Stephen Rees's blog

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

Reflection in a puddle

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This post is response to the Photo Challenge on the Daily Post “Shine”


This is a puddle in the parking lot of Kits Beach Park: we have been having a lot of rain lately. Together with a painful toe condition (rectified on Friday afternoon) that has been restricting the amount of time we have been walking and cycling. So the number of photos I put on flickr and instagram dropped. So that has been rectified too.

This post is also being created on what WordPress calls its new improved editor. I suppose I just got used to old one, and I still prefer to post that way.

And this is the first time I have used this blog to respond to a photo challenge, and, given the response to this one, is unlikely to the last.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 21, 2016 at 10:40 am

Arbutus Greenway: Temp Surface latest

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So since these are screen shots you need arbutus-greenway-temporary-path-oct-2016-open-house-information-displays which is a downloaded pdf from the City. You can also check out their webpage


Written by Stephen Rees

October 14, 2016 at 7:18 pm

Posted in Arbutus Greenway

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Port development trumps BC agriculture

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Canadians did not vote for this. The expectation they had was that electing a Liberal government would produce a rapid, radical change of direction from the Conservatives. Instead of that we have seen what is apparently always the way with Liberals: campaign on the left, govern on the right. It was certainly my bitter experience in the first Canadian election I was able to vote in after I became a citizen in 1992. I read “The Red Book” which set out a Keynesian agenda for the country, so I voted Liberal. Then Paul Martin became Finance Minister and we went on with all the conservative policies I had voted against. Of course I did not get caught twice: I voted Green last time. Not nearly enough people did that, so we are forced to repeat history.

The opponents to the Massey Tunnel replacement have long held the view that real reason for this megaproject is further port expansion. Once the tunnel has been replaced by a bridge, the tubes will be removed from the river bed, and dredging will commence. Of course, the Environmental Assessment for the project ignores this completely. And ports are a federal responsibility. We now have confirmation from federal agriculture minister Lawrence MacAulay:

“We do not want to lose agricultural land but it’s no good producing products that you can’t move, either,” MacAulay said, answering a question from Country Life in BC following a presentation to Greater Vancouver Board of Trade members on September 12. “So it’s one way or the other – the port in Vancouver has to be efficient to move the products to market. The Asian market is a big market, only going to get larger, and we want to be there.”

So we can now add loss of land from the ALR to the Site C project, the Lelu Island LNG project and the almost certain federal approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion to the “sunny ways” of our new Prime Minister. Yes, I am sure he looks very appealing to many when he takes his shirt off. But I do not think that is nearly enough to justify his policies.

Of course I am risking a lot by openly opposing this government. We have already seen how the practice of the Conservative Government

  • audits of the environmental charities for political activity, ignoring the Fraser Institute far more blatant flouting of the same law;
  • removal of Canadian citizenship with no right to an oral hearing, no right to have the matter referred to a judge, and no right to even know the extent of the case against them
  • Creation of a “New”CSIS as a secret police force

continued by this government. Of course, if I do find myself without citizenship I will not actually be able to prove that it was environmental activism that was used to brand me a terrorist – but that is already happening.

Is Trudeau any different than the old boss?

Written by Stephen Rees

October 13, 2016 at 1:20 pm

Passenger Rail in Whatcom County

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Amtrak Cascades Mud Bay Surrey BC 08-04-2005 10-28AM

Yesterday I went to a meeting of All Aboard Washington “a consumer transportation advocacy group, comprised of nearly 500 people who have a goal of preserving and expanding passenger rail service in the state of Washington”. They had invited Transport Action BC to attend the meeting, as much of it concerned the operation of Amtrak Cascades. They meet monthly and the meeting at the University of Western Washington in Bellingham had around 50 people, I estimated. Invitations had also gone to BC officials but only one attended, Councillor Grant Meyer of White Rock, who gave a short presentation on the proposed real relocation project. Surrey MLA Marvin Hunt had been expected to attend, but he sent his apologies. Speculation was that he had been instructed not to appear, and certainly speaking of a looming election here (next May) when one is happening next month in the US seemed inappropriate.

I have managed to find some of the materials from the presentations, so that you will not have to rely on my rather rusty note taking.

