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

Archive for February 2010

Olympic Line (short) closure notice

with 108 comments

The Olympic line will be closed between 11:30 am and 1 pm on Friday, February 12, due to the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay.

MIVB 3050 in service on the Olympic Line

Written by Stephen Rees

February 9, 2010 at 11:33 am

Posted in Transportation

Is the Volt a breakthrough?

with 8 comments

Chevrolet Volt

The car is a new, preproduction demonstrator of GM’s latest plug-in hybrid car. That circular cover just below the mirror is where it can be plugged in to a domestic power source and be re-charged. In addition to its batteries, it also has a small conventional gasoline engine, which kicks in automatically after 64 kilometres. That is the designed range in order to prolong battery life, but is also more than most people drive on a daily basis. For many commuters, they will not need to use the gas for most of their trips. This car – or rather one developed from feedback for those who try this version – will be on sale next year in Canada. No word yet about the price, but GM are confident they will not have any trouble selling all they intend to build. UPDATE “GM ended months of speculation on [July 27, 2010] by revealing a price tag for the Volt of $41,000 (U.S.).”
Globe and Mail

I got to drive the car last weekend, by invitation of GM, but not on the streets – because they are not yet licensed here – but around the parking lot of the H R McMillan Science Centre. It is a very desirable vehicle, though they said that it is not ready yet for sale. It is nice driving an almost silent car. Inside you only hear a light hum when moving – outside mostly noise from tyres – specially designed for low rolling resistance.  A “chirrup” can be sounded if pedestrians or cyclists seem unaware of its presence. It has, like all EVs, excellent acceleration from rest – in fact there are two settings to moderate that for everyday traffic and save energy. It handles nicely.

GM think that it will revolutionize the car business. And, from their perspective, they had better be right, as GM had, of course, to be bailed out and its business plan rethought. Toyota currently lead the hybrid business, but GM has a lot of its big SUV hybrids in town right now, shuttling Olympic “family” and other favoured guests around town in exclusive lanes. GM is a major Olympic sponsor. This is an important showcase for them. Toyota is, of course, also in trouble at present due to build quality – a real blow to its reputation. And Toyota does yet have a plug in version of the Prius for sale here. The Volt can be used as an electric vehicle. The engine only has to be turned on for longer trips or for when the nearest electrical outlet is out of range. In many cities in Canada, outlets in parking lots and garages are common for block heaters. Not Vancouver, of course, but the City has mandated charging points in new construction.

A plug-in hybrid is a technological innovation – and is a lot more complex than that simple phrase suggests. I heard a lot about how smart this car is and how innovative its batteries (LiON) and systems are. Oddly, I was given no printed hand out, and I wasn’t taking notes. But cars are going to be part of our transportation future here, and in the rest of the world, for many years. So efforts to reduce their impact are essential. Since we have plenty of hydro resources – or would do if the lure of power exports to California were not so profitable – cutting the use of gasoline for car use will help. Or would if driving patterns stayed the same. Since we have been and still are expanding our road networks, car use will grow. I actually doubt that, at present, gasoline use deters much driving, but of course once you own a plug in car that uses carbon free power those concerns would fade away – even when gas gets very expensive indeed. So the Volt means that more people will keep on driving – just as the Prius has.

Emissions from cars – both common air contaminants locally and greenhouse gases globally – are problems.  But they are not the only problem with car use.   Traffic congestion, urban sprawl, human health – obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes as well as the results of collisions – are problems of significance too. Electric, zero emission cars do nothing to tackle any of these issues and arguably help us put off the day when we start to deal with them effectively. There is also the bounce back effect seen with every improvement in energy efficiency. As each appliance gets more efficient our power consumption does not fall as much as predicted as we just use them more.

