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

Archive for January 2011


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Mia Birk at SFU downtown 2011-01-26

Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet

Sponsored by and urbansystems, who are moving to downtown Vancouver and downtown Surrey from their office park in Richmond. The talk is now available on video

Brian Patterson introduced the speaker saying that seats went fast [but there were still some empty at the back of the room: if you book please let The City Program know if you can’t show! A lot of potential attendees were probably turned off when they found that they couldn’t book a seat.]

He said that the key issues they want to address are climate change, peak oil, the obesity epidemic and how planners are responding to these  challenges will be tackled in what they intend will be the first lecture of a series. If you have suggestions of who they should sponsor and what should be discussed please to contact them. [I will make a start – how about an open forum on how to pay for more transit?]

Cycling is part of the solution and in this lecture how Mia will discuss how Portland does it. She is promoting her new book ($19.95) and yes, I did buy a copy.

Additional funding provided by bikes on the drive at 1350 Commercial Drive who also offered a nice bag as the prize for a draw at the end of the evening. Shame more of those cyclists could not wait for that. I must also not forget to mention Translink who also will be providing a podcast of the talk in due course.

“I was a Canadian.” Early in life Ma moved to the US. “Nobody walked anywhere in Texas – my brother Bruce told me to “take my bike” when I went to grad school in Washington DC”. As a result of cycling she lost weight and became much healthier – and found the passion which has driven her career.

From there she went to a number of third world cities where she saw dreadful traffic congestion and wondered, “How is it possible that in places where no-one can afford a car,  all the solutions promoted by the US (and others) were more roads.” She became the Bicycle Co-ordinator for City of Portland.

Many places now think that there is something special about Portland. What they need to understand is that it wasn’t always this way – we have come a long way. Just as Vancouver has. By the 1960s the air was foul and the downtown was dying. Then proposed Mount Hood Freeway became the sticking point. For decades the promise was that homes would be taken for the freeway, so the corridor declined. The neighbourhoods fought back. Portland took the money from freeways and built MAX – the LRT system – Pioneer Square and the Waterfront Park. They also established the Urban Growth Boundary, outside of which farmland was protected. Early on they decided to build a connected system of green spaces and trails. Land use goes hand in hand with transportation. “What we did with bikes had to be part and parcel of a whole suite of solutions.”

In 1971 Oregon passed a Bike Bill which specified that a minimum of 1% of the transportation budget had to be sent on bicycle facilities. Earl Blumenauer was elected to city council and since became known as “the godfather of livability”.

When she arrived in Portland in 1983 the merchants all said “we have lots of bike parking and it’s just not used”. That was because it was badly designed and badly located. When they talked about the requirement for bike parking, they asked, “What’s next – ski racks or toy boxes?” There was opposition from hospitals, schools, the university. The media were not on side. Residents opposed bike lanes with a  “Save our Boulevard” campaign which compared the proposal to put in bike lanes to  the Berlin Wall. She told the tale of the local Fire Chief who made a point of speaking personally to mothers who attended the public meetings. He told them that the speed of response to a fire would be reduced by the proposed speed humps and bike lanes. When she tried to respond by pointing  out the health impacts of a sedentary lifestyle and the local problems of air quality they treated her “like a creature from another planet.”

The team she lead aimed to reach around 10% of the population. If they could convince three of the thirty people who might come to an open house, they felt that they had a chance. In 1986 the City adopted network of bikeways.

There have to be many people involved “You gotta have engineers on your side. Skinny up the travel lanes – it’s just a start – we ran out of these options pretty quickly!”  Then they moved to the “Street Diet”: Burnside Bridge is similar to Burrard Bridge. The media were against it, but the proponents decided  ‘We are going to do it in style” and they shut down the bridge for a day. They braced for an outcry but 10,000 people showed up and no-one complained. “It’s not just the street markings, it’s the celebration!” Bike Fest embraced the idea of ‘getting as much as we can out of our roads”. Cyclovias, smart trips, safe routes to school all take the same view.  “It goes well beyond engineering.” SE 7th Street Striping Plan – 4 lanes were turned into 3 lane with bike lanes, but without consultation. The road had been resurfaced and would have needed to have the lane markings painted in any event. Most of the complaining was about things like truck loading zones needing to be adjusted. “The very provision of a phone number prompted the calls. Life goes on. It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission – sometimes!”

