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Archive for the ‘Gateway’ Category

Why are Roads different to Transit?

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One of the twitter responses I got to my last post

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Now I must admit that even when I was with Translink – many years ago now – I was not required to do much about the Major Road Network (MRN). It exists because the province was going to download some provincial highways and bridges to the municipalities  anyway. So if they all joined up into Translink they would have access to some of the new funding that was to come with the new authority. The only exception was the City of Vancouver which did not have any provincial highways within it to be downloaded. Fortunately one of the strongest proponents of the new authority was Councillor George Puil, and he came up with the formula that persuaded Vancouver that being part of the MRN would be a Good Idea. Some roads within Vancouver are now identified as part of the regional MRN.

You can refer to Translink’s web site for more information (and a map) which also includes the rather odd list of bridges, one they built themselves – partly paid for by tolls – to replace the free Albion Ferry, two important links that cross municipal boundaries and one bizarre little ancient wooden swing bridge wholly inside Delta. Oddly the Annacis Swing Bridge which connects Delta’s Annacis Island to New Westminster – and also carries the Southern Railway of BC – remains with the province even though the road it carries is not a provincial highway either. Basically the Knight St and Patullo Bridges were overdue for expensive upgrades so the province was eager to get rid of them.

Translink committed to spend $45m on the MRN this year – which out of a total spending of ~$1.4b is not a very large amount. Translink does not itself have any operational involvement – all of that spending is passed through the municipalities and nearly always on jointly funded projects. The MRN is actually run by a committee made up of the Chief Engineers of each of the municipalities, with Translink providing administrative support. Day to day management and operations remain with the municipalities. For cities like Vancouver and New Westminster there is no real interest, or opportunity, for major capacity expansions. The cities are built out and land acquisition costs are huge. And as Seattle is learning (and Boston learnt) tunnelling for additional freeway capacity is not only expensive but very risky. The only real stumbling block has been the lack of willingness to give up road space to more efficient modes. There are no busways here – and very few dedicated separate cycling facilities. No one has ever seriously considered here what the French call “the art of insertion” (link to presentation) to devote more of the space between building frontages of a street to wider sidewalks, tram tracks or dedicated exclusive bus lanes.

It must also be noticed that municipalities themselves do not spend very much on new road building. A lot of new roads get added to the network every year, and “improvements” are made to the existing roads, by developers – or by cities thanks to development cost charges. Many major developments are made conditional upon increases to local network capacity. No-one, so far as I am aware, ever does any examination of the combined network effects of these developments.

The big spender on roads in the region is the province. While other jurisdictions have cut back on road spending to free up funds for more efficient and environmentally friendly public transport, BC continues throw billions at freeways and other major highway expenditures. It has never suggested that any of these projects be subject to dedicated funding – or referenda of local populations. It is merely continuing with business as usual – blacktop politics has long dominated the BC agenda. In part this is due to the fact that BC only has one major urban metropolis. The Ministry of Transportation is in reality the Ministry of Highways since no other mode grabs the attention of the provincial politicians in quite the same way. BC Ferries, of course, being a whole ‘nother topic best left for another day.

The reasons the province gives for its obsession with road construction is always framed in the context of jobs and the economy. It is always referred to as an “investment” which sounds so much less profligate than “spending”. In urban areas like the Lower Mainland it has also been tied to the port – the “Gateway” – even though the vast majority of the import and export tonnage moved through the Port of Vancouver moves inland by railway – and probably increasingly by pipeline in the future.

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INSERT The Port of Metro Vancouver has recently announced that it is changing the way it licences trucks that serve the Port. Apparently there are too many of them. Of course none of this was ever anticipated the Gateway proponents and their demands for a much wider Port Mann Bridge and the South Fraser Perimeter Road

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In reality, the major growth in traffic on these new roads is single occupant cars and trucks used as cars. Traffic in urban areas expands and contracts to fill the space available – and this induced traffic is seen long before land use changes add their contribution to congestion. Which in any event is not an all day or everyday phenomenon. Most roads, much of the time, have spare capacity. Like the parking lots, they are overbuilt to meet the peak need and the rest of the time are underutilised. It was ever thus.