Lloyd Flem AAW’s long serving Executive Director opened the meeting with a short history of Passenger Trains to Bellingham. Much of this will be familiar to readers here, so I will just mention some highlights. The Washington State talks of an objective of 4 trains a day between Seattle and Vancouver BC by 2035, but 13 between Seattle and Portland OR. The challenge lies in the capacity of the single track line from Everett through Mount Vernon to Blaine, and the lack of investment north of the border. BC did spend $7m on a slip at Colebrook as a contribution  to get the second Cascades service in time for the Olympics. Unlike Washington and Oregon, BC provides no operating subsidy for the service. Considerable work was achieved on the line due to the reallocation of High Speed Rail funds after Florida decided not to proceed. The route between Vancouver and Portland is identified by the US as part of its desired HSR initial network, and that has been endorsed by both the BC Premier and WA State Governor.

The Asia Pacific Gateway was cited as an example of Canada’s commitment to infrastructure spending. Nine rail overpasses were built over the Roberts Bank corridor as part of the billions spent on port expansion. The use of P3 funding was also mentioned. The future of the passenger rail is that there will be no further HSR money, and no capital funds from Olympia but it might be possible to upgrade the capacity and provide some overpasses through the colocation of utilities such as water mains and fibre optic cable in the right of way.

Bruce Agnew of Cascadia Academy and Bob Lawrence of AAWA spoke about the possibility of a third train to serve the line between Bellingham and Seattle. This would replace the current bus and would increase the utilisation of existing equipment. Ridership from Bellingham is currently 51,000 by train, 13,000 by bus and is the 6th busiest station on the service, and the 7th highest revenue. There has been a decline in travel in recent years on the bus service.

Laurie Trautman, Director of the Border Policy Research Institute (WWU) spoke about the proposal to introduce pre-clearance for passengers in Vancouver. There is a pdf of the study as a research brief. Currently there is pre-inspection for immigration only as the result of an informal agreement: pre-clearance requires legislation. This is mainly about protection and liability issues affecting armed TSA staff operating in Canada and requires Congressional approval. [Nothing specifically was said, but I was left with the impression that this is highly unlikely.]  The five border crossings between Point Roberts and Sumas are some of the busiest crossings on the border, but travel has been much affected by the exchange rate. 80% of the cross border trips are made by Canadians, with shopping the primary purpose of 31% of them.

There was a presentation on student travel at WWU which I think is of little interest to readers here. Essentially, use of transit has been increased by the introduction of a UPass which has also seen increases in local transit services to meet demand. There is an identified need for a better connected passenger rail system across the state to better meet the needs of post secondary students – and others.

Students at WWU have conducted a feasibility study of adding an additional stop at Blaine station. There is a pdf of their report on the AAWA site. 

There is a population of over 1m living south of the Fraser River who have a shorter drive time to Blaine than Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, shown by the red line on this map


The train schedule time is currently 4 hours 25 minutes compared to 2 hour 50 drive time. The train departure time of 6am is also unattractive to people facing a two hour drive and the need to arrive early for immigration inspection. Train departure time of 8am from Blaine would be more attractive and parking would be easier and cheaper. SkyTrain does not provide a service which integrates conveniently with Amtrak. The students used an on line survey which had 1,000 responses. 70% of Canadian respondents said they had not used the train as it was too far to the station in Vancouver, too expensive and inconvenient. Unfortunately this was a self selected sample and therefore cannot be held to be representative of the broader population. [It made me wonder if there had been similar issues with stated preference surveys used to support the case for tolled road bridges in the same area.]

BNSF 4463

Relocation of rail in White Rock has long been a discussion in the area, but now seems likely to move forward. The cities of Surrey and White Rock have agreed to make an application to the federal government under the Railroad Relocation and Crossing Act. [This article in the Peace Arch News gives some insight into the provincial attitude and is fairly recent.]

The current shoreline route is vulnerable to sea level rise and more extreme weather events due to climate change. There have been landslides (4 to 5 a year) and erosion along the route and the increasing number of trains, between 16 and 20 day some with 120 or more cars, gives concern for pedestrian safety. The carriage of dangerous goods is also a concern in the light of the Lac Megantic disaster. The community in Crescent Beach gets physically cut off when a train stops on its crossing, and an overpass there is both cost prohibitive and would have a huge impact.  Trespass on the railway is frequent but may be reduced by the extension of the walkway from its present 2.2km to 3.3km: a lease amendment request has been made to BNSF.


