Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for June 2013

Translink enters the fray

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I am not sure that I have quite captured the spirit or intensity required, but it sure as heck beats “draft strategic framework for consultation” as a headline, which is the name of  the document that Translink releases today. This is actually being written “under embargo”. Which is a first for me. And I did have to twit Translink’s PR people about their somewhat casual use of the term “exclusive”. This is not a scoop – others have it too. As I said to them it’s like virginity – it’s a simple binary proposition. Like “unique”. Nothing can be “very unique”: it either is or it isn’t. And this isn’t exclusive nor should it be.

It should also be no surprise, given what you have read here about Translink’s Stakeholder Forum at the Wosk Centre, or the Sustainability Community Breakfast by Metro. What I heard from Bob Paddon, in our telephone conversation late on Tuesday afternoon, is the message that Translink intends to campaign vigorously on the funding referendum. It is not going to be the case that they will simply let the chips fall where they may, or rely on supporters to make the case.

The provincial government knows that it badly misread the public mood over the HST. But now hopes to cash in on the anti-tax sentiment, which it thinks it saw reflected in its re-election. This is, I hasten to add, my opinion now.  But Bob did make clear his determination to use the information that Translink has at its command to make the case for funding a significant increase in transportation spending in this region. It will take an additional $5bn over the next 30 years just to maintain a state of good repair. But on top of that a list of projects costing a further $23bn has been identified.

There’s going to be 1m people coming here in the next 30 years. We have no control over that. They are coming, and we cannot stop them, and we are not going to try. How we accommodate them is critical. “If we keep on doing what we have been doing, we are not going to make it.” That is a direct quote from Mr Paddon. The vision has not changed from 40 years ago. The goals have not changed. What Translink has identified is the need to make sure that in 25 to 30 years time half the trips made in this region are by walking, cycling or transit. We simply cannot accommodate the number of people we are expecting if most of them use their single occupant vehicles. Not if we want to protect the Green Zone. Not if we expect to be able to grow more of our own food. Not if we want to have a region that is habitable.

We have actually done a reasonable job of building compact and complete communities. We are no longer living in bedroom communities where you have to commute to downtown Vancouver to work. We really do have a multi-centric region, which is what we set out to create. But at the same time as we invested hugely in transit – the Millennium Line, the Canada Line and now (at long last) the Evergreen Line – we failed to do anything significant about Transportation Demand Management. That is a tool box of programs – incentives and disincentives – to change behaviour: to influence mode choice. Carrots were popular, sticks abhorrent. By now, having invested significantly in both roads and transit (“balance” always being a key buzzword) there were supposed to be tolls on every water crossing. Since Transport 2021 was published in 1993 we have been talking about TDM but not doing very much about it.

The real change now is not just that Translink intends to invest early and significantly in increased additional capacity, but that they intend to do something about transportation pricing. That means road pricing and transit pricing. We have been discussing tolls as a revenue collection measure, but much more importantly it is a behaviour management strategy. As we have seen with tolls on the Port Mann Bridge, when faced with a toll a significant number of people will switch to transit, even if it is the #555 – which is just a bus which runs non-stop from Langley to Braid Station, and is not at all what people imagined when the provincial Minister of Transportation promised that there would be rapid transit over the new Port Mann Bridge on the day it opened. Transit pricing needs to be more selective too: not the coarse three zone system and all day M-F vs everything else we have now. Fare by distance and real peak/off-peak differentials

If the referendum does not endorse a new source of funding for Translink, then what? Do we have to go back and revise the targets? Do you want to start considering what a region without this plan looks like?

One of the things that has to change in future is what happens when a major investment is made in transit. While there are good examples – “great examples” is what Paddon said – there are also places where transit investment was made and nothing changed. Take a look again at this video, released this week, with the time lapse trip down the Expo Line.

Sure you see huge changes at Joyce, Metrotown, Edmonds and New Westminster. But what about Commercial & Broadway, 29th Avenue, Nanaimo? Or come to that 22nd St in New Westminster: a major transit hub in a quiet neighbourhood, and not trace of TOD as far as the eye can see.   “We expect to see significant density at every SkyTrain station. The developers are fighting block by block along Cambie right now.” (And see Frank Ducote as a guest poster on Frances Bula’s blog as an example of the opposition they face.)

The investments we make in publicly provided infrastructure have to perform at their optimal level. That speaks to the need for partnerships with municipalities (and, by the way, has nothing whatever to do with the “Hong Kong model” that people keep telling me about). These are the TDMAs that were referenced by Metro as the places where new growth is intended to go. Not bedroom communities with really good access to freeways.

Despite absorbing another million people there will be no increase in car travel. It will be possible for goods and services to be delivered efficiently but we will have compact and complete communities, that protect the Green Zone (LRSP) and we will reduce our CO2 emissions and improve our health. We do have a choice about the way our region grows and we do not have to repeat the mistakes of the past. We can live the way we want to.

Translink will be advocating the need for more and better transportation infrastructure, for more buses, and more cycling facilities. For a safer and more welcoming environment for pedestrians. For places that we will want to stop in and enjoy and not just rush through as quickly as possible. They will be using the information they have collected through their surveys to show that people want a different set of choices than the ones they had in the past.

Bob Paddon also takes some comfort from the discussions he had with transit executives he met recently at the TRB meeting. They faced referenda as well. And 70% of places that had transit questions on the ballot at the last US general election won. Places like the Puget Sound , which now has funding for another $18bn to invest for the next  20 to 30 years. We can indeed make choices which reflect the way that we are already changing.

Here for your edification is the pdf file 2013.06.14 RTS draft strategic framework for consultation

Written by Stephen Rees

June 19, 2013 at 9:00 am

Posted in Transportation

“British Columbians flee rising housing costs”

with 2 comments

“Politicians are not taking account of the affordability challenge in their policy making, continuing whenever the mood strikes to raise government fees and taxes.”

Read more: Columnist Babara Yaffe of the Vancouver Sun behind a paywall

Fees, yes – taxes? Really??

The whole thing stinks from sloppy writing, I think deliberately sloppy, which is worse. For instance the headline alone misleads since she is talking about Vancouver house prices – and there is data within the article to support that concern. But also the useful information that you can buy two houses in Kitimat as investments and still rent here. Kitimat is in BC too you know.

