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

Archive for August 2017

The need for more food

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I am going to venture out of my normal sphere and probably bring down a ton of criticism on my head. But even so I am going to recommend an article from National; Geographic that looks at how much more productive the Dutch have made their agriculture. And to its credit the focus of the article is on sustainability.

One of the reasons that I am concerned enough to court this criticism is that in this region we do not seem to have done enough to protect the Agricultural Land Reserve – especially from the depredations of the Port (which has been covered extensively here). But we also seem to suffer from an urban purblindness. Agriculture is a business that grows food. It is not necessarily one that preserves our preferred picture of the countryside, which seems to be driven by a romantic association with the picturesque countryside of our preferred artists – Gainsborough comes to mind but that’s because I’m English. Even in an era which has taken to mechanisation of many tasks  – just to make up for the lack of willingness of local people to engage in backbreaking repetitive tasks, and the unwillingness to allow for enough people who would do that work across our borders. We would still like our food sources to be local – but not based on greenhouses.


One of the earliest lessons I learned as Chair of the then BC Energy Aware Committee (now the Community Energy Association) was that people in Delta – residents and the people they elected – HATE greenhouses. They somehow retain the illusion that the food producing business is going to be green fields and peasants sleeping under hay stacks.


In fact one careful bit of scheduling meant that I presented an award to Delta council for allowing a greenhouse to utilise collected methane from the Vancouver landfill to provide both energy and CO2 for its operations on the same evening that they were considering its expansion.

The people who now live in Delta do so because it is cheaper than Vancouver and there is a freeway that connect them to employment centres there and in Burnaby, New West and Annacis Island. Transit has never been good enough in Delta, even in the denser developed across the boundary to Surrey. And the distances between its centres make for some long trips. But they also like the landscape benefits of the Green Zone – and would like not have a greenhouse with its lights shining all night on their doorsteps. The Dutch appear to be a bit more realistic – but I am pretty sure they have people breathing down the necks of the chicken and milk producers illustrated in the story.

There is also an interesting take on the European attitude to GMOs.

BC is a huge province, but very little of it is capable of producing food. The bits that are good for food production have been vanishing under development. Only five per cent of B.C. is in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). It was supposed to stop that development but it has been under constant attack – mostly from the real estate / development people who argue that it increases house prices. But also from government and its arms length agencies who have been encroaching on it for dams (Site C being the worst but not the only offender) highway expansions, port expansion, industrial development and in Delta a huge mall and housing development as part of the deal with the Tsawwassen First Nation. The places we get food from now – mostly California – are going to be unable to provide what we need as they have already depleted their water table. The aquifers are not getting refreshed and the rivers are drying up, and the climate is getting hotter. That means we need to be pursuing a much more aggressive food policy which includes protecting the little productive land we have left and making it much more productive in the process – even if that does cut down its landscape value.

POSTSCRIPT: I just did a quick search on the tags ALR and “agricultural land reserve” because – as usual – once I have written something I think I must have done the same thing before. Yup. I’m not boring you, am I?

Written by Stephen Rees

August 31, 2017 at 4:30 pm

Weekly Photo Challenge: Structure

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The Challenge this week claims that “we don’t typically notice the details of the world around us. The structure of living things…”

We walk on the beach quite often – and one of the things that caught my eye was the intricate pattern of the grain in an old tree that had washed up – probably some time ago. The waves and the weather had long ago washed away the soil around the root ball and internal woodgrain of the bole had been exposed producing a view of these patternsIMG_1816IMG_1819IMG_1820

Written by Stephen Rees

August 30, 2017 at 10:04 am

Should the rich be taxed more? A new paper shows unequivocally yes

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This Guardian post from Sunday covers the ground that can’t be in a ten minute radio interview. The toll removal commitment made by the NDP was not accompanied by any discussion of how the required funds would be found. The money raised by bridge tolls will now come from the provincial budget – stayed tuned for that announcement.

The problem revealed by the toll removal is that we still have not dealt effectively with how to pay for Translink. And the probability that the Mayors’ preferred alternative – road user pricing – is now hostage to the “Toll Free BC” slogan.

But there are people who have done very well indeed from the 16 years of BC Liberals. Not the general population, of course, just the privileged. The people who already had plenty have got much more. The inequity of the policies pursued by right wing governments, and vacuity of the “policy” framework based on falsehoods such as “trickle down theory” and ” the rich are job creators”, has been widely exposed but oddly not generally accepted. The fact that people still vote for these parties against their own interests has also been widely noted.

