Give credit for labour empowerment where it is due.

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We live in a fantastic time. Our standard of living is the best it has ever been in human history and in general, it is only getting better. Despite this self-evident fact, there will always be a number of luddites who idiotically try to fight and condemn the very things that have led to our comfort and happiness today. Anti-vaccination kooks are a fantastic example of this trend. Another foolish but growing anti-progress group is the anti-automobile movement.

We (as usual) are paying a heavy price for our electoral apathy, particularly on the municipal level. Despite the vast, vast majority of people in North America happily owning and using personal automobiles, many municipal governments are taking on an outright anti-automotive stance on development. Despite need and demand for improved automotive infrastructure, municipal governments focus on initiatives designed to hinder automotive use with no visible benefit. Calgary’s ridiculous and barely utilized downtown cycle track are a prime example. Tens out thousands of autos have been displaced for these tracks as lanes and parking are lost while hipsters numbering in the dozens use these tracks. That is fine for Nenshi’s council as the goal was never to facilitate bicyclists. The goal was to hinder cars. Traffic calming measures, ridiculous pedestrian strategies and the constant choking of parking reflect this ideology as well.

This anti-automotive movement can be far more damaging to us than simply some inconvenience in commuting. If we allow more collectivization of transportation, we will begin to lose individual rights.

The personal automobile was as responsible for the empowerment of workers as labour unions were, if not more so.

In the last few years, I spent a great deal of time working on oil exploration programs in the “Rust Belt” of the USA in the last few years. There are countless small, single factory towns squirreled around Western Pennsylvania and Ohio. One that stood out for me was Avonmore Pennsylvania.

avon

Avonmore is a town of about 800 and is in the Kiskiminetas River valley about 40 miles from Pittsburgh. The town population peaked in 1910 at 1262 and has been on the decline ever since. This is typical of these types of towns as their industries decline. Many Pennsylvania towns have long histories and some great old architecture. Avonmore however is somewhat plain and it can be seen even in the design of the small downtown that this is a planned and company town. There is one large steel mill in the town and a small number of supporting businesses. That has always been the nature of this town.

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Being in a deep river valley and being so dominated by one company, one cant help but imagine just how dependent workers were in a town like this at the turn of the century. The only route out at that time would have been by rail (controlled by the company), or by wagon (slow and expensive). The dominant company in these towns often owned the associated businesses in the towns from the general stores to the local hotel and often the housing. It is this dependency that led to a great deal of labour abuse. While unions had made strides at the turn of the century, in towns such as this they had little power as labour was essentially captive. What would you do if you were fired? Move? How much do you owe the company store? Back rent on the house perhaps? Can you get all your belongings on the train? Does the company control the train? Can you shop for a new place?

This all changed in 1914 when the Ford Model T took America by storm. Suddenly a factory worker could buy a family automobile with just four months pay. A worker could now commute to other workplaces should they choose to. A family could travel and broaden their shopping options. Employers and services suddenly faced a mobile workforce who could and would commute or relocate if need be should they find themselves abused. A mobile workforce becomes a commodity and supply and demand now could apply to them. Reality set in and work conditions throughout the entire continent improved not with strikes and labour actions but through employees exercising their ability to take their services elsewhere. With Pittsburgh and other industrial communities being only a short drive away, the companies that controlled Avonmore and countless other communities were forced to change their practices in order to retain their workers.

We often take that personal mobility for granted as we allow municipal ideologues to chip away at this important individual right. Aside from labour mobility, the contributions that personal transportation make to our general standard of living can’t be understated. While municipal leaders often chide people to take the bus or ride a bike, how can this reasonably apply to the parent of a few kids who needs to go grocery shopping. Should they simply walk to a convenience store and pay the premium that comes with that? Do we really expect senior citizens to suddenly choose to ride a bike to the pharmacy?  What do we think will happen to the price of consumer goods if people can no longer broadly shop around? Personal autos also allow a possible escape for people in abusive relationships.

We need to be vigilant as ideologues try to take away or limit the very important right of personal mobility and nothing provides that right more effectively than the personal automobile. We have to thank the automobile for so many great things we enjoy in life today and to oppose personal automobiles is pure and simple foolishness.

We can get by just fine without labour unions today. If we lost the personal automobile however, we would all suffer on a number of levels. We should always celebrate this great innovation that has empowered us all.

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Calgary city councillors need to learn what their mandate is

 

Some members of Calgary city council have been complaining for some time now that they are overworked and that we need more city councillors to help share the burden. As is often the case, I have to call bullshit. If anything, Calgary city councillors have too much time on their hands. How else can we explain the amount of time that they dedicate to myopic pet projects that are way outside of their mandate and jurisdiction as a council?

Brian Pincott wants to ban fire pits and end the odious trend of apparent light pollution as well as banning people from cutting trees on their own property. Those all pale in comparison with the council time wasted trying to ban types of soup from restaurants however. With all those foolish initiatives, can we really believe that poor Brian doesn’t have enough time on his hands?