By the way, there are real issues up there too. Both Hawkair and Air Canada have increased flights to Terrace due to the numbers of people commuting between there and Vancouver. Not on a daily basis, of course, but finding somewhere to rent up there when that is where work takes you is really difficult.

“Politicians” is nice and wide reaching too. After all as a columnist for the Sun you would not want to go after Christy Clark too obviously. This way she can take aim slyly at the Mayors who are doing all they can to hold the line on property taxes. Those are the only taxes they are responsible for, and the increases we have seen in them have been due mostly to downloading from the province. The whole battle with the Province over transit funding is due to the province’s determination that property taxes must be raised to pay for any expansion: not taxes the province might be held accountable for. Which is why the idea of a referendum is so appealing. That way she (Christy Clark) can still talk about the “lowest income tax in Canada” since that does not have to include the MSP. Which no other province levies, but here applies equally to seniors on fixed incomes as much as people with well paid employment. And whose employer probably picks up the tab anyway.

“Whenever the mood strikes” is as close to lying as you can get. The idea that politicians in general are indifferent to public opinion and vote for tax increases on a whim is simply unsupportable, though it is a very popular line that right wing commentators like to adopt.

Let us be clear. There is a very good argument for increasing taxes, but not just any tax and not just for any project. Ever since Thatcher and Regan started swinging their axes, progressive income tax on the wealthy has fallen. That was supposed to produce increased revenues, since it was going to stimulate the economy. It never did. The math for austerity was flawed – but instinctively the right wing still clings to it. Slash social programs, cut spending that goes to the poor, the sick, the needy. But make sure our friends are taken care of. The optics of wheelchair fees at the same time as increasing the salary of political advisers could not be worse, but there’s a long time before the next election. And even when the top tax rates fell, the rush to hide income offshore increased.

Barbara Yaffe makes a very unconvincing champion for those facing affordability challenges. I am sorry that I broke my own rule about pointing to a source behind a paywall. But really, if the decline of PNG and its like is going to continue and there is less money to pay for right wing propagandists like her, then two cheers for that.

And, in all decency, I should point out that this bit is worth reading

Those in the know say the market lately is moderating, with slower sales, but prices are barely budging.

The cost of housing could be one reason why many are leaving — more Canadians have been leaving than moving to B.C. since 2011.

On a net basis, reports BC Stats, the province lost 2,234 residents in the last three months of 2012 alone.

Still, politicians are looking the other way, focusing interest and efforts on the desperately needy and homeless.

The province so far has refused to reduce the Property Transfer Tax, or forgive PST on realty fees.

That Conservative MPs and Liberal MLAs in B.C. failed utterly to foresee taxpayer ire over the imposition of a costlier HST speaks to their lack of attention to the affordability crisis.

You can read that here for free since it is “fair comment” . My experience of a price drop in Richmond is, I am told, not unique. Apparently a lot of people are getting very nervous about living on a mud flat in the middle of the Fraser and are moving to higher ground – like Metrotown. Something to do with extreme weather events, and sea level rise apparently.

UPDATE From a different source a different story but the same data. BC is losing people to other provinces but more than making that up by international immigration. And the reason people have been leaving, steadily, for some time is the need to find work.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 18, 2013 at 11:09 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with ,

Blog Post #2000

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It is a milestone, and I want to mark it.

The first post appeared in July of 2006 and was about the “C$3 billion road-building plan by the provincial government” as viewed by the Economist and Miro Certenig. That road program – and its consequences – was a theme that would recur frequently, and is still one that bothers me. It is now pretty much complete but as I have no real need any more to drive along #Highway 1 I am not as up to date as I might be on road works. You could always go to drivebc and take a look – at the time of writing it seems they are still working on the Cape Horn Interchange. Of course, I have never been very worried about traffic congestion on that highway – or any other. Absent any tolling mechanism it is pretty much self regulating. It has always been what car dependency does to us and the place we live in that concerned me.

The Port Mann Bridge

When I look at the list of categories, the range of subjects actually surprised me and I have of course forgotten a lot of what I wrote about. This has been a salutary reminder. Yesterday I was listening to Dave Olson talking at Northern Voice about the value of printed ephemera and other objects in understanding our stories. It was actually quite uncomfortable listening, since I have been in the process of decluttering. Much paper has been recycled, many objects have gone to thrift stores, and quite a lot to the landfill probably. I still have a lot of obsolete media. Tapes and LPs, slides and photographs, far too many books still. But lots of magazines went. And so did a lot of my own stuff. I am not at all sure that anyone will ever want to read my MSc dissertation, and the LSE seems not to have kept a copy. Not accessible from its web page anyway.

Dave Olson debunked the idea that the internet never forgets. There were many things which were once there that are now gone. Lots of dead links. I wonder how long WordPress will continue to maintain my archive. I certainly have no intention of stopping blogging, but I am sure that there will continually be some ebb and flow in volume. I will not establish a schedule for publishing, and I will only publish when I have something that I need to say, or draw attention to. And I am quite positive that there is no way this will ever become a book. Nor would I want it to. has been a very good host as well as an easy system to use, and I have no intention of either monetizing the blog or registering my own domain. It really doesn’t matter how many plugins there might be, or alternative ways of dealing with comments. I am quite happy with this set up, and I am pleased that there are enough people out there to make it worthwhile continuing.

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 5.17.35 PM

These are the most recent monthly stats of page views. There are 108 people who follow the blog  and 701 on twitter. I have been posting less as I am wary of repeating myself, since the problems never seem to change, nor the responses to them. We do keep on doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. I use twitter more often as that is a good way to be brief (my blog posts to tend to be of the “long read” format) and provide the necessary link. The mainstream media continues to retreat behind paywalls, but all that means is we get our news elsewhere. Usually more directly and thus unfiltered. I am very heartened by the activities of those who fight government and corporate preferences for secrecy and outright lying.