Portland now has lots of greenways (off road paths) 300 miles of bikeways. In 1996 they started to innovate with bike signals, signage that specifies distance as both miles and times — at 10mph. This promotes the thought “Wow! I am really speedy. Bike boxes were extremely controversial as were coloured bike lanes in conflict areas. these conveyed the rule that bikes have the right of way on blue markings. None of these are yet approved at the national level.

In 20 years while she get concessions from former opponents, she still gets push back. It would be nice if the measures now being introduced on Broadway in Portland, New York and  Seattle could  be matched in Vancouver. In Washington DC they have introduced centre lanes (my photo).

Centre bike lanes

Referring to recent local reaction to changes on Dunsmuir she remarked “There’s pushback in every city. If there isn’t, then you haven’t really done anything. We are starting to get somewhere. We should not shy away from discussion. Hornby is a fundamental change in the space time continuum.”

She is now working around the world. The lessons do translate. She is also teaching at the University of Portland, which includes mid career training for engineers and has “touched more than 1,000 communities”.

Alta Bike sharing

Capital Bike Share bike rental station

In most North American communities about  1% of cyclists are confident in traffic. About one third of the populations are willing to try cycling, and about 60% might ride on the weekends, but they feel uncomfortable about commuting. There are a  lot of issues: “these are the people we are trying to reach.”

Can we do better? We’ve come a long way but there is much more to do. We have to evolve codes, change laws, impact land use and design, integrate into schools (one principal remarked “Fit kids are smart kids”) and “We all have to commit to change.”

There is increasing bike use. We have increased capacity/use on bridges and the crash rate has plummeted  for less than 1% of the City transportation budget “It’s the best bang for the buck”.

Around one third of  greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. There are healthcare cost savings too. Currently the $4.5m spent annually on  cycling in the US saves $65bn a year.  We are making progress in urban centres – once they get a taste they want more.

KATY trail in Dallas TX – downtown arts loop: “If we can make Dallas bike friendly we can do it anywhere”


q – This room is 95% Caucasian. That’s  not like the rest of  the city.  Have you encountered this in other cities?

a – We find that we reach first the caucasian males, then females then the other communities. We are trying to engage but our ways don’t work with other communities.  We need other approaches. Understanding barriers – language, low income.  For example we often hear from Hispanic minorities their fear.” If I ride a bike, I will get stopped by the police and asked for my papers”

q –A low % of people in this room used the new bikeways to get here [based on a show of hands]

a- It takes time and it needs tweaking

q – is this really making a difference? In the City is one thing but in the region it’s still “Portland in the 50s” The freeway expansions are being greenwashed by adding bike lanes. We need a real revolt and e should not be satisfied with just 1%of the budget. What is the role for professionals?

[At this point the exodus starts]

a – Those are good questions. Make it part of your mission; we see that as part of our course. One person in a department can get drowned. We need to elect leaders. Vancouver has a Mayor who truly embraces the mission. We need strong advocacy groups – and you need money

q – linked to disabled access, walking, transit?

a – If we make our communities accessible for people with disabilities, then we have done it for everyone. Because we will all be in that position. Crumbs are not enough. We are advocates for each other. We do not promote bikes at the expense of pedestrains or people with disabilities. All the successful ones are connected by transit. I am working with a lot of streetcars now. We are on the same team NOW (we weren’t initially) avoid conflict areas

q – We need to get in Tsawwassen what Vancouver has. Is this getting out to the suburbs?

a- There are lots of examples

q – bike box – merge on right (this was a technical question which was clear only to the questioner)

a – we just wanted bikes to have bikes first – motivated by right turn fatalities – no strong opinion on solid v dashed

q – helmets

a – I like helmets are a good thing but helmet laws are a problem. Bikeshare sees helmet law as problem – barrier to entry. Members vs casual users. Visitors and tourists will not have helmets. Melbourne use is low due to the need for helmets – even though it has machine vending – most people say “I don’t want to get a ticket.”