On the side of the demonstration GM also had a couple of hydrogen fuell cell SUVs – and I was able to drive one of those across the Burrard Bridge and around the West End. Again, a nice quiet, comfortable ride, and plenty of hydrogen in the tank. But again limited range, and a lack of currently available refuelling stations means that hydrogen cars and trucks – which are also very expensive to build – are not going to be seen in large numbers here – or anywhere else – for while. Hydrogen is going to follow the same difficult path that other “alt fuels” have experienced. Not enough cars, not enough filling stations and no way to short cut the economics that deter owners from facing that conundrum.

I have no problem with GM following its corporate strategy – though I think, like all corporations, it needs a much tighter regulatory framework and careful monitoring to protect the greater good. But it is also tied closely to government spending and thus policy decisions. I have no doubt GM officials are more comfortable now dealing with BC politicians than they were people like Moe Sihota.  (Though he notably rejected a Natural Gas minivan as his official car. It was the previous year’s model.)  Our politicians seem only too ready to support corporate objectives. That was not why they were elected. The reason we have government at all is that corporations – and individuals too – need to set aside their own interests sometimes. We have seen only too clearly in recent years what happens when regulation is lightened. Profits, yes for while they seem to grow, but the social and environmental costs are now unbearable.

Governments ought to be curbing highway expansions, since we know that most of the supposed benefits are illusory. We must reduce greenhouse gas production drastically and quickly and that means significant wrenching social change. Hydrogen SUVs and plug in hybrids are not solutions to our greatest problems and difficulties but emollients that allow some to continue as they always have done. North American consumption patterns are currently shrinking – the stimulus funds have been going to the wrong people. This actually may not be a Bad Thing – if it can be managed properly, and policies like expanding transit and passenger rail were extended at the expense of highway funding.

Will I buy a Volt? Probably not. For one thing, I would have to persuade the strata council to install metered outlets at the parking stalls. That is actually a bigger hurdle than the probable price tag, since lower gas bills could probably finance some of the purchase and I expect that gas will not stay around $1.10 a litre for very long.

More pictures can be found on flickr

Plugged in

Written by Stephen Rees

February 8, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Hopenhagen or Nopenhagen

with 5 comments

SFU downtown noon February 2

This was the most disappointing SFU City program session I have reported to date. This was the expected event as notified by email from the City Program.

Hopenhagen or Nopenhagen? What was it like being in Copenhagen as the world focused on climate change and the convoluted negotiations among the parties. What now? Join a panel of those who were on the ground as they share their impressions and discuss the consequences. This session is jointly sponsored by the SFU Public Policy Program and SFU City Program. Panelists include: David Cadman ; Jason Mogus, Communicopia Internet Inc.; Heidi Hartman, Hollyhock.

Of these, only Jason Mogus was on the platform today. David Cadman was in an in camera Council meeting. Tzeporah Berman was apparently also expected but was thought to be held up by security in Nanaimo float place terminal. So instead Professor John Richards was asked to share the platform:  this is the first time that the City Program and his Public Policy program have jointly sponsored one of these events. The meeting was held in a smaller room than usual but even so was lass than half full, and many of those were Professor Richards’ students.

Professor Richards did not attend Copenhagen. He did not deliver a formal presentation but offered to be a sort of sparring partner to Jason Mogus. In the front row of the audience was Kris Krug a local photographer and social media guru, who had been with Mogus at the conference and whose images were displayed as a slide show both before and during the presentation and are also used here by permission.

Jason Mogus - Communicopia

Jason Mogus - Communicopia

Jason is based in Vancouver where his company builds web sites for social change. He was hired by a coalition of NGOs to create a web strategy that would build support for a strong agreement at Copenhagen.   This movement came together specifically for this single meeting and was, he said “the most together and vibrant group with a great diversity of organisations across all  age groups, locations and purposes.” He ran a digital campaign with a twelve person team in Copenhagen. 220 NGOs formed the coalition and nearly 16m global citizens signed on to the tcktcktck web site

He started by calling for questions from the floor – which are listed below in the order they were asked. My impression is that not all were answered.

