Saving Parkades – the sequal

It is worse than I thought. This story expands on the Downtown Business Improvement Associations rally to save the Parkade that I blogged about last week. 

It is not just that the BIA wants to save the Parkade, some of them also want the bike lanes and back-in angle parking gone from Columbia, all in the effort to – you guessed it – get traffic moving. 
I have already talked about the Parkade, and don’t want to be more repetitive on the topic. However, Dr. Shannon from the BIA does make a few interesting points. 

First, he has repeated the claim that the Parkade was built by the Merchants, and I honestly have not been able to find any records of this on-line. Can anyone provide a reference for me on this? I’m not disputing it, but am just curious about the history.

Second, his acknowledgement of, and immediate dismissal of, the “eyesore” status of the Parkade is interesting. “Who sees it?”, he asks rhetorically. I tell you who sees it: every person who visits Downtown New Westminster. Every person who goes to the new Pier Park. Everyone who goes the the Discovery Centre or the River Market. Everyone who drives across the Pattullo Bridge or rides the Skytrain over from Surrey. How many of those people, you think, see that and think to themselves ” Hmmm… That looks like a nice place to go shopping”? 

Again, I agree with Dr. Shannon that the Parkade should not be removed without a plan to accommodate the Downtown Merchants’ realistic parking needs, but with the end goal of removing the Parkade to improve our waterfront and all of Downtown. Maybe instead of seeking legal opinions, the Merchants should spend their money on doing a practical parking needs assessment, and coming up with ideas on how to manage their parking needs (or even, gasp, look at ideas to promote Downtown New Westminster to the thousands of people who pass through each day on Skytrain, or to the hundreds of thousands that are only a short Skytrain ride away?) 

The BIA approach to Columbia Street really has me scratching my head. I cannot believe that the members want Columbia changed back to how it was 10 years ago, just as Downtown is seeing the benefits of the road diet. Is the organizational memory so short that they don’t remember a congested 4-lane Columbia as even less pleasant than a congested 2-lane Columbia? Do they really want to step back to the 1980s? 

As is said before, I just don’t get the thinking. The Parkade was a failed attempt to keep a 1950s business model (mom driving the family car down Main Street to stop at the green grocer and the butcher while dad was at work) alive, as shopping centers and malls in the suburbs took over. This model is not coming back. Malls with ample free parking exist. Big Box Retail with ample free parking exists – even here in New Westminster, as evidenced by our City Councilors lining up to cut the ribbon on the new Lowes. 

So who are these customers the BIA are trying to attract? What do they have that the Mall and the Big Box doesn’t have? What will bring people down to New Westminster’s Downtown in the 21st Century? Surely, it isn’t the Parkade.

Hare Krishmas!

There will be a serious reduction in blogging for the next week or two. It’s the holidays, days are short, and you really should be talking to your family, friends, and neighbors, not checking on on a grumpy blogger. I should be talking to mine, instead of being a grumpy blogger.
If you really can’t get enough of reading my diatribes, be sure to check out the Year End edition of the News Leader, where I will be answering a few questions about the year in review and the year to come, along with some other New West rabble. 
In the mean time, I will be reading transportation plans, checking out my copy of Dr. Patrick Moore’s Ph.D. thesis, sipping scotch, and generally enjoying life. 
And, early in the New Year, I will resume starting sentences – or whole paragraphs – with conjunctions, and will pull out a whole new quiver of prepositions to end sentences with. 
Oh, and I think I am going to finally change the name of this Blog – the  “Green” thing is so 2010. 
Finally, can I show off my present?
Happy 2012 everyone.

Master Transportation Plan – the starting point

In preparation for New Wesminster’s Master Transportation Plan public consultations, I have been reading The transportation planning documents of other Cities. Yes, I really am that kind of a geek. 

