Annus horribilis

It is the time of year when the media take their annual look back at the year in review. As I am enjoying a short vacation (notably in a place a healthy distance south of New Westminster), I am less immersed in every day life and find myself looking back as well, but I’m afraid looking back doesn’t fill me with joy. Instead, I find myself thinking of 2012 as annus horribilis for the issue I am most concerned about: environmental sustainability.

Nationally, that began with Bill C-38. The least open and accountable government in Canadian History (and that is saying something coming out of the Chretien years) created a 425 page “Budget Bill” that featured a dozen pages on budget issues wrapped in a lengthy, complicated, and harmful disassembly of decades of environmental law.

How bad was it?

They ripped the bottom out of the Fisheries Act: the single strongest piece of environmental protection law the country had. This is (was) the law around which all other laws protecting the quality of Canada’s water were structured. The CCME Water Quality Guidelines, the Provincial Fish Protection Act, the Provincial Environmental Management Act, Municipal Riparian Areas Regulations, (and more) are all structured around the basic protections of water quality and habitat protection afforded by the Fisheries Act. The Harper Government(tm) ripped this fundamental law apart so suddenly and inexplicably that even the Government’s own scientists have yet to understand what the loss of habitat protection means. They left the professionals tasked with applying the laws completely in the dark about what the changes mean, while concurrently firing all of the Government staff who might provide the guidance. They did this just before the report from the Cohen Commission was released, knowing full well it was going to suggest that the Fisheries Act needed to strengthen, not weaken, fish protection.

That was bad enough, but they did the same thing (again completely without consulting the public, their own scientists, or the practicing professionals working with the regulations) with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (reducing by 90% the number of major projects requiring any environmental planning at all). They scuppered the law that made it illegal for them to break an international agreement (The Kyoto Protocol); they opened up the coincidently ice-free arctic to oil and gas drilling while giving the National Energy Board the only power of oversight over this monumental policy change and not actually asking any of the locals; they also gave the National Energy Board the power to deem which species qualify for protection under the Species at Risk Act; disbanded the National Roundtable on Environment and the Economy (because god forbid we have a rational discussion between environmental professionals and industry about developing business responsibly); specifically exempted pipelines from the Navigable Waters Protections Act; along with several other goodies.

All this under the guise of a “Budget”, and all without any public discussion. One might argue the Act went to committee and there was discussion in Parliament before it was passed, and that constitutes “discussion”. However, not a single amendment was made to the original bill as written – 425 pages modifying a dozen other pieces of legislation that fundamentally changed how the environment is protected across the nation, and it was apparently perfect on the first draft, at least according to the Harper Government(tm).

Then, after all the negative press (even the National Post, the Conservative house paper, called the Omnibus Bill “Illegitimate” and spoke of “fundamental issues of Parliamentary government”), after the outcry from the opposition, former Parliamentarians from both sides of the aisle, and the public, the Harper Government(tm) doubled down with Bill C-45, which further reduced protection of lakes and rivers in Canada, causing the government to shirk it’s constitutionally-mandated responsibility (in other words, Provinces cannot even legallly step in an provide the protection the Feds have stripped).

Aside from Omnibus nuke-the-environment bills, the Federal government has also made some dubious decisions regarding our nation’s ability to protectant exploit its non-renewable resources. They continue to float the idea of signing a free trade agreement with China which doesn’t specifically permit Chinese-owned companies to operate in Canada without following Canadian environmental laws, but it may allow them to sue the Canadian Taxpayers for lost profit caused by following those laws. The race to the bottom has never been so clear.

I’m not as concerned as some about the Nexen takeover by CNOOC, but when you combine that takeover with the increasing interest in Canadian hydrocarbons from state-owned oil companies from Japan to Korea to Malaysia, one has to wonder if Canada is the only nation that is specifically exempt from owning Canadian Oil and Gas. Yes, I am going there: It is time for National Energy Program 2. If all of our customer countries are doing it on our own soil, it is getting tough to argue it will make us uncompetitive…

However, the Harper Government(tm) doesn’t want to openly discuss these important issues any more than they want to discuss changes in the Fisheries Act.

“In spite of all the very important deals and the billions of dollars of contracts we signed this week, more people in Canada will notice the pandas than anything else.” Stephen Harper to Bo Xilai during a trip to China.

The 2012 story was not much better locally in New Westminster.

The opening of the replacement Port Mann Bridge produced the centre-piece for the $5 Billion subsidy to unsustainable urban planning that is the Gateway Program. Assuring that car-oriented development, traffic quagmires, air pollution, and erosion of livability will continue South of the Fraser of another generation. The minor damage done to a couple of dozen cars by falling ice is an irrelevant distraction compared to the long-term damage that bridge will do to our City.

Especially when put into the context of the ongoing standoff over TransLink funding, where our idiotic-looking Provincial Government is battling the moronic-acting Mayors’ Council over 0.6% of that amount of money to keep our Regional Transit System operating at it’s current level of service. The idea of growing the Transit System to meet the needs of the growing community, and the growing number of people actually using the already inadequate system, is apparently off the table for now. Instead of addressing this issue, the Mayors of our biggest communities bitch and grumble over which rapid transit line should be built next, while ignoring the fact that the one promised to the Northeast Sector almost 20 years ago has still not been built! We can build three freeways at the same time in BC, but ask the same people to build two transit lines at the same time, and that is apparently beyond our engineering capacity.

Meanwhile, the Left Coast of Canada is quickly becoming the new Persian Gulf, as the only industry our Governments deem worthy of investment is the putting of hydrocarbons (be they coal, bitumen, or methane) onto boats to ply the stormy seas of volatile international energy markets. Considering what our planned contributions to Greenhouse Gas Emissions are from these projects alone, I hope they’re building those ports well up the hill from today’s tidewater.


Despite all of this, there was some good news. Despite the Harper Government(tm) attempts to derail all environmental oversight, the push-back over the Enbridge Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan Pipelines are aligning disparate citizens’ groups toward a common cause: assuring their is environmental oversight and public discussion of major projects, even if the Government doesn’t want it. As a result, the ongoing coordinated media blitz between the Oil and Gas Industry, the Provincial and Federal Governments, is being seen for what it is: a cheap sales job paid for by taxpayers to sell them an idea that might be a bad one for them (even if it is a good one for the oil companies eking the last bit of profit out of their 20th Century business models).

These projects, and the failure of the Federal Government in its constitutional responsibilities, are leading to what may turn out to be the most important national political action by First Nations since Elijah Harper held a feather up to Meech Lake. The epicentre may be Attawapiskat, but the real battle will be in Ottawa and Kitimat, and it refreshes me to know that the one group in Canada that has so consistently been marginalized by official proclamation will be Idle No More.

Locally, things are also looking up. TransLink’s rush to expand the Pattullo Bridge has slowed down as they seek more consultation from New Westminster and Surrey, and they re-assess their budget and the alleged need for more bridge capacity connecting King George to McBride. Meanwhile, New Westminster’s Master Transportation Plan consultations showed the people in New Westminster want the City to set aggressive goals towards reducing traffic load on our City, and with EnVision2032, City Hall is taking steps to integrate Sustainability into all future City planning and activities.

however, if There was one dominant “Good News” story for the Environment in this annus horribilis, it was the emergence of Elizabeth May, Parliamentarian. Every day she was in the House (and she was there every day it sat), she demonstrated what a Member in a parliamentary representative democracy should be. She proved that a lone member from a fringe party can represent, and that perhaps it is time for us to stop relying on the “established” parties to represent us, when they really only represent their party, when instead we should be choosing the individual who will fight the good fight in the House.

