Just when I was getting going…

I will be out of the country for a month as of tonight, so blogging activities at Green New West will be severely reduced for the next month or so. I was thinking of adding “blogging” to the list of tasks I was assigning to our house sitter, but he just didn’t seem the type. Or able to type…

Have a good holidays. See you in January.

UBE Open House – The Sequel

The second public meeting on the United Brain Extension at the Justice Institute was very well attended, standing-room only in the JI Auditorium. TransLink opened by apologizing for the “donnybrook” that was the previous meeting, and I think they made up for it here. Sany Zein from TransLink did a very good job laying out the plan, and opening the floor to questions. There was a significant amount of new info presented, including traffic counts and compelling photos of existing traffic problems around Brain and Brunette.

First off, they made it clear that Options B, C, and D were off the table, and lacking support from City Council, they would not be further considered. So the rest of the discussion was about Option A. Although it disturbed me that Option A was constantly referred to as not causing the destruction of and houses, but it was clear from the drawings that houses and businesses would still meet the wrecking ball with this Option… just fewer than with other options. It was well pointed out in the presentation (and repeated later by several audience members) that Option A would cause much greater disturbance to the Sapperton neighbourhood, with trucks traveling up ramps and stopping at traffic signals 9 metres above the ground.

The problem was, everyone in the room agreed traffic was a problem in New West. 400,000 cars a day in a City with 60,000 residents is a problem. However, TransLink failed to convince the room that this little overpass was going to solve this problem; most actually though it would make the situation worse.

TransLink was somehow arguing that this would increase traffic flow through the restricting one-lane Bailey bridge, as the one-lane-with-signal design only facilitated 300 vehicles and hour each way, but that this project would not result in more traffic in New Westminster. When pressed on this contradiction, Mr. Zein mentioned something about the difference between vehicles per hour and total number of vehicles. This made even less sense (would rush hour volumes be reduced, but last longer at night, or would rush hour be shorter with more cars? which is better?) It didn’t make sense.

TransLink did throw two new treats into the pile. First, they committed to fix the intersection at Columbia and Brunette but doubling the right-turn lanes onto Brunette from the east. Of course, this wouldn’t happen until 2018 (4 years after the UBE is done), the funding is not secured, and it was not mentioned that this would mean the removal of another half dozen tax paying New Westminster businesses. Second, TransLink will “support” the City’s removal of Columbia between Brunette and Braid, and the Braid-8th Ave corridor from the regional truck route network. Again, when pressed, Mr. Zein admitted that TransLink’s support was only a formality if the City requested the removal, and this approval was in no way contingent on the approval of the UBE. It was raised by an audience member that 8th needed to be a truck route, as it was the only route to the Pattullo Bridge from the east when the loop-ramp off Columbia is closed in the evening rush. So the new treats didn’t sweeten the plot much.

Any other improvements on Front Street will have to wait until a decision is made on the Pattullo Bridge. So 2020 would be ambitious. Meanwhile, the traffic will build up.

After the presentation, there was a spirited Q&A session. Many people were there to comment, many were asking questions. But in the end, not a single person stood up and said “this is a good idea”.

There was a variety of issues raised, familiar to anyone who reads this blog. The impact of the new Freeway and the SFPR on the need for Trucks routes through New Westminster. The long list of bottlenecks to which this project will feed traffic to, all the way to the Queensborough Bridge. There was even a commenter from Queensborough who was clearly irritated that this backed-up truck route was her only link to the rest of the City, and this plan would only invite more trucks. Several people pointed out the bad transportation planning on Coquitlam’s part, and questioned why New Westminster should suffer for it. The Fraser Mills development was raised, and one of the largest applauses of the night went to a fellow who calmly suggested the most economic solution might be to remove the Bailey bridge completely. A few people pointed out that this would not be a truck-only route (even the image TransLink provided to show that this was a “truck route” showed more than 50% of the current traffic as private cars), and asked very sharp questions about what alternatives to move goods did Translink explore (short answer: none. TransLink builds roads, any other “good movement” modes such as short-haul barges and trains are not their jurisdiction). Talk of the existing “funding gap” was as expected: TransLink has no idea how it will be filled, but Mr. Zein made it very clear this would not be a P3.

For an hour and a half, the citizens of New Westminster stood up and listed concerns about the plans. Not one single person agreed this was the solution.

