Clark and the Zipper

So we have a new Premier.

I am pretty non-partisan. I think more on issues than I do on party affiliation. I had quite a few discussions around the Liberal Leadership Race with friends over the last few weeks, and as it became more and more a two-horse race, the question to me always came down to: is the Devil you know better or worse than the devil you don’t?

Kevin Falcon is a free-market ideologue who loved to build highways like that was some sort of transportation policy. I disagree with Falcon on almost every single policy issue, but at least I know where he is coming from. As Hunter Thompson once said of Nixon: “As long as Nixon was politically alive… we could always be sure of finding the enemy on the Low Road. There was no need to look anywhere else for the evil bastard.”

But Christy Clark is a different animal. It isn’t the lack of caucus support of the lack of a seat in the house that make he similar to Vander Zalm, it is the poorly defined populist agenda that makes her essentially a random-number generator on policy. She is the devil few of us really know.

He campaign never resulted in a clear picture where she saw the province going. The only strong policy positions she put out she almost immediately backed away from at the first hint if discord. Even her major pledge, to “support Families” is so pragmatically unspecific as to be irrelevant. Does supporting families mean encouraging responsible family planning through sex education in schools and support for Planned Parenthood, or does it mean letting parents decide when and how their kids learn about sex, and the prevention of all abortions? To know what “supporting Families” means, you have to look through your own filter. That is what makes it such good campaign rhetoric, but completely meaningless. It is like “supporting Healthcare” or, dare I say, “Sustainability”.

It suits, though. She has a record of pissing off teachers, which (by some definitions), is supporting families. She ostensibly left politics (coincidentally as the BC Rail scandal was scooping up those closest to her) to “be with her family”, then less than 6 months later decided to run for Mayor of a City in which she didn’t live. She just doesn’t seem to be consistent on anything.

I can’t help but think she is a lightweight . Her resume doesn’t mention if she has ever had a job that required her to balance a budget, or even run a payroll. There are mentions of three universities, but no evidence she got a degree from any of them. Take it from someone who served two contentious years on the Simon Fraser Student Society: the only thing you learn there is how to make a meeting go as slowly as possible while avoiding actually saying anything, or how you should never cross David Bowie Fans . Other than being the 5th or 6th most popular radio host in Vancouver, and the afore-mentioned pissing off teachers, what experience does she have in an executive position?

If she is trying to shake the Vander Zalm / Sarah Palin comparisons (looks good, not too smart, populist), it was probably not too wise to have her first post-convention press appearance, the day after being declared Premier Elect, while doing the “Hockey Mom” thing at her Kid’s game.

Rafe Mair (once again) summed up the Liberal Convention speeches this morning on CBC Radio: Abbot looked like a doctor delivering some bad news, DeJong like a lawyer for the defence, arguing a case he knew was already lost, Falcon like a guy selling a really good used car, and Clark like the lady from the Welcome Wagon. Zing.

Anyway, all of this is a lead-up to a co-worker’s story I heard today. He is an extremely reliable source. He drives in every day from North Vancouver, and has to manage the “zipper” at the north end of the Lions Gate. In the morning, that means the two lanes from West Van merge in to the right lane, and the two lanes from North Van merge into the centre lane. Never the twain do meet. But this morning, a silver Jetta did the unthinkable: coming up the left of the two lanes from West Van, it got to the merge zone, and instead of merging right…it stuck on it’s left signal and forced itself, illogically, into the centre lane! My co-worker was considering giving the driver the bird (as Zipper decorum would require), but couldn’t see through the back window as the Jetta’s back seat was full or cello-wrapped humungous flower arrangements. Once the Jetta got caught behind a bus on Georgia, my friend pulled up beside to throw a now-belated stink-eye, only to see Christy Clark! Once he regained his composure, he was going to wave at the next stoplight, but she was busy applying her eye makeup. Whether she was driving with a trunk full of gifts from well-wishers, or dropping gifts to those who supported her is unknown… but she has to think about delegating the running-around-with-flowers tasks if she is going to run the province.

However, perhaps we should take this as an omen. Given the option of safely staying in the right position, Clark chose to veer left, taking a risk to bully her way to the middle. She even ran a higher risk of a head-on collision over there in the middle, but she boldly blasted on, and never looked back. Or maybe I am reading too much into it.

Bottled Water, and the Gentleman™ from Nestle™

The Board of Education meeting Tuesday was strange, fascinating, frustrating, and educational. None of those in a good way.

This story gives the headline, but instead of actually discussing the issue, or talking about what happened at the board, it ends up being an advertisement for Nestle water. Rather lazy reporting, I’m afraid.

It is telling that Nestle™ , one of the largest multi-national food conglomerates in the world (2010 revenues: $113 Billion CDN) flew a director in from Toronto to take on two local Grade 11 students. With his 24 years of corporate and marketing communications experience, I’m thinking he doesn’t fly Coach. Near as I can tell, Nestle is in direct competition with PepsiCo, the makers of Aquafina, which is the exclusive brand of water offered at NWSS, so one has to wonder what Nestle’s horse was in this race…

After the Students from the NWSS Environmental Club gave a presentation to Board, reiterating their earlier request that the board take a principled environmental stand here, there were several addresses from the audience on the issue, and some discussion amongst the board members. To protect the innocent, I will not paraphrase any audience members except myself and the Gentleman™ form Nestle™.