It is very significant I think that only two new major bridges have been funded by tolls in recent years – and in both cases revenues have been below forecast. Gordon Campbell early on decided to court popularity by cancelling the tolls on the Coquihalla Highway and no-one has ever seriously suggested tolling elsewhere, though a P3 on the Sea to Sky uses “shadow tolls” to calculate payments to the contractor.  User pay is a prerequisite for transit – and ferries. On highways and bridges, not so much.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 15, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Choosing the happy city

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There is a storify based on the #happycity hashtag,which now features many more pictures thanks to the recent Twitter upgrade

At SFU Woodward’s on Wednesday March 26, 2014 the third in the Translink series.

Choosing the Happy City
Charles Montgomery

There were many empty seats even though SFU had “oversold”. If you reserve a seat at one of these events and then find you cannot attend, please remove your reservation as soon as you can. There were people who would have liked to be there. But at least there was also a live stream and the event will be added to the Youtube site in due course.

The introduction was made by one of Fraser Health’s public health officers. Happiness is fundamental to health. We need a system that promotes physical activity. Urban form and transportation determine how people choose to move around, and also affordability of housing and access to green space. People who live in the suburbs of Vancouver walk more than other places. We must improve and maintain choices especially for non urban places. She made the point that some policies which seek to deter car use can adversely affect the mobility of people who live in places where there is no other choice but to drive for many trip purposes. There is an inequity in adopting such deterrents before there are adequate choices fro everyone.

Charles Montgomery started his presentation with two “exercises” – the first to identify  Translink staff “the institution we love to hate”. He invited audience members to hug a member of Translink staff if they were near them. The second related to two images of dorms at Harvard University. One was a traditional building, the other a somewhat forbidding modern block. Most people indicated they preferred the traditional building, as did newly arrived students. But a study showed that there was no difference in the happiness of the students after three years. Many factors determine happiness not just the design of the buildings but social environment within them is important.

The idea of idea of increasing happiness is not new. Early economists called it maximizing utility. However often  “we get it wrong.I think pursuit of happiness is a good thing. We can measure it. … More pleasure than pain, healthy, in control, meaning, security but strong social connection underlies all of these. Both the GDP and creativity in a city depends on opportunities for social interaction. He showed a three dimensional graph of space time prisms, which showed the people who are more dispersed find it harder to connect. They spend much less time in the spaces and times when they can meet others. The edge of the urban agglomerations are the least likely to be socially active. If you live in the exurbs you do not have the time, energy or willingness to join things or even vote.

The shortness of the the commute time is the best indicator of satisfaction. “How we move is how we feel”, and even only five minutes of walking or cycling improves mood and regularly moving under our own power also  improves health. Equally driving a nice car on an open road also improves our mood. The trouble is that open roads are rare – and impossible to find at commute times. Driving even a nice car in a congested city is like piloting a fighter jet in terms of the stress experienced. People rate the experience of using transit lowest of all mostly due to the loss of control and that the trips on transit tend to be the longest.

In Greater Vancouver 40% of all trips could be done in 20 minute bike ride. In cities the design of the built environment determines both our behaviour and our bodies. If we build infrastructure for cycling – making it safer – more people will cycle. People will walk 800m to shop in a good urban environment but less than 200m in the typical suburban big box centre. The huge parking lots are a deterrent to walking even short distances.

He cited Larry Frank’s work in Atlanta showing maps of destinations available within a 10 minute walk of home. While there are many in the traditional city centre in the suburbs there are none. It is not surprising then that people who live in the suburbs on average have 10 pounds more in weight

Status interventions

– Equity
Having  low social status is bad for health. When transit viewed as a “hand out for the undeserving” – he used the notorious ads in the Georgia Strait some years ago for a GM car dealer which had a bus with the words “creeps & weirdos” as the destination sign – it is unsurprising that it is difficult to persuade people to change modes. Enrique Penalosa redesigned the city of Bogota and it was all about equity. He cancelled a new freeway but built the Transmilenio BRT based on the Curitiba example.

