Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Transportation

That new bridge

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I apologize for driving you to a paywalled article. Francis Bula is reporting on what Geoff Freer (executive project director for the Massey project) says about replacing the tunnel and why transit won’t meet that “need”

60 per cent of the commuters are travelling to Richmond or Surrey, the U.S. border or the ferries – so are unlikely to use transit anyway.

The chutzpah of this statement takes one’s breath away.

It is not as if the Canada Line was not already changing travel patterns in Richmond. And the introduction of useful inter-regional connections to the transit system (over many years since it was entirely focussed on downtown Vancouver) with direct service to Metrotown and Newton shows that when the transit system actually looks at how people are moving, as opposed to used to move, even ordinary bus services can be successful. When I first arrived in Richmond and had to commute to Gateway in Surrey I initially tried the #410. Then it was infrequent, with a huge one way loop through Richmond wand was always very lightly loaded. Over the years it has become one of the busiest bus services in Richmond and the only one in the Frequent Transit Network.

The other huge change was when Translink backed off the long held belief  that it ought not to compete with Pacific Stage Lines and run a direct bus between the ferry at Tsawwassen and downtown Vancouver. The new service they introduced initially required a transfer to the B-Line at Airport Station, and now requires a transfer to the Canada Line at Bridgeport. It coincided with increased vehicle fares on the ferry so that walk-on traffic grew exponentially. (BC Transit had long met ferries with an express bus from Swartz Bay to downtown Victoria). The #620 now requires articulated buses and frequent relief vehicles. Just like the express bus to Horseshoe Bay.

Artic unloads at Bridgeport

As for cross border services, it would be easy to set up a “walk across the line service” at Peace Arch, with connections to Bellingham. There are just much more pressing priorities – mostly getting students to post secondary institutions thanks to UPass. But bus service across the line has seen significant commercial traffic with both Bolt bus and Quick Shuttle in head to head competition. Some of the casinos down there run their own shuttles too. The best thing that has happened so far on this route has been the introduction of a morning Amtrak train departure for Seattle.

What is actually needed is transportation planning that looks at the future pattern of development in the region, and integrates land use planning to meet population growth and travel needs. Strangely the desire of Port Authority for deeper draft for vessels in the Fraser River is not the first and foremost consideration. Port expansion is not a driver of economic growth. It is path towards calamity, since it is driven by the desires of a few very rich people to export yet more fossil fuel at a time when anyone with any sense recognizes that we as a species have no choice but to leave the carbon in the ground.

I think that one of the great benefits of rail transit development would be protection of the last bits of highly productive agricultural land left after the ruinous performance of the BC Liberals to date. People riding on trains get fast frequent service through areas which see no development at all, because it is concentrated around the stations. What part of Transit Oriented Development do you NOT understand, Mr Freer? Expand the freeway and sprawl follows almost inevitably.

Trains like this one serve the region beyond the Ile de France, and provide fast direct services for longer distances. The much faster TGV serves the intercity market.

It is perhaps a bit hard for people here to understand the idea of fast frequent electric trains that are not subways or SkyTrain, but they are a feature of most large city regions – even in America. As we saw in yesterday’s post even LA is bringing back the interurban. West Coast Express is not a good model as it only serves commuting to downtown on weekdays. All day every day bi-drectional service demands dedicated track – or at least the ability to confine freight movements to the hours when most people are asleep.

New Jersey Transit provides statewide services to the suburbs and exurbs of the New York region

Transit to Delta and South Surrey has to be express bus for now, just because there is so much catch up in the rest of the region. But in the longer term, really good, fast, longer distance electric trains – which can actually climb quite steep grades equivalent to roads over bridges – must be part of planning how this region grows. It requires a bit better understanding of the regional economy than just assuming that somehow coal and LNG exports will secure our future, when they obviously do no such thing.

Running Campaigns, Winning Votes

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Carbon Talks organized a forum today with this title to get discussion going on how to win the upcoming Translink funding referendum with contributions from Bill Tieleman – based on his winning experience with the anti HST and anti STV campaigns in BC – and Denny Zane Executive Director of MoveLA based on winning Proposition R on the 2008 Ballot which secured a half cent sales tax to support improved transportation in Los Angeles County. It is important to note that although throughout the discussion both talk about transit improvements – which in LA went mostly to more light rail lines, it also included improvements to existing freeways, but no new ones.

