Stephen Rees's blog

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

Guest Post by Brent Toderian on Bike Helmet Law

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Courtesy of Tweedeck




Written by Stephen Rees

September 11, 2016 at 7:46 pm

Posted in bicycles

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More news from the Arbutus Greenway

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The track at the level crossings is steadily being removed from the section between 16th and 33rd.

Arbutus Greenway

Redundant street sign warning of the approach to the now removed railway: the stops signs remain in place at all the crossings north of Nanton Avenue where there are no traffic signals.

Arbutus Greenway

Track removed at Nanton Ave crossing

Arbutus Greenway

King Edward Avenue

Arbutus Greenway

King Edward Avenue: some new blacktop added across the median

You can see the edge of the new road surface on the extreme right, where the track used to be. The white truck has pulled well forward of the stop line, which I think is going to be a continuing issue for cyclists aiming to get back to the Greenway.

Arbutus Greenway

While the track has been removed, the stop line and detector loops remain where they were. Even so, the white van moves up to the marked crosswalk, and thus fails to trigger the green arrow signal for the left turn onto Arbutus.

Arbutus Greenway

16th Avenue

Diverter to encourage people to use the signalled crosswalks: the blacktop used to be part of the off street parking for The Ridge on the other side of Arbutus Street.

Arbutus Greenway

Oh for goodness sake, Gregor

Oh for goodness sake, Gregor, we know you haven’t had a chance to clean up this bit yet, but this is ridiculous!

PS for the last word on why paving should be the answer

Written by Stephen Rees

September 10, 2016 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Arbutus Greenway

Granville Island 2040

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Granville Island

Photo by Alyson Hurt on Flickr 

I went this morning to a workshop called “Getting to and Moving Through Granville Island”. It is part of Granville Island 2040, “a planning initiative that will set out a comprehensive direction and dynamic vision for the island’s future” organised by CMHC and Granville Island. The session, facilitated by Bunt & Associates, collaboratively reviewed current infrastructure, mobility services and travel patterns as well as seeking ideas and opinions on critical transportation elements for the Island’s future. It was a group of about 20 “stakeholders” which included local residents’ associations, City of Vancouver staff, Translink, both of the ferry companies, the local business association, BEST, Modacity and Ocean concrete.

There had been a meeting the previous day dealing with land use, and there will be many more opportunities for people who are interested to get involved. You can even Instagram your idea with the hashtag #GI2040 – which I have already done. But there’s a lot more to this idea that I want to write about.

First of all I think it is very unfortunate that the process separates out transportation and land use, since I am convinced that these must be considered together: they are two sides of the same coin. Secondly the process centres around the vision for what people want to see by in 2040, and then there will be thought about how to achieve that. I think it is immediately apparent that CMHC has its own process for deciding how to replace Emily Carr University when it relocates to False Creek Flats. This long term vision has to assume that it sorted out, and that CMHC has achieved its own objective of seeing increased levels of activity on the Island.

The workshop started with a presentation by Bunt & Associates of some recent transportation data they have collected last month, compared to data collected on the same days in August 2005. I did not take notes, thinking that there might be a handout or perhaps material on the website. So I am forced to summarise the findings without any of the figures in front of me. There has been an increase in the number of people going to the Island, but a drop in the number of cars. The increases come from increased use of the ferries, pedestrians and cycling. They conducted cordon counts between noon and 6pm midweek and a Saturday and a very limited interview survey, to help identify where people came from, how many were in the group and how much they spent. Car occupancy has increased. The Island is now also on the itinerary of the Hop-on/Hop-off service which wasn’t the case ten years ago.

There were some very obvious weaknesses in the data. For instance, transit passengers were only counted at the cordon when they got off the #50 bus. It is my observation that many people walking into Granville Island have come from the bus stops at the southern end of Granville Bridge. While some of that “multi-mode” travel is apparent from the interview survey, it is not like a trip diary. There were also no counts in the evenings, when the use of Granville Island shifts considerably to the theatres and destination restaurants like Bridges and Sandbar.