 – Freedom
This is represented by our having mastery of our movement. In one experiment they used skin conductance cuffs on people  in a mockup of a subway car. Even though this was staged at a party, as the space available to the group in the car became more restricted so their stress levels rose. He showed a picture of the Navigo card in Paris which is much more than a transit ticket. It also gives access to Velib bike sharing – and (he claimed) car sharing (which if so is a change since I was in Paris). “It also gets you cookies” But mostly it gives people the freedom to live with less stuff. they do not need to own a car or a bike [and can get around without worrying about either being stolen]

He then showed picture of the land the province has recently put up for sale in Coquitlam. This “swathe of Burke Mountain will not be well connected”. But families can save $10k a year by not owning a car. He cited Daniel Kahneman’s Book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” We are rightly fearful of house fires and build new suburbs to allow access to big fire trucks, with wide roads and sweeping curves – like a race track.  Streets aren’t safe enough for kids to play on – but we somehow think that we have made them “safer” and the areas they serve. There was a notorious experiment on children with Oreos. They could take one immediately or wait awhile and then get two. He says that the problems we require that we slow down and consider their complexity.

The challenge is the cost of congestion, but we attempt to solve it by designing disconnection. He illustrated this with a picture of the new Port Mann Bridge construction and remarked that we only realized that the new bridge was not needed until after it opened. All the traffic and people that now use it could have been accommodated if the old bridge had been tolled and a rapid bus service along Highway #1 introduced. [This was actually something that the Livable Region Coalition pointed out at the time, by the way. No-one believed us.]

“We did it before” He showed a slide of the Livable Region plan from the 1970s. And he also showed the “Leap Ahead” transit plan which its authors (Nathan Pachel and Paul Hillsdon) estimated would cost $6.5 bn but could be paid for with a $0.05 sales tax.

Referendum = fast brain disaster

“The best thing to do is cancel the referendum.” However since that is unlikely  we can save ourselves by adopting the recommendations that Roger Sherman used to win the second Denver referendum. Their program was called “Fast tracks” It was a clear plan and fully costed designed to appeal to the core values of the voters. Most of them drive so it has to show how improving transit improves life for drivers

It is not enough to present a clear picture – it has to have a champion, preferably a celebrity and since Brad Pitt is unlikely to be available he suggested Diane Watts

Bring it back to happiness

Working together is good for us build more resilient community

Q&A

The first question pointed out that the Leap Ahead plan did not seem to have much for the North Shore

“Now is not the time” to determine the details – though it does have a fast bus, and I suggested adding another SeaBus

The second noted that he used an illustration of Disneyland. Expectation of good time in built form

Tests in Disneyland show that architecture that speaks to us is good for well being

Technology in design of transportation

Vehicle sharing systems, driverless cars, use of Car2Go in East Vancouver shows that is a bedroom community. there are plenty of cars there overnight but none during the day. We have to have more activity in our residential areas – this is not a technology problem.

Eric Doherty pointed out that he had not mentioned climate change

“While it feels good to do the right thing but not everybody agrees on what that is. Trying to convince people to think like us does not work”. Gateway sucks did not work – it did nothing to convince people who had to drive that there was any concern over their needs.

How do we overcome this mindset of entitlement?

Golden (referring to the first presentation in this series) got all the players in the room and respecting others point of view. sophisticated comm??

Q from twitter on codes

Self reports on happiness higher in small towns

Rural areas

Everybody can benefit from a village

Codes for rural community Gordon Price commented  “The City is not shaped by market forces”

Nathan Woods (Unifor)  said: We need $3m and Brad Pitt. How do we get that?

