Energy & Resources
September 16, 2007

Peak Oil in Queensland; Carbon-taxing in America

Maybe because they have already gone through the trauma of serious water constraints, Queenslanders seem to be more serious about the consequences of peak oil.  Or at least some in their government are.
Peter Berkeley, the bike guy from Brisbane who was in Vancouver a few weeks ago, reports in on news at the state level:

Our Premier Peter Beattie retired last week (it all happened very quickly)  The upshot being that there has been a complete reschuffle of the cabinet … 
A major development is that Andrew McNamara, an MP from Harvey Bay has taken up a new ministry called Sustainability, Climate Change and Innovation.  In the hands of anyone else you might say that this is just a rebadging of the old environment department but Andrew has been trying to get the issue of Peak Oil on the radar of the Government and the community for years now. 
He was sworn in on Thursday and by Saturday there was a front page article in the Courier Mail on Peak Oil.  I have attached a link for your reading pleasure. 
Report warns of petrol chaos

From: The Courier-Mail
September 15, 2007
QUEENSLAND is heading for an oil shock. And it is not a matter of if, but when.
As crude oil prices hit a record high yesterday, an as-yet unreleased Queensland Government report warns of massive social dislocation, rising food prices and infrastructure headaches because of rising oil costs.
Video: Oil reaches record prices

Syvret: End of the Oil Age near

Concidentally, there’s a good piece in the New York Times by Gregory Mankiw today on the merits of carbon taxing over cap-and-trade:

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Here’s today’s Province editorial:

One of the main problems about the current debate over Lower Mainland transportation is that it always divides itself along ideological lines and is invariably presented as an either/or proposition: Either you build more public transit or you build more roads.

But the fact is that we need both, and then some. …
As readers of Brian Lewis’s column will know, a new group has been formed to press for passenger rail service in the Fraser Valley. Founded by SFU graduate student John Buker, Rail for the Valley states on its website that our governing politicians “want to spend billions of dollars on highways, but they continue to neglect basic rail transportation needs south of the Fraser River.”
As we said, though, this is not an either/or proposition. The Fraser Valley needs an expanded Port Mann Bridge, better roads and more truck and bus routes.
And it needs passenger rail.
Above all, it requires a decently-funded, comprehensive travel system that offers people as many transportation alternatives as possible.

I hear that argument a lot – that we need a balanced transportation system – curiously used to justify the Gateway. And to imply that the critics of it are being unreasonable.
But the Port Mann/ Highway 1 widening is completely about roads. There’s nothing balanced about it. There’s nothing in the budget for rail; there are no plans for rail; there is only the suggestion that twinning the bridge will maybe, at some undetermined time in the future, make room for rail, disconnected from any transportation planning for rail.
And here’s the problem: it will catalyse auto- and truck-dependent development throughout the eastern valley before rail ever shows up, making it considerably more expensive if not futile to introduce rail afterwards.
If The Province wants to be something more than an apologist for Gateway, it should demand that Gateway be stopped until there’s a plan – and more importantly, a budget – for “a decently-funded, comprehensive travel system.”

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The Project Manager for PM2, Gary Dawson, noted at a recent meeting that the widening of the highway was always planned when the road was first designed.
“Yes,” he said, “we are completing the transportation vision of 1960.”
So we shouldn’t be surprised when we get a Valley that looks like the 1960s.

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In the Saturday Sun, editied by Canada’s most renowned environmentalist, David Suzuki, a feature story provides some counter-opinion (including mine) to the usual rah-rah for the Gateway proposal:

The Gateway project is a “gigantic leap in the absolute wrong direction,” says University of B.C. Professor Larry Frank, who is internationally famous for his studies of the connection between obesity and the suburbs. “It will entrench us in an auto-dependent future right in the middle of a climate-change debacle.”
A study Frank recently did for the Washington Department of Transport showed that for each 10-per-cent reduction in driving times that motorists experience, typically because more roads have been built, the amount they walk or use transit goes down. That automatically means greenhouse-gas emissions go up.
Preston Schiller, a professor at the University of Western Washington who has studied the transportation systems of the three cities, called the Gateway plan “a big mistake.”
“To me, that sort of expansion you just don’t do in this day and age.”
And former Vancouver councillor Gordon Price, also a close watcher of the Vancouver-Seattle-Portland scene, calls it “a tragic turn in the direction of this region.”
“If [the provincial government] does what it says it’s going to do, we are going the way of Seattle.”

Full story here.

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In today’s Province, Valley columnist Brian Lewis reports on the panel discussion in Surrey yesterday, sponsored by the GVRD.

