Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for April 2009

Saturday – Tree Planting to Stop the Highway

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Cut and pasted from a Wilderness Committee E-lert:

With no contractors in place to build the South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) highway as proposed in the Gateway plan but the Ministry of Transportation have begun early stages of bull dozing and laying sand along portions of the proposed route of the controversial South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) highway. 

Brad Major, a local fire fighter, and professional arborist has started a small business growing Christmas trees on his families beautiful 1 acre property. Brad lives in the a lush valley close to burns bog which is in the trajectory of the proposed SFPR highway route in North Delta on the banks of the Fraser River. 

Brad is one of the residents who have been told that his property will be expropriated by the provincial government to make way for the proposed SFPR highway which would connect Delta Port to Highway 1 as part of the Gateway Project. He was contacted a week before Christmas last year by the Ministry of Transportation by phone and told they would remove him out of his home within a year. 

This Saturday Brad will be planting some of his Christmas tree seedlings  in the path of the highway as part of a reforestation project  on his property.  Brad plans to sell Christmas trees to families and then the tees would be planted on his property after the holidays if the highway has not gone ahead. Brads business would  help provide a carbon friendly Christmas for families and a healthier habitat for species in the Fraser River, Burns Bog ecosystem. 

Drop by this Saturday at 1pm  at 11059 River Road for a BBQ and a family friendly tour of Brads property and tree farm. Come see first hand a piece of what is threatened by the Gateway Project highways.  Plant a tree and check out where our Christmas trees could go if the valley is saved and the highways are stopped.  

Check out this video for more on Brad and his home at risk. 

Contact Ben West, Healthy Communities campaigner for more details 604 683 8220

Written by Stephen Rees

April 29, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Posted in Gateway

Project will help reduce pollution

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Burnaby Now

How can you tell when Gordon Campbell is lying? His lips are moving.

He said that there have been concerns about the air quality impacts in Burnaby but that improving the transportation corridors will lessen the environmental impacts.

Except of course when you look at the government’s own submissions to the Environmental Assessment you realise that they based this forecast on the assumption that the total number and distance of trips in the future is exactly the same without and without the project. The project itself also forecast an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. And that only happens if you burn more fuel – which means more emissions not just of CO2 but common air contaminants as well.

What Campbell wants people to believe is that widening a freeway reduces traffic congestion. This is untrue. Whatever the short term effect is due to faster trips just after opening is more than offset by the new traffic that is generated by the facility. Traffic expands to fill the space available. Trips that are currently deterred by the prospect of having to deal with congestion will start to be made. More trips – and longer trips. This has always happened every time a new freeway or expressway is opened in urban areas. After years of freeway expansions people began to realise that the loss of neighbourhoods to construction of ever wider roads was not compensated for by any great advance in mobility. And most places then stopped building and widening freeways – and gradually urban areas improved and stabilised as a result. Some even grew vastly more popular and successful – downtown Vancouver being one of the few major cities in North America that was spared the destruction of a downtown freeway. Indeed we keep asking – and have yet had no answer – where has this policy ever worked? Just one example would do.

“We’re trying to create healthy, livable urban communities, places where people can work, live, play, where people can choose to walk to work. … You can’t do that if you don’t design your cities around that,” he said

And that means, dummy, no more freeways but build the transit first. You cannot walk to work in a highway oriented suburb: that is also why Surrey has a transit mode share of 4%. The so called “transit plan” would see SkyTrain reach Langley by 2030  – after more than 15 years of the impact of an expanded freeway. Yes we want “healthy, livable urban communities” and you only get those when you give people an alternative to driving – not encouragement to drive more. 

“Gateway is not just about a transportation strategy, it’s about wedding a transportation strategy with an urban development strategy. Surrey is going to be the second major city in British Columbia, there’s just no question about that.”

And if the freeway is widened, it will look much as it does today – only more so. More low density subdivisions, more plazas, more highway oriented development. Because you will never get transit oriented development until you build the transit. The “urban development strategy” here is simply to keep on repeating the mistakes of the past and expecting a different outcome. 

What the much expanded freeway will do is dump lots more traffic into the areas around the freeway exits. All those new trips generated by the vision of vast swathes of empty concrete have to start and end somewhere. So the street networks that feed and drain the freeway will see much heavier demand. If you think line ups on 152 Street in the early morning are bad now, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The citizens of Burnaby are right to be worried about where the traffic coming off Highway #1 will go – because it will go through where they live. The great thing about building roads is that it creates more demand which means you have to build more roads … and so it goes. That has been the history of North America in the last sixty years or more. 