You are one of the people I am writing for. I started to write this because I felt the need to write, but from the very beginning knew that there would be people who preferred I did not. We have not been bothered by the worst troll lately. Akismet does do a very good job of controlling spam. But it is also true that when I get a post to moderate that is fulsome in its praise for this blog, I know it is spam. Most of you do not comment. There is, however, a stable of regulars who can be relied on to let us know what they think (MB and Redfrog get top honours and ought to start their own blogs, with honorable mentions to Voony and Roger Kemble who have. ) I try not to get too worked up about what commenters write, as they are entitled to their opinions and have mostly been very helpful in providing both perspective and often more information which has improved the quality of the discussion. I do read all the comments. And if I do not reply in the comments, that does not mean I am ignoring them. That will often become apparent in subsequent posts. And I have been surprised by the number of people I have met who say they read the blog but ignore the comments altogether. There are over 800,000 views now, and we will soon reach million, though I doubt very much indeed I will notice.

Because that was the other thing I learned, early on. I do not obsess about my stats. I am not going to get into data mining, and I am not going to adjust what I write in the hopes of broadening my reach. It is a bit like the number of views I get of a picture posted to flickr: or the ones that organization deems “interesting”. We know that is determined by an algorithm – but we do not know its parameters or values- and anyway it changes all the time.

It’s just nice to know that I am not shouting into a vacuum.

Thank you for reading. Please, don’t stop now.

And for those of you who think stats are important, I know this is not, in reality, the two thousandth post as quite a lot were short lived announcements that were deleted.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 16, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Posted in blogging

Kitsilano Farmers’ Market

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This is our regular Sunday morning walk in the summer. And usually, when I post pictures to flickr I post them as a set and, more often than not, and quite a bit of text to the set description. The new layout means that now, nobody else can even see what I write there. Really, really stupid and insensitive to how people use flickr – not that they care. So if you follow me on flickr this blog post duplicates what is on there, and the text now appears there under each image. And I know there are cyclists who follow this blog, so it is not at all off topic.

Kits Farmers' Market

My partner says she can see the tents from Arbutus Street when we drive past. That is because 11th Avenue is closed to traffic.

I have seen cricket and baseball being played at this location at the same time. But not this week.

Securing their cycles

Securing their cycles

As you can see, there is a large poster “Free and Safe Bicycle Parking” – so of course I had to ask why they were doing this.

They said they did not feel comfortable NOT paying at the Free parking – which actually asks for a $2 per bike donation (see next picture). They also said that it was a lot quicker to reclaim their bikes when they needed them.

But the young woman woman in the white shirt said it best: “We saw this space and it spoke to us.”

That’s art.

If you can donate $2 ...

Well that doesn’t sound so bad. Though it seems to work a like PBS. I wonder how many people (like me) just don’t pay. Mind you, I walked both ways. My bike is in the locker downstairs, and I did not even think about getting it out.

Lining up for crepes again

Lining up for crepes

And this was at eleven o’clock. However, other trucks use different techniques to deal with crowds.

Waiting for lunch

Waiting for lunch

I got a poached eggs sandwich (with bacon and cheddar) but then had to wait ten minutes while it was prepared. So there is no line up for Yolk’s, but just as many folks waiting. Just not standing in line.

There is a dearth of seating and shade here.

Faith in his product

Faith in his product

One of the guys from Yolk’s having his lunch.

People watching on W10th

People watching on W10th

The grassy knoll viewpoint

Seeking out the shade

Under that white tent are UBC students offering free bike tune-ups. And they do mean free. Although there is still an opportunity to donate if you really insist.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 16, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Posted in bicycles, cycling

Tagged with ,

Northern Voice 2013

with 5 comments

This post is being updated to include presentation materials as and when I find them

Last update 17 June at 1pm

The program encourages blogging, there is free WiFi, and there is something I need to say. About transit, and route frequency. To get from Arbutus Village to the Museum of Vancouver, I could take the #16 and walk down Burrard, or walk across to McDonald for the #22. I did not mention the #25 since I was sure that one would come along while I was waiting for the cross walk light, and I was right. In theory an intending passenger has to wait half the headway, on average. In real life, you always just miss the bus. Indeed, as I approached McDonald, a bus whisked around the corner, and left without me. There was at least a shelter and a seat for the wait while I watched other buses pass by.

Eventually I boarded. As the bus proceeded, it caught up to the #2 starting its run from 16th Avenue. And we proceeded as a pair, skip stopping until Cornwall, by which time we had caught up to the #22 in front, and could then move as a convoy. None of this is planned or deliberate, but it always happens, especially when its raining. And should be born in mind whenever you read that Frequent Transit is every 15 minutes.

I have not been impressed with my ability to live blog this event. For starters, you would think, wouldn’t you, that the organizers, when choosing a location would put the availability and quality of wifi high on their agenda. One of the organizers told me that they were still trying to fix it on Thursday, and resorted to appeals to those with wifi hotspots on their smart phones to make them available to all to ease the strain. There are actually two different logins for two wifi connections for different parts of the building – and even then the printed password they issued had an error in it. I did not bring my MacBook Pro as it is too  heavy, and gets too hot, to use as a real laptop. It needs a desk – and new feet, too. The little rubber ones it came with keep falling off. The tablet is not easy enough to type on either – and I noticed this year there are many more people using old fashioned paper notebooks with actual pens. Like the resurgence of vinyl LPs and film cameras, this is a lot more than a fashion statement. Just like digital watches lost popularity really quickly.

The catering this year seems to have been organized by someone from an earlier era too.

It's what's for breakfast #nv13

Though there was fresh fruit as an alternate. Lunch was better than in the past since the wraps were pre-made. The line moves faster when people are not practising their roll-your-own burrito skills. But there was still only one line – and it moved slowly as the people at the front always seem more interested in their conversations than letting anyone else get fed. And the after party had free beer and wine. Unsurprisingly no-one seemed to want to eat the standardized squares or fresh fruit – both of which looked more than a little tired by now. There wasn’t nearly enough bread and cheese – and people seem to have read the same articles I did about the dangers of salami.

There is not nearly the same amount of energy as at earlier NVs at UBC. For one thing there is no really obvious gathering place outside of the lecture rooms – and people wander off to look at museum exhibits, rather than engaging. There is much less going on as a result – which puts even greater pressure on the organizers.