You should read the speech excerpted in that link above. It is a compelling plea for democracy and the traditions of parliament that once made Canada a model for the world, a place where rule of law, honest discussion and diplomacy was the way to solve problems. Where people didn’t need to fight for our freedoms, but negotiated them like civilized people. People often forget our nation confederated over a table, we didn’t fight a bloody revolution. We did all of our fighting for freedoms in other countries, like France and the Netherlands and Korea and Cyprus and Bosnia, hoping that others would enjoy the freedoms we won through peaceful negotiation. Here at home, compromise and understanding were not evils to be avoided, but were the way we got things done. And I’m proud of the country that approach built…

…but I may be getting ahead of myself a bit here. We lost some things in 2012, I’m not sure if we will know their impact for years to come, but Canada is still here, and BC is still here, and New Westminster is still here, and they are still the best places to live (in my sometimes-humble opinion).

So for the environment, 2012 was annus horribilis. As a proud Canadian, that only renews my energy and drive to do better in 2013.

Happy New Year.

Smoke on the Plaza

You know what’s gross? Smoking.

This will shock many of my readers (but not one: hi Mom!) who think “NWimby” and “Clean Living” are synonymous, but I was once a smoker, Off and on for most of my teenage years and early 20s. I started in High School, the same as my siblings and my parents. Strangely, I would quit during the summer to bike race, start again in the winter. I did this pretty much until I met a girl who meant more to me than the MacDonald Lassie; a few years after high school.

I was lucky, in that I just don’t have addictive tendencies. It was just as easy for me to quit cold turkey as it was to pick up a pack of smokes and start again. Once I got old enough and smart enough to think about it, smoking was a bad idea- socially, economically, health-wise. I just stopped, and it was easy for me to do. I was lucky.

So, like many former smokers, I am a bit of a militant anti-smoker. The stuff isn’t good for you, and it really stinks up any environment where it is introduced. Funny how I used to sit in a car and smoke, now I am offended if the guy in front of me in traffic smokes and I have to smell that distant scent from the little bit that works its way to my car’s vents. I’m like a bloodhound for the stuff.

Then there’s the trash. We are, in British Columbia, in 2012, pretty much a post-litter society. Someone opening up a candy wrapper and tossing it on the ground is a rare enough event that it would turn heads and elicit comment from adjacent people. We don’t throw our used fast food containers out the window of our car. But it is still normal to see someone take that last, satisfying puff of a cancer stick, and flick it to the ground on the sidewalk, or toss it from the car window, like it is someone else’s problem to clean up.

The Shoreline Cleanups count cigarette butts as the single most common piece of litter, by far. There were no less than three fires last summer along Stewardson Way related to discarded butts, and all you need to do is look in any storm drain or along any poorly maintained roadside, and you will see that 90% of the gunk accumulating along the curb is cigarette filters.Gross.

Stricken from restaurants and bars, from pubic buildings and most homes, smokers are stuck on the street, smoking outside doorways (but not within 3 m!). I can only think of two bars in New West that still have a place where you can sit (outside), have a beer and a smoke. And I sit inside whenever I am at either of them. But you can’t escape the smell. There has been much Twitter space complaining about the smokers in the underground bus mall at Plaza88 The Shops at New Westminster Station (I have seen the bus loop referred to as the most expensive and dankest smoking lounge in the City).

And then there is the gauntlet of smokers you need to run to get into the London Drugs in Uptown New West.

There was a recent letter to the editor of the Record suggesting BC is the only province that still allows the sale of cigarettes in Pharmacies, and this should change. The thinking is that Pharmacies are “health care businesses”, and the sales of cigarettes are a violation of whatever the Pharmacy version of the Hippocratic Oath is.

Even the Premier was asked about this by The Tyee in a recent interview. And I have to give Premier McSparklestm credit: she makes a good point regarding the role of Pharmacies as some special type of retailer in the world of the London Drugs Electronics section and Walmart prescription counters.

That said, I would argue the exact opposite of the letter writer. I am starting to think Pharmacies are the only place that should sell cigarettes. The entire purpose of the Pharmacist is to distribute potentially-harmful drugs in a regulated way to prevent their misapplication, misuse or abuse. I offer the opinion that cigarettes are little more than harmful drug delivery systems. Nicotine is a powerful, addictive neurotoxin. For the vast majority, smoking is not a habit, it is a chemical addiction, little different than alcoholism or heroin. Perhaps we can start treating it like an addiction.

The BCLiberals, again to their credit, have made a few positive steps in this direction: the Province supports smoking cessation programs as part of its health plan, which is a pretty progressive position to take. This seems a rational approach to health-care policy, which I suspect has a strong business case behind it (lung cancer and emphysema are really expensive to manage, and cost the health care system a lot of money).

The next logical step may be to start selling cigarettes over the counter like other lethal drugs. No prescription needed, but only sold to adults, up to a carton at a time, and every package includes smoking cessation information and important information about use and contra-indications, just like any dangerous and addictive drug. It is part of moving smoking further from the mainstream, and more like the fringe activity it really has become.

In the meantime, back to London Drugs in Uptown; the one you cannot currently get into without second-hand smoking a Dunhill or two. I was at an open house a couple of weeks ago put on the Uptown Property Group. They were showing plans to re-invent that plaza space at 555 Sixth Street. Apparently, the owners of the complex recognize the loitering smoker problem there, the impact on their customers, and have not been able to fix it.

They have put up No Smoking signs (ignored), have their own security guys go out there regularly (similarly ignored). As this a problem impacting is both private and public property, they have found no relief from Bylaw Officers or the Police (unfortunately, Provincial smoking laws are enforced by the Health Department- when’s the last time you met a Health Department cop?) It seems an unmanageable situation.

So UPG decided to apply some CPTED principles, and do a re-design of the plaza. Looking over the drawings included with the Report to Council (the same drawings were shown at the Open House), the plan is to remove the planters and seating under cover in front of the entrance of London Drugs, and retain seating only on the patio in front of Starbucks – and that only accessible from within the Starbucks (making the non-smoking rule much more likely to be respected). Besides opening up the court yard, they wanted to expand the surface out towards the street and add some feature lighting, a couple of trees, and tile designs in order to make it a nice open space.

The Plan from the Council Report (click to zoom)

I thought of comparisons to Plaza88 The Shops at New Westminster Station. The proposed patio is like the new north entrance to Plaza88 TS@NWS between the Tim Horton’s and the Old Spaghetti Factory. I can only hope the newly-fenced-in Starbucks seating will not look like the Plaza88 TS@NWS Safeway Starbucks, which is currently the best-defended deck space in the City. Plans for the opened-up space include introduction of public art, with the bonus that it would provide another stage space for Uptown Live and the Hyack Parade. It would be a half-covered, open, well-lit, modern and inviting space for humans, without being the unofficial smoking zone it is now.

I was surprised to hear Council discussing this at Committee in the Whole last week, and watching the video of the exchange, the surprise began to turn to dismay when it was clear how negative the reaction was from Council (why weren’t UPG there to defend their reasoning?). You can see the video here, by choosing the December 10 Committee of the Whole meeting. The conversation on this topic starts at 1:00:50.

I want to make a couple of points based on that discussion:

• Parking spots? We are worried about 3 parking spots? Look at the picture on Page 2 of the report to Council I linked to above – does that look like a spot where the loss of three (3) parking spots is going to hurt business? There are a thousand parking spots insdie and out within a block. Not ot mention it is, after all, the most prominent business looking to remove them;

• The topic of the length of the bus stop across the street is not relevant to the discussion. Whether this project happens or not has no effect on the bus stops across the street;

• Opening up and modernizing a public plaza is not an assault on the poor. People “having a cup of coffee smoking a cigarette, whatever they are doing” is NOT  “entirely appropriate” when they are sitting in front a no smoking sign two metres from the entrance to a business. It is illegal, and does not make the space more livable;

• Assuming that the City’s “progressive laws” will fix the problems at the site ignores that those same laws have not yet solved the issues at the site, nor are they solving the problem at the Plaza88 bus loop or other places where smokers are impacting people. If panhandling is an issue here, if smokers ignore the signs, the business requests to butt out, then how does that square with the need for our “aging population” to feel safe?

• This is not public space being turned over to a private owner, and it clearly is NOT a “private benefit” by any reasonable definition. We are talking about converting space dedicated to public parking into space dedicated to public walking and standing… how does that make it a private benefit? Is every parking space, bicycle rack, bus stop in front of a business a private benefit?

