Wednesday, July 16, 2014

When Pipelines come home

I apologise once again for not posting as often as I would like here. There are many things afoot, bringing a completely different meaning to what I call “free time”. I am also working on a major project related to my pledge (a little more than a year ago) to take a risk – more details on that will be released really soon.

However, this issue has piqued my interest and I had to stay up late to write about it, because these hydrocarbon pipeline projects people keep talking about in other regions of the Province have come home to New Westminster.

After having attended last week’s NWEP meeting where Mark Allison from the City outlined the City’s approach to the project, and Elmer Rudolph from the Sapperton Fish and Game Club came to talk about the Brunette River, I think it is time we in New West started talking about Kinder Morgan.

You probably have heard that Kinder Morgan, the Houston-based uber-pipeline company that purchased the Trans Mountain Pipeline in 2005, wants to “twin” thee pipeline. To quote directly from the project site:

"Trans Mountain is proposing an expansion of its current 1,150-kilometre pipeline between Strathcona County (near Edmonton), Alberta and Burnaby, BC. The proposed expansion, if approved, would create a twinned pipeline that would increase the nominal capacity of the system from 300,000 barrels per day, to 890,000 barrels per day. At present, the Westridge Marine Terminal handles approximately five tankers per month. Should the proposed expansion be approved, the number of tankers loaded at the Westridge Marine Terminal could increase to approximately 34 per month."

What we don't know about this project could fill a blog post, but for a variety of reasons, I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of this project here. There has been some excellent analysis of the project opportunities and risks prepared by CRED, which you can read here.

However, few people in New Westminster up to now realized that this project will likely be passing though our own backyard, and may have a significant impact on one of the few remaining local areas of high ecological value: the Brunette River. When first announced, it appeared that the pipeline was to be “expanded”, suggesting that it would follow the existing right-of-way through central Coquitlam and skirting along the south side of Burnaby Mountain. However, the proposal showed a different routing for the new pipe, which passed through south Coquitlam, and essentially paralleled the Lougheed Highway. Now, and “alternative route” has become the favoured one – and this one passes though the green spaces on the New Westminster – Burnaby border, immediately adjacent to the Brunette River.

This is where Elmer Rudolph comes in. For those who may not know him, Elmer is a real local hero and a legend amongst western Canada’s Streamkeeper groups. He and his group from the Sapperton F&G Club have spent 40 years pushing the envelope on salmon habitat restoration in urban streams, improving the world’s knowledge of salmon ecology, habitat recovery, and environmental protection in urban areas. He did this mostly through sheer persistence and elbow grease. When the Brunette was a “dead” river as recently as 1970, a lot of very smart people thought any attempt to bring salmon back to the River and its would be wasted time. It was only 15 years later that the River came alive again, and for 20 years since, Elmer and his volunteers have made slow, steady improvement in habitat and water quality along the river and throughout its massive basin.

The route along the Brunette is also part of the region’s best Greenway route, the Central Valley Greenway. That route is a green oasis paralleled by development, density, and traffic, a heavily-used place for pedestrians, cyclists, dog walkers, and anyone wanting to escape the sun on these hot summer days and cool off along a bubbling salmon-bearing stream, right in the middle of our City. If you travel along the CVG, you see large areas of habitat enhancement – areas that were improved to improve water quality and habitat diversity – for the Port Mann Highway 1 expansion project only a year or two ago.

So I’m glad the City is getting involved in the project, and the idea of a Public Meeting in New Westminster to discuss the project and get the mood of the community about putting this project adjacent to the Brunette River (like the City did last year for the still-up-in-the-air Fraser Surrey Docks coal terminal project) is a good idea.

Monday, July 7, 2014

More on District Energy

I wasn't able to attend the City's open house last month on the potential District Energy Utility (DEU) system, tentatively proposed for the Sapperton area (it was the same night as the Royal City Curling Club AGM, and two or three other events I would have like to have attended. I need a clone). I have read a lot about DEUs, and have toured systems in a few different places. I have previously written at length about the many benefits of DEUs, so I was really interested to see what direction New Westminster was planning to go with the idea.

Based on what I read in the consultation materials, I like what I see.

