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

Archive for February 2013

Old growth logging vs the carbon tax

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There is a Canadian Press story this morning which got covered by the CBC, where it caught my attention.

One year of logging old-growth forests in southwestern British Columbia blows away a year of carbon reductions accomplished by initiatives like the carbon tax.

That’s the finding of a Sierra Club report released today, entitled Carbon at Risk: B.C.’s Unprotected Old-growth Rainforest.

That’s the top of the CP/CBC story – and you can find the same thing elsewhere. In fact I think you should. For a start, missing from the CBC story is any substantive content that they have added – and, even worse in my opinion but common to most news web sites, there isn’t a link to the report. For a better example go to Huffington Post  which has the same CP story but at much greater length, and with an interesting back and forth between Rick Jeffery, Coast Forest Products Association president and Sierra Club spokesman Jens Wieting.  But also no link to the report.

In fact I actually talked to Jens Wieting myself this morning. First of all I did not even know that there is more than one Sierra Club – but I guessed that Sierra Club Canada was probably the source. Wrong, it’s actually the Sierra Club BC. Their web page is actually much more active and has the press release – but that doesn’t link to the report either. Jens sent it to me by email, but you can download it from the publications section. Its a six page pdf but worth a look.

I am not at all an expert in this field, but I have some connection to it. I would have had a job at the Forests Ministry had not the BCGEU “bumping” practices snatched it away from me. I did do quite a bit of research before the interview – and he who did the bumping didn’t have to – so I have been a bit more aware of the issues since.  I have been in BC’s old-growth forests – there’s small patches on the North Shore, but more impressive are Cathedral Grove and Meare’s Island.

The old growth

Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve

Cathedral Grove

Cathedral Grove

Hug a tree

Meare’s Island

The latter was the famous site of the Clayoquot Sound protests. And I was also caught by a carbon offset scam which took my money so it could cut down old growth then plant new trees using the same justification that Rick Jeffery trots out. And which has been pretty much debunked. I do feel that the Sierra Club are a bit more reliable here as their report actually is backed by research and data, with useful links. That really is the point I am trying to make here. When you hear something on the radio or tv these days, they will often say “go to our web site for more information” but mostly it isn’t there. But there is Google. We watch tv news now with our tablets at hand. And when you read this

“They don’t want us to log,” said Jeffery. “That is the raison d’etre of the environmental groups. For them to tell you anything else is an outright lie.”

It is a matter of a moment to determine (by going to the report) that what they are calling for is

Increased conservation of the remaining old growth temperate rainforest, phasing out logging of old-growth and transitioning logging fully to second growth is urgent from a climate adaptation and mitigation perspective.

and

Improved forest management, in particular longer rotation, eliminating waste and selective logging, is equally important to reduce carbon loss. Forestry can be an important sector of the low carbon economy of the future, but not without increased forest conservation and improved forest management.

Perhaps if Jeffery had stuck to what he knows about – what his members are doing or proposing to do – and providing some source material to back that up, he might have some credibility. But by first claiming that he knows what the Sierra Club wants – and then calling them liars for their much more nuanced approach – it is not an end to logging that they are calling for – he discredits himself and his employers.  Of course if you are a business you want to maximize your return on investment – that’s what business does. But businesses that want to be around for a while, that do not want to be treated as social pariahs and have some understanding of the concept of sustainability, rather than simple greed for short term profits – do better in the long run.

“They’re basically telling you that once you cut that old-growth tree, that carbon all gets released into the environment,” said Jeffery. “It goes to other uses. It gets recycled. It goes into buildings and it gets stored.”

No they’re not. What they are actually saying is that clear cutting releases a lot but not all the carbon – and the report uses the rather generous assumption that about a quarter of the carbon is stored.  And there is a picture of slash burning to illustrate what actually happens in the woods when they cut the trees down.

