I have been very pleased to see the Guardian add a section on Cities, and I am finding the articles posted there very informative. For instance Alex Steffen writing about affordability and his prescription – build lots of houses. This morning there is a wide reaching review of how transportation defines cities which is written by Colin Marshall who hails from Seattle and thinks London is defined by The Tube. It is an easy mistake for an American to make, and is about as misguided as a Londoner thinking that New York is defined by its subway. He does have a very interesting overview and a wide range of samples, and makes some good points. But both London (and New York) rely very heavily on a much wider network than their inner urban mass transit systems.
The tube, in London, serves mostly the northwestern quadrant – as is apparent from Harry Beck’s geographically distorted diagram. This is the original from the 1930′s. Bank Station – at the centre of the City is over to the right. Note the position of the Thames relative to most of the network. The District Line through East London is not shown as a line, merely a list of stations.
The historical reason for this is that the mainline railway that served this quadrant was initially not very interested in operating suburban services as it made much more money from long distance trains. Including boat trains to Liverpool that connected to liners to New York, as well as the premium Scottish expresses. The tube was originally built by entrepreneurs looking to make money, and what they found was that the short lines under the central area were not long enough to be profitable and cost a great deal to construct. The companies became profitable when they extended out into the fields which could then be built over with houses for commuters. The first underground line (The Metropolitan Railway) was extended in tunnels to Wembley and then out to Amersham and beyond on the surface. Many of the connections into Central London were made by tacking existing branch lines onto the tube. In Beck’s map above the Central Line stops at Liverpool Street. The service now goes out far into Essex on former GE branch lines – and a new tube under Wanstead built just before the war and uncompleted in 1939 which became a factory until hostilities ceased.
There is only one tube line through South London (the Northern Line). That is because the Southern Railway and its antecedents had much less long distance traffic but were early adopters of electrification for the dense network of lines that radiate out from the series of terminals built to serve both the City (to the East) and the West End. The even built their own tube to connect Waterloo to the City (known as the drain and only relatively recently incorporated into the Underground network).
The main line railways were not allowed to build into the City itself, and were kept in a ring along City Road (under which the Met was built). For the Great Eastern (the same company that built what became to be BC Rail) the need for a larger terminal nearer the City meant they wanted to redevelop a notorious slum called the Jago. As a condition of being allowed to demolish that warren of extremely dense – and very unhealthy – housing, they had to provide workmen’s fares at low cost to allow the displaced to relocate to new suburbs in places like Walthamstow and Leytonstone.
London began to sprawl long before there were motorcars. Development stretched out into the country along the railway lines, railway stations became the centre of towns that grew up around them. In the interwar period with the construction of new faster roads for cars and as unemployment relief – the Great West Road, Eastern Avenue – this development started filling in. Instead of the “beads on a string” pattern of the railway towns, there was “ribbon development’. In the period when people were tasked with thinking out what would happen to London after the Luftwaffe were stopped from flattening so much of it, the idea was to prevent this continuous urban area by specifying a Green Belt. The current boundary of Greater London lies within that Green Belt, which marks the limits of how far the ribbons of sprawl had reached by 1939. Post war there were to have been New Towns, that would be both free standing and self sufficient – providing employment to reduce the need for commuting. That did not work out. Basically the suburbs leapt over the Green Belt and kept on going. Boxmoor (see below) is in Hemel Hempstead – near the station – and has a very fast service into Euston that I used to commute on just before I left for Toronto.
One of the stupidest decisions made by the self serving Governor of New Jersey was cancelling the railway tunnel that would have relieved congestion between New Jersey and midtown Manhattan. Penn Station (now hidden beneath Madison Square Garden) is not just the busiest in New York – it is one of busiest passenger terminals in North America. Grand Central is not far behind. Manhattan lies at the heart of a huge megalopolis and depends on railway services to the surrounding region. It would be impossible for the downtown towers to work as employment centres if those people all tried to drive to work. Though Robert Moses did his best to try and accomplish that.
In both Central London and Manhattan most of the people there during the day got there on trains. In the case of London those trains come from an ever widening ring of urban areas – as train speeds have been increased and services improved. I used to think that getting a seat for a 25minute ride into Waterloo so that I could read on my commute was about optimal. Many others travel further and longer. Lord Olivier famously commuted from Brighton (about an hour – and at one time you could get kippers for breakfast on a Pullman train). Those commuters might need to add a short tube ride from a terminal like Paddington (as you will need to if you decide to use Heathrow Express to get into town from the airport) or Liverpool Street. The current construction of CrossRail is designed to reduce the congestion on that route.
