On the Bailey Bridge

At least we can stop fighting about this and move onto more important issues, right?

I’m not sure it is a “disaster”, but the results of the arbitration on the Bailey Bridge dispute are disappointing, and a little frustrating.

The disappointment comes from the fact that this result will do absolutely nothing to solve anyone’s “traffic problems”, as a century of traffic research and Braess Paradox tell us that adding capacity has never reduced congestion when there is a near-infinite supply of vehicles. Instead, it will likely increase induced demand and create more congestion in the Braid Industrial area, making it harder for New Westminster businesses to access Brunette or United Boulevard.

As was already made clear, the “Ambulance Argument” was either bluster or bullshit, as a critical care ambulance is unlikely to risk getting stuck behind a train when an alternative is available, and an alternative is available from Coquitlam. An ambulance at the south foot of the new King Edward overpass can get to the Emergency room at RCH via the Bailey Bridge (2.8km) or via Lougheed and Brunette (3.4km), a difference of 600m. To save that 30 seconds, they would run the risk of getting stuck behind one of the 60-odd trains a day that cross Braid, and now will run the risk of getting stuck behind a line of cars in one of the few places where cars would not be able to pull over to get out of the way – a two-lane Bailey Bridge. I suspect the 4-and 6-lane alternative route provides higher response speeds, more room for people to get out of the way of lights and sirens, and more reliable transport times. But hey, one thing have in common with Richard Stewart is that I’m not an ambulance driver.

The frustrating part is how little information we have about why the decision was made the way it was. If you read the actual arbitrator’s decision, it clearly states that under Section 287 (e) of the Community Charter, the arbitrator is not to provide written reasons for their decision. We (the voters, the citizens, even our elected representatives) are specifically forbidden from knowing why the decision was made, or what evidence was used to inform that decision. Essentially, your parents just answered “why?” with “Because I said so!” For someone who gets engaged in local politics, and expects accountability and reasoning behind policy, this is a frustrating way to resolve a 20-year conflict.

To understand why this is the case, you need to go back through the Community Charter , which is the Provincial Legislation that governs, amongst other things, boundary disputes between municipalities. Under Part 9 of the Charter (Division 3- Dispute Resolution), there are two types of arbitration available to the disputing Municipalities in this type of case. Section 287 describes the “Final Proposal Arbitration” process, where the two parties provide their proposals and supporting justifications to the arbitrator, and the arbitrator chooses one of the two, based on whatever criteria (s)he deems appropriate, with no room for compromising middle ground or requirement to justify that choice. Section 288 describes the “Full Arbitration” process, where the Arbitrator can conduct whatever proceedings they deem appropriate (including hearings, negotiations, etc.), the arbitrator can provide an alternate solution to the ones proposed by the two parties, and the decision comes with a written explanation of the decision and justification. Clearly the second is the more open, transparent, and accountable process.

This more open and accountable process was the one argued for by New Westminster. Coquitlam wanted the closed process in the interests of expedience (because, you know, after 20 years, this needs to be settled right away). As there was no agreement on this first point of arbitration, the Province stepped in and made the decision that the closed process would be used. Which is why the New Westminster Council is now scratching their heads about how the decision was made. They are not allowed to know. Take your complaints to… uh… no-one.

Regardless, now that the arbitration result has been released, it is all (wait for it) water under the bridge, and we need to move on. Hopefully, the City will find a way to reconfigure the traffic patterns on the New Westminster side so that the businesses down there on Canfor Ave are not completely choked out when the inevitable commuting rush arrives on Braid. Also hopefully, Coquitlam won’t use this as an excuse to uselessly blow United Boulevard just east of the bridge out to 4 lanes, and take away the cyclist and pedestrian-friendly layout they have recently created between the bridge and the King Edward overpass.

Clearly ,we will find out which prediction comes true: Mayor Stewart’s assertion that his City’s (sarcasm) biggest traffic issue will finally be resolved (end sarcasm); or New Westminster’s prediction that the 5 rail tracks and already-problematic Braid and Brunette intersection are just going to mean the traffic pinch point has been moved 400m to the west, making the rail crossings less safe for everyone, and hurting New Westminster businesses for no gain whatsoever. But we likely won’t know the answer to that question until after the election, so Mayor Stewart can enjoy his gloating in the meantime.

Hey Guys! Stay on your ass (and fill out this survey)!

HEY! Got a bit of free time this weekend? Surfing the web, looking for something more interesting? Admit it, if you are reading my blog, you must be pretty stinking bored… so here is a good way to slake that boredom for 5-10 minutes, and provide useful data for someone doing interesting research here in New Westminster.

If you are at all like me, your typical healthy-ish 40-ish male, you haven’t seen a doctor in quite some time. If you have kids, you likely interacted with the healthcare system, but for those of us without, we try to think about the last time we had stitches. Or maybe that’s just me, but this is kind of the point of this survey.

Fraser Health has been doing a “My Health, My Community” survey over the last couple of months, and they need a few more people to provide data before the end of the month (yes- in the next three days!). They especially need info from my cohort- healthy-ish males who may hardly ever interact with the healthcare system. Of course, the rest of you should also take part, it’s just (typically) the middle age males you need to kick in the ass to take any kind of health self-assessment at all.

