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

Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Privatizing Canada’s Ports

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The federal Liberals seem to be turning out to be neoliberals – not that much different to the Harper Conservatives Canadians so soundly dismissed. The fact that privatisation has generally failed to deliver on its promises – except for enriching a few exceedingly wealthy men – is always ignored by the ideologues of the right. And that is who the C D Howe Institute are. It annoys me that the CBC runs the headline “New report says privatizing Canada’s ports could generate significant revenue” as though it came from an authoritative source, as opposed to yet more conservative propaganda. As usual the only thing that gets discussed is how much money is supposed flow – as though that will somehow benefit us.

What is ignored is that ports in Canada though supposedly under the authority of the federal government are in fact a law unto themselves, and have performed very poorly in terms of their impact on the environment and local communities. It is very significant that south of the border, no local community has permitted the expansion of coal exports through their ports. They have also successfully held back expansion  of LNG and methanol simply by insisting on adequate safety provisions. Things are different here. We still have a provincial government gungho for LNG and a port only too willing to expand thermal coal exports. Somehow Canadians do not deserve anything like the protections that US west coast communities enjoy. Privatising the port will only make matters worse. We are already losing the battle to protect the tiny percentage of land in BC capable of growing vegetables, being airily assured that we can continue to import all we need as though climate change and water shortage is not already damaging California’s ability to farm as it once did.

It was recently revealed that the Fraser Institute has long been funded by the Koch Brothers – something hotly denied up to now. C D Howe is just such another “think tank” set up not to promote objective policy research but rather to proselytize the Hayek philosophy, quite uncritically. Such studies always seem to be able to discount anything that does not produce profits for corporations. Considerations for ecosystems, or climate, or even equality are dismissed as irrelevant.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 20, 2017 at 3:13 pm

“It’s our environment and our economy”

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A guest post by Andy Shadrack

If Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Trudeau think that they can dictate to British Columbians on the basis of whose economy and environment is more important, then they need to think again.

We have an important sport and commercial salmon fishery, and a coastline that is the envy of every tourism operator in the country. And yet Ms Notley and Mr Trudeau think we should sacrifice our economic interests for theirs.

First, no amount of money could fix a crude oil spill. Just ask the Alaskan fishermen and First Nations people impacted by the Exxon Valdez spill. So we are not talking about exporting twinkies, lumber, natural gas or even coal. We are talking about a substance that could severely damage or destroy our marine ecosystem.

BC has only one marine ecosystem and no amount of money could help rebuild it. Question: why are Alberta and Ottawa not supporting refining tar sands crude where it is being mined?

That way we could all benefit from purchasing Canadian refined oil products and end the importation of foreign oil. The answer I keep getting is that it is too expensive and not a viable economic solution.

Well, guess what, exporting crude oil through BC’s fragile marine ecosystem is not a viable economic alternative either. Nor do we want to be held hostage to Alberta’s economic needs.

We in BC have as much right to protect our environment and economy as Albertans. So, Ms Notley, a little less of “it’s our right” and “the federal government has made adecision”, as Mr Trudeau also promised us that the impacts of resource extraction would be balanced against the needs of protecting the environment.

It’s our environment and our economy that’s at stake here, so please start by respecting us and that fact. After that, we can negotiate as equal partners in confederation and not from some subservient position of just because you mined it, you have a right to export it.

Andy is someone I met when I joined the Green Party of BC. He posted this on his facebook page today. I decided to copy and paste it here.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 13, 2017 at 5:25 pm

No need for Trans Mountain Pipeline

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This post is really just a way for me to have easy access to some recent articles which pretty much show that by the time they have finished building the Kinder Morgan expansion, it will be redundant. There are two articles, one in The Tyee and one on DeSmog Blog, which cite research by David Hughes for CCPA.

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As part of Alberta’s climate plan, announced November 2015, oilsands emissions are capped at 100 megatonnes per year which eliminates growth of future production.

According to Hughes’ analysis, when considering restrictions placed on Alberta oil production under the province’s greenhouse gas emission cap, “Kinder Morgan overestimated oil supply by 43 per cent in 2038.”