Most people in this region recognize that every new freeway and bridge has resulted in more traffic – not less. Most people when asked recognise that we have under invested in transit in this region and think we should be correcting that mistake. The money spent on this one freeway project could bring light rail transit to most of Surrey and Langley. As Gordon Campbell himself noted with respect to the Canada Line – two railway tracks provide the same people moving capacity as ten lanes of freeway. (Actually most places that build rapid transit expect rather more than that.) So if that is true in Richmond why isn’t it in Surrey?

Written by Stephen Rees

April 29, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Gateway

It’s not about transit

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Pete McMartin in his comment piece in today’s Sun did a little digging in the archives. His analysis is spot on:

it’s about turf and taxation; When it reorganized TransLink, the provincial government gave itself the keys to the municipal property tax vault …

Which is, of course pretty much along the lines of what I wrote earlier this week when the Mayors said they want a slice of the carbon tax revenues. They do not want to keep on raising property taxes – which is what they have had to do as the province has steadfastly refused to allow them to collect new taxes – and the one they did get through (on parking) was snatched back.

I cannot say that I am in favour of dedicated taxes either. That is the kind of arrangement that was made in the US when their national gas tax was introduced – it could only be spent on roads. That made it more palatable to the people paying the tax but it quickly became apparent that road building can never satisfy the demands from drivers for more roads. Because traffic expands to fill available capacity very quickly. So the law had to be changed to allow for some transit projects – but, as here, not all the costs – only capital. With roads that means the states do not spend enough to keep roads and bridges in good shape and they have to be rebuilt more often. Bus life in the US had to be reduced from 18 years to 12 years. In Canada the same vehicles are made to last for over twenty years as there is no equivalent federal program. But, on the other hand, the US program at least has a requirement that all spending of federal money on transportation has to be part of a region wide land use and transportation plan. Not that that helped the City of Portland to buy its streetcars.

The current arrangement of regional government in Greater Vancouver is a shambles – and results from years of meddling and muddling. Municipal governments have little resources (they get only 8% of all tax revenues) and a parochial mind set. We need regional government that is directly elected and which has its own set of revenues. That is responsible for planning and transportation. That way a regional strategy has a chance of actually getting implemented. Whatever Metro Vancouver may say about sustainability after its years of studies and consultations matters not one whit if the freeway is widened. And if Gordo gets re-elected that is exactly what will happen. 

Meanwhile, Gordon Campbell — champion of the carbon tax, saint of zero-emission rapid transit lines, friend of the bike path — comes off as an environmentalist hero.

Well perhaps in his own mind and that of his funders. But the man who brought us the Seato Sky Highway widening through Eagleridge bluffs and the South Fraser Perimeter Road through both bog and farmland, who decimated the environment ministry rendering enforcement of regulations (also thinned drastically) moot and the environmental assessment process toothless, who is now busy forcing through private sector power projects with no effective local control (and not much justification either) and has wrecked the coastal salmon fishery in his dogged defence of fish farms on wild salmon runs is no hero to any environmentalist I know. At best a few think that a “green power up” is needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the puny carbon tax is a small step in the right direction – but few actually give the Liberals an actual endorsement. And of course green activists who run registered charities are very limited in what they can say about politics.

And I do not think anyone – and that includes the truckers and road builders – seriously thinks that building freeways improves traffic flow for very long or reduces greenhouse gas emissions at all. Everyone understands that this policy is about gratifying the wish of every driver not to be caught in a jam – but that every road building project simply boosts the need for more road building projects. And at the same time promotes low density suburban sprawl sprawl which threatens agricultural land and green space in general.   And locks us into car dependency at the very time when oil production has already peaked, and the threat of runaway global warming has ceased to be distant but is now a current reality.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 25, 2009 at 7:05 am

Active Transportation in Portland

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Portland, Oregon Mayor Sam Adams 

SFU City Program at UBC Robson Square April 24, 2009


“We share a lot of aspirations with Vancouver” and  “we try to steal your best ideas”. He was sworn in on January 1 this year and has a 100 day agenda. There is also a Portland Plan for the next 25 years which is based on “20 minute neighborhoods” connected by green multimodal corridors. He is working hard to ensure that you won’t need a car if you visit. They have been given many awards not least for their urban growth boundary (UGB). The city has 6 watersheds and while it is one of most livable cities in the US, all 6 watersheds get a failing grade

Portland has long had a robust definition of the common good – you cannot do as you like on your own land – and they have worked hard to protect farm and forest land. In the 1970s concern for those areas established UGB. The have the nations strongest land use laws and they have used them to  protect single family home neighborhoods.