Too many presenters are wedded to their computerized presentations – most of which add very little value anyway. Some electronic distribution of information to personal screens for those who wanted it would have worked much better and caused much less delay while the inevitable Mac/Windows incompatibility issues were sorted out for the umpteenth time. I hate Prezi even more than light background PowerPoint – but at least it is on the web for all.

Reading over this I realised I am overdoing my grumpy old man act. So I turned to storify to crowdsource coverage. It is much more positive – and I noticed that I tended to pick tweets that had pictures attached – whaddyaknow!

Someone either reads this blog or reads my mind. The breakfast on Saturday offers far more than doughnuts. Though still really heavy on the carbs.

Baked Goods

The view out the window is going to be more distracting.

Use the view

So far these are the only Prezis I have found: from the sessions I attended

“Improving Comments on your Blog” by Travis Smith

Story by Theresa Lalonde (which is a relief as otherwise I would feel required to transcribe my own scribbles)

because they used the tag #nv13

Sean McNulty “Getting Things Syndicated” one the many talks I did not get to because there are three streams most of the time.

John Bielher tweeted “A few people asked for my slidedeck from nv13…warning it’s a 144mb PDF:… (I didn’t have notes, just photos)”.

But then a lot of other people who did not present at this conference use that tag. And there are more than 1000 prezis using the tag “Northern Voice” (without a date)

Thanks to Vancouver Gadgets we now have the link to Darren Barefoot slides “Why we live the quantified life” and also on slideshare with the nv13 hashtag Dave Olson Vancouver: Untold Stories, Anecdotes …


But you do know, don’t you that Northern Voice has its own blog? At the present time its content is still mostly is “promote the conference before its happens” mode – but useful summaries of presentations – and presenters – are there.

So it’s a nice day and there is a farmers’ market down the road apiece. I think I should be there (see next post) and not “blogging the shit” out of the conference.

#nv13 wrapup at MOV

The keynote speakers : (l to r) Bob Goyetche, Dave Olsen, Mark Blevis
Photo by jmv on flickr

More people are now adding their photos to flickr these are the ones tagged nv13

Written by Stephen Rees

June 15, 2013 at 9:27 am

Posted in blogging, transit

Tagged with , ,

Managing Growth: Integrating Land Use and Transportation Planning

with 2 comments

Metro Vancouver Sustainability Community Breakfast at BCIT downtown Wednesday June 12 at 7:30am

I went along to this outreach event. The link above should also eventually link to the presentations as these are made available some time after the meeting – look at the top left of the screen that opens for “Previous Presentations”. They also had their own hashtag so I have a storify link too, which includes some  pictures of the slides.

Before I get into the detailed transcription of my notes, I want to make a couple of observations while they are fresh in my mind.

The meeting was chaired by Derek Corrigan, who is both Mayor of Burnaby and Chair of the Metro Regional Planning and Agriculture Committee. He made introductory remarks, and then ran the Q&A session after the presentations, interjecting whenever he felt the spirit move. I seriously think he constitutes a strong case for considering term limits for municipal politicians. While there is clearly value in having elder statesmen, and people with extensive experience, there are now a number of these Mayors-for-Life. Rather like Hazel McCallion of Mississauga they become characters, and gather electability over time so that they effectively can no longer be challenged. This gives them an air of invincibility – and  a distinct lack of humility. For instance, when someone, actually from the North Shore where no-one supposes rail transit is even a remote likelihood, raised a question about Translink’s current inability to make commitments to greater transit expansion, he responded  by going on an editorial about how buses are more efficient and effective than rail, and people in the room should not think of Transit Oriented Development as being dependent on rail – which he said was unaffordable. Now that is in some senses true, but is really easy to say when you are Mayor of a City that has two SkyTrain lines and no need of more any time soon.  He also intervened when someone was discussing community reluctance to embrace development and increases in density with observations about the importance of making commitments that developers can rely on. The important point to him was consistency so that no developer should think that “someone else is going to get a better deal”. That seemed to me to be tone deaf to the question which was about communities, not developers.

Peter Ladner also raised a very pertinent question about Christy Clark’s determination to hold a referendum on transit funding – which could well make the whole process of planning in this fashion pointless. He asked the panel members if they intended to campaign for the referendum – and again Corrigan intervened. Pretending to be humorous, I got the distinct impression he was issuing a warning to staff to not get involved in politics. He also said – with heavy irony – that all the Mayors were really keen on promoting tax increases to pay for transit.

The general tenor of the presentations was educational. It was a bit like attending an academic planning seminar – except of course this was actually about the future of this region – and what it could be. Although, if Corrigan and Ladner are right, might well fall short. All the transportation planning that was discussed was about walking, cycling and transit, and dealing with a more limited role for cars in the  future. But the newly re-elected provincial government seems to be on an entirely different track.

Lee-Ann Garnett, Senior Regional Planner, Metro Vancouver

Her presentation was about the tools that Metro use to manage growth and in particular Frequent Transit Development Areas (FTDA) . She showed how the 1m population growth in the next 30 years is to be distributed across the region by municipality. The biggest changes are to be South of the Fraser – mostly in Surrey. The Regional Growth Strategy has been adopted  by all of them, and each gets some growth. That growth will be shaped by a combination of the Urban Containment Boundary, Urban Centres and FTDAs. At the top of the hierarchy of centres is the Metro Core (downtown Vancouver) Surrey Metro Centre (no longer to be referred to as Whalley) seven regional city centres and 17 municipal town centres.  Only 40% of the population growth will be in those centres: the current concern is about where the rest will go.

The municipalities are now in the process of producing their Regional Context Statements (due in July) which show how their Official Community Plans and zoning will accommodate this growth. There are already a number of FTDAs including the Cambie Corridor in Vancouver (in response to the Canada Line) around the Evergreen Line stations in Coquitlam and Port Moody as well as a proposed FTDA at UBC. The municipalities are urged to “think regionally” and across boundaries. [The significance of this became apparent when Surrey discussed development in its north west sector which abuts Delta – which was shown as blank space on their map. At least it did not have the annotation ‘here be dragons’.]

