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Return of the blogger: Stakeholder Forum – Translink

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It has been twenty one days since I last posted on this blog. A lot has happened in the intervening period, some of which I might well have reported or commented on. But I was otherwise occupied. I have sold my townhouse in Richmond, and after disposing of a lot of my possessions, and relocating others, am now a full time resident of Vancouver. And hopefully will now find more time to write here, as there should be a declining demand on my time from domestic duties.

This morning I attended a Stakeholder Forum organized by Translink as the start of the next steps towards “confirming our vision for the long-term and map out the near-term steps needed to get us there” (their words, not mine). It was held at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue and the range of “stakeholders” present was quite wide – it included the cyclists, the truckers, the unions and quite a lot of municipal people as well as NGOs like the Fraser Basin Council. Many familiar faces – but nearly as many empty seats.

Ian Jarvis opened with a summary how well Translink has done, doubling transit ridership in the last ten years, securing $3bn in senior government funding and surviving a series of reviews which showed that it is well managed. But “we can’t save our way to growth”. One million more people are coming to this region by 2040 – and they will want to get around a system which is already straining its capacity. There are funding sources but they are all at the maximum they can be – and the fuel tax (one of the more significant sources) revenue is declining. We need to have a “new conversation” about how we shape growth in the region and protect the quality of life here. This stakeholder review is just the start. There will be “broader engagement” in the fall. The purpose of this meeting was to “pin down the strategies”.

Bob Paddon

Transport 2040 will remain in place but some things need to change. Much of the subsequent presentations concentrated on what these changes would be. Unfortunately, that assumed a high level of familiarity of what was already there. It is perhaps unfortunate wording but Goal 1 of the current plan is

Goal 1 Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation are aggressively reduced, in support of federal, provincial and regional targets.”

Both federal and provincial governments maintain lip service to reducing emissions but both are actively promoting export of carbon fuels. While in this region, transportation is a significant slice of our own ghg emissions, they pale into insignificance when compared to the volumes of fossil fuels that both federal and provincial governments and their agencies propose to move through this region.

The region has two metro centres (Vancouver and Surrey) seven city centres and many town centres. The movement pattern (as shown by the 2011 Trip Diary Survey) is between these centres and is not simply centred upon commuting to downtown Vancouver. The economy of the region is also dependent upon goods movement – and, he implied, mostly by trucks.

The intention is still to increase sustainable transportation choice. The Regional Health Authorities have been engaged in the process (which is a considerable departure from past practice, and very welcome). The vision and goals remain similar, and there was a lot of investment in the last ten years and “I would like to believe that those days will return.”

Currently trips by walk, cycle and transit are 27% of the total (compared to 19% in 1985) and should be 50% by 2045. [Transportation 2040

Goal 2 Most trips are by transit, walking and cycling. ]

All trips, 6m in 2013, will rise to 9m by 2045

73% of trips by auto now 4.4m

50% of trips by auto in 2045 is also 4.4m – no change

That is because transit, walk and cycle together will rise from 27% (1.6m) to 50% (4.4m)

Our focus now will be outcome driven. Integrated (the automobile will always be part of the pattern, as will trucks) co-ordinated, resilient and affordable (value for money, performance driven). The new strategic approach will be to manage (improve utilization by pricing) invest ($5bn just to maintain a state of good repair plus up to $18bn if all the desired projects are built) and partner. The choice of how to do this will be based on what can be achieved not by adopting a particular technology [I take this to refer to SkyTrain] We will not follow the pattern of “build it and they will come” but rather ensuring that land use changes to support the new transit lines.

At this point questions and comments were invited:

Martin Crilly – the former Translink Commissioner but now a private citizen – pointed to the legislated requirement for a Plan by August 1. Bob Paddon responded that they could simply adopt  Transportation 2040 as the new plan, but they would prefer to adopt the visions, goals and strategies of 2045 by August 1 and then proceed with an implementation plan.

Bob Wilds of the Gateway Council asked about the role of Ministry [who were not present]. Doug Hall (an ADM at MoTI)  is co-chair with Bob Paddon of the key Steering Committee, and provincial staff are working on the plan.

Louise Yako of the BC Trucking Association pointed out that one of Translink’s problems is that is has responsibility but no authority, to which Paddon replied “We are having that dialogue and governance changes will occur.”

Bill Susak of the City of Coquitlam said that Translink should add advocacy to its aims. Ian Jarvis replied that Translink supports the regional growth strategy. “The vision is not ours, it is what the region comes up with.”

Dr John Carsley, Vancouver Coastal Health urged “aggressive advocacy” – “this is a pressing health issue” – obesity and diabetes. [In fact this is something for stakeholders to do.] He also remarked: “Who is the doctor who prescribes your equanimity tablets?”

Tamim Raad took over the rest of the presentation

He opened by talking about the “new reality” – the revenue challenges would remain for the foreseeable future: 2008 marked a structural shift, and Translink now has to do more with less. The reference to Partners is significant – municipalities in particular, with the emphasis on land use, to establish that land will be in place to support the investments. His presentation concentrated on what is different in the present plan to T2040 – and he said that a draft list of strategies and actions will be made available “in the next few weeks”.