I have been looking at various types of plans. As many local municipalities are in the same jurisdictional regime, they provide the best comparisons for what we might want to see in New West. Naturally, some cities like Surrey, Langley Township, Richmond and Coquitlam have greater growth opportunities for their road networks, as they have green space to be plowed over (if desired), and oodles of 60’s strip malls that can be repurposed (with bulldozers) into more comprehensively-planned neighbourhoods. 
New Westminster does not have that luxury. 
Being the oldest City in BC means that we are built-out, and barely a sidewalk can be widened without impacting someone’s property or eroding already-precious green space. Vancouver (although obviously larger, and not completely bereft of 60’s strip malls) and the City of North Vancouver are better models for New Westminster – they are basically built-out and they have to accommodate a lot of through-traffic on major routes. I would throw the City of Langley into that mix, but that City is such a mess planning-wise, that their example should only be a cautionary one. I have also been looking farther afield, at model cities like Portland and New York, where visionary transportation planning has remarkably increased livability in the last decades. There is even some interesting stuff going on in Toronto, despite Rob Ford’s ongoing rally against rationality. 
 However, I thought I would look at New Westminster’s own existing Transportation Plan, developed in 1998. This plan was to set the course for transportation planning for 15 years – up to 2013 – and beyond. It struck me, sitting on the Canada Line on my way to work, reading a .pdf of the plan on my iPad, listening to the Decemberists on my mp3 player, how far away 2013 must have sounded to the people putting this plan together in 1998. I’m surprised there aren’t more mentions of Jet Packs or hoverboards.
Instead, the plan is pretty rational, and brings out many good ideas. What is notable is how the problems in 1998 are basically the same as the problems in 2012: how to accommodate so much through traffic; how to deal with all the trucks; how to encourage mode shift; how to leverage the advantages of the SkyTrain stations; and (especially) how to pay for it all. Some good solutions were found, some of the improvements we have seen in New Westminster in the last decade are a result of this plan. Some other aspects remain a work in progress. div>The Executive Summary of the report (linked to above) is worth commenting upon.
On the third page, the livability objectives are outlined. All sound good, but one really stands out to me. 

“Work toward the principle of no new added road capacity for vehicles passing through the City”

This really speaks to the UBE discussion. Clearly, the UBE was all about increased capacity for vehicles passing through the City. Come to think of it, this principle also places the discussion about the Pattullo Bridge replacement into context. Any plan to replace the Pattullo with a 6-lane structure will clearly violate this principle. It is also interesting that this principle stands in contrast with other ideas in the plan, such as the part under “goods movement” where one of the Key Actions is to:

“Encourage early implementation of the Stormont-McBride connector and the Tree Island bridge”

There is also a good guiding principle, also on page 3, on Cost management that sates:

“Increase user’ share of transportation costs, and decrease Taxpayers’ share of costs”

Which to me sounds like a pretty strong statement towards road pricing, and the tolling of the Pattullo Bridge replacement. In fact, on page 11, under Affordable Transportation Services, there is a long argument for moving towards ore of a user-pay principle for roads, including road pricing and tolling. 

Perhaps most interesting is the timeline for the plan, laid out on page 12. There we can see that many of the plans leading to 2013 were realized, with a few notable exceptions. It seems the entire discussion of High Occupancy Vehicle measures has disappeared.
Also, there are several areas in this plan where measurables are mentioned, and we seem to be in only thinking about measuring them as we go into the 2012 plan. From 56% of all traffic being through-traffic, to 50% of trucks being trough-traffic, to plans to collect bicycle travel data: it seems updating this information has lagged somewhat. 
There is also mention of Parking Management Programs, Access Management principles for commercial corridors, and Trip Reduction Programs, which seem to have not found the light of day. 
Still, if the City were to fully implement every good idea of the 1998 plan, we would be 90% of the way towards a great plan for 2012. Of course, in the era of Peak Oil, Climate Change, and twisted TransLink governance, we need to make some firm decisions about what we need for our City for the next 15 years. I just don’t think Jet Packs or hoverboards are going to solve our issues. 


He was a great intellect, a great writer, and a great drinker. The world is a lesser place now that Hitch is gone. With he an Hunter Thompson gone, are there any journalists left?
I cannot say I agreed with every opinion he held, but I don’t think I ever found flaw in his arguments. He was like Rex Murphy, but smart.  
My favorite Hitch quote was his reaction to a Fundamentalist Christian who, lacking sophisticated physiological knowledge, suggested that his esophageal cancer was some sort of directed punishment from God for using his throat to blaspheme:

“My so-far uncancerous throat . . . is not at all the only organ with which I have blasphemed.”

Amen, Mr. Hitchens.

Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout Part 4: Moore and Nukes

I opened up my analogue version of the Walrus and on page 28, there is “Patrick Moore, Ph.D, Environmentalist and Greenpeace Co-Founder” staring back at me from a glossy full-page ad extolling the environmental responsibility of the Alberta tar sands. His most recent shill for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers got me thinking it has been a while since I picked up his book. My seemingly endless review continues.