• There is no “pedestrian safety” concern at the crosswalk at the location. If cars are sometimes forced to wait for people to cross the street, sometimes for tens of seconds, that is not a “safety issue”. To me, it is effective use of pedestrian space, and one of the safest crosswalks in the City. The only safety issue is the parking spot across the street that is clearly a violation of section 400.13 of the City’s Street Traffic Bylaw 6027 (go ahead, look it up!)

As usual, I offer my usual caveat that I am working from public info and a short conversation with UPG coming out of the Open House, and maybe there is stuff going on here behind the scenes of which I am not aware, but I take what people say at face value. I was initially hoping that UPG would come to Council and provide a little more guidance towards their thinking here, and how these changes will address a real problem, while adding a public asset. However, talk around the knitting circle suggests the plans have been withdrawn due to resistance from Council. It seems to be there is a lost opportunity here. UPG may do some similar improvements on their own property (the City may bit be able to stop them), but any plans to make the 500 Block of 6th Street a more open, public, friendly and open space, without the need for non-smokers to hold their breath through it.

Alas, before they take the smokes out of the Pharmacy, they can find a way to get the Pharmacy out from behind a wall of smoke, and that’s really all I want.

The Language of Curling

Just for the fun of it, I am totally going to geek out on curling, because we had a great game at the Royal City club on Tuesday, and I can. None of this is going to make any sense to my friends that don’t curl, but part of what I love about the game is the language – because everything below makes perfect sense to anyone who has spent any time in a curling rink. The Roarin’ Game has its own Language.

1st end: We lost the flip, as per usual, but Byron put his first rock 6’ short on the line, and buried his second on the top of the 4, and we were set up. Then we let the end get away from us after they made a nice corner freeze on the counter and we failed to stick the freeze on the other side. They peeled to open it up, And it turned into a peel game. However, his last overturned to the nose and stuck around, forcing the point.

2nd end: He put his first draw top 12, and the hit game commenced. It was real Ryan vs. Lukowich time, trading rolls, making most. Ice was pretty straight for the outside-in game with hit weight, but turned an easy 3 feet off the line with anything around control weight: all predictable. He rolled his last shot out, and we decided to draw and take one instead of the strategic blank (it was an even end, and I needed to practice my draw after playing in Seattle all weekend).

3rd end: We put up a corner guard, then they put one up on centre, so we went behind the corner. They drew in the middle and we followed, but their down-weight hit and flop worked. With things building up behind the guard but in front of the T, we needed to switch up and open things. Our semi-peel perfectly caught one of the counters. After a few traded hits, we ended up sitting two and he was forced to take one facing two of ours.

4th end: With the hammer, we decided to plug it up a bit to see if we could get some action, and I think he had the same idea. When one of his guards came up heavy and almost froze his counter in the top of the 4, he was all of the sudden sitting 1st and 2nd in the 4, us sitting 3rd at the back of the 4, and him 4th at the back of the 12 (we had flob way over in the wings). Ward threw a great across-the face peel on the two counters- he needed to get across the face with pretty big weight to keep the drag from jamming on our 3rd rock, and he dragged it perfectly to pick out their third rock and preserve the shooter- a beauty triple, and all of the sudden we are sitting 3 with skips rocks to come. He hits and rolls, I hit and roll, his hit and roll ends up not frozen to our counter at the back of the 12, but overlapping enough that I need a delicate angle to pick him and stick for three. Even the jam miss still scores two. What doesn’t score three or two is me coming out inside and light, curling across the face, and jamming him into our back rock. We take one. Half way done, we are all tied up.

5th end: Rolls were definitely going our way here. They decided to push the matter and score this end, but we were making our draws. At some point he needed to clear off some front rocks to give himself a route in. By the time I threw my last, we had one just biting the top of the 4 half covered, and a couple of other counters in front of the T. The 4 foot was covered on the in turn side, all I had to do was jam up the port on the outturn side and he was going to have a hard time cutting us to 1. Being a greedy guy, I figured: put it in the 8 foot for a second counter, and he would have a hard time keeping us to 2. Of course, I was about a foot long in my guard, so the nose hit cut us to 1, and he made it. Still, it was a steal, which at this point is the first skin of the game.

6th end: Our first rock slid into the house, and they hit it, so off we go to the hit game again. We traded misses at one point, and we traded picks at one point (oh, oh- pebble is starting to go away) but it was a basic split-house draw and chase where I was never able to get the roll I needed to close the gap. They had an opportunity to hit and stick for two, but overturned on (previously) straight piece of ice, and couldn’t save the shooter. Another single, and tied again.

7th end: this is where the wheels fell off of our bus. Like the 5th where we were getting the draws and rolls, here in the 5th they got the rolls and skinny come-arounds, we got the racks and the wrecks. At one point we were looking at 4 of their rocks in the house, and none of ours. We managed to keep the guards off and had a control-weight nose hit on the counter to score single and get out of the end. Thank you Mr. Hammer.

8th end: We are one up without coming home, they of course are one down with. We need to steal, they need multiples, so the guards go up early. Ice is getting straighter as the pebble goes away, so the come-arounds aren’t burying. We managed to get Ward’s last rock biting the top corner of the button and ¾ buried, and their attempt to extract it with hack or backline just hung too long, actually pushing us over a foot- dead buried covering the pin. We had a counter at the side, so they need to remove it and stick around. They had two fairly long angle run-backs, I had to throw two guards. My guard of the outturn draw (which was probably just there) picked or overturned, and didn’t do much to make his life any more difficult. He threw the inturn run-back and missed wide, but taking off the guard, giving himself a route in to the button. My attempt to guard that port failed to turn enough to close the port, and he drew through it perfect, just pushing us off the button without a roll. Tied up.

Tie break is a turkey shoot: one rock each, closest to the button. Having just thrown the button draw, he did it again, stopping full 4. Having just missed two guards, I threw too deep, back 8, and we shook hands. We had three chances to take control of the game: my last shots in the 4th, 5th, and 8th. Those seem to overshadow his missed deuce in 6th or my game-saving hit and stick in 7th.

Thankless life of the skip.

3 shorts: Traffic, Coal, and Anvils.

I am crazy busy these days, and I’m not feeling that good right now. Work and other life-like things are causing me a little bit of stress at this moment, and I am about to take off for a little vacation, before which I need to get a lot of things done. Also, there is apparently some sort of holiday coming up which requires preparation and such. So blogging will be a little light this December. I need to concentrate on real life, Ms.NWimby, and trying to get a little exercise and reading (for sanity preservation), so my writing time is something that might have to give a bit for a short while.

To hold you, my dedicated readers (Hi Mom!), here are some short takes on the local news stories that seem to matter right now, and yes, I’ll keep them short:

1) Pattullo Traffic resulting from Port Mann tolls: It is too early to tell anything. At this point we have anecdotes, and the plural of anecdote is not data. We will all have inkling feelings traffic is a little better or a little worse, but the true impacts will not be known until well into the new year, when we get some data from the City and/or TransLink. Good to see New West and Surrey are having Council-to-Council discussions about the fate of the Pattullo though. My only question is what too so long.

2) The proposed coal terminal in Surrey: The alleged dust concerns bother me none: worse stuff than a little coal dust will enter our airshead from the BunkerC and diesel burned by the boats and trains transporting the stuff, and the facility will not be used for storage, but just for direct transfer from the trains to the barges. Still, the stuff is kind of nasty as far as any spills into the River, and the idea that we are happily shipping lower-grade thermal coal to be burned in far east power plants seems to thumb a nose at the idea of Anthropogenic Global Warming. Profiteering from Climate Change while saying it is a problem and “someone else should address it” is a bit, I don’t know, unethical, isn’t it?

3) The latest revelations about the MUCF deal going sour. Apologies to Chris Bryan and all the Twitteratti who have been all over this, but this (seems to me) much ado about very little. Admittedly, I have only given a quick read to the heavily-redacted document attained by FOI and posted by the NewsLeader, but it appears to outline the pre-Memorandum-of-Understanding phase of the negotiations between UPG and the City. Seems the developer made an initial offer to build the entire building and then give the semi-finished MUCF Anchor Centre over to the City, at a cost to the City close to the $35 Million earmarked for the project in the DAC funds.