The four possible routes shown here have three options which would require rail relocation in Blaine, which may be a significant issue there. The fourth, westernmost alignment, while requiring expensive tunneling would avoid the need to relocate track in Washington. While the initial studies have been done more work is required to produce the full cost benefit analysis required by the CTA. Prime Minister Trudeau’s interest in increased infrastructure spending was cited as a reason for optimism.

The relocation of the track would produce at least 15 minutes of travel time savings on the passenger service. The loss of the scenic ride along the current route seemed a reasonable trade off.


Written by Stephen Rees

October 9, 2016 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Railway

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Tube Chat?

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CityLab recently posted an article “Why Londoners Bristled at the Invitation to Chat on the Tube

I know that I have written about this idea on here somewhere before, but it really seemed to me that Tanvi Misra missed a few very significant issues.

For a start the idea was dreamed up by an American “originally from a small town in Colorado”. If he had tried this idea in New York he would have got an even more irritated response. Life in big cities anywhere is going to be different from small towns.

When I commuted in Toronto, both on the TTC and GO, it really wasn’t that much different to commuting in London. Possibly slightly more polite, but no-one expected to chat. Victoria was quite different. The people on the bus I used – same bus, same times every day – soon regarded me as a “bus buddy” (I term I had never heard before). But then Victoria has one very big employer – the BC government – and most of these people were using the then new innovation of the annual government employee bus pass (paid for by payroll deductions). So right off the bat there was something in common. We were by no means as anonymous as most London commuters are.

That is not to say that there are not little social groups of regular commuters in big cities. I knew of several card “schools” on the Southern Region (as it was then known), for instance.

But the biggest mistake I think Jonathan Dunne made was using London Transport’s typography and house style in his badges and literature – including the famous roundel symbol.


Intentional or not, this made it look like something promoted by Transport for London.

Actually kudos to the kvetchers who made their ripostes look equally official.

I think a lot of people would resent this intrusion much more if they believed it was something to do with officialdom.  The clanger – “Keep Calm and Carry On” – has been equally widely misunderstood.

When I was a London commuter, I actually looked forward to the trip every day. It was a very useful interlude, back in the days before cell phones. You were literally out of reach. I used to read the Guardian every morning on the way to work – and a library book every evening on the way home. I chose routes and modes that were reasonably likely to provide me with a seat most days, or at least adequate space when standing.

I know that I wasn’t wearing a button that said “please respect my right to privacy” because that was widely understood, and didn’t need to be explained. Except to American tourists. We lived on one of the lines that terminated near Windsor Castle.

Subsequently I have discovered that I quite like talking to strangers. Though I really cannot bring myself to emulate Brandon Stanton.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 6, 2016 at 4:59 pm

Posted in transit

The Bicycle Diaries: Episode 11

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My bike getting a tune up by

There has been a very long gap since Episode 10, but the bike has been removed from storage, fettled up by Velofix and taken out. Because my partner, Amanda, bought her own bike. She likes walking, and, as I am sure you know, I like talking, and we both do a lot of that together. She has been less than keen to get on a bike, especially in traffic, but has joined in some of my bikey adventures – such as using bike share systems in Paris and New York, and renting bikes in San Francisco and Seattle. She is also of the opinion that I need more exercise, and so does my GP.

Some of our rides are documented on flickr and facebook. We have been down Point Grey Road a couple of times now – and she rode her new bike home, on her own, from the bike shop (next door to MEC) along 10th Ave and the new Arbutus Greenway. We have also now repeated a couple of earlier rides of mine though the Othello Tunnels and along the Myra Canyon Trestles. 

This morning we put the bikes on the car rack again, and drove to West Kent Avenue South. From there we rode over the Canada Line Bridge and along River Road. There has been a lot of change in this bit of Richmond, and it was not clear if we could even get on the north dyke. Then down Shell Road, where not nearly enough has been done. There is still no bike path between the north dyke and Highway 99, and that last intersection is still as hazardous to cyclists as ever. Probably not the City of Richmond’s fault entirely, as the provincial MoTI controls the intersection itself, but there is plenty of space to do better. There is some construction on Shell between Highway 91 and Westminster Highway: there is no clear alternative to the trail which is not yet finished.

