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

Archive for January 2013

Port Authority: Climate change not our problem

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The following is a Press Release from Voters Taking Action on Climate Change on the decision yesterday by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to approve plans for coal export expansion at Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver.

I am copying it in full since it is well argued and referenced – and I somehow doubt that it will attract anything like the coverage it deserves in the mainstream media (which goes to the Vancouver Sun story. VTACC isn’t mentioned but the responsibility issue is. You might have to pay to read that.)

The contrast to the way that coal terminal expansion in our region is being dealt with stands on stark contrast to the ongoing battle just to the south of us.

Climate change not our problem: Port Authority approves Neptune coal export expansion
– shrugs off calls for broader consultation on climate, health impacts from climate scientists, mayors, Lung Association and others

For immediate release

January 24 2013

Vancouver –

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority announced yesterday that it has approved plans for coal export expansion at Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver.   In doing so it ignored appeals from the public, climate scientists, regional mayors, the BC Lung Association and leading NGO’s(1) to delay a decision until the broad public had been thoroughly consulted on the climate and potential health impacts of this proposal.

Approval means that coal exports from this facility will expand by as much as 13 million tonnes per year over 2011 levels.(2) At full output, Neptune Terminals could see 4 to 5 loaded coal trains arriving each day (up to 10 train trips per day total), based on current coal train capacities.(3)

The Port Authority has rejected arguments about climate change, potential health impacts, and broad public consultation in making its decision.  We address each of these points in turn below.

Climate Change
Climate change is a real and urgent threat to our children’s future.  The greenhouse gas emissions that will result from the burning of BC’s coal exports will hurt all global citizens, including British Columbians.  The International Energy Agency reported last year that if we continue to blindly service increasing demand for fossil fuels, by 2050 the world will be locked into a devastating 6 degree increase in temperature.

Taking steps to avoid this outcome cannot be reconciled with increasing exports of coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels.  “Business as usual” is no longer an option.  We must all take responsibility to reduce emissions.  The Port Authority does not get a free pass on this issue by choosing to narrowly interpret its federal mandate as the demand-driven facilitation of trade.

Coal exports from Metro Vancouver have increased considerably in recent years, and if the Neptune Terminals and Fraser Surrey Docks coal export proposals are both approved Metro Vancouver will be the biggest coal exporter in North America.  Total emissions from this exported coal would be greater than those from the Northern Gateway pipeline.  The public should not think that these will be the last proposals to increase coal exports out of our region.(4)

The Port Authority and its tenant, Neptune Terminals, have not explicitly acknowledged that metallurgical coal exported from Neptune Terminals, when used in steel making, produces as much global warming pollution as thermal coal used in power production.  By ignoring the harm that these exports will do to our fragile climate, Neptune Terminals and the Port Authority do a disservice to the public. 

Regional impacts from increased coal train traffic
The Port Authority has not acknowledged that developments on its own lands have impacts in communities far outside its jurisdiction.  It has not addressed the fact that the Neptune Terminals expansion will result in increased train traffic through North Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, Langley and other municipalities further afield, resulting in increased exposure to diesel emissions and unknown amounts of coal dust.

The Port Authority indicates that Transport Canada has the power to regulate rail traffic, but it does not clarify that there are no regulations governing the release of coal dust from trains in Canada, and that any measures to control coal dust escapes are entirely voluntary on the part of railways.  The Port Authority has ignored a call from the BC Lung Association, the Public Health Association of BC, Canadian Physicians for the  Environment and individual health leaders to delay these decisions until unanswered questions about potential health impacts have been properly assessed.  If the Port Authority truly aspires to be a good neighbour to Metro Vancouver communities, it would work to close these gaps in public oversight prior to approval of coal export expansion.

Port Authority decision making and consultation processes
We remind the Port Authority that their federal  mandate includes a requirement that they act with broad public support in the best interests of Canadians.   The Port Authority has ignored calls from the Mayors of Vancouver and New Westminster for broader public consultation on these decisions.  They have ignored similar calls from leading public organizations and high profile individuals.  Again, these actions call into question the Port Authority’s aspirations to be a good neighbour to Metro Vancouver communities.

In keeping with the Port Authority’s stated commitment to transparency, we call on the Port Authority to make public all comments received during their consultation over the Neptune Terminals decision, as was done during the scoping phase of the review of the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal in Washington State.

More broadly, the conduct of the Port Authority during this review process calls into question how well it reflects the interests of the region within which it operates.  Seven of eleven seats on the Port’s Board of Directors are nominated by port users.  Only one seat is nominated by regional communities.  There are no board members representing health concerns.  There are no board members representing environmental concerns. Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC) calls on the federal government to change the make up of the Port Authority board to better reflect the priorities of our region in Port decision making.

“The Port doesn’t lack the authority to consider climate change or broad health concerns in its decisions, it lacks the courage to do so,” said Kevin Washbrook, Director with VTACC.  “We think the Port Authority shrugs off any responsibility for these issues because its board doesn’t reflect who we are as a region, our shared concern for a healthy future and our sense of a moral obligation to take action on climate change,” Washbrook said.

