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

Archive for November 29th, 2008

Road Emissions Dominate Global Transport Emissions

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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