Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for January 2016

The Case for Replacing the Massey Tunnel

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You will understand that I approach this with a background in trying to integrate transportation and regional planning. It is what I have been doing for the last 50 years, one way and another. Experience has shown us that simply building freeways as a way of dealing with traffic congestion is ineffective. As the capacity of the system is increased, the traffic gets worse, simply due to the almost immediate impact of induced demand, but in the longer term by the changes brought about in land use. Essentially expanding road capacity encourages more car trips, most of which are made in single occupant vehicles. This is about the most inefficient use of transportation infrastructure we could possibly devise. A lane of freeway can move 2,000 vehicles per hour – or 2,500 people more or less. Car occupancy in this region has been generally higher than the rest of North America – but not by very much. The same width of lane used for transit increases the potential capacity to 20,000 people per hour.

The Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) was designed to tackle this issue, by controls on land use and changing the priorities for transportation provision. We said we would build a compact urban region, with complete communities that would protect green space and increase transportation choice. The province of BC was part of that agreement but in the last ten years has decided unilaterally to behave as though it did not exist. The freeways have been widened, land owned by the provincial government has been released for development and resources for better transit have been almost but not entirely restricted to one or two major projects.

Replacing the Massey Tunnel and widening the freeway from the Oak Street Bridge to the US border was never part of the RGS. It spoke about increasing the utilisation of the existing highway by promoting the use of higher occupancy vehicles. It is no coincidence that the man most responsible for getting car sharing going here was a cranberry farmer, Jack Bell. Arguments about how to define an HOV were key to the establishment of Translink: the then Mayor of Delta insisted on 2+ for Highway 17/99 or she wasn’t going to sign on.

I think it is fair to say that most people were surprised when Christy Clark announced her plan for a massive new bridge. Most people were unaware that this was in the works – and had been for some time. But that had little to do with the conventional land use transportation framework or the regional growth strategy. It was driven by the Port of Vancouver. In fact the process has been remarkably similar to the one than led to the widening of Highway #1 and the new Port Mann Bridge. The Gateway Council was front and center – but as we now know the trucks are not using the new tolled crossing so much as the grossly overloaded and inadequate Patullo Bridge – pouring more traffic onto city streets in New Westminster. Everything that the RGS was supposed to avoid.

The process by which we have got to the present has been carefully documented by Douglas Massey: the son of the man for whom the tunnel was named. He has given me permission to place his work here as a pdf file. The Vision to Build the George Massey Tunnel & the Road to its Removal Jan 19 2016. [Please note that on February 2, 2016 I replaced the file with a revised version that contains the complete document] Here are a couple of key paragraphs to show you why you need to read the whole thing.

The intention of this document is to show the intent from day one that any crossing of the Lower Fraser River, from the Gulf of Georgia to New Westminster, shall not and will not be granted approval unless it meets the approval of the present and future needs of Harbour Boards and industry, never mind the needs of the people, their environment, or the sustainability of the Lower Fraser River for fish and wildfowl.

Port Metro Vancouver, Vice President Duncan Wilson, was quoted in a letter to the editor of Richmond Review on July of 2015, “The depth of the river is also a limitation. While the removal of the tunnel may create greater depth at that point in the river, the amount of dredging required on either side of the former tunnel would be extensive and potentially cost prohibitive.”

The facts are: that in order for the proposed 14.5m depth to be achieved and maintained, the George Massey Tunnel would have to be removed along with GVWD 30” water main (costs yet to be determined) along with a one- time dredging cost of $200 million, and an estimated annual dredging costs of $30 million. There would be other costs, before any dredging to deepen the Lower Fraser River could take place:(1) The cost of a full hydrological study that would have to be undertaken, to determine what effects this would have on the sustainability of its ecosystem to support fish and wildlife. (2) The effects it would have on the existing dikes and the costs to rebuild them if necessary. (3) Determining if the deepening would result in the salinity advancing too far up river and affecting the ability of the farmers to use the water for irrigation.