VTACC calls on the Port Authority to reconsider this decision, to open it to full public review, and to more broadly interpret their mandate to incorporate shared responsibility for our future.  This is the transparent, fair and morally responsible thing to do.

“It is hypocritical to celebrate Vancouver as a Green City and British Columbia as a climate leader, while we continue to prosper from the export of coal and oil,” said VTACC Director, Kathryn Harrison “With each approval of new infrastructure for coal exports, the Port Authority further locks us into an economic path dependent on  fossil fuels. They are sacrificing our children’s future for short-term gain.”

–30–

(1) Read the open letter from climate leaders here. Signatories included Bill McKibben, James Hansen, David Suzuki, Andrew Weaver, Mark Jaccard, Naomi Klein, Tzeporah Berman, William Rees, Greenpeace Canada, the Council of Canadians, the Islands Trust Council and a host of other individuals and organizations.

(2) Starting with the Port Authority’s overall figures for coal exports in 2011 (32.7 million tonnes in 2011) and subtracting Westshore’s self published figures (27.3 million tonnes) leaves approximately 5.2 million tonnes for Neptune in 2011. (Minor amounts of coal may have been shipped from other locations.)  The proposals just approved will increase Neptune Terminals capacity to 18.5 million tonnes/yr.

(3) A rough estimate of the relationship between daily train traffic and annual export volumes can be derived from the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal. This indicates that 4 million tonnes/yr export results in 1 coal train per day (scroll down to point 8).  Other sources confirm these numbers, assuming standard rail car volumes and 126 car trains.   Applied to Neptune, this means that in 2011, with exports of approximately 5.2 million tonnes, there was likely 1 coal train per day to the terminal, and perhaps 2 on some days — or 2 to 4 one way trips in loaded and out empty.

Using the same calculations, exports of 18.5 million tonnes per year would mean 4 to 5 coal deliveries per day, and 8 to 10 total train trips (in loaded, out empty).  Neptune indicates that it may begin using trains that are 152 cars in length.  If that is the case it would decrease the total number of daily trips, assuming the rail cars were the same volume.

It’s worth noting that longer trains will also increase delays at rail crossings; a 152 car train is approximately 2.6 km in length

(4) Fraser Surrey Docks has indicated that it is seeking out other coal export customers in addition to BNSF.  If the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal near Bellingham Washington (projected to generate 18 return coal train trips per day) is not approved, there will be increased pressure to export US coal through BC.  Westshore Terminals general manager Denis Horgan has stated that currently proposed capacity increases will not be enough to meet expected demand:

“Between us, Neptune and Ridley right now, let’s say we’re close to 50 million tons capacity. All of us combined. With all of these projects going on in a couple years time we’ll be at 70 million. But even then it still isn’t enough,” said Denis Horgan, vice president and general manager, Westshore Terminal.”
Source: http://www.coalage.com/index.php/features/1808-while-canadian-terminals-expand-export-capacities-many-us-producers-are-still-going-to-be-short-of-space.html

Written by Stephen Rees

January 25, 2013 at 8:50 am

So, about that art we had …

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I was talking about that art lecture that I wrote about yesterday – and I recalled that at the time what was going through my mind, on the way home, was the difference between what Sans Façon does and what has been happening here. For a start in Calgary they are embedded as part of the project team. The art is actually part of the process from the start.

A good example was how they got involved in attaching drinking fountains to fire hydrants. These are not permanent installations, but temporary public amenities provided for events like the Stampede or the Folk Festival. It helps Calgary get across the message that there is nothing wrong with tap water – so there is no need to go to a vendor and buy bottled water, when the stuff that comes out of the tap is freely available. Originally, the water people saw a device that essentially plugged a commercial drinking fountain into a fire hydrant, and they just wanted the artist to design a label to stick on it. But Calgary has one of the largest and finest metal workshops in North America – a bunch of skilled and talented people who came up with a number of innovative ideas – and actually fabricated them. They then went and installed them where they were needed, and let them speak for themselves.

pano-fountains

Contrast that with the public art program on the Canada Line. As regular readers know, the process by which that amenity was procured leaves a bad taste in my mouth for a number of reasons. The cycle path on the bridge is a good example. It was an afterthought – literally bolted on after the bridge itself was completed. And the ramps on either side showing a degree of contempt for users that is hard to comprehend but only too obvious to its users. The ramps zig-zag. They do not provide not a smooth transition: they do not connect properly to the “network”,  the cycle routes on either bank. The art program is even worse. A bunch of ill considered, nearly always temporary installations. Most of which need to be “explained” by signage. It is very significant, I think, that there no signs on Sans Façon’s work, like Limelight. They trust that people will “get it”. And, of course, they do because they – the public – are the art, the performers, not just a passive audience.

Sans Façon does do temporary installations as well as permanent ones. Both have their place. But what sets them apart is their understanding of the place and the people in it – and the amount of effort that they make to ensure they have that before the piece is even considered, let alone installed. Can you say the same about any of this?

Public art at Langara 49th Ave

The bright orange bears were at least striking and memorable. Can you think what is there now? Didn’t think so.

