Stephen Rees's blog

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

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Mea Culpa

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I have been doing something I shouldn’t have, feel bad about it and will now stop.

I recently read Jordan Bateman’s book about how he – almost singlehandedly – defeated the transit referendum. You cannot get it from the library or indeed most bookshops except as a print on demand. Amazon has it as an ebook for Kindle, but I am not recommending it. His technique was to stick to two simple statements and two figures. And, the key point, is that it did not matter that they were not true.

We have, of course, now become used to the idea of a post factual political landscape since both Brexit and Trump followed a similar strategy. And even though it might be effective it doesn’t make it right. The ends do not justify the means.

I have wanted to defeat the Kinder Morgan Transmountain Pipeline expansion proposal. Mostly because the expansion of the Alberta tar sands defeats Canada’s commitment  to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change. But I have noted that most people here do not  pay much attention to that. Mostly it is – as you would expect – concerns about spills. Or the noise disturbing the orcas.  Local environmental impacts score more immediately with people than distant more widespread issues. So I have been writing – and saying – “Dilbit Sinks”. Good pithy slogan. But unfortunately, if you read any of the material cited in the previous blog posts, not exactly the whole story. In fact we have had a dilbit spill from the existing KM line into the Burnaby terminal and it did get into the Burrard Inlet, and the recovery rate was very good. Which is much better news than the ongoing problems from another dilbit spill into the Kalamazoo River – which is not at all like the Salish Sea. The problem is that, as usual, the behaviour of dilbit when spilled is largely a matter of conjecture based on modelling and laboratory type simulations. So the data is both incomplete and inconsistent – a wonderfully complex and nuanced message no-one is actually going to be bothered to read about until they have to. We do know that the recent oil spills that got so much attention here – the Marathassa  and the Nathan E Stewart – are not actually a very good guide to what might happen here with dilbit since they involved Bunker C and diesel respectively. And both those products behave differently in seawater to dilbit. But they did have an impact on the Government of Canada, and the commitments to improving spill response.

Since no-one is going to spill dilbit into the sea in bad weather deliberately, just to see what happens, we will not know until disaster actually strikes. Now, if we actually had a government in Ottawa really committed to data driven policy making the precautionary principle would apply, and the pipeline would not have been approved. And it is still not too late to defeat it. Indeed we must continue the fight against it. But important though that fight is, I cannot in all conscience employ the tactics of Donald Trump, Jordan Bateman or Nigel Farage. Indeed I reserve the right to lambaste them for their lack of integrity – and cannot do that if I am guilty of the same sin of commission.

UPDATE Max Fawcett in the National Observer

But jamming up a single pipeline does nothing to achieve CO2 reduction. The concerns that I think are fair are the ones around, you know, certainly the whale population in the … the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the spill concern.

I think the spill concern is being overstated. The risks are pretty insignificant. But if it happens, it’s a disaster, no question.

And now DeSmogBlog weighs in: Review of 9,000 Studies Finds We Know Squat About Bitumen Spills in Ocean Environments

Written by Stephen Rees

December 8, 2016 at 12:39 pm

Posted in blogging, Environment

Tagged with

New Blog Domain

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There was an opportunity recently to secure the newly released top level .blog address. Yes, this did cost money, but more than any other motive, I wanted to secure my name as I am only one of several bloggers with the same name. The older, longer URL still works, of course, but I will be printing a new set of business cards with the shorter, more easy to use one.

The process was pretty easy but there were some odd moments. As soon as I got the email from WordPress that told me I could reserve the name I did so. And then seemed to get reminders for exactly the same name several times over the next few weeks. And even when I was told that no-one else had bid on the name and it was now mine, I did not get the email telling me how – and when – to set it up. I started that process this week and found I also have to pay an annual fee to use it. Having done that I got a set of instructions telling me to reset DNS settings on the server. Which is, of course, WordPress. Oddly enough even though there was a list of instructions for all the other hosting services, there wasn’t any link to WordPress. So an email had to be sent to the “happiness engineers”. But I still have to refresh connections with Facebook and Google+.

What I have also noticed this week is the complications that seem to have set in with VanCity, which has installed new software – which required them to go off line for a few days – and still doesn’t seem to be working very well. I thought computers were supposed to make things easier!

Written by Stephen Rees

December 2, 2016 at 9:59 am

Posted in blogging

2014 in review

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The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 50,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 19 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 29, 2014 at 8:44 pm

Posted in blogging

Blogs as a tool for political change

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“I think a lot of times, elected officials are afraid of bloggers. A blogger combines an elected official’s two most scariest things which is a journalist and an engaged citizen.”

If only that were true!

I somehow doubt that Streetsblog was actually responsible for getting Times Square closed to traffic. But possibly it helped give Janette Sadik-Kahn some support for what was actually quite a controversial decision. It also helped that its method of implementation was readily reversible if it had not worked.


“The Other Side of the Tracks” is a daily email summary of transit and related news:  links to news stories and blog posts about transit and TOD from around the country are collected daily by Jeff Wood, Reconnecting America‘s New Media Director and Chief Cartographer.

“The day may come when Men will fall, and Jeff Wood cannot read every transit article…. but that day is not this day” – Some Transit Lovin Dude

You can subscribe to it here

Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2014 at 8:48 am

2013 in review

with 2 comments

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 67,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Thank you to my readers and those who take the time to comment. While I expect to continue to blog here and on my other blog (which is not about transport or planning and gets many fewer visitors) I do not try to write frequently. I will only post here when I think I have something worth saying, and I am trying to reduce the amount of repetition as I have no wish to bore anyone. There will probably be more on twitter or Facebook.

Please accept my best wishes for 2014. For myself I am keenly looking forward to a month in Italy in the spring.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 31, 2013 at 8:44 am

Posted in blog update, blogging

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

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 , ,