Is it actually likely that Mr Horgan will open the can of worms that is Translink funding? Will he really bring in more progressive taxation on the super rich? Or will he decided that the over heated property market in Vancouver allows him to rake in more from property tax which is always the favourite target for provincial politicians, as that is the one source of revenue that they don’t get the blame for?

While the article I am citing above does not mention Canada or BC the general principles do apply – which I why I am linking to it. Because I think you need to read that rather than whatever bright idea someone like me could come up with. Well researched, properly cited and evidence based policy recommendations – backed by hard data – is worth far more than just opinion.

If you would like to listen to me pontificating on Roundhouse Radio 98.3FM on this subject that is now online. Just make sure if you want to point other people to that link through social media you use  @Roundhouse983 and @mornings on twitter and Instagram and ‘Roundhouse Radio’ on Facebook.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 29, 2017 at 10:09 am

Arbutus Greenway Newsletter

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The City of Vancouver sends me this in my email. I think my readership will be interested in it and I am pretty sure that the City will be pleased if it reaches a wider audience. Though I would dearly love to be an Arbutus Champion I am going to be in the Panama Canal then so I hope some of you will be there to take my place.

Arbutus Greenway Design Jam – We Need Arbutus Champions to Help Us Design the Future Arbutus Greenway!

Are you passionate about public spaces? Do you want to make friends over a fun and inspiring weekend? Would you love to immerse yourself in all things Arbutus Greenway? Apply to become an Arbutus Champion!

During the Arbutus Greenway Design Jam, Arbutus Champions will participate in a collaborative workshop to help develop draft designs for the future Arbutus Greenway.

There is no experience required to be an Arbutus Champion, but applicants must be available for all four days of the Design Jam, and need to have a passion for the Arbutus Greenway and public space.

Here’s the plan:

  • Oct 20, 5pm – 9pm: Set the Stage and Introductions
  • Oct 27, 5pm – 9pm: Deep Dive into the Arbutus Greenway
  • Oct 28, 9am – 5pm: Deeper Dive and Start to Bring it all Together
  • Oct 29, 9am – 5pm: Bring it all Together

Applications will be accepted until September 22, so don’t wait!

Come Say Hi!

Arbutus Greenway staff will be out and about on the temporary path, around the city, and at community events throughout the summer.

We’ll be at Pop-Ups throughout the City and this upcoming event:

  • Ping Pong on the Greenway at West 16th (August 31, 5-8 pm)

Make sure to check our website and social media for more events and Arbutus Greetings Pop-Ups.

“Scene” on the Greenway

Thousands of visitors are walking, cycling, skateboarding, rollerblading, and learning to cycle along the Arbutus Greenway each day! Here are posts from some of them:

Use the hashtag #ArbutusGreenway for a chance to be highlighted in our newsletter!

Community Corner: Thingery!

According to Chris Diplock, the project founder, a Thingery is a “community owned lending library of things in a modified shipping container. The containers are self-service, so members can check things in and out at their convenience. A Thingery’s inventory is community sourced; meaning that what goes into the container depends on what neighbours donate to it and what they collectively purchase. Potential inventory types include: recreation equipment, kids toys, woodworking tools, event & entertainment equipment, household appliances and musical instruments.”

This fall several Thingeries are being installed in neighbourhoods throughout the City. Learn more about The Thingery at

Temporary Path Construction Update 

The Arbutus Greenway is a future, north-south transportation corridor that, once completed, will connect False Creek to the Fraser River. We recently began construction of new crossings at West Broadway and West 12th Avenue. These new crossings will make the greenway much safer and easier to use in this area. They will be available for use in approximately 8 weeks.

Looking forward, we will make it easier and safer to cross South West Marine Drive from the Arbutus Greenway by introducing a new crossing at this intersection. We are working on this design now, and we hope to deliver this improvement in the coming months.

About the Arbutus Greenway Project

The Arbutus Greenway is a future, north-south transportation corridor that, once completed, will connect False Creek to the Fraser River. We’re in the initial stages of planning and consultation. Our goal is to start constructing sections of the greenway by late 2019. To learn more about the Arbutus Greenway, visit


To join our email list, click here



Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2017 at 5:23 pm

Posted in Transportation

Place Without Cars

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24th August 2017

This picture was submitted to a Flickr group I created called Places Without Cars. It is without doubt the picture that I have been most pleased to see in the submissions. Fortunately the user (who goes by the sobriquet “Cheesyfeet” but still requires attribution) has a Creative Commons license on this picture.

He says:

“Bank Junction, right in the middle of the City of London.