At first pass, this sounds like a much better deal than the $94 Million the City is currently estimating the complete building will cost. $35 Million is definitely less than $94 Million. But we are not comparing apples to apples here.

Remember this drawing? The MUCF sandwich: this is what the City is budgeting: $12.5M for a three-level car garage, $41.5M for the completed MUCF Anchor Centre, $33M for the Office Tower, and $7M for “fitting out” the tower once a client is found. The City now has complete say over all aspects of design and layout, and once built, the City will own all of it – the $94 Million building, the land it sits upon and the air it sits within. Much of that will be a sale-able asset, or will return a revenue stream.

Although much of the financial detail is redacted, we can develop a pretty good picture of what the deal offered by UPG looked like from the document in the story.

The City gives UPG some undisclosed amount of money, which is apparently close to the $35 Million available from DAC Funds (7th bullet point, Executive Summary). For that, the City gets the shell of the MUCF Anchor Centre.  Even the fit-out and appointment of the MUCF Anchor Centre is at the cost and risk of the City (see third paragraph, page 23), and not part of the guaranteed cost. The City does not get the two-level parking lot: it belongs to UPG, and if the City wants their own level of parking they need to pitch in another $7 Million. (see note 5 on page 22). The City cannot even dictate the parking rates in its own MUCF Anchor Centre.  The City would still own the land under the MUCF Anchor Centre, but not any of the air parcels for the two levels of parking or the tower. Actually, they were bound to leasing some of that air space for the exclusive use of the Office Tenants for $1 a year, for perpetuity (Point 7, Page 27) and keeping the rest of the airspace free for perpetuity to protect the views of the tenants, for no compensation. The City would need to pay for the demolition of the existing structures and takes all of the demolition/ excavation/ contamination risk; Even the risk of changes in construction costs or delays in schedule fall on the City, not UPG (See note 8, page 25)

Another way to look at this deal: UPG gets to build and outfit a $40 Million office tower building, $5 Million worth of parking spaces, and two retail outlets (the restaurant and coffee shop) on land they are given for free in the centre of an urban downtown adjacent to a busy crossroads and a SkyTrain Station. Their timing, construction and marketing risk are externalized, to the point where they even get final approval on what is built across the street (point 8, page 27) while they maintain the right to make all of the contracting decisions. For this, they have to build the City a $35 Million building, but the City is going to pay them the $35 million for that building! So their first sale is guaranteed by the City!

Yikes. With all due respect to everyone involved, suddenly I’m not surprised the subsequent attempts by the City and the UPG to complete a deal based on this proposal didn’t work out. I cannot imagine what the critics of the failed deal would have said if they saw this deal signed by the City.

Actually, I can imagine. I just imagine it being very similar to what they are saying now.

Our New Motto?

There has been a little recent on-line and print chatter about the “Royal City” moniker. It seems to stem from an off-hand comment by noted New Westminster philanthropist and style maven Bob Rennie, who suggested if we want to sell more condominiums, we should update our image. Lose the “Royal City” and the Crown motif, and start fresh.

Our Mayor, never one to lack vision, suggested off-the-cuff that to some people in New Westminster, the idea of losing the “Royal City” might be considered blasphemy. And we are off to the races.

There have been letters to the editor, lots of on-line chatter, both sides of the issue have been discussed. The subsequent announcement of the Anvil Centre naming, a name that nods deeply to traditions, mixed with its appropriately-modern NFL-Helmet-ready swoopy logo only added fuel to the low smoulder. Fanned again by Councillor Cote’s recent post on a much better local blog than this one admitting to mixed feelings about the return of “swag lights” to Downtown New Westminster. Do these lights demonstrate an excitement and sense of place, or do they just evoke a historic time that ain’t coming back, and perhaps the money could be invested better elsewhere?

I was, up to now, a little ambivalent about these ideas. I like the “Royal City” moniker, although I am anything but a royalist. There is a tradition there worth preserving, and there are (to quote myself) ways that a clever marketer can bring excitement to the Royal City motto without evoking paisley wallpaper and tea sets. I don’t think it looks like Snoop Dog’s jewel-encrusted crown or Kate’s foetus, but I honestly don’t know what it looks like. Hey, I’m a scientist, not a marketing guy.

However, it occurred to me reading this week’s paper that our solution may be at hand. Our good friends at the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure have already provided us a handy new motto, and they are already splattering the new logo all over the roads South of the Fraser:

Artist’s rendition – I haven’t seen the actual signs.

Goodbye “Royal City”. Hello “Toll-Free Alternative”.

That’s right, we think of New Westminster as a community where we live, work and play, where we raise our kids, do our shopping, go to the park, and spend our idle time polishing our crown motifs and complaining about the Socialists. The Ministry of Transportation sees New Westminster as a place where drivers who don’t wish to pay for use of the $3.3 Billion bridge they were all clamoring for can instead zoom along surface streets, past our residential driveways and through our school zones! We have arrived! .

Think of all the tag lines opportunities:

“400,000 drivers a day can’t be wrong!”
“Stay for the stop lights – then please move along”
“Our pedestrians may be slow, but at least they’re soft!”
“Don’t have $3 for a toll? We have dollar stores!”
“If you lived here, you’d enjoy this traffic all day!”
“We put the ‘rough’ in Thoroughfare!”

Again… maybe I just don’t get marketing.

UPDATE: Astute reader and man-about-town Jeremy pointed out to me that “Royal City” isn’t really a motto, it is more of a nickname. You should take all of those times above where I misuse “motto” and stick in “moniker” or “nickname” or some such word. I would do it, but I’m lazy, and busy, and tired from a hard curling weekend.  

This is vitally important because the City already has an official big-M Motto right there on its Wikipedia page: “In God we Trust”. And there’s nothing dated or old fashioned about that!  

Defining your terms

I’m going a little more philosophical than I usually do here, but I have been attending some, for lack of a better term, “political” events recently, and they got me to thinking.
I am (I think) in a fortunate position that I don’t belong to a political party and don’t have strong political allegiances. I like the work that is done by our two local MPs, and I think they represent our community well, but that has little to do with the Party they belong to. I suspect Diana Dilworth would have also been a great representative, given the opportunity to do that. I also think we have two (sorry Mr. Forseth) very good candidates for MLA in the upcoming elections here in New West (although I have yet to challenge each of them on their weaknesses… and that’s between me and them and the ballot).
I have said it before, the issues I care the most about right now (environmental sustainability, municipal infrastructure and transportation, social responsibility, science-based policy development) are issues that every party should address in their platforms, and issues no single party “owns”. I also believe in pre-Chrétien/Harper representative democracy, where the local elected official represents the region to the  House of Commons, not where the local official stands only to bring missives from the PMO to their electorate. So I am kind of a socially-progressive, economically-moderate, environmentalist, policy-wonk rationalist Preston Manning style democrat, if that makes any sense.
With that extended caveat, I want to address two terms I have been hearing a lot recently. They were prominent during the recent USelection, and seem to be featured in assigned talking points for the upcoming BC Election. Both are so poorly defined as to be meaningless, and I cringe whenever I hear them used in discussion. So I am going to throw them out there right now and now you will hear them in every speech you hear between now and May. I may set up a drinking game around them.
They are “Free Enterprise” and “Socialism”.
Some people would have you believe that these are two separate things: two ends of a spectrum so far distant that we must choose which we to abolish and which we must embrace to summon forth a new land of prosperity. I call bullshit on the whole lot of it, starting with the lack of definition of the terms.
They both have definitions, of course, but the definitions you might find in the dictionary are far from the way they are bring applied in rhetoric in 2012.
As the BC Liberals and BC Conservatives clamour over each other to prove themselves the more “Free Enterprise” party, I’m not even sure what that means, and who (other than the Marxist-Leninist Party, I guess) is against “Free Enterprise”. We all believe that businesses should be free to operate within a fair and accountable regulatory regime. We also agree that business operates best when there are regulations around how they operate. As an extreme example, no-one wants a “Heroin-R-Us” store to open up next door, or for weapons to be sold in unregulated booths on street corners. Less extreme examples are the (relatively tight) regulations that protected Canada’s banks from making the risky bets that caused the recent global economic collapse.
“Free Enterprise” does not mean a complete lack or regulations. Actually, there can be no such thing as business unless there is something called “property”, and “property” is defined by the law – we need laws for business to prosper. What we don’t need are unfair or non-transparent laws.
Every Party (again, I might except the Marxist-Leninists and their pals the Libertarians) wants to have well regulated business regime where entrepreneurs can prosper and employ people. To not want that is not rational. We only differ about the process to get there.
“Socialist” has the opposite problem: every Party (again, possibly excepting Libertarians, who limit their socialist leanings to the armed forces) is socialist. I look out at that shiny new $3.3 Billion Port Mann bridge, at the $2 Billion South Fraser Perimeter Road under it, at every single school I pass on my bike ride to work, at the bike lane I ride that bike on, the cop pulling me over for running a stop sign on my bike and the court system where I could defend myself and I see socialism. They are all examples of citizens being forced through law and taxation to pool their “heard earned” money to set up a state-run enterprise for the greater good.
There is no front-line party now arguing that socialism will end under their rule: none are talking about dismantling the public school system, ending the collecting of royalties for natural resource extraction, privatizing the hospitals and fire departments, or turning the police department and the armed forces over to Haliburton. If someone runs “against the socialists” that is someone you should fear – they want to disassemble the very structure of society that separates Canadafrom place without a functioning government, like (alas) Mali.
But that’s not what they mean. They define “socialism” as some sort of vague combination of taxes and labour unions. I know that “Special interests groups” are involved as well, but I’m not sure if that includes the Chamber of Commerce.
Or maybe I just don’t get politics.

