Policy & Planning
December 13, 2019

Things I Learned from Kevin Desmond

TransLink’s CEO addressed the Real Estate Institute President’s luncheon this week with a general overview of regional transit.  And though much was familiar, there were still items worth noting.  Time for some bullet points.

Said Desmond: “This is the most exciting time to be involved in public transit in its history.”  I believe him, especially when you’re running the most successful transit agency in terms of ridership growth in North America.

How successful? Up 18 percent between 2016 and 2018, when almost every other system is flat or dropping.  SkyTrain alone: up 48 percent.  But that’s deceptive.  It’s bus ridership that has led the growth in actual numbers, and it’s where the biggest growth is going to come in the next few years.

Big message to the real-estate industry: Don’t just think of development at the station areas; think transit corridors, especially the new Rapidbus lines.  (Why the change of name from B-Lines?  Because they were just big buses running more frequently with limited stops.  Rapidbus involves a redesign of everything from the stops, the signs, the lanes and the land use.)

Irony alert: many transit users can’t afford transit-oriented development. This is not just an issue in the burgeoning station areas like those along the Millennium Line or potentially along the Broadway corridor; it’s also an emerging problem along the new Rapidbus lines, where the housing may be too expensive for the target population the transit is meant to serve.

The desirability of high-density station areas was affirmed when Marine Gateway (along the Canada Line in Marpole) sold out in four hours.  That made the industry pay attention when the condo market seemed to be oversold.  (It shouldn’t have been that great a surprise: many of the purchasers would have been familiar with similar development in Hong Kong, Singapore or Shanghai – where metro transit and high-density housing are indivisible and desirable.)

The Capstan station in Richmond, paid for by the adjacent development, changes the political message about how we fund transit infrastructure.  More by the private sector, less by the public.

Expect Broadway subway service in 2025.  Construction starts next fall.

If the money is approved for the a Surrey SkyTrain extension, service to Langley will also start in 2025.  (Oddly, 2025 would also be the starting date for service to Fleetwood, the destination without the extension.  Not sure how the line could be doubled and completed so easily.)

As public consultation on the Transport 2050 strategic plan continues (phase 1 here), remember the previous one: Transport 2021 in 1993.

Almost everything proposed and planned was achieved.  “We put it together and we stuck with it and we did it.”  (Despite the BC Liberals sabotage by referendum, which they have still not acknowledged or apologized for.)

The future: electric, connected and self-driving.  Autonomous cars may not be happening as soon as expected, but by the end of the next decade, 60 percent of the entire bus fleet could be zero emission.  That’s especially notable given that a lot of housing will be constructed along the Frequent Transit Network.

Desmond also emphasizes the mundane: maintaining assets in good repair, even as we try to understand and integrate the disruptive forces in transportation.

 

*Photo by thestar

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The posts today are like the weather: gloomy, but it’s the environment we live in.

The Washington Post just featured this report: The Arctic may have crossed key threshold, emitting billions of tons of carbon into the air, in a long-dreaded climate feedback.

Mike Brown, who was a member of Vancouver’s Clouds of Change Task force 30 years ago (the first report by a municipality on climate change), has been doing analysis and raising questions with respect to Canada’s permafrost (and our responsibility) with urgency and trepidation.

Here is his update:

An article from the Washington Post is making its rounds today. Permafrost thaw has made the mainstream!

It refers to two reports* about the state of affairs.  Each says that there’s evidence that the annual net emissions (thaw in winter months minus growth in summer months) from the permafrost are now about .6 Pg of Carbon.  Here is a quote from the NOAA Arctic Report:

“ . . .  suggests that carbon release in the cold season offsets net carbon uptake during the growing season (derived from models) such that the region as a whole could already be a source of 0.6 Pg C per year to the atmosphere.”

Here is what the reports don’t mention.

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That head has to be a contender for a ‘most boring headline’ contest, right up there with the previous winner: ‘Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.’  Every word a snoozer, including ‘an’ and ‘for.’

For bonus points, it’s about a pumping station!

What makes the project worthy of attention is this:  “Although the pump station had a budget of $4.17 million through the provincial grant, the project actually came in $600,000 under budget.”

So what happened to the $600,000 they didn’t spend?

“Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced at the pump opening that the leftover funds would stay in the District of Kent for drainage.”

Kent saves money; Kent gets to keep money.

Here’s the part of the province we’re talking about:

This is a very soggy place; it was where the great flood of 1948 began.  Indeed, the District of Kent was incorporated … “for the reason of being able to borrow money so they could get drainage work done,” the mayor said. “It’s been something that we’ve always been working on for 125 years, and more than likely well into the future.”

Oh yeah, “well into the future” – as places like this are impacted by climate change in numerous and devastating ways.  The infrastructure costs to adapt and mitigate are going to be massive.  By rewarding Kent for making its millions go further, the Province is setting a precedent and sending a message: stretching dollars on infrastructure to deal with climate change is going to be worth your while.

 

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Finally the SUV (sport utility vehicle)  epidemic which is killing pedestrians and responsible for an alarming uptake in automobile emissions is getting  national press attention.  I have been writing about the fact that SUVs are the second largest contributor to the global increase in CO2 emissions in the last ten years. The power industry is the biggest contributor. Other industries such as cement, iron and steel production and trucks and aviation lag behind the emissions produced by these vehicles.

The SUV is the automobile manufacturer’s cash cow, getting around the usual standard safety regulations required for cars because it is built on a truck platform. These SUVs are not built for city driving where they are now recognized as killing machines. Trucks and SUVs suck up 60 percent of all vehicular sales, and the SUV is solely responsible for a 46 percent increase in pedestrian deaths. A pedestrian is twice as likely to die being hit by the higher front end of an SUV.  Statistics show that drivers in these massive rolling living rooms are 11 percent more likely to die driving one.

Here’s the math: currently 25 percent of global oil is for vehicular consumption and related CO2 emissions. SUVs are responsible for an  emission increase by .55 Gt CO2 to 0.7 Gt CO2, as they require 25% more energy than the average mid-sized vehicle. Even with more “efficient” SUVs, this form of vehicle is the reason that there is a 3.3. million oil barrels a day of growth in the last eight years. That’s 3.3. million barrels a day of oil so that people can ferry themselves and family around in an overbuilt, oversized den-like vehicle.

The International Energy Agency has a big warning that the enchantment with SUV’s will undo the progressive shift to electric cars, by requiring an additional two million barrels a day of global oil by 2040, directly offsetting the carbon emission savings from nearly 150 million electric cars.

As Naomi Buck in the Globe and Mail states: Savvy marketing persuades buyers that SUVs are safe, comfortable and prestigious. And even if the ads show them carving through magnificent outdoor landscapes or parked next to glinting oceans, that’s not what these vehicles are really about. To quote Mercedes-Benz’s promotion of its latest G-class SUV: “More spacious. More special. Welcome to the great indoors.”

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If you are on the 2200 block of West 4th  in Vancouver there is a striking transformation at Leis de Buds which gets you thinking about Seasonal Stuff. Firstly right beside a handy bench is a mailbox waiting for your letter from Santa.  And west of this mailbox is the best ever little geodesic dome housing seasonal~and not so seasonal fragrant plants.

The whole effect at night is simply magical with the glow from the dome. It also talks about the importance of having different articulation on commercial storefront facades to allow such a temporary transformation with the glowing dome. It also provides light in the tiny plaza with a scale comfortable enough to sit in and relax.

 

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