Stephen Rees's blog

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

Why I am writing less these days

with 13 comments

Every morning I scan the main stream media for likely news stories. The census is big today of course but without the mandatory 10% long form, there is no data on commuting. So while the growth of Chilliwack and Squamish gets noticed, no-one is talking about why. I doubt that job growth in either place kept pace and freeway expansion probably played a role but we will not know for a while – at least in terms of hard statistics. Port Moody grew because they thought they were going to get the Evergreen Line.

I also get various summaries – the Sightline Daily being one of the most relevant for my purposes. And that coughs up two stories.

Most Amazing High Definition Image of Earth - Blue Marble 2012

Blue Marble 2012 from NASA on flickr

That image is needed to illustrate “The Great Carbon Bubble” from the Nation. North America on January 4 is not only cloud free, it is nearly snow free too. But the media has stopped talking about climate change. The article is about why that would be: basically the big oil companies are making more money than ever, and have huge proven reserves, which must NOT be burned if we are to escape disaster. Climate change is already upon us – that’s what the picture above shows. The data is also clear – though of course many are paid to misinterpret it – and the Republican candidates – and our elected leaders at both provincial and national levels – are all denying the reality.

But of course there are small victories. Vancouver has achieved its Kyoto target even if Canada greatly exceeds its own. More people are refusing plastic bags and buying local: many are riding their bikes more often. Except of course The Planet Doesn’t Care About Your Eco-Friendly Lifestyle. Partly because “you think that single act of environmental kindness makes up for other sins” (‘single action bias’) and secondly you worry so much about the small things that you miss the big picture. We need “smart economics” (according to Gernot Wagner). Which may be my new favourite oxymoron – replacing ‘military intelligence’ and ‘gourmet hotdog’.

Cap and trade and carbon taxes anyone?

Written by Stephen Rees

February 8, 2012 at 10:06 am

13 Responses

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  1. I think its called the “February Blues”, Stephen. Sun’s on its way… just a few more weeks. Last weekend the first clear sign.

    Just when you thought it was safe to think aloud, however, this from “Ben” on the Bulablog: “Greenfield still trumps redevelopment” (i.e. Modern urbanism is still alive and well and building new suburbs).

    The twinning of the Port Mann is the major investment fuelling just this pattern of growth. And I have no doubt that the movement you see in Chilliwack is tied in.

    Google puts Chilliwack as 100 km and 1.5 hours driving time. What do we think the Port Mann will accomplish? A one hour commute? I’ve spent 2 hours coming back from Langley.

    Skytrain & towers (Port Moody, Coquitlam, Burnaby, New West, Surrey) does not look like sustainable urbanism to me. I don’t get the “feeling of community” at Metrotown, for example. Columbia Street doesn’t feel that much better. I suspect it will not change because I put Skytrain as part of automobile-driven Modern urbanism.

    The other urbanism, in play much, much longer than 100 years, and still alive and thriving in places outside our region, puts the human experience of place first—rather than the driver’s right of way.

    The BC Electric to Chilliwack, with TODs every 4 km, and 20,000 per TOD (3.5 storey row houses, fee simple, not apartments), would house 500,000. Spacings would be tighter in Surrey-Langley, and closer to the other urban centres. All those places would feel like neighbourhoods because the urban form supports social mixing.

    How fast can that train go and still service 25 stops? Even if it were 1.5 hour commute, one would argue that it would be a more pleasant experience. Obviously, a greener alternative. However, we now know that we will be adding that BC Electric capacity “some time in the future” on top of the high vehicular load we will be adding over the next 20 years of Port Mann service, until that too plugs up.

    The conclusion I have drawn is that suburban development is the way the industry is tooled up to lay the first layer of urbanization in Canada and the U.S. Densification comes later, much later.

    The problem is political traction. And, an element of it is cultural.

    lewis n. villegas

    February 8, 2012 at 11:03 am

  2. Making decisions that have some small, perhaps impossible to measure, difference has a multiplier effect. A dedicated cyclist here at work, simply by talking about his commute, convinced another employee to give it a try. My kids think it’s normal to carry canvas bags to the grocery store. If you asked them they might even say you can’t buy anything unless you bring a bag to carry it home. Yes I know it’s too late to teach the next generation something that my generation should have grown up with, but I will not take the fatalistic view that my actions don’t make a bit of difference. It’s a short trip from giving up on little changes to giving up on the big ones. People already have too many reasons to ignore the environment without feeling like they don’t matter. Things would be even worse if all the cyclists decided that their behaviour won’t make a difference and they all started Mitt Romney-ing around in SUVs.

