Posts Tagged ‘Transportation’
The title comes from an article in The Economist (paywalled) which discusses the work of a graduate student who has challenged the very successful book by Thomas Piketty “Capital in the 21st Century”.
I have had to return the copy that I was reading to the library: the wait list is long and the number of copies limited. If you want a good summary then Cory Doctorow has done a very good job of that.
On March 20th Matthew Rognlie (pictured), a 26-year-old graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presented a new paper at the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity. Although the paper began its life as a 459-word online blog post comment, several reputable economists regard it as the most serious and substantive critique that Mr Piketty’s work has yet faced.
Without actually quoting the whole of the article, the point I want to tackle is this. “housing wealth is the biggest source of rising wealth”
“Policy-makers should deal with the planning regulations and NIMBYism that inhibit housebuilding and which allow homeowners to capture super-normal returns on their investments.”
Now this seems to me to be a very familiar assertion that I have read from the same gang of dealers in secondhand ideas who like to attack government spending on transit. They have asserted more than once that the ALR is responsible for unaffordable housing in Vancouver. For instance here’s the Fraser Institute – citing Wendell Cox (pdf)
The land scarcity created by the ALR has rendered Vancouver housing the most “severely unaffordable” of any major city in the 265 metropolitan markets across Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, as analyzed by Wendell Cox and Hugh Pavletich (2009) in their fifth annual International Housing Affordability Survey
And the same thing in almost any city that imposes an urban growth boundary to limit sprawl.
Dr. Shlomo Ange of the Stern School of Business (NYU) Urban Expansion Project puts the issue simply in his introduction:where expansion is effectively contained by draconian laws, it typically results in land supply bottlenecks that render housing unaffordable to the great majority of residents.
The Economist of course does not have to reference these reports since, as we learned recently, the marketplace of ideas has adopted this notion unquestioningly. Or has it?
The argument stems from the idea that markets are better at determining everything than policy makers. Except that markets can only determine the level of use of those things that are priced. And most of the things that are of real value – breathable air and clean water for instance – are not priced. Land capable of producing food is priced far below what it would be as land designated as suitable for development. Smart Growth seeks to protect this land from development by ensuring that land within the growth boundary is better utilized.
Smart growth planning allows us to create new housing choices that are more affordable. We need to:
make better use of existing land and buildings (for example, by filling in vacant lots and allowing homes to be built over stores)
allow a mix of home types in every neighbourhood, like secondary suites, granny flats, and single- and multi-family dwellings
provide a mix of homes with commercial in the same neighbourhood
carefully add new homes in existing neighbourhoods, such as units in the basement or above the garage (to increase rental supply and provide extra income to help with the mortgage)
provide easy access to jobs and transportation choices, so households can save on transportation costs
In fact the very idea of “affordable housing” might be misleading because it fails to encompass travel costs. Indeed the old saw about buying a house was “drive until you qualify”. The amount you can borrow to buy a house is controlled (in our case by the rules of CHMC) but no-one controls the amount of time and money you spend commuting. This idea is encapsulated neatly in the last of those bullet points. It is also the case, of course, that in markets like Vancouver, many people cannot afford to buy and renting is increasing in popularity even if the supply of rental housing may not be responding as we might like.
It also ignores all the evidence that the conventional model is unsustainable. All the infrastructure that is needed to support sprawl makes it financially unaffordable – as Charles Marohn admirably demonstrates at Strong Towns. The US congress has been arguing for years how to patch up the crumbling interstate system, given their refusal to even contemplate raising the gas tax which funded its construction but not its maintenance. And the bits which are usable fill with traffic congestion which building more roads has never relieved. This makes for very unhappy commutes (see Charles Montgomery “The Happy City”) but again human happiness is another one of those externalities which markets ignore. Prices were supposed to be based on “utility” but every study shows that simply piling up more cash fails to make anyone happy.
Indeed the greatest failing is that the inequality puts more resources in the hands of those who pay politicians to adopt policies that are disastrous to human existence but are good for their short term profit.
What bothers me about the Economist piece is the nonchalance which goes along with omniscience. It goes without qualification what policy makers must do. Because all we are talking about is inequality and where wealth comes from. So none of those dull externalities need get considered at all.
And all of this it seems to me has been covered by others more able and capable than I, but that work does not seem to get cited when I go looking for it. I am actually not too dissatisfied by this piece, but at one stage I was seriously considering crowdsourcing it. I am sure that my regular crew of commentators will be piling in but if you know of other articles which deal with this particular debate (“the impact of growth control on housing affordability” gets 54,700 hits) in particular with reference to either this region or the Pacific North West, by all means let me know.