1 Manage: In 2045 the car will still be dominant but now the car is too often the only available choice. “Pricing is the key to efficient choice”  Translink now has a 100% accessible bus fleet and “we do have some spare capacity” This could be utilised by shifting demand from the peak time and peak direction. For instance the development of employment in Surrey Town Centre will provide a useful back load  for SkyTrain. They also need to introduce priority lanes for buses and trucks [my notes indicate my surprise at hearing that]

Pricing for fairness and revenue: we expect to pay more if we consume more, or at peak times. For example, the City of Vancouver does a good job of pricing curbside parking which reduces traffic circling, looking for a space. [Actually other cities like San Francisco do better, but we’ll let that pass.] Transit does have user pay, but it only covers half the cost. There is a societal benefit from transit use – it frees road space for others – and all users [of the transportation system] benefit from the transit subsidy. The decision to remove the midday off peak discount (to increase revenue and reduce complexity) has had an effect on demand and was not the most efficient choice as it shifted more trips into the peak period, raising costs and overcrowding. The fare zone system’s coarseness often seems unfair (for example the two zone fare for SeaBus) and there is a lot of opportunity for a finer grain system made possible by the Compass smartcard technology.

Driving is priced indirectly, and we need to shift  from general revenues to user pay. This is not a new concept. Metro and the Mayors’ Council have both endorsed it. The present policy of tolls only on new bridges, and just to pay for the facility, seems unfair and is not optimal for system utilization. At the same time, road pricing is not a panacea for revenue.

At this point reaction was called for, so I got to express my concern that somehow protecting the environment seemed to have slipped into fourth place – behind concerns for the economy, efficiency and health. I pointed out that environmental concerns ought to be a more significant driver – especially if Vancouver is to become a major route through which carbon is exported to the rest of the world.  Richard Campbell (BC Cycling Coalition) and Lon Leclair (City of Vancouver) both spoke of the need for the plan to include more detail “its a hard sell at this high level” – the details will help individuals work out how it will affect them. People need to see solutions. Los Angeles has recently approved a 1% sales tax increase to invest $300bn over 30 years – and would have passed that for a ten year implementation but for the requirement of a two-thirds majority which was very narrowly missed. “The power of lines on a map”

Tamim responded that we have actually completed most of what was proposed in Transport 2021 – in terms of investments – but road pricing was supposed to have been implemented by 2006.

Someone whose name I did not hear from HUB stated that pricing was not the best way to get people to use active transportation. She felt that the role of education was a more appropriate approach to change lifestyles.

2 Invest Strategically

After the coffee break Tamim returned. T2040 identified the need for significant and early rate of progress and identified a need for an additional $1bn for the regional share of projects. In fact the search for savings only produced $35m, about half the target. He said “there is a sense that we have more limited means”. TOD is really about walking and cycling – and the number of cyclists in the region now is roughly equal to those who use the Millennium and Expo lines: the amount invested on each mode is very different.

Transit: 1. meet basic mobility and access needs across the region i.e,. commit to transit in low ridership areas, since these are the capillaries of the network but they will set clear minimum thresholds for ridership (plus grandfathered established services, on which people rely) But communicate a clear set of criteria so that there are no surprises.

2. Have high levels or good future prospects of demand for new services which will be prioritized by the objectives – supply in the right places at the right times “We will not be driving empty buses around” Translink must have confidence that future levels of demand will rise over time and the demand management is in place.

Roads – autos are not the only user of this mode, there are are also walkers, cyclists and trucks. Too little investment in roads can stifle growth. Too much road capacity is NOT an antidote to congestion, in fcat building more roads can make matters worse. We will provide access but not promote dispersal. There will be no more vehicle trips overall by 2045 than there are now. There will be three programs 1. Local access – a finer grain network in urban centres  2. Safety – reconfiguration of intersections can reduce crashes  3. Goods movement – selected links to improve travel time for goods without increasing general purpose traffic.

A representative from UBC asked if a cap on all car trips is actually realistic – he saw a disconnect between aspiration and the proposals

Stu Ramsay of the City of Burnaby said that while he appreciated the idea of supporting local access and providing a finer grid in town centres this was “not Translink’s role hitherto”. Tamim responded that Translink has always been willing to provide support especially around rapid transit stations

Don Buchanan of the City of Surrey said he welcomed the opportunity to exoand the dialogue. The biggest opportunity to leverage change is through walkway and bikeway networks. Funding for that would get a lot more trips shifted from cars than in the last 20 years.

Marion Town of the Fraser Basin Council thought that influencing behaviour would require Translink to be more “nimble”  in the way that information is collected and used.

Katherine Mohoruk of Coquitlam observed that much of the population growth was going to be in the South of the Fraser and the Eastern communities. “We have an excellent system on the Burrard Peninsula” but not in the areas where most of the growth was going to occur. It is critically important to build the roads to complete the grid, and provide transit, in these areas

Tanya Paz (a consultant) said that Translink had an ambitious goal and 2.2 was an effective way to get there but “you will need down escalators on Sktrain”. The system must be both multimodal and seamless. She noted that the province was not here  but we need legislation to reduce speeds in urban areas as well as changes to the Passenger Transportation Act to encourage real time ride and car sharing. “There is an app for that.”

Peter Ladner asked about the provincial conditions for Translink to be able to collect charges on the lift in value that occurs due to transit investment. He asked if that required Translink to invest in land acquisition. Tamim responded that value capture did not require ownership and that benefitting area taxes are within the current legislation.

3.  Partnering 

Funding must be stable, sufficient, appropriate and influence travel choices. There is a real need for new funding – not just road pricing. Land use must support walking and cycling and we should be making decisions about land use around stations before the line is built. There has to be a written commitment [from municipalities]

On economic development, being an advocate for change is not “within our mandate” but ” we need to know what the econmic objectives are.

