on taking the Uptown BIA personally

I haven’t yet waded into James Crosty’s most recent public tantrum, mostly because it at first seemed so absurd at the face of it, and because I had no personal stake in the issue (except as a consumer living near Uptown and generally being interested in improving our community). Then a few letters arrived in the local paper and the topic keeps coming up in conversations around town and on Twitter. So, as opinions are starting to fly, I may as well add mine.

First off: a caveat. I like James. I think of him as a friend, despite all of our on-line bickering. I have continued to argue to people that, despite James’ loose association with facts and woe-filled prognostications of the future of New Westminster, he means well, and only wants what is best for his City and neighbours. However, at times like this, I find it a difficult argument to support.

Crosty appears angry that some other businesses in town have worked together to form a not-for-profit business association, and further propose to develop a BIA that would work towards neighbourhood beautification, special events, and promotion of businesses in Uptown. He appears to be upset he was not invited to their meetings, despite his business not being within the catchment area. His non-invitation appears, to Crosty, to be an indication that something unseemly is going on. Yet his lack of inclusion concerns him less than the spectre of his potential forced inclusion!

I think the organizers of the BIA do a better job addressing Crosty’s concerns regarding the history and model of the BIA proposal than I could. As his business is not within the Uptown area, there was no reason for them to seek his approval prior to registering their Association any more than there was any reason to seek mine or Don Cherry’s. Regardless, as a concerned citizen, if he has concerns about their organization, wouldn’t it have been more effective to, I dunno, ask them?

He also raises a lot of questions about how the BIA would be financed, and what the money would be used for. Most of those details were included in the Council Report that started this all. Some of his other questions are addressed in the Uptown Business Association response, and others are likely details that have yet to be worked out, if the proposal receives the support of the affected businesses and the City.

That most of the questions Crosty raises are answered or easily answerable, combined with the fact that his business is not impacted by this proposal, leads one to ask what exactly is his beef here?

In our Twitter exchanges, Crosty commonly chides me for not doing enough to try to connect the dots and find out what’s “really happening” behind the scenes. I’m not very good at conspiracy theories, but let me try my hand at “connecting the dots” here.

The Uptown BIA idea is being coordinated and organized by many of the same people who organized the massively popular Uptown Live event for the last two years. Uptown Live was associated with the Hyack Festival, though much like the Anvil Battery Salute, the May Day Celebrations, and other events you would associate with Hyack Festival, Uptown Live was not “run” by Hyack, but was “associated”. In the case of Uptown Live this means they shared some promotional materials, and coordinated some common timing of events so as to “share the crowd”. Hyack did not organize the event itself, nor did they pay for the event. This is not to lessen their role, coordinating events run by many different groups into one great week is something Hyack does well – many hands make lighter work, and Hyack is good at getting those many hands together.

However, one of the central figures in organizing Uptown Live was none other than Bart Slotman, whose company runs Westminster Centre. He (along with a team of Uptown folks) put a significant amount of time, energy, and resources into organizing and pulling off Uptown Live for two successful years, and had a vested interest in its continued success. When the Hyack situation hit the fan last year with the firing of Douglas Smith and acrimonious rift of the Board, the organizers of Uptown Live saw the potential that this could hurt what they spent two years building, and wisely protected the intellectual capital they had created.

To one of the sides in the Hyack rift, this was seen as a public betrayal, and Bart Slotman joined the “rogue” Hyack members, the former ED of Hyack, and the Editor of the NewsLeader in the increasing pile of “enemies of Hyack”. Therefore, he was singled out for personal attack in the media by various Hyack insiders, including James Crosty and his Partner.

I want to emphasise this point. Slotman is a businessman in New Westminster who manages one of the larger commercial buildings in town. However, he is also a resident of this town, and I cannot think of commercial property owner in New Westminster (with the possible exception of Mark Shieh) who has done more to promote what is good about the City in the last few years. He has stepped up to sponsor events, he has served on committees. He has been present at open houses on various topics, and provided useful input. He has taken risks and spent his own money to improve the streetscape of the City lands in front of his building. He has been instrumental (pun!) in organizing UpTown Live and UpTown Unplugged. He is the model of what this City needs for its business areas to succeed – engaged resident owners who care about making their community better.

Should all of this make him immune to criticism? Of course not. However, by putting Slotman’s name right there in the first grammatically-challenged sentence of his letter to the Editor, then naming him again several more times (including questioning his character with the phrases like “…by the likes of Mr. Slotman”), Crosty makes it clear that it is not necessarily the idea of a BIA that he opposes, but the idea of a BIA where Bart Slotman and “his like” are part of the organizing group. It smells of a personal vendetta, and that smell stinks.

As for the follow-up letter from our resident Ayn Rand aficionado, there is no doubt this is a contrasting opinion to how and what a business is than the one demonstrated by Slotman. I’ll just say I’m glad we have effective BIAs and a Chamber that do so much to support the community, because I cannot imagine living in a City comprised only of business with the level of cynical disinterest expressed in this letter.

Oh, and I am currently enjoying a bottle of Killer Cab, contributed by Pacific Breeze in to one of the many community events they sponsor. Another example of a positive, community-building business here in New Westminster that deserves our support.

Time to move past the Referendum

I haven’t written too much about the proposed TransLink Referendum. Yeah, I mentioned last year what a terrible idea it was, but it has come to the point where that is the consensus opinion outside of the Premier’s Office, so it seemed unnecessary a point to belabor.

Then, last week, the Minister of Transportation circulated an “Editorial” (raising the question of just what he is the editor of) outlining the need for a referendum. It seems a strange thing to do right now, as he has been saying essentially the same thing since he got the job (even if he and his boss have consistently disagreed about the form of the referendum she promised back when he was still in the private sector), and it seems meaningless to spend time convincing us that we need something that he is already committed to delivering, whether we like it or not.

What might have been more useful at this point in the discussion would be for the Minister to affirm that a successful referendum that sets a stable funding mechanism in place to build and operate a sustainable transportation system for the entire region is of utmost importance, and his #1 job this term, and he won’t let us down. That would be inspirational about now.

Instead he demonstrates what a few people have suggested: the Minister from Kamloops simply does not understand the transportation needs of the Lower Mainland.

Allow me to quote The Minister in full, with a few marginal notes:

The issue of transportation in Metro Vancouver is very topical, and that’s a good thing. Making sure that traffic congestion is reduced to improve your daily commute is important to our economy and maintaining this region’s great quality of life.

You have got to be kidding me. The Minister thinks “making sure traffic congestion is reduced” is the #1 transportation issue in the Lower Mainland? This, after they just spent $5 Billion building and expanding freeways and the widest bridge in the world, and have already decided the next $2 Billion will not be up for referendum, but will be blown on yet another oversized bridge? He still thinks the priority is yet more roads and bridges?

This opening paragraph, more than any below, demonstrates that Todd Stone has no idea what the hell is happening on Broadway, in Central Surrey, on the packed Canada Line, the increasingly unreliable Expo Line, on all those neighborhoods that are seeing their bus service cut, or on the traffic-clogged streets of New Westminster.

But to improve transportation in Metro Vancouver, big decisions lie ahead. Decisions that the people who live, pay taxes, and commute in the region need to be a part of.

