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

Archive for January 30th, 2009

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