Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Port Mann Bridge

Port Mann Tolls

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Once again I got a last minute plea from the CBC to appear on the evening news to talk about the announcement of an increase in tolls next month. It seemed to me that there was little to say, and that over an hour’s travel for a few minutes screen time not very productive, but they sent a camera man to Arbutus Village and I stood in the park. I did not know that the new technology they use relies on the cell phone network, which is why those trucks with dish antennas are no longer needed. When my segment got broadcast it was very obviously cut short as the sign off was missing. I had been asked what the solution was to increasing tolls – and clearly the CBC did not like the answer. I had managed to get in a shot at how the much vaunted lowest income tax in Canada has been brought about by increases in all kinds of fees and charges – tolls, MSP premiums, ferry fares – and how wages were not keeping pace with the increasing cost of of living in the region.

But it was only later that I realized that I had missed on a real solution. My moment d’escalier was the memory of how people coped with tolls (and SOV line ups) on the Golden Gate Bridge by forming last minute car pools. These days no-one has to risk anything by lining up at on ramps. You can – of course – do it on-line. If the increase from $3.00 to $3.15 a crossing is a real issue for you go check out car pool, rideshare and van pool information on Translink ‘s web page. You can easily avoid the congestion on the Patullo and halve the cost of the toll. You can also share rides on Hitch Planet.

There were a couple of graphics that I had sent the CBC producer that did not make it to air, which is a shame. The first is a good effort by Jeff Nagel using recent data to show how people have been gradually getting used to paying $3. I personally doubt the $0.15 will cause much more than a short term blip, but I do think people are right to expect more increases in future. The toll company blames their rising operating costs – but if interest rates start increasing that will be the real stimulus for faster toll rises.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 8.00.49 AM

The second one is a bit older, and is from Sightline, and shows how the real traffic data compares to the forecasts

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The red line should just dribble across a bit further. It certainly has not been sticking up like the forecasters thought.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 31, 2015 at 8:09 am

Choosing the happy city

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There is a storify based on the #happycity hashtag,which now features many more pictures thanks to the recent Twitter upgrade

At SFU Woodward’s on Wednesday March 26, 2014 the third in the Translink series.

Choosing the Happy City
Charles Montgomery

There were many empty seats even though SFU had “oversold”. If you reserve a seat at one of these events and then find you cannot attend, please remove your reservation as soon as you can. There were people who would have liked to be there. But at least there was also a live stream and the event will be added to the Youtube site in due course.

The introduction was made by one of Fraser Health’s public health officers. Happiness is fundamental to health. We need a system that promotes physical activity. Urban form and transportation determine how people choose to move around, and also affordability of housing and access to green space. People who live in the suburbs of Vancouver walk more than other places. We must improve and maintain choices especially for non urban places. She made the point that some policies which seek to deter car use can adversely affect the mobility of people who live in places where there is no other choice but to drive for many trip purposes. There is an inequity in adopting such deterrents before there are adequate choices fro everyone.

Charles Montgomery started his presentation with two “exercises” – the first to identify  Translink staff “the institution we love to hate”. He invited audience members to hug a member of Translink staff if they were near them. The second related to two images of dorms at Harvard University. One was a traditional building, the other a somewhat forbidding modern block. Most people indicated they preferred the traditional building, as did newly arrived students. But a study showed that there was no difference in the happiness of the students after three years. Many factors determine happiness not just the design of the buildings but social environment within them is important.

The idea of idea of increasing happiness is not new. Early economists called it maximizing utility. However often  “we get it wrong.I think pursuit of happiness is a good thing. We can measure it. … More pleasure than pain, healthy, in control, meaning, security but strong social connection underlies all of these. Both the GDP and creativity in a city depends on opportunities for social interaction. He showed a three dimensional graph of space time prisms, which showed the people who are more dispersed find it harder to connect. They spend much less time in the spaces and times when they can meet others. The edge of the urban agglomerations are the least likely to be socially active. If you live in the exurbs you do not have the time, energy or willingness to join things or even vote.

The shortness of the the commute time is the best indicator of satisfaction. “How we move is how we feel”, and even only five minutes of walking or cycling improves mood and regularly moving under our own power also  improves health. Equally driving a nice car on an open road also improves our mood. The trouble is that open roads are rare – and impossible to find at commute times. Driving even a nice car in a congested city is like piloting a fighter jet in terms of the stress experienced. People rate the experience of using transit lowest of all mostly due to the loss of control and that the trips on transit tend to be the longest.

In Greater Vancouver 40% of all trips could be done in 20 minute bike ride. In cities the design of the built environment determines both our behaviour and our bodies. If we build infrastructure for cycling – making it safer – more people will cycle. People will walk 800m to shop in a good urban environment but less than 200m in the typical suburban big box centre. The huge parking lots are a deterrent to walking even short distances.