Martin Crilly pointed out the need for political endorsement

Rob Woods of CUPE (speaking for the other unions present) noted the need to “keep trips safe and secure” and noted that “there was not a lot of talk about retaining employees” although Translink trains people who then get lured away to other employers. “Keep Canadian, buy Canadian, keep jobs local”

Paul Lee of the City of Surrey found it difficult to make the judgement “when the trade-offs are not made apparent – more content would help”

A representative from MVT made the point that Burnaby had used Travel$mart to educate users – but we also need to educate the whole community. For instance there was little value in encouraging users to make appointments later in the day than 9am (to increase the probability of getting a trip) when doctors close their offices between 11 and 1 for lunch. If we provided services throughout the day, then better use could be made of existing capacity.



We live in desperate times – and we need desperate measures. This forum was not the one to make observations about federal or provincial priorities – but the last twenty years have been dominated by the Gateway. Decisions about international freight transportation – the port, the airport, railways – and the need for treaties with First Nations (The Tswawassen was the first urban treaty) blew a hole through regional transportation and land use plans. Massive expansion  of the freeways and loss of agricultural land were wholly contrary to the LRSP – but went through the system with hardly a ripple. We have lost huge tracts of prime food growing land to be covered in concrete for storing empty containers, when climate change is destroying the capacity of California to continue to provide our food.

As it happens, very little of our regional economy is about making stuff anymore, there is a fair amount of distribution, but not much manufacturing. Trucks are not nearly as important in freight transport as trains and ships, both of which are largely a federal jurisdiction – a fine distinction which is destroying our ability to be sustainable – or even to have any kind of effective voice in determining our own future.

Three billion dollars has been spent on a freeway at the same time as car use has started declining.

We passed 400ppm CO2 in our atmosphere at the same time as we became more car dependant – when transportation is one of the leading emitters of greenhouse gas in this region.

This plan is going to be more modest and “realistic” than the last one. It is no longer  “Most trips are by transit, walking and cycling”. It is now half. And no doubt consultations with stakeholders like the truckers, and big business, will whittle that down further. Both provincial and federal ruling parties are indebted to big business, and it is corporate interests who really call the shots, not “stakeholders”.

Translink has been cut off at the knees by a previous BC Liberal Minister of Transport. Why would they now admit that they were wrong? Do we really expect them to allow road pricing to replace their current model of tolls for new build only? And won’t their attention be focussed on Prince Rupert and the Peace  and all that lovely LNG?

Unfortunately, Translink made the very bad choice of showing that they were right. They are well run, there are no magic buckets of savings to pay for new services, despite what Christy knew for a certainty. And the one thing that is absolutely unforgivable is to be right and in disagreement with our Premier at the same time. The BC Liberals were willing to say anything before the election, but now they are back, and with more seats in the leg. Don’t hold your breath waiting for all that new funding for transit in the lower mainland. Not a priority, sorry.

I would have liked to have given a précis of the talk by David Miller former Mayor of Toronto over lunch. But I was too busy eating to make notes. I really hope that Translink did not pay for him to come all that way just for an hour’s talk. Even though it was highly entertaining. And it is not as if they have done so much better than us in recent years, after all.

Another reason why the province needs to fund transit

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Thanks to Spacing Vancouver‘s mis-transcription of a headline I have come across some very important, Canadian, research. This shows that spending billions of dollars widening a freeway, including the widest  bridge in the world, is going to be costing us huge amounts of public funds long into the future.


This is a screen shot of the day’s headlines – and it was that first story I noticed. Actually the story is titled

An Alarmingly Strong Link Between Lack of Walkability and Diabetes

and I have left that as a headline and made it a clickable link. A new study out of Toronto just published online in the journal Diabetes Care shows that if you live in a place where walking is difficult – like most new subdivisions – you have a much higher risk of developing diabetes.

The study looked at just about everyone in Toronto aged 30-64 – the population experiencing the most rapid rise of diabetes incidence – and singled out those who did not have diabetes as of March 31, 2005. The study followed these people over the next five years: in all, 1,239,262 of them, including 214,882 who appeared to be recent immigrants based on registration in the province’s healthcare plan.

By March of 2010, 58,544 of these people had developed diabetes. And the walkability of the communities in which they lived turned out to be closely linked to that outcome (given the complex factors that affect health, the researchers acknowledge that they can’t definitively say this relationship is directly causal).

Maybe not definitively, but it is well known that the lack of physical activity is directly related to a range of conditions – heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Moreover, while you can live in a new suburb without sidewalks, drive everywhere and also exercise a lot (join a gym, run with your dog …) most people don’t. Although I do have to say that when you go to places like Buntzen Lake at the weekend and just see the numbers of people who do take exercise seriously,  my hopes increase.

The point I am trying to make here is neatly captured at the end of the Atlantic article

The Toronto study highlights that within urbanized areas, the impact of neighborhoods on public health can vary significantly. And so there’s hope for applying this lesson in the parts of the world that have yet to urbanize, as well as within cities like Toronto as they continue to grow. It’s no coincidence that the least walkable neighborhoods identified in this research were often the most recently developed. Unlike their older counterparts, they had large blocks instead of smaller ones, sprawling development instead of density, separated land uses instead of mixed ones.

The doctors and public health researchers behind this paper noted all of these differences, sounding remarkably like urban planners themselves. Reaching across disciplines, they conclude: “the way we structure and build our cities will play an increasingly greater role in shaping the health of the world’s population.”