    Yes there is danger in the form of the single action bias, but I’d argue that the danger from adding up all your little actions is even bigger. We are trained from birth that good behaviour should be rewarded. We all have a little voice telling us that we’ve made 10 environmentally friendly decisions today and thus we deserve a treat. If that treat is bad for the environment we’ve got 10 other actions to justify it instead of just one.

    A better approach is to treat every decision independently. I drive my son to daycare. I know that’s bad for the environment, but I don’t try to justify it with other actions. I justify it independently. It’s a fantastic daycare where both of my kids have thrived, getting him there by transit would add almost 2 hours of commuting every day and every daycare in our part of the city has a multi-year waiting list. Then I look at the commute from the daycare to work independently. I could get back in my warm car and drive a few miles or I could take transit. I choose transit because it’s convenient, less expensive and better for the planet.

    There is always a lag between the arrival of new people and the construction of new housing. Nobody wants or can afford to have thousands of units sitting empty waiting for the next migrant from Sudan or Sudbury. Densification is a process that is competing against demand to hold prices stable, but has been losing the battle for so long that arrivals from other parts of Canada and our own adult children simply cannot afford the housing to which they’ve become accustomed. The only places they can afford are located in municipalities where urbanism is a foreign concept. You can’t expect compact development in Chilliwack. The existing built environment is downright hostile to anyone seeking an urban lifestyle. It’s a place of malls, miles of ribbon development and bedroom communities on distant hills. Even if you were to make TOD a priority there’s no transit around which to base it and no will to fund it. There is also the simple fact that people looking for housing in the distant suburbs are doing so because they want a form of housing they cannot afford elsewhere. There’s no point building condos in Chilliwack unless and until there’s demand for them.

    There will never be 25 stops on the interurban, but we can debate the fantasy details another day.


    February 8, 2012 at 4:45 pm

  3. I think the Nation is preaching to the choir so it doesn’t matter that the tune is off key.

    “It’s no secret where this denialism comes from: the fossil fuel industry pays for it. ”
    This may be true, but its not why the media isn’t covering global warming anymore. The sad fact of a commercial age is that money talks. That means that in the midst of an economic crisis the environment will take a back seat, period, full stop. That’s what’s happened. People worried about their economic future over the next 12 months aren’t going to worry about their existence in 10 or 20 years. Media (which buys newsprint at 10 cents a pound and re-sells it at 20) covers what sells, not what’s important. It’s been ever thus.

    Want global warming to become a hot issue in the media again? Increase employment and disposable income.

    This may sound cynical or bitter, but I think history shows that I’m right.

    Great picture of the earth, though, and very powerful message. I came across an article earlier this year about cattlemen in the Interior noting a lack of snow, which becomes a lack of water once we get to May.

    Oh well. Who needs water?


    February 8, 2012 at 7:34 pm

  4. CFB Chilliwack, when I scouted it some years ago, felt like it was built on British New Town urbanism. O.K. It was on the ‘wrong side of the highway’, but we have cars for that. Five Corners in Chilliwack is ready-made to be the core of a population of some 10k – 20k folks. Can we get transit there? Yes, but only on the BC Electric R.O.W. is my pedestrian opinion on that.

    25 stops? I’d put 15 – 20 of them in Surrey-Langley, then thin out after that.

    But, we are “Brothers in Arms” waiting for a paradigm shift. I am not thinking about “banning the car”, so much as I am imagining offering the “no brainer” alternative.

    lewis n. villegas

    February 8, 2012 at 9:05 pm

  5. Final up-date . . .

    . . . thanqu for taking the time to check it out . . .

    roger Kemble

    February 9, 2012 at 5:13 pm

  6. Congratulations on Re-boot, Roger. A well thought out and illustrated essay. It is most important to point to the many points of convergence with the opinions we read here, and elsewhere. I think it is important to point to the clear links in your ideas to the work of Patrick Condon, my stuff, and others. It is one sign that a consensus is building.