Just how unaffordable is Metro Vancouver – and how will that change? VanCity has this forecast
Of course, there is a policy that could deal effectively with affordability, just as there is a policy that would end Homelessness. It simply requires the provision of subsidised housing. Of course those who oppose taxes on the wealthy will howl with rage. But all that we have to do to free up some resources is stop subsidizing fossil fuels – and rethink our agricultural subsidies too, while we are at it. It is ridiculous that corn and sugar production is subsidized when we are dying from diabetes, obesity and heart disease. All of which are also strongly associated with sprawl. Utah – hardly a radical liberal sort of state – eliminated homelessness by simply housing the homeless, which turned out to be cheaper than making them stay on the streets.
It was my 66th birthday, and we decided to celebrate by taking a trip to Victoria. My partner had not been on a trip in a float plane. They do not fly at night, and anyway we had tickets for the Cultch on Friday night, so we left on Saturday morning in bright sunshine, with not a cloud in the sky.
This was taken with my phone. A Canon A1400 PowerShot is a neat little point and shoot, but boy does it ever chew through its 2 AA batteries. I had spares in my bag, but that gets stowed at the back on a float plane, not under the seat.
Mostly we walked around Victoria, but we did take the bus out to the Belfry Theatre on Saturday night. The Transit app on my phone worked brilliantly, as long as we had access to wifi. Victoria does have free wifi on part of Government Street, but the quality is highly variable.
We noticed that BC Transit still uses paper transfers, and that buses do not have an on board display of the next stop: operators and other passengers were happy to help. We had to get a taxi back to our James Bay hotel, as the bus had stopped running by then. There is, apparently, no shortage of cabs in Victoria on a Saturday night. By the way, most passengers seemed to use passes, which they swiped through the reader on the top of the farebox. Cash fare is $2.50, no discount for seniors using cash, but equally nothing extra for the express bus all the way out to Swartz Bay.
I used to work in Victoria for the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, which was then in the Jack Davis Building on Blanshard Street.
There is nothing on that building now to indicate who is using it. Across the street, where the Bay used to be is now a condo development, which has retained the frontage and has a public market on the ground floor which is something I strongly recommend you include if you visit.
I am sure if we had been staying longer we would have used Farm Food To Go. What sets markets like this apart is that the people behind the counter actually welcome the opportunity to talk. There was, for instance, a man running a chocolate stall who was not so much a salesman as a missionary. I still cannot understand why we did not actually buy any of his remarkable varieties of chocolate. Probably the “too many choices” problem.
There are plenty of microbreweries and brewpubs in Victoria – and many of the longer established ones have been shipping products to Vancouver for some time. Moon Under Water was new to me – and the bus driver. Unfortunately many breweries suffer due to our weird planning system – which treats them as industrial activities, and this puts them out of the way of the average visitor.
Spinnakers has been established longer than anyone else, and will probably be where we choose to stay for the next trip – whenever that is. It has an unbeatable location – only a short Water Bus ride across the harbour for us, and a local told us of the phone number to call that gets you in touch with one of the skippers, who will get a boat to you to pick you up, if you cannot see one in the vicinity.
By the way next week is Victoria Beer Week March 7 – 15 “Nine days, twenty two events, 43 breweries, infinite joy”
The trip back on Monday was intended to be more multi-modal than the way out, and a lot cheaper. Bus to Swartz Bay, walk on to the ferry than #620 to Bridgeport and on to the Canada Line to King Edward and the #25 home. It will infuriate the No vote trolls who now pester me, but the trip was easy, quick and uneventful. The double deckers on the BC Transit #70 up the Pat Bay Highway are really good British made Alexander Dennis buses, with an unparalleled forward view from the front seats on the top deck.
They have been designed to maximize seating, so the legroom is only just acceptable for me, and would be an issue for anyone taller. The buses are timed to meet the sailings to Tsawwassen – as well as the hours in between. The schedules are co-ordinated. Similarly when we arrived back on the mainland, there were two newish articulated buses waiting to take people to Ladner, Richmond and beyond. The #620 benefits from bus priority measures so even though there was only one lane northbound through the Massey Tunnel we were not held up at all. Though that would not be true for those who drove. North of the tunnel the highway was nearly empty, and of course the bus turns off before the queue for the Oak Street Bridge – and again the bus lanes work really well.