If the Mayor and Councilors, as was suggested after the first meeting, were waiting to hear details from TransLink and feedback from the citizens of New West, they got it. And the message is clear.

Some seem to be hedging their bets a bit, which is why we still need to send them a strong message and drie it home: this project is non-starter. It does nothing for New Westminster, while threatening the livability of not just Sapperton, but all of New Westminster’s neighbourhoods, from Victory Heights to Queensborough.

Please take the 5 minutes to contact your Mayor and Council. E-mail them, phone them, or send them mail, but do it quick. Also try to show up at Monday’s council meeting. As I have said several time before: be brief, be respectful, be rational, just tell them how you feel about this project and ask them to vote against it. Then thank them for listening.

In print

My recent opinion piece printed in the New Leader, with some additional notes and links that didn’t make the cut of traditional publishing!

Contrary to a recent editorial in the Leader, the United Boulevard Extension (UBE) is unlikely to be the end of “rat-running” in Sapperton. Instead, it will be one more expensive project that shifts bottle-necks around, while not addressing the causes of congestion. The UBE will invite more traffic into our City, and the number of cars running through our neighbourhoods will increase in Sapperton, as it will in Victory Heights, Downtown, Brow of the Hill and every part of our City.

The intersection at Braid and Brunette is a problem, on that we all agree. It is congested and frustrating, with bad sight lines that make it more dangerous than ideal. However, these criticisms also apply to Columbia and Brunette, Columbia and Front Street, Columbia and McBride, and Stewardson and Third Ave. When you move aaway from the “future NFPR”, there are other corridors through town that are also overwhelmed with through traffic. Ask the residents of 8th Ave, 10th Ave, Royal Ave, and McBride. The problem in New West is that we have 60,000 residents, with a 30% alternative mode share (i.e. people who don’t drive), yet we suffer from 400,000 vehicles a day driving through town. The expansion of Highway 1 and Lougheed Hwy will bring more traffic to New Westminster’s eastern border, and the proposed UBE will only open the door to this growing traffic. Meanwhile, plans to deal with existing traffic volumes in the City remain vague and unfunded.

When the UBE idea was first floated to New Westminster Council in 2007, the City agreed in principle, but made their approval contingent upon TransLink providing other improvements in the Brunette-East Columbia corridor. There is no indication that TransLink has fulfilled this commitment. The Mayor and Council talk about tunnels, encapsulations, four lane through routes, but with ongoing senior government deficits, there dreams of a “seamless regional arterial route” through the heart of our City will probably go unrequited.

But even if a miracle of funding arrived and these routes were built, these supposed imrovements would only shuffle the bottleneck closer to the Queensborough Bridge, where recent upgrades have failed to solve the existing congestion. Before throwing more money at this non-functional system, we need to start thinking about the alternatives.

TransLink’s strategy for 2040 includes “optimizing the use of the region’s transportation assets”, but there has been little exploration of how to optimize the numerous alternative transportation options (transit, rail, and river) existing in the Brunette corridor. Shifting modes (getting cars and trucks off the road) should be the priority, as it may be the only realistic approach to solve the transportation puzzle in New Westminster at a price we can afford.

The only cities in the world that have successfully dealt with critical congestion problems are ones that have removed vehicles from their streets, through incentives, and by creating viable alternatives. Look at the example of Central London, New York City, San Francisco, and Seoul. Why are we not looking at these models to improve the movement of goods and people, and the liveability of our City at the same time?

TransLink’s declared intent is to “improve the transportation system at a reasonable price”. I applaud that idea, and suggest they use this $170 Million to fill some of the Evergreen Line funding gap, and give people in Coquitlam a functional alternative to rat-running through New Westminster.

As a City, it is time New Westminster stopped waiting to see what the Province and TransLink are going to suggest next for our transportation infrastructure. To be fair to our regional partners, and to protect our residents and businesses, the City must develop its own vision. We should make it clear what we will accept as our role in the regional transportation network, and what we will not. One participant at the recent TransLink open house on the UBE commented “This proposal is a shiny new link in a rusty chain”. We need a comprehensive, realistic and affordable transportation plan for the City, developed through an open, public process, so next time TransLink arrives with a shiny link in hand, everyone knows how it fits in the chain.

John Baird is an evil little man.