  1. What happened – why is it no longer on the agenda?
  2. Is this a platform for something better?
  3. How was Canada perceived?
  4. Tell us about the decision making process
  5. List any positive things that came out of it
  6. Is this a legacy web site? Is anything new emerging?
  7. Given the political failure to reach agreement, is this to be a guide to individual or community actions like Transition Towns?

How it started

“Make Poverty History” was the  inspiration for the climate movement even though it was a failure too.  They wanted to avoid a repeat of the Gleneagles G8 conference. The  Gleneagles agreement was not nearly good enough: it provided a  “We Saved Africa” media moment but that was premature. It was a major announcement but no action followed.  The tck group had its own theory of change and decided that it had to “own the outcome”. But then 160 world leaders turned up and took over, excluding the NGOs.

The brand created by tck is edgy and youth oriented and is based on psychographics and values. Their research showed that the environmentalists’ anger does not resonate with people. It lacks hedonism, excitement and fun sought by youth or the security and safety values of the older generation. The groups asked ‘how do you align all these groups to “energise the base” and expand on “the usual suspects”‘. Governments are used to hearing about how upset these groups are, and to some extent they have tuned out. The intention was to recruit from a much wider population of “ordinary people” not just environmental activists, in the belief that would change the impact on the decision makers.

At this point Professor Richards intervened pointing out that Africa is still as bas as ever. (Perhaps he did not hear Jason’s initial point about Gleneagles being a failure.)

Kris Krug responded from the floor “but we learned about how to communicate. Since then citizen media has emerged. And there was no recipe” for coordinating all these disparate  groups

Delegate assaulted by police

Delegate assaulted by police

Jason Mogus continued that tck became a platform for connecting people. The objective is not to influence policy makers but to build community, that will have resilience and interconnection. The idea was to bring more people into the movement. They may not influence politicians but they might get NGOs to work together. Since goverments are going to do nothing anyway, adaptation is already happening from local groups (see question 7) but it is  distributed and small scale. He pointed out that there are “big dumb NGOs stuck in the 20th century” i.e. not web savvy or social media literate.

Professor Richards intervened again, suggesting that the transformation of status of women may offer a model of how, when pressure isn’t enough, society can still change. He went on to point out that  Stephane Dion’s effort to put climate change on the political agenda produced the Liberal’s worst result in Canadian history.

Jason continued that the intention was to “creating a space for decision making” He cited groups like Avaaz and who operate to a different paradigm. They are people driven: they listen and poll to direct activity. They are not run from the top down but are community driven. It is important to note the groups did collaborate,  shifted perspectives – “by the end we got quite functional – if we can’t do it, how do we get expect the politicians to do it?”

There was he said the possibility of greenwash announcement: the deal would be crap, unfair and not binding, and the hope was that through pressure of all the NGOs using the same message a stronger deal would be possible. In the event  Obama announced a weak deal – and said so. The  joint messaging campaign providing the same response from a wide range of groups i.e. “there is a lot more to do” for the first 10 days worked “until we got locked out.”

There is, he said, an angry constituency – which includes the low lying states, India and China (although he conceded they are a bot of a wild card) These countries are dealing with climate change.

Professor Richards intervened: “Bangladesh one of the most vulnerable countries but it is still not doing much. There is a corrupt government, but there has been a little bit of adaptation such as cyclone shelters. The way to deal with climate change has to include millions of small decisions not to burn hydrocarbon fuel. The NGOs need to make taxes popular”.

Jason: we knew there would be a drop off in energy  after the conference: the NGOs are “now recircling the wagons”. One of the main lessons has been how the outreach lead to “new groups” joining the movement such as the Boy Scouts. Tck never had major celebrities involved, or lots of money.

Professor Richards: Canada and US have both grown 25-30% in ghg per capita since 1990. We need really quite wrenching lifestyle changes – are we going to do any of this?

At this point one of his (female) students pointed out  the fallacy of his supposed model of the rise of feminism “The reason they didn’t hire women was NOT that they were too expensive. So maybe the key to climate change may not be economics either.”