Contributed from the audience: In Portland they have increased helmet use to 80% of rider but they don’t have a  helmet law. Helmet laws deter cycling – her chart shows a dip in cycling 1993 when a child helmet law was introduced. In Canada in 1996 in 7 cities compared to 2006 showed that cities without helmet laws grew cycling by almost 40%, compared to those with helmet laws 3%.  In Metro Van we have actually gone down in that period.

q – Surrey course

bike licensing – eliminate barriers to entry

q   What’s the next step here?

a – In June 2012 Vancouver will host the international Velo-city conference.  – City staff have proposed that for May & June 2012 significant infrastructure be put in place, similar to 2010 Olympics. Vancouver also needs public bike sharing. “You are inspiring all of North America. You have a good system of greenways but we need to se a complete embracing of encouragement. It’s a game changer.”

Written by Stephen Rees

January 26, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Jan Gehl: Cities for People

I did not go to this lecture, partly because there was no advanced on line booking system as there is now for SFU, so I was not sure I would get a seat, but also because he had spoken some time ago in Richmond and I had blogged about it then. I wasn’t sure there was going to be much to add.

Aretha Munro has written a short piece about it on the Momentum blog which confirms my concerns

On Monday, January 24, at the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre, those lucky enough to get a seat had the pleasure of hearing Danish urban designer and architect, Jan Gehl, speak as part of the Arthur Erickson Lecture Series. Gehl gave the audience a taste of his work in planning and architecture, as well as an introduction to his latest book, Cities for People, which also considers the sociology and psychology of creating these aforementioned “cities for people.”

You can read the rest here

UPDATE Here is a video of Jan Gehl talking about his new book at Cooper Hewitt in New York
(Thanks to Steven Godfrey for the link)

Written by Stephen Rees

January 26, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Posted in Urban Planning

Suburbs lose out to the bright lights of downtown

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The Globe and Mail reports today that there has been a shift in location decisions of companies. They are now willing to pay more for a downtown location, both reduce their carbon footprint and to “attract well-educated, sophisticated workers.” There’s quite a lot of anecdote here, but also some data on vacancy rates. The examples are from Toronto and Edmonton but there has also been increasing interest in new office developments in downtown Vancouver. It is encouraging that LEED certification is mentioned – though much of the discussion  would seem to point to employee travel behaviour. LEED ND isn’t mentioned.

One of the great issues with regional planning here was the suburban office park – which was not anticipated in the LRSP. These are not going to go away any time soon, but they will have to start adapting. I would expect that developers will try to retrofit these places to become more like traditional urban “central places” with a variety of uses. If we had wise leaders, they would be increasing travel options at such locations, and looking at fiscal measures to encourage the “highest and best use” of land currently devoted to “free” parking. That would require some effective support for transit – and a lot of investment in better walking and cycling access to such locations. I would be interested to see a movement like this develop here. It could be a bit like the way that redundant suburban shopping malls in the US are now being redeveloped for mixed uses.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 24, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Posted in good news, land use

Driving less, and raising parking fees

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I have been reluctant to simply pass along press releases. They have to pass my own stringent tests which include relevance to Greater Vancouver and also my sense of how much the main stream media might not cover the release. I also try always to only put things on this blog that I have an opinion about. I try to write something – not just pass things along. Two press releases came my way overnight that both seem to pass this test. One talks about growth – and how it can be smarter. The other talks more about how other places do things differently to us and have had better outcomes. So I think both are worthwhile – and both point to new studies which provide evidence to support sensible policy making.

The ideas of smart growth are not new but there is a great fear here that somehow even talking about growth is going to encourage it. I think in this region growth is inevitable. The people who are already here are smart and dynamic and are going to be active in creating new activities. Vancouver has been a magnet for people for many years and the things that bring people here are unlikely to change. These increasing numbers of people will be accommodated somehow. Simply allowing a grey market to develop, as happened with secondary suites, is not a sensible response. We also need to become more critical – in the sense of not simply having the knee jerk response to any and all change. One particular example this morning is annoying me. In just the same way that the endorsement of a regional growth strategy suddenly seemed to push all sorts of panic buttons – it has been under discussion for years and no-one seemed to be very excited about it at the time – now proposals for taller buildings downtown are eliciting a predictable emotional response.  There is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t like tall buildings” but there is quite a lot wrong with statements such as

the surprisingly high eco-footprint of tall condo buildings, which rank a distant last in energy efficiency to all other dwelling options (some 10 times less efficient than many houses, town homes, and small apartment buildings).

