Can we avoid a stroad problem in New West?

The word “stroad” is a slightly tongue-in-cheek portmanteau combining “street” with “road”, and it is becoming such common parlance in city planning that even small towns in Pennsylvania are talking about how to deal with them. The term came from people who understand the difference between how a “street” operates, and how a “road” operates. The former is a place where people do things, like socialize and perform commerce; the latter is a conduit for travel to get somewhere else. The term “stroad” pinpoints the problem created when you try to combine those two mutually exclusive uses into the same space.

I would argue that New Westminster has very effectively dealt with one stroad in its midst when the Council of the day put Columbia Street on a road diet. I remember the boo-birds talking about the disaster that would befall the City, and many of them still pop up to complain about pedestrian bumps or crosswalks or any other thing the City does to make the pedestrian space safer. Columbia is not back to being the Miracle Mile of the 1940s, and it never will be. However there is no doubt it is a better place for walking, for shopping, for living and for driving, than it was in the 1990s.


Stroads are rarely created intentionally, they evolve into existence, with a bunch of small (and at the time, seemingly rational) decisions. Most commonly, a city finds one of its shopping streets is increasingly used by through-commuters. In hopes of eking some value out of this apparent windfall, automobile-oriented development happens along the route, displacing the existing landuse with the intent to capture the fleeting attention of through-commuters. This (often strip-mall commercial) development also attracts local drivers who used to shop on the street, and now blend with the through-commuters. Congestion is exacerbated, and the engineering solution is to increase capacity. You widen the road, removing on-street parking if necessary, which requires you to build parking lots, further separating the road from the businesses, and creates in-out driveways or more light-controlled intersections, which slows the through-drivers. To fix this, you put in a left-turn lane or two so the through-traffic doesn’t get stuck, then a right-turn lane to get them even further unstuck. Which kind of works for a while (see Byrne Road and Marine, or Kingsway at Metrotown), as long as you have a bottomless asphalt budget.


All of the sudden, you have a road in the middle of your City right in the middle of the street in the middle of your City. Anyone who wants to try to put value into the street by using their local commercial businesses discover the shops are behind expansive parking lots that are hard to get into or out of, and walking across the street means braving 40 metres of asphalt where the people trying to turn right through the crosswalk are separated from the people trying to pull a left turn across traffic by the people in between speeding along to be the first to get to the next red light, frustrated by all the traffic. So, complicated light timing, “pedestrian islands”, or expensive overpasses are required to make the space marginally safe for people who failed to bring along 3,000lbs of metal when they went to buy a loaf of bread. And we have built a stroad.


Stroads are expensive to build and maintain. They move traffic poorly, yet provide the appearance of moving it well, which paradoxically increases induced demand while not actually increasing capacity. They are dangerous for all users, but especially for cyclists and pedestrians, who end up avoiding their chosen mode because the stroads are so uninviting. Worst of all, they strip away the value of expensive and precious urban land space, and contribute less to the local economy than an active street. They represent a planning failure, an engineering failure, and a leadership failure that must be avoided in modern urban areas.

So when you hear about plans for East Columbia Street, 12th Street, Ewen Avenue, 6th Street or 20th Street, or any of the busy streets in New Westminster, think to yourself: do we want this to be a street, or a road? Without first making that distinction, we will inevitably hedge towards a stroad, and end up with neither.


Now that we are deep enough into the Anthropogenic Global Warming crisis that only the whackiest of whackaloons are still denying its existence or the serious impacts it is going to have on planetary livability, a whole different type of whacky thought is filling the airwaves. These have to do with a variety of techniques to suck CO2 out of the sky and turn atmospheric carbon into something useful like carbon nanotubes or alternative fuels.

These schemes are no doubt possible. The problem is that they don’t solve the actual problem, which isn’t carbon in the air, it is about making energy by putting carbon in the air. To talk about that, we need to talk about thermodynamics.

The Laws of Thermodynamics are pretty fundamental science. They cannot, in the normal universe where we live, be violated. They were once summed up to me in this analogy which helps to keep track of them*:

1st Law: You can’t win.
2nd Law: You can’t even break even.
3rd Law: You can’t get out of the game.

