in the public service are being ignored.

I hope that Sheila Fraser is picking up this story. Wasting government money is one thing. Spending it at these volumes on a programme which is known to be perverse is something else.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 12, 2008 at 10:54 am

Cambie merchants sue transit builder

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Vancouver Sun

This was to be expected.

Three Cambie Village merchants have filed a lawsuit against builders of the Canada Line, claiming the rapid-transit project cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost business.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, claims the defendants “knowingly and deliberately” harmed area businesses because they wanted to save construction costs by using the cut-and-cover building method.

Cambie Street lunch time 2007_0621_1333

Cambie Street lunch time 2007_0621_1333

Two things seem to be missing. So far the class action suit has not been certified by the BC Supreme Court. The story is slient about why that might be and what is happening about that process.

Secondly the defendants list seems to be a bit short.

Originally, the plans for the rapid transit line were for bored tunnel construction, which would have had little impact on area businesses.

However, that plan was changed to cut-and-cover construction, leaving Cambie Street a gaping trench for years.

Canada Line construction Cambie St at 48th Vancouver BC 2006_1026_1259

Canada Line construction Cambie St at 48th Vancouver BC 2006_1026_1259

Now when you claim for damages the important things to note are that the people you calim against must have deep pockets, and you must also show that they were mainly if not wholly responsible. So the decision over the change of buidling method is critical, and that means the responsible parties should include the organsiations that agreed to the change in the specification. Since bored tube was what was in the call for expressions of interest, and was used to slect the winning bidder. That should therefore extend the list of defendants to include both Translink and the province of British Columbia.

By the way the pictures are mine.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 12, 2008 at 10:37 am

Posted in transit

South-of-Fraser communities push for light rail transit

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Vancouver Sun

It is very pleasing to see that our efforts over the past few months are beginning to get some attention. It will be really interesting if that lasts after the election – but then that’s just me being cynical.

Abbotsford council voted unanimously last week to support a citizens’ group report that called for a light rail demonstration project during the 2010 Olympics.

Now to correct the sloppiness of Doug Ward’s reporting. It wasn’t a “citizens group” but a an official Select Committee appointed by Council and with representation from the community, businesses, interested citizens, two of the several interest groups that have been formed to promote the idea and a couple of people from outside Abbotsford who know something about passenger railways.

The Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce was represented on the Committee by Alvin Epp, who is now running for Mayor. And the council staff did a lot of work on a new “horseshoe” shaped development corridor which could support rapid transit and is entirely consistent with the OCP.

Epp, who was until recently president of the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, said the provincial government “needs to understand that there is a whole movement in this region for light rail.”


Light rail is the key issue for Paul Hillsdon, an 18-year-old Surrey council candidate who estimates that TransLink could fund 43 kilometres of light rail for the amount of money it will cost to build the six-kilometre SkyTrain expansion.

“Light rail makes sense in the south Fraser region,” said Hillsdon, “because we don’t have the density for SkyTrain but we do have the density for light rail.”

Hillsdon, who intends to study planning at the University of B.C. next year, added that light rail could “transform Surrey from a suburban community into a real urban centre.”

Unfortunately Paul here demonstrates that he needs to do his planning course before making pronouncements like this. SkyTrain’s capacity – at least in the way it currently exists here now – is no different to many light rail systems: at one time its manufacturer used to refer to it as “Advanced Light Rail”. The main difference is that grade separated systems cost a lot more, make transfers from other modes less convenient but keep the trains out of the way of the traffic. So the result is often that, as bus service is cut to divert riders onto SkyTrain, there is more traffic on the streets, not less.

Recent studies showed the density of the developed parts of Surrey (when you take out the green bits where development is not allowed) is actually higher than the same type of land in Burnaby.  Burnaby has lots of SkyTrain because it is an NDP stronghold. Glen Clark decided to favour building a circular route that does very little for the region instead LRT for the whole of the T line, which would not only have made some sense, but actually been in keeping with the spirit of the LRSP, and was what BC Transit was actively planning for at the time of the Millennium Line announcement.

Paul Hillsdon’s facebook page reveals that he is a supporter of Gordon Campbell and has taken a somewhat regrettable stance on the Gateway project, saying it is going to be built anyway. Which if it does happen will ensure that not only Surrey but the whole of the area south of the Fraser will be locked into auto oriented sprawl for the foreseeable future.

And, by the way, Translink in its recent (February 2008) estimates for the costs of the yet to be built Evergreen Line says that SkyTrain is only marginally more expensive than Light Rail, which is breathtaking in its chutzpah.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 12, 2008 at 10:12 am