Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for July 30th, 2009

Is Vancouver About to Become the Greenest City in the World?

with 7 comments

Allan Hunt Badiner, AlterNet

When you read any press story abut things you know about, you always realise how limited the view of the journalist is. I get two news alerts a day from Alternet, which promises a different view from the mainstream media. “Allan Hunt Badiner is a writer, activist, and editor of three books” who came for a visit and saw pretty much what he was programmed to see. As an American activist he was looking for an example of what US cities should be doing. And he did not, it seems, really dig very deep.

From the airport all along Granville Street, Vancouver’s longest artery, my eyes kept searching for urban blight, some garbage or a little graffiti — but there was none.

Oh well that’s all right then. Just as well he did not look at Hastings, isn’t it.

As I have often said, Vancouver seems to be doing pretty well by North American standards, but those are not very high. And there is also the way that the City gets confused by the much larger, and much less successful, metropolitan area. One bike lane on Burrard Bridge and some short term additional shelter beds do not actually do very much at to deal with our car dependence or homelessness.

This is not to say it’s a city without problems, or that it doesn’t have its own share of the poor and homeless.

But to not notice that the region’s transit system only carries 11% of trips – impressive compared to some US cities of similar size no doubt – and that despite one new rapid transit line to open next month, most the efforts in transportation are to expand the highway system and to increase car use in the suburbs seems like, at the every least, inadequate research. And what does it say about “greenest city in the world” rankings that could ignore completely almost everything outside the City in its functional urban region? OK he notices the Richmond Oval too. Whoopee.

“In the world” means we are up against places like Copenhagen and Zurich. They both do transit much better than we do. Copenhagen is also very much further ahead in closing streets to cars and encouraging cycling and walking, as well as renewable energy use, and recycling of waste.  Yes we have hydro – but our biggest source of greenhouse gases remains transport – and we are not dealing with that at all. Even more freight is being shipped around the region on trucks, thanks to the railways themselves do that, and will increase significantly due to the investment in more highways. Outside of the City of Vancouver, transit mode share to to 4% in the region’s second largest city and the one that is growing fastest. Does CoV deserve the prize because Surrey is not within its legal boundaries?

Written by Stephen Rees

July 30, 2009 at 10:25 am

BC Ferries, TransLink not bound by recommendations in government review

with one comment

There’s more reaction to the Province’s announcement of a review – this time from the agencies themselves.

Both point out that as so called “independent” bodies they are not bound by the findings of the review. The government cannot tell them what to do. Both BC Ferries and TransLink were set up to operate independently, with no government interference agrees Minister Shirley Bond, who is further quoted

“Having said that, I find that an interesting response,” she said …

“So I would assume, and I think most taxpayers would expect, that if this review actually demonstrates ways to use dollars more efficiently or in fact we could find savings, that of course BC Ferries and TransLink would want to adopt those recommendations,” she said.

So Comptroller General Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland in the space of three months, looking at two agencies operating in a complex environment and facing difficult challenges for many years is going to find savings that those agencies have missed? And anyway she has already been given clear direction that her target is to be executive compensation – even though in terms of the overall spending that cannot achieve very much and anyway is determined by outside consultants with detailed data on executive compensation. Something the CG will not haver access to unless she is prepared to pay for access to the same data sources to get the same answers.

Of course there are always ways to cut costs – but that may not be a very sensible thing to do. For instance, it is clear that in Washington DC as a way of keeping costs down, the metro operator allowed its signalling system to deteriorate and continued to operate old equipment that needed either upgrade or replacement. Yes it made the books balance for a while but it looks like that decision cost lives – or rather will probably look like that once the final reports of safety authorities are in. You can also point to all kinds of things in the collective agreement of CMBC which would result in operational savings – but do you really want to go battle with the CAW again?

This review is not really about “finding savings” – it is a diversionary tactic and an implied threat to the agencies to fall in line with the wishes of the Province. Or rather Translink – BC Ferries was just added to make it look more objective. But as Prendergast has demonstrated he can get a job somewhere else – and maybe get an even better deal. Why would he want to hold on to a job where he was expected to take a hit just for PR effect for the government’s short term gain? And what would that do to Translink’s ability to replace him? Of course the professional board will want to demonstrate that it really is independent – and also to continue to hold up the argument that they are doing a really good job running the place. Wenezenki-Yolland has not got an enviable task – and do not be surprised if her report is predictable and just filed away like so many other “reviews”.

UPDATE July 30 2:53pm

You can also read what Jim Sinclair has to say on his Vancouver sun blog – predictable but true. And the headline writer seems to have a better way of sparking attention

Written by Stephen Rees

July 30, 2009 at 9:58 am