Arguments for the necessity of the Trans Mountain pipeline have also been overstated, according to the new analysis, because of alternate pipeline approvals.

In addition to the Trans Mountain pipeline Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also approved the Enbridge Line 3 project and more recently President Donald Trump approved TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline.

If these projects are built, which seems likely, there will be a 13 per cent surplus of export pipeline capacity without the [Trans Mountain pipeline].”

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But even more damning is Bloomberg’s review of the work by Rocky Mountain Institute and the IEA.

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“If you take a large bite out of transportation fuels, then suddenly the economics of the whole downstream oil and gas business look dramatically different,”

So while the KM CEO stands up and blusters about “no concessions” it really begins to look all very irrelevant.

A bit like the 45th US President making a song and dance about withdrawing from a voluntary agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Quite how a deal that had no teeth at all – there are no mandated penalties for failing to meet obligations under the Paris agreement – can be characterised as “unfair” beats me.

Here are some hostages to fortune: there will not be a great boom in BC LNG. There won’t be a Transmountain  Pipeline expansion and there won’t be a Site C dam. They are all absolutely pointless because the rest of the world has already moved on, and renewable sources of energy are just getting more competitive every day.  And even if they weren’t, sensible people are already reaping the economic benefits of better energy efficiency which we seem to be missing out on.

Just like we seem to have ignored the possibility that BC could get all of its energy from geothermal resources (that links to an article from 2014!).

Written by Stephen Rees

June 2, 2017 at 5:40 pm

MoV Das Wiener Modell

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At the Museum of Vancouver  in association with Urbanarium, an exhibition about the extensive social housing provision in Vienna, which started with the collapse of the Hapsburg empire after WWI and continues to this day.

The Vienna Model exhibition, curated by Wolfgang Förster and William Menkins, explores housing in Vienna, Austria, through its portrait of the city’s pathbreaking approach to architecture, urban life, neighborhood revitalization, and the creation of new communities.

Vancouver is consistently ranked alongside the Vienna as one of the world’s most livable cities. Vienna has a stable housing market, with 60% of the population living in municipally built, owned, or managed housing. By comparison, Vancouver is undergoing a housing crisis. Vienna’s housing history and policies provides alternative approaches for British Columbia.

As Vancouver embarks upon a community engagement process revolving around housing, The Vienna Model expands discussion about urban planning options and encourages dialogue and debate on the future of the city.

In addition to its investigation of design that is focused on community, Vancouver- and Vienna-based artists and cultural researchers Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber have selected art projects and public works that reflect Vienna housing into a broader context. These are included in the exhibition and illustrated catalogue.

 

Comparisons

MoV  Das Wiener Modell

MoV Das Wiener Modell

Housing and Transportation

Most the exhibition is about housing and how to make it available to people who cannot afford to buy their own home. There did not seem to be a great deal of emphasis on transportation but I did find this

MoV Das Wiener Modell

“Built as part of Vienna’s efforts to encourage the use of bicycles, it reduced car parking to 50% of the usual requirement (one spot per apartment), replacing it with more attractive and transparent bike storage rooms on the ground floor, a bike repair centre, and large elevators for tenants who want to take their bicycles up to their apartments. Situated… next to a subway station and the city’s bike network.”

MoV Das Wiener Modell

The best transportation plan is a good land use plan and this one does well by putting places that people want to visit close at hand. This obviously reduces car use but apparently they still need underground parking.

MoV Das Wiener Modell

This picture makes it clearer that the external wall is merely a facade enclosing more conventional buildings

MoV Das Wiener Modell

This is about Seestadt Aspern one of the newest developments – I think you can read the bit about public transportation without me copying the text. Let me know if this doesn’t work on your phone.

MoV Das Wiener Modell

Looks a bit grim to me – sort of Cuban – but maybe it will be better once it’s finished and populated

MoV Das Wiener Modell

Apparently most people here (93%) favoured the Vienna approach until there was a debate which turned quite a few against it (video). But there was still a 81% favourable!