Le Banc

I heard this referred to as “a used maxi pad”

Joe Sola is Not Making Art

And that goes for the public art program in Richmond too – these are all Biennale installations all of which were controversial, none of which remain in place

Untitled

“Olas de Viento” became one of my favourite pieces – far more distinguished I think than the laughing men that were kept at Davie and Denman. Garry Point seems bare and deserted after this bold red open work globe went. I still miss it. I will also admit to not really understanding it when I first saw it – but then that is probably the point of a lot of art. Guernica doesn’t mean much if you don’t know anything about who made it, when and why.

Cabeza Vainilla, Cabeza ordoba, Cabeza Chiapas

There was a glut of fibre glass giant heads, I thought, and I don’t miss any of them.

Lighting effect

The people who installed “Miss Mao Trying to Poise Herself at the Top of Lenin’s Head” had so little understanding of the artist’s intentions, that they lined up each of the horizontal slice perfectly. So it is perhaps not surprising that is was misunderstood as some kind of tribute to Lenin – since in communist countries, dignified busts of Lenin were all too common.

Lenin's head is all over the place

Actually once misaligned, as originally intended, the joke “Lenin’s head is all over place” sprung to my mind instantly. The feminization of Mao and her nudity, and tiny stature all speak for themselves. No-one ought to have misunderstood that – but they did.

All of this is a very strong contrast to the public art program on the Sound Transit rapid transit line to their airport which opened at around the same time. We even had a presentation about that here. And it seems I chose two of the same images then to illustrate that post as I did this one. No wonder I keep thinking I am repeating myself. We did go to Seattle soon afterwards, and I considered riding the whole of the light rail line just to see the art first hand. It turned out that when we got there there was plenty to do within the fareless square. We walked and cycled too – and the LRT got forgotten.

PS  SoundTransit has an rfq out now for an artist to aid in “identifying art opportunities for multiple artists at the facilities and 10 stations along the 14-mile light rail extension being designed from downtown Seattle through Mercer Island and Bellevue to the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington.”

Written by Stephen Rees

January 25, 2013 at 8:31 am

Posted in Art

Tagged with

What’s art got to do with it?

I went to Richmond City Hall last night to hear the first of the Lulu Series lectures. Though I made all sorts of what now look like very cryptic notes, all of the information is either on the web already or will be shortly. For a start, the whole thing was videoed and will be on the City’s youtube channel.  I was surprised they had one!

Sans Façon comprises two people Charles Blanc, a French architect and Tristan Surtees an English artist.

With the participation of artists, can urban infrastructure designs be re-imagined to renew the relationship between citizens and their environment? Artist and architect duo, Sans façon, explore the relationship between people and places through site-specific projects such as performances and permanent pieces in public spaces, and strategies that involve artists in the rethinking of specific places.

That quote is taken from the Lulu Series event page and I was pleased to discover that all of the material they discussed last night is available on their own website which saves me a lot of typing. They are currently working in Calgary with the  Utilities and Environment Protections department of the City of Calgary on Watershed+. They are part of the team of engineers and scientists developing new working methods and processes which have resulted in some very innovative projects. You really need to follow these links since their pictures convey much more than I can – even though at present you cannot see and hear their presentation. Their enthusiasm and humour made the event worthwhile – and they can do a much better job of telling you about what they do than I can.

But I do want to flag up an upcoming event this weekend

Limelight: Saturday Night is a live public art installation and a video work. Since 2010, the installation has visited more than 10 cities internationally discreetly replacing two conventional street light heads with outdoor theatre spotlights, creating an open invitation for passersby to perform and transform the street into a stage. Look for it in Vancouver, beginning at dusk on Friday, January 25, and Saturday, January 26. There will be two simultaneous installations happening at Granville and Hastings Street and Granville and 68th Avenue in Marpole. This will be followed by a Community Event at the Metro Theatre on Sunday January 27, from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. 1370 Marine Drive SW, Vancouver.

Huffington Post covered the event here

Written by Stephen Rees

January 24, 2013 at 11:23 am

Posted in Art

Tagged with ,

What holds energy tech back? The infernal battery

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

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

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

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

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

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

#5 layover

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

V9486 Hybrid

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

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

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

Bike rack at Langara 49th

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

“Report shows feasibility of 80 per cent emissions reductions”

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VANCOUVER – Canada can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to a fraction of current levels while maintaining or improving living standards and quality of life, according to Low-Carbon Energy Futures: A Review of National Scenarios, an international review released today by the Trottier Energy Futures Project (TEFP).

The headline is attention grabbing. Unfortunately, the report it points to is a lot less exciting. It is an important message to get across – that we can indeed reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and we don’t need to wreck the economy or reduce our standard of living to do that. The apparent choice between the economy and the environment is simply a diversionary tactic dreamed up by the “business as usual” crowd. Who can readily be identified as the present governments of Canada and British Columbia and their paymasters in the fossil fuel and automotive industries. And who, in recent years have been busily pushing us in the wrong direction.

