Monday, November 26, 2012

We Need a Pedestrian Revolution!

Both the City of New Westminster and Translink have declared their intention of following the "hierarchy of road users", as illustrated here:

[hierarchy of road users; pedestrians rule!]

Now, as we all realize, the City is not actually walking the talk. There are many instances where pedestrians (and cyclists) are being seriously inconvienienced in order to maintain SOV traffic "as-is". And I'm not talking about keeping cars moving on major thoroughfares here. Once you start really "thinking as a pedestrian", you'll see many examples of these planning errors in New Westminster. Here we go:
  1. In general, crosswalks are placed in locations not where people actually want to go (to bus-stops, mailboxes, routes to the store), but where planning deems it "safe". This is backwards. Crosswalks should be put where pedestrians go, and the traffic flow needs to be adjusted to enable this. The methodology should be : watch where the people walk. Then plan the infrastructure around their routes. Not : force the pedestrians to use a particular route because a traffic engineer deems it the easiest place to make a "safe" crosswalk.
  2. Cyclists are usually asked to dismount at intersections. This is complete BS. Nobody wants to get off their bike to walk it across the road, especially if they are riding on a designated bike route, like the Central Valley Greenway. If it is unsafe for cyclists to cross while riding, adjust the traffic and/or infrastructure to make it safe! By the way, there is already mechanism that allows cyclists to ride across a pedestrian crosswalk: it's called an elephant foot crossing; basically all it takes is a paint update, and bingo, bikes can legally ride.
  3. In construction zones, pedestrians and cyclists are routinely inconvienienced. The sidewalks and bike lanes are removed and/or relocated, usually to the other side of the street, to serve the needs of the construction. Only rarely is road space impacted. This, again, is backwards. Pedestrian and bike access should take priority; remove car lanes, if required, but preseve safe sidewalk and bike lane space during all construction and do not force foot and bike traffic to detour. Construct a scaffold-tunnel if necessary! Almost every construction zone in the City currently inconvieniences foot and bike traffic; the most egregious violators are the MUCF (the City's own building!) and the new Translink (!!) offices on Columbia. Come on, guys.
  4. Signalled intersections are, in general, completely set up for the convienience and safety of cars. In most cases, when the light is green for cars, the "walk" sign in the same direction will not light up unless some pedestrian has touched the button. And even then, the pedestrian will have to wait for the next green traffic light in order to see the "walk" sign light up. And sometimes, they have to wait a long time...Yep, backwards, all of it. Here's how it should be: especially in heavy-pedestrian zones (around RCH, along Columbia downtown and in Sapperton, along 12th), the "walk" sign should come on every time the light changes to green, whether or not anyone pressed a button; and if someone DOES touch the button, the most they should have to wait for a signal change is 15 seconds. There are places along designated bike routes where the signal change time is upwards of one minute. Seriously.
  5. Intersections along bike routes have a notorious flaw : cars may turn right at the intersection, while the bike route goes straight. The cyclist is therefore put in danger unless they move into the lane, preventing the cars from turning while the bike is in the intersection. Of course, this maneuvre is impossible to do if the crossing is button-activated, and, in any case, is likely to incur the wrath of the motorists! This is poorly designed infrastructure with the cyclist getting the worst end of it. Cyclists should have "boxes" at the front of every intersection so that they get a head start at every light, or, they should have their own light while cars are prevented from turning.
There are many examples in our City of car-oriented (backwards) thinking, and this is only a partial list of the most common planning mistakes. I'm sure you can find examples in your own. List them! Let's get a pedestrian revolution going!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Solar-powered eCars

At the Envision 2032 "inspirational session", we heard a very interesting talk from city councillor Judy Cullington, from Colwood (near Victoria). The City of Colwood has recently embarked on a big initiative to reduce energy use, with a big push to get folks to do energy audits on their homes and to get solar hot water installed. Do visit their website, it has a ton of great information on grants and programs for homeowners, businesses, and even some info for renters. A lot of the stuff is available to us here in New West as well! Solar hot water makes economic sense here in BC, and is pretty low-tech. Definitely a "low-hanging fruit" that we should be looking into here as well.

Anyways, one of the things mentioned in Ms. Cullington's talk was that one business (a bakery, as I recall) in Colwood had installed solar panels on the roof (fed into the grid) and was also using an electric vehicle (probably a Nissan Leaf). The business owner had done some calculations and claimed that his panel was giving him enough power to drive.

whoop whoop whoop ...there went my skeptic's alarm...

So. Off for a little one-on-one with my friends Google and Wikipedia...

A Nissan Leaf consumes 34 kWh to drive 100 miles and costs $38k (I'm not adding the cost of the plug-in at your house). A single solar panel delivers 4kWh/day and costs ~$10k to install (here in the Lower Mainland).

This means it would take 8 days of charging to enable the Leaf to drive 100 miles (which is about its maximum range). Put another way, on this energy diet, you are allowed to drive a maximum of 100 miles, once per week (or you can spread it out over the whole week). This isn't very much; it is very easily achievable by bicycle. A reasonable commute on a bike is 10km twice a day, or 12 miles total (this takes a moderately fit person about 20 mins each way) - exactly what the solarLeaf lets you drive. But at a 100x higher price point! So, yes, the solar panel is adding to the grid...but Mr. Bakery is very likely not self-sufficient in the energy for his driving. Although that's likely not his goal, I guess I would have been more impressed with him if he had decided to get an electric bakfiets (electric cargo bike) to pick up his supplies.

To put the costs into perspective, 100 miles per week of solar-powered driving has a capital cost of $48k. If you want 200 miles per week, you need to shell out another $10k. So, while it is entirely possible to "drive solar", it is very expensive and hardly a realistic option; most people who "need to commute" 24 miles/day are not going to be willing to pay $68k for a small car when you can get a gas-powered Yaris with a basically unlimited travel radius for a quarter of the price.

To relate this back to my "energy pie" post, we can reduce the amount of electricity required for transportation by making everyone who wants an electric car also purchase a solar panel or two, but this will still not enable us to run our current model of trucking and commuting without also adding significant new power sources (like a big dam or two).

It makes far more sense to invest in "solar powered e-bikes" for local (<30km/day) trips, as these are about 10x more efficient than the car (and much cheaper) - they are charged much more quickly to the same range.

Our current driving habits cannot be economically sustained on electric cars, with or without help from the sun. We shouldn't be fooling ourselves that this is an option.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Envision 2032, the Apocalyptic Version

It is hard to envision the future. Mostly, we tend to extrapolate from the past. And for us, for this generation, that means a path of continual growth.

So, the view of 2032 that immediately leaps to mind is that it looks like now, just more, and bigger. To make this future more "sustainable", we just need to "green it". So:
  • the same number of cars, but electric, 'cause that's greener.
  • people living in the same type of homes, only the buildings are more efficient. We can imagine more density - that means, more apartments - without too much strain.
  • stores are fully stocked, but with much more organic and locally grown stuff.
  • we expect that our kids and grandkids will have it better than us.
  • the same infrastructure exists, in roughly the same state of repair. Only it's greener, too. Maybe with more emphasis on local electricity generation.
To support such a future, if the number of people is growing, the economy must grow, too, to provide everyone with these amenities. And that means it needs to have access to an increasing amount of energy. "Percentage"-type growth in fact means exponential growth.