There is a also in the CP story as printed by HuffPo some policy issues with quotes from BC Ministers – again something the CBC misses altogether. But rather than get into that, I do think that what is being demonstrated is that the BC carbon tax is an increasingly flimsy pretence at doing something about greenhouse gas emissions, that is more than offset by all the other activities of the present administration. Perhaps it is indeed the right way to do accounting, to log the burning of our exported coal, oil and natural gas against the nations that burn it. But if we weren’t subsidizing the extraction processing and transport of these fossil fuels, they would cost a great deal more, would be less attractive and those nations would look to other sources of energy. Renewables would be much more attractive to them.

The whole world would be better off if we left more of the oil, gas and coal in the ground. We would also be much better off if we stopped logging old growth forests (especially by actually being honest about how much carbon is released when they are cut and how poorly second growth compares at carbon sequestration). And when we do cut down the trees, we do a great deal more than simply ship off the raw logs elsewhere.

Traffic circles bad: cycle tracks good

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The research has a much less digestible title

“Comparing the effects of infrastructure on bicycling injury at intersections and non-intersections using a case–crossover design”

But it is worth reading the whole thing which is available on line

Abstract
Background

This study examined the impact of transportation infrastructure at intersection and non-intersection locations on bicycling injury risk.

Methods

In Vancouver and Toronto, we studied adult cyclists who were injured and treated at a hospital emergency department. A case–crossover design compared the infrastructure of injury and control sites within each injured bicyclist’s route. Intersection injury sites (N=210) were compared to randomly selected intersection control sites (N=272). Non-intersection injury sites (N=478) were compared to randomly selected non-intersection control sites (N=801).

Results

At intersections, the types of routes meeting and the intersection design influenced safety. Intersections of two local streets (no demarcated traffic lanes) had approximately one-fifth the risk (adjusted OR 0.19, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.66) of intersections of two major streets (more than two traffic lanes). Motor vehicle speeds less than 30 km/h also reduced risk (adjusted OR 0.52, 95% CI 0.29 to 0.92). Traffic circles (small roundabouts) on local streets increased the risk of these otherwise safe intersections (adjusted OR 7.98, 95% CI 1.79 to 35.6). At non-intersection locations, very low risks were found for cycle tracks (bike lanes physically separated from motor vehicle traffic; adjusted OR 0.05, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.59) and local streets with diverters that reduce motor vehicle traffic (adjusted OR 0.04, 95% CI 0.003 to 0.60). Downhill grades increased risks at both intersections and non-intersections.

Conclusions

These results provide guidance for transportation planners and engineers: at local street intersections, traditional stops are safer than traffic circles, and at non-intersections, cycle tracks alongside major streets and traffic diversion from local streets are safer than no bicycle infrastructure.

This confirms what I have been saying on this blog for a long time. The type of traffic circle that is so extensively used in Vancouver (and that is where this research was done) is not an improvement. The evidence shows that they actually increase risk. Casual observation will quickly confirm that while some drivers slow down, many regard them as a challenge.

The illustration and caption below comes from the report. Anthony Floyd pointed out on Twitter that this one “(7th/Highbury) is one of the better ones: lots of visibility, rarely a problem there.  The ones a few blocks before, from Balsam right up to Collingwood, are utterly useless and dangerous, however.”

A typical traffic circle found in residential areas of Vancouver, designed to calm motor vehicle traffic, but found to increase risk at intersections of local streets in this study. (A) Photograph as viewed from the perspective of an approaching cyclist. (B) Design dimensions of traffic circle (derived from measurements taken throughout the city). The dashed arrow shows the route a cyclist is required to take when turning left.

I have also seen drivers make left turns simply by going round the circle the wrong way. In a number of locations (such 29th Avenue at Blenheim) the City has added signs saying “Yield to traffic in circle” which has absolutely no discernible effect on drivers on Blenheim – which they regard as the arterial – to the peril of any road user on 29th which also happens to be a bike route.

Time for the City to revise its approach, and if there is no room for a correctly designed roundabout, revert to the four way stop – which at least the locals seem to both understand and usually comply.

