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

Captain’s Log

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#19 to Metrotown at Stanley Park
#19 leaving Stanley Park

Just a normal day in paradise – with times from the friendly systems that now track my movements

car2go from Yew at Nanton to the Aquatic Centre, English Bay (4.9km)

Depart 11:40am Arrive 11:54am

Bus from Stanley Park – after ten minutes wait at the terminus

2:26pm 19 to Ganville Street

2:54pm 16 to Nanton arrive 3:20pm (8.35km)

Despite heavy traffic on Georgia, the #19 made good time as it ran for most of the time as SORRY BUS FULL. The bus was a diesel, not a trolley, and was running a short turn to Main Street.

The wait on Granville Street seemed long as the Transit app kept reporting “real time” expected departure times that got updated intermittently.

I have not been using car2go much recently as there was often no car available when I wanted one. They sent me a rather plaintive email to tempt me back so the trip downtown was actually free.

Not that I was in a hurry or anything but I think I am going to be looking for car2go more often.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 15, 2019 at 3:55 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with ,

Do we really want driverless buses?

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Image taken from original article in Smart Cities Dive

A consortium has been formed of US transit agencies who want to try out driverless buses. The idea is that the cost of getting into this new technology will be lower if it is shared.

I think the idea of a consortium to try out new technologies is a good one, and one that has a long history in transit. What worries me is that this is starting with a technology that I do not think needs to be the first priority. It is understandable, given the high percentage of overall operating cost that is due to driver’s wages and benefits. We have had driverless trains in this region for a long while. SkyTrain has also had significant numbers of people committed to patrolling the system to ensure passenger safety and security.

Recently an incident on the top deck of a British bus has awakened concerns here about passenger security on the double deckers shortly to be introduced here. (Hint: the driver has either a periscope or camera to see what is going on upstairs.) While assaults like this are relatively rare, bad behaviour by passengers is not. For this reason, bus operators are now getting protective screens on the new buses when they enter service. Equally, it is not unheard of for bus drivers to be the first responders in other cases of emergency. And one thing that we have probably all seen for ourselves is the reluctance of other people to get involved when someone else needs assistance. The response time to someone pressing an alarm on SkyTrain has also been an issue on occasion.

While a bus operator may not have all the skills and knowledge of a paramedic or a police officer, they are trained in what to do in an emergency. And often the interpersonal skills that they do have (and are now selected for) have been used to effectively reduce the tensions which can lead to rapid escalation.

There are autonomous buses in operation in France and elsewhere, but so far they have been limited to low speeds, short distances and relatively traffic free areas.

“The consortium [on the other hand] is expected to purchase 75 to 100 full-sized, autonomous buses that will run at full speed in real service environments.”

This seems to me to be unnecessary at this stage. And one of the things that has been improved in this region since I arrived has been the atmosphere on board buses since the emphasis in selection changed away from “has an air brake license” to “has people skills”. In general, the attitude and welcome you get on boarding the bus has been one of the best features of the ride. It would be a great shame to lose this. I also wonder how an autonomous bus would be alerted to the need to lower the ramp at a bus stop for a passenger with a disability – or delay starting until they were safely in place on board.


Written by Stephen Rees

June 9, 2019 at 11:07 am

Posted in transit

Tagged with , ,

The Bicycle Diaries: Episode 14

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Yesterday we got the bikes tuned up by Velofix (they come to you, which makes things very convenient) and the old, sprung front fork was put back on to replace the solid one I needed to accomodate the electric wheel. I never heard back from the guy who bought the other one, so I do not know if he got it to work. I will be taking all the bits I have left now to the zero waste facility (as the recycling centre has been renamed). – Postscript: one of the annoyances with the wheel was how the battery got wedged into its slot and was difficult to remove. “Impossible” I have been saying but today the staff at the Zero Waste site insisted I separate wheel and battery to put them into different places. It came out easily!

Since there is only one way out of here that does not require a steep hill climb, we decided to put the bikes on the rack of the car. We had heard that there was quite a bit of activity at Iona Beach on Monday – herons and eagles aplenty. That was not to be the case today, unfortunately. And while there were aircraft landing as we rode out along the jetty beside the sewage pipe, by the time we got to the end there was a distinct lull.

Doing this in bright sunlight with a camera that uses a screen (as opposed to a view finder) is not as easy as you might think.