He conceded that policy and viability are both essential.

banner - United Nations Climate Change Conference

banner - United Nations Climate Change Conference

Kris Krug said that there were three groups at odds at Copenhagen: the demonstrators, the NGOs, and the government negotiators. And they did not talk to each other. The NGOs did not even want him to photograph the demonstrators since that was not the image they wished to convey.  Jason commented that Kris should have added in businesses. Kris replied that they too had own agenda (“selling Coke”) “Someday there could be a movement.  There isn’t yet.  Identifying that lack is a start.”  There is also the beginning of people doing positive things, without waiting for governments or for agreements between them

Jason: It is hard not to get upset and depressed.Many feel paralyzed by how bad it is. They are overwhelmed. We are also working in a system that is slow. But on the other hand there has never been a meeting like that, which set out to include youth and the NGOs and he felt we should applaud the UN for trying.

Perception of Canada

The perception of Canada can be seen from the fossil a day award and the fossil of the year award. We are trying to stop progress and the world knows it. The impacts are happening and accelerating. We will have to atone for that. We have seen a lot more stuff on the tar sands and the NGOs are targeting it because it’s the biggest project. On a positive note Canadians showed up a lot in the activist movement.

Kris Krug also pointed to the Yes men who a faked press conference, where Canada appeared to change its policies, and then they also faked a later retraction.

Professor Richards: Gordon Campbell has to get some credit. We need politicians like him and Arnold Schwarzenegger inside the coalition. At this point I spoke up, and pointed out that the increase in oil, gas and coal extraction under Campbell far exceeds any benefit due to the carbon tax – as does the promotion of the Gateway program. The response was that any coalition has to be with people one disagrees with.

He continued by discussing Europe’s policy versus that of North America, in response to another comment from the floor. He noted that Europeans have to live in smaller spaces, and have always taxed fuel heavily. He also praised France for prescience in opting for nuclear energy.

Jason then talked about behaviour change marketing and the importance of group values and norms. The success of some weight loss programs depends on the role of community to keep people up to their commitments.  “People do not change because of logic”

He then diverted to recommending a recent Rolling Stone article “You Idiots” on the 17 people who are wrecking the climate.  He said that it showed how hard it is: “how do you fight the machine” of corporate interests that control the main stream media.

One member of the audience then spoke up “We have to talk about the much larger number of good guys”

Another audience member, referring to a recent gathering in North Vancouver said “Most people just don’t get what is at stake.”

Professor Richards: perhaps I was wrong to invoke feminism but there was, at about the same time in the US a significant change in civil rights. That occurred  not just due to the legislation but also the policy and actions of people,  and not just the activists or the lawyers. “There was 50 years of policy wonks’ work . I want Jason’s crowd to popularize the carbon tax.”

One audience member asked if capitalism could be a positive force?

Professor Richards: Yes. See Denmark’s green businesses– solar panels, windfarms – enough of a force now to have political influence too.

Jason agreed that sustainable business is growing but “the White House needs to hear from you more”. He pointed also to the number of leading companies that have left the US Chamber of Commerce in disgust at their strong opposition to climate change policies.

Candle lit vigil at Copenhagen

Candle lit vigil at Copenhagen


As far as I can I have tried to report the discussion fairly. There are some bits I missed, mainly because many of the people who did not use the microphone were inaudible. I have provided links to the web sites that were mentioned, but it would appear that tcktcktck is now just in a holding pattern. I am not at all sure what might emerge – because it seems no-one is ready yet to commit to a long term strategy, post Copenhagen.

As I have said here before, I do think that Canadians who care about the issue have pretty much given up trying to influence the governments of BC and Canada – who are clearly not in the least concerned about effective action. I include Gordon Campbell in this. I am not impressed by the carbon tax – BC was the only province to actually increase ghg production in the first year of the economic slump – and last year will have increased even faster even if only the efforts of the Ministry of Energy to expand fossil fuel production are counted.  Campbell is the prince of spin and sleight of hand. Gestures like buying hydrogen buses for Whistler – when Translink is deliberately starved of operating and expansion funds  – are typical of the man. I am appalled that Campbell got an award at Copenhagen from Tzeporah Berman – who seems to be blinded by the expansion of run of the river hydro as a “solution” to fossil fuel dependency when it is in reality simply a way to capitalize on California’s seemingly insatiable demand for electricity at any price. We cannot possibly include a charlatan like Campbell in a coalition that seeks to reduce our ghg emissions – if only for his declared commitment to economic growth.

