Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for May 2011

Amtrak Cascades to Seattle 2011-05-12

with 4 comments

AMTK 159 Motive Power VancouverAMTK 90250 cabbage VancouverCascades business classCascades coachAMTK 159 SeattleCascades baggage car

Amtrak Cascades to Seattle 2011-05-12, a set on Flickr.

See previous post

Written by Stephen Rees

May 12, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Posted in Transportation

Amtrak live blog

Train 513 was 15 minutes late leaving Pacific Central this morning. But that was OK, since, if it had been on time, I would have been in  the washroom. I have been watching the Cascades for some years but this is my first time on the Talgo. And I have to say that I am very favourably impressed. Free wifi, for instance, is something you do not get in most airports – and certainly not on planes. The coach class seat I am currently occupying offers more knee room and greater seat space – and is leather. I have more room than the equivalent accommodation in economy on Air Canada – or United.

We did, of course, have to get up at what my sister calls “stupid o’clock” to get the trolleybus to Pacific Central. The passenger information system was out at that stop – but the  bus mercifully on time, since before 6am there is only 20 minute service. It would have annoyed me greatly if the whole trip had gone sideways due to someone “running sharp”. There was no line up at the station, where ticketing and preliminary customs and baggage scanning takes place. My companion was grumbling that in our haste to get on board we had neglected to pick up coffee. She thought I was going off the take pictures. I was – but the dining car was open before departure to I returned to our seats with a cardboard tray not just with coffee but a choice of oatmeal or yogurt “parfait” (fruit and granola). About $12 US.

It takes about an hour to get to the Peace Arch, where the train is stopped and everyone has to turn off their electronic devices. US border staff board the train and interview passengers in their seats – using their outdoor voices. I get to know where the people in this car come from – the “old geezers” across the  aisle come from Camberwell, South London.

I cannot fathom why – given that the train does not stop between Pacific Central and the border why all the formalities cannot be conducted in Vancouver – or even while the train is moving, as used to be the case in Europe. Of course there now borders are largely meaningless: NAFTA is not at all the same thing as the EU Customs Union.

The gadget that allows me to transfer data from my camera is in the bottom of my bag – in the rack above my head. But Amtrak Connect is not exactly speedy, and there are warnings about not overloading the connection. Bellingham 8:49. So I think I will wait to illustrate this piece until I get to the hotel. (See next post) Anyway the train windows are far from pristine and have reflections so I have stuffed the camera in the seat pocket for now.

There is also cell phone coverage on board. Irritatingly WIND mobile send me a message welcoming me to the US. While we were still in White Rock! WIND coverage in Greater Vancouver seems not to extend very far south!

At Bellingham passengers have been kept off the platform until the train stopped. 60 people are joining the train here so all the seats are going to be used. Amtrak seems to be doing well at capacity utilization on this route.

Everett  10:19 – seventeen minutes behind schedule – extra delay since leaving Vancouver would be the maintenance of way check just before this stop

The wifi connection can be a bit spotty and has to be reset every so often. Having a connection at all is remarkable – having a free one even better, so I am not complaining. On the other foot, the position of the power outlet means that every so often I have to put the big white box back into the wall by my left foot, where inevitably it has either fallen out or I have nudged it out.

There are screens up by the ceiling and aircraft type controls and a ear phone jack in the seat arm. They do not seem to be functioning. I do not miss seat back entertainment. But I do have an idea that I think Amtrak should consider. The view from  the train is necessarily sideways. But a camera on the nose of the leading “cabbage” (unpowered control cab converted from a loco – we are being pushed from the rear) with a feed to each car – no sound needed – would be nice, to see where we are going.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 12, 2011 at 8:55 am

Posted in Railway, Transportation

Tagged with

Elizabeth May at the Green Party AGM

with one comment

LIVE BLOG Burnaby May 8, 2011  12:21pm

Started her day in Halifax – most of her time was in media interviews – where were they during the election?

We have to break down the notion that we are different parties federally, provincially and locally. Carolyn Lucas made the breakthrough in the UK in a fpp system. We cheer for the Green Movement all around the world. We undermine our effectiveness – bottom up grass roots movement to use the energies of a bunch of really bright people. I will help you in a BC provincial elections.

What helped in Saanich Gulf Islands – some things only Jane can do – we did run a national campaign it was air brushed out of the media. Most sophisticated tv ads – rely on social media – young people – start early. We do not know when the provincial election will be. If it was not for the HST …

Face to face contact is really important – the number one thing is that they get to know you and the platform, and policies that are different to themparties. House parties – meet and greets. Average Canadian does not want anything to do with a political party – and who can blame them. “I don’t like politics – I don’t want to get involved” – not what they want to do. Resources and investment should go into friendships not party political stuff.

Waving at people at busy intersections – make eye contact. Doesn’t sound like us does it? It got me at least one vote.

