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Archive for January 2014

California’s Bullet Train Hobbled by Fresh Legal, Fiscal and Political Uncertainties

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This post is taken from an email newsletter I subscribe to. In very small, pale grey italic print at the bottom of each issue appears the following statement “Please feel free to forward or reprint this item with appropriate citation” So that is what I am doing.

Much of the rest of the “first world” enjoys High Speed Rail. Japan lead the way – still does – China is building lots of it. France has been very successful – and has pretty much eliminated internal passenger air traffic. Electric trains produce a lot less ghg than jet aircraft – and they are competitive both on time and price. Only North America seems immune. About the closest we can get is the Acela service Amtrak provides in the North East Corridor – though nowhere else would regard that as “high speed”. Ken Orski provides insight into why changing this situation looks very much like Mission Impossible. California HSR is not dead yet. But it sure looks like it faces some formidable obstacles.

Amtrak Cascades, being operated by Spanish Talgo trains could be a lot faster than they are – but they are on freight railways. Given their own right of way they could be very competitive with I5. There are good cases for high speed trains between several city pairs in Canada including Calgary – Edmonton, Toronto – Ottawa – Montreal. Possibly even Toronto – Chicago or Toronto – New York. But given this analysis, I am not going to expect to ride one of these on my lifetime. Pity.

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Barely recovered from the damaging effects of the Sacramento Court ruling denying the California High Speed Rail Authority access to Prop 1A bond funding, the bullet train project has had to face fresh challenges.

First came the news that Congress has zeroed out any funds for high speed rail in the FY 2014 omnibus appropriation bill, the fourth straight year no new monies have been provided. This put to rest any lingering hopes of a future resumption of congressional funding for the California bullet train. But it has not deterred the California High Speed Rail Authority from officially still expressing a hope for federal subsidies. “We believe that it is reasonable for the federal government to continue investing in intercity and high speed passenger rail systems, like California,” Authority Chairman Dan Richard stated in his recent congressional testimony.

Next came a House Subcommittee on Railroads hearing on “The Challenges Facing California High Speed Rail.” Committee chairman Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) wanted some “straightforward answers to straightforward questions” as he put it in his opening statement. Specifically, how was the Authority going to match the $2.25 billion the Federal Government has provided to the project, now that the court has foreclosed the possibility of using Proposition 1A bond funds? And where would the remaining funds to complete the entire 300-mile Initial Operating Segment (IOS) come from?

Cap-and-Trade Funds as State Matching Contribution

Authority Chairman Dan Richard had some straightforward though not necessarily satisfying (to Rep. Denham) answers. Governor Brown, Richard said, has sent a letter to FRA reaffirming the State’s commitment to honor California’s obligation to match the federal spending. The matching money would come from the cap-and-trade pollution trading funds.

Richard confessed he could not predict whether the state legislature would approve the use of cap-and-trade funds for the project. Even if those funds were to be approved, they would not become available by the April 1 deadline when the state must start matching the federal grant. The Chairman did not elaborate how the Authority would handle its obligation, come April 1.(However, in the Governor’s proposed new budget there is a provision to advance $29 million to keep the project moving. The loan, which would come from the state transportation account, could presumably be used as a first down payment in the required matching funds).

Nor did Chairman Richard mention the strong opposition by environmental groups, notably the Sierra Club. “The problem with taking that money and applying it to high-speed rail,” said Kathryn Phillips, head of California’s Sierra Club, “is that we don’t anticipate that we’re going to get the benefits of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the short term. … It is irresponsible to not apply that money to those programs that will get you greenhouse gas emission reductions now.” Other critics alleged that the HSR project does not meet the legal test that it would result in reductions of greenhouse gas emission that are “real, quantifiable, verifiable and enforceable” as the law requires. Editorial opinion of some California newspapers (San Jose Mercury News, U-T San Diego) echoed these criticisms.Even the LA Times, a steadfast supporter of the project, expressed some doubts (“Yet the delays, the rising cost, the judge’s ruling and the waning public support should give pause to even the strongest advocates. Can the rail authority line up a financing plan? Is the project still viable? We hope the answer is yes. But the state shouldn’t spend a dime of cap-and-trade money on it until we know for sure.”)

A Re-defined “Usable Segment”

Chairman Richard did not address the court ruling requiring the Authority to identify sources of funds and show completed environmental clearances for the entire 300-mile Initial Operating Segment extending from Merced to San Fernando Valley. Instead, Richard testified that the Authority’s revised funding plan will consider the 130-mile construction section from Merced to north of Bakersfield to be the new “usable segment.” By connecting to existing Amtrak service at Bakersfield, the Chairman said, this stretch will have operational utility, hence it will qualify as a “usable segment” within the meaning of Proposition 1A. The judicial rulings pertaining to the longer 300-mile stretch from Merced to San Fernando Valley are thus no longer relevant in his opinion.

But longtime critic, attorney Michael Brady does not see this as a meaningful solution. The re-defined Merced-to-Bakersfield usable segment will be conventional rail only, he told us, whereas Proposition 1A requires that a “usable segment” be electrified, with all the attributes of a genuine high speed rail system. Moreover, Proposition 1A says a usable segment must operate without an operating subsidy and must have adequate ridership. The Authority’s redefined usable segment will flunk both tests, Brady said. “Hooking it up to an existing Amtrak line will not get them out of these requirements.”

