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

Archive for May 2017

You can’t handle the truth

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There was a hard hitting article in the Globe and Mail, which I didn’t read because it is behind a paywall and the Grope and Wail is predictably right wing, especially where climate change is concerned. Then Pamela Zevit posted a link on facebook to an article on boereport which both provides a neat summary and some trenchant discussion.  I am not sure if the link provided in that article actually will get you to the original as it points to pressreader – which I don’t use either.

Anyway here is the summary

Four simple points are made that should be enough to derail the current monolithic environment industry and start a new revolution, but they will have a hard time because the media couldn’t have cared less.

The article’s four pertinent points are: that only a fraction of the population is motivated by the health of the planet; that more information does not lead to more action; that scare tactics don’t work; and that environmental products have to be desirable before they become adopted. Each point is supported by logical and balanced reasons that are hard to argue with, which explains why the article was pointedly ignored by even its owner.

The piece is a refreshingly clear statement about where the environmental debate should be going.

And at this point my thoughts turned in quite a different direction. I do not think that individual action is going to change anything very much, because the amount of difference that makes is tiny. Now, if you want to make changes in the way that you do things in order to save the planet, you go right ahead. But in the meantime there is a group of people – actually a tiny minority of the world’s population – who could indeed make a quite extraordinary  difference. They are the decision makers, the far less than 1% who control most of what happens in modern western societies, and who continue to seek out short term profits rather than long term security. And some of those people include politicians in our society who seem to be doing things that are simply contrarian to any scientific reality about this question. Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau come top of my mind right now, but there are plenty of others.

The decisions behind the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to export dilbit from Alberta are driven by what they see as necessary economically. Meanwhile in other places, the move away from fossil fuels is gathering strength and is already making a measurable difference. The use of solar panels and wind turbines has increased much faster than anyone anticipated, with the result that the costs of these technologies has fallen and is now competitive with fossil fuels. Not only that but the places that are getting on with changing how they produce electricity are increasing employment, and economic activity as well as producing worthwhile improvements to other issues such as air and water quality.

It isn’t actually necessary that the other 80% of the population is motivated by the health of the planet, because they are motivated by buying better, cheaper solutions to meet their needs. The taxi drivers who decided to buy a Prius instead of a second hand full sized IC car were motivated by a financial case. And the biggest savings came not so much from buying less fuel as needing fewer brake jobs. The people installing solar panels do so because their hydro bills go down – or they can stop using diesel generators. People like Elon Musk are selling electric cars because they are better than the IC equivalent.

There is a petition that I have seen recently aimed at a cruise ship line to try and get them to switch from using bunker C (the really gross residual oil from refining crude that is used in marine diesel engines). I am not going to sign it. Because it is unreasonable to expect one ship owner to switch fuels when no other shipping line is being pressured to stop doing the same thing. But one day someone will come up with a way of powering these engines with a renewable, cleaner fuel – for instance there is one promising process to use sewage to produce liquid fuel. Which will also help to lessen their local environmental impact.

When I was part of the team that wrote BC’s first Greenhouse Gas Action Plan, we did not expect anyone to change anything in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But we were able to identify plenty of things that could be done that would reduce energy use, and hence expenses, that would pay for themselves in two to three years at most. Energy efficiency is worth investing in for its own sake!  And I was really quite pleased when I saw that my daughter’s school installed ground source heat pumps when it built its new extension, something that would have been prohibited by the previous policy framework. BC Hydro’s Conservation effort cost $1.5bn but saved double what Site C will produce – and will cost over $9bn. (Source: BCUC Revenue Requirement hearings 2017 via facebook BC Hydro Ratepayers Association)

It really doesn’t matter if environmental pressure groups have little impact on popular opinion. Though something must be pushing people to vote Green in larger numbers. There are already many other groups that are organising things better and helping us become more sustainable, and reducing emissions at the same time. Making it possible for people to ride their bikes in reasonable comfort and safety is probably helping to reduce the number of car trips they take. Selling cold water detergent doesn’t hurt either. Capturing methane from landfills to replace fossil fuel gas – and also increase plant growth  with the CO2 is also a good idea. Closing landfills altogether might be better but is ways off. And somehow other countries seem to manage to raise awareness – a Swiss referendum (they have lots of them) chose to end use of nuclear power.