He cited Larry Frank’s work in Atlanta showing maps of destinations available within a 10 minute walk of home. While there are many in the traditional city centre in the suburbs there are none. It is not surprising then that people who live in the suburbs on average have 10 pounds more in weight

Status interventions

– Equity
Having  low social status is bad for health. When transit viewed as a “hand out for the undeserving” – he used the notorious ads in the Georgia Strait some years ago for a GM car dealer which had a bus with the words “creeps & weirdos” as the destination sign – it is unsurprising that it is difficult to persuade people to change modes. Enrique Penalosa redesigned the city of Bogota and it was all about equity. He cancelled a new freeway but built the Transmilenio BRT based on the Curitiba example.

 – Freedom
This is represented by our having mastery of our movement. In one experiment they used skin conductance cuffs on people  in a mockup of a subway car. Even though this was staged at a party, as the space available to the group in the car became more restricted so their stress levels rose. He showed a picture of the Navigo card in Paris which is much more than a transit ticket. It also gives access to Velib bike sharing – and (he claimed) car sharing (which if so is a change since I was in Paris). “It also gets you cookies” But mostly it gives people the freedom to live with less stuff. they do not need to own a car or a bike [and can get around without worrying about either being stolen]

He then showed picture of the land the province has recently put up for sale in Coquitlam. This “swathe of Burke Mountain will not be well connected”. But families can save $10k a year by not owning a car. He cited Daniel Kahneman’s Book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” We are rightly fearful of house fires and build new suburbs to allow access to big fire trucks, with wide roads and sweeping curves – like a race track.  Streets aren’t safe enough for kids to play on – but we somehow think that we have made them “safer” and the areas they serve. There was a notorious experiment on children with Oreos. They could take one immediately or wait awhile and then get two. He says that the problems we require that we slow down and consider their complexity.

The challenge is the cost of congestion, but we attempt to solve it by designing disconnection. He illustrated this with a picture of the new Port Mann Bridge construction and remarked that we only realized that the new bridge was not needed until after it opened. All the traffic and people that now use it could have been accommodated if the old bridge had been tolled and a rapid bus service along Highway #1 introduced. [This was actually something that the Livable Region Coalition pointed out at the time, by the way. No-one believed us.]

“We did it before” He showed a slide of the Livable Region plan from the 1970s. And he also showed the “Leap Ahead” transit plan which its authors (Nathan Pachel and Paul Hillsdon) estimated would cost $6.5 bn but could be paid for with a $0.05 sales tax.

Referendum = fast brain disaster

“The best thing to do is cancel the referendum.” However since that is unlikely  we can save ourselves by adopting the recommendations that Roger Sherman used to win the second Denver referendum. Their program was called “Fast tracks” It was a clear plan and fully costed designed to appeal to the core values of the voters. Most of them drive so it has to show how improving transit improves life for drivers

It is not enough to present a clear picture – it has to have a champion, preferably a celebrity and since Brad Pitt is unlikely to be available he suggested Diane Watts

Bring it back to happiness

Working together is good for us build more resilient community


The first question pointed out that the Leap Ahead plan did not seem to have much for the North Shore

“Now is not the time” to determine the details – though it does have a fast bus, and I suggested adding another SeaBus

The second noted that he used an illustration of Disneyland. Expectation of good time in built form

Tests in Disneyland show that architecture that speaks to us is good for well being

Technology in design of transportation

Vehicle sharing systems, driverless cars, use of Car2Go in East Vancouver shows that is a bedroom community. there are plenty of cars there overnight but none during the day. We have to have more activity in our residential areas – this is not a technology problem.

Eric Doherty pointed out that he had not mentioned climate change

“While it feels good to do the right thing but not everybody agrees on what that is. Trying to convince people to think like us does not work”. Gateway sucks did not work – it did nothing to convince people who had to drive that there was any concern over their needs.

How do we overcome this mindset of entitlement?

Golden (referring to the first presentation in this series) got all the players in the room and respecting others point of view. sophisticated comm??

Q from twitter on codes

Self reports on happiness higher in small towns

Rural areas

Everybody can benefit from a village

Codes for rural community Gordon Price commented  “The City is not shaped by market forces”

Nathan Woods (Unifor)  said: We need $3m and Brad Pitt. How do we get that?

Developers stand to benefit – they have the resources. The Surrey BoT strongly supports transit

Can you supply examples of success of postwar planning

Lewis Mumford
False Creek
New Urbanists
Seaside FL

Lean urbanism

Forest Hills Gardens NY (GP again)

Is a dense urban environment enough?

Towers are as bad for lack of trust as exurbs
Just pushing us together is not enough
“Lazy tower style in Vancouver”
Town houses, courtyards, green space

Example of Copenhagen – can we transfer that here?

The answer would be Long and complex. But in one word-  Experiment – just line Janette Sadik Kahn did with bike lanes in New York

Gordon Price pointed out how really emotional the fight over bike lanes here had become

Change is very difficult. Regarded as intrusive

One action for individuals?