After much of the history and basic philosophy is dispatched, Moore’s book becomes a rather disjointed discussion of various environmental topics, and his “sensible environmentalist” approach to these issues.

His discussion of Energy starts with a rather nonsensical statement:

Motion requires energy, so without energy, time would stand still. (pg. 204)

Which reminds me of the Calvin & Hobbes comic where Calvin thought time had stopped, but it turned out his watch battery had died, but I digress.

His rather lengthy dismissal of most sustainable energy sources can be summarized into a few points: they are untested, unreliable and would require huge government subsidies to compete with what we have.

In many ways these very expensive technologies [wind and solar energy] are destroying wealth as they drain public and private investment away from more affordable and reliable energy-generating systems. (pg. 221)

I’m not sure how putting money into sustainable infrastructure constitutes “destroying wealth”, in fact I’m not even sure what “destroying wealth” means. He mixes this with even sillier arguments: solar panels are made of aluminum, and that takes energy to produce! How sustainable is that?

This is mostly preamble to his long argument about the wonders of Nuclear Power. Before I get too deep into it, I need to point out that I am not a reflexively “anti-nuclear” environmentalist. I think nuclear energy probably has a role in responsible energy policy, if it can be done safely with appropriate accounting for its waste streams. Those are, admittedly, very big “if”s.

I remember my first experiences writing reports and proposals in my life as a Consultant working for a major engineering firm. After interpreting some data, I wrote something along the lines of “the source of pollutant X cannot be determined”. My boss chuckled when reviewing it, and said “in Engineering, we never tell the client something cannot be done. It can always be done. We just need to outline for them the costs related to doing it, and they can decide if it should be done.” I asked what we do if the request really is impossible, and he remarked something along the lines of “impossible just means the technology isn’t there yet. So we budget the cost of developing the required technology”. I came to learn this is how engineers think. Bless them, the sorry bastards they are.

But along those lines, I do believe nuclear energy can be made safe (it is already way safer than getting energy from oil or coal), it is a question of costs and developing the appropriate technology. At this point, we have to decide whether that is a good investment in our money, or if the alternatives make more sense for our investment dollars.

However, this is where Dr. Moore’s argument falls apart. There hasn’t been a new nuclear plant built in the United States in decades, but it isn’t due to no-nukes fear mongering or radiation risks or a lack of political desire as Dr. Moore suggests, but due to something much more banal: economics.

Simply put, Nuclear Plants are too expensive to buildand too expensive to maintain. Currently, there is no business model to produce nuclear power capacity. Without significant government subsidies, like the ones Moore decries for truly sustainable energy alternatives like wind, geothermal and solar, there would be no nuclear industry at all. The people holding nuclear plants back are not environmentalists, they are accountants.

You wouldn’t know this from reading Moore’s book. On page 217, he decries Germany for subsidizing solar energy production to the order of $3 Billion, then, 33 pages later and seemingly unaware of the irony, Moore is extolling President Obama for providing more than $50 Billion in subsidies to Nuclear power industries. I guess you can’t “destroy wealth” by nuking it.

This pales in comparison to his silly arguments around radiation risk. I have written extensively on the poor understanding in the popular media of radiation risk, mostly around the unfounded local concern about impacts of Fukushima. Moore did not have the benefit of writing after Fukushima, but his argument around radiation risk is so Homer Simpsonian in it’s idiocy (and remember, I basically agree with him on Nuclear energy), all I can do is quote it verbatim from page 240:

…fire can be used to Burn down a City and kill Thousands of people. Should we ban fire for cooking and heating? Car bombs are made with fertilizer, diesel oil, and a car. Should we ban those three rather useful things? Guns can be used for hunting and for defending one’s country or for committing genocide?

Unfortunately, his argument for salmon farming is no more nuanced.