So as we enter the election season, (yes, it will be a painfully long campaign leading up to May 2013, such if fixed election dates) I hope that more people, when a candidate uses a term like “Free Enterprise”, “Socialist”, or even “Special Interest Group” or “Big Business”, you ask them to define their terms*. You might be thinking something different than they are.

*My favourite retort when someone asks “Do you believe in God?” is “You will have to define at least two of those words”. It usually allows me to avoid a conversation that will satisfy no-one. .    

Tunnels as problem solvers.

It’s inevitable, whenever discussion of traffic issues in New Westminster carry on for long enough, the topic of tunnels come up. Makes sense, as we are overloaded with traffic and there is no undeveloped space upon which we can build more lanes. So there is a portion of New Westminster population who figure tunnels are the solution to all of the City’s through-traffic woes.

During the last Municipal Election, one mayoral candidate evoked the McBride Tunnel as the solution to the increased traffic that would be caused by expansion of the Pattullo Bridge. Captain Johansen told of a grander plan for tunneling the entire stretch of McBride to the legendary Stormont Connector. John Ashdown doubled-down on this idea by dreaming of a tunneled McBride, Stormont, and entrenched Royal Avenue.

There are two criticisms common to all of these plans: they will cost a fortune, and they don’t solve any actual problems.

Road tunnels in urban areas are notoriously expensive to build and connect to the existing road network, and what is being proposed would be the long road tunnels for Canada. McBride alone would be 2km, Stormont to the Gaglardi interchange another 2km. Add a trenched Royal Ave, and that’s 2 more kilometres. Each of these individually would be much longer than any existing road tunnel in Canada (the Massey Tunnel is just under 700m long, slightly shorter than the 730m Cassiar tunnel).

Length isn’t the only problem. Tunnels in urban areas have to deal with decades worth of utilities under urban roads: sewers (storm and sanitary), water and gas pipes, electrical and communication ducts. Varying fill materials, shoring foundations, contamination, archeology: it’s a mess down there. Moving all of those things out of the way to push a trenched road through is expensive and difficult. Not to mention the disruption at the surface during construction. For this reason, shallow cut-and-cover road tunnels are often no cheaper than deeper bored tunnels, which can avoid these entanglements. You can ask the folks in Boston about these complications and how they can result in runaway costs. Transportation Engineers I have talked to have estimated $4 Billion for a McBride Tunnel and surface Stormont connection. I cannot imagine anyone at any level of government coming up with that order of cash to solve New Westminster’s little traffic inconvenience.

Especially as these expensive tunnels are not likely to be an effective solution, but will only push the traffic pinch points a few hundred metres up the road to inconvenience another neighbourhood, or fill up our underground space with cars to go with our car-filled above-ground spaces. Anyone who thinks a bypass tunnel solves traffic problems has not spent enough time trying to drive through Seattle at rush hour.

If cost -recovery programs are included, then the tunnels will simply be avoided, as the Brisbane experience is showing. There, a tunnel under an urban area built to bypass traffic lights and allow “free flow” is failing: going bankrupt only two years after completion. As we have learned with the Golden Ears Bridge and will soon learn with the Port Mann, people will tolerate a lot of inconvenience to avoid even a nominal toll. Car commuters are not rational in their choices regarding cost and time management. If they were, they would not be in cars, commuting. It’s a tautology.

That aside, there is a place for tunnels in a developed urban environment, and maybe part of New Westminster’s traffic woes can be helped with judicious application of tunneling as long as we put trains, not cars, into those tunnels.

Hear me out here.

Many of the costs and troubles related to road tunnels do not apply to rail tunnels. A 2-track rail tunnel can be as narrow as 10m, but for practical purposes, must be over 6m tall. A road tunnel can be slightly shorter, but would be significantly wider (the Massey tunnel is about 4.8m high, but more than 23 m wide). With trains running through them, not individual trucks and cars with flat tires, finicky engines, erratic drivers and “Baby on Board” stickers, train tunnels require less air-moving capacity, groundwater and seep control, fewer “safety features” like escape tunnels, buffer zones, lighting or climate control than car tunnels. Train tunnels, for all these reasons, are an order of magnitude less expensive to build than road tunnels (presuming, of course, that they can be bored deeper than the majority of existing utilities).

The difference in cost is enough that it was rationally decided that if you want to take your car through the Chunnel, you need to park it on a train first.

It is no secret in regional transportation planning circles that the biggest “pinch point” for goods movement is not New Westminster’s road network- it is the New Westminster Bridge. The 108-year-old steel swing bridge is the only rail crossing of the Fraser River this side of Mission. Even the regional transportation study back in 2003 that established the need for a “Gateway Program” identified the New Westminster Bridge as a high priority – the highest priority for all rail upgrades. Along with the Port Mann, expanding Highway 1, the SFPR (all funded and being built) and long before the NFPR, the Massey Tunnel or Pattullo – the New Westminster Bridge was the critical almost-missing link.

New Westminster Rail Bridge: still solid after 108 years. Please
ignore the big, showy, youthful, orange bridge next to it! 

Yet the Gateway Program has been silent about this imperative issue. Nothing has been done for several reasons; at least part being the difficulty of building an adequate replacement (read: two tracks, and not a swing or lift bridge that impacts rail schedules) in the spot where the bridge currently resides. Trains hate hills and the Navigable Waters Act requires minimum clearance over the River for fixed bridges: the Pattullo has 45m, the New Port Mann about 42m. The ground on the Bridgeview Side has an elevation of about 3m above the River, meaning the bridge would have to lose something like 40m between midspan and Surrey. That isn’t a problem if you are driving a car – a 6% slope is almost invisible to a car, and would require a 650m-long ramp, not unlike the current Pattullo approach. However, to a freight train, that is an insurmountable slope. Trains require a slope closer to 2%, and consequently the offramp on the Surrey Side would need to be 2km long!

