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!!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Port Royal

Last Saturday, when it was such nice weather, I rode my bike to a part of New Westminster I'd never visited before: Port Royal.

Port Royal is a newly developed subdivision in Queensborough, right at the easternmost tip of Lulu Island. There are 4-5 streets of new homes. It's a real mix of condos, row-houses, standalone homes (small, 1600 sq ft), and some low-rise apartments. A tower is going up as well (apparently, the Quayside residents call it "Queensborough's middle finger"...). The architecture is really nicely done; the area has a really nice mixed feel to it and doesn't have a "cookie cutter" look at all. The landscaping is beautiful.

[small standalone homes]

There's a beautiful boardwalk around the area, following the dyke and the river. There is river access with stone steps provided; the Fraser is tidal at this point and has beaches at low tide.  The developers have also provided public wharves at points, so people can fish. This is some amazing real estate - rivals Granville Island, in my opinion. But quite a bit cheaper.
[River walk in Port Royal with folks enjoying the beach!]

The streets in this neighborhood are rather narrow, which cuts down speeding traffic, and there are lots of pedestrian walkways bisecting the blocks and providing good access to the waterfront.

All in all, it's a very nice neighborhood, with beautiful water views. Definitely worth a visit to stroll around the boardwalk!

That was the good. Now for the bad.

The amenities in Q'boro are, to put it politely, lacking. There is no commerical space in Port Royal, not even a corner store. Q'boro's main street (Ewen) really needs a facelift. The road surface is terrible, the shoulders horrific for cyclists. The streetscape is completely uninviting; there's no greenery. There is not much in the way of shopping there at all, unless you cross the highway and go to the Big Box center, with its Lowe's and WallMart. For most residents, this would involve getting into a vehicle. The walking experience in the Big Box hell is terrible, as is pedestrian access.
There are schools in Q'boro (both new!), but they are not very close to Port Royal, and the roads outside of this planned community can be, well, of rural standard. Sidewalks are not always there. I'd be willing to bet a lot of kids are being driven to school.

The only connection to the rest of New West is via the Q'boro bridge, which, thanks to a major upgrade a number of years back, is actually reasonable to bike and walk over. If you are new to the area, though, the signage does leave a bit to be desired (as in, it's completely confusing), as has been noted by others...

Transit through Q'boro isn't bad, there are a number of connections to 22nd Street Skytrain station. But all the buses must mix with traffic across the Q'boro bridge, which means that they can have a hard time running on schedule. Dedicated bus lanes would be a solution, but unlikely given the political landscape at the present time (the bridge is owned by the Province).

There's a lot of discussion in New West about connecting Port Royal to the Quay with a pedestrian/bike bridge. After having been to Port Royal, I agree that a connection would be fantastic for Port Royal residents; it would give them great access to amenities currently lacking in Q'boro. But, I think there are some downsides as well. Such a connection could pull Port Royal into being part of the Quay, and so undermine any connection it has to the rest of Q'boro. It might suck business from anything that decides to open along a refurbed Ewen...I think the "order of operations" might matter here. Refurb Ewen first, let local businesses become established, and then put in a connection.

Q'boro is in a state of flux, with a lot of development going on. The official community plan is being updated right now. Wouldn't hurt to fill in that questionnaire!

Friday, May 18, 2012

An Electric Future

When I attend public meetings on transportation, I frequently hear that the future is in "electric vehicles". The underlying idea is that we can just keep up with the same road building, because in the future, there will be just as many cars as today - they'll just be electric.

So I'd like to do some thinking out loud about what an "electric future" might look like. I think it's easiest to start with the "final picture" - say, 50 years from now - and then to imagine a path from here to there.

So, the first and probably most surprising thing to realize is that an electric future will have fewer cars than today. I think there is absolutely no doubt about this. Why can I say this with such confidence?