Last month when Jim Prentice resigned as Minister of Environment, my initial reaction was “good”, followed quickly be “aw, shit.” Because despite Jim Prentice’s troubles with the portfolio, he might have been the best the Harper Conservatives had to offer in that role.
Harper’s previous picks for Minister of Environment were Rona Ambrose and John Baird. Ambrose is, of course, the dim-witted Ayn Rand-quoting Calgary ideologue who once suggested a Federal Child Care plan would violate Canadian women’s rights and that the spotted owl population was not threatened just because their total population was reduced to 17 individuals. Rona’s main asset appears to be that Sarah Palin – Christine O’Donnell kinda-puffy former cheerleader vibe that is so damn attractive to puffy white male conservative voters. An asset that puffy white Harper is quick to exploit by assuring she is in the near background whenever you see him speaking in the house.
Here: see if you can play a game of “Find Rona”: 

After Ambrose’s embarrassing run as Minister of Environment became too embarrassing, even for Harper, The PM propped Baird into the role, despite the obvious handicap of Baird’s disfigured hand, which prevents him from ever bending his index fingers:

When Baird was eventually replaced by one of the reasonable voices in Harper’s cabinet, one of the few Progressive Conservatives who had not been driven out or dragged down by the PMO, there was room for cautious optimism. And a few good things did manage to get done under Prentice. He made progress on water quality on first Nations reserves, made some useful changes of the CEAA, and even managed to kill the proposal to replace Fish Lake with a tailings pond.

Unfortunately, his failure to secure funding for the CFCAS will be part of his legacy, and was probably part of the reason he found greener pastures in the Private Sector. Anyone with a conscience cannot continue to serve in that portfolio under this Prime Minister, which brings us to John Baird…

Here is the notice I got today from John Baird, as part of his regular press missives. It is a stunning example of cognitive dissonance. In it, he has three points to make:

“We are committed to working with our partners in preventing and preparing for marine environmental emergencies.”

This in the day that the person responsible for evaluating the Government’s preparedness for maritime oil spills blasted the Ministry for being woefully unprepared, This is not some Eco-terrorist suggesting that the government has it’s head in the sand, or even the opposition passing a private members bill to protect the coast from being devastated by Alberta’s economic interests, it is the guy the government hired to perform an audit of the very practice he is commenting upon. This is, in effect, John Baird’s employee. For once, pointing a finger at HIM.

What else does John say:

“We are proud of the concrete and measurable action we are taking to implement a strong and comprehensive approach to protect Canada’s waters. This past year alone, Environment Canada has spent more than $140 million on water related programs and science.”

This sounds impressive, but is one quarter of what the US government is spending on water monitoring and protection in the Great Lakes alone, and orders of magnitude less than the subsidies being given to Tar Sands industries that are turning most of Northen Alberta water into emulsion. A fact he might be concerned about if only a single doller of that sampling money was spent measuring for potential Tar Sands impacts on the Athabaska River. But he don’t want to go there.

Finally, the mud in the eye to the few still reading:

“The Government of Canada is also taking action to help Canadians adapt to a changing climate and we are working towards developing a Government-wide adaptation framework.”

So Baird has decided to stop denying climate change, and has decided to think about adapting to it. Mr Baird is sunning his not-unsubstantial buns in Cancun right now, at the UN climate conference. And he is there with, apparently, a purpose.
And that is his power, with a stright face (and ever straighter finger), John Baird, overseer of environmental responsibility in a Country that has made the least progress (actually, the most negative progress) of any nation since Kyoto, the country that in the last 10 years has gone from a world leader in reductions to a global pariah, is going to show up at Cancun and slam his shoe on his desk. I can’t help but see Baird’s approach to this conference as eerily similar to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rants to the UN. Both are separated from reality, both show a complete lack of self-awareness, and both completely lack in credibility. These are desperate, distracting rants being delivered by persons who the sane people in the debate have stopped listening to years ago. But he is now Stephen Harper’s closest ally in the house. And even worse, he is Canada’s representive on a world stage.

I ascribe to Hanlon’s Razor: I try not to assume malice when incompetence will suffice. But I think Baird is too smart to be so utterly hopeless. I am left to interpret only evil. 

UBE: Down to the Wire

Here we are, four weeks after the first “stakeholder meeting” opened the floodgates on the United Boulevard Extension. Tomorrow is the final public consultation meeting TransLink will hold for the project. After that meeting, it is up to New Westminster City Council to decide if this project is acceptable to the people of New Westminster.