For many people the tube is something to avoid. You do not have to suffer from claustrophobia to find the crowding and depth of the station platforms a deterrent. Fortunately there are always alternatives. In fact in Central London it is nearly always quicker to walk than travel between adjacent stations – or even three or four stops. Especially if a change of lines is needed. The need for a rapid increase in transit capacity created by the congestion charge lead to a huge improvement in bus services. For visitors, I would recommend that using a combination of Boris Bikes, buses and walking is going to be a much nicer experience than the tube – especially at Rush Hour (actually several hours).
When I wrote this I had not seen this article in The Independent “ twice as many people ride the bus each day as the Tube” by the Labour spokesperson on infrastructure.
The first thorough comparison of evidence for natural gas system leaks confirms that organizations including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have underestimated U.S. methane emissions generally, as well as those from the natural gas industry specifically.
That’s a really neat summary of a new study from Stanford. The mainstream media is reporting this – often behind paywalls – so the link I have posted is to the original not them. It also seems that they have decided the story is to be about buses. That’s in the report but a ways down
the analysis finds that powering trucks and buses with natural gas instead of diesel fuel probably makes the globe warmer, because diesel engines are relatively clean. For natural gas to beat diesel, the gas industry would have to be less leaky than the EPA’s current estimate, which the new analysis also finds quite improbable.
“Fueling trucks and buses with natural gas may help local air quality and reduce oil imports, but it is not likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even running passenger cars on natural gas instead of gasoline is probably on the borderline in terms of climate,” Brandt said.
At first this was the item that made me think I should blog about it. I have long been critical of the way that in BC we have glommed onto to NG as an alternative transportation fuel and have so often found it wanting. I won’t repeat that here.
What struck me was much closer to the top of the story
Natural gas consists predominantly of methane. Even small leaks from the natural gas system are important because methane is a potent greenhouse gas – about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. A study, “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” published in the Feb. 14 issue of the journal Science, synthesizes diverse findings from more than 200 studies ranging in scope from local gas processing plants to total emissions from the United States and Canada. [emphasis added]
“People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect,” said the lead author of the new analysis, Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Brandt. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”
So instead of me ranting about buses I am going after the more significant target. Our Premier’s obsession with LNG, and how this is going to be both our fiscal salvation – and will help other countries wean themselves off dirtier fuels like coal.
The problem with natural gas – methane – is that is far more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2. As noted above “30 times more potent than carbon dioxide” which means while burning methane is cleaner than burning coal, if just small amounts leak unburned then the advantage in terms of impact on climate is negated. Since the leaks have been underestimated up to now, that means we now need to rethink some of our strategies. I think it is very common for the people who promote fracking to downplay the destructiveness and carelessness of their activities. So the phrase “some recent studies showing very high methane emissions in regions with considerable natural gas infrastructure” is striking even though in context it is stressed that these levels are not characteristic of the continent as whole. The frackers keep secret the chemicals they add into the water – and deny that these chemicals damage the water supply of people downstream. Rather like the way the tarsand developers prefer us to not pay attention to what happens to the water supply people who live near the operations depend on.
Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows. Not only does burning coal release an enormous amount of carbon dioxide, mining it releases methane.
But I do not think that justifies a strategy that throws LNG in as the be-all and end-all. Recent developments in solar power, for instance, are showing that the competitiveness of this source of electricity has been greatly improved. BC has all sorts of renewable energy sources that remain virtually untouched. Geothermal energy, for instance, seems to be mostly confined to a few spas and hot tubs. Wind and wave energy generally is ignored, despite our location on the shore of the Pacific.
There are also very real doubts about the viability of some of the proposals being floated for LNG plants, which seem to me to based more on wishful thinking than clear headed analysis of the realities of a market place that has recently seen a flood of new production for a product that is difficult to package and transport to market. It is still the case that what I was taught in that CAPP course all new employees of the Ministry of Energy were required to attend, that what comes out of the ground is either oily gas or gassy oil. And what the market demands here is usually liquid fuel, and the gas is flared. About half of the volume produced I’m told. Using lots of energy to liquify the gas and then ship it around the planet to be sold at competitive prices to places that can pipe gas in from much closer locations does not seem very likely to be viable.