The purpose of the survey is not to sell you services, but to gather better information about the health needs of the community. They need data from a bunch of locals about your life, as it relates to your risk for health conditions, and their need to provide services. They aren’t getting too personal, but they want to understand a bit about how New Westminster folks live their life and access health care, so they can do some longer-term strategic planning.

Typically for any health care situation – young (and youngish) males are lacking in their participation. They really need a few more male people to provide data. I filled out the survey a couple of weeks ago: it was easy, it took no more than 10 minutes, and it was a little fun (remembering the good old days when I used to smoke…). This from a guy who has not seen an actual doctor in about 15 years. Yeah, I should probably go get a check-up, but the survey didn’t guilt me into feeling that. Really, who has a family doctor anymore?

Back when I was whinging about how Democracy is what you do between elections – this is a chance to help your elected officials and bureaucrats make better decisions to save you money while providing the services you need. So I’m going to say it: If you don’t fill out this survey, you are not allowed to complain about the healthcare system!

But Hurry, survey ends on the 30th, and if you fill it out, you can win a new iPad. And hey, who doesn’t need a new iPad?

You are surfing the net right now, you clearly have time. Follow this link right now and help out a bit.

Off to the Races…

This is a good thing.

Suggestions that Jonathan Cote may (and should) run for Mayor have been bandied around for many months now, so the surprise is a little… unsurprising.

It seems like a natural progression. He has served three terms on council, and led the polls during the last two elections. His profile has been increasing, taking the lead on some of the higher-profile issues in town, and he has become the go-to Councillor when the regional press comes to New Westminster to talk about this “New New Westminster” phenomenon, and terms like (shudder) the “next Brooklyn” arise in talk about how our City is developing.

Meanwhile, not resting on his electoral popularity or media exposure, Cote has spent the last couple of years learning more about Cities while earning a Masters Degree in Urban Studies at SFU. This is the kind of thing a person might would typically do if they want to move up the ladder to a senior planning position in a City – not the standard route for a part-time City Councillor with a full time job and a young family who is thinking about politics.

That tells me a lot about what kind of guy Cote is, and one of the reasons I love that he has decided to run. He has a demonstrated work ethic, and he doesn’t come to the table assuming he knows all the answers. He instead wants to learn and find out about solutions already tested and true. I have seen him operate in committees, and he knows how to get the best out of a team and move the agenda forward. He also loves cities and the process of making them work better for the people living in them. As a Mayor, he will be able to bring a deeper understanding, and challenge staff to do better, explain better, and move the City forward.

I also like the symbolism of his run: The oldest city in the Province may have the youngest Mayor in the Province. As a bonus, that “youth” comes with significant professionalism and experience.

We don’t know what this means for Mayor Wright (at least I don’t). By all accounts, the current Mayor and Councillor Cote have worked very effectively together and have a lot of respect for each other, but there is no indication from His Worship what he intends to do in November.

I need to say, I like Mayor Wright. I have grown to appreciate his ability to move this City forward over the last decade. He has been the cheerleader this City has needed during its recent re-emergence, and has taken a few political risks that have (mostly) paid off tremendously. He’s not generally thought of as a “labour guy”, but has worked effectively with the labour-endorsed Councils he has been provided by the voters. His support in town is such that last election, when the opposition decided to run *against* him instead of *for* something else, they got beat badly. There is also something to say for the fact I am just as happy calling the Mayor “His Worship” as I am calling him “Wayne”: he is both worthy of respect, and popularly familiar.

There is an idea that the best time to pass the torch is when it is burning bright, and Mayor Wright could do much worse than passing it to Cote, but that is really the current Mayor’s decision to make. Regardless of what Wright decides to do, we can be confident the “silly season” has begun, and this will be an interesting election season!

Green Drinks and Food Security!

I’ve mentioned the Southwest BC Bio-Regional Food System Design Project (SWBCBRFSDP – my acronym, not theirs!) on this blog before, but it was tied in with a bunch of bummer complaining about lack of government support for protecting the ALR, so the good news might have been buried in all that whining. So this is the “good news” follow-up post. Folks in the know are coming to New West on Tuesday to tell us about this really cool project.

Recognizing the need to support more robust local food systems, the researchers at Kwantlen’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems are applying their significant expertise, and partnering with a diverse community of business, governance, and agricultural experts, to bring about change in how we source our food.

There are a lot of words in SWBCBRFSDP, but I like the idea of showing why every word is relevant:

SWBC: Southwest BC is defined by the project as the area from Hope to Powell River, and from Delta to Lillooet: an extensive area that ties the lower stretch of the Fraser River to the Sunshine Coast, and essentially comprises the mainland Canadian portions of the traditional lands of the Coast Salish People.

BR: A Bio-Region is and area defined by a common topography, climate, plant and animal life, and human cultural influence. In this sense, the watersheds of the Salish Sea from the desert of Lillooet to Howe Sound has a diversity of eco-zones, but are tied together by bio-cultural heritage and geography.

