Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for February 13th, 2009

Cars lose when trying to beat trains

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Richmond News

Richmond has the worst record in B.C. for collisions between trains and vehicles.

The city has topped the provincial league of shame for the last two years with an average of five crashes per year.

This is really surprising considering how little train traffic there is in Richmond. The only active lines are operated by CN and both serve the south arm of the Fraser. The active track (“The Lulu Island Industrial Line“) runs along the north arm from a bridge which links it New Westminster and the main lines. It splits into two spurs one along No 9 Road to LaFarge cement and the expanding industrial Area and the other along River Road to Shell Road where it runs sharply south and reaches Fraser Wharves next to the Deas Basin. The main traffic is imported cars, though there are a very small number of industrial plants that get bulk commodities like plastic pellets by rail.

The trains are not especially frequent – and on the Shell Road line I would guess that its down to about 1 a day each way on weekdays. So managing to get the worst record in BC says something about Richmond drivers. Unfortunately there are a lot of very prejudiced remarks that are made about drivers in Richmond, but as with all the best legends there is a grain of truth. Richmond was the scene of a long running driver’s license scam – driving schools found corrupt examiners who would pass people for cash. While that practice was uncovered and stopped, no remedial action was ever taken, so those who had obtained licenses by this method are still driving.

What the story does not say is that CN has proposed to close the line along Shell Road – mainly becuase of the number of collisions at level crossings – and (*re)build the short length of track that would link Fraser Wharves with the end of track along Blundell near No 7 Road. The right of way has been levelled and preloaded but construction has yet to start.

This is, of course, a problem all over – and in this last week Network Rail in the UK released some quite remarkable footage from their cctv surveillance cameras showing “near misses”

I am afraid I have also seen too many such events – but I do not have a video camera constantly trained on my line of sight

* there was once a line that ran along the north bank of the South Arm all the way to Steveston but that was lifted many years ago. A short length of track is still in place to serve Crown Packaging from the Shell Road line but I have only seen a train on it once in ten years. And did not have a camera with me when I did

Written by Stephen Rees

February 13, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Railway, Road safety

Scientists must rein in misleading climate change claims

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I missed this in Wednesday’s Guardian. I picked it up because a recent “hawt post” on Word Press from someone who is a climate change denier  has leaped on this story as evidence  that the Met Office – and the Guardian – have changed their minds – which is not all the case either.

There have been recent dramatic weather events which some have used to advance the argument that climate change is progressing much faster than predicted.  Dr Vicky Pope is the head of climate change advice at the Met Office Hadley Centre – and she is writing in the “Comment is Free” section. That means she is not speaking on behalf of the Met Office – although obviously given her position her opinion has considerable weight. Nor is the opinion necessarily endorsed by the Guardian – they make their opinion area very open indeed.

scientific evidence has been selectively chosen to support a cause. In the 1990s, global temperatures increased more quickly than in earlier decades, leading to claims that global warming had accelerated. In the past 10 years the temperature rise has slowed, leading to opposing claims. Again, neither claim is true, since natural variations always occur on this timescale.

That is not a “blistering attack” – it is a careful analysis of data to disprove both positions – exaggeration and denial.

But also note this final paragraph

When climate scientists like me explain to people what we do for a living we are increasingly asked whether we “believe in climate change”. Quite simply it is not a matter of belief. Our concerns about climate change arise from the scientific evidence that humanity’s activities are leading to changes in our climate. The scientific evidence is overwhelming.

So absolutely no comfort for the deniers there either.

I am not a climate scientist and make no claim to be. I do try to keep up – and one thing I do note is that more extreme weather events of all kinds are part and parcel of global warming. Put simply, there is now more energy in the weather systems – so they are more severe than they used to be. So increased snow in Vancouver and London – more forest fires in Australia – are all consistent with global warming.

Dr Pope is concerned about demagogues on both sides selectively taking data that seem to support their case that either climate change is not happening at all (obviously untrue) or happening much faster than previously thought  (which might well be true but could be a premature alarm).

I think civil servants are selected and promoted on their understanding of what it means not to alarm and confuse the population at large. I think she has a point. I also think that policies to deal with climate change to date everywhere have been far too little and too late and are clearly having no measurable effect. And we still need to change direction.  The sooner we do that and the more effective the action  the better. Once again the precautionary principle kicks in and it seems unlikely that we will risk doing “too much”. There has been far too much caution up to date – and not so much because people thought that the planet was not warming but they were distracted by financial and economic concerns – that in the great scheme of things may well turn out to have been irrelevant.

As a resident of a low lying area I do not think it will be a bad thing if we spend a lot on dyke raising now. It may not be needed for a while, but I will sleep easier in the mean time. It is the same argument I have used to promote the need to earthquake proof our schools. We do not know when the big one is coming – but it will. Nor do we know how big it will be exactly. But we do know that far too many school buildings are not capable of withstanding a significant quake. Putting off the need to upgrade them due to budgetary concerns seems to me to be the height of foolishness.