Copenhagen was, in my view a failure and a wake up call. We do have to name and shame the group of 17 and those who work for them. They do have to be shown for the rogues and liars they are. We also have to embrace positive changes – as individuals and of course as communities. One person can only do so much for so long. As groups – even if they are small and local – we can be effective. And we will also alter the political climate as the movement grows in popularity and effectiveness. The only doubt I have is that we can  do it fast enough.

I think it was Gordon Price who pointed out at the end that nature will respond to our lack of activity – and those responses will be beyond denial.

Nature Doesn't Compromise

Nature Doesn't Compromise

Written by Stephen Rees

February 2, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Port of Vancouver Container Trade 2009

with one comment

Overall container volume for Port Metro Vancouver decreased nearly 14 per cent, for 2.2 million TEUs (twenty-foot-equivalent unit) on the year. The downturn in the economy and erosion of consumer confidence in 2009 led to an almost 19 per cent decline in laden container imports, while stable demand for containerized exports of forest products and specialty crops helped laden outbound units advance by one per cent. Although the Port’s laden container business finished the year down 10 per cent, the sector recorded a marked improvement compared to the 17 per cent decline reported at mid-year.

This from a press release by the Port yesterday.

Containerized Statistics by TEU (twenty-foot-equivalent unit)
    Total Container TEU                2,152,462     2,492,107        -13.6%
    Total Laden TEU                    1,932,715     2,153,816        -10.3%
    Import Laden TEU                   1,007,304     1,238,350        -18.7%
    Export Laden TEU                     925,411       915,465          1.1%

Access Port Metro Vancouver’s complete 2009 statistics at

The press release and backgrounder tries to put the best spin it can, but the fact remains that it was a very bad year to expand the port’s container facilities. The figures above refer to just two years – and 2008 was not exactly stellar performance either.

All the ports along the North American Pacific coast experienced a lack of traffic. China – the major source of loaded import containers – has actually not been doing badly lately. It is just not trading with the US as much. It is finding that domestic demand, and that from other Asian economies,  is filling the gap. Since the US economy is not doing well at all, and has not seen any recovery in employment, most forecasts continue gloomy. The probability that the pattern of pre-crash financing of consumer spending will return seems unlikely – yet that is what the whole Gateway program is based on. That somehow trade will grow exponentially indefinitely and Vancouver will take an increasing share of it.

The damage that projects like the South Fraser Perimeter Road and the expansion of container storage at Roberts Bank – on farmland – will be extensive. Fortunately, they are not so advanced as to be irreversible – yet. Up to now all that has happened is some sand has been dumped as pre-load. That could be removed and the damage reversed. The problem will be that it requires the ruling elite to admit that they, just like everyone else, failed to predict the sudden reversal of economic fortunes that resulted from the deregulation of US banking and financial markets. Even though a very similar event occurred under the Reagan administration with the collapse of the savings and loan industry, and the regulation regime itself was introduced after the earlier Great Crash of 1929.

The world has changed in the last few years. Actually, the real world, outside of the financial markets, was already much more precarious and the need for a different approach had long been identified. Exponential economic growth is simply not possible on a finite planet – and the carrying capacity of our ecosystem, the thing we depend on for our lives, was exceeded some time ago. Yet most politicians still talk as though growth is essential  – which is only true if we stick to a financial model that has clearly failed. I cannot say that I am optimistic that the light will dawn at any political level here, or in the US for that matter. I do see, however, that more and more citizens are taking matters into their own hands and being the change they seek. I wonder if that will be enough.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 2, 2010 at 8:41 am

Posted in Gateway, port expansion