FS: This project is not just about farming and protecting the ALR. Yes, preserving farmland when we can will be an important part of the food security equation, but we also have to consider the other major food inputs, such as the salmon we catch from the river, and the traditional food-gathering that many of us are separated from, but are still an important part of the region’s culture. However, there is much more to food than having profitable local Agri-business farms (how many cranberries do you eat in the average year?). A Food System would support the regional economy by connecting together food sources with processors, warehousing and retail, delivery systems from Farmers’ Markets to restaurants and standard retail. A true system would even connect our disjointed organic waste stream, to bring the nutrients in our food waste back to the farms and better manage in the industrial-scale waste sometimes produced in Agri-business. Ultimately, every step in the food cycle should not just just feed British Columbians, but employ, include, and benefit British Columbians. That is how local economic resiliency is built.

Design Project: This project will start by performing an actual, science-based evaluation of what the food potential of the region is – can this region actually meet its own food needs? And if so, how? They will also be evaluating the critical needs and opportunities for our local food systems to get the food we produce to our local plates. The eventual plan is to create a series of science-based policy papers and best practices reviews that decision-makers in municipal, regional and provincial government can use to help bring a more sustainable local food system into existence.

This project hopes to realize that building a local food economy is about more than just Food Sovereignty (our ability to feed ourselves domestically and not being overly reliant on volatile global markets), but also supports economic development for the region. Every bit of food we import is a bleed on the local economy – it is a flow of our wealth to other places that we could instead use to fuel our local economy. If food is grown in BC, processed in BC, sold in BC, and the waste recycled in BC, we are creating jobs at every step, we are having a smaller environmental impact on the planet. It also brings our communities together by bringing us closer to the people who provide us our nourishment.

At a time when many of us feel bombarded by bad news and general malaise about the future of sustainability planning in our communities / province / country, this is a good news story – a positive look forward towards a better future.

At this point, the project is still being set up, and the proponents are trying to tie stakeholders together. The proponents are putting on a bit of a travelling discussion about the project and food security, which is why I am talking about this here and now – because Dr. Kent Mullinix and Sofia Fortin from the SW BC Bio-Regional Food System Design Project are coming to Green Drinks in New West!

The NWEP is moving it’s every-second-month-or-so Green Drinks to the Terminal Pub (where there is a new menu, many excellent choices at the taps, and a cool new room) on June 10. Green Drinks is always fun, casual, and no-stress. You get to chat with a wide diversity of New Westies and people from a little further afield. The formal program is kept short to give you lots of chat time, and there is no need to drink if that isn’t your thing. It’s mostly just a social gathering of folks concerned about sustainability issues, socializing, talking, and having some fun.

This time, you get a chance to talk to the folks from the above-raved-about project (and ask Kent about pruning your trees- I took a pruning course from him a few years ago and learned more than anyone should ever need to know- the guy is a font of knowledge on all things growing!)

Join us! It’s Free!

Hyack : the more things change…

Last post, I suggested some hopes for (dreams of?), a better Hyack Festival in New Westminster. In doing so, I was cognizant of stepping on eggshells, because I don’t want to downplay the efforts of the hard-working volunteers who bring a bit of fun to New Westminster while holding up long-standing traditions.

This got me reading about the history of Hyack*, and I learned that questioning the organization of these major events and challenging the meaning of them has actually been one of those long-standing traditions!

The May Day Celebrations started in 1870, with the ceremony developing around securing a common identity as an agricultural town with “royal” origins – perhaps as a bit of the thumb-to-the-nose at the upstart Capital across the water. It is important to note that May Day was, in those early days, an internal celebration for the residents of New Westminster, not a regional event intended to promote the City externally to a larger regional trading region. At the turn of the Century, the City had the Pacific Exhibition and the Farmers Market to do those things.

Through the first half of the 20th century, the May Day Celebrations expanded to act both for internal cohesion and external boosterism. It was primarily an event for children, becoming an all-day fete with folk dances, the Maypole, and sporting events, with attendance by all New Westminster school children at one point made compulsory. Originally this fest was highlighted by the Anvil Battery Salute, but by the early 1950s, May Day had moved to the Friday before Victoria Day, to foster attendance by elementary students.

By the late 50’s to early 60’s, some of those institutions that held the City together and put it on the map regionally – the Miracle Mile of shops, the Exhibition, and the Farmers Market – were disappearing. During this time, there was pressure to “protect” the May Day Festival and keep it safe from “contemporary tendencies” to expand or transform the event. The Chamber of Commerce, recognizing the mercantile opportunities, suggested moving the May Day to Saturday in 1961 to allow more visitors to be drawn to town. They were thoroughly rebuked by the May Day Committee for suggesting a children’s festival should suffer the ugly encroachment of commercialism.

In the late 60’s, this transformation began regardless, partly due to ongoing pressure from different parts of the community, partly because of the coincidence with larger celebrations of the Centennials of 1958 (of New Westminster), 1966 (of the Colony), and 1967 (of Confederation). The changes were also coincident with some of the “Old Guard” of the May Day Committee starting to retire or die off. By 1966, it was a three-day festival, and in 1967, a 5-day event, including the “largest Parade in the Province’s History”, a carnival in Queens Park, sporting events, an agricultural show, and more. With more than 100,000 people showing up for the Parade (remember, this was a City with less than 40,000 residents), this was clearly a regional event to promote New Westminster, and a significant tourist draw for the local commercial interests at a time when Columbia Street was beginning to see decline. Ugly commercialism had, eventually, encroached.