I’m not one to get all grammar marm on his Honourable, but this paragraph starts with a conjunction, ends with a preposition, and contains two incomplete sentences (pretty much the perfect NWimby paragraph, come to think of it). Regardless, I wish the Minister had asked the people of the region to be part of the decision to replace the tunnel, or the decision to allow tankers to ply our northern coastal waters, or the decision to cut BC Ferry services, or…

Today, transportation improvements are supported through taxes and fees like property tax, gas tax, transit fares, and tolls for new crossings. And while there are many taxes, there is only one taxpayer—and that’s you.

Ugh. Note that the Minister is talking about transportation improvements (but not the ones he has already promised, like the tunnel) and not about maintaining the transit service we currently have. While he bickers and dithers about how to pay for any imagined transportation improvements, bus routes are being cut, major pieces of infrastructure are failing, and our communities are becoming less livable because there isn’t even enough money to maintain the overcrowded transit system that we have.

To support expanded transit and road networks for the region, many local government leaders have advocated for additional sources of funding to be created, on top of those taxes and fees you already pay.

Ok, see what he is doing here? The Minister does not want to raise your taxes! He wants to make things better for you, but he doesn’t expect you to pay for it. He wants it to be free. It’s those evil spendthrift local governments though: they are the ones who want you to pay for it!

Please, Mr. Minister, if we agree that improving transportation infrastructure is “important to our economy and maintaining this region’s great quality of life” as you suggest in paragraph 1, how will we fund the necessary “expanded transit and road networks” without increasing what people already pay? 

Further, if we agree it is important, can you assure us there won’t be a “none of the above” option on the referendum? Can you chat with your boss about that?

The provincial government does not disagree with this idea. But our position is clear. If the people of Metro Vancouver are being asked to pay new taxes or fees, on top of those that local governments and TransLink already collect, then taxpayers must have a say.

See, he did it again? No, not the starting a sentence with a conjunction (which he did do), but see how he pointed out the evil ones – it is local governments and TransLink that collect taxes and fees. It is almost as if the Province doesn’t collect any taxes or fees at all. How, exactly did we pay for those $5 Billion in freeways?

This is why the provincial government is committed to a public, region-wide referendum. It’s a commitment we made in the last election and that citizens supported. We will deliver on that promise.

Yeah, your referendum promise also said November 2014, and it looks like you might bend on that. It is clear that no-one outside of your caucus room supports the idea. One promise people did support was the money for hospital expansions in Dawson Creek, Penticton, Burnaby, and New Westminster. Your government has already admitted those were just empty promises made for votes, and you pretty much got away with it…

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Asking people to vote on a new transportation vision comes after governments and citizens work together to clearly determine and articulate what that vision actually is.

Please do. Because the only thing worse than this referendum idea is the stunning lack of leadership and vision from the Minister and the Premier on making this thing actually work.

If you’re following the news, you’ll have heard about passionate and important transportation projects that individual local governments are behind. The job ahead is to bring this into a common vision.

I’m not even sure what a passionate transportation project is, except maybe this? but you are starting to creep me out here, Todd. p.s.: The mayors are united in a common vision, just not the way you want them to be.

And, I would argue, success depends on a vision that is affordable for taxpayers, fair for all communities, and secures the movement of people and goods for generations to come.

(Again with the conjunctions). The worst part about this all, is that we have that vision. The region had a long term plan for a Livable Region supported by Transport 2040. It is the plan that TransLink has to keep cutting back on because of lack of funding, in part because they are stuck giving $30 Million a year to the operators of the Golden Ears Bridge because of a bad deal signed by the Minister of Transportation for a bridge that TransLink didn’t want, because of the $170 Million (so far) white elephant that are the FalconGates, and because of other short-sighted moves by the Provincial Government that would not allow that plan to be realized.

I will continue to work with the mayors to facilitate and help enable a process to bring focus to the regional transportation vision, so that the people can decide what’s best.

See, the Mayors are not interested, you screwed them enough times. You managed to do what no other Minister of the Provincial Government has done, and you have got all of the Mayors to be unanimous on a Transportation idea – the idea of killing the referendum.

If you and the Mayors did, miraculously, come up with the ultimate vision, the grand plan that will solve all, then why the hell delay and go to referendum? What happens if that great plan fails at referendum? What is the back-up plan, here. Sir?

If we work together for the benefit of the whole region, mindful of taxpayers big and small from Whalley to Whytecliff, Maple Ridge to Arbutus Drive, we will all succeed.

Arbutus Drive!? Is Whistler in the referendum zone now?

Look, Minister Stone, with all due respect and my sincere hopes that you succeed at setting a new, bold, plan in place for transportation in the region, I feel for you. I know you are new to the role, and your boss has given you an untenable task. Being a Minister means you are responsible for this file, it is time to step up and make the case. This letter didn’t do it. Read the writing on the Wall: everyone from Barbara Yaffe to Gordon Price to Vaughn Palmer is saying it is a bad idea. The Board of Trade and the major trade unions are agreed (!) that it is a bad idea. Every Mayor (except the one who just wants to destroy TransLink and replace it with a tunnel) and the management of TransLink are against it. The referendum is now only a distraction from the real conversation: how are we going to move the region forward?

Time to stop editorializing, Mr. Minister, and time to start leading.

The same, but different.

Another morning waking to the drone of news helicopters. I wake up with my usual lament (“there is no better example of the great feats of human ingenuity squandered, than the Traffic Helicopter”) and flip on the radio to find out that there isn’t a stall on the Pattullo, but that a building a block from my house has been razed.

Another devastating fire; another group of neighbours spending the worst morning of their lives, looking at ashes and wondering how they will go on.

First off, we need to be thankful that, once again, no-one was seriously hurt. The alarm raised by neighbors, the professionalism of our Fire Department, and no doubt a significant amount of good luck means we are mourning things today, not people. We need no better example than last week’s fire in L’Isle-Verte to see how devastating a fire can be.

This is, of course, very different than the last fire. The impacts on the community will be different, as will the impacts on the people directly affected.

To those who didn’t call it home, the old three-story walk up on Ash Street will not be missed like the Copp’s Shoe Store and Royal City Café buildings. It didn’t have the architectural charm, it lacked in heritage features, and there are plenty more where that came from. It was a dull, utilitarian structure built in the 60s to maximize living space on the lot. There will not be a lot of hand-wringing about how to replace the gap it left in the City’s streetscape.

To those who did call it home, however, the loss will be deeper than even that felt by the business owners on Columbia. To lose your business is to lose a totem of your effort, a piece of your dreams, and a valuable part of your life, no doubt. But to lose your home is something else altogether. Every picture, every file, every piece of clothing or jewelry. Everything precious to you. Gone.

Those with foresight and means will have insurance, and will be able to replace stuff. Others will start again from scratch. But the stuff will not replace the loss of “home”, the place we return to for rest, for peace, for security. Even when I was a student and moving residences every year or so, it was easy to make my new place “home”, because I had my familiar furniture, pictures, books, toothbrush. For many who have lost all here, it will take a long time before some new place starts to feel like home. For those living on fixed incomes, and the working poor getting by from paycheque to paycheque, the task ahead is monumental.

As much as the businesses in Downtown, these people need help.

They are all fortunate that we have a well-resourced Emergency Management team in New Westminster, with a strong Emergency Special Services component. It has been educational for me to spend the last couple of years serving on the City’s Emergency Advisory Committee and seeing the different aspects of emergency planning being fine-tuned. I have some training in Emergency Operations, so I had a grasp of what happens during an Emergency response going in, but I did not realize how much work is done in preparing for after the Emergency – support systems to assist the victims after the flames are out and the portable fence is up.