I suggest that you download the report - it is a 40 odd page pdf – a give it a once over, and hang on to it if you need some quick reference material. But do not expect anything especially new or earth shattering. It is simply a review of reports produced on eight countries and what they could do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Only three have actually reduced their emissions in recent years

Screen Shot 2013-01-22 at 12.02.43 PM

Sweden, Germany and the UK all managed (small) reductions in GHG while growing GDP.

But most of the report is summarizing studies which looked at what could be done – and is based on one study in each country, some of which are not exactly new.

What did strike me is the lack of emphasis on land use – admittedly one of the hardest things to do and one of the slowest in producing results, but I would argue one of the most important in bringing about structural change. These are all overwhelmingly urban countries – that’s where most of us live and will continue to live. Unfortunately because it is tough to change, it is not happening very much here. All the stuff about transportation is focussed on better energy efficiency for cars – and electrifying them. Not on reducing the need  for motorized transportation. There is the usual focus on energy efficiency for buildings, but hardly anything on the location of those buildings.

Research shows, for example, that Americans generally consume more energy – and emit more carbon dioxide – getting to and from a typical building than does the building itself.  Research also shows that location and neighborhood factors can create a dramatic difference in how much energy is consumed and emissions are generated in the getting to and fro.”

“Additional research also shows that even ordinary households in transit-oriented locations save more energy and emissions than “green” households in sprawl, across several housing types.  In other words, a home with no green technology, if in the right place, is actually greener than a house with every bell and whistle imaginable, even if the latter gets a platinum rating.”

That comes from a recent article in The Atlantic on the shortcomings of LEED. And while it was about Americans it applies equally to Canadians.

The Energy Revolution report that covers the Canadian issues does have this acknowledgement of the importance of transportation

The report recommends transportation demand management through government investment in public and non-motorized transport, better urban planning and limits to urban sprawl, and freight transport management. Proposed behavioural changes are confined to the transportation sector, including greater dependence on public transit, more active transport, a shift to smaller vehicles, and “teleworking.”

which does cover the ground but fails to indicate which ones are likely – or actually important. Nothing at all of course on the current trend of a reduction is car use, even though there has been no real shift in transit provision, or better urban planning and most of the investment – especially in BC – has been lavished on highways. And while teleworking reduces commuting it can increase travel.

My biggest beef with the studies cited is that none appears to have identified the potential for rebound demand in energy efficiency programs. This has been observed – when energy efficiency produces cost savings for consumers they tend to consume more. Your fridge and furnace cost less to run so now you can buy an wine cooler – or a much bigger tv.   Your car mileage is better, so now you can drive more.

It is important to have good news stories about greenhouse gas emissions – that all is not lost and there is a point in trying to do much better. We can certainly do far better than we have done  - Canada in general and BC in particular. Canada is the only country in the comparison that is a net exporter of petroleum (there is no mention of coal) – and in BC whatever we might have achieved through our carbon tax or run of the river hydro has been vastly overshadowed by our ramping up of extraction of fossil fuels. Coal and natural gas are keys to the present government’s “jobs strategy” even though neither are very significant employers. And we are also very much on the radar to increase exports of bitumen (from Alberta) and coal from BC and the US. There is not much gain for the planet if we reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions but vastly increase the ability of other places to more than replace what we have cut.

BC’s Regressive Tax Shift

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This post is not about a new report. In fact the data comes from something published in June 2011. It was drawn to my attention by a Green Party of BC tweet. So it is timely in the sense that the BC Liberal government is using your money to buy air time for adverts that tell you how well off you are thanks to their taxation policies. And what they say is a Lie. Since the BC Liberals came to power what had been a slightly progressive taxation system has become regressive. Poor people in BC pay more tax than rich people.

The Report is subtitled “A Decade of Diminishing Tax Fairness, 2000 to 2010″ and is available as pdf from The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. It was written by Marc Lee, Iglika Ivanova and Seth Klein.

This report examines changes to the provincial tax system over the last decade.
We look at the total provincial tax rate for households at different income levels
(the actual tax bill as a share of household income for all personal provincial taxes
combined—income, sales, carbon and property taxes, and MSP premiums).

We find that together these changes have created a tax system where the rich now
pay a lower total provincial tax rate than the rest of us.
• In 2000, most BC households paid about the same total tax rate, with
households in the top 10% and top 1% paying a little more.
• By 2010, however, the tax system had become regressive, with the richest
20% of households paying a lower total tax rate than the rest of us.

This regressive tax shift was driven by the following:
• Large income tax cuts primarily benefited upper-income earners, both in
dollar terms and as a share of income.
• Combined, tax cuts delivered an average of over $9,200 per year to the
richest 10% of BC households, and more than $41,000 to the top 1%. In
contrast, lower income households received an average tax cut of $200 per
year, and those in middle got just over $1,200.

• Between 2000 and 2010, the share of provincial government revenues coming from personal income taxes dropped by nearly one third.
• The province now collects more revenues from sales taxes (28% of revenues) than from personal income taxes (27% of revenues).
• BC families now contribute more in MSP premiums than businesses contribute in corporate income taxes.

