Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘cars

What holds energy tech back? The infernal battery

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Thanks to Sightline again for the link to an AP article in the Seattle Times. It is a very useful, non-technical review of the lack of progress in battery technology. “It’s why electric cars aren’t clogging the roads” which is a useful bit of reality check against the optimism expressed by the report I looked at yesterday.

As for the electric car industry, lithium ion batteries have proved to have two major drawbacks: They are costly, and they do not allow automobiles to go far enough between rechargings. A123, a maker of lithium ion batteries for electric cars, went bankrupt last year because of poor demand and high costs after receiving a $249 million federal grant.

I know I have covered this ground before, but it is worth re-stating. What we want is the comfort and convenience of the car without its environmental impact. It is based on the mistaken idea that if we could get rid of the internal combustion engine – or the fossil fuel it now runs on – all would be well. And that is not true. The problems we have due to cars include urban sprawl, health impacts from that as well as the direct impacts of vehicle collisions (even if we can bring ourselves to trust computers to drive the cars for us), huge economic dependency of both societies and individuals from over-investment in a movement device that spends nearly all of its time stationary,  congestion and delay. If every car was suddenly to become zero emission tomorrow, nearly all of the problems of motordom would remain to be solved.

 it has conflicting functions. Its primary job is to store energy. But it’s also supposed to discharge power, lots of it, quickly. Those two jobs are at odds with each other.

“If you want high storage, you can’t get high power,” said M. Stanley Whittingham, director of the Northeast Center for Chemical Energy Storage. “People are expecting more than what’s possible.”

At this point I expected a diversion to fuel cells: mercifully that isn’t there – but again yesterday’s report was full of optimism about hydrogen. Which is not a fuel at all but simply a way of storing and transmitting electricity – and not a very good one at that. It is horrendously expensive and very inefficient – simply because hydrogen is the smallest molecule and thus extraordinarily hard to store.

#5 layover

That does not mean we cannot expand the use of electricity in transport – just that we will have to concentrate on technologies that we know work, even if they are not quite a perfect replacement for the convenience and mobility of the private car. What we need to convince ourselves about is that neither of those things is a project killer. We don’t actually need so much mobility if we only could redesign and retrofit our cities to be more accessible. If what we want was in easy reach by walking – or cycling – and both modes were safe and attractive – we will do a lot more of both, reducing both our carbon impacts and  the size of our waistlines. For longer journeys, fixed route public transportation that is unhampered by single occupant vehicles can be readily powered by very long extension cords – trolleybuses, streetcars and trains. As long as these have adequate priority the expense of grade separation can be avoided. Yes, private cars will be delayed. Good. That improves the case for modal shift and saves lives.

V9486 Hybrid

I also think that by now somebody ought to have taken the step of putting a set of lightweight trolleypoles on the roof of a hybrid bus – or shoving a hybrid power plant into a trolleybus. Then we in Vancouver could see extensions of trolleybus routes to useful destinations – and redeployment of diesel buses to the suburbs. So the #41 to UBC gets converted, the #9 extended to Brentwood – and the inner set of “express bus” wires along Hastings get used for SFU services instead of being an historical anomaly of earlier faster trolley bus service to the PNE.

For one group, the use of lightweight cheaper batteries is already paying off handsomely. In general I do not think that electric bikes are such a great idea. For better health outcomes alone, I favour human power as much as possible. But we have an aging population. When you are young, you have time but no money. In middle age you have money but no time. Then, just when you have money and time, your knees give out. That is when a power assisted pushbike makes all kinds of sense.

So we can indeed reduce the use of oil (and other fossil fuels) in transportation – and it doesn’t require any kind of technological advances. We already have “good enough” technologies which are getting better. Information technology has done a great deal to reduce much of the frustrations inherent in using transit, and for facilitating things like bike shares and car shares which could be so effective in increasing its range and effectiveness if only they were integrated properly.

Bike rack at Langara 49th

What is missing is not some whizzo battery – or personal rapid transit or a cheap fuel cell. It is political will and resources. And that has been the case for nearly all of the time I have been conscious of the issues – over fifty years! Conservatism – the power of the special interest group we refer to as “the elite” – the 1%. That is the root cause of the problem – however you decide to define the problem. Unaffordability of housing, traffic congestion, bad air quality, environmental impact, global warming. All of these issues are based on the incredible selfishness of a very small group of people. Many of who spend a great deal of time and money telling us how much they care about these issues but none of which ever seem to get solved. Even though the solutions have been staring us in the face all that time.

Vancouver unveils plan to replace viaducts

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The Sun headline is a bit longer but I really do not like the term ‘super road’. In fact what the City Engineer is now proposing is a new network with several significant additions. Sadly the story does not come with a map or a link to the presentation council heard yesterday.

new road network proposed to replace the viaducts

The new road network proposed to replace the viaducts – taken from the staff presentation to Council

The important point – and the one that needs to be reiterated for all those people who commented here (and elsewhere) about the impact on traffic – is that the viaducts are not necessary.