The discussion in the City over the last month has been enlightening.

We have had Voice commenters suggesting this whole thing is evidence of some sort of conspiracy from the bowels of City Hall. Of course, Voice generally opines that everything from the colour of the sky to the lack of quality television is evidence of some sort of evil-doings by the current Mayor and Council. But they make some interesting points, and are giving the Mayor and Council every opportunity to disappoint them by doing the right thing.

We have the McBride-Sapperton Residents Association holding what might be their best-attended meeting ever, passing a motion that “opposes all Options A through D and requests that Translink defer the United Boulevard Extension portion of the North Fraser Perimeter Road project until the entire North Fraser Perimeter Road project is dealt with as a complete and comprehensive plan”.

There has been a spirited back and forth in the local media, bringing multiple aspects to the story, but largely centering around the need for there to be a more comprehensive plan for transportation in New Westminster, not just a wait-and-see that ends with us suffering in the consequences of patchwork transportation planning.

TransLink has been in damage control, doing a little Astroturf blogging to tell their side of the story, but not really addressing the concerns raised in their earlier meeting. Mostly they say this will reduce traffic in Sapperton (but don’t really explain how), they say it will reduce greenhouse gases (but don’t say how…). Their “FAQ” for the site is a stunning case of cognitive dissonance…

And I have yet to hear a single credible voice in the City saying this is a good idea, and that this project serves the citizens of New Westminster in any way. I think the debate is over.

Last month, in calling for people to attend the first public meeting, I said the following:

“Show up on Thursday at the meeting at the Justice Institute, not to protest, but to learn”

But now the time has come to protest. There will be an open mike at this second meeting: use it. Ask TransLink the hard questions and give them, along with the City Councilors (who will no doubt be in the audience), a clear message that this project is a waste of our money, and threatens the livability of our City. Make it easy for our elected officials to say “No” to TransLink, by making it clear to everyone that this project does not serve New Westminster.

Then follow up in two ways: you can send comments on-line to TransLink.

Then you can contact each of your Councillors prior to next week’s council meeting. Just a short, respectful e-mail to request that they say “no” to all four TransLink Options, and that they get started developing a new vision for transportation in New Westminster.

This is only the first step towards solving the traffic problem in the City, but with so much attention back on our City’s roads leading into a municipal election year, this may be the watershed moment.

Edited to add: the Voice blog has just posted the full text of the letter the MSRA have sent to Mayor and Council. This definitely throws the gauntlet down for TransLink. 

Green Cone Math

I’m not sure why I am being drawn into this…but an anonymous commenter has challenged the sustainability of the Green Cone, because it is made of plastic. It is a silly non-sequitur, and a bit of a strawman,, and it seems to be coming from a drive-by troll, but our purpose is to educate…

According to Metro Vancouver’s waste surveys, 40% of household waste (by mass) is compostable organics. That means, of the average Metro Vancouver household’s 834kg of annual garbage, about 334kg is organic material that will compost. Notably, some organics, like fabrics and leather, do not readily compost, so they are not included in this 40%, nor are things like paper that do compost, but are classified under “recyclables”.

Read that again. The “average” Metro Vancouver household puts a third of tonne of compostables to the curb every year.

The vast majority of the rest of what goes to the curb is recyclable through the blue-box program or through the City’s recycling centre. Therefore, through recycling and composting, we can significantly reduce the amount of trash that goes to landfill or WTE. Every kilogram of trash we divert from the garbage truck, we save tax dollars used to pay tipping fees to dispose of the trash, we save the expense of moving garbage about, we reduce the need to burn diesel, we reduce the negative environmental impacts of trash incinerators and landfill leachate, we save landfill space. So can we agree that indiscriminately throwing trash to the curb is not a sustainable activity?

However, not all compostable organics are suited for the back-yard garden composter. Things like meat, bones, milk products, and fat get really stinky as they rot, and attract rats and other pests. They also encourage the production of methane, or sulphur compounds that we generally want to avoid both for the ecosystem of the compost, and for greenhouse gas reasons. Weeds like chickweed or creeping buttercup, when placed in your garden compost, will spread to new areas of your garden when you apply the compost. Therefore, the traditional backyard compost (where most of my kitchen scraps go) is unsuited for these wastes.