Long-Term Funding

As for long-term funding, a precise funding plan for the entire system is not possible, Richard testified. However, the Governor’s budget proposal “establishes an ongoing state commitment of cap-and-trade proceeds to the project.” The measure includes an initial $58 million for planning and $191 million for construction and right-of-way acquisition in the first phase of the project. Once the line to San Fernando Valley (Palmdale) has been completed and operational, the opportunity for private investment will be ” greatly increased” according to Richard.

“This is an internationally proven investment model and is common to almost all recent high speed rail projects in the world, where capital investment begins with the public sector and then becomes shared with the private sector” to pay for further expansion, Richard testified. As an example, he cited high speed rail systems in France, Spain and The Netherlands which, he said, attracted private investment once ridership was established. However, the parallel is not quite correct. True, European high speed rail systems were able to attract private sector interest after EU opened up cross-border rail passenger services to competition in 2009 . But the public-private partnerships took the form of running private high speed rail services (such as Thello, Westbahn and NTV) on publicly-owned rail infrastructure—they did not involve private capital contributions to expand the physical facilities of the high speed rail networks.

Despite Chairman Richard’s reassuring statements, the prospect for future private investment in the California HSR project still remains very much an open question.

Federal Railroad Administration Position

At the hearing, the Federal Railroad Administration and its Deputy Administrator, Karen Hedlund also came in for some sharp questioning. Why has the agency not suspended reimbursements until the High Speed Rail Authority presents a viable plan to identify a new source of the required state match, Chairman Denham wanted to know. Given so much uncertainty around the project, why wouldn’t FRA take the prudent step to hold off spending more taxpayer dollars until they are satisfied that California has remedied these legal setbacks?

Hedlund chose not to respond directly to the Chairman’s questions. Instead, she stated that “at this time,” the Authority was not in violation of the grant agreement. However, she conceded that should California fail to match the federal grants as required by the funding agreement (i.e. beginning April 1), the government could collect the owed matching funds by withholding other federal grants. Rep. Denham followed this up by introducing a bill, with the support of every member of the state’s Republican delegation, to suspend federal spending on high speed rail “until sufficient non-federal funds are available.”

The Governor’s Surprising and “Desperate” Move

On January 24, in an unusual move, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration petitioned the California Supreme Court directly to overturn the Superior Court ruling that barred the State from selling the Proposition 1A approved bonds The state’s request to skip the appellate court review is considered as unprecedented. “In my 47 years of appellate practice, I have never seen something like this,” said Michael Brady, one of the attorneys for the Central Valley landowners who sued the Rail Authority.The Governor’s move is “an act of desperation,” observed the respected California columnist Dan Walters. The State in its brief argued that the normal appeal process could take years to resolve and the delay would cause “irreparable injury absent immediate intervention by this Court.” The brief is asking the High Court for an answer by March 1.

As reported above, the Authority is facing an April 1 deadline to begin matching the federal grant with state funds. There are speculations that, threatened with a cut-off of federal funds in the event of non-compliance with the deadline and having concluded that using cap-and-trade funds might be politically risky given the strong environmentalist opposition, the Brown administration concluded that it had no alternative but to take this drastic step in an effort to gain access to the bond funds.

The Authority’s move has caught observers by surprise. Just ten days earlier Chairman Richard gave the impression that the Authority would comply with the judge’s ruling and re-do the funding plan. “My view is that we go back and do exactly what the Judge has said,” Richard testified before the House Railroads Subcommittee. .

Back in December, we wrote that further delays in the project’s groundbreaking (already more than a year behind schedule), the prospect of multiple challenges over bond validation, a likelihood of drawn out negotiations over right-of-way acquisition and expropriation and, most importantly, the Authority’s inability to identify credible sources of non-federal money to complete the entire 300-mile line to the San Fernando Valley, “all add up to a very problematic future for this transformative project.” The events and disclosures over the past month have done nothing to lessen this impression.

Kenneth Orski
Editor/Publisher
Innovation NewsBriefs (celebrating our 25th year of publication)

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2014 at 11:41 am

Breaking the Political Gridlock

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Anne Golden at SFU Woodwards on January 28, 2014

Actually I have shortened the title: what was advertised was “Breaking the Political Gridlock to Address the Transportation Challenge: Lessons Learned from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area”

The first of a new lecture series with the title “Rethinking Transportation: New Voices, New Ideas” by the City Program. Gordon Price announced that the next two lectures will be by Andrew Coyne and Charles Montgomery, but he is also asking for ideas of new people we have not heard from before to address the topic. He invited suggestions to be sent by email to price (at)  sfu.ca

I found myself by chance seated with “the great and the good” name dropping Mike Harcourt, Nancy Oleweiler, Clive Rock, Mark Allison, Ken Cameron, and many other familiar faces.

The evening started with a video on the Greater Toronto Areas transportation challenges. Sadly so far all I can find now using transitpanel.ca address is this statement from the Minister.