The objective is to prioritize areas for development – where it goes first. She said that “the market is on board” and supports TOD for jobs and housing. The risks include the possibility that there are too many centres, that adding FTDAs will spread growth too thinly and that FTDAs on the edge of the region present issues of their own.

Andrew Curran, Manager, Strategy, Strategic Planning & Policy, Translink

[Much of what he said has already been covered here but is repeated for convenience of reference] Translink is currently updating Transport 2040 with more emphasis on co-ordinating land use development with transportation investment decision making.

Transportation shapes land use: Marchetti’s Constant – humans have long had a 1 hour travel time budget in their day. He illustrated what this means – the “one hour wide city” as a series of circles overlaid  on the map: the walking city = downtown Vancouver: the streetcar city = City of Vancouver: the auto city = Metro Vancouver. He also showed how the use of single occupant vehicles increases at each scale. In the future “cars will have a role but we have no room for every trip to be by car”. T2040 aimed for a 50/50 split between the walk/bike/transit mode on the one side and car on the other. He then very quickly went through the “Primer on the Key Concepts of Transit Oriented Communities“, noting that transit orientation is really about walking and cycling -which determine transit accessibility. The Frequent Transit Network (FTN) are the routes which run at 15 minute frequency – or better – all day, seven days a week. He said on these routes “you don’t need to rely on the schedule” [which suggests to me that the rest of humanity must have a great deal more patience than I do].

Land use shapes transit: He quoted Jarret Walker’s principle of routing “Be On The Way” – which he illustrated with the Expo Line and the Liveable Region Plan of 1976. While a six Ds [destination, distance, design density, diversity, demand] matter a metastudy by Ewing and Cervero showed a relatively weak direct relationship between travel and density – which in reality acts as a proxy for the other five Ds. “Don’t get too hung up on density, but don’t put it in the wrong place.” He showed an iterative dialogue between a land use planner and a transportation planner developed by Jarret Walker for his book Human Transit.   He also pointed for the need for transit to have bidirectional demand along a route, rather than the typical unbalanced “everyone goes downtown in the morning” route. By being more efficient, transit can provide more service for the same cost. He showed examples of recent transit plans for North Vancouver based on FTDAs, the pan for Main Street in Vancouver and also for Newton in Surrey.

He recognized the need for certainty to guide developers but acknowledged the need greater funding. Nevertheless he felt there was still a need for agreements between all parties to assure appropriate zoning. There is no requirement for municipalities to promote FTDAs but he felt they would recognize the value of partnerships.

Don Luymes, Manager of Community Planning, City of Surrey

Surrey is moving from the auto-oriented suburban development pattern of its growth until now, towards Transit Oriented Development (TOD). There are three key strategies

  1. Reinforce centres along corridors
  2. Define new centres on those corridors
  3. Identify future corridors as planning areas

This was being driven by health concerns, geography and the need reduce the impact of energy cost increases. The idea is to wean Surrey off auto-dependancy. Around SkyTrain stations density is being increased from 3.5 Floor Area Ratio (FAR) to 7.5.

(“A density measure expressing the ratio between a building’s total floor area and its site coverage. To calculate F.A.R., the gross square footage of a building is divided by the total area of its lot. F.A.R. conveys a sense of the bulk or mass of a structure, and is useful in measuring non-residential and mixed-use density.” source: Lincoln Institute) In other town centres like Guildford and Newton this was at a lower scale, moving from 1.5 previously to 2.5 FAR now. The calculation is made over the gross site area to encourage developers to relinquish part of the site to the road allowance needed for a finer grain street grid. Cloverdale is not slated for much development as it is not on the FTN.

Subcentres for midrise developments within 400 to 800m of transit, not in exitsing centres. So far four have been identified.

  1. Scott Road SkyTrain station is “a no-brainer” as a new centre
  2. Between Guildford and Surrey Centre  on 104 Ave
  3. Along 152 St at 88 Ave and Fraser Highway
  4. Clayton
  5. Fleetwood West

No higher density will be permitted in Bridgeview to protect the existing community

Within these centres Surrey will encourage mixed use, pedestrain connections to transit, increase FASR on gross site area and relax parking requirements on developers – although there could be interim requirements until transit can be provided.

He then indicated on the map where there are candidate areas for future corridors.

  1. Will the market respond? See undeveloped sites in Surrey City Centre
  2. Timing of transit delivery – already have some dense neighborhoods without transit

His final slide illustrated three levels of transit – BRT, LRT and SkyTrain – but he must have run out of time to discuss this.

Q & A

1. There was no discussion of industry – which usually has a density well below that needed for transit

LAG – our focus on residential and commercial development in centres protects industrial land. The limited pool of funding for transit precludes provision for low density industrial areas

AC – it is very expensive to serve industrial areas. We do provide basic mobility (infrequent service) but there is interest in industrial intensification to provide more employment intensive areas. the key thing is to protect industrial land

2. There is going to be push back from the community to increased density. Are there better practices for communications?

DL – It is difficult to get the community engaged at this level of planning. More interest in immediate impact on neighbourhood. We have a well developed community planning process but there are different levels of interest in different areas

DC – Certainty and consistency [for developers]. Make sure that no-one else gets a better deal (see my introductory note)

3. There is no mention of food in your strategy. There is Metro Food Policy document but if you allow a small loss of ALR every year in 30 years most of it is gone. Have you considered rising ocean levels and the increases in cost of transporting food over long distances?

LAG – We have five goals – and I could have talked all morning Our policy protects food growing areas, we are also trying to make agriculture more viable and looking at local food strategies

DC – our prime concern is to protect the ALR

3. Housing for families in town centres? and minimum level of transit provision outside centres to provide an alternative to car use

DL – Our policies provide for a mix of housing types that includes three bedroom apartments as well as “skirt” of townhouses around centres. There are family areas adjacent to centres where we are stabilizing the community and providing “relative affordability”.

AC – Services in low density communities means that they need to be located along the FTN if they are to get good transit service.  We are working to improve South of Fraser networks using the 6d score and wouldlike to develop  more but the fudnign and resources are not there now. When there is a limited amount of money it has to go to higher demand areas.