Screen Shot 2013-01-16 at 2.06.13 PMScreen Shot 2013-01-16 at 2.08.35 PM

This morning the Premier held a press conference where she defended the government ads as means of building consumer confidence in the economy against BC NDP cynicism (according to Ian A Bailey of the Globe and Mail).

I know that I have been accused of cynicism more than once, but in the face of the current pre-election propaganda assault – which we are paying for – I cannot think of a more appropriate response. Except mine is not NDP cynicism.

MSP premiums went up again this month. At one time those were paid by the BC Government to those of us who drew Public Service (and teachers’) Pensions. No longer. We also have to pay for the Blue Cross premiums: the so called “Fair Pharmacare” programme does not actually pay out anything at all for the four figure annual prescription cost I have to pick up  that neither Blue Cross nor the public sector covers. The same government of course sent me a letter reassuring me that the value of my pension had not been reduced. They were just not letting me keep as much of it but were clawing it back through fees. And the sort legal gymnastics that the healthcare insurance industry has perfected in the US to avoid paying out much of the claims made against policies they write.

So no I do not have more disposable income, which as far as I know is about the only thing that “promotes consumer confidence”. I suppose she means that it is necessary to get more consumer spending going to increase the size of the economy . But the only way that can now happen, given the most of us now have less in our pockets, is that we borrow more to boost our consumption. I cannot see that has helped to build a sustainable economy – and was a contributing factor to the 2008 crash. It also seems to me that the increased reliance on sales taxes must have had some influence on the growth of cross-border shopping which has been so helpful to Whatcom County.

On the whole the idea that the BC Liberals are a party that can be trusted to run the economy properly does not seem to have been borne out by experience. Yet they will still have a very significant number of people who will vote for them. Hopefully, not enough to get them re-elected.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

January 16, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Posted in Economics, politics

Tagged with ,

Can We Count On Toll Revenue Forecasts?

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Clark Williams Derry on Sightline Daily (a really useful resource that I recommend you subscribe to if you don’t already)  has a very useful series on declining traffic. No 37 in that series picks up a story from the Orange County Register which he headlines “Southern California toll road debacle raises questions for the Northwest”.

The reason for this contribution to the discussion is that he apparently thinks that the states of Washington and Oregon are all that makes up the North West – and we in BC actually have a slightly different reason for caring. So read what he says first and then come back, because while what he says is all well and good for them, our very peculiar P3 system  - and the even weirder Port Mann set up – makes this a much more immediate concern. We have an election this spring and here is further reason to change our provincial government, if we didn’t have reason enough already.

Here’s the pictures

San-Joaquin-275x275 Foothills-275x262

The conclusion drawn from this data

The toll route is generally free-flowing, but drivers prefer parallel, toll-free alternatives, even if they’re clogged with traffic.

That is very important  but entirely consistent with what we have seen on the Golden Ears Bridge.

The traffic forecasts for the Southern California roads were made by the same consulting firm—CDM Smith, formerly Wilbur Smith—that performed the investment-grade bond study for Washington’s SR-520. And that firm was recently contracted for similar study on the Columbia River Crossing connecting Portland, OR with Vancouver, WA. CDM Smith has a good reputation—but that didn’t protect them from producing projections that went badly awry.

Now this is where we part company with “The North West”. Our projections are done by a different company, but while I have not looked in detail how either forecast was done it does not matter. As Jeff Tumlin pointed out, four step transportation models are no better than tarot cards at forecasting anyway. Or, as Clive Rock who looked after traffic forecasting at the GVRD and Translink liked to say, “You can’t steer the ship by staring at the wake”. They do this with personal finance too – past performance is no guarantee of future performance – is the caveat entered in every prospectus. But that is way all traffic forecasts are still done.

We do not fund transportation expansion by raising bonds the way they do in the States. Equally, we do not transfer risk to the private sector the way they have done in Australia. This got them some very large bits of infrastructure for free when the contractor operators (DBMO = design build maintain operate) went bust. The people who owned the companies’ shares and debts caught a cold, but the public sector was not on the hook. Here, if a DBMO gets the forecasts wrong, the risk is transferred to the tax payers. So we are now picking up the lost revenue on the Golden Ears. As we will on the Port Mann – which is no longer a P3 as no-one was daft enough to want to lend that turkey money, and the government was forced to admit that public sector borrowing was cheaper than private sector borrowing. As it always is, when the taxpayers can be expected to back the debt.