I have created a storify from the tweets of other people present

Anne was the Chair of a Transit Investment Advisory Panel set up by the Premier of Ontario to examine funding options for transit expansion in the Greater Toronto & Hamilton area.

UPDATE  Jan 31

Making the rest of this blog post redundant, PriceTags now has the “complete and slightly revised text of Anne Golden’s lecture”.

She said that the issues in Toronto are different to Vancouver but similar.  Population growth is rapid – and the region of 6m now is expected to reach 10 m in 18 years. The tipping point of congestion has already passed. “The situation is intolerable. Everyone agrees it’s a crisis but no-one wants to pay for it.” The region is  already exceeding earlier population forecasts and has reached the level now expected for 2021.

Vancouver was always seen as leading the way with its land use policies – the Agricultural Land Reserve and “intensification” of urban development 18 years ago when Translink was proposed. The Premier of Ontario was uncomfortable with the present situation but she doesn’t have a majority government

Context

The Premier required a fast turnaround: the panel was given three months to produce its report and was already appointed when Anne was approached to Chair it. “The Mayor of Toronto was already misleading the public on a number of topics including transit.” It was widely recognized that finding a solution to congestion would be the “cornerstone of success” but there was considerable doubt it could be achieved.

Reaction to the announcement of the Panel was cynical: it was portrayed by the media as a way to postpone decisions. The Scarborough line was dominating discussion. The Mayor had rejected replacement of the existing SkyTrain like Scarborough LRT with a more conventional light rail system. He claimed that a subway extension was the only acceptable solution even though ridership would not justify the higher construction cost. Metrolinx was rehired to review its decision that LRT was the most suitable technology. The chaotic result destroyed public trust in the process. There is in fact $16bn worth of construction on transit under way now – including a heavy rail connection to Pearson Airport from an existing GO Transit line using diesel multiple units (see notes below).

The panel produced a plan that is “practical, doable” with unanimous support across the panel – which was drawn from a wide variety of interests inkling business and the Automobile Association. The simple solution chosen was to select a few revenue tools, and then borrow  against this new revenue stream. It included a raise in gas tax,  a “redeployment” of  some of the HST and a half percent increase in Corporate Income Tax (CIT). The amount of borrowing is to be a low multiple (2.5x) of the stream and does not affect the provincial debt. It did not ask too much from any one group.

The were dozens of meetings with groups and the public.

Hard truths

  • Subways are not the only good transit
  • Transit does not automatically drive growth: transit must link up places effectively
  • Construction is not the only cost
  • Riders are not the only beneficiary: driving commute times in Toronto exceed that of Los Angeles and building transit will relieve congestion

UPDATE Thanks to Price Tags here is a Toronto Star article which sets out six truths more clearly – notice too that the links at the bottom of the article not longer point to the source material

The benefits are spelled out in the report. The myth was that nothing was happening, and also that we can pay for transit expansion by cutting waste in the existing bureaucracy. This is the mantra of the Mayor and the opposition but it is not the case. “Where’s the waste?” The province already has the lowest spending per capita  – lowest in the country – and it is rising at less than the rate of inflation. Ontario is reducing its deficit. It is also unrealistic to sell capital assets such as land to fund transit.

After the report was released the tone of the media became more respectful. There was also some new research on employment patterns, which showed that the Metrolinx proposals no longer met expected demands so they had to “make some tweaks”. They did this by setting  priorities in the plan – which previously had not been included. Transit investments must ease congestion, and the Yonge St subway line is already congested. People already travel north to board southbound trains as they were unable to get on full services further south. The “Big Move” proposal did not add up to a network. The major adjustment was to build a relief line first to reduce existing congestion in the system.

There is widespread distrust of transit accounting. It was proposed to phase in gas tax at 3c per litre initially eventually to rise to 10c, plus the CIT increase and HST diversion.

It is critical how these things are communicated. The CAA’s Executive Director felt it would be unpopular but “it’s the right thing to do”. The gas tax could be capped if necessary and the revenue replaced by a switch to more HST diversion. “Don’t have to go back and ask again.”

There is a two year “kickstart program” including desirable improvements such as real time next bus information at bus stops.

The price of gas went up 5c since the report was released. “No one noticed.” Gas tax will still be less than Montreal and the average impact was calculated at $80 per family per year. At the same time it was also projected that $800 would be the cost of more congestion but the mainstream media ignored that.

Business was in favour of getting a bigger, better labour pool. Companies that had moved to the outer suburbs were moving back into town to get better labour. And even after the increase Ontario will still have a comparatively low  CIT.

Tolls are seen by the public to be avoidable. But even though they would have to be applied to every route they would take too long to implement, and the cost of collection would be high.
Road pricing will be needed eventually

As one of those consulted remarked: “Dedicated or fuggeddaboudid”

Transparency is going to be critical. Depoliticized decision making will replace decisions  “unimpaired by any information”. Every project will have a published business case analysis.
The Scarborough subway is not justified by ridership: but even Karen Stintz of the TTC defended it on the grounds that “Scarborough does not feel part of the City”. Investments must be based on more than just self esteem. This had given rise to projects like the “Sheppard stubway” – “at least you can always get a seat on it!”