The most frequent mode of discussion in the main stream seems to focus around markets – supply and demand – amid much frustration that simply building more doesn’t affect demand when there is a seemingly limitless amount of money available to buy real estate as an investment (as opposed to somewhere to live). Lost in this is the history of Canada has something of a leader in housing provision – back when we still believed that government can sometimes do things right. Public housing provision does and can make sense. But I do think that having a split between planners who do housing and planners who do transportation will simply repeat the same errors once again – the dangerous “projects” (US), the soulless “council estates” (UK) . So mixed use – not poverty ghettos – and lots of amenities within easy reach – as well as jobs and homes next to each other. A bit like cities were before planning – but without the health hazards!

Written by Stephen Rees

May 29, 2017 at 6:43 pm

What if we took transit out of politics

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The article in the Globe and Mail (paywalled – sorry!) actually is entitled “What if we took transit out of the hands of politicians?” And looks at the sorry record of the Greater Toronto Area in the hands of Ontario politicians at both municipal and provincial level. It is hard to disagree that they have not covered themselves in glory and seem to be putting short term political advantage ahead of sensible planning. And actually the key event is not really “transit” as it is a proposal to build intercity high speed rail between Toronto and London, passing through Kitchener-Waterloo. Something already announced more than once.

I am not going to get into why this is indeed nonsense on stilts, but I am going to turn my attention to this bit down at the end of the article.

Public transit doesn’t have to be run by a private business. But it has to be run by an organization that operates like a business, responding to market demand – actual customers – not political demands.

And that is wrong on more than one ground too. It is only because the article is the usual right wing, business is best, mainstream media obsession that the quote starts as it does. Privatisation of public transport – urban transit and passenger bus and rail services – has been a dreadful failure in Britain. As has been pointed out here more than once, it actually now attracts much more subsidy than it did when publicly owned and operated. Complaints about service are legion, but the companies that run trains and buses for profits have generally made out like bandits. When those companies have failed, and the service taken back into public control, it has always improved

But in the case of urban transit in a rapidly growing region “responding to market demand” is also a recipe for certain failure. And that stems from the myopia that separates out building new transportation from planning urban growth. Land use and transportation are inextricably locked together – but Tony Keller doesn’t mention land use once. This lack of understanding is also why we should mistrust the federal Infrastructure Bank – if its ludicrously high interest rate costs were not enough reason already.

Transit expansion should not wait for market demand – it should lead it and shape it. Especially if the project requires large up front capital investments in buying new rights of way and building massive infrastructure. You have to build these things where people are thin on the ground, if you are to be allowed to start at all, because once they are opened you want to attract development. Building in already densely populated areas – like New York’s Second Avenue subway – is hideously expensive, and the cause of much complaint from the existing residents. The huge interstate freeway system was built between cities, on greenfields, first before tackling the much more contentious inner city areas. The result was, of course, urban sprawl and much disruption of established communities. Doing transit right in major cities requires expertise in “the art of insertion” as the Parisian tramway planners say.

If we had built the SkyTrain through the TriCities before they developed, the trains would have run empty for the first few years, but the style of  development would have been very different. Transit oriented development is actually not at all new and untried – it is what was built before car ownership was widespread. It is only because North American development defaults to the low density car-oriented urban pattern that transit struggles. Before Henry Ford, most streetcar and interurban service was privately owned – and its promoters were usually real estate developers.

Because everything about the suburbs depends on subsidies transit has to be subsidized, which is why some form of political control is essential. It also has to be recognised that most of the benefits of not being car oriented come from things that the private sector has a hard time monetising. Or the people suffer terribly when they succeed.  People who use transit, cycle or walk for most of their trips are both happier and healthier. People who feel forced to spend far too much of their day stuck in traffic in their cars are both unhealthier and frustrated. Drive until you qualify for a mortgage is actually a deal with the devil. The combined cost of living – travel plus accommodation – is actually higher for low density car oriented suburbs – but the lower house prices (and tax treatment of mortgages in places like the US and UK) seem to continue to attract buyers.

