Friday, September 30, 2011

More from the UBCM

Conference sessions, cabinet presentations and networking sessions have been going on full tilt here in Vancouver.  A few highlights now before heading into resolution sessions to push for full public hearings on oil pipelines and coastal tanker traffic.  At this point the federal government is not planning hearings for coastal communities, intending only to hold hearings in the oil patch.  Let's hope we can send a strong message on that one.

Yesterday I joined council colleagues from Victoria and elsewhere in the region on a visit to the Dr. Peter Centre where HIV patients get the care they need.  We moved on to Insite where that innovative clinic tackles the most difficult of addiction issues at a safe consumption site.  They are saving lives and reducing the spread of deadly diseases like HIV and Hepatitis.  Good news followed this morning with the Supreme Court decision to protect Insite from closure by the Prime Minister's misguided agenda.

Made connections that will allow me to follow up on issues around our ship repair industry.  Stay tuned for more on the jobs agenda we'll be working on.  Attended other sessions on transit, on housing, on infrastructure renewal and lots of other issues.  I'll be back at the keyboard soon.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Victoria Issues at the UBCM

Got lucky on sunday and pedaled out to the ferry on my way to the Union of BC Municipalities in Vancouver.  Took the bus and Canada Line most of the way on the mainland.  I know that's cheating but it was late and I wanted to get downtown to my hotel to be ready for a couple of meetings before the conference really gets going Tuesday.

First up for me was a workshop on creating age friendly communities, an issue I take a keen interest in, not so much for my advancing years (my hair colour is evidence enough of that), but for the challenges we will all have to tackle as we design our cities for the future.  I'm a baby boomer and it's a huge demographic bulge that will change the nature of our city in so many ways. 

Victoria, by the way, is probably ahead of the curve in many respects.  We're already an active community and many of our seniors are no different than the rest of the population.  Take a look at the Galloping Goose or the walkers on the Dallas Rd bluffs and you'll see lots of our older citizens out for a walk, a run or cranking the pedals alongside their cycling buddies.  Obesity rates are lowest on the west coast, and other health indicators, from heart disease, adult onset diabetes, high blood pressure and other ailments more common in aging populations, show Victoria leading most other cities in Canada.  We only trade spots on the rankings back and forth with Vancouver.

Towns and cities across British Columbia, and just about everywhere else in the world too, are looking for ways to adapt to the different needs of their own aging populations, and making their environments more supportive of healthy and active lifestyles is very much a priority for most.  It's a necessary response to the demands of their own populations, even if other governments profit a little more directly from our local work.  Health care costs are a bigger issue sometimes for provincial and federal governments; I'm sure they are happy to have municipalities fund parks, trails, sidewalks, bike lanes and the like - all the things that help support active lifestyles that innoculate people against some of the health problems of old age and sedentary lifestyles.

Back to the workshop. I was most interested in the presentation by Dr. Larry Frank, a professor at UBC's School of Community and Regional Planning.  He's a well known researcher on the health affects of community design and was one of the first to associate suburban sprawl with declining population health indicators attached to sedentary lifesytles and auto dependence.

I wanted to bring back a couple of stories from his slide presentation to talk about current local issues like our own rapid transit initiative.  One of the pressure points coming from critics of LRT is the suggestion that we can solve a lot of our transportation problems with HOV lanes that move more cars and perhaps a few more buses through congested corridors like Highway 1 and Douglas St.  Apart from the fact that it simply doesn't work on a couple of levels (it will never carry enough people to deal with current, let alone future travel demand and creates a whole new set of problems related to parking for all those vehicles), HOV for buses or cars also creates an insidious health problem that is particularly hard on seniors.  Dr. Frank has mapped nitrous oxide and other particulate emissions along transportation corridors in Greater Vancouver.  Not surprisingly, the most heavily travelled routes have the highest concentrations of those emissions, and they are of particular concern for the elderly with respiratory problems, or other health issues associated with the air we breathe.  The concentrations thin out pretty quickly beyond those corridors and there are pockets of health around the city, often associated with more walkable centres.

He noted too, that a denser, more transit oriented approach to transit actually induces more walking, enough that people who use transit are likely to get their daily prescription of physical acitivity just by walking between home and transit or to their destination at work, shopping etc., making transit a positive choice for healthier lifestyles.

For our own debate, however, the choice between HOV and, for some, the Bus Rapid Transit model, needs also to be assessed on the emissions equation.  LRT will run on electrical power, and eliminates point source emissions, a huge benefit to our air quality and, not coincidentally, a positive gain for community health.  Score one more win for LRT and more reasons to discount some of the oversold alternatives.  It's part of the reason why it has been so important to do a multiple account evaluation that measures benefits as well as costs, and not just the immediate capital expenses of construction.  Like the critics say, there is only one taxpayer, and we all know how taxing our health care system is becoming.  Why would we want to burden that system any more.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Voodoo Economics. LRT critics numbers don't add up

For Immediate Release
September 12, 2011

Councillor says critics’ plan will wreck transit

Victoria City Councillor John Luton, who sits on the Victoria Regional Transit Commission, is asking the “CRD Business and Residential Taxpayers” group to put their numbers through the same level of scrutiny they are demanding of BC Transit’s LRT proposal.

Luton said that the group’s prediction that the “business as usual” case will cost only $12 million extra over the two decades is not credible.  With lifecycles of 20 years or less, every bus in the fleet will disappear without significant investment.  Their plan does not account for population growth and will stifle economic development in the region, he said.  “Even today passengers are being left behind when buses are full and maintenance facilities can’t do all the work needed to keep our buses on the road.”

Luton says that the latest numbers being touted by the group must be reviewed by credible transportation and economic analysts and that a full accounting of alternatives they are proposing must be subjected to a “triple bottom line” evaluation.

“Their numbers are silent on new road building costs and the land values lost to parking under scenarios they are promoting.  Thousands of new car trips could be generated by their HOV plan”, says Luton.  “No calculations are made on greenhouse gas emissions or congestion impacts on economic productivity.”  Luton says that the group has levelled criticisms of LRT on their website but suggests they need to submit their plans to more rigorous independent analysis.  Those plans include HOV strategies that have proven ineffective in other jurisdictions or bus based systems that won’t meet long term transportation needs in the capital region. 

“Transit’s plan has gone through extensive public engagement, rigorous multiple account evaluations and years of planning”, Luton says.  He said that local commission members met with the provincial Minister several months ago to discuss the project.  “He told us he would consider only long term solutions to transportation problems and applauded the good work done so far on the LRT plan”.  The province has funding for Victoria in their transit plan and, with federal support, Luton says that the capital can build a sustainable, cost effective system and create a more attractive environment for investment”.
Discussions also covered local governance and funding issues that both the CRD and Transit Commission have been working on.

Luton says that LRT works well in cities around North America and elsewhere in the world, often in cities no bigger than Victoria.  “LRT is the best fit to meet our evolving travel demands, support environmental objectives and help spur economic development.  Critics are focused only on capital costs but ignore the clear limits of the models BC Transit has already looked at.”

Luton has already brought a motion to Victoria City Council asking decision makers to seek senior government funding and supporting an independent, peer review of Transit’s LRT plan on costs and ridership numbers.  He is taking the same concepts to the Commission to ensure staff’s work on the project is supported at the political level.

“Victoria is past the point where expanding capacity for car travel can solve our transportation problems.  We have to build solutions for this century, not the last one.”

For more information:
John Luton
250-886-4166 (cell)