Started out as a journalist feeling I had no right. We can all change a bit of the city. Those of us who live here have the right to change where we live

What has surprised you in the reactions since the book came out

Jarret Walker told me that on these examples its not the planners who are the problem. “We know that.  You have to convince the politicians … and the people.”
Try not to scare people

Someone from modo talked about Share Vancouver and its implication for resilience, during disasters for instance

Life changed in New York with Sandy. How can we create that sense of urgency?

Experiment Granville St what are we learning?

The questioner felt that all the changes we have seen have been controlled by the business community

Times Sq occurred with support from the BIA – who have benefitted as rents are now going up. The police closure of Granville St at weekends was a response to violence. It gave more space for people to move around and thus reduced conflicts

Councillor Susan Chappelle from Squamish said that they were trying to get  a regional transportation dialogue going – they are outside the Translink area with a small transit system provide by BC Transit.  They remain “disengaged”. The immense changes he talked about are not translated into budget of small town. In the current situation “Words are used, with no change happening.” Squamish is left disconnected

The measures are the same for reducing GHG and increasing happiness. Should we encourage commuting [between Squmish and Vancouver]? The industrial zoning is out of date.

Can design offset crime?  Social justice?

Some people assert “None of this is going to work until we overthrow the 1%” But his work shows that the way we design cities has an immediate impact. It’s an equity issue. Many people complain that they can’t afford to live here but then they oppose the density increase essential [to get reduced housing/transportation combination cost reduced]

Some who was arranging a summit of cultural planners pointed out how hard it was to get a large meeting to places which did not have good connections. Change the way transit works to support the summit

BC Transit should take cue from TransLink interagency approach We can crowd source all kinds of stuff

btw People actually talk on the #20 bus

Big issue is transit funding. A city has found solution?

Richmond is the only place where car ownership has fallen – obviously a response to the Canada Line
See the example of the Los Angeles referendum which was not just about transit – it paid for everything with something for everyone


This was by far the best presentation in the series so far, in large part because it was not read from a script. He was speaking to the slides he was showing but clearly enjoyed interacting with the audience. It was indeed a performance – and a good one at that. On the other hand there did not seem to be a great deal that was new or remarkable in the content. Working in this field for forty years means that I have actually witnessed exactly the same set of prescriptions proffered for a what at the time seemed like different problems – congestion, growth, inequity, sustainability, bad air quality, global warming. And now happiness – or its absence.

I have got into a lot of trouble for stating unequivocally “transit sucks” to transit management. They of course would rather boast of their accomplishments, how well they do under difficult circumstances, and how resistant politicians are to pleas for more money. But the fact remains that despite increasing expenditures, the overall transit mode share is very difficult to change. We know what the solutions are – we always have done – but we seem reluctant to embrace the changes necessary. And he is probably right that we have an elite stuck in fast brain mode whenever they deal with these situations. He actually cited Kevin Falcon – more than once – and it seems to me he is right. The Jordon Batemans of course simply play to that preference. It is a lot easier than actually thinking clearly (slowly) and then acting.



Port Mann Tolls

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The mainstream media is full of the reduction in tolls announced by the Minister of Transport yesterday. Laila Yuile, on Huffington Post, sees it as bait and switch – a blatant and possibly fruitless attempt to get back lost BC Liberal votes. But her opening paragraph really gave me pause

The Port Mann Bridge project has been steeped in controversy from its humble beginnings as an economically prudent plan to twin the existing bridge at a cost of $1.5 billion to what we’ve ended up with today: a completely new bridge and highway project totaling $3.3 billion financed through tolls.

First it was never, ever “economically prudent”. It was based on misdirection – that somehow the traffic jam of cars every day was threatening the competitiveness of the Port of Vancouver. The truckers were always front and centre of this argument. This fiction was fairly easy to dismiss. Most of the tonnage moving through the port is bulk commodities that come in by rail – and pipeline (of course but lets not get distracted). The container imports also move by rail – except for those destined for distribution facilities which tend to be located on cheap land at some distance from the port terminals.

What the intention was – always – was to widen the freeway from the Vancouver boundary to the Abbotsford boundary. The Port Mann bridge was never a standalone project. It might have been defensible if it had simply been a removal of a bottleneck to free up short distance movements between Surrey and Coquitlam (which is what most of the traffic over the bridge does in reality). But all that is planned is to replace a small bottleneck with a bigger bottle. The number of lanes on the bridge was always less than those leading on to it – and that will still be the case afterwards. There will just be more of both.

The Gateway made the idea of freeway expansion palatable because it was wrapped up in rhetoric about economic growth and increased competitiveness. The reality was different.