4. Planning for a future village centre in the District of North Vancouver does have community support, but we have no confidence that Translink will deliver the service that is essential to support the development

AC – In the conversation about funding everyone wants everything but no-one wants to pay for it. We hope we will get new funding tools – but that is part of a larger conversation

DC – fixed rail is very expensive, buses are cheaper – improvements to the bus system are efficient and effective (see my notes above)

5. Access to transit: drawing neat circles on a map does not address the reality of cul de sacs in suburbs. Access is typlcially much longer than a straight line

DL – auto oriented streets frustrate direct access. We need new street connections and our density calculations allow the developer to benefit from the density otherwise “lost” to streets – they can “pile density on the rest of the site”. Pedestrian only links from street end bulbs have not been successful. It can be challenging to get new links without establishing a right of way.

DC – See Patrick Condon’s study that show how building new roads increases pedestrian access [can someone provide me with a citation for that please]

6. Bike Share?

in the absence of anyone from the City of Vancouver AC replied on the issue of helmets as slowing implementation

7 Car sharing and ride sharing can provide intermediate capacity where ransit not viable

DL – we have entered into agreements with developers to provide car sharing in return for less parking provision. In farther flung areas this can prove more challenging

Is car sharing included in the package?

AC – Translink has an Open Data policy and will share data more than just transit data now provided on Google apps through the API

8 Commercial development within mixed use can be very expensive to do. In the same way that we support non-market housing can we support commercial development?

LAG – We have only looked at office development on a large scale

AC – Los Angeles County has a program for supporting commercial development at transit exchanges

DL – Legislation forbids that here: local government is not able to support commercial developments financially. Subsidy is not allowed

9 Are you setting aside money for separated bike tracks to improve safety? There is no room for bike lanes on North Vancouver roads

AC – it is an engineering challenge on existing streets and there is growing consensus on the need for separate facilities. We will cost share at 50% with municipalities but there is only $3m a year

DL – there is going to be a two-way separated bike path along King George Boulevard. We will fund all of it if needs be.

10 (Peter Ladner) All of these plans crash on the reef of the referendum. Are you going to take an active role?

AC  – It’s early days yet, and the province has already given direction to the Mayor’s Council to develop a strategy [which is what they are doing]

DL – the pressures that give rise to the strategy are not going to go away. We will figure it out

LAG – It depends on the Metro Board

11. Are you going to change the zoning of corner lots to recognize that they have greater development potential?

LAG – established question actually directed at the City of Vancouver


Written by Stephen Rees

June 12, 2013 at 2:06 pm

The Great Train Robbery

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South West trains at Waterloo 2008_0704

I have often used British Rail on this blog as an example of what can go wrong when governments decide to privatize a pubic corporation.  It has long been a shibboleth that the public sector is necessarily inefficient, and that private enterprise, subject to market forces, will always produce a better outcome. The real question – often never asked – is “better for whom?”

Last week the Trades Union Congress published a report of independent researchers on the performance of railways in Britain since privatization. Unsurprisingly the researchers conclude that not only has public support for railways increased, but that the public has not been well served. Shareholders, and other “stakeholders” have done well, at public expense, but the supposed benefits have not been achieved. This has long been the view of objective observers. The TUC, of course, includes railway workers among its members. It is important to note the TUC recognized that “this final report would inevitably diverge from the Unions’ position when it came to analysis and recommendations.”

Two other points I want to make up front, which stand in stark contrast to the way things are done here. First there are indeed independent, publicly funded researchers able to conduct such studies. That used to be the case in Canada too. Our present government seems determined to put a stop to that, both by cutting funds for essential data collection (such as the long form census) and secondly ensuring that any publicly funded body is put under close surveillance to ensure that it toes the party line.

The TUC issued a trenchant press release – but they also made the entire research report available free on line.  That also seems to be exceptional here. Though I do want to acknowledge the great improvement we have seen in Translink’s data provision recently.

The BC Liberals will continue to promote their own version of selling off public assets at fire sale prices, and ensuring that private corporations and their shareholders continue to profit while public services are reduced. We can expect to see a continuation of promotion of the P3 as the key to all that is worthwhile, and all kinds of manipulation to ensure that the private companies do well even when the case for a P3 cannot be supported – as with (just to pick two from many) the Port Mann Bridge or BC Place. I confidently expect that there will be yet more contracting out of public services, to ensure that workers get lower pay, “customers” get less service but shareholders and executives see increasing rewards without any risk at all. Fees and charges of all kinds will continue to be imposed on those whose real incomes are declining – all the while telling us how lucky we are to be in a free enterprise economy with “the lowest taxes”. There will be no mention at all – as is also the case with the TUC – of the damage to the environment.

POSTSCRIPT and, of course, it’s not just our problem “The almost comical level of fraud and bribery …”

The Great Train Robbery looks at many of the key objectives behind the decision of John Major’s government to privatise the railways in 1994. The report questions whether any of these have been achieved:

  • Cost effectiveness – train operating companies are entirely reliant upon public subsidies to run services. The top five recipients alone received almost £3bn in taxpayer support between 2007 and 2011. This allowed them to make operating profits of £504m – over 90 per cent (£466m) of which was paid to shareholders.
  • Extra investment – the report shows how the average age of trains has risen since rail privatisation, from 16 years in 1996 to 18 years old today. Just £1.9bn was spent on rolling stock between 2008 and 2012, compared to £3.2bn between 1989 and 1993 (the four years before privatisation.)
  • Over 90 per cent of new investment in recent years has been financed by Network Rail (the taxpayer funded body responsible for rail infrastructure), and comes mainly from taxpayer funding or government-underwritten borrowing, says the report.
  • Significant upgrades to infrastructure, such as the development of the West Coast Mainline, have been paid for by Network Rail.
  • Passenger comfort – the report says while there has been a 60 per cent increase in passengers since 1994/95, there has only been a 3 per cent increase in new carriages, resulting in serious overcrowding on many routes.
  • Innovation – even where there has been private sector investment in new technology, such as Virgin’s tilting trains, it has been underwritten by the state through subsidies to train operating companies and guarantees to rolling stock leasing companies.
  • Added value – The Great Train Robbery shows how train operating companies paid Network Rail just £1.59bn in track access charges in 2012, compared to £3.18bn paid to its predecessor Railtrack in 1994. This represents an ‘indirect subsidy’ from taxpayers as train companies are getting track access on the cheap. It also means that the full extent of taxpayer subsidy is far greater than is often reported.
  • Investment in infrastructure has largely been funded through borrowing by Network Rail which now has debts of over £30bn, and is spending more on repaying this debt than on railway maintenance, says the report.
  • Competitive fares – the UK has the most expensive rail fares in Europe. Long distance, day return and season tickets are all around twice the price of similar tickets in France, Germany, Italy and Spain, which have publicly-run rail systems. Average train fares in the UK increased at three times the rate of average wages between 2008 and 2012.
  • More passengers – the report dismisses claims that privatisation has helped increase the number of people travelling on the railways.It says that passenger growth has mostly been down to rising GDP and changes in employment patterns rather than because of privatisation.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 11, 2013 at 8:27 am