“The viaducts were built at a time and in a context that made sense,” said Kevin McNaney, the city’s assistant director of planning. “They crossed industrial land, which no longer exists, they were built to be part of a freeway system, which was never built, and they were built to a capacity that we can never achieve. So the question for council over the coming months and this coming fall, is: ‘Is there a better, more coherent vision, and how can we get there?’”

The viaducts were built in the 1960s to carry as many as 1,800 vehicles an hour. But less than half that number use the viaducts now and that amount is declining as improvements to public transportation are made, Dobrovolny said.

Which is pretty much the stance I took from the start. Indeed what is really different is that the “viaducts could be demolished almost immediately, paving the way for new housing and a neighbourhood park system, if the plan is approved by council this fall”. That is much better than the original idea that it could take at least 15 years, and is what I was calling for.

Improved Pedestrian and Bicycle Connections

Improved Pedestrian and Bicycle Connections

To summarize what is now being proposed

  • a new road from Pacific Boulevard that connects to Prior, Main and Quebec Streets.
  • Georgia Street extended to Pacific down a 5% grade
  • Westbound vehicle access to Dunsmuir ended
  • bicycle and pedestrian bridge to connect from a planned park to Dunsmuir Street above.
  • bicycle and pedestrian mall on the west side of a future park linking Carrall Street with False Creek

(This summary has been adapted from the text of the Sun report as the city presentation is a pdf file)

The presentation also discusses how land use could change as this frees up the land currently covered by the viaducts for development. This “could generate 850,000 square feet of housing and retail space and could help pay for the cost of demolishing the viaducts”

I think the most encouraging thing in the presentation is the amount of public support for this proposal. There is even bipartisan support on Council.

Subsequently the Mayor has been trying to dampen everyone’s enthusiasm and suggest that it all needs to take much longer.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 25, 2012 at 8:40 am

YouCity Innovation Contest

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“Below the fold” is another Press Release. This one gets through my very fine sieve since it is actually relevant to the readers of this blog. Who knows, someone reading this might actually get a trip to Berlin out of it. If you do, please let me know.

BUT – there’s always a “but” from the acerbic Mr Rees – I want to throw some cold water on the idea that innovation is what is needed – at least in terms of gee whiz technology. We know what works in cities – and we know the places which have been showing the way. Generally speaking the ideas were concepts which have been around for a while and most meet consistent opposition from the embedded spokespersons of the elite and corporate interests. In no particular order, here are some of the innovations that we have already seen work to make cities not just sustainable but more livable. All of them could be adopted here. Most of them will be, eventually, as the oil runs out and the climate gets steadily worse. I would like to see them here in my lifetime – I should only live so long! And a lot of them are not innovative at all – they are putting back what we once had, that did work but did not suit the suits.

Get in the way of the cars

This is simple to do. Just about any changes that impact urban traffic are opposed by car drivers and those who make their money from selling cars and their fuel. But cars are the problem in cities – and if you are upsetting motorists then you are probably doing the right thing. For instance, look at the pathological opposition to bike lanes – the Burrard Bridge being one of the best and most unequivocal stories in this region. Taking a lane away from cars was supposed to bring about chaos and economic decline. It didn’t happen. The same thing is being said about bike lanes downtown – and will be said if anyone dares to come up with any proposal that counts people as opposed to vehicles. The metric of vehicles per hour must be replaced by persons per hour. In Central London many years ago, we did this to the traffic control system. We did it by using the same cost benefit values that we had already been using for years for capital projects – which kept down the noise from the engineers, who tend to be car drivers themselves. The result was a whole raft of bus priority measures. Janet Sadik-Khan did it in New York. She simply observed that in Times Square pedestrians far outnumbered car users – a percentage of whom did not actually need to be in midtown Manhattan at all since they were just passing through.

Some road reduction measures actually improve traffic flow. For instance, turning the standard four lane arterial into three – with the centre lane used for left turns only (bi-directional) and the curb lane being used for bicycles instead of parking. Williams Road in Richmond got this treatment many years ago, it works beautifully, but it has not been replicated. Roundabouts also work this way – and greatly reduce both collisions and collision severities. Yet they are still regarded as alien invaders.

Speed is still the biggest traffic problem, and speed limit enforcement using cameras works. Photo radar still is in operation to enforce red lights – and ought to be brought back for speed limits. Average speed cameras would make most bridges much safer and reduce collisions – the major cause of traffic delays in this region judging by the coverage on AM730. If it is called a cash grab (and it will be) just smile sweetly and tell ’em there’s an easy to avoid paying – just don’t speed.

Tear down the viaducts – sooner rather than later. Just do it.