I did find myself acting as a transit guide, even though there was a Coast Mountain employee at the ferry terminal looking after the line up. I recognise, of course, that when you get to a certain age, retaining information can be a problem, so mostly I was just reassuring. Our bus was packed but as a senior I got a courtesy seat – and the bus behind was operating on the load and go principle that I have also seen used at Horseshoe Bay. I do like the quiet of the new hybrid artics, but the view from the inward facing bench seat leaves a lot to be desired. But we made the whole trip with 30 minutes left on our transfers. Which I think is impressive but is pretty much par for the course on that run.
You can get a good idea of the value of time from this trip. Of course fares on the float plane vary by day and time of day – and you could save a buck or so by taking the bus. This is cost per person for our trip including tax, fees and charges
Car2go home to harbour $4.36
Harbour Air to Victoria $176
Travel time door to door ~1 hour
Bus Victoria – Swartz Bay $2.50
Ferry to Tsawwassen $16.25
Transit to Home (3 zones) $5.50
Travel time ~4 hours
There is an option we did not take, which is Pacific Coach Lines, where the bus is loaded on to the ferry: downtown to downtown that costs $40 (not including the ferry) or $30.95 for BC Residents or Seniors both subject to GST. At the time we travelled this was only available for the 09:00, 11:00 and 17:00 sailings. That includes wifi on the bus.
I have to say that even when I was standing next to the computer desks I was unable to use the wifi on the ferry, but it was good in the terminals.
We stayed at the Oswego Hotel and got a deal booking a few days before departure with Hipmunk. Their wifi was the only issue: you have to keep logging in, and at one point we were not allowed on. I found myself talking to a Bell customer service rep rather than the front desk as they needed an IP address or MAC number for each device. Harrumph. It is quite a well located “boutique” hotel with a decent restaurant – but I am not sure how long that will continue. Over breakfast on Monday morning we overheard what sounded like an audit interview from a prospective chain. I have a nasty feeling that they are going to be swallowed by a franchise operation – which would be very sad. Currently it has a very nice individual feel: it would be shame if it swapped that for corporate blandness.
For three whole days I ignored both twitter and facebook and only went online for local information. I needed a break from the the relentless campaign – which seems to have swallowed me whole even though I am not actually part of it. For one thing, the No side trolls are making life …. prickly. Take a look at what Gordon Price found about how the No side works. It is also worth taking a look at this Salon article about how three major US transit systems are failing –
The great transit systems of the Eastern Seaboard are in crisis.
In New York, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is operating a subway system strained by record ridership and storm damage, where the increasing regular delays have been supplemented by a series of recent snafus that have stranded tens of thousands of New Yorkers. A meager capital funding plan is in limbo, threatening the progress of long-awaited projects like the Second Avenue Subway.
In Washington, ridership on Metrorail is down 11 percent since 2009. Mechanical failures smoked straphangers out of underground stations on three occasions… last weekend alone. In January, a third-rail malfunction near the National Mall caused a smoke-storm that killed one woman and sent 84 commuters to the hospital.
And in Boston, a record month of snow has spawned a transportation catastrophe with few modern equivalents. “It’s like a war, we’re taking this back station by station, line by line, switch by switch,” said T chief Beverly Scott. Some parts of the system were shut for days; replacement buses, when they ran at all, created block-long lines in the cold. The city’s tempo shifted into half-time.
These are, respectively, the largest, second-largest and fourth-largest rapid transit networks in the country. And despite their differences, they have a couple things in common. First, each of the three agencies shows a streak of incompetence that irritates and frightens commuters. Second, all three networks suffer from a worrisome lack of political and financial support.
As Boston’s recent debacle illustrates, it can be hard to sift the pebbles of internal mismanagement from the vast sands of disinvestment.
Some of that is extreme weather – but a lot is lack of investment. Which is not just confined to transit of course. It seems to be the hallmark of the Republican approach to government: cut or refuse to raise taxes, spend hugely on the military and prisons but ignore nearly everything else. Then look surprised when bridges start falling down. John Oliver does a good job of explaining what could well become our story too, if the No side wins. Listen to what the callers say when a gas tax increase is suggested. Sound familiar?
I apologize for driving you to a paywalled article. Francis Bula is reporting on what Geoff Freer (executive project director for the Massey project) says about replacing the tunnel and why transit won’t meet that “need”
60 per cent of the commuters are travelling to Richmond or Surrey, the U.S. border or the ferries – so are unlikely to use transit anyway.
The chutzpah of this statement takes one’s breath away.
