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

Archive for February 2009

An open letter to the Premier from Anna Rose

To the Honourable Gordon Campbell, Premier of British Columbia,

I am a BC resident who is extremely concerned about the so-called “Run of the River” Power Projects.  I live in the community of Gray Creek, and through my window I can see Kootenay Lake about 100 m away.  I grew up on another part of it.  I eat fish from it, I kayak on it, and observe close-up, among many wildlife species, the great blue herons that are rated “of special concern” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.  I memorize the names of the creeks that flow down the narrow forested valleys into the lake, get my water from one of them at the edge of this property, and hike up them.  “Ecosystem” is not just a theoretical concept to me.  I have a deep appreciation and understanding of this one in the Kootenays from years of personal experience and self-directed learning.  Therefore, when I first heard about the large project north of here, which plans to divert water from Glacier and Howser Creeks through tunnels totaling 16 km, cut new roads and build power lines in territory important to grizzlies (another species-of-concern), I felt alarmed, outraged and incredulous.  How could our elected government let a huge corporation wreck a living ecosystem in our crown land, just for monetary gain?

Each week I hear of another megaproject, worse than the last.  The proposed Bute Inlet Project would divert water from 17 rivers, and require 142 bridges, 267 km of roads and 443 km of new power lines, all in a wilderness that is home to a dozen species of wildlife at risk and 18 species of plants at risk.  There are 6 other projects proposed near Bute Inlet.  We don’t know what the cumulative effects might be.  The only good news is that resistance to these over-sized projects is growing all across BC.  Experts, such as Dr.Gordon Hartman, retired from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, are speaking out.   He calls the way the government has allowed the situation to develop “totally irresponsible …reprehensible … It is not progress to just go out and build more dams, build more this, dig bigger holes … Progress for me would really mean changing our whole mental state about our relationship to this planet.”

Experts in other areas tell us that the projects are inefficient and not needed for BC’s own power needs.  Power will be sold to the US, and our BC Hydro will suffer due to new regulations.  MLA’s point out how the process of granting licenses is increasingly undemocratic.  The provincial government’s Bill 30 blocks objections from the municipal level.  Public hearings are few and far between.

One of the best public education websites I found is www.watershed-watch .org. I agree with what that group of scientists and citizens, initially prompted by the further threat to the endangered salmon species, is calling for our provincial government to do:

-re-think the energy planning process.  Provide incentives for energy conservation

-incorporate regional and provincial land use planning to decide which areas are
environmentally and geographically appropriate for energy projects

-make long-term data collection and adaptive management a legal requirement for
all water licensees

-be more open to public input.  Let it have a real effect on whether projects move
forward or are rejected.  Repeal Bill 30

-do not let the Glacier/Howser and Bute Inlet projects move forward, due to the
uncertainty around whether environmental risks and impacts can be adequately
measured, mitigated and monitored

Let us be stewards of this precious land, not exploiters with short-range vision.


Anna Rose

Written by Stephen Rees

February 17, 2009 at 10:50 am

Posted in Environment

Vancouver port may be left waiting for its ships to come in

with one comment

Last week I got a phone call from Pete McMartin at the Sun. Some time ago he had receieved an email from someone who has been reading this blog and also heard me speak at various anti-Gateway gatherings and suggested there was a story here he could cover.

The result is this article to-day and two more to follow later this week. There is nothing here that regular readers have not seen already – and he cites many of the resources that I have been quoting. But he has also been talking to Stu Ramsey and, of course, the Gateway proponents as well. But I do not think I am trumping his punch line if I tell you what we talked about at the end of the conversation – which had been interrupted  more than once and had to be re-started each time. I was impressed by the time he was devoting to the issue and the questions he was asking. I told him truthfully that I read his column every time it appears. I was, for example genuinely impressed by the column he wrote for Valentine’s Day (after our conversation) which dealt with that fluffy subject in a very constructive way. I told him I thought he was not only a good writer, but that he was getting better.

This provoked, of course, a surprised response, so I explained that he seemed to have abandoned his “Tim the Tool Man” persona – the redneck from the burbs who drives everywhere. He said his point was that people who do not live in Vancouver need to be given some real choice in terms of travel. Which of course is precisely the main point about Gateway. If we blow the budget on freeways there is not much left for transit expansion – which anyway will come after the roads are built and the sprawl that goes with them.

