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

Archive for October 2009

Writing off Burrard Thermal

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I saw the story in the Vancouver Sun this morning and thought about blogging it. It quite an extra-ordinary event. The Premier has decided to “write off” a gas fired power station to encourage generation of cleaner electricity and an environmental group publishes a press release deploring it. The press release is copied untouched below.

Burrard Thermal was not used very much but it did provide a standby. Not that firing up a thermal station, which uses gas to raise steam which then drives turbines, is all that fast. Not as fast as “turning on the tap” at a dam – or lighting a jet engine, which is what a gas turbine is and which are used around the world for their efficiency and fast response. Proposals to replace the steam turbines with gas turbines at Burrard never went very far. Despite being one of the bigger polluters in the region, the air downwind of the chimneys was actually cleaner than upwind, thanks to the NOx paradox. The station was originally connected to the oil refinery – which closed years ago. It reflected a time when power stations were sited close to the users to reduce transmission losses. That no longer applies either.

The politics of power in BC are complex – and so are the issues around Burrard Thermal. And it really has nothing to do with the environment – but a lot to do with spin and optics and who your friends are and what you think is really important – making money or saving the place we live in to make it inhabitable for the future.

So now I am going to turn this over to Ben West.

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The Wilderness Committee

For immediate release – Thursday, October 29, 2009

BC Government Overrules Independent Regulator
and Lines Pockets of Private Power Producers

Vancouver, BC – The Wilderness Committee today condemned the BC government’s decision to order BC Hydro to buy an additional 6,000 gigawatt hours of electrical power from private power producers, in direct opposition to what the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) has recommended.

“Requiring BC Hydro to purchase power that it doesn’t need is an idiotic decision and a gift to the private power industry. Three months ago, the BCUC said buying this power was not in the public interest, and yet the BC government is ignoring their own regulatory watchdog and ordering BC Hydro to spend billions of dollars on power we don’t need. This decision won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions in BC by one iota, but it will damage a lot of streams and rivers in the process,” said Gwen Barlee, policy director with the Wilderness Committee.

“Private power coming from so-called ‘run of river’ projects comes mostly at the wrong time of year for British Columbians, is costing us far above market rates, and threatens our rivers and streams. Ratepayers are already on the hook for $31 billion in energy agreements to the likes of General Electric. The BC government’s decision to order Hydro to buy even more of this power is irrational and unacceptable,” said Wilderness Committee campaign director Joe Foy.

The BC government justified the decision to purchase more expensive private power by over-ruling the BCUC and reducing the “planning” capacity of Burrard Thermal, a gas-powered plant in Port Moody. Since 2002, Burrard Thermal has run at about five per cent of capacity, being used almost exclusively to provide firm emergency peak power backup in winter months. Ironically, Burrard Thermal will continue to operate in the same manner it has for the last seven years despite the government’s recent announcement.

The BC government has come under intense criticism since the introduction of the BC Energy Plan in 2002 which prohibited BC Hydro from producing new sources of hydroelectricity. The Energy Plan resulted in a gold rush which has seen over 800 water bodies, including lakes, staked by private power corporations. Private hydro projects have been heavily criticized for low environmental standards, lack of public input, and a lack of provincial or regional planning process.

“It is sadly ironic that while the BC government is bailing out the private power industry under the ruse of addressing climate change it is blasting ahead with contradictory plans to promote carbon-producing coal mines such as Klappan and Groundhog in northern BC, axing Live Smart BC, radically increasing subsidies to the oil and gas sector, and promoting massive highway expansion. People recognize hypocrisy when they see it and are aware that this gift to the private power sector has nothing to do with addressing global warming,” said Barlee.

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The Wilderness Committee is Canada’s largest membership-based, citizen-funded wilderness preservation organization. We work for the preservation of Canadian and international wilderness through research and grassroots education. The Wilderness Committee works on the ground to achieve ecologically sustainable communities. We work only through lawful means.

Thank you for supporting wilderness.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 29, 2009 at 6:22 pm

‘Wrong way’ rail may be righted

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VIA6148 Victoria Stn BC Oct 1994

Times Colonist

The E&N Rail Dayliner could soon be turned around — starting up-Island in the morning and heading south from Nanaimo into Victoria for its first run of the day instead of the other way around.