It begins with the premise that they do not try to make Americans feel guilty for driving a car. By creating a  livable neighborhood the idea is that you should be be able to get what you need and want within a 20 minute walk or bike ride from your home. Much of the city was built around the streetcar with plenty of corner grocery stores without parking. He feels that the  key to the 20 minute neighborhood is to make sure that the corner is rentable at reasonable rate so that prices are fair and commensurate with big box store across town. he feels that subsidizing such stores would be the best transportation investment that we might make. “Most of our trips are about procuring stuff.” Commuting is only about 30% of the trips made. Neighborhoods will be connected by light rail and streetcar. the City spent $125m for 8 miles of streetcar with no federal funding. It was paid fro from a combination of  on street parking and garage fees as well as “tax increment” money. “Best investment we have ever made.” Within 3 blocks of the streetcar tracks we had a big invetsment in property. Ridership increased 100% sinc 1989. “Development oriented transit.” The Tram (an aerial cableway) was very expensive  but necessary to promote development of an unused area.


Portland Tram

Portland Tram


Portland has the highest percentage of trips by bike in US – about 5% city wide – 12% in core – exponential growth of use of bikeways – will spend $24m on 110 miles of bike boulevards (i.e. a quiet street parallel to the arterial). “We are Liberal and we are progressive” but  on a survey of street users  bikes were lowest as was freight on the public’s priority list. For most people the highest priority was to fix two bridges. A subsequent survey showed that people who drive cars are scared they might hit a cyclist and people who ride bikes want to avoid mixing with cars. Bikes are a high priority for the Mayor. 20,000 people come out every year for the annual “bridge pedal” a program which closes the major bridges to all but cyclists for one Sunday. It is a “shameless promo”. They also have a TravelSmart trip options program based on Australian experience [Perth WA] program, which he described as a “Concierge” service.

“High Praise on a Low Standard”. They have not had a federal government that prioritized these programs. But they need to be humble as i word terms they ae not so far adavanced. They were the first US city to establish a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and have not only reduced  – per capita emissions but also and reduced total emissions to below 1% below 1990 levels. By building complete neighborhoods and working hard to provide affordable housing they aim to to go for an 80% reduction by 2050.

He put up a slide with 8 action areas – but it was not on the screen for long enough for me to copy it  

In 2003 household expenditure on transportation took up 19.1% of the average  US family budget. In Portland it was just 15.1%.

“I can save you money and make you more competitive ” is a more persuasive sales pitch to those who have yet to buy in to doing the right thing for ideological reasons. This regionwide reduction in what we spend – $800m less than avge city on cars – makes Portland’s economy more resilient since it is mostly spent locally. Car based cities see most of their expenditures go to other places which make cars or produce oil.

The message to voters is that Portlanders can have a better life than they have right now. That’s what we work on – satisfaction – quality of life.


Q & A

US Federal “Green stimulus” funds – how does the city tap in to the new federal program?

We will get about $2m on energy efficiency projects. We are not spending on City buildings. This is one time money. We using it as seed capital with the local utility companies. Consumers can pay off a loan as part of their utility bill – for homes over 20 years – and this loan is “inheritable” (i.e. it passes to the new owner on sale). the idea is to prove the concept with 500 homes. Residents can increase the energy efficiency of the home with credit up front. [Investment in  new windows or insulation] will produce savings for most homeowners. The program does not apply to high rise towers yet. They teed to show that they have a business model that works.


Bike box

Bike box

Bike boxes

So far they are not quite a year in but injuries and deaths from “right hook” collisions at stop lines have been greatly reduced. This was the  No 1 issue for bike safety and was based on designs developed in London. Basically a bright green box is painted at the intersection and cars have to stop behind it. The bike lane through the intersection is also green. So far they have seen very impressive resulkts – no deaths and much reduction in injuries. But he warned that you can’t put them everywhere and you need to pick high volume intersections.