But mostly I am very tired of this administration pretending to care about the climate (because we had the carbon tax implemented before other places) while doing their very best to undermine the limited success we have had in reducing our own ghg. Which may not be entirely due to good management but simply reduced levels of economic activity.
I have just booked online a train journey between Rome and Florence – and back. That’s 284km and will take about 90 minutes each way, on one of these.
And just to compare I asked Google how long the trip from Vancouver to Seattle would take. That’s 227km and it says 3 hours and 10 minutes “in traffic” midday and ignores the line up at the border. By train the Amtrak Cascades schedule says 4 hours and 25 minutes. Or 3:45 on the bus!
Tribes on both sides of the border intervene in proceeding to address tanker traffic and oil spill risks
Seattle, WA & Vancouver, BC, Coast Salish Territories – Opposition to Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain proposed pipeline project ramped up today as Coast Salish peoples on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border vowed to oppose the project as intervenors before Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB). Coast Salish intervenors include the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Tribes, Lummi Nation, and Suquamish Tribe in Washington state, and the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations in British Columbia. The deadline for application to participate in the NEB process was last night at midnight.
“Over the last 100 years, our most sacred site, the Salish Sea, has been deeply impacted by our pollution-based economy,” said Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby. “Every kind of pollution ends up in the Salish Sea. We have decided no more and we are stepping forward. It is up to this generation and future generations to restore and protect the precious waters of the Salish Sea.”
“Our people are bound together by our deep connection to Burrard Inlet and the Salish Sea. We are the ‘People of the Inlet’ and we are united in our resolve to protect our land, water and air from this risky project,” said Chief Maureen Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. “We will use all lawful means to oppose it. This is why we have applied to intervene in the NEB hearing process.”
In December, Kinder Morgan filed an application with the NEB to build a new pipeline to bring tar sands oil from Alberta to Vancouver, B.C. The NEB is the Canadian federal agency that regulates interprovincial energy infrastructure. It is responsible for reviewing, recommending and regulating major energy projects, such as the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.
If approved, the proposal would see the transport of tar sands oil expanded from its present level of approximately 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day. With an almost seven-fold increase in oil tankers moving through the shared waters of the Salish Sea, an increase in groundings, accidents, incidents, leaks and oil spills is inevitable. More information here.
Experts have acknowledged that a serious oil spill would devastate an already-stressed marine environment and likely lead to collapses in the remaining salmon stocks and further contamination of shellfish beds, wiping out Indigenous fishing rights.
“The fishing grounds of the Salish Sea are the lifeblood of our peoples. We cannot sit idly by while these waters are threatened by reckless increases in oil tanker traffic and increased risk of catastrophic oil spill,” said Mel Sheldon, Chairman of the Tulalip Tribes.
The proposed tar sands pipeline expansion is one of several projects that would dramatically increase the passage of tankers, bulk carriers, and other vessels through Salish Sea shipping routes and adjacent waters on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. In addition to oil, regulators in both countries are reviewing controversial proposals to export huge quantities of U.S. coal. Taken together, these projects would greatly increase the risk of oil spills and other accidents that threaten the Coast Salish economies and cultures.
“Today we are taking a stand to honour our ancient connection to the Salish Sea. The threat of oil spills and industrial pollution continue to threaten our way of life.” said Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish Nation. “We stand in unity with all who care about the health of the Salish Sea and defend it for future generations.”
Chairman Timothy Ballew III of the Lummi Nation stated, “I am a fisherman, a father and a member of the great Lummi Nation. As the northernmost Washington Treaty Tribe of the Boldt Decision, we are the stewards the Salish Sea and will not allow the Kinder Morgan proposal along our waterways that will threaten our harvesting areas and further the detrimental impacts to the environment and natural resources.”
Instead of my former practice of using “Upcoming Event” as the title, I have just cut and pasted the announcement from an SFU email.
That is because I want to make a couple of points even before I have heard what Andrew Coyne has to say – and I am looking forward to hearing that in due course. But all you ever get to do – if you are lucky – at these events is ask questions. And the points I need to make are not the sort that get dealt with properly in a Q&A session.