While we have done quite well in producing a greater variety of housing stock, we have not done nearly as well in providing the necessary mobility services. This is partly, once again, because we have relied on politicians. And sadly the supposedly “progressive” NDP wasn’t actually that much different to the evil BC Liberals. The Millennium Line for a long time wasn’t as useful as the whole T shaped arrangement we have now (due to the long overdue Evergreen extension)  but at least it was capable of expansion. Unlike the deliberately underbuilt Canada Line.

The next steps to be taken here – and in Greater Toronto – inevitably will involve politicians since huge amounts of money need to be spent. And they would be well advised to avoid the pitfalls of P3s and go with public sector investments, that are designed to support rather than confuse the necessary land use arrangements. In this region we once had such an integrated and use and transportation plan: it was deliberately scuttled by the BC Liberal Party as a way of paying off the people who provided them with the money to run successful elections. Obviously we need to get the big money out of provincial politics. Obviously we need a better way of electing politicians. We also need to have system of urban and regional planning that integrates development of land use and transportation systems. Their operation can indeed be left to the professionals BUT wherever public money is used there has to be accountability. That requires openness, honesty and a commitment to listening. Indirectly elected municipal politicians cannot be expected to do this well at a regional level.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 29, 2017 at 11:32 am

You can’t handle the truth

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There was a hard hitting article in the Globe and Mail, which I didn’t read because it is behind a paywall and the Grope and Wail is predictably right wing, especially where climate change is concerned. Then Pamela Zevit posted a link on facebook to an article on boereport which both provides a neat summary and some trenchant discussion.  I am not sure if the link provided in that article actually will get you to the original as it points to pressreader – which I don’t use either.

Anyway here is the summary

Four simple points are made that should be enough to derail the current monolithic environment industry and start a new revolution, but they will have a hard time because the media couldn’t have cared less.

The article’s four pertinent points are: that only a fraction of the population is motivated by the health of the planet; that more information does not lead to more action; that scare tactics don’t work; and that environmental products have to be desirable before they become adopted. Each point is supported by logical and balanced reasons that are hard to argue with, which explains why the article was pointedly ignored by even its owner.

The piece is a refreshingly clear statement about where the environmental debate should be going.

And at this point my thoughts turned in quite a different direction. I do not think that individual action is going to change anything very much, because the amount of difference that makes is tiny. Now, if you want to make changes in the way that you do things in order to save the planet, you go right ahead. But in the meantime there is a group of people – actually a tiny minority of the world’s population – who could indeed make a quite extraordinary  difference. They are the decision makers, the far less than 1% who control most of what happens in modern western societies, and who continue to seek out short term profits rather than long term security. And some of those people include politicians in our society who seem to be doing things that are simply contrarian to any scientific reality about this question. Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau come top of my mind right now, but there are plenty of others.

The decisions behind the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to export dilbit from Alberta are driven by what they see as necessary economically. Meanwhile in other places, the move away from fossil fuels is gathering strength and is already making a measurable difference. The use of solar panels and wind turbines has increased much faster than anyone anticipated, with the result that the costs of these technologies has fallen and is now competitive with fossil fuels. Not only that but the places that are getting on with changing how they produce electricity are increasing employment, and economic activity as well as producing worthwhile improvements to other issues such as air and water quality.

It isn’t actually necessary that the other 80% of the population is motivated by the health of the planet, because they are motivated by buying better, cheaper solutions to meet their needs. The taxi drivers who decided to buy a Prius instead of a second hand full sized IC car were motivated by a financial case. And the biggest savings came not so much from buying less fuel as needing fewer brake jobs. The people installing solar panels do so because their hydro bills go down – or they can stop using diesel generators. People like Elon Musk are selling electric cars because they are better than the IC equivalent.

There is a petition that I have seen recently aimed at a cruise ship line to try and get them to switch from using bunker C (the really gross residual oil from refining crude that is used in marine diesel engines). I am not going to sign it. Because it is unreasonable to expect one ship owner to switch fuels when no other shipping line is being pressured to stop doing the same thing. But one day someone will come up with a way of powering these engines with a renewable, cleaner fuel – for instance there is one promising process to use sewage to produce liquid fuel. Which will also help to lessen their local environmental impact.

