Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for January 2009

Canada Line Bus Integration

with 6 comments

There was a bit of argy bargy in the comments section here not so long ago about this issue . I was being taken to task – but only being given examples in Vancouver.  Well maybe that is because the Canada Line bus integration plan was not then public but is now going to open houses. There is an advert in this weekend’s Richmond Review. I could find nothing on the Translink web site or in the Buzzer blog – and searches turned up nothing like this (except stuff a year old on the CMBC page) so I will have to do some copy typing. (Here is the public consultation page which may get updated by the time you read this). The Canada Line Current consultations page mentions them but provides no details at all. It is perhaps not quite as bad as being in a locked cupboard, in the basement, with a sign on the door reading “Beware of the Leopard” – but it is hardly up to current standards of openness.

Open houses on the Bus Integration Plan

Saturday Jan 31 10 – 4 at Brighouse Library, Richmond

Sunday Feb 1 10 – 4 at Steveston Community Centre

Saturday  Feb 7 9:30 – 5 at Oakridge Mall (Vancouver)

Sunday Feb 8 10:30-5 Vancouver Public Library

Saturday Feb 14 11-5  Tsawwassen Town Centre Mall

Sunday Feb 15 10:30- 4  Ladner Public Library

Saturday Feb 21 9:30 – 5  Semiahmoo Mall, Surrey

Monday Feb 23 2 – 8 Vancouver International Airport (“in front of Haida Gwaii”)

Written by Stephen Rees

January 24, 2009 at 7:11 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with ,

B.C.’s P3 projects not immune to world financial meltdown

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I have been poking around this evening looking for the announcement that Kevin “done deal” Falcon was supposed to have made this afternoon. It got no coverage on the CBC Vancouver at 6 News – there was nothing in my inboxes or on Twitter. So it was something of a surprise to find the answer at the Vancouver Sun

But on Friday, Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon was poised to make a sudden, late-day announcement about the Port Mann. Then, 18 minutes before the press conference, it was cancelled with little explanation.

Even more surprising it comes in the middle of a substantial story posted at 6pm this evening examining how BC’s P3 model is faring. And the Sun looks like, at long last, it has rediscovered how to be a newspaper. The shakiness of the P3 deals was becoming more and more apparent as more and more banks were showing that they were not at all interested in taking on risk. It has taken the Asper’s organ a while to catch up but give them credit for a thorough piece of work – with another nice quote from my friend Eric.

Note too that on the Golden Ears Bridge risk was not transferred in terms of usage. The operator gets paid the same no matter how many cars go over it. So, just like the Canada Line if the traffic forecasts are wrong then we the taxpayers are once again on the hook. And after spending far too many years around transportation forecasts I think it is not an exaggeration to say that the ones that are right are the exceptions. Most forecasts are wildly optimistic – because they are produced very early on in the process, are used to get approval – and then are not usually revisited even though their assumptions may be proved to be questionable long before the project is delivered.

Friday afternoon is also the time that is typically used to bury items that have to be announced but that it is hoped no-one will notice. So to plan to have one then – and then cancel it is most unusual.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 23, 2009 at 7:23 pm

“No Gateway Bailout” protest at office of struggling project financier

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WHAT: Concerned citizens from throughout the Lower Mainland, including representatives of the Wilderness Committee and the Livable Region Coalition are staging a creative protest against the federal-provincial Gateway Project. They will be distributing special “Bailout Bucks” with information about the current state of the controversial Gateway bridge and highway building project, and calling on Premier Campbell, Prime Minister Harper and potential investors to Cancel Gateway, create Green Jobs, and invest in More Transit Now.

WHEN: this Thursday, January 22 from Noon to 1 PM

WHERE: outside the Bentall 5 Centre at 550 Burrard St. (corner of Dunsmuir) which is where the offices of Macquarie Bank (financiers of the Port Mann Highway 1 expansion component of the Gateway Project) are located.

“Back in September, 2004, BC’s Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon first announced a price tag for the twinning the Port Mann Bridge of $800 Million. The most recent numbers, as quoted in Project Finance Magazine, was $2.3 Billion, almost triple the original estimate,” said Ben West, Healthy Communities Campaigner with the Wilderness Committee.

Now, Macquarie Bank, one of the Gateway project’s financiers, has failed to meet a January 8th deadline for signing off on the project’s financing. It has been reported that Macquarie is struggling to raise the $2 Billion it would need up front due to the global financial crisis. The federal government will table a budget on January 27th that may pass the bill for the full cost of the Gateway project onto taxpayers.

“Now that we know the Macquarie Bank couldn’t raise the funds for the Gateway Project we want to make it clear that we don’t want our tax dollars spent on building what has been called the Gateway to Global Warming,” said David Field of the Livable Region Coalition.

