Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for October 2008

Group wants interurban back on track

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Sun

Quite a decent piece on Rail for the Valley. John Buker has apparently decided to get in ahead of Monday’s Abbotsford Council meeting which I wrote about earlier. The idea of a demonstration poroject is the one that seemed to get most response at public meetings in both Abbotsford and Chilliwack. But it seemed to get less response from the Interegional Transportation committee and therefore is not the main plank of their report.

One of the things that I tried to stress was that is is feasible for this to happen without expecting a lot of money from the province. It would need a partnership with the current freight operator (owned by the Washington Group) and one of the companies that operate passenger trains. It would almost certainly be a limited time temporary thing, but it would meet the objection of the sceptics “I’m from Missouri, show me”.

Rail can capture people’s imagination, but a demonstration would be a practical way to allow people to experience what is possible and at relatively low cost. In my view this is more likely to actually lead to a real service in the near future – and much mire likely than any report or plan to shift attentiion away from freeway expansion to a much more efficient mode – and one that can be implemented in a shirt time scale. It would also increase choice – something that is notably missing now and in the current plans.

Ken Hardie’s response stressing the north of the Fraser and the suggestion that West Coast Express could get to Chilliwack seems to miss the point completely. Chilliwack has very little long distance commuting since it took the idea of a complete community seriously and is relatively self contained. The growth of the valley population will be mainly in the south – Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford – where there are no real current plans to do more than small increases to bus service. This is not nearly enough to meet present needs let alone the expected growth, which will all be highway oriented absent any other alternative. It is also clear that the current FVRD councils have no interest at all in getting swallowed up in SoCoBriTCA. No is there any expectation that Kevin Falcon is actually listening to what people in this part of BC are saying. They do not want SkyTrain – which in current plans is too little, too late and at huge cost. They want a lot of rail now and at low cost!

Written by Stephen Rees

October 31, 2008 at 8:39 am

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

Tagged with

Europe on the brink of currency crisis meltdown

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Daily Telegraph

On the ferry yesterday I decided to try out the $10 “quiet area”. That fee includes tea, coffee and newspapers, so for the first time in a while I read the dead tree version of the Sun. In the print edition a lot is content from other papers that you do not see in the on line edition. Like this story, which expanded my knowledge of what is going on in the world, and in particular why the US dollar has been getting stronger despite their financial crisis. I had thought bad mortgages and asset backed paper was a mainly US issue. What I did not know is that exposure to bad debts (mostly loans to other countries in Asia and South America) has created a much bigger crisis in Europe.

The latest data from the Bank for International Settlements shows that Western European banks hold almost all the exposure to the emerging market bubble, now busting with spectacular effect.

They account for three-quarters of the total $4.7 trillion £2.96 trillion) in cross-border bank loans to Eastern Europe, Latin America and emerging Asia extended during the global credit boom – a sum that vastly exceeds the scale of both the US sub-prime and Alt-A debacles.

No I don’t know what “Alt-A debacle” means: probably some computer glitch that got missed by the Telegraph’s subs.

It is also my impression that the version I read in the dead tree edition was much longer than this on line version, because I thought the  analysis on the impact on China would be relevant to update other things that I have been writing. And, of course, there was none of the huge number of on line comments.

Anyway, just in case you missed this too, I think this is a useful heads up.

And, if you think $10 buys you peace and quiet on a ferry, think again. Despite being nearly empty, and lots of notices about respecting others need for quiet, the cell phone yackers and the loud personal conversations were much worse there than in the adjacent no charge seating area I had to cross to get to the washroom.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 31, 2008 at 8:09 am

Posted in Economics

Breaking News

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The hearings into the poposed Silverdale developmnet have gone on so long that the council has now conceded that the decision cannot be made before the next civic election.

Damion Gillis is claiming this as a big victory for opponents of the devlopment, which will now become a “wedge issue”  in the election. Of course the proposal has not been stopped yet, but it is an encouraging sign that sanity may prevail.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 30, 2008 at 1:21 pm

Oil Prices

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Over at the Guardian there is a nice little graphic on oil prices I cannot embed here. But it is worth a look as it has explanatory spots on each of the peaks and troughs over the last ten years.

The real question is “How long can it last?” And, thanks to Andy in Germany we have a guide to that too.

There is no doubt that demand is down – and that includes places like China which have been one of the biggest resaons for increases in demand recently

Over the next two decades, some experts say, oil production will peak at around 95 million barrels a day.