For the dozens of families here, though, this will not be enough. This weekend, please contact one of the folks below to see if there is anything you can do to help. Money, clothes, dinner, petcare, household goods. who knows? The list of needs will be long, but not bottomless. We can do this.

Go to the City’s Website to see a list of organizations who are collecting donations.

The Downtown New Westminster BIA (demonstrating one of the many advantages of a BIA) is expanding their “Turn Down the Heat Week” program to help get some warm clothing for victims.

The New Westminster Chamber of Commerce is also starting a list of contacts for people offering various services. If you are a business with a skill, some resources, or an idea to help, get your name added to that list.

Reaching across the Pattullo, a business in Surrey is offering their storage space to collect larger items for donation. Communities expand at times like these.

Just as we did a few months ago, New Westminster has to step up and help our neighbours. Some may be feeling a little fundraiser-fatigue right now, but help from friends and kindness from strangers will do much to help a few of our neighbours feel “home” again here in New Westminster.

On Fort Mac and Dr. No

A short post related to my last one on Neil Young, Fort Mac, and Integrity.

For people who like to read long-format journalism as opposed to Maclean’s style photo-caption writing on the latest “hot trend story”, Canada has the Walrus. It is usually interesting, often brilliant, always worth reading. The NWimby household has been a subscriber since the first edition.

I raise it now because an article about Fort McMurray in the November edition should be read by everyone in Canada. The author clearly brings his anti-tar sand biases into the discussion, but the best parts of the article are not his writing, but the quotes of the Mayor of Fort Mac, Melissa Blake.

It all starts out friendly enough, the Mayor tries to dispel some negative impressions about the City and its livability, and talks about the big plans to build an integrated, sustainable, and full-service community. It only gets weird when the author questions the Mayor about the potential disconnect between building a low-carbon sustainable City fueled completely by the carbon-intensive and unsustainable extraction of oil from bitumen.

“Blake doesn’t miss a beat. ‘I’m a big believer that, yes, the climate is changing. If the climate goes up by two, three, four degrees in the future, we’re lucky to be here in Fort McMurray. We’re lucky not to be in California or BC. They’re going to fall in the ocean. In a place like this, we’re going to survive a lot better.’

You mean digging up bitumen is a good thing, because it will make Fort McMurray’s winters milder?

With a nervous laugh, she assents: ‘And that means my real estate becomes a very important asset in the future, so I’m not selling my house anytime soon.’ “

OK, let’s get something straight. This young person with a young family clearly believes in anthropogenic climate change, and she is talking liltingly about a time in the near future when California and Vancouver will “fall in the ocean”. That is no doubt a bit of fanciful hyperbole, but it has to be put into perspective. With no check on our greenhouse gas emissions, we could see, in her lifetime, global sea levels rise enough to displace hundreds of millions of people from low-lying cities like Miami and Shanghai, Osaka and New Orleans, Bangkok and Mumbai. California and Vancouver don’t need to “fall”, the ocean is coming up to meet them. Climate disruption at this scale will also cause widespread crop failures, mass migrations, unprecedented famines and unimaginable human suffering.

It takes a certain kind of sociopathy to think about the death and suffering of hundreds of millions of humans and say “Wow, that’s going to be good for my real estate value”, nervous laughter notwithstanding, if you are not the one causing these events to take place.

However, when you say that with a giggle at the same time as you are leading a community of people hell-bent on accelerating the very activity that will cause all of those bad things to happen for a little short-term profit?

That is a level of truly evil sociopathy usually reserved for Bond Villains.

I’m with Neil

Canada is trading integrity for money” – Neil Young.

Let’s start with disclosure: I am a Neil Young fan, to the point where being a Neil Young fan has done much to shape my taste in music. To explain that, I need to go back to the late 80’s when I was sharing an apartment on Royal Ave with my brother.

I was raised in the Kootenays on a healthy diet of classic rock (although at the time we just called it Rock) and “Metal” (in quotes, because at the time that referred to a strange amalgamation of Zeppelin and Glam that went by names like Poison, Ratt, Quiet Riot, et al. my god.) because that was the playlist of the only real FM Rock station we could hear – “ROCK 106! KEZE!” out of Spokane, Washington.

When I moved to New West, CFMI was still Top-40, and one of the AM stations (CHRK 600) decided to go Classic Rock (probably the first time I heard that phrase in the context of 60s and 70s Rock music). Despite the hopeful WKRP-feeling of the whole enterprise, it was risky. AM came with questionable sound quality and more onerous Canadian content rules. This last requirement made for some difficult programming choices. All that BTO and Guess Who was bad enough, but the seemingly hourly appearance of the Whiner in D Minor caused me to turn Classic rock off. So safe to say Neil Young entered my consciousness in a pretty negative way.

A year or two later, I was sitting in the Quad at college and “Rocking in the Free World” came on the TV (tuned to MuchMusic, of course), and my opinion changed.

Looking back, it is a hard to understand how powerful that song was. Perhaps this has something to do with “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You” by Milli Vanilli being #1 on the charts the day that Young’s Freedom was released. Here was this old rocker, screaming angry lyrics about the fate of the world as America was plundering the depths of Bush I Conservatism. Between scenes of LA viewed through the eyes of a homeless man, we see Young standing in a dystopian junkyard beating the living shit out of his guitar – a solo so angry and violent that the strings were stripped off the instrument. The feedback and distortion are perfect for the angry chaos of the song. It might have been a Rock anthem, but it was more punk than Punk. The lyrics of the bridge (edited out of the video for MTV) lay the blame for the ills of the world on no-one but us:

We got a thousand points of light, for the homeless man
We got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand.
Got department stores and toilet paper
Got styrofoam boxes for the ozone layer
Got a man of the people, says ‘keep hope alive’
Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive.

A quarter-Century later, in a post-grunge era, the distortion and chaos of the song sound pretty tame. At the time, it was stunning in mainstream rock, and this album was my (admittedly late) gateway drug to Sonic Youth, Dinosaur (Jr.), Fugazi, and the Pixies. But that’s a whole different story.

I bought Freedom on cassette, and became a pretty big Young fan at that point. Such that I can look back at where I was and what I was doing by Neil Young concerts: Solo acoustic at the Spokane Coliseum (I was working at a ski shop in Trail); with Crazy Horse at the Pacific Coliseum (undergrad at SFU); with Booker T and the MGs (around my Brother’s wedding, working in a bike shop, living on Hastings street); etc. His album “Harvest Moon” even played a significant role in my courting (or being courted by) Ms.NWimby.

The question is why am I such a fan? His rock music is pretty straight-forward, even derivative. His ballads are simple – 3 verses and chorus. His vocal style is distinct, but not particularly elegant. He is pretty good at the guitar (if you like extended one-note guitar solos), ok on the piano, and probably should avoid future banjo work. His styles change like the wind, and for every work of genius like “After the Goldrush” there is a “Trans” or an “Everybody’s Rockin”. However, with all the ups and downs of his discography, there is one thread that runs through: integrity.

He has spent a life surrounded with chaos (broken childhood home, 60s folk scene, 70s drug scene, etc.), and, when he occasionally found himself flirting with middle-of-the-road success, he once famously said:

Traveling there was really boring so I headed for the ditch“.