Each proposal is designed as part of an integrated network

Governance

Toronto Hamilton doesn’t have a region wide government. Many people suggest “Make it an authority like the airport”. Metrolinx does not have tax power

They would like to be able to capture land value increase but it is not seen as a reliable revenue source. She said that the Reichmann company drove the financing of Crossrail in London.

All governments have a role to play, but the feds are “missing in action”. Federal contributions are ad hoc and not programmed. Jane Jacobs said that large cities are what drive the economy of Canada (as opposed to natural resources).

Guidelines have to become policies with teeth. It is not about ideology. We must all be on the same side. We need champions. The strategy is not just about transit it is about transportation [and should also be about land use].

Media

There is a “new world of ADD communication” Reporters is the “lock up” at the reports release were already tweeting and filing before the report document was handed out. These days, she said, everyone is an expert. [Actually I heard that forty years ago when I started work for the GLC: everyone with a driver’s license thinks its an advanced degree in traffic engineering]

There is a “dumbed down” broadcast media driven by a short news cycle. They only rporte th gas tax increase with instant responses from live interviews with startled people at the gas pumps. “Informed people are [portrayed as] elites  – who drink cappuccino!”

She said “Democracy works best with filters” and equated the Referendum with “mob rule”. She also pointed to an [Gary Mason’s] article about the Denver transit referendum in Monday’s Globe & Mail [paywall] People had time to absorb what was proposed – and could see benefits for themselves. Business leaders got behind the proposals. There is “no short cut”.

Trust

A dedicated standalone fund is necessary but not sufficient. People are influenced by events like the Senate scandal and find institutions untrustworthy – including the church. But they
trust the airline pilot or the surgeon “because you have no choice”

There is no single rule for leadership – despite all the books proclaiming their own. There are always going to the inherent tensions requiring  compromises and tradeoffs. There is no template for regional government: the Greater Toronto Services Board (which preceded Metrolinx) did not last. Land use and economic planning is not integrated – and TransLink does not meet the test of good governance.

Our reputation is at stake, “the region that does it right … mostly.”

The will be ten million people in 18 years time in the GTHA. City regions cannot rest on their laurels. Greater Vancouver  produces about half of BC’s GDP: the GTA 40% of Ontario’s

Q&A

1. Are there many other regions in same boat?

New York (pedestrians, bicycles, role of design) Washington (streetcar), Denver, LA (at long last). We did study what others are doing

2. Intermediate Capacity Transit Systems were not considered in Toronto. Do you have an a priori down on SkyTrain?

I don’t know nearly enough knowledge about technology to answer that. The business case is the analysis to determine mode choice. “Buried LRT” was chosen for the Eglinton Line (“to keep it out of the way of the traffic”) but its business case never published. It is now halfway built but great care was taken not to take away the road space from cars.

3.  Were walking, biking, car sharing considered?

Our remit was  very specific. We not have time to consider cycling

4.  Transit Oriented Development:  what research did you do on value capture?

Didn’t get into value uplift not done enough

5. What would you have done if you had had 6 months?

If we had we would have done more consultation, and considered options like no parking on King and Queen Streets [major streetcar routes in downtown Toronto] as well as reconsidering truck delivery rules

6. Does concentration on office employment makes peak hours worse?

An excellent relief line will help

7.  Development charges?

These are under review. We don’t charge the true cost of debt in suburbs. They got hooked on Development Cost Charges: they are a perverse incentive “like a drug”. 

8.  You talked about congestion not Climate change or carbon taxes.  Flooding Richmond might be a bigger cost than congestion

We didn’t look at Carbon tax not viable. Canada is becoming less interested in being green
People are stretched and cranky

Cost of collection of tolls is too high

Revenue from gas tax has a limited life. The 1m more cars the rein expects will help but it is time limited

9 Province doesn’t have a clue about munis

From where you sit is what you see. TTC is bigger than Metrolinx but they have to concentrate on immediate political situations. Maybe need a provincial office for the Metro area – that used to be the case in Toronto when Gardner Church ran it. BC should bring Metro Vancouver and Translink together

10 Do people understand opportunity cost (citing the avoided cost of congestion she referenced)? E.g. road tolls

“I am not optimistic that there is enough white space”. The speed of communications defeats the consideration of complex issues. “The big lie is winning”

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NOTES

GTA Toronto population is 5.8 million.

“Big Move” is a comprehensive 25 year $50bn transit plan for GTHA with a goal of a 33% mode share. Phase 1 is the $16bn under way now which includes $800m for a makeover of Union Station. The Bloor Danforth subway extension to Scarborough City Centre will cost ~$3bn. The Eglinton Crosstown line is 12 miles png and will open in 2020. The 7 mile Finch West line will start in 2015 with scheduled completion in 2020. An 8 mile Sheppard East LRT will connect the Sheppard subway  terminal at Don Mills to Morningside starting in 2017 completion by 2021. The Union Pearson line will be open next year. 37 miles of BRT are being built in York Region and Mississauga. Tunnelling has been completed on a 5.4 mile extension of the Spadina subway to Vaughn. It will open in 2016 and is the first TTC line outside of the city.

source: Trains February 2014

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2014 at 10:52 am

Rail versus pipeline is the wrong question

The following article arrived in my in box this morning from David Suzuki . I am copying it in its entirety since it expresses exactly what I would write.

