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

Photo Challenge: Path

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via Photo Challenge: Path

So my first reaction to this, somewhat belated, challenge was the Arbutus Greenway. But the first photo I came across on my flickr photostream was this more recent one – of the path through the Arbutus Village Park. The path I use most often.

You will need yer wellies today

This was taken before Christmas, but it might as well be today. While major roads get salted and ploughed when it snows, and sidewalks are supposed to be shovelled by the property owners adjacent to them (but more often aren’t) paths get neglected.

Blacktop

This is what it looked like back in August – and I took this picture to illustrate another blog post about the use of blacktop for pedestrian/bike/non-vehicle paths.

Because I use this path all the time, I rarely think to take a picture of it.

I believe that we need more car free paths – indeed to illustrate the point I even curate a flickr group called Places Without Cars – though I have had to close it to any more pictures as so many people do not seem to understand why pedestrian only streets and plazas are worth documenting.

And I did actually take a picture of the path in question today: I have only now got round to posting it to Flickr

Intruder

The point being that the car parked there ought not to be in the park at all

Written by Stephen Rees

December 27, 2016 at 3:28 pm

Posted in pedestrians, photography

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Book Review: “Understanding Planned Obsolescence”

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There is something very post modern about this review. I was offered a copy of this new book (out 3 January 2017) to review, but what I got was an ebook hobbled by Digital Rights Management. It expires in a month and I am not allowed to cut and paste any quotations from it. Now I may not know much about copyright but I do understand the concept of “fair use”: which includes quotation!

I am going to cut and paste what I can from  the blurb on netgalley and the publisher’s press release. (see below the line)

The reason that I wanted to read the book was my irritation at getting this tweet

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The iPad mini in question is less than two years old. I have determined by reference to the book that I am not alone in this experience, and indeed it appears to be a long established policy of Apple. Indeed within the product cycle, the life of the hardware is prescribed – and there will inevitably come a day, long before the device in question is beyond repair, when its operating system will not get updated any more. There is a case in the book of the iPod whose battery life was designed to be 18 months, and the battery could not be replaced by the user. There is also a documented legal case of an iPod mini designed and sold as an adjunct to exercise which failed when it came into contact with human sweat. Apple’s advertising showed the device attached to human bodies under exertion!

There is nothing new about planned obsolescence.  I read Vance Packard’s The Wastemakers at East Ham Grammar School when I studied A Level Economics (1964-66). Everybody knows about GM’s policy of annual model changes based simply on design as opposed to technical innovation. And the cartel of lightbulb makers who made their products fail earlier so that they could sell more of them. My Dad told me about British carmaker Armstrong Siddeley that went bust because their cars were built to last – and no-one ever bought another one having no need since the first one they got was so well made and reliable. I fully expect my 2007 Toyota Yaris to see me out – unless there is a sea change at the strata council and I could install a charger for an electric car. Or Modo relents and puts a shared car in our neighbourhood.

If you are a student then you will be comfortable reading this book. It is remarkably short – I read it cover to cover in two hours or so – and is well annotated and referenced. It does acknowledge Brexit – which will probably remove British consumers from all the EU protection offered to consumers, which is remarkably advanced compared to North America. But was obviously written pre Trump. With leaders like Trudeau and Clark we cannot expect anything other than continuing adherence to the best interests of their funders. And just as the fossil fuel industries will ignore the carbon bubble for as long as possible, we can confidently expect the 0.01% and the corporations they control to continue to ignore both the pile up of garbage and pollution and the growing shortage of critical raw materials (like rare earths) as long as their profits increase and remain largely untaxed. So acquiring this book if you are an activist and wishing to bring about some change is likely to disappointing.

But if you are really in need of an education in the theory of planned obsolescence this might be worth forty quid to you (CAN$66.45 at the time of writing). But as far as prescriptions go, there’s not much. The certainty that the “current hegemonic paradigm will not allow humans to remain on this planet much longer” – and therefore the need to “walk in search of new patterns, new models, new meanings to then build new paths, new paradigms”.

And that is about it.

