Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for January 2009

Praise the Lord and Green the Roof

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The author sent me an email to let me know about this article in today’ New York Times .

It chimes nicely with a book I have just started to read about the world wide movement to save the planet. The book is “Blessed Unrest” by Paul Hawken and its very long sub title is “How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming”.

The following is taken from the dust jacket:

The dawn of the the twenty first century has witnessed two remarkable developments in our history: the appearance of systemic problems that are genuinely global in scope, and the growth of a worldwide movement that is determined to heal the wounds of the earth with the force of passion, dedictaion and and collective intelligence and wisdom.

The New York Times story about how one determined sister took 15 years to turn around a convent – and how they came to change their view of the world and their place in it – is a very nice illustration of one of the better outcomes. And we need to know about and celebrate these positive stories. This blog has been, perforce, the journal of a very much less satisfactory direction that is being taken – in this region and indeed in Canada as a whole.

Why would a community of nuns, devoted as they presumably are to spiritual matters, take the relatively unusual step of embracing environmentalism so energetically? “It’s a question of stewardship,” said Sister Faith Margaret, a Staten Island native. “Of responsibility.”

Which applies equally here. We have actually abandoned environmentalism. In the time that I have been here in BC, I have seen this province take deliberate steps to dismantle what was at one time a leadership position. And the region has simply thrashed around ineffectively – expressing all kinds of pious intentions and hopes but far too often not following through with effective action. In the case of the provincial government what has been even more offensive has been the professed desire to be seen to be green – but the actual agenda has been to ram through changes that a almost wholly destructive in nature.

Blessed Unrest is the story of what is going right in this world, an account of how people use imagination, conviction and resilience to perform daily miracles of redefining our relationship to the environment and one another.

I don’t know about you but I need to know more about that – because there is not much going on around here that I feel I can celebrate. So if you are going to comment on this story make sure that you are writing about the good things that are happening that I don’t know about or haven’t written about. We have spent quite enough bandwidth here on what is going wrong. Please tell us what you know that is going right in BC. Or where you are.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 31, 2009 at 4:55 pm

Posted in Environment

Details needed, please, before B.C. commits tax dollars to finance the Port Mann project

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Vancouver Sun Editorial

It is a surprise to find the Aspers climbing aboard this bandwagon. There are indeed serious questions that need to be answered about the Highway #1 expansion Port Mann twinning project (H1PM2). But that is nothing new – and indeed has been cited as the reason for not covering the issue up until – well a few days ago.

It is interesting to notice how much time has elapsed since Kevin Falcon’s announcement and the Sun’s response. This suggests to me that it had to be referred upstairs and was not something that came out easily. The language is carefully measured. Not actually questioning the project itself head on but

…why a project that has always been promoted as such a sure winner was unable to secure the private financing it needs to proceed.

The global financial crisis has pinched off funding for a number of projects. But money is still available at historically low rates to credit-worthy borrowers.

So that directs attention away from the fundamental misconception – that expanding freeways will help relieve traffic congestion – and concentrating on the credit worthiness of the consortium. Yes, there are doubts about MacQuarie, but the doubts about H1PM2 are much more important than that.

And the editorial continues in the same vein. It is all about risk and rewards and potential pit falls. And it is written as though the collapse of the False Creek Village was the most significant event that should  change our views of such projects. Yes the deal the City signed in secret was a bad one – and it looks as though at least the CFO of the City told them that at the time. But the H1PM2 project has been wrong headed from the very start (and there is still no final agreement). Every process examining it was skewed to produce a favourable result.

Yes the taxpayers of BC risk getting stuck with a very expensive project again. But no matter who builds it, or how it is paid for, it will be a disaster for sustainability, liveability and will not achieve any improvement in mobility – except for a brief honeymoon period shortly after it opens. Just like the Alex Fraser Bridge brought much more traffic to New Westminster and Richmond a few short months after its opening. It will also ensure that there are no funds for much needed transit expansion and that the Faser Valley will continue to see auto-oriented sprawl expand.

If the Sun wants answers to questions about financial risk to taxpayers, why is it ignoring every other risk associated with this project? Why is the Sun unconcerned about being sold a project on the basis of traffic forecasts that ignore induced travel? How can we allow the province a free pass on an EA which simply ignored any impact it did not care to consider – and offered as mitigation schemes that are already in place for other projects? Why does the pocket book impact matter so much and every other impact matter not all?