In the meantime the demand for the fossil fuels some in Canada want to export is declining – and the price for LNG, for instance, simply doesn’t warrant any of the huge investments we are being asked to subsidize. China and India are backing off from coal faster than expected – and making the sort of contribution to CO2 reduction that was thought impossible in the earlier climate change talks. Again, neither of these countries are driven by altruism: both are looking at the cost of the health impacts of fossil fuel burning on air quality.

And Bernie Sanders agrees with me.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 20, 2017 at 4:14 pm

Weekly Photo Challenge: Heritage

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This is a photo I took nearly a year ago. York Minster the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe. Built on much older structures, the remains of which can be seen in the crypt.

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It would have been really easy to post pictures of totem poles just like the original challenge. But that’s not my heritage. That’s not my story.

I happened to have the pictures from York open and for some reason the ones that I took then did not get uploaded to Flickr (until now), unlike most of the photos I have used in these challenges previously. So I am going to indulge in some multiple picture posting for this one, as it allows me to discuss more about my heritage.

Although I am now an atheist that was not always the case. My mother was a member of the Church of England, although we did not go to church very often. At home there were only the usual almost – but not quite – secular celebrations of Christmas and Easter. School was different. In England then the law was that there had to be a religious assembly in schools every day, and religious instruction was one of two compulsory subjects. (The other was Physical Training.) The Church of England is still the Established Church, and the Queen is still its head. English history is full of religious disputes and battles – and everyone has heard of Henry VIII and his six wives and how the CofE came to be.

fullsizeoutput_24bc On the day we were there, final rehearsals were underway for the Mystery Plays. These go back to the 1300s. Tickets were, of course, sold out long before we thought about attending.

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So yes there is a lot of history and heritage in York. You can still walk the walls of the city. When I listen to the news today about how it’s Montreal’s 375th birthday, I find it just a little bit hard to be impressed by that.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 17, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Death Spiral for Big Oil and Big Auto

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I have taken a chunk out of the title of the original article in the National Post.

All fossil-fuel vehicles will vanish in 8 years in twin ‘death spiral’ for big oil and big autos, says study that’s shocking the industries

That’s a pretty big title – but the article itself is long – and the Good News is that you can actually download the report in question and read it for yourself.

There are two things happening at the same time – the rise of the electric vehicle and the imminent prospect of cars that drive themselves. Put those two together, and people will give up owning an expensive internal combustion engine behemoth and take a ride in a shared autonomous vehicle – which may even have no cost to the user for the trip.

Obviously this kind of disruption is going to have huge knock on effects, and not surprisingly the report itself has plenty to read without getting into the details of what this does to cities that already experience traffic congestion and rely on public transit systems. One thing that I see is that if you can get a free ride in a self driving Uber then there is going to be a lot more vehicle trip kilometers than there are now. Our urban systems are already stressed at peak periods – and while these cars will have better occupancy and utilisation rates than the present fleet, they will still be competing for a finite amount of road space at peak periods and the simple geometry of traffic congestion will not have changed at all. So there will still need to be transit – and if there isn’t a need for a driver there may still need to be a chaperone!

Anyway for right now I have a report to read Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030 PDF file.

And there’s this right up front

We invite you to join our community of thought leaders and experts to better inform this conversation. To learn more, please visit www.rethinkx.com.

One thing we seem to be getting quite wrong is the idea that we will need pipelines to export Alberta’s very expensive to produce bitumen. Building the Kinder Morgan expansion for a very limited life seems very wasteful to me. Much better to embrace the change and start getting ready for what’s coming anyway.

U.S. producers will be hit the hardest by the volume effect, as almost 15 million bpd of US oil — or 58% — will become uncommercial to produce at $25.4 cash cost. Likewise, more than half of oil production in Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Angola and the U.K. will be stranded.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 16, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Transportation

Greenpeace launches worldwide campaign for free speech

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I am putting this here just to see how many mainstream media outlets actually give this coverage.  I will add links to their stories here as I find them.

Three so far

Winnipeg Free Press

Yahoo

Outside Magazine

PR Newswire doesn’t count

I have kept the links visible at the foot of this press release so that you can read the full report. I would have liked to have included some of the illustrative materials but that requires registration and also formal permission from Greenpeace.