I was at home watching the live webcast while eating lunch, so to make things easy for myself I have put together a storify using the carbon talks designated hashtag #bctranspo – which I have lightly edited as some of the live tweets were a bit fumbled. I have also deleted those which added nothing to reporting the talk but simply commented on the topics.

The whole thing is now on the Carbon Talks youtube channel and runs 1 hour and 24 minutes. Reading this summary might be quicker, but you will probably also miss some stuff.

Denny Zane opened by talking about the gridlock that seized LA county prior to the measure being put together. At that time LA Metro had $0 set aside for expansion projects and new capacity even though 3m more people were expected to move to the region in the next thirty years. “It was like Chicago was moving in.” There was Mayoral leadership in the campaign and there was only one place to go for money. In California every revenue source has to be passed by a referendum with a 2/3 majority. This was the “crazy legacy” of Proposition 13, which meant that most people felt that there was no hope of raising taxes for anything. MoveLA is a broad based coalition which includes business,  labour and environmental groups which proposed a half cent increase in local sales tax mostly to add rail lines to their transit network. Since the closure of the Pacific Electric Railway in 1961 there are many unused rail corridors and the overall network will reflect much of the old PER interurban system.

While they had strong political leadership it was important to hold the coalition together. They acknowledged that freeways matter – but they were not going to build any more of them. They would make sure that the existing system became safer with improved intersections, for example and also ensure a state of good repair for local boulevards. They also found that once the measure passed they could use the revenue stream to fund bond issues – and persuaded the federal government to become a ‘smart lender’. By converting the federal grants into forgiveness for interest they could fund a thirty year program in ten, achieving  faster results and lower costs. They also proposed Measure J which would have extended the program to 60 years which did not pass but did win 66.1% of the vote (not the required 66.6%) This was partly ude to a lower turnout election.  Measure R was on the same ballot as the 2008 Presidential Election which saw a win for Barack Obama. LA County is heavily Democratic.

Bill Tieleman was on the winning side of both the fight against the  Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) and the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) . He stressed the importance of having a strategy – which is focussed on the ends and is an art – that is supported by tactics – the means – which is science. He started with two simple words of advice “Stop Whining!”

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
Sun Tzu The Art of War

Winning this referendum is entirely possible: 70% of transit referendums in the 2008 US general election passed, even though America is largely right wing and anti-tax. Hundreds of thousands of people in Metro Vancouver want to see better transit. They are the people who use the system every day to get to work or school. It will really help if we can get a fair question – and even government support. Both earlier campaigns had surprising cooperation  across party lines and sectional interests. “There is room for everyone on this bus.” This is an opportunity to improve transit, improve our lcoal economy and improve air quality. People need to understand the value proposition: there must be tangible results, but it is not a radical idea. It cannot be soft sold to drivers: the hard core of drivers will be opposed as will the Canadian Federation of Taxpayers.

The anti HST was constantly in the news as it has no resources for widespread advertising – unlike the government which outspent them 100 fold. They had to have earned media to explain the problem and the solution.

“However beautiful the strategy you should occasionally look at results”    Winston S Churchill

He also cited the Pirate Code for his recommendations – they are guidelines rather than rules. This region needs and deserves better public transit.

Q & A

In answer to the first question about the $4m that had been raised to support prop R, Denny Zame said that while MoveLA is a permanent institution there was a separate, specific committee formed to fight the referendum campaign. They had a few weeks in which to raise that sum.

qs:  We have not reached gridlock here and What will the question be?