Impose a congestion charge. This one is actually tricky here since it cannot be the sort of straightforward cordon price used in London so well, and which paid for so much improvement in bus supply. Road pricing works – we know that – and we need the money. The arguments will all be about how we do it and how to prevent diversion of traffic off the arterials and on to the back streets. But this needs to happen – so we might just as well bite the bullet and get on with it.

Expand transit

We have known that we are undersupplied with transit service for many years. Until people have a viable alternative they will keep driving. Spending billions on widening freeways was stupid and short-sighted but at least proved that we have both the money and technology required to expand the transportation system. Expecting that the new lanes of highway would not fill up with traffic just because the Port Mann bridge will be tolled is sophistry.

The easy fix is to get a lot more buses rolling and increase service frequencies – and put in bus lanes (not HOV lanes) with effective enforcement again (cameras on the front of the bus controlled by the bus driver). Only buses in bus lanes – and the lane surface should be coloured – then there is no argument about what should be where.

London bus lane

Again, this happened in London with the congestion charge and worked. Rail is needed (see below) but takes too long to build to have the immediate impact that bus service expansion had.

More passenger rail – choosing appropriate technology by need. The arguments about streetcars vs light rail vs grade separation ought to be resolved by looking at the purpose of the service and the expected load. Different tools to perform different jobs. In urban areas where getting a new right of away is either difficult or ludicrously expensive making use of existing  under-utilized or abandoned rights of way should be obvious to everyone. And the concept of a “heritage boulevard” should fool no-one. We need streetcars – which get their own reserved lane – and we need light rail and we need high speed trains for longer distances. The electric interurbans were really effective – and the line is there and what freight moves along it now can easily move overnight, leaving the track free for people. No, it is not an ideal route, but like I said, waiting for the best is no longer an option.

Don’t let the truckers plan your transportation system

I acknowledge my debt to Gordon Price for that thought. One of the reasons it is top of mind is one of the press releases that didn’t make it here. It began

Talk of transit and how to finance it continues to make headlines.  While finding new ways of funding subways and LRTs is essential, this single-minded focus has left the freight industry — and the transport infrastructure they use – out of the conversation.  With this in mind, Transport Futures is proud to be hosting the first-ever Goods Movement and Mobility Pricing Forum …

If the Gateway has taught us nothing it is that the armageddon forecast by the truckers would not have happened either – but the one forecast by the Livable Region Coalition sadly will.

Come to think of it what we do need here is what works so well in Europe. An electronic tachograph in every truck  “the spy in the cab” which enforces drivers’ hours and is so useful after collisions in determining responsibility. This can be coupled with going back to earlier levels of random roadside inspections for vehicle safety and checks on overloading. Are there any weigh scales next to the highway in the region that are actually in use?

Priority for walking, cycling and transit

That was the principle espoused by the City of Vancouver Transportation Plan which took a while to get implemented – and is now on a roll. It must be adopted region wide – and the province must accept that.

Public space in cities is not mainly so that cars can speed through. The idea that people like to sit down and enjoy the place is not new – but its application is done much better in most other places.

Governance and funding

The present arrangements do not work. We have to stop kidding ourselves that other people think we are some sort of example to follow. On the contrary, we are an object lesson on what is wrong. Of course it would be different if Canada had a national transit program  – but we cannot wait for that. We also know that local government does not have the revenue stream it needs to play an equal role with federal and provincial contributions. A so called “balanced” approach has always favoured road building. Democracy is the least worst form of government we know. Metro Vancouver needs to adopt it . We need a directly elected regional authority that does all that Translink and the former GVRD and its other acronyms have been doing – and much more. Yes, that will provoke howls of outrage from local councillors and provincial politicians alike. So when did protecting their turf become the deciding principle and not what was best for the region? Again, the idea is that we have regional services where that makes sense (transport, waste disposal, land use planning, major parks) as well as local ones. And some recognition that this is not about either/or but always about both levels working together.

Make the rich pay

The fiscal revolution of the last thirty years has not delivered what it promised. It has manifestly failed even in its own terms. It is time to return to a progressive taxation system. Public services are important – too important to be left to the profit motive. This applies to health and broadcasting as much as urban development and transportation. Expecting poor people to pay the same as rich people is unjust – but is the effect of moving from income tax to sales tax, and all the other fees and levies – and that also applies to fares. This will be unpopular, but the socio-economic justification for UPass is pretty weak. It did help UBC avoid having to put in lots more expensive parking structures – but that is not an objective that trumps social inclusion, mobility and accessibility. And, by the way, government ought to be getting back into the business of providing housing – current levels of homelessness and the ludicrous housing market here should be reasons enough.