Every seemingly-strange fork he took in his long career (Trans, Shocking Pinks, Greendale), he did with purpose, and because he felt it served his creative drive. He has never been afraid of being unpopular – he was once sued by David Geffen for making records that didn’t sound enough like Neil Young (Geffen lost). He seems to have limited interest in the machine that feeds him – rock and roll stardom. A lesser-known song on “Freedom” talks about the state of the music business at the time when Milli Vanilli was #1 on the charts:

“The artist looked at the producer, The producer sat back
He said ‘What we have got here, is a perfect track
‘But we don’t have a vocal, so we don’t have a song
‘If we could get these things accomplished,
‘nothing else could go wrong.’
So he balanced the ashtray, as he picked up the phone:
Said ‘Send me a songwriter, who’s drifted far from home
‘Make sure that he’s hungry, make sure he’s alone
‘Send me a cheeseburger, and a new Rolling Stone.'”
                            -Crime in the City (Sixty to zero)

He more famously (clumsily, unkindly) lampooned corporate ownership of music and using music to shill products:

Young’s integrity doesn’t stop at his music, though. He has, for more than 20 years, run an annual benefit for the Bridge School– a school for kids with communications challenges related to various disabilities (his own son is non-verbal with cerebral palsy). He worked with Willie Nelson to develop the Farm Aid movement. Just as he has never shied away from musical experiments, he has never been bashful about his political opinions, from “Ohio” to “Living with War”. I don’t know if he is right in his opinions, I’m sure we can all pick opinions of Young’s that we don’t agree with. However, when he speaks about something politically, we can be sure it is coming from him. You cannot doubt his sincerity, or his integrity.

So why Tar Sands? Why now?

Hearing his interviews since this whole thing started, the answer is easy to find. Young is a tinkerer, and has always expressed ideas around sustainability. Exploring his film-making side, he decided to drive his electric car to Fort McMurray and see what all the fuss was about. I take him completely at face value when he describes getting out of his (electric) car, smelling the air in Fort Mac, and recognizing something was amiss with the boreal forest. Being a life-long advocate for aboriginal rights, he connected with local first nations, and was told of their concerns. Clearly they made an impression, because he made a commitment to help them out if he could. Turns out he could.

Did Young then contact the Canadian Association of Petroleum producers to get the “other side of the story”? Did he surf over to Suncor’s website to see the myriad benefits of oil extraction? Did he read the most recent International Energy Agency forecasts for recoverable reserves and cross reference against human rights abuses in other petroleum producing nations? Possibly. More likely, he looked in the eyes of his Athabasca Chipewyan hosts, smelled the bitumen in the air, and said something along the lines of “this shit ain’t right”. Then he set about doing what he could to help raise the profile of the issue, and maybe raise money to help people he saw as needing some help.

The reaction from the Oil Industry and their shills was predictable, alternating between obscuring the point he was making to ad hominem attack on him as a “Rock Star”, “Aging Rocker” or a “Bad Canadian”. Perhaps the most ham-fisted rebuke of Young’s statements was made by Harper Government spokes-flaks. A response easily and compellingly retorted by Young. Watching that exchange, it is clear which side is speaking with integrity.

To Ezra Levant and his astro-turf shills behind “Ethical Oil”, who have started an anti-Neil Young website, I ask: Where is your integrity? They call Young a “drug lifestyle icon” after the man has been public about his sobriety, and some of his most poignant songs are about the friends he lost to drugs. But if the quality of Young’s “lifestyle” is to be questioned, we should start by looking at his 40-year body of work, his commercial, artistic, and critical success. One might conclude that we all would benefit from a little more of whatever Neil is on.

They further criticize Young for not protesting against OPEC dictatorships, while also suggesting he shouldn’t meddle in Canada’s politics, as he doesn’t live here (try to square that circle). They never address the actual points that Neil Young is making, and the entire issue of the Constitutional rights of First Nations – the centre of all of Young’s arguments – is conveniently ignored by those interested in “Ethical Oil”. Instead, they then call Young a hypocrite for fueling his “rock star lifestyle” with oil, not realizing that they are making his point. They are correct that Neil Young is reliant on fossil fuels; We are all reliant on fossil fuels. That is the fucking problem!

Um… sorry, got a little heated there. I know I should be used to it but now, but I’m still surprised when it is suggested that our society may need to think about reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and critics react by arguing “but we NEED fossil fuels, we can’t live without them”, as if that is a counter-argument, and not just begging the question. If this isn’t addiction, what is?

I’ve seen Neil Young talk, and I’ve heard his critics. I’ve seen Neil Young walk the walk and put his time and money where his mouth is. I see a person raising a conversation about the largest industrial development in the history of Canada’s hinterland, and I hear critics telling him to shut up. I see a person standing next to First Nations leaders and trying to help a community who feel powerless against global Multinationals and the government that covers for them. I see the Government trying to reassure an increasingly suspicious public that everything is fine: “Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive”, indeed. I see an aging rocker legendary artist, humanitarian, and Officer of the Order of Canada using his name not to fill his crib, but to raise a conversation about an issue that is important to the future of the planet, important to the nation of his birth, and important to a small community in eastern Alberta that touched him. I see one man acting with integrity, and taking the slings and arrows that often follow those that choose that path.

I’m with Neil.

Short Sea Shipping Dreams

I loved this opinion piece in the News Leader last week. I’m just sorry it took me a week to pen this retort.

If I can paraphrase the rhetorical question by Ms. Ouellet-Martin, it is “Can short sea shipping help us manage increased Port activity while protecting the livability of our Cities?”

The answer can be found in this report, which is more than a decade old now, with no sign that any action has come out of it. But first, a bit of background.

This study was commissioned back in the heady days of 2005, when there were still three port authorities in Greater Vancouver. The Vancouver Port Authority was responsible for the Ports around Burrard Inlet, the Fraser River Port Authority for those on the main part of the Fraser River and the North Fraser Port authority for the few remaining port activities along the north and middle arms.

All three Ports were running fine and were financially self-sufficient despite the downloading of many responsibilities (environmental protection of the shorelines, dredging costs) from the federal agencies that used to do them (DFO, Coast Guard, etc.) to the local authorities. Perhaps most importantly, they were run by local authorities who had experience with Port Operations (mostly people who had spent their carrers either operating the Port, or Captaining ships). It was during these times that Fraser Surrey Dock built a container facility, spending $190 Million to attract container ships that instead decided to go to Burrard Inlet after some Merger and Acquisition action hit their main customer. So in 2008, the Federal Government decided to amalgamate all three ports in to a single entity, allegedly to prevent this type of competition. They were so proud of the change that they announced it less than a week before Christmas 2007, and it came into effect two weeks later on January 1. Christmas news releases are a sure way to let you know even the government thinks what it is doing might be a bad idea.

With the amalgamation came another change. The Port People and Ships Captains were out. The Port Authority is now going to be run by business types. The CEO is not a former stevedore, he is a former jet turbine engineer who instead worked his way up the corporate ladder through Mergers and Acquisitions, for businesses that make chemicals and steel or developing real estate. The only thing he knows about Ports is he bought one once. Makes sense, though, as his job is not to facilitate the movement of goods on and off of ships, but to “leverage positions” and “deliver value” for his “capital-intensive, asset- and service-focused large corporate customers”.

His job is not to move goods. It is to use the movement of goods as the tool to create a high return on investment for his shareholder. But I digress…

The important point of the study is that it looked at the economics of moving containers through our region not by road, but on barges. They went so far as to do an economic analysis of 5 potential node sites where short-sea shipping infrastructure could suit the local goods movement market and the existing supply chains to the distant hinterlands that are the Port’s real customers. They evaluated the practicality, infrastructure requirements (with cost estimates), efficiency of goods movement, and even the air emissions related to the changeover.