All during these discussions there has been little to no discussion about the need for a new river crossing to alleviate the congestion for people and their vehicles. The, emphasis of all previous and present discussions has been on the moving of bulk cargo. Any new crossing of the Lower Fraser River should be to improve the movement of people and not just to make it possible for the complete industrialization and dredging of the Lower Fraser River, at the expense of the river’s ecosystem, that is so vital for its sustainability and ability to preserve its fish and wetlands that are so significant to the survival of the wildfowl and mankind. Prepared by: Douglas George Massey

It seems to me that we are repeating the same pattern we saw with the Gateway. The arguments to justify the expansion of the freeways – and the building of the South Fraser Perimeter Road – were always about trucks. But the real agenda is to encourage the typical pattern of suburban sprawl that the RGS was supposed to deter. It is clear that the BC Liberals care very little about sustainability: transit, walkability, greenhouse gas reduction get verbal acknowledgement – mostly PR fluff – but the actual decision making is always based on business as usual. And not even growth based on what we can do, and are doing well. But rather the things that we have always done – which turn out to be both of little economic value and also come with huge environmental costs.

We can see why they wanted to improve the Sea to Sky – it opened up land for development in places where the regional growth plan had been careful to restrict reliance on long distance commuting into Metro Vancouver. The Port Mann Bridge is tolled, and is carrying less traffic than the old bridge as a result, but none of the rest of widened highway #1 is tolled. The Golden Ears opens up Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge in a way that the ferry never could have coped with. The SFPR and now a widened Highway 99 clearly will promote more sprawl in Delta. It is already apparent and will increasingly threaten the ALR. But as we have seen with Site C, the BC Liberals care not at all about the ability to grow our own food, now or in the future. Their treatment of wolves and bears shows how little ecology is understood.

Port expansion and the reliance on LNG are dangerous nonsense. Climate change is the most important challenge we face, but it is also an opportunity to develop new ways of being. The old model of ripping out resources and disposing of waste carelessly cannot continue. But we already have far more of our GDP coming from a new economy that could potentially be supported by renewable resources. We have huge potential for wind, wave, geothermal and solar energy. We do not need Site C – nor is there a viable market now for LNG. We do need to reduce the use of fossil fuel powered single occupant vehicles. We can grow much more of our own food. California is not going to be able to feed itself let alone us. We must protect the ALR and we do need better ways to get around than driving ourselves for every purpose. We know how to do that. Why does Christy Clark not understand any of this and why is she stuck in the 1950’s? And how can we make sure she never gets elected to anything again?


It seems the staff at Metro Vancouver share my concerns

The biggest implications, the report noted, was concern over how the proposed bridge would affect the region’s growth management strategy, which aims to get more people out of their cars and living and working in denser town centres around transit stations so as to preserve agricultural and industrial land.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2016 at 9:53 am

The “Forces of No” are Market Forces

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Christy Clark is worried about the opposition her increasingly inappropriate policy direction has created

“There are people who just say no to everything, and heaven knows there are plenty of those in British Columbia,” said Clark.

Well, she has been pretty good at saying no herself: no to doing something about child poverty, for instance, or funding transit expansion. The real big issue she faces is the one she created for herself by going all in on LNG. The opposition to that is mainly due to local environmental impacts, but what is most likely to stop these projects is the way that demand for LNG has dropped while supplies are flooding on to the market. The prospects for any of the BC proposals being financially viable are somewhere between slim and none. Don’t take my word for it: read this report from The Brattle Group.

increasing competition has significant ramifications for the many LNG export projects now in development across North America and for buyers of LNG that have signed long-term contracts for export capacity from new North American LNG export projects. Many of the proposed projects that are not yet under construction are already facing an uncertain future due to the collapse of global oil and LNG prices. Additionally, the start-up of several new LNG projects in the next few years is likely to result in an over-supplied LNG market. LNG export developers and buyers of LNG that have signed long-term contracts for LNG export capacity are hopeful that the worldwide LNG supply glut is temporary and that market conditions in the post-2020 time frame will improve.

The Brattle Group are not in business just to say No to projects in BC.

And Scotiabank agrees with them, too!

And it is not just that the costs of wind and solar generation are falling, it is also that the problems of storing that power are getting solved too.

“Solar storage will become more competitive as new battery technology drives prices down, and wind storage more attractive as technical advances in areas such as composite materials enables the power generated by wind turbines to increase.”

That report is mainly about how to evaluate batteries, but there are other promising energy storage solutions too – like pumping water uphill, or pumping air into gas bags under a lake. There’s a good summary at The Guardian examining the options, from a UK perspective, of course.