Small triumph for social media

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It’s press release Thursday. This one come from the BCAA with the headline “BCAA unveils 2013 Top 10 “Worst Roads” list: Kelowna’s Westside Road, Vancouver bike path and George Massey Tunnel take top spots”

Bike path makes ‘worst’ roads list

This year, a surprising twist occurred with Vancouver’s BC Parkway, a bike path, leading the pack throughout the survey and landing in second place.

“It was really interesting to see a bike path get nominated which shows that cycling safety is an on-going concern and cyclists really see bike paths as their roads,” says Cousin [Ken Cousin, BCAA’s associate vice president of Road Assist]. “The bike path making the top 10 ‘Worst Roads’ list speaks volumes about the need to ensure cyclists—and pedestrians, for that matter—have safe places to commute, which helps reduce the risk of traffic collisions for all road users.”

The reason it got on the list was that it was nominated by Patrick Johnstone on his NWimby blog and then promoted on twitter, where it was picked up by the cycling advocates The British Columbia Cycling Coalition and HUB: Your Cycling Connection. Since few people actually go to the BCAA site to vote for their roads, and they get spread all over the province, it is not too difficult for organized activists to influence the vote. My twitter stream is regularly populated by tweets trying to influence on line polls – especially those on main stream media. These are, of course, unscientific measures of opinion, and no one tries to measure how representative the sample is compared to the rest of the population. Equally no-one pretends that they are either.

Even so, I want to draw attention to number three – the Massey Tunnel – just in case my vote influenced things at all. I was annoyed by the way the map selection tool worked on the survey. Since what I wanted to draw attention to is not the congestion on Highway #99 – but rather than on Steveston Highway. At that time I lived there – and saw the daily back up of traffic, queueing to get into the tunnel which sometimes got as far back as Number 4 Road – and always well past Shell. I used to have to plan my trips to avoid that length of road in the mid afternoon. The problem is the intersection. Some work is going on as a result of the re-development of the Fantasy gardens site at the intersection of Steveston Highway with No 5 Road. But that stops at the boundary (CoR/MoT) – because the Ministry is responsible for the two lane overpass. And that is now a real barrier to local movement as the rest of Steveston Highway is 4 four lanes – and the SilverCity Riverport complex generates lots of trips. My views on the tunnel are here.

But it is one thing to get #2 place on an online poll, it is quite another to get something done about it. The BC Parkway was built at the time of the Expo line, but it was not part of that project. SRY still operated freight trains under the SkyTrain – and the budget then was for transit, not walking or cycling. The Parkway was partly funded by sponsors Molson and 7-Eleven in return for naming rights. They did not contribute to maintenance or improvements which quickly became evident. Some improvement did take place in Central Park, where the bike path used to use a winding path through the rhododendrons – the site of my first major cycling crash. Not that I think my broken wrist had anything much to do with the improvement.

BC Parkway at Patterson

What is left of the crash site

Translink at least now has some commitment to cycling and walking. Not enough but its a start. And Burnaby does seem to be able to get itself moving on these issues. The Central Valley Greenway, for instance was an initiative of Translink, with contributory funding from the feds (back when they cared about GHG reduction) and Burnaby. But in order to get something done, there will have to be co-operation again between municipalities and Translink ought to be able to organize that. The problem right now is that they are more focussed on major strategic issues – and the line up for more immediate fixes to the system as a whole is longer than they can deal with.

In the coming weeks, the Association will provide the complete survey results to municipalities and the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to encourage improvements.

Well I hope they BCAA has the sense to work with BCCC and HUB on this one. And maybe someone with an eye for publicity can round up some more sponsors. With a longer term commitment this time please.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 6, 2013 at 10:22 am

Posted in cycling

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Greenpeace ad takes aim at Harper’s tar sands greenwash

This post is courtesy of Peter Louwe of Greenpeace who was kind enough to send me a Press Release. I do not watch much tv these days, and when I do I pick non-commercial channels when I can. Which is a shame when you miss things like this. I hope they do go viral on social media and perhaps this will help.

The Harper government’s performance on the environment in general and the tar sands in particular is hard to satirize. Its a bit like Tom Lehrer said, when they gave Henry Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize, it is now really hard to do satire.

Actually this is the first of three and Greenpeace wants to raise funds to put all of them on the air. You can help, of course. As usual, these things come with a plea for cash – or signatures on a petition.

Greenpeace lampoons government ads that “greenwash” tar sands

6 June 2013 – Greenpeace Canada launched a satirical television ad campaign today aimed at debunking the Harper government’s campaign to “greenwash” the tar sands.

The 30-second ad stars comedic actor Peter Keleghan, known for his work on “18 to Life” and “The Red Green Show,” as Environment Minister Peter Kent. In the ad, he complains that “being the kind of environment minister who makes big oil companies clean up their mess isn’t easy – but buying ads is!”

At issue are the federal government’s “Responsible Resource Development” ads, which depict the tar sands industry as environmentally friendly. First aired in 2012, Ottawa will spend $16 million in tax dollars this year to keep the ads running on television.

Greenpeace will promote the ad on social media before it airs the week of July 8th on CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. The organization is appealing to viewers to sign a petition aimed at Prime Minister Harper as well as contribute a donation to run the ad more widely.