The conclusions? Allow me to quote:

  • Intra-regional short-sea container shipping in Greater Vancouver offers promising, commercially viable, private sector opportunities in the short to medium-term for specific short-sea container terminal locations on the Fraser River.
  • Short-sea container shipping, for selected terminal locations and routes and with sufficient volume, offers price competitiveness with trucking and some competitive advantages (likely to expand dramatically over time) in the areas of delivery time and delivery time reliability. These advantages occur because of road network congestion as well as deep-sea terminal flow issues, gate congestion, reservation limitations and operating hour limitations. All of these factors impact on truck transfer delivery time and costs but do not affect a short-sea operation with on-dock marshalling areas.
  • Expected increases in environmental emissions from the intra-regional transfer of containers by truck will be moderated to the extent that short-sea operations absorb some of the future growth.
  • It will be critical for short-sea service investors and proponents to invest the capital and make the long-term commitment necessary to establish reliability and confidence in the market place. The Consulting Team is aware of a number of regional operators and external investors who are seriously interested in this opportunity.

There is more, but you get the drift. Short-sea shipping could work based on 2005 container movement levels and density, and the economics improved as container volumes increased along with road congestion. Note the growth in container demand up to 2013 has almost caught up to match the projections from this 2005 study despite the significant blip caused by the recession that started in 2008. The Port is clearly bully on containers, considering their development plans at Roberts Bank.

Now, about that road congestion. The report outlines the major road movement plans that were starting to come to light as part of the Gateway Strategy, all delivered, remember, “On Time and On Budget”:

  • Golden Ears Bridge (promised by 2008, opened in 2009)
  • North Fraser Perimeter Road (promised by 2011, now cancelled)
  • Twin Port Mann, 6-lane Highway 1 (promised by 2011, over-delivered in 2013)
  • South Fraser Perimeter Road (promised by 2011, delivered 2014)

The study proved that short-sea shipping was economically feasible, and would result in cleaner air and less congested roads, all we needed to do was invest in a little infrastructure on Port lands. So let’s look at the 5 highlighted sites from the study and see what type of infrastructure development is happening:

Coast 2000 (Richmond): Since 2005, the Port have bought adjacent farmland with an eye on future expansion, they have built no less than 23 new warehouse buildings for leasing to trucking and logistics companies, and not a single dock to the adjacent river has been built. The only dock facility on the entire 300 hectare site with 2.5km of deep river waterfront is one that has been there since before 2005, and is (rarely) used to move small break-bulk.

Fraser Surrey Docks (Surrey/Delta): Now deciding that importing dirty thermal coal from Wyoming that no port on the west coast of the USA will take is their only economic salvation.

Port Kells (Surrey/Langley): Has seen huge growth in the last decade – of truck-serviced warehouses. The entire area between the Trans Canada Highway and the River, from the Golden Ears Bridge to 190th, is over 630 hectares with more than 3 km of prime Fraser River waterfront, direct connections to two major freeways and a major rail line, and literally hundreds of warehouses, yet the only thing that moves on and off of boats is woodchips onto barges.

Tilbury (Delta): Tilbury is the long industrial strip along the north shore of Delta between the Alex Fraser Bridge and Deas Island. Used to be it was the industrial area you could never get to; now with the SFPR complete, it is becoming the industrial area you can’t get out of. The SFPR has facilitated expanded growth here, more warehouses and industrial land, but of course no new docks. The good news here is the location of SeaSpan – about the only place where a quasi-short-sea shipping mode happens in BC. They have a series of dedicated barges that move rail cars and truck trailer to Vancouver Island and back every day, as they have for the best part of a century.

Pitt Meadows Airport (Pitt Meadows): This area was ripe for development in 2005, but apparently the Port lost interest, and the municipality decided former farmland in the floodplain of the Fraser River was better utilized as residential development. There is essentially no industrial use of the waterfront in this area, despite proximity to the massive CP Intermodal Yard where every container that does not come or go by train must, alas, go on the back of a truck, because the river is way over there – across the street.

I could go on with other industrial waterfront areas that are not even evaluated in this report, the Mary Hill Bypass area of Port Coquitlam, Albion Flats, even the Mission waterfront. They have what you need – navigable river access, rail lines, and relatively direct freeway access far from commercial centres and their traffic hassles. Except for that last point, you could include Queensborough and Annacis Island. All they need (according to the report) is for the Port to invest in some waterfront infrastructure, or create economic incentives for private industry to do the same.

Instead, after amalgamation, this report was shelved, as the Port decided to go the other direction, to fit with the new business plan. They will continue to build warehouses that can quickly return lease money, and rely on infrastructure built by others (after all, you and I pay for those roads and bridges, the Port doesn’t even have to pay property tax). Instead of using their infrastructure investment money to improve the livability of our community and the efficiency of goods movement through the Port, they continue to buy up farmland (or create new land in the sea) so that they can lease that out to logistics and operations companies for a handsome profit. This is why I say the Port is no longer in the goods movement business, they are in the real estate development business.

Is it time for Short-sea shipping? Can it help with traffic congestion on our streets, and still provide efficient movement of goods? Can it reduce emissions, improve air quality, and improve the livability of our cities? The answers to all of those questions appear to be “yes”.

Is it in the business interest of the Port? That is the question we should be asking.

The $1 Toll – Updated!

When the media start talking about bridges and roads and transit and referenda and all the stuff that is rolled into the Lower Mainland and BC’s plan to move people about, there is a common theme that arises. Go to any recent on-line story about these subjects, and someone will inevitably comment that the “solution” is to toll all of the bridges equally, the number usually proffered is $1 per bridge. This is suggested as being more “fair” than just putting these more expensive tolls ($3-$4) on the newer bridges.

That usually gets shouted down in the comments when someone else comes along and says any toll at all is a “cash grab” and there is no way a piece of infrastructure should be paid for by the people who use it, and the comment thread goes from there.

Example, Example, Example.

There is rarely any deeper analysis of that first idea. What happens if we toll all the major bridges at $1 a crossing? What problem does this “fair” solution solve?

First we need to define our terms. When people talk about tolling “all the bridges”, they surely don’t mean the bridge on Gaglardi Way that spans the Brunette River or the King Edward Overpass, but they likely would include the two North Shore crossings and the major crossings of the Fraser (Golden Ears, Port Mann, Pattullo, Alex Fraser, and Massey). Ambitious tollers might include the Pitt River and the Knight, and really, you couldn’t do the Knight without doing the Oak and Laing as well (lets assume the Queensborough is spared, as it is really an access to the Alex Fraser or one of the other crossings)

Seeing as how the False Creek bridges (Cambie, Granville, and Burrard) belong to the City of Vancouver, and the Middle Arm bridges (Moray, No. 2 Road, Dinsmore, and Sea Island) to the City of Richmond, it is pretty unlikely they could be included in any regional tolling scheme.

This raises an interesting jurisdictional issue, especially around Richmond. Most of the bridges belong to the BC Ministry of Transportation, so tolling could be accomplished with a wave of a Minister’s hand, but three (Golden Ears, Pattullo, and Knight) belong to TransLink, and the Laing belongs to YVR, so some interesting revenue-sharing complications would ensue.

