Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for March 10th, 2009

High-Speed Rail Drives Obama’s Transportation Agenda

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This article in Sunday’s Washington Post caught my eye mainly for the attached graphic

Possible High-Speed Rail Routes

Possible High-Speed Rail Routes

Yes you spotted it straight away too – up there in the top right hand corner. But Montreal could get a link to – to Boston, but Toronto (centre of the known universe) has been omitted.  And NYC is notable by its omission too, but that may be because it has “Acela” which is nearest Amtrak gets to High Speed at present.

Of course ours is the exact same route that is still trying to get a second, slow speed, daily passenger train.And equally predictably this is also one of those programs that the Republicans have decided to label “wasteful spending”. Of course shovelling trillions of dollars to banks who then paid it to their executives as bonuses was not “wasteful spending”. Nor were all the boondoggles that private sector contractors ran throughout Bush II’s Iraq adventure. Indeed, in the transportation business, it is common practice to speak about “investment in infrastructure” when talking about roads but “wasteful subsidies” when talking about rail or transit. (Because road spending benefits more corporate clients.)

What would make a lot of sense would be switching money into this program from federal support for air travel. Which is one of the worst culprits in terms of tons of CO2 released per passenger mile, and also one of the hardest to make more fuel efficient or switch to non-fossil fuel sources. For most of the city pairs illustrated here even conventional trains will be quicker and more convenient than dealing with the delays and hassles of overloaded air traffic control and mostly pointless “security” checks.

But one of the biggest issues is finding a way to do all of this while keeping the train operation separate from the existing railway corporations who are adamantly opposed to passenger trains – becuase they make so much more from running freight.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 10, 2009 at 9:19 pm

Posted in Railway

Tagged with

We can’t do this anymore.

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Two articles, found in today’s Alternet, pretty much some up where I am coming from these days, and why I have decided to throw in my lot with the Green Party.

The first likens our behaviour as a species with Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Yes it is an extanded metaphor, but it fits. We know exactly what “sustainability” means – at least since the Bruntland Commission if not earlier – and we have chosen a different path. We are not creating wealth or well being – we are spending the earth’s resources in an orgy of greed and selfishness. The other species on the planet have been suffering as a result – and now future generations face a very uncertain future indeed. The wealthy of the world want more and the poor are regarded as disposable. If everyone else (besides North Americans) behaved as we do we would need three planets.

The second one – briefer but just as pointed – shows that the financial world and the natural world are in agreement.   “We can’t do this anymore.”

Both of the mainstream political parties in BC and all of the parliamentary parties in Canada are in denial. There is “cognitive dissonance” in their behaviour. They want to pretend that there is some trick that can be pulled that will allow us to continue with our present lifestyle at little or no cost to ourselves let alone the future. All it needs is some magic – print some money here, tweak some technology there and all will be well.

There is an election coming up – and I will be running as the Green Party candidate in Richmond East. Yes, I would like to see the BC Liberals defeated, and I can understand why people think that voting for the NDP may well do that. But the NDP is not nearly different enough in its policy approaches. They do not propose to change the way we do business – and are concerned mostly with short term economic stimuli to get as many people back into jobs as possible. Any jobs – it doesn’t matter to them. And any policy can be supporetd as long as it does not look like a Liberal policy. So the carbon tax must be wrong just because the Liberals introduced it. Even odder, the Gateway program and more specifically the replacement of the Port Mann Bridge and the widening of the freeway are now being supported (though Carol James earlier spoke against both).

There are a whole bunch of issues in BC where there is a clear choice between continuing as we are doing or changing direction towards a more sustainable future. Transportation and land use obviously – but also energy (the future of BC Hydro as well as oil and gas exploitation) salmon, logging, waste management – the list is long and the track record utterly dismal. Yet we are still a relatively uncrowded province with lots of natural resources some of which – like water – are going to be very important indeed in any future we can imagine.

“Present trends” will not continue. We already know that predictions of climate change used for the Kyoto Protocol were far too conservative. The processes we can measure show that things are happening much faster – with more serious consequences occurring sooner. Even if we have got lots of untapped oil and gas we cannot afford to increase carbon emissions – we must be part of the process of reduction. The mitigation measures that the oil and gas industry keep citing such as “carbon capture and sequestration” are unproven and not commercially available.

But all is not doom and gloom. All we have to do is stop doing stupid things – like covering farmland in concrete – and start doing sensible things – like switching to renewable energy and elctricity for transport. And not building any new roads anywhere – but investing in public transit of all kinds. Making our cities places where people want to be. Looking after the most vulnerable members of society should be our first priority – the rich have been pushing them to the back for far too long, and they must be made to stop. We have to use what we have more efficiently and more fairly. Ethics must be brought to bear on businesses who are currently obsessed with profits and shareholders. Corporations behave like psychopaths – and need to be treated in a very similar fashion. They have shown that when allowed to pursue their own interests without effective restraint everyone suffers. Similarly, labour can no longer expect to give those lucky enough to be employed in places that still have collective agreements the whip hand in decision making. The broader public interest is not the same as the interest of those who happen to be lucky enough to get a union card – or those who managed to get elected to office in a large and often unresponsive bureaucracy.

Some people are representing the issues that face us all as a generational issue. I do not see the problems we face in this fashion. I am very concerned about the problems my children and grandchild face. And I notice that most of the people I know who are active in this field are of my generation. There are some young people who have stepped forward – and I do what I can to encourage them. But not nearly enough. And this is not about blame – it is too late for that. It is about what we are going to do about the pickle we are in now and the problems that we can see coming – and are here now. Doing more of the same and expecting a different outcome is simply madness.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 10, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Posted in politics