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Druh Farrell came up with the profoundly stupid “Bow River Flow” festival which was nothing more than an excuse to close a main road and poke a stick in the eyes of drivers. It failed terribly after a few seasons and thankfully was tossed in the dustbin.

druh

Diane Colley-Urquhart took on a pointless crusade against e-cigarettes which sadly has now been taken on by Mandel on a provincial level. I wonder if she opposes methadone treatment for addicts too or nicoderm patches?

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City council now has a triumvirate of twits wasting council time trying to get rid of payday loan companies as they apparently prey on the poor. Can we assume that liquor stores, tobacconists, used car dealers and rent-to-own outfits will be targeted as well? Lower income people tend to make up a disproportionate portion of the client base of those businesses too.

What have all the idiotic, busybody initiatives above got in common?

None of the above pet projects of our supposedly overworked city councillors land within the mandate of city hall!!!!

Below I will quote directly from the Alberta Municipal Government Act. The act is hundreds of pages long but our esteemed councillors really only need to read one part. It is three simple lines and I will quote them below.

Purposes, Powers and Capacity of Municipalities
Municipal purposes
The purposes of a municipality are
(a) to provide good government,
(b) to provide services, facilities or other things that, in the opinion of council, are necessary or desirable for all or a part of the municipality, and
(c) to develop and maintain safe and viable communities.

There you have it folks. A very direct and simple mandate. Nothing about specifying which soups are legal or not. Nothing about banning things like e-cigarettes or regulating or punishing businesses that may be predominantly serving folks in the lower income bracket of society.

Every month we see at least one or two mind-blowingly foolish pet projects and initiatives from our city council in Calgary. It is galling that this collection of officials can waste so much time and money on these things and then whine about being overworked at the same time.

To Calgary city councillors: read those three lines that describe what your mandate is supposed to be. Follow those instructions! The workload will suddenly be reduced and we will get better government for it.

Sad that council will need to be directed to that act over and over again as they seem to think that they govern some sort of city state with huge, intrusive authority to govern our lifestyle or business choices. If they really want to build such a nanny state, may I suggest that our city council pursue federal seats in parliament as that is where such potential powers lie, not in city hall.

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Let’s get real on secondary suites in Calgary

lawnpark

Every time secondary suites come before city council in Calgary, we hear the usual chorus bemoaning the status of secondary suites in the city. The process is indeed tedious and not an efficient use of city council time as every suite application comes before council for discussion for approval or rejection. There is no doubt that this is a terrible system of approval and it needs reform. That being said, this does not justify the radical changes to zoning that the secondary suite obsessed want to see throughout the city.

Nenshi has a vocal cult following and secondary suites have always been a frustrating pet issue of his. This of course has led to quite the crusade over the years by his faithful to push to have secondary suites legalized throughout the entire city. Every year the hype gets louder and if these zealots were to be believed, everything from homelessness to nose-warts would end if only those darned stubborn NIMBYs in the city would allow widespread secondary suites.

What we have is a mess in the system for approval and regulation that indeed needs to be addressed. The potential benefits of widely legalized secondary suites have been grossly exaggerated by proponents for years though and we have to get back to reality here.

To begin with, how many new secondary suites would Calgary really gain if they were legalized throughout the city? A study back in 2008 estimated that there were 50,000 to 80,000 “illegal” suites in the city already. In the six years since then the city has grown of course so those numbers are likely higher. What this tells us is that those who want to build secondary suites are building them already despite current regulations. Clearly whatever legislation there is against secondary suites is of little to no deterrent for people who want to build these suites. Getting realistic, how many more suites could we expect if the suites were legalized? To be blunt, not a hell of a lot.

The numbers above do not mean that there is no benefit to legalization of more suites, but it does demonstrate that legalizing suites will not be the panacea to solve issues of high rents and homelessness in the city as the fanatical pushers of these suites like to imply they are. The supply really won’t grow by that much.

druh

 

Druh Farrell has long been a strong proponent of the mass legalization secondary suites throughout the city. Druh loves to wax on about the misery of tenants living in illegal suites as they have limited protections in landlord/tenant issues and can often live in unsafe conditions. Druh then loves to point out how high rents are and how limited availability is within the city. The true depth of Farrell’s rationale came to light in a radio interview though when she vapidly went into circles in confusion when confronted with the reality that if we found and regulated all of these illegal suites as she wants us to that we would actually end up with less suites and much higher rent. Druh and her ideological kin have always had something of a deficit when it comes to the concept of supply and demand.

We may have as many as 100,000 “illegal” (grey market) suites in the city of Calgary. Likely well over 75% of them need at least some upgrades to bring them to code in a legal and regulated market. Bringing a suite up to code in Calgary can range in cost anywhere from $10,000 to over $100,000. It simply isn’t cheap. Landlords who find themselves confronted with the sudden legal need to upgrade these suites will have to choose between closing the suite and evicting the tenants or doing the renovations and raising the rent considerably to recoup their costs. Landlords are not charities people. The bottom line is that we will either lose a suite or costs will rise. Neither of those two options aids in availability of suites or rental costs of course (that supply and demand thing). We need to work to ensure that suites are safe but let’s not pretend that enforcement won’t have a very big impact on supply.