The one we are most worried about here is the 2nd Law, which essentially says that any time energy changes states, there is a net increase in entropy. In other words, every time you use energy to do something, you lose a bit of energy. It is the 2nd Law that makes perpetual motion machines impossible.

Relating this to schemes to pull carbon out of the air and make it useful, it is important to realize we don’t just toss CO2 into the air for the fun of it. For the most part we do it to use the energy released when you combine carbon with oxygen, be it energy to drive our cars/planes/ships or energy to generate electricity. We do this because the act of combining carbon with oxygen releases energy in the form of heat (which is a whole different chemistry lecture we should save for Beer Friday). We can do the same thing backwards, strip the oxygen off of the carbon, but that takes energy, and (this is where the 2nd Law comes in) a little bit more energy than it produced during the original combination.

So all of those schemes you see that will turn CO2 into something useful, no matter how efficient they are, will require more energy than we gained when we created the CO2 in the first place. So it makes way more sense to simply not produce the CO2 in the first place. instead, we could use the energy we would dedicate to sucking it out of the air and making carbon nanotubes out of it back into doing whatever job we wanted to do with the energy we gained in the first place when we added the oxygen to the carbon. As a bonus, we can still make the carbon nanotubes out of any of a zillion existing carbon sources we have on the planet, be they plants, rocks, or hydrocarbons, without the need to waste a bunch of energy stripping oxygen off of the carbon.  That way the carbon stays out of the atmosphere, we use less energy, and we are all better off.

The reality is that the “technological fix” of climate change is nothing shocking, cutting edge or freaky; it is in our hand right now. It is no more complicated than stopping the taking of carbon out of the ground to combine with oxygen for cheap energy when there is an abundance of alternatives available. But it starts with recognizing this “cheap” form of energy is a false economy, as is betting the future on big fans and diamonds from the sky.

*there is a 4th Law, but since it was developed later, and then determined to be more fundamental, the physics community called it the “0th Law”, just to reinforce those points. In the analogy above, it would be translated as “We are all playing the same game”

Opening Streets

Much like this earlier post, I want to address a common use of language that has been bugging me of late: that around “closing” streets to hold events. It is a convenient term we use in a City to organize traffic management, emergency planning and engineering needs, but it is wrong. It implies that our streets are only there to serve people driving along them, or for temporary storage of your vehicle while you are off doing other things. There is so much more we can do with our streets when we stop worrying about “closing” them, and start creating better ways to “open” them.

Last weekend, I was at the New West Pride Street Party on Columbia Street, where two lanes of road was indeed closed for 10 hours so that people could walk, sit, talk, drink, dance, shop, share, eat, sing, and celebrate. I defy anyone to look at this picture of Columbia Street (which I borrowed from Bif Naked, because her view was better than mine!) and tell me that street is closed:

A photo posted by Bif Naked (@missbifnaked) on

This weekend, we are doing it again, with 70 food trucks and (if last year’s event is any evidence) tens of more thousands of people will be enjoying themselves on Columbia Street. These are not just New Westminster people, but folks from around the region coming to New Westminster to add to the vitality of our downtown, support local businesses and entrepreneurs from around the region, and hopefully discover that Downtown New Westminster is a great place to spend some time, not just a place to drive through.


I also noted a news story this week about the Royal City Farmers Market plans to move uptown for their winter market season. The story mentions “Belmont Street will be closed to traffic from 11 am to 3 pm”. This statement is only true if you define “traffic” as cars. I am willing to bet that there will be more people using Belmont Street for those 4 hours every second Saturday than on any other day – it is just that the “traffic” will be on foot. By being on foot, they are more likely to stop, to shop, to talk to their neighbours and enjoy a laugh. People can, just with their presence, bring several hundred square metres of dead asphalt to life by making it a place of human interaction and commerce, not  just a place for cars to drive and park.

Language matters, so let’s stop talking about a day where tens of thousands of people flood onto our streets as a “Road Closure”; let’s start calling it a “Street Opening”.

Ask Pat: Pier Park shade

Liz D asks—

Hey Pat, the New West Moms Group (#NWMG) loves Pier Park for the playground and sandbox and grassy space by the parking lot, but it is in dire need of some shade. Any chance some umbrellas or something can be added? Thanks!