I am sure we can run a campaign on our social networks – Canada needs Greens. We are not likely to see an election until November 2015.  In that time we can make such a huge difference that next time we get twelve MPs and offical party status. Most of the actions of politicians have very short horizons. We need to get as many MPs as possible to be educated about rising greenhouse gas emissions – and Canada is the worst performer – we lag behind Ethiopia – and China – Brazil – where Greens do so well – 19m Green voters. Issues that the other parties ignore. Parties chose to ignore that for their own selfish interests. Use the seat we have to infiltrate – to change the minds all through the House fo Commons. We don’t have tome to wait until we have a Green majority

All Canadians will say thank you – whether they voted Green or not. Sea change in the House and not be solely at the mercy of the party system. The virtue of staying on message means that they are not thinking. We can make a dramatic change in the House.

It was not close in SGI

Take the energy and momentum – BC is the strongest home of Greens and green values. This is where we make our next breakthrough.

Q & A

Petra Kelly German Greens – we are the anti-party party.

Everybody has some good ideas

My concern about the getting rid of taxpayer support for political parties – they get a much more generous tax deal than charities. Why are they focussing on voter support. Because they want to get rid of the other provisions that got rid of corporate and labor donations – the per vote was put in for Charter reasons. $28m is not a big deal. $5m for the Grey Cup celbrations, war of 1812 celebrations bicentennial. There was more of that in the Conservative platform on that than on climate change. Per vote is cheap at stopping corporate influence.

My ten year old grandson wrote his own message to the CBC website: “I know that Elizabeth May is the Leader of the Green Party of Canada not an independent. I am ten years old Mr Mansbridge, and I know that, why don’t you?”

People my age feel very guilty that we did not leave the planet a better place than we found it.

Severin Suzuki (13 year old)  speech at the UN on you tube

Elizabeth May MP

Elizabeth May MP talking to the media after the AGM - my photo

Written by Stephen Rees

May 8, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Green Party, politics

Adriane Carr at the Green Party of BC AGM

with 10 comments

Burnaby May 8, 2011

This is not exactly live blogging – I am not a good enough typist for that. But these are my notes from the keynote speech Adriane Carr made this morning. I will also try to get up a similar account of what Elizabeth May says later.

Mother’s Day is a day to think about mother earth

I want to celebrate that we have elected first Green Party MP in Canada. Phenomenal victory – raising the issues and we act with integrity and raise issues that other parties don’t raise – capture the imagination of voters “You are so nice… but I didn’t vote for you.”

Bitter sweet – Harper majority runs chills through me – hopefully he’ll be tempered. Fast tracking crime bills, making us a war mongering nation, taking away the only fair thing we have vote directed subsidy – social agenda he says he will not pursue. The clock has already been turned back.

Elizabeth has her work cut out – but she has a party and people who are bright and committed – for civic as well as provincial and federal levels.

There will be an election in BC sooner rather than later.

Why the tides turned? There would have been an entirely different outcome if she had been allowed in the tv debate. They knew she would raise issues that would make them uncomfortable. Climate change, the economy – no other party leader questioned our path – they did not say that Canada of all the developed countries least amount in the direction the rest of the world is going of fossil fuels and onto renewables, less waste, local productivity, local resilience, not just global trade. You will be the only one talking about that too

They just talk about who will control the economy and how the wealth is spread. We are the only party that works with nature not against

We need to be very clear about how we as Greens are different from the other parties. An election is about choice. Differences between parties is crucial. Could go a whole hour on that.

I want to identify the green failings of the Glen Clark NDP – Adrian Dix was his backroom boy. Who created the war in the woods – fish farms could expand and move to wherever they want

social issues – closure of Riverview Hospital – problems of the DTES exacerbated.

What pushed me over the brink was my work with the WCWC in the Elaho Valley. The Squamish mill shut down. The NDP negotiated a “jobs in the woods” deal which included raw log exports and much expanded logging. A peaceful nonviolent protest on a road into the valley lead to violence from loggers. I went to the Premier and pleaded for moratorium to discuss a better deal. Ujjal Dosanjh said he understood the frustration of the loggers. By that he condoned violence. Not on Liberal or one NDP MLA said that was wrong.

In the last federal election the voters were confused. They did not feel the need for it. The Liberals made the main plank the Conservative government being in contempt of parliament. The problem was the Liberals had not acted much better when in power. And that was not just the sponsorship scandal. The conservative attack ads created the feeling that Ignatieff was “not there for view”. We should ban attack ads. The driving force was not really liking either of these parties: they did not believe Liberals, they did not like the Conservatives. The only other party getting attention at the debate was the NDP. If Elizabeth had been there – the public did not have a chance to hear what we stand for – had she been there it would have been a green and orange surge. It cost us votes across the country. The decrease in vote hit us hard.