When I was part of the team that wrote BC’s first Greenhouse Gas Action Plan, we did not expect anyone to change anything in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But we were able to identify plenty of things that could be done that would reduce energy use, and hence expenses, that would pay for themselves in two to three years at most. Energy efficiency is worth investing in for its own sake!  And I was really quite pleased when I saw that my daughter’s school installed ground source heat pumps when it built its new extension, something that would have been prohibited by the previous policy framework. BC Hydro’s Conservation effort cost $1.5bn but saved double what Site C will produce – and will cost over $9bn. (Source: BCUC Revenue Requirement hearings 2017 via facebook BC Hydro Ratepayers Association)

Actually energy efficiency is a much bigger productivity resource than is generally understood.

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It really doesn’t matter if environmental pressure groups have little impact on popular opinion. Though something must be pushing people to vote Green in larger numbers. There are already many other groups that are organising things better and helping us become more sustainable, and reducing emissions at the same time. Making it possible for people to ride their bikes in reasonable comfort and safety is probably helping to reduce the number of car trips they take. Selling cold water detergent doesn’t hurt either. Capturing methane from landfills to replace fossil fuel gas – and also increase plant growth  with the CO2 is also a good idea. Closing landfills altogether might be better but is ways off. And somehow other countries seem to manage to raise awareness – a Swiss referendum (they have lots of them) chose to end use of nuclear power.

In the meantime the demand for the fossil fuels some in Canada want to export is declining – and the price for LNG, for instance, simply doesn’t warrant any of the huge investments we are being asked to subsidize. China and India are backing off from coal faster than expected – and making the sort of contribution to CO2 reduction that was thought impossible in the earlier climate change talks. Again, neither of these countries are driven by altruism: both are looking at the cost of the health impacts of fossil fuel burning on air quality.

And Bernie Sanders agrees with me.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 20, 2017 at 4:14 pm

Death Spiral for Big Oil and Big Auto

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I have taken a chunk out of the title of the original article in the National Post.

All fossil-fuel vehicles will vanish in 8 years in twin ‘death spiral’ for big oil and big autos, says study that’s shocking the industries

That’s a pretty big title – but the article itself is long – and the Good News is that you can actually download the report in question and read it for yourself.

There are two things happening at the same time – the rise of the electric vehicle and the imminent prospect of cars that drive themselves. Put those two together, and people will give up owning an expensive internal combustion engine behemoth and take a ride in a shared autonomous vehicle – which may even have no cost to the user for the trip.

Obviously this kind of disruption is going to have huge knock on effects, and not surprisingly the report itself has plenty to read without getting into the details of what this does to cities that already experience traffic congestion and rely on public transit systems. One thing that I see is that if you can get a free ride in a self driving Uber then there is going to be a lot more vehicle trip kilometers than there are now. Our urban systems are already stressed at peak periods – and while these cars will have better occupancy and utilisation rates than the present fleet, they will still be competing for a finite amount of road space at peak periods and the simple geometry of traffic congestion will not have changed at all. So there will still need to be transit – and if there isn’t a need for a driver there may still need to be a chaperone!

Anyway for right now I have a report to read Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030 PDF file.

And there’s this right up front

We invite you to join our community of thought leaders and experts to better inform this conversation. To learn more, please visit www.rethinkx.com.

One thing we seem to be getting quite wrong is the idea that we will need pipelines to export Alberta’s very expensive to produce bitumen. Building the Kinder Morgan expansion for a very limited life seems very wasteful to me. Much better to embrace the change and start getting ready for what’s coming anyway.

U.S. producers will be hit the hardest by the volume effect, as almost 15 million bpd of US oil — or 58% — will become uncommercial to produce at $25.4 cash cost. Likewise, more than half of oil production in Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Angola and the U.K. will be stranded.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 16, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Transportation