The basic idea behind a DEU is that thermal energy systems can be more efficient if they are built larger. This is why there is commonly a single boiler in a large commercial or residential building, instead of having little boilers in each apartment or office. If a single energy source could supply heat energy (hot water or steam) to multiple buildings, it can be run as a utility to those buildings: a DEU.

Many large cities have had systems like this for decades. Downtown Vancouver has a gas-fired steam system that ties multiple buildings together. However, the modern resurgence of DEUs is coming out of Europe, and is being driven by low- or zero-carbon energy supplies. In the last decade, DEUs of different size and design have popped up in Victoria, Vancouver, Richmond, and other cities.

Although DEUs can be retro-fitted into existing buildings, the most cost-effective application is one where the buildings are constructed with the DEU in mind, around a development hub. Having an institutional or industrial user in the core to provide cost-buffering "baseline demand" makes the business case even stronger. A well-designed DEU will sell energy to the customers at similar rates as other energy sources (while buffering the customers from the volatility of gas or oil prices), pay for the infrastructure costs, and even turn a small profit for the utility owner. When a low- or zero-carbon energy source is part of the plan, there are spin-off environmental benefits for the entire community.
The New Westminster situation has many of the elements that could make for a very successful DEU. There is an institutional customer interested in reducing its carbon footprint for regulatory reasons, and there is relatively high density development (commercial, industrial, and residential) occurring nearby that will allow gradual scaling up for increased efficiency. There also happens to be a zero-carbon energy source right nearby.

The analysis provided by the City here shows that the sewer heat option is viable, at least in the preliminary analysis. This is really good news, because although the wood waste option would provide GHG and cost benefits over not having a DEU, the math when it comes to emissions related to a sewer heat recovery system are obviously order-of-magnitude better:
Emission estimates of different systems, click to enlarge.
Yes, scrubbers, filters and the such can improve the baseline particulate numbers, but you really can't argue with the near-zero emissions of the sewer heat system.
 
As I said, I missed my chance to go to the open house, but I can still provide my feedback. So can you!

Read the materials here. And more here.

Then provide some feedback here.You can ask questions, let them know your concerns or ideas. Here is your chance to give them the feedback you want. But you better hurry, you have until this Friday!

Friday, July 4, 2014

On the Bailey Bridge

At least we can stop fighting about this and move onto more important issues, right?

I’m not sure it is a “disaster”, but the results of the arbitration on the Bailey Bridge dispute are disappointing, and a little frustrating.

The disappointment comes from the fact that this result will do absolutely nothing to solve anyone’s “traffic problems”, as a century of traffic research and Braess Paradox tell us that adding capacity has never reduced congestion when there is a near-infinite supply of vehicles. Instead, it will likely increase induced demand and create more congestion in the Braid Industrial area, making it harder for New Westminster businesses to access Brunette or United Boulevard.

As was already made clear, the “Ambulance Argument” was either bluster or bullshit, as a critical care ambulance is unlikely to risk getting stuck behind a train when an alternative is available, and an alternative is available from Coquitlam. An ambulance at the south foot of the new King Edward overpass can get to the Emergency room at RCH via the Bailey Bridge (2.8km) or via Lougheed and Brunette (3.4km), a difference of 600m. To save that 30 seconds, they would run the risk of getting stuck behind one of the 60-odd trains a day that cross Braid, and now will run the risk of getting stuck behind a line of cars in one of the few places where cars would not be able to pull over to get out of the way – a two-lane Bailey Bridge. I suspect the 4-and 6-lane alternative route provides higher response speeds, more room for people to get out of the way of lights and sirens, and more reliable transport times. But hey, one thing have in common with Richard Stewart is that I’m not an ambulance driver.

The frustrating part is how little information we have about why the decision was made the way it was. If you read the actual arbitrator’s decision, it clearly states that under Section 287 (e) of the Community Charter, the arbitrator is not to provide written reasons for their decision. We (the voters, the citizens, even our elected representatives) are specifically forbidden from knowing why the decision was made, or what evidence was used to inform that decision. Essentially, your parents just answered “why?” with “Because I said so!” For someone who gets engaged in local politics, and expects accountability and reasoning behind policy, this is a frustrating way to resolve a 20-year conflict.