The Premier Year

I keep on saying I am generally non-partisan. I say that, because in 20+ years of voting, I have probably voted for most parties at least once. Maybe instead of saying non-partisan, I should say ” omni-partisan”. In the same way most omnivores will eat vegetables, meat, fruit, whatever, I am more than willing to taste any candidate, and see if I like them. 
I have very partisan friends who will always support their particular party of choice, often the same one their parents supported, and much like some vegans, they are doing so out of principle, not a real understanding of what it means or what the other food groups might have to offer. That is one way to go through your political life (or your dinner… is this metaphor getting a little thread-bare?), but I just don’t know what those people do when their party does something really stupid (like make Glen Clarke leader) or offers them a less-than-appetizing candidate (like Bill Vander Zalm). 
All of this is preamble to me saying I think Christy Clark is, so far, a terrible Premier. This is not a partisan attack, it is a judgement on her ability based on watching her operate for the last year. 
The latest example is a 5-minute YouTube video she has released, like an early Christmas gift to Adrian Dix and Grandpa Cummins, and embedded here for your viewing pleasure:

First off, it is billed as a “Conversation”, but much like this Government’s conversations on everything from the HST to the Gateway Project, this is really her telling us what she has to say (with quick edits between talking points). At least it is a source of some mild amusement. 
My first chuckle was at 0:27, when she started on about building public trust. I’m not sure paying hush money court costs to convicted felons builds a lot of trust. Especially when they seem to have taken the fall so the Premier can avoid testifying about her knowledge and the role of her brother in one of the largest cases of defrauding the Taxpayers ever perpetrated in this Province. Building public trust would be holding an independent investigation of the Basi and Virk cases, and to have the results of that investigation released to the public. 
The hilarity ensues at 0:45 when she proclaims a Municipal Auditor will assure the people of British Columbia are getting good value for their Municipal Tax dollar. This from the leader of the Government whose own Auditor last month called the accounting of the Gateway Project unsupportable, and has repeated chastised this very Government for not following appropriate accounting principles in their management of everything from BC Hydro to Provincial Corrections… Only to be ignored by this very Premier?

1:20 Here comes the Jobs Plan. Love that jobs plan. Equal parts selling off University eats to the highest overseas bidder (instead of making it easier for British Columbians to get the education they need to compete in the 21st Century global economy), and “cutting red tape” for mining companies, so we can compete with Chile and China on the global race to the bottom of mining environmental practices. 

2:00 sticking to our fiscal plan (hmmm…. How’s that deficit, Christy?) will somehow… Magically….create jobs. Kind of the Underpants Gnome model of fiscal planning. 

2:16 Small business is not the biggest employer in British Columbia. Christy Clark should know, because she is. The BC Public Service is the largest employer in the province by far. 

2:33 “when I talk about families…um…I think people get it”. Did that make anyone else cringe?

2:44 Random mom & baby shot? Oh! Now I get it! families! She sure looks understandin’ there. 

3:07 Nicotine cessation!?! Now I don’t get it anymore…

3:11 “We dealt with the HST, for example…” You have got to be kidding! The people of the province dealt with the HST! You lied about it, broke your leadership campaign promises about it, lost the referendum, and now are both dragging your feet getting rid of it, and using it as the catch-all excuse for your lack of financial prudence.  When it comes to the HST, you were the one that got dealt. 

3:54 Those tough challenges have “brought people together”? Like Barry Penner, and Iain Black? Or more like the 30% of BC voters who still support the Liberal Government? 

I’ve said it before, the Lady just lacks gravitas. She is so heavy on the aw-shucks folksy (note the paucity of the letter “g” at the end of words: she is “workin’ at”, “talkin’ to”, and “tryin’ to”) that it belies her corporate collar and big-ass pearls. Pressing your fingers together in front of you to emphasize vapid platitudes does not make them into kernels of great wisdom. 

But mostly, she says nothing. She is good at listing concerns, but where is her plan? Where is the Water Act update, delayed for three years now? Where is the plan to fix the governance of BC Hydro, TransLink, and BC Ferries? Where is your energy plan? How about the ongoing dispute with Teachers? Where are you, Ms. Clark, on anything that matters?

If you were really listening to British Columbians, you would be doing what the majority want right now: calling an election. 

On Kyoto – the Accord, not the Block.

At this point no one is surprised, but somehow, the lack of surprise makes the disappointment stronger. After nine years of avoidance, denial, accusation, obfuscation and stupidity, Canada has finally taken the plunge. We walked away from an international agreement because we want to keep profiteering from our own irresponsibility, but don’t want to pay the toll for doing so. So much for being an honest broker; so much for solemn commitments to our international partners

To all the countries that took serious effortsto deal with greenhouse gasses? Suckers! To those who were exempted from reductions because your per capita output was a minuscule percentage of Canada’s? Get Bent! To those low-lying countries that will become inhabitable due to our insatiable need to burn gas thirst for freedom of choice? Cry me a freaking river. This is Harper’s Canada now, so you can all suck eggs.