Developers stand to benefit – they have the resources. The Surrey BoT strongly supports transit

Can you supply examples of success of postwar planning

Lewis Mumford
False Creek
New Urbanists
Seaside FL

Lean urbanism

Forest Hills Gardens NY (GP again)

Is a dense urban environment enough?

Towers are as bad for lack of trust as exurbs
Just pushing us together is not enough
“Lazy tower style in Vancouver”
Town houses, courtyards, green space

Example of Copenhagen – can we transfer that here?

The answer would be Long and complex. But in one word-  Experiment – just line Janette Sadik Kahn did with bike lanes in New York

Gordon Price pointed out how really emotional the fight over bike lanes here had become

Change is very difficult. Regarded as intrusive

One action for individuals?

Started out as a journalist feeling I had no right. We can all change a bit of the city. Those of us who live here have the right to change where we live

What has surprised you in the reactions since the book came out

Jarret Walker told me that on these examples its not the planners who are the problem. “We know that.  You have to convince the politicians … and the people.”
Try not to scare people

Someone from modo talked about Share Vancouver and its implication for resilience, during disasters for instance

Life changed in New York with Sandy. How can we create that sense of urgency?

Experiment Granville St what are we learning?

The questioner felt that all the changes we have seen have been controlled by the business community

Times Sq occurred with support from the BIA – who have benefitted as rents are now going up. The police closure of Granville St at weekends was a response to violence. It gave more space for people to move around and thus reduced conflicts

Councillor Susan Chappelle from Squamish said that they were trying to get  a regional transportation dialogue going – they are outside the Translink area with a small transit system provide by BC Transit.  They remain “disengaged”. The immense changes he talked about are not translated into budget of small town. In the current situation “Words are used, with no change happening.” Squamish is left disconnected

The measures are the same for reducing GHG and increasing happiness. Should we encourage commuting [between Squmish and Vancouver]? The industrial zoning is out of date.

Can design offset crime?  Social justice?

Some people assert “None of this is going to work until we overthrow the 1%” But his work shows that the way we design cities has an immediate impact. It’s an equity issue. Many people complain that they can’t afford to live here but then they oppose the density increase essential [to get reduced housing/transportation combination cost reduced]

Some who was arranging a summit of cultural planners pointed out how hard it was to get a large meeting to places which did not have good connections. Change the way transit works to support the summit

BC Transit should take cue from TransLink interagency approach We can crowd source all kinds of stuff

btw People actually talk on the #20 bus

Big issue is transit funding. A city has found solution?

Richmond is the only place where car ownership has fallen – obviously a response to the Canada Line
See the example of the Los Angeles referendum which was not just about transit – it paid for everything with something for everyone

REACTION

This was by far the best presentation in the series so far, in large part because it was not read from a script. He was speaking to the slides he was showing but clearly enjoyed interacting with the audience. It was indeed a performance – and a good one at that. On the other hand there did not seem to be a great deal that was new or remarkable in the content. Working in this field for forty years means that I have actually witnessed exactly the same set of prescriptions proffered for a what at the time seemed like different problems – congestion, growth, inequity, sustainability, bad air quality, global warming. And now happiness – or its absence.

I have got into a lot of trouble for stating unequivocally “transit sucks” to transit management. They of course would rather boast of their accomplishments, how well they do under difficult circumstances, and how resistant politicians are to pleas for more money. But the fact remains that despite increasing expenditures, the overall transit mode share is very difficult to change. We know what the solutions are – we always have done – but we seem reluctant to embrace the changes necessary. And he is probably right that we have an elite stuck in fast brain mode whenever they deal with these situations. He actually cited Kevin Falcon – more than once – and it seems to me he is right. The Jordon Batemans of course simply play to that preference. It is a lot easier than actually thinking clearly (slowly) and then acting.

 

 

Elections in Washington doom Vancouver, and the planet

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There is much celebration to the south of us. In their state and local elections, despite huge expenditures, the coal merchants were unable to get the result they wanted. “Bad news for Big Coal in Whatcom County” is the headline in the Seattle PI.

