Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Newcastle Island! Car-free holiday No. 2!

Feel like some camping? Don't want to rent a car to do it? Then check out this easy-access and little-known jewel just outside of Nanaimo: Newcastle Island.

You can see this island from the Horsehoe Bay - Departure Bay ferry; it's the one you pass closely on the ferry's left side, after you pass the lighthouse island and just prior to docking at Departure Bay. It's so close to the main Island that you can practically throw a rock to it.

[forest walk, Newcastle Island. All photos mine.]

 To get to Newcastle Island, you walk off the ferry and along the shore, keeping to the left (you can take the TransCanada Trail, which follows a nice boardwalk through the various marinas and condo developments) to Maffeo Sutton Park.  Hit Google Maps for a detailed route. It's probably a 30 minute walk or so. We biked it and it takes about 15 minutes.

Maffeo Sutton is a nice park in itself; a huge playground and a swimming area as well as a bandshell where there are frequently activities. Anyways, the ferry to Newcastle Island leaves from the tip of the park. It's a small ferry (like those that ply the waters of False Creek) and it takes about 10 minutes to get to Newcastle Island. The ferry operates until 8:45pm or so during the summer. Click the link for rates and schedules.

[one of the Newcastle Island ferries]

[view to Protection Island from campsite]

[campsite, Newcastle Island]

The whole of Newcastle Island is a provincial park, standard camping rates apply. There are no cars or houses on the island. This means: no RV's. Only old-fashioned tent-camping, a 5 minute walk from the docks. There's a historic dance/concession pavillion, and an up-to-date wash-house with flush toilets and hot showers ($1 for 2 minutes). The campground and concession are run by the Snuneymuxw band. You can take your bike onto the Island, it takes about 45 minutes to bike all the way around. There are lovely forest walks and some nice sunny pebble beaches, which look out over to the mainland. There are historical sites to see and some native legends to read about. The island has a purple martin colony, lots of deer, and raccoons; these come out at dusk so keep your food out of your tent! There are special lockers for food storage at the campsites.

[pulpstone quarry, Newcastle Island.]

[view from Newcastle Island to Gabriola and the mainland.]

 [Mr. Purple Martin at his apartment door]

We've been going to Newcastle Island every June for the last few years; it's always very quiet and never full. The weather is usually a little better than on the mainland! It's a relaxing trip, suitable for families with kids. Try it, you'll like it!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Why I Love My Commute

Part of my bike commute goes along the Central Valley Greenway, along the Brunette River. The birds sing, the wind sighs through the trees, the sun beams, and the water rushes by. I tank up on oxygen.

This is my favourite part of the day.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Personal Car Sharing

This came across my Google Reader today.

The article talks about changing insurance rules so that you can "rent" our your own car to others, via a 3rd party, and have that 3rd party take on the liability. This would open the door for businesses to start renting out people's cars for them.

I know that our local car sharing co-op, Modo, has been looking into this. But so far, the ICBC insurance regulations forbid it. California, and now Oregon, have amended their legislation to allow for this, and in California there are apparently startup companies trying to open up this market.

I guess I can see the attraction in this; there are, after all, many underutilized cars sitting in driveways throughout the country. But I am not very optimistic about the ease of getting people to sign up to renting out their cars to strangers.

People are very, very attached to their private cars. This is not surprising; cars are very expensive. If I spent several thousands on a vehicle, I'd be quite concerned about lending it out to others, especially those I don't know. I'd have concerns like:
  • what happens when it gets returned dirty? Who will clean it and when? As a one-time board member of Modo I can recall endless conversations around pet hair...
  • what happens if the renter dings the paint job, chips the window, or does other cosmetic damage? What's the deductible policy going to say?
  • what happens if the renter totals my car? Sure, the costs are covered by the 3rd party "car sharing club", but I get stuck with the inconvienience of suddenly not having a vehicle at all (as a reward for being eco-conscious and letting the car be rented!)
  • how do I know that these renters aren't going to be revving the engine, riding the brakes, or in other ways adding wear and tear that I, being a perfect driver, wouldn't be doing?
Then, there's the money to be made. Or rather, the lack of it. If I take the Car2Go rate (the highest priced car-share here in town) of $13/hour, then clearly there's not a ton of money to be made for the casual car-lender. You might get your car rented for 4-6 hours on the weekend, so the "car sharing club" might clear $100-$150. You'd get some cut of this, since presumably the "club" is going to have to cover its expenses. Is this going to attract a ton of people? Surely not folks who can already afford a nice vehicle...

And then there are the clients. If I'm paying $13/hour for a car,  I have some basic expectations of quality. I expect a newish car (5 years old, max), clean, preferably with hubcaps, and in excellent working order. At this price point, I'm not going to rent a clunker with 200,000 kms, a strange engine noise, and a window that doesn't roll down. The car would presumably have to have an automatic transmission. So the "club" would have some minimum requirements for entry as well.