Other experts say that it has peaked already

One big problem is that oil fields have a natural rate of decline as oil gets pumped out. The rate varies widely from field to field, but the global average is about 5 percent a year. So, just to maintain output, producers around the world must find and develop about six million barrels of oil a day. To increase global oil production by 1.5 million barrels a day, that figure rises to 7 million or 8 million barrels a day, or at least 2.5 billion barrels a year – a monumental task that gets tougher as production grows.

“The energy crisis is fundamentally a problem of supplies, not of energy demand,” said Frédéric Lasserre, the head of commodity research at Société Générale in Paris.

And the great chorus of “drill baby drill” to the south of us ignores the reality that the reserves in places currently thought to be untouchable due to environmental concerns are going to take a long time to be exploited even if the unthinkable happens and the Republicans manage to steal another election.

the cost of producing extra barrels of oil is rising. As prices fall, this might cause high-cost producers, like those working Canada’s vast oil sand deposits, to shut down production or curb their expenses.

Which is, I think, the first time I have seen that suggested. Of course, the tar sands have to be shut down – and quickly – if we are serious about stopping the current disastrous slide into global catastrophe, but no one in any Canadian government is going to even think about that. Indeed the opportunity for more drilling in the Arctic is about the only official reaction so far to the new predictions on the rate of change in global warming. But it might put a crimp in some of the pipeline schemes which threaten our coast with a lot more tankers.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 30, 2008 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Economics, energy

Tagged with

The Choice in Vancouver

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Don B wrote

Would you consider doing a post on the NPA/Vision policy platforms wrt transportation? I know you live in Richmond but it would be great to hear your opinion on these concrete proposals that deal with the issues you write about.

So I went to http://www.npavancouver.ca/ and downloaded the “NPA Action Plan” which contains the following

• Work with the provincial government, the federal government and TransLink to secure funding for the Broadway-UBC rapid transit line.

I have written often about this proposal – and it has been the subject of much debate int he comments section.  I can understand why the City would regard this as a priority – I just do not think it should be a regional priority. It is about time that rapid transit provision reached beyond the Burrard Peninsular. Coquitlam and Surrey should be the next two priorities for majort investment, not Vancouver. The City can however, on its own, do a lot to facilitate better transit and bus lanes on Braodway woudl be a great start – but the NPA has no intention of doing that.

• Work with TransLink and the provincial government to implement a public bike-sharing system in
Vancouver.

Again, the City could do this on its own. In Paris the whole velib scheme is funded by J C Decaux out of billboard revenues – but of course Vancouver hates billboards. The invovement of outside agencies just gives the NPA an excsue for not moving faster.

and also

• We will continue lowering parking requirements in new housing developments to foster sustainability and encourage housing affordability.
• We will investigate the feasibility of redeveloping surface parking in existing multi-family residential zones to provide for the development of purpose-built market rental housing.
• We will investigate using City parking and parking revenues to fund the development of non-market housing for those in need.
• We will relax regulations for secondary suites

all of which are good things but should have been happening mush faster. The NPA, of course, is very careful to protect its voter base which is small c  conservative and fundamentally opposed to much change in existing neighbourhoods

• We will explore options for closing streets for pedestrian-only use, based on experience during the 2010 Games.

Street closures do not need to wait for 2010 either. They are either part fo the philosophy of cities for people or oipposed becuase the city is for cars. The latter is the reality that the NPA has protected – not least by its shameful record on Burrard Bridge. They did keep Granville Mall, but they really dropped the ball on Cambie Street – and lost any credibilty on reducing car movemnet space as a result.

• We will ensure that the Broadway-UBC rapid transit line remains a priority for TransLink and the provincial government.

erm , excuse me, but you already said that a few pages back

• We will lead local neighbourhood planning that extends the best practices and legacies of the
planning for Vancouver’s dense downtown with its high levels of walking, cycling and transit use to manage change in a way that improves quality of life in our neighbourhoods.
• We will implement a public bike-sharing system in collaboration with TransLink.
• We will expand the City’s bike routes and lanes with an increased emphasis on safety for cyclists.

The province has been dropped from public bike sharing in the second time it is mentioned – and is that thord point a tacit acknowldegement that there has not been enough attention paids to saftey for cyclcist in the past?

So over to Vision’s website where I tried to find a link to a platform document comparable to the NPA’s pdf and couldn’t. The “policies and issues” section seems to be a long list of things they voted against in the last term – and the news section has press releases on different subjects including a commitment to $1.5m in spending on bike lanes – I am not sure of they mean $1.5m more – or if it is an increase on what is currently being spent.  They want a new pedestrian bridge across False Creek – which of course is not needed if you bite the bullet and take two lanes away from cars on Burrard Bridge. Again I am on record as supporting this plan as the traffic on the bridge simply does not need three lanes each way – the intersections at each end determine that the flow is always going to be less than the need for three lanes.