Since we were last at the airport, the extension to the Mall at the eastern end has popped up like a mushroom after rain and traffic over the bridge at 3pm is already heavy before that opens. It was also backing up from Marine Drive as a dump truck and trailer had stalled at the traffic lights in the left turn lane to Milton Street. Since this was not immediately apparent to approaching traffic, there were people still trying to queue jump into the turn lane even though it was blocked and cars were having a hard time regaining the left through lane to get around the truck. The signals were not producing any left turn green arrow phases either.  I think we spent longer in the ensuing traffic jam than we did on the bike ride.

Next up will be a return to the Richmond Dike, and then probably a trip round Boundary Bay.

Here are some views from the end of the pipe, looking north towards UBC and Howe Sound. I have used the Mac’s photo editor to take out some of the hazy smoke.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 4, 2019 at 5:05 pm

Posted in bicycles, cycling, Traffic

Eco-Terrorist: Battle for Our Planet

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The stuff that comes into my inbox these days usually gets a quick once over. Not in this case.

Filmmaker and longest-serving Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) crewmember, first mate to Captain Paul Watson and a captain in his own right, Peter Jay Brown reunites his ruthless cast in this Post Whale-Wars feature documentary that captures all sides of the SSCS from its inception to this very day. Included is even more never-before-seen footage of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Campaigns featuring Renegade Environmentalists and their Guerilla Tactics.

This is a sneak peak of an upcoming release due in the fall this year.

I will admit that I have not seen any of the Whale Wars tv shows. But I have followed the adventures of Paul Watson over the years. And, like many people, I have been appalled by the behaviour of the Japanese and their determination to continue commercial whaling. I am glad Sea Shepherd is doing so well, but I also hope that there will come a day when they are no longer needed, because their mission will have been accomplished.

Image: Director Peter Jay Brown at the help of a Sea Shepherd vessel on campaign

Peter J Brown

Written by Stephen Rees

May 22, 2019 at 9:45 am

Posted in Environment

Tagged with

Book Review: Civilization Critical by Darrin Qualman

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9781773630861_300_450_90

This book was not sent to me by a publisher, nor promoted by a PR firm. It was given to me, by a friend, who in turn had bought it – and three copies more – from his friend, the author, who used to be director of research for Canada’s National Farmer’s Union. Actually that in itself makes for a Good Story, but not one that I am going to get into now.

The book sets out in very readable form exactly how humanity has gotten itself into its current pickle. He is also pretty good at describing the sort of changes we are going to need to make, if we are to avoid imminent disaster – though this section is much shorter than the earlier history. So he is very good indeed on why we need to change, and probably says enough about what needs to be done. Sadly there is not much about exactly how we ought to do that. On present trends, we appear to be doomed by a combination of utter idiocy and selfishness on the part of most of the elite and a sense of helplessness for the rest of us.

You can read more about the book on the publisher’s web page but I will just use a short quote here

In this sweeping work, Qualman reinterprets and re-explains the problems we face today, and charts a clear, hopeful path into the future.

By page count, he uses 250 pages on stating the problem and around 10 on what to do. From the book:

We must make different choices [from business as usual].

We must transform our civilization and its systems of production and consumption.

It is not that I disagree with him. I think he is right. What I find frustrating is his assertion “Solutions surround us.” That may also be true but I do think that they need a bit more elaboration.

I do have to say this book is very well written. When I started reading it I found it necessary to share excerpts with my long suffering partner. A bit like how I cannot enjoy a visit to an art gallery without someone to nudge at the good bits. He has a very good turn of phrase. Whatever else I want you to take from this review is that reading this book was a pleasure, not a chore. I am glad I read it and learned a lot from it. What it did not give me, and maybe this is being unreasonable, is what am I supposed to do about it.

In an earlier article on this blog I made a similar response to Greta Thunberg, who suggests that we need to start building the cathedral even if we don’t know what it is going to look like, but actually we do know. We have known for at least twenty years – which is when this issue first came across my desk – and actually the fossil fuel industries knew that at least twenty years earlier, but decided to obfuscate just as the tobacco industry had done for so long.

In terms of my professional practice, the easiest solutions to identify are what did we do before the cars created all these problems. We seemed to be doing pretty well with electric trains and trams – supplemented by bicycles. Living in compact, complete communities. With an overwhelming need to access better technology for things like eliminating drafts, improving home comfort and cutting down on physical exertion to achieve anything at all. Compare, for instance, the physical labour of plastering a lath wall with installing drywall.

