Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Richmond

Weekly Photo Challenge: Graceful

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Every Friday WordPress posts a single word prompt for a photo. Today’s is Graceful

The sculpture is called “Olas de Viento” and was installed in Garry Point Park in the City of Richmond BC by the Vancouver Biennale. The photo was taken in December 2009. I was very taken by the subject and made several images at that time. The City decided not to buy it and by March 8, 2012 it had gone.

The name translates as “Wind waves” and the sculptor is Yvonne Domenge from Mexico

It is now installed at Herman Park in Houston, who clearly have much better taste than the Mayor and Councillors of Richmond.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 20, 2017 at 11:40 am

Will shaky soils kill the bridge?

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I am not an engineer or a geologist. But I do know that soil liquefaction is a huge problem for structures in earthquake prone areas, like the one we live in. When the shaking starts what seemed to be solid ground is actually waterlogged sands and similar material – the result of millennia of silt being deposited by the Fraser River as it slows on its way to the sea – starts to move. The damage to buildings in San Francisco in its famous quake was due to similar soil conditions. They still cause issues there: a high rise called Millennium has piles that do not reach bedrock and it is both sinking and leaning.

When the Massey crossing was first contemplated it was these soil conditions that caused the engineers to reject the idea of a bridge and chose a tunnel instead. Those conditions have not changed since. The Geological Survey of Canada in 1995 reported that bedrock is around 1,970 to 2,300 feet below where the new bridge is proposed. More recently  B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure had two holes bored to 1,099 feet “without tagging bedrock” – not really a surprise since there was another 1,000 feet to go.

We know that Greater Vancouver is going to experience a major earthquake since there has not been a major shift in the tectonic plates since European settlement started, but there was apparently a “big one” which was recorded as a tsunami that hit Japan. These events are hard to predict with any accuracy but many seismologists think it is “overdue”. No-one has ever built a cable stayed bridge of this size in these kind of conditions. Indeed it is very hard to think of why anyone would propose taking such a risk – anyone who has the imagination to envisage what happens to two massive towers unsecured to bedrock but linked by cables and a bridge deck when the soil beneath them liquefies and shakes.

“I think people tend to focus on the Big One. If you’re looking at the statistics there’s a one in 10 chance that it will happen within the next 50 years. I think of those as fairly high odds. If we had a lottery with that kind of probability you’d probably buy a ticket,” she said.

The “she” quoted is Earthquake Canada seismologist Alison Bird

Ask yourself, as Premier Christy Clark wants you to buy a bridge, do you feel lucky?

Written by Stephen Rees

December 1, 2016 at 11:25 am

Southwest Area Transport Plan

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Translink bus in Steveston

Translink bus in Steveston

I had a call today from Graeme Wood who writes for the Richmond News. He wanted to talk about Translink’s Southwest Area Transport Plan. He wanted me to predict what sort of changes people in Richmond might want to see in the transport system in the future. I’m afraid I wasn’t very helpful as it does not seem to me to be very important. First of all because the way to plan for a future system is to do some really good data collection on how they travel right now, and why, and then come up with some realistic proposals on how that could change based on what we know about things like population growth, land use plans and technology changes. Just asking people what they might like is a bit pointless. Secondly holding open houses and inviting people to fill in a web based survey form means you only get the opinions of a self selected (i.e. unrepresentative) group.

But it’s worse than that here now – and here is where I went off on a rant which I somehow doubt will appear in his newspaper, but you never know. They might be desperate to fill the space.

Here’s what the Translink web page has to say

In June 2014 the Mayors’ Council developed the Transportation and Transit Plan which identified investment priorities across the Metro Vancouver region. These priorities identified the need for types of services, but not the specific routes or specific areas that would benefit. An Area Transport Plan will establish a blueprint for the unique transit and transportation needs of the Southwest sub-region. Once funding is available, we will have a solid foundation for implementing the priorities that meet the needs of the community now and in the future.

I have added the emphasis: if you think funding is going to be available, and you live in Delta or Richmond, then you might like to wander along to one of their open houses or fill in the survey. Don’t let me stop you, or the thought that it is very unlikely indeed that much is going to change any time soon. Unless the stupid bridge actually gets built, in which case, forget it and buy a car. And if that is not a practical choice for you then you might have to take Jean Chretien’s advice and consider moving.

