Come have your say next week

Two different projects are seeking public input next week, although only one really connects to Oak Bay directly.

The first is the Oak Bay High Project, which is on a crazily-tight timeline to have shovels in the ground by this time next year, so they have scheduled a series of open houses on a potential “neighbourhood learning centre“, a relatively new concept the province is championing for using schools beyond school hours. This is where the space for the full theatre may come from, or a host of other options. What is at stake? The NLC can add 15% to the space of the school — some 1500 sq m in total.

Also seeking input is the latest stage of the BC Transit Victoria Regional Rapid Transit plan, which continues to confuse me with regards to the West Shore. The premier recently announced at the UBCM annual conference that Victoria’s rapid transit project was getting funded (with unknown monies), and the text of his speech says this:

We need to get the rapid bus launched in the capital regional district,

Which leave me confused. Because they have decided to use the E&N rail corridor in Langford and I just don’t see the Island Corridor Foundation and CRD Parks giving up on their dream of an E&N rail trail to allow buses to run beside the rail line (and the rail line is not going away. The ICF owns it outright and only they — meaning the collective municipalities and native bands along the line — can decide otherwise). And their consultations this week include “a showcase of rail and bus options.” So is the premier wrong is the or is something unexpected in the works?

So if you want to attend all of these open houses and workshops, your week would look something like this:

Sun: Oak Bay NLC consultation, 1pm – 3pm, Monterey Rec Centre, 1442 Monterey Ave
Tues: BC Transit Open House, 2pm – 7pm, Ambrosia Event Centre, 638 Fisgard St.
Oak Bay NLC consultation, 7pm – 9pm, Oak Bay Rec Centre, 1975 Bee St.
Thurs: BC Transit, 3pm – 8pm, Langford Legion, 760 Station Road

A pictorial journey along the E & N Rail Trail

The E & N Rail Trail, boldly promised to be finished by “the 2010 Olympics” just a few years ago by the CRD (PDF), is now finally taking shape in Langford. I thought I would bike out there and see how it measured up.

For starters, this little section of the trail is tiny. Much like the Bowker Creek Greenway in Browning Park I talked about, network effects mean that both trails will get few users until such time as more of them are completed.

E & N Rail Trail Map. Map data: OpenStreetMap/OpenCycleMap
E & N Rail Trail Map. Map data: OpenStreetMap/OpenCycleMap

Starting for the westernmost side on Atkins Road, the trail starts with a very old pedestrian bridge over the trail, which was created for the students of Savory Elementary School. On the other side of the bridge you are dumped into the school yard about 50m from the actual start to the trail.

The old pedestrian bridge]
The old pedestrian bridge
Looking west at the start of the trail
Mural, with parking to the right

The trail itself is straight and fairly flat, although immediately the potential for conflicts with the adjacent parking lots became apparent. Why the CRD/City of Langford didn’t choose to at least bollard off this I don’t know. As it is, it is far too easy to drive onto not only this section of trail but also one other section west of Phipps Road.

Mural, with parking to the right
Murals, with parking to the right

After crossing Veteran’s Memorial Parkway at Goldstream you wonder where the trail went. I really hope this is a temporary thing (there were construction signs everywhere along the trail stating it wasn’t open yet) because you can see just how bad it is.

East of Veteran's Memorial Parkway, the connection to the trail is sadly lacking.
East of Veteran's Memorial Parkway, the connection to the trail is sadly lacking.

At the other end of this section, the section between the sidewalk and the trail is likewise unfinished. But that isn’t the worse part about the Peatt Road crossing. For some unknown reason, rather than just crossing in parallel with the rail line, you are forced to travel south to the intersection, cross Peatt there, then along the sidewalk, cross back over rail line (as of yet unfinished) and to the trail. Utterly ridiculous.

The Peatt Road crossing
The Peatt Road crossing

The other end of the trail (and current westernmost end) just dumps you out onto the sidewalk. No indication where you could go next for another trail, etc. I realize that the trail’s costs ballooned, but still. A simple sign directing you back to the Galloping Goose would have been nice. At least it has a connection to the road.

Westernmost end of the trail
Westernmost end of the trail

And thus we finish this section of the E&N Rail Trail. It is a great start but there are a few head-scratching decisions here and there. Hopefully these can be fixed but it is better to get it right the first time. Let’s hope the CRD and their member municipalities open up the design phase a bit earlier so that these mistakes can be caught and corrected before they are concrete (literally). To see larger versions of these pictures (and a few others) see my flickr set.