Kevin Falcon on the widest bridge in the world

Kevin Falcon was a developer before he became a politician. There has always been a strong lobby against the regional plan which was seen as restricting what developers could do south of the Fraser. In fact, it made very little difference, as Doug McCallum ably demonstrated when Mayor of Surrey – and Chair of Translink. He easily duplicated the spread of big box retail along Highway 99 to replicate what was already in place in Whatcom County along I5. Junction “improvements” on both Highways 1 and 99 were funded  by deals with developers on what had been land reserved for highway expansion adjacent to the intersections. And the sprawl of supposedly “affordable” housing (“drive till you qualify”) continued unabated. Kevin ran for election using funds raised at breakfasts attended by the real estate community who he encouraged to “get on board”. The highway expansion would enable them to build more of what they has always built and they knew they could sell. What made them really nervous was talk of transit and transit oriented development – for they were unfamiliar with both. Rail for the Valley was pretty much a hopeless case. Not that it could not have been done physically or financially – just that it was a hard sell to the money men. The people who fund the BC Liberals and pick their preferred candidates.

Laila again

To those of us who travel the bridge, it had been clear for years something needed to be done to address the gridlock on both ends. Public transportation south of the Fraser is horrific during the week and nearly non-existent in some areas on the weekend, making vehicles mandatory for most.

At least she declares her interest. We know that the only effective way to address “gridlock” is to reduce peak demand for single occupant vehicle travel. In the short term the only way to do that is to price car use, and increase transit supply. In the longer term, denser and more mixed land use – served by walkable and bikeable routes – is the way to break the linkage between growth and sprawl. Again, really attractive transit has to be part of the mix. The provision of billions of dollars of provincial funding for highway expansion – and the new bridge – is one of the reasons why there is a crisis in funding for transit. It does look like there will be a rapid bus service of some sort when the new Port Mann opens but the only way that can be funded is by cutting service elsewhere.

There are options – there always are – always were. Just most of them get rejected. The BC Liberals kept dancing around insisting that there had to be more local funding – mostly because they always wanted to tap into property tax some more. And the insistence on looking for more efficiencies was always a good distraction. As was fare evasion: actually only 4% of riders have no ticket and the revenue loss is less than that. But somehow much money and attention can be thrown at that “problem” – but nothing to deal with overcrowding other than diversion of existing resources. And the idea of increasing transit service were it is currently inadequate or non-existent  just does not get onto the radar because the places that already have good transit want more.

I can understand Laila’s anger – and her choice of target. It is just all too short term. I do not expect the BC Liberals to win – as the latest polls confirm. The problem is that afterwards it is going to be very hard to reverse the land use changes already in train as a result of the decision to widen the freeway. The type of development we are seeing – and will see – is not going to be sustainable, transit oriented or readily convertible. Land uses in Coquitlam and Vancouver will change a bit once the Evergreen and the UBC lines open – but not by nearly enough to shift the region’s mode split by very much. South of the Fraser is car country now – and still will be – and all of the emphasis is going to have to be how to make those cars less of a problem. So expect a lot more attention on car sharing, alt fuels and electric vehicles – none of which individually has much impact and even collectively is little more than a band aid. The systemic problem of car dependance  will remain even if we can overcome some of our fondest held beliefs – like car ownership and not sharing rides (not getting into cars with strangers) and the need to limit access to the public transport market.

The tolls – which after a year will go back up to $3 a crossing – will have some impact on restraining demand for car trips between Surrey and Coquitlam. They might even get better at pricing strategies than they have so far on the Golden Ears, which has plenty of underused capacity at peak periods. But it will have no impact at all on car use on the rest of the Highway. There will be no toll for a trip between Vancouver and Burnaby, New Westmister or Coquitlam. No-one will pay a toll between Surrey and Langley. And there will be a lot of lane space that will quickly fill up – even if some people will be making longer (but perceived to be “faster”) trips to use that new space. Yes, car use in the region has declined a bit – but mostly in places where there is an alternative. Along Highway 1 – until it fills up again – car use will grow. And that means a lot more traffic on the local road network that feeds the freeway. And more pressure from neighbourhoods to spend money on frustrating the through traffic, rather than spending money on better alternatives for local trips.

Laila is, I think, right in that this obvious tactic will misfire. But that is not the real issue. How do we now persuade people that it is worth spending more money on a transit system that is so blatantly organized to favour part of the region at the expense of the rest?

Written by Stephen Rees

September 13, 2012 at 10:08 am

Port Mann Bridge Expansion Plan “Cannot Succeed” – report

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Vancouver, BC – “The BC government’s proposed solution to congestion on the Highway 1/Port Mann corridor cannot succeed” according to a new report released today by local business consultant Evan Robinson, MBA.

When the Public-private partnership to build the bridge fell through earlier this year, Premier Gordon Campbell decided to borrow money on behalf of the province to build the bridge. Campbell claimed that the project would be revenue neutral because tolls would cover the cost within the timeline of the 40 year maintenance plan.

The report entitled The Port Mann Mega Bridge – Taking it’s Toll on the Tax Payer, shows that BC residents will still be paying for the proposed new Port Mann mega-bridge even after it’s older than the current 40 year-old bridge.