Well, it has to do with energy constraints. As I discussed here, in BC we used 156PJ ("peta joules") of energy hauling ourselves and our stuff around by fossil fuels in 2008 - likely more today, 3 years later. Even taking into consideration a 3-fold gain in efficiency for electric engines, we do not make enough electricity to run all these vehicles. Not by a long shot. We'd need 4 site C dams, 4000 windmills (NB: a very, very large windfarm has 200 windmills!!!), 2 nuclear plants, or 4 coal or natgas thermal plants. Or some combination of these. Just to convert today's infrastructure to electricity - let alone accomodate growth. So clearly, just to provide the fuel for all these vehicles, we'd have to take some pretty ugly decisions. I'm just not convinced that this future will arrive.

An electric future will also require a complete rebuild of our fuelling infrastructure. A "battery exchange" type of station such as Better Place is pioneering costs about $300,000. A "fast charging" station is only 1/10th of this, but you can't have many such chargers too close together or you'll bring down the grid. Seems to me that any roll-out of charging infrastructure is going to be very expensive both for the grid (which will be payed for by taxpayers) and the station owners. It will likely require lots of government intervention, because of the "chicken-and-egg" thing - without a solid customer base of electric cars, which fuelling station owner is going to risk a $300,000 investment?

Electric cars are expensive. They require fossil fuels to construct (mining, casting, fiberglass, electronics...all require lots of oil) and as the price of oil goes up, so will the costs of the cars. Some of the components depend on exotic materials (specifically the batteries and electronics) that are unlikely to come down in price as they are limited commodities. At the moment, most electric cars are sold at a discount, and in some regions even subsidized by various levels of government. This is not sustainable if everyone's driving them. So, I'm not at all sure that electric cars are going to get any cheaper very soon.

Finally, battery-powered vehicles have limited ranges, currently not more than 150km or so. Maybe this will change as battery technology improves, but for the next 20 years or so it cannot. For this reason, long-distance freight movement is best done using electric rail, where no batteries are required (power is brought to the engine using overhead wires). Long-distance battery-based holiday driving isn't viable.

So, if you want an electric future, it's pretty clear what you should not be investing in, and that is in more road space for vehicles. Far better to provide mobility for all those folks who currently drive on fossil fuels, but in future cannot. Far better to be investing in public transportation and electric freight movement.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Aprocryphal Piss-off

Got this in my email this morning, a story from a talk-show radio host, passed on to me by a friend to point out the battle we face as "environmentalists":

Apocryphal story:

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman,
that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The woman apologized and explained, "We didn't have this green thing back in my earlier days."

The clerk responded, "That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations."

She was right -- our generation didn't have the green thing in its day. Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. But we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags, that we reused for numerous things, most memorable besides household garbage bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our school books. This was to ensure that public property, (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribbling. Then we were able to personalize our books. But too bad we didn't do the green thing back then.

We walked up stairs, because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn't have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby's diapers because we didn't have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts -- wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right; we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house -- not a TV in every room.
And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them)?,
not a screen the size of the state of Montana . In the kitchen, we blended
and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do
everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we
used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that
operate on electricity. But she's right; we didn't have the green thing back

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a  plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn't have the green thing back then. Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we older folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?

Who needs a lesson in conservation from a smartass young person. 

We don't like being older in the first place, so it doesn't take much to piss us off.

...end of story.

I find this story, and the fact that it's making the rounds of my friends, sad. It illustrates the collective guilt-trip that we are laying on one another, something that is so unconstructive it isn't funny.

The older generation - whatever that is - isn't the problem. It's the society we have built up collectively, summed up by the choices we have made and are still making, by the young as well as the old. Blaming each other for the current mess won't help us get out of it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Port and the Pattullo

An interesting piece from Gordon Price.

In this article, Gordon points to the huge influence that Port Metro Vancouver has on the region's transportation planning. The Port's business model is rooted moving goods, mostly by truck (not water, the name "port" nothwithstanding!), between a growing number of distribution warehouses. The Port is allowed to take land out of the ALR to build more warehouses (which, once out of the ALR, can then be resold to developers). The Port is also a huge driver to road expansion - the South Fraser Perimeter Road is under construction in large part to accomodate port-bound truck traffic. The Port is therefore a huge beneficiary of our tax dollars. Taxpayers are funding the Port's expansion plans to a large degree, in exchange for...umm...what exactly? Oh yeah, jobs. I think.