Written by Stephen Rees

January 30, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Gateway

Metro Vancouver Sustainability Report

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Metro will discuss this report today – it part of the Board agenda package which is a large pdf file. The story is also in the Sun, but  their web page does not provide links to story sources.

What caught my eye was this quote in the Sun “at least 112 species of animals and plants that are at risk of vanishing.” And that is due in part to the Gateway program which threatens several endangered and threatened species  and for which no mitigation whatever is planned. But of course each component got its Environmental Assessment Certificate anyway. As long as the province of British Columbia is leading the assault on our environment, regional districts’ attempts to document and report with no powers to do anything effective are an exercise in futility.

Per-capita consumption of drinking water is said by the Sun to be declining too. I suspect that the wording is because of copying from the report. In fact we only have one type of water piped to us – so all the water we use is of drinking water quality. Special measures are needed when recycling rain water for other uses as this image illustrates

Richmond Oval uses recycled rain water to flush this urinal

Richmond Oval uses recycled rain water to flush this urinal

So the decline in per capita use is not because we drink less of it, but because we waste less in activities like watering lawns on hot summer days – which is not permitted but is not enforced very much either. The greatest waste of water is from old leaky mains that should have been replaced. In fact Greater Vancouver has no shortage of available water and we could do very much better in reuse of  grey water.

Johnny Carline, chief administrative officer for Metro Vancouver, acknowledged the financial challenge of keeping the region sustainable in the wake of the global economic crisis.

Upgrades to the two sewage plants are needed but “to finance this without senior government help is going to be incredibly burdensome. … It’s an ongoing charge to your residents and businesses,” Carline said in an interview.

Well yes we have to pay for it but then it is our mess. And I think we ought to clean up after ourselves. Upgrading primary sewage treatment would have a number of benefits. One of which would be that people who ignore the notices at Garry Point would not get sick and need treatment. Not that I am saying that would pay for itself. But allowing large volumes of human effluent to be discharged virtually untreated into salmon streams – and then eating the salmon also seems to me to be asking for trouble. And might also have helped slow the rate of loss of the Georgia Strait’s resident orcas.  And I suggest that residents might be more willing to pay for that than Mr Carline believes. I also think that businesses should show some leadership and acknowledge that it is worth paying for clean rivers as well as clean drinking water and not threaten to leave the area just because someone suggests that the taxes might need to be raised.

It annoys me that once again sustainability and the economy are presented as antithetical. This is just using accounting as a narrow measurement tool when there are much better ones available – and part of the process of becoming sustainable must be using those methods. Given that Johnny Carline has been pushing his Sustainble Region Initiative for some years now I think he ought to have revised the way that he thinks and speaks about these issues. At present our regional government does not value the quality of our environment highly enough – and is one of the worst culprits in polluting our region.

I spent the first forty years of my life in London and the last twenty in Canada. In the first part of my life I watched the River Thames being cleaned up to the point where the salmon returned – after a very long absence. At one time being rescued from the river meant you had to have your stomach pumped as a precaution against poisoning. Now the Thames is clean – becuase the regional government was determined to get it that way and paid for that with taxes. The GLC was not always popular but it was proud to display fish tanks in the lobby of County Hall with examples of fish taken from the river running past it. That is what has influenced my thinking on this topic. I am sorry if that is not being Canadian. I do not recall much finger pointing over the issue of sewage treatment. Although there was of course a famous bust up between Mrs Thatcher and the then leader of the GLC Ken Livingstone: that was petty, personal politics. Now I live next tothe Fraser and I see it slowly dying – and mostly by conscious decision making  the bottom line of corporations – both public and private – the only consideration.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 30, 2009 at 11:10 am

“Queen of the North”

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The Vancouver Sun has a lengthy statement by Peter C Ritchie

It begins

Statement by Peter C. Ritchie

January 29, 2009

RE: Foisy vs. BC Ferries (re: the Queen of the North)

If one of your loved ones dies because of negligent actions onboard a British Columbia Ferry, don’t go looking for justice in the province of British Columbia. Unless you are wealthy, you won’t be able to afford Court in B.C.