“It’s something we’re definitely working on,” said Graham Bruce, executive director of the Island Corridor Foundation, which owns the rail line. “There’s a number of pieces to make this all work together. I think it’s quite plausible.”

Bruce said the change could take place as early as six months from now.

Currently, one 90-passenger car leaves Victoria each morning and travels to Courtenay before making a return trip at the end of the day. Islanders have complained for years that the train is going the wrong way and missing potential commuter traffic.

I will believe it when I see it. VIA Rail has known that this service was needed for at least the last twenty years – and probably a lot longer than that. I have never understood why they have persisted in refusing to run trains when people actually might want to use them. But then VIA rail is even more shambolic than Amtrak.

Actually the ideas are even more creative than the beginning of the story suggests

The idea would be to operate two trains out of Nanaimo. The first might leave at 6 a.m. for the capital region, then turn around for its trip to Courtenay.

A second train could leave Nanaimo shortly after that, carrying another load of people to the capital region, and then operate back and forth between Victoria’s downtown and Langford over the course of the day before heading back to Nanaimo.

Both Backhouse and Bruce say there is potential for excursion rail as well, with one run possibly linking up with a new cruise-ship terminal in Nanaimo and taking people to Cameron Lake.

The bad news is in the tail. There is also a proposal to open up a new coal mine near Union Bay which, if it ships coal for export  could bring significant new rail traffic. That might be good for the railway but it is not at all good for continued human survival on this planet. It is not clear but the way the story is currently put together suggests the coal might cross subsidize the passenger service. This seems somewhat more likely than government actually directing VIA to behave in the public interest.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 29, 2009 at 11:34 am

Posted in Railway

Tagged with ,

Region’s sustainable transit plan must be funded

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Mike Harcourt published this opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun on October 22nd, before the Mayor’s vote to fund only current services not expansion. Oddly, that was not picked up by the Google News Alert that I use on a daily basis to track new stories with the phrase “Metro Vancouver” in them until today.

Of course, Martin Crilly, the transportation commissioner, had already told the Mayors that they could not legally authorize spending on expansion as they have no permitted additional revenue sources available to them. So there was really very little point in Harcourt hectoring them. He should have been addressing the provincial government, which has placed Translink in a financial straight jacket. Their freedom of movement is tightly constrained – as I explained at the time.

Harcourt includes some things in his forecasts which are not Translink’s responsibility, but will need to be dealt with by the Minister of Transport, Shirley Bond, though she will inevitably defer this to her successors

As well, over the next 10 to 20 years we have a number of old bridges and approach roads we will need to replace. The Port Mann and Pattullo Bridges you know about. But what about the 50-to-80-year-old Queensborough, Knight, Oak and Lions Gate Bridges, as well as an expanded Massey Tunnel?

Only the Patullo and Knight Street bridges are Translink’s responsibility. All the others belong to the MoT. And, as noted here recently, the MoT has discounted any expansion of the Massey Tunnel. The province has shown, however, that its policy for not tolling existing infrastructure does not apply to replacement structures. The new Port Mann bridge will be tolled. Translink will be allowed to toll the Patullo since Kevin Falcon stated that the Alex Fraser is an adequate free alternate to the tolled Port Mann. So if these bridges need to be replaced soon expect tolls on many of them: Oak Street is easy since there is the Arthur Laing as a free alternate. Tolls were rejected for the Lion’s Gate upgrade – and I would have expected that to last for more than 20 years. Maybe Harcourt has some insider information I have not seen.

Missing from Harcourt’s list but arguably much more significant to him – as he is a director of the Vancouver Port Authority – is the New Westminster Swing Bridge – the only railway crossing of the main arm of the Fraser in the region. This critical link is used by BNSF, CN, CP, Amtrak and SRY on a daily basis. It is single track and older than any of the bridges identified by Harcourt. It is the most significant bottle neck in the region and a major restraint on rail service expansion of any kind. Its replacement has been necessary for many years now – and, so far as I know, nothing is being done about it.