All of our businesses use energy. Some more than others, but we use a lot of it. Look at the "heavy industry" part of the pie in my post a while back. This sector employs a lot of people; if it is to grow, more energy is required. Same goes for offices and the retail sector. Yes, higher energy prices can force efficiencies, but after a while (decades, not centuries!) these efficiency gains start to plateau - they get smaller.  We cannot count on efficiency gains to keep pace with "forever" economic growth. And, as we all know by now, if something can't go on forever, it will stop.

If energy gets too expensive, the economy has a hard time growing. This means: people start losing their jobs. Which results in debt not being repaid, which means that banks start tightening their lending policies. It also means that people don't shop as much anymore, which starts shutting down service-related industries. The government finds itself in trouble, too: less tax revenue and more demand for its services. Cuts to programs ensue.

This is the world I think we are heading for. Energy is not going to get cheaper (unless the the economy tanks, in which case, skip straight to the next paragraph). There are far more people now demanding their share. All the new oil finds are "extreme oil": hard and expensive to get at. All "renewable" sources (solar, wind) require oil to produce and maintain, and are widely dispersed (and so require huge swaths of land). We need a huge injection of capital (which is already scarce) to retool our existing energy infrastructure and our transportation networks, and right now, government seems fixated on deepening our dependence on a fossil-fuel-based economy. A massive shift to electricity generated by renewable means is not going to be easy or cheap.

I suspect that our economy is going to either stall, or shrink, in the coming decades. What sort of city do we need, to be able to handle this kind of reality 20 years from now:
  • housing bubble is finished: everyone's home is worth 50% of what is is worth today
  • more unemployed people and homelessness
  • more elderly on reduced incomes - nobody's retiring to Arizona
  • fewer government services (unemployement, healthcare, pensions)
  • no money for big capital projects like power grid upgrades, massive transit, new bridges, ...
  • no financial aid available to make your home more efficient or to subsidize your electric vehicle
  • liquid fuel is very expensive and/or rationed
  • uncertain or curtailed electricity supply
  • less choice in food (and it is seasonal)
  • fewer consumer goods: school supplies, fashion clothing, appliances 
If I put on my apocalyptic glasses, I get a vision, not of a green, shiny, eco-friendly city looking like something out of Popular Mechanics, but of something a little closer to present-day Kampala.

This kind of future means:
  • almost nobody can afford a private car
  • the trucking industry has taken a huge hit, although shipping by boat is still widely available
  • a thriving local repair industry (for everything from cars to appliances to clothing)
  • bikes everywhere, including for freight movement and as taxis
  • alternative and much smaller living arrangements, with shared cooking and bathing facilities - boarding houses are back!
  • a much bigger service industry (caregivers, gardeners, housekeepers, etc)
  • water-based transportation to link our city to where food is grown - a busy harbour
  • repurposed emtpy land, parking lots and garages for food production and/or housing
  • small farm animals in the city (chickens, goats, meat-rabbits...)
  • lots of street vending and/or covered marketplaces
  • clotheslines!
  • a well-used rail system
  • greatly reduced air traffic
  • compromised refrigeration
  • doing many more things by hand (washing dishes, washing clothes, carting stuff around, woodworking)
If we make the right choices, we can maintain things like:
  • a busy and well-stocked library (or two, or three!)
  • more local arts and music
  • a tighter-knit community that is more locally engaged, as it becomes more expensive (time, money) to move long distances and as more things need to be shared
  • people in better shape and a well-run medical system
  • good, affordable (free!) schools and a well-educated citizenry
  • tight controls on emissions and waste
  • low crime
If I look a little closer, I'm seeing that as the economy slows, we might get political extremism, hunting for scapegoats, "circling the wagons", protectionism...Hm. I'm taking those glasses off, now!

So, go back to that Envision 2032 survey.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Envision 2032

This past weekend, I attended a workshop run by New West City on their Community Sustainability Plan.

The City wants to engage citizens in what a "sustainable" New Westminster would look like, and wants to use this plan to guide all their other planning activities (transportation, energy, waste management, housing, heritage preservation, land use & planning, community well-being, parks 'n rec, ...).

I tell you, it was a brutal schedule! An "inspirational kick-off" event was held Friday evening (starting at 6:30, which didn't give me enough time to eat dinner!) - at which there were many excellent speakers - followed by an 8:30 start on Saturday with a morning full of break-out sessions and brainstorming. Barely time for breakfast! Ooof!

The City has identified 11 policy areas and asked us to envision what New Westminster would be doing / would look like in these areas in 2022, 2032, and 2062. Wow; 50 years out. I'll be dead. But our City won't be....

There are many areas in which I have a hard time making a contribution. Being a cone-headed scientist, my focus really tends to be on energy and transportation issues (geez, have you noticed?). I'm glad that our City has many visionary residents who were there to educate me about their vision for the arts, for housing, for accessibility (think demographic changes!), childcare, parks, business development...

Here are some points to consider when crafting your personal vision of what our city should look like:
  • New Westminster's population is expected to hit 100,000 in the next generation or so (current population: about 60,000).
  • the number of children will increase by several thousand
  • the number of seniors will increase even more!
  • New Westminster has its own electrical utility (buys wholesale electricity from BCHydro and resells to the residents. New West owns all the distribution network and the meters)
  • we have our own school district, which gets its own funding from the Province.
  • New West has a working river front, railyards, SkyTrain stations, and bus routes. And many hills!
  • there is effectively no arable land in our City; all our food comes from outside
  • there are 400,000 vehicles moving through our City today. The overwhelming majority of this traffic is not local.
  • what effect will climate change have, locally?
To become (more) sustainable, we need to reduce the amount of energy we use. Every resident, every business, every institution, and the City as a corporation needs to reduce energy by a large amount (think 80% by 2062 and you're in the ballpark !). In fact, since we're starting to run out of cheap oil, this will happen regardless of what we want, think, or do! The idea is to plan ahead: we want to be able to ramp down the "energy thermostat" while maintaining a high quality of life.

So, what infrastructure, community amenities, policies, plans, mitigation strategies do we need, to get us started on this path?

