Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for August 14th, 2010

Weekend reading

with 10 comments

Southbound train

Frances Bula does a comparison of the Canada Line to the Central Link in Seattle in the Globe and Mail. Its a bit short on the basic math and geometry and heavy on the personal/cultural stuff, but worth a look nonetheless. The Central Link is not low cost light rail either – except for the surface running bit in the middle – so the comparison is really between the kind of city it serves – and the key question of drivers vs driverless. So a change from the usual tram vs Skytrain debate. I think what is needed is a quick reference chart with the basic data – but I am not sure I have the time or energy to compile it.

Light rail trains sit in a yard in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009.

Light rail trains sit in a yard in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009.

Don Cayo in the Sun does a thing on why we don’t use ferries here as much as they do in Sydney – another one of those things that came up at the Jarrett Walker SFU talk. Otherwise I do not see why he is trotting this out now: its not as if Translink is actually proposing to do any more ferries any longer. And he also gets the number of SeBuses wrong. They ordered a third one in time for the Olympics – not because they intend to run three from now on but because they are going to take one out – almost certainly for scrap since it is unlikely to fit anywhere else.

Translink's Proposals for Commuting by Water

I think this graphic comes from the 2003 study – which only looked at the Burrard Inlet. There is no mention of the other crossings that have been suggested – such as the passenger and bike ferry over the top of the Deas Island tunnel that GVRD Parks were once keen on.

To his credit, Cayo does look at the basic math and geometry

While it’s true that, depending on the route, the travel distance may be shorter, fuel consumption per passenger mile — and therefore greenhouse gas production — is much higher. This drives operating costs way higher than land-based travel.

But fuel costs are usually not a great concern for transit: 80% of operating costs are labour costs. And fuel consumption varies hugely by size of vessel and hence load. In the case of freight, water transport is much more energy efficient per tonne  kilometre  than other modes but only because it is so slow and is confined to very large bulk loads – sand, gravel and woodchips are some of the most significant internal cargoes on this region’s waterways. Also log tows – one of the few places I have seen this practice. Passengers usually need to be moved more swiftly but of course the False Creek ferries do a magnificent job and are not subsidized at all. They even pay HST!

Passing ferriesCyquabus II

And finally a very necessary read from the Guardian, earlier this week.

‘Environmentalism’ can never address climate change. The shape of modern US environmentalism isn’t fit to tackle the scale and scope of climate change, argues David Roberts

I do not know why they left that US qualifier in there: its a global problem, though obviously without the US doing something effective, the rest of the world’s efforts may always be inadequate.

Environmental issues take a very specific shape.

The thing is, that shape doesn’t fit climate change. Climate change — or rather, the larger problem of which climate change is a symptom — isn’t like the issues that American environmentalism evolved to address. The solutions that American environmental politics are capable of producing are not commensurate with the scale and scope of the challenge climate change represents. A clear understanding of that challenge renders comically absurd the notion that it can or should be the province of a niche progressive interest group. It’s just too big for that.

Worth reading but also worth thinking about what that also means in other countries like Canada. Are we to be hobbled by our current governments’ attitudes? Federally – we think oil revenue from Alberta is more important than anything – and we can use US inaction as an excuse for our own “we must be integrated with the US economy” means we do less than nothing. Provincially we will do a buck and wing with carbon tax and cap and trade but stay with business as usual for the largest emitters oil, gas, transportation.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 14, 2010 at 12:48 pm