Now as it happens I woudl not recommend voting for anyone based solely on a platform. The last time I did that when as a neophyte Canadian voter I read all three party platforms, and decided that Jean Chretien’s Red Book looked the best. How wrong I was to trust that man. Neither should you vote on the basis of transport policy alone – even if it is better integrated with land use.

Despite its name, the NPA is about as partisan as it gets. If you do one of those tests (there are several on the internet) and find yourself on the right side of the spectrum, than NPA will be a comfortable home for you. Gordon Price (who is no longer in this racket) and Peter Ladner are at the progressive end of the spectrum – and more than one commentator has pointed out how close Robertson and Lander are in reality. But the NPA owes its large and well funded support to the business as usual crowd.

Vision is, or should be, a bit more left leaning but without the “loony lefties” of COPE. Of which I suppose I must probably count myself even though I would never join any political party that had people like me as a member.

The choice I am afraid in Vancouver is not much. Personally I would like to see some real change in Vancouver – but without silly notions like another pedestrian bridge across a body of water that has plenty of fixed crossing capacity and delightful little ferry boats too. Vancouver’s greatest sin is insufferable smugness. It greatest issue is not transportation but homelessness and the open sore of the downtown eastside. And I blame city politics for both of those – although of course the province and the cannot be given any sort of credit there either. So a plague on both your parties I say.

And what happened to the downtown streetcar – is the NPA dropping that?

If anyone has the Vision or COPE plaforms handy please comment and provide a link

I was going to put a poll in here but there is a gremlin in WP right now. I will try again later

Written by Stephen Rees

October 30, 2008 at 11:50 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with

Killer whales disappearing off southern B.C.

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Globe and Mail

The reason being mostly that they are starving to death. They feed on salmon. Warming waters, loss of habitat but mostly the greed of politically well connected fish farmers have pretty much killed off the salmon. Yesterday was the first commercial opening of a salmon fishery in the Fraser this year – mostly for Chum salmon, not highly regarded for the table (quite wrongly in my view) but commercially valuable for exports of roe to Japan. The orcas fed on chinook, and they have simply gone.

All of this is of course exactly as predicted. And BC shares the guilt equally with Washington and Alaska. Our boundaries making no difference to salmon or whales. Recent research also shows that survival rates in the Fraser (which is not dammed) are actually worse than the Columbia, which is.

But the BC government must take its share of responsibility. For its blank refusal to deal with fish farms and their sea lice. For gravel extraction in the Fraser, with no mitigation at all. For eviscerating its environmental protection agencies and its environmental assessment process, which allows any development, not matter how damaging. And so must the feds. The DFO has now supervised the collapse of the west coast salmon as effectively as the east coast cod.

Not so long ago, we were celebrating orcas, with painted glass fibre statues in the streets. I hope you know where they are now, because those are the only ones you will be able to see soon. The chances of their being a pod visible from the deck of the ferry this afternoon being slim to none.

A sad day, and one that should give the BC government pause in its rush to eliminate what is left of “super natural BC” (of course we don;t call it that now – probably in recognition of how little we care for the natural world). But is probably won’t.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 30, 2008 at 10:30 am

Posted in Environment

Tagged with ,

Hiring by contractors, road builders head in different directions

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Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun

There has not been a lot to write about this week. Or at least anything where I felt I had anything worth adding. On the whole I prefer to have things that I want to comment upon rather than just pass along. I assume that my readers are a well informed bunch who probably look at many of the same rss feeds and email lists that I do.

This piece today simply confirms what I was writing fairly recently, that the people who build houses and condos are not the same as those that build roads. So while housing construction is going to slow down that does not necessarily mean that resources can be switched into the road building sector. The skill sets and experience may be related, but they are different.

It may also be worth noting today’s Vaughan Palmer piece on what the economic downturn does to the province’s budgetary predictions. Millions this year (there are still five months to go in the fiscal year) but billions for the next three years (the “planning cycle”). Since contracts have not yet been signed on the Gateway projects, this again may not be bad news. The “fairy gold” of the P3s has also dried up, so the public sector will be required to pick up much more of the tab. Though no doubt Mr Falcon will still be considering how much more of the provincial pension plan funds he can divert. A prospect which, as a future beneficiary, alarms me considerably. It is one thing to see my RRSP dwindle, it is quite something else to contemplate the possibility that civil service pensions could now be at risk to prop up the follies of misguided politicians

Written by Stephen Rees

October 30, 2008 at 9:20 am

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