“Any price for the Gateway Project is too high but this is ridiculous,” said Fields. “The twin meltdowns of the economy and our climate have shown us that old planning, like twinning the Port Mann Bridge, freeway expansion and the rest of the Gateway Project, no longer serve the public interest. We have a chance to stabilize our economy and our climate by investing in clean, green jobs and smart projects like reliable and affordable public transit.”

“It’s in the interests of all Canadians that the federal and provincial governments don’t try to use yesterday’s solutions for tomorrow’s problems. We need green budgets, not bail-outs of wasteful and dangerous boondoggles like the Gateway Project,” said West.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 21, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Posted in Transportation

Patullo could re-open in two weeks

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Translink Press Release

January 21, 2009

Local Permanent Structure to Replace Pattullo Bridge Wooden Trestle Found, Pile Driving to Begin Thursday

A structure that was used to bridge over an excavated station location during Canada Line construction, has been sourced as the replacement piece for the burned wooden trestle at the Pattullo Bridge.The bridge is an existing steel/concrete composite structure that will span the 60 ft gap left after the old timbers was dismantled and removed yesterday. It was located in the Langley, British Columbia yard of Surespan Construction by TransLink design consultants Buckland and Taylor.

In just two days, a turn-key agreement with Surespan was reached on the supply of all materials, fabrication and construction on the replacement piece for the Pattullo Bridge. That work will begin on Thursday. The company will begin pile driving tomorrow and construction will proceed on a 24 hour basis until expected completion, which could be within 2 weeks.

TransLink had been planning to replace the wooden structure this summer and had engaged Buckland and Taylor to design it. This design was nearing completion and Buckland and Taylor were very familiar with the requirements and constraints of a replacement structure.

“After the fire, having determined that the timber structure was unsafe for use, we asked Buckland and Taylor to source contractors and local materials for a modified design for a replacement piece for the wooden trestle,” said Sheri Plewes, VP Capital Management and Planning for TransLink.

“The criteria was to source a permanent structure that could serve for a 6 to 10 year timeframe, and be built as quickly as possible.”

While the bridge is undergoing that major construction, TransLink will take the opportunity to forge ahead with pothole repair and repaving plans on the bridge deck.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 21, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Posted in Transportation

Expected commuter crush on SkyTrain didn’t happen

with 9 comments

Vancouver Sun

When I first heard this story yesterday evening on the CBC tv news my initial reaction was that the system wide ban on cyclists on SkyTrain was an over reaction. But reading further in this story and reflecting on the CBC vox pops it seems that drivers in this region are indeed very reluctant to give up their cars and not a few professed ignorance to the closure of the Patullo.

Meanwhile, commuters crossing the Fraser River Tuesday morning faced long delays as the Pattullo Bridge remains closed.

The Port Mann Bridge was backed up to 200th St. in Langley at 7:30 a.m. because of the extra traffic load.

There were also long delays on the Alex Fraser Bridge and George Massey Tunnel because of the fire that forced the closure of the Pattullo Bridge on Sunday.

But again it was the roads leading up to these crossings that saw the worst congestion. It is the back up from the intersections  that represents the “storage capacity” of the system.

Unsurprisingly there was also a press statement from Get Paving BC – their solution to every problem is to call for more roads and bridges. And Jordan Bateman honestly thinks that having additional capacity beyond current demand would actually be useful in providing some kind of safety margin in the event of  closures in the future. Which of course is utter nonsense unless we build a few new bridges but keep them closed – and only open them when an incident forces the closure of another crossing. I cannot see that as being popular or affordable – or even defensible. The pressure to open more bridges is understandable but utterly misguided, because traffic expands to fill the space available.

What Monday demonstrated was that it takes time for the message to sink in. Everyone thinks that some one else will adjust so they don’t have to. The recognition that one’s own preferred routine has to be disrupted comes slowly because it is not palatable. And often once you have committed to a route – especially a controlled access freeway there is not much in the way of alternative immediately available. Recently Steveston Highway – where I live – was closed ddue to powerlines being down – and I happened to be one of the drivers diverted by that. The long and circutouis route via Dyke Road was only familiar to me becuase that is one I use when I want to go for a bike ride with no particular destination in mind.  And that is much shorter because on a bike I can use the Horseshoe Slough trail. If I had known that the highway was going to be closed I would have planned accordingly but a uniformed police officer tells you “you can go left or left” there is nothing else you can do.