Protecting the environment

Amazing, isn’t it, that this even needs to be said. But it is everywhere under attack – and mostly by the government itself. Enough. Clean air, clean water and food that is actually nutritious is essential to life – and not just for us humans. The economy is a subsidiary to the environment, not the other way around. We are rapidly running out of the resources we have  become dependant upon – mostly because we did not place the right value on the things too easily dismissed as “externalities”. The market has failed.  Inter planetary travel and mining asteroids are still too far away to save us. We only have one habitable planet and this one cannot support all of us the way a small percentage manage to live now. We – the rich developed nations – have to change. There is no alternative except extinction.


Looking for innovative ideas about the future of public transportation in cities – The Bombardier YouCity Innovation Contest

Bombardier, a global leader in aerospace and rail transportation is inviting people to submit ideas for sustainable mobility in the urban environment.

The YouCity competition seeks to identify a whole spectrum of new innovations and ideas to demonstrate what smart urban mobility will look like in the future.

Ideas can be presented for projects in existing well developed cities or as theoretical projects for emerging cities of the future.

The YouCity contest is receiving some very unique and innovative project ideas.

Here are some of the creative submissions posted:

MegaProp Transport System – Automatic transport, pollution free without a driver.

Basic Principle – Take two magnets and a sheet of cardboard. Place one magnet M1 above the sheet and one magnet M2 below. If you will move the magnet M2 the magnet M1 will also move. You can test it by placing a toy car with ferrous base above any cardboard. Place a magnet below the cardboard surface on which toy car is standing. Now if you will move magnet along the surface of cardboard, the toy car will also move along. This is the basic principle of MegProp vehicle.

New Polyvalent Hybrid System for Intermodal Transportation.

This proposal is an increased capacity multimodal monorail system which allows for a new class of small electric vehicles to be integrated into the system in an organic manner that enables the entire system to operate as one.

Connect Public Traffic System with Individual Traffic

Connect public traffic System with Individual traffic! Create system that combines narrow streets with broad ones! Combine existing traffic systems with new ones! Adept system to target city of London!

The YouCity Bombadier contest is open to students and professionals from anywhere in the world.  Ideas can be submitted from individuals or teams of up to 5 participants. Ideas can focus on:

  • engineering (product definition, technical concept)
  • business (business model, stakeholders, financing strategy)
  • urban planning (network layout, urbanism concepts, integration)

Winners will receive 2,000 euros (approximately $2,600) and receive an all expenses paid 4-day trip to Berlin, Germany to participate in an exclusive Innovation Workcamp, the results of which will be presented on September 20th, 2012 at InnoTrans in Berlin, the world’s largest trade fair focused on the rail transport industry.

Ideas are posted online where people can review and comment openly.  Candidates get the opportunity to receive feedback and exposure from people all over the world.  The most active and valuable community participant will also be invited to join the winners in Berlin for the Innovation Workcamp.

To submit ideas and for more information visit:

Written by Stephen Rees

April 26, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Farewell Mike

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Surprising news this morning that a corporate reorganization has eliminated the position of Vice President, Planning & Policy so Mike Shiffer is no longer with TransLink. Service and Infrastructure Planning will now report through the Chief Operating Officer. Strategic Planning will report to the  the VP Corporate & Public Affairs.

He gave a talk at SFU early in 2010 (which was reported here) which showed his depth of knowledge and understanding of the issues. This was soon after he arrived here, so he managed to survive for three years. Apparently he wants to stay here.

The reorganization is just one more indication of the damage that the current insistence on audits and cutbacks is having on the organization.

UPDATE Thanks to a tweet from Paul Hillsdon I have a link to Ian Jarvis memo to staff in a Surrey leader story

The role of planning – and especially Strategic Planning – is always difficult since it seeks to bring objectivity and rationality to an arena where all too often passions and gut instincts hold sway. We are not alone in this as the current pantomime in Toronto over rapid transit expansion shows – or the latest brouhaha in the London Mayoral elections, where the future of the hop-on, hop-off bus is once again at the top of the agenda.

Planning should most definitely NOT be about PR and spin  which is what “Corporate & Public Affairs” are all about. That’s the place where they believe that perception is reality. And we all suffer for that.

By the way, congratulations to Joe Trasolini on winning his by-election, but I am afraid  that means his favourite road project will once again resurface.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 20, 2012 at 8:02 am

Journal of Public Transportation Vol 15 #1

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Academic journals in general are ridiculously expensive, and often only available in university libraries. JPT is a welcome exception and is free for anyone to download as a pdf file. I get an email when a new issue is available.