Because it carries the Vancouver Sun copyright notice I cannot reproduce it here – nor would I wish to as it is not as if it were a Press Release. I have, you may have noticed, been quoting things at length recently, and letting them speak for themselves. In this case I can only trust that you will take the time to read the entire statement. It is extra-ordinarily powerful. And it should have massive political remifications.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2009 at 9:19 pm

Posted in ferries

Ron Parks finds P3 projects have higher costs, bias and secrecy

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CUPE Press Release

VANCOUVER-In a report released today, B.C.’s most respected forensic accountant, Ron Parks, along with his colleague Rosanne Terhart, find that public private partnerships (P3s) are costly for taxpayers.

They also find a consistent pro-privatization bias in the way that the B.C. government (through Partnerships BC) compares costs when assessing major projects. On top of this, the B.C. government is routinely denying access to critical information, which limits the public’s ability to know that its interests are protected on P3 projects.

Parks and Terhart evaluated four P3 projects: the Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre, the Sea-to-Sky Highway Improvement, the Academic Ambulatory Care Centre (Diamond Centre) and the Canada Line. Based on this review, they find that developing the projects as P3s is more expensive than if they were done publicly.

In the case of the Diamond Centre – they report that the actual nominal cost of a P3 was more than double that of a publicly procured project.

Barry O’Neill, president of the B.C. division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, says that this report is clear evidence that the B.C. Liberals have stacked the deck in favour of privatizing the services people count on. “It’s a taxpayer rip-off, plain and simple. The hundreds of millions of extra dollars we pay in what amounts to ‘privatization premiums’ should be used to improve roads, transit, schools and health care,” says O’Neill.

O’Neill says that P3 problems around the world, including the current problems faced by the Macquarie Group to secure financing for the Port Mann Bridge, underscores the fact that privatization is plagued by no shortage of instability and risk to taxpayers. “Add to this the report’s finding that private projects actually cost more and I ask why we would keep going down this road.”

O’Neill says that this should give pause for major projects, like sewage treatment in Greater Victoria, where the Campbell government is advocating a P3.

Parks’ report was commissioned by CUPE BC. Ron Parks and Rosanne Terhart are with the firm Blair Mackay Mynett Valuations Inc.

The full report and a backgrounder can be found at

COPE 491

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2009 at 9:06 pm

Posted in privatisation

“No Gateway Bailout” says Wilderness Committee on Budget Vote

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Wilderness Committee Press Release

January 28, 2009

“If the federal budget allows for spending billions of our dollars on the environmentally and morally bankrupt Gateway project, it will be a tragic mistake that won’t solve our economic and transportation challenges. We will really regret it in the future,” said Surrey resident Jim Shook as he prepared to hand out leaflets calling for “No Gateway Bailout” at Scott Road Skytrain Station.

Until there is clarity about whether the federal government is in fact going to bail out the Gateway project, the Wilderness Committee and residents from around the Lower Mainland are working together to express their concerns about the federal budget. Volunteers will be distributing “bailout bucks” that look like dollar bills but feature pictures of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and BC Premier Gordon Campbell to transit users waiting for over-crowded buses, and entering busy Skytrain stations. The bailout bucks carry messages about financing problems for the proposed Gateway highway and bridge building project asking the question “Do YOU want to be left holding the bill?”

Last week members of the Wilderness Committee, the Livable Region Coalition, the CAW, the Hospital Employees’ Union, the Council of Canadians, the Unitarian Church and various community organizations from throughout the region distributed bailout bucks outside the Vancouver office of Australian investment bank Macquarie Group. The international bank had not met its commitment to finance the Highway 1 doubling and Port Mann Bridge twinning component of Gateway. This event was the beginning of a leafleting drive focusing attention on the federal government’s potential involvement in bailing out the failing project.

“The federal budget as proposed is unclear about whether the federal government will bailout Gateway. To paraphrase Mr. Ignatieff, we will be watching decision-makers from all parties like hawks on this matter, and our volunteers are encouraging people to express their concerns about a bailout of the Gateway project. The Wilderness Committee is interested in seeing any potential bailout funding redirected to improving public transit investment and light rail infrastructure as a Canadian priority,” said Ben West, Healthy Communities Campaigner for the Wilderness Committee.