There were the usual workshop activities of putting sticky notes on maps and talking in breakout groups, and some of the common ground was apparent early on. Reuse of the abandoned Historic Railway to connect to the mostly empty parking lots and Olympic Village station, for instance. By 2040 that may even extend to the tram envisioned for the Arbutus Corridor, and even if that can’t be achieved by then, the Greenway linkage to the Seawall was a favourite too. Currently while pedestrians and bikes have a few options, vehicles have only one, and I am relieved to report that no-one thought there should be more. In fact the traffic count shows that the current four lane access is excessive, and could be replaced by two lanes with the space better utilised by dedicated bike lanes, wider sidewalks and possibly a tram line.

The idea I want to examine in a bit more detail was popular with the transportation people, but might have some resistance from the “Islanders” i.e. the people who work there everyday. But I will get to that later.

Google Earth image

The need for a pedestrian bridge

There is a 50 meter channel between the east end of the island and the separated pedestrian and bike paths of the seawall. There is very little boat traffic into the pocket of False Creek: the main exception being people in kayaks and dragon boats using the docks south of the Community Centre.

My first thought was that the almost useless Canoe Bridge at the other end of False Creek could be relocated.

Canoe Bridge

But it is both too short (only 40 meters) and has that really ugly support in the middle. I also dislike the fact that the entrances onto the bridge are narrower than the middle, which seems to me to be utterly pointless. I also wonder about the flat underside, and whether an arched bridge might be better both operationally – for boats given rising sea levels – and aesthetically. My inspiration is from one of the newest bridges in Venice, Ponte Della Costituzione also known as Calatrava Bridge after its designer.

Ponte Della Costituzione

This is much too big for our location – 80 meter span and up to 17.7 meters wide in places. But you must admit it is very beautiful: in fact it well illustrates my dictum about a lot of architecture – it looks pretty but it doesn’t work very well. It has a lot of steps, some of them very steep, which makes it a barrier to people on bicycles (intentionally) and people with disabilities.

Actually bicycles aren’t permitted anywhere in Venice, but although this bridge might present a challenge, evidently not enough of a challenge, hence the presence of the local plod.

Ponte Della Costituzione

No, I don’t know how often they have to be there, but they did have quite a few folks to talk too while I was there.

The lack of accessibility meant that as an afterthought a suspended gondola was added

Ponte Della Costituzione

and, unsurprisingly, was out of order at the time of our visit. Wikipedia notes “The official budget for the project was €6.7 million, but actual costs have escalated significantly.”

However, I am pretty sure that someone can come up with a better design of a bridge for the 50m gap, and a way of ensuring that it is not a cycle freeway, but a gentle stroll for pedestrians. The reason is not that I am anti-cyclist, merely tired of the constant aggravation of the “shared space” on the seawall, which the City is now dealing with. It is also essential to the mandate of Granville Island 2040 that none of the Island becomes a through route to anywhere. One of the reasons that mixed use and shared space has worked so well here is that the Island is the destination. It is an exercise then in placemaking, not making through movement faster or more convenient. Indeed unlike so many places in Vancouver which now advertise “this site may have an antiloitering device in place” we must come up with lots of ideas to implement loitering devices – things to encourage people to linger. Or as Brent Toderian likes to call them “sticky places”.

There is one such place now at what would become the landing place of the new bridge. Ron Basford Park is one of the few quiet places on the Island, where people who work there seek peace: somewhere to have a picnic lunch or breastfeed their babies. It is the end of the Island and there is a footpath around its perimeter. I think it is quite possible to design the end of the proposed pedestrian bridge to ensure that this peace is preserved. If the bridge is used as way to get people on bicycles on and off the Island more quickly, there will be considerable conflicts at both ends. But Ron Basford park is also home to amphitheatres: there are concerts and all kinds of activities at other times.  So the Granville Island management is going to have to display some pretty nifty consultation expertise here.

Granville Island is a unique place. It seems to defy all reason and logic, but it undeniably is very successful as a destination, and whatever happens will need to preserve as much of the place’s eccentricity as possible. Or even enhance it.