The following image is on flickr, posted by Boris Mann with a Creative Commons license. It illustrates a clearcut on Vancouver Island near Lake Cowichan taken on October 9, 2006. Its use here is simply to draw attention to unsustainable practices and does not imply that it has anything to do with Resolute Forest Products.

Clearcut

Montreal, 16 May, 2017 — Greenpeace has launched a new worldwide campaign for free speech today to stand up to Canadian logging giant Resolute Forest Products’ massive legal attacks on its critics, which threaten the existence of this global environmental movement. These meritless lawsuits are just the tip of the iceberg and part of a global trend of SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) litigation which aims to throttle civic advocacy.

Instead of focusing on fully adopting sustainable forestry, investing in healthy forests, and creating jobs, Resolute is trying to intimidate critics like Greenpeace with two massive multimillion dollar lawsuits that threaten free speech.Today, Greenpeace US is launching a new report, “Clearcutting Free Speech: How Resolute Forest Products is going to extremes to silence critics of its controversial logging practices”[1], presenting the implications of logging company Resolute Forest Products massive legal attack on its critics, which aims to redefine activism as criminal activity.

“Greenpeace has gained international recognition as an independent environmental watchdog because we raise our voices without fear. That is public interest advocacy, not a criminal activity. The voices of our supporters will not be shut down now because a logging company like Resolute wants to get away with logging in intact forests,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director Bunny McDiarmid.

If Resolute’s lawsuits succeed, the cases could set a dangerous precedent of shutting down advocacy groups and corporate watchdogs and embolden companies around the world to use similar tactics against their own critics.

In May 2016, Resolute filed a CAD$300 million lawsuit for racketeering and other claims in the United States against several Greenpeace entities, Stand.earth and individual activists. Prior to that, Resolute filed a CAD$7 million lawsuit for defamation and other claims against Greenpeace Canada and two of its staff in 2013, that is still ongoing. The company has also used intimidating legal and public relations tactics against other organisations including the Rainforest Alliance, an independent environmental auditor.

Greenpeace is calling on support from free speech advocates around the world, including    major international publishers such as Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Hachette — who purchase paper from Resolute. Greenpeace is inviting them to join the call to protect freedom of speech and the collective rights to organise on issues of public concern, like forest conservation.

Greenpeace Canada Forest campaigner, Shane Moffatt, a defendant in the Canadian lawsuit, said:

“We want a healthy forest where Indigenous Peoples rights are respected, jobs are secured for communities and fragile ecosystems are protected. The only way to get there is with open dialogue and free speech so all parties can work together to make these solutions a reality.”

Greenpeace US Senior Forest Campaigner, Amy Moas, a defendant in the US lawsuit, said:

“If Resolute wins these lawsuits, not only could it mean a world without Greenpeace and the 45 year record of a movement to protect the environment, but a world where free speech becomes more restricted for advocacy groups, individuals, artists, journalists and publishers.

“Resolute aims to label environmental advocacy work as criminal activity in the United States and to set a precedent to silence rightful dissent across the board. Resolute Forest Products is not counting on the millions of people that make the environmental movement so strong. Together, our voices are vital for protecting our rights, our communities and the planet,” concluded Moas.

Despite the ongoing lawsuits, Greenpeace continues to have an open door for Resolute, to work together for lasting solutions in the boreal forest for all stakeholders involved.

 

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Notes to editors:

[1] Click here to access the full “Clearcutting Free Speech: How Resolute Forest Products is going to extremes to silence critics of its controversial logging practices” report or copy the following URL in your browser: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/clearcutting-free-speech

[2] Click here to obtain images, videos and other materials related to this release or copy the following URL in your browser: http://media.greenpeace.org/collection/27MZIFJJU3322

[3] SLAPP suits are a growing trend which corporations and anyone with enough resources to create legal claims without merit use as a way to silence any type of criticism, labelling advocacy organizations and their workers as ‘criminal enterprises’ and intimidating them through multi-million dollar lawsuits. Most damagingly, such SLAPP suits suck up time and energy that should be spent campaigning for important causes, such as protecting the environment. Only corporations with deep pockets benefit from launching such lawsuits, society and public interest suffers. Anti-SLAPP legislation exists in many provinces and states. Although Resolute is based in Québec, its lawsuit was filed in Ontario, which, unlike Québec, did not have anti-SLAPP legislation at the time of filing.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 16, 2017 at 9:29 am

Why we’re taking the Port to court

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From Kevin Washbrook via FraserVoices

After three years of preparation, Ecojustice goes to Court on behalf of VTACC and Communities and Coal this Wednesday to challenge Port Authority approval of a new coal terminal on the Fraser River. The cities of Surrey and New West will be there with us, making submissions in support of our arguments.