He is of course right to address both provincial and federal governments. He is also right to identify the need to create a sustainable region. Perhaps what is remarkable is, apart from a reference to “Metro Vancouver’s economic competitiveness” there is no direct reference to Gateway. That project is the one that is sucking up all the available resources for transportation in the region – from both federal and provincial sources – and is the least sustainable of all the options. It has no transit component (merely a few airy “promises” for later consideration) and will ensure that the region south of the Fraser will be unsustainable for the next 40 years at least.  We could have a sustainable region within that time if the billions of dollars devoted to building and expanding freeways were spent on transit instead. Indeed, with sensible choices, that might even leave some money to be spent on replacing the odd ancient bridge too. But what we are seeing now is the end of any hope for a sustainable region.

By the way, while we are talking about the need to replace aging infrastructure the same paper has this piece about Metro’s need for much more money for water, solid waste and sewers. And that will come from property tax. A 50% increase over the next five years. So you can see why the Mayors could not vote for a property tax increase for transit as well.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 29, 2009 at 9:00 am

Ned Jacobs: Citizens’ summits do not compensate for Vision’s abandoned promises

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This post is really just to let you know I have updated my recent post on Gregor Robertson’s “Greenest City” plan.

Ned Jacobs has written a trenchant opinion column for the Georgia Straight which draws the links between Vision and the people who pay Vision’s bills – the developers.

It has also been revealed that Vision is deeply indebted to developers, realtors, and others whose interests depend on municipal policies. Vision councillors insist that campaign contributions would never affect their decisions. The donors (whose gifts are not tax deductible) think otherwise. Some have even boasted about their influence on council, and Vision councillors now refer to the development industry as “our partners”. The Coalition of Progressive Electors does not accept contributions from developers

He also traces the recent decision making processes which seem to show that what Vision say  they want and what they actually do are some distance apart.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 28, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Posted in community, Urban Planning

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Urban sprawl no fun for kids

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Laura Stone in the Vancouver Sun on two reports from the Vanier Institute of the Family.  The Sun of course does not provide a link to either of the reports or the institute so I have saved you the Google search.

Neither, it seems to me, says anything very new or surprising.

“We have built cities that actively discourage walking and biking among children, certainly when we compare the experiences of today’s children and those of their parents,” writes Juan Torres, an urban planner and professor at the University of Montreal, in his study titled Children & Cities: Planning to Grow Together.

It also actively discourages walking and biking in the population as whole. We have known for a long time that this has had serious health effects – but I understand that Larry Frank is doing even more research on that. Obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease are all directly caused by lack of physical activity and are strongly correlated to suburbs. I took the picture below yesterday when I went for a walk to post a letter. This is not within one of the dendritic pattern subdivisions but on a main artery – No 4 Road.

No 4 Road sidewalk

No 4 Road sidewalk

There is a sidewalk on the other side of the road – but no crosswalk. You are expected to go back to Steveston Highway, cross at the lights and then retrace your steps. I, of course, jaywalk. Which is one reason why we worry about our children. Do as I say not as I do. Crossing the street is taking your life in your hands.

A second report, Caution! Kids at Play?, written by psychology student Belinda Boekhoven from Carleton University in Ottawa, finds that a decline in unstructured playtime and outdoor space in cities, also related to urbanization, can affect a child’s self-motivation and self-reliance.

The report is essentially a summary of lots of other studies. It does not, it seems to me, deal with why parents now feel they must supervise their children’s activities at every step – or have some responsible adult do it for  them. Partly it is the very realistic fear that children are at risk when walking and cycling of being struck by moving motor vehicles.

For the past 30 years unintentional injuries have been the leading cause of childhood mortality among children. The rate in Canada is among the highest in the developed world. …Motor vehicle injuries lead the list of injury deaths at all ages during childhood and adolescence.  source: A review of risk factors for child pedestrian injuries

What I heard at work when this issue was discussed was that while this factor is the statistically significant one, the one that is still high in parents’ minds is “stranger danger” or the “Michael Dunahee effect”. Child abductions by strangers are very rare events but they are also very prominent in media reports. It is a fear that is also successfully exploited by Hollywood. Taken together, the lack of safe pedestrian paths, the dispersed distribution of all facilities due to land use policies and the real and, possibly exaggerated,  fears of parents are the real threats to children.