We have three options to manage this stuff not suited for the traditional garden compost:

Option 1: We put it in our new Clean Green Organics bin, provided by the City. The City then takes this material and ships it to a commercial composting company. There the material is shredded and composted in a high-oxygen environment, to reduce the production of methane and sulphur gasses, and is made back into commercial-grade compost, used mostly in parks and other City gardens. The reason the City does this is simple: they pay about half the tipping fees for this material than they do for “regular” garbage going to the landfill or incinerator. Therefore, your garbage utility tax goes down.

Option 2: We throw it in the trash with everything else. It then either ends up in the landfill or at the trash incinerator. At the landfill, it starts to rot very quickly, so we bury it fast to keep the smell and all down. Once buried, the bacteria that do the rotting deplete the mass of oxygen very quickly, and anaerobic processes take over. This causes acidification of the fluids, and makes the residual metals and manufactured hydrocarbons in the waste much more bioavailable (“toxic”), and much more mobile. We call that stuff “leachate”. We need to spend a bunch of money and resources trapping and treating the leachate so it doesn’t kill fish, birds, people, etc. If it goes to the incinerator, it introduces a bunch of water, sulphur, and trace metals to the fuel cycle, leading to less efficient combustion, and more technical difficulty preventing the production of things like dioxins and furans. These things can be managed, but only with the expenditure of money and resources. Therefore, either way, your garbage utility tax goes up.

3: we do what Conservatives always suggest: we take personal responsibility for our own situation, and instead of relying on the “nanny state” or the “suffering taxpayer”, we simply install a Green Cone in our back yard and throw the small proportion of organics that would foul our composter into there instead. We remove the personal need for Clean Green Organic waste collection, we reduce the collective need for expensive incinerators or landfill technology, we save the poor, beleaguered taxpayer money.

All for the price of about 10kg of plastic. Oh, and the Green Cone is made of 100% recycled plastics, and is 100% recyclable with today’s plastic recycling technology. “Anonymous” suggested it would be destroyed by the sun within 8.3 years, but it is guaranteed for 10 years, and there are many of them out there in the world that have been functional for more than 20 years.

Again, I like the math of the Green Cone. It looks good on paper. However, part of the purpose of my having one is to evaluate how useful and practical it really is. I will report back.

Green cone update.

We have had the Green Cone in the ground for a little less than a month now. Still waiting.

For the first week or two, we threw all of our kitchen scraps into the Cone: vegetables meat, bones, and a bit of garden weeding. Mostly, I wanted to build a little “reservoir” of waste for the bacteria, nematodes, worms, or whatever to start eating. I sprinkled some starter on every once in a while. It didn’t take long until the “basket” was more than half full, so we cut back to only non-compostables (meat, cheese, etc.), and started throwing the veggie waste back into our garden compost. From this point forward, the plan is to only use the Cone for stuff we don’t want in our composter (stinky stuff like meat, and weeds we collect from the garden that we don’t want in our new soil)

Apparently heat is our friend, and that is why the recommend placing for the cone is in a sunny spot. Unfortunately, we were loading the cone during a week of near-record cold. Temps dipped to the negative double digits, and there was snow on the ground. These seem like less-than-ideal conditions for digestion of the waste, so we may have to wait a bit before we see the volume of material go down. But something is happening, as there is some warmth when you open the Cone to fill it, and snow did not accumulate on the Cone even after a week of really cold temperatures. There is also visible condensation on the Cone on moist mornings. There is no smell next to the closed Cone, and only a hint of garbage smell when you stick your head into the gaping maw of the open Cone.

This morning, we had the first evidence that our regularly scheduled evening visitors have noticed the Cone. A few of the rocks I placed around the cone have been displaced, and something (either our local resident raccoon clan or our local resident skunk) did a little exploratory dig along the side of the cone. The plastic wall and the lip at the bottom of the Cone quickly frustrated them. If I know anything about skunks and raccoons, they will dig a couple of times, and if not rewarded with food, they will file the Cone, stinky or otherwise, under “not a food source”, and stop noticing it. The cobble-sized rocks I put around it will probably help, as they really increase the digging effort. Hopefully they will be bored of the cone by the time the spring plants come up.

Hopefully it will warm up by then as well, and we will start to see some hot digestion action.