We’re fighting to stop US coal companies that want to run mile-long trains of open coal cars through our communities so they can ship the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel from Metro Vancouver. Similar plans have been repeatedly rejected by communities in the US. A win here in federal court will be another nail in the coffin for west coast thermal coal exports.

This has already been hard fought litigation, with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority pushing back the entire time. That’s not surprising, as a federal Court decision in our favour could have serious implications for how the Port operates.

In Vancouver? Consider dropping into federal Court to follow some of the proceedings May 17-19, 701 W Georgia, starting at 9:30 a.m. each day.

Read more about the history of this challenge and our concerns about conflicts built into project permitting at the Port in this blog post.

Watch local youth talk about the impacts this project would have on their communities and the climate in this one minute video (at the top of this post).

Learn more about the case, see photos from the last four years and contribute to our legal defense fund here.

Thank you to everyone who has already donated to this challenge, and a huge note of gratitude to Ecojustice for taking on this case — without their tireless effort this work wouldn’t have been possible.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 15, 2017 at 11:41 am

History strikes again

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After the Greater London Council was abolished (1985), I managed to secure new employment with the Department of Transport. I went through a competitive recruitment process and was appointed an Economic Adviser (Grade 7) and my first assignment was to the Traffic Policy Branch. I think a lot of that was due to the fact that in the run up to abolition there had been a hard hitting campaign which was pointing out some of the lacunae in the government’s assessment of the task in front of it. For instance the GLC had one man who wrote all the traffic orders for the metropolitan area. After abolition, it looked like there would have to be 32 – one in each borough. Not exactly the great boost to efficiency that was predicted. I also happen to think that someone had a sense of humour since the Under Secretary I reported to at Traffic Policy was called Neville Rees.

Most of my time as the economist of the unit was to try and make some sense out the mess that had become of parking in the capital. The politicians, of course, insisted that it was simply a matter of the market producing the optimum solution. There was no market where the hidden hand could work its magic. There had to be policy and there had to be regulation, but mostly there had to effective enforcement – that had collapsed under the weight of indifference to traffic policing at Scotland Yard.

This is a good story but it will have to wait, because now we turn to what was going on in a quiet corner of the office. There were two engineers who were trying to improve the dreadful numbers of collisions involving cyclists. The cycling lobby was pushing hard for the government to promote cycling. The policy at the time was to resist any promotion at all, since the more people who cycled, the worse the casualty statistics. The engineers were coming up with real, hard engineering solutions. Finding safe routes, better separation and better sight lines at intersections. Their mantra was to make cycling safer – and every time they did more people started to use their bikes. And just to make this perfectly clear, their remit was national, not just London. Two engineers, tiny budget for a small number of carefully selected projects. No actual program to promote anything.

My father had been an avid cyclist. Back in the 1930’s car ownership was low, public transport was plentiful and cheap, but young people used cycles – especially for recreation, sport and commuting. When my Dad was evacuated out to Egham with the Public Control Department of the LCC (1939) , he rode his cycle back to Manor Park every weekend. He could do that because when the great network of road improvements was built – mainly as a way to relieve unemployment during the Great Depression – cycle paths were always added to these new roads. For instance the Great West Road, Eastern Avenue and the East Ham ByPass all come to mind.

When the cycling engineers and I talked about what they were trying to do, I mentioned this history to them. They were pretty dismissive. So imagine my surprise when I came across this article in the Atlas Obscura.  I knew these roads and had tried to use some of them in my own youth. By the late 1960s much of them were being used by residents along these roads to park their cars.

In the years that followed the construction of the cycleways, though, cars became the predominant form of transportation, and the bike lanes fell out of use. Even the Ministry of Transport forgot that it had built them. “Within 40 years, it had been lost in their own department that they were doing this,” says Reid. He read the ministry’s minutes going through the 1960s and found records of ministers saying that they’d never built anything like a bike highway before.

