Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for March 2023

An offer I won’t be taking up

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In my inbox this morning is the following offer


what can be done to reduce the number of train derailments, improve safety, and reduce risk to the communities and environment where trains operate? The solution is likely in a combination of AI, machine learning, better data management, and more efficient systems and processes.”

I have no doubt at all that this will be the preferred solution – or would be if the railways actually cared. But of course they won’t because the government won’t force them to. The offer comes from the US in the wake of the recent spate of derailments there, but the railways cross the border, and are just the same both sides. And the problem isn’t the lack of technology or data management, it is capitalism. The reason that safety is not getting the attention it deserves is the decision makers are looking only at the bottom line and the quarterly earnings statements. Like nearly every other company the emphasis is always on cutting costs, improving productivity and giving the shareholders a reason for holding their stocks or buying more of them. In fact when these companies get more money – as they did in large measure during the last three years as part of governments trying to cope with the pandemic – they buy back their shares.

The regulators, of course, are all hopelessly compromised. They are the servants of those they are supposed to be regulating. And since the politicians are nearly all right thinking conservatives of slightly different shades, not much action will be seen in legislation or resources to improve oversight. And the railway industry is not being treated any differently to any other regulated industry.

At one time it was likely that a catastrophe would cause the creation of some response that would try to change present practices. Now any catastrophe will simply be a short term blip in the news cycle, and then everything will go back to normal after the usual “thoughts and prayers” period of total inaction. The shares might even wobble a bit, as shareholders are a flighty bunch on the whole. But the returns will remain attractive and the venture capitalists will continue their hypocrisy and unconcern about anything other than profit maximisation. Because that is how the system has been shaped. And we continue to vote for the people who get paid from taxes – and whose re-election depends mostly on the amount of money they can raise.


About half an hour after I posted this, a news report from the New York Times appeared on my Mastodon screen

New York Times

Norfolk Southern put profits over safety, the Justice Department alleged Thursday in a lawsuit that seeks to force the company to pay cleanup costs and penalties under the Clean Water Act after the catastrophic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 31, 2023 at 10:25 am

Posted in Transportation

TransLink commits to first real estate development project

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Most of this post will be composed of a TransLink press release. No doubt the mainstream media will be all over this. I have of course been an interested observer of both the development of the Broadway Subway and the Arbutus Greenway. I was going to use the map provided by Translink but I think the Google Map showing current uses is more appropriate

“TransLink and PCI own adjacent plots of land on the southeast corner of Arbutus and Broadway and have entered an equal development partnership. ” Which would be the current locations of Fletchers Fabricare Dry Cleaners and Rummage Community Thrift store.

The bus loop and station building will be on the north east corner of Broadway and Arbutus

Arbutus Station Construction
The status of the site on May 8 2022: Fletcher’s totem is at the top left of my picture.

TransLink and PCI Developments (PCI) are announcing a new partnership to build a proposed mixed-used development near the future Arbutus SkyTrain Station, on West Broadway and Arbutus.

Located next to the future terminus of the Broadway Subway, an incoming bus loop, and the Arbutus Greenway mixed-use walking and cycling path – this is the first development under TransLink’s Real Estate Development Program. This transit-oriented development will improve people’s access to sustainable transportation options, generate new long-term funding for transit services, and provide much-needed housing options.

“This partnership will help us build a new transit-oriented community, where people can more easily take transit, walk, or cycle,” says TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn. “This program will generate much-needed long-term revenue to expand and improve vital transit services, while aligning with local and provincial government goals to increase housing supply.”

TransLink and PCI own adjacent plots of land on the southeast corner of Arbutus and Broadway and have entered an equal development partnership. The proposed development would include:

  • 30 storeys of mixed-use residential and commercial space
  • Street-level retail and over 200 residential rental units, 20 per cent of which will be rented at below market rates and secured for moderate-income households
  • Community space that will serve as the future home of the Ohel Ya’akov Community Kollel, a Jewish cultural, education, and neighbourhood centre

“We are honoured to be partnering with TransLink on this significant transit-oriented, mixed-use development,” says PCI Developments President Tim Grant. “We are similarly excited about partnering with The Kollel in delivering their new community and worship premises – all in conjunction with desperately needed market and below-market rental housing in a sustainable development adjacent to Arbutus Station and the Arbutus Greenway.”

As Metro Vancouver’s population continues to grow and demands on transportation and housing increase, people are increasingly looking toward transit-oriented communities to live and work in. This transit-oriented development will be in-line with the City of Vancouver’s Broadway Plan while helping to achieve targets outlined in Transport 2050 and Metro 2050.