But hey! They said it was impossible, because of the Liberals’ lack of action. Let’s not mention that the Kyoto Protocol was ratified in 2002, and Harper took office in 2006. Today is 2011. The goals set out for Kyoto have until 2020 to be met. Yeah, the Liberals were asses for sitting on their hands for four years, but you had one more year than the Liberals did, Harper, and we are still 9 years from 2020. Time to stop blaming them for your failure.

Kent is an embarrassment, but he was sent to Durban to be an embarrassment, so I guess he did his job. He whinged that Canada only produces 2% of the world’s GHG, so countries like China and India need to take the lead. Of course, China and India were signatories in Kyoto, and would now be developing reasonable targets for reductions if the agreement had survived Copenhagen and Durban. Telling the truth was not Kent’s game plan, though. He showed up with a plan to roadblock the whole thing, then took his ball and went home. Blocked the other guys at the party from talking the girl, then broke up with her by text message after he got home. Jerk.

The fact Canada, with 0.5% of the worlds population produces 2% of the GHG isn’t his problem. The fact we are #6 in the world overall in total emmissions though we are the #10 economy in the world is not relevant. That we are in the top 10 per capita emmitters in the world per capita is a non-issue. Somehow, Greenhouse gasses are everyone else’s problem.

Tearing up international agreements and punitively punishing the worlds poorest countries? It isn’t Harper’s fault: it is China’s, or Africa’s, or Obama’s or Chretien’s, or David Suzuki’s for getting us in this mess in the first place. or so I understand from watching Sun News.


This is, without a doubt, the most shameful point in Canada’s formerly-proud history as an international leader in common sense and good governance.

Master Transportation Plan and Complete Streets.

I posted this picture last week as a bit of a joke, but it really isn’t that funny to people who try to use bikes to get about. The Internet is full of ridiculous images of bicycle infrastructure build in such a way that it completely fails as bicycle infrastructure. The blog Bike Snob NYC always has great photos of these types of things, but they can be found anywhere transportation engineers try to fit a bike lane on the side of a road built for cars. 

It isn’t just the engineers. Bike lanes are used as bus stops, as right turn lanes, as defacto parking spots, as loading zones, as trash dumps, as construction staging areas, and as walkways. It is no wonder cyclists often feel safer on the sidewalk.
I was in a Public meeting where a Transportation Engineer for a major City in the Lower Mainland opined that cyclists got no respect from drivers because they were always hopping on and off of the sidewalks and no-one knew if they were pedestrians or cars. My only response to this is that cyclists do what they can with the infrastructure they are given. Hopping on and off is a sidewalk is actually quite the hassle for a cyclist when they really just want to be where they feel safest, and at times that is the sidewalk, at times that is the street. If the transition between the two is erratic, that is a damnation of the transportation engineer, not the cyclist. 
The problem is usually found in how old-school transportation engineers see bicycles and pedestrians: as things to accommodate as best as you can while building a road for cars and trucks. A “transportation” project is building a road, a bridge, or an overpass. After the road is designed to accommodate the traffic as best as possible. Then is the time to have the baubles attached: sidewalks and bike paths (if the budget allows).
There is a better way. There is a movement in the Excited States to encourage local governments to adopt a “Complete Streets Policy“. In essence, Complete Streets are those:

“…designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities must be able to safely move along and across a complete street.

The idea is that pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, along with infrastructure to allow people with mobility challenges to get around, are integrated in to the design at the top level, not added on a baubles afterwards. 
New Westminster is actually not too bad at this, really. Compared to other jurisdictions, we have a pretty pedestrian-friendly City. Those sidewalk bumps installed on Royal Ave that were the source of much mirth this previous election season are a relatively successful product of adding pedestrian-friendly elements to an infrastructure designed to move cars. Part of this might be a result of the “Pedestrian Charter” that the City established a few years ago. 
This doesn’t mean that all is well. The ongoing saga of 5th and 5th, where changes of the intersection to accommodate grocery trucks resulted in completely untenable compromises for pedestrians and cyclists, is an example of one user’s needs being met without consideration of the other users. 
So I am suggesting that the City’s Master Transportation Plan include a reccommendation to adopt a home-grown Complete Streets Policy. This will expand the idea of the Pedestrians Charter to include all users: pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, the mobility challenged, and those who, but choice or by neccessity, are stuck behind windshields. There are lots of examples available on-line of Complete Street Policies created by other jurisdictions, and one could easily be adapted to the New Westminster situation. 
Instead of figuring out ways to accommodate “alternative” users, we can design our roads and sidewalks and bike paths and green ways to work together to move all users through as efficiently as possible. Who can argue with that?