Below I have cut and pasted the Table of Contents for Volume 15 No 1, 2012  

In view of the lively debates that break out here in the comments sections whenever transit is mentioned, I trust that readers will benefit from the information from the National Centre for  Transit Research at the University of South Florida

Should Transit Serve the CBD or a Diverse Array of Destinations?
A Case Study Comparison of Two Transit Systems
Jeffrey R. Brown, Gregory L. Thompson……………………………………………………………..1

An Approach to Calculate Overall Efficiency of Rolling Stock
for an Urban Rail Transit System
Qamar Mahboob, Thomas Stoiber, Stephanie Gottstein, Antonios Tsakarestos…….19

Assessment of Models to Estimate Bus-Stop Level Transit Ridership
using Spatial Modeling Methods
Srinivas S. Pulugurtha, Mahesh Agurla………………………………………………………………….33

Transit Coordination in the U.S.: A Survey of Current Practice

Charles Rivasplata, Adam Smith, Hiroyuki Iseki ……………………………………………………..53

Bus or Rail: An Approach to Explain the Psychological Rail Factor

Milena Scherer, Katrin Megel Dziekan…………………………………………………………………..75

The Impact of Weather on Bus Ridership in Pierce County, Washington

Victor W. Stover, Edward D. McCormack……………………………………………………………….95

The Potential Role of Flexible Transport Services in Enhancing
Rural Public Transport Provision
Nagendra R. Velaga, John D. Nelson, Steve D. Wright, John H. Farrington……………..111

Are Smart Card Ticketing Systems Profitable?
Evidence from the City of Trondheim
Morten Welde………………………………………………………………………………………………….133 

Written by Stephen Rees

April 17, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Shocking the Suburbs

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Jago Dodson & Neil Sipe of Griffith University in Brisbane actually entitled their presentation “Oil Vulnerability & Cities” but that is the subtitle of their book – and that has the much snappier title I used. Room 1700 at SFU had 30 people in it at 7pm last night. Is that because Urban Studies talks do not give anyone professional credits? Or was there a hockey game on tv? After ten minutes a few more stragglers arrived and  Anthony Perl did the introductions. Griffith University and SFU have some kind of “twinning” arrangement  which apparently paid for their trip.

Price of NYMEX Light Sweet Crude Oil, 1997-2006

The have been looking at the impact of higher oil prices on Australian cities. In 1990 oil was AU$20 a barrel but by 2004 reached a $140 peak. Since they are  partly transport planners and saw this as a policy and planning problem they thought that this was a useful topic to research since there would have to be a response.  They did not want to engage in a debate on the future sustainability of oil supplies, but showed an IEA chart dated 2008 which showed a steep decline in conventional oil supplies expected from that year forward.  At present Queensland is experiencing an energy boom due to its exploitation of natural gas and coal which as (in his words) “put a floor under energy prices”.

Newman & Kenworthy – produced the first study of  energy use and density of cities in 1989 (the image below was not the one they showed but comes from the same data set)

Unsuprisingly that showed that the US has the most use of energy for private transportation. Australia and Canada are not far behind. They forecast there would have to be an abandonment of car dependent suburbs, which had been the theme of the iconic Australian movie series “Mad Max“. At the time of writing oil prices are $103.80 US per barrel (12 April 2012). The energy returned on energy invested in producing motor fuel which was 50:1 in the 1950s is now 5:1 and for some fuels such as ethanol  1:1  [or worse according to some sources].

They began mapping oil vulnerability using data from the Australian 2005 census. Dependence on motor vehicles was shown by using the variables travel to work by car and number of cars owned and for socio economic status the Socio-Economic Index for Area (SEIFA). These were combined into  the vulnerability index for petroleum expense rises (VIPER) index. They showed maps of Brisbane, where the most vulnerable lived in the outer suburbs with similar results for Sidney and Melbourne. On of the reasons they ascribed was that “public transport is not so good out there”

Mortgage and oil vulnerability in Brisbane


The 2ndgeneration of the index the ‘vulnerability assessment for mortgage, petrol and inflation risks and expenditure’ (VAMPIRE) included  median household income and mortgages. The maps also now had data a from 2001 and 2006  which produces a map of growth in vulnerability. Last year they added six US cities and, more recently, Vancouver. In the US cities they used Census 2000 data, and for Vancouver the  2006 census data but without car ownership (as that data is not in our census) and just based it on the mode used for journeys to work. (see also Center for Neighborhood Technology which was covered here recently)

The maps showed that Atlanta is nearly all vulnerable with a few odd spots of low vulnerability near the centre. On both Boston and Chicago the effect of  mass transit shows up. Both Las Vegas and Phoenix were “not as bad as you might think” but conceded that new areas were few people lived distort the picture. Even Portland looks poor as does Vancouver  outside of downtown core but better than Boston & Chiacgo at the highest value index areas. In Sydney they have added motor vehicle data vehicle age and size which shows that older cars (more than 10 years) with larger engines dominate in the lower income outer areas. A regression of the data showed an r2 of 0.85 which is significant.

Their work shows that electric vehicles are not the answer as the owners of old large cars have low incomes. The capability of households to afford electric vehicles poses a policy problem of since market effects will almost certainly lead to the price of older gasoline cars falling as new electric vehicles start to become popular.