For this reason, the idea of a tunnel under the Fraser at that point was considered in that same 2003 report on regional transportation needs. The navigable channel under the bridge is maintained to 10m depth through the dredging program (to accommodate 11m draft ships at least two hours a day – tides and freshets really mess with elevations when you use the top of an estuarine river as a datum – good thing we have geographers!). So the bottom of the tunnel would need to be something like 20m down, requiring a km-long slope from mid-stream to the surface at Bridgeview. Long, but not unmanageable considering most of it will be underground.

The New Westminster side gets more interesting, though. The current train bridge hits the land at about 5m above the river, just above Front Street. From the north pillar of the bridge, McBride would only be about 200m distant. A new 40m-high rail span could therefore only slope down to about 35 m elevation over that distance, which would put the rails on the green grass slope above Columbia Street. I cannot imagine how to connect those rails to the existing rail network without some sort of aircraft carrier-style elevator.

Bring an under-river tunnel in 20m below grade, and you can similarly forget connecting to the existing east-west rail line under the Pattullo Bridge. A new east-west connection would be required, and this is where things start to get exciting for New Westminster, as the only logical connection is a tunnel under New Westminster. A tunnel that connects the rails yards at Sapperton to the rail yards at Quayside. I can think of two ways these tunnels can go. But first, look at the current layout of rail lines in New Westminster.

Existing rail lines in New Westminster, click to see bigger version.

A dreamer would envision three tunnels, each of them about the same length as the existing rail tunnel under North Burnaby. These tunnels would generally be deep-bored tunnels, not cut-and-cover, so there would be few issues with utilities, archaeological sites, or contaminated sites. Luckily, the materials that make up New Westminster hills are pretty competent and easy to drill (mostly sedimentary rocks of the Eocene Huntington Formation, if you care to know).

For the most part, this new infrastructure would be similar in size and scope to the existing Burnaby rail tunnel that connects the current Second Narrows Lift Bridge to the former rail yards around Still Creek. Not many people know about this 3.5km long rail-only tunnel dug in 1969. You may even have ridden your bike along the Frances-Adanac Bike Route and passed the building at Frances and Ingleton, thinking it is some sort of well-armoured house or Hydro substation, when it is actually a ventilation building for the train tunnel about 40m below:

Tunnel Ventilation Structure at Frances and Ingleton in North Burnaby. 
Approximate route of existing 3.5-km Burnaby Rail Tunnel connecting the
Still Creek area to the Second Narrows – the only Rail Crossing of Burrard Inlet.  

So envision this tunneling scheme (obviously diagrammatic – concept, not details) and think about the realized synergies!

Proposed Tunnel Option 1: Dashed orange lines are bored underground tunnels,
well below City infrastructure. Red lines are retained surface rail. Click to enlarge.

We remove the bottleneck at the New Westminster Bridge by exapnding it to two rails and removing the swing bridge schedule hassles (remember, the #1 priority for goods movement in the region). This also opens up numerous possibilities for commuter rail, improved Via/Amtrak service, and opens up valuable industrial land in Surrey that now has long rail ramps on it.

There is no longer a reason to connect the Sapperton rail yard to the Quayside rail yard via east Columbia and Front Street. Those two yards can be connected via the east-west tunnel connecting the Hume Park area to the west foot of 4th street. The rail companies will no longer have to deal with the level crossings between the two, along with the speed limits, traffic and pedestrian issues they present. We have just achieved whistle secession between Braid and Stewardson.

The unnecessarily-complex level crossing at the foot of Braid would see a fraction of the rail traffic it sees now, as it would only see use as access to the small BNSF yard at Sapperton and spurs into the Braid Industrial Area. It would effectively dead-end at Sapperton Landing Park. The through-trains would be in the tunnel, resulting in fewer trains across these routes and increased safety and predictability for drivers.

At the other end, a tunnel dropping two lines below Stewardson near 4th would allow access to the Quayside yard, the SRY bridge to Annacis, and all points west. A re-configuring of the yard would allow the dead-ending of rails in front of the River Market. Your access problems to the Pier Park are solved, your whistle problems are solved, and Front Street becomes more viable human space again. (note this will not address the other rail-related noise issue in the City- the shunting and idling issues at the Quayside yard, but I’m sure James Crosty and Friends will have that situation managed soon enough.)

An alternate, and potentially cheaper, solution would look something more like this:

Proposed Tunnel Option 2: Dashed orange lines are bored underground tunnels,
mostly below City infrastructure. Red lines are retained surface rail. Click to enlarge.

We lose some of the benefits of simplification of the Braid intersection, but perhaps gain a consistency with the existing rail operations, although many of those operations in areas impactful on the City will be moved underground, just to allow acceptable grades between the sub-river tunnel and the existing rails at Sapperton and the Quayside. The total tunnel length is reduced (one 3.2km tunnel instead of three tunnels totalling almost 7.2km), but the interaction with existing utility, road and rail infrastructure is greater, and therefore the construction costs may not be much lower. There are people much better trained than I to advise on which actual tunnel configuration is optimum!

Another argument for these tunnels is that they help solve some of our actual traffic congestion problems. Every container that is on a train is a container that is not on the road. This project improves the competitiveness of the train system for moving goods from Vancouver Harbour and the DeltaPort to points east (including the intermodal yards in the northeast sector and the industrial areas on Annacis), and it moves all of these containers without trying to share space with other trucks, cars, buses  bikes, and the livebility of our city.

Yes, it is up to 7.2 km of tunnelling, but compared to a cut-and-cover McBride tunnel which would be the longest road tunnel in Canada, none of these rail tunnels would be longer than the existing Burnaby tunnel, and combined length they would be much shorter than the longest rail tunnels in Canada- actually a combined length similar to the combined bored and cut-and-cover tunnel for the Canada Line, except without all the expensive underground station costs!

So to summarize: we make the Port and rail companies happy by removing the big bottleneck at the New Westminster Bridge, we remove a significant number of level crossings, open up our waterfront, re-claim valuable downtown land for non-rail use, achieve our whistle cessation goals, and improve the Braid crossing safety issues, while improving rail connectivity and freeing up community streets. All for a cost that would likely be much less than that for an imagined cut-and cover tunnel solution for cars.

Here is a tunnel idea I could support.

on the Shark Fin Soup Bylaw

This Monday New Westminster City Council is going to attack one of the great environmental issues of the day: the unsustainable harvesting of sharks for their fins.

These fins, when boiled long enough to get the urea stink out, dried, powdered, and added to soup, provide a certain gelatinous texture that apparently proves your wealth and success in some cultures. Their harvest from depleted shark populations is one of those long-standing environmental concerns that has only come to popular knowledge due to recent video-recorded cruelty to charismatic megafauna, and it is a certain cause celebre these days. I really have no problem with that.

One only has to look at the long list of animals endangered or made extinct because someone claimed eating bits of them will give you an erection to see just how asinine humans are in the collective, and how easy it is for a protected cultural belief to result in the decimation of an ecosystem. Sharks are important animals in the ocean, and just as banning the global ivory trade is an important step in protecting the elephants, banning shark fin may play a role in protecting endangered sharks. So ending the popularity of shark fin soup is probably a good thing.

In fact, a professional organization I work with, the Environmental Managers Association of BC awarded a grant a few months ago to a grass-roots organization called SharkTruth, who work to raise awareness at the consumer level about shark fin soup and the associated unsustainable harvesting of sharks. I fully supported this choice for a grant recipient, because I agree with their cause and the approach that group takes (if you care about this issue, please think about helping them out!).

So why am I against a Shark Fin Bylaw?

Ultimately, it is the Federal Government who (through a document called the Constitution Act of 1982) has the mandate and the responsibility to protect the oceans around Canada and the fishes within. It is also the sole level of government empowered to negotiate and sign international agreements like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna. It is also empowered to prevent the import and sale of things like ivory, rhino horn, tiger gall bladders, or whatever is getting sick old men up these days.

This is not a job that municipalities should, or even can, do. Do we imagine Bylaw officers inspecting the backs of restaurants for signs of shark fin? De we expect that offending soup is confiscated by a Bylaw officer, taken to a lab for analysis to determine if it indeed contained shark fin and not the much cheaper alternative (gelatin, which is kind of gross when you know what it is, but at least it is a by-product of meat possessing and can be sourced sustainably), then spend 6 months putting the case together to take the Restaurant Owner to court to recover a $1000 fine? Is this how you want your property tax dollars spent?

