Short post on a positive development

I think this is good news for the City. Yeah, it is just a warehouse, but it is a huge warehouse: at almost 12 acres, it will have a 20% bigger footprint than BC Place. The few dozen jobs it provides are less important than the security of knowing that New Westminster’s largest industrial employer is investing further in the community. It is also good to have brownfields put back into the industrial tax base.

Go ahead, call me a faux environmentalist for saying good things about a stinkin’ paper mill, but Kruger is an example of value-added manufacturing for our domestic renewable resources, and have taken many steps to reduce the environmental impact of their products. Kruger is one of the leading producers of paper products from post-consumer fibres (that stuff you put out in the blue box). Here in New Westminster, they recently invested in a biomass gasification system to vaporize then burn scrap wood and paper and reduce their need for fossil fuels. Making paper can, ultimately, become a sustainable industry, and these small steps are heading that way down that very long road (maybe if we can all stop demanding that the paper we use to wipe our privates is whiter than the drifting snow? Ah, never mind)

As a caveat, any time you talk about a half-million square foot warehouse, you need to talk about how things are going in and out of the warehouse. This may represent a significant amount of truck traffic coming to the area of Queensborough that is already suffering from a freeway pushed through the middle of it and all the congestions, noise and emissions that come with it. The good news is that the Queensborough Landing site has two advantages: an adjacent rail spur, and an adjacent river. The river especially opens up and exciting opportunity: this could be a model situation for short sea shipping. The Kruger plant is 5km from this new warehouse by road (and that includes in increasingly-congested Queensborough Bridge), but it is less than 2km by the North Arm of the Fraser River. Kruger can reduce it’s greenhouse gasses and fuel costs significantly by using small barges to move goods between the two sites along a lightly-used piece of tidewater. This seems like a no-brainer, but I say this without knowing what regulatory nightmares Port Metro Vancouver might put in their way. It seems PMV is more interested in moving trucks around these days than dealing with actual floating things. Kruger has demonstrated an interest in being environmentally innovative in the past, let’s hope they follow through here.

Call it greenwashing if you want, but compared to some industry’s approach to the environment, it is good to see new Westminster’s largest manufacturer taking measurable steps in the right direction.

I’m not just saying that because they sponsor curling. But it helps.

On a Four-Lane Front Street (UPDATE!)

I haven’t blogged on the topic of the fourth TransLink Workshop on the UBE yet, mostly because I waiting for TransLink to put the materials from the latest workshop on line (which they have just done!). so I will get on that next and discuss at length the latest coat of polish applied to that particular pair of old shoes.

In the meantime, I want to address the bigger issue, the one that seems to be the source of much of the push-back on the UBE: the idea that the UBE may worsen our traffic problems City-wide, not make them better. For the first time during these workshops, TransLink brought some materials to address this concern. As part of their pre-workshop presentation, Delcan presented a single PowerPoint slide that showed how they plan to address the NFPR in New Westminster. It was short on detail (there was not timing or budget mentioned) and there were no graphics except an image of the current proposed NFPR route with word-clouds pointing to several proposed improvements, paraphrased here:

1) Widening Front Street to 4 lanes;
2) Re-aligning the intersection at Columbia and Brunette so that Brunette is a continuous road and Columbia joins it at a “T”;
3) Doing a similar realignment at Front so that the Front Street-Columbia-east connection is a thoroughfare, and Columbia Street-west joins at a “T”;
4) Again making the Front Street-to-Stewardson a straight shot with Columbia meeting it at a “T” west of Hyack Square;
5) Tearing down the Parkade; and
6) Re-aligning several intersections on Stewardson, including Royal Ave.

Click to zoom in, TransLink’s Christmas Wish List.

At this point, this list is akin to my thumbing through the toy section of the Sears Christmas Catalogue when I was 7 years old and checking off the toys I wanted (Lego: check! Matchbox cars; Check! Smash-up-Derby? Check! Hungry Hungry Hippos? Why not!; Millennium Falcon? Double Check!). There was about an equal amount of planning and budgeting for how I was going to get those Christmas presents as there is here.

Making Front Street four lanes is going to take significantly more than a sweep of the hand or drawing a grey dotted line on a map. As much as I agree that White Elephant Parking Inc. should go, it is hardly the only limiting factor here. As Matt Laird keeps asking: are you going to move the Keg building and the Sally Ann, or the rails? Where the rail grades separate to the east; which of the two is going to have to go? What of the rail and Skytrain underpasses? Currently there isn’t room for a sidewalk on Front, and you want to install two more driving lanes?

Then there are the intersections. East Columbia at Front has no room for a T-intersection, as the tight “Y” there now is sandwiched between rails and (I kid you not) a “Heritage Wall” whose ultimate immovability has been used by the City to argue against pedestrian- and cyclist-safety improvements at Columbia and McBride. At the other end, what will Hyack Square look like attached to a new T-intersection onto the truck route?