Yikes! I’ve seen the #NWMG button on a lapel or two, I’ve heard rumours, but not being a Mom (and my Mom not living in #NewWest), this is my first personal encounter with this shadowy cabal…

So here’s the deal: you are probably asking the wrong guy. I can suggest such a thing to Parks staff, and they can let me know how much it would cost to do it, and if it is totally within some discretionary budget and fits the larger Parks plan, then it can probably happen pretty quick. But in that case it is just as likely to happen if you contact Parks folks yourself. It seems like one of those obvious ideas to make the park easier for people to use, and they can add it to their capital plan for improvements/maintenance on the park.

PCR have a great Contact form here that makes it easy for you to drop them suggestions like this:

Now, this might raise the question: if I am a Big-shot Councillor, why don’t I just tell them to do this? What use am I? The answer is that I am still working out this entire being-a-politician thing, and I am still trying to figure out where my boundaries are, and where they should be, when asking staff to do things. And that probably takes a longer explanation.

There are obvious times when asking staff to do stuff is totally within bounds. I have asked staff to do administrative tasks related to my role as Councillor – dig out old reports for me, explain to me how a current policy works, reply to official correspondence, coordinate meeting schedules, etc. I have even given (and received) a fair number of opinions about what we should or shouldn’t be doing as a City. This is all obvious and above the board.

There is another level of asking staff to do stuff that is rather out of bounds: I cannot directly ask staff to change City policy or provide a direct service to me or my neighbour, or move their paving schedule or shift how parks operate. Directly asking staff for (as an example) specific roads to be paved is outside of the legislative power of a single Councillor, and is (IMO) a shitty way to wield influence. I just don’t think that is my role as an elected official, and to do so messes up the entire organization structure of how a complicated corporation like a City should work.

The sticky area in between is when someone convinces me (to continue the example) a road needs to be paved. At this point, I think the right path for me to address this is to get the person who wants it paved to write official correspondence to the City making the request (or send in a SeeClickFix). I can follow up and get clarity from the Engineering Department about what the paving schedule is, where that road is on the calendar, and can, in an extreme case, ask staff to go look at a road I am concerned about and make sure their assessment of it is still accurate. They may agree with me, or they may not, but I cannot (and should not) as a single elected official try to unilaterally override their professional opinion. That is bad for the organization.

However, just like I can sometimes be wrong, so can (again, only for this example) Engineering staff. If I feel this is the case, the proper path for me to try to change their mind is to take the idea to my Council colleagues, through Committees and/or Council Meetings. If I can convince the majority of Council to override the existing paving schedule to fix my favoured road first, then at least we have done it publically, any implied conflict is open and transparent, and Council can take the political flak or credit for it.

Now, this example is embarrassingly simplistic, and there are other paths a Councillor can take to make change in the City, but I am still new enough and idealistic enough to think that for me to give orders to staff that includes changing policy or spending money that would otherwise be allocated for other purposes, it needs to go through Council. What a newb.

So much like an earlier Ask Pat request regarding baby change tables at Pier Park, I think it is a good idea, am happy to suggest it to staff, am making no promises, and request that you make the same suggestion directly to Parks!

Thanks Mom.

On the Election

Why am I going to hate this election (and you should too)? It’s not the falsehoods, the equivocation, or even the lies. It is the willful and purposeful denial of any kind of objective reality.

There was a blip of faux outrage last week when a prominent NDP candidate in Toronto suggested that the secret NDP plan was to shut down Canada’s oil industry (the sarcasm there is mine). In the Conservative social media echo chamber, this is how it played out:




Now compare this faux outrage to the actual quote:

“A lot of the oil sands oil may have to stay in the ground if we’re going to meet our climate change targets”

This is about as innocuous a statement as can be made about the future of the Bituminous Sands and their impact on Canada’s greenhouse gas targets. Nothing in that quote is the least bit controversial, except perhaps to the small number of people who still think Anthropogenic Climate change is a hoax.

Our current government, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has committed to reducing our greenhouse gasses, meeting internationally-agreed-upon reduction targets by 2030, and to transitioning to a carbon free economy by the end of the Century. Those are the stated aspirational goals of the Canadian government, announced by the Current Prime Minister back in June. These targets exist, and every party running in this election wants to meet or exceed those targets.