The other one is that separated bike lanes reduce collisions for cyclists – no surprise there.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 17, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Let’s discuss Shared Space

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The need for this post stems from the use of twitter. In 140 characters you can be witty, snappy, concise – though a lot of people aren’t. And the back and forth can look like a debate, or sometimes just a trading a fixed positions. This one started because Gordon Price tweets the posts on his blog – just as I do mine. But instead of there being a debate under the blog post, this one took – or rather – is taking place – on twitter. And it needs a bit more ventilation than that.

It started with A Radical Old Idea for the intersection of Burrard and Cornwall. “Essentially it would square up the intersection, making it much more like a typical part of the classic Vancouver grid, adding some green space while retaining the number of lanes and capacity.” I suggested that more could be achieved if it was given a more radical treatment. And Richard Campbell responded that shared space is less safe for cyclists and pedestrians – especially  pedestrians with disabilities.

This has now cropped up again with the release of a new video about the reconstruction of a major intersection at Poynton in Cheshire, UK. While a lot of shared spaces treatments have been successful in residential areas (“Woonerfs” for instance) their use on urban arterials is still controversial

Exhibition Road in Kensington London is another example of shared space treatment of a very busy combined arterial road and urban shopping street. I am pointing to a discussion of that scheme as opposed to a diatribe – or even a peer reviewed learned journal article, because I think there is indeed need for an exchange of views. As opposed to trading blows between preconceived positions.

One thing does need to be stated at the outset, and that is that places are – and should be – different, and local people need to be consulted about what they want to see happen in the places where they live. Even a peer reviewed paper can be distracting when the “before” situation looks a lot more like shared space already (compared to typical Vancouver arterial intersections) – and the objectives seem to be a lot less clear than Poynton.

Obviously Burrard and Cornwall is not directly comparable to Poynton. There is much less retail activity in the immediate vicinity, for instance. And the only thing that the current City proposal seems to want to achieve is keep the intersection working as it does now, but get some more green space. Poynton’s objectives were much grander – lets try and rescue our village from economic oblivion. I also found it very encouraging that there are now more cyclists there than less- and that vulnerable pedestrians (a mum with a stroller and toddler, a lady in a wheel chair, blind people with and without guides) all find the new arrangements preferable. There is also a sort of chorus, from locals who were at least skeptical if not outrightly hostile but  who now support the scheme.

It is indeed possible to find other examples that were less successful, but that does not damn the whole approach. It simply illustrates that these things need to be designed carefully, and you may well need to go back and redo some things in the light of experience. What is clear is that our present obsession with concentrating on keeping the cars moving quickly is not working from the perspective of other road users. Furthermore, the conventional road safety approach of adding barriers, signs, signals and hard landscaping not only proves unsatisfactory in terms of improving overall safety – but fails in terms of place making. Because what Poynton wanted to do was create a place where people would want to linger. If they spend more time there, they might well spend more money. They might actually enjoy visiting Poynton, and go there more often, instead of the out of town superstores and big box centres.

But what is also clear is that when humans are enclosed in steel safety cages, and look at the world through a screen, they miss all the signals that we are so good at sending each other – nonverbally. Which is why pedestrians tend not to collide with each other very much. Unlike motor vehicles. And when motor vehicles collide with pedestrians and cyclists it is not the driver of the vehicle that gets hurt. Taking cars out of the mix works – but only by creating more car only streets. Places where people who are not driving are forbidden – and speeds are increased. Collisions are fewer but of much more frightening intensity. Cities evolved long before motor vehicles were invented, and the experience of getting cars – and car drivers – to behave better within cities has always required them to slow down and pay attention to other road users.

Shared space does seem to me to more productive of overall urbanity than an all out war on the car, and one that is likely to be much more successful – on a whole range of measures, including collision numbers and severities.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

February 14, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Opposition questions B.C. Liberals’ LNG plan

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The Throne Speech yesterday was just electioneering. It was all about why voters should change their minds about their intentions and allow the BC Liberals yet another four years. Nothing about what is going to happen in the next legislative session, which is what Throne Speeches are supposed to be about. And actually the session is mostly going to be concentrating on cleaning up the HST mess. Small wonder Christy didn’t want the LG talking about that.