In a nationally watched county election, a slate of four Whatcom County Council candidates, backed by conservation groups and the Democratic Party, took the lead over pro-development, Republican-aligned opponents. The county is a key battleground over whether Western Washington will become home to a huge coal-export terminal.

And this got tweeted as “Big coal can’t even buy an election these days”. This also got picked up by the Sierra Daily in a piece headed “Coal Train to Nowhere

Understandably given local concerns over coal dust and its health impacts it seems likely that the export of more coal to China through Cherry Point is not going to happen.

“The coal industry is in a death spiral,” Eric de Place of the Sightline Institute said to Connelly. “They cannot even buy an election right now.”

I think he is being a bit short sighted. While this is a triumph for people over corporations – if the votes continue to go this way – Big Coal is not going to give up. It simply takes the trains from the Powder River a little bit further. Over border to Port Metro Vancouver. There are no concerns about local accountability here. No-one who has to run for an election here has any ability to stop the coal trains. And the Port only has to meet the needs of shippers. It has no obligations at all to the local community. Indeed Prairie provinces have more influence than the Mayor of Surrey, say. So while her council objects to coal trains that has no effect at all.

The additional costs of a slightly longer train journey to Surrey Fraser Docks are unlikely to deter Warren Buffet. He doesn’t need to buy any politicians here. The Port is positively salivating at the extra business. They will do his bidding happily and ignore whatever protests there might be as the Directors are secure in their positions. The federal government has abandoned any pretence at trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and anyway these count against the country where the coal is burned. It matters not at all to Stephen Harper that we are headed for a 2℃ increase in global temperatures – because his only concern is his own re-election. Coal trains through White Rock will have no measurable impact on that.

“Fears of a damaging trade war”

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The Americans are going to start a study to see if Canada subsidizes its ports – with particular reference to Prince Rupert. Oh goody, I just happen to have a recent picture of that

Chuane on the container berth

Container ship at Prince Rupert - my photo on flickr

I added the comment

Container ships to Prince Rupert from the Asian Pacific rim save two days sailing over Vancouver. And the CN line from PR to Chicago is easier too. But BC is still spending billions on its misguided Gateway programme.

In fact Canada has its own federally funded programme of Pacific port expansion (this is a 2007 report which popped up near the top of my Google search). And of course this blog has been warning for some time that any program that is designed to win more business from the United States will, inevitably, attract their attention. And when times get tough the instincts of American politicians are always towards protectionism. Indeed just look at almost any of the earlier posts in the same categories as this one and you will see that this response was indeed predicted.

Whether or not the rules say that governments in Canada are allowed to invest in ports, or in improving access to ports (something the Americans have been doing for years too) does not matter. Anyone who followed the softwood lumber saga – which continues to this day over how we deal with beetle damaged timber – understands that it is what appeals to American voters that matters, not what the agreements on “free trade” might include.

Basically, as Pierre Trudeau observed, when you sleep next to an elephant…

Their view of “free trade” is that they want our resources, especially the oil gas and water. They also want untrammelled access to our markets. But if we want to be treated as equals in an open trading relationship, that is only a matter of what is currently acceptable. Speeches and smiles when the documents are signed – but lots of harrumphing and threats if the deal turns out to favour us in any significant way.

Our current political leadership at both federal and provincial levels has been embarrassingly eager to adopt the role of America’s little brother – not noticing that the Americans themselves always add the word “annoying” to the front of that appellation. The economic viability of the programs to expand our ports and the transportation networks that connect to them was never very strong. After all, just handling containers and passing them along adds very little value. The employment (after the construction phase) is quite small when viewed as a cost per job given the billions spent. And the jobs themselves are not exactly what we need either. The whole traffic of consumer goods from Asia to North America, funded by dubious financial instruments and a huge trade deficit, is clearly not sustainable. The environmental impact has been, generally, ignored by government.