Similarly, there can be no dispute that the complete extraction of all 168 Billion barrels of proven reserves from the Bituminous Sands of the Alberta Basin will result in greenhouse gas emissions that would not allow us to meet those targets – the ones set by the current government of Stephen Harper. If we take them out of the ground, those oil reserves will represent all of our countries’ GHG emissions in 20 years, where currently, oil and gas only represent about 25% of our total emissions. So if we want to extract all of the oil and gas and meet our targets, we will need to do none of the other stuff… no cars, no agriculture, no aircraft, no cement plants or burning coal or heating our buildings. If we wish to keep doing those things, and if we plan to meet our GHG targets, then, sorry, folks, some of the bitumen is going to have to stay in the bituminous sands. It is simple math.

Back to that quote, though. Note the statement “A lot of the oil sands oil may have to stay in the ground if we’re going to meet our climate change targets” is not a policy statement, it isn’t an aspirational goal or a controversial idea – it is a simple statement of mathematics. How can this be controversial?

If there is a controversy to be found here, it is in the fact that no-one from the current government (or, for the most part, the opposition parties) has yet made this math explicit to their supporters: the plans of this government are fundamentally at odds with the stated goals of this government, once you take the time to do a little math. Perhaps the controversy here should be that she equivocated by saying “may” instead of “must”, and “if” instead of “when”.

After watching the interview, it was clear that the concept was goaded out of the NDP candidate by the Conservative on the panel by placing a quote from arch-conservative former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed into her mouth in an attempt to re-direct the discussion from the topic at hand (that the Prime Minister had shifted his position on the existence of a recession). When confronted with the math, the Conservative somehow thought admitting that math to industry sends the wrong message, she suggests we should somehow “stand up for the energy sector” in the face of this math.

Which, I presume, means lying about the math. To the Industry, to the Canadian public, to your voting base, to pretty much anyone who will listen.

But when the social media took over, this was somehow a reckless “policy” that was going to cost Canada 100,000 jobs, a number either pulled out of someone’s arse, or (more likely) an appeal to Ontario voters who still remember the “100,000 Job Cut” quote from the disastrous Tim Hudak Conservative campaign in that province (which circles us back to here, ugh).

The entire meme is as idiotic as it is predictable. Instead of having a discussion about what our international commitments mean to Canada, instead of talking about what those commitments mean to our employment prospects, instead of discussing the multitude of other jobs that could be created by investing in the climate change solutions instead of doubling down on the cause of the problem, we have this stupid meme where people are raging about how admitting the math of the problem is Bad for Bidness.

Fortunately, since the “story” broke, a few sources have called out the math-denying tactics of the Conservatives here, but not enough. This raises the question of how our discourse degraded to the point where stating a simple scientific fact, even one littered with weasel words like “may” and “if”, really so controversial? Is it any wonder that message control is so tight in this new era? And what does that mean for representative democracy?

So as much as I want you to pay attention and get informed this election, I don’t want that topic to dominate this blog site, so after this post, you will (probably) not read much about the Federal Election here. If you really want to hear my updated and ongoing opinions on this topic (Hi Mom!), go over to my Facebook Page, where I will be counting down the days to the election, with a thought of the day. Or, you know, buy me a beer and ask me.

Council Report – August 4, 2015 (!)

It occurred to me that I didn’t do a Council Report for the strange little council meeting we held on August 4th. It was so quick, I almost missed it myself, which is interesting as I (as acting Mayor) was the chair! (see photo above, courtesy Councillor Puchmayr)

The meeting was called to allow a public opportunity to be heard on Bylaw No. 7772, 2015. There is a bit of a background story as to why we called a special meeting for this.

There are various rules about how a bylaw can be adopted, and some require public Opportunity to be Heard. The public must be given adequate notice, and have the opportunity to provide a written comment or appear before Council to plead their case about why the Bylaw should or should not be adopted. “Adequate notice” is defined in the Section 94 of the Community Charter (which is why big billboard signs are in front of lots undergoing rezoning, and why there are all those boring drawings in the City Page in the newspaper). There is also a requirement (in Section 135 of the Community Charter) that there must be at least one day between the third reading of a Bylaw and adoption, meaning a Council cannot write up, read, approve, and adopt a bylaw all in one day.

