Archive for March 21st, 2008
Enduring traffic congestion like Europe’s would drive us insane
VANCOUVER — This is a column about traffic congestion – and the absurd notion that we know anything about it when it comes to the downtown streets of cities such as Vancouver or Toronto. Or that we should start taxing Canadians who drive downtown in an effort to persuade them to leave their cars at home because our streets are a chaotic mess.
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I am fairly certain that this would form the basis of a third post this morning. Because for one thing no one is suggesting that a tax to “drive downtown” is being proposed here. Though of course that is what lazy journalists think when they see the words “congestion charge”.
I simply could not get into canada.com this morning and have not even looked at my Google alerts yet. But I think I have put up enough now to satisfy all those splogs that feed off me. And I must go do some laundry.
I am certain that this is a very bad idea indeed. Mr McGuinty’s reasoning is that this will “protect jobs in the province’s sliding manufacturing sector”. But what it does is prop up enterprises that would not survive in an open market. I think that what is really means is that he has been listening to Buzz Hargrove, who of course is thinking about his union’s members – which is what union leaders are paid to do.
For many years the US has required its grants for transit equipment to be spent in North American companies. While that protected jobs, it did not help those companies compete in the international market place. North American buses are sold nowhere else. Because they are big and heavy and inefficient, and they are designed by committees of officials. Elsewhere, research and development produced a much greater diversity of vehicle types. Engines became cleaner and much more efficient. When BC Transit started looking for double deckers and midibuses it bought them in the UK. You might like to try a ride on them next time you are in Victoria.
Many North American bus manufacturers found that even with a protected home market they could not compete. Flyer was bought up by a Dutch company. Nova is now owned by Volvo. GM got out of the bus business altogether. The same has happened in the rail transit market – with the one notable exception of Bombardier who diversified from aerospace by buying up European train and tram makers – and is now thinking about splitting the two operations. US government intervention to try and get Boeing into the tram business was an unmitigated disaster – no-one would buy another tram from them. The same is true of Rohr and BART trains.
North American manufacturers can compete internationally. Nearly every new diesel locomotive hauling freight in Britain was built in London, Ontario. And that has nothing to do with edicts from Queen’s Park.
When governments intervene in these kind of purchasing decisions you end up with SkyTrain or Fast Ferries. Or the CLRV – a Swiss based, UTDC made tram that was heavier and more expensive than any competing product on the market at that time and never sold anywhere else. Just like SkyTrain (just to beat Malcolm to his favourite punch line) .
One reason that we could not get home refuelling of natural gas cars going here was that the only small compressor was Swiss. Very nice engineering, of course, but you had to pay Swiss Francs for it – and with the Canadian dollar as low as it was then that made the whole proposition uneconomic. Our dollar is now much stronger, which means German ferries and British buses look like bargains. Propping up uncompetitive companies with subsidies and buy local requirements has not proved successful except where it is a temporary transition program, with a clear sunset clause. And the way US companies got around the buy local requirements is a long post in itself. That does not mean that we should always go for cheap – the Hungarian Ikarus buses Ottawa bought are an object lesson there too. But there is a very good reason why Toyota is now bigger than GM. And it isn’t home market protection – even though they have that too!
This follows on nicely from Michael Geller’s Lessons from Around the World. An architect in London has been trying to recreate the social diversity that used to make so many of the now over priced fashionable areas interesting. He has also noticed that if he puts in mixed use that includes shops too small to appeal to the big chains, the retail environment improves too.
It’s one of those ideas that when you read it, it seems so obvious you wonder why it hasn’t been tried before. But as Michael explained last night developers are herd animals that make sheep look like individualists.
Trevor Boddy also has taken the time to spell out what this would mean here and I will break from my usual practice and let him have a lot of space.
In Vancouver, our existing models for social housing provision have broken down, be it the 20 per cent of site areas set aside for affordable housing that then never get government funding, or the hyper-concentration in the Downtown Eastside of what little social housing does actually get built.
We now hear talk of the government reneging on its commitment to the Little Mountain social housing site (west of Main Street, south of 33rd Avenue) by redeveloping it as market housing, and market housing alone.
The social housing units promised for this project may instead be shipped to another part of the city, almost certainly further east.
Vancouver needs to stick by its long-established policies promoting variety in housing tenures and types, and reject this Faustian tradeoff of less diversity for more units elsewhere.
One of Vancouver’s historic strengths is its social and racial integration. Eastside arterial strips need to be developed with much denser concentrations of market housing and new offices, but we also need creative ways to integrate the needy, the aged, and the creative into our equivalents of Sloane Square.
Some of Paul Davis and Partners’ ideas on display in the Duke of York Square formula might work for Robson, South Granville, Dunbar or West 41st.
I am pleased to pass along to you the latest video from Damien Gillis. The text below the video is from an email from him. To those who think that this project is a good idea I have disabled comments to this post, as I have no wish to give you a platform. If a new road is needed (and I doubt that too) there is an alternate route which the government, typically, has simply ignored even though it would be faster, cheaper and have none of the impacts of the SFPR.
A recent visit by Federal Opposition Leader Stephane Dion to Delta, BC’s ecological treasure Burns Bog was an opportunity to discuss the threats to the Bog and the community of Delta by the BC government’s proposed South Fraser Perimeter Road truck highway. Mr. Dion learned from experts that the Bog is the “lungs of the lower mainland,” the largest urban carbon sink in the North America, and vital to the survival of the world’s largest salmon run in the interconnected Fraser River. He also learned that, according to Environment Canada and the regional Burns Bog Scientific Advisory Panel’s under-publicized reports, the SFPR would essentially destroy Burns Bog. It would also increase mortality rates along the route–with seven Delta schools within a kilometer of the highway–force hundreds of North Deltans from their homes (many heritage), and steamroll over hundreds of acres of farmland. Mr. Dion also learned of an alternate route to the SFPR, known as the Hoover/Naas proposal, that carries none of the above detrimental impacts because it follows an existing rail right-of-way removed from homes, schools and the Bog. This railway is already entirely owned by the the province. The video also provides a summary of some shocking statements uncovered amongst the government’s environmental assessment application documents, such as this one, which suggests there could be an economic upside to people getting sick from increased air pollution:
“With increased air pollution there can possibly be increased employment (e.g., in the health sector) because of the economic activity associated with correcting the results of its impacts.” (Government documents for SFPR: Technical Volume 16, pg. 39, 4.3.5 Employment)