Having endured the earlier hour of partisan bickering and procedural minute of the first part of the Board meeting, I decided not to bore the audience with meaningless environmental statistics. The environmental argument against bottle water is pretty cut and dried: bottled water represents a ridiculous victory of clever marketing over common sense, economics, environmental science, and sustainability. Large Multi-Nationals like Nestle take tap water, run it through a filter and maybe add some salt (the benefits of either dubious), stick it in a foul-tasting disposable plastic bottle, chill it (to reduce the plastic flavour), and sell it for 2000x to 3000x the value they pay for the water. The more remarkable part is that we fall for it. But that is where the clever marketing comes in.

We all know who clever marketers like the Gentleman™ from Nestle™ covets the most: teenagers. There is a reason they invest so much time and energy into getting at the captive audiences in high schools. This is where life-long habits are formed the most. Like toothpaste brands, cigarettes and religions: if they get you by 18, they probably have you for life. A high school full of bottled water drinkers will “normalize” paying that 3000x mark-up for a completely unnecessary product. Since all bottled water (labels aside) are exactly the same product, it doesn’t matter if students get hooked on Aquafina, Dasani, or Nestle water: if you get hoodwinked onto buying one, you will be a customer of them all. Enter the Gentleman™ form Nestle™, with no products on NWSS, fighting to keep his competitors products on the shelf there. That’s the FreeMarket® 2.0.

The real story here should be the group of students who identified an environmental, social and moral issue. They educated themselves about the issue, they talked to their peers, they got a petition signed, they presented a report to the Board. This is how Representative Democracy should work. I hope they were not too discouraged by what happened next.

The Gentleman™ from Nestle™ read a prepared statement, using baffling statistics (apparently not as concerned about keeping peoples interest) such as “almost 75% of water bottles in Canada are recycled” (with the other 25% being, presumably, of no concern to anyone, and completely oblivious to the issue of downcycling that the students had already covered in their presentation), made it clear Nestle supported people drinking tap water at home (!?!), made vague suggestions that tap water was less safe, or even an imminent threat to immune deficient people (demonstrably not true) and claimed that all water extraction and bulk sale in Canada is tightly regulated (simply utterly false: there is no regulation on groundwater extraction in British Columbia). But the main point he wanted to make: this was about freedom of choice.

Of course, our students make lots of choices. They may choose to work hard at school and get better grades, they may choose to play video games all night. They may choose to join an environmental club. They choose their friends, and their clothes, and their extra-curricular activities. They may even choose to smoke, or do drugs. Of course, not all choices are equal, and one of the roles if the Education system is help them sift through these choices they are offered. The school system can help make some choices, or they can confuse the issue by allowing the aggressive marketing of the wrong choice to the captive audience of students on school. There is a reason we don’t have cigarette machines in schools, to have them would be to tacitly encourage that choice.

Once the Trustees started the discussion, it was clear the divide was already well drawn. Most seemed to like the recommendation on the table: that bottled water be phased out, along with sugared and caffeinated drinks, and this would not take place until the capitol plans (e.g. three new schools) are completed.

Seeing that this is a rather silly and arbitrary timeline (“we are able to do two things at once”), Trustee Watt attempted to amended the plan to remove the phrase linking the phased plan to the capitol projects. Atkinson, Graham and Cook paradoxically voted against this amendment, without providing good reasons for it, and the two other members abstained (thanks for coming out students, welcome to democracy). Trustee Ewen brought another amendment that water bottle filler fountains be brought to all schools: this received more support, but was accepted only after being watered down (pun?) by Goring asking for “costing” first. In the end, bottled water is leaving the schools, but not for at least another 6 years. Ugh.

The conversation around this was even more telling than the vote or the decision. Trustee Cook mis-quoted a newspaper article and used that as a suggestion that NWSS’s schools water was laced with lead. This sounded especially rich 5 minutes later when Trustee Goring asked (and not rhetorically) where the students ever got the idea that the water wasn’t safe. He suggested that more education about the water was needed (but presumably not from Cook). Of course, Cook thought the water bottle machines were fine, and that instead of getting rid of them, we should educate the students about making the right choice: he even used the successful advertising and social marketing campaigns against smoking as an example. As ridiculous as it sounds, Cook just made a compelling case for bringing cigarette machines back into high schools. The entire conversation was Hellerian .

If the purpose of the Board of Education is to educate, then they have succeeded: I learned a lot going to my first Board meeting. However, I fear I learned more about the Peter Principle than I did about Roberts Rules. As another audience member commented to me after: “If only these meetings were televised, none of these people would ever get re-elected”. On display were not only variations on Roberts Rules, but of basic decorum and respect one would learn in a Grade 2 class. People talked out of order to make cheap shots, people on the left side of the table shared whispered secrets while a person on the other side we talking, and vice versa. I watched one Trustee abstain from a vote on an amendment (causing it to fail), only 5 minutes later to argue a point that the amendment would have supported, leading one to assume he abstained not because he didn’t support the motion, but because of who moved it, or more accurately, which side of the table it came from. There didn’t seem to be any other logical reason for it. One 25-year trustee appeared to be comatose for most of the meeting. Neither people acting as chair (one was challenged successfully at one point) effectively managed the debate, evidenced best by the first half hour where everyone was arguing over some procedural issue relating to the minutes or previous meetings, with there being no motion on the floor to even discuss. After a half hour of unorganized bickering, it ended with no resolution. I felt sorry for the students who were present and had to see that.