As amendments to Bylaws take Bylaws themselves, the factors above caused us to not be able to amend Bylaw 7509, 2012 during our last meetings of the summer, as it require an amending Bylaw, the aforementioned 7772, 2015. The reason we needed to amend it is just as arcane and bureaucratic.

Bylaw 7509, 2012 was essentially a land-exchange deal between the City and a couple of land owners on Queensborough. You can go through the report and look at the drawings, but essentially, pieces of road allowance were sold to the adjacent land owners to rectify an historic alignment issue. Apparently, one of the landowners never executed the agreement, leaving a stranded piece of land, and was now ready to execute, with a fairly tight deadline for closure. Problem is, the Provincial Land Title Office requirements for registered drawings have changed since 2012, so the work had to be re-surveyed, and since the drawings referred to in the 2012 Bylaw are not the same as the drawings being used in 2015 for the land exchange, an amendment to the 2012 Bylaw was required to refer to the 2015 drawings.

So in the interest of public service, Council agreed to a Special Meeting to allow for proper advertizing, an opportunity to be heard, and adoption of the Bylaw. As no-one submitted any written correspondence, and no-one took the opportunity to be heard at the Special Meeting, council voted to adopt the new Bylaw. The updated drawings are no the Law of the Land.

We also (since we were getting together anyway) adopted Bylaw 7771, 2015 (Development Agreement for Riversky, which was given Third Reading on July 13, 2015), and Bylaw 7740, 2015 (Zoning Amendment for 318 and 328 Agnes, which saw Third Reading on April 27, 2015).

And we were done in 5 minutes, my short tenure in the Mayor’s Chair over in the blink of an eye.

We will see you all on August 31st, where Council is Meeting at the Anvil Centre. Yes, we are taking Council on the Road at the end of Summer, meeting in three different neighbourhoods. After the Downtown meeting, we will meet on September 14 at the Queensborough Community Centre, then on September 28th at the Sapperton Pensioners Hall. Should be fun!

Art in my absence

I’m going out of town this weekend!

Yes, I am actually leaving New Westminster for a weekend. I’m visiting my favourite Mom-in-Law on Saturna Island and giving a talk at the Gulf Island National Park Reserve sunset stories series on one of my favourite topics.

That means I am going to miss one of New Westminster’s best annual events – so I am making up for it by encouraging you to attend in my place and give the organizers my regrets.

The New Westminster Cultural Crawl is happening Saturday and Sunday, has been powered by the indomitable Trudy at the Van Dop Gallery for 12 years now. The Crawl is an opportunity for you to have a New West weekend staycation, and interact with literally dozens of artists across several venues. It is self-guided, no stress, and many events are interactive, so like the best of Staycations: all fun, no pressure. It doesn’t matter what neighbourhood you are in, and there is enough variety to keep everyone entertained.

Yes, there are a lot of galleries, including the incredible Van Dop, the Arts Council one in Queens Park, where the current showing explores local LGBTQ artists (fitting for the start of next week’s New West Pride week), and the amazingly popular 6th Street Pop-up space brought to you by everyone’s favourite brick & mortar shop. There are also various other ways to interact with art and artists. I may be biased, but I share Gord Hobbis’ opinion that the craftsmanship in old bicycles is a beautiful expression of art. There will be a family-friendly outdoor movie at Port Royal Park, an interactive celebration of Irving House’s 150th birthday, and the entire City will be, apparently, awash in “Capital” Teas.

The entire program is available here, so stay near home, enjoy some creative local artists, have a cuppa tea, and be inspired by your neighbours.

As a bonus, if the artists inspire you and/or your kids, take that inspiration out on a concrete wall! Another amazing young community leader has coordinated a fun opportunity to help beautify a bit of Downtown. You and yours can take a paint brush and add to a mural to a currently-uninspiring concrete wall. This is a neighbourhood-driven neighbourhood improvement project that will leave a fun legacy, who couldn’t support this?

Or you can came to Saturna Island and snooze through some boring former academic droning on about geology.