(By the way, I’m not actually a planning professor. I do teach a course as an adjunct at the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC – but that doesn’t qualify for the ‘prof’ moniker.)

Problem isn’t fixed by doing more of what created it

  Brian Lewis The Province

Gordon Price is a Simon Fraser University professor of regional planning who also served six terms on Vancouver City Council — but I think he’s missed his calling.

The 57-year-old should have been a chef because, as a panellist yesterday in a Greater Vancouver Regional District-sponsored meeting on transportation south of the Fraser River, he displayed a talent for stirring pots.
“The Gateway proposal, as it currently stands, will fail,” he said.
“We know it will fail but we’re going to do it anyway,” he told mayors, councillors, bureaucrats and ordinary citizens who gathered for the discussion at a Surrey golf course.
When Price dropped that gem, his co-panellists — Fraser Port Authority president Allen Domaas and B.C. Trucking Association boss Paul Landry — grimaced like any golfer would when the tee shot finds water.
That’s because their organizations have a huge stake in seeing the multibillion-dollar Gateway Project completed.
Greater Vancouver’s ports and its trucking industry play a vital role in this region’s economy — and the national economy, for that matter — and completing mega-transportation projects such as the Golden Ears Bridge, the South Fraser Perimeter Road and twinning the Port Mann Bridge under the Gateway label are all seen as vital to our growing trade with Asia.
Gateway is also being billed as a solution to regional traffic congestion and as a way to make the commuting lives of those who live south of the Fraser much easier.
But Price says allowing the ports, truckers and the B.C. government’s backers on Howe Street the most input on these projects is like letting the fox design the henhouse’s security system. Nor has there been enough input from other public stakeholders.
“Never let the guys who drive the big trucks design your region, because they’ll only do what works well for them,” he warned.
And this, Price maintains, is what has happened to Gateway.
He says it’s being pushed through by the B.C. government as individual projects with little focus on the overall consequences. And many of the negative impacts will occur south of the Fraser, especially in Delta, where a major port expansion is already under way.
“I recognize that in a growing region like ours you have to make a commitment to [building] infrastructure, but simply expanding the road system, even with modest tolls, will only result in people becoming more car-dependent,” Price said.
“The new capacity will only be quickly filled up, so instead of four lanes of trucks stuck in traffic you’ll have eight lanes of trucks stuck in traffic.” He also said before we spend billions expanding the regional road system, we should improve efficiencies in the current system.
Nor have Gateway planners taken into account the consequences of climate change, the increased concerns about fossil-fuel emissions or the loss of local farmland to make way for new roads, he added.
“In the end, you don’t solve a problem by doing more of what created that problem in the first place,” Price said.
Yes, I think the professor would have been a dandy chef because he cooks up some tasty food for thought.

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At the provincial Liberal Party convention in Penticton this weekend, there’ll be a support motion for Gateway from Burnaby-Willingdon. Not surprising, that – but it goes further….

“Encourage the transportation ministry to construct grade-separated interchanges at high-volume intersections on the provincial highway network, with the ideal of building them to freeway standards. “

And here’s the audacious one:

We support funding a third bridge span crossing Burrard Inlet, when the province’s fiscal situation allows it. We reinforce our interest in the environment by establishing high-occupancy vehicle lanes on this crossing”

The Third Crossing lives! And dontcha love the title:

Burrard Inlet Automotive Pollution Reduction.

By keeping the traffic moving, you see, you reduce pollution. It’s good for the environment! And it means you’ll never stop widening roads and building bridges, so the traffic will never, ever again congest.
It’s nonsense, of course. But let’s see what the Vancouver MLAs do, particularly Carole Taylor, Colin Hansen and Lorne Mayencourt, who, regardless of what they may think about Gateway, aren’t likely to want to go into the next election with their party supporting a Third Crossing.

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From Civic Strategies (worth subscribing to):

How the Wheels Came Off a Highway Proposal
When a local highway authority proposed this summer building a 120-mile toll-road “beltway” around the region, it seemed perfectly in line with reality. Tampa Bay’s highways are congested, toll roads are in vogue, so let’s lay some pavement! And on the day they announced it, authority planners thought they had a sure thing. “Every elected official and every staff member at all the agencies we have talked to have been supportive,” the authority’s planning director told the Tampa Tribune at the unveiling.But in no time the proposal started hitting walls. The first was Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who told the Tribune, “Mass transit is really the future of our community. There can always be another roadway that could be built, but building new roadways isn’t cost-efficient anymore.” Others weren’t even that charitable. Some elected officials lashed out at the tendency of highways to produce sprawl, particularly perimeter highways. And environmentalists noted that the proposed road ran through sensitive lands, including well fields that supply the region with its water.
The business community, too, was cool to the idea. Over the last year or so, business leaders have come to share Mayor Iorio’s belief that building more roads is a waste of money and only transit, including some kind of regional rail transit, could actually solve the region’s congestion problems. “With the growth of this area and the amount of traffic that we’re going to incur over the next 10 years, we have to find alternative ways to get people from point A to point B,” one leading developer told the St. Petersburg Times.