And I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but since the recent traffic calming around Stewardson between 3rd Ave and 5th Ave, the traffic back-up getting onto the Queensborough has noticeably expanded, as has the back-up on 6th Ave to get to the bridge, and the congestion coming off the bridge down the hill along Stewardson. With a less-fettered through-shot to Freeway offered by a doubling of Front Street, does anyone imagine that Stewardson is going to see less traffic? When (or more importantly, where) is this game of Whack-a-Mole going to stop?

Through this very few people are asking the City if they even want an inevitably-congested 4-lane limited access road cutting the City off from it’s waterfront forever. For too many people, it is taken as inevitable that this will happen, and we need to manage the “mitigation” as best we can.

Please people, take a trip to Downtown Seattle before you make that call. If you lack travel funds, but have some imagination, just go down to the Front Street Parkade and look at the ass end of the businesses on Columbia: wood that hasn’t seen paint in 50 years, bricks swollen with too many layers of peeling paint, tarps keeping the leaks out, broken or boarded up windows, rusty chain-link and barbed wire, graffiti, garbage, shopping carts, blackberries and ivy…

This is our City’s waterfront. Despite the efforts of the Antique Alley merchants, it is a dark and dismal place. In many areas, the general dilapidation is embarrassing, and will only become more so as the Pier Park draws people down to the river: this is what they will see when they look back. This will be the face of New Westminster to those visitors.

Now tug at the braids of your imagination a bit and think about what could be.

It could be full of vibrant businesses and comfortable homes, just as Columbia Street is. It could be opened up to let the sunlight in and the exhaust out. It could be made pedestrian friendly, it could be safe and attractive. The empty parking bays could be courtyard restaurants, or pocket green parks. The Antique Alley businesses could see walk-by customers again. The entire downtown could be improved with new high-value commercial real estate providing jobs and tax revenue.

We don’t need to completely remove Front Street or the rails to do this, there is plenty of room for two lanes of Front, three rail lines, and a wide sidewalk with trees, planters, and even curb-side parking and café seating. White Rock’s boardwalk doesn’t suffer greatly from the existence of rails, it actually adds some charm to the location, and here rails can serve as homage to the City’s proud history as a working waterfront.

Put a 4-lane express route through there, you can kiss this bright future of Front Street goodbye. That would be a shame.

With transit-and pedestrian-oriented development along Columbia, including the MUCF, the Inter Urban, Plaza 88, and with the road diet on Columbia and resultant accessibility of the businesses, there is a resurgence of the Heart of our City. You can’t argue with the business development, with the people on the street, with the positive vibe down there, a sharp contrast to 20 years ago. I can’t shake the feeling that we are approaching a tipping point, though, and the opportunity exists now to build on that momentum, and grow the Heart of the City down to the water, to link it to Quayside and the resurgent River Market, to continue building the Heart of the City up 6th to the new high rise developments (and beyond?), and west to connect to Columbia Square (and beyond with the re-purposing of lower 12th?). Or we can let New Westminster remain a place of unrealized promise, much like it was for the second half of the 20th Century.

The UBE is the beginning of the NFPR process, and I have said before and will say again: no single project is going to have as big an impact on the future of our City than the NFPR. So let TransLink figure out if it is technically or economically feasible to complete (many of us clearly have doubts), but in the meantime, this City has to start discussing whether it is socially feasible.

Election Results

The real election results:

The Majority Mandate enjoyed by our new Government


Locally, I am happy Fin won, as he is a great representative, for reasons I pointed out earlier. I also would like to thank Diana Dilworth, Ken Beck Lee, and Rebecca Helps for running positive campaigns. I think Diana especially proved herself capable and worthy as a Candidate, and deserves the reward of more votes vs. the previous by-election when she was famous mostly for not being accessible. This campaign, she was aware of the issues, meeting the public personally and at events, and was very personable when I met her. It was only the Shadow of Darth Harper holding her back in my estimation.

Her campaign also contrasted with Paul Forseth, who relied heavily on the politics of fear: this ad in the local paper is an example of the shitty politics that no-one should be rewarded for:

Classless, baseless, and insulting to the reader. I met Paul this election, and had a chance to chat with him, we agreed to disagree on some issues, but he kept bringing up the “Free Enterprise vs. Socialists” false dichotomy, as if there is no grey area between completely free unfettered markets and regulated social systems… so 19th Century as to be quaint. So although I was not able to vote for Peter Julian, I was happy to see him win.

Federally, it is obvious we are entering a new phase in Canada’s history. Part of me is hoping that Harper will follow the lead of Joe Clarke and Brian Mulroney: campaign right and govern middle. Maybe that is his “hidden agenda”. Otherwise, there will be interesting days ahead, with Jack driven apoplectic in the house, and a new era of very divisive politics in Canada.