Of course it will never happen. The Restaurants will take Shark Fin off their menu (talk on the street is that the Starlight Casino hosts the only restaurant in town that sells shark fin soup) and, if they are unscrupulous, will continue to sell it in a hush-hush kind of way for special events only, and no money will be spent on enforcement at all.

So what purpose the Bylaw? To “shame” the restaurants into hiding their shark fins? To show support for a noble cause? I hate to be the guy who says this: but doesn’t the City have bigger environmental responsibility fights to put their energy into – ones they actually have the jurisdiction to do something about?

It has taken only a couple of months for this idea to come to the City, and for a Bylaw to see third reading. Meanwhile, it has been 18 months – a year and a half- since I went to Council to remind them that we are one of the few municipalities in the Lower Mainland that does not have a Tree Protection Bylaw. In June of 2011, Council resolved the following:

“WHEREAS trees are essential to air quality, esthetics and quality of life;
BE IT RESOLVED THAT New Westminster develop a Tree Retention / Removal Bylaw for both public and private property.”

…and we have not had a single update on progress towards that Bylaw in a year anda half.

Protecting the trees in our neighbourhoods is something our City Council has the power and the jurisdiction to do. Saving sharks in the East China Sea is both outside of their jurisdiction and beyond their powers. So, why is there a rush to do the second and no interest in doing the first?

Yes, the worldwide decimation of shark populations and the trade in shark fins is a legitimate concern. The City can (without a Bylaw) express their support for the banning of shark fin imports- it can even choose to publicly shame businesses that choose to serve it, or refuse them a business licence (as they threatened to do recently with a legal medical marijuana dispensary). But to what end?
For the Feds to deal with this issue domestically, it would only require an update of the Species List under the CITES Act to include those species of sharks that are used for fin trade: it wouldn’t even require a new piece of legislation. No debate, no committee work, just a feat of Ministerial signature would get it done. The necessary inspection and enforcement procedures are already in place, and it would allow Canada to be one of the leaders internationally in the protection of sharks in the world’s oceans (wouldn’t it be nice to once again be the leader in something positive?).

My MP has already been outspoken on this issue, the Minister of Fisheries isn’t really interested in dealing with the issue, nor is the Federal Minister of (cough) Environment. This, however, is the only place where useful action on this issue can happen. Supporting Fin Donnelly to get action at the Federal Level and, in turn, the International Level is the appropriate way to address this issue under the Constitution of Canada.

Then City Council and Staff can stop wasting their time, and get on with that 18-month old resolution to start protecting trees in the City.

TransLink Optimization – 2013

Another day, another TransLink consultation.

This time, TransLink came to New Westminster to consult on the “optimization of bus services” that will have to happen because the Mayors and the Premier got into a dick-measuring contest over Transit funding, and no-one measured up. (can you tell I am a little frustrated by this?). The region is growing, transit ridership is way up and continues to grow. Meanwhile, the regional growth strategy, shelves full of official community plans and master transportation plans from across the region, along with TransLink and Provincial policies all say we need to move towards more sustainable transportation alternatives. Regardless, we are cutting bus service across the region. It is insane: nothing short of a complete failure of leadership at every level.

The only people not to blame for this fiasco appear to be actual TransLink staff, who have proved through yet another external audit that they run a relatively lean and mean operation, moving more people for less money and fulfilling their mandate against staggering odds and silly interference in may aspects of their operations by an unaccountable Government.      …end Rant.

As a term, “Optimization” seems to have replaced “Rationalization”, although the latter is a much better word for what is happening, as it means different things based on which root word you take out of it. Some may say it is about making more “rational” decisions about how limited resources are applied to make the system more efficient. Others might suggest it means we are all getting less, so we need to “ration” out a slowly-depleting resource. A subtle, but meaningful, difference.

The changes announced for New Westminster mean a little of both.

There will be some re-alignment of the routes heading east from 22nd station. This is one of those good examples of a subtle re-alignment of the services that exist that will provide some small efficiencies at very little cost to users. It may even improve the user experience for some riders. The change is as simple as the 101 and the 154 switching routes between 22nd Street Station and Uptown. There is an added bonus that the 154 will no longer travel a block on 5th Street – which apparently generated many complaints form people who lived on that particular stretch of Queens Park. God Forbid a bus should drive by their house every once in a while. ?

Courtesy of TransLink, not like I asked. (Click to make bigger!)

?The changes for Queensborough will potentially be more significant.

The C99 will be no more. This is, apparently, the “worst performing” bus route in the entire TransLink fleet. Most busses run with one (1) passenger. So, sucks to be him/her, but in the grand scheme this seems like a minor loss.

Courtesy of TransLink, not like I asked. (Click to make bigger!)

?This does, however, raise the question of why the service is so underused. It is currently a once-an-hour service from mid-day to dinner time; hardly the type of reliable and frequent service that generates a ridership. That said, a large part of the route is redundant. On Ewan west of Howes, it essentially parallels the 410, which is part of the Frequent Bus Network, and during the times the C99 runs, there is a 410 every 10 or 15 minutes. No-one is losing meaningful service here. The part of the route that runs into the Outlet Mall at Queensborough Landing might have been missed by a few of the Outlet Mall staff, if the service had actually run at a time or with a frequency that the Outlet Mall staff could practically use.

However, it is the implications for Port Royal that is more significant. Here is a growing community full of the type of people who might choose transit to get places, if the service wasn’t as infrequent and inconvenient at is currently is. Now, the C99 with its once-an-hour part-of-the-day service isn’t really going to fix that situation. The real solution might be making the 104 more frequent or at least more predictable. So perhaps the cost savings from not running the C99 can be directed towards 104 improvements?

Digression: This is where I half-joked to TransLink staff that they should consider pitching in some money to help build the Port Royal to Quayside pedestrian bridge, to give more people access to the New Westminster Station transit node. They laughed nervously. I get a lot of nervous laughter from TransLink staff.

A final point that arose at the consultation was the introduction of the new 555 Express bus connecting a new Transit node at 200th and Highway 1 to Braid Station. This express highway coach service is part of the commitment to sustainable transportation made by the Ministry of Transportation to make the environmental assessment for the PMH1 project more plausible. Although originally planned to connect Langley with the Lougheed SkyTrain station, the HOV-only designated off-ramps at Government will apparently not be ready on time, and so Braid will be the “temporary” western terminus.

This raises the question of what options exist for the Western terminus of this service? If the purpose is to get people across the Fraser and better connected to the SkyTrain, they Braid probably makes the most sense overall, as it is the first SkyTrain Station one encounters. If passengers are planning to head deeper into Burnaby or Vancouver, then the Expo line though New Westminster is clearly the preferred route west over the underdeveloped Millennium Line through north Burnaby. This may shift as the Evergreen Line comes on line and Lougheed becomes the major transit terminus to the Northeast, but in the meantime, it seems just as useful to have the express bus stop at Braid.

Remember, the success of this route is important for New Westminster in another way: every person taking the Rapid Bus from Langley is one less person driving a car from Langley, and some percentage of those people would be driving through NewWest to get to their desination. More access to transit South of the Fraser means less through-traffic in New West.

There are several other changes happening across the region with this “Optimization”. You can see them all here. You have until December 13 to offer your suggestions about the proposed changes. If you ever wanted to make a subtle change to a bus route that no-one ever thought of, this might be your chance!

Go. Tell them what you think.

on Plagiarism

Plagiarism:, according to Wiktionary, the on-line crowd-sourced dictionary, it is defined as:

the copying of another person’s ideas, text, or other creative work, and presenting it as one’s own, especially without permission.”

Now, I used someone else’s ideas and text right there, but that’s not plagiarism, because I did two things: I made it clear that those were not my words, but someone else I was quoting; and I provided a link or reference to the original source.