In terms of your strategy – work hard to get Jane into debate – they could not invited the conservatives and not Jane. We had made the assumption that Elizabeth would get in – hard to make up for lack of coverage


Three things for Mother’s Day. MOM – Money, Organisation and Motivation


Really important to run a campaign enough money. GPBC is debt free. The other parties count on their members. Members donate – I will help fund raise – will do several events. MoU sharing of names and info. Identified voters. A lot of people voted for Elizabeth – not GPC.

Determine your strategy and spend pre-writ. We would never have won SGI without that. Our number one goal was electing our leader. The resources of the party moved there first. We ran nearly a full slate 303/308 – increase our vote (did not accomplish that) target to win 6 ridings. It is worth concentrating. We had an on the ground campaign – out in the community – intensively present. That had impact. Every had to buy into that.

During the writ spend sensibly. Canvassing the most important thing. Spring by election in Vancouver Quadra – trained up canvassers to identify the vote – tested out techniques. Divide riding up to where we could the best. Did tests two SEG areas – door to door canvassing alone can achieve 10% increase in vote. UBC and Kits – not just 14% overall – got 25% – best parts of the riding to focus on. They are going to try and get your best votes.

I believe in hiring youth in last week.

Call the people, make sure they vote

There were candidates who did not show up – and this is working for Clark now. If elections were won on being best people we would have a majority govt.


GPC had a plan – we have to be a team. Congenial working together. Get behind the plan – it will be hard to get consensus as other places did not get the resources. Greens are really fair and equitable, so buying in to that was not easy. Many ridings sent cheques and sent people. Real sense of joint purpose.

Things we could do to prepare candidates – I love your web site – having good policy in pocket of every candidates. Download the templates, joint printing – you inspired us – anything you can do to get

platform out – getting Green Books into voters hands. Morning email to all candidates on what is happening today – tweets and hashtags. Candidates loved and campaign managers work load reduce. Social media critical as we do not get ms media

We borrowed nationally – we borrowed Target to Win from UK. Poll by poll results really critical. Will help you determine priorities. Only 8 got over 10% – four in BC. Victoria, SGI, Vancouver Centre, Okanagan Shuswap,

Strategy – working across levels – agreement should make it very clear – GPBC can be training ground for GPC. Desire to have something – training for us will be free. Fall election local in BC municipalities – GO FOR IT. Raise your profile.


I get very frustrated when I see that the GP has the hardest time in holding on to their 55% are the only ones who always vote Green. The vote strategically – all fear based, all based on highly inaccurate. Polls are really inaccurate these. They don’t do proper random samples. On line – skewed samples – do not allow the don’t know category exist. The numbers that well meaning strategically based votes is flawed. The option called green is left out. Rally our own voters away from strategically voting. There is no other party that deals with limits to growth, local economies, real social justice, peace not war

The others are tinkering with a plan that has gone awry. We have the solution and vision – so they must vote green.

What keeps me going – I want to win – I want to be elected – but I want to effect change – I want sustainability and healthy, I love this planet, I want a future for our children. Brutal as it is to keep losing by being involved is the right way to spend my time.

I stand as a very proud green.


Fear based politics – none of us are afraid of winning. They don’t want a Conservative majority or a Christy willing to give up the integrity of their own vote. The NDP vote went up but we still got a Conservative majority. We will never get better politics until we get rid of strategic voting – ban polls, ban attack ads – see Eu – bans all ads! It is beyond your control – you cannot determine how everyone else votes

We do have the resources to put $30k into very riding

Reasonable goal – building election – get someone elected – and more next time. Engage with those people who voted and grow that number.

Youth vote

EM won with 46% of the vote and a 75% turnout. Who were the people who would have stayed home. We have not yet seen results from Elections Canada – will give us votes by age. 9 youth coordinators across the Canada. We need to make it fun.

Challenge the idea that Cons/BC Libs are good econ managers

We can champion the idea of a smart economy – Green economy does not work – sustainable does – champion of an economy is smarter

Written by Stephen Rees

May 8, 2011 at 10:14 am

Posted in Green Party, politics

Vancouver considers higher-density housing plans for Cambie Street corridor

with 5 comments

The City of Vancouver is running public consultation meetings on changes to planning policies in the wake of the Canada Line. Jeff Lee has a useful summary of the issue – and local attitudes –  in the Sun today.

Of course I am very much in favour of increased density around the stations that did get built. No point now worrying about the ones that were promised for the future. Just like the ones on the Expo line that we have long forgotten about. The lesson to be learned was what happened back then when communities around the stations at 29th Avenue and Nanaimo were consulted. Communities tend to be resistant to change – especially the people who come out to consultation meetings. Such is the strength of feeling that some will feel reluctant to be seen to be on the wrong side. But having invested huge sums in infrastructure, it is folly to allow the capacity to remain unused. Of course, on the Expo Line that is exactly what happened. The trains were  so expensive that BC Transit could not afford to buy more.