This is on my long cycle home and you’ll notice no cars. Bank Junction is buses and cycles only, mon-fri, 7am to 7pm and it’s ace!”

He also uses Strava and provides a link which identifies him and the route he uses. Like me he is an Essex lad!

This picture was taken by Dave A Flett in the 1970’s in roughly the same spot – actually the street to the left in the original picture

London in the 1970's

(I am just posting a link, not taking a copy of the image)

City of London

Of this image the poster, Leonard Bentley, says

An early 1920s scene at the Bank in the City of London, a seemingly bemused elderly lady in a place she should not have been. The Bank junction is still one of the busiest in central London, traffic comes at you from all directions.

The Royal Exchange, City of London

By Paul Murray in 2014

Heart of the City of London

By Swire Chin in 2007

Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 2.58.51 PM From The Telegraph in the 1950s – and how I remember it.

By the way in searching for these images I have learned that the closure is an 18 month experiment. I hope it is made permanent!

Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 3.07.56 PM

Threadneedle Street – in front of the Bank of England – is not labeled on this screencap from Google maps. The top picture was taken from in front of Mansion House looking east.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2017 at 3:12 pm

Tolls to be eliminated on Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges

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CBC News image

This was, of course, a major plank for the NDP election campaign. I am referring to the CBC story, but it will be all over mainstream media.

“These tolls are unfair to people who live in the Lower Mainland and to people who live in particular areas of British Columbia. If you live in Kelowna, you don’t pay tolls to cross a bridge,” Horgan said. “You shouldn’t have to pay tolls because of where you live.”

Which is true, and fair enough as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough.

The problem is based in the policies of the previous government, which held that tolls were acceptable as long as there was a free alternative. But they had also secured votes in the interior by cancelling the tolls on the Coquihalla. Because the alternative was much slower than the toll road. There is also the Vancouver precedent of the Lions’ Gate Bridge, which was built by developers and had a toll until it was taken over by the province.

But the other problem was the Public Private Partnership model used by the BC Liberals, which I have lamented here more than once. It deliberately kept the revenue risk in the public sector. Taxpayers were on the hook if traffic did not reach expectations – which was exactly the case with both the Port Mann and the Golden Ears. In the case of the Port Mann the congestion on the aging, overdue for replacement, Patullo Bridge – which the province had downloaded to the GVTA along with the Knight Street and Canoe Pass bridges. They were also long overdue for strengthening – the former due to the seismic risk, the latter to satisfy some potato distributor who thought Westham Island was a good place for a distribution centre. In the case of the Golden Ears, money that Translink was collecting that ought to have gone to improving transit service was diverted to the pockets of the private sector partners in the P3.

The reason that the forecasts were so far out of whack is also something I have covered here. When market research surveys were done people were asked if they were willing to pay tolls – having first been told that they would save time by using the new bridges. Of course respondents would say yes to a question framed that way: any other response would sound stupid. But the reality is what people do when faced with a toll is that they seem to be more than willing to put up with the delay if they can keep the money for other needs. Also, not stupid at all.

So yes tolls are unpopular but also the way the BC Liberals used tolls was exceptionally unfair. Money going to investors in the Golden Ears should have been used to retain the bus pass for the low income transit users, and to increase both HandyDART and bus service in lower density parts of the region.

The problem we now face is that picture at the top I have taken from the CBC. The truth podium will now be trotted out as soon as Horgan – or someone from Translink – dares mention road user pricing, which is not really the same thing as a bridge toll with a toll free alternative. Congestion pricing imposes a fee for using roads when so many people want to drive that no-one gets very far, very fast. The alternatives are walking,  cycling and transit – which are either free or low cost, but also much more efficient users of road space than the typical single occupant vehicle.


And it is pricing that existing road space, which is so valuable at peak periods, to achieve greater efficiency that policy is aimed at, not lining the pockets of capitalist profiteers. The fact that the funds then get used to build exclusive, separated bus and bike lanes, better sidewalks and public spaces as well as increasing transit service is a happy but very necessary outcome. Road pricing cuts down the attraction of driving but increases overall mobility by far more than the lost car trips. Less air pollution, noise, loss of lives and injuries are all bonuses!

One of the things that this story also illustrates nicely is that there is no GreenNDP coalition. The two partners have a very different approach.

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver immediately slammed the NDP government for the move.

“It’s unfortunate that the government has decided to proceed with this reckless policy,” Weaver said in a press release.

“There is no question that the affordability crisis facing so many British Columbians is a significant concern. However, this policy is high cost and low impact.”