To understand why this is the case, you need to go back through the Community Charter , which is the Provincial Legislation that governs, amongst other things, boundary disputes between municipalities. Under Part 9 of the Charter (Division 3- Dispute Resolution), there are two types of arbitration available to the disputing Municipalities in this type of case. Section 287 describes the “Final Proposal Arbitration” process, where the two parties provide their proposals and supporting justifications to the arbitrator, and the arbitrator chooses one of the two, based on whatever criteria (s)he deems appropriate, with no room for compromising middle ground or requirement to justify that choice. Section 288 describes the “Full Arbitration” process, where the Arbitrator can conduct whatever proceedings they deem appropriate (including hearings, negotiations, etc.), the arbitrator can provide an alternate solution to the ones proposed by the two parties, and the decision comes with a written explanation of the decision and justification. Clearly the second is the more open, transparent, and accountable process.

This more open and accountable process was the one argued for by New Westminster. Coquitlam wanted the closed process in the interests of expedience (because, you know, after 20 years, this needs to be settled right away). As there was no agreement on this first point of arbitration, the Province stepped in and made the decision that the closed process would be used. Which is why the New Westminster Council is now scratching their heads about how the decision was made. They are not allowed to know. Take your complaints to… uh… no-one.

Regardless, now that the arbitration result has been released, it is all (wait for it) water under the bridge, and we need to move on. Hopefully, the City will find a way to reconfigure the traffic patterns on the New Westminster side so that the businesses down there on Canfor Ave are not completely choked out when the inevitable commuting rush arrives on Braid. Also hopefully, Coquitlam won’t use this as an excuse to uselessly blow United Boulevard just east of the bridge out to 4 lanes, and take away the cyclist and pedestrian-friendly layout they have recently created between the bridge and the King Edward overpass.

Clearly ,we will find out which prediction comes true: Mayor Stewart’s assertion that his City’s (sarcasm) biggest traffic issue will finally be resolved (end sarcasm); or New Westminster’s prediction that the 5 rail tracks and already-problematic Braid and Brunette intersection are just going to mean the traffic pinch point has been moved 400m to the west, making the rail crossings less safe for everyone, and hurting New Westminster businesses for no gain whatsoever. But we likely won’t know the answer to that question until after the election, so Mayor Stewart can enjoy his gloating in the meantime.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Hey Guys! Stay on your ass (and fill out this survey)!

HEY! Got a bit of free time this weekend? Surfing the web, looking for something more interesting? Admit it, if you are reading my blog, you must be pretty stinking bored... so here is a good way to slake that boredom for 5-10 minutes, and provide useful data for someone doing interesting research here in New Westminster.

If you are at all like me, your typical healthy-ish 40-ish male, you haven’t seen a doctor in quite some time. If you have kids, you likely interacted with the healthcare system, but for those of us without, we try to think about the last time we had stitches. Or maybe that’s just me, but this is kind of the point of this survey.

Fraser Health has been doing a “My Health, My Community” survey over the last couple of months, and they need a few more people to provide data before the end of the month (yes- in the next three days!). They especially need info from my cohort- healthy-ish males who may hardly ever interact with the healthcare system. Of course, the rest of you should also take part, it’s just (typically) the middle age males you need to kick in the ass to take any kind of health self-assessment at all.

The purpose of the survey is not to sell you services, but to gather better information about the health needs of the community. They need data from a bunch of locals about your life, as it relates to your risk for health conditions, and their need to provide services. They aren't getting too personal, but they want to understand a bit about how New Westminster folks live their life and access health care, so they can do some longer-term strategic planning.

Typically for any health care situation – young (and youngish) males are lacking in their participation. They really need a few more male people to provide data. I filled out the survey a couple of weeks ago: it was easy, it took no more than 10 minutes, and it was a little fun (remembering the good old days when I used to smoke…). This from a guy who has not seen an actual doctor in about 15 years. Yeah, I should probably go get a check-up, but the survey didn't guilt me into feeling that. Really, who has a family doctor anymore?

Back when I was whinging about how Democracy is what you do between elections – this is a chance to help your elected officials and bureaucrats make better decisions to save you money while providing the services you need. So I’m going to say it: If you don’t fill out this survey, you are not allowed to complain about the healthcare system!