Greater urban density is also often suggested as the cure for oil vulnerability.  He questioned the “palatability” of high density using an illustration of high rises in Hong Kong, and pointed out that development  by the private sector is market driven and based on the  distance decay function of land prices (land prices fall as distance from the centre increases). The viability of density in outer suburbs is questionable  due to low land values. A network of public transport with high density development at nodes (stations) was proposed by Newman & Kenworthy in 1999 but  Lenzen et al in 2004 showed that when automotive energy use is compared to total energy use the embodied energy in high rise buildings is taken into account, high total energy use is associated with high density. Is high density development more energy efficient overall? High wealth’s  key to energy use since the wealthy consume more goods and services including international travel. Myors et al 2005 showed that co2 emissions  per person are highest in high rises! The rate of change of land use density is in any event driven by private sector development is is relatively slow compared to the depletion of conventional oil reserves.

There has been some policy response to their work. The South East Queensland Regional Plan 2009 includes a commitment to “actively reduce oil dependancy” which looks good on paper but has not been put into practice. On the Gold Coast, there has been less highway expansion and the building of an LRT.

Paul Mees “Transport for Suburbia” (also available as a preview) recommends a high frequency integrated network. At this point he spoke about “no rush” at Broadway and Commercial at peak periods “You can’t really miss the bus” due to high frequency. See also Zurich’s cross town integrated network.

Their work can be read on google books “Shocking the suburbs


Questions were raised on mortgage data – which may have been related to the CNT work.

Australian cities are highly centralized with respect to employment “No one wants to be in suburban office parks”

Their objective was to produce a simple model with a few variables for ease of use and comparability which has proved robust at the coarse level

It seems likely that saving energy on transport, then gets used on other equally energy intensive activities

Australia now has a carbon tax BUT it is NOT applied to transport fuel. This was ascribed to the political concern that marginal seats in the suburbs tend to decide elections. Queesland had seen a dramatic change in power after a subsidy to petrol was removed.

The forecast is not rapid change in urban areas due to building life.

My question – or rather observation – was that climate change is happening much faster than peak oil. The response was that they were mainly concerned about socio-economic distributional impacts, not passing the 350ppm threshold.

In Queensland a “balanced” transportation policy looks advanced – but is equivalent to ISTEA 1991

Social exclusion was mentioned but has been mainly a concern in the UK as an impact of bus privatization.

In Australia federal gas tax is not hypothecated to highways but the federal politicians area still “fixated on building things, pouring concrete – not better planning”. The rate of incremental policy change is not fast enough and there will be a shock


I do not know if this talk will be on the SFU web page as podcast – there was no evidence of video, and the use of the visual aids a was hampered by some basic fault in the compatibility of video files. It is indeed fortunate that it is easy to to find their work on line. However, I came away convinced that Australia is, like us, sleepwalking where this issue is concerned. I was charmed – but also alarmed – at the perception that we had a Zurich like transit system. Of course we don’t, and our spend rate on transportation is still heavily skewed towards roads and low density sprawl. As I pointed out they are actually fortunate to have retained employment in their city centres where they are served by electric trains (and trams).

But the current rush to exploit shale gas by fracking and the increasing rate of use of tar sands (they are not confined to Alberta) is creating an illusion that the oil shock can be deferred. That is not the case with climate change, and given recent experience with extreme weather events in Australia, their tenacity on holding on to their research focus seems …. perverse? Or maybe just endearing. After all, we all seem to prefer not to contemplate what is now inevitable, most tipping points having whizzed by like publication deadlines.

Australians, just like us, have not seen their personal incomes keep pace with inflation. They did drive until they were qualified to own a home, and are just as much auto dependent in Moonee Ponds as we are in Langley  (…or Richmond, come to that.) We are slowly struggling to produce better urban development patterns and trying to find a way to fund transit (which should not be nearly so difficult as we have made it).But both of us – the whole world in fact – now face a future where the climate is going to be increasingly inhospitable. I think that impact is likely to be as sharp and probably faster than the economic impact of higher gas prices. But then I did notice this morning a pump sticker at $1.51 a litre. Is that enough to produce a revolution? I doubt it. Shame about the polar bears.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 13, 2012 at 11:05 am

Walking and other small advantages

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Walking is the most important transportation mode – and therefore the one that we tend to think about least. Let us start with something that I found on the Guardian yesterday. Their story was about the idea that children need to know how to tie their own shoe laces – or rather, perhaps they don’t now that shoes have velcro straps. That led me to this talk – it only takes three minutes and it is well worth your time.

I had actually noticed that there was a problem some time ago. I had been in the habit of wearing slip on shoes – and while those are perfectly adequate for office life, they can become downright painful if you walk any distance. So I bought proper walking shoes with laces, and found I had to stop every so often to retie them.