A   If Translink takes the lead we have a huge problem. People are fed up with the inadequacies of the transit system – overcrowding, passups, lack of service in the suburbs etc. Our support will come from transit users who want a better system. It doesn’t have to get as bad as LA was to need improvement. LA Metro had had a period of very low public esteem and lots of trouble with the local electorate but had turned that around by being more responsive. Even so transit mode split in LA county was only 10% at peak periods- which meant support had to come from the 90%! The half cent tax showed that small increments mattered, defining each element clearly on a project by project basis. In Vancouver that means the Broadway subway must be on the ballot – but there has to be something for each part of the region as well. The case was made to drivers: transit would help

  • relieve traffic congestion
  • promote economic development and job creation
  • increase safety (there was genuine cause for concern with falling freeway bridges)
  • Increased choices for travel

There was an appeal to their self interest but also highly defined projects for each part of the region and an overall low cost ~25c a day per person

One source of funding was the Art Gallery: access to arts and culture is a big deal for the wealthy funders but with a station planned for the art gallery they got a better ROI from supporting the R campaign than their own capital budget.

Don’t go out and antagonize drivers

Municipal elections have a low turnout. The Mayors are not keen on having the question on the municipal ballot

A mail in question as with the HST referendum is possible

BT was more hopeful than has been suggested since we can have labour and business on the same side. He noted Peter Ladner’s article which raised concern that up to now business has been largely silent on the issue. We need a broad understanding that investing in infrastructure benefits all in the community. This is a unique opportunity to come together.

Q – Who draws up the plan?

This was directed at Denny Zane, who got into the complexities of Councils of Government. He nailed it with the line “basically a bunch of depressed people who think it isn’t going to happen” (Local municipal staffs)

An unfair question will rebound on the proposer

Treat it as an opportunity.

Expect the best of your leaders

The best decisions are those which afterwards appear to have been inevitable.

REACTION

The last question really annoyed me. We know what the Plan is for this region. It is on Translink’s website and they have been consulting on it for years. The projects are all well known, the only real discussion now is which one goes first. The problem I see is that there is no consensus on which funding mechanism – or combination – is going to be favoured. I suspect that the provincial government might even support a question that suggested some increase in property tax since that has always been their preferred method, even though it makes no sense and will never get the support of the Mayors.

Someone should have been putting this broad based coalition together ever since we knew that there was going to be a referendum.

Businesses which depend on transit expansion – which includes real estate developers – should already be beating the drum for more TOD which will follow the transit expansions. It is not just the bus drivers and the environmentalists who want to see more rapid transit.

There is going to need to be similar sessions in Surrey and further out in the suburbs. Meetings in downtown Vancouver, even though they are webcast, are not going to be enough to get people to support a question – even before we know what the question is and when it is going to be asked.

I also think we need to keep in mind the reality that Translink is not just about transit – nor should it be presented in that light. It is not “soft selling drivers” to point out that Translink owns the Patullo and Knight Street bridges and provides funds for the Major Road Network. Increasing the funds going into Translink will inevitably result in more spending on roads too. You cannot put in a bus lane on a two lane road!

Written by Stephen Rees

September 24, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Transit investments lead to healthier people

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A Media Release from UBC with a link to the whole research paper – actually hosted by Translink – and dated August 20 last year

No surprises here – but useful back up to the argument that we ought to spend more on transit. Not that I expect that to influence people like Jon Ferry, [The Province, paywalled]  who is pretending to be open minded!

B8106

A new report from the University of British Columbia shows that transportation and health are closely linked and recommends that health outcome be considered in transportation planning.

The report, funded by TransLink and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority as part of updates to Transport 2040, the regional transportation strategy, presents a range of opportunities for Translink to incorporate health into its planning.

“This report documents how prioritizing transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure will positively impact health,” says the study’s lead author Lawrence Frank, Professor and Director of the Health and Community Design Lab, part of UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. “It looks at encouraging active transportation, such as walking, cycling and transit, and reducing air pollution and traffic collision risk.”

Dr. Lawrence Frank. Photo: Amanda Skuse

Dr. Lawrence Frank. Photo: Amanda Skuse

Previous research by Frank has shown that every hour a person spends in a car each day makes them six per cent more likely to be obese, while each additional kilometre a person walks makes them five per cent less likely to be obese.

Sedentary lifestyle is a major cause of many chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease and some cancers. Many chronic diseases are preventable and active transportation and other sustainable transportation choices offer the possibility of prevention and even treatment through increased physical activity. The costs of these diseases are projected to increse by more than $1.5 billion in B.C. over the next 2 to 3 years.