Now we know that among the challenges facing the current government is the ever increasing rise in public health care costs. They are always looking to find ways of passing that along – BC being one of the very few Canadian provinces that levy a Medical Services Premium. “Slashing costs” through privatizing jobs like cleaning and looking after people who don’t need hospitals but do need long term care has also been a favourite. Perhaps less well publicized has been a recent shift in the way the government treats its own pensioners. The Public Service Pension Plan used to pay members MSP and Blue Cross premiums. So did the Teachers. Both of those are now borne by members. So much nicer than having a story about pension cuts, don’t you think?

We know for a certainty that widening Highway #1 will both induce more traffic – and encourage the sort of development described in that last block quote –  “large blocks instead of smaller ones, sprawling development instead of density, separated land uses instead of mixed ones.” The people who live in such places will in future be less healthy than those who can walk, cycle or ride transit on a daily basis. I include transit quite deliberately – since every transit ride has some walking at each end (transit takes you from where you are not to not quite where you need to be). Indeed, Weight Watchers has long advocated a simple way to burn more calories – get off the bus a couple of stops too soon. Walk to the next station not the closest one.

I really doubt that Christy Clark or Kevin Falcon actually care very much at all about anyone’s health but their own. But their policies do depend on them being able to rattle on about lower taxes. That’s why they love stories about spending cuts – and why they much prefer that Translink be audited multiple times, rather than deal with the real issue – lack of funding for transit expansion. But what the Toronto health study shows is that their preference for the sort of suburbs that we have been building and occupying since 1945, the sort of places that their paymasters have been selling us and which have been so profitable, are actually one of the causes that public health care costs continue to rise. We have got very good at treating conditions, but we are not very good at all in creating a healthier society. Prevention is always much more efficient than cure – or treatment for the incurable. The greatest health care problem is that caused by a sedentary populace. One that sits all day – in front of a computer screen or in a car to travel any distance at all. We do not have a health system: we have a sickness system. And there is a huge lobby of corporate interests that wishes that system to continue, unchanged. Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome is a good definition of madness – but it is also an accurate description of conservatism. The obsession with resisting change, with refusing to admit that what we did was wrong and that we need to do things differently.

Transit is not a local problem. It is not something that municipalities can or should fund on their own. It is part of a much broader picture. The province cannot continue to pretend that it does not have an immediate and direct concern. Its highway policies – the construction of the wider Sea to Sky Highway, the South Fraser Perimeter Road, the Highway #1 expansion were all driven by property developers. All of them were directly contrary to the precepts of the Livable Region. The people of this region have repeatedly told the political leadership that they valued compact urban development, complete communities, with protection for the green zone and increased transportation choice. Oddly enough it was Gordon Campbell himself who came up with that formulation – when he was Mayor of Vancouver and Chair of the GVRD. And it was his government that chose – carefully and deliberately – to wreck that strategy, for short term political gain. There is no doubt that the widening of the Port Mann Bridge was – and is – very popular. But not only will it not solve the congestion problem (building roads has never cured congestion anywhere) it is also going to create a series of problems long into the future. Increasing public health care cost ought to be one that catches their attention – since all of the others they seem happy to ignore.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 19, 2012 at 10:45 am

“On Bicycles” edited by Amy Walker

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On Bicycles cover

It is available at your friendly local book store: there was a discussion and book signing at The People’s Co-op Boosktore on Commercial Drive last night, and I know that they had some copies left. Or you can buy it on Amazon. When I have done here, I will be posting a review there too. Amy Walker is, as I am sure many of you know the cofounder of Momentum magazine and she also has a blog at

I was asked originally to contribute a piece on the environmental impact of cycling: I responded – “That will be the shortest chapter in the book. There isn’t any.” Well, ok that is an exaggeration, but a pardonable one I think. So my piece now carries the unwieldy title “The Environmental Good of Switching from Car to Bike” and it takes 8 pages. Out of 372 – none of which I have had an opportunity to read until I got my copy last night. Readers of this blog can happily skip over my pages, of course, and now I have read a few of my other favourite contributors, I can only say that I wish I had done a much better job. Todd Littman and Amy herself (she wrote 8 chapters out of 50) set a very high standard indeed.

Amy Walker signing books

If you do not have a bicycle and wonder what benefits you might enjoy I would like to present to you what I think will be some of the most compelling reasons: Youth, Sex and Cake. In the spirit of “you learn something every day” I have to acknowledge that Kristen Steele surprised me when she wrote that cycling makes you better in bed – and she has all the correctly cited academic articles to support that. Of course cycling makes you fitter, and you do burn more calories when you substitute a bike for a ride in a car (or even transit), which is why more people really ought to consider commuting by bicycle. And, as Todd Litman demonstrates, that has economic benefits too. But more and better orgasms ….


Does reading a book actually persuade people to switch mode of travel? Obviously the publisher thinks there is a market for this book for they commissioned it, and not only do I hope that they are right, but that there is a follow up volume. For the common thought that occurred to the contributors in last night’s discussion was “that ought to go in to the next book”.

Unoccupied parking space, useful hitching post

Or is this really a handbook for cycling enthusiasts to use in their on-going cycle advocacy? Certainly on the basis of last night’s event, we were preaching to the converted. But it is definitely the book that I had wished had been written when I started looking at cycling as a transportation policy issue. We have come a long way since my boss said “We mustn’t encourage people to cycle, we will only be killing more of them”.

