Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Delta

Weekly Photo Challenge: Delta

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Mouth of the Fraser aerial 2007_0710_105838AA

“This week, share a photograph that signifies transitions and change to you.”

This is an aerial shot from a plane leaving Vancouver on its way to Toronto in July 2007. I had to do quite a bit of work to edit the original – removing the mist that bedevils aerial photos, and correcting the colour, as well as adjusting the frame. Note that I have left the horizon tilted. I usually straighten that but in this case the plane is climbing steeply and turning eastwards. The plane leaving Vancouver took off over the Strait of Georgia, westwards, into the prevailing wind then turned towards the east.

The delta of the Fraser River is under threat from industrialisation. It is some of the most fertile soil in British Columbia, and one of the few places where vegetables can be grown. The river is still one of the most important ecosystems in the province with the remaining salmon runs threatened both by urban sprawl and climate change. Add to that the determination of the port to expand its activities – especially for the export of fossil fuels – and the storage of containers, which mostly come into the port loaded but have very much less utility for our exports, and we face a huge challenge.

I was very surprised to read in the original challenge “the current growing louder and faster before it spilled into the sea” which is exactly the opposite of what happens in this river delta – and almost certainly every other. The river’s current is much faster inland, where it rushes through the Fraser Canyon. The restriction of Hell’s Gate was one of the greatest challenges facing the Europeans when they started to exploit this part of the world. In building the Canadian National Railway they succeeded in blocking the river with their explosives, and the indigenous people carried the salmon upstream in baskets to help ensure the continuation of the species. The river turns westward at Hope and, as the valley widens, slows and begins to meander. The amount of silt that the water can carry drops as it slows, building the gravel beds that the gold prospectors pounced on, and the rich soils of what became farmland. In its natural state as the valley bottom opens up and flattens out the river would constantly move north and south seeking the sea between the mud banks and silt layers. We have of course put a stop to that with dykes and embankments to prevent flooding – that is actually the natural state – and constant dredging of the shipping channel to keep it open and, contentiously, to allow for larger ships.

This “photograph that signifies transitions and change to you” is one that I have used a lot on this blog as part of the campaign that challenges the present plans to expand the port and build a new, huge bridge at the leftmost edge of this picture, where the soil of the river banks is 2,000m or more of silts and sands, prone to liquefaction in the case of earthquakes (another imminent threat in this region) let alone the damage to Pacific flyway, the eelgrass beds, the habitat of many sensitive life forms and, of course, Burns Bog. You can read more about these issues in both this blog and at Fraser Voices.

And, by the way, the name of the municipality in most of this picture is Delta.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 28, 2017 at 10:36 am

The over-sized, over-priced bridge does NOT have public support

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new-bridge

A guest post from Susan Jones of Fraser Voices

Public support new crossing of Fraser but not the planned bridge

 

Environmental Assessment96% of submissions opposed the bridge

Metro Vancouver:                  21 of 22 Mayors oppose the bridge[i]

BC Minister of Transportation, Todd Stone, has been misrepresenting public opinion of the planned new bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel.  In January, 2017, former BC Premier Mike Harcourt claimed it would be a better idea to build another tunnel.[ii]

 

Minister Stone replied that another tunnel was more expensive and that Mr. Harcourt’s claims do not reflect the opinions of thousands of people who participated in the public consultations.[iii]

 

In fact, a review of the public consultations reveals that Mr. Harcourt’s comments do reflect public opinion which is strong opposition to the bridge.

 

Respondents to four consultation periods showed support for:

  • another tunnel
  • retention of the existing tunnel with upgrades
  • rapid transit
  • protection of farmland

 

Respondents expressed concerns about:

  • costs to taxpayers
  • plans to pay for the bridge with user tolls
  • increasing number of trucks
  • plans for LNG vessels on the river
  • large shipping vessels on the river carrying jet fuel and coal
  • lack of integrated regional transportation plan
  • impacts of construction over several years
  • destruction of habitat
  • air pollution

 

The last opportunity for public input was the Environmental Assessment of the planned bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel. (January 15, 2016 to February 16, 2016)[iv]

 

Of 446 written submissions, 22 offered comments without showing support or opposition to the planned bridge.  Of the other 424 submissions, 96% expressed opposition to the bridge.  Only 4% supported the bridge.