So once again, just like bringing back the trams, or re-opening the railway lines closed by Dr Beeching, Britain is now rediscovering what it lost in the rush to motordom. They could have done it thirty years earlier.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 14, 2017 at 11:00 pm

“Smaller, lighter, greener: are micro EVs the future of city transport?”

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“Imagine a city street filled with two-seater electric vehicles (EVs) zipping around. A Swedish startup claims these smaller, lighter EVs could help cut congestion and toxic levels of air pollution.”siemens micro ev

The picture and the somewhat breathless quote comes from a recent Guardian article. Yes a small light EV will take up less road space and produce less air pollution than a hulking great SUV. But it is unlikely to do much if anything to cure traffic congestion – even if it is widely adopted (which seems unlikely) – any more than self driving cars will, or even shared cars. The problem is that they are all cars. The challenges we face are that we need to move more people – not more vehicles. And with the decline of conventional retailing we also need more and better delivery systems – but I will leave that for another occasion.

I know that I have seen another version of this graphic

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which adds a couple more pictures – one of evs, one of self driving cars – which hammers home the point. It is one that needs to be repeated because a lot of people still do not seem to understand that the solutions lie in policy not technology. The changes in technology are already here – and the policy needs to adapt to that – but we still have politicians, in this city as elsewhere, who think that taking road space away from cars to make movement better for people – walking, riding bikes, in wheelchairs, pushing strollers or walkers, taking the bus – is some kind of heresy. George Affleck cannot stand the idea that people who are not in cars have any rights at all. Of course he is not about to actually say that so he turns it into a question of staff versus elected councillors. He opposes wider side walks, protected bike lanes on principle. The principle being that only the undeserving poor ride bikes or buses.

I am a bit reluctant to endorse what seems to be a neo-conservative paeon to pricing but the economics cited in this article are sound.  Self driving cars won’t cure congestion any more than micro EVs will.

In my version of the solution, we have allocated the space available based on people carrying capacity – when looking at roads. But when we look at streets, and places,  we are not trying to build a sewer to flush the waste through as fast as possible. We want people to linger. Loitering should not be an offence – it should be positively encouraged. People who spend time in one place add life, interest (people watching is everyone’s favourite pastime) and (God help me) profit. If you drive through my neighbourhood, you add danger. If you stop, and look around, you might even buy something – or maybe take a picture and post it on social media. You cease to be a traveller and become a visitor – and we need visitors. We welcome visitors, we want them to stay and come back, and tell their friends.

Actually we would rather you don’t bring your own car – it adds cost (demands a ridiculous amount of space for one person, and security).

Actually the comments under the Guardian article are more intelligent: they enthuse about the electric bike and what that is going to achieve. I will have more to say on that in a short while. Once my new powered front wheel arrives.

But city transport isn’t the issue we need to focus on. If it were, the answer is simple. Build more transit. Provide more transit options. Make transit the best way to get around. Physically protect cyclists and pedestrians from car traffic. Nothing to do with how to provide a single occupant vehicle with motive power.

The best transport plan is a land use plan. Make a better place and people won’t want to get through it as fast as possible. Get away from it as quickly as they can. Ignore it as it flashes by their window. If the only way they can get to work, or to get the goods and services they need, or to meet other people is to drive a car you, as a city planner, have failed dismally. But only as dismally as most suburban planners have failed in the last half century. By thinking that the critical feature – the one thing we must not get wrong – is the turning circle of the fire truck.

AFTERWORD

In case you think I am being unfair to George Affleck, he’s at it again in the Sun today (May 15)

Even the smallest changes can damage business interests and greatly impact motorists trying to get to and from work. Indeed these days many motorists, undertaking necessary commutes, feel their needs are being forsaken in the interests of those who pedal to their destinations. And business owners are rightly riled when disruptions stemming from road improvements disrupt the running of their businesses.

Never mind that even Charles Gauthier now acknowledges that protected bike lanes have actually increased business in Downtown. And of course no motorist has ever taken an unnecessary trip, have they.

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Written by Stephen Rees

May 13, 2017 at 7:41 pm

Posted in Transportation