    Here, I would point out how in Re-boot public transit is once more an integral part of urban design (I suggest adding a link to the Bartholomew Plan at the Archives. It is as important a document for Vancouver as Maj. Matthews and more or less contemporary to it).

    lewis n. villegas

    February 10, 2012 at 10:04 am

  7. Thanqxz Lewis knowledgeable support much appreciated and comments added . . . scroll down to see . . . R

    Roger Kemble

    February 10, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    Vancouver is nowhere to be found in the list of the 10 more expensive cities.

    On the full 2011 ECA ranking of the most expensive cities (found at Vancouver is #37.

    I am skeptical about these rankings anyway. The 2011 ECA list of the 10 most expensive cities shown on the citymayors page isn’t quite the same as the full one from ECA (my second link).

    Also it is more likely that these rankings, made for international companies sending expatriate workers abroad, use the inflated prices (housing, foods etc.) charged by luxury food stores and real estate companies etc.(have you ever bought food at Harrods in London, Fauchon in Paris?).
    Locals don’t pay. anywhere near that.

    I agree of course about the old but still viable notion of “villages”, neighbourhoods etc. but with more and more international chains it is harder and harder for independent small stores to survive..

    When I lived in Western Europe (several countries) the owners of small grocery stores and restaurants went to the central market at 4-5 am to buy food for the day or a couple of days at most….How many do that in Metro Vancouver?
    Some food stores, both in rural communities and suburban residential areas, had a mini version of their store in a truck and drove from street to street, stopping here and there to sell their goods to housewives (often grandmas as the younger women worked).

    Working class and lower-middle class families had their furniture and clothes made by a couple of guys in small workshops. The furniture was made of 100% wood, the clothes used natural fabrics…

    Red frog

    February 11, 2012 at 12:35 am

  9. “I agree of course about the old but still viable notion of “villages”, neighbourhoods etc. but with more and more international chains it is harder and harder for independent small stores to survive..

    When I lived in Western Europe (several countries) the owners of small grocery stores and restaurants went to the central market at 4-5 am to buy food for the day or a couple of days at most….How many do that in Metro Vancouver?”

    la grenouille rouge

    I’m gearing up to speak at the Mt. Pleasant public hearing for the Rise Tower. I will be speaking against on Feb 27th. RF your observations bear on this.

    Put the Rise in the downtown peninsula where we have transit, a walkable plan (better west of Burrard), and where I submit inside the Davie-Denman-Robson horse-shoe we do find locally run and owned businesses that simply serve those neighbourhoods and do well at it. Tower is fine there.

    Move the tower across the street from the Lee Building, on Broadway & Main, and I have a different reading. Here, the tower is in an auto dominated district. The 99-B Line is a bit of a success story, although folks here are going to have to explain to me why it is not a BRT with dedicated lanes (yes, on Broadway), and signal priority. But, towers in Mount Pleasant are just going to create point loads of demand, and not improve the overall quality of the neighbourhood. Certainly, not attract more local businesses, of which there is a healthy presence between 7th and 14th Avenues along Main Street.

    Put the Rise on its side; implement BRT with treed medians on either side (taking up 2 car lanes and removing 20,000 ADT); widen the sidewalks with redevelopment that sets back a-la-new London Drugs, close Kingsway for the one block that it helps shape a triangle block along with Main & Broadway, and build an old-fashioned village square… well, then we got something closer to ‘good’ urbanism.

    I argue here that tapping into the longstanding tradition of urbanism, the one that Modernism always played against, and arguably has never bested, then we are not being nostalgic, so much as we are returning to the human experience of place as the baseline measure for good urbanism.

    lewis n. villegas

    February 11, 2012 at 4:45 pm

  10. Lewis, you seem to involve that there is no Transit at Broadway#Main …and Kingsway, since the proposed development you are talking about is on Kingsway, not Main (it is important, because I think everyone will recognize that Kingsway has a very much different character than Main).

    There is just bus routes 3,8,9,19 and 99…the most frequent (and busiest) bus routes of the network meet here…what is missing for you to recognize the area as well served by transit?

    Answer: A niartykS
    But, no worry the Rize developer has put a nice attention, by providing room for an underground station access, in case of Transit was going to improve there 😉

    On an auto dominated district
    I guess that is said because of the 6 lanes boulevard…The question is why a ten lanes boulevard like Champs Elysee in Paris doesn’t make its district “auto dominated” when effectively Kingsway feel pretty much auto-dominated”…I guess you have a beginning of answer with the sidewalk width, but why do it by widening the right of way, and not narrowing down the traffic lanes?
    You mention the set-back of London Drug at Cambie…what to do with the Lee Building at Main…we can see that is only a recipe for a messy boulevard with pedestrian paying the price for the bottleneck, not a nice street lined one.