It is, after all, only a study. But given the reaction already, the penny seems to have dropped, finally, that the people who have been pushing the Gateway and port expansion have really not been especially forthright. And that we could indeed be stuck with some more white elephants. The money is largely spent – and the benefits have not been very much and could evaporate. Just as BC’s lumber processing industry has shrunk to a shadow of its former self, not least because of the pressure of the US softwood lumber producers.

Fortunately, the construction of the additional container berths at Roberts Bank has not yet started. It is not too late to cancel them – but we are stuck with the SFPR and the widened Highway #1.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 5, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Gateway, port expansion

Bering Strait Tunnel approved

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I did not see this story in our mainstream media this week. It came me from a secondary source that cited The Times and when I did a Google news search I could not find that either but I did get a piece from the Daily Mail. This is the précis from the secondary source

Russia has unveiled an ambitious plan to build the world’s longest tunnel under the Bering Strait as part of a transport corridor linking Europe and America via Siberia and Alaska. The 64-mile (103km) tunnel would connect the far east of Russia with Alaska, opening up the prospect of a rail journey across three quarters of the globe from London to New York. The link would be twice as long as the Channel Tunnel connecting Britain and France. The tunnel across the international date line would be built in three sections through two islands in the Bering Strait and would link 6,000km (3,728 miles) of new railway lines. The tunnel alone would cost an estimated $10-12 billion to construct. Russian Railways is said to be examining the construction of a 3,500km route from Pravaya Lena, south of Yakutsk, to Uelen on the Bering Strait. The tunnel would connect this to a 2,000km line from Cape Prince of Wales, in West Alaska, to Fort Nelson, in Canada.

Now, since it ends up in BC you would have thought, perhaps, that local news sources might have picked it up. Not according to Google.

For one thing, the Port of Metro Vancouver continues to talk about expansion even though their case looks increasingly thin. After all we already face a rapidly changing world as the new Panama Canal and an ice free North West Passage both will cut shipping time and cost. While the UK press naturally likes the story of a round the world trip by train from London to New York, the real issue is going to be the movement of freight, especially containers, between the far east and the United States. This is the market that the Port thinks will expand. I think this in itself is a bit dubious, given the precarious nature of the US economy. But whatever the size of the market a direct train service from China to North America would drastically cut shipping times and by pass sea ports altogether. Moreover such a route could be electrified – and not just the bit under the Strait – meaning it would cut dependence on increasingly scarce and expensive oil for transportation.

For BC a direct rail link also means that our exports of coal, lumber and oil could also start moving by train – but I think that is less likely given the fact that these lower value cargoes are more cost than time sensitive.

But in any event it really does show how sensitive transportation forecasts are to assumptions. And you can be sure that a trans Bering Strait tunnel was not included in any of the Gateway’s forecasts.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 26, 2011 at 8:38 am

LAWSUIT LAUNCHED OVER ROAD CONSTRUCTION ON BURNS BOG

St Mungo Cannery site

St Mungo Cannery site - photo by Stephen Rees

Burns Bog Conservation Society is non-profit environmental organization working to conserve and protect Burns Bog, a globally-unique ecological wonder in Delta, British Columbia.

For Immediate Release:

LAWSUIT LAUNCHED OVER ROAD CONSTRUCTION ON BURNS BOG

Wednesday, November 24, 2010 – Delta, B.C. – The Burns Bog Conservation Society announced today that it has delivered a statement of claim to Federal court office. The Society claims that the Federal Government has violated the conservation covenant to protect Burns Bog.

“The construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road will have a significant impact to the health and well being of residents, plants and animals alike,” said Eliza Olson, President, Burns Bog Conservation Society. “Our Governments have failed to conduct a thorough and credible analysis of the environmental impact of paving a highway through Burns Bog, over valuable farmland, and along the Fraser River.”

The freeway will cause irreparable harm to critical habitats of the Fraser delta including the bog, farmland, and the forests and wetlands located in Surrey and North Delta. As such, Burns Bog Conservation Society, with a grant from West Coast Environmental Law, has hired Vancouver lawyer Jay Straith to advocate on their behalf.