Equally we need to transform our society from a car dependent sprawl to a compact, efficient and sustainable pattern. We must cut energy use – and switch to sustainable energy sources. This imperative is not affected one whit by esoteric scientific debates about the rate of climate change. We need to do that even if the arctic ice pack does not melt  entirely in the next ten – or fifty – years.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 13, 2009 at 12:50 pm

NDP’S GREEN BOND TO SUPPORT JOBS AND NEW GREEN ECONOMY

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NDP Media Release

VANCOUVER — New Democrat Leader Carole James announced a plan today to stimulate job growth and the new Green economy through a new B.C. Green Bond investment. The plan will also significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our economic partners across Canada and in the U.S. are looking for opportunities to invest in new green technology and energy alternatives. My B.C. Green Bond plan will ensure B.C. is a leader. It will create opportunities to build the new green economy and stimulate job growth while reducing greenhouse gases and fighting climate change,” said James.

James outlined a plan to issue B.C. Green Bonds each year for ten years, creating a dedicated fund to invest in green infrastructure and technology. The funds will be invested to create 15,000 new, green jobs in construction, manufacturing, transportation and service sectors in the following six areas:

1) Loans to individuals and households for home retrofitting
2) Loans to business/commercial enterprise for retrofitting
3) Retrofitting and greening of public infrastructure
4) Public transit and transportation infrastructure
5) Loans to support fleet conversions
6) Green Technology Fund

“Gordon Campbell invests in offshore financiers and privatization schemes. I have a new vision. I want to see new investment in every corner of our province, creating opportunities in the new green economy for business and job growth,” said James. “Our plan does that, and it offers ordinary British Columbians and investors alike a safe, sound investment in troubled times.”

David Levi, founder of the Working Opportunity Fund said the B.C. Green Bond will provide a safe investment that funds a key area of the emerging economy.

“As the manager of a venture capital fund focused on the knowledge economy, I know the public is looking for safe investments linked to future opportunities that are green, and knowledge based,” said Levi. “The B.C. Green Bond does that. That’s why I support and encourage this proposal.”

NDP environment critic Shane Simpson said the B.C. Green Bond investments will do far more to reduce greenhouse gases than the Premier’s pet gas tax. “This plan offers real investments that will reduce greenhouse gases by 9.975 million tonnes over ten years,” said Simpson. “Replacing old GHG intensive infrastructure, investing in new cutting edge industrial technology – these are the real changes we need to make to fight climate change.”

Disclaimer: I am not a member of the NDP – nor have I been voting for them in recent elections. I just happen to think this os not a bad idea. Not he whole solution to every problem of course but a small step in the right direction

Written by Stephen Rees

February 13, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Fwd: Falcon in Trouble?

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I have been wondering about why I have not found very much to blog about this week. I admit I have been distracted – pleasantly – and perhaps not paying as close attention as I might. But this blog entry from Bill Tieleman is certainly worth bringing to your attention.

A BC Liberal internal poll has been leaked to Bill and it shows that they are 9% behind the NDP. This of course is very different from other recent polls – and Bill has that analysis too. But the 9% figure appear to me to be an average across the province, because he also has figures for current Liberal seats where the NDP lead is much greater. Local issues obviously affect ridings.

Perhaps most shocking is a riding result showing Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon in a neck and neck race with the NDP in Surrey-Cloverdale.

And this is being driven by the recent spate of gang shootings, Olympic costs and the economy. To be fair Bill’s source talks about the economy “outside of Victoria and Metro Vancouver”. While the resource sedctor has been the hardest hit the big cities are not immune from these effects – and I suspect that voters living here have worries about where things are headed.

The other polls have also been saying that people feel the BC Liberals might be better equipped than the NDP to deal with recession – which if true just shows how ill informed the electorate are. The current economic crisis is the direct result of neo-conservative policies that were being followed by the Bush administration – and forced down the throats of many countries by the IMF and World Bank. Deregulation and a war on public spending have brought about the mess we have now. Huge payments to the financial sector so that they can escape the consequences of their own foolishness have done little to reverse the tide.

My own take is that people in general are getting ready for a change – perhaps not so much because they like the NDP and their policies, but they are getting tired of the arrogance of the Liberals. Their rather obvious grandstanding – and the fatuous suggestion that somehow 2010 will be a magic wand that waves all our cares away – is getting under our collective skin. What I have yet to see is any real understanding that we will not be returning to business as usual. We keep being told this is a recession and that it is a temporary effect – part of a trade cycle with an inevitable upswing, sooner or later. That I doubt.

As it happens I got a call from Pete McMartin this morning – and he is similarly very doubtful that people are ready for the magnitude of changes that will be needed for us to cope with climate change and peak oil. But that is now a reality that we will have to deal with – even if it is yet to be refelcted in polling.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 13, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Posted in politics