But Hurry, survey ends on the 30th, and if you fill it out, you can win a new iPad. And hey, who doesn't need a new iPad?

You are surfing the net right now, you clearly have time. Follow this link right now and help out a bit.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On Enbridge, and editorial failures.

I haven’t said much about the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline semi-announcement. Frankly, there have been too many column inches wasted on this story already, as the project is a non-starter. After all is said and done, the millions of dollars wasted by Enbridge and our Federal Government to promote an ecologically and economically indefensible project will be just one of the sad legacies of the Harper years.

So this post isn't about Enbridge, it is about another monumental failure: this “Editorial” in one of the local Post Media Serious Newspapers of Note (which itself has become the AM Sport Radio of Print Journalism). There is so much wrong in this very short 250 words that it needs to be addressed line-by-line:
“Setting aside, for the moment, the tremendous economic opportunities and wealth creation that resource extraction has always meant to B.C. and this country…”
Point 1: We cannot simply set aside the economic opportunities of the Northern Gateway, or other resource extraction activities in BC, because that is what this entire issue is about. From the start, the people up and down the coast of BC have been critical of this project specifically because of the risk it poses to their economic reality and the threat it poses to the very resources that their economy relies on, while providing almost no offsetting economic benefits to the communities most at risk.

Point 2: By lumping in an oil pipeline in with “resource extraction” is to be disingenuous to the real concerns here. Yes, BC and Canada were built on resource extraction: furs, mines, forests, fish, and energy. But not all resources are the same, and they do not contribute equally. Some are renewable, some are not. Some we extract high value with value-added industries, some we don’t. Some we balance against significant environmental harm, some we do not. By any measure, an oil pipeline transporting diluted bitumen for immediate export through our parks, watersheds, forests, shorelines and seas provides the least extracted value from a non-renewable resource with virtually no value added, few jobs, and a potentially huge environmental impact. When compared to Canada’s largest-value of exports (automobiles and machinery) Oil and all hydrocarbons pale in comparison, both in the GDP contribution to our economy, to the amount of trade dollars, and in the amount of employment income derived by the industries.
Canada's exports by sector, a proportion of GDP. Click to enlarge.
“Resource Extraction” built Canada, but manufacturing and services are our future.
“…when it comes to the Northern Gateway pipeline Canadians had better start asking themselves a very fundamental question: Are we going to be a nation of citizens who respect the rule of law, due process and democratic governance or are we going to descend into anarchy and mob rule?”
Wow. I mean f***ing wow (sorry Mom). The false dichotomy and broad-brush idiocy of this statement is one thing, but it’s the inherent hubris that makes me want to swear. To be lectured by cheerleaders of this project about “due process” and the “rule of law” when the proponents had many of the laws that would have provided said due process stripped away, when the persons employed by the Government to provide the scientific basis for that process have been fired or silenced, when the scientific community comes out with a comprehensive list of the ways the process was not based on scientific review of its own criteria, is, I think, a little offensive to those who believe in democratic governance and science-based policy to be accused of being an anarchist mob.