“The governments have failed to honour their commitment to protect Burns Bog under a Conservation Covenant and Management Plan signed by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia,  Metro Vancouver, and the Corporation of Delta,” said lawyer Jay Straith. “They must be held accountable for their actions and negligence.”

Further, the Federal Government has violated public trust, and ignored their fiduciary duty to protect the environment, by carrying out the development of the South Fraser Perimeter Road. The development contravenes the laws outlined in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Federal Species at Risk Act in the following ways:

  • Fails to ensure that the Federal Environmental Assessment of the South Fraser Perimeter Road was considered in a careful and precautionary manner, to avoid adverse environmental effects
  • Fails to disclose the use of Federal lands for the purpose of enabling the project to be carried out
  • Fails to protect endangered species such as the Pacific Water Shrew
  • Fails to meet the legal requirement of assessing the overall cumulative effects of the South Fraser Perimeter Road, in combination with related Gateway Projects such as the Delta Port expansion and Golden Ears Bridge.

It’s not too late for our governments to do the right thing.

-30-

For more information, please contact:

Eliza Olson

President of the Burns Bog Conservation Society

604-572-0373

info (at) burnsbog.org

Alex Fraser Bridge

The SFPR will run along the south bank of the Fraser. The St Mungo cannery site is below the south pier. - Stephen Rees photo

Written by Stephen Rees

November 24, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Gateway

Tagged with ,

Rail for the Valley – new report

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Rail for the Valley released yesterday a report that looks at the possibilities for the Chilliwack to Surrey interurban line. This is the route that was once used by BCER to link up what were then small farming communities to New Westminster and Vancouver. The line was closed to passenger service in the early 1950s when, as in most of North America, high quality, fast electric public transit was being abandoned in favour of near universal car ownership. Since then, many people have seen that this was a very poor bit of planning, and that since the line still exists and is in public ownership, reinstatement of some type of rail based transit might be a good idea.

I was sent an early copy – and I must say that it failed to excite me. Rail for Valley think that it will help their cause, so I have provided a link to their blog where you can read their case and find a copy for yourself. What I had to point out to them was what is missing. It does cover – in great detail and at a high level of credibility – what the capital cost of reinstating service might be. That is based on widespread experience of utilizing existing railway rights of way for light rail passenger services.

But while there is a great deal of information about capital cost there is nothing at all about revenue – or indeed operating costs. I looked for, and could not find, any attempt to assess what the potential ridership might be, or what the revenue stream would need to look like. It would appear to me that the absence of any demand forecast leaves the biggest question open – how are we going to pay for this? This has to be the first question to be asked. The assertion that light rail has a record of attracting users out of cars is not nearly enough to convince a skeptical public that this idea is economically feasible. What kind of revenue can be expected from fares and how much support is to be required from the various levels of government?

The problem I see is that this report concentrates on what the project might cost – and even goes into detail on service levels. But there is no assessment at all of where people want to go and how much of that can be met by travel on this line – or indeed if it can provide the right combination of fares + time (generalised cost) to be attractive.

We spent a lot of time at that Abbotsford Committee looking at the way the line through that city is aligned north south when the dominant movement pattern is east west. And eventually concluded that a new tram line was needed, with a bus lane being the intermediate step along the way. And that was without any demand modelling!

In Greater Vancouver transit expansion is stalled. Translink can no more consider this proposal than it can anything else since it has no money for any expansion. So this report ought to have concentrated on what could happen outside the Metro area. There is no regional transportation agency in the valley – nor is there any way to collect much to support the (woefully inadequate) transit that is there now. So a report that used reviving part of the interurban at low cost within the imagination ability of local politicians might have a chance. Presenting a mega project with no hope of financing is not realistic and is far too easily dismissed.