Of course I hope you will buy this book – or at the very least get your local library to get a copy. Richmond has two.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Your neighborhood & Your Health

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UPDATED November 1, 2010

The Health & Community Design Collaborative held a workshop at the Richmond Cultural Centre today. It was supposed to start at 9am. I got there on time. But it started late – of course – and, as seems to be typical of the City of Richmond, only one microphone could be made to work and no-one could make out anything that was being projected. My guess would be that they simply did not have the right projector for the size of room. Given that everyone seemed to be dependent on powerpoint, this did not make for good presentations. There was no break in a three hour meeting. And despite being called a “workshop” and sitting around tables – so most people had to crane to see or hear – there were no participatory activities. We sat and listened. Mostly. I sat at a table with City of Richmond parks department staff and they spent most of the time on their Blackberries.

Perhaps this was because there really wasn’t much that was new to listen to – for them or me. Now I must start by praising the existence of an ad hoc committee with such a broad range of representation. Once upon a time I tried to organize meetings between the health authority planners and Translink. That was because the way we ran HandyDART had effectively turned it into a delivery service of their patients to increasingly centralized program delivery points. I just wanted to know where they intended to put the next ones, so we could do some planning for the necessary service changes. I failed to meet a single regional health authority planner, but I did meet many health authority service providers who wanted to bitch about HandyDART service delivery – or lack of it.

Things seemed to have changed in part due to a federal initiative – though no-one from the federal government was present. They did have handouts at the side of the room and from them I now know that there is a Canadian Partnership Against Cancer’s Coalitions Linking Action and Science for prevention (CLASP). And I have solemnly copied their spelling and punctuation. They have developed tools for free download. And you can get a quarterly update on their work and resources by email from amiro (at)

Even though they started late and had a long program we were required to sit through three sets of introductory remarks which I transcribed but said nothing of value prior to Larry Frank’s talk. Now again though I made notes it did seem to me to be very much the same stuff that I heard at the recent streetcar seminar. I did this time get my hands on an Executive Summary of “Neighbourhood Design, Travel and Health in Metro Vancouver: Using a Walkability Index” .

UPDATE Vancouver Walkability and Health Exec Summary Oct 2010 (pdf file)

Ellen Dunham-Jones is visiting Vancouver this week and is speaking at a number of venues but apparently they are all booked out. She did say: “I will learn more from this visit than you can learn from me” – which may be false modesty, or perhaps simply reflects the fact that not only have we done a bit better at walkable communities here than most US cities, but we also have not had the collapse of commercial real estate that they have experienced. She talked about dead malls and dead big box stores and how suburban office parks and similar places are being retrofitted to be more like real places. Some of the examples were taken from here – including Surrey City Centre and Big Tom’s SFU campus on top of the Surrey Centre mall.  Apparently SFU are also going to do something of the sort in suburban Vancouver where they are turning a former strip mall into an art school.

I did pick up a key phrase that I am sure I am going to be able to use in future: “underperforming asphalt”. Suburban shopping centres overbuilt their parking lots to be ready for the rush on Black Friday (the day after their Thanksgiving when Christmas shopping starts and all the shops finally get into the black.)   And while she gave a lot of evidence on what has been working in the US, and why the demographics of suburbia have changed and point to the need for a very different future. (She did not mention peak oil, but did talk about the need to reduce dependance on “foreign oil – I did not get the chance to ask her if that included Canadian oil.) I really did not hear very much about walkability or health – or indeed what is going to have to happen to large swathes of single family homes on the cul de sacs across Canada where to get to anything within a 1km crow fly radius you have to walk at least 2 kms. It’s all very well to say that the next generation doesn’t want to live there, but there was not one suggestion that I heard about how it could be changed.

If there is demand, I could transcribe my notes – when I have more time – and look up links to dead malls but for now if you are interested I suggest you start at

Suzanne Carter Huffman gave an express tour of the City of Richmond’s City Centre Plan. I learned that each of the four Canada Line stations are now seen as the centre of an “urban village” – plus of course the one yet to come at Sexsmith. Another urban village is also going to pop up next to the Oval where there is no transit at all. There was much about waterfront – and the apparent problem of the dyke. Not that it is too low and will offer no protection against the inevitable sea level rise associated with global warming but rather that it does not allow for a river view from ground level.   She also managed to talk about the city centre without once referring to the private ownership of all the parking lots – which generates an inordinate number of short driving trips. I have dealt with that here more than once. Dave Semple talked extempore about Richmond’s parks and dykes. About the only relevant point was his observation that the one metre wide tarmac paths which Richmond has built around all its neighbourhood parks are too narrow and should be two meters wide. He did not say when they thought they might achieve that. And he also hopes that kids exploring Richmond will have plenty of opportunities to get dirty.

When I get invited to a “workshop” I expect to be involved in some activity – not just listening. I also expect to hear – and hopefully discuss – practical things that are going to be tried out to improve our current situation. I heard a lot about why we need to act, but not what needs to be done here. I did hear about some design features, but none in any context that I felt applicable here. It may have been that other participants got more from it than I did – after all I do not pretend to be an urban designer. But I will never know since there was no opportunity for any discussion. There was not even a coffee break. When you go to a thing like this and there is a long line up for the men’s washroom, then you know that there is somehting wrong with the arrangements.