Further details of the project are still being finalized and will be shared with the public later this spring through a TransLink and PCI-led public engagement process, including a community open house. Following this initial public engagement phase, a formal rezoning application will be submitted to the City of Vancouver.

More Information
TransLink Real Estate Development Webpage
TransLink Real Estate Development Booklet

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2023 at 11:01 am

Book review: Anna Olson’s Baking Wisdom

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I was very pleased to get the message that my request to look at this book was granted. The description provided is entirely adequate and tells you everything you need to know about the book. What you get however is the PDF, which is impressive, but a bit awkward to negotiate, so that you end up moving around each page a you try to read sections of the text. It certainly whets my appetite and I would indeed like to add this volume to my collection. I frankly doubt that i would actually make many of these confections since I already have issues with my waist line - and type 2 diabetes. Sugar, it seems, it not something that can readily be substituted. 

What I actually bake most often these days is bread, known - very inaccurately - as "sourdough". None of these recipes use that technique - although one does refer to a "starter" it also calls for instant dried yeast. The popularity of sourdough rocketed when commercial yeasts became unavailable at the start of the pandemic. I am pretty sure that bread raised this way can be adapted to pizzas and other baking - but that is missing here.

Not only that but without the ease of use offered by a printed book I doubt that if someone doesn't make me a present of it I will probably find some other way.  It is well written, beautifully presented and well worth the asking price.  And, as long as you have a routine that burns off surplus calories, I am sure you will enjoy using it!

Published by Penguin Random House Canada March 2023 $50

Written by Stephen Rees

March 16, 2023 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Transportation

Broadway Subway Project will reduce transit time in British Columbia’s second largest business hub to only 11 minutes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions

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Photo provided by Sarens

I have this morning received a Press Release from a Belgian crane company that helped install the tunnel boring machines for the Broadway Subway in Vancouver. The reason I have decided to post on this bog about it is that it makes some quite remarkable assertions about the benefits of this project. My commentary appears after their quoted text below. Not all of the Press Release is included here.

This new project, scheduled to open in 2026, will cover a 5.7 km extension of the Millennium line between VCC-Clark Station and Broadway and Arbutus, and will create more than 130,000 direct and indirect construction jobs.

Sarens had a direct participation in this project, by contributing with its technical team and specialized machinery to the assembly of the tunnel boring machines (TBM) used for the construction of the subway section of the line.

This new line will represent an important environmental advance by exponentially reducing road traffic in the area, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 9,800 tons of CO2 per year by 2030.

“Construction work on the new Broadway Subway Project is already underway on the tunneling phase prior to completing the six underground stations along its 5.7 km route. Once inaugurated, this line, which serves as an extension of the Millennium Line, will reduce the travel time between VCC-Clark and Arbutus to just 11 minutes, saving the average transit commuter almost 30 minutes a day.

“This new subway line will consist of a subway section of approximately 5 km, while the remaining 700 meters will be built above ground to connect to VCC-Clark Station. Sarens, world leader in heavy lifting, engineered transport and crane rental, has participated at the request of Broadway Subway Project Corporation, an Acciona-Ghella joint venture, in the assembly of the tunnel boring machines (TBM) used for the construction of the subway section.

“For this particular job, Sarens used one of its Liebherr LR 1400-2 cranes in SDB configuration. To facilitate the transfer of the TBM parts into the tunnel portal, the team used a 70 m main boom with a 135-ton counterweight and a 170-ton Superlift counterweight. In addition, support cranes such as the LTM 1095 or the Terex Explorer 5800 were used.

“As the operation is within the City of Vancouver, the crane operators had to deal with a heavily congested site and tight lifting schedules. In addition, due to the limited visibility available for the installation maneuver of the various parts of the TBM, the technical team had to work under close coordination established by radio.

“Broadway Subway Project is a project driven by the province of British Columbia, which will be operated by TransLink once it is commissioned in 2026. It will cover a total distance of 5.7 km between VCC-Clark and Arbutus, a corridor recognized as the second most important business center in British Columbia.

“This new subway line is expected to generate more than 130,000 direct and indirect jobs. In addition, thanks to the project’s adherence to the Community Benefits Agreement, a significant portion of these positions will employ women, indigenous people and traditionally underrepresented sectors, which will benefit the community economically and create a highly skilled technical workforce base.”

The claim that this project will “exponentially” reduce road traffic is not supported by any evidence, nor is it consistent with the plan of building a subway. The whole idea of burying the line is to protect the current capacity for road traffic. There are no plans to reduce the amount of road space dedicated to moving and parking vehicles. If there were, the preferred alternative would have been light rail running on the surface. But the whole purpose of SkyTrain has always been to keep out of the way of the cars. The only difference is while the rest of the region’s rapid transit system is on elevated guideways this one is all in tunnel; just like most of the Canada Line in Vancouver.