 


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Written by Stephen Rees

December 19, 2016 at 3:38 pm

North Shore bridges at ‘tipping point’

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Second Narrows Bridges

Second Narrows Bridge

Fraser Voices picked up on a Vancouver Sun story today: their concern, of course, was the bridge replacement for the Massey Tunnel will have exactly the same effect

Traffic is bad all over Metro Vancouver, but the worst spot to emerge in the last several years is the bridgehead at the Second Narrows in North Vancouver.

Municipal leaders were told in 2015 that the North Shore’s woes coincided precisely with the expansion of the Port Mann Bridge to 10 lanes in 2012.

Well municipal leaders have been told, many times,  that the region was headed for worsening traffic and congestion problems for much longer than that. In fact I have the feeling that I have written this blog post many times now.

I was employed on the issue between 1997 and 2004. Back then, when we were sent across to the North Shore to listen to their complaints about transit – and ideas like a third crossing or a SkyTrain extension in a submerged tube to Lonsdale Quay and then up Lonsdale in tunnel – we said that the North Shore was not part of the Growth Concentration Area (GCA), and that since population was therefore not expected to occur there in large amounts, there were other areas where increasing transit supply was a higher priority. The GCA was part of the Livable Region Strategic Plan (LRSP) – and its transportation counterpart, Transport 2021. That said that we were going to build a compact urban region of complete communities that would protect the green zone and increase transportation choice.

We didn’t stick to that plan. The province of BC did sign on to it, but then steadily undermined it. And the LRSP eventually gave way to the present Regional Growth Strategy. The other neighbouring regional plans, designed to prevent them becoming exurbs of Greater Vancouver, were also largely ignored. The freeway widenings and new bridges were the recipients of huge sums from the province, and were never subject to a referendum. Bridge tolls were unpopular – and explain why the Port Mann line in this chart goes down while the Alex Fraser goes up.

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Given the investments made in widening Highway #1, “improving” the Sea to Sky, building the South Fraser Perimeter Road and the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges, it is hardly surprising that most development in the impacted areas has been car oriented. Transit developments have been concentrated in the part of the region that already had pretty good transit service. Transit Oriented Development – like that in Port Moody – either didn’t happen or was ineffective due to the lack of workable transit choices. The West Coast Express, being limited to weekday only peak hour direction only, just benefitted a those commuting to downtown Vancouver – the one area where employment growth had been sacrificed to condo development.

In fact the Vancouver Sun article doesn’t talk about transit at all, except for one mention about bus routes needing to catch up. But there always were options that could have been chosen, if the LRSP was to work as intended. The Millennium Line need not have been quite so useless: it could have been the full T line anticipated in Transport 2021 – UBC to Coquitlam with a branch to New Westminster. It would have had to be surface LRT, as originally intended to be built for the same price. SkyTrain could have been extended in Surrey. Passenger rail service could have been retained (and enhanced) to Squamish, Whistler and beyond and some better use made of the former BCER right of way to Chilliwack. LRT was entirely possible on routes like the Arbutus Corridor, with connections to the airport, and along the Riverside development area where CP has a somewhat redundant freight line along Kent Avenue all the way out to New Westminster and the TriCities. Sharing tracks between freight and LRT is entirely feasible as demonstrated by the Ottawa O train.

Otrain approaching Bayview 2006_0608

Translink might well have introduced its now highly successful #555 from Braid to Langley much sooner by the simple device (used for Delta and South Surrey express buses on Highway 99) of converting the hard shoulders of Highway 1 to exclusive bus lanes. There was no need for all those lanes on the Port Mann bridge – which is now carrying less traffic – as the congestion was only on the approaches. A bus across the bridge connecting the city centres of Surrey and Coquitlam would still provide much more convenient and direct service than SkyTrain does now.

The present BC Liberal administration has shown that it does not support increasing transportation choice. It shows that it is stuck in the 1950s mindset of continually increasing highway capacity, which never ever satisfies demand for very long, and always provides more opportunities for more expansion plans. And that suits the corporations and the property developers who keep on doing what they have always done – which includes large donations to the political party that made it so profitable. Not livable. Not affordable. Not sustainable.