I suspect that on Monday those that did know said to themselves “how bad can it be?” and then found out. The coming days will show how adaptable we are.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 21, 2009 at 10:21 am

Posted in Transportation

Wilderness Committee calls for Rapid Bus Service to Relieve Patullo Congestion Immediately

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Press Release

Vancouver, BC — “The solution to the congestion being caused by last weekend’s Patullo Bridge fire is immediate action to increase capacity on our public transit system,” says Wilderness Committee Healthy Communities Campaigner Ben West. “Public transit moves more people per lane and per dollar spent than cars, and we need to take advantage of that right now.”

The Patullo Bridge between Surrey and New Westminster will not re-open for at least a month, resulting in even more traffic being caught in the bottlenecks leading onto the Port Mann Bridge and the other congested areas throughout the region.

According to the Livable Region Coalition’s Eric Doherty, “TransLink and the City of Surrey could easily put a ‘queue jumper’ lane from beyond 104th Ave. to the Port Mann Bridge approach to allow buses to pass quickly through bottleneck points up the road from the bridge. Temporary transit queue jumper lanes have already been used on Broadway during the Canada line construction.”

“We need rapid bus service throughout the region. Our governments must act cooperatively and quickly to get more buses moving across the Fraser River. We don’t need more studies; we need to stick to our existing regional growth strategy which means investing in public transit immediately and strategically,” said West.

The Livable Region Strategic Plan, Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy, called for 1900 buses to be in service by 2006. TransLink’s five year strategic plan called for 1600 buses by 2006 but even now there are only 1100 in operation. The More Buses Now campaign organized by the Canadian Auto Workers union is calling for more buses immediately with 500 more buses in place by 2012. The BC government’s transit plan currently wouldn’t have these buses in place until 2020.

“Now that there are serious concerns about the financing of the Gateway highway project because of the financial crisis it’s more important than ever that we invest our precious tax dollars in transit-based solutions that genuinely help us get around, and are also good for the environment and could be in place many years before new highways could be built,” West said.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 21, 2009 at 9:49 am

Posted in transit

Patullo Bridge Repairs to take 4 weeks

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The recent fire on the southern approach to the Patullo Bridge means that the removal of the burnt section and its replacement with a new structure will take about four weeks I picked this up from the Straight. There is  information on the Translink webpage but oddly no press release. Jeff  Nagel is also on line with a longer version of the whole story

The closure represents a unique opportunity to study how travel patterns adjust to changes in network capacity. It is probably unlikely that Translink itself will start collecting data – just because it will be caught up in operational concerns. And anyway data collection has never been a very high priority there. But people will adapt their travel patterns. Not all the trips will continue to be made – it is not just a question of diversion, which is what the highly unrealistic regional transportation model assumes. Some trips will divert and probably take longer. Others will be rescheduled – already the timing of the counter flow at the Massey Tunnel has been changed to adapt to people who leave earlier in the opes of avoiding the worst congestion. But many trips will be substituted – by combining trip purposes, changing destinations, and people trying to work from home when they can, or working from another location such as a client’s office instead of their own.

Translink  decided to promptly ban cycles on SkyTrain to provide a bit more space on board. To me this look s like a simplistic kneejerk over reaction. Maybe ban bicycles between New Westminster and Surrey for starters – but system wide? Is it really going to be so bad on the emptier bits of the Millennium Line? One of the managerial “benefits” of not having any data  is that you do not need to work hard to justify or examine decisions. You just make an assertion based on “professional judgement” or “experience” and no one else has the ammunition to criticise it.

Translink also does not have a lot of spare capacity lying  around idle at the peaks either – people or equipment – buit at the shoulders it would be possible to  strengthen service. It is just that the system itself is so hidebound there are few arrangements to make that work. But it is likely that the people and buses on the streets will be a bit slower and more overtime will get worked.  But for example as someone suggested on one one of the list serves putting in an emergency queue jumper on the south side of the Port Mann to run a special bus service is just a nice pipe dream. It would require a lot of inter agency co-operation and initiative. Nah – not gonna happen.

When other places have lost critical capacity there have been cities that did manage to collect some data. And nearly all of it challenges the conventional wisdom. Traffic does not “have to be accommodated” – is does expand and contract to meet changing circumstances – because it is not just a simplistic mechanical formula – it is people who are creative and imaginative (even if the institutions do their level best to suppress that on that whole) and they do adapt quickly.

My sympathy extends to all those who come across employers who will not let them change their workplace or work hours (and there will be plenty of those).  It would be nice to hear from people who have been able to adapt. It is not scientific by any means but we can use the comments space here for something different. So I am going to reserve it for people who are invited to write about how this affects them – and how they were able to adapt. And also to those who can identify the constraints that they found against change.

No other comments on this post will be allowed to remain. So no arguments about the cycling decision – and none abut how the region would have been better if we had LRT . We have done that one here to excess.