Anyways, if you missed this session and would like to contribute (or, if you did, and need to add more), go here!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Energy Pie

There’s a lot of chat these days about “sustainable” or “green” energy.
And a lot of confusion, too.
 “Green” energy means, here in BC, energy that is made using hydro, wind, or wood. Fossil-fuel energy – the kind that comes out of the ground – is not “green” or “sustainable”. So this is the kind of energy that environmentalists would like us to wean ourselves off of.
So let’s first wrap our heads around the size of the problem, and where the problem is. Here’s a graph, based on numbers from Canada’s government office on energy efficiency (2009 numbers), on energy use per sector here in BC:
[ energy use by sector and type ]

It’s colour coded: red pie pieces are “fossil fuel”, blues are “electricity”, and green is “wood”. It’s divided up by industrial sector: residential ("rez"), commercial / institutional ("comm"), heavy industry ("ind"), transportation ("trans"), and agriculture ("ag").
The idea here is that we want to reduce the size of the red chunks. The biggest red chunk is fossil-fuel-based transportation - moving ourselves and our stuff around - surprise, surprise! This chunk represents 33% of all our energy use here in BC, and it is more than twice as large as the total energy used by the residential sector. The next biggest red piece is the fossil fuel energy used by heavy industry (mining, forestry, cement) – which is 15% of our energy use – less than ½ of the transportation piece! Residential and commercial fossil fuel use (most which is used for water and space heating) is third on the list, and come in at about 7.5 and 5.5%, respectively.
[what surprised me was the huge amount of wood-fired industrial use. BC's energy hungy pulp mills use wood waste and what's leftover from their process to fire their boilers.]
So, moving to a more “sustainable” energy basis means we really need to get our transportation system onto electricity. Yeah, home heating could use some updates, but this is a much smaller problem if we want to reduce our fossil fuel use.
The real problem is, of course, that there is not enough electricity in BC right now to electrify our transportation sector. Basically, we are already using all of it. If we want to move our current transportation, as-is, to electricity, we’d need a futher 123PJ of energy from somewhere (taking into account the fact that electric motors are 3x more efficient than FF motors); this is the equivalent of 4.5 site C dams.
We can shrink the currently blue pieces of the pie (probably by 60%) by making better use of electricity…turning off lights, and especially trading in those baseboard heaters for (more expensive) heat pumps, would free up about 20PJ -  but that would still leave us with 100PJ to find somewhere. Still the equivalent of 3.5 site C dams…
It is really hard to escape the conclusion that we need to rethink our freight and human transportation systems if we want to move to more sustainable energy sources. The current system of commuting in single-occupancy vehicles, electric or not, cannot be part of this future.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

...and yet again more praise for the Germans...

Interesting article, heaping more praise on the German solar PV experiment. I gotta say, these articles rub me the wrong way. They get my bogosity antennae going, big time.

The reporting is really pretty poor; there is no putting this in context of how much energy the nation uses, or explaining of terms. For example, let's parse this one sentence:

" [their solar PV infrastructure] is the equivalent generation capacity of 20 nuclear power plants."
At first glance, this would appear to mean that Germany is able to generate 20 nuclear plants' worth of electricity using its solar PV grid. Wow! Sure makes it seem like they are right on target to shutting down their entire set of 27 nuclear plants! Yay!

But wait. This isn't what that statement actually means...

What the sentence really means, is that they have built enough infrastructure to generate this much electricity if the sun were shining 24x7, 365 days per year. This is what the words "generation capacity" mean. Do they explain this? Nope.

In fact, on an average day, the amount of energy Germany generates using its solar PV arrays is a mere 5% (!!!) of what it requires. You can look this up on Wikipedia. Sure, there are days here and there where they generate 50% of their needs using PV, but these occasions last a few hours or so, and are followed by days of cloud cover, when they generate basically nothing using their arrays. And this is the basic problem with solar (and wind) power: it is intermittent. Doesn't matter if you blanket the country with the things, you're still not gonna get reliable power.

The cost of putting this much infrastructure in place is borne by the Germans as a whole; the article itself makes clear that the general public is enthusiastically donating cash for this purpose. People pay whatever the article says for their array, and then more in taxes to subsidize the hookups, reduce their electrical bills, etc etc. The sum total cost to the German people is, I'm happy to concede, probably less than building 20 nuclear plants, but I'm pretty sure it's not 20x cheaper. Let's say it's 50% of the cost of 20 nuclear plants.

In other words, they are effectively paying for 10 nuke plants (billions of $) to get 5% of their electrical needs met. Is this a deal, or what?

By the way, Germany has 27 nuclear plants in total (also from Wikipedia - some are shuttered, most are scheduled to be so), which used to provide about 25% of their electrical needs (most of rest comes from coal.) So, to put this in yet another perspective, they have built an entirely new, parallel system of solar PV to take out the nuclear plants, in order to obtain 1/5th of the power that the old system provided.

The mittelstand, so praised in the article, requires reliable power to run their myriad of high-tech factories. And the power can't be too expensive, or the German engineered goods they produce would be too expensive for others to buy. So, back in reality, they are ramping up buying electricity from outside, to make up the shortfall. Germany already imports 2/3 of its energy. Imported energy is overwhelmingly either from nuclear, or coal plants in neighbouring countries, so in effect Germany is exporting their nasty nuclear and GHG-producing power plants to others.

There is nothing inherently wrong with solar power, or wind power, or any of those other renewables, as long as one recognizes their limitations (intermittency). What is wrong, deeply wrong, is assuming that we can just continue with business as usual - same consumption, same prices! - by magically switching over to them as a power source and turning off the nasty coal / nuclear plants.

Well, at least here in BC we have legacy hydro, which is clean, cheap, and reliable. Let's just not waste it on frivolities like electric cars.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Changing Boundaries = Lipstick on a Pig

Tonight I'm up to present a short submission at the Electoral Boundaries Commission review. Here's what I plan to say....

The main consideration for adjusting boundaries is to ensure that every riding has the same number of voters. This ensures that every MP represents the same number of voters. Considerations of "community" and geography are also taken into account, but the primary driver is the number of voters.

Ajusting riding boundaries is always a controversial issue. This is because adjustments affect the outcomes of elections. If support for political parties were randomly distributed throughout each riding, then drawing boundaries would not have a large effect. However, this is not the case. There are "voting communities"; groups of people who tend to live in the same geographic area, who tend to support one political party over another. This may be because of cultural affinities, historical perspectives, or any number of other reasons.

New Westminster, for example, votes preferentially for the NDP (most polling stations throughout our two Federal ridings gave >50% support to their respective NDP candidates in the last Federal election), whereas in Coquitlam, there are many polling stations that gave much more support to the Conservative party (>50%). (poll-by-poll numbers available here)

So, changing riding boundaries can move blocks of party support from one riding to another, which, due to Canada's single-member electoral system, means that blocks of voters may suddenly go from having a representative they support, to having an MP from a party they do NOT support. Every time boundaries change, different blocks of voters go from having effective representation, to having effectively NO representation.

This annoys voters - not to mention the MP's affected by such changes. This is why people come to Electoral Boundary Commission Hearings to vent their frustrations!

There is no solution to this problem. No matter what boundaries are chosen, on average more than 1/2 of Canada's electorate - the majority! - does not have an MP from a party they support. How is this fair? I find this unforgiveable in a modern democracy.