UPDATE

A study published in the October 2009 ITE Journal reports on survey results in Hillsborough County, Florida among both parents and children on factors that prevent walking or biking to school. “Violence or crime” was reported as a factor by 42% of parents but only 5% of children.

The question is not so much what do we do about this – after all, as I said at the top, none of this is news and safe routes to school and walking school buses and all the rest have been around for years. The real question is what does it take for us to do something really effective about all of this and bring about real change. I can see why the seemingly remote possibilities of climate change disaster seem less pressing than the “need” to stimulate economic growth. But when it is our own children that are threatened, why is it that these problems continue and are not effectively addressed?

UPDATES

Thanks to regular reader and sometimes commenter Richard Campbell I am now aware of the blog of a mother who is trying to tackle this issue. Its called “Free Range Kids”. She was labelled “America’s worst Mom” because she allowed her 9 year old son to ride the subway on his own.

Incidentally if you want to know what a day in the life of a transportation planner doing pedestrian studies looks like, head on over to the Unemployment Roadshow.

October 2009 was “International Walk to School Month

Written by Stephen Rees

October 28, 2009 at 10:59 am

Interchange ‘entirely for port,’ says councillor

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Richmond Review

The City of Richmond has long wanted another interchange on the freeway. Their preferred location would be Highway #99 at Blundell. The province does not want to do that, but has offered a new partial interchange on Highway #91 at Nelson Road. However, in order to get that Richmond would have to contribute $3m.

One of the reasons the City is saying it needs the interchange is to reduce truck traffic on Westminster Highway. This has increased dramatically as the port industrial lands on the south arm between LaFarge and Riverport have been developed. Richmond would like the new access road to be grade separated at Westminster Highway. They can’t have that either.

Local councillor Harold Steves is quoted in the paper edition but very oddly, this is left out of the on-line version I linked to above.

Steves maintains the province wants to build a new bridge over the South Arm of the Fraser at No 8 Road and the new interchange is needed to facilitate it.

“Everything to build this new crossing is falling into place,” he said. “It would destroy East Richmond farmland.”

The Ministry of Transport never gives up on a defeated road proposal.  This one has been around for a long time. It would also have, of course, a new crossing of the North Arm to connect up to Boundary Road.

Screen shot 2009-10-24 at 4.28.57 PM If you look to the map on the left, Boundary Road runs due south from the point where Highway #1 turns east. Just draw a mental line due south, and you will see how it neatly falls halfway between the Deas Tunnel and the Alex Fraser, and skirts (or not depending on how you define it) the brown area in the middle of Delta – Burns Bog. It would remove some traffic from both Marine Drive and the Knight Street bridge to the west and the Queensborough Bridge to the east.   And it would also add capacity which is currently maximised at the tunnel. While the counterflow system designed to ease commuting to and from Vancouver does help those flows, it does so at the expense of counter peak movements – which have increased significantly as a result of the dispersal of both employment and industry away from Vancouver’s downtown.

Previous proposals from the MoT fell foul of the Cities of Vancouver and Richmond, as well as creating great concern over the ALR, the Bog and the green zone generally.  This route is missing from Transport 2021, which was incorporated in to the LRSP. Of course the province no longer has any concerns about these issues, as it determination to pursue the Gateway project on the south bank of the South Arm demonstrates. You can also see how much of the land south of Westminster Highway is now grey not green. That’s port industrial development, and a lot of it fairly recent. The picture below shows the view upstream from the east end of Steveston Highway. The left side of the picture is almost filled with empty containers stored on new fill, mostly dredged from the shipping channel – a process which is continuing even as I write this.

The Review piece is mainly a response to the urging last week of the local MLA to accept the deal that is being offered. There is no response from the Port, but also no word at all from the MoT. The previous minister dismissed calls for the doubling of  the Deas Tunnel, saying that is was not a current priority for the province. And, of course, if the long range plans of the MoT never change, which certainly seems to be the case, that might well explain his response. It is probably cheaper now to build yet another cable stayed, post tensioned bridge (like the Golden Ears) than sink more tubes adjacent to the existing tunnel. But more importantly, as Steves notes, it also opens up a lot of land for highway oriented development. In exactly the same way as the SFPR converts land from agriculture to industry in Delta. And as the widening of Highway #1 will facilitate along the valley.