In today’s internet world, there is so much information out there from so many sources, that plagiarism is a serious issue. Just look at the hassles Margaret Wente went through recently – clearly cribbing another person’s work, and representing it as her own. When caught, her professional reputation suffered, as did the organization she represented (the Globe and Mail Newspaper).

But she is a journalist, in a unique position of public trust. Writing is her business, she should know better. This is a issue of much discussion in schools and universities: it is so easy to Cut & Paste another’s work and claim it as your own, that teachers have a real struggle keeping ahead of it. When caught, students in high school can expect a zero score on their paper. In University, a student is likely to fail the course, and (if the offence is repeated or flagrant) – to be kicked out of school for academic dishonesty.

But what of politicians? We had a bit of a plagiarism issue here in New West during the last municipal election, one likely more attributable to lazy campaigning than real malice. After all, copying definitions word-for-word from Wikipedia without attribution is to plagiarism what running your parking meter down is to theft- pretty predictable and low-impact in the grand scheme.

So it is somewhere between those two extremes when a person in the public eye- say a former (and potential future) elected official keeps a blog journal that is presumably their writing and thought, but ends up just being cut-and-paste phrases from other sources, jumbled up into a slightly-changed narrative, with nary a mention the sources.

This gets slightly more concerning when non-specific claims of authenticity go out on Twitter saying such things as “Understand what is HAMAS, to understand why people are dying. Read me at…” or “I finally said something about Gaza, read me”, with links to a long-form cut & paste master class in plagiarism without attributions.

Would any reasonable person just assume what you are going to read under an invitation “read me at...” to find out what “I finally said…” will be the original work of the author?

Unfortunately for Paul Foresth, it is a big internet, but not big enough. His two recent posts on the current Hamas-Israeli conflict (a strange topic for a Provincial candidate to spark up about, but whatever) are prefect examples of when borrowing ideas, using sources, or even forwarding others’ work veers off into out-and-out plagiarism.

First note that neither the post on “Rockets” or the one on “Hamas” ever provide citation or reference to other sources. Even the few “quoted” sections are generally without attribution. This is a bit of a concern, because just about every sentence written in those two blog posts can be found written elsewhere on the web, by different authors, and (this is important) in different contexts.

Compare the ”Rockets ” post to this story on the CTV News website:

Paul Forseth: “In Brussels, officials with the European Union have also weighed in on the conflict. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama have said that Israel has the right to defend itself. However, it is unclear how far that support will extend, if Israel considers another ground incursion into Gaza.

CTV News: “ In Brussels, officials with the European Union have also weighed in on the conflict. Speaking to a gathering of foreign and defence ministers Monday, EU policy chief Catherine Ashton called for an end to rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. Meanwhile, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt urged an immediate ceasefire, and a subsequent review of wider issues between Israel and Gaza.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama have stated publicly that Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas-launched missiles. But it’s unclear how far that support will extend as Israel considers a ground incursion into Gaza.”

Or this Part, where Mr.Forseth both fails to cite CTV News, and fails to cite the person CTV News has the good sense to attribute the quote to:

Paul Forseth: “Four years ago, when there was a ground offensive, a ceasefire followed and there was the hope that calm and reason would prevail. Effectively what it yielded was an opportunity for perpetrators in Gaza to restock their arsenals by smuggling in stronger missiles from Iran.

CTV News: “If he chooses to put troops on the ground, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu risks increasing military and civilian casualties and losing outside support, said Mackey Frayer. ‘Four years ago, when there was a ground offensive, a ceasefire followed and there was the promise that calm would prevail on both sides,” she noted. “Effectively what it yielded was an opportunity for militants in the Gaza Strip to restock their arsenals with stronger missiles.’

Here is a pro tip to check if what you are doing is plagiarism: if you remove quotation marks from an article, and nothing else, then you are plagiarizing
I won’t go through that article paragraph-by-paragraph to point to all of the plagiarized points, but I will point out that the afrementioned 55-in-a-50-zone style of plagiarism is there as well: cribbing a definition, unattributed, from Wikipedia:

Paul Forseth: “Hamas (Arabic: حماس‎ Ḥamās, “enthusiasm”, an acronym of حركة المقاومة الاسلامية Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-Islāmiyyah, “Islamic Resistance Movement”) is the Palestinian Sunni Islamist political group that controls Gaza City.”

Wilkipedia: “Hamas (Arabic: حماس‎ Ḥamās, “enthusiasm”, an acronym of حركة المقاومة الاسلامية Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-ʾIslāmiyyah, “Islamic Resistance Movement”) is the Palestinian Sunni Islamic or Islamist[5] political party[neutrality is disputed] that governs the Gaza Strip.”

The more recent  “Hamas” post at Forseth’s blog is on the same topic, but no less original. Almost all of the text is copy-and-pasted from this article. Not linearly, as Mr. Forseth took the time to break it up and re-arrange parts, but pretty much every sentence in the Forseth post is cribbed, uncited, from this single source. Compare:

Paul Forseth: ”The Hamas Covenant, states that the organization’s goal is to “raise the banner of God over every inch of Palestine,” i.e. to eliminate the State of Israel (and any secular Palestinian state which may be established), and to replace it with an Islamic Republic. The thirty-six articles of the Covenant detail the movement’s Islamist beliefs regarding the primacy of Islam in all aspects of life.

Hamas views the Arab-Israeli conflict as “a religious struggle between Islam and Judaism that can only be resolved by the destruction of the State of Israel.” Hamas uses both political activities and violence to pursue its goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in place of Israel and the secular Palestinian Authority.

The 1988 Hamas Covenant states that the organization’s goal is to “raise the banner of God over every inch of Palestine,” i.e. to eliminate the State of Israel (and any secular Palestinian state which may be established), and to replace it with an Islamic Republic.”

Martin Frost (excerpts, in order they appear) : “According to the Washington Institute, Hamas views the Arab-Israeli conflict as “a religious struggle between Islam and Judaism that can only be resolved by the destruction of the State of Israel.” Hamas uses both political activities and violence to pursue its goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in place of Israel and the secular Palestinian Authority. [Clip]

The Hamas Covenant, written in 1988, states that the organization’s goal is to “raise the banner of God over every inch of Palestine,” i.e. to eliminate the State of Israel (and any secular Palestinian state which may be established), and to replace it with an Islamic Republic.

The thirty-six articles of the Covenant detail the movement’s Islamist beliefs regarding the primacy of Islam in all aspects of life. The Covenant identifies Hamas as the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine and considers its members to be Muslims who “fear God and raise the banner of Jihad in the face of the oppressors.” Hamas describes resisting and quelling the enemy as the individual duty of every Muslim and prescribes revolutionary roles for all members of society; including men and women, professionals, scientists and students.

The parts that were not written by Martin Frost were either extracted from this YnetNews story:

Paul Forseth: “What is this fighting all about; it is religion. It is about the struggle of Political Islam against anyone it decides is in its way. Hamas regards the territory of the present-day State of Israel — as well as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank — as an inalienable Islamic waqf or religious bequest, which can never be surrendered to non-Muslims. It asserts that struggle (jihad) to wrest control of the land from Israel is the religious duty of every Muslim (fard `ain).”

YnetNews: “Hamas combines Palestinian nationalism with Islamic fundamentalism: It regards the territory of present-day Israel – as well as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – as an inalienable Islamic waqf or religious bequest, which can never be surrendered to non-Muslims.Furthermore, Hamas asserts that struggle (jihad) to regain control of the land from Israel is the religious duty of every Muslim.

Or lifted from arcane Google books found on line:

Paul Forseth: “During the election campaign the organization toned down the criticism of Israel in their election manifest and only stated that they are prepared to use ‘armed resistance to end the occupation’.”

Compared to the last paragraph on page 194 of this book:

During the election campaign the organization toned down the criticism of Israel in its election manifesto, stating only that it was prepared to use ‘armed resistance to end the occupation’.”

Lucky for Mr. Forseth, he is only running for office, because if he was a student in any decent school, he would at least be on academic probation by now, or would be taking the long bus ride home to explain to his parents why he wasn’t going to finish Law School after all.