As Dale Bracewell remarked at the end of the session, Granville Island actually needs several transportation plans for different times of day, days of the week and times of the year. In the summer, the Island attracts at least half of its users from the rest of Canada and other countries – people who probably only visit the Island once. In the winter, the Island – and its market in particular – is the place that most people in the vicinity rely on for groceries. As the residents’ association rep pointed out, they are the people who keep the market going in the winter. There will be further traffic counts later on in the year, to measure the different pattern that emerges when tourists are a less significant part of the mix. And, of course, there will need to be some reflection of what happens once the University leaves: there are around a thousand students now, plus staff and support workers.

There were some hints about how the land use will change. The buildings underneath the bridge, currently used as parkades, are likely to be repurposed. The area at the west end of the Island, currently where there is free parking for the Public Market, will likely see reuse that better utilises its location. But all of this depends on getting more viable choices for transit. So the other really important idea is the installation of elevators up to the bridge deck with new bus stops. Sadly, the City is still wedded to the notion of a centre median greenway – which is utterly daft. The reason people walk over the bridge is the view. No-one is going to want to walk a long way across the Island and the creek with no view other than four lanes of fast moving cars!

Written by Stephen Rees

September 9, 2016 at 6:23 pm

The Fraser Surrey Docks Coal Export Proposal

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BNSF 6386 Delta BC

You probably know already that proposals to expand coal exports at several ports in the United States have failed to get the necessary local approvals. Unfortunately, in Canada, we do not have local control of the ports like they do down there. Here the port is a federal concern, and under Stephen Harper they got used to doing pretty much whatever they wanted. The ports in Canada are actually controlled by the industries and companies that use them and hence they are immune – to a large extent – from concerns expressed by the people who live next door.

Except that there are some remaining powers, which under the new Liberal government may actually have some force. provided that Justin actually keeps all those promises he made before the election. Case in point is the idea that Fraser Surrey docks could be used by BNSF to load thermal coal from the US Powder River Basin for export to power stations in Asia.  Given that the size of ships that can navigate the Fraser are currently limited by the depth of water over the Massey Tunnel and the headroom under the Alex Fraser bridge, the idea is to use barges to tranship the coal from the railhead in Surrey to Texada Island where a new, deep water ship terminal would be built. The desperation of the coal exporters willingness to even consider this kind of expense is borne out of two considerations: the market for thermal coal is shrinking, and the US federal government is beginning to wonder why it is giving away coal at knockdown prices from public lands. Given the endorsement of the Paris Agreement by the US and China, the days of expanding coal fired generation of electricity are clearly numbered. Together with the plummeting price of both solar and wind power, and ways to cheaply store that.

The Dogwood Initiative is fighting the proposal.   They wrote to me as follows:

Yesterday, regional bureaucrats approved a wastewater permit for the Fraser Surrey Docks coal export proposal, moving this climate-killing megaproject one step closer to construction.

This is our chance to stop millions of tonnes of U.S. thermal coal from slipping out through the Lower Mainland to be burned in Asia.

Metro Vancouver must now consider whether to issue an air quality permit that would allow Fraser Surrey Docks to pollute our lungs and our communities with coal dust and diesel fumes.

The good thing is Metro’s board is made up of elected local politicians — accountable to you. They’re on the record against any expansion of coal exports on the Fraser River, and they have the power to put the brakes on Fraser Surrey Docks.

If enough people speak up, we can empower Metro Vancouver to protect our communities and our climate.

Will you take two minutes to write to the Metro Vancouver Board and ask them to stand firm in their opposition of Fraser Surrey Docks?

With prices collapsing and coal projects being cancelled around the world, this delay could be enough to permanently end the threat of an expanded coal port. In the past five years, seven thermal coal export proposals have already been stopped in the U.S.

The tide is turning against coal, and we need the elected members of the Metro Vancouver Board to show real leadership by saying ‘no’ to Fraser Surrey Docks.

We’ve made it quick and convenient, so please take a couple minutes to write to them right now.

We can stop this project, but not without you. Please take action today.