Volunteer projects

“Portland is better together” is a web site and a call centre. It means there is just one number to make it easy for people to volunteer. The staff match up volunteers with projects: for example, when they close off streets they use volunteers to do the  monitoring> he added parenthetically that in future they will also give universities “real projects” to do. Apparently academics do not always chose research projects which have practical application.

“What do you put in the water to power these initiatives?”

“Larry Frank is a wonk. He likes data. We have a high percentage of wonks: they are self selecting. We get 85% voter turnout snce in Portland you can vote by mail over 3 weeks. Make numbers understandable to folks. People who don’t like bikes will spend more to get bikes out of the way. Meet people where they are at.” It is not enough to appeal to the enthusiasts you have got to get the other 40%. “Be responsive,  stick with it.” Portland has a progressive business community who not just concerned about the bottom line but the key needs of the community.

Do you get push back from less forward thinking officials?

We get lots of push back. In fact we seek it out, research it and test it. For instance the traffic enineers complained we spent too much on bikes but in fact it was only 1.5% of the budget. But bikes had a 5% mode share . It thus produces the best rate of return. “Nothing comes close. Get the facts. The cheapest fastest and best trip is by bike.” The big question now is  the trip not taken and how to count that? It is much harder to document trip reduction strategies.

What do you need from regional plan and how does the City contribute to the region?

Some people wanted to expand the RGB. We have been working with other communities to convince them that we have only a finite amount to spend and it gets spread thinner if the boundary is expanded. We want to get them to embrace density and complete communities. We provide technical assistance based in or own experience.

[I was unable to hear the question]

The success of downtown has been that it is possible to drive to one place, leave the car there and then get around the entire area. This has been a competitive advantage. The  “fareless square” now needs to be expanded as they want to build downtown on both sides of he river but there is a  harsh budget reality to set off the inequity of the present system.

Bogota has street closures every Sunday. You close eight bridges 1 day a year. Have you thought of doing that?

I will let you deal with the church goers. It’s a big cost once a year. We are now closing big swaths of streets in neighborhoods. We are also closing commercial streets one day a month. there is initial resistance but when sales go up resistance stalls. We are  now expanding but not to bridges – we will do it in the centers.

You mention that the Tram was 4 times over budget. Were there any other initiatives that were worth re-examining?

A streetcar line needs to consider cycles as well. We failed there in some locations and need to do future corridor plans up front. We need to get them [tram, bike, pedestrians, trucks] all in the room together.

Programs for homeless

We have a 10 year plan to end homelessness and we are now 3 years in. Around 500 formerly “chronically homeless” people  are now in permanent housing. Basically we told the community “you will pay one way or another”.  We dropped the “clean up your act” requirement: it is not necessary for the homeless to be clean and sober before they are housed. We are now building a resource access centre which an includes outreach component – go where people are sleeping – do not wait for them to come to you.

In Vancouver we talk about a 5 minute walk from bus stop – not a 20 minute walk

We do not see the real interest from private sector investors when we talk about buses. We do see development with LRT but only at the stations. You need streetcars to get investment between the stations. A  streetcar stops every 2 blocks.  20 minutes assumes every single family home will be within 20 mins of everything and the aim is to drive down the 2/3 of trips that are not for work. The  20 min walk and bike ride areas are different sizes which allows for variation depending on the local physical  geography – for examples hilly areas.

Freight – elephant in the room

Portland developed a freight master plan that delineates freight routes. Homeowners on those routes were none too pleased, but it had to be done. In is view the US needs “to get railways back up and running”.  It was uncomfortable on arterials but freight is an additional compliction but has to be considered in planning

Freight needs

Portland has now got High Speed Rail designation from the federal government but it is a source of frustration that they cannot get the railroads [to do more to take trucks off the roads] We have to spend [public funds] on private land to get access to rail for freight traffic. 

Loss of parking 

We get a very positive response when we take out parking spots for bike racks. Share the road attitude perceived as safer. We can’t build enough bike corrals

Trip to school

We have a “Safe routes to school” program and we hire people to work in schools. They work with the kids to get them excited about walking or cycling to school. They’re willing. At  elementary schools they fund bike riding programs and they are only limited by lack of resources.

Closure of lane on bridge 1991-5 for cycles

There was an assertive effort for bike lanes on the street. There was a lot of push back and the world did not end. The impact on neighborhood businesses on taking out parking has had mixed results.