Container storage

Written by Stephen Rees

October 24, 2009 at 3:57 pm

UPDATE Richmond Dykes

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There is a short story in the Richmond Review paper edition that is not on their web site

Since it relates directly to a topic recently discussed here I am going to copy type the relevant paragraphs

Middle Arm Dyke to rise half a metre

The Middle Arm of the Fraser will get millions of dollars in additional flood protection now that the green light has been given to a series of major dyke infrastructure upgrades in the city.

$2.4 million will be spent on bolstering more than 750 metres of dyke between Cambie Road and Hollybridge Way. Plans call for the dyke top be raised about half a metre, concrete floodwall retaining structures will be added, and rip-rap armouring will reinforce the river face of the dyke.

Some $4.8 million in funding – from the city, province and Ottawa – will be spent on upgrades to the No 4 Road drainage pump station.

This is a small sum for a small raise to a small percentage of the dyke. The rip rap is needed to reduce the impact of wash from passing vessels. The pump station is not on Middle Arm and is some distance from the area of dyke raising, so is really a separate project. Pumps get rid of water from behind the dyke.

Middle Arm dyke at Hollybridge Way

Middle Arm dyke at Hollybridge Way

Written by Stephen Rees

October 23, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Posted in flood watch

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Samso Island Is Face of Danish Green Revolution

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This is a longish (two part) article in Der Spiegel (in English) . I used their sub-head for my title, just because I found theirs a little OTT “An Ecotopia for Climate Protection”. Yes you need to read it, but first bear with me while I explain why I decided to blog it.

First I am going to see “The Age of Stupid” tonight. Secondly we all need to have some positive information about initiatives in greenhouse gas reduction that actually work. Thirdly we need to compare what is happening in those places doing it properly, to BC where what is going on might be farce – or tragedy – but is certainly not an example to anyone. Up to now, on this blog, I have tried to stay away from the unpleasant spectacle of environmentalists fighting each other which has characterized debate on the energy issue in BC. I felt that there was quite enough coverage of that elsewhere, and I had no wish to take sides. “A plague on both your houses” was often my visceral reaction – which is not exactly helpful.

So what was done right on a small island in Denmark. First it was a demonstration project – or pilot. I am with Janette on this one too. I am very much in favour of pilot projects, for all kinds of things. Secondly everything they did was based on local control with the islanders investing their own money – and now reaping the rewards.

These are two very important things for us to take note of, for in BC it is the the big corporations who are investing and it is the provincial government who is driving the issues – with policies like increasing BC Hydro rates, which will hit every BC resident in the pocket no matter what they do. All the new power that is going to be generated is aimed at the California market – not at replacing current generation. Now since we are not using large amounts of fossil fuel in BC it worth thinking about this. We are not Samso. But we do need to replace diesel generators in remote, off grid communities and we should try to wean ourselves off importing cheap, off peak, fossil fuel generated electricity which we only “need” to allow us to export expensive peak power to California. When BC Hydro was operated as a public utility, and BCUC was allowed to operate as an effective guardian of the public interest, we had cheap power, and used it profligately – for example in home heating – but at least we had no incremental environmental impact. That had all happened when we flooded the valleys and dammed the salmon streams. So existing hydro is not exactly “green” but it is zero emissions. But because it was so cheap there was little incentive to conserve energy, and as we continued to expand our economy and population,  so there was demand for more power, although there were plenty of conservation ideas which were cheaper than new build per kWhr. The BC government of course has scrapped at least one of those.

I would like to see an approach to energy that returns control to local communities and gives individuals real incentives to do the right thing. That means they also get the returns when they invest in the solutions that they choose. Not as we do now, roll over so that corporations like GE can make a financial killing while making fast and loose with our habitat.