This growth was not without concern. The loss of traditions and increasing cost of the larger event caused apprehension among many of the traditionalists. When conflict ensued at City Council about spiraling costs, and a concurrent push by some to build a more “professional type, money making event”, a new organizing committee for all festivals was created: one comprised of upstart younger businessmen. This group was less encumbered by old traditionalist and parochial ideas about the fete, but wanted to inject new ideas, energy, and blood into the City’s Festivals. One of their first acts of this so-called “Royal City Society” was to change the name of the May Day celebration into The “Hyack Festival”.

Funded by a 1% tax on businesses, and unfettered by the City’s bureaucracy, Hyack grew to a 10-day celebration. It didn’t replace traditions like the May Day celebrations or the Anvil Salute, but surrounded them with other events to improve the overall attractiveness. In 1972 there was reportedly “a carnival, high-wire acts, roving western singers throughout the City”. In 1973, the festival was just as big with a week of sporting events to build the excitement towards the upcoming Canada Summer Games. In 1974, the Parade moved from Columbia Street to the current Uptown route, reflecting the shifting economic fortunes of the City’s two main commercial centres. By then, visitor numbers had dropped back to the more-typical 25,000 or so people, but Hyack as an entity, and as a festival, continued to thrive. Through ups and downs, as events came and went (canoe race anyone?), this is the same Hyack festival we have today.

But where are we today? The number of events surrounding the mainstay traditions is definitely reduced, and there were clearly not 25,000 people on 6th Street last month. The traditions hold strong, and the Hyack Festivals Association has to be thanked for keeping the flame burning for 40+ years. However, the root of all of the conflict in and around Hyack for the last year seems eerily familiar: how much change is too much change? What is the most responsible way to spend Taxpayer’s Money? Do we want to have a large commercial event (dare I say “professional” or “not amateurish”) to attract people to our City, or a smaller community-building event that represents our traditions and desires? Are these two ideas incompatible?

The 2014 Hyack Festival is over, there is some new leadership of the Festival Association, and the battle for Letter-to-the-Editor dominance has apparently fizzled out. However, the conversation cannot stop now. Sustainable funding is still an uncertainty. The prominence of Hyack is being challenged by the many new neighbourhood and community groups setting up festivals and other events around town. Some of the structural concerns and visioning issues about Hyack that led to last year’s conflict have not been resolved. The worst thing that can happen right now is for the conversation about the role of the Hyack festival Association in our community to go silent.

The bitter fight was silly and distracting; we need a calm discussion. Maybe Hyack should start it. The people of New Westminster want to be engaged in the conversation, because most of us don’t want to volunteer for Hyack or wear a Green Jacket, but we all love a Parade.

*I read many sources for this Post, not the least being Earl Noah’s 1992 MA Thesis (Geography) from UBC, from which anything in quotes above was drawn. My not being a historian means I can hang any errors above on my unprofessional misinterpretation of records, and not a flaw of the records themselves!

Hyack Festival – the fete goes on

Well, we survived another Hyack Festival. By that, I mean Hyack survived to put on another week+ long schedule of events, culminating in the Hyack Parade.

After a year of questionable decisions, accusations, battles (petty and otherwise), victories (pyrrhic and otherwise), and Editorial Page exchanges that only increased the questions and doubts, it was good to see the Show that Must, did indeed Go On. Everyone loves a parade.

Clearly, a successful, if slightly scaled-back, Hyack Festival does not mark the end of the ongoing battle for Hyack relevancy and funding. However, it was a positive step, both for Hyack and the City, and one that did not look a certainty only a few months ago.

I attended various Hyack events this year, chatted with quite a few people at these events, and have talked to many people since. At times, these conversations led to deeper discussions about what these “traditions” we celebrate are for, and who they are for.

Before I start to get critical, I need to acknowledge that I did nothing to help organize the events of Hyack Festival. That puts me in the (very crowded) category of people who complain about something that other people – mostly volunteers – bust their ass to do to the benefit of the community, without lifting a finger myself to help them. This is pretty much the definition of a jerk.However, Hyack themselves are quick to remind us that they are an important part of the City of New Westminster and its traditions. They are also asking that the City continue to support (logistically and financially) the events Hyack organizes every year, which opens them up for a certain level of constructive ruminations. So here are my impressions, not meant to disparage the Festival or organizers, but to add to the discussion of what Hyack means to this city.

There are three 4 major events of general public interest that make up the Hyack festival: the Anvil Battery Salute, the May Day Celebrations, the Parade, and the Uptown Street Fair. Some will point out the many other associated events, but I get the sense some fall under the category of normal local events that could occur on any weekend (antique fair, petting farm opening), others seem a little inward-looking (Portland Rosarians Rose Planting, Seymour Artillery Firing), and yet others are not really open events (such as the Formal Banquet) that are more important to Hyack than to the rest of the community.

Of the main events, the Anvil Battery Salute is the one with the greatest historic relevance to New Westminster. The 21-firing salute to Queen Victoria, starting at noon on Victoria Day, is a unique, exciting, and important tradition. I just wish more people were there to see it. I could imagine it as a centrepiece of a great day in the park – the middle of a festival with everything from kid’s games to sports contests to food booths and beer gardens, music, and entertainment. Pick up Sapperton Day, drop it into the middle of the baseball field, and run the Anvil salute then, and you can see what I am getting at. Unfortunately, as a stand-alone event, it can appear to be much ado about nothing to those not aware of the tradition, and the crowd measured in the dozens this year* are a testimony to the failure to make this connection to people.