P.S. In 2015, there was so much public interest in the wastewater permit that Metro Vancouver offered a public consultation period for the first time. An unprecedented number of local residents voiced health, safety and environmental concerns about the management plan for wastewater at the coal port expansion. It set the project back by a year. Now the real fight over the air permit begins. Will you be one of the people willing to stand up and speak out?

So of course I agreed and sent the following missive to the Metro Vancouver Board

Dear Metro Vancouver Board Members,

Across the west coast of the United States, communities have stood up against the expansion of coal export facilities. Quite apart from the immorality of increasing fossil fuel exports at a time when our climate is nearing the limits of what it can cope with and remain livable, these communities raised real concerns about the  impacts of coal dust on the local population. Carrying pulverised coal in open rail cars at speed spreads fine dust over a wide area. We already see this in Greater Vancouver due to current coal export movement. We also see that the supposed mitigation measures offered by the railway and terminal operating companies are worthless.

Metro Vancouver Board members ought to be concerned about climate change and the very doubtful economics of coal exports, but sadly you have no legal ability to act on those concerns. You do however have the opportunity to prevent more damage to our health and the environment. The existing coal export operations show how careless these operations are, and how weak our control systems have been. We simply cannot afford to be so reckless with human health any more. You must refuse the air quality permit given the shameful performance of these operations to date.

And to date I have had three replies which give me some cause for hope

Thank you for contacting our office, your message has been received.

Please note, staff will look into your correspondence and follow up as soon as possible.

To report a City Service related problem or time sensitive matter, please visit to connect with the appropriate department.


Linda M. Hepner


City of Surrey

Well, ok that one is just an automated acknowledgement, but the next two are better

Thank you for writing to me on this matter of the proposed coal transfer facility at Fraser Surrey Docks, as I appreciate the opportunity to clarify that my position and the Metro Vancouver Board position continues to be in  opposition to coal shipments from the Fraser River Estuary. On June 12 2015, the GVRD Board passed a Notice of Motion to write to Port of Vancouver and FSD indicating this and I have included the minutes of the meeting for your convenience. (item H. 1 )


While the Sewage Control Manager did  issued a liquid waste discharge permit to Fraser Surrey Docks on September 6, 2016 in relation to their proposed coal transfer facility, it continues to be Metro Vancouver’s position that before the facility can operate it must also obtain an air quality permit and Metro Vancouver has not yet received an  Air Quality permit application. This position of requiring an Air Quality permit  is not without opposition from the proponent, as the facility is on federal land and there is a potential constitutional issue of jurisdiction.


The Sewage Control Manager is directed by GVS&DD Sewer Use Bylaw No. 299 2007, to independently evaluate applications based on technical merit and in accordance with bylaws and the BC Environmental Management Act. When the technical criteria are met, the Sewage Control Manager is required to issue a Liquid Waste Discharge Permit. Had the Sewage Control Manager rejected the permit application, FSD could have moved forward with other wastewater control measures, including applying to the province for a permit to direct discharge to the Fraser River.


To be clear, the issued permit is very narrow in scope and only allows for storm water runoff and wastewater from activities like dust mitigation and equipment wash-down from the potential FSD facility to be discharged to the Annacis Wastewater Treatment Plant.





Acting Mayor Raymond Louie

Vice-Chair – Metro Vancouver Regional District

And then

Thanks for your email. Surrey City Council stands opposed to the coal export terminal and has passed a resolution to that effect. Furthermore, with the price of thermal coal, it is highly unlikely that the proposed export terminal and the transportation from the US will make economic sense for the foreseeable future. Thank you for your concern in this matter.

Bruce Hayne

Councillor, City of Surrey

Now if you have read this far, you know what is coming

Wouldn’t you like to add your thoughts to this process: not as a comment to this post (though a copy here would be interesting) but your own thoughts: it seems that the Metro Board is actually listening.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 7, 2016 at 8:16 pm

Arbutus at 37th

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The tracks have been removed at the crossing of 37th Avenue, with an extension of the gravel path to the corner of West Boulevard. The level crossing signal equipment remains in place.