And if the market forces are not convincing enough, there is also the impact of that agreement we signed in Paris to try to reduce global warming to no more than 1.5ºC. The physics of that mean that there cannot be any more new fossil fuel based power generation added by 2018.  It is not just the LNG plants and the pipelines that cannot be built if we are to hit this target.

Well-established science that says global CO2 emissions need to peak and decline before 2020. Wait until after 2020 and the costs of reducing emissions rise rapidly, as does the risk of exceeding 2°C. The 2018 deadline is consistent with this. It just happens to be a more meaningful way of looking at where we stand, and the consequences of the decisions being made today to build a school, a data center, or 10,000 diesel-powered farm tractors.

UPDATE And it would seem that the same Brattle report is inspiring Merran Smith to write about the possible impact of renewables too.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 28, 2016 at 10:05 am

Vast majority of carbon reserves must stay in the ground to meet 1.5C target.

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The current news about the PM and the Mayor of Montreal having meetings about pipelines – and the not public hearings into Kinder Morgan’s desire to exapnd the TransMountain pipeline – both miss the most important point. These things must not be built. They are both designed to increase the use of the tar sands, and thus are not consistent with the undertakings Canada made in Paris. The following is a News Release put out by GreenPeace which I doubt will be printed by much of the mainstream media, so I am putting it here.


Seventy-four North American groups call on the prime minister and premiers to take swift action to meet Canada’s new climate goal.

Vast majority of carbon reserves must stay in the ground to meet 1.5C target.

January 27, 2016

On the eve of a meeting of Canada’s environment ministers in Ottawa to talk about the national climate strategy, 74 organizations – representing millions of people in Canada and the U.S. – sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canada’s premiers outlining the steps Canada needs to take to fulfill its international commitment to limit global warming to 1.5 C, as agreed to by 195 countries at the Paris climate summit.

The letter explicitly states that new tar sands pipelines like Energy East and Kinder Morgan cannot be built if Canada is to meet its commitment. Instead, the prime minister and the premiers must work to decarbonize Canada’s economy and speed the rapid uptake of renewables, efficiency and sustainable transportation options.

“Canadian decision makers have the opportunity to be real climate leaders in the clean energy era – but they must accept the science to do it. There is simply no room for major new pipelines in a safe climate future,” says Steven Guilbeault of Équiterre. “The science is demanding we keep the carbon in the ground and start the transition. That is a reality that our premiers and the prime minister need to embrace.”

“We’re reminding the Canadian and provincial governments of the tremendous work that needs to be done for Canada to meet its global climate commitment,” said Mike Hudema, Climate and Energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. “One and a half degrees Celsius is a level vital for the survival of millions of people and the safety of all life on the planet. We don’t have much time to make the transition to 100% renewable energy and we can’t afford to build new pipelines that send us in the opposite direction.”

As the federal and provincial governments collaborate on the design of a new national climate plan in the 90 days following the Paris Agreement, the repositioning of Canada as a global climate leader has never been more important. An ambitious, just, science-based plan aligned with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees will require all provinces and the country to decarbonize their economies and keep the vast majority of remaining carbon reserves in the ground.

“To have a decent chance at limiting global warming to even 2 degrees, 80% of fossil fuel reserves globally must stay in the ground. The 1.5 degree limit requires us to go even further faster,” says Hannah McKinnon of Oil Change International. “This is especially true in a country like Canada that is home to the third largest oil reserves in the world. We cannot lock ourselves into decades more of unwanted pollution by expanding pipelines and production in places like the Alberta tar sands. Instead, we need to move the other way.”

“What we need now is leadership on a pathway towards energy and economic diversification, not more short-sighted attempts to force pipelines across our country – Canadians didn’t stand for it before and we won’t stand for it now,” says Graham Saul, Executive Director of Ecology Ottawa.  “Canada has exceptional opportunities in the clean energy economy. We could completely redefine ourselves as a renewable energy superpower, create tens of thousands of jobs from coast to coast to coast, and show the world what it means to responsibly transition to zero-carbon within a few short decades. This is what will build a strong economy, not saddling ourselves to decades more of last century’s dirty energy.”

The letter concludes with the signatories stating their commitment to working with federal, provincial and municipal governments, along with First Nations, Metis and Inuit leaders and the growing climate movement to meet these challenges and move beyond oil.


The full letter and signatories can be seen here

Written by Stephen Rees

January 27, 2016 at 7:42 am