There is no funding for more and better transit or very much for walking and cycling – which anyway gets decided by the municipality not Translink. And, given the present ineptitude of our provincial government, that is not going to change any time soon. I think the two immediate, pressing needs for transit would be to restore the annual pass for people with disabilities and – having taken handyDART back in house – make a considerable investment in making door to door trips for people who cannot drive or use conventional transit a daily possibility rather than a very rare treat. The way that a society treats its most vulnerable citizens tells you a lot about what sort of society we are and want to be. The way this segment of our population has been treated in this province is a disgrace. And that has been true for at least the last twenty years to my certain knowledge and actually much longer than that. I think that if there are to be more funds available that ought to be the first priority simply as a matter of social justice. Even Hillary Clinton has recognized that transportation is a civil rights issue.

Whatever detail Translink puts on top of its 2014 Plan matters naught, if it cannot get any more funds to match the needs for an increase in its operations and maintenance budget – let alone the very desirable and lengthy list of transit improvements listed in that plan. The Mayors identified very real problems in the present funding model, not the least of which is the decline in revenues from the gas tax and the pressures of population growth. Of course we are in a stare down over the potential for increases in property tax: don’t expect that to end either.

Already Kirk LaPointe has decided that the Broadway Subway is not going to happen.

Our viability and livability depend on better public transit – not in a decade, but today, because we have waited a decade. Trouble is, the line has taken only one teensy step forward and some significant steps back since it was identified as one of several core projects in the Mayors’ Council report on transportation in 2014.

Yup, he got that right. Oddly he also seems to think that streetcars might be the solution as though they could be implemented faster than the subway. Actually any transit solution is going to be very expensive, very unpopular with at least one loud and influential segment of the population  and will take far too long to implement to satisfy the existing users of the 99 B Line. It is about as likely as the Massey Bridge – or the Port Mann – will see LRT running across it in my lifetime: or along the Arbutus Corridor come to that. While the province always likes to say that their new bridges could carry more transit in the future, that is simply the old “jam tomorrow, never jam today” promise.  There has never been a real intention to implement those plans.

People in Richmond or Delta who go to these open houses and outline the sorts of improvements they would like to see in the bus routes of their area are simply demonstrating the triumph of hope over experience. Good luck with that, folks. Let me know how that works out for you.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 13, 2016 at 4:06 pm

What this place is going to look like

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I have been seeing links to this report in various places. But not, so far anyway, this

So just to let you know, I got the information about this map from Next City. And after I got a download of the screenshot above this communication from came by email

If you have received this email, you recently downloaded a map image from Surging Seas: Mapping Choices. You have our permission to use this image as you wish, provided that you cite Climate Central, provide a link to if the image is used online, and adhere to our terms of use.

In addition, we encourage journalists and stakeholders to view, download, embed, broadcast or otherwise use these additional materials created by Climate Central, according to our same terms of use:

  • photo-realistic sea level images that you can easily embed on your site, or broadcast, with attribution. Or download the same hi-res images via this page
  • Google Earth ‘3D fly-over’ video tours showing effects of sea level rise on global cities under contrasting warming scenarios
  • our global report with statistics for cities around the world, including analysis of population on implicated land
  • interview clips with lead scientist Dr. Benjamin Strauss

If you do so, we simply ask that you provide a credit to Climate Central, and include a link to us ( when posting online.

So, having done that I think I have fulfilled any obligation I incurred. I am a bit surprised, and disappointed, that there does not seem to have been much take up of this information by the mainstream media. And that some of the links I have followed that seemed to address the report did show just how so much of Metro Vancouver is going to be under water. So I hope that this posting will inspire some better efforts by the people who read this blog.

The subject matter has, of course, been covered here in the past. And my frustration that, when I lived in Richmond, there seemed to be such a complacent attitude towards sea level rise.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 17, 2015 at 10:05 am

Plan for deeper dredging in Fraser River has high environmental price

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Steveston Ladner Canoe Pass and Mt Baker 2007_0710_1058

The story comes from Business in Vancouver and has a very even handed approach. I adapted their headline to be less even handed since I feel somewhat incensed by the behaviour of the Port Authority. As are the Voters Taking Action Against Climate Change. And it is also worth I think reframing this argument not so much about saving the planet as saving the place where we live from the inevitable consequences. It is not that dredging of the Fraser “may” reduce the protection provided by the wetlands. The mechanism described by Michael Church is readily apparent. The Port of course chooses to ignore it.