There are two ways to address the situation. One is by extreme gerrymandering: adjust boundaries on a polling-station-by-polling-station basis so that the maximum number of voters get their choice (from the previous election) elected - ie. give the incumbent the maximal advantage. "More conservative" neighborhoods would form separate ridings from "more labour-oriented" streets. This is done with great effect in the United States. It would clearly result in ridiculously complex electoral maps, and is highly unlikely to find favour with the general public, exactly because it confers large advantage to the last person who won the "riding" (the incumbent).

The other solution is to move to multi-member ridings, so that more than one MP is chosen per (larger) riding. Such a change would have to go hand-in-hand with a move to proportional representation. There are many systems that give proportional results and they are in use around the world. Such systems have many advantages; the first being that many more voters have an MP from a party that they support. Riding boundaries become far less important in proportional systems. Moving to such a system would not change our system of government (Westminster-style Parliamentary system) at all. It would just change how we choose our representatives.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Whistler Mountain Biking! Car Free Holiday Number 7!

Yeah, Whistler is fun in summer too!

Actually, it is busier during the sunny months than during the snowy ones...the Village is hopping, all the restaurants, bistros and bars full, and in the evenings everyone's strolling around licking ice-creams. Very Euro!

So, as in winter, you can get yerself there by bus. Accoms can be easily booked via the central website.

In summer the main attraction here is mountain biking. This comes in a few different varieties:
  • rent a cruiser bike and ride around in the valley on the paved trails - nice 'n easy
  • rent a basic mountain bike (front shocks only) and take it up and down the myriad single-track trails around Whistler
  • get yourself fully kitted out with top-notch bike and body armour, and hurl yourself down the mountain
We did all three. I gotta say, the last option was fun, but downhill mountain biking is definitely a young man's sport. At 49, I was - by far - the oldest woman on the hill that day. Not that I even saw more than 3 women...We saw 2 ambulances cart away injured riders, and apparently the spinal trauma center in Whistler is busier in the summer biking season off of the single bike park, than all winter from both mountains...if you've never done this, a lesson is probably advised, and do take it easy!

This is also the priciest option; the bikes, armour, and lift ticket add up! Really, the best way to enjoy this sport is by renting the right equipment. I do a lot of biking, but I don't own the type of bike that is meant for flinging oneself at high speed down gravel trails. The double-suspension and hydraulic brakes really make it much more enjoyable and safe.

There are lots of bears to be seen on the slopes; they ignore the mountain bikers as long as you just cruise by, but you do have to be aware that they are likely to be in the meadows.

[black bear in the mountain bike park]

My favourite biking was the single-track trails around Lost Lake, which are a mix of "green" - wide gravel paths - and "blue" - single-track dirt trails with some logs and bridges. You zip up the greens and down the blues! You don't need body armour for this, and a bike with front suspension only and disk brakes (non-hydraulic) is fine. Probably the type of bike you already own... No lift ticket either! And you can use the same equipment to ride the asphalt once you're tired of going up and down.

The trails shut down in early October (Thanksgiving), as does the downhill stuff.

There are other activities to do in Whistler as well: ziplining (too high for me!), golf (yech), bear-viewing (just hang around in the village in the fall and you can see 'em for free...)...

And not to forget the stupendous hiking to be had; you can take the lift up to mainline it straight to the Alpine, or you can do it "traditional style" by starting at the bottom. When we were there this year in July there was still a ton of snow at the top so the hiking was actually pretty limited. But by late August and early September the trails are beautiful!

[snow at the top of Whistler Mountain in July]

The last thing that's worth considering is the evening BBQ at the Roundhouse. Buy tickets in advance, and then head up for a day hike. Once you're done your hike you can hang around the top and get nice food, a beer, and enjoy the scenery before taking the gondola down.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sustainable Logging?

Since my holidays I've been  pondering logging, both of the clear-cutting and helicopter variety, because these activities were present in the remote areas around Bella Coola. The clear-cutting stopped in the late 80's, and now all that goes on is helicopter logging: small patches are clear-cut, and a few high-value logs are airlifted out.

Years ago, I visited Wildwood, the 70-acre woodlot owned and managed by Merv Wilkinson for many years, and now owned by The Land Conservancy (TLC) and run by the Ecoforestry Institute. The woodlot is just outside of Nanaimo, in an area of spawling residential acreages, near where my sister lives, so that's how I heard about it. When I visited, Merv was still alive (he passed away at 97 last year) and his woodlot had just been taken over by TLC. They gave tours and talking to Merv was part of that.

There's a book written about the woodlot by Merv, which is an interesting read. Merv bought the lot in the late 30's and started logging it "by hand", starting with European forest-management principles and modifying them over the years to be more conservative (in the sense of "conserving"). The basic idea is single-tree selective logging. All logs were hauled out by horse and milled on site with a small portable sawmill (not his). Merv made money off of his woodlot, and the wood he harvested was apparently of better quality than the local clearcut stuff. The lot has more and better-quality trees on it now than when he started.

This is what the Ecoforestry folks will tell you, and what is in his book. Merv became a hero to the sustainable logging community and was awarded the Order of BC as well as the Order of Canada. There's no doubt that he pioneered the practise of, and education in, less-destructive forestry techniques, against the flood of clear-cut logging going on at the time.

But, what isn't emphasized is that Merv never made a full-time living off of his woodlot. It was not large enough to support him and his family fully. Of course, how much exactly a "living" is, is a bit vague, but Merv lived on his land in a cabin he built, and did not by any stretch have an extravagant lifestyle. No flat-screen TV or Disneyland holidays, in other words.

In order to really make a living from forestry, you need a bigger woodlot. There is probably a limit to how big your lot can be before you need to start making use of machinery for the hauling, which then gets you into a different economic model: more cash flow to finance your equipment...In fact, it's not a given that at today's land and commodity prices, you could make such a private woodlot work: how much income would it need to generate for you to be able to pay the mortgage? (That is, if you can even find such a woodlot to purchase.)

In fact, unless you buy your woodlot, you'll have to lease land from the Crown, like the logging companies do. Then you'll need to adhere to the Forest and Range Practises Act, which includes the Forest Practises Code. I'm pretty sure you can't then manage your woodlot like Merv did. I suspect his techniques are only available to privately owned woodlots. Moving wholesale to a small woodlot forestry industry would require some pretty major shifts in legislation, here in BC. Even community forests here find themselves basically forced into clear-cutting. Probably such a shift can only happen if the big forestry companies pull out almost entirely. They have a lot of lobbying power (since they employ a lot of people and have a lot of capital invested) - although this is changing...

If you have ever been to Europe, their forests are highly managed and "sustainable" in some sense, anyways. Mostly, the model is of "community forests", with community-hired "civil servants" doing the management / logging. They do not clear-cut. That said, the French, German and Swiss forests I've seen are basically manicured parks with some non-threatening wildlife running around in them. Beautiful, but riddled with roads. Not a whole lot of wilderness left. I'm pretty sure this is not what the good people at the Ecoforestry Institute are aiming for.