The Samsingers joined forces, erecting the wind turbines and attaching solar panels to their roofs. They built central straw burners, and they installed machines to harness geothermal energy and the heat from cow’s milk to heat houses, and to extract rapeseed oil from plants grown on the island to produce fuel for their tractors.

A Climate-Neutral Island

Eight years later, they were already producing more energy than they consumed, which made them climate-neutral, and today they produce 40 percent more energy than they consume. Only two questions remain. Can the approach used on the island, which comprises 22 villages, 4,000 residents and a small cannery, work elsewhere? And does the rest of the world even want to emulate the Samsingers?

The “carbon neutral” sub head has been left in deliberately. It is a very useful target. Not “how can we maximize profits from energy exports” which started here when BC Hydro joined the Enron revolution (and we know where that lead!). The islanders still need fossil fuels for their boats and cars, but the export of wind and solar power offsets that. That seems to me to be a good benchmark. We need to think like this since chasing after profits and trying to keep an exponential rate of growth of GDP going is suicidal.  We need to understand how much is enough, and stop taking more, just because we can.

But we also need to understand that people will be motivated not by – as is said in this piece – saving the polar bears [it is almost certainly too late anyway] but by doing what is in their own interests. We have been sold the notion that somehow we cannot afford to be environmentally aware because it is “too expensive”: that somehow the “economy” (read Business as Usual) trumps the need for survival of the species – and not just ours but most of the rest too! What happened in Samso is that leaders with vision were able to convince their neighbours that change was not just good for the earth but good for themselves too. They seem to have avoided the tragedy of the commons that we see played out here only too clearly.

Yes I want to emulate the Samsingers – with programs designed for us, by us, locally and financed by us too. But in the “best place on earth” there seems to be far too much government promoted greed and corporatism to even start a project like this. Don’t believe me? Look at the size of the Green vote in the last provincial election. Because this approach is pretty much what was in the Green Book. Which few read and fewer took to heart.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 22, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Mayor releases plan to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city by 2020

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Gregor Robertson used the platform of the current Gaining Ground-Resilient Cities conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre to launch “Vancouver 2020 A Bright Green Future” yesterday. This is the document from the Greenest City Action Team that sets out the objectives and looks as some of the possibilities to achieve the Mayor’s desire to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city by 2020.

My link in the paragraph above will enable you to download the complete report as a pdf file. If you would prefer, there is a short summary in today’s Vancouver Sun.  It does not discuss the recommendations – it merely presents them. And I expect there will be a lot of discussion about these ideas – what is there and, more importantly, what is missing.  On the whole, as a statement of objectives it is quite bold but “you know these environmentalists, they are never satisfied” (a line from the movie The American President, which was also about greenhouse gas reduction, in part. I’d link to the imdb quotes page, but that is one of the few they missed).

The report’s presentation is self-consciously modern. Much effort clearly went into appealing to modern sensibilities. No great slabs of grey text, or formal presentations. But lots of sidebars and anecdotes from other cities. Plenty of good positive examples, and lots of talk about the need for objectives and targets. Where it falls short is the lack of specific programs and commitments – so I do not think it is really a plan so much as a wish list.

Of course, my concerns are transportation and land use – because taken together that’s most of the greenhouse gas emissions.

Buildings and vehicles produce more than 85 per cent of Vancouver’s greenhouse gas emissions and are the focus of the next two sections of this report. However, there is an overarching issue that affects emissions from both buildings and vehicles: density. Land-use patterns are probably the single most important determinant of people’s greenhouse gas emissions and their ecological footprints.

To their credit they do not abandon Eco-density, the initiative of the last administration but they note

Much more can be done. Most importantly, Vancouver should complete the planning processes required to increase density and permit mixed uses.

Because this is a report of the Action Team – not a commitment by the City Council. So it does not have the status of a formal change to the City’s planning activities – yet. But Robertson himself referred to the document as a Plan. Ecodensity was not an easy sell for Sam Sullivan and company – and the issue will still raise the hackles of most communities within Vancouver, who are very happy with the way things are and are deeply suspicious of any change. Anything that affects both their current way of life, and their property values, is going to be subject to close scrutiny.