As yesterday’s blog post pointed out just looking at the building, without considering its location can be very misleading. You can have a very highly efficient building but if it is in the wrong place, where everybody has to drive to get to it, then it won’t be very energy efficient. You could put up with a less than optimal building – in terms of its heating/cooling requirement – if it was more efficient in terms of servicing and the travel patterns and choices of its users. You must always consider transportation and land use together. They are the same issue – not two separate ones.   I cannot say I like concrete canyons very much either, and I do think we need to get better at growing our own food. But not everyone wants to be a gardener, and there are all sorts of ways – green roofs, green walls – that we can better utilize space that have multiple benefits. I recognize that Damien Gills and Rafe Mair are both very effective campaigners, but they both seem to embrace a style that puts passion before reflection, and likes to see everything in black and white. Most policy debates require a more nuanced approach, and politics is still what it has always been – the art of the possible.

There are also two things that everybody hates. One is sprawl, the other is density. We can accommodate a lot more people in the City of Vancouver at densities which are currently permitted. But we would have to start building a different kind of transit system to accommodate that kind of growth. And neighbourhoods need to have a reason to embrace change, which means they need to be involved in determining what is going to done to the place they live in. We can accommodate more people in downtown, but we need the present transit system to have expansion capabilities: we forgot that with the Canada Line, and we are only just now starting to expand the Expo Line, which had long been suffering from lack of trains. We can get people to use transit, as UPass showed, but we did not have anything like enough buses for them, and when universities are located at the end of a peninsula, or on top of a mountain, more buses may not even be the most effective solution. Those failings show a lack of “joined up thinking”. We have two levels of government who cannot agree on what should be done and who should do it. It is not that considering taller buildings is wrong. It is that we do not have the ability to adapt our urban form to growth – of any kind. And then we are surprised – over and over again – when this same approach produces results we did not anticipate.

Afterthought – there is a very relevant post on “free” parking at Grist today


New Report Finds Urban Growth Strategies Provide Economic Benefits and Improve Quality of Life

“Growing Wealthier” Report Examines How Smart Growth Can Enhance Prosperity

Washington, D.C. –January 19, 2011—Efficient urban planning – known as smart growth development – enhances community prosperity and generates economic benefits for local businesses, households and governments, according to a new report published today by the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP). The study, Growing Wealthier: Smart Growth, Climate Change and Prosperity, reveals how reduced driving and efficient land use planning are strongly interconnected with economic growth and better quality of life.

Growing Wealthier reports that pent-up demand for walkable communities is reshaping the real estate market. Cities investing in public transportation and downtown development are experiencing cost savings, growing tax revenues, increased property values and booming retail sales. The authors of the report, CCAP Transportation Analyst Chuck Kooshian and CCAP Director of Transportation Programs Steve Winkelman, encourage policy makers and practitioners to promote economic well-being by mixing land uses and providing a diversity of transportation and housing choices to enhance accessibility and promote travel efficiency.
“In our transforming economy, more and more exchanges of goods and services take place in channels unimaginable a quarter of a century ago,” said Kooshian.  “While transportation is still vital to economic activity, people and goods in motion are only a part of a much greater whole.”

Growing Wealthier demonstrates that the rate of increase in driving and income in the U.S. has been unequal. From 1967 to 2008, household driving increased by 60 percent while average household income increased by 52 percent, but median household income increased by only 25 percent. Thus, the experience for most Americans over the last 40 years was one of driving substantially more but not sharing proportionately in income growth. The report also examines how reducing “empty miles,” driving that contributes little or nothing to the economy, will help meet climate protection goals while also yielding positive economic impacts.
Communities that are realizing the economic benefits of smart growth include:

  • Dallas, Texas – downtown retail sales grew 33 percent a year after the light rail system began operation.
  • Sarasota, Fla. – downtown development costs were half that of suburban development while generating four times the tax revenue.
  • Portland, Ore. – a $100 million investment in streetcars helped attract $3.5 billion in private investments.
  • Denver, Colo. – home values within a half-mile of stations on the Southeast light rail line rose by 18 percent, while home values in the rest of Denver declined by 8 percent from 2006-2008.