But let’s put those complications aside for a moment, and look purely at the revenue side. Traffic counts for most of those bridges are available from the MoTI website, and it took only a bit of digging to find the numbers for the rest. Let’s use 2012 traffic numbers, as they are the most recent available and complete. Here is the average daily vehicle count on the bridges:

Bridge           Operator    Daily Vehicles
Golden Ears   TransLink     30,000
Port Mann     TI Group     110,047
Pattullo         TransLink     65,000
Alex Fraser    MoTI           105,108
Massey          MoTI             81,729
Lions Gate    MoTI             60,285
Ironworkers  MoTI           115,331
Pitt River      MoTI             80,000
Laing             YVR              70,000
Oak               MoTI             68,150
Knight           TransLink     90,000
                     Total:          875,650

So if you slapped a $1 toll on all 8 “major” bridges (including the Pitt River), you are looking at $650,000 per day in revenue, 365 days a year. Add the jurisdictionally-problematic North Arm bridges between Richmond and Vancouver and that number boosts to $876,000. Annually, this works out to just under $240 Million and $320 Million per year.

Wow, that’s a lot of money. Except two of those bridges already collect tolls ranging from $2.50 to $9.00, depending on the vehicle type. Although neither bridge is yet reaching its “revenue goal”, the amount of toll revenue promised the contractor at Port Mann is about $184 Million, and for the Golden Ears, $38 Million. Assuming that TransLink and the Ministry could somehow break these long-term contracts, we would need to remove this $222 Million from our net increase in revenue, bringing it down to less than $100 Million. Let’s ignore, for the benefit of the argument, the cost of setting up and running all of these tolling locations.

To put that $100 Million into perspective, TransLink collects $450 Million in fare revenue every year from people riding public transit, which is about a third of its annual $1,400 Million operational budget. The tolling revenue at $1 per car only represents about 7% of the TransLink operational budget: hardly enough to fund even the most modest growth of the transit system.

The fairness or palatability of $1 tolls on all bridges seems less relevant when you realize it will hardly make a dent in the money we need in this region to build a reliable transit system, never mind building more bridges and lanes of highways (upwards towards 3,700km of new roads!) that will be required to support the region’s growth if we don’t build a more robust transit system.

This is why municipalities with region-wide bridge-tolling policies, like San Francisco or New York, are charging $5- $15 to use the bridges. If we are going to talk about a “fair toll on all bridges”, it most certainly won’t be $1. The numbers don’t work.

Update:
Despite the positive response I got for doing a little bit of basic math with publicly-available data, I was not surprised to hear the “$1 Toll Everywhere” suggested again as the panacea to TransLink funding on the CBC “Early Edition” this morning. This was only shocking because it was being put out by Colin Hansen (the man who brought us the HST debacle, and should know a little about referenda), only to be immediately supported by Moe Sihota. Neither stopped to think if a “toll under a dollar” was going to actually generate any meaningful revenue.
Alas, that is the state of political journalism in 2014. A series of he-said she-said talking point arguments, no-one doing basic fact-checking.
Regional Transportation rabble-rouser Eric Doherty on another forum asked an important question in relation to the “$1 Toll Everywhere” Plan: What does it cost to set up a toll collection system? Installing toll collection infrastructure on 11 bridges, and the bureaucracy to run it, would surely cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and would cost tens of millions a year to operate. If it takes three years to pay off the toll collection system, and another 20% of our $1 Toll is lost to overhead- the net revenue numbers get even worse.



Speed Limit Review

I wasn’t going to comment on this topic, but when someone makes a series of terrible arguments on the radio in the morning before I’ve had my coffee (one so bad that even Rick Cluff noticed its flaws – “Rick Cluff noticed” not being a phrase I ever thought I would type), I get all riled up, stew about it for several hours, and now I get to vent.

There are people in BC right now who think that speed limits need to be raised. The only shocking part of this is that they apparently have the ear of the Government, and in typical Premier McSparkles® campaign-when-asked-to-lead style, a public conversation is being stoked on the issue.

No, wait. That’s unfair. With the benefit of doubt, the Government is asking the public what they think about an idea instead of making a rash change, which is what they should be doing. This is actually useful public consultation, and they should be acknowledged for this. So let me tell them what I think.

I think the first question the Government, and everyone else, needs to ask is: What problem are we trying to solve?

Safety? “Speed doesn’t kill, sudden deceleration does”. That’s a funny joke, but sudden deceleration from higher speed kills much more effectively than sudden deceleration from low speeds. There is extensive research on this, but perhaps the best study is a comprehensive review by Stuster and Coffman (1998). They looked at numerous studies from various jurisdictions that looked at the effect of increased and decreased speed limits on crash statistics and crash severity. The vast majority of studies correlated increased speed limits with increased crashes, increased injuries, and increased deaths. Even the few studies that did not show an increase in accident rate showed no decrease. There were enough instances reviewed they were able to create a statistically significant rate of impact calculation: Rate of crashes causing injury increase 3% for every 1 km/h speed increase. Increase average speed limit by 10km/h, (say, 100km/h to 110km/h) you will have a 30% increase in people injured in crashes. The % increase in fatal crashes is even higher. He science is clear – increasing speed limits kills and injures people.

Cost? Are we somehow saving money by driving faster? Maybe there is a “productivity cost” argument to be made for people who commute to Merritt and can save 10% of their travel time, but I haven’t seen anyone trying to make a business case. Considering gas mileage and wear and tear on a car increases with speed (at first principles, the power required to move a car through the air increases with the cube of the speed – to go twice as fast, you need to apply 8 times the power), the costs and lost productivity attached to increased injury and death, and the cost related to required road upgrades to maintain “safety factors” (see below), I an skeptical that business case could ever be made.

Efficiency? We aren’t increasing road efficiency or “fixing” traffic congestion (one is unlikely to avail oneself of the maximum speed limit on a road suffering from any kind of congestion), nor are we increasing your gas mileage (see that stuff up there about needing 8 times the energy to go twice as fast), so increased speed limits aren’t an efficiency issue. Actually, the Province has committed to taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the Transportation sector – raising speed limits is counter to this stated policy goal.

Enforcement? It seems people are irritated getting speeding tickets. I’m also sure people are irritated getting drinking & driving suspensions, and I am positive that taking their exotic cars away irritated the hell out of these guys. However, when a law exists for a clear public protection reason, and there is good science behind that policy, I don’t see “irritation” as a good reason to get rid of the law.

This morning I heard arguments on the CBC Early Edition by Ian Tootill, the leader of a group with the appropriate misnomer “Sense BC”, who are leading the public relations charge here (the interview can be heard at this link, January 9th edition, starting at about 1:21:30). He threw a lot of ideas out there, but to answer the first question (what problem are we trying to solve?), he said something to the effect of (and I paraphrase): “We don’t want to make scofflaws out of the motorists out there who now speed because the roads are too good/safe for the related speed limit”.

This argument contains within it various wrong ideas.

1: Mr., Tootill will not declare what speed limit he would like to see (he mentioned 130km/h or more a year ago, but is now more coy about it), but suggests we should use an Institute of Traffic Engineers equation, which is to use the 85th percentile. That means measure the speed people are using, and set the speed limit such that 85% of the people are going at or slower than the limit. This, of course, makes 15% of people automatically “scofflaws”. This issue is also at odds with his statement of “if you set the speed limit correctly, you don’t get non-compliance”. Even ideally, you get 15% non-compliance.

2: This argument relies on an idea (one Mr. Tootill repeats in the interview) that drivers are the best judges of what a “safe speed” is. The problem here is obvious – people, almost all of them, routinely exaggerate their own driving skills. The vast majority think they are really good drivers. Evidence on the road proves otherwise. Do I want the Lamborghini kids from Richmond, the woman applying eye makeup at an intersection after making an illegal lane change, or the 40+% who admit to texting while driving determining what safe driving habits are for me, and for each other?