 

There were three earlier consultation periods.  The first phase (November-December, 2012)[v] sought information from the public on usage of the tunnel.  16 written submissions were thoughtful comments about transit, environment and integrated regional planning.  Many urged retention of the existing tunnel.

 

The second phase (March-April, 2013) offered 5 options but the feedback form did not provide opportunity for fair comment.  The report of phase 2 claimed high support for a new bridge but there was no evidence to support the claim.

 

The information provided at the Open Houses and meetings was incomplete.  Facilitators told attendees that a bridge is cheaper than a tunnel but did not provide evidence.  One facilitator told the public that “only 2% of respondents in Phase 1 wanted to keep the tunnel”.

 

Many of the written submissions offered the same concerns as documented in the first phase.  A number of written submissions opposed the bridge (21/47) while a small percentage expressed support (7/47).

 

The Third Consultation Period (December, 2015-January, 2016) occurred after the announcement of the bridge.  The results of this phase were documented in a report prepared by Lucent Quay Consulting.  The Report documented numerous issues raised by the public.  There was considerable concern about costs and tolls.

 

Palmer: Liberals claim support for bridge tolls[vi]

March 31, 2016 7:22 am

 

VICTORIA: “The B.C. Liberals are claiming the latest round of public consultations has confirmed “strong public support” for their plan to replace the George Massey tunnel with a toll bridge.

 

But the summary report on those consultations, released Wednesday, tells a different story.

Those who commute through the often-congested tunnel on a daily basis likewise support the prospect of getting to and from work more quickly.

But there was precious little support for the more controversial aspects of the project.

 

Only 24 per cent of those responding via a publicly distributed feedback form made a point of saying they were “generally supportive” of the overall scope of the tunnel replacement plan. A further 31 per cent expressed conditional support for some aspects of the project as outlined on the feedback form.

 

But that was far from constituting an unqualified endorsement for the plan to remove the existing tunnel, replace it with a high-level 10-lane bridge, and reconstruct adjacent connecting roads and intersections at a combined cost of $3.5 billion.

 

Even more misleading was the government characterization of the survey’s findings on tolling.

 

Respondents were told only that the “province intends to fund the project through user tolls and is working with the federal government to determine potential funding partnerships.”

 

Most supporters of the bridge serve vested interests.  The over-sized, over-priced bridge does not have public support.

 

References

[i] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/massey-tunnel-replacement-bridge-lone-supportive-mayor-very-disappointed-1.3660661

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/metro-vancouver-george-massey-tunnel-rejects-1.3658013

 

[ii]  http://vancouversun.com/opinion/opinion-there-are-alternatives-to-replacing-the-massey-tunnel

 

[iii] http://www.delta-optimist.com/opinion/letters/bridge-is-best-option-to-replace-tunnel-minister-1.10031818

 

[iv] http://www.eao.gov.bc.ca/pcp/comments/George_Massey_comments.html

Comments will be available on this page until March 15, 2016 and after this date all posted comments will be available through the EAO electronic Project Information Centre (ePIC) application

 

[v] https://engage.gov.bc.ca/masseytunnel/documentlibrary/

This document library includes information on all the phases of public input except the environmental assessment which is reference #iv

 

[vi] http://vancouversun.com/storyline/morning-comment-vaughn-palmer-liberals-claim-support-for-bridge-tolls

Written by Stephen Rees

February 22, 2017 at 8:19 am

Will shaky soils kill the bridge?

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Massey-Bridge-rendering

I am not an engineer or a geologist. But I do know that soil liquefaction is a huge problem for structures in earthquake prone areas, like the one we live in. When the shaking starts what seemed to be solid ground is actually waterlogged sands and similar material – the result of millennia of silt being deposited by the Fraser River as it slows on its way to the sea – starts to move. The damage to buildings in San Francisco in its famous quake was due to similar soil conditions. They still cause issues there: a high rise called Millennium has piles that do not reach bedrock and it is both sinking and leaning.