Traffic congestion cannot be solved by increasing road capacity. Mobility and accessibility can be increased by providing more and better options as well as better land use planning. The two are inextricable. More single family homes on large lots with multiple car garages remote from everything, except a local school and park, is a recipe for continuing worsening of our environment. We have known this for a very long time indeed. What is very odd indeed is that people come here to look at downtown Vancouver and think we have achieved something remarkable when in fact the rest of the region is as bad or worse than most North American suburbs.  As Karen Quin Fung remarked on Twitter “We’re far from securing quality of life enjoyed now in CoV, for rest of Metro Van”

And building another massive bridge between Richmond and Delta will not change that.

The problems on the North Shore won’t be solved by upgrading interchanges either. And a Third Crossing doesn’t seem any more likely than in the last thirty years. Maybe the Mayor’s Plan to expand transit will help, but, as the North Shore Mayors recently acknowledged, there is not a lot in there for their area.

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Looks like they are going to need a lot more transit!

Written by Stephen Rees

December 16, 2016 at 5:55 pm

Photo Challenge: Anticipation

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via Photo Challenge: Anticipation

Set for Bakersfield Mist

This is the set of a theatrical production. You can just see the heads of the patrons in the front rows waiting for the play to start. So yeah, Anticipation with a capital A!

Traditionally theatres had a proscenium and a curtain – which was kept closed until the lights dimmed. These days that happens less often. And theatres also ban photography of the performance but even encourage the use of cellphones and cameras before and after the performance, to drive the engine of publicity through social media.

This is the Stanley Theatre in Vancouver where the Arts Club was about to present “Bakersfield Mist”

Pam Johnson’s set is beautifully realized. An accumulation of flea market finds gathered over decades, a well-worn shag carpet, and decaying surroundings captures Maude’s home inside the Sagebrush Trailer Park with exquisitely cluttered detail. As you scan the bric-à-brac, you can’t but help wonder what other potential financial windfalls might be waiting to be discovered.

So perfect for not having a curtain – plenty of material on view to whet the appetite of the audience – to build the anticipation.

It is a very good play – its run ended here – but maybe it will come your way someday. It is well worth waiting for.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 16, 2016 at 3:34 pm

Posted in photography

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Photo Challenge: New Horizon

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via Photo Challenge: New Horizon

Blackwall Peak
This is Blackwall Peak in Manning Provincial Park. It is 2.063 metres (6,768 feet) high – and you can drive up there. When you get to the top you do indeed get to see a new horizon – more mountains as far as you can see in every direction. The photo challenge is framed in terms of New Year Resolutions – something I do not do. But it does seem to me to be an appropriate metaphor. In life it often seems that we always have a new summit to climb, but when we get to that peak we just see a whole bunch of new challenges.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 10, 2016 at 2:14 pm

Posted in photography

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Mea Culpa

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I have been doing something I shouldn’t have, feel bad about it and will now stop.

I recently read Jordan Bateman’s book about how he – almost singlehandedly – defeated the transit referendum. You cannot get it from the library or indeed most bookshops except as a print on demand. Amazon has it as an ebook for Kindle, but I am not recommending it. His technique was to stick to two simple statements and two figures. And, the key point, is that it did not matter that they were not true.

We have, of course, now become used to the idea of a post factual political landscape since both Brexit and Trump followed a similar strategy. And even though it might be effective it doesn’t make it right. The ends do not justify the means.

I have wanted to defeat the Kinder Morgan Transmountain Pipeline expansion proposal. Mostly because the expansion of the Alberta tar sands defeats Canada’s commitment  to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change. But I have noted that most people here do not  pay much attention to that. Mostly it is – as you would expect – concerns about spills. Or the noise disturbing the orcas.  Local environmental impacts score more immediately with people than distant more widespread issues. So I have been writing – and saying – “Dilbit Sinks”. Good pithy slogan. But unfortunately, if you read any of the material cited in the previous blog posts, not exactly the whole story. In fact we have had a dilbit spill from the existing KM line into the Burnaby terminal and it did get into the Burrard Inlet, and the recovery rate was very good. Which is much better news than the ongoing problems from another dilbit spill into the Kalamazoo River – which is not at all like the Salish Sea. The problem is that, as usual, the behaviour of dilbit when spilled is largely a matter of conjecture based on modelling and laboratory type simulations. So the data is both incomplete and inconsistent – a wonderfully complex and nuanced message no-one is actually going to be bothered to read about until they have to. We do know that the recent oil spills that got so much attention here – the Marathassa  and the Nathan E Stewart – are not actually a very good guide to what might happen here with dilbit since they involved Bunker C and diesel respectively. And both those products behave differently in seawater to dilbit. But they did have an impact on the Government of Canada, and the commitments to improving spill response.