The problem is that the Port Authority has a very limited remit and no responsibility at all to the community within which it operates. The current Board’s view is that they only have to satisfy the “stakeholders” of whom the port businesses are about the only ones that get any attention. In exactly the same way the business in general is dealing with climate change – hoping it will go away or someone else will solve it cheaply and at public rather than business expense, all the while ensuring the greatest possible rate of return on capital employed for the shareholders rather than the stakeholders. It is this fundamental misconception – that the economy is somehow more important than the environment – that is the heart of the problem. A different kind of government in Ottawa could easily change this perception. We  – the people of Canada – are in fact the shareholders of the Port. But our government – at all levels – chooses to ignore that and places the interest of short term financial profits above all else. Including the impact of tidal surges on the population of Richmond, where urban development was allowed against all common sense and the regional plan.

This blog has often commented on the port and Richmond. When I lived there I felt personally threatened. No I no longer live there its a more academic exercise – but I still feel that we ought to have public agencies that are acutely conscious of their broader responsibilities. A business like approach is NOT appropriate in any Public Corporation. That is why it is in the public sector, not the private. If all that mattered was profit, then it could be privatized. But even our right wing governments realize that there are public interests in controlling the operations of ports – and all the other kinds of transportation and its associated infrastructure.

It is hardly surprising now that people here do not see the decision to downgrade the protection afforded to whales not as scientifically driven (when has the Harper Government ever paid any attention to science?) but as a spectacularly inept gift to the oil for export lobby. The timing alone is terrible, but when they have a secure parliamentary majority, and the polls trending once again in their favour, what do they care about optics? On the other hand they have finally decided to something about DOT111 tank cars: what a shame it took the deaths of so many people fo force them into action. Whatever happened to the precautionary principle? I would take that approach to dredging deeper in the Fraser. If for no other reason than every dredging operation I have been in touch with was always temporary – since each time you dredge a hole it fills up again. As any kid with a bucket and spade at the beach will tell you.

Richmond Bikes Still Lagging Behind

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That has been my view for a long time – but the title is taken from a “Friday Feature” in the Richmond News. Although I no longer live there, I still find that I go there quite a lot. The airport, picking up parcels from couriers who did not find me at home, car servicing, the doctor … the list is quite long. I have not tried to get there by bike. Though it would be straightforward enough, and with bike racks on buses, easy to avoid Vancouver’s hilly bits. But if I am going to use transit anyway, why hamper myself with a bike? We also still like walking on the dyke. And at one time we used to put the bikes on the car rack and go further. I am not sure why that has not been happening of late. I feel a Bicycle Diary coming on but I will leave that for later.

Richmond ought to be great for cyclists as it is as flat as a billiard table. There has long been a cycling committee there – and I am afraid that they have not achieved very much. If you remove the use of the dyke – which is much more about recreation than transportation – then there is actually not much cycling in Richmond. It is still very much a car oriented suburb and what facilities there are, were grudgingly conceded. Or pushed by the availability of funding from Translink or extracted from developers. Few bike lanes – lots of sharrows. And one or two paths shared with pedestrians and unpaved.

Raised Bike Lane No 3 Road

There is a pretty fair summation in the News piece.  It would not have gone amiss to have pointed out that the No 3 Road lane was separated and raised – for some of its length, but ruined by incompetent paving and never corrected. The best example of arterial road reorganization is still Williams Road. For much of its length the traditional four lanes of traffic has been reduced to two with a centre turn lane and bike lanes each side. This gets altered at intersections, with  no priority for bikes, and actually improves traffic flow, just as separated bike lanes have done in Vancouver. It also should stop on street parking – but is not well enforced.

Bad Parking 1

The biggest issue for me is that after twenty years of “demonstration” it has not been replicated and should have been. Critical intersections like Granville at Garden City, or Shell at Hwy 99 remain diabolical for cyclists.

Highway 99 overpass

The News does not expect much to change any time soon and I think they are right. The City Council is very secure and is unlikely to face any great challenge at the ballot box, so smugness rules. They will not change and no-one seems likely to make them.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Extending the Canada Line?

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UPDATED April 24, 2012

The headline in the Richmond Review actually reads “Extending the Canada Line won’t happen in our lifetime, says Richmond mayor”.

That is his opinion and he is entitled to it. But the – shortish – piece under it also illustrates not only why he may well be wrong, but also why Strategic Planning is too important to be left to politicians – or people who seriously think that perception is reality.