He contended the province would get a higher return on investment for programs targeting things like education, student housing and child care.

“Moreover, making such a massive addition to our debt risks raising interest on all debt, which ultimately prevents government from being able to invest more in important social programs,” Weaver said.

In contrast, Horgan insisted the loss of toll revenue shouldn’t affect the province’s borrowing costs.

But Weaver added that tolls can help encourage drivers to find other modes of transportation, which helps to reduce congestion and pollution.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore echoed those concerns in a tweet Friday morning, asking if eliminating tolls could “shift transit users back to their cars and thus increase commute times.”

But the story then tries to point out that “road pricing is still on the table”. But I am not so sure. Maybe now that the “need” for a referendum has been removed, perhaps the knee jerk response of the electorate to catch phrases, sound bites and dog whistles will not matter as much as it did last time. But I think the appeal of “Toll Free BC” will have much more resonance than reuse of the congestion gif – even on many blogs.

And we are still paying MSP

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2017 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Transportation

Gary Artists Go From Photographing Abandoned Buildings to Saving Them

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I was reading this article by Nina Feldman in Next City. It is about a group that is restoring the abandoned station in Gary Indiana.

It reminded me of the Pennsylvania station in Baltimore, which has not so much been restored, or preserved, as simply remains much in its original condition. We had arrived from Washington DC on the MARC train and proceeded to the cruise ship terminal by taxi. I had thought I had taken more pictures – but my memory played me false.


Baltimore Penn Station

Penn Station Baltimore

I wish now that I had taken more time to take more pictures. But I suppose that the taxi was waiting.

I think it is also worth taking a moment more to read this bit of the Next City article

Historic preservation draws critics from both sides of the aisle. Republican lawmakers in the Midwest criticize historic districts for infringing on homeowners’ rights. Affordable housing advocates argue that historic designations further wealth inequality by preventing affordable housing from being developed in high-opportunity neighborhoods. Redevelopment of historical landmarks in areas where property values are creeping up can push neighborhoods over the tipping point — at once increasing the viability and economic activity in the area, while often also displacing low-income residents. Preservationists have responded with data that show how saving old buildings in neighborhoods has helped with diversity, affordability and opportunity.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2017 at 11:10 am

Posted in Transportation

Weekly Photo Challenge “Corner”

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This week’s challenge has produced far more candidates for inclusion than some of the earlier ones. I just opened a new browser and did a search of my flickr stream – and these are some of the better ones. To learn more about each location just click on the image to be taken to the flickr page which has a description and a map tag.

Wow Westminster detail

Restored corner building

Peaking over the wall

Typical Parking at Corners


Ivy covered corner

Its taken some knocks

Welded corner

Vancouver Mural Festival

Corner Gas

Corner Store: Victoria at Charles

Written by Stephen Rees

August 23, 2017 at 10:22 am

Posted in photography

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“TransLink expands Metro Vancouver bus service by 105,000 service hours”

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The headline comes from a Vancouver Sun article. There is not much in the way of context – other than two previous announcements of smaller increases earlier this year and a reference to the Mayor’s plan for expansion.

So I went to the Translink web site and dug out the 2016 Transit Service Performance Review which informed me that last year Translink delivered 3,897,000 bus service hours, which was a 1% increase on 2015 – which is also the compound annual growth rate for the last five years.

Which means that was has been announced is a 0.02% increase in bus service, if we assume that all these quoted figures are annualised.  And, of course in 2017, it is less than that since these new service hours will only be delivered in the last quarter of the year.

So good, that we are getting more bus service in this region. But the rate of population growth is “6.5 per cent since the last census in 2011” (also a Vancouver Sun report, but of census data). So we are only just keeping pace with the increase in the number of people, let alone making a bigger impact on transportation trip making (“mode share” in planning jargon).

So one cheer for Translink and raspberries to Postmedia for simply printing a press release without any analysis.

We must commit to a much faster increase in transit use – which means more service hours for buses, more transit services of all kinds and much more priority for buses operating in traffic – which is most of them, most of the time. Just to give you some idea of what the plan needs to look like, take a gander at this new expansion map for Sound Transit.

Translink now has the details of the September sheet change online

Written by Stephen Rees

August 22, 2017 at 1:38 pm

Posted in transit, Transportation

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BC Natural Gas Revenues

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Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 10.52.29 AM

The graph comes from a tweet by Eric Neilson.

When you listen to Carole James present her interim budget in the fall this picture is what you need to bear in mind.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 22, 2017 at 10:59 am