“TransLink’s consideration of the health impacts of transportation systems could help offset the rising costs of health care in the Vancouver area and promote an active lifestyle that will benefit all Canadians,” Frank adds.

The full report is available at here.

Canada Line

Written by Stephen Rees

July 5, 2013 at 10:19 am

Posted in cycling, health, transit, walking

Tagged with

One picture worth a thousand words

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Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 11.21.52 AM

This image comes from the South Delta Leader – and their credit simply reads “via Twitter”

Written by Stephen Rees

May 9, 2013 at 11:27 am

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.

Direct light-rail line to campus the way to go, UBC says

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Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail has been talking to Pascal Spothelfer, the university’s vice-president of community partnerships. He seems not to understand that the way to make a partnership is to look at the combined interest of both – or all – parties rather than than your own self interest. Of course UBC wants to get more people onto transit than the current bus lines can carry – and as usual all eyes are on the Broadway corridor. Prior to today, the City has been favouring an underground line from VCC to Arbutus, with bus the rest of the way. The city’s engineers have delivered an update today (see foot of this post).

I am a bit reluctant to open up the comments on this since it will almost inevitably revert to the tired old debate of SkyTrain vs LRT. What we really need to be talking about right now is what do we do to resuscitate Translink – which is starved of operating dollars and is busy cutting service in much of the region in order to get some more service into areas where there is now severe overcrowding. For UBC to be pushing its own agenda at this time seems more than a little insensitive. For the decisions that matter will not be made in the City of Vancouver, which is unlikely to be swayed by views of the unincorporated area to its west. UBC’s population may be growing, but they don’t vote in City elections. And the areas that are going to be impacted by whatever is built are some of the most expensive and politically influential bits not just of the city but the province.

And, like it or not, rapid transit is – and always has been – a provincial issue. “TransLink typically only takes on a big transit expansion once a decade. ” And that being the case, really ought be concentrating its attention on the part of the region that is growing fastest, has the greatest current and future car dependance, and is currently grossly underserved by transit of all kinds. Any new dollars that Translink gets seem to me should be ear marked for Surrey, so that the 555 Highway #1 rapid bus can have a park and ride and service connections into Surrey (instead of blasting straight through non-stop) and the #96 B-Line can be extended along the rest of King George all the way to White Rock. Rapid bus may not be as sexy as light rail, but it can at least be introduced in the next few years, given some political will.

Next year we will have a new provincial government. Let us dream a little and imagine that it is not only NOT the BC Liberals, but also the NDP with some significant Green influence – given last night’s federal by-election result of 34.3% in Victoria. That new administration might well want to reconsider the once a decade track record, and conclude that what BC’s major urban area needs is a program of steady transit expansion – with perhaps a moratorium on major new road building projects. Stop talking about six lane Patullo replacement and a new Deas Island crossing, start talking about managing the steady decline in driving that we have been seeing and how to provide all kinds of alternative ways of getting around. Don’t put all your investment into one big project, but start a long term program of continuous improvement in affordable increments. And the only way that gets thrown into doubt is if there is some change in funding strategy from other levels of government. As long as Canada is cutting is transit spending, and province is playing blacktop politics (where the NDP has a very similar record to the small c conservatives) Metro Vancouver needs a strategy that it can fund – likely from road user charges and parking fees.

The other thing that gets put back on the table with the a new provincial government has to be land use and higher education. Making universities behave like businesses was really silly since UBC had land that could have been used for student housing and might well have gone some way to cutting the distance that “140,000 people a day” have to travel. Allowing university land to be developed for market housing only makes sense if you view UBC as a commercial venture with a cash bottom line that overrules any other consideration. That does not seem to me to be a sensible way to run any educational service – or any public sector enterprise come to that. Of course we cannot unscramble that egg now, but we can resolve to do much better in future, and putting both UBC and SFU into downtown(s) was a good first step – but not nearly enough.