I have not used the image that accompanied the text since it does not actually depict the dangerous DOT111 cars that are one of the causes of the present problems. DSF chose a picture from flickr (good) that comes from Europe, where they use a quite different car (oops!). The picture below is from one of my flickr contacts in Quebec and shows “a loaded tank car on CN 710, stopped for a crew change at Turcot West in Montreal. Train is destined for Ultramar refinery at St-Romuald, QC (near Quebec City)”.

DOT111 rail car with crude oil placard

DOT111 rail car with crude oil placard
© Photo by Michael Berry on flickr – used with permission

Debating the best way to do something we shouldn’t be doing in the first place is a sure way to end up in the wrong place. That’s what’s happening with the “rail versus pipeline” discussion. Some say recent rail accidents mean we should build more pipelines to transport fossil fuels. Others argue that leaks, high construction costs, opposition and red tape surrounding pipelines are arguments in favour of using trains.

But the recent spate of rail accidents and pipeline leaks and spills doesn’t provide arguments for one or the other; instead, it indicates that rapidly increasing oil and gas development and shipping ever greater amounts, by any method, will mean more accidents, spills, environmental damage – even death. The answer is to step back from this reckless plunder and consider ways to reduce our fossil fuel use.

If we were to slow down oil sands development, encourage conservation and invest in clean energy technology, we could save money, ecosystems and lives – and we’d still have valuable fossil fuel resources long into the future, perhaps until we’ve figured out ways to use them that aren’t so wasteful. We wouldn’t need to build more pipelines just to sell oil and gas as quickly as possible, mostly to foreign markets. We wouldn’t have to send so many unsafe rail tankers through wilderness areas and places people live.

We may forgo some of the short-term jobs and economic opportunities the fossil fuel industry provides, but surely we can find better ways to keep people employed and the economy humming. Gambling, selling guns and drugs and encouraging people to smoke all create jobs and economic benefits, too – but we rightly try to limit those activities when the harms outweigh the benefits.

Both transportation methods come with significant risks. Shipping by rail leads to more accidents and spills, but pipeline leaks usually involve much larger volumes. One of the reasons we’re seeing more train accidents involving fossil fuels is the incredible boom in moving these products by rail. According to the American Association of Railroads, train shipment of crude oil in the U.S. grew from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 234,000 in 2012 – almost 25 times as many in only four years! That’s expected to rise to 400,000 this year.

As with pipelines, risks are increased because many rail cars are older and not built to standards that would reduce the chances of leaks and explosions when accidents occur. Some in the rail industry argue it would cost too much to replace all the tank cars as quickly as is needed to move the ever-increasing volumes of oil. We must improve rail safety and pipeline infrastructure for the oil and gas that we’ll continue to ship for the foreseeable future, but we must also find ways to transport less.

The economic arguments for massive oil sands and liquefied natural gas development and expansion aren’t great to begin with – at least with the way our federal and provincial governments are going about it. Despite a boom in oil sands growth and production, “Alberta has run consecutive budget deficits since 2008 and since then has burned through $15 billion of its sustainability fund,” according to an article on the Tyee website. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says Alberta’s debt is now $7 billion and growing by $11 million daily.

As for jobs, a 2012 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows less than one per cent of Canadian workers are employed in extraction and production of oil, coal and natural gas. Pipelines and fossil fuel development are not great long-term job creators, and pale in comparison to employment generated by the renewable energy sector.

Beyond the danger to the environment and human health, the worst risk from rapid expansion of oil sands, coal mines and gas fields and the infrastructure needed to transport the fuels is the carbon emissions from burning their products – regardless of whether that happens here, in China or elsewhere. Many climate scientists and energy experts, including the International Energy Agency, agree that to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, we must leave at least two-thirds of our remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

The question isn’t about whether to use rail or pipelines. It’s about how to reduce our need for both.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington

Written by Stephen Rees

January 24, 2014 at 8:21 am

How is Climate Change Reshaping Our Future?

with 4 comments

SFU Woodwards, January 22

I went to an event last night organized by The Tyee and the Stonehouse Institute. It will save me a lot of typing if you click one of those links to see what Geoff Dembicki had to say about it before it happened. By the way, the title used in the article is different from what was on the screen at the start of the event (shown above). It is not clear to me how much of the content of last night’s presentations will appear in The Tyee later. I did take some notes. There was not the same link to social media that would make a storify possible. And the way that they had set up the Q&A at the end – people were supposed to text questions through one of three media – did not seem to work very well. There certainly was no real audience engagement – and despite the suggestion that this would occur afterwards in the foyer it did happen, but in the room itself in front of the stage and was chaotic.