But the question of capacity is going to get mighty tricky on the Canada Line. Ridership is already well above forecast – and the lack of ability to increase service has been discussed here often enough (click on the tag at the bottom of this piece to find articles). The current restraints that matter are Translink’s lack of funding – they cannot expand service overall and currently are simply reallocating service hours around the system. The secret contract seems to contain some very expensive provisions too: even though we pay for these we are not allowed to know the details. They could run trains more often – though the length of single tracks at the outer ends limits that considerably. They could switch capacity from the airport to Richmond but won’t, due to the deal with YVR. In the future they might be able to get some centre cars added to the trains, and operate with selective door opening at many stations. I say “might” because that capital project would compete with other projects. The contest between relieving overcrowding or providing new services to places with little transit has usually been won by Vancouver, but may not necessarily.

Fortunately there is also plenty of on street capacity available. Andrea Reimer wants to dictate to the developers about LEED standards for the new buildings (see Michael Geller’s blog about why that is not quite as simple as she thinks). I think she might be better occupied with cutting parking requirements for new developments (with a bonus for developers who give their buyers membership in car coops and provide space exclusive to shared cars), cutting on street parking – and making provision for bike parking and bike sharing. Ideally of course there would be some co-ordination between the City planning and the transit planning. Richmond jumped on the ability to get greater density near its stations and much of that is now visible – with more to come at Sexsmith at about the same time as the new developments at Marine Drive come on line I should think. The plan should also look beyond residential and be determinedly mixed use – especially in the vicinity of Marine Drive station where there are huge amounts of riverside land available due to the loss of saw mills and related uses. Instead of seeing the area as a dormitory for Richmond’s business parks – none of which has much viable alternative to car use for commuters – the developments should positively encourage a mix of uses so that the people who move into the new houses can find employment in walking or cycling distance.

Articulated trolleybus whizzes by a bump out stop

Articulated trolleybus whizzes by a bump out stop - my photo

And we can also increase bus service on Cambie – and may well have no choice in the short term as the trains fill up and the lead time to raise more money and get new cars for them increases. Indeed one transit advocacy group has been calling for the reinstatement of the trolley wire ever since Canada line construction finished. As we have seen on Main Street, frequent regular high capacity trolley buses can move lots of people. Given the design of stations, access times to board a train are actually a deterrent and for short trips bus – with suitable priority measures such as the bus boarders at stops already installed on Main – will be competitive if service is frequent enough. At a recent meeting with Translink planners they changed their tune about the current design of Canada Line stations being essential for passengers’ security and even said that additional entrances were always part of the long term plan. So expect some digging on the west side of Cambie at 41st for a start! I will believe that when I see it. But i do think that there is a case for local transit improvements as well as regional transit improvements. It is a bit like the argument for streetcars: but of course for some people anything on the surface with steel wheels is a streetcar.

Portland Streetcar

Portland Streetcar - photo by K Gradinger on flickr

Written by Stephen Rees

May 6, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

Tagged with

Frustrated municipal politicians want more say on B.C. Transit

with 9 comments

When I first saw the headline in the Times Colonist, I wondered why municipal politicians in the rest of BC felt that it was any more likely that they would get any more input than their colleagues in Greater Vancouver (I think I am going to follow the example of  Ken Cameron and refuse to call it “Metro”).

They are, of course, quite right. The way the Province behaves with respect to transit and the municipalities is disgraceful. And it always has been. Though politicians both left and right pay lip service to the idea of “partnership” once they get their hands on the levers of power, they do not like to share them with anyone. The story mentions one reason that BC Transit is  taking more money is because it has “to pay for 100 new buses it bought for the 2010 Winter Olympics”. Those were of course bought for Whistler – and included the ridiculously expensive hydrogen fuel cell buses. The nonsense of the “hydrogen highway” that Campbell liked to boast about with Arnie was made manifest when it transpired that the “zero emission” fuel was being trucked here – from Quebec!

Whistler fuel cell bus - photo by Chris Cassidy on flickr

Whistler fuel cell bus - photo by Chris Cassidy on flickr

Of course property taxes should not be plundered to pay for this kind of grandstanding. Maybe Christy Clark can clean up some of this since she was out of the way when it happened – and perhaps get some credit for her actions. Certainly it does not look as though the new transportation Minister has mastered his brief yet.

Lekstrom said he was unaware of the request for the meeting and could not comment.

That of course is code. It is probably too early in the term for anyone to know what they are supposed to be doing on every issue and I think the municipal politicians are being very strategic in getting their point of view into the press now.

I am cynical, of course, but I would be very surprised if much different happens. But then I was also surprised that parking charges in provincial parks were ended this week.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 4, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Posted in transit