It is not as if the Canada Line was not already changing travel patterns in Richmond. And the introduction of useful inter-regional connections to the transit system (over many years since it was entirely focussed on downtown Vancouver) with direct service to Metrotown and Newton shows that when the transit system actually looks at how people are moving, as opposed to used to move, even ordinary bus services can be successful. When I first arrived in Richmond and had to commute to Gateway in Surrey I initially tried the #410. Then it was infrequent, with a huge one way loop through Richmond wand was always very lightly loaded. Over the years it has become one of the busiest bus services in Richmond and the only one in the Frequent Transit Network.
The other huge change was when Translink backed off the long held belief that it ought not to compete with Pacific Stage Lines and run a direct bus between the ferry at Tsawwassen and downtown Vancouver. The new service they introduced initially required a transfer to the B-Line at Airport Station, and now requires a transfer to the Canada Line at Bridgeport. It coincided with increased vehicle fares on the ferry so that walk-on traffic grew exponentially. (BC Transit had long met ferries with an express bus from Swartz Bay to downtown Victoria). The #620 now requires articulated buses and frequent relief vehicles. Just like the express bus to Horseshoe Bay.
As for cross border services, it would be easy to set up a “walk across the line service” at Peace Arch, with connections to Bellingham. There are just much more pressing priorities – mostly getting students to post secondary institutions thanks to UPass. But bus service across the line has seen significant commercial traffic with both Bolt bus and Quick Shuttle in head to head competition. Some of the casinos down there run their own shuttles too. The best thing that has happened so far on this route has been the introduction of a morning Amtrak train departure for Seattle.
What is actually needed is transportation planning that looks at the future pattern of development in the region, and integrates land use planning to meet population growth and travel needs. Strangely the desire of Port Authority for deeper draft for vessels in the Fraser River is not the first and foremost consideration. Port expansion is not a driver of economic growth. It is path towards calamity, since it is driven by the desires of a few very rich people to export yet more fossil fuel at a time when anyone with any sense recognizes that we as a species have no choice but to leave the carbon in the ground.
I think that one of the great benefits of rail transit development would be protection of the last bits of highly productive agricultural land left after the ruinous performance of the BC Liberals to date. People riding on trains get fast frequent service through areas which see no development at all, because it is concentrated around the stations. What part of Transit Oriented Development do you NOT understand, Mr Freer? Expand the freeway and sprawl follows almost inevitably.
It is perhaps a bit hard for people here to understand the idea of fast frequent electric trains that are not subways or SkyTrain, but they are a feature of most large city regions – even in America. As we saw in yesterday’s post even LA is bringing back the interurban. West Coast Express is not a good model as it only serves commuting to downtown on weekdays. All day every day bi-drectional service demands dedicated track – or at least the ability to confine freight movements to the hours when most people are asleep.
Transit to Delta and South Surrey has to be express bus for now, just because there is so much catch up in the rest of the region. But in the longer term, really good, fast, longer distance electric trains – which can actually climb quite steep grades equivalent to roads over bridges – must be part of planning how this region grows. It requires a bit better understanding of the regional economy than just assuming that somehow coal and LNG exports will secure our future, when they obviously do no such thing.
A Media Release from UBC with a link to the whole research paper – actually hosted by Translink – and dated August 20 last year
No surprises here – but useful back up to the argument that we ought to spend more on transit. Not that I expect that to influence people like Jon Ferry, [The Province, paywalled] who is pretending to be open minded!
A new report from the University of British Columbia shows that transportation and health are closely linked and recommends that health outcome be considered in transportation planning.
The report, funded by TransLink and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority as part of updates to Transport 2040, the regional transportation strategy, presents a range of opportunities for Translink to incorporate health into its planning.
“This report documents how prioritizing transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure will positively impact health,” says the study’s lead author Lawrence Frank, Professor and Director of the Health and Community Design Lab, part of UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. “It looks at encouraging active transportation, such as walking, cycling and transit, and reducing air pollution and traffic collision risk.”
Dr. Lawrence Frank. Photo: Amanda Skuse
Previous research by Frank has shown that every hour a person spends in a car each day makes them six per cent more likely to be obese, while each additional kilometre a person walks makes them five per cent less likely to be obese.
Sedentary lifestyle is a major cause of many chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease and some cancers. Many chronic diseases are preventable and active transportation and other sustainable transportation choices offer the possibility of prevention and even treatment through increased physical activity. The costs of these diseases are projected to increse by more than $1.5 billion in B.C. over the next 2 to 3 years.
“TransLink’s consideration of the health impacts of transportation systems could help offset the rising costs of health care in the Vancouver area and promote an active lifestyle that will benefit all Canadians,” Frank adds.