Being without kids and with a full-time job, I was not able to attend the May Day Celebrations. Wednesday, mid-day just doesn’t work for most of us working stiffs. By all accounts it was well attended, appreciated, and continues to be a highlight of the spring for many kids and parents. That the School Board puts so much effort into the event in these difficult times for that organization shows the desire of the community to protect this tradition that goes back more than 140 years.

This leaves the Hyack Parade and Uptown Street Fest. Everyone (and I have to include myself) loves a parade. It seemed there were many fewer floats this year than last year, and there were definitely more notable gaps in the crowd on the bottom half of the route that I remember from previous years, but the crowd that was there seemed into it. The same goes for the distinctly scaled-back Uptown Street Fest. With a bouncy castle and some food trucks, there was a good hour or so worth of entertainment to be had post-parade. It was well attended for the relatively small space it took up, but to suggest (as some boosters did on Twitter the day of) that it had 3x the attendees of last year’s hugely popular Uptown Festival, is fanciful.

If I was to put out one major criticism (and this is a common theme I have heard voiced), it is that these four events combined would make for a great 2- or 3-day festival. To stretch it out to 8 days over two weekends takes the momentum away from each of the events, and serves all of them a little less. Asking to general public in these busy times to dedicate two weekends to the Hyack festival, when there is only a couple of hours entertainment on each weekend, is not optimal. Given the choice of the Anvil Battery or the Parade, and going camping or to visit grandma on the other weekend, I’ll take the Parade every time (but I wish I didn’t have to choose).

Again, not being an insider, I only have my own suspicions as to why a good 2-day festival is stretched out to 8 days – mostly because the two headliner events can’t be held on the same weekend. Of course, the Anvil Battery Salute is a Victoria Day celebration, so it makes no sense to move that date. However, Victoria Day is a Monday that is not a civic holiday in the United States, and with so many parade floats and marching bands coming up from the Northwest, having the parade on this day would be problematic.

This problem is exacerbated because Hyack is the only Canadian member of the Northwest Festival Hosting Association, and the third weekend in May is already reserved for the Spokane Lilac Festival (put on some sunglasses before clicking that link). I suspect that Spokane is not interested in changing their weekend-before-Memorial-Day tradition, and competition between NFHA members is discouraged. So neither the Parade nor the Anvil Battery Salute can be moved, unless a tradition is broken.

That’s the way of it with traditions. Next post I am going to delve a little deeper into the history of these traditions in New Westminster, and tell a bit of a story about what happens when an upstart group of young business leaders step up to challenge a stale organization to be “bigger and better”, City Hall gets involved, funding gets withheld, and people challenge the parochialism and suspect impropriety of long-held traditions.

*Correction: A member of the Anvil Battery Salute team corrected me today on Twitter, saying an actual crowd count numbered the people at the Anvil Salute at 400. I am surprised, as I felt I had a lot of elbow room” in the stands, and even the photos of the event show pretty sparse crowds, but they had a count and all I have is a vague feeling, so you are better to rust the count! 

A short note from the complaints department

Let’s skip the obligatory apologies for infrequent updates here; I’m busy.

On a not-unrelated note, I was on my way to the very successful RCFM fundraiser on Wednesday night when I noted that we are soon to get our sidewalk back, as the Anvil Centre nears completion.

This is great news, as the deplorable condition around the east entrance of New Westminster station and lack of connection with the rest of Columbia Street has been disruptive for a couple of years. I look forward to the opening of the Anvil, the re-activation of that important piece of real estate as a new, expanded public space. I also look forward to a return to the debate about the need for a mid-block crosswalk at the foot of 8th Street between Carnarvon and Columbia.

We have been through this debate at least twice before, once when the crosswalk was installed, and once again when it was removed a few years later. The removal was put off until the start of Anvil construction, when the sidewalk on the east side of 8th essentially ceased to exist. Now that there will be a major destination on the other side of 8th, the obvious, direct, and dry route for pedestrians connecting between Anvil and Plaza 88 will once again be up for discussion.

Much like the recent discussion about a mid-block crosswalk on Eighth Avenue by the Massey Theatre, to make safer the preferred pedestrian route between major destinations, the idea of a mid-block crossing at the foot of 8th Ave is a measure of how serious the City is about its Pedestrian Charter.

Then on Thursday night I was on my way to the NWEP meeting in Uptown, and I notice this sparkling new piece of bicycle infrastructure on Seventh Avenue, built concurrent with the redevelopment of the new drugstore at the corner with of 6th Street:

Bike lanes are important here, because Seventh is part of the Rotary Crosstown Greenway, one of the City’s primary bike routes, connecting the West End to Uptown to Glenbrook and upper Sapperton. As far as east-west travel across the upper part of the City, it is the premier bike route, as important as the Central Valley Greenway (the connections of which I was recently lamenting).