Growing Wealthier documents how efficient land use planning can improve household resilience to rising oil prices by enhancing travel choices.Allowing more people to live closer to job centers can boost employment rates and income levels for low-wage workers while reducing exposure to congestion for all. Smart growth policies are also shown to cut government infrastructure costs, enhance public health and conserve natural resources.

The report provides recommendations for the federal government to “equip and empower” state and local experts to implement smart growth policies and realize their economic and livability benefits. The federal government should increase funding for research on the economic impacts of transportation and land use policies and provide technical assistance to help communities implement and evaluate smart growth and travel efficiency policies. “Do. Measure. Learn.” policy programs centered on action, measurement and analysis will give practitioners room to experiment and build upon their successes. Incentive-based programs that reward economic and environmental sustainability will encourage more communities to follow suit.

“There are many steps we must take to ensure that our children inherit a planet and an economy with a bright future,” said Winkelman. “Investing the time and money to grow our communities to be more resilient, more efficient and more satisfying to their residents will offer a tremendous payoff.”

The executive summary and full report are available at and at For more information on CCAP’s transportation program, please visit



European cities lead the way in influencing travel behavior through parking reforms

January 19, 2011, NYC:  European cities are reaping the rewards of innovative parking policies, including revitalized town centers; big reductions in car use; drops in air pollution and rising quality of urban life, according to Europe’s Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation, published today (January 19th) by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

Visit for a copy of the report.

The report examines European parking over the last half century, through the prism of ten European cities. It found:

•       Parking is increasingly linked to public transport. Amsterdam, Paris, Zurich and Strasbourg limit how much parking is allowed in new developments based on how far it is to walk to a bus, tram or metro stop. Zurich has made significant investments in new tram and bus lines while making parking more expensive and less convenient. As a result, between 2000 and 2005, the share of public transit use went up by 7%, while the share of cars in traffic declined by 6%.

•       European cities are ahead of the rest of the world in charging rational prices for on-street parking. In Paris, the on-street parking supply has been reduced by more than 9% since 2003, and of the remaining stock, 95% is paid parking. The result, along with other transport infrastructure improvements, has been a 13% decrease in driving.

•       Parking reforms are becoming more popular than congestion charging. While London, Stockholm, and a few other European cities have managed to implement congestion charging, more are turning to parking. Parking caps have been set in Zurich and Hamburg’s business districts to freeze the existing supply, where access to public transport is easiest.

•       Revenue gathered from parking tariffs is being invested to support other mobility needs. In Barcelona, 100% of revenue goes to operate Bicing—the city’s public bike system. Several boroughs in London use parking revenue to subsidize transit passes for seniors and the disabled, who ride public transit for free.

Walter Hook, Executive Director of ITDP, commented: “This report shows that European cities lead the world in using parking as a tool to revitalize their cities.”

The ten cities featured are Amsterdam, Antwerp, Barcelona, Copenhagen, London, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Strasbourg and Zurich.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 19, 2011 at 8:33 am

Green builders find that location matters

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Well, that’s nice – about time too. This article in the Los Angeles Times took me back a  bit. Back to the lecture I heard about LEED ND. Christopher Leinberger also talked about this at SFU downtown in April 2008. A green building downtown has a much lower carbon footprint because people can get there without using cars. The same building located  in the suburbs produces a lot more carbon because most of the travel there is in single occupant vehicles. Indeed I have been talking about this to Green Building Advisers for years. The example I use is the headquarters of Ducks Unlimited, which increased its carbon footprint by moving out of a rented building in DC to a ‘green’ building beyond the beltway.

Since its launch in 2000, LEED, the bible of green certification systems, has focused mostly on the building, not where it is located. The system gives points for locating a building near public transportation and other services, but organizations such as the Sustainable Sites Initiative have argued that the standards lack comprehensive criteria.