PS: I’ll be back for the Rainbow Flag Raising at City hall on Monday, and hope to attend several of the New West Pride events, but maybe I’ll go on about that more next post…
PPS: Except to say if you like Whitecaps soccer, and who doesn’t, you can get discount tickets and a pre-game party in New West by going to the Pride Kick-off this Satruday! Enter here, and use the promo code PRIDENEWWEST.
FPS: And you should probably also pick up some tickets (while they are still available) for the 80’s and 90’s Dance Party at Match Pub next Friday. They are ridiculously cheap, and the Starlight Casino is a huge supporter of New West Pride. More on this next week, but I didn’t want to wait until tickets are sold out!

Voting Hardly Matters.

Contrary to the main narrative in the media this past weekend, the longest-ever election campaign in modern Canadian history was not launched by the Prime Minister’s speech on Sunday. It was just the moment when the longest-ever election in Canadian history entered a new phase. The election has been going on since the day of the first ham-fisted “He’s Just Not Ready / Nice Hair” video. We have now just entered a new phase of enhanced advertising, before the post-Labour-Day orgiastic full-court-press.

All along, you will be encouraged to vote for change or to stay the course; for the good of your children, for the good of your job; to protect yourself from terrorists or taxes or something called the TPP. I am not going to discourage you from voting for whatever is important to you, but I will suggest that voting on October 19th is the least effective thing you can do for democracy this election.

Your vote will be one of the 15,000,000 cast in October. It may even be one of the handful that swings a riding one way or another, but it is more than likely going to be lost in the crowd. Your chosen candidate will win or lose your riding by thousands of votes*, and it is only through accumulating those vote gaps of thousands across the country that we will determine who gets to make choices that impact your life, taxes, and the future of the planet.

Yes, the end of that previous sentence underlies the reason why you should vote, but it also emphasizes why you should do more than just vote.

Here are the three things you should be doing before October 19, all of which will be more important than voting on October 19.

1: Inform yourself. 15 Million people voted last election, but almost 10 Million who were eligible to vote chose not to. The most commonly cited reason for this mass disenfranchisement is that it doesn’t matter. That sounds vaguely like my initial point, but it is strikingly different: election results matter.

I have no doubt that Canada would have gone in a different direction domestically, regionally, and internationally if Michael Ignatieff or Jack Layton had become Prime Minister in 2011, or even if Stephen Harper was forced by minority status to find support across the floor. People who say “elections don’t matter” are cowardly avoiding the issue, and are shirking their responsibility to inform themselves about the issues in their community and their nation.

Informing yourself is hard. You need to get out of your echo chamber and hear opinions that disagree with your opinions, or even your deeply held convictions. The Social Media encourages these echo chambers, these individual bubbles, where you are so drowned by self-supporting noise that you can’t hear anything else. Two perfect examples from my Twitter Stream today:



The elections is going to be filled with this kind of hyperbole and ridiculosity**, and you have to filter past that stuff and try to find the core of the ideas. You also have to get past “I’ll never vote for X, because I’ll never vote for X” type of tautology, and understand what you are voting for. Do the policies offered by the Parties approach your concerns in different ways? What do independent organizations say about those approaches? What are the built-in biases of those independent organizations? Perhaps more effectively: What other nations have been more or less successful at dealing with these issues, and which Party’s proposed policies closest match those successful nations’ approaches?

Yeah, this seems like a long approach, but we have an 11-week campaign, you have the entire world’s database of knowledge at your fingertips. Who knows what you might learn along the line. And you might just find a reason to vote.

2: Get Involved If you think you know the issues, and know how you want to vote, the biggest thing you can do is help your chosen candidate. Campaigns are run on money and volunteer energy, and you can provide both.

You can donate up to $1,500 to your chosen candidate, and for every candidate you would like to support, you can give each of them up to $1,500. Political donations qualify for tax credits, as well, so you get a chunk of them back in the spring with your income taxes. Donate up to $400, and you get 75% of it back in your tax return, regardless of your income level. Donate $1,500 and you get $650 back.

Volunteering is even more important. You can walk down to the local campaign office and there are any of a thousand tasks you can help with. You might be able to work the phones, collect and manage data, help coordinate other volunteers, go door-to-door with a candidate, manage data, stuff envelopes, deliver and construct lawn signs, bake cookies, sharpen pencils, drive a person to the polls… there are a million little tasks that take a bit of human help.