It also means that the region gets effective land use powers to overcome local resistance to increased density at rapid transit stations and along transit lines. I am not at all convinced that we could adopt a Hong Kong model, but given that developers pay for so much transportation and parking infrastructure now, diverting that to a broader toolbox of urbanization and public space management seems to make a great deal of sense.  As Brent Toderian has been saying – it’s not about the bike lanes it’s about building better cities. But it also seems to me that it is insufficient for one or two cities to follow that strategy while the rest continue with business as usual. We need a regional approach, both at setting priorities for major infrastructure investments and also to tackle the shape (as opposed to serve) development role.

POSTSCRIPT see the latest BC polling – and Bill Tieleman’s view – in the Tyee and here is the presentation that went to Council today – pushing for underground on Broadway all the way to UBC

“Given the impacts of surface rapid transit west of Arbutus, a Broadway Subway should be extended all the way to UBC.” staff presentation

Written by Stephen Rees

November 27, 2012 at 9:48 am

Are electric cars bad for the environment?

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1912 Detroit Electric

I was alerted to this story by the Globe – which this morning is trumpeting going behind the paywall as “access for all” (Orwell would be proud: newspeak lives). I am not going to link there since they were in any event simply recycling something. Not – I hasten to add – plagiarism. Just what we all do – and in this case adequately cited, though without the necessary web links. Which of course Google gets quite quickly.

The Comparative Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Conventional and Electric Vehicles is available from the Wiley online library - and since it has yet to appear in the paper version of the Journal of Industrial Ecology you can get the whole thing as a pdf though that may not last for long. What the Globe was doing was reporting on an on line discussion on Leo Hickman’s blog – part of the Guardian’s web presence – and one that I freely admit I had missed.

The study looks at both the potential of increased emissions from the manufacturing process – especially for batteries – as well as the source of the electricity. The EV has often been criticized as an “elsewhere emission vehicle” (49 million google hits on the phrase) – it may have no tailpipe emissions but if the electricity comes from a coal fired power station …

Here are the key conclusions

The production phase of EVs proved substantially more environmentally intensive. Nonetheless, substantial overall improvements in regard to GWP [global warming potential], TAP [terrestrial acidification potential], and other impacts may be achieved by EVs powered with appropriate energy sources relative to comparable ICEVs [internal combustion engine vehicles]. However, it is counterproductive to promote EVs in regions where electricity is produced from oil, coal, and lignite combustion. The electrification of transportation should be accompanied by a sharpened policy focus with regard to life cycle management, and thus counter potential setbacks in terms of water pollution and toxicity. EVs are poised to link the personal transportation sector together with the electricity, the electronic, and the metal industry sectors in an unprecedented way. Therefore the developments of these sectors must be jointly and consistently addressed in order for EVs to contribute positively to pollution mitigation efforts.

All of which is fair enough since all they are doing is comparing one sort of car to another sort of car. Which is why the big problem of electric cars gets completely missed. As I have often written on this blog the problem is the overuse of cars – far more than how those cars are powered or constructed. As a policy issue in urban areas – and after all most of us live in urban areas – what we need to confront – here and elsewhere – is that when most people use a single occupant vehicle for most of their trip making, the consequences are dire. Traffic congestion is the one that gets most noticed, as it is the most obvious, but add to that the horrendous toll on life and limb caused by collisions, the health impact of not using your own muscles enough and being sedentary for most of the time, and the sprawl of urban areas onto productive farm land and essential natural areas (loss of biodiversity and the greenhouse gas collection function of forests are merely examples).

I find it offensive that I am being accused of “a rapture of techno-narcissism” when I have long been advocating some very old fashioned ideas. Electric trains, trolleybuses, and trams as well as human powered bicycles were all widespread at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. Not to mention the somewhat obvious wisdom of building places where it was both possible, safe and pleasant to walk – something humans were able to do for millennia prior to gadarene rush to rebuild cities to accommodate the automobile. Or even something that seems revolutionary in Vancouver but has always been instinctive in older cities – places to sit down comfortably outside in public spaces without any payment being required.