3: This problem is exacerbated by another wrong assumption. Mr Tootill seems to think that speed limits are unnecessary because if people drive faster, they will somehow drive better. This is what he means about “changing the culture” and forcing people to “drive with purpose”. Seeing as he is outspoken against increased enforcement, I’m not sure how he plans to “raise the bar of expectations” or force better “lane discipline”, and why those compare favourably to enforcing speed limits.

4: The biggest failure, however, is the argument that we build these big, wide, safe roads (the new Sea to Sky highway was used as an example) but we don’t increase the speed limits. This shows a complete misunderstanding on Mr. Tootill’s part about how road engineers build roads.

An Engineer’s first job is always to protect public safety. One way they do this is to introduce “safety factors” into things they design. You ask and engineer to build a bridge that can support a 10T truck, she will build one that can support a 12T or 15T truck in ideal conditions. This is because they know that there might be minute flaws in the steel, some bolts might be cross-threaded during construction, a ton of snow might fall on the bridge deck, or any of a myriad of small things under the category of Shit Happens might add up such that if you drive a 9.9T truck over a bridge actually built to support only 10T, it might crack.

Engineers know that people, information, and equipment may be fallible, and one way to address this is to build in this “safety factor” between ideal conditions (the ideal capacity of the bridge) and the real world (what you post as the capacity of the bridge). As an aside, the remarkable Richard Feynman’s contributions to the Rogers Commission Report on the Space Shuttle Challenger accident are a fascinating study in what happens when “safety factors” are misunderstood and misapplied).

So how do you apply such a “safety factor” to engineering a road with a 50km/h speed limit? You build the curvature, the lane width, and sightlines adequate for, say, 80km/h driving. Does that man everyone should drive 80km/h on it, because if “feels safe” at that speed?

I had a discussion related to this with a traffic consultant during the consultations for crosswalk improvements on East 8th Ave. When a few of us suggested better protection for pedestrians and even a pedestrian-operated crossing light, he countered that the traffic and speed on the road did not warrant this. I asked if he meant the posted speed, or the actual speed on East 8th. It must have occurred to him (I politely suggested) that people driving on a 12m-wide two-lane with few trees and 1.5km between traffic signals in the middle of an otherwise congested urban area might not travel strictly at the speed limit. In reality, the average speed on East 8th around Sherbrooke is closer to 70-80km/h. The “safety factor” is definitely misused to the hilt here.

So what happens if everyone starts driving within the “safety factor” designed into our roads? That “safety factor” goes away, like frozen O-rings on an SRB. The roads look like they are designed for faster speeds than posted specifically because they are not. They are made that way because shit happens, and when shit happens, safety requires wiggle room. This single reality of how roads are engineered makes the rest of Mr. Tootill’s argument bunk.

Mr. Tootill actually gives it away at the end of the interview (around 1:29:20) about where he mentions he recently went on a long road trip through the USA and brags about driving “considerably above the posted speed limits” most of the time and only getting caught once. It’s clear from this what Mr. Tootill’s interest is – driving really fast on public roads, and damn the consequences (as long as the consequence isn’t a traffic ticket)! Like the idiots racing exotic cars through the Massey Tunnel last year, or the street-racing moron who kills innocent pedestrians when he “finds the limit” of his car or his ability on top of a bus stop, Mr. Tootil is just a speed junkie who couldn’t care less about the risk he causes other people. Of course, unlike those examples, Mr. Tootill is a really good driver.

How about this proposal: We keep the speed limits where they are because of public safety, cost, and environmental benefits, and Mr. Tootill starts acting like and adult and gets his speed jollies at the track, not on our public roads.

…and bring on 2014

Following on my previous post, the good news/bad news dichotomy of 2013 fails (as all false dichotomies do) on several of the biggest stories of the year, as I find them blending good and bad news.

The Pattullo Bridge: This story started off as bad news, as TransLink appeared dead-set on sticking a 6-lane bridge where it doesn’t belong while offering little in the way of public consultation. However, vocal concerns related to this project from the public and the City of New Westminster lead TransLink to engage in a more comprehensive consultation process. The ‘default” mode of replacing a piece of aging infrastructure with a bigger, more expensive piece was re-evaluated, and a more holistic look at the needs of the community and the role of the transportation system was taken. Looking at the “problem set” agreed to by all stakeholders, there no longer seemed any way to justify a bridge larger than the one there now. Fittingly, a more comprehensive list of options was presented, and it looked like a more reasoned approach to TransLink’s “aging bridge problem” was in the offing.

That said, there are signs the positive feeling we were getting in 2013 might be short lived. TransLink is coming back to the community to consult on the next phase of planning in the next month of two, and the early reports are that the 6-lane bridge is back on the front burner. This time, they appear to be adding a strange bauble meant to appease some concerned about Trucks on Royal Ave., but will in fact make the rat-running and other negative traffic impacts on our City worse. I can’t say too much more at this point, except that this will be the biggest issue in New Westminster in the spring of 2014, and will create a strange local dynamic in the upcoming municipal election and TransLink referendum. Watch this spot!

School District 40: This story is another of the endlessly-long variety, with many twists and turns in 2013. At the beginning of the year, it was all bad news. The budget deficit went from terrible to critical, this as the Treasurer of the district resigned, which threw more chaos into the mix. With lay-offs and equipment shortages, all was bad news. However, as 2013 drew to a close, there were signs of a turn-around. The brutal austerity measures appear to be leading to a more stable budget, there is new leadership on the Board, and while one of the long-awaited new schools is taking shape, another is creeping closer to reality.

However, the austerity will be brutal, and there are signs that the new leadership will not automatically end the partisan bickering that we all know and love around the Trustee Table. Turning a ship as big as School District 40 doesn’t happen quickly, but it is easier to do if the ship is not taking on water. With all the bad news, there are at least a few reasons to be positive about the direction the district is moving as we get into the 2014 Election Year.

The Waterfront: There were a lot of little stories relating to New Westminster’s waterfront that, individually didn’t get much press, but put together, draw a picture of a great future for the City. The success of the Pier Park and the resurgence of the River Market are carry-overs from 2012, but they are part of the positive momentum that is forming down there. The announcements that the City is ready to start thinking post-parkade planning, and the recent announcement that a new, more human-scale proposal for the Larco Property point to a bright future for this important part of the City. I won’t go on length, as I recently did just that, but this is a bigger story for the decade ahead than the amount of media it received would lead you to think.

Of course, I am being a little coy about the two *biggest stories* of 2013, as so much has already been said about them, but there were two events for which 2013 will be remembered in New Westminster.

The fire; Was easily the most terrible news of the year. The City lost some beautiful heritage buildings, and several important downtown businesses (not the least being my favourite Pho place!). The resulting gap in the retail streetscape which, even in the best of circumstances, will linger for more than a year or two, is a step backwards in the momentum we were seeing downtown. I hope this isn’t a nail in the coffin for the Antique Row on Front Street.

But out of the bad news, we managed to find positive in the community. The heroic work of the firefighters from New Westminster and the neighbouring communities to stop the spread of the fire in challenging conditions, the rallying of citizens, businesses, and the City in providing whatever the businesses needed – whatever could be found, from leasable space to cash – to maintain business continuity as much as possible and help those impacted move on. It is still going on with a fundraiser next week at De Dutch, the Shopping bag program, and more. The Fire also brought us all out to think about what buildings and heritage are, taught us how diverse our downtown business community is (there were 20 businesses in just those buildings!?), and reminded us that what we need to value what we have, as it can be lost.