Our Mayor has promise to make vancouver the  “greenest city”.  Can you suggest priorities?

You are the poster city for so much of N America

(High opraise for low standrad)

Guard against the specialist expertise. We need to look at what Portlanders want – consumer analysis. If you look at what each person in a household wants you can identify  options they will act on.

We had a real success with the  rail streetcar.

Your regional governance decision making model could be improved.  We have an independent, regionally elected government which holds us accountable. This is something you cannot achieve with mayors sitting around a table.

How do you attract jobs?

Streetcar works for us – we now build streetcars and sell them all over the place. You have the opportunity to market your green services – professional services – but too often forget to market within North America.


Portland Streetcar

Portland Street at the University stop

Written by Stephen Rees

April 24, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Anti Gateway Petition Delivered

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Provided to you as  a public service, this event was not covered at all by the mainstream media – so far as I can tell (i.e. a Google news search found nothing).   

Vancouver, BC

Activists dressed in polar bear suits delivered petitions collected by the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC) and the Wilderness Committee to Premier Gordon Campbells office at 12:30 today. Over 10,000 signatures have been collected from citizens…

For immediate release Thursday, April 23, 2009

Polar Bears deliver 10,000 Anti-Gateway Petitions to Premiers office
Petitions Demand Funds Redirected to Transit

Vancouver, BC Activists dressed in polar bear suits delivered petitions collected by the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC) and the Wilderness Committee to Premier Gordon Campbells office at 12:30 today. Over 10,000 signatures have been collected from citizens demanding investment in public transit and an end to the Port Mann megabridge project.

“Translink is currently exhausting its capital reserves just to keep existing service going,” said Karen Wristen, Executive Director of SPEC. “At this rate, they will be broke in two years. We simply cant afford both freeway expansion and transit development: we have to solve the transit crisis first.”

The polar bears highlight concerns about what activists are calling the “Gateway to global warming”. “It will be virtually impossible to reach BCs commitments to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) if Gateway is allowed to proceed. Gateway is not just an irresponsible plan, its immoral,” said Ben West, the Wilderness Committees Healthy Communities Campaigner.

Environment Canada has stated that the Gateway Program will contribute to a “deterioration of air quality and an increase in GHG emissions”.

“If we want to create jobs to turn our economy around then the good news is that investing in transit creates 3 times as many jobs as the same sized investment in highway expenditure,” said Wristen. A recent report from UBC Professor Patrick Condon shows that the entire south Fraser region could be covered in convenient light rail transit for the same cost as the new Port Mann Bridge.

“Even if Gateway goes ahead, the Port Mann will be packed as a parking lot again within a few years due to the increased sprawl it will promote. The new mega-bridge will only make congestion worse, and citizens will be left holding the bill and paying the tolls for years to come. This is all preventable since there are very sensible solutions available,” said West.

The delivery of 10,000 signatures opposing Gateway in favour of better transit follows the Easter weekend Day of Action which saw activists take to Highway 1 overpasses from West Vancouver to Chilliwack demanding “Rail for the Valley” and “Better Transit, Not Freeways”. One banner from the day of action summed up the feelings of residents saying “Light Rail Cleaner, Safer, Cheaper”.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 24, 2009 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Gateway

Book Review: Plan C

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“Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for peak Oil and Climate Change” by Pat Murphy published by New Society Publishers 

First Printing May 2008 Paperback ISBN 978-0-86571-607-0 $19.95

I was sent this by the publishers but only in the last month. I was quite surprised to see that it was now a year old – and it becomes apparent early on that this was written long before the advent of Obama – let alone his election. Because it is written by an American for a US audience.

Pat Murphy is the Executiuve Director of Community Solutions, a nonprofit organization which focuses on achieving sustainability by reducing energy consumption in the household sectors of food, housing and transportation. …  Community Solutions has hosted annual Peak Oil and Solutions conferences since 2003 in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

I was hoping when I picked up the book that I would actually discover an alternative to plan A (Business as usual) and Plan B (New technology). And while there is certainly a well argued case for such an approach there is not nearly enough in my view about how one goes about creating communities in places which have to a large extent lost them. There is of course a great deal of explanation about how we lost our sense of community – and who is responsible for that – but not nearly enough about what we can do to recreate that.