Something similar seems to be going on with the debate about the pipeline. I really do not think that the main issue is the possible impact of spills on either land or sea. It is the problem of burning ever more fossil fuel that worries me. The oil sands are one of the worst offenders simply because of the amount of energy it takes to convert tarry sands into liquid fuels. If we had better ways of moving ourselves around – and we could have very easily and relatively cheaply – then the oil could stay in the ground. Possibly not forever – since there are so many other really clever things we can do with petro-chemicals, for which there often fewer readily available alternatives. Burning the stuff or making non-biodegradable plastic bags  is simply profligacy, given the increasingly precarious future we face.

Or as Bill McKibben states

“We also figured out that we’re not going to win just fighting one pipeline at a time. We have to keep all those battles going, but we also have to play some offense, go at the heart of the problem.”

TransLink audit complete

with 30 comments

Instead of giving you a link to one of the mainstream media stories this one takes you to the BC Government “Newsroom”. This both avoids the problems of media paywalls and the idea that the media are responsible for the “spin” in news coverage. This press release and its supporting “backgrounders” have all the spin.

For those of you who are new to this (is there anyone who fits that description?) Translink, the Region’s Mayors and the province  have been arguing about how to pay for much needed transit expansion in the region. In fact this discussion has been going on for many years – at least the last 20 years, probably longer. Vancouver and its suburbs constitutes the only major metropolitan area in BC. There really is no other major city. Its needs are therefore different to places like Kelowna or Kamloops. It is not just a matter of scale, its a different kind of place, with a different kind of economy and quite different patterns of movement. The growth of population alone poses a challenge – but at the same time most of the region is the typical large North America suburban agglomeration. “Zurich surrounded by Phoenix”.

A day after I wrote this post the Georgia Straight posted this video. It shows “one weekday (from 4am to 4am) of transit activity in Metro Vancouver, based on the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data made available by Translink”.

See what a good system there is in Vancouver – and how thinly stretched it gets south of the Fraser. I have inserted it since it nicely complements the point made above.

There is a unique arrangement to run and pay for transit here. Half of the non fare revenues are supposed to come from a provincially collected regional gas tax – but changing travel patterns (in part due to higher gas prices) have not only increased transit use but also reduced transportation fuel sales. Oddly enough, there is plenty of federal government supplied gas tax revenue – but that can only be spent on capital projects and has to be matched by both province and region, so much remains unspent. At the same time, a fare concession to post secondary students has boosted demand and thus increased operating cost – which turned out be more important than the “revenue neutral” formula its price is based on.

Translink has thus had to put much of its agreed long term plan on hold. It has cut service in order to shift resources around the system to the parts that are overcrowded. At the behest of the province and provincially appointed Commissioner it has sought – and found “savings” all over the place. Meanwhile the region’s Mayors and the provincial Minister of Transport have argued about new sources of funding. The province has always maintained that property tax could be increased – because that is what the Mayors control.  The Mayors say, quite reasonably, that property tax has little relationship to transit spending and that they only get 8% of all taxes levied on households – but voters in municipal elections hate property tax increases. And anyway Translink has had other potential sources of revenue provided for in provincial legislation – like a vehicle levy – which the province refuses to collect. While the previous Minister promised to consider another funding source, this was conditional on a “temporary” property tax increase while it could be formulated, consulted on and then implemented. Then the prvince reneged on that agreement and the Mayors threatened to rescind the property tax increase. If they do that, Translink will have to cut service even further.

So the present Minister has been saying that she cannot even discuss a new funding source until an audit has been conducted – ignoring all the previous audits and studies. Now that audit has been completed – and it turns out that she has already been sharing its results with Translink, and many of its proposals have already been implemented. So despite the claim that “significant savings” have been found they only amount to  $41m – compared to the $98m already identified. And anyway are nowhere near enough – “still not enough to meet the future transit expansion needs of Metro Vancouver.” So basically the point of the audit was to delay and prevaricate. And the “next steps” are to delay and prevaricate some more.

Once the long-term regional vision has been developed, the mayors and TransLink will be in a position to go back to the public to discuss cost and how to pay for it.

The only word I can use for this is “chutzpah” . There has been a long term regional vision for as long as I have been here. The province simply decided to override it. There was going to be a compact urban area, with complete communities which protected the green zone and increased transportation choice. Instead of that a series major highway expansions is increasing sprawl, destroying the green zone and ensuring continued car dependence for the majority of the region. “Transportation choice” for three quarters of the population is Hobson’s choice.