MUCF Public Hearing

tonight was School board, victory and loss on the Bottled Water issue, more on that later. For today, all I have is video and comments from Monday night’s Council discussion around the transportation issues at the proposed MUCF. Video courtesy Matt Laird (So my Mom can see I still need a hair cut, my wife can complain about all my “um”ing, and my Anonymous Stalker can pick me out of a crowd)

Yep, I’m a goof, but the answers received from staff were slightly unsatisfying. I didn’t think that this was the forum to engage in a protracted debate, but I did have a great discussion after with a VP from Uptown Property Group. Things I learned:

Moving the garage entrance to Begbie is challenged by the slope of the lot. The building lot is several metres higher in the northeast corner than it is in the southwest corner, placing the ramp over on the east side would make for a steeper ramp and not allow as much parking capacity. To hear City Staff talk about it, moving the garage cannot be done.

First off, in my consulting days, I was taught by a senior engineer to never say “it cannot be done”. It can always be done, it is a matter of priorities and costs. Having the parking entrance on the east side of the building is, in my opinion a HUGE priority, so let us see the economic argument about whether it can be done. Some of the slope issue could be addressed (and I thank Matt Laird for pointing this out) by creating the ramp parallel to the building where the angled parking on the east side of Begbie currently sits, or working the ramps into the Alexander Street end of the site. The Gentleman from Uptown pointed out that the tiny retail space on the northwest corner is a compromise due to the desire to have parking on the west side of the building, moving the entrance to the east will also improve this property, increasing the value of the building. I stand by the idea that having a garage entrance on the west side of the building is both unsightly and unsafe, and challenge the engineers and architects to come up with a better solution.

Second, with all due respect to Mr. Lowrie (who I think does a great job for the City), the response that Begbie has always been the designated bike route connecting the CVG and Carnarvon sort of avoids the issue: the original decision was wrong. Time plus wrong does not make right. This is part of ongoing discussions at the VACC, at the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and amongst the NWEP transportation group: the bike plan for the City consists of green lines on a map that are evenly spaced to create “coverage”, but do not reflect the reality of riding a bike. Begbie is not an appropriate bike route when 8th ave is a couple of dozen metres further west and is way more accommodating to more cyclists. The City’s Bike Plan includes Tenth Street as a major north-south route through town. The 200m of Tenth between Royal and Queens is over 13% grade! It is crossed by major traffic route at Royal (where cyclists coming down tenth will be overheating their cantilevers to avoid drifting into traffic) and a completely blind corner at the top of a steep hill at Queens. and a 13% grade. As my French friend would say: Hors Categorie! To suggest that is the correct spot for a bike route is ludicrous, it might be the most difficult and dangerous north-south route in the City for bikes. Although Begbie is not as bad as this, it is likely to see much more traffic due to the location at the CVG, near the SkyTrain, and around the new MUCF. Move the bike route to 8th, so it can actually be a bike route and not just a convenient green line on a map.

Finally, and I have to call attention to this, it is suggested in the design and was confirmed by the architect from Uptown, that the mid-block crosswalk at 8th in front of the SkyTrain station will be removed. The NWEP fought to have that crosswalk installed, and make no mistake we will fight to have it maintained. That crosswalk is an important part of the pedestrian infrastructure in New Westminster, it is heavily used, it serves to protect the lives of New Westminster pedestrians at the front of our busiest Sky Train station, and it will only become more important with the MUCF and the completion of the Plaza 88 development. It was installed to save lives, it should continue to do so.

Before that crosswalk was installed, people walking out of the Skytrain wanting to cross 8th were asked to walk up or down the street a half block, in the rain, to the corner of Columbia or Carnarvon. The mid-block crossing not only provided a more direct crossing, it offered the rain shelter of the Skytrain line. Naturally, people jaywalked, creating a safety hazard for cars and busses before the crosswalk was installed. The City wanted to install a fence down the middle of the road to solve the jaywalking problem, not recognizing that the problem was one of bad design. The NWEP fought the City, forcing them to recognize that Pedestrians had as much right to the street (especially at a Skytrain entrance!) as cars. Reluctantly, the City installed the crosswalk as a temporary measure. It is still there, it is still safe, and it is still used.

With the introduction of a left turn lane to access the MUCF, I guess the fence idea is pooched. With new retail and restaurant activities on the east side of 8th, the pedestrian traffic will only increase. Does the City think the people coming out of the Skytrain will now walk to the corner of Columbia (in the rain), wait for a light (in the rain) then cross, to get ot he MUCF from the Skytrain, or from Plaza 88? Of course they will stay under the cover of the Skytrain, and they will Jaywalk, right in front of cars pulling into or out of the MUCF. Conflict will ensue. Someone may get killed.

Again, the root of this problem is the parking entrance on the west side of the MUCF. How many compromises are we making for this one design fault? Let’s do it right.

Short Post: Short Video

I was going to write another quick post about why I am going to the MUCF Public Hearing tonight. But Matt Laird once again put it all to video, with heritage piano rag to boot!