Malcolm Brodie has shown himself to be a capable politician – simply because he has survived in his position for such a long time, not been tempted to get out his depth, and now and again stood up to the bullies in the provincial government who come from the same part of the political spectrum as he does. I do not buy the appellation “non partisan”. Malcolm is no socialist, nor is he in the slightest danger of being labelled Green. But he also shows that his perspective is what the local electorate generally wants to hear. South of Granville, most of Richmond is still single family homes (though many have “mortgage helpers”) and, like most people up to the eyes in debt, deeply distrustful of change in the neighbourhoods. After all, that was why they bought where they did, and they do not want to find themselves living somewhere else without moving. So this kind of stuff plays well with the local Chamber of Commerce, which is where he was speaking.

But Richmond is changing, and changing fast, and not just in the bits served by the Canada Line. Though the massive retail development proposed in the Bridgeport area is getting the headlines, change is happening along the bus routes, because of a council decision that allows that. Even though only of one them is classified as frequent (#410). At one time most change was small bungalows on large lots getting replaced by monster homes. That still happens within the subdivisions, but along the edges (i.e the arterial roads that are bus routes) the development of choice is townhouses. Lots of them, packed in tight and usually with lane way access. Because even though there may be a bus route, most people are still going to drive and parking standards have not been relaxed.

This blog has consistently pointed out that the Canada Line was not, in fact “specifically built with the idea that it could be extended”. Malcolm and other Richmond Councillors might have thought that, but they were not in charge. In fact they wanted surface light rail on the old B Line “central reservation” – which could have been easily extended, much cheaper but was also incompatible with automatic train operation. The Canada Line has significant limitations – mostly short underground stations – and a P3 “concession agreement”. The single track bit in Richmond does limit frequency as it is operated in two directions.

South end of the Canada Line at Richmond-Brighouse Station

South end of the Canada Line at Richmond-Brighouse Station by "indyinsane", on Flickr

As I have said, what could be done is to build a one way loop by tacking new track on the end of the Brighouse Station and linking back to Lansdowne, taking in the areas with significant traffic generating potential. (No 3 to Granville, east on Granville, north on Garden City, west on Lansdowne). Then it can operate at line frequency as there would be no need to wait until the train gets back to Landowne. The loop might have stations at City Hall, and two more on Garden City.  Indeed, I can imagine the sort of people who think concrete would greatly improve the Garden City lands as salivating at that thought. Not that I am proposing such a thing – or even saying that it would be a Good Thing. Just sketching out a possibility.

I think the cited “$107.9 million per kilometre” as the cost of the line probably includes the very expensive underground route in Vancouver. Single track guideway around a couple of square kilometres of high rises might be a lot cheaper. Though don’t expect the people living at track level to cheer about that. Ideally, of course, one builds rail rapid transit before the people move in. Much easier then to get the thing accepted, and a much better rate of return on capital employed. There is even enough room on the ground, thanks to the old BCER tracks which ran along Garden City and Granville, explaining the generous right of way those roads have, and the bizarre layout of their intersection.

This might well happen, if things develop as nows seems likely. Peak oil, and the lack of affordability of electric cars means that finally Greater Vancouver could get serious about providing alternatives to single occupant motor vehicles. This would be because transit is much more fuel efficient per passenger kilometre even if it is in old diesel buses – and exponentially better if it is in modern electric trains. And the majority of people who live in Richmond now are not people like Malcolm Brodie. They know at first hand what very high residential densities and excellent public transport look like. They just have not been very much involved in municipal politics – as the present ethnic make up of Richmond Council makes clear.

Of course, some of the other likely scenarios have to play out differently too. The major earthquake and tsunami might not happen for a while longer – or we may have actually done something effective to mitigate their impacts. Similarly sea level rise – expected to be much higher in the Pacific North West – will happen, but for Richmond to continue to exist will require a radically changed approach to flood prevention. Salt water ingress into the soil may have some impact on the remaining agricultural lands (if they have not all been paved for port expansion) but fresh water flow from the Fraser might hold that back – despite the loss of the last glaciers and much less snow pack.

One thing I would caution people like Malcolm making prognostications like this is the propensity of history to show that they were wrong and often much sooner than you might think. It does seem to me that those who have been saying that the North American style of car oriented suburb was a short lived idea and one that has now seen its heyday pass are much better founded in their understanding than someone who says “you’re going to have a huge expense for really very little value in terms of densities”. Malcolm really does not understand what is happening in the broadest sense. It may play well now that we are embroiled in trying to cut costs and avoid more property taxes, but it is very short term, local thinking.  And that worries me when we say that the Mayors need to be in charge of the agency that plans the region’s transportation system.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 20, 2012 at 10:43 am