We took a close look at traffic and revenue projections, and it’s clear we simply cannot both break even financially and reduce congestion over 40 years. The two outcomes are completely incompatible. If traffic grows enough to pay for the bridge with tolls, there will be too much traffic for the bridge to carry,” said Robinson.

“We have been working with Evan and others with a background in business and economics to see if the province’s numbers add up, and we have learned that not only does this project not make ecological sense but it doesn’t make economic sense either,” said Ben West, Healthy Communities campaigner with the Wilderness Committee.

The Wilderness Committee along with other groups has raised concerns about increased global warming carbon emissions as the result of the Gateway project highway expansion which includes the Highway 1/Port Mann expansion. Currently 35% of BC’s emissions come from automobiles, the single biggest source.

“Relying upon toll revenue builds in an incentive to increase automobile usage, but even if we double traffic over the new bridge it won’t cover the cost, and doubling the traffic leaves us idling in place just like the commuters on the Port Mann do every day. This sort of investment is the opposite of what we need to do if we are serious about reducing traffic congestion, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing our dependence upon a dwindling supply of fossil fuels,” said Robinson who is a member of the Vancouver Peak Oil Network executive.

“If this project goes forward as planned we will be paying the price for decades to come in more ways than one. There’s just no way it works out right,” said West.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 17, 2009 at 8:13 am

Posted in Gateway

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Massive Mall near Abbotsford Interchange stirs debate

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Vancouver Sun

Of course this is exactly what opponents of the Gateway always said would happen. 

Artists rendering of a proposed $170-million, 600,000-square-foot shopping mall near Abbotsfords Mount Lehman interchange.

Artist's rendering of a proposed $170-million, 600,000-square-foot shopping mall near Abbotsford's Mount Lehman interchange.

“The potential regional draw for that centre is enormous,” Abbotsford Mayor George Peary said in an interview about the $170-million, 600,000-square-foot Shape Properties development, dubbed Abby Lane.

“It’s huge and it’s got amazing freeway access. I think this will be the largest mall in the region. It will be relatively easy for people to get there from Langley, Chilliwack and Mission. Millions travel that freeway and they’re all potential customers.”

And for the Mayor that seems like a Good Thing. For many however, it seems like a very Bad Thing indeed. For a start the freeway between Langley and Abbotsford runs through what is currently green space. In many parts of the world that is seen as a desirable quality – and there has been legislation (in the UK and other places) to stop “ribbon development” and the gradual coalescence of places into “megalopolis”. That indeed has been one of the main principles in regional planning of both Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

But also very significant is the recognition of the traffic generation this kind of development produces – which is something that the Gateway proponents have tried to ignore or at least downplay: “it happens anyway”. Well you might try telling that to the stores that will close in those places. The amount of time and money that people have to spend shopping is finite. The money that gets spent in Abby Lane won’t get spent elsewhere. You can see this all over North America – in fact, thanks to the economic decline of recent years, the process has accelerated. There are already too many shops – and older malls and town centres have been in steady decline. Even in good times that happens – and one of the features of North American buildings is their very short design life. So when the two new plazas at No 5 Road and Steveston Highway opened, the shopping centre at Shell and Williams closed, was demolished and is now town houses.

Obviously if in future more people from Langley and Chilliwack decide to shop in Abbotsford that is a longer car trip than happens now. That means more pollution – both common air contaminants (the stuff that causes our current air quality advisory) and greenhouse gas emissions – that’s the stuff that means the glaciers melt and the pine beetle thrives. It is not only the polar bears that suffer! And note that this is happening beyond the reach of the Gateway project – which ends at the Langley boundary – although a new hill climber lane is being built westbound out of Abbotsford at present. So of course there will be even more pressure to widen the freeway through Abbotsford and upgrade the interchanges. That is the lesson of everywhere that has widened freeways – it creates the “need” for more widening and is never ending.

Well never ending up to now. Because the other thing that the Mayor is ignoring is that peak conventional oil has passed – and peak oil is close too. So there will not be lots of cheap gas for all those car trips. And maybe in future even the charms of yet another corporate clone big box “power centre” will be much less if if costs too much to get there. This development might not be such a good idea after all. It will certainly cause others to close – but in the not too distant future we may well not be quite so keen on shopping. We may prefer to find happiness in other ways – and relearn how to make things last longer.

It is certainly a choice – and the last election showed that most people are not yet willing to make that change voluntarily. Which means when it does come they are not going to be very happy about it at all. And  George Peary could well be the target of their wrath.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 5, 2009 at 11:44 am

Can Nothing Kill Highway Expansion?

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To its proponents and its supporters the idea of widening Highway #1 and the Port Mann has always been seen as hugely desirable. While they claim it would relieve traffic congestion, even they concede that it is, at best, a short term fix. But that is because, they think, the gold of property development along its route makes it worthwhile. But we are beginning to realise that this is in fact fairy gold. The conditions that once made low density suburbs worthwhile speculations are now gone – and probably for good.