So the CBC News Story I took the headline from is about the reaction of the Opposition – and in the CBC’s mind that includes the Conservatives – but not the Green Party. In fact they can’t even make the whole story about LNG and go off onto childcare halfway down.

So unsurprisingly the story misses out on some very important points. The first one would be that the revenue projections seem to ignore recent history. The fracking of BC started a bit late, and plenty of other places are loosening their tight gas, setting the water coming from their taps alight, poisoning wells and generally causing the price of gas to plummet. So much so that the BC government had to forgo its royalties to make the projects viable. The people who are saying they will build LNG plants in BC noticed that, and they came up with their own two billion dollar (federal) tax break demand. This was reported by the Sun last week (and repeated by Vaughan Palmer today) – but I am not going to send you to a paywalled site.

The other thing that you won’t see in the CBC story is any reference to the BC Governments legislated targets for greenhouse gas reductions. I am not talking about the dodge whereby our targets do not include fossil fuels we export – though that is sophistry enough. I am talking about the GHG emissions from the the fracking, pipelines and LNG plant construction and operations. Methane does leak from these activities – and methane is a far more powerful GHG than CO2. Inevitably, when you use a technique like fracturing rock it is a bit tricky predicting where the fractures will actually occur – and ensuring that you get most of the gas released. I do not think any gas company actually wants people to have gas coming out of their water taps – but there are plenty of examples where that is happening.

That methane will trap 72 times more heat than the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide over the next 20 years.

I was baffled when Stephen Smart characterized LNG as a “good news” story on the tv last night. What is good about allowing the fossil fuel industry to run the province? What is good about mystery chemicals – that we are not allowed to know about – being injected into ground water? What is viable about an industry that thinks the only way it can operate is if it is exempted from taxation and royalty payments? Why do we think that we are going to be safe and our environment protected when both federal and provincial governments are falling over themselves to deregulate and remove the ability to conduct environmental assessments objectively and completely?

Given that we are already facing a 4℃ warming from the anthropogenic GHGs already released – and we thought that the future with the expected  2℃ was going to be pretty uncomfortable – why would we allow any more emission increases? How comes the tv is not only full of wildly inaccurate government advertising telling us that we are well off, employment is growing and we are doing better than everyone else when we’re not, but there are also ads every night from the gas industry of equal mendacity?  Burning natural gas is indeed quite a bit cleaner than coal in terms of common air contaminants (mostly, soot) but it is still a fossil fuel. It is still adding to the carbon load of the atmosphere. It is nothing like as clean as renewables – solar, wind or wave power. And in Australia wind is already cheaper than coal.

Was there anything in the Throne Speech about wind power? Or climate change? Is this really what Rich Coleman thinks constitutes a “larger, longer-term view” ?

POSTSCRIPT

Here’s a tweet

Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 2.58.31 PM

Of course, that’s actually quite an easy commitment to make, given the Liberals chances of winning the election. It would be something else to actually deliver on that – and 2020 is currently so reassuringly far away in the future. Just as long as the technology isn’t carbon capture and storage.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 13, 2013 at 10:07 am

Test your awareness

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Written by Stephen Rees

February 13, 2013 at 8:58 am

Posted in Transportation

Tagged with

“God created transit”

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Background: I am an Atheist. I hate commercials – when they interrupt tv I mute the sound, I try to ignore them when they play them before the movie in a theatre. I do not watch sports on tv, and I avoided both the Superbowl and the number of opportunities that were made available for Canadians to see the Superbowl ads that they “missed” by posting on the internet.

So when Yuri Artibise tweeted earlier today using the same title as this bog post, I was ready to riposte. Oddly enough I have been having a tweet exchange over Christy Clark’s recent publicity surge over her Anglican attachments. I was quite proud of one response – she said that people who don’t attend church miss the weekly reminder to care for others. I tweeted “If what was done to BC Public Service Pensioners is evidence of her ‘caring’ then I would rather she didn’t care for me so much”

So to gear up for another onslaught I thought I had better check out the video Yuri was linking to. I was stunned to see the following image half way through

Screen Shot 2013-02-08 at 9.51.09 AMThat just happens to be my son Jim, riding the New York Subway.