Transit sucks for seniors, so let’s have less of it

Sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture to see the absurdity of it all. The Times Colonist has a pair of stories today, both talking about long running issues that are plaguing our region. The first covers the loss of driver’s licenses by and how the choices left suck. Then we have an article saying that the City of Victoria may not run rail across any new and/or refurbished Johnson St. Bridge. Right, so we need better transit options but we should reduce those options by not running rail transit across the bridge. And despite what some commenters are saying, it is not about 300m of track. Once there is something useful running on those tracks, there will be pressure to extend the tracks, possibly to link into any light rail coming down Douglas St. Bah.

Weekly news roundup

The Times Colonist is running a series of articles called Outlook 2010, covering a vast variety of issues around Victoria. Two today caught my eye:

In other news, everybody’s favourite forestry company property developer Western Forest Products is off selling land again (Times Colonist), this time in the north Island area. This as the CRD has now drafting a new bylaw governing the Juan de Fuca lands that include those WFP is trying to develop.

What really gets me about these removals from the Tree Farm Licenses is that are an explicit violation of the social contract that timber companies signed up to when they took on the TFLs. In return for access to Crown lands for forestry, the companies had to operate local sawmills and manage their private lands “sustainably”. Guess the second two parts of that agreement have kind of been forgotten, as the Times Colonist article says,

Cash-strapped WFP wants to concentrate its forestry operations on Crown land and needs capital to renovate its mills.

This kind of bait and switch isn’t exactly new, as the Dogwood Initiative points when looking at the Dunsmuir land grant for the E&N.

In a slightly better note, they have discovered a use for broom: biomass fuel (Goldstream News Gazette). While that broom is going to other places, I wonder if enough broom could be pulled out of some of the other parks in the region to feed Dockside Green’s biomass plant. As far as I know, they are still looking for biomass to burn, a task made harder by the lack of sawdust and wood chips from the shutdown of many of the mills on Vancouver Island.

Ford saves GM bus

The GM bus in question Photo Credit: The Ford Foundation
The GM bus in question Photo Credit: The Ford Foundation

The Henry Ford Foundation is working hard to preserve a General Motors bus. This bus carries the serial number of #1132 and used to be part of the Capital City Street Railway Company or The Lightning Route, established in 1886, in the city of Montgomery, Alabama.

So why is Ford money being used to save this GM bus? Because one day in 1955 a woman decided that she didn’t need to get up just because of her colour. The rest, they say, is history.

Interestingly, the same year that the Lightning Route was being built, another street railway got it’s start up north. That was the Scranton Suburban Electric Railway in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Why Scranton?¬†Jane Jacobs was born in there in 1916; who was later made famous by her opposition to Robert Moses in New York.

Daily news roundup

  • The sewage issue continues to barrel along, with a decision expected by Wednesday. The latest twist is that a proposed plant may straddle the border between the new CRD land and the existing Saanich land. Both the Times Colonist and the News Group aka Oak Bay News have stories on this and if you want to
  • Although both View Royal and Oak Bay continued their composting trial, there is no sign of it spreading to other parts of the region. However, there are plenty of other options, as the Times Colonist pointed out today.
  • Due to a power failure, one of the keynotes at the just-finished Canadian Institute of Planners AGM in Niagara was done by candle-light. Unexpected irony as the theme was coping with climate change.

Transit & Rail

The ridership risk of introducing the 12 Kenmore is not that performance targets for community bus could not be met, but rather than at key school oriented times, community bus capacity would be exceeded requiring the introduction of conventional transit vehicles on this route.

  • Come January there will be a whole pile of new services, including the new Dogwood Line, late night buses and more service hours. See the Transit Commission report (PDF) for more. The Dogwood Line is the first attempt at a B-Line style bus route in Victoria, which is a good thing, especially given just how busy the bus routes to UVic from Downtown are.

Malahat crash shows need for better rail

Budd Car on Blue Bridge. Neither likely to be replaced anytime soon. Photo Credit Mick Hall
Budd Car on Blue Bridge. Neither likely to be replaced anytime soon. Photo Credit Mick Hall

The Malahat crash that killed at least one person is merely the latest in example of why we need to fix the rail link up the island. Imagine if this accident has involved one of the dozens of trucks carrying dangerous chemicals and gases up and down the island? The consequence are pretty horrible to think of. And as we approach winter, we are again reminded that the Malahat is one of the few places on the island that regularly gets snow and ice during the coldest parts of year, merely adding to the danger.