So we can now add the Port Mann “widest bridge in the world” to the long list of public sector projects that were supposedly safe in BC Liberal hands but have proved to be financially disastrous. BC Hydro was doing very well – until it had to subsidize run of the river private sector projects. BC Rail actually had been making money but was sold to CN (the “lease” idea is simply spin) for much less than it was worth. BC Ferries thought they could raise fares without worrying too much about price elasticity. PAVCO had to replace the roof – and never thought it needed a business case – which was just as well as there is no business model where that kind of investment makes any sense financially. Even well run stadia are subsidized – usually on the argument that it brings free spending punters to the area. Even casino operators now recognize that this mostly just cannibalizes other enterprises. The tv adverts currently running which talk about the economic models of unspecified other places assert that somehow BC has a different model. Actually, this is just another lie. Public sector spending and the running up of the debt of the public sector has been out of control CORRECTION A reference here to the Auditor General has been removed due to this tweet from the CBC “Christy Clark asks AG John Doyle to stay on 2 more years”

Please understand that I have no problem at all with using the public sector to stimulate the economy when that is required. Trying to balance the budget was what caused the Great Depression of the 1930s – and all of FDRs programs only mitigated that slightly. It was only the huge public spending of the second world war that got America working again. It was only the Marshall Program that resurrected Europe – and the reason the UK fell so far behind was that it was not covered by that plan and had to pay back all the dollars it had borrowed before trying to start repairing the damage. BUT that does not mean I support public sector spending on any and all projects. Indeed, as an economist working in or for the public sector for all of my career, reviewing forecasts and critically examining “business cases” (then called cost benefit analysis, which looked a bit further than just profits for banks) project selection was always the most important task to get right. What project – and where – and how its done, were all looked at carefully and objectively. Only when I came to BC did I come upon a system which said, in effect, the current political party has a bee in its bonnet about some idea or other, and your job is to make this idea look good. Actually that is not fair . As a consultant, I found that it was also the practice of at least two banana republics and one religious hegemony. Just substitute that words “current political party” with whatever they called their leaders at the time.

But what we have now – and what the US has had and to some extent still does – is a right wing party that says it will balance the budget, control spending and reduce the debt, but actually does exactly the opposite. And does that not because stimulating the economy and providing growth will make the population as a whole better off (“the rising tide floats all boats”) but simply to funnel ever larger sums from the public coffers to their friends and supporters – mostly corporations who owe no loyalty to any jurisdiction they operate in.

No we cannot count on toll revenue forecasts, but the corporations can indeed count on tax revenues collected for them by a compliant government.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 15, 2013 at 9:53 am

Sex, Neuroscience and Walkable Urbanism

with 5 comments

Jeffrey Tumlin at SFU City Program

Eight simple, free transport solutions for healthier, wealthier cities

This talk was made possible financially by a contribution from Translink. The blog post was updated on February 15 to include two videos, one of the talk and one of the Q&A session.

http://youtu.be/WHet2jjHtk4

It is worth stating out the outset that Tumlin sees Vancouver as the future for the rest of North America. The talk he gave was clearly one designed for the average American city. He stated that he felt he was “visiting the future” by what has been done in the City of Vancouver. The problem for most places is that they bought into the lie that having a car will bring you more and better sex. “Where have you been told lies?” And, how can we use their methods against them.

The first series of slides illustrated the startling growth of obesity by state in the last thirty years. The Centers for Disease Control have data that shows how this problem has grown

The animated map below shows the history of United States obesity prevalence from 1985 through 2010. Unfortunately the way WordPress has imported this graphic has lost the animation but it is well worth following the link above to see the trend.

map26

Americans are no longer able to have a significant amount of walking in the daily lives. This is due to civic policies – the rules, metrics and performance standards – that make it illegal to build anything but auto oriented suburbs.The statistics for traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents show that sprawl = death.

“Road rage is a clinical condition”. When you observe a crowded sidewalk you notice that pedestrians do not run into each other. We learned a large number of essential social signals in order to hunt in packs. In cars these social signals are blocked and the brain chemistry shuts down social behaviour, because instead of co-operating the way pedestrians do, the fight or flight instincts have been triggered [by andrenaline]. Traffic is literally driving us crazy and leading to permanent changes in the brain. We are less able to think, to predict the consequences of aggression and therefore become more antisocial. Tea Party membership is positively correlated to the absence of sidewalks.

Policy ought to recognize the limitations of humanity and what makes us happy. That translates in urbanity to the sidewalk suburbs of two to three story buildings. The suburbs we built in the 1920s and ’30s were leafy, walkable and auto optional. We have to increase the number of walkers and cyclists, not just build things for the “hard core lifer crowd”. See D Appleyard “Liveable Streets” [the link goes to Amazon, but this book is very expensive - look in your local library first].

The speed and volume of traffic on residential streets determines who you know and how well you know them. If the traffic is fast and heavy, there will be far fewer people who you are likely to give your keys to, for use in emergencies. Social cohesion and participation in democracy increases when residential streets have less and slower traffic, making it safe and easy to cross the street.

There is a direct casual relationship between mental health and outdoor exercise. Oxytocin “the cuddle chemical” that is released during breast feeding and orgasm is also released by human eye contact and outdoor exercise. It is different to dopamine, endorphins and morphines as it lasts longer.

So now we have has established that driving makes us  fat and angry, while walking and cycling makes us happy and sociable, what can we do?

1 Measure What Matters

We need to “measure transportation success in a less stupid way.” Transportation is not an end in itself but allows other things to happen – and it is those activities that we need to facilitate – the benefits come from accessibility not mobility. Movement of itself doesn’t serve a purpose. Instead of measuring Level of Service on  shopping streets we should look at retail sales per square foot. We are obsessed by congestion, which means currently we aim to reduce vehicle delay when what we should be looking at is quality of service. A busy shopping street (he cited Market St in San Francisco but Robson Street would be our best case) looks “bad” from the point of view of the traffic engineer (LoS F) but successful to the economist – lots of people spending money.