For simple health reasons, you should walk at least half an hour every day. Without a doubt the most effective way to do that is to incorporate walking into your routine. Walking is part of your commute whatever mode you use – so making that walk a bit longer ought to be a no brainer. Yes, your commute may take a bit longer. But a longer commute is not necessarily a higher cost – it is actually a benefit under some circumstances and improving your health is certainly one them, of you a re like most people in “advanced” countries and have a generally sedentary lifestyle.

I doubt that transportation models based on generalized cost can actually get the true mode comparison right. After all, for many years we have known that people like riding the train because the time is actually useful – unlike driving – and in many places they chose a longer commute because there is a train.

Of course this is not addressed to those who already cycle everywhere – but they are still in a very small minority. Nor does it help those who do not commute.

We are actually quite good at making walking for exercise attractive. There are lots of places designed for walking – but not usually  for walking as part of a trip. In cities which has some of the best walking paths – the Vancouver seawall, the Richmond dyke – there are many streets that have no sidewalks or even sidewalks that are continuous.

Browngate Road at No 3 Road

Browngate Road at No 3 Road has no sidewalk on the north side even though it is a few yards from Aberdeen Station on the Canada Line. My photo on flickr

We are also adept at providing gyms where there are treadmills on which you can walk in complete safety while wearing a headset to listen to a book or music – or even watch tv. Driving to the gym to walk or cycle actually makes sense to a lot of people, who have been convinced of the dangers of being a pedestrian or a cyclist. Driving actually reduces their knowledge of the city: they know that “you can’t get through there” in a car and may not even think about getting from here to there as a walk that is shorter than the drive.

Google maps shows a short cut

Google maps shows a short cut for pedestrians in Kerrisdale

A people are reluctant to walk in unfamiliar places: research in Portland as part of their Travel$mart program persuaded them to produce way finding maps and better signage. Our current access to GPS ought to help, but not every system is adapted well to pedestrian routes – or maybe that’s just what I have noticed on Ovi maps that come with Nokia phones.

Yew St at W 11 Ave

Yew St is closed to cars at West 11 Ave but provides a direct route for pedestrians - my photo on flickr

These kinds of arrangements ought to be more prevalent than they are. In some locations, people just simply create their own path – there is a beaten track from the corner of W35th Ave and East Boulevard to the Arbutus CP right of way just visible in the Google streetsview image. Of course the CP r.o.w. itself is private property but has become a car free walking and cycling route simply by usage.

Now I chose the title deliberately  because I wanted to share some knowledge – but really it is off topic for this blog. I travel to New York every so often because my son is there. I have found that many travel search engines seem to ignore Cathay Pacific as a possible carrier on this route even though people like Doug Coupland have long recommended them in print. I used hipmunk to compare travel cost and convenience: Cathay came top. There is a direct overnight flight between YVR and JFK both ways – and that also saves two hotel nights. Hipmunk links to Orbitz for booking both flights and accommodation and also found us a cheap place to stay. The combination of AirTrain and subway is about as cheap and convenient a transfer to downtown as you can get – we were literally steps from our hotel to 7th Ave/49th St station. Certainly better than subway plus New Jersey Transit to EWR. Cathay has better leg room and on board service than Air Canada – and does not load to 100% capacity apparently. So your chance to stretch out across three seats isn’t bad either. And since the plane has come from Hong Kong you board through the international terminal, clearing US customs and immigration at JFK with the HK passengers. That means, if you check in on line and check no baggage, you really do not need to be at the airport 2 hours early. Not many people are going through security at that time of evening so the line up is minimal, and you cannot actually get access to the boarding area until the in-transit passengers have got back on the plane. The flight crew will do the document check at the gate. The only downside is that on the return, there is no Canada Line – and a long line up for cabs.  When in New York you can buy an unlimited MetroCard for a week. That may be cheaper than loading a card with money to be deducted for each ride since the opportunities for free transfers are very limited. But if you are staying in midtown, you will probably walk most places, just like we did. Soon after I returned I was asked to do a consumer survey: one question was how often I had exercised the previous week, and I could truthfully say that I had walked for more than two hours every day. I doubt I would have done that if we had bought unlimited ride Metrocards.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 6, 2012 at 11:10 am

Is there a war on cars?

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Tyler Harbottle, in the Tyee, does not seem to think so. Although he does find “two renegades who do urge a rush to the barricades. Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler are authors of a new book, Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism: On the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay, a war-chest of facts, figures and arguments identifying cars as enemies of the people.” So perhaps there ought to be.