[a managed European deciduous forest ]

I find it hard to come up with an example, a model or vision, of what "sustainable logging" would look like here in BC. These are some of the things I'm trying to consider while trying to imagine how "family owned woodlot forestry" would work:

  • How many families could be supported here in BC on Merv's forestry practises?
  • Where would they live? What areas of BC would be "sold off" to accomodate such an industry?
  • How would standards be enforced?
  • How would they ship their product to market? Would they have access to roads? Modern telecommunications infrastructure?
  • What would healthcare and education systems for them look like? 
  • How would First Nations land claims issues and economic development fit in with this?
It's pretty clear that BC would be a completely different place if this was how forestry was practised. While I'm no fan of clear-cut logging, I think it's also unrealistic to expect a large-scale return to small woodlots, for the same reasons that the small, diverse, family farm isn't a thriving business model anymore, either...the biggest reason being: it's hard and risky physical work, and the pay is crap. Given the available alternatives people leave in droves.

And then just as I was pondering these issues, this sad and ironic epilogue came to my attention...

I heard on the news the other day that the Land Conservancy is bankrupt. Sounds like they were leveraging themselves blue in order to get more land protected...I fear at least some assets will now have to be sold to get their debts under control. This is pretty sad, since TLC has been the recipient of many bequests of land by people wanting to preserve their properties from development "forever". Who knows if Wildwood will be part of the sale?

Not only this, but Merv's woodlot has apparently been in trouble for a while...before he died, Merv put together a pretty damning "report card" of how the Ecoforestry folks were running the place. In a nutshell, apparently they weren't. They had stopped logging altogether - there have been less than a dozen trees cut on the property since 1999 when the woodlot was turned over to TLC. In fact, their website says the following (emphasis mine):

"The initial concept was an economic one - to harvest only the annual growth rate, but over time ecological criteria were added to the decision making process, so that now the goal is to manage for ecological function first and foremost and see how humans can fit in without diminishing the ecological functioning of the forest."

Basically they've turned it into a park. So in fact, it is not a woodlot anymore, and can't be used as a demonstration of sustainable forestry.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lovely Akron, Ohio

All right, one of the downsides of my job is that sometimes (rarely, thankfully), I have to leave my comfortable home in lovely New Westminster to travel abroad. Abroad would probably be bearable if it weren't the US. But usually it means going south of the border.
Like this time. Here I am in lovely Akron, Ohio. Just an hour south of Cleveland.
I'm trying to get the lay of the land here but it's hard. There are not many landmarks in this rolling country of deciduous trees and sprawl. It all looks so much the same. I'm glad I rented a GPS unit to go with my navy Dodge Charger...especially since the car rental place doesn't hand out maps. These seem to have gone the way of cuniform.
I've got lots to complain about. Things like:
  • endless highway, all at least 6 lanes. Intersecting highways. Multiple parallel routes. I can't figure out why they need so many, but they've got 'em. Mostly in a shitty state of repair, too: lines mostly worn away and crappy road surface. Decaying infrastructure = your taxes are too low!
  • strip malls. OMG. The sheer quantity of car-oriented shopping is simply staggering.  The malls all seem to be "outside" ones, meaning that you have to walk along the outside of the mall to get from store to store. There's no "inside" to the mall. And the acres of parking outside these boxes means that you end up driving from one mall to the next. The entire length of HWY 77 from Cleveland to Akron seems lined with these things.
  • chain restaurants. Again, the number of them available is staggering. The strip malls consist of about an equal number of stores and restaurants. Some of them have outdoor patios, which overlook parking lots. How scenic. Almost all eating etablishments are part of a chain. I've not found a non-chain restaurant, but then I guess I'm in the wrong part of the country for that??? Maybe in downtown Cleveland you can find such a thing??
  • the weather: humid and warm. Yech. You have to sleep with the airco on, which I loathe - the noise and that fake cold air.
  • dinner conversation: tires and cars. Two topics on which I have nothing to contribute. How you can fill 45 minutes with talk about car tires boggles my mind....but it is possible. I just witnessed it.
To be honest, though, there are some things that aren't bad about this place. On the plus side we've got:
  • endless highways. The toll ones, I mean. If only Canada could get off this idea of having free road space. I admit I got a bit freaked out when that nice GPS lady directed me to the toll highway, but it turns out that they'll take your (Canadian) credit card. My company just subsized the US road system by $1.15.
  • strip malls. OMG. The sheer amount of shopping is amazing. The choice here is huge. I just picked up a travel speaker for my iPhone for $40 that isn't even on the shelves in Canada. And the variety of plus-sized clothing is truly .... sobering.
  • chain restaurants. They are not actually that bad. Some of them, anyways. Not great food, but not too shabby if you know which ones to go to. Luckily my American colleagues know (because I don't, and believe me, there are some crappy ones!). And they actually have decent beer these days - I just had a Belgian-style wheat beer on tap. Nice! Most of these chains aren't in Canada - only the crappy ones.
  • the weather: at least it's warm here, you can still sit outside without a sweater in the evenings. Even if it's kinda sticky.
  • dinner conversation: guns and politics. I'm endlessly fascinated with what these two issues illustrate about our two countries, which are, after all, not really that different in many respects...and how colleagues for whom I have a good deal of respect, and who I genuinely like, can support concealed handgun legislation and be staunchly anti-Obamacare.
When we lived in the US (about 15 years ago) we acclimatized pretty quickly. Really, there are wonderful people, lovely countryside, and a lot of very interesting history. It's just that our (and when I say our I of course mean my) knee-jerk reaction as Canadians is so anti-American that one really has to make an effort to snap out of it. Really. Get over it and take this country at face value. You'll have a better time.

Even if you still miss your hubby.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bella Coola Coastal Retreat! Car-Free Holiday Number 6!

We decided to do a number of "staycations" this summer, to explore BC. We've never been up the coast beyond the middle of Vancouver Island or the Sunshine Coast, so we figured we'd try to have a vacation "somewhere up there".

The first idea was to take BC Ferries from Port Hardy and to get off somewhere and explore locally. But that was quickly nixed when we couldn't figure out how to get to Port Hardy without a car, as it seems there's bascially no bus service up island!!! Add to this complication the fact that you have to stay overnight in Port Hardy because the ferry leaves early in the morning, and the high cost of even being a foot passenger on the thing, and we quickly gave up on this idea. So instead, we decided to fly in.

Our chosen location: Bella Coola.

[You can actually drive to Bella Coola, it's a mere 650km from Williams Lake.]

Bella Coola used to be a fishing and logging town. But this has changed - logging has pulled out of town and now the only logging going on is done in small patches by helicopter. There's no mill in town and no big logging booms being collected as far as I could tell. Fishing is - as far as I can tell - on the skids as well. The fishers we saw at the wharf were from all over BC (from Vancouver to Prince Rupert) and they were basically just waiting in their boats, day after day, for an "opening" to go out and fish. Once the short opening is done they will move to the next one. So the locals really have to scrounge around for work to make ends meet; tourism is becoming more of a draw with water-rafting for bear-watching and heli-skiing in the winter. But, these activities don't always bring money into the local economy. In many cases the guests are isolated in the lodge and the lodge is owned and operated by rich outside investors. Sometimes they will hire local staff, but not always...

