The Livable Region
July 24, 2014

Climate Change Porn – 15: A 25-Year Average, times Six

From Climate Central:

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An aerial view of the Birch Creek Fire complex

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For the past few weeks, dry and warm weather have fueled large forest fires across Canada’s remote Northwest Territories. The extent of those fires is well above average for the year to-date, and is in line with climate trends of more fires burning in the northern reaches of the globe.

The amount of acres burned in the Northwest Territories is six times greater than the 25-year average to-date according to data from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center.

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UPDATE: It’s worse to our south, as noted by Sightline:

This week, the LA Times reported on the wildfire raging in Washington State, describing “tornadoes of fire” engulfing a small town. It’s a scary picture and a bleak reminder that global warming is amplifying certain kinds of destruction here, now, right in our backyard:

The Carlton Complex fire will probably go down as the biggest conflagration in Washington state history, torching about 240,000 acres and counting. Pateros, one of Washington’s littlest towns, was no match for its fury. An estimated 20% of the buildings in the city, population 600 or so, have been destroyed. There is no electricity, no drinking water.

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UPDATE: The Dish runs a post on The Demographics Of Denialism .

Observations:

  • Climate-change skepticism appears to be especially common in Anglophone countries.
  • The English-language media in three of these four countries are linked together by a single individual: Rupert Murdoch. … the conglomerates that he heads are responsible for quite a lot of English language climate skepticism and denial.
  • People who live on coastlines also tend to take climate change more seriously than those who live inland.
  • People more familiar with science are better at coming up with explanations to defend whatever conclusions their cultural group has reached.
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So argues Yoram Bauman at Sightline:

How much of the reduction in petroleum consumption in British Columbia (see graph below) is caused by Canadians filling up south of the border?

The answer: not much.

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It turns out that there are a host of other factors that affect the cross-border gasoline market, including exchange rates, regulations, other taxes unrelated to the carbon tax, and even the ease of crossing the border.  …

As for gas prices, the figure below shows ten years of gas price differentials between British Columbia and Washington State; on average gas has been about $1 a gallon more expensive in BC, and it’s currently more expensive by about $1.25. The impressive line at the top shows how much of that spread is the result of factors completely unrelated to the BC carbon tax:

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Yoram delves way deeper here – so if you’re going to comment, take a read first.

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Further to the post below, here are some background facts used by the City of Vancouver to make the case for rapid transit on Broadway:

  • We have a very successful transit system; it is growing faster than any transit system in North America.
  • There are a million transit boardings a day in our region.
  • Transit ridership in Metro Vancouver vastly outperforms other regions of similar size (e.g., Denver, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Portland, etc.)
  • Metro Vancouver is more similar in ridership to some of the most populous North American regions (e.g., New York, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco). But we are the 27th largest region.
  • We’re in the middle of the pack in North America in terms of transit spending. But we get higher ridership.
  • In Vancouver, car trips are not expected to grow, but they are expected to grow in the region, leveling out after 2030.
  • The Expo line may reach capacity by about 2030.
  • Our region is going to grow by 50%/1 million new residents over the next 30 years.
  • Transit along Broadway has no spare capacity.
  • Growth is going to be spread evenly across the region: 52% north of the Fraser; and 48% south of the Fraser. (About 70% of the growth south of the Fraser will be in Surrey.)
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I often say that Vancouver has one of the best transit systems in the world – to the sound of considerable scoffing.  And indeed, I do need to qualify that I’m talking about mid-sized cities.  But even compared to some of the subway-oriented major cities like New York and Toronto, we compare pretty well – as a just-out post by the Sightline Institute illustrates.

Sightline has published the results of “Transit Score” – a follow-up to the wildly successful Walk Score:

The Transit Score methodology rates a location’s transit-friendliness by its proximity to transit stops and the frequency of transit service. Rail, cable cars, and ferries count more than buses towards a location’s Transit Score. To score a whole city, the Transit Scores of individual locations throughout the city are weighted by nearby population, then averaged.

One of the consequences of this methodology is that a city can boost its Transit Score either by boosting transit service, or by boosting the number of people near high-quality transit.

By that weighted criteria, Vancouver does really well:

The 2014 Canadian Transit Scores are out…and Vancouver, BC clocks in as the third most transit-friendly city in the Great White North, narrowly bested by Toronto and Montreal. Pretty good, eh?

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But what’s even better: when you combine Canada and the US, Vancouver comes in at number 6! The only US cities with a better Transit Score than Vancouver are New York, San Francisco, and Boston.

Looking more narrowly within the Cascadia bioregion, Vancouver’s Transit Score beats the pants off its nearest two rivals. Portland and Seattle both do pretty well within the US, with Transit Scores of 50 and 57, respectively. But Vancouver shellacks both cities, with a score of 74.