One thing seems clear: the shift of Canada from one of the most highly respected nations on earth to a global pariah will continue. This is not “hidden agenda” stuff: this is what the Harper Conservatives wear on their sleeve. We will become more militaristic in lieu of seeking diplomacy. Our days as honest broker in the middle are gone. We will continue to be one of the planet’s worst polluters. We will continue to value security at the cost of liberty, and through this, we will become less secure by making ourselves more of a target for terrorism. Sewing a maple leaf on your backpack may no longer be a “get out of trouble free card” for people like me who enjoy travelling to countries without all-inclusive resorts.

Where the shift of support from the Liberals to the NDP will take us is uncertain. Some are saying the NDP surge in Quebec may create the legend of Jack Layton as the saviour of Canada, but let’s not start counting chickens. If Harper comes out of the gate too aggressivly with social conservatism, we will see a surge in PQ support in the upcoming Provincial Election, with little federal interest to prevent it (make no mistake, these are Manning Conservatives in this majority – a majority with no mandate in Quebec is a Reform Party of Canada dream).. and we may see a referendum in this parliament.

I think that the loss of Gerard Kennedy is a much bigger blow to the Liberals than the loss of Ignatieff. Without Kennedy, the Grits will need to re-grow around someone else. Most are looking at a youth wing surrounding Justin Trudeau. The number of old big-C conservatives who hated P.E.Trudeau for being so urbane is dwindling with demographics, and as the legend replaces actual memory, Justin will be there to scoop it up. I think any centre + left coalition talk will depend on how the NDP are polling in 2014. They have no reason to entertain the Liberals until they need votes. Or unless they need the Trudeau name to replace and ailing Jack. I hope Jack realizes that Bob Rae is the reason he didn’t win seats in Ontario, and the reason we have a Harper Majority.

Nina Grewal is an excellent example of why representative democracy sometimes just doesn’t work.

I was skeptical of Elizabeth May’s all-for-one strategy, but knowing several people on the islands, it seems obvious now. The end of per-vote subsidies may be a problem for her, but with it seemingly inevitable now, the strategy of getting a seat instead of crossing the country to grub out every possible $5 vote probably makes sense. From what I experienced this year as a former member, The Green fundraising machine is has been substantially developed since the deficit situation they got into last election. If Harper brings back big-money corporate political donations (and why wouldn’t he?), then all the other parties are in trouble money-wise. (that said, election rules really don’t matter to the Tories, as they are happy to break them with complete immunity, so I guess that doesn’t matter).

The Greens best strategy going forward is to keep her in the news, and expand the all-for-one campaign next election to an all-for-5, by identifying 3 or 4 more ridings and putting superstar candidates in them. I think of some of those Quebec ridings where the BQ support so collapsed that absentee NDP kids were elected: the Greens should be able to hone in and pick up those protest votes when the college bartenders prove to be incapable of administering a constituency office.

So election night I was at the NWEP / Tenth to the Fraser poll party, and ran an informal poll pool. The results were interesting, proving the lottery nature of this election.

In the end, the NWEP’s answer to Nostradamus, Andrew Murray, came closest to predicting the unpredictable, and won the pool. Although he predicted a minority government, his guess of 138 Conservative seats, 110 NDP, 38 Liberal, 21 Bloc, and 1 Green/Independent was closer to the final results that anyone else, with an aggregate total seat difference of 58, well ahead of the 2nd place finisher, who had a 78 seat difference. Clearly, the difference was Andrew’s prescient evaluation of the Liberal collapse and the NDP rise.

At first look, it appears the Vote Party participants (there were only 15 who filled out ballots before the 7:00 deadline) were woefully unable to predict the results, and even in what seemed to be a typical New West NDP-friendly crowd (the announcement of the Conservative majority really took the buzz off the party), the group underestimated the the NDP rise (average guess 88 seats) and Liberal collapse (average guess: 67 seats). Although one person correctly predicted only 4 seats for the Bloc, the average guess was 26 seats. The most common miss was a significant underestimate of the Conservative wins (average guess 123 seats), as no-one predicted a majority.

To be fair to the participants, most were given about 5 minutes to fill out a “ballot” with very little guidance. The professionals and pundits also significantly missed the mark here. Just for fun, I showed the EKOS and Nanos polling firm predictions from the day before the election, and the predictions of two “interactive” polling ideas: the 308 Project and the Canadian Prediction Project. With aggregate differences between 92 and 116, none of them would have won our contest, and they had 4 weeks to perfect their picks. As I said going in, this election was like a lottery. Next time, the pollsters should save us all time and money, and just call Andrew.