To suggest that people in a democracy, standing up for injustice, speaking their minds, providing opinion, ideas, and (yes) criticism of the government is akin to “mob rule” or “anarchy” sounds like the hyperbole of a totalitarian state – or just the regular missives of a Petro-State, I suppose.
“The decision by the Harper government Tuesday to approve the pipeline — critical to unleashing vast wealth for Canada by allowing Alberta oil to be delivered safely to world markets — has been met by predictable opposition.”
The parts on the outside of the dashes read like a reasonable comment, and are about the only truthful part of this entire editorial. The part in the middle is just more Petro-State approved gibberish. Because it paints over the reasons the opposition exists. Some suggest this pipeline is not “critical” to the ongoing development of the Bitumen Sands, it only serves to accelerate their development and make the entire operation less sustainable. Some further suggest too much of the “vast wealth” is currently going to multi-national corporations and state-owned oil companies from Norway to Malaysia, and not to the people of Canada who own the resource being rapidly depleted and exported. Mostly, people are concerned that this project will not in fact get the product “safely to markets”, but will spread a little too much of it around valuable natural resource territories, and on lands never ceded by the aboriginal inhabitants.
"In a democracy, this is healthy. But the too-common rhetoric from some quarters of taking direct action against the decision of a democratically elected government is appalling, especially after years of public process into the merits of the project and the imposition of 209 conditions to ensure the environment is as protected as is possible."
Read that again. A major newspaper is suggesting that the Majority of Canadians who didn't vote for the Conservatives, or even those who are part of the plurality who voted for someone other than them, you should just shut the hell up and take whatever you are given. You may say the process never demonstrated the merits, and are not assured the conditions are sufficient or will be met, but it is “appalling” that you would question a duly elected government.
"Critics talk of the need for “social licence” for projects like the pipeline, a new term created by people who can’t win elections, but think they have some right to run the country. They don’t."
Since I am one of the majority who did not Vote for Harper’s band of thieves, perhaps I should defer to their greatest shadow-organizers, the Fraser Institute on the topic of “Social License”. You see, according to the oft-quoted free-market “dink-tank”, that term was not a term “created by people who can’t win elections”, it was invented by a successful Canadian Mining Executive, and it is described very well in this Fraser Institute article under their ”MiningFacts.org.” astroturf organization:

Allow me to quote extensively: “[social license to operate (SLO)]…is an essential part of operating within democratic jurisdictions, as without sufficient popular support it is unlikely that agencies from elected governments will willingly grant operational permits or licenses. The SLO can be revoked and it should never be taken for granted. The Social License to Operate refers to the acceptance within local communities of both mining companies and their projects. Social acceptance is granted by all stakeholders that are or can be affected by mining projects (e.g. local communities, indigenous people) and other groups of interests (e.g. local governments, NGOs). The SLO does not refer to a formal agreement or document but to the real or current credibility, reliability, and acceptance of mining companies and projects. The SLO is granted by stakeholders based on the credibility of a mining company and the type of relationship that companies develop with the communities. Stakeholders tend to grant an SLO when they feel that their values and those of the company are aligned.”

Typical Fraser Institute radical lefties. I wonder how Enbridge is doing on that Social Licence thing?
"Opponents will take heart from the demonstration in Vancouver that occurred Tuesday or from petitions with several thousand names criticizing the pipeline’s approval. But they need to remember that most British Columbians who support projects like the pipeline aren’t generally available mid-afternoon to express it. They’re working, but they do vote."
What a load of bullshit. The Province was there, and should know that protest was held, and reached it peak, on a Friday evening – the largest numbers appeared well after the close of business Friday – and I know several people who went down there AFTER WORK to assure their voices were heard. And these people vote. And the unemployed and underemployed vote.

The best part of about that protest was the numbers that showed up after work on a Friday of a sunny weekend on very short notice – there were more people at that protest than there are jobs promised the people of BC for the entire Northern Gateway Project. To me, that is a sign of a healthy democracy, and the Province’s Editorial board is a demonstration of a failure of journalism in that democracy. Not because I disagree with them, and not just because of the specific problems above, but because of what their approach is to the entire topic, in light of the role of journalism in a functioning democracy.

What does it mean when the “Fourth Estate”- they who are meant to hold Government and Corporate feet to the fire and assure that oversight was provided outside of government in the service of the people – read too much from the government play sheet? Read this opinion piece above, and ask yourself who is being protected, and from whom? Here we have the media telling people who do not agree with the current federal government and the few corporate interests that are proposing this project not that they are wrong; not that they are factually incorrect; not that their concerns are misplaced; but to SHUT UP, YOU LOSERS!

Of course, we can’t be sure it is their editorial position at all. Considering the history of PostMedia newspapers selling advertising space to Enbridge proponents while making them look like editorials.

I used to think the dead-tree large corporate media were no longer relevant to our democracy, now I am starting to suspect they are actively trying to undermine it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Off to the Races...

This is a good thing.

Suggestions that Jonathan Cote may (and should) run for Mayor have been bandied around for many months now, so the surprise is a little... unsurprising.