With that context, just look at this ridiculous piece of infrastructure:

A cyclist is meant to clear the signal-controlled intersection at 6th, take a sharp right turn into the dip at the curb then up onto a sidewalk, clear the pedestrians, then take another hard left before hitting the light standard to dump themselves back into traffic immediately in front of a parked car just before two (2!) driveways where the opulent 30m of bike lane abruptly stops.

Allow me to count the many ways this installation fails. The entry point creates confusion for three modes (cyclist, turning car, pedestrians), all of whom are forced to cross each other at the single crosswalk point. The cyclist is forced to share the crosswalk with pedestrians, who are unlikely to be expecting them there when they get out of the passenger side of their car, when they go to the parking meter, or when they are simply walking on the sidewalk as pictured below. The exit back onto the street is again confusing for the cyclist and the drivers who may be either passing a line of parked cars when a bike appears, or even turning right into the driveways (see picture below) when a cyclist appears “out of nowhere” from the behind the parked cars, and hops off the sidewalk. I honestly have no idea who has right of way in that collision!

For drivers pulling out of the driveways, the pole is located perfectly to block the driver’s vision, requiring them to pull a little forward, and making it more likely they will pull right in front of a cyclist who is checking his left shoulder as he is about to hop back into traffic (note this picture has no-one in the parking spots – so this is optimum visibility).

Now I can sort of see what the thinking is – it is a Greenway, we need to accommodate bikes. The developer will pay for sidewalk improvements, so let’s get it done by him. Businesses need parking, so let’s protect the 3 precious spots. With all these best intentions, the result is actually significantly worse than if they had done nothing at all. By trying to build a “bike path” where it doesn’t work, and not connecting it meaningfully to anything, they have made the situation considerably less safe for pedestrians and cyclists.

I’m not sure if I am more angry about the danger created, or the money wasted doing it!

I look at this fiasco and I wonder why? How? What was everyone thinking? Surely at some point someone – the person creating the drawing, the person approving the drawing, the person laying the concrete, the person painting the white lines – looked and said: what are we doing here? Does this make any sense at all?

We can do better. We need to do better.

RCFM FUNdraiser!

Since I wrote that last piece about the ALR, I have had a lot of chats with people in various forums on the very topic.

I have also read a bit more about the issue, including this typically-idiotic piece by Tom Fletcher where he suggests the only people against the systematic disassembly of ALR protections are the evil NDP and others who aren’t “in the real British Columbia”. I guess he didn’t talk to this guy who seems to know a bit about land development around the ALR, he being a former mayor and land developer in a place with a lot of ALR land, or this collection of people who live and work in the BC food supply chain, from the farm to the restaurant plate, or even these folks, who represent 14,000 BC Farmers. I guess none of them live “in the real British Columbia”, which by Fletcher’s opinions, I have to assume is somewhere near the Premier’s back pocket.

Many people have asked me – what can they do about it? Hopefully you have already contacted your MLA, and the Minister of Agriculture. Really, it only takes a few minutes to write an e-mail, and if you wait until election time to tell your elected officials what you think, you have failed at Democracy 101.

Here is another thing you can do to improve the Food Security in New Westminster: Come to the Royal City Farmers Market fundraiser next Wednesday!

How does that help? The RCFM gives people like Urban Digs and Glen Valley Organic Farm and the Forstbauer Family a place to market their fresh-from-the-ground actually-grown-here good-for-you food. As the good people at the Southwest BC Food System Project remind us- it isn’t just about saving the farmland, it is about assuring we have the sustainable processing, distribution and marketing systems in place to bring the local food to local tables in a way that supports local jobs and the local economy. Your local Farmers Market is part of that.

When everyone in this City is complaining about the Competition Bureau deciding that 4 grocery outlets owned by the same company is the best way to protect our town from monopolistic control of our food supply, a weekly trip to the RCFM is part of the solution – buying fresh food from people you know while enjoying the benefits of community building.

So yeah, you love the RCFM, but why go to the fundraiser? Two reasons:

First, it raises funds to keep the RCFM going. It helps pay for things like the tents, the advertising, the paperwork, the web presence, the musicians, the kids activity table, the special promotions, and it helps the RCFM employ its single staff member to herd the cats that need to be herded to make the whole travelling circus of volunteers and vendors run. It helps the RCFM do the other stuff it provides for the community, like the community table and the food coupon program and the bursary it provides for an NWSS grad. Every bit of the fundraiser money goes right back into our community, into making the RCFM the great weekly event it is!

Second, it will be the social event of the year (or at least the social event of the year that won’t require a special wardrobe). It will be at the brand new Hub Restaurant (have you seen their deck!?) with special canapé prepared by Executive Chef Michael Knowlson from food supplied by actual RCFM vendors, local craft beer and wine, a bunch of silent auction opportunities, and (this is new) a live auction for a few special items.

And yes, the rumours are true, I am going to be acting as MC, and running the live auction. So please show up, because it will be pretty weird for me to stand there auctioning things off to myself.

I personally guarantee you will laugh, you will meet new people, you will enjoy your food and drink, and you will be doing a good thing for a good cause.

Link for ticket purchase is www.rcfm2014.eventbrite.ca

Banging my head against a (heritage) wall

I’m having a hard time finding time to write blog posts these days. There is much happening on many fronts, pretty much all good stuff, so no worries.However, this story got my gander up, so I am staying up to midnight on a work night to vent, or I’ll sleep the sleep of the angry – and that’s never good.