When the Massey crossing was first contemplated it was these soil conditions that caused the engineers to reject the idea of a bridge and chose a tunnel instead. Those conditions have not changed since. The Geological Survey of Canada in 1995 reported that bedrock is around 1,970 to 2,300 feet below where the new bridge is proposed. More recently  B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure had two holes bored to 1,099 feet “without tagging bedrock” – not really a surprise since there was another 1,000 feet to go.

We know that Greater Vancouver is going to experience a major earthquake since there has not been a major shift in the tectonic plates since European settlement started, but there was apparently a “big one” which was recorded as a tsunami that hit Japan. These events are hard to predict with any accuracy but many seismologists think it is “overdue”. No-one has ever built a cable stayed bridge of this size in these kind of conditions. Indeed it is very hard to think of why anyone would propose taking such a risk – anyone who has the imagination to envisage what happens to two massive towers unsecured to bedrock but linked by cables and a bridge deck when the soil beneath them liquefies and shakes.

“I think people tend to focus on the Big One. If you’re looking at the statistics there’s a one in 10 chance that it will happen within the next 50 years. I think of those as fairly high odds. If we had a lottery with that kind of probability you’d probably buy a ticket,” she said.

The “she” quoted is Earthquake Canada seismologist Alison Bird

Ask yourself, as Premier Christy Clark wants you to buy a bridge, do you feel lucky?

Written by Stephen Rees

December 1, 2016 at 11:25 am

Southwest Area Transport Plan

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Translink bus in Steveston

Translink bus in Steveston

I had a call today from Graeme Wood who writes for the Richmond News. He wanted to talk about Translink’s Southwest Area Transport Plan. He wanted me to predict what sort of changes people in Richmond might want to see in the transport system in the future. I’m afraid I wasn’t very helpful as it does not seem to me to be very important. First of all because the way to plan for a future system is to do some really good data collection on how they travel right now, and why, and then come up with some realistic proposals on how that could change based on what we know about things like population growth, land use plans and technology changes. Just asking people what they might like is a bit pointless. Secondly holding open houses and inviting people to fill in a web based survey form means you only get the opinions of a self selected (i.e. unrepresentative) group.

But it’s worse than that here now – and here is where I went off on a rant which I somehow doubt will appear in his newspaper, but you never know. They might be desperate to fill the space.

Here’s what the Translink web page has to say

In June 2014 the Mayors’ Council developed the Transportation and Transit Plan which identified investment priorities across the Metro Vancouver region. These priorities identified the need for types of services, but not the specific routes or specific areas that would benefit. An Area Transport Plan will establish a blueprint for the unique transit and transportation needs of the Southwest sub-region. Once funding is available, we will have a solid foundation for implementing the priorities that meet the needs of the community now and in the future.

I have added the emphasis: if you think funding is going to be available, and you live in Delta or Richmond, then you might like to wander along to one of their open houses or fill in the survey. Don’t let me stop you, or the thought that it is very unlikely indeed that much is going to change any time soon. Unless the stupid bridge actually gets built, in which case, forget it and buy a car. And if that is not a practical choice for you then you might have to take Jean Chretien’s advice and consider moving.

There is no funding for more and better transit or very much for walking and cycling – which anyway gets decided by the municipality not Translink. And, given the present ineptitude of our provincial government, that is not going to change any time soon. I think the two immediate, pressing needs for transit would be to restore the annual pass for people with disabilities and – having taken handyDART back in house – make a considerable investment in making door to door trips for people who cannot drive or use conventional transit a daily possibility rather than a very rare treat. The way that a society treats its most vulnerable citizens tells you a lot about what sort of society we are and want to be. The way this segment of our population has been treated in this province is a disgrace. And that has been true for at least the last twenty years to my certain knowledge and actually much longer than that. I think that if there are to be more funds available that ought to be the first priority simply as a matter of social justice. Even Hillary Clinton has recognized that transportation is a civil rights issue.

Whatever detail Translink puts on top of its 2014 Plan matters naught, if it cannot get any more funds to match the needs for an increase in its operations and maintenance budget – let alone the very desirable and lengthy list of transit improvements listed in that plan. The Mayors identified very real problems in the present funding model, not the least of which is the decline in revenues from the gas tax and the pressures of population growth. Of course we are in a stare down over the potential for increases in property tax: don’t expect that to end either.