It also seemed to me that it failed to actually address the topic title. One far out presentation by Keith Gillard of Pangaea Ventures showed a series of illustrations from some of the more extreme projects being proposed. None were realistic – nor were they supposed to be. I did not bother to note the names of the projects. They looked horrific to me.
Panel
Jim Hoggan, Chair and co-founder of The Stonehouse Institute, and DeSmogBlog
Keith Gillard, Pangaea Ventures
Christie Stephenson, NEI Investment
Carleen Thomas, Tsleil-Waututh

Geoff Dembicki opened by saying that climate change is much bigger than other environment issues. As profound a change as the internet which impacts everything.

Jim Hoggan 
Actually promoting a book The Polluted Public Square and not presenting the views of the Suzuki Foundation of which he is Chair

There should be a more civil public discourse. He is optimistic due to people he interviewed for the purpose of writing this book

Why are we doing so little? Why aren’t we listening to the evidence.

You can pollute conversation. “Ethical oil” is a term used to make the tar sands look like fair trade coffee. Environmentalists are painted by our  opponents as extremists paid by US businesses! The PMO refers to those opposing tar sands as “foreign funded extremists”

Neil Young painted as a hypocrite by the main stream media because he uses a private jet .

Improbable terms like “ethical oil” are a  linguistic strategy to silence others.
Just as Fox TV is neither  “fair” or “balanced” – claims it makes for its “news” coverage

If there is a ruckus outside your home, you will be curious about it. But if the ruckus occurs every night it will be ignored.

How to clean up the public square? Our minds are designed for “groupish righteousness”.
Speak out against injustice in a way that does not create more hatred. “Speak the truth but not to punish” Tich Naat Han

Keith Gillard, Pangaea Ventures

Said that he had been asked by the organizers to describe the future as if all the problems had been solved [by technology]. His company uses the physical sciences to identify new solutions to problems without the environmental impacts currently being experienced

“Natural gas is cheap forever and we are not going to run out of it”. It can be a very cheap source of  hydrogen.  Renewables will continue to be a small part of energy provision for a long time. Rectenna appears to be capable of producing 90% efficient solar energy compared to the 10% of existing systems. Canada is very inefficient in energy use because energy is so cheap and plentiful.

Electricity storage – battery technologies are emerging rapidly to help cope with the intermittent nature of renewable sources like wind

dezeen_Biostamp-temporary-tattoo-electronic-circuits-by-MC10-2
MC 10 tattoo (he actually used the illustration above) shows how technology is going – your “gadgets” (tablets, phones, laptops) will be gone which is just as well since “silicon etching is nasty chemistry”.

A new insecticide developed from spider venom is completely harmless to other life forms so can be sprayed at any time without affecting humans, animals or plants. There is now a better understanding of the role of micro bacteria that co-evolved with plants and is essential to their growth. They will in future have a big role in replacing chemical fertilizers.

Algae will have a role in creating fuels, desalination of water and even sugar production [which I am not at all convinced is a Good Idea. Do we really need more sugar?] But perhaps the most important innovation will be in water cleaning.

Christie Stephenson, NEI Investments
Used only one illustration – a jagged arrow pointing upwards to the right. She said that there is a  shared assumption that growth is good for shareholders but what about the rest of us?Investors not the only stakeholders – and we need to create incentives to get executives to consider more than just short term profits. The present obsession with quarterly results and their impact on share prices is what is killing us. She said they we should expect to hear a lot about  “materiality” – which before I added that link I knew nothing about – “Reward leaders to do the right thing” Strategies and tactics for Socially Responsible Investors to deal with the “Enormity of climate change”.

Carleen Thomas, Tsleil-Waututh

Her concern was to address the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion which will impact the Burrard Inlet (the name of her FN means “the people of the inlet”). Their response is simply

No!

They have created a “Sacred Trust Initiative”, of which she is the Project Manager, to try to protect what is left of the ecosystem of the inlet.

“We try to be as inclusive as we can not just for us here and now but for future generations”

“You have to understand what your truth is.”

She learned much from her grandmothers, but was not aware of how much until she became a grandmother herself and started to pass that knowledge along to her granddaughters.

“We are installing wind and solar power”

“I have no choice but to be hopeful.”

“Protect the land and the water. That is what connects us to each other and all other life forms.”

“We have to thank Harper for bringing us together.”

“We must find a way to coexist”

We have seen the harvest from the inlet vanish. The kelp (which was used to cover the calms at the clam bake) has gone. The water is now polluted – and the red tide is more frequent. But the red tide is nature cleaning herself. “If we give space to mother earth she can heal herself.”

“Take only what you need”

They recently held new ceremonies on the water including one which involved other First Nations outside the Kinder Morgan terminal. Two helicopters circled over the water ceremony which she said made her feel that they were trying to make the ceremony seem somehow a threat to the terminal.

————-

I wanted to participate in the question and answer ceremony so I stopped taking notes to submit a question – which, of course, did not appear on the screen at all. I wanted to ask the financial people how I was supposed to convince my investment adviser to consider renewable energy and other clean tech projects which he currently rejects as too risky. Putting money in a savings account earns 1% interest – and the Bank says it will not raise rates – but an investment in solar power last year would have seen a 25% increase in share prices.