Sightline goes on to explain why Vancouver’s Transit Score outstrips Seattle’s and Portland’s so handily – here.

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The Sightline Institute is turning out some great work on transportation and land use these days. (Disclosure: I’m a board member.)  Researcher Clark Williams-Derry has had two recent pieces PT has posted, one on declining traffic and tolls here and the other on TransLink’s gasoline problem here .   Today’s post comes from a Sightline Daily piece by Alan Durning on pricing neighbourhood parking.  The whole piece – Curb Appeal – is here.  Below,  a few excerpts. .

Imagine if you could put a meter in front of your house and charge every driver who parks in “your” space. It’d be like having a cash register at the curb. Free money! How much would you collect? Hundreds of dollars a year? Thousands? How might all that lucre shift your perspective on local parking rules?

The idea of a private meter (already available on eBay)—or a variant of it that is legal and practical—is the crux of this whole series. It’s the deal with the devil that forms the pivotal second step in UCLA planning professor Donald Shoup’s three-point plan to fix parking. Why that’s true is because of politics, and those politics take some explaining. …

The root of the problem … is that parking territoriality is more powerful than anything currently arrayed against it. … To overcome it, we need something that can split neighborhood coalitions and thereby neutralize territoriality (and local businesses’ analogous attachment to free curb spaces on shopping streets).

The something we need is greed. If we offer neighborhoods the revenue from meters and parking permits, we can generate a powerful countervailing political force. …

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Another valuable analysis from Sightline Institute researcher Clark Williams-Derry (further to his piece on declining traffic and tolls here): .

Last Friday’s excellent Vancouver Sun story put a much needed spotlight on on the Golden Ears Bridge—where traffic is running so far behind projections that Translink now forecasts that the agency will lose between $35 and $45 million per year on the bridge, for at least the next several years.

But the story is really just the tip of iceberg in a much larger story about Greater Vancouver’s transportation finance woes. Not only are bridge tolling revenues falling behind projections, but gas tax revenues are too. Take a look at the black line in the chart below, representing the 1-year average gasoline sales volumes in Metro Vancouver:

… it became clear that gasoline sales had started to decline. And that realization apparently sent shockwaves through Translink’s entire budget.

In the agency’s 2012 budget forecast Translink was forecasting substantial growth in annual fuel tax revenue through 2021. But their 2013 plan recognized that gas taxes were at best flatlining —a realization that forced the agency to strip more than half a billion dollars from their budget through 2021. And the forecasts are getting progressively worse: the 2013 forecast was bad enough, but the 2014 draft forecast … trims even more money from Translink’s long-term budget.

The chart below illustrates the problem. If you’re not a transportation finance nerd, the gap between the red line (the fuel tax forecast from the 2012 “Moving Forward” Plan) and the blue line (the forecast from the 2014 draft plan) may not look dramatic. But to transportation planners who had been counting on the revenues represented by the red line, the lower revenue forecasts in the blue line must have come as quite a shock:

Several different forces are contributing to falling gas consumption in the lower mainland. Declining driving per capita certainly plays a role. Gains in fuel efficiency probably do as well. But there’s also evidence that a strong Canadian is encouraging some drivers to cross over into Washington to buy gas. …

Regardless of the reasons for the decline in Greater Vancouver’s gasoline sales, there’s no question about the fiscal impacts: Translink just isn’t getting as much gasoline tax revenue as it thought it would a few years back. Meanwhile, toll revenue from the Golden Ears Bridge is falling badly behind forecasts.

But the agency’s megaproject debt isn’t going away. And when gasoline and toll revenues don’t show up, but debt service obligations keep coming, everything else gets squeezedTransit in particular has been on the chopping block over the last two years. So far the agency has managed to avoid major service cuts, in part by tapping into its reserve funds. …

The irony is palpable. Much of the agency’s budget problem stems from its relationship with cars. The lower mainland has built new, expensive facilities to move vehicles, but the drivers (and the revenue they generate) haven’t shown up. Yet the budget squeeze falls particularly hard on transit riders—people who aren’t using cars at all!  ‘

If I were conspiracy-minded, I’d say that Translink’s shrinking transit ambitions are part of a plot to keep people in private vehicles—where they’ll pay more tolls and gas tax. But since I’m not conspiracy-minded, I’ll say it looks like just another in a long and depressing series of examples of how bad traffic forecasts can lead transportation spending astray.

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This is an abridged version.  All the details here.  More on Sightline (and your chance to contribute to its work) here.