Government needs a clear sense of the regional vision and priorities over the coming decades, what kind of transportation system will be needed in the future and how much residents are prepared to pay for it.

A practical discussion can then be held about possible funding tools.

In other words, we can put this off until after the election which has to be held in May 2013, which we are almost certainly going to lose, and then its someone else’s problem. In the meantime, the staff at Translink and the Mayors will take the heat for the increasing inconvenience and disruption on a transit system that is unable to meet the demands placed on it.

The TransLink audit is available on the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure website: http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/publications/reports_and_studies/Review_of_TransLink.pdf

One of the reasons this blog post did not appear yesterday is I then took all this seriously and actually read it. It is a complete waste of time. The only “savings” are further service cuts.

There is also this highly misleading graphic

The province has always wanted more property tax for transit in Vancouver. That is the reason why I wrote those paragraphs of introduction. What this graphic does is pretend that somehow residents of Greater Vancouver pay less in taxes for their transit  than they do in Toronto, Montreal or even Victoria. Of course there is no mention of the Translink gas tax – that is only collected in Greater Vancouver (by the province, as I pointed out). Nor the hydro levy, come to that. And the fact that “roads and bridges” were all downloaded onto the municipalities – and the gas tax was originally offered as a way of putting pressure on to them to sign up to Translink. They were going to get them downloaded anyway – so they might as well get on board with the provincial government’s proposed regional transportation authority if they want some new funds to help pay for that.

If the Mayor’s refuse to implement the property tax increase, then some of the province’s preferred schemes cannot proceed – such as the (much reduced) rapid bus over the new Port Mann Bridge.

None of this performance is anything to do with “long term vision”. It is all about short term, political expediency. There always was enough for the plans that the region agreed to. It was just that the province
chose to spend on highway expansions instead. We are stuck with the widened Highway #1, the South Fraser Perimeter Road and the widened Sea to Sky Highway. All of these are already contributing to an ever wider spread of suburban sprawl. “Expertise in land-use planning” has never been in short supply. We have had lots of regional plans and all our Official Community Plans have been crafted to fit into that framework – and much good has it done us (that’s irony, by the way). Port Moody, for instance, built a whole city centre around the idea of Transit Oriented Development. The Evergreen Line will now be built, many years after that development was halted, due to lack of transit service. Surrey has been asking for light rapid transit for years – and it might see a truncated BRT, if the other Mayors swallow their indignation at being treated so shabbily.

I also wonder about the timing of the release. After all, there was another event last night that was guaranteed to fill up the front pages and keep the political pundits occupied. Maybe they thought no-one would notice.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 18, 2012 at 7:57 am

The Airport Mall, The Globe and Spammers

with 6 comments

I wrote about the local opposition to the new outlet mall at the airport in July. More information  is now available from the Globe and Mail which explains more about the proposal. Dump trucks have been moving sand at the site at the junction of Gilbert Road and Russ Baker Way since that post appeared.

The Globe is going behind a paywall next week so the story may no longer be available. Apparently, links will still work if they come from Twitter – presumably from the Globe’s feed – so it will not be the end of stories from that source. But in the same way that I no longer scan the Sun for stories, I will now have to rely on secondary sources.

I have also noticed that I am using twitter – when I can produce a pithy response – facebook and even Google+ more when there is less need to write a length but something seems worth attention in the purview declared for this blog. I am also steadily resisting people who “pitch” me offers of “guest posts”. So far this has been really easy as the offers seem to be based on a new type of spamming to get around the Word Press akismet filter. But sometimes there does actually seem to be some real person making these offers (as opposed to a spambot). If that is the case then can I ask that you read some of the blog – or at least the bit on the right hand column which explains what this blog is about. It is headed “Who I am, and what this is”. If you haven’t read that and persist in sending me email you will get a shirty reply and then be consigned to the outer darkness of Akismet

Written by Stephen Rees

October 16, 2012 at 7:25 am

Posted in blogging

Tagged with , ,

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