“Volunteers from various groups and concerned citizens will be working in teams at Skytrain stations on both sides of the Fraser River to show their concern about increased carbon emissions, pollution, suburban sprawl and the inevitable increase congestion levels associated with the Gateway project. Now that the private funding has fallen apart they also want to make it clear that they don’t want to pay for Gateway,” added West.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2009 at 9:33 am

Posted in Gateway

Agreement in Principle on Port Mann Project

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Press release from MoTI

Kevin Falcon’s on again, off again announcement turns out to be a bit of damp squib. Given that there is only one bidder – and that it is in deep financial trouble – the famed P3 that was going to pay for it all has now been turned into a 1/3 – 2/3 split – with the taxpayers fronting one third of the funds. Somehow all the costs – which have ballooned since  the idea was dreamed up – are still going to be paid back at $3 a car. Note too that it’s title has been shortened. Because the freeway expansion that goes with the bridge twinning and ensures that the traffic congestion we have now will be twice as bad in future is not being given much prominence.

By the way, only the traffic that crosses the bridge pays the toll. All the other freeway trips will be free

And finally the release states

“The Port Mann / Highway 1 project will reduce congestion and travel time, improve safety and accessibility, and allow buses to travel over the Port Mann Bridge for the first time in over two decades. It will save valuable time for truckers, expand lanes for HOV, cyclists and pedestrians, and will also accommodate potential future light rapid transit.”

Normally you expect statements like this to have some foundation in reality. Not one of these statements has any foundation in fact.  But then that is the first principle of propaganda – lie and make the lies grandiose. Big lies – repeated often enough – will be accepted as truth.

The reason the consortium cannot raise money is not that they are asking for too much. It is because the financial markets have been burned rather a lot lately – and therefore they are not keen to get burned again. Real questions remain about the viability of this project – and Kevin Falcon has no answers. So in the current spirit of bailing out the biggest losers (banks, automobile makers) Falcon is just throwing money at the problem. Our money.

And, of course, we are still a couple of months away from the recently extended deadline.

It looks even less like a Done Deal to me

Written by Stephen Rees

January 28, 2009 at 10:24 pm

Posted in Transportation

Burrard Bridge Open House

Posted at the request of Richard Campbell
Please come out and show your support for the Burrard Bridge Trial at the City of Vancouver’s open house. After 15 years it is time to settle the debate once and for all. The trial is the only way to do that. We need to make Burrard Bridge safer to walk and cycle over now.
A two lane trial is needed so there can be a barrier between cyclists and the high speed traffic on the bridge and so faster cyclists can past slower cyclists on the long uphill sections. It will be a bridge that everyone from eight to eighty will love cycling over. A one lane trial would only have a narrow bike lane that would not be separated from traffic and would not have passing space. It would likely be worse than riding on the sidewalk and not attract new cyclists.
With the bike lanes between the sidewalk and the traffic and no bikes to worry about, Burrard Bridge will be a joy to walk over and enjoy the great view.
Open House: Burrard Bridge Bicycle Lane Trial

Come out to an open house to discuss a trial re-allocation of one or two lanes on the Burrard Bridge to create improved cycling and walking facilities on the bridge:
Saturday, January 31 from 2 – 5 pm at the Roundhouse Community Centre, Great Hall Pacific Boulevard and Davie Street.
The council minutes:
The Burrard Bridge Two Lane Trial Facebook Group
Show your support for the trial, Join the I Support The Burrard Bridge Two Lane Trial Facebook group:
FAQ From the Friends of Burrard Bridge

Burrard Bridge Two Lane Trial FAQ:

Written by Stephen Rees

January 28, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Posted in cycling

Translink announces Patullo Bridge re-opens tomorrow

with 5 comments

A very good strategy – underpromise and overdeliver. For a system which has very little spare capacity prolonging the closure as a way to incvreaase transit usage – as some have suggested – would have been very unwise indeed. Translink has greatly strengthened its credibility with this speedy return of the bridge to service.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 25, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Posted in Transportation

SFU City Program Free Public Lectures

Admission is free, reservations are required. Email or call 778-782.5100.
Venue: SFU at Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings, Vancouver, unless otherwise noted.

Kitchen Table Sustainability: Transform your community engagement with sustainability
February 5, 7 pm
Wendy Sarkissian

Hong Kong: Cultural Heritage Conservation in a City of Change
February 19, 7 pm
Lynne DiStefano and Dr. Ho Yin Lee, University of Hong Kong

China and the Urbanism of Ambition
March 12, 7 pm
Thomas Campanella, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The Life and Death of Cities: Accounting for Environmental and Social Sustainability
April 30, 7 pm
Paul James, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University

Shifting Gears II – Four lectures on transportation, health, and the built environment
Details to come

VIA Architecture Urban Design Lecture
Details to come

Written by Stephen Rees

January 25, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Posted in Urban Planning