I felt that Christie Stephenson had been far too vague. Her employer is owned by the credit unions. I have been very unimpressed by the investment advice I have had from Coast Capital (which seems ever more like any other bank to me) and I wanted to know how I could put money into better things than pipelines. I think she needed to have been much more specific in her recommendations.

I did talk to Keith Gillard. The problem that I see is that natural gas is still seen by the drillers as a waste product. At least half the well output is simply flared. Not only that but our governments give the resources away for free. There are no royalties collected on many new projects. The oil sands projects only exist because of subsidies and tax breaks. It is now estimated that overall the subsidies to the oil and gas industry worldwide can be counted in trillions of dollars. Moreover they get the water for fracking for free, can put whatever they choose into it and just leave it behind afterwards. If the externalities they create for others showed up on their balance sheets, their activities would cease. I am in favour of market prices when they reflect externalities: mostly of course they don’t. If fossil fuels had to bear the cost of externalities there would be no longer any restraints on the switch to renewables.

I do not understand how we are supposed to have a dialogue when the entire process is undermined quite deliberately by a small number of very rich right wing ideologues – who are in fact wrong about nearly everything, and know only too well what the science is saying but are determined to maximize the returns on their existing investments no matter what the impacts on everyone else.

I do not understand how we can choose investments in cleaner technology when the organizations chosen to represent them here are so incoherent about how to attract and retain capital. It is quite easy to disinvest in things like oil companies and banks. It is very much harder to provide for your retirement and at the same time help to make the world a better place.

There is no level playing field. The dice are loaded. Making nice to the cheats and bullies will not change their behaviour.

—————

I hate to claim prescience – but I wrote most of the above before breakfast – a couple of hours ago. It is now 10:57 and I have just finished reading this in Mother Jones

The fact that mitigation is relatively democratic—cutting private emissions helps everybody—but adaptation, which is more and more what we seem to be going toward, is not at all democratic. In fact, it is deeply unfair. I think everybody needs to understand that. We talk about climate change as this tragedy of the commons, which kind of takes some of the moral oomph out of it—like, we’re all doing this, we’re all screwing ourselves. But that’s not a very good frame for what climate change really is. It’s not even at all. It’s not even geographically. It’s not even economically. So for those of us who have the highest historic emissions—in North America and Europe and, increasingly, China—to be able to buy our way out of this problem or to profit off it is systemically dangerous. It really raises the moral stakes. I don’t want to villianize the individuals I met, because by and large they’re good people doing things they believe in. But I think we all need to step back and understand what the stakes are.

The second thing isn’t a moral point, but sort of a practical point: We can’t trust capitalism to just fix this. We can’t trust self-interest to fix this. If those who have the most to gain from climate change happen to be the ones who are emitting the most carbon—if I’m that person, am I really going to do too much about climate change, just to save myself?

That is from McKenzie Funk, author of “Windfall,” on climate change’s potential winners — and inevitable losers.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 23, 2014 at 9:20 am

Calming Point Grey

with 13 comments

I did not get an invitation to the event yesterday morning, but I saw it on tv later. By the time I got there – early afternoon – everything was calm and peaceful again.

"Chip Wilson Way"

The NPA organized protest at the Point Grey closure left behind this reminder that Councillor George Affleck accused Vision Vancouver of being politically motivated – not to provide a bikeway but remove traffic in a neighbourhood populated by wealthy Vision supporters. He also pointed out that the Mayor’s own home is nearby – which he claimed as “interesting”
see www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/irate-kits-reside… for raw footage of the interview. It was not broadcast in its entirety.

Affleck made himself look very silly by announcing that if an NPA Council is elected this year, this scheme would be removed. Deciding that removing through traffic from a residential street will not work before the idea had had any time to be observed seems foolish. He will of course be proved wrong simply because of the law of urban traffic – it expands and contracts to fill the space available. Just as protected bike lanes on Burrard Bridge – and elsewhere in downtown – have not produced the traffic disasters predicted for them, neither will this one. Life in this neighbourhood will have been improved considerably – the connection of Tatlow Park to Volunteer Park across what is now a street is a brilliant idea and one which has been requested by the people who live in and visit the area for many years. The map below shows what has actually been implemented.

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 4.43.06 PM

It really is very modest. For people driving cars, there is still access to every property, park and facility. The map is from the City web site  and there is also an explanation here.

Even so I saw one car driver decide to drive the wrong way along the one way section and another make an illegal right turn through a No Entry (except bikes) sign. Quite what actual impact doing a U turn at high speed is supposed to convey I have no idea. Shouting at the flag people who were protecting city workers installing the new traffic devices seems even sillier.

UPDATE I recommend an article in Huffington Post by a local cyclist which looks into the realities of bike lanes versus the politics.

Point Grey Road was never designed to be an arterial. The road became a “rat run”. Using Alma as the connection it allowed people moving between the western end of  West Side to avoid 4th Avenue to get through Cornwall to Burrard. It wasn’t actually much faster if you drive at  legal speeds. Point Grey was already signed at 30 km/hr – and no-one seemed to comply with that. The process of adjustment to the loss of  what was seen as a “short cut” will be rapid. Within the next few days, trip making will have been adjusted. Suggesting otherwise is an insult to the intelligence of the drivers!  The international experience (rtf) of evaporating traffic (pdf) is extensive.