In fact this evening – because the CBC is taken over by hockey – I was watching Global TV news and they had a short bit on community gardens in Vancouver (for Earth Day, of course).  The demand for these gardens is greater than ever before – and the recession seems to have stimulated even more people to grow their own food. But what got the City of Vancouver really interested was how the establishment of these gardens improved neighborhoods. They made them safer because people started to get to know who their neighbours are. People who had lived in the same apartment building for years actaully found out who the people were on the other floors! We really have very little contact with the people who live closest to us – and gardens do build communities. This simple idea is not referenced at all in the index to this substantial (300 page) volume. How to start building a community seems to me to be the key to getting Plan C working.

There is a lot in the first third of the book which makes it  a useful reference source – the whole thing is annotated in endnotes – but much of it will be reasonably familiar to people who have been concerned enough about the problem to pick up this book in the first place. Since it is American it has to deal with the widespread misconceptions about climate change and peak oil – but if you do not need to be convinced you may skip that part. It will also mean you can avoid a long and quite vitriolic condemnation of the history of imperialism – which to some extent explains why the third world is so angry that the first world seems so determined to hold back their achieving our lifestyle. But there are odd gaps – for instance the very short section on electric cars omits the current organizational developments in Israel around leasing batteries which may well overcome the serious issue of lack of range.   And unfortunately  the book misnames “the father of the fuel cell” George Ballard (he was actually Geoffrey Ballard) – and also neglects to point out that Ballard Power Systems themselves have abandoned the idea of developing a fuel cell powered car.

I naturally turned to the transportation section hoping for better. But nearly all of it is devoted to the idea of the “smart jitney”. Now this is an idea that I have also thought would be very useful in civilizing suburbia, and technically I think it would be reasonably easy to do. The problem is the very real legal and social barriers. In my own view, this is going to be a very hard sell to politicians – and against the considerable and well entrenched opposition of people who currently operate both taxis and transit. We do need something that is smaller than a bus and cheaper than a taxi – but I think that self drive vehicles are still going to be the answer (through car co-ops) long before we resolve the issue of getting into a car with a stranger driving. Since the book is about community organizing most of the obvious ways of improving local transportation through better transit are simply ignored. About the only extensive reference is to what Cuba cobbled together when it lost access to Soviet oil. 

Apparently one of the essential things we must do is “kick the media habit”. And, yes, I can see why that would be a good way to reclaim some time and get away from the very narrow world view presented by the mainstream media. But it also seems to me that is a very patrician view: that most of us are incapable of seeing through the spin and sorting out our own alternative sources of news. For people who can find their way around the internet there are many other ways of getting news and information. But according to Pat Murphy you have to get away not just from the tv but your computer as well. As a blogger I cannot recommend that approach.

And as an activist, and now an aspiring politician, I am also not ready to give upon the political process. Much of the change we need to bring about needs to be at the various levels of government. Much of the first Greenhouse Gas Action Plan for BC that I worked dealt with regulatory issues – and many of those still need to be dealt with. For instance rules that prevent people from taking simple effective steps to cut energy use like using a clothes line or  installing a solar panel.  But also of course stopping governments doing stupid things like widening freeways and getting them to do sensible things like converting more of our streets to bus lanes.

I think there may well be a Plan C – and it does have a lot to do with people discovering the power that they still possess when they get together to do things. Stopping a P3 in a provincial park for instance – but also positive things like organizing car pools and community gardens. There does need to be a handbook to help that along. This is not it.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 22, 2009 at 8:01 pm

No new funds for Port Mann buses

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Globe and Mail

Cars and trucks will be crossing the new Port Mann Bridge a year earlier than promised, but transit riders may be out of luck without substantial new funding for bus services.

Ken Hardie, a spokesman for TransLink, said in an interview that the agency is facing an annual shortfall of $150-million based on current demand, and it will have evaporated its reserves within two years. To pay for the additional services that have been promised across the system, it would need to find an extra $300-million each year.

“We have been lavished with funding from the federal and provincial governments but it’s all for capital costs,” he said. The cost of operating the buses is the more significant part of the equation, he said.

This, of course, is not news. It is a reaction to the province’s announcement that the bridge will be “open a year early”. (It will also be slightly cheaper – interesting how once the P3 was cancelled it got both faster AND cheaper). Obviously Translink was not consulted – because they are still in the throes of trying to get people interested in their “long term plan” – when the real question is the short term cash crunch. Equally obviously it really does not matter what the agency wants to do – now or in the future – since it can only do what the province decides. And that is never based on regional priorities but short term political advantage. And both the Liberals and the NDP play that game.