I don’t think these are significant changes in the scope of a $35 Million building, but need to be made early in the planning process.

Light Blogging

Sorry, fans (and by “Fans”, I mean Mom), but I’m not blogging much right now. Real life is in the way. Besides work (which is crazy enough), I have some things on tap this week:

Monday is the MUCF meeting at City Hall.
Tuesday is New West School board
Wednesday is the February NWEP Meeting
Thursday is Curling Night
Friday, all day, is the EMA of BC Workshop I am helping organize.

I’ll sleep when I’m dead

More Transportation News…

A few interesting stories have arrived in the media this week involving TransLink, transportation planning, and tolls.

The tone of this story was surprising, especially when juxtaposed against the opinion piece that the editor of that same paper produced last month. The ”danger” facing the NFPR is that it is a bad idea that does not fit in our community. Indeed, unless TransLink comes back with something substantial to mitigate the traffic impacts on all of New Westminster, from Brunette to Queensborough, then this plan may indeed have to go away. I do not think that is something to fear, however, it is the new reality of transportation planning. Clearly, the UBE as proposed in December did not fit the bill; we need a better solution.

The days when you could plow freeways through neighborhoods ended in Vancouver in the 70’s; perhaps it will end for the rest of the North-of-Fraser area in the 10’s. The South-of-Fraser communities will have to come to their own epiphany about this, and there are groups trying to usher that day along, but I am afraid as long as Diane Watts and Kevin Falcon are in charge, they will be mired in asphalt.

The Mayor is back to talking about tunnels and tolls, which are all well and good, but this raises as many questions as it answers. Is a graded, 2-km long 4-lane vehicle tunnel the best way to spend $1 Billion? Will a tunnel serve the primary purpose of a goods movement corridor if it will not be permitted to transport dangerous goods? What will either end of the tunnel look like? How does this tunnel free up traffic at Queensborough Bridge (as Councillor Osterman was quick to point out last meeting as a significant part of New Westminster’s Traffic woes)? How long until the traffic expands to make the tunnel a congested, polluted mess?

I know Mayor Wright has a visionary streak in him, but I am afraid he is missing the point here. The most visionary approach to this problem is not to engineer some white elephant solution that has proven time and time again in places across the globe to not solve the problem of congestion. The visionary approach is to say “no”, to say that the livability of our City is too important to add more traffic to the mix.

Then I saw this article towards the “filler” pages of the Leader, which features The Minister of Transportation and the Mayor of Surrey trying to out-Conservative each other.

I’m all for sober second thoughts, but Mayor Watts is off the mark here. She wants a new bridge to support her continued unsustainable development based on last century’s “car in every garage” model, but she doesn’t want the poor beleaguered Surrey citizenry who choose an auto-based lifestyle to have to pay for the infrastructure to support it.

Her argument that Surrey bridges shouldn’t be tolled because Vancouver bridges are not tolled (which she christens a “fair tolling” policy) is simply ridiculous. It ignores the fact that she is pushing automobile-dependent development that will require bridges, while the City of Vancouver is reducing the need for bridges by building working alternatives, and by building more compact, complete communities. As we learned last year in Jerry Dobrovolny’s talk at the NWEP AGM, this resulted in significant decreases in cars entering and leaving the City, at the same time they enjoyed significant growth of both population and jobs.

Anyone care to contrast this with the Panorama Ridge area of Surrey? If that is how Diane wants to build her City, she can pay for her own @%&@$&* bridge.
Finally, there was this story about the perils of trying to predict traffic. I have never driven across the Golden Ears Bridge, but I have ridden a bicycle across it a few times. To me, it is a monstrosity connecting two automobile-oriented communities, and again wonder if some of that $800 Million (or $1.04 Billion, or $928.5 Million, depending on whom you ask) could have been used to build more sustainable transportation alternatives for two communities that desperately need them (Langley and Maple Ridge).

Seems the problem here is that TransLink wrote ambitious predictions about traffic load to get the PPP happening, only to be on the hook when their own predictions failed. Naturally cars are avoiding the tolls by driving around the long way. The comments in the CBC story demonstrate how people act irrationally when it comes to tolls. A commenter says it is “only 25 minutes” to drive around. and the gas cost is “not nearly that much”.

Google Maps tells us the trip from the 200th Street in Langley to downtown Maple Ridge is 16km by the Bridge, 42km by the Port Mann, for a difference of 26km. I suppose you could make that trip in 25 minutes, if it is 2am. Mid-day, you are looking at an hour at least. The average car sold in Canada gets between 7L/100km and 12L/100km, so fuel costs to avoid the bridge (at $1.10 a Litre) is between $2.00 and $3.00. The toll on the bridge? Between $2.80 and $3.90. I guess for some people, avoiding an hour in traffic is not worth a loonie. Problem is, these people are all going to drive through New Westminster over the Patullo once the Port Mann is tolled… today’s bad planners are tomorrow’s New Wesmtinster traffic crisis. 