Complete article here.

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What happened to car alarms?
I may be totally wrong on this – especially since we moved to a quieter part of the West End – but I don’t think I’m hearing as many car alarms going off.  Particularly at night.  I asked a few others about this, and they concurred.
Maybe it was because car owners realized the alarms were being ignored, or reset their sensitivity, or replaced them with bars on the steering wheel, or I’m going deaf.   Whatever.  But thank you, thank you.

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It’s not clear yet whether this motion from the Greater Vancouver Regional District on elements of the Gateway Project – widening Highway 1 and twinning the Port Mann Bridge – constitutes a turning point in the debate, but it was certainly a big boost of support for those opposing the project as currently planned. (For the motion, see below.)
So far as I know, there has been no response from Kevin Falcon, the Minister of Transportation. No doubt we’ll get more of the same: decision made, we’re laying asphalt. Nor have we heard from the Premier – which is increasingly mysterious.
The GVRD’s main point is that the expansion of general-purpose traffic into the Valley undermines the direction of regional plan – of which Gordon Campbell was an author. It looks like his legacy will not be a more sustainable region, but just the opposite: a web of freeways from Squamish to Hope to South Surrey that will lock a generation into wasteful transportation modes and urban development at exactly the wrong moment in history. The fact that he has nothing of consequence to say about climate change is another indication of, perhaps, denial, more likely a fear of the risk involved in changing direction.  Sad.
Here’s the motion that will go into the minutes to be approved at a subsequent board meeting. The last paragraph, which “strongly opposes the freeway expansion project and twinning of the Port Mann Bridge” was the part added by Vancouver Councillor Suzanne Anton. That’s the part that counts.

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The GVRD has politely asked the Province whether it would like to talk about our future. It wants to know whether the Province is truly committed to sustainability (one of the Premier’s Five Great Goals) in its rush to widen Highway 1 and twin the Port Mann Bridge.
On September 12th, the Land Use and Transportation Committee accepted the recommendations of a staff report that clearly identified the problem with the Gateway Project: there are no strategies to deal with its impacts. There’s no regional goods movement strategy, no transportation demand management, no mitigation for the land-use impacts, and no cost-sharing for alternatives.
For me, the best part of the report was the exposure of how the Gateway Program disingenuously used the GVRD’s own model to justify its project. The provincial staff and consultants used a modified version of the GVRD’s own Growth Management Scenario to forecast traffic to 2031. And while they acknowledged the connection beween road improvements and development patterns, they concluded the land-use impacts could not be estimated. It’s all up to the municipalities, you see. And so they based their forecasts on the assumption that the bridge and highway widenings would have no real effect.
Let me explain what’s really going on here. The Province knows that when the bridge and highway are widened, it will unleash forces that will sprawl across the green fields of the Fraser Valley with auto-dominated development. That’s what has happened with every other bridge we’ve ever built in the Lower Mainland. Only the Province doesn’t want to have to admit that such development will fill up all the new road space with more congestion – as it has every other time – thus defeating the whole purpose of Gateway. And it will never, ever acknowledge this inevitability in a report.
So it’s positioning the municipalities to take the hit. Even though the regional plan is opposed to more general-purpose highway capacity into the valley – for the very reason that it will undermine the plan – the Province is going to go ahead and build it, and then blame the municipalities for the consequences which it refuses to predict.
The GVRD is asking for “a provincial commitment to provide adequate mitigation and compensation for the impacts of the Port Mann Bridge and Highway 1 projects on agricultural lands, regional parks and ecologically sensitive areas.” It wants to develop “an appropriate regional growth strategy which ensures the Gateway Program has minimal negative impacts on the desired pattern of land use in Greater Vancouver.”
That’s the nice, polite way of putting it.
We’re talking about the destruction of a half century of wise planning, of the legacy of our regional plans, including “Creating Our Future” which Gordon Campbell pioneered. We’re talking about one of the last chances to avoid screwing up the Lower Mainland. Ironically, we’re talking about whether, after several billion dollars, the Gateway Project itself will deliver what it promises.
That is – if the Province is willing to talk.

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