The province released the news – on Friday afternoon, the best time to bury unfavourable stories – that its P3 with McQuarie bank and its partners has finally collapsed as unfinanceable. Falcon is of course not fazed by this and intends to proceed – using our money and not the banks – anyway. Of course the additional $3bn this will add to provincial indebtedness over th e next few years has not been in any budget or spending estimates.

I would argue that he does not have any authority to proceed. The project now bears little resemblance to its original proposal – or cost estimate. The world has also changed dramatically since then. Or rather many more people have now been forced to recognise the fundamental unreality of the assumptions they were then working on.

Oil is running out – and though cheap now, will not be for much longer. The need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is not some vague commitment to the future but a desperate and immediate need. The idea that we can still truck fresh fruit and veg from California – which faces severe drought and has cut water allocations to farmers – is no longer feasible. Trade in containers from China is way down. Even – dreadful prospect – the price of local real estate is falling. None of the assumptions of the Gateway now hold true.

Yet Flacon still thinks we need his mega highway. And of course we never did – and need it even less now. We do need farmland, clean air and greenhouse gas reductions. We do need alternatives to driving. That means if we can borrow $3bn (and that seems doubtful too) we should not be spending it on roads but on transit. Many more buses – and bus lanes – as well as light rail. Low cost, easy to to construct, quick to deliver solutions that both meet the needs of the present better than freeways ever could but also allow for a denser, transit oriented region. That consumes less fuel, less land and provides a more certain future.

The BC Liberal party tried to pretend it was green with a feeble carbon tax and commitments to nonsense like the hydrogen highway. It is clear now that these ideas are barren. We must change course – and despite what they are claiming it is not at all too late to cancel the entire program and replace it with ideas that work.

The most bogus element of the current proposal is that the new Port Mann could carry light rail in the future. But it is fairly certain that is not intended to be built any time soon – and certainly not on opening day. There is no plan anywhere that shows what this light rail line would look like – where it would go on either side of the bridge. It has not been shown in any plan.

If the Province was serious about dealing with traffic congestion it wouldl have put traffic metering on the on ramps – signals that limit the amount of traffic allowed to join the crowded lanes just before the bridge. These are, oddly enough installed after the bridge already. A bus queue jumper lane could have been built on the hard shoulder northbound in Surrey years ago. One is under construction in Richmond now – so they know how to do it. They just don’t want to. They hope we won’t notice that what this project is all about as usual is property speculation. But Falcon seems not to have noticed that that bubble has burst too. Along with all his other delusions.

The saddest comment is that just before this inevitable announcement, carol James appeared to endorse the widening. A huge mistake. The NDP has now lost all credibility on transport and the environment. If these issues concern you the way they concern me we must turn our attention and our votes elsewhere.

If you really want a green alternative – you have to vote Green next time.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 28, 2009 at 8:18 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , , ,

Unscientific opinion poll is the foundation of the new Port Mann Bridge

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Vaughan Palmer in the Vancouver Sun once again misses the main point about the Port Mann Bridge. He now says that the government set the toll based on feedback from its public consultation.

The question asked was

“Please indicate how much you agree with … a potential toll (to reduce congestion and limit growth in traffic on the Port Mann Bridge) of $2.50 each way for private vehicles.”

And 56 percent of those submitting answers agreed to some degree.

This is pretty much what you would expect from this kind of feedback. A very similar answer was received when Translink asked Albion Ferry users if they would be willing to pay a toll on a new bridge that would mean they no longer had to wait in line ups and got them across the river more quickly. And as a reality check the amount to be charged was tested in the regional transportation model against a fairly standard measure of the value of time (half the average regional wage hourly wage rate). Though Translink does its market research much more carefully than the province of BC appears to have done in this case.

The justification inserted into the question is a notable departure from the official stated policy on road tolls – which is that they can only be applied to a new facility and only for as long as needed to pay off the capital debt incurred to build it. There also has to be a toll free alternative – which now looks like being the Alex Fraser bridge as the replacement for the Patullo will also be tolled.

But at least he is still on the case. Perhaps this is one of a planned series of articles and soon we can expect trenchant analysis of the failure of widened freeways to relieve traffic congestion, the impact of new freeway capacity on land use or the shoddy way that the environmental assessment glossed over a number of significant issues. Even better would be a quick and dirty guesstimate of how much new transit service could be put into place for the same sort of expenditure and how much more effective that would be at relieving congestion and stimulating the local economy. While bridge building provides a one time shot in the arm by its construction phase, transit spending lasts much longer as capital is only around 12% of total lifetime costs of say buying and running an enlarged fleet of buses.

The cost benefit analysis of the bridge was of course based on outdated costs. The project now is rather more than double what it was – and yet no-one could seriously suggest that the benefits have increased by anything like as much.