Firstly the subsidies that underlie our present land use and transportation pattern are not going to change any time soon. As we heard from Todd Stone, there is to be no road pricing on the provincial highway network no matter what the newly empowered Mayors’ Council might think. They can have more control over the region’s transportation – just not nearly enough. But the subsidy to the present level of car use is built in to the fabric of our society. We subsidize fossil fuels – and especially liquid fossil fuel for motor vehicles, which remains overwhelmingly the chosen method of propulsion and will not change very significantly for a very long time. Car makers get all kinds of assistance (as Coyne himself points out): if they look like moving that increases, because we think we need those jobs. If they look like their business model is failing, they are bailed out. We do not expect to see that money repaid. We have never seriously considered for very long if there might be a better way of spending public funds to increase accessibility because we are still obsessed with mobility – which is not the same thing at all. We are still stuck at the point where we feel that land uses must be separated and that the single family home on its large lot is still the basic unit of residential development. Anything else is viewed with deep suspicion: “social engineering” is suspected – as though we had not been engineered into our current mess. The pattern of urban sprawl has been produced by subsidies and is economically unsustainable – as well as unsustainable in every other dimension too – but very few people accept that inconvenient truth.
Secondly the faith in the ability of markets to produce optimal solutions, as long as governments do not interfere, is misplaced. There is no evidence that the people who control corporations will ever do anything else than profit maximize. Yes, subsidies distort their decisions – but so does greed and willful blindness to “externalities”. We have had plenty of experience of the failure of the free enterprise model. It has not served us well at all, and unless we start to assert some very necessary political controls over businesses, our future on this planet seems very gloomy indeed. As long as money is protected as “free speech” and as long as profits can be squirrelled away in off shore accounts with little fear of penalty the present broken system will continue. And no private corporation is going to step forward to build us new transit systems unless it is paid handsomely to do so.
Rethinking Transportation: New Voices, New Ideas
Brought to you by TransLink in collaboration with the SFU City Program
February 25, 7 pm
Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (at SFU Woodwards), 149 West Hastings, Vancouver
Admission is free, but reservations are required. Reserve
Live Webcast: http://creative-services.sfu.ca/broadcast/
Andrew Coyne, a national columnist for Postmedia/National Post, will talk about a unified approach to pricing cars and transit. Transit advocates commonly suppose that subsidizing transit more heavily will induce more people to give up their cars, thus alleviating congestion. The evidence for this is scant, while a better solution is at hand: pricing roads. Not only would road tolls automatically make transit more competitive with cars, but surface transit users would also benefit from the faster traffic flows that result. Pricing road use is the only effective way to induce people to drive less: indeed, as road use is at present rationed by time rather than money, other proposed methods (wider roads, carpooling, synchronized lights, etc) end up inducing people to drive more, since they reduce the time-price of using the roads. Put the revenues from road tolls toward subsidizing transit? No: subsidized transit suffers from much the same defects as subsidized roads — both mask the real price of resource use, and both encourage sprawl. Moreover, to the extent subsidies make transit less dependent on riders for revenues, they lessen incentives to innovate and improve service.
This Press Release from the Congress for New Urbanism landed in my email inbox yesterday. And despite the specification that the list was limited to US urban highways, I was pleased to see that the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto made the top 10. (By the way I have now discovered, thanks to one of his tweets, that Brent Toderian helped select them.)
The Gardiner has been a candidate for removal for as long as I have been in Canada – since 1988 – and they are still arguing about it.
No mention of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts which are also still standing as I write. I did do a quick Google search to see if I could determine their status. If I recall correctly the City is still consulting the neighbourhood. And, of course, no-one has actually accepted that the City’s projections were based on the false premise that traffic would continue at present levels just differently distributed, so of course the neighbours are really worried about the impact on their streets. In reality traffic will quickly adjust – in the same way that it has for the calming of Point Grey Road and the closure of lanes on the Burrard Bridge. As we have seen everywhere that urban highways have been removed, traffic contracts or evaporates or disappears – whichever is your preferred term.
We do not actually need to “serve roughly the same number of cars”. We can confidently expect that the people who currently are making these trips will adjust their travel patterns, and that there will be fewer car trips in future. And there is plenty of evidence to support that assertion.