I have uploaded a set of photos to flickr. They are shown here in order – so on the map above they run left to right – or west (from Jericho) to east (to MacDonald)

Entrance to Jericho Beach

Entrance to Jericho Beach

Angle parking to the left has been removed and replaced by the bikeway which then turns into the park to connect up to the seashore route.

Jericho Park

The reverse angle to the previous shot. It looks like the angle parking will be eliminated – except perhaps for the lifeguards. There is a turning area at the the dead end, and paid parking (summer only) to the left.

City Gradall

Bike lane construction replacing angle parking

Bike lane construction

Wallace St to the left

Highbury Street

Highbury Street

Hastings Mill Park to the left – protected two way bike path constructed – angle parking replaced by parallel parking

Hastings Mill Park

Hastings Mill Park

Alma Street

Alma Street

One way section east from Alma

One way section east from Alma

Centre line removed

Centre line removed

Collingwood

Collingwood

Waterloo

Waterloo

No Entry except bicycles
Looking west at Waterloo

Blenheim

Blenheim

Traffic diverter: eastbound vehicles must turn right (south) only bikes can proceed. Westbound traffic can proceed or turn left. At this point I observed a woman in an older car drive straight through on the wrong side of the road.

New Traffic Island

New Traffic Island

Temporary New Jersey Barriers prevent traffic from First and Trutch from turning onto Point Grey – and vice versa

Road closed

From Bayswater eastwards access only – no through road to MacDonald

This will be parkland

Tatlow and Volunteer Parks will be connected and much roadway removed

Volunteer from Tatlow

Calmed Point Grey Road

2:51pm – and I have never seen this road at this time of day this quiet. Traffic calming for residential streets in other cities is something residents demand – not protest about. The NPA line is that this road belongs to all the citizens of Vancouver and hence anyone should be able to drive on it whenever they feel like it.

I wonder how long that video will stay up

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 10.59.19 AM

A tweet this morning (around 10:30am) from a staunch conservative

And even the (paywalled) Province admits 

“The closure did not appear to impact major arteries. TransLink said buses in the area did not experience significant delays, even during rush hour.”

Written by Stephen Rees

January 21, 2014 at 8:45 am

Posted in Traffic

Sherlock Holmes and the Lack of Perception

with one comment

I was looking forward to watching the new “Sherlock Holmes” on PBS last night. I was greatly disappointed. I will leave aside most of the things that got in the way – after all like most fiction one has to engage in a suspension of disbelief. But last night much of the action revolved around the notion that a bomb could be installed under the seats and floor of an Underground train, then one car detached, parked under the Houses of Parliament and then detonated on November 5. All co-ordinated apparently by a member of the House of Lords.

Throughout the program the abilities of the great detective are demonstrated. He can, for instance, conduct a forensic examination of human hair inside a toque without even a magnifying glass. But he cannot apparently tell the difference between a tube train on the Jubilee Line and the subsurface stock on the District Line.

96117 Stratford Jubilee Line 2006_0525

Jubilee Line tube train
my photo on flickr

D Stock, Wimbledon

District Line train
Ryan Taylor photo on flickr Creative Commons license

There was actually quite of lot of UndergrounD geekery in the script: a member of LUL’s staff responsible for wiping cctv footage recorded on platforms, much to and fro about unused track and stations (well documented in reality) and also the bizarre notion that a car from a train could be detached while in service and parked in secret, without anyone noticing. But while it was repeated more than once that the train was between Westminster and St James’s Park stations on the District, and some footage from the District Line was used, the critical bit utilized the Jubilee Line train. And Sherlock apparently does not notice that the large squarish “surface stock” used on the cut and cover District has become a small round tube train used on the bored tube Jubilee. Which does indeed have a disused section in the general vicinity dating from the days when it was diverted from Charing Cross to its present route under the South Bank. Just not under the Houses of Parliament.

Actually this is not the first time just such a cock-up has occurred in recent years. The James Bond movies “SkyFall” and “Die Another Day” both seem to confuse tube and surface lines.

It is possibly forgivable that people making movies tend to lean heavily on artistic license. But when the main character is a savant who is capable of rapidly scanning huge amounts of evidence – including in this case noticing the length of the underground train on the cctv footage – but misses the difference between a large train and much smaller one then the whole premise collapses. Or it did for me anyway.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 20, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Pointless fence

with 3 comments

Pointless fence, originally uploaded by Stephen Rees.

Vancouver is not going to the the Greenest City while nonsense like this is allowed to continue. The seawall around False Creek is something to be proud of. But the walking route is blocked – on the north side underneath Granville Bridge by the parking lot of the Vancouver Yacht Club. Now this might make some sense if the parking lot was fenced all round, with a locked gate. But that is not the case. The lot is open to the west and north – for vehicular access, and thus easy to use by pedestrians too. Just not this way. For a city with a transportation policy that says pedestrians come first this is utterly incomprehensible. It must date back to the bad old days of cars first and the interests of the privileged few trump those of the general public.

Via Flickr:

Written by Stephen Rees

January 19, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Posted in walking