My reign-ending speech

The New Westminster Environmental Partners held their Annual General Meeting last week. It was a good event, with a couple of guest speakers talking about Energy Resiliency, or the challenges and opportunities that we face going into a reduced-greenhouse-gas and post-peak-oil economy. The event attendance was O.K., but could have been better.true to various planning conflicts, the only date we could hold the event happened to be on the same day that New Westminster was inaugurating it’s new City Council, so A lot of the movers and shakers in town were up at City Hall. We still had representation for the City and a couple of the candidates from the last election in attendance, and a diverse group of people, many I have not seen at an NWEP event before, which was great to see.

Since it was the Annual General Meeting , I was required to give a “State of the Partners” speech. People who know me know I can tend to run on, but am not that good reading from a script, so I had some notes and started rambling from them. Here, for the record, is a roughly accurate but in no way transcribed transcript of my speech. 

Hello and thank you for coming. It is my last task as President of the NWEP to provide a State of the Society speech. I am Patrick Johnstone, and I have been working as President of the NWEP for two years, not since the beginning of the NWEP, but since the beginning of the NWEP as a registered non-profit society. 

The NWEP mission is on our website and reads as such:

New Westminster Environmental Partners will work with residents, businesses and government agencies within the city, to achieve environmental, social and economic sustainability in New Westminster through the identification of issues, education, public advocacy, the promotion of best practices and the implementation of effective projects.

So maybe I can highlight a few ways we have fulfilled this mission since last year’s AGM.

Actually, it started with last year’s AGM, when we held a forum on Sustainable Transportation. The thinking at the time was the upcoming Master Transportation Plan for the City, the potential impacts off the Gateway Program on New Westminster, and the ongoing debate about TransLink governance and funding issues around starting work on the Evergreen Line. It was a great discussion, and remarkably prescient, considering that only 9 days after our 2010 AGM, was the infamous “Donnybrook” TransLink open house that introduced the United Boulevard Extension to the people of New Westminster.

Fresh from sharing new ideas on Sustainable Transportation at last year’s forum, the NWEP Transportation Group got very involved in the UBE consultations, and worked with the  MSRA, VACC, and the Council of Canadians, to see that any project that came forward supported sustainable transportation planning. When it became apparent that this project was going to have significant negative impacts on the livability of New Westminster, The Transportation group were pretty happy to see TransLink recognize that their plans did not meet the expectations of the community and call off the UBE. A year later, the City is planning to develop our waterfront to be human space, now that the North Fraser Perimeter Road is no longer threatening to replace our waterfront with a freeway.

There were critics of TransLink and the consultation process, and there were those calling for protest and taking a more confrontational approach, but the NWEP are not all that good at protest. We have more commonly taken an engagement approach. The UBE experience showed that this approach can be effective. This consultation did not end with the cancellation of the UBE – but continued, as the Transportation Group has continued to engage stakeholders, including a presentation to the TransLink board, on addressing ongoing goods and people movement issues in New Westminster.

Another thing the NWEP did this year is improve our on-line presence, with a new website (NWEP.CA). First off, it looks great, and the architecture is, I’m told, much more modern and easier to manage. The Matts – Lorenzi and Laird – have put in a lot of time and a lot of their combined techie knowledge into making it work, and I thank them. Now that the structure is good, we need to put a bit of effort as a larger group into adding content and applications to it, to give people a reason to come to the site on a regular basis. we have also reached out in the Social Media with a more active Facebook Page ( or group or like or whatever Facebook is calling it this week) and a Twitter presence.

There were two elections this year – federal and municipal. The NWEP is non-partisan as an organization, but that doesn’t mean our members don’t have opinions! However, as most NWEP members think sustainability should be on every party’s and candidate’s platform – we have seen our role as assuring that those issues become part of the conversation during the election cycle. We did this in two ways:

   -Working with 10th to the Fraser, we created candidate surveys asking questions relevant to sustainability to hear where the different candidates stand on these issues, and provided the answers for the public to review.