And, once again, Kevin Falcon is out there lying in his teeth.

Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon vowed the promised rapid buses will be running on the new bridge. He said the province will pay part of the cost, but it is up to the regional governments to find their share as well.

“The day it opens, the rapid bus will be in place,” Mr. Falcon said in an interview. “The regions have to contribute. It’s never easy, but I think the public wants public transit.”

He said there has been no regular bus service on the existing Port Mann Bridge for two decades because of chronic congestion, and the increased transit services are a key part of the government’s climate action agenda. 

There has been no regular bus service since the previous one was cancelled due to “low ridership” after the Expo line was extended to Scott Road. And since Translink was told not to introduce a direct North Surrey to Coquitlam bus by Mr Falcon’s minions. “Chronic congestion” is not an excuse used for taking off bus service – and has never been used on any of the other very congested routes. What is done is that bus lanes are put in – just as the province is now doing on Highway #99. They have long been needed on the northbound approach to the Oak Street Bridge but are only now under construction as an afterthought, to deal with South Surrey and Delta express buses being diverted into the new Canada Line station at the casino. 

Increased transit service is also an afterthought. Since the main plank of this government’s transportation objective in this region is to increase traffic . Again, they lie about that, saying it will reduce ghg emissions as traffic will flow better on a wider freeway. But of course we all know – as do they – that has never happened anywhere. Last night I watched “New York: A Documentary Film” on KNOW. It was about the new bridges and freeways built by Robert Moses in the 1930s. Same justification as Falcon and Gordo still use – it would “solve congestion” and be a useful stimulus in times of economic depression. But soon after the Triborough Bridge opened, New York experience the worst traffic jam in its then history. Because new highways and bridges generate more trips. There is always more traffic when networks are expanded.  People use their cars more when offered new trip making opportunities – and those trips are usually longer. Congestion eventually settles back into a sort of equilibrium. As long as there are no major incidents, traffic reverts to about 10mph on average in nearly every city on earth. Enough people give up marginal trips, and enough people insist on driving to ensure a level of not too much misery every day. Until there is a collision. Or a truck overturns. Or the potholes need fixing. 

He is right, the people do want transit. They have been wanting it for years. And the provincial politicians have preferred to build roads and bridges. Because that helps their friends make money (Moses was very popular with the construction companies). And they have always told municipal politicians that their voters will have to made to pay more for transit and at the same time refused to sanction new revenue sources.   

Of course what is really needed is to cancel the Gateway altogether and spend the money on more buses – and trains for existing tracks – as well as putting in measures that reduce the amount of space devoted to cars in order to increase the people carrying capacity of the network we now have. With a few strategically placed queue jumper lanes and a few more “traffic meter” stop lights on the on-ramps, Highway #1 is quite adequate as it is. Because – as Gordon Campbell says – a rapid transit line can carry the same as ten lanes of freeway.  If it has enough trains or buses that is!

Written by Stephen Rees

April 22, 2009 at 7:42 am

Posted in Gateway

Metro Vancouver mayors want carbon tax millions for transit

with 3 comments

Vancouver  Sun

Some inspired leaking of confidential documents that the the Mayors will be discussing today. It does of course make obvious sense that in this region. Transport is the biggest single source of greenhouse gas emissions here. Instead of giving people tax rebates (though the initial $100 was a one off) and funding dubious “offsets” (cutting down mature trees to plant small ones may not actually reduce ghg emissions very much)  give them a real alternative to driving.

Of course, this government is only paying lip service to carbon reduction. The carbon tax is too small to have any discernible effect and has been greatly overshadowed by the dramatic drop in oil prices. The Gateway program will produce far more greenhouse gas emissions – even using their own flawed methodology for forecasting. And the real issue for Translink is that it has had capital funds assistance from other levels of government but so far not nearly enough for operating funds. Expanding the system is a good idea only if you can afford to operate it. And there is no new source of funds for this much increased expense. Hiking fares is the obvious response – which of course does not help to fill all those new trains and buses. Property tax is the one thing that the province itself cannot touch – so is the obviously the one that they want the municipalities to raise. That allows them to trumpet how much they have reduced income and sales taxes – simply by down loading as much as possible. The other favourite for “fiscal conservatives” is fees for services. BC is, for example, one of only two provinces that levies a fee (“Medical Services Premium”) for healthcare. Flat rate fees are, of course, deeply regressive. They hit poorer people much harder than the rich. But the rich, it is said, must have tax cuts  – and as a result now pay much less than the poor do.