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Further to the mention of TransLink’s Base Plan:

Over the coming weeks, TransLink will be asking for public comments on the draft 2014 Base Plan and Outlook.  The Plan outlines the strategic initiatives, transportation programs and services that TransLink will deliver using existing revenue sources. A copy of the 2014 Base Plan Summary is attached.

We invite you to visit the webpage to learn more about the Plan and provide your comments through the Base Plan survey.

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Yes, it’s Motordom #Fail here at Price Tags.  This time Sightline Institute researcher Clark Williams-Derry (whose must-read series “Dude, Where are my cars? is here) ruminates on our particular version of the Traffic Delusion: .   BC places a huge bet on rapid traffic growth .

It must be a syndrome. A mass delusion of endless traffic growth. Or maybe the idée fixe that the future will resemble the 1950s.

Earlier in the week I mentioned that, despite years of declines on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Washington’s transportation revenue forecasts assume that traffic will soon start growing, quickly and inexorably. It might be funny if the fiscal stakes weren’t so dire.

Apparently, the same mentality apparently holds sway north of the 49th parallel. Consider the newly twinned Port Mann Bridge—a project of British Columbia’s provincial government that opened to traffic last fall. The province was anticipating a rapid increase in traffic volumes to pay for construction. And while it’s too early to tell how the added road capacity will affect traffic volumes over the long haul, the declines in traffic volumes in recent years could make it very hard for the bridge to meet its toll revenue forecasts…

(Forecasts hereactuals here.)

As with the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the traffic forecasts actually got wackier over time. Despite roughly a decade of flat or declining traffic, the province’s transportation planners in 2011 predicted that traffic volumes would quickly catch up with where they “should” have been. In essence, the planners interpreted the slight decline in traffic between 2006 and 2011 as evidence that traffic would skyrocket even faster from 2013 through 2021.

It shouldn’t be too hard on the poor traffic forecasters. As Yogi Berra (or was it Niels Bohr?) allegedly said, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.” And that advice applies to me as well as to traffic planners—so I want to make it clear that I’m not actually predicting that real-world traffic won’t live up to the official forecasts. .

Still, it’s increasingly clear that official traffic forecasts have become untethered from reality. At best, they’re based on outdated transportation models or “best practices” forged in the years when traffic volumes really were growing quickly. At their worst, they’re the result of coordinated deception to build support for politically favored projects. 

The fiscal consequences of failed transportation forecasts can be pretty dire: see, e.g., the $35 to $45 million annual hole that the Golden Ears Bridge is blowing through the lower mainland’s transportation budget, because toll revenues from the bridge aren’t keeping pace with projections, even as bond payments to pay for construction keep coming due.

But has the province actually learned anything from the Golden Ears shortfalls, or the flat-lining of gasoline consumption in the lower mainland, or the failure of its early Port Mann forecasts to line up with forecasts? Apparently not. In fact, they’re doubling down on their risky bet on traffic growth, by moving forward with a costly and aggressive plan to replace the 4-lane George Massey Tunnel with a 10lane bridge.

No doubt, the province will predict that rapid traffic growth will help pay for the construction costs for the new bridge. Which could set the province’s taxpayers for quite a shock down the road: they could easily wind up paying for yet another highway project that was supposed to pay for itself.

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More on Sightline (and your chance to contribute to its work) here. Read more »

If you’re in Seattle on September 12 …

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The Sightline Institute is my favourite sustainability think tank (hey, I’m on the board) … and my favourite people.
They’d love to see you on September 12th at the special 20th anniversary party.
Explore the beautiful grounds and taste the best of the Northwest’s fresh, local cuisine at the Corson Building, alongside beer from Georgetown Brewing Co., oysters from Taylor Shellfish, local wine, and refreshments from DRY Soda.
Special guest, Governor Jay Inslee, will keynote the program and the entire Sightline staff will be there too, so you’ll get the chance to chat with your favorite researcher in person.
Date and time:  Thursday September 12, 2013 /  6-9:00 pm
Location: Corson Building / 5609 Corson Ave S, Seattle, WA 98108
Ticket price: $100
Tickets here.

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From the Sightline Institute:
Sightline is putting together a new series about the many ways that parking regulations and mandates can affect the way that cities look, work, and feel. But first we need your help!
All too often, zoning codes force developers to cram a site with extra parking, leading to urban and suburban spaces that work for cars but not for human beings. Some of the results are downright eyesores—and we want to compile a photo essay with the most outrageous examples!

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So please send us your photos of buildings—single-family houses, apartments, and commercial construction—where cars seem more important than the people inside.
Send your submissions in to Serena Larkin, serena@sightline.org. You can also post them to Sightline’s Community Photopool at Flickr here.  Make sure to note the photo’s location in your caption as well as any photo credit you’d like us to include.

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