In the US the Green New Deal seems best bet for now. In Canada …

For us, here and now, we have some difficult choices. It may well be that we will indeed see a Green Wave in the upcoming federal election. It seems clear that Scheer is determined to keep on going as we are. He will definitely not be one of the people to read this book. What is critical is that the other parties – who like to see themselves as “progressive” but tend to fall back on “campaign from the left, govern on the right” (both Liberals and NDP are doing this now) – need to embrace change not as “nice to have” but essential to the continued existence of life on earth beyond the 21st century. The Green Party’s effort is pretty good – but perhaps Not Good Enough.

The sad truth – much more than inconvenient –  is that the greenhouse gas that has already been emitted way beyond anything seen when there has been life on earth is going to be around for a while. The tipping points are already whizzing past us just like deadlines. Even if we could stop dead and leave it in the ground from tomorrow that will not be nearly enough, and carbon capture and storage will always be promising. It has not delivered anything significant yet – nor will it, in time. And the current occupiers of the decision making seats are happy to announce yet further depletion of forests (boreal and old growth coastal rainforest) on which our future depends.

When the people we choose at the ballot boxes are so ready to abandon their undertakings in the name of “we are better than the alternative” I do not know how to advise you. Reading this book will only help convince you that we need to act more boldly and sooner. I am not sure how we are going to do that but it does not seem to me to really be advanced much by chucking milkshakes at them.    However much they deserve it.

Civilization Critical
Energy, Food, Nature, and the Future
By Darrin Qualman

Published by Fernwood Publishing 2019

ISBN: 9781773630861

April 2019

360 Pages

For sale worldwide

EPUB

ISBN: 9781773630878

May 2019

For sale worldwide

Kindle

ISBN: 9781773630885

May 2019

For sale worldwide

Written by Stephen Rees

May 21, 2019 at 7:49 pm

Petition against Woodfibre LNG

I just signed a petition – so of course they then send me an email asking for more help. The following comes from My Sea to Sky: it is their content and I have not checked any of these assertions: comments are closed and should be directed to them, not me.


 

Screen Shot 2019-05-08 at 4.03.59 PM

Howe Sound is under threat from Woodfibre LNG, which proposes to construct and operate a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility on the previous Woodfibre Pulp and Paper Mill site located approximately 7 km west-southwest of Squamish.

Why is this project a bad idea?

  • Woodfibre LNG is owned by Sukanto Tanoto, an Indonesian billionaire that has been found guilty of tax evasion and human rights violations.
  • LNG tanker traffic puts people that live in Howe Sound, Vancouver, and Victoria at risk, as international safety guidelines are not being followed.
  • Underwater noise and light pollution will affect salmon migration routes, herring, and marine mammals.
  • Increased local air pollution will affect human health in the lower mainland, particularly the elderly and kids with asthma.
  • LNG exports will increase fracking in northeast BC. Over 70% of B.C.’s natural gas is fracked. If Woodfibre LNG project goes ahead it will result in 24 new fracking wells every year.
  • Site C dam and the eDrive subsidy will increase your hydro bills so Woodfibre LNG can have cheap power.
  • Woodfibre LNG’s local and upstream greenhouse gas emissions are equivalent to adding 170,000 cars to the road.
  • Woodfibre LNG staff Byng Giraud and Marian Ngo have donated illegally to the BC Liberal party, while the project was undergoing its environmental assessment.

Help us stop Woodfibre LNG. Please sign the Howe Sound Declaration.

 

The My Sea to Sky team

Written by Stephen Rees

May 8, 2019 at 4:09 pm

Unexpected impacts of climate change

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Talking this morning to a company that imports stuff from Europe. It is currently very late arriving here. Originally it was destined for the port of Montreal, but there have been strikes there, so the container was diverted. It was now to be delivered by ship into Vancouver via the Panama Canal. But for the first time in its history there has been a three month drought, and the canal is short of water. To get containers through in smaller vessels, they have to be transhipped in Cartagena. The port of Montreal is currently unable to handle ships due to flooding and the consequent shortage of railcars.

POSTSCRIPT
Maybe I should be more incredulous. Here is a recent picture of a container train leaving the Port of Montreal May 6, 2019 – with plenty of space for a second container on every car!
CN 9547

Photo Credit: Michael Berry on Flickr

In the other direction, a container full of door furniture (“knobs and knockers”) destined for a new development in Vancouver was lost at sea when a ship from China was hit by an unprecedented  cyclone.

This is going to be the new normal, and will require some rethinking of the trade patterns that have developed in recent years. While there might be comparative advantages in labour cost, the perils of shipping may make manufacturing at at home rather than abroad a more attractive proposition.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 7, 2019 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Transportation