To be clear, this was not a commercial that aired during the Superbowl. The following is taken from Yuri’s blog

Yet again, the ad that won the “Superbowl Commercial Sweepstakes” paid homage to the automobile. This stuck a nerve with Diana Lind of Next City, who created a brilliant two-minute riposte highlighting what’s great about public transit. According to Lind:

And yet the ad, like the one about soldiers for Jeep, conflated the merits of people with those of cars. Which seems a bit sad for 2013, when in the past six months climate change has reared its ugly head and begged us to change our consumption economy for something a bit more sustainable. And the nostalgic imagery — as if we only believe in farmers and soldiers to represent the best of humanity, and as if buying a car is a noble act — started to offend me.

Here is the video:

For the record, Jim does not have a driver’s license, and has not ever shown any interest in learning to drive. He lives in Brooklyn and has a Metrocard for his daily commute into Manhattan and uses transit for nearly all his local travel. He walks a lot too. He doesn’t have a bike.

He grew up in the suburbs (Scarborough ON, Saanich and Richmond BC) – and like most kids of his generation spent quite a lot of time in car seats. But he always walked to school (K-12)

He was completely unaware of this video until I texted him a short while ago.

Afterthought

I have now actually seen the commercial to which the one above is a riposte – and I think seeing it helps understand quite why it is a presentation and not a video.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 8, 2013 at 11:06 am

Posted in transit

Financing the Evergreen Line

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MAJOR construction works on Vancouver’s Skytrain Evergreen Line are set to begin by the end of the month after the provincial government of British Columbia signed a finance-design-build contract for the $C 1.4bn ($US 1.39bn) project with the EGRT consortium, which is led by SNC-Lavalin.

That comes from The International Railway Journal – but my question to the readers of this blog concerns just one word. “Finance“. Why do EGRT need to finance anything?

If my understanding is correct, the funds for building this project come from three levels of government – Canada, BC and Translink. The good thing about government funded projects is that there is almost no risk – since the loans needed to pay for the outlays can all be “underwritten” by the taxpayers – you and me. That means that when governments go to the financial markets for loans, the interest rates they have to pay are lower than commercial activities.  You can buy so called “gilt edged” bonds, but the rate of return will not be anything like as great as if you buy commercial bonds or, even riskier, buy equities. The return won’t be great but it is (almost) certain. Governments of places like Canada, or BC or even Metro Vancouver do not normally welch on their obligations, because they have the power to raise taxes. Of course if there is a violent revolution then the bonds you bought will become worth very little: some people do sell  Chinese railway bonds from pre-revoltionary times.

You probably recall that the Port Mann Bridge was going to be a so called “private sector partnership” but they could not finance it. So it had to built using more conventional public sector financing – which, like I say, was cheaper.

So can someone please explain to me why we have to pay EGRT to finance this project as well as design and build it? I do understand that there are economies of management when contracts to design and build are let. And sometimes – but not in this case – operate and maintain too (like the Canada Line). But since this is an extension of the existing SkyTrain system, the operate and maintain bits are still with the Translink subsidiary British Columbia Rapid Transit Company Ltd.  And while the Translink web page is open about its operating companies, there are other companies it owns that do things that provide much better value for money than going to outside commercial ventures. Their own insurance, for instance. A nice little earner is also the sale of rolled coins – where Translink beats the banks, if you need lots of rolled change.

While right wing politicians have long made it an act of faith that the public sector is inefficient and wasteful, the reality is quite different. Some places do indeed compare P3s to public sector comparators – and the private sector doesn’t always win. Our own Partnerships BC has a quite different method of operations – “Our mission at Partnerships BC is to structure and implement partnership solutions which serve the public interest”  and indeed the Evergreen Line is one of their projects. You won’t find a public sector comparator on their site.

In case you missed the announcements, in the same edition of IRJ is the announcement of the 47km extension to RER Line E in Paris/Ile de France  for €2bn and of a recommended second Cross Rail project in London for £12bn. Now that’s what I call transit investment. The only equivalent size projects here are, of course, highways.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 7, 2013 at 11:09 am

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