Anyways, in we flew, a stunning flight in a small twin engine Beechcraft that seats 19. The landing in the Bella Coola valley is pretty amazing - the valley is very narrow and long which makes the landing rather exciting.

[view from the plane]

[Beechcraft 1900 unloading at Bella Coola]

We rented the Floathouse Inn at the Bella Coola government wharf for a week.  This cute little float home is like a little cabin on the water - shower, full kitchen, rooftop deck. Stunning views all 'round, very quiet location, and you get gently rocked to sleep every night. The guy who runs this place is a small local operator so the money stays in the valley.

The wharf is almost exclusively used by commercial fishermen; no luxury yachts with high-heeled small dogs aboard. In this way it's quite different from the marinas on the south coast.

[Highly recommended accomodations: the Floathouse Inn]

[view from the back deck of the Floathouse]

The wharf is a 20 minute walk from Bella Coola proper, where there is a co-op grocery, a liquor store, a small museum (well worth a visit), a hardware store....all the things you might require. The prices are not outrageous, although the produce and meat selection isn't what you'd see in a bigger town (there are only 1200 people or so in the whole valley).

About seafood: you cannot buy fish from the fishermen at the wharf, unless you do so "under the table". And they will only sell to you if they have fish - which they didn't when we were there because there was no fishing going on. So the only option is flash-frozen stuff from the distributor up the valley. Which is excellent, by the way...but certainly not cheap. Similarly, crab is unavailable for purchase. You have to catch it yourself (which we did - delicious! Fresh dungeness crab!). I found this kind of strange for a fishing town...but I suppose it's a sign of the times.

About telecoms: WiFi is available at the wharf but it is, shall we say, spotty and slow. The cell coverage in the valley is exclusively Telus/Bell. Rogers customers are out of luck. Thanks to this, my husband's blackberry was inoperative. Yay!!!!

There are lots of things to do while in Bella Coola; all outdoorsy of course! You can walk to the Nuxalk indian village of Four Mile, about 45 minutes inland along the one road, and visit the Petroglyph Gallery for some really nice prints and carvings (budget $100s for the prints, $1000s for the carvings!!!!), and arrange for one of the locals to take you to see the petroglyphs in the forest and to give you the local spiel on them. This is well worth it. Just don't believe everything they tell you!

[Bella Coola petroglyphs]

You can charter a sailing cruise from the Floathouse Inn guy, he'll take you out into the maze of inlets for one or more nights on a very nice sailboat. The scenery is amazing and the area is empty. There are natural hot springs you can visit, and you will see bears, seals and eagles. We did.

[Eucott Bay from the hotsprings pool]

Then, you can rent a 4x4 from a local lodge and drive yourself up one of the logging roads into the alpine for some spectacular hiking. You can wander up there for days, but be "bear aware". We didn't see any bears in the alpine - they were all down in the valley waiting for the salmon run...

[alpine lake above M. Gurr Lake]

[view of the inlets into Bella Coola from the alpine lookout above M. Gurr Lake]

Alternatively, you can take a walk through the valley's cedar forests, and see old growth. Some of the cedars are "culturally modified" - the Nuxalk harvest strips of cedar bark or planks  (a single strip or plank from a tree only, which scars the tree but does not kill it). I found the forests here more impressive than say, Cathedral Grove on the way to Port Alberni....(which always strikes me as a sad leftover of what was once there).

[one big tree]

[cedar with plank taken year ago - notice axe marks at top]

There is a lot of river fishing to be done (the ocean-going sport fishing is not done here; it is out of Bella Bella and Shearwater on the coast). During the September salmon run(s) the bears are down on the rivers so bear-watching is a huge draw. We didn't see any because this year the pink salmon run is apparently in trouble...the valley had floods in 2010 which washed away much of the eggs (Pinks run on a 2-year cycle).

[grizzly tracks in the river bank]

[hungry young grizzly along the highway]

Coming back to the lower mainland after a week of this was a bit of a!

We had a wonderful time and are planning to go back.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dutch Bike Infrastructure Porn

Care of Bike Snob NYC (who provides an alternative - and hilariously sarcastic - take on North American bike culture):

It's a good video for ideas on how to improve cycling infrastructure. Just don't get too caught up in the smugness. Also, keep in mind that Holland has been working on this for decades. The "normalization" of bike culture/infrastructure didn't arise overnight.

Watch for:
- how many riders are wearing lycra, or helmets
- the types of people riding bikes...these aren't road warriors!
- the bike lockup facilities with counters for empty spots
- different separation mechanisms for different types of roads
- planning a direct-access bike path between a new suburb and the downtown core where the jobs are
- bike education as part of the school curriculum (hello, SD40!)
- the central importance of intent and planning

Finally, see if you can spot the American transpo planners on bikes (clue: check for wobblies)!

Friday, June 22, 2012

...Meanwhile, Back in Vancouver...

While New Westminster has a tough fight on its hand to get TransLink, the Province, and neighboring municipalities to reconsider their 6-lane Pattullo plan, what's Vancouver doing?

Removing roadspace for vehicles on a large scale.

Car traffic in Vancouver's downtown has declined steadily in the last decade. They are now talking about tearing down the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts and replacing them with park space.

They are talking about removing 2 car lanes from the perenially under-used Granville bridge and putting a nice pedestrian/bike pathway in their place.

[the plans for the Granville Bridge]

Of course, Vancouver can do these things, because it owns the infrastructure in question, and the infrastructure is entirely within VCR city borders. The Pattullo, as regular readers will know by now, is owned by TransLink and connects Surrey to New Westminster. So doing anything with it is at least three times more complicated because you have to get three parties to agree.

Parallel to Vancouver's situation, New Westminster's own car traffic is also decreasing - by this I mean, car trips originating inside City borders. The overwhelming majority of our traffic comes from outside. And, because we're not the final destination of that traffic, our options for dealing with it are a bit differrent from Vancouver's. The best thing New West can do is to get its neighbours better transit!
Meanwhile, South Surrey's Park'nRide locations are packed full (illegal parking is an issue) and more spots are needed. Surrey's continued growth depends on improving transit, but because of TransLink's financial woes (largely due to political interference by the Province), everything is grinding to a halt. And that is really too bad, because easing congestion does not require that large numbers of people take transit - it only requires about 10% of people to shift in order to see a real difference in traffic flow. Mind you, that transit needs to be high quality, dependable, and rapid - whether SkyTrain, rapid buses with dedicated lanes, or light rail. Luckily, we've already got SkyTrain across the Fraser!

On the flip side, widening roads as a way out of congestion is doomed to failure (and I'm pretty sure TransLink understands this, even if commuters and Provincial Transportation Ministers don't). This means that taxpayers - those who drive, as well as those who don't - get far more bang for their taxpayer buck if it gets spent on rapid bus service than on more pavement.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wassup Along the Brunette River?