    On signal priority
    May be it could help bus 99, but it could be at the expense of other bus route (more noticeably radial ones): so what is the general gain for it? may be null ..I have read it is basically not possible to grant signal priority for a transit system running at frequency lower than 4mn, what is basically the case on Broadway most of the day.

    Back to the topic
    Today, the 6 nations France-Ireland rugby game‎ has been postponed due to freezing weather all over Europe those days… that is to say that showing a satellite picture from south California with no snow to support a Climate change theory, is like reporting anecdotes on people boarding bus without paying to support turnstile on skytrain…all are anecdotal events and should be considered as such.
    (PS: there are hard facts on climate change at the difference of the turnstile effect).


    February 11, 2012 at 9:43 pm

  11. I was thinking the other day that in Vancouver, in the winter, bus riders are bumping against one another sopping wet. So, another of the attractions of rail is the covered station environment vs. the bus stop shelter. Those 3 to 5 minutes I might spend inside a station may help dry my raincoat and umbrella.

    I also sense—as an outsider in the transit planning world—that there are too many bus routes connecting here. My hunch is that as we implement higher-capicity network, we will also rationalize the feeder bus routes.

    I am not only worried about Rise, I will be speaking against it at Council. It is the wrong thing, because it is 50% of the “towers and Skytrain” equation. That one has to be looked at from the perspective of the resulting quality of the urban space. From a transportation planning perspective, I understand that the driverless trains are actually pretty damn good.

    auto dominated
    The boulevard is a “mixed use” arterial. It works. Studies show that the contre allées or local access lanes along the sides, really do change the livability of the street. Of course, without naming it, a boulevard is exactly what we are showing as “an urban spine” and a “new arterial” in the VHQ study:

    The fact is that at 80-feet and 99-feet, our right-of-ways are not wide enough for building boulevards, or for building 1 : 3 aspect ratio streets. The London Drugs is on Broadway, just west of Cambie (so folks won’t get mixed up). We need the aspect ratio for solar penetration. And, we need the aspect ratio in order to be able to have both local access lanes (pedestrian precinct), and centre lanes for either through traffic or transit. Wider sidewalks may or may not be necessary. At Champs Elysees they are wide. At the Barcelona Ramblas they are narrow. In one, you walk on the sidewalk. On the other you walk in the spacious median in the centre.

    signal priority
    When I am in an area where I am learning, I ask “stupid questions”. I appreciate your response. My mind experiment is roughly this. A BRT is stopped on the far side of the intersection. It crossed on a green light, and stopped, triggering the light behind to go red and allow cross traffic. (It doesn’t pull out because it has a dedicated lane) It moves ahead towards the next signalized intersection and keeps it “green” until it crosses and stops at the next station.

    anecdotal evidence
    My father was a Baysian statistician, and he explained to me that if you asked the same question over and over again, the sample size for an accurate result would be the same for the U.S. or for the City of Port Moody (about 3,000 interviews). However, if you changed the question slightly every time you asked it to reflect the results being gathered, that twenty or thirty interviews might be enough.

    In urbanism, the people of the place have the story of place. So, it is our challenge to find what that tale really is. At the Rise site, a woman that I talked to when I was volunteering at the Christmas Tree Chipping event for the local school had the answer. She lives in a condo facing Broadway. I asked her what dusting was like in her place. She said, “Lewis, I take a clean cloth run it over a surface, turn it over, and it is black.” We wondered what that meant for her lungs.

    lewis n. villegas

    February 12, 2012 at 10:25 pm

  12. sorry folks, didn’t get the html right.

    lewis n. villegas

    February 12, 2012 at 10:26 pm

  13. I also sense—as an outsider in the transit planning world—that there are too many bus routes connecting here. My hunch is that as we implement higher-capicity network, we will also rationalize the feeder bus routes.

    Main, Kingsways, Broadway, explain for bus routes (a local and an rapid on Broadway), 8 Fraser is here due to grid disruption North of broadway…so little can be done here in my opinion.

    but on Hasting, there is certainly room for rationalization, as I suggest here:


    February 13, 2012 at 12:47 am

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