The crosswalk situation at McBride and Columbia sucks, and it needs to be fixed. Asking staff to do “more review” at this point (as New Westminster Council did) is a dodge, and I hope to hell no-one gets hurt on that corner before something is done. The topic of this crossing even came up during last weekend’s Jane’s Walk that passed nearby, and it was happily reported that Council was finally going to address this issue on Monday. I cannot believe the ball was dropped so resoundingly. I am astonished.

To understand my disappointment, we need to step back a bit. The crosswalk at McBride and Columbia is part of the Central Valley Greenway. This is (arguably) the premier inter-regional Greenway in the Greater Vancouver region, opened with some fanfare in 2009, as a partnership between New Westminster, Burnaby, Vancouver and Translink, with significant funding provided by both the Provincial and Federal governments. It is a 24-km low-grade route that connects Downtown New Westminster to False Creek, via the Brunette River and the Grandview Cut. This route works as the new central corridor for Greenways through three Cities. It represents the single largest one-piece investment in Greenway infrastructure in the region’s history. The CVG is a Big Deal for sustainable and active transportation types. It’s not prefect, but it is well used, and a real success story.

(Image from Let’s go Biking, where there is a good description of the route).

The CVG also happens to be the lowest-grade active link between Sapperton and Downtown – a point emphasized because of the constant lament about New Westminster’s hills making it a tough town for walking and cycling. The CVG along Columbia is low-grade, easy and safe to use (for the most part), and should be celebrated more. This is probably the most important active transportation link in the City – and will be until the not-yet-built pedestrian link to Queensborough is completed, but I run the risk of serious digression there, so let’s stay on topic.

The point of this background? Of all the intersections in the City where there may be a push-pull between accommodating pedestrian/cyclist/disabled safety and managing other factors such as throughput and heritage treatments, this is one where the emphasis must be on the active transportation users. If not here, then where?

As a transportation design issue, no-one is arguing the intersection isn’t problematic. The grades are bad, the sight-lines are terrible, the traffic is thick, and includes a constant flow of large trucks that require much larger turning radii than other vehicles. To put a poorly-operating pedestrian crossing in the middle of this mess is to invite disaster. This is why we need to throw the minimum needs in the standards book out the window, and go above and beyond to make this vitally important intersection safe for all users.

First of several Google images you can click to make bigger.

Here is the problem, and fortunately, Google provides enough different views of the intersection, we can see how it has evolved in attempts over the last several years to solve the problem.

This image shows the original design (this looks like around 2006, best I can tell, prior to the construction of the CVG), with the crosswalk (paint almost worn away) going corner-to-corner as in any typical intersection. The crosswalk was at the foot of McBride, where the road is exceptionally wide due to the need to accommodate the aforementioned Big’ol Semi turning radius. The crosswalk was 26 m long (when compared to a typical urban lane width of 3.5m, the crossing was equivalent to crossing more than 7 lanes of traffic), and not particularly well marked. There was a right-turn-only lane from Columbia to McBride which operated in synch with the usual light signals.

The primary problem with this configuration was the extreme length of the crossing, which challenged some pedestrians to make the crossing on a single signal. Another issue was that the east crossing point is 10m from where the CVG proposed to dump cyclists and pedestrians onto the sidewalk. The grade on this piece of sidewalk is almost 15%, providing cyclists, people with mobility issues, and those in wheelchairs an almost insurmountable slope upwards, and a frankly dangerous one downhill, when failing to stop would launch you into heavy traffic.

The fix that was implemented a couple of years ago was to move the crosswalk half-way up the hill and mark it more clearly (note, “zebra striping” is one of those things that no longer meets the “standards”, but would no doubt assist here). This reduced the crossing length marginally, and cut the steep slope length to make the east sidewalk more useable. The right turn light was also changed to make it turn red – no right turn when a pedestrian pushed the crossing button. They also cut a slot through the mid-road island, making the crosswalk accessible.

Problem is, moving the sidewalk up the hill makes the sidewalk essentially invisible to the people making the right turn until they are well into hill-climb acceleration mode. The variety of slope and direction factors are exacerbated by the presence of the Heritage Wall. This view in Google Earth rally shows the issue with visibility of the crosswalk and the stop line:

Potentially worsening the situation, the right-turn-only light was no longer synched with the through-traffic lights, but was pedestrian-activated, creating confusion for the half-attentive driver, especially when they can’t see the crosswalk. No surprise, the half-solution to deal with the initial crosswalk design found the problem only half solved, yet spawned other issues altogether.

A once-considered proposal to remove the corner of the wall would be another half-solution. It would indeed improve the visibility, but not fully address the slope issue, or the non-compliance issue with the right-turn only light. Staff suggested it would also require a metal railing be installed to stop corner-cutting by pedestrians. All that, and more loss of the heritage structure – not a great compromise.