So I am very hopeful about the next two articles. The port expansion was always a risky bet. Even if the Panama Canal expansion and the opening of an arctic seaway were not on the cards, the prospect of continued container traffic growth was based on unrealistic expectations. The US economy could not indefinitely be run on deficits. Trade could not forever grow based on increasing US  consumer demand fuelled by real estate speculation. The whole enterprise assumed that there would be no effective competition for trade from US ports – when in reality they already had increasing spare capacity due to over construction of new terminal facilities.

I also take the view that the BC Liberal government knew that. The port expansion was merely a ruse – just as the Olympics are – to justify yet more real estate expansion based on low density suburban development. Which is the preferred method of making money for many of their most influential supporters. “Follow the money” as Deep Throat said. The Sea to Sky expansion was about housing development in Squamish – and other sites along the route. The South Fraser Perimeter Road is about changing land use in North Delta. The Highway 1 expansion is not about traffic congestion on the Port Mann but about yet more single family homes and big box stores all over the valley.

Kevin Falcon likes to assert that “the development will happen anyway” but he knows as well as anyone else that in real estate, location is what matters. And it is not just where the development occurs (preferably, for him, on land his friends already own or know how to scoop up ahead of the bulldozers starting work) but also what kind of development. Because you do not get high density transit oriented development if there is no transit.

The timing of these articles is also fortituitous. Because there is an election coming up – and because a lot of people who would normally vote Liberal are getting very worried. The recession is the big picture background, in the foreground is the Olympics and its massive cost overruns. The False Creek Athlete’s Village fiasco has made a huge impression. And there are many places where doubts about development – and that includes P3 hydro projects, waste disposal, salmon farms, oil and gas drilling – the list gets longer by the day – where it seems the developers are the only people who get the ear of government. Many communities are apalled by their experience of the “streamlined” processes produced by Mr Falcon in his previous post, as their concerns  even when they can be voiced are so blatantly ignored.  And the power lines in Pete’s home town are just one of a number of egregious examples.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 17, 2009 at 10:44 am

Posted in Gateway

Tankers present a very real risk of major disaster

with 3 comments

The Times Colonist has a poignant letter today from Bob Bossin of Gabriola Island. It starts as follows

“The greatest advance in oil-spill cleanup technology,” a cleanup expert told me almost 20 years ago, “is the move from the short-handled shovel to the long-handled shovel.” Nothing of significance has changed since.

The fact is, marine oil spills cannot be cleaned up; they can only be prevented.

Right now a lot of people are trying to use the current financial situation to get around the sort of controls that are needed to prevent another Exxon Valdez.  In fact that was quite a small spill – far less than the infamous Torrey Canyon that I recall going down off Cornwall in my younger days – with dead birds washing up for months afterwards.

We are being told that it is “necessary” to relax all sorts of environmental controls in order to dig our way out of this recession. This is the technique that was revealed by Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine”. We are told that in order to see a rapid wave of new investment bringing much needed new jobs “bureaucratic controls” and “duplication” need to be reduced. What they really mean is that if they can get around these safeguards, industry costs will fall and profits will rise – and the environment will suffer.

In BC there are two big issues being pushed like this. The Enbridge proosal for an oil pipeline between Kitimat and the oil sands, and the continuing push for the development of off shore oil and gas. The Kitimat terminal would handle imports condensate – a refinery byproduct used to help extract usable products from the sticky bitumen and sand mixture being hauled out of Northern Alberta – as well as exports of that oil. What might happen to oil and gas found under the sea bed is not yet determined. It will depend on locations and volumes but a common practice is to load tankers from platforms at sea rather than build pipelines from the well head to shore.

And if you think that the lessons of the Exxon Valdez have been taken to heart by the oil industry takes some time to read the Seattle Post Intelligencer special report on oil tankers – and the accompanying PBS documentary.

I am indebted to Karen Wonders and the BC Environmental Network list serve for raising this issue and providing some of the links

Written by Stephen Rees

February 16, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Cars lose when trying to beat trains

with 12 comments

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

with 2 comments

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


with one comment

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?

with one comment

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