3: Spread the word Decided you are going to vote? Informed yourself on the issues, and chose your preferred candidate? Tell people about it, and take someone with you to the polls! We live in an era of social media where it has never been easier to spread and share ideas. If you like a candidate enough to vote for her, you probably like her enough to tell people why, in the hopes they also will vote for her. The best way to make your vote count more is to take a half a dozen people to the poll booth with you! Car pool, go for coffee or beer after.

So vote, because you can and because you should. There is a tiny chance it will shift a riding, or the fate of the nation, but more likely your favourite will win or lose by thousands of votes – one of them may as well be yours.  The only way you are sure to win is if you get informed and get involved in the election, because you will be living and learning and taking part in this messy democracy of ours. And who knows where that will take you?

*In 2011, the two New Westminster ridings were won by 6,100 vote and 2,200 vote gaps.
**Yes, I made that word up. In combines the states of being so ridiculous it is beyond the scope of ridicule.

Ask Pat: NEVs and LSVs?

It’s been a while since I did one of these, and there are a few in the queue…

Vickie asks—

Hi Pat, I’ve been looking into NEVs lately to see if they could be a viable alternative to public transit for commuting to Vancouver. I’ve always been a huge fan and advocate of EVs but since I can’t afford a Tesla I’ve been forced to look at other options. I know that New West has a bylaw that allows for them but I’m not sure if it includes streets that have a 50km speed limit. Do you know if it does? What are your thoughts on NEVs and LSVs in general?

Frankly, I know nothing about them! For the benefit of others, NEVs are “Neighborhood Electric Vehicles”, which are essentially electric golf-cart like vehicles designed for general use, and are one category of “Low Speed Vehicles” that bridge the gap between mobility-assist scooters and automobiles. In New Westminster (and in the Motor Vehicle Act ) they are referred to as Neighbourhood Zero Emissions Vehicles (NZEVs).

Indeed, section 702 of our Street Traffic Bylaw makes them legal to operate in the City on any road where the speed limit is 50km/h or less. Perhaps strangely, they are limited to operating at no more than 40km/h by the same bylaw. The NZEV must also be labelled in compliance with the federal Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

The Provincial Motor Vehicle Act gives municipalities the power to permit their use, so don’t ask me if you can drive them over to Burnaby, Coquitlam, or Surrey). They also need to be registered and insured by ICBC, just like any other car.

My thoughts on electric cars in general are fairly ambivalent. They address one of the issues related to automobile reliance (that of converting fossil fuels to airborne carcinogens and greenhouse gasses), but do not assist with all of the other negatives. Electric cars will do nothing to solve our regional congestion problem, or the ongoing road socialism that is putting so much strain in municipal coffers. They similarly do nothing to address the fundamental disconnect between building a sustainable, compact, transit-oriented and highly livable region, but are instead just another tool to facilitate sprawling growth into our ALR and surrounding greenfields.

We are fortunate in BC in that almost all of our electricity comes from sustainable sources, so electric cars do help reduce our greenhouse gas footprint, however we cannot separate the idea that moving 1000kg of metal and plastic around with you everywhere you go is simply inefficient. In places where less than 99% of the electricity is sustainably derived, the implications of a wholesale shift to electrics is daunting. Look at this diagram from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:

Yes, it is US data, but the narrative is applicable to most of Canada. If you take the 24.8 Quads of energy that is derived from petroleum and goes towards transportation, and shift it up to “electricity generation”, and suggest that we have pretty much tapped as much as we can from hydroelectric power, you will see we are going to need to build a lot of solar fields and windmills to power our transportation needs.

The way I see it, electric cars are a useful stopgap technology that can be useful in addressing some parts of our current climate crisis, but they are far from the panacea for sustainable transportation and communities.

However, my Mom-in-law lives on Saturna Island, where gas is expensive, electricity is cheap, and you never have to drive more than 20 km, but almost always need a truck. If someone built a plug-in hybrid small truck (think a Prius plug-in or Chevy Volt drivetrain under a small 4×4 pick-up), I would convince her to buy one tomorrow.