This model might work in a large city, where there's a large enough pool of cars and owners that you might find some that fit the "Goldilocks" conditions; or in a small town, where everyone knows each other and so you're not letting a total stranger drive your car away, and there might be more tolerance for clunkers. I imagine that the concept might attract folks who have an "extra" car sitting in their driveway, that they don't need for commuting.

But in the end, I think this is a really tough business to start.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Transportation Dreamin'

I visited the New Westminster Environmental Partner's booth last weekend during Sapperton Days (actually, it's only a single DAY, but Sapperton Day sounds vaguely insufficient). They had a big map of New West up and were encouraging people to put up stickynotes with their ideas for improvement.

I didn't have enough time or space to plunk down my admittedly wild 'n crazy ideas, hence this post...

Most of the traffic coming through New West is commuter traffic, not trucks (but, f we can reduce the number of commuters, then freight movement becomes easier). I suspect most of the commuters coming into New West via Brunette are headed to Richmond across the Queensborough, to to South Burnaby / South Vancouver along Marine. There is a very poor connection between HWY 1 and the Connector and/or Marine Way - the only way is via 10th (and you can only get onto 10th via Braid / 8th), or via Brunette / Royal / Stewardson. Since we can't widen either of these roads without huge community impact, it is hard to see how we could improve the traffic situation at all.

The only alternative is to give people alternatives to get to Richmond and South Burnaby / South Vancouver. I can think of ways to improve service to the area around Marine Way / Marine Drive, but it's much harder to improve linkage to Richmond.

Anyways, here are my traffic dreams, in no particular order. Some of them are probably dumb, but this is a brainstorming session like we do at my office, and nothing is too dumb to write down!

- make 6th St a pedestrian/transit only mall from the library to the White Spot. Accesss to the Mall parking lot from behind (Princess) and from 7th.
- make E. Columbia a pedestrian/transit only mall from the parking lot at Major to Sherbrooke - in fact it'd be better if the mall started at Brunette, but you'd have to provide some mechanism for cars to get to that parking lot.
- cut off all access to Columbia from Brunette beyond the Patullo, redirect all traffic to Royal.
- make the whole of Columbia St a pedestrian/transit mall right up to Front St. Parking would have to be possible (that hideous garage?) in some central location.
- Cut and cover McBride from Royal to 8th ave; build a park and some condos on top.
- Restrict Front Street to trucks only, and then only at night. You could put enforce this by using "car traps" in, really forcing all commuter traffic along Royal.
- make Lower Sapperton a "fused grid" by identifying a few through-going cross streets, and then making traffic diversions on all other streets, allowing bikes and pedestrians full access. The residents would soon figure out the best route but rat runners would be caught in the maze.
- save some industrial land for a small port to enable short-range barge shipping of goods into and out of New West. Include a freight distribution center for locally-bound goods, that can then be delivered at night using small, and possibly electric trucks.
- get a passenger rail service going from Port Coquitlam to S. Vancouver via the tracks that go through New West. We'd need a station, so plan for one! I note that the line continues up through the Arbutus corridor to Granville Island...but there's little chance of getting a train back on those tracks. Maybe a streetcar.
- use the SkyTrain for goods movement after hours, between specifically (re)designed stations.
- designate a street on a hill with a dead end (ex. one that ends on one of those newly-created pedestrian malls!) as a "longboarding park"
- encourage walking, biking, and taking the bus to school by severely restricting the ability to drop children off by car: no stopping or parking within 2 blocks of any school from 8:15-8:45 and 2:45-3:15.
- discourage the use of parent volunteer drivers for school trips and start using public transportation and walking instead, especially in elementary school (when kids should be in booster seats, anyways).
- put an aerial tram across the Fraser from Queensborough to the Quay, with a possible extension up the hill to the pedestrian mall at 6th and 6th
- put in a separated bike lane from the Braid / North Road down the North Road hill to join up with the Central Valley Greenway.
- put more traffic lights across 8th (William, Buchanan, Richmond). Pedestrian activated; this would cut down on the (illegal but still present) truck traffic.
- narrow Braid to 2 lanes from North Road/E Columbia to Brunette (remember: E Columbia is a pedestrian mall!)
- link pedestrian lights to the car signals: a pedestrian shouldn't have to push any button to get a green light. It should just BE green when the cars get to go, too - it is nonsense to have to wait for the next cycle when you arrive just after the light has changed!
- dedicated bus lanes across the Queensborough and along the Connector into Richmond. This is the only way to improve connectivity for commuters coming from points east of New Westminster.
- right-turn only coming out of the Braid Industrial lands at Brunette / Braid. This means that this intersection can be treated as a "T" in terms of signals and the time currently spent accomodating cars exiting the area can now be spent on the other directions. Emergency vehicles could be allowed to go the wrong way through the bus bypass, with a system of lights. The only way for other traffic out, is along United Blvd.

Anyone out there got any other ideas?