The long-sought solution was to create a new opening in the wall, 3m wide or so, closer to the bottom of the hill. This would allow the crosswalk to return to the corner where visibility is optimum, but would also allow a connection to the CVG via a new paved walkway with a gentle 3.5% slope that is accessible for cyclists of multiple fitness levels, people with mobility issues, and wheelchairs. For the cost of one 3 – 5m opening in a 300m-long “Heritage Wall”, we can make this important link work for all users, and markedly increase the safety of people using this regionally-important route. Combined with a more progressive approach to pavement marking (yes, this would be an appropriate place for a greenway crossing marked with green or blue paint, similar to what you see in other jurisdictions), this has a potential to be a real success story.

I need to emphasize, this is the solution suggested by the engineering staff, working on their own best data, bolstered by analysis from their external consultants and the committee that advises on pedestrian and bicycle safety issues. This issue has been ongoing since the CVG opened in 2009, and several attempts to address it have happened over the last 3 years, as outlined in the Report to Council. Even in the Google Earth images you can see the history of these attempts that are described in the report: adjusted geometry, changes in signal operation and placement, signage changes, even directed enforcement and monitoring. The best solution from a pedestrian safety standpoint is not an issue of debate at this point, every option has been explored.

So I was especially exasperated listening to a few Councilors speculating how staff should maybe think about changing pavement markings, or adding flashing lights, or report back on other approaches, as if these are novel ideas never considered by the people who have been banging their head against the problem for 5 years. With all due respect, does the Councilor seriously think that through three years of engineering staff time, committee meetings by at least three City committees (two who are dedicated to discussing accessible transportation issues), and the hours spent by the team of professional traffic consultants hired to develop and assess the best alternatives – IT NEVER OCCURRED TO THEM TO SEE IF ADDING A FREAKING FLASHING LIGHT WOULD WORK!?!

(…deep breath… count to 10….)

Ultimately, Council made a non-decision that is actually a bad decision. To be generous, some fault for this may lie in the inability of staff to transmit the information in a way that prompted action, or even on me and my fellow advocates for safe transportation for not showing up to delegate and explain the urgency of this situation to Council. I cannot believe that Council, if considering this as primarily a safety issue (it is), would not decide to take the advice of Staff, Consultants and Committees, and fix the damn thing when they have the chance.

In my mind, the only question here is how to we make this vital crossing as safe as possible for all users, recognizing limited financial resources (which precludes things like overpasses or 24-7 enforcement of the right turn light). This is one of those situations where something has to give: we cannot maintain 100% of the heritage wall, have a safe accessible pedestrian crossing, and have a road designed to accommodate Big’ol Semis turning up the hill.

I would choose safety first.

Jane’s Walk time again!

Last year, New Westminster resident, pedestrian, and rabble-rouser Mary Wilson brought Jane’s Walks to New Westminster, to great success.

This year, despite her continued reluctance to do all that Social Media stuff, she once again drew together a team of people to put on a variety of interesting walks.

As a summary, I will quote myself from last year plagiarizing the press release:

“Jane’s Walks are becoming a global event, held in hundreds of cities around the world on the first weekend in May. Around the world, neighbourhood groups organize free community walks to honour the memory of Jane Jacobs. 

Jane Jacobs is considered by many to be the Mother of modern Urbanism, in that she brought it to life, loved and supported it, and worked tirelessly to give it all the tools it needed to prosper. She rose to prominence for her activism to protect Greenwich Village from the Lower Manhattan Expressway proposal, and her ground-breaking book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She moved to Toronto during the Vietnam War, and brought her Urban Activism with her, such that she received first Citizenship, then the Order of Canada. To put a local angle on her story, Jacobs is sometimes referred to a founder of Vancouverism for the influence her writings and research had on the development of the urban character of post-freeway Vancouver, built on the belief that density can be done without compromising liveability. 

Jane’s Walks are meant to honour Jane, but also to honour her desire: that cities and urban areas become safe, diverse, and interesting places for people to live, work, and play. We honour this by drawing urban neighbours together to take a walk through their own city, not to get from A to B, but to have a ‘walking conversation’, meet neighbours, learn something new about their own backyard, and ultimately increase citizens’ connection to their urban home.”

I hope to attend a few walks this weekend, but I want to highlight two:

On Saturday evening, I will be joining many of the NEXT New West crowd for a bit of fun, combining Jane’s Walk with the SkyTrain with a good old fashioned Pub Crawl. We will start in Sapperton and use our feet and the SkyTrain to make several stops in local food and drink establishments, at Sapperton, at both ends of Downtown, and then (in an interesting twist!) taking the Starlight Shuttle from 22nd Street Station to the Casino, where there will be live music, dancing, and general merriment.

Sunday will have a different feel, as I am walking with members of the New Westminster Environmental Partners, Get On Board BC, and a few noted local historians, tracing the route of the old BC Electric streetcar line through Queens Park and Downtown. It seem unlikely to us now, but yes, electric trains used to travel along Third Avenue and such places, through the residential heart of our City. It was part of a system that connected Downtown Vancouver to Chilliwack and Steveston (proof exists in the few spots where the old rails still emerge from the asphalt). Along the way, we will talk about what was, what was lost, and what might be possible in the future, with our regional transportation system.

Should be fun! Rain or shine! Come and meet some neighbours and learn a bit about your City! Make Jane proud!

Oh, and if trains and pubs aren’t your thing, there are at least 10 other walks going on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – you really should get the family out for at least to one! They are free, run by volunteers, and you never know what you might learn.

All the info is here: Jane’s Walk New Westminster)