I am pleased that Translink is talking to the Health Authorities – and that Metro is involved. I suspect that it is as yet early days and that they have not very much developed they can talk about. I hope that, as they get their act together, subsequent workshops will be more practical. Maybe the odd design charrette might be a better idea. But for now I regret that I can only report that we are not very far along the road to doubling the market share of transit, walking and biking from 25% (where they say we are today) to the 50% they think they will have by 2040.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 25, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Posted in health, placemaking, walking

“Radical Homemakers”?

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The Globe and Mail

Wency Leung seems to think that people “who are choosing to give up the rat race in favour of looking after their families and communities” are something new and different. I know it was an old UK sitcom but “The Good Life” was based, to some extent, on the real experiences of people who wanted to do more than just have an allotment at weekends.  (You cannot, of course, watch it here on your computer, as they can in the UK ,thanks to digital rights management.) Did it not make it here on PBS or KNOW?

Mind you, 5 acres in Duncan is a bit different to a large backyard in Surbiton. The title, by the way comes from Shannon Hayes, U.S. author of the new book Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture.

Possibly a bit of departure for me? Not really. If I were forty years younger … well at the time of “The Good Life” I did have an allotment, and I dug up the backyard too. So did lots of other people, encouraged by the BBC  – “Mr Smith’s Gardening Programme” was my favourite – and other media. Not that I gave up my job, or that we became self sufficient. And people now are also turning to growing their own here – and there – in a big way. Some are even persuading their neighbours to let them dig up the lawn and plant veggies in return for a share of the crop. Partly this is a reaction to the inadequacies of what is offered commercially – stuff that is almost devoid of taste. And also the practices that depend on long distance transportation – and the use of irrigation in the great Sonoran desert – which are not at all sustainable. People are dubious about labels like “organic”  and reluctant to shell out for the premium prices demanded. But they want to know that their food is indeed grown without harmful pesticides or GM seeds and so on.

There has also been an issue in this region for a long time about the use of land designated under the Agricultural Land Reserve which is not actually used for agriculture  as it is claimed that many of the lots are “too small” to be farmed  economically. Which, obviously, the “radical homemakers” would dispute since their concept of viability is different from agribusiness. But even at agricultural prices, 5 acre lots are not going to be within the financial reach of most, and it is unlikely that enough cash could be generated from veggies to support a mortgage. But there are, it seems, still plenty of people who want to buy up a big plot in the ALR and build a huge house and have a gigantic “yard”. Such “estate homes” are a bit of headache since they benefit from the designation but don’t produce much at all.

If we had sensible policies to the use of recreational psychoactive plants – instead of following the very obviously failed policies of our neighbours to the south – we could have a very useful, legal cash crop that might solve many of these issues. But I cannot see that happening any time soon. And the land use pattern of this region currently is of such a low density that alternatives to single occupant cars are difficult to provide. If we see many places which convert currently  productive land to small holdings, we will have even worse traffic problems,.

But I would like to see more land in the ALR used for growing food that would be available locally for those of us who have little room to grow more than a a few pots of herbs and a tomato plant. And there are plenty of places where the land is neglected, used only for parking wrecks of old cars and trucks, or illegal tipping and other activities. Many have said they would like to see at least part of the Garden City Lands – recently acquired by the City of Richmond – used for food production. But that would be community gardens not places were people could live on their own plots. And the best allotment sites have quite a lot of space devoted to internal roadways and parking, for if they don’t they will not get used.  Possibly if we had a different designation for small lots like “horticulture” we could prevent the nibbling away at potentially food producing land for other, less important uses.

Anyway it is time for the discussion to be about land use first – with a nod towards accessibility of course. Land that can be use for growing food is scarce – and we are losing far too much of it to stupid, anachronistic policies like The Gateway, that is taking the best land and using it for storing empty containers. We do need now, and will increasingly need in future, food that is grown close to where it will be consumed. And the use of techniques like composting and permaculture mean that old models of production that rely on mechanization and heavy use of chemicals can be supplanted. “Radical Homemakers” will be part of the solution, no doubt, but in an urban region we are going to need solutions that will work for those who are less radical but who still want to see change.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 16, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Real loneliness can do serious damage

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This is a piece about psychology. It highlights the problems caused by being alone. Human beings are social animals – that is the way we evolved. But thanks to greater mobility, family fission, and other social pressures more and more of us live alone. And this is not good for us. The British very early on in the Thatcher era identified one of the consequences of her disastrous policies. This is the woman who proclaimed “there is no such thing as society” and demand that the Social Science Research Council change its name. Her dogmatic approach to public transport (no subsidies from the taxpayer or cross subsidies between profitable and unprofitable routes) meant that bus services to rural locations and indeed, almost anywhere outside of peak periods became infrequent or simply vanished. This left many people who could not drive unable to access essential services like food shopping, or visiting family – or a doctor. The term “social isolation” entered the lexicon of those dealing with social problems – which Thatcher preferred to ignore.

The sentence which made me decide to blog about this article is

Cacioppo wants to encourage neighbours to come into contact with each other, by making cities more walkable.

Cacioppo is the neuroscientist who has shown that social pain is akin to physical pain.

It’s regular, chronic loneliness that does the serious damage: increased stress levels, higher blood pressure, disrupted sleep – all the way to accelerated dementia.

