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

Archive for October 31st, 2013

Moving the Future

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I spent the day at the Vancouver Convention Centre (West) at what was billed as “A New Conversation about Transportation and the Economy”. Position papers, presentations, videos and other materials from the sessions are now posted at Attendees at the conference were encouraged to tweet using the hashtag #movingthefuture and a quick search on tweet deck showed that they did, in large numbers. Though early on they seemed dismayed that the news out of Toronto was beating them in the trend analysis.

In view of the amount of information that can already be found from those two sources, I am loth to post my own rather scrappy notes. There are now 2 storifies created by MLR and Translink. For one thing, while the meeting was very well organized and run – free, it had generous catering and was well attended, and seems likely to have been covered by the main stream media – it lacked a fairly obvious facility. I can only assume that the conference centre wanted to be be paid far too much for access to their wifi. So what did emerge would have been from those who had smart phones and similar devices with data plans. Certainly looking through the first few hundred tweets it seemed to start with enthusiasm but that wanes as the critics start to point out some of the flaws in the presentations. For instance the Chief Economist for the Business Council of BC seemed to be an enthusiast for LNG plants, and saw them not only as a financial bonanza for BC but also a way to reduce the impact of burning coal in other places – presumably China. More than one tweeter disputes that analysis. [And even LNG supporters note that the expansion of BC LNG is no slam dunk.]

There is now a pretty good summary at the Vancouver Observer

Gord Price was there. He did raise the question of who thinks the referendum will pass (note that is not the same as ‘should it pass’) and more hands went up for no rather than yes. But on the other hand, certainly from the platform, it seemed that there is consensus that we need transit expansion. Indeed, the problem is not that we cannot agree on what to do – Transport 2040 is the approved plan – but how to do it. The New Car Dealers of BC were one of the sponsors, and so got a moment on the platform. There were introductions of the people who were going to do the introductions of the speakers! By the way sponsors like the car dealers, BNSF and NAIOP got to sit at their own exclusive tables. Which seems to me to be somewhat contrary to the spirit of the thing. Shouldn’t there have been more opportunity to talk amongst ourselves and meet people with different viewpoints?

There are some quotes from my notes I feel like sharing

“I don’t think there is a risk of over investment [in transit]” Ken Peacock, Chief Economist BCBC

“The referendum is gotcha style politics” Gavin McGarigle Area Director BC Unifor

An anonymous commenter from the floor stated that environmentalists – who have been very generously funded from the United States – have got ahead of business on the issue of pipelines and there is therefore a need for business to respond. Frankly I have no idea where this idea comes from, and I have yet to meet an environmentalist who was even remotely wealthy – with the exception of Ducks Unlimited.

Stephen Toop (President and Vice Chancellor of UBC) noted that there is consenus on what needs to be done but “constant churn on how to get there”. The gap is not in the vision but the implementation.

Several people repeated the same observation: density has not increased at many Vancouver SkyTrain stations mainly due to opposition from the neighbourhood organizations. Michael Goldberg (Dean Emeritus, Suader School of Business) was perhaps the most eloquent. Broadway and Commercial is the oat accessible point in Western Canada but all it has is a Safeway and a large car park with some low level retail. It ought to be a node of high density development. (And so should 29th Avenue and Nanaimo stations.) There was perhaps rather too much on how Hong Kong uses real estate development to pay for transit. And how much better that city is than Bangkok.

“When you don’t listen, we call that leadership”

There was also talk of the need for resiliency which resides in redundant systems: in evidence I would cite the recent dislocations caused by one overpass strike in Delta (Highway 99 at Highway 10) or the SkyTrain power rail dislodged near Main Street this week.

The cost of real estate and the higher cost of living on Metro Vancouver was cited several times as a drag on the recruitment of desired professionals from other regions.  Andrew Ramlo observed that we actually spend less on travel per capita than other major Canadian cities where sprawl is a bigger problem (Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto). By the way there is much more from Ramlo on

I have to say that my overwhelming feeling is that this is not a new conversation at all. It is the same conversation I have heard ever since I got here – and actually very similar to conversations in Toronto and London.  Maybe, as Eric Doherty observed, we need to study more carefully what they have done in Zurich.

Afterthought: I really ought to have mentioned the keynote by Gil Penalosa. Many of his presentations are already available on line – and his message and style are very effective. If you have not seen him in acton click on this link for his videos

Written by Stephen Rees

October 31, 2013 at 7:42 pm