The project has become bloated – and much of the benefit will be siphoned off into profits for the private sector partners. They would not be willing to bid on it if they did not think they were going to make money. So we will end up paying – through taxes, tolls and the lost opportunity to spend the current 1/3 the province is going to put up on more sensible investments, with earlier and bigger paybacks.

But give Mr Palmer credit for keeping the story going becuase it is headlines like this that stick in the mind – hopefully until election time.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 7, 2009 at 7:18 am

Posted in Gateway

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Macquarie signals huge losses day after mega-bridge announced

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This story started popping up in my inbox – from several sources. First take a look at Now Public which has a big slab of stuff from The Australian. Then go to the horse’s mouth and read what they an “operational briefing” which of course is written in much more positive language than the Australian uses – and which you can expect to see sampled in the Asper family media outlets that dominate our local newscape in the next day or so. And certainly not the take used by the Sydney Morning Herald

I am not pinning my hopes on the outcome that the present package falls apart – though that does seem to be a distinct possibility. It would only defer the decision. It does not point to a region that takes a deep breath, thinks clearly about what is needed post peak oil, now the sea levels are rising fast kind of world, and realises that widening a freeway and  building a ten lane bridge is not “sustainable” in any terms. Becuase the current discussion is just about money. And there is far more at stake here than the $3.3bn price tag.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 6, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Posted in Economics, Gateway

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While the product is right, we’re still not sure about the price.

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That’s the Sun’s editorial view of the Port Mann bridge project. It pretty much reflects the attitude espoused by its commentator Vaughan Palmer yesterday. And it is quite wrong.

The product is a freeway expansion  from the Vancouver boundary to eastern edge of Langley that now is to include a 10 lane new bridge across the Fraser, which may or may not one day accommodate light rail. There is, of course, no plan to actually build the light rail line that would be needed on each side but there is a promise of Rapid Bus to Langley. I imagine that would terminate at Braid SkyTrain. The bridge is also supposed to include two lanes (one each way) for local traffic between Surrey and Coquitlam which at least recognises that much of the traffic on the bridge now is short distance.

Freeway expansions induce traffic. There is not a city anywhere that has managed to cure traffic congestion by building more freeway. Gordon Price long ago issued a challenge to freeway supporters to name one – just one – city where this has worked. The silence has been deafening.

There is a short period of adjustment as drivers assess the new opportunities available to them but very quickly more – and longer – trips are being made and congestion returns. There seems to be an equilibrium level of traffic delay. Road user charges are the only method that shifts this equilibrium point, which is why toll roads that work out their pricing properly can provide higher levels of service for a price. The bridge of course will be tolled – but only until the the $3.3 bn is paid off. And in order to satisfy that private sector partners it will be necessary to set prices in a way that maiximises revenue. That means the amount of traffic control will be less than it might be if other policy concerns were in play. And, of course, there will be no tolls on the rest of the widened freeway.

The road networks that connect to this new freeway will see a great deal more traffic. Municipalities will either have to come up with traffic management  plans to deal with this – or just decide which roads will see the longest line ups. You cannot solve congestion by road building but you can decide where to put the storage capacity. Many people who currently support this project will, soon after it opens, begin to wonder where all this new traffic on their street came from.

The reason this is a bad project is that it widens both the freeway and the bridge at the same time. Instead of the current bottle neck, we will have a bigger bottle – with a proportionately similar neck. If reducing traffic congestion was the real objective then just adding more bridge lanes but leaving the approaches alone would move the congestion off the freeway. And from a road safety point of view that might not be a bad thing – as freeways are supposed to keep moving and vehicles coming up rapidly to stationary traffic are a real hazard. But the plan is to make sure that there is going to be a lot more driving – because Mr Falcon and Mr Campbell are really determined that their friends the property developers will do well out of changing land use along the freeway. Lots of new development – all of it car oriented – is going to occur to take advantage of the new accessibility the freeway expansion creates. This by the way is in addition to the traffic induced onto the freeway by existing car owners.

Mr Falcon’s argument that development occurs anyway is beside the point. It is the type of development that must be of concern. Because if you do not have transit you cannot expect transit oriented development. And that has always been what this region needed, but only saw to a very limited extent in the few places favoured with transit investment. And hardly any of that (except Whalley) was south of the Fraser. Doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is a definition of madness.

There are alternatives but they have never been seriously considered. Translink could be running buses across the bridge now between Surrey Central, Guidlford and Coquitlam. All they need is a short queue jumper to get onto the bridge. Just like the one being built now on the Highway #99 hard shoulder in Richmond. Indeed just such a bus service was in Translink’s plans but Falcon had it killed. A region wide tolling strategy would also work to both reduce traffic and provide funding for more transit. Not popular of course but the places that have adopted such strategies show that they can work if managed properly.