37th Avenue crossing lifted

37th Avenue crossing lifted

37th Avenue crossing lifted

37th Avenue crossing lifted

Postscript: September 3

The crossing is being removed at King Edward Avenue this morning.

The City of Vancouver is holding Public Feedback workshops. You have to register – click that link!

Written by Stephen Rees

September 2, 2016 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Arbutus Greenway


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The following is a Press Release that came into my inbox. I somehow doubt that the mainstream media will cut and paste the whole thing – so that’s what I am going to do.


TERRACE, BC, September 1, 2016 – Northwest Aboriginal nations have emerged from two days of meetings with the federal government demanding that its “deeply flawed” environmental assessment of a massive LNG proposal be delayed, in light of unfair and incomplete consultation with affected First Nations.

“CEAA (the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) has fundamentally misunderstood its fiduciary obligations to meaningfully consult the proper title holders,” said chief negotiator Glen Williams of the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs.

A powerful alliance of hereditary leaders from Gitanyow, Heiltsuk, Lax Kw’alaams, Gitxsan, Takla Lake, Lake Babine and Wet’suwet’en Nations made it clear to CEAA through a series of meetings in July and August that plans by Malaysia’s state oil company, Petronas, to build a $36-billion liquefied natural gas pipeline and an export facility at the mouth of the Skeena River cannot and will not proceed without their support.

CEAA is nearing the end of a review process that started under Stephen Harper and will conclude with advice to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet on whether to decide for or against the project. Williams says the agency has been biased from the outset, and still seems “more than willing to act as an advocate for the flawed research of foreign multinational corporations rather than for the interests of Canadians.”

Despite pressure that Premier Christy Clark is exerting on the Trudeau government to decide in favour of the Pacific NorthWest LNG project in the coming weeks, northern First Nations are demanding an extension of at least four months to the CEAA process so that full consultation can occur. It was a message delivered loud and clear during this week’s two-day meeting with CEAA in Terrace.

“Despite strong commitments by Prime Minister (Trudeau) to fix Canada’s broken environmental review process, the only difference so far between Harper and Trudeau is our tremendous disappointment in the lack of change,” Williams added. “We expect better from Mr. Trudeau. Our disappointment is profound.”

Murray Smith, spokesperson for the Gitwilgyoots Tribe, one of the Allied Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams, said he was shocked by the disrespectful tone CEAA brought to the meetings. He said the agency neglected to acknowledge Aboriginal territorial rights and title during its presentations, yet went out of its way to acknowledge the Prince Rupert Port Authority as having “jurisdiction over the federal lands.”

“It is appalling that an agency of the federal government could be so ignorant of Canadian law and recent court decisions. Do they seriously believe that a rogue federal agency like their so-called port authority owns our lands, that they can destroy our resources without even talking to us? Why hasn’t our new Prime Minister paid any attention to his own words about nation-to-nation building?”

Murray continued, “Trudeau offers an open door for known corrupt foreign companies like Petronas and (Chinese oil company) Sinopec, yet he says nothing is more important to him than building relationships with First Nations people, but his actions so far do not reflect that at all.”

Presentations were made to CEAA regarding scientific data collected from several studies that confirm the uniqueness of salmon habitat at the mouth of the Skeena River, which is unlike any other area on the Canadian Pacific Coast. The Skeena is the second-largest salmon producing river in the country, and the estuarine ecology of Lelu Island (the site of Petronas’ planned gas hub) and Flora Bank (where Petronas plans a shipping facility) is unique, and uniquely fragile.

Hereditary leader and Wet’suwet’en spokesperson Chief Na’Moks commented that, “science undertaken by Skeena Fishery Commission was done over many years by the leading researchers and experts in their field, and by researchers from Canada’s leading universities. The proponent’s research was conducted by hired consultants tasked with trying to come up with justifications for an incredibly foolish decision by the Prince Rupert Port Authority to site a massive industrial development on top of irreplaceable salmon habitat. The work done to date by Petronas’ consultants has been rejected by CEAA at least five times as being flawed, but now CEAA seems to be buying into the deeply flawed justifications for a project that was simply sited in the worst possible place.”