It seems like a natural progression. He has served three terms on council, and led the polls during the last two elections. His profile has been increasing, taking the lead on some of the higher-profile issues in town, and he has become the go-to Councillor when the regional press comes to New Westminster to talk about this "New New Westminster" phenomenon, and terms like (shudder) the “next Brooklyn" arise in talk about how our City is developing.

Meanwhile, not resting on his electoral popularity or media exposure, Cote has spent the last couple of years learning more about Cities while earning a Masters Degree in Urban Studies at SFU. This is the kind of thing a person might would typically do if they want to move up the ladder to a senior planning position in a City - not the standard route for a part-time City Councillor with a full time job and a young family who is thinking about politics.

That tells me a lot about what kind of guy Cote is, and one of the reasons I love that he has decided to run. He has a demonstrated work ethic, and he doesn't come to the table assuming he knows all the answers. He instead wants to learn and find out about solutions already tested and true. I have seen him operate in committees, and he knows how to get the best out of a team and move the agenda forward. He also loves cities and the process of making them work better for the people living in them. As a Mayor, he will be able to bring a deeper understanding, and challenge staff to do better, explain better, and move the City forward.

I also like the symbolism of his run: The oldest city in the Province may have the youngest Mayor in the Province. As a bonus, that “youth” comes with significant professionalism and experience.

We don't know what this means for Mayor Wright (at least I don't). By all accounts, the current Mayor and Councillor Cote have worked very effectively together and have a lot of respect for each other, but there is no indication from His Worship what he intends to do in November.

I need to say, I like Mayor Wright. I have grown to appreciate his ability to move this City forward over the last decade. He has been the cheerleader this City has needed during its recent re-emergence, and has taken a few political risks that have (mostly) paid off tremendously. He’s not generally thought of as a “labour guy”, but has worked effectively with the labour-endorsed Councils he has been provided by the voters. His support in town is such that last election, when the opposition decided to run *against* him instead of *for* something else, they got beat badly. There is also something to say for the fact I am just as happy calling the Mayor "His Worship" as I am calling him "Wayne": he is both worthy of respect, and popularly familiar.

There is an idea that the best time to pass the torch is when it is burning bright, and Mayor Wright could do much worse than passing it to Cote, but that is really the current Mayor’s decision to make. Regardless of what Wright decides to do, we can be confident the “silly season” has begun, and this will be an interesting election season!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Mayors have a Plan

The Mayors of the region have done what no-one (and I include the Minister of Transportation in this group) thought they could: they came to a consensus around a 10+ year transportation plan. For a moment in time Thursday morning, people around the region started to dream about a rational transportation future... then the Minister reminded us that he wasn't interested in solving the transportation problem, he wanted to perpetuate the contrived impasse. Alas...


First the good news: the plan looks good. The major components show a significant amount of compromise by many of the Mayors, as a few big dreams have been scaled back somewhat. However the route charted is clear: Rapid transit in the form of underground Skytrain on the Broadway corridor and two light rail lines in Surrey. A whole swack of B-line routes for everyone else. Investment in the SeaBus, a few shekels tossed to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, and yes- a tolled 4-lane Pattullo Bridge.

Surrey LRT: Three lines total, 104 Ave and King George Boulevard running within 7 years, and the Fraser Highway line in service by year 12.

Broadway Corridor: Continuation of the Millennium Line to Arbutus within 10 years.

Skytrain: improvements to the system to increase frequency of Skytrain by 2016.

Burnaby Mountain Gondola: They are calling it a “connection” to avoid discussing technology, but the business case for the gondola is solid: it can move many more people for much less money with much more reliability than buses. There is no timeline provided for this investment.

SeaBus: An increase in SeaBus service by 50% will bring it close to a “Frequent Transit Service” standard, meaning waits for the next SeaBus will be reduced to the point where “Over Town” commuters don’t have the schedule your life around catching the next boat.