Already Kirk LaPointe has decided that the Broadway Subway is not going to happen.

Our viability and livability depend on better public transit – not in a decade, but today, because we have waited a decade. Trouble is, the line has taken only one teensy step forward and some significant steps back since it was identified as one of several core projects in the Mayors’ Council report on transportation in 2014.

Yup, he got that right. Oddly he also seems to think that streetcars might be the solution as though they could be implemented faster than the subway. Actually any transit solution is going to be very expensive, very unpopular with at least one loud and influential segment of the population  and will take far too long to implement to satisfy the existing users of the 99 B Line. It is about as likely as the Massey Bridge – or the Port Mann – will see LRT running across it in my lifetime: or along the Arbutus Corridor come to that. While the province always likes to say that their new bridges could carry more transit in the future, that is simply the old “jam tomorrow, never jam today” promise.  There has never been a real intention to implement those plans.

People in Richmond or Delta who go to these open houses and outline the sorts of improvements they would like to see in the bus routes of their area are simply demonstrating the triumph of hope over experience. Good luck with that, folks. Let me know how that works out for you.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 13, 2016 at 4:06 pm

On the road to Richmond

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Delta Optimist

Farms not freeways poster on SFPR

Farms not freeways poster on SFPR

Harold Steves, a longtime Richmond councillor and former NDP MLA, was in Delta this week to sound the alarm bells over the loss of farmland to various development projects. He says Delta could end up looking like Richmond in 20 years.

Harold is, of course, the last farmer in West Richmond – and a local councillor. He was also one of the founders of the Agricultural Land Reserve, created in the wake of the wave of development that was allowed to sweep away all the farms in that area. The consensus in the region was that Richmond was not a suitable place for development, being low lying, and thus susceptible to flooding, but also very high quality and productive farm land. But developers and land owners did not agree, and there was at that time no effective measure to prevent a council determined to allow a lot of very profitable land use change to take place.

The provincial government loves to boast of how green it is – and welcomes every photo op with a hybrid bus, or a run of the river power developer. But its actions are wholly the opposite. While the ALR is still on the books, the Commission which was set up to ensure the policies were effective has been gutted. The deal with the Tsawassen First Nation, and the Gateway program to build the South Fraser Perimeter Road both require large amounts of the best farmland in Delta – and so they are being loaded with sand right now. The railway sidings at Deltaport are also being expanded. The port, of course is actually reporting declining traffic but no matter. Any more than anyone is paying attention to the failure of the US to pull itself out of recession  – or the huge number of container ships idled and laid up around the world.

The conversion of agricultural land to development is one of the easiest ways to make money quickly. Sale of the top soil – for which there seems to be plenty of demand – provides a quick positive cash flow. And the change in land use designation – a mere stroke of the pen – has a dramatic effect on land value. There is quite a lot of land around that needs to be redeveloped – most of the Fraser River frontage on the North Arm in Vancouver, for instance. Lots of former sites previously used as gas stations. Such “brownfield” developments are problematic and quite expensive. So despite the strategy of building a compact urban region – which is by far the most economical from nearly every other perspective – gets trampled by the greed of the developers. “Me first and the gimme gimmes”. All of whom support the BC Liberal Party generously and are paid back handsomely. We pay for the roads and other utilities that make the developments work, and we also pay in our Medical Services Premiums as heart disease, obesity and diabetes continue to take their toll on a sedentary, single occupant vehicle population. As well as the casualties from vehicle collisions on the roads, of course.

There are lots of reasons to oppose the development of Delta – and many local residents are vocal in their opposition. Not that the BC Liberals are listening, which is why they lost the seat in Delta South, admittedly by a very tight margin. But the argument cannot be won by logic or reason when money shouts so loudly, and politicians say one thing and do the opposite. But once the crunch hits – and food costs in BC start to spiral – it will be too late. Because this land will not be brought back into food  production – any more than West Richmond will be. It is the one way entropy of development akin to the burning of the rain forest. The economy is the subsidiary of the environment, not the other way round. And our primary needs are clean air, clean water and food. They all come from natural resources – and the worse job that we do looking after them, the more it costs to clean up the consequences. And those costs are not borne by developers. They are “externalities” which we all pay. And which this government is determined will be ignored for now. So we pay later.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2010 at 10:52 am

Tsawwassen: Spirit of Delta Rally

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This gets top billing in today’s Province news section, although it concentrates on the power lines issue. There is also no coverage of anything that was actually said at the rally itself. However a turnout of 2,000 people is not to be disregarded lightly.