The real problem for the valley is the Port Mann Bridge is being replaced by a much wider structure and the freeway is being widened as far as the Metro boundary. Piecemeal widening is occurring further east as well. The reason for that is that the BC Liberals and their friends like to think that the regional strategy has “failed” – and  that there are huge opportunities for lots of money to be made by continuing to develop  farm land at low densities. This pattern suits developers, car salesmen and indeed business interests in general. It is what they know how to do, since they have been doing this for the last fifty years and more. And they are convinced that despite the end of cheap energy they can continue as before. The impact of burning fossil fuels is something they think can be safely ignored, or will be mitigated by technologies and government subsidies, and that they can keep doing that with impunity indefinitely. They recognize no limits to growth.  Indeed their entire premise is that economic growth is essential, that people want to believe that their personal disposable  incomes will increase (even though in real terms is has been static for most households) and will continue to vote for this pattern. Indeed as they just have done in the Delta by-election.

We would have got much better value for money if the Port Mann/Highway #1 project had been replaced by transit expansion. Indeed, Premier Campbell liked to boast that the Canada Line provides the capacity of ten lanes of freeway in the space taken by two. So one might have expected that he would have considered that, if he actually was concerned – as he so often professes – about climate change. But, of course, his track record is to say one thing and do the opposite. Which is now getting him in trouble with his core constituency. There is of course a great deal of anger. Here it has been captured by Van der Zalm and his antiHST campaign. I see some similarities with the Tea Party movement. It is about taxes. It is about the fact that people feel stretched financially and are worried about the future – and that the elites do not seem to be listening to the voters. That spin and rhetoric is used on them – and that their experience does not match what they are being told. I suspect that the anger will intensify as the new highway and bridge fills up with traffic, the tolls are raised and the commute times increase – but by then it will be too late.

The way to pay for Rail for the Valley was not to waste it on freeways. The way to save the valley from sprawl was to strengthen the ALR, not weaken it, and build transit oriented development (TOD). But TOD does not work is there is no transit.

RfV say they are not in a position to produce a demand forecast – and that is true too. Anyway, the way we do modelling here you can put in any land use pattern you like – just as the province did for its freeway forecast. They used the same future land use pattern for both “with” and “without” scenarios. The model has no feedback loop between network and land use. It ignores induced travel. It says that trip making is simply a function of population size and distribution. So it is not exactly realistic – but it would still show that if the freeway had not been built and the people still came in their millions then a new railway line would have carried them. And some spread sheets would also demonstrate that would have been financially supportable – given some way to link travel choices to social costs. Not unreasonable assumptions – unlike the wildly unreasonable assumptions that are made by the Gateway program and the “business as usual” crowd in general.

Quite what the model would forecast if you now put in the widened freeway and its greatly dispersed population pattern that reflects real decisions as opposed to wishful thinking  I can only imagine. The case for the use of the existing right of way might still be shown to be more viable than a new one. The costs of acquiring land for transportation being one of the largest single elements – and a quick glance around the place where that by election occurred will now show exactly how much land the SFPR is taking over. It is not a small project.  But in current decision making timelines, any demand forecast for the valley has to assume the current projects are completed and up and running before the trains (or trams) arrive.

At the same time as this report emerged, so did the discussion about how to pay for more transit in Metro Vancouver get restarted. There is to be a meeting this week between the Mayors, the Premier and his Minister of  Transport. Some kind of deal will – it is hoped – emerge that will allow Translink to expand beyond its present services, and for the Evergreen Line to the North East Sector to be built at long last. I doubt, somehow, that the interurban will take up much of their time. Though places like Surrey and Langley have made it clear that they will not tolerate any new funding mechanism that just pays for one line that does not serve them. More buses – and bus lanes – seem the easiest way to meet that demand even if that will not exactly satisfy them. But that is the nature of compromise – a solution that leaves all parties equally dissatisfied. The Fraser Valley, of course, is not part of that process.

UPDATE There was a short report on the local CBC News

Written by Stephen Rees

September 21, 2010 at 11:04 am