Please take the time to reply and tell us how the Patullo closure affects your trip making

Written by Stephen Rees

January 19, 2009 at 5:33 pm

Posted in Transportation

Vancouver gets OK to borrow to finish Olympic Athletes’ Village

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What this CBC story fails to deal with (and I expect the print media will follow suit tomorrow) is the substance of the “marathon debate”. No I did not stay up all night to watch it (though I did stay up all night for unconnected reasons). But I did watch the early bits of it on Cable 118.

The CBC has a brief quote from Carol James. But says nothing at all about the speeches that were made by the Opposition during the debate. I thought Maureen Karagianis was good – because she went after “Done Deal” Falcon as well as the hopelessly inept Minister of Finance. He, of course, was featured by many speakers including the Honourable Member for Coquitlam Maillardville – who held up the Auditor General’s report on Olympic spending and ridiculed the Finance Minister’s response that it was simply a “what is classified as Olympic Spending”. Of course we all know it was never going to be just $600m. What is fatuous is this government’s continued insistence that that figure still holds true. It never did – and thanks to the first shoe dropping now – never will.

There was, of course, no choice. Since we are stuck with the Olympics and the athletes are coming they have to be accomodated. And maybe the price of condos will recover. Note that no-one now seriously thinks of using the Olympics as a way to get public housing built. Although Whistler is is uing its village to at least make some afffordable housing availabelt ot hose on its waiting list.   The only things I have seen recently here seem to be focussed on short term emergency measures for the homeless – containers, wooden huts – even tents. The only concern has been with money – not housing need. The only risk worth discussing is the prospect that yaxes may increase – not that many human beings are forced to live in third world consitions in “the most livable city in the world”.

Of course the BC government did its level best to ensure that there was as little debate as they could get away with. Holding the debate on a Saturday to ensure that there would be no possibility of anyone actually answering questions (an arcne procedural rule does not permit Question Time on a Saturday).  And behaving with typical discourtesy during the debate – and for some reason concentrating their jibes and heckles at female members.  And none of the – very proper, quite appropriate – concerns raised by the Opposition were or will be answered.

I just hope people remeber this when it comes to them voting in a few months time.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 18, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Olympics, politics

Tagged with

Cilmate Change and Peak Oil

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These two topics are not ones where I would normally be recommending pieces in the Vancouver Sun. But even that organ is having to take notice of how the ground is moving underneath its feet.

Climate warming ‘highly unusual’ says new study takes a recent report from the US Geological Survey as evidence that those who argue the climate change is part of a natural cycle are wrong. In fact the report is even more suprising than that.  It seems the USGS is feeling freed from the constraints of the last eight years as its main thesis is that climate change is not gradual at all but is abrupt – and cites evidence from the Arctic to support that.

The age of oil is ending is a substantial and well argued piece which probably covers familiar ground for a lot of my readers but is a distinct change for the Asper stable.

The world is blithely unaware we will soon suffer severe shortages, experts warn, leading to a time of great economic and geopolitical tension

Written by Stephen Rees

January 18, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Posted in Transportation

Shipping rates hit zero as trade sinks

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The Daily Telegraph (UK)

Following the new reader mandated policy of posting fresh rather than updating old posts here is more news from the world of shipping.

Freight rates for containers shipped from Asia to Europe have fallen to zero for the first time since records began, underscoring the dramatic collapse in trade since the world economy buckled in October.

Korea’s exports fell 30pc in January compared to a year earlier. Exports have slumped 42pc in Taiwan and 27pc in Japan, according to the most recent monthly data. Even China has now started to see an outright contraction in shipments, led by steel, electronics and textiles.

A report by ING yesterday said shipping activity at US ports has suddenly dived. Outbound traffic from Long Beach and Los Angeles, America’s two top ports, has fallen by 18pc year-on-year, a far more serious decline than anything seen in recent recessions.

That last was the story I picked up one earlier from another source.

Global trade is going to decline this year – the first year that has happened. The World Bank used the word “may” – I won’t.  Neither will I retract my earlier statements that the port expansion at Point Roberts and the associated highway megaprojects will be white elephants. Joining the Olympic Village and the Convention Centre as projects we wished we had never built. The 2010 Olympics will join the Montreal Olympics as the object lesson in public investments that went wrong.

One of the best lectures I ever attended was called “Great Planning Disasters” by Professor Peter Hall – and every single one the candidates was a transport project. (They included the Third London Airport, Concorde and London’s motorways.) That was a few years ago and in the UK. It gives me no pleasure at all to think that I will be able to take a PowerPoint slide show on the road in a few years time with the same title about projects in this region which we must cancel – now – while there is still time to change course.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 16, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Posted in Gateway, port expansion