The signage on the roadway between the end of the trail at King Road and Steveston Highway is still equivocal. There is both a shared use separated trail (bikes and peds) and sharrows on the road itself with Share The Road signs. None of the major intersections has crossing buttons convenient to cyclists but then that is true of all of Richmond. We stuck to Dyke Road rather than the gravel trail, just because it is a much better surface – even nice new tarmac past Finn Slough – which makes for faster and more comfortable riding. The same is true past No 3 Road but there is much change at the foot of No 2 thanks to redevelopment of the fish packing plant there. Sadly, the bike shop that was there has gone.

Garry Point

We stopped at Pajo’s on Garry Point for lunch, but I am not at all sure in hindsight that was a great idea. Maybe it would have been better to have taken a longer time out after eating fish and chips before riding again. MEC was organising some kind of race on the West Dyke, but that seemed to be almost over. Not so the organised hiking group – Yoho Hikes – who seemed to need to walk four abreast in large clumps. The dyke trail was very busy with cyclists and walkers – and I had forgotten how windy it can be. So a long slow slog up to Terra Nova, and then more construction on the dyke itself under the No 2 Road bridge. The paved path in front of the oval all the way to Cambie is a delight, even the curvy swoopy bits, with hardly anyone around. We rode through the Casino access rather than the posted bike route as it seemed more direct. And then tackled that bridge again, at which point I found I had to get off, winded, and push up the “hill” to the peak of the bridge.

All told 35.4 km in about 3 hours which excludes the time for lunch. But then this was supposed to be fun not record breaking. Beautiful day but no pictures, as I was trying not to stop. Maybe I need to get a GoPro.   We also spent a lot of the time riding single file – which had also been the case on the Myra Canyon – which meant much less discussion en route. At least when riding I can not only keep going, but also go faster than Amanda when necessary – which isn’t the case when we hike longer distances. In that case the “need” to take pictures provides useful respite, but she does like to walk fast when she can. We recently did a short 4.5km hike around Lightning Lake in Manning Park which is supposed to take one and a half hours and finished that in a bit more than two.

I must say that I was disappointed but not surprised that so little has been done to improve cycling in Richmond since I left. I used to do this circuit quite often, and hardly any of it is  improved, apart from the bit by the Oval. I also think that when we do it again, we will find somewhere to park along the trail, and avoid the Canada Line bridge altogether.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 2, 2016 at 6:42 pm

Posted in bicycles

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Double-decker buses could roll into Metro Vancouver

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This was the headline in the Surrey Leader last week.

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond says double deckers are run by BC Transit in Victoria as well as his former employer Sound Transit on intercity routes between Everett and Seattle, where they’re popular with passengers.

Desmond said he believes they could have potential to add capacity in certain parts of Metro Vancouver, although they couldn’t run on routes with low obstructions.

“They would not fit through the Massey Tunnel, for example,” Desmond said.

Well the buses currently used in Victoria wouldn’t, but that is only because they are 4.4m “highbridge” buses.

BCT 9510

But that is the tallest buses get, and there are many places where these buses are too high. And the manufacturers do produce much lower double deck buses. Some of the more recent purchases for GO Transit in Toronto, for example.

DI410 - GO 8311 - Toronto, York University - 29 Sep 2016

Paul Bateson photo on flickr, used by permission

This is an Alexander Dennis Enviro500 Super Lo version at 3.91 metres high. The Massey Tunnel has a posted height limit of 4.1m: similarly there is a restriction on Highway 1 west of Abbotsford of 4.3m. So again for service on the express 555 from Langley to Braid Station, double deckers would provide much more seated accommodation. I would warn, however, that the seating currently in use on both Translink Express services and BC Transit double deckers is too close for comfort on longer distance services. Packing as many people as possible onto a bus may be good short term economics, but for passenger retention and more diversion from private cars, I think people of over 1.7m need to have adequate knee room when seated. Just because many airlines go for tight seat pitch is not a good example for other modes!

And while we are on the subject of higher capacity buses I can think of some routes where a few of these would not go amiss

Hess Lightram 3 - TPG (Transports Publics Genevois) n°783

Geneva Public Transport Hess Lightram 3 on the airport route

Written by Stephen Rees

October 1, 2016 at 11:25 am

Posted in transit, Transportation

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