  – Working again with 10th to the Fraser and NEXT New West, we held an all-candidates event for each election.  Instead of having another dull debate-style meeting in a school gym with bad acoustics and worse communications,  we held more social meetings where speeches were kept to a minimum and the voters were encouraged to have one-on-one conversations with the candidates. This allowed the public to actually meet the Candidates, learn who they are, and have their concerns addressed on a more personal level. These events were incredibly well received by both the voters and the candidates, and I hope this is a model that spreads across the land. 

This year saw the first annual New West Doc Fest, organized mostly by Andrew Murray working with the Green Ideas Network. This was an incredibly well-run and well-received event. For people running a film festival for the first time, it went brilliantly, technically perfect, lots of interesting movies and other entertainment opportunities, and a chance to expand the sustainability conversation in the city. Far a first year, this was a great chance to work out the bugs or running this type of event, and still ended up running a small surplus to serve as seed funding for next year’s Fest. The NWEP role in the Doc Fest was to provide logistical support, some banking help, and a ton of volunteer help.

New Westminster’s local public contribution to the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup was largely the result of a lot of hard work by Karla Olsen. We worked with the City’s environment and engineering departments, and with Evergreen to pull it off.  A group of public volunteers, including two City Councillors,  collected 95 kg of trash from the Queensborough shoreline, and did a concentrated invasive species pull: saving a Douglas fir from an English ivy attack, and knocking back a patch of Japanese Knotweed to keep the shoreline as pristine as possible. This was all because Karla thought it would be a good idea, and found a group of people at the NWEP to help out, provide some  facilitating contacts, and some media connections. Again, we just provided resources and assistance, this is an event that was powered my a small group of volunteers and took Karla’s persistence and unrelenting energy to be successful. 

This is an important thing about how the NWEP works. The NWEP is not a board of 7 people who come up with ideas about how to save the world, then tell the membership to go do it. The model we have been operating on is one where the members bring ideas to meetings, and find like-minded people to help out. The job of the board is to provide the structure that allows us to operate under the Societies Act – structures like this AGM. Structures like a bank account and financial documentation to apply for grants, get appropriate insurance, or attract sponsors for things like the New West Doc Fest. Structures like a volunteer core and a network in the media and in the City to help the members’s ideas see the light of day like we did in the Shoreline Cleanup. 

If you are familiar with Venn diagrams: that is what the member list of the NWEP might look like. The NWEP have various groups like the Transportation Group, the Energy Group, the Trash Talkers, and a Board, and like spheres in a Venn Diagram, these groups overlap somewhat. When a new set of issues come up, or an initiative comes up, we don’t look to the board to organize it, we look at who might be interested, and get them involved. 

This model doesn’t work perfectly. Often people have ideas that are great, but we don’t have the critical mass of members or volunteers to make it happen. Sometimes the group can’t come up with the strategy of how to move an initiative forward.  But this model allows a small group of volunteers to concentrate on things for which they have a passion, and to assure you are never, as a volunteer, stuck doing something you do not believe in.  One thing that doesn’t work in this model is for someone to come to an NWEP meeting and say “you should do something about X”. Whenever someone says that to me, I reply: “you are right, you should do something! maybe we can help…” 

So maybe you came here tonight with an idea about what the NWEP should be doing, or maybe today’s talk by our speakers will spark an idea that you think deserves following up here in New West…If those happen, then I ask you to consider what you think you can do, and how you think the NWEP can help.  

So thank you for coming out and listening to my pitch, thank you to the many people I see out there who helped on one or more initiatives this year. As I said, I have decided not to serve a third term as President, as I think fresh ideas bring renewed energy. I am going to keep working with the NWEP, though, because I think we do good work, punch well above our weight, and that the organization is making New Westminster a better place to live and do business. So thank you all for caring enough to do what you can.
As I have told several people who asked, I am not leaving the NWEP, nor is there some sort of rift in the group (at least not that I’m aware of!) However, as a relatively young organization, I think it is good if we provide lots of opportunities for different people to set the vision. The standing Directors going into the second year of their terms (Vladimir Krasnogor, Andrew Murray and Marcel Pitre) are complimented by the re-elected Founder of the NWEP Matt Laird; long time Trash Talker and Energy Group activist Ginny Ayers; renowned cyclist, physicist, and knitter Reena Meijer Drees; and author and organizer Karla Olsen. It is a good team, and I hope to see good things in the next year. I’ll be there as Past President serving as a non-voting board member. I also have a few creative ideas about projects for next year, but will wait until the first NWEP meeting in January to talk about those.