“This project gave me the opportunity to help Greenpeace make an important statement on how the federal government is spending our money to promote the oil industry,” said Keleghan. “It richly deserves being lampooned.”

In addition to the television spot, Greenpeace made two longer skits featuring Sheila McCarthy and Richard Blackburn, who respectively play a sly assistant and exuberant Harper.

All three videos (available at were directed by Michael Kennedy, whose work includes the hit sitcom “Little Mosque on the Prairie.” Kennedy said he jumped at the chance to direct the videos: “Serious issues deserve serious attention, but sometimes humour works best when you’re trying to reach people.”

“There is no throne so high that it can’t be shaken by laughter from beneath,” echoed Greenpeace Climate and Energy Coordinator Keith Stewart. “Let’s laugh those government ads off the air!”

Keleghan, who has shown his comedic talents in episodes of Seinfeld and Cheers as well as in starring roles in The Newsroom and Billable Hours, previously appeared as Minister Kent in Greenpeace’s “Polluter Harmony” video two years ago.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 6, 2013 at 8:30 am

What to do about the Patullo Bridge

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Translink has opened up another round of consultations. The CBC story is headlined “Pattullo Bridge replacement options rolled out by TransLink” but that in itself tends to concentrate on the replacement options when there are several that retain the bridge but in different configurations. Consider combinations of the following options:

  • Remove the bridge.
  • Rehabilitate the bridge for bikes and pedestrians only.
  • Rehabilitate it as a two-, three- or four-lane bridge.
  • Replacing it with a two-, four- or eight-lane bridge.
  • Replacing it with a four-lane tunnel.
  • Building a new crossing up to six-lanes, upriver at Sapperton Bar.
  • Building a new four-lane bridge downriver at Tree Island.

There is plenty of information at Translink’s web site and also a specific website for the current consultation which is being conducted jointly by Translink and the cities of New Westminster and Surrey. Open houses start on Thursday and run until Saturday June 15.

How you feel about this will be determined largely by where you live and how you travel. If you live in New Westminster you ought by now to have read more about the Fix It solution preferred by NWimby. Actually you should read that even of you don’t live in New West – or ever use the bridge.

UPDATE   The Georgia Straight has a useful summary  of municipal politicians’ opinions – and others

My own preferences are based on more generalized issues. I do not as a rule have to use the bridge and cannot recall the last time I drove over it. This is about the best image I have of it on my flickr stream – and it is playing second fiddle to SkyBridge

New Westminster Fraser Bridges aerial

I think Translink should look at the options which work best to reduce through traffic in New Westminster. The North Fraser Perimeter Road has already been abandoned for precisely that reason. Translink also needs to review its performance to date in adding a major new river crossings. The Golden Ears Bridge was supposed to pay for itself through tolls, and hasn’t. It has become a financial millstone around the authority’s neck and has compromised its ability to expand transit service – which I take to be of prime importance.

We should distrust any predictions for future travel across the existing or proposed replacements that are based on the current regional transportation model. It has a fixed trip matrix, which assumes that future land uses are an exogenous variable with no interaction between the transportation network and land use: this is wildly unrealistic. Future trip making is very unlikely to be a continuation of present trends. Typically to do a forty year projection, modellers have essentially extended the growth trend of the last forty years. Given the shifts in demand away from cars that we have seen since 2008, expecting the previous trend to continue when we have passed the “peak car” tipping point is foolish and misguided. To some extent, the choice of transportation infrastructure does indeed determine trip making. You cannot expect Transit Oriented Development to work if there is no transit (or not nearly enough) and you cannot expect anything but auto-oriented development if you expand the road network.

The massive increase in capacity along Highway #1 and over the Port Mann Bridge cannot be ignored. Neither can the impact of the provincial tolling policy which effectively designates the Patullo as the free alternative. Neither the Patullo nor the Alex Fraser have any spare capacity at peak periods.

That is due to the second major principle. Traffic expands and contracts to fill the space available. If more crossing capacity is built as part of this project it will fill up quickly – but that can be moderated by tolling. Tolling at present is required to be a funding mechanism for new build infrastructure only. That policy is ill thought out, unworkable and needs to be reviewed. Road pricing is needed, but can only be implemented on a region wide basis if it is to be equitable and effective. It cannot be considered in isolation for one crossing without disastrous impacts elsewhere.

I reject the idea of new crossings as unfundable. It does not matter how many, or where, none of them will pay for themselves, any or all of them will generate more traffic (“induced demand”) and impact land use in a wide swathe around to further promote sprawl. Any of them will reduce Translink’s ability to achieve its stated long term objectives (see Transport 2040) for mode use.

Safety was a concern on Patullo until recent changes reduced the worst risks. The policies adopted for the refurbishment of the Lion’s Gate bridge will work here too. But once again, more attention needs to be given to integration with other modes in the area fed by the bridge than was the case there.

In particular the Tree Island Bridge is by no means a new idea. It is one that the Ministry of Highways has long desired – and it has been resisted successfully on more than one occasion. Nothing has changed to require its reconsideration. Other capacity increases for the road network must also be put on hold until the public transport network provides a realistic alternative for the majority of trips in the area, and the region as a whole. The reason so many people currently drive across the Patullo is that it seems the least worst alternative among a set of suboptimal options. It is essential that better options are made available that do not require car use and ownership. There are many reasons for thinking this is essential but greenhouse gas reductions are persuasive enough on their own. Each of the many other benefits can be regarded as a bonus.

For me, the major consideration ought to be what causes the current driving pattern. A significant amount of travel occurs between Surrey – both its new City Centre (that used to be called Whalley) and Guildford – and Coquitlam. Currently that trip by transit is long and circuitous. The very successful new bus across the Port Mann ignores this travel entirely. But an express bus that ran from Surrey Central via Guildford and the Port Mann to Coquitlam Station would be very effective at providing a “better than driving” experience for a lot of trips. Currently Translink cannot even think about that kind of service expansion. It would I think very effectively reduce the need to drive across the Patullo, but I somehow doubt that such ideas even get considered in this kind of consultation.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 4, 2013 at 10:05 am

Posted in Transportation

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