Make walking a pleasure for all types of people at all times of day.

2 Make traffic analysis smart

[Four step transportation] “Models are no better than tarot cards at predicting the future.” Traffic forecasting is much better seen as a branch of economics than of engineering. What we see all around us are the unintended consequences of model based planning. Making it easier to drive makes it difficult to do anything else. The “solutions” (more road) create the problem they predicted.

We should fix the four step model as it fails to incorporate  induced and latent demand. We also need to better understand how land use affects travel – not simply import data from observations of trip generation made in Florida in the 1970s.

Fortunately, only small changes in traffic demand are need to release it from congestion. You will frequently hear people saying “You can’t expect everyone to take transit”   but you do not need to. All you need to do is persuade 10% to change mode – and you can persuade 10% of the people to do anything!

3 The best transportation plan is a good land use plan.

4 Adopt the right street design manual

Much of current traffic engineering practice comes from rural highways. Wider roads, better sight lines wider turns accommodate driver error – but this only improves safety in rural areas. In urban areas instead of speeding traffic, drivers must be made to slow down and pay attention. Do not give them a false sense of security. And there is now plenty of data that shows what people predict (“you’re gonna kill people”) doesn’t happen. see nacto.org

5 Plant trees

But note that the costs cannot accrue to the traffic department but the property owners along the street if the trees are to be cared for properly

6 Price it right

Congestion pricing in Stockholm

“Poor people place a high value on their time”. The price elasticity of demand means that it is actually very easy to get enough [vehicle] trips off the road to produce free flow. The right price is always the lowest price that equates demand with supply.

7 Manage parking

Read Donald Shoup “The High Cost of Free Parking” (free pdf).

In urban centres, 30% of the traffic is looking for a parking spot.

The price for parking has to vary by location and time of day – popular places at peak times must cost more. The target price is that which produces enough free spaces to reduce driving. The reason for charging for parking is not to raise money. Invest the parking revenues in making the place better – give it to the Downtown Improvement Association!

Unbundle and share parking, and separate the cost of parking from the cost of other things. Don’t force people to buy more parking than they need and create “park once districts” – rearrange the land use to facilitate walking. So for a series of trips drivers can pay, park and leave the car but visit several different types of activity (work, school, play, shopping).

8 Create a better vision of the future

We are still trying to live in the future that GM displayed in Futurama. Disneyland is an orgy of transportation. The imagineers have yet to come up with a new vision of the city of the future. We are still stuck with the Jetsons.

The new vision has to be based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

1 Walking is a pleasure for everyone, everywhere, all the time

2 Cycling is comfortable for people of all ages – that means separated cycle facilities

3 The needs of daily life are a walk away

4 Transit is fast, frequent, reliable and – above all – dignified.

Everyone knows and loves their neighbourhood whereas the big region is impersonal. We need a sense of belonging. Food and energy are local and precious, and social networks are fostered.

“On a bus I can use my smart phone. I can’t do that while driving”

“Young people move to cities to get laid.”

Flirtation is actually more valuable than the activity it is aimed at getting. Informal lingering and eye contact is what makes this possible. We should apply the same factors that retailers do in the shops to the pubic realm. Beauty is ubiquitous. The brain is hard wired to appreciate beauty [insert slide of Brockton Point view of downtown]

He also has a [very expensive] book Sustainable Transportation Planning

Q & A

http://youtu.be/g6ogGj3dW6k

Use of malls to encourage walking by seniors in poor weather?  - fantastic

Use fruit trees in urban areas? – city concerns are fallen fruit mess and risk of slipping

Can’t we just use nostalgia instead of a powerful vision of the future? – no humans crave novelty, nostalgia is not enough

Buildings without Parking? – The cities fear that someone will park in front of someone else’s building, and impose minimum parking standards that are excessive. There is an over provision of space = huge subsidy to motordom. Abolish the minimum parking standards. Impose very low maximum parking standards but provide shared cars everywhere.

How do we address the concerns of the Fire Chief? – respectfully. Emergency response time matters but we need to focus on net public safety. There are more ways than one to cut response times, including more stations, smaller trucks, traffic signal priority, grid of streets to provide more routes to the fire. Over professionalism is a widespread issue and we all need to care more about what matters to other people

“I saw you” ads seem always to refer to transit. Can we capitalize on that?  - Leave it to the French. look at Strasbourg trams – no wraps, low windows. In the US there is a prevailing attitude that transit is the mode of last resort. Transit is like the dole – you have to be made to suffer to use it.

“Dignify transit” How do you do that on a bus? – provide a comparable level of investment as you would for rail. Very hard for financially strapped transit agencies faced with the “Sophie’s choice” between better buses or more service. There is now a program of providing basic mobility for those who have no choice. To move beyond that we have to ensure that the benefits of better transit accrue to the system provider not the adjacent land owners. Benefit capture pays for more transit [and creates a beneficent spiral]

To make bus transit more comfortable you need more transit priority measures – bus stop bump outs, bus lanes, signal priority

Zurich – all surface transit since local funding requirements meant that subway building was not feasible. Streets are narrow – treasured ancient urban fabric – so very little road space allowed for cars despite extremely wealthy population 80% of whom use transit simply because it is more convenient than the car – no hassle of parking.