In 2008, the American Physical Society found that “the lack of an agreed-upon method for quantifying these issues” was a significant obstacle for policymakers.

“Different studies frame the questions in different ways, and different sources provide different predictions that are qualitatively in agreement but yield slightly different, or mutually incomparable, predictions,” the group wrote.

Center for Neighborhood Technology [has developed] a tool that can predict the energy required to travel to a building based on its location.Using a complex formula that combines transportation and census data, the center developed a free online tool, launching early this year, that promises to deliver that kind of information in a matter of minutes.

Interest in the Transportation Energy Index from sustainability managers, transportation alliances, urban planners and even the federal government is intense because the tool could alter the green world order.

The center acknowledges that its tool is still far from perfect.

“You have to understand why the people get there, how far they have to go, what kind of transportation they use, what the energy impact is of that,” Haas said.

The tool uses “as the crow flies” miles, rather than mapped routes to determine the transportation efficiency of a building. It relies on census data and the National Transit Database to determine where visitors are generally traveling from and the modes of transportation they are likely to use or have available.

Well at least they have the census data. Our conservative federal government has decided to scrap the long form census – the 10% mandatory sample that gave us – for the first time, and at the municipal level, reliable comparative journey to work data by mode. Of course this is absolutely essential to understanding urban transportation. And the only way that StatsCan could be persuaded to collect it was at the expanse of another level of government. The journey to work question was only inserted once the municipalities agreed to pay for it. Of course the census data is not perfect either – one census coincided with the 4 month transit strike here, which skewed the data for mode split. But at least we had 10% sample data – not the 0.04% we normally rely on from the regional trip diary survey.

Actually it also surprises me that they had to use crow fly data in the US. After all, there they actually have regional transportation data – and land use data. That is a requirement of the federal government. To get federal funding for transportation projects you have to demonstrate that it is part of a regional plan. US local government is even more complicated and parochial than ours is so the role of the regional planning agency is even more important – and acknowledged in legislation. Given that every US metropolis has access to a model I would have thought that getting real travel information would be technically straight forward. I suppose their must be some legal or administrative reason why it can’t be used. It is unlikely that opponents of energy saving are that diligent. Isn’t it?


Written by Stephen Rees

January 18, 2011 at 10:06 am

Movie Review: “Deep Green”

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I was offered, and pleased to accept, a DVD of this movie. Other commitments meant that I did not get to it until this week. You can read all about the movie on its own website, which will fill you in on who made it and why. It is aimed at audiences who still need to be persuaded that climate change is real, anthropogenic and imminently catastrophic – but, presumanbly, were unpersuaded by Al Gore and all the rest. And are open to doing something.  It is also firmly on the “realo” side of the Green movement. I use this term for my own reference but it comes from the german Green Party, where debates always seemed to break down along a line between those who favoured compromise with business (“realos”) and those who clung to principles that were not open to adjustment (“fundies”)

The message of the movie is that man made global warming can be stopped, mostly by a combination of technologies – many of which are available – and individual action. There is remarkably little in it about transport – except for the expected singling out of air travel as the worst offender. Given that this movie visits nine countries around the world, this does of course leave the makers open to the same criticism that has been aimed at Al Gore’s carbon footprint.

I did learn a lot about China that was news to me. Since China and India are always used as examples of countries that will not give up anything in terms of development in order to help the world cut its emissions, the movie changed my perception completely. China is serious about tackling its ghg emissions in a way that the US and Canada are not.

There was quite a lot of gosh gee whiz about the technologies, and not very much in the way of critical assessment of how much energy get emitted in creating all this new kit. Embodied energy is obviously important but the nearest I heard to an acknowledgement of that was the remark that an electric car’s dirtiest day was the day you drive it off the lot.  In other words, there is a conviction that electricity generation can only get cleaner. I was a bit puzzled about the Chinese coal fired power station that was supposed to be cleaner, and I saw nothing of the recent concerns that some types of carbon sequestration – such as ground injection into oil fields – are not as permanent as advertised.