The headline “taxpayers off the hook” is a severe case of spin. Although one might not catch this from how the news articles on this were written, TransLink is going to have to pay that $63.8 Million dollars to a private corporation, which goes curiously unnamed in the articles. It is almost like TransLink and Consortium that run the Bridge don’t want to mention the recipient of the sweetheart deal. I leave that for you to Google yourself. So Translink will “find the money” to pay for this shortfall, but make no mistake that it is all taxpayers’ money. It may come from other capital projects or from reserves, but that just means $63.8 Million less to pay for new buses, new SkyTrain cars, to fill the “Funding Gap” for Evergreen, or for building Wayne Wright’s dream tunnel down Royal Avenue.

Council to Translink: not so fast. -Now With Video!

Thanks to Matt Laird, you can all enjoy the video of Mondays’ UBE discussion at council. Now I’m making it easy to show how much I paraphrased. Note the twitchy, swarthy guy in the background behind Laird… he looks like a trouble-maker…

Once again, local rabble-rouser Matt Laird took his 5 minutes of allotted council time to keep the issue of the United Boulevard Extension out in front of council.

For those not paying attention, a motion came out of the Working Session on Monday, the essentially told Translink to come back with something better.

Long and short of it, Translink has again managed to put off the “deadline” for securing Federal funds for this project (proving once again that the “deadline” is more like a “justrestingline”), and will work with the City to see if they can find a solution to the Front Street part of the NFPR in time to make the UBE more tenable.

Contrary to some reports, this does not mean that the City has agreed to the UBE, only to keep their minds open and see what TransLink has to offer. This is (in my never humble opinion) the right tack to take. Lets not close our eyes to all offers, let’s see what they can come up with, then decide if the proposed solution improves out City.

The public opinion on this project is such that all 6 council members felt they had to comment on Laird’s delegation and the motion that went forward. For those who missed it, the entire session should be up by some time mid-week at Matt’s website: Here are my comments on their comments (of course, there comments are paraphrased from my notes at the meeting, please let me know if I mis-quote any of them!).

4:21, Councillor McEvoy: Is curious to see how Translink plans to improve traffic flow but not increase traffic volume.

This is a significant question, and perhaps cuts to the very heart of the matter. As anyone involved in transportation planning can tell you, traffic usually expands to fill the void. If we double traffic capacity on the NFPR, we can only expect traffic to double, resulting in an equal amount of congestion concomitant with increased noise, pollution, maintenance costs, etc. etc.

6:10, Councillor MacIntosh: Reminded us that the industrial area in Sapperton needs help, they are suffering from congestion and need to be able to move goods to survive. She also reminded us that the Federal Money being offered is intended to increase efficiency and safety of train operations (supported in this case by replacing a level crossing with an overpass). Finally, she made it clear the Translink will be evaluating various options, perhaps including a 2-lane bridge to replace the Bailey, or re-routing Braid industrial Area traffic through Coquitlam, where new road infrastructure is being built already.

These comments brought to my mind (as echoed by Laird), that the problem is commuter cars using our industrial roads as a shortcut, clogging them up so goods-carrying vehicles can not get through. Essentially, this is the same problem as “Rat Running” in the residential parts of Sapperton. It is not clear how this problem for our important industrial citizens will be solved by knocking down some of their businesses to make room for a road that will only serve to funnel more commuter traffic through the industrial area. This is suspiciously close to fighting fire with matches.

If the Feds and Railways have the goal of improving upon the level crossing, and the City’s goal is to make Braid Industrial Area more accessible, then these goals may not coincide with TransLink’s goal to build more roads and Coquitlam’s goal to improve traffic flow to the big box hell (and soon car-oriented development hell) that is United Boulevard.

10:39, Councillor Harper: Started by reminding us that this is a complex problem, and that there will not only not be a single answer, there is also not a single goal. He rhetorically asks if we have “address” truck traffic, then non-rhetorically answers in the affirmative. Harper seems to be the one most in favour of the existing offer from Translink, as he lists the issues relating to the existing situation on Brunette and Columbia, but he fails to close the loop on how any of these problems will be solved by the UBE (although he alludes to “mitigation”) or how building a 4-lane freeway amounts to “reclaiming out waterfront”. He finishes by questioning how long before we have another “opportunity” to get $65 million in Federal money to build our way out of this problem.

After my erlier comments about conflicting goals, I think all of Council should, at least, have a single goal: to make New Westminster a more livable, more prosperous, and more sustainable community. I look back at the Mayor’s annual address, and I see one goal laid out again and again: Make the City more livable. If there are any other goals here, let’s get them out on the table.

I’m not sure how one “addresses” truck traffic. The way I see it, we have three options: have more, have the same amount, or have less. The things that make any single truck safer, less polluting, or quieter are outside the City’s jurisdiction. All we really can control is the number or trucks, and we control that by building the infrastructure to accommodate them. You can argue that we need to build more capacity to accommodate more trucks, but don’t then complain about increased noise and pollution. You can argue that we need to reduce truck traffic, but if you do this, you had better be ready to work with our industrial and commercial citizens to make sure you don’t drive (ha ha) them our of business or to another jurisdiction. The third option is to not build more capacity. This will, of course, require you to do both: :mitigate the already significant pollution and noise issues, and work with our business partners to make the existing infrastructure more efficient for them. In many ways, this is the most difficult option, but might represent the best option for a City like New Westminster.