Since no-one is going to spill dilbit into the sea in bad weather deliberately, just to see what happens, we will not know until disaster actually strikes. Now, if we actually had a government in Ottawa really committed to data driven policy making the precautionary principle would apply, and the pipeline would not have been approved. And it is still not too late to defeat it. Indeed we must continue the fight against it. But important though that fight is, I cannot in all conscience employ the tactics of Donald Trump, Jordan Bateman or Nigel Farage. Indeed I reserve the right to lambaste them for their lack of integrity – and cannot do that if I am guilty of the same sin of commission.

UPDATE Max Fawcett in the National Observer

But jamming up a single pipeline does nothing to achieve CO2 reduction. The concerns that I think are fair are the ones around, you know, certainly the whale population in the … the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the spill concern.

I think the spill concern is being overstated. The risks are pretty insignificant. But if it happens, it’s a disaster, no question.

And now DeSmogBlog weighs in: Review of 9,000 Studies Finds We Know Squat About Bitumen Spills in Ocean Environments

Written by Stephen Rees

December 8, 2016 at 12:39 pm

Posted in blogging, Environment

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Tar Sands Tankers in U.S. Waters

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While I was polishing up last night’s post on Marc Garneau’s incredible claims about how safe we will be once the tankers moving diluted bitumen start moving, the following arrived in my in box.

As I am sure you are all aware, there are very few refineries set up to deal with diluted bitumen – or even heavy oil – and none at all in China. While the pipeline proponents blether about finding new markets for the tarsands, the reality is that dilbit will go to where they can refine it.screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-10-57-12-am

Picture from The Common Sense Canadian

And once again in the interests of getting information out there – since the CBC story about the tankers did not once mention dilbit – here is the entire press release:


 

NRDC Report: Tar Sands Tankers in U.S. Waters Could Skyrocket 12-Fold Under Canadian Producers’ Plans

A flood of dirty oil and possible damaging spills in the Atlantic, Pacific and Mississippi River threatens iconic species, tourism and communities; also would increase climate pollution double Keystone XL’s

WASHINGTON (December 7, 2016) – Canadian oil producers have roared back from President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline with a scheme to send hundreds of tar sands-laden oil tankers and barges down the East and West coasts and the Mississippi River, the Natural Resources Defense Council warned in a report released today.

Under their plans, tar sands tankers and barges traveling U.S. waterways could skyrocket from fewer than 80 to more than 1,000 a year—dramatically increasing the chance of devastating spills.

That, according to the report, would put the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, including the Salish Sea, San Francisco Bay, the Gulf of Maine, the Hudson and Columbia rivers, the Chesapeake Bay and the Florida Keys, at risk for costly spills for which there is no known effective cleanup technology. In addition, as many as 130 tar sands barges per year could travel on the Mississippi River, which today sees almost no such traffic.

The potential for destructive tar sands spills endangers hundreds of inland and coastal communities. And it puts at risk multibillion tourism and fishing industries, along with protected ocean preserves and abundant marine life; including whales, dolphins and unique deep-sea creatures.

“Canadian oil producers have a scheme to flood us with dangerous tar sands oil. Their hopes to send hundreds of millions of barrels of tar sands oil into U.S. waters are truly alarming. We can’t let them endanger American livelihoods, our most iconic and threatened species, or our beautiful wild places with these irresponsible plans,” said Joshua Axelrod, lead author of NRDC’s report.