Independent science, like that of Dr. Patrick McLaren, a geologist and leading expert on sedimentation dynamics, showed that if an LNG tanker berth was placed near Flora Bank it would cause irreversible damage to one of the most productive juvenile salmon nurseries in the world. McLaren’s testimony called into question evidence provided by the proponent, which grossly understates the impacts PNW LNG would have on already stressed salmon stocks.

“The risk from losing the sand from Flora Bank is far greater than the risk of accepting that no harm will come to Flora Bank,” Dr. McLaren said in his presentation.

Gitanyow chief Glen Williams said, “CEAA heard from real scientists who have conducted comprehensive research on the issue on all the potential impacts on our food supply, the ecosystem, the air, and the place we live. The science has been peer-reviewed and published in the world’s most prestigious scientific journals. When are we going to see any honour from government? When can we find comfort in a process that is really meaningful?”



Written by Stephen Rees

September 1, 2016 at 10:42 am

Posted in energy, Environment

Tagged with , ,

“England brings in round-the-clock trains…”

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“…DVBIA says it’s time Metro Vancouver follows”

The headline comes from News1130 and, as usual, needs clarification.

But first, some background. On Saturday evening someone from News1130 and contacted me and wanted me to comment on their story. I suggested that they would do better to find someone from Translink. It appears from the on line version that they didn’t manage to get that.

To be clear, Transport for London is going to run underground trains on two lines overnight Friday and Saturday nights.

August 2016 Night Tube Underground leaflet map

Photo by BowRoadUK on flickr


There will be some other lines added later. This has not been easy to achieve as the unions were critical of the impact on their members. So only in London, and only a few lines: not the Overground and by no means round the clock everywhere.

[Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association’s] Gauthier says they’ve been told there are a number of things standing in the way of 24-hour service [on SkyTrain].

“You know, track maintenance, and there’s a whole list of things that come up as reasons. But I’m not suggesting those aren’t legitimate reasons, but hey, if London can do it, why can’t we! And certainly let’s start with a Friday and Saturday night.”

I do not know what else might be in that whole list of things. But I do know that the maintenance problems on SkyTrain are not trivial. So will anyone else who has tried to use SkyTrain, as breakdowns seem to have been more of a problem recently, and there has been an admission that maintenance needed to be improved.

Mr Gauthier might also recall that Translink was unable to secure a new source of funding for the rather long list of improvements that are deemed necessary to both catch up to recent increases in demand and better meet future needs, rather than rely solely on the province’s preferred method of expanding freeways. There is a shortage of resources, and even a “state of good repair” is a tall order when revenue from gas taxes is falling, due to people making better choices than driving everywhere and better fuel efficiency in vehicles.

If Translink does come up with more money, I think that there are many other more deserving areas than “Millennials … having to live further and further away from the downtown core.” The fact that they continue to seek entertainment in downtown Vancouver is important to some of Mr Gauthier’s membership but is perhaps less important than some other regional issues. Possibly the decisions to increase the number of seats at licensed premises on Granville Street needed to have considered transportation impacts, and come up with some way of meeting that “need” before expansion was permitted. There are night buses, and due to the lack of traffic at night, they provide much faster and more reliable service than they can during the day. I did not see any those making more money off the later openings offering any of it to transportation providers.

If Translink did extend SkyTrain service overnight it would not come free. There would need to be considerably increased security and policing – and that cost is actually higher than on systems that have to pay for additional train operators. Sadly the people who have spent a lot of time in bars tend to make more demands on  police than the rest of us.

If there is money available for some service expansion then I think it must go first to the most needy and worthwhile cause: HandyDART has long been underfunded and its service is nowhere near adequate. Its objective ought to be to provide a service that provides an equivalent level of mobility to people with disabilities as the rest of the population enjoys. Anything less than that is discrimination against an identifiable minority. And compared to the needs of people with restricted mobility all day and every day, the needs of the young and fit late at night on weekends pale into insignificance.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 22, 2016 at 12:30 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with , ,