Finally, the $65 million is a red herring argument. That is not Federal Stimulus money, it is money earmarked for Asia-Pacific Gateway improvement. If New Westminster along with it’s partners at the railway, Translink, and the Province find a way to free up train travel and increase level crossing safety, the money will be there. This is separate from the entire idea that we must do something because “someone else” will pay for a portion of it. That is not really visionary, especially when that “someone else” is actually us, the taxpayer. If it serves the community and other levels of Government are willing to contribute (Pier Park anyone?), then great. But if it doesn’t serve us, we should be responsible enough to say no thank you.

17:25,Councillor Osterman: Recognizes the traffic problem as a problem, citing traffic by the Columbia Square and 20th Street as good examples: “the system needs work”. He agrees that we need the long-term plan in place before we spend money unwisely. He is also of the opinion that New Westminster (and potentially all of Greater Vancouver) is on the “cusp”, but I didn’t really get the idea of what cusp he was speaking of…after all, cusps can be the top of a wave, or they can be the edge of a cliff…

It is interesting that the traffic problems Osterman outlines (primarily, his own hassles commuting in a single occupant vehicle to the airport and back, and trying to get to Council on time) are likely to be made worse by the UBE, and worse yet if the full 4-lane NFPR is built on Front Street. These projects will just move the traffic choke point to his neighborhood.

I think (and hope) he meant the cusp where a larger investment directed at public and alternative transportation will be required to make our Cities livable over into the next Century. This is the time when we start to seriously move away from building transportation infrastructure based on the individual automobile and start building it based on the realities of Peak Oil, Climate change, and what type of City we want to live in 10, 20, 50 years from now. Osterman cited European examples, and I concur that northern Europe is full of amazing cities with enviable transportation systems: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Oslo, even London.


21:50, Councillor Cote: Surprised me by mentioning that he did not support the motion, as he feels strongly that the Patullo Bridge question must be answered at the same time as the NFPR question, the two solutions must happen hand-in-hand, and with the Patullo decision delayed until the fall, that cannot happen.

I can see both sides of this coin. Yes, ideally, the entire system should be dealt with holistically (and, uh, is sort of required to under CEAA, but I digress). However, the Patullo decision might just be out of TransLink’s hands, as Premier Falcon is going to want to cut the ribbon on that one at the most opportune time. So if Translink can run the numbers with each of the three most likely Patullo upgrade outcomes (refurbishing the existing bridge; replacing with a 4-lane bridge; replacing with expanded capacity) then the City may have something that can be fairly evaluated. Now, Cote surely knows more than I about the plans, as he sat through the TransLink presentation, and I am hearing about it third hand, so I am not going to be critical of him for his principled stand.

24:50, Councillor Williams: Had little to say, but going 6th, most of it had already been said, but she reminded us once again that the City willing to agree to anything unless the entire NFPR routing is dealt with concurrently.

Overall, Council’s position on this remains clear. Although there is a spectrum of views from the Councillors, they all reflect different approaches to the same point: The UBE is part of the NFPR, and we, as a City, will not accept the piecemeal management of this major regional route through the City.

It will be interesting to see what comes back in June. With the City Engineers working on the project with TransLink, they are unlikely to come back without something they can recommend to Council. If Matt Laird’s suggestion that the physical limits at several locations along the proposed NFPR routes will preclude the 4-lane truck highway some dream about, then we might be in for quite a fight in June.

Just in time for an election campaign.

Windows, part three.

Our window replacement project now complete, it is all over but the Blogging

Really, our choices were vinyl or wood. Aluminum had no real advantage, fiberglass was out of our price range, as were wood-clad or other complicated hybrid window styles.

So we did what most semi-informed consumers do, we delved into the marketplace.

Full disclosure here, Tig and I are bad consumers. By that, I mean we just don’t do the shopping thing well. To say we have high sales resistance is to downplay the problem. It is more that we rarely find anything worth buying. A trip to the Mall is something we avoid at all costs, as it fills us with what Hunter called “Fear and Loathing”. I simply do not enter the retail environment in the month of December. When one of us decides we need to buy something, say, a shirt for work, we steel our resolve and enter the fray, and rarely come out satisfied with our purchases, and more often walk out having bought nothing, realizing that we are not the target market for anything. The modern consumer experience is not designed for us, and we are not designed for it. So why force the issue?

So when Sssssalesmen start coming to our house with quarter-cuts of windows as samples and lots of glossy brochures, to do a few measurements and drop us an estimate with an abstract 5 digit number on it… this is usually a bad experience for all involved. I am not going to name any of the non-successful bidders, they live in their own window-sales Hell, may the Flying Spaghetti Monster have noodly mercy on their souls. Suffice to say, we saw them all, or a wide enough sampling so as to be statistically significant.

We asked a lot of questions, and some were better at answering them than others. The higher-priced people made compelling cases for rigidity of the vinyl, for higher numbers of void spaces in the window frames, for colour options, for muntin designs to match the heritage of our house.

The problem with vinyl becomes pretty clear: if you want a strong structure with lots of void space for thermal efficiency, there needs to be a big, thick window frame. Making that big, thick window frame fit into the pre-existing hole in the house, without getting into expensive and difficult mucking about with stucco and plaster and drywall, you start to lose significant window space. In a 1940 house with relatively small window space to start with, this becomes significant.