Hyack: Many column inches were spent on this issue, an internal dispute that spun out into the public and shone some (perhaps unwelcome?) light on an organization that we all know about, most of us love, but many of us hardly think about. With this story still developing, and an AGM scheduled for early 2014, it is hard to say what surprise comes next, but there is no doubt that Hyack needs to think about how it will re-build the parts of its reputation that have been tarnished, if they are given the opportunity. The latest shot in the letters section (one from deep inside, apparently) doesn’t help smooth the waves, though.

Again, this “bad news” story overshadowed the good news of the City’s festival spirit. With or without Hyack, the opportunities for sharing and enjoying our City have increased in recent years. Newer events like Uptown Live and the Columbia StrEAT Food Truck Festival compliment the ongoing success of events like the monumentally-attended Show & Shine, Sapperton Day, Riverfest, and yes, the Parade and other events around the Hyack Festival. Pride Week Events were also great this year, and friends involved in the organization tell me the response they are getting is so good that they are looking at serious expansion of that event over the next few years.

So at the risk of sounding like a cheerleader, 2014 is looking positive: Everything is coming up New West!

The end of 2013…

I’m back from a long vacation, where I saw many things, learned many things, and caught up on about 11 months of sleep deprivation. Among my adventures was visiting a Museum to Urban Planning – yes, I am that kind of geek. More on that later.

I haven’t done a “Year in Review” thing yet, and I guess as some of us like to pretend a Blog is a form of “media”, I am required to by some sort of law or code or something. However, the end of 2013 was so busy right up to the day I left for vacation, It just never happened. So a few days late, here is my New Year post.

Actually, I’ll make it two posts, because I’m busy and lazy and want to get twice the number of hits for the same amount of effort on my part. That’s apparently the key to Social Media success, don’t you know!

I’m going to start with New Westminster’s Good News stories of 2013:

New CAO: The announcement that Lisa Spitale was hired to be the new CAO for the City of New Westminster. In her time running the City’s Planning Department, Lisa was always approachable, honest, visionary, and hopeful. Her role in the positive direction the City has taken in the last decade is often overshadowed by the elected officials who cut the ribbons she has set up for them, but such is the life of the government staffer. I have had the opportunity to chat with Lisa at various consultations and open houses, and she has always struck me as someone who understands the bigger vision and the smaller details in municipal planning, while leaving the politics (and the ensuing battles) to the politicians, so she can just quietly get her job done. She specifically told me once she “doesn’t read the Blogs”, so I am pretty sure she won’t read this, but I am excited to see what stamp her personality puts on the City now that she is in the big chair.

Good things for Queensborough: The completion (on budget!) and opening (on schedule!) of the expanded Queensborough Community Centre, the development of a renewed Community Plan, regained momentum on the Q2Q pedestrian crossing: things are definitely moving in New Westminster’s “other borough”. As a “mainlander”, I am as guilty as most in sometimes paying less attention to the east end of Lulu Island as it deserves, but there is a real community over there, and it is growing fast. I delegated for the NWEP at the Council Meeting held at the new QCC, and it was great to see it so well attended – people in the ‘Burough are as proud of their neighbourhood as any other in New West- and for good reasons. The waterfront trail system and Port Royal neighbourhoods are real jewels the entire City should be proud of, as is the much more rural and relaxed central parts of Queensborough, where large lots and farmers fields still exist.

There are pressures, however. Some of the densification may be higher than ideal, especially considering the recent clawing back of transit service by TransLink. The re-imagining of Ewen Ave as a “Great Street” is long overdue, and not moving along quickly enough, which might be slowing the retail growth south of the Freeway. The long-term livability impacts of Port Metro Vancouver’s uncontrolled and unaccountable truck-oriented development along the waterfront are also a looming concern. However, Queensborough is no longer being ignored (if it ever was), and has some of the best views in the City for a walk-around.

New MLA: The 2013 election was, locally, a great campaign. Faces familiar and new stepped up and put their ideas to the test, and the totally predictable outcome still resulted in a surprising winner. Yes, we knew Judy Darcy was the odds-on favourite in this town of orange, but what surprised me about Judy was how different she was from the way her critics tried to paint her. Although a life-long labour activist, and relatively new to New West (that last point a characteristic she actually shared with her closest opponent), she did not come across at all like a parachute candidate. She has already established deep roots in the community, and in conversation, the immediate impression was not a polished politician, but a genuine person who has happened to work her whole life on social justice issues. She is a pleasure to talk to, asks the right questions, admits when she doesn’t have an answer, and has an infectious laugh that comes from deep down. She is going to be (and already is) a great MLA.

Given a high-profile shadow cabinet position, she has already become a strong voice for long-promised but not-really-budgeted Royal Columbian, Burnaby, and other hospital expansions, even pressing Health Minister Terry Lake to say, in effect, that those promises were only for election purposes, and were not to be taken seriously: a “quick win” for a rookie MLA against an established cabinet minister. If we ever actually have a legislative sitting, Judy will do us proud.

2013 wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops. There were some Bad News stories in New West in 2013:

Traffic Troubles: Some would say it is hard to believe traffic could get worse in New West, but people who actually pay attention to things like sustainable transportation management were not surprised. Now we have the situation where New Westminster’s most staunch BC Liberal Party supporter is on the cover of the local newspaper complaining that truck traffic caused by the bad transportation infrastructure decisions of the BC Government of the last decade is hurting his community. The measureable increase in truck traffic was a predictable result of the expansion of the SFPR, the expansion of the Lougheed from Coquitlam through to Maple Ridge, and the expansion of Highway 1 and subsequent tolling of the Port Mann Bridge. One of the results is an end to a decade-long trend of reduced traffic across the Pattullo. Watch for this sudden “surprising” increase to be used as an excuse to expand the roads we have, which will somehow make sense to people who are otherwise smart enough to realize that the cure for drunkenness is not found in more booze. I’ll talk more about this in my next post, and I suspect the entire City will be talking about this a lot in 2014.

Port Problems: The second ongoing bad news story that bubbled to the surface in New West this year is the Fraser Surrey Docks plan to begin bulk shipments of thermal coal. There are way too many aspects of this story to cover in detail in a reasonable-length post: the Port’s complete lack of accountability to the public or the community it serves as it rushes to develop real estate for profit against the opposition of every surrounding municipality; the fact that regional health officers (whose job it is, after all, to protect the community’s health) can be overruled by a business plan; the fact that business plan is somehow seen as critically important to the Port, although it offers so few actual jobs; the continued disregard for the fact that mining and burning thermal coal is a deeply unethical thing to do, on par with the export of asbestos. This proposal is just one current plan on Port lands, and there will be more ethically questionable, environmentally risky, and economically precarious ones coming down the pike, from Kinder Morgan, Enbridge, and the local LNG facilities (that no-one is talking about yet), as we transition to a full-on PetroState – the only one in the world without state control of its Petroleum.

Ugh. Now I’m all depressed.

Next, I’ll post the other part of my year in review, the stories that transitioned from good to bad, or vice-versa, or contained a healthy dose of both, and will include a look ahead to the stories that will be important in the beginning of 2014. Hopefully, I’ll finish that one with a more positive feeling.