The full report is available at here.
This image comes from the South Delta Leader – and their credit simply reads “via Twitter”
Thanks to Sightline again for the link to an AP article in the Seattle Times. It is a very useful, non-technical review of the lack of progress in battery technology. “It’s why electric cars aren’t clogging the roads” which is a useful bit of reality check against the optimism expressed by the report I looked at yesterday.
As for the electric car industry, lithium ion batteries have proved to have two major drawbacks: They are costly, and they do not allow automobiles to go far enough between rechargings. A123, a maker of lithium ion batteries for electric cars, went bankrupt last year because of poor demand and high costs after receiving a $249 million federal grant.
I know I have covered this ground before, but it is worth re-stating. What we want is the comfort and convenience of the car without its environmental impact. It is based on the mistaken idea that if we could get rid of the internal combustion engine – or the fossil fuel it now runs on – all would be well. And that is not true. The problems we have due to cars include urban sprawl, health impacts from that as well as the direct impacts of vehicle collisions (even if we can bring ourselves to trust computers to drive the cars for us), huge economic dependency of both societies and individuals from over-investment in a movement device that spends nearly all of its time stationary, congestion and delay. If every car was suddenly to become zero emission tomorrow, nearly all of the problems of motordom would remain to be solved.
it has conflicting functions. Its primary job is to store energy. But it’s also supposed to discharge power, lots of it, quickly. Those two jobs are at odds with each other.
“If you want high storage, you can’t get high power,” said M. Stanley Whittingham, director of the Northeast Center for Chemical Energy Storage. “People are expecting more than what’s possible.”
At this point I expected a diversion to fuel cells: mercifully that isn’t there – but again yesterday’s report was full of optimism about hydrogen. Which is not a fuel at all but simply a way of storing and transmitting electricity – and not a very good one at that. It is horrendously expensive and very inefficient – simply because hydrogen is the smallest molecule and thus extraordinarily hard to store.
That does not mean we cannot expand the use of electricity in transport – just that we will have to concentrate on technologies that we know work, even if they are not quite a perfect replacement for the convenience and mobility of the private car. What we need to convince ourselves about is that neither of those things is a project killer. We don’t actually need so much mobility if we only could redesign and retrofit our cities to be more accessible. If what we want was in easy reach by walking – or cycling – and both modes were safe and attractive – we will do a lot more of both, reducing both our carbon impacts and the size of our waistlines. For longer journeys, fixed route public transportation that is unhampered by single occupant vehicles can be readily powered by very long extension cords – trolleybuses, streetcars and trains. As long as these have adequate priority the expense of grade separation can be avoided. Yes, private cars will be delayed. Good. That improves the case for modal shift and saves lives.
I also think that by now somebody ought to have taken the step of putting a set of lightweight trolleypoles on the roof of a hybrid bus – or shoving a hybrid power plant into a trolleybus. Then we in Vancouver could see extensions of trolleybus routes to useful destinations – and redeployment of diesel buses to the suburbs. So the #41 to UBC gets converted, the #9 extended to Brentwood – and the inner set of “express bus” wires along Hastings get used for SFU services instead of being an historical anomaly of earlier faster trolley bus service to the PNE.
For one group, the use of lightweight cheaper batteries is already paying off handsomely. In general I do not think that electric bikes are such a great idea. For better health outcomes alone, I favour human power as much as possible. But we have an aging population. When you are young, you have time but no money. In middle age you have money but no time. Then, just when you have money and time, your knees give out. That is when a power assisted pushbike makes all kinds of sense.
So we can indeed reduce the use of oil (and other fossil fuels) in transportation – and it doesn’t require any kind of technological advances. We already have “good enough” technologies which are getting better. Information technology has done a great deal to reduce much of the frustrations inherent in using transit, and for facilitating things like bike shares and car shares which could be so effective in increasing its range and effectiveness if only they were integrated properly.
What is missing is not some whizzo battery – or personal rapid transit or a cheap fuel cell. It is political will and resources. And that has been the case for nearly all of the time I have been conscious of the issues – over fifty years! Conservatism – the power of the special interest group we refer to as “the elite” – the 1%. That is the root cause of the problem – however you decide to define the problem. Unaffordability of housing, traffic congestion, bad air quality, environmental impact, global warming. All of these issues are based on the incredible selfishness of a very small group of people. Many of who spend a great deal of time and money telling us how much they care about these issues but none of which ever seem to get solved. Even though the solutions have been staring us in the face all that time.