This is not a new movie. It was premiered six months ago. It took two years to make, and, of course, the world moves on. I was also a bit skeptical of some of the experts. For example, Amory Lovins has a lot to say. He has been around for a long while – he started to get attention during the 1970s oil crisis – which was when I started to work on this stuff myself. That means he has had plenty of time to be shown wrong, and sadly he made many predictions of what could be done as though it would be. For example, he thought that the motor industry would abandon pressed steel bodies in favour of carbon fibre. While there is a lot more plastic in cars these days, they are still mostly very heavy lumps of metal.

Missing was any discussion of urban form or land use. I think that is probably because it is very much a long term issue – and will not produce much in the way of change in the vanishing amount of time was have left to turn things around. But it will also be a while before there is a smart grid – especially one connecting the Sahara desert solar power stations to Europe. Or a high speed train network here – Europe is well on the way and, of course, Japan has already got one. Obama is only just getting started – and we are not even thinking about it yet.

If you read this blog and agree with any of its stated objectives, I doubt you need to see this movie. I also think the sort of people who might see screening at community events and so on will already be converted. Followers of Stephen Harper or Sarah Palin won’t give it any time at all. But maybe some of the fundies could do with a jolt of – well its all very well you being right but we have to do something and do it now so it might as well be this  – reality.


Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Transport study derails thinking on outer suburbs

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Thanks to Ned Jacobs for sending this around. Its quite a short piece from The Age in Victoria, Australia.

In a paper for the journal Australian Planner, Dr John Stone, of the University of Melbourne, and Dr Paul Mees, of RMIT University, argue that many city dwellers have been presented with a false choice – live in apartments and enjoy good public transport or retain the house and land and rely on cars.

Shame you have to be an Australian Planner to actually get to read it.

Quite appropriate here given the recent government sponsored twaddle about rail for the valley and  “not enough density” to support transit.

They do it by comparing places that have good public transit to Australian cities. There is of course one great outlier – Los Angeles, even though it is the most densely populated city in the United States, has low transit use. So what is needed then?

The keys to increasing public transport use in outer suburbs are more frequent buses, running at least every 10-15 minutes, and not just in peak hour; better co-ordination with rail services; more convenient transfers; and fares that allow free transfers between modes.

Which I think Translink would say that we already have in large measure.  But there are still really low levels of market penetration in places like Langley. Not as dreadful as Chilliwack of course. And we really do not have rail in our outer suburbs like they do in Australian cities – electric trains that run in both directions, all day and every day.

My conclusion is that it really requires more than just density – as Los Angeles shows – and more than lip service to issues like frequency. Fifteen minute headways are really not “frequent” – especially when service is unreliable, due to traffic congestion or the multiple problems that beset under funded transit systems. Yes we can make transfers at no extra charge but convenience – and reliability again  – is a big issue. There are still quite bizarre scheduling decisions – like short turning half the #3 service  at the end of Main Street instead of running all the way to the Canada Line Marine Drive Station one kilometre away. Far side of the intersection bus stops impose delays and the need to cross busy intersections on foot meaning even scheduled meets will often be missed – and so and so forth. The devil is always in the detail, and we don’t do that well. Like ignoring the benefits of clock face service – something taken for granted in Zurich – same size, same density, lots more transit use. It comes down to money in the end. No mention of that here. And, of course, what it is spent on.

It also seems to ignore the fact that a lot of Vancouver is built at suburban densities yet has much more transit service than places further out but as dense or even denser.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 10, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Posted in transit

2010 in review

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The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 150,000 times in 2010. If it were an exhibit at The Louvre Museum, it would take 6 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 95 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 1786 posts. There were 54 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 20mb. That’s about 1 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was January 21st with 1,263 views. The most popular post that day was Sneak preview inside the Olympic Line – Vancouver’s 2010 Streetcar.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were, Google Reader,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for bus, stephen rees, bus pictures, strasbourg, and eurostar.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Sneak preview inside the Olympic Line – Vancouver’s 2010 Streetcar January 2010


Even better than a hydrogen bus December 2007


Group lobbies for SkyTrain rather than light rail September 2006


“In a world without walls and fences, who needs Windows and Gates” April 2008


Olympic Line (short) closure notice February 2010

Written by Stephen Rees

January 2, 2011 at 10:09 am

Posted in Transportation