A series of more detailed implementation plans…will need to be developed by city staff through wide consultation with the community

Indeed. And this is followed by an exhortation to “everyone to do their part”. And I am quite sure that all of the neighbourhoods that had very close consultative processes under administrations prior to Sullivan’s will expect to have that approach returned.

UPDATE: Ned Jacobs has now published a damning critique of the Mayor’s commitment to consultation

Of course the city is not alone in transportation – so of course much of what it says about transportation in general – and transit in particular – is addressed to other levels of government and is all entirely predictable. What is very noticeable is the lack of a set of specific targets in areas where the City does have control. And as we learned this week from New York there is a great deal that can be done, very quickly and at relatively low cost. Paint and potted plants can do wonders.

There are a number of things the City can start to do quickly: and – as long as they stick to a continuous rolling effort – will have significant impact. In terms of broad objectives, this plan does not adopt the one that was pioneered by Copenhagen forty years ago – although there are ten different citations of that city in the document. Their objective was a reduction in the amount of space devoted to cars – both moving and parked. They have achieved that by a steady attrition: a small percentage is taken each and every year. Since traffic adapts to fill the space available, traffic has contracted.

Similarly in New York (18 citations) the decision was made to reduce the amount of street space used by cars by reallocating traffic lanes to become bus lanes, bike lanes and – probably most significantly – pedestrian space, much of which is not devoted to movement but sitting! The City of Vancouver, thanks to its charter, does not have to defer to senior governments here. It is master in its own house, and it can, if it wishes, move the furniture.

Previous City of Vancouver Engineers have fought long and hard against any encroachment on road space that might reduce traffic volumes. They seemed to have been unaware of the simple change in metric that is brought about when “people” are substituted for “vehicles” in the model. The #99 B-Line – the most effective bus route in the region – has almost no on street priority. There are no bus lanes on Broadway. The only thing that sets that route apart from most of the others is that it does not stop so often. On Hastings, a similar type of service is offered by the #135. It is not branded as a B-Line, but it works just like one. The Granville Street #98-B Line is now history: even that had hardly any priority within Vancouver. Contrast this to what New York is doing – and London, Paris and many others have done – in terms of bus lanes which have different coloured tarmac (no arguments about what is a bus lane) and camera enforcement (it is easy to see what is and is not a bus, unlike an HOV lane which is very hard to enforce).

Similarly the City can do a lot about parking. Not just on street but off street as well. But there is no overall parking strategy addressed in this report – apart from the need for bike parking, and for the ability to charge electric vehicles. This is really missing the point. But I can understand why they do not tackle it head on. Because that would immediately incur the wrath of the DVBIA. Well I suspect anything you do like this is not going to please that crowd so you might just as well face up to it. As long as there are lots of places to end car trips (parking spaces) there will be lots of cars. Yet three cars carrying on average 4 people in total take up the same space as a bus with 40 to 60. Or similar numbers of bikes or pedestrians. In Manhattan and Central London only 5% of the trips are in cars – so it is easier to make the case there. Not easier to win it, of course, since those car drivers are disproportionately influential people. Much harder here – as we saw with the Burrard Bridge trial, the short lived closure of part of Robson Street and the battle over Granville Mall.

Sure the City does not provide the transit service, but it can make the provision of transit a great deal more efficient and effective. A bus that can avoid traffic congestion is not only faster but more reliable. There may not even be any increase in the number of buses but those that are there will be moving more people than they can now, because they can complete more trips in a shift. That in itself makes bus lanes worth doing. But the longer term effect – as both London and New York demonstrate – is that you can get a lot more people using buses once you remove the element of uncertainty. The bus becomes reliable. And with only slightly more effort it becomes “the surface subway” that Janette Sadik-Khan spoke about this week. And a bus service can get introduced a lot quicker and cheaper than a subway line.

The contrast between the lack of specificity in areas where the city can do something (density, street use, parking) and transit, where someone else has to pick up the tab, is striking. There the ideas are definite – if a bit lacking in expertise.