Of course if the Liberals don’t get back into power, and Carol James axes the tax – as she has promised – then some other source will have to be tapped. Increasing income tax of the wealthiest would be my choice but I wonder if she has the intestinal fortitude for that.

UPDATE April 22, 4pm

Campbell is already pushing back, according to The Tyee’s Hook blog. 

“The carbon levy is not a revenue generator,” Campbell told reporters Wednesday, swapping the word ‘tax’ for the more neutral term ‘levy.’

“… Every single cent that is raised from the carbon levy is going in tax reductions.”

This stems from the notion that somehow the carbon tax is “revenue neutral” – as far as the government is concerned. The revenue coming in to the government is not going to be increased – it is just going to be shifted from one source to another. This is, of course, regressive. Because the tax is on expenditure not income. I don’t now why but I am pretty sure I read something recently about the government buying carbon offsets. Now of course if their theory is right this would not have been income from the carbon tax they were spending but from some other source. But it seems to me that transit would be a better payback in this region: for transport is the biggest source of ghg emissions – and there is very little choice for many people for whom current transit really is not a practical choice. Like the people who need to get between North Surrey and Coquitlam for example. 

“We recognize the difficult choices to make,” Campbell. “But if they decide they want to expand transit services, they’re going to have to be part of the partnership that funds that, just like they are in Prince George, or Kelowna, or Victoria, or Campbell River.”

Now this is just sophistry. Of course we pay for our transit in this region. The gas tax is six cents higher here than in the rest of BC. And Translink also dips heavily into property taxes too. This was of course exactly the same argument that used to play out between the Mayors and the Province in the days before Translink, when the province insisted that the gas tax was provincial revenue – even though it was then 4 c higher here than in the rest of BC. The GVTA was supposed to put a stop to this silliness – but of course we now no longer have the GVTA its now the SoCoBriTCA. And the same tired old controversy that somehow this region is trying to get a ‘free ride’. Which has never been true, but that does not stop premiers from trying it on.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 22, 2009 at 7:09 am

Posted in transit

PIBC PlanTalk: Urban Food Renaissance

What are the challenges facing planners and policy makers in
addressing issues related to food security and public health? How can
we contribute to effective actions that address these challenges? Join
us at the upcoming PlanTalk for a discussion on these issues with
representatives from the City of Vancouver, City of Surrey, UBC Farm,
and BC Healthy Communities.

Urban Food Renaissance brings together Samara Brock (Vancouver), Mark
Bomford (UBC Farm), Mark Allison (Surrey), and Deirdre Goudriaan (BC
Healthy Communities) for a discussion on issues of food security,
health and policy, moderated by Paris Marshall Smith (UBC SCARP).

Monday April 27th at 19h (18h30 for refreshments)

SFU Harbour Centre, room 1600 (515 West Hastings)

$20 PIBC Members*
$25 Non-PIBC Members
$5 Students
Payable by cash or cheque at the door. Receipts will be issued.
*This event will count for 2.0 CPD units for PIBC members.

Please RSVP to Brent Elliott by Thursday, April 23 at:

Written by Stephen Rees

April 21, 2009 at 11:20 am

Posted in food security

B.C. deserves better environmental policies

with 5 comments

An editorial in the Georgia Straight hammers the environmental policies of the two major political parties. There is no mention of the Green Party – who happen to have much better policies. And not just about the environment either. Take a look at the Green Book before you vote. Please. 

If what I write about on this blog appeals to you – or if you like what you read about in the Green Book – please consider a donation. The NDP is funded by the Unions. The Liberals by Big Business. The Greens are just plain folks – you and me. People who know that there is a better way than Business as Usual, which is all Tweedledum and Tweedledee know.

You can donate on the Green Party webpage – or you could send a cheque to

Campaign to Elect Stephen Rees

#6 – 10251 Steveston Highway, Richmond BC V7A 1N2

I will of course send you a tax receipt.


Thank you

Written by Stephen Rees

April 16, 2009 at 11:55 am

Posted in Environment, politics

Tagged with