OK, so for the first time this season I rode home along the Central Valley Greenway, which takes you through the park along the Brunette River from Burnaby Lake to Hume Park.

This is what it usually looks like:

[nice greenery and birdsong along the CVG]

I round a corner and suddenly am faced with this:

[good thing they realize it's an environmentally sensitive area]

[holy tree-thinning, batman!]

[can't have a park without parking, I guess???]

This used to be forest. What the heck is going on?

[oooh, it's environmental enhancement!]

[fish habitat creation?]

Looks like they are putting in more culverts under the new MegaMann highway, and adding more creek bed.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

TransLink's Pattullo Corner

Here is a very interesting document from TransLink, summarizing the past estimates on the possibility of refurbishing the Pattullo.

From this report, I learned:
  • TransLink took over responsibility of the Pattullo in 1999 and since then has commissioned a number of studies on the bridge - which are summarized in this report.
  • The most important issues with the bridge (and I think most people will agree with these) are:
    • pedestrian and bicycle safety (there is no barrier between traffic and the sidewalk, and the sidewalk is too narrow)
    • narrow lane widths for traffic and excessive traffic speeds, high volumes of heavy trucks
    • structural integrity of the bridge
  • Refurbishing the bridge would cost about $200M (I'm rounding up from the figures in the report) and it is possible. It would extend the life of the bridge by 50 years (see pg. 15 of the report).
  • Traffic impacts would be large during a refurb, which would take about 2 years.
  • The existing bridge is too narrow for 4 lanes, so a refurb would be to a 3-lane-with-counterflow. Sidewalks could be made wider by cantilevering them off the bridge, as was done for the Lion's Gate.
  • 4- and 6- lane replacements are considered in the report, and these options start talking about connecting the Pattullo to the SFPR:
"A new six lane bridge will provide opportunities to improve the connectivity [...] to both the North Fraser Perimeter Road and the South Fraser Perimeter Road. The additional lane in each direction [...] will provide improved operations across the river, especially for large trucks travelling [...] to / from the regionally significant Perimeter Roads."
  • In terms of financing the bridge,
"Toll revenues are likely adequate to service the level of debt required to finance the proposed expenditures (for a six lane replacement structure)". [emphasis mine]
  • A closure analysis was performed in 2007 (see pg. 13 of the report), where they tested the impacts of closing the bridge to trucks:
"The results indicated relatively small and effectively unnoticeable changes in truck volumes over most of the network; the largest changes were at the approaches to the Alex Fraser and Port Mann Bridges, with two-way diversions of 180 and 250 trucks per hour, respectively".

[note: these numbers seem too large to me. Current truck traffic over the Pattullo is about 3000 trucks/day, or 300 trucks/hour over a 10 hour workday. Diverting these evenly over the two other bridges gives 150 trucks/hour on each - smaller than the report indicates.]

So, it's clear to me after reading this report, that a refurb to a 3-lane structure with counterflow lane and adequate bike/ped facilities, with 50 year lifespan is possible, and will cost $200M. It's also pretty clear that TransLink has no way to pay for this as it would be difficult to toll a refurbished bridge without having a coherent regional tolling strategy. Closing the Pattullo to trucks would divert traffic to the new Mega Mann, which should be able to handle the extra trucks, although the trucking industry would not like the detour. A refurb operation, however, would have impacts on the traffic during the 2-year construction period.

The initial decision for a 6-lane replacement was made in 2008, and was likely driven more by the "well, if we're gonna replace it, might as well widen it" mentality than by any overall planning considerations. However, the motivation to stick with this decision today is that a 6-lane replacement gives connections to the SFPR (for trucks) - and hence "benefit" - and, more importantly, that 6 lanes will give sufficient toll revenues to pay for the financing.

Translink is flat broke. It doesn't have $200M to spend on a refurb. It certainly doesn't have another $800M to give to Surrey for transit to sweeten the deal. The only way it has to fix the Pattullo is to build big - to attract traffic - and toll. The new Pattullo would look like the Golden Ears bridge - a P3 with tolls, and the public left holding the bag if the traffic doesn't show up.

How do we get TransLink out of this corner?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New West's Capital Works Plan

I sit on New Westminster's Neighborhood Traffic Advisory Committee (NTAC). Most of the committee members are representatives of the various neighborhood residents' associations, and NTAC is a venue for them to bring their traffic-related concerns to the City, and for the City to disseminate information back to the residents.  It's not that much work to sit on these committees, and it's a great way to learn about how the City works and a good way to meet the staff!

At the last meeting, we got to hear about the capital works projects that the City is planning for this year. Here is a map of all the things they are planning to do. It's kind of low-resolution (we got a higher resolution hardcopy at the meeting), but of most interest to me were the pedestrian crossing upgrades they are planning across 8th avenue (note: a "special crosswalk" is one with flashing lights). I'm pretty happy with these upgrades; these are all existing crosswalks in my neck of the woods, and all have safety issues. The cars along 8th never stop for pedestrians. That's a problem because this is a well-used bus route with lots of passengers crossing the road, and because all the kids north of 8th have to cross this street to get to school (McBride). So it's great to see the City taking action!

This is what happens when you complain about City infrastructure - all complaints (especially letters!) get looked at and prioritized, budgeted, and finally they make it on to the map. Yay!

Now, if you look really carefully at the map you'll see a blue shaded area in the middle of the city running north-south, and marked "CCTV". No, this is not some kind of surveillance scheme. Apparently Engineering is lowering cameras into the sewer system to check the pipes. Phew.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Pattullo Bridge Repurposing Forum

Last night I attended the forum on "repurposing" the Pattullo, hosted by New West residents Daniel Fontaine and Keith Mackenzie, and sponsored by La Perla and 24 Hours. The format was 3 speakers (Gordon Price, Anthony Perl, and our own transportation planner Jerry Behl), followed by an open question period. The event was attended by about 100 people, overwhelmingly from New West I believe, with a few residents of the Surrey Bridgeview neighborhood present. There were 3 New West city councillors there and 1 councillor from Surrey.

The title of the forum, as well as most of the advance publicity, was focussed on creative uses for a non-bridge, given that a new, 6-lane structure was a done deal. For this reason, I almost didn't attend. As far as I'm concerned, we still need to explore what kind of north-south connections we need across the Fraser, and where they should be. This discussion needs to be finished before we can reasonably start planning what to do with the old bridge. Who wants to bungy-jump next to 6 lanes of roaring truck traffic?

However, because I know Gordon Price, Anthony Perl, and Jerry Behl, I had at least some hope that the discussion would also include a bit of bigger picture thinking about regional transportation planning and the Pattullo's role in this.

I was not disappointed.