Pattullo Replacement: A tolled, 4-lane Pattullo is now the plan – although no date is provided for completion. The bridge will be “expandable” to 6 lanes, so the devil will clearly be in the details (for those who remember the Alex Fraser was built with two “spare” lanes that were opened about a year after opening). The language sounds to me like they are NOT trying to sneak in a 6-lane bridge:
“This possible expansion may be considered if need arises, if demand increases beyond forecasts and/or the surrounding network changes. Future consideration of expansion would require all-party agreement and Mayors’ Council approval.”
I read from that that New Westminster, being one of the parties, would need to agree, and with the toll in place, the odds of demand requiring more lanes any time soon are pretty small. I call this a win for the “Reasonable Approach” work that New Westminster Council has been doing for the last year. This was the part of the Mayor's Plan I was most concerned about before it was unveiled, and I'm glad to see it is something I can vote for as part of the greater plan.

Roads: “...having benefited from many decades of high and consistent investment... no major road capacity increases are needed” -BOOM!

Pedestrians and Cycling: The Mayors support and call upon TransLink to strengthen the regional cycling network, and to invest in making the pedestrian connections to transit stronger. There are few specifics here, but the next time you hear about the great Bicycle Conspiracy/Agenda, note that only 3% of TransLink’s current budget will go to all of the cycling, pedestrian , road and bridge maintenance (yes, even truck and car roads), and the plan will bring that proportion up to... 3% (which is an increase, as it will be the same percentage of a slightly larger budget).

B-lines: 11 New B-line bus routes. These almost-express buses bridge the gap between light rail and old-style buses, by being frequent enough with limited stops to get a lot of people across medium-distances fairly efficiently. The advantages are that 200km of these lines can be installed with very little capital investment on the part of TransLink, but their effectiveness is tied to their being as fast as, or faster than, a car on the same route, which requires the individual Cities investing in supporting infrastructure (priority lanes, queue-jumper lights, etc.). More devil-in-detail stuff here.

Buses: More and newer buses will mean a better quality of service, and lower operating costs. The plan includes more than half a million more service hours per year, between the B-lines, peak load service, and off-peak service. This would support getting more people to the “core services” of rapid transit which will increase revenue. The plan proposes that by 2030, more than 60% of front doors in Greater Vancouver will be within walking distance of the Frequent Transit Network (the service that is frequent and reliable enough that you don’t need a schedule to depend on it, you can just walk to the stop and a bus will arrive within a few minutes). That gives pretty much the entire region a level of service approaching Burnaby levels, if not quite New Westminster levels. This is good, and will provide huge revenue increases through tickets.

There is a bunch of other stuff in there about transportation demand management, better integrated information and payment systems, upgrading the Goods Movement system, etc. This is a 45-page document full of good details; a well-referenced and integrated Regional Transportation Plan. It is simply amazing that TransLink and the Mayors were able to put it together so quickly, and find enough consensus on it to get it (almost) unanimously passed.

Reading it through, you can see how this happened. Overall, there are signs of compromise – a little of everything, not too much of any one thing - note the SkyTrain to UBC is not included, and the LRT access for Surrey is coming online slower than ideal. Make no mistake: this is actually a very modest plan compared to what our region should build if we want to be "world class"... but at least we are, for the first time in almost a decade, moving forward instead of backwards.

Well, we were, until Minister Stone killed it shortly after birth. This, once again, confuses exactly what his goal is. The Minister told the mayors to make a plan, they did it. He told them to set up a payment plan, and that (this is the important part) the populace would be able to vote on whether that plan was acceptable. No money unless the people agree. That was the deal.

Of course, he didn't really want the people to vote, he wanted the Mayors to be forced to supplicate themselves in front of the public asking for more money...ideally during local elections. The tax plan the Mayor’s have proposed has suggested a re-jig of the Carbon Tax, which puts a load on general revenue , which the people are apparently not allowed to vote on.

This type of cynical politicking is why we can’t have nice things.

The hanging question, after a year of this discussion, is this: What is the BC Liberal Plan? So far they have offered nothing- no vision, no funding, no ideas, not even any creative criticism – they just say “No”. Leadership is not asking other people to come to you with proposals, then responding by saying “I think not, try again”. It is instead about finding the way to say “yes” to a better future – something the herd-of-cats Mayors' Council have been able to do, but Todd Stone simply cannot abide.

Put this lack of leadership in contrast with Kathleen Wynne’s bold leadership on sustainable transportation in Ontario. Both of these unexpectedly-re-elected premiers call themselves “Liberals”, but they clearly have very different visions of what liberalism is, and different views of leadership.