Thankfully the solutions are actually pretty cheap. Just rebuilding the track bed would allow expanded freight service and a modest investment in new passenger vehicles would make passenger trips much faster and more pleasant. None of these things have a huge price tag. The Island Corridor Foundation, a consortium of Native bands, municipalities and others, who own the trackbed and land have estimated the cost at a mere¬†$30 million to rebuild the entire corridor to modern standards. This is just a little bit more than the cost of either the stalled Spencer’s Road or new McTavish Road interchanges. As for passenger service, the Ottawa O-Train pioneered the use of time separation to allow running of lighter trains on the shared lines. (There are some arcane North American rules about crash ratings for passenger trains running on mixed tracks, something Europe is not burdened with). The O-Train uses Bombardier’s Talent diesel trains (usually known as DMU, or Diesel-multi-units), which were tacked onto a German purchase. For more money numbers and and some interesting background info, I suggest Transport Canada’s case study of the O-Train.

Are we likely to see any of this in the near future? Well, BC Transit is busy spending that money it was given by the province to study rapid transit in the CRD and scuttlebutt says that at least some portion of the E&N factors into those plans. As for the larger corridor itself, the Cowichan Valley Commuter might spur some interest on the northern side of the Malahat. However, I am not holding my breath.

Unconscious bias: the new BCTransit logo

BCTransit has slowly been rolling out the new corporate look for the past few months and as part of the new look, they got a new logo:

One of the interesting things about this new logo is the inclusion of a stylized road. Few transit logos include any explicit reference to the service they are offering. I expect this is largely an unconscious decision, as few logos in any field explicitly reference the product or service they are associated with. For example:

Image courtesy of Julie & Co, a design firm out of DC.

Rebranding of any kind usually involves most of the senior management, which brings me to the point of this post: I think that the senior management of BCTransit is biased against rail transit. I don’t think this is a conscious bias or that they are even aware they have it. After all, knowing you like blue doesn’t mean you always think about why you choose the blue thing. BCTransit’s management has so internalized that rail transit is not an option here in the CRD that they made their corporate image exclude it.

This is despite having an existing rail corridor running from the core into downtown Langford, arguably the two places we need to link most with transit. All this means that the shiny new study will suggest exactly the same as every other study listed on this page: do nothing. Talking about unconscious bias. The URL to the Victoria Regional Rapid Transit project is busonline.ca.

TC’s special on Rebuilding Canada

The Times Colonist (and presumably the whole Canwest newspaper chain) has a special entitled “Rebuilding Canada”. That they are running such a piece now isn’t really a surprise, given the massive number of stories talking about an “infrastructure stimulus“. What really gets me is the focus on rebuilding and adding new roads. One of the choicer quotes comes from a story titled “The scramble to make our highways safe“:

Elsewhere, Edmonton has a $260-million interchange project to unclog a bottleneck on a ring road.

Twinned Port Mann bridge
Twinned Port Mann bridge. Notice the lie of the mostly empty lanes

You can’t build your way out of congestion. This is the hard lesson Boston is discovering, after their giant “Big Dig” project. Aside from all the well documented problems with quality of the construction, what they have found is that the faster traffic flow in the core has simply pushed bottlenecks outwards. The traditional answer to this would be to “fix” the new bottlenecks with more roads, which would just be perpetuating the cycle of endless construction, which is how we ended up here in the first place. We need to build less roads and reduce the number we already have, not be adding more.

But where is the talk about using transit to solve some of these bottlenecks? The problem is that planners and governments fail to look at mobility holistically. Essentially, we need to be planning how to move people more efficiently, not cars. Some organizations get it, such as Washington States Department of Transportation and their page on bottlenecks and chokepoints. Others, well, just don’t.

Seattle Street Edge Alternative
Seattle's Street Edge Alternative program. Photo credit CRD

Of course, roads are not the only piece of infrastructure that is crumbling. Recreational facilities and housing, garbage disposal, sewers and public transit are all covered as well. Sewers are an interesting one. Apparently the City of Victoria has some of the oldest sewer pipes in Canada, at almost 100 years old. All well and good, but where is the discussion of using bioswales (CRD on bioswales) and green roofs (Ecogeeks has a good photo-filled FAQ on green roofs) to reduce runoff into our sewers? As the CRD plans to charge municipalities based on flow, reducing runoff means less tax dollars wasted.

Overall, I am deeply disappointed with this whole series. It is typical tired journalism. Given the recent cuts in the Canwest newsrooms, I am not surprised they are failing to produce good, innovative stories. I guess that leaves it up to the poor bloggers to tell the story.