The Pattullo Bridge is (unofficially) part of this network. TransLink's 6-lane bridge option is meant to "increase the safety" for trucks, and the new 6-laner will accomodate a doubling of truck traffic through our City. These trucks are not bound for New Westminster. They go through New West to get from the SFPR to warehouses in Coquitlam and beyond. So, New West is being asked to enable and accomodate Port expansion by taking a 6-lane Pattullo.

The Port says things like "eliminating bottlenecks and improving roads and road safety for trade and community traffic alike is a Port priority."  Uh-huh. Like, it's been demonstrated over and over that widening roads leads to reduced congestion. Right??? Yeah. That's why Toronto's 401 is so...uncongested.

There is an alternative. If we stop stop accomodating (effectively subsidizing) the Port's truck traffic, they will have to seek alternative means to transport the goods. There's always the river and the trains. Yep, maybe more expensive, but they're getting a pretty cheap deal right now by making taxpayers foot the bill for all their externalities.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Styrofoam Recycling in New West!

At Monday's NWEP (New Westminster Environmental Partners) member meeting, we had a talk by a Coquitlam-based company called FoamOnly (they have a Facebook page but no website). They recycle styrofoam; they have a 2-stage process whereby they first chip, and then melt-and-compress the chips. Their end product is blocks of compressed polystyrene, which can be pelletized, and then remolded into other objects - things like picture frames, "green wood" products, and "green cement" products. These objects are, of course, a lot longer-lasting and harder to recycle than the orginal foam.

[compressed styrofoam]

New Westminster is the first city in the GVRD to recycle styrofoam; there is a collection bin at the recycling station at the Canada Games Pool and you can bring your styrofoam collection there during opening hours! Currently we are shipping 3 bins/week to FoamOnly. Yay!!!

According to the gentlemen from FoamOnly, EPS (expanded polystyrene = styrofoam) can't be collected via the BlueBin system, because it crumbles too easily and then contaminates the other plastics, rendering them unfit for further use. Also, because it is so bulky (mostly air!) it wastes a lot of space in the kerbside pickup system, and hence the City prefers citizens to take it to the recycling station themselves. You can take in your packaging peanuts, foam packing parts from your appliances, and your meat trays - FoamOnly will sort into coloured and non-coloured material and has different end customers for each.

FoamOnly's business model is based on charging the City a tipping fee (New West pays FoamOnly to take the stuff - but we'd be paying anyways, to take it to the dump!!) and selling the final compressed product. FoamOnly, thanks to their larger-scale setup, can handle a high incoming volume, apparently unlike some other companies who don't have the first "shredding" stage. FoamOnly doesn't deal with consumers directly; they don't "sell bags" for home-owners to fill and drop off. They only deal with City waste programs, and with large organizations who need to dispose of large quantities of styrofoam. They are starting to talk to other cities in the GVRD, but New West is an early adopter!

Styrofoam, for all its perceived evil, is a very good and environmentally sensible packaging material. Check out this fascinating paper (just read the abstract). I quote: "Virtually all primary use factors favor polystyrene foam over paper."
  • It is lightweight (weighs less than equivalent cardboard) and hence saves fuel (GHGs) in shipping.
  • it takes less energy to make styrofoam than it does to make cardboard (I know, I work in the pulp and paper sector - it takes a lot of energy plus many nasty chemicals to make cardboard!!).
  • it takes about the same amount of hydrocarbons to come up with the feedstock for cardboard (trees) as it takes to make the feedstock for the EPS (oil)
  • both packaging materials can be recycled about the same number of times
  • neither will decompose in a dry landfill; in a wet landfill paper decomposes to produce methane (evil GHG gas) whereas EPS remains inert; both can be incinerated cleanly with the option to produce "waste energy".
So save your meat trays and bring 'em on down to the recycling facility!