One the greatest challenges facing the BC government is the rapid rise of health care costs – and this is strongly correlated to the aging of the population. We already know that building roads increases health care costs. The BC government  even had the chutzpah to list this as an economic benefit of the South Fraser Perimeter Road. But those costs are simply the direct impacts of particulates and other common air contaminants. More traffic means more collisions, of course, but the government likes to ignore induced traffic. It also likes to ignore the impact of increasing car use on land use – which is perhaps one of its most pernicious aspects.  Places that are designed for cars do not meet people’s needs very well – though they do serve the corporate interests very well indeed. There is a great deal more profit to be made in a sprawling suburb, which is why there are so many of them. But the people there have, we know, higher rates of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes – all strongly associated with a sedentary life style. Not that most cost benefit analyses of transportation projects in BC attempt to quantify those costs, even in the simple terms of the impact on the public purse.

In the view of people like Jan Gehl, it is not just walkability that is missing from our cities and suburbs. It is also the opportunity to sit down in public places – to linger and people watch, to have casual social interactions. In fact those interactions have always been the most important part of the local economy – that is the way that markets work and why, even in our IT age, they still are geographically centralized. But where we have no public spaces, only private space where we are allowed merely to remain for a brief interval while shopping or consuming other commercial services, we lose the single most important thing that we do as humans. Association.

By allowing private corporations to determine the nature of our gathering places, we have managed to reduce the demand on local taxpayers. But we have lost far more. Our mindless obsession with balance sheets and return on capital employed means we have lost the ability to understand what it means to be human. We also distrust economists and other analysts who attempt evaluate social costs – things that have a huge impact on us but have no easily discernible monetary price. But the decisions are still made – and the those who benefit loudly triumph the supposed success in terms of jobs or GDP – or some other simple statistic which ignores well being.

And it is not as if we were not aware of these effects. Artists and social commentators, writers and dramatists have all voiced concerns about the way we live now and its corrosive effects on the family and the human spirit. But these voices are also marginalised or ignored, because of the deliberate manipulation of the communications media by the same corporate interests. But even they cannot ignore forever the crisis in health care costs and its causes.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 15, 2009 at 7:45 am

Health Canada Report on Climate Change

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Cyclingmama reports on the Livable Region Blog

Health Canada’s grim report on Canadian health and climate change. This report was supposed to be made available early this year but had been suppressed by the Harper government because of its damning evidence. Now Health Canada has finally published it on its website, but it is not available for download because, according to HC, it is too big. They say it is only available by snail mail with a 2-4 week waiting period.

The Smog Blog was able to access it and has made it available electronically through the following link.

By the way that process means using a service called scribd – and I found that troublesome thanks to the need for registration and the use of javascript. So you can get the whole thing here instead without the need for either

Human Health in a Changing Climate

Yes it is a large file but if I can host it I do not see why the Government can’t. By the way if you see a “snap shot” that says the file is broken, ignore it – it isn’t. I just tried the link and it works fine. The download is 11.5MB.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 6, 2008 at 10:48 am

What do we want?

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The Council of Seniors Organizations of BC made a submission to the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging June 5th in Victoria. The following extract is taken from Gudrun Langolf’s speaking notes and deals with bicycles, transit and toilets. The submission did cover other issues childcare, food safety and water quality – among other things…but these had the greatest resonance with me.

Making it easy and habitual to keep fit includes reserving green spaces, allotment gardens, parks, physical games throughout school years, adequate and safe bicycle routes (for physically challenged or seniors, these should accommodate tricycles!), and hygiene stations with drinking water fountains and, very importantly, public toilet facilities both rare commodities in our region. I know of individuals who will not take their diuretic medication (for high blood pressure) on the days they travel or are away from home for fear of not having an accessible toilet even on transit stations. No need to talk about negative health consequences here. When I go for my bike rides, they are almost always designed to include ‘comfort stations’- not much spontaneity allowed… In Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, we can count public facilities on the fingers of one hand! Construction site Johnny-on-the-spots and accommodating restaurants fill the void. This is not acceptable in a civil society. Remove these not so obvious barriers to mobility. Of course, this is of benefit to all generations, not only the elders. For some reason they ran out of money and could not provide up & down escalators in our modern transit stations as well. Those and toilets ought to be standard for every transportation cost-sharing project.

I am 59 and sort of retired. I was being offered senior’s discounts 15 years ago (it’s been a tough life) but I do not think of myself as a “senior”. However, I do have the usual old men’s issues. Working on the census I was very glad of the biffies on construction sites. And on my other blog, the issue of the public convenience has been given quite a bit of space. And the removal of drinking fountains and their replacement by vending selling bottled municipal water at outrageous prices is a disgrace.

The issues I think have a common thread. Government has lost sight of what it is supposed to be for. It now behaves as though facilitating profitable enterprises is their only concern. Providing a decent, civilised public realm comes second to promoting the ability of business to extract yet more surplus from everyday activities. We seem to have forgotten that municipal government started with the very real concerns that the population needs healthy living conditions. I have to refer to England here since I do not know enough about the history of Canadian municipal government, but in the Victorian era it was the city councils that ensured there were clean streets, clean water, functioning sewers and sewage treatment, public baths, recreation of all kinds in parks and other facilities. And lots of public conveniences too. They also administered the Public Health Act, which among other things ensured that houses met certain minimum standards, whoever built them, as well as public housing for those who could not afford market rents. It was also the local councils that first built and operated tram services in most cities.

All we do now is try to find ways to limit spending on programs. But somehow municipal taxes rise much faster than inflation yet the quality of services has not improved very much, despite much of it being run by private sector companies that were supposed to be more efficient. And the projects municipalities do build are always justified by the amount of business they will bring to the town. So there is no money for a senior’s centre, but there is plenty for an Olympic skating facility that will be needed for exactly two weeks – and then has to be “repurposed”.