Also, vinyl, for all it’s flexibility in design, is kind of ugly. You can have pretty much any colour you want, but white is about the only colour offered (economies of scale limit the ability of these companies to extrude numerous colours locally). The size of some of our double-hung windows limited the ability of their relatively weak frames to support the structure; so many sssssales people pushed us to alternate styles that were less appealing. The design elements (muntin grilles, opening hardware, etc.) were generally cheap-looking and added on, and took more away from the look than they added.

Then there were uncertainties about the install. We had guys promise to do the total install of 19 windows in one day, “no problems”. That is a pretty bold promise to make in a 70 year old house after 2 minutes of looking at a window. It did not instill confidence that they would be taking utmost care or managing unforeseen issues with my best interests in mind. One test of this was to show the ssssssales person that crappy downstairs install I pointed out earlier. The range of reaction we got were telling. Some were aghast that anyone would slap a window in like that, while others basically said, yeah, it doesn’t look too bad, must have been a funny sized opening… you should maybe add a little silicone… . Needless to say, that quick-filtered many proposals (and, perhaps not paradoxically, those were generally the lowest bidders).

Another irritant was never really having an impression of how the windows in their glossy brochure would look in our house. Invariably, the ssssales guy would show up with a ¼ of a window so we could see the void spaces that made them so efficient, but rarely with a complete window. Some offered local references, and this lead to us wandering the streets of Queens Park and West end looking at (not through) innocent people’s windows. We also tried to go to any showrooms or warehouses so we could put our fingers on the actual product, see what it actually looks like. This caused some of the ssssales people discomfort, and some companies really didn’t have a showroom or display product (other than the ¼-cut window with all those wonderful void spaces!) to show. Is it just me, or is asking someone to spend 5 figures on a product they really haven’t seen a normal thing in sales?

After a couple of months, and more than a dozen sales folks, it seemed we were back to Square 1. Exploring the options for wood windows lead us to a couple of fairly large and well-regarded companies, and initial meetings looked good. We got to go to an actual showroom to look at actual windows, install options looked good. Unfortunately, being a relatively small project to some of these companies, it seemed options were limited. Not totally limited, but very cost limited. As these windows were manufactured in far-off places familiar only from Coen Brothers Movies, every little deviation from a “standard” size of install added up quickly. Wood manufacturing does not have the flexibility at the factory level that vinyl does.

Then we found a local company that seemed to get it. They made wood windows specifically for the heritage-home market, and their ssssales guy was also the owner, so he was interested in making us happy instead of his commission. He was also very straight-forward about what was and wasn’t possible in our house, he was realistic about what we could (and should) do. He was incredibly patient taking the time to answer our questions, but didn’t call us every day to try to close the sale. He was also asking a little more than we wanted to spend. But pretty soon in, Tig and I know we found our guy, we just needed to figure out how to get the windows.

Transportation news!

It seems that not all is silent on the transportation front.

Since the furor over the United Boulevard Extension erupted in December, causing Translink to delay plans and ask for their funding deadline to be extended until March, it has been pretty quiet around here. Here we are, halfway to the new deadline, and the public discussion of this issue has all but disappeared. Tenth to the Fraser has expended some energy trying to keep the discussion going in a productive way, with Chris Bryan’s well-considered column, and Matt Laird’s two-part analysis of the real issues with the grey-dotted-line-on-a-map referred to as the North Fraser Perimeter Road. But from Mayor, Council and TransLink? Silence.

That ended this week. We find out that discussions have been going on between TransLink and the City, and apparently, the City is not totally thrilled with where they are going.

This week in New Westminster Council, there were surprise discussions of these negotiations. Surprise, as they did not appear any of the Agendas produced for Monday’s Council meetings, so anyone actually interested in the subject would not know to show up (is this what Voice is complaining about?). Also surprise, as it seems most of the actual discussion took place in closed session, so we don’t have a full understanding of the process, but I will hit that issue later.

Anyone who is interested can download the video of the council meetings courtesy of local rabble-rousers and tech guru Matt Laird. The UBE topic comes up (unannounced, but apparently known to all present) around 1:30:00 on the recording.

Some of the context of the discussions is in the earlier Public Delegations from Dave Nicholson Mary Wilson, and (?) from Brow of the Hill talking about pedestrian safety in the City. As an aside, it is great around 0:35 minutes where Mary talked eloquently about how reactive responses to single pedestrian danger points is missing the point of making the entire transportation system friendlier and safer for pedestrians, to which Councillor Osterman comes back with a recollection of a single incident of pedestrian safety that they took care of…ugh… completely missing the very point Mary made so clearly. Even this was wiped from my consciousness 5 minutes later when Councillor MacIntosh blames pedestrians for wearing too much black… essentially blaming the victim for the crime of not being able to keep your 3000lb steel toy from running into them. I try not to be too critical of our elected officials, but that is a dimwitted comment to make.

Oh, and Councillor Harper referring to a popular search engine as “the Google” is funny.

Then it was on to the surprise UBE discussion. Right off the bat, I need to say that I recognize that negotiations involving potential real estate transactions, financial negotiations with other agencies, and some other fiscally-sensitive issues must be carried out in camera, and this is why the Local Government Act gives the City the power to hold in camera meetings. However, transparency in government is necessary, especially in election years. So here we have aspects of in camera sessions being brought to the public.