In fact, none of the three invited panellists stuck to the script. None of them talked about creative uses of the bridge. All were highly critical of a 6-lane bridge and spent their presentations talking about traffic reduction in the context of high oil prices, about alternative freight movement, about historical precedents, and about the politics that has driven TransLink to this point. The Q&A session at the end continued in the same vein.

What did I learn? Here's a bullet list of the most interesting quotes I remember, in no particular order...
  • the new Port Mann is the widest bridge in Canada, with 10 lanes. Nothing on this scale exists in the more highly-populated provinces, or the busier border crossings. It is a bit of an anomaly.
  • the express bus service promised by Kevin Falcon across the Port Mann has been cancelled due to TransLink's lack of funds.
  • globally, we are almost finished with the cheap and easy oil, and now we are into the age of extreme oil. This means: higher prices, more volatility in supply, mounting environmental and political costs.
  • TransLink's traffic projections for the Pattullo and Golden Ears (and MoT's for the Port Mann) are all based on $60/bbl oil. Oil currently trades at around $80-100/bbl. It's unlikely to come down, unless there is a recession - and recessions cause a decrease in traffic.
  • trucks are the most energy-intensive form of freight transportation.
  • shipping by boat is cheap and likely to remain viable for a long time. With "new" technology boats can save 10-15% on fuel (of course, the bigger your sail, the more your savings. One could go back to sailboats and get 100% fuel savings...)
  • long-term freight movement needs to be done by boat and rail. Our current infrastructure is inadequate for this. The rail bridge next to the Pattullo is from 1905 (!!!) and still in operation (puts the "Pattullo is at the end of its life" statement in a bit of a different light).
  • planning and design for a new Pattullo will cost $100M over the next few years. $50M would supply Surrey with their desired light rail. (edit: this seems low to me so I checked. $50M won't buy light rail - it'll buy express buses across the new Port Mann, or along King George. Light rail is considerably more expensive.)
  • the real decision-makers are the Port and the trucking industry. These folks have the ear of the Province, who is, these days, making TransLink's decsions. These players do not attend open houses. They don't need to.
  • a 6-lane Pattullo was decided on in 2008. It was one of the first decisions made by the new TransLink board - the governance model was changed by the Province at that time, from a board of elected officials (mayors) to a board appointed by the Province. The main driver for this change: getting the Canada Line to the airport moved to the front of the queue in time for the Olympics (the mayors all wanted the Evergreen line first, so they were basically fired).
  • Experience shows that the Golden Ears Bridge is far underused. In contrast, the Canada Line is overcapacity after only 2 years in operation and is underbuilt (stations too small for much added capacity). Apparently we have plenty of money for throwing at car/truck infrastructure that is overbuilt (ie. a total waste of money), yet we claim we have no money for desperately needed transit infrastructure. Why is the press not all over this?
If you attended and can remember some other points I've missed, drop me a comment.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Jeff Rubin and The End of Growth

Recently my hubby and I attented a talk by Jeff Rubin at Capilano University. Part of the (low!) ticket price was a free copy of his latest book, The End of Growth (note: he's not the only one to have written a book with this title!).

Mr. Rubin is a really good speaker, very entertaining and thought-provoking. His main premise is that the days of cheap oil are gone, and that $100+/bbl oil will have economic consequences including:
- lower economic growth around the world and specifically very low growth in the developed world for years;
- the breakup of the European Monetary Union (the so-called "PIIGS" will leave the Euro) as debt-ridden, low-growth economies can no longer be supported by the richer members;
- lower social benefits (health, education, retirement) as governments struggle with debt load and lower tax revenues;
- permanently higher unemployment (especially for youth);
- pressure to decrease immigration...

None of these ideas are really new to me; I've been reading about this type of stuff for a while. This blog, in particular, has some pretty clearly reasoned arguments about the limits to growth and its consquences, from an economics perspective (as opposed to from a science perspective). While I may not buy into the rather apocalyptic visions of some of the peak oil doomers, I think it's pretty clear that changes are on the horizon.

Anyways, what I found interesting about his talk was his realpolitik take on a lot of these economic issues. Having been active in the heady world of international finance for decades, Mr. Rubin knows how decisions are made. He's pretty practical when it comes to realistic expectations of what can and can't be done. I found it interesting, for instance, to hear why Germany wants to have Greece in the Euro: it keeps the value of the Euro down, which is good for German exports. Not something I'd really realized before...

Another interesting point was that Mr. Rubin is not a big fan of the Kyoto or Copenhagen agreements, and basically thinks these kinds of treaties are a waste of time. Governments will simply back out of them when they really start to cost Canada did to avoid paying a hefty fine for not living up to its treaty obligations!

Mr. Rubin's point is that rising energy costs alone cut energy use and GHG emissions. Becoming "more efficient" isn't good enough and is in fact counterproductive. There's enough analysis done by economists (inlcuding our own Mark Jaccard) that - in economics circles anyways - this isn't a controversial idea (and you can bet that BC Hydro understands this even if the Province - its political master - doesn't want to hear it). The only thing that makes people downsize is high prices. Kinda like the Vancouver housing market, eh?

Mr. Rubin's most surprising contention is that the IPCC predictions about climate-geddon will not come to pass because there isn't enough cheap hydrocarbon fuel (oil or coal) to burn to get us there. This is an interesting idea, although I'm not convinced. While I'm sure he's correct that the IPCC doesn't include any economic considerations in their predictions, I've not seen any hard analysis of, for instance, the energy prices that would be required to start shuttering coal-fired electricity in China, or to grind truck-based transportation in North America to a halt.

But since we've just hit 400ppm CO2 in the Arctic, if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, whatever that price limit is, we'd better hit it soon.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bike 'n Shine!

Last Saturday I was enjoying the weather, the facilities, and the River Market's First Annual Bike 'n Shine at the Quay in New West.

There are all kinds of nice things happening at the River Market. I had a lovely lunch from Re-Up BBQ, newly opened: I enjoyed a plate of pulled pork, black bean and corn chili and a very nice buttermilk biscuit. Oh, and don't miss their homemade drinks - the Cola I tried was very interesting - kind of in between a coke and a root beer. They have home-made lemonade and ice tea too. BTW, I ordered a BBQ (smoked) turkey from them last Christmas, this was truly delicious. I'm not a big turkey fan, but really, this was one amazing taste experience. Definitely I'll be ordering again next year. They do bacon!

The Market sports a gelato shop - hopping on this sunny day - and of course Donald's market for all your organic grocery needs. I picked up some absolutely stunning halibut for the BBQ (yum!!!) from the fish market. And don't forget the Great Wall tea shop - my kids are totally addicted to Cream Earl Grey.

The River Market sponsored the first "Bike 'n Shine" event and Modo honored me by inviting me to judge some of the amazing machines on display.

[just a few of the entries]

There were about 15 entries, most of them in the "vintage" and "crusier" categories. Many were clearly hand-made.

[moi, checkin' out a nice antique with kerosene headlight]

[oooh, a sidecar!]


There were a lot of prizes to hand out, so almost everyone won something. Tip for y'all next year: enter!!