Anyway, good for you, Gudrun. Maybe the Senate might actually do something useful for a change. After all, it is in their own interest. Most of them are older than either of us.

[By the way, this just happens to be the 1,000th post on this blog]

Written by Stephen Rees

June 8, 2008 at 9:24 pm

UBC Researchers to investigate cycling safety

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VANCOUVER: Today marks the beginning of Bike Month, an initiative designed to promote cycling and to encourage people to trade four wheels for two.  However, many would-be cyclists may be hesitant to take up cycling due to concerns about safety.  That’s why a research team based at the Universities of British Columbia and Toronto is launching a study to investigate which types of cycling routes are safest.

“When you ask people why they don’t cycle more often, the most common answer is safety, yet the best evidence for improving safety is for more people to cycle,” says Kay Teschke, Professor at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health and lead investigator of the new study. Many northern European cities boast cycling levels many times higher than those of Canada or the United States and cyclists there are less likely to suffer serious injuries than in North America.  Cycling also provides many health benefits (increased physical fitness, decreased obesity and chronic diseases, reduced air and noise pollution), so it is a wonderful mode of transportation to use.

There are a number of theories for why cycling in Europe is both safer and more popular than in North America.  One theory relates to transportation infrastructure: European cities most often feature cycle paths separated from motorized traffic, while Canadian cyclists are more likely to be sharing the road with parked and moving cars.  “The relative safety of these two styles of infrastructure has been the subject of much debate among cycling researchers and advocates, but little research,” explains Teschke.

The new study will attempt to fill this knowledge gap by collecting extensive data about cycling injuries in Vancouver and Toronto.  The research team is working with hospitals in both cities to recruit patients who have visited emergency rooms due to a cycling injury.  They will interview injured cyclists, and then will conduct site observations to collect information on route characteristics.  The team will record information about the injury site and about two other randomly selected sites along the route.   This will allow the team to estimate the risks of different route types (for example, designated bike routes compared to mixed-use routes), and of distinct points on routes (for example, intersections compared to straight-aways).

Transportation planners from Vancouver and Toronto are involved in the study, contributing technical expertise and information about transportation networks to the project.  “We are always happy to obtain more data about potentially risky situations for cyclists, especially when the data is directly related to our local conditions” says Peter Stary, the Bicycle Program Coordinator for the City of Vancouver.  Stary says that the study results may be used to help develop countermeasures for route characteristics found to contribute to bicycle crashes.

More information about the study can be found on the ‘Cycling in Cities’ website at  The study is funded under a strategic Request for Applications in the area of the Built Environment, Obesity and Health launched by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and its partners the CIHR Institutes of Aging; of Circulatory and Respiratory Health; of Human Development, of Child and Youth Health; of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis; of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes; and of Population and Public Health.


The Centre for Health and Environment Research is a multidisciplinary research centre funded by the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.  It provides infrastructure support for investigators who research and prevent diseases caused by hazards in outdoor and indoor environments.  For more information, please visit

For more information, please contact:

Christie Hurrell
Executive Director
UBC Centre for Health and Environment Research
Tel: 604-827-5622
Fax: 604-822-9588

Kay Teschke
School of Population and Public Health, and
School of Environmental Health
Tel: 604-822-2041
Fax: 604-822-4994

Written by Stephen Rees

June 3, 2008 at 4:08 pm

Pollution ‘ups blood clot risk’

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BBC on Harvard School of Public Health Report

Breathing in air pollution from traffic fumes can raise the risk of potentially deadly blood clots, a US study says.

Exposure to small particulates – tiny chemicals caused by burning fossil fuels – is known to increase the chances of heart disease and stroke.

But the Harvard School of Public Health found it also affected development of deep vein thrombosis – blood clots in the legs – in a study of 2,000 people.

Particulates are nasty little things, but their chemistry is horribly complicated and they are difficult to measure and quantify because they are so small. A lot of attention is paid to diesel emissions because they contain small particulates: in fact the number of very small particles has been increasing as the technology to reduce the total weight of emitted particles has been improving. And the smaller the particle the further it can penetrate into the lung. So the links to asthma, lung and heart disease are fairly clear.

What this research does is provide an understanding of how particulates have even wider impacts than we used to think. And these particles may not be directly emitted, but form in the chemical soup that the air we breathe in our car oriented urban areas has become. There are chemical reactions that lead to the creation of more particles as the various pollutants interact with the nitrogen, oxygen and hydrocarbons that are in the air naturally. I have long suspected that more attention was being paid to trucks and buses, because that way car drivers can point the finger elesewhere. In this region, where cars have to pass regular emissions testing (but not, of course basic roadworthiness or safety checks) people believe their cars are clean becuase they have a certificate that tells them so. And every time a heavily loaded bus accelerates away from a stop there is the tell tale plume of smoke. So obviously that convinces the car drivers that air pollution is not their fault.

In truth, of course, the huge volume of vehicles means that the impact of cars as a whole is much greater than the relatively small number of buses and trucks. And while those cars  generally have passed Air Care, they are far from zero emission, and the total volume of emissions is very significant.

What is also not said in the BBC piece, but I think may also be worth looking at is the fact that air quality inside vehicles is usually much worse than the air in general. And many people are inactive, since they are sitting in their vehicles for long periods. Taxi drivers should be concerned. But I would also like to see studies done in North America since the use of diesel cars is much greater in Italy (where this study was done) than it is here.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 13, 2008 at 8:15 am

Posted in air pollution, health

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