Orange Line BRT in LA exceeds all ridership forecasts because there are no forced transfers. And service quality offers “basic level of dignity”.

Boulder CO has very high rates of transit use – all bus service, all low density development – very high service standards

REACTION

None of this should be of any surprise to readers of this blog. I have been saying the same things here – and for many years previously. I just have not had the fortune to be able to say it with such charm and charisma – and often with less supporting data.

For instance, when BC Transit (as it was then) was designing what became the 98 B-Line Glen Leicester (then head of planning) insisted on the forced transfer from local service (“It’s just like SkyTrain”) despite the very convincing data from the Ottawa transitway that this was the wrong thing to do. The service had to be redesigned three months after it started.

I have been banging on about Richmond’s use of private parking provision in the town centre for years. And only the “hard core lifer crowd” would think Richmond’s cycle network was adequate. The dyke is for recreation not transportation. Only No 3 Road has separation – and that is far from satisfactory.

I felt, when listening to him talk about parking, or pricing, as though I was hearing myself. The good news is that he does it so well that more people listen.

The talk was oversubscribed – and there was a wait list for seats. But even so there were plenty of empty seats when the talk started and no-one moved to the front. Please, if you reserve a seat, but realize you won’t be going, cancel your reservation so someone else can go.

ASIDE

I am now aware of some Car2Go issues – and for two of them, users can do something. Do not leave the car open but keep the key with you. Seems obvious, may just be absent mindedness, but is truly annoying. Just like the lady who takes the car2go to her gym, parks the car in a private locked underground garage (gym members have access, the public doesn’t) and ends the rental. This saves her money but makes the system show it as “available” when it isn’t. She also has her ride home guaranteed.

It was that thing about not unreserving your seat for a City Program talk that reminded me.

Don’t be thoughtless – or selfish.

And while we were waiting for the #16 on Granville St I used my smart phone to find the nearest Car2Go. By the time it had done that, the bus came. This may be more useful than real time next bus information.

Street Films

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In case you didn’t hear NEW for 2013: now all Streetfilms available for FREE download via Vimeo! vimeo.com/streetfilms GRAB & GO ADVOCATE!!!

Written by Stephen Rees

January 9, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Posted in Transportation

Tagged with ,

Time to bring back photo radar?

with 16 comments

I was on CKNW’s Bill Good show this morning. It was all remarkably positive. Everyone accepted that speed limits are widely ignored, though there was a range of opinion on what could (or should) be done about it. Bill is on record as an opponent of the previous method used for photo radar – the green vans, parked sometimes in places were they were less than prominent, and where revenue collection was going to be better, even if safety was not really an issue. Most people connected the speed and safety issue – so that message seems to have got across. What is needed now is some better understanding of what can be done.

The first point I want to make is the lack of relevant, recent data. Go to the  Traffic Collision Statistics page of the ICBC web site and you will see a series of reports – but none more recent than 2007. Obviously ICBC has statistics more recent than that: for instance this CBC story today looks at the effectiveness (or otherwise) of the the new laws on cell phone use while driving. “Numbers from ICBC show fatal crashes involving distracted driving dropped by about 20 per cent in 2011″ – but where are those numbers? I can’t find them. Anymore than I can find any data that looks specifically at this region, rather than the province as a whole. We cannot have a sensible discussion about any issue when the agency responsible keeps all the recent data hidden away, and only produces pr messages devoid of real information. Is speeding increasing? Have the rates stayed the same in recent years as driving declined?

There does not seem to be the same sort of push back against red light cameras as there was against photo radar. Yet the role of “ignoring a traffic control device” in collisions is less than a third of speed.

We also know that police presence does affect compliance. The trouble is that there cannot be a marked police car at every hot spot every time – nor is it always safe to have police officers trying to pull over speeders. As Bill pointed out, there are real problems policing bridges and places like the Stanley Park causeway. That is why I am an advocate of average speed cameras. These use the same technology as traffic surveys – and toll collection – number plate recognition and matching. Cameras are already mounted on the overhead gantries – so the process of determining who gets across the bridge far too quickly is pretty easy to implement. And there can be prominent signs informing drivers that their speed is being measured.

The other issue that got identified is driving too fast for conditions. That is something where “posted speed” is not relevant. If the road is slippery, or visibility is reduced, posted speed is not safe  - and is already illegal. “Driving too fast for conditions” can get you a ticket. There are some places where the speed limit varies by conditions  and such a system would certainly be worth considering for our freeways and bridges.

UPDATES

1. But none of this would have helped on the Port Mann Bridge last week (which is what prompted the discussion in the first place).

2. “Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair wants to take another look at photo radar cameras as a way to trim enforcement costs in an era of frozen police budgets.” CBC

Written by Stephen Rees

January 7, 2013 at 10:05 am

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