There certainly is an on going battle – or perhaps more of a rear guard action – between car advocates and cycling advocates. There is an especially nasty anti cyclist rant dressed up as news in the Courier this morning. What the car advocates fail to point out is that they have had it pretty much their own way for the last hundred years. And the results have not been pretty. There are also people who do, quite deliberately, target cyclists on the road and take pleasure in scaring them – and then hurling abuse. It is a form of road rage. There are also drivers – possibly the same individuals – who hate any other vehicle that gets in their way. Just drive at the speed limit on any road in Greater Vancouver and they will quickly identify themselves. Of course, there is not a lot they can do to intimidate trucks and buses – but they make life as difficult for them as they can. These people are essentially psychopathic – or have an anti-social disorder to use the latest jargon. Sadly some of them seem to be able to command a significant audience in the main stream media. Mostly, the politicians favoured by the elite do the bidding of the corporations – and on the whole they are still wedded to automobiles for themselves and as many as they can foist on the rest of us. It still suits their agenda, even though it is short sighted and self destructive.

Unfortunately, lost in the cyclists versus car drivers debate is all the important stuff about what sort of place we want to live in, what our transportation choices have been doing to us and the place we live in and the planet we depend on. Notice too, how hard the car lobby tries to put the label of “moral superiority” on cyclists – and, by extension, anyone who has the temerity to suggest that we need more and better alternatives to driving everywhere. I suspect that is because they are aware at some level that they have already lost the argument. Cars did not bring us the great benefits they promised – and much of the time we spend in our cars is evidence that the system we have constructed – and are still constructing for it will never ever be enough – does not work very well even in its own terms. We do not have the freedom, mobility or accessibility we were promised. What we do have is, quite literally, killing us. And there are better ways of doing things that have been working well for many years in other places. And we cannot go on as we are.

Cycling is going to be part of our future. So is walking and so is mass transportation of various kinds. Individual motorized transportation  has got to be limited and reduced. And, on the whole, that will prove to be a boon. For while it seemed, once upon a time, that increased car use would have benefits, it is quite clear to anyone who has the requisite capability of making a rational assessment, that the costs of widespread car use far outweigh those benefits. Of course, in the media it is not arguments or facts that matter. Its the narrative – and the small c conservatives have understood how to do that better. Because they have had to, as reality has had a nasty habit of hitting them in the face. But, as we now know, they are immune to facts. 

Written by Stephen Rees

June 15, 2011 at 11:47 am

Posted in bicycles, Environment, placemaking

Tagged with

GM axes four SUV and truck plants

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Chevy Suburban

I just heard this on the CBC News, but the BBC News gives a broader perspective.

It is very tough for Oshawa and the workers at the plant, but they did not decide which models to build. As the shareholder in this story notes “Unfortunately, it’s just a sign that once again they’re behind the curve”. Just as they were with the EV and with fighting the California ZEV mandate, and concentr5atin on trying to find ways around the CAFE standards than ways to make more efficient cars or better transportation systems (they got out of buses and trains some years ago).

The big three North American automakers have been out of step with the changing world for years. They preferred lobbying in Washington and fighting court battles to facing up to the inevitable. Petroleum is a finite resource, and demand for it has been escalating, and the smart boys on Wall Street have been making a killing driving up the price. The consumer is naturally responding by turning to vehicles that meet a real need – and also to other modes where they are available. Demand for big trucks and SUVs used for personal transport is dropping fast.

GM has lost a combined $51bn over the past three years. Can you imagine the uproar if that was a public sector organisation? But just as the people of Flint Michigan suffered (and produced Michael Moore) so the people of Oshawa, Ontario, Canada; Moraine, Ohio; Janesville, Wisconsin; and Toluca in Mexico will suffer now. And of course so will the pension funds and other investors who have held on to their GM shares. For this corporation has no conscience. It does not understand the concept of corporate citizenship or social responsibility. And it cannot even be said to understand the expectations of its shareholders either.

Chrysler was the first of the big three to wobble dangerously – and is now back on its own after Mercedes Benz decided it was better off without it. Ford also looks very shaky. I wonder why those corporate raiders who areso keen on bustign up big corportations and selling off the bits have been so reluctant to get involved.

GM used to pretend that “what was good for GM is good for the USA” but that is very obviously no longer the case. And the people who bought their products out of misapplied patriotism have been paying too much for the wrong products. And anyway a lot of Toyotas and Hondas are built in North America these days.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 3, 2008 at 4:35 pm

Posted in Economics

Tagged with

A new video

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by Ryan Longoz, 2008 CMNS 482 Directed Study

Metro Vancouver has a long way to go before it can call itself a livable region. Why are we further committing ourselves to car orientation? Building roads just adds to the problem we’re trying to address, and just think of the transit service $3.9 billion could buy.

Driving, shopping, advertising, consumer culture, Hummers, sprawl, it’s all here. Our addiction to the status quo is quickly working against our needs for community, complete infrastructure, and efficient ways of getting around. What in the hell are we doing?

Thanks to everyone who lent their time and effort to help make this possible. Share this if you find it interesting, and feel free to embed.

Please comment! I appreciate your feedback.

…music by Caribou. Check them out:

Written by Stephen Rees

April 17, 2008 at 8:15 am