The plan also promises transit expansion – but only after the freeway has been built, which is too late for it to do any good. The great pressing need in this region now – and for at least the last ten years – is more transit service – especially south of the Fraser – and much better transit servcie everywhere. And transit that actually meets the needs of users would be a welcome novelty too. That means lots of surface transit with priority over cars for the use of the available road space. Because the same length of road lane accommodates either three car drivers or 40 (or more) bus passengers.

And absolutely none of this is new or ground breaking . We have known of the simple math of transit versus freeways for decades. And anyone who is aware of what it happening to this planet knows that the real problem in North America is our houses and our cars.They are the reason our per capita greenhouse gas emissions are some of the highest in the world. And they are also the reason that we have been so ineffective in doing anything about them.

It does not surprise me that a newspaper that thinks “the Liberal government has demonstrated in the past that it is capable of sound financial management” is also in favour of the new  Port Mann bridge. I would have thought that the premise was easily debunked. It is, after all, not hard to run a surplus when oil and gas (and other resource) revenues are high and you have cut spending on essential services to the bone and then some. But a whole range of programs and projects are now showing how thin their claim is to “acumen”.  But running a government is also a lot more than financial bottom line – or it should be.  To take one example, the province is not concerned that many schools are still at risk of collapse in the event of an earthquake in an area which is seismically active and overdue for a big quake. That may seem to the BC Liberals to make financial sense – but it will not bring much cheer to parents after the shake occurs.

The BC Liberals have also been telling us how smart they have been with the Olympics – and claim they will only cost taxpayers $600m. Does anyone now believe that? Is that evidence of “acumen”?

Written by Stephen Rees

February 6, 2009 at 10:42 am

Posted in Gateway

Tagged with

Four-step program for buying a bigger bridge blows the budget

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Vaughan Palmer of the Vancouver Sun is at last persuaded that this is a story worth his attention.

He is concentrating on how a $1.5bn project [June 2008] came to cost $3.3bn. Which has to be paid back by people (and trucks) using the bridge at $3 a pop – or ” in excess of $100 million” a year – or a 30 year pay off roughly – if the costs of toll collection and maintenance have been properly annualised into that $3.3bn.

Now the risk here is that someone will actually build the proposed rapid transit line which the bridge can supposedly carry. What happens then is that people start switching to transit – or indeed the much vaunted rapid bus that will be on the bridge from opening day. Buses (and trains) won’t pay tolls. So how does McQuarie make lots of money then. Or do they go to court to stop activities that might reduce their revenue (as other private sector toll road operators have done)?

It is of course quite hard for anyone to make sense of any of this since there is still no contract – and the devil as always is in the details. The deal will be signed, then we will be committed to the project, and only then will the voters of BC have any idea of the size of the bill we will be stuck with. If they sign before the election (and I suspect there will be a lot of pressure to do so) my prediction is that this story will resurface immediately afterwards – in a very similar fashion to the Olympic Village.

It is a shame that Mr Palmer does not spare any words to cover any of the other issues surrounding this bridge. I can understand that. He only has a certain allocation of column inches, and he decided to stick to the most outstanding feature of yesterday’s announcement. But the project was created in a time when it was expected that growth would continue indefinitely, and that that was a Good Thing. Times have changed. It is now apparent that we face a whole new range of challenges – and that relying on fossil fuels has become an extremely dangerous way to proceed. The very concept of economic growth as a constant is also being questioned all around the world. Most places have long ago recognised that people need alternatives to driving, and are concentrating their investments into those alternatives. Especially ones that allow people to get around without needing to burn a lot of oil.

If we have $3.3bn to spend (and I am far from sure we do – but let’s take that as a starting point for now) we could build electric powered rapid transit that would penetrate every part of the region. Of course, it would need to be on the surface and other modes would have to yield precedence whenever a train was moving. This does give a lot of people conniptions I know, but it is not unusual for cities to adopt this kind of  approach. And it is becoming more widespread. Whatever happens to oil, we would then be able to operate a region wide transit system on whatever power source proved workable – hydro (obviously) but also wind, wave, tidal, geo-thermal, solar – all options that are sustainable and whose environmental impact is far less than any fossil fuel. At the same time we could rebuild our communities to be walkable and transit friendly. This will take time, but is also a sensible recognition that car orientation has not served us well even when gasoline was cheap.

The days of the climate change deniers are over. It is very clear that the earlier forecasts of dramatic and disastrous impacts were optimistic. Effects such a loss of the ice caps and the glaciers are visibly faster than the IPCC’s prediction. Pretending that we can build our way out of traffic congestion is foolish. Acting as though the climate is not changing rapidly is criminally negligent – because death rates from severe climate events and the consequences of rising sea levels are apparent now. How on earth Gordon Campbell can keep two mutually exclusive ideas in his head (we must fight climate change and build a ten lane freeway bridge) is beyond my understanding.

What really worries me is that our local media commentators are not yet making this linkage. Becuase if Vaughan Palmer does not start into this area soon – who will?

Written by Stephen Rees

February 5, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Environment, Gateway

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