The big feature in that paper today is on housing affordability.

The thing that caught my eye in the Delta Optimist was the design charrette for the Southlands run by Andres Duany and an opinion piece on the development that is not against Smart Growth so much as the removal of the land from the ALR twenty years ago.

Of course people who live next to open land are against its development. That is always true in the suburbs. Not so much “after me, no more” but “don’t spoil the view I now have”. If you are lucky enough to own a home that had all the advantages of an urban area but you can kid yourself you live in the country, naturally you do not want that illusion spoiled. And much of the opposition to growth or density in the suburbs is fear of the growth of traffic, although traffic has been growing rapidly in areas which have seen very little development. More trips are being made, and those trips are getting longer – so the VKT increases would happen anyway even if the population wasn’t growing. And of course those terribly expensive large single family homes often have stay at home kids, or grannies in the basement, if not mortgage helpers in “secondary suites” (see Province article cited above). And those big houses have multiple car garages, and plenty of parking spaces too.

But what get people really out of sorts is that not only is transit in this area poor but it is going to get worse, not better, as a result of Translink’s expansion program.

It seems to me that all this is the inevitable result of allowing the region to be developed not in accordance with a well organised, up to date regional strategy that is designed to create a sustainable region (in other words what should have grown out of the LRSP long ago but still hasn’t) but rather in reaction to all kinds of business interests – ports, developers, private sector power providers, private sector transportation companies – who are more concerned about making money than anything else. The people of Delta are upset because no-one is listening to their concerns, and all that is happening in their community seems to be for the benefit of someone else. The consultation and environmental assessment processes are now a very obvious sham – merely a PR exercise to make it look as though someone is consulting and listening, when actually it’s always a Done Deal.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 11, 2008 at 3:26 pm

Mess may be in the making

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Province

(The sub-editors at the Province are even worse than the Sun!)

Faced with the damning reports on what it will do to Burns Bog the province is having second thoughts about the South Fraser Perimeter Road. Not abandoning it as completely unnecessary, of course. Or rerouting it via the Holger Nass proposal of following the railway tracks.

The lamebrains at the MoT have now decided to reroute the SFPR over prime agricultural land. Which as far as dealing with opposition to the road is concerned is jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

[MoT is] faced with significant criticism from Environment Canada, which earlier this year said in a report that even remedial work contemplated by the B.C. government won’t protect Burns Bog, which is often described as “the lungs of the Lower Mainland” for its ability to offset climate change.

However, a B.C. Ministry of Transportation spokeswoman would only confirm yesterday that some SFPR re-alignment is under consideration. She declined to give details.

The Delta Farmers Institute is also appealing to John Cummings, the Conservative MP for Delta Richmond East, and through him to five federal cabinet ministers, including Environment Minister John Baird and International Trade/Gateway Minister David Emerson.

The Gateway program depends on demand for cross Pacific trade to grow. It is currently declining. It depends on Vancouver taking a greater share of US destined traffic. US demand is falling, the US dollar is falling, and new routes through the North West Passage and an enlarged Panama Canal are opening up. Prince Rupert offers both a shorter sail from the Asian rim ports and a more direct route to the midwest over an easier pass. The port expansion threatens a unique habitat and migratory bird feeding ground. The SFPR threatens Burns Bog and communities in North Delta and North Surrey. The Port Mann twinning and the Highway #1 expansion is based on a fictional demand forecast that bears no relation to North American urban experience with freeway widening, and has been criticised by Health Canada and Environment Canada. Global climate change is accelerating, and our fossil fuel consumption continues to rise, threatening the very area that the road and the port would occupy with a rising sea level.

I think they have enough problems without taking on the farmers too. Any sane administration by now would have admitted its assumptions have been shown to be wrong, and backed away from the project.

“When circumstances change, I change my mind. What do you do?”

Burns Bog

Photo by Squeaky Marmot

Written by Stephen Rees

April 15, 2008 at 8:59 am