“The risks and costs created by possible tar sands spills are so substantial that local, state and federal governments should take immediate action,” added Axelrod, policy analyst for NRDC’s Canada Project. “Protecting the public, communities and the environment from a plague of dangerous tar sands oil on U.S. waterways should be their top priority.”

If all that wasn’t bad enough, the climate impact of the planned tar sands development would be severe. Expanded production would destroy a large swath of Canada’s boreal forest—a carbon storehouse that helps to mitigate climate change. And burning all the tar sands oil that the industry seeks to develop would add 362 million metric tons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere each year—twice as much as Keystone XL’s tar sands would have contributed.

NRDC released the report, “The Tar Sands Tanker Threat: American Waterways in Industry’s Sights,” in a telephone-based press conference. Joining Axelrod for the event was: Stephanie Buffum, executive director at Friends of the San Juans; Michael Riordan, physicist and resident of Orcas Island; and Jewell James, a Lummi Nation representative and fisherman on the Salish Sea.

It outlines plans by Canadian producers to excavate tar sands oil from forests in northern Alberta and use four new pipeline and rail operations—and existing infrastructure on the Mississippi River—to move tar sands oil by tanker and barge down the coasts and on the Columbia, Hudson, and Mississippi rivers to reach heavy oil refinery operations in the Mid-Atlantic, Gulf coast and California.

Canadian producers are pressing ahead with these expansion plans, despite climate realities and findings like those in a 2016 report by the National Academy of Sciences that tar sands crude has unique physical properties leading to extreme clean-up challenges, including missing tools and technology that could clean the heavy, toxic oil in the event of a spill.

It’s notable that six years after a tar sands pipeline spill fouled Michigan’s Kalamazoo River and created a billion-dollar cleanup effort, the river is still contaminated.

The tar sands threat outlined in NRDC’s report isn’t theoretical. Just recently, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline expansion, which would increase oil tanker traffic by 600 percent in the already-congested Salish Sea between Washington state and British Columbia.

If the pipeline is built, much of this traffic is expected to move south along the U.S. west coast to California heavy-oil refineries. Scientists contend the project is a death sentence for the region’s beloved Killer Whale population.

“The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, just approved by Canada’s Prime Minister, would significantly increase tar sands tanker traffic and oil spill risk in the Salish Sea,” said Lovell Pratt, an expert in marine vessels and resident of San Juan Island. “According to a vessel traffic analysis, the project would cause an 800% increase in the risk of a major tar sands oil spill over the next ten years in Haro Strait and Boundary Pass—the critical habitat of the region’s highly endangered orca whales.”

NRDC recommends that in light of the tar sands threat:

* State and federal governments should reject vessel response plans for ships transporting tar sands oil because there’s no effective cleanup technology available for handling tar sands spills.
* Local, state and federal governments should take steps to evaluate legal, policy and research priorities to deal with potential tar sands oil spills and their impact on the environment.
* Policymakers in the U.S. and Canada should examine whether tar sands crude can be safely shipped on our rivers and oceans, and how enabling further development of carbon-intensive tar sands oil threatens the climate.

More information about the tar sands tanker and barge threat report is here: https://www.nrdc.org/resources/tar-sands-tanker-threat-american-waterways-industrys-sights

A blog on the issue by Josh Axelrod is here: https://www.nrdc.org/experts/josh-axelrod/new-report-tar-sands-industry-targets-americas-waterways

More about NRDC’s work related to fossil fuels is here: https://www.nrdc.org/issues/reduce-fossil-fuels

An audio recording of the press conference on the tar sands tanker and barge threat will be here: http://www.hastingsgroupmedia.com/NRDC/TarSandsTankerReport.mp3

Earlier this year NRDC released another report “Tar Sands in the Atlantic Ocean: TransCanada’s Proposed Energy East Pipeline,” focusing on TransCanada’s plans for the Energy East pipeline that would dramatically increase tanker traffic along the East Coast. That report is here:  https://www.nrdc.org/resources/tar-sands-atlantic-ocean-transcanadas-proposed-energy-east-pipeline

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 7, 2016 at 11:01 am