The only way to reduce traffic is to either reduce the amount of road space dedicated to moving vehicles – and that includes parking spaces too – or start charging a fee for using the road. Neither of those are popular with Vancouver voters – especially those who like driving large cars and trucks, mostly with just the driver most of the time. Just look at the fuss made when one exclusive bike lane was put in Stanley Park.

Traffic expands and contracts to fill the space available. Roads can carry many more people when they use sustainable transportation modes – buses, bikes and walking. If road users insist on bringing their SUVs for every trip, congestion is inevitable but tends to adapt over time. Gridlock, when it does occur, is due to rare events and people using their cars and trucks to block intersections. This blog has made these statements many times over the years and no-one has ever managed to solve traffic congestion by building more road space. Simple geometry means modes that carry more people per hour than SOVs, and given priority in their own lanes will greatly increase the utility and attractiveness of streets. People also like spaces where they can sit down and watch the passing scene. As long as they are not deafened by engines and tire noise and choked with exhaust fumes. Broadway in New York City being a great example. Times Square now sees far more activity than it ever did when filled with cars.

Most of the people who will use this new stretch of subway currently use transit. The 99 B-Line being one of the busiest bus routes. Since the subway line will only get as far as Arbutus Street many will continue westwards on what will be a shorter B-Line route. It could get Rapid Bus treatment, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that.

I expect that the Broadway subway will attract new transit users, but even if there are a lot of people who stop driving and start riding transit all the time, don’t expect that to translate to fewer cars on the street absent a user fee or a reduction in road width dedicated to cars and trucks. When Toronto decided to replace the streetcars on Yonge Street with a subway, traffic in downtown increased – since there were no longer streetcars holding up the cars while people got on and off them.

When the Broadway subway opens do not expect any reduction in people driving. The people who do switch modes will quickly be replaced by others hoping for a quicker drive along Broadway with fewer buses competing for space. Within a very short period of time any available road will be occupied. Guaranteed.

A nice new B-Line bendy bus (hybrid diesel electric) on its way from UBC. Once the subway opens this service will terminate at Arbutus Street Station.

No decision on the extension of the Broadway Subway to UBC has yet been announced.

My photo CC license for non-commercial use

This post was revised on March 13, 2023 to correct the country of the crane company.


Actually City staff are making a real dog’s breakfast about how to utilise road space on Broadway after the current construction phase is over and trains start running.

Anthony Floyd posted on Mastodon

“City of Vancouver staff have recommended against Active Mobility lanes on a post-subway-construction Broadway, despite overwhelming public support and direction from council last year.”

The recent staff report can be found at

Written by Stephen Rees

March 10, 2023 at 10:36 am

Legal action on the horizon as Canadian banks fail to match their climate conduct to their commitments

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Press Release from Greenpeace

Toronto, March 2, 2023

Canadian banks may increase the risk of facing legal action because their weak climate action contradicts their vocal climate claims, a new report from Greenpeace Canada finds. The report, So Sue Me, outlines how the failures of banks globally to meet their promises is spurring litigation from governments and civil society, and finds Canadian banks likely to encounter the same repercussions as they continue lauding their climate goals while financing the fossil fuel industry. 

“Banks around the world are being taken to task legally for failing to honour their promises towards tackling the climate crisis,” said Priyanka Vittal, legal counsel for Greenpeace Canada’s new investigation team. “Canada’s Big Banks should take heed if they continue down their road of climate hypocrisy.”

The report spotlights the discrepancy between the climate pledges and policies of two major Canadian banks – RBC and Scotiabank – over the past six years as a symptom of a broader trend in the financial sector. Canada’s Big Five Banks (RBC, Scotiabank, TD, BMO, and CIBC) provided more than $100 billion USD towards the fossil fuel industry in 2016 and more than $130 billion USD in 2021.

Juxtaposed against numerous public statements and commitments towards combating climate change, this financing raises the question of greenwashing, Greenpeace Canada’s report finds. 

Abroad, the numerous examples coming from the USEU and UK show regulatory bodies are updating and enforcing consumer protection laws and advertising standards in response to industries engaging in false or misleading advertising – in this case regarding the climate. 

In Canada, the Competition Bureau provides avenues to legally challenge greenwashing practices. 

“Corporations like Volkswagen/Audi and Keurig have been held accountable under competition law for greenwashing, but this process can take years while the damage has already been done,” Vittal said. “Instead of risking being the next defendant in a greenwashing complaint, Canada’s banks should be the biggest players in our transition off of fossil fuels and our fight against climate change. They certainly have the ability.”

The full report is available here.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 2, 2023 at 10:13 am

Posted in Environment

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