Here comes the Pattullo

It seems that the City’s Master Transportation Plan might not be the biggest transportation story in the New Year.
TransLink is once again launching public consultations on the replacement for the Pattullo Bridge, early in 2012. Lucky for us, TransLink provides lots of on-line material to review before we enter the consultation phase. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, for all of their faults, TransLink has been doing a good job in public consultation
If I can be reductionist, I think we can summarize the discussion around the Pattullo as coming down to three questions: Fix or replace; How many lanes; and whether to toll or not. As you might expect, I have opinions on each of these. 
On the first question, there is a lot of material on the TransLink site that addresses this question, summing up to a pretty compelling argument. As much as I love the aesthetics of the old steel arch-truss, it seems the bridge is reaching the end of it’s service life. The steel and concrete are deteriorating, the bridge does not meet modern seismic standards, and the way the bridge interacts with the river is not what would be considered good engineering practice in 2011. 
If one wanted to counter this argument, we could point at dozens of older bridges around the world that are built with similar materials, and that all of these issues could be addressed with a serious refurbishment of the existing structure, but I a not going to doubt the engineers when they say that the cost-benefit math for replacement just works out better. Reuse and recycling are good ideas, but so is efficient use of limited public funds. If the business case for replacement is better that repair, then that is the way to go.
The one part of the TransLink argument about replacement I will argue is the “traffic safety issue”. The fact there has not been a serious accident on the bridge since the evening lane closures were introduced shows that traffic management can deal with the safety on the bridge. I’m not the first to note that enforcing the 50 km/h speed limit with photo radar would be a cheap and easy way to essentially remove the risk of fatal head-ons, but apparently, votes are more important than public safety. That said, the current Pattullo is one of the worst crossings for pedestrians and (especially) bikes, so as a price of sustainable transportation infrastructure, it fails.
So question #1 seems to be settled in TransLink’s mind. They are going to replace the bridge at some point before the old one falls down. Therefore the consultation is going to focus on how they replace it. 
Which brings us to Question #2: How many lanes. 
The consultation materials are, up to here, a little vague on the lane count issue. They mention that four-lane and six-lane options are on the table. It is only in the March 2011 Options Assessment Report done by Delcan where there is any discussion of the lane count, and the summary is thus:
A new six lane bridge will provide opportunities to improve the connectivity on both sides of the river with additional connections to both the North Fraser Perimeter Road and the South Fraser Perimeter Road. The additional lane in each direction, as compared to the existing bridge or a new four lane bridge, will provide improved operations across the river, especially for large trucks travelling across the bridge to / from the regionally significant Perimeter Roads.
So the justification for extra lanes seems based on the increased traffic demand created by the South and North Fraser Perimeter Roads. Clearly this was written prior to the NFPR being abandoned. They also make it clear that the new Pattullo will not be connected to Front Street, but will remain connected to Royal and McBride. So the first question we should be answering in New Westminster is if we are ready and willing to accept a 50% increase in traffic arriving from the Pattullo. We know that traffic will go along McBride to 10th, along Royal to Stewardson, and along East Columbia to Brunette. Any suggestion that an increase in Pattullo lanes will reduce traffic congestion in New Westminster are, frankly, preposterous.
I think the most rational approach for New Westminster is to build a 4-lane replacement. Coincidentally, this may be the most radical approach as well. Think about it, a major piece of automobile infrastructure replaced with infrastructure of the same size. I don’t think it has ever been done in Greater Vancouver. It would put into steel and concrete the ideals that both the Regional District and TransLink have been talking about for decades: Planning for more a sustainable transportation system; encouraging Transit use and active transportation options, building more compact, transit-oriented neighborhoods so people need to drive less. 
If the region and TransLink are serious about planning for a post-Peak Oil era, if the Province and the Region are serious about managing their Green House Gas emissions, if Diane Watts wants serious investment in Rapid Transit for South of the Fraser, and if New Westminster is ready to hold the line on ever-increasing traffic on it’s local roads, then let’s have the courage to build a 4-lane Pattullo and put our money where our ideals are. 
Question #3 is a big one, and I think I will hold off on commenting about that until another post.