  • The Downtown Streetcar project should get the green light, [of course - but since it only serves Vancouver, maybe you should consider following the example of Portland and pay for it yourselves? It is not now, nor ever has been, a regional priority]
  • express bus services should be expanded on busy routes (e.g. Commercial/Victoria) [see notes above about how bus lanes would be the way to achieve that]
  • Electric express buses should be used on Hastings, 4th Avenue, Broadway/West 10th Ave, and 41st Ave [You can do that on Hastings now, as long as it does not stop at intermediate points between downtown and the PNE. Electric B Lines would need a lot of wiring and some expensive "special work" to get in and out of the curb lanes between local buses. Putting trolleybuses back on the #41 sounds like a good idea until you look at the cost of wires to UBC. How about trolleys for Cambie while you're at it? Maybe someone should start looking at my idea of putting poles on hybrid buses to extend the range and flexibility of trolley routes without more overhead wiring.]
  • Waterfront Station should be redeveloped into an accessible and attractive multimodal transportation hub. [DAFT - it is already. Redevelopment of one of the few outstanding heritage buildings in this City would be unforgiveable]
  • Local ferry services should be encouraged and supported. [yes, and the City can do that without Translink - West Vancouver just did. The False Creek ferries work very well without regional interference. Others could too, if they were financially viable ]

The one thing that is missing, that I am very pleased about, is there is no reference to a subway underneath Broadway to UBC.

Instead of a slab about what Translink should be doing, there ought to have been a direct attack on what is happening on Vancouver’s door step. The widening of Highway #1 may stop at Boundary Road, but that does not stop a huge amount of new traffic being dumped onto Vancouver’s streets. Yes I know that sounds like I am suggesting a Corrigan like bluster, but ignoring the impact of this vast increase in car traffic on the City’s east side is baffling. Not picking up the suggestion of pulling down the viaducts is a small issue in comparison. Freeway expansion will affect Vancouver. It is a very retrograde step – and the plan to make Vancouver “the greenest city” – is going to be undermined by the presence of large numbers of cars trying to get into Vancouver from the freeway.

And hoping that someone else might introduce road pricing is not a Plan, any more than expecting to win the lottery is retirement planning.

Mayors likely to okay extra $130 million for TransLink

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Jeff Nagel in BC Local News does a good job of keeping track of the unfolding Translink funding saga. I do not usually indulge in trying to foretell the future but in this case it is pretty easy to see that the Mayors really have no other option. If they refuse to pass the fare and tax increases they will not, as Mayor Corrigan suggests, look like heroes fighting the wicked provincial government. They will be the [insert rude word for the plural of a body orifice here] who brought about transit service cuts – which are even less popular than fare increases. The “consultation” exercise really boiled down to the the simple question, ‘Given that you do not want service cuts, would you rather see a fare increase or a property tax increase?’ The Minister of Transport must have been aware at the recent meeting with the Mayors that they simply cannot  put their own positions so clearly on the line that an increase in property taxes would mean. The public are likely to accept that the Mayor did his or her best over this decision – but an increase in property tax is simply asking to be kicked in the ballot.

Corrigan can of course enjoy his maverick path because he can be confident that the other Mayors will not follow him. This gives him the opportunity to grab the spotlight and say all kinds of stuff, but with no fear of consequences. He is wrong about the timing of course, because a revolt now would have no impact on the Olympics. Those arrangements are already made, and  Campbell has made it clear that although lots of other things can and are being cut (though he does back off a bit when the noise gets to him) the Olympics are untouchable fiscally. He is committed to make the Olympics work and nothing the Mayors might do is going to get in the way of that.

The timing of the Provincial review is also interesting. It is not yet available. Of course. So if the Mayors do vote for service cuts, Campbell – or more likely Shirley Bond – can trot out the “they did not look for economies” nonsense.  So the choice for the Mayors is, as usual Hobson’s choice – no choice at all. Expansion has been taken off the table by Martin Crilly. Property tax increases taken off by the Mayors. Anything else is outside the legislative straight jacket fitted onto Translink by the province. This makes predictions reasonably easy. But note he said “likely” and not “certain” – for nothing is certain. But it is a very slim chance that they will opt for cuts.

UPDATE It was approved on Friday October 23

Written by Stephen Rees

October 21, 2009 at 8:33 am

Posted in transit

Tagged with ,

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