Long and short of it: Council, to their credit, said all the right things. They reiterate that their motion in December on the UBE stated that they would not endorse any UBE plans unless they include plans for the entire NFPR, from United Boulevard to New Westminster’s western borders. Apparently Translink brought some proposals to the City in a January 19th letter, and Council was not satisfied. According to Councillor Cote, it was really nothing new, and didn’t address the issues the City raised in December. Councillor McEvoy was even more vociferous, chiding TransLink for attempting to rush the City and for not performing appropriate public consultation back in the fall. I also like his clear message that New Westminster is only 7 square kilometres, all of it built out, and we do not have the free space to accommodate road expansion (This will do doubt be a major argument come Master Transportation Plan time).

Good news is that TransLink is supposed to be back for next weeks Council Meeting (the 14th), so if the UBE interests you, it wouldn’t hurt to show up. Oh, it’s budget night to, so fun all around.

Then there was this news that TransLink is considering not replacing the Patullo, but instead may just refurbish it. This “news release” was strange, in that there was no mention on the TransLink webpage, no obvious press release, just an article by Jeff Nagel for Black Press, and a story on CKNW (a cynic would say directed at Liberal supporters South of the Fraser two weeks before the Premier Falcon Coronation… uh… I mean Liberal Leadership Vote). Regardless, if this announcement marks a change in policy about the Patullo (either from the Province or from TransLink) then the earlier assertion by TransLink that the Front Street / NFPR works would be done as part of the Patullo project means that these changes are back to the drawing board.

This is actually good news for New Westminster. To potential of replacing the Patullo with a larger bridge with more lanes will be another UBE-type debate: increasing the capacity for cars to get into our City without concomitant infrastructure to deal with the traffic once it is in the City, resulting in more traffic, more congestion on our streets, more “rat running”, less pedestrian safety, and a less liveable city. The only difference is that this debate will include Diane Watts, which makes it louder.

Of course, traffic is already anticipated to increase significantly on the Patullo when the tolls for the Port Mann kick in, which has raised suggestions that the existing Patullo should be tolled as well to manage this issue, but that is another issue for another time

The Master Transportation Plan, Background

The City of New Westminster is currently working on a Master Transportation Plan. The process to update the City’s 10-year-old transportation planning document was initiated n 2010, and will hopefully be completed in 2011 (the plan has been delayed somewhat by “staffing changes” in City Hall). As I suggested at my year-end looking back/looking forward interview with the News Leader, the MTP should be the #1 environmental issue in New Westminster this year, as nothing will have more influence on the liveability of our City in the decades to come than this plan and its successful implementation. With the UBE Experience behind us (for now) and the NFPR breathing down our necks, the City needs to get it’s transportation priorities down, or decisions will be made without us.

So what is a Master Transportation Plan? It is the high-level guidance document that outlines what the goals, priorities, and needs of the City are in relation to its transportation infrastructure. Usually, it is a high-level document, which creates broad guidelines, as opposed to providing details, it is more likely to state that all sidewalks should be accessible to people with disabilities, instead of detailing the dimensions and slope of the perfect curb cut. It sets guidelines that the engineers and planners can use to do their work. Think about the MTP as the Constitution: it doesn’t create laws, but all laws must be compared to it to see if they comply.

Once the MTP is created and accepted, then every transportation project in the City can be assessed compared to that document. If the project meets the goals and priorities of the Plan, it is easy to approve. If it doesn’t, then the project has to be adapted. In theory, this assures that the complex integrated system that is the “transportation infrastructure” all works together, instead of being a slapped-together patchwork. The end result should be lower building and maintenance costs due to efficiencies, reduced overlap or competition between projects, and ultimately, a less expensive, better organized transportation network.

So perhaps you can see why it is so important to the City that the MTP is right, and how important it is to the liveability of the City.

The big issues are outlined on the City’s website on Transportation Planning: pedestrian safety, cycling infrastructure, transit access and service, the volume of regional traffic through the City, air quality, and noise. Further, the City states that the MTP “will focus on principles of sustainability, social liveability, environmental stewardship and economic prosperity”.

This is a promising start, as it seems to put the emphasis on sustainable transportation choices, increased safety for all road (and sidewalk) users, and increased liveability.

There are two other documents that are already available from the City that will provide guidance for the MTP. They are the (now slightly dated) “Official Community Plan”, and the “Livable City Strategy“. Both of these documents make many of the same points: sustainable transportation alternatives (walking, transit, bicycles) need to be encouraged, and building more roads to accommodate more traffic will only result in more noise, more pollution, and more congestion.

Over the next couple of months, I hope to Blog quite a bit on the MTP process. The NWEP Transportation Group is also watching to see how it develops. It is the documents above that are going to provide a framework for the discussions. If you are interested in the topic, you might want to read them. And you should be interested, both because it is important for the City, and because the City will be looking for public input into the plan, through consultations. We don’t know what those consultations will look like, but it would be great to be informed when the call comes.

There are also many examples of Transportation Plans available on line, most Cities have them. Here are links to a couple of interesting ones:
Vancouver (showing how “Gregor’s Bike Routes” were planned in 1997).
City of North Vancouver (A city with similar demographics and challenges as New Westminster)
Coquitlam (as cautionary example).
Burnaby (our closest neighbour)