Now the next question is whether or not a big market of prospective landlords is waiting in the wings just salivating at the prospect of opening a secondary suite but has not done so yet because it is illegal. The city of Calgary waived their ridiculous $4,500 application fee which is a good thing. This led to what was described as a “rush” by homeowners to apply for rezoning. How many applications were in this “rush”? 11!!! Yes, folks even with free application costs the grand total of initial applicants for zoning was 11 people. There were a couple dozen more pending. We are speaking numbers in the dozens in a city of well over a million people. Folks who want to rent secondary suites are already doing so in the grey market and will continue to no matter what the regulations.

We need some degree of oversight and regulation on where we will or will not allow secondary suites. Some neighborhoods simply are not well designed to handle them. Some people purposely seek out neighborhoods with low numbers of rental properties and they pay a premium to live in these neighborhoods. These people have a right to speak up and be concerned if the city wants to suddenly change the deal in zoning. The fervent followers of Nenshi spit out the NIMBY term at such folks of course but it has to be kept in mind that most of those followers are hipster renters who dwell in the Beltline who have little regard for the property values or taxation of others. These are issues that cant be dismissed.

There is a great deal of overreaction to prospective suites too. As I pointed out, there really are not that many folks who want to open new suites out there and having a suite or two on your block wont be a disaster by any means. Stuffing 10 suites into a cul-de-sac however will cause havoc and that is why rezoning still has to be considered case by case even if not by city council itself.

There is a need to reform policy on secondary suites in Calgary. Let’s set aside the zealous density ideals though and be rational about what needs to be done and what benefits can be gained. If one’s concerns are about availability and cost of living in the city, they should aim their guns at the essential suburban land freeze that Nenshi’s administration is practicing. The effect that broadly legalized secondary suites will have on homelessness and cost of living in Calgary will be negligible at best.

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Druh Farrell and her goofy anti-auto ideology yet again.

jaywalking-downtownThe tiny yet vocal anti-automobile crowd in Calgary love going on and on whenever an auto/pedestrian accident happens about how this is due to our sick car-culture and such. They love to paint a picture of Calgary’s streets as if it is a never ending scene of carnage with cars mowing pedestrians down at will. Due to the laws of physics, pedestrian vs. automotive collisions often do end in tragedy and we should examine ways to reduce these sorts of accidents as much as is reasonably possible. This is where anti-auto ideologues such as Druh depart from common sense yet again.

druh

This week’s incidents proved that people like Druh Farrell and her supporters don’t really care about pedestrian safety. Their goal is simply to attack personal automotive usage however possible.

If we truly want to look at reducing accidents involving pedestrians the approach has to be multi-facetted and look at a number of things. Infrastructure, traffic movement and the enforcement of traffic laws all are factors in road safety. The anti-auto set only wants to look at one factor however and that is personal automobiles. They endlessly call for traffic calming projects, reduced speed limits, increased enforcement of traffic laws against drivers and even the outright removal of many roads. What the anti-automobile gang never mentions however is that we need to crack down on reckless pedestrians too if we truly want to reduce collisions.

Construction is a pretty common thing in a growing city like Calgary. With construction, we occasionally have to close some sidewalks temporarily for reasons of space and safety. BOMA Calgary excellently explains all of that here.

Sidewalk closures are clearly marked with bright orange signs and a simple detour making people walk on the other side of the street is typically required. At a construction project at 7th Avenue and 5th Street, many pedestrians were lazily and dangerously ignoring the clearly marked detour and walking in the roadway rather than crossing the street as directed. This led to a great hazard for both drivers and pedestrians and led to complaints. This led Calgary police to set up and write 40 warnings and 90 jaywalking tickets.

peds

Are the signs bright enough? Is the detour not clear enough? I think the picture above says it all. It is even a short block and it is not like it is mid-winter when walking is uncomfortable.

The straightforward enforcement of traffic laws on pedestrians made the usual suspects in the anti-auto set go haywire on social media led by the ever vapid Farrell who tried to imply that the construction company was somehow at fault for these jaywalkers. Druh feels that the pedestrians are not 100% to blame in this and they are sometimes “forced” into traffic. Pardon me? Forced? How? Only by their own laziness. There is a perfectly safe crosswalk and more than enough signage to show them how to get there. Nobody was forced to break the law Druh.

Some called this a cash grab. Really? A few officers for a day issuing 90 tickets? How much was the net fiscal benefit of this? A fraction of that of any red light camera or speed on green I imagine. If they simply wanted to make money, there are many lucrative speed trap spots they like to set up in.

Some said that if the police really wanted to stop the jaywalking they would have stopped people from doing it before they jaywalked rather than waiting and ticketing them afterwards. Huh??? Does that mean the only way for officers to stop speeders is to tail vehicles to make sure they never do it? Can we only stop trespassers who ignore signs by standing there and stopping them? Do we need to assign a police officer to stand day and night at every sidewalk closure to inform people what those bright orange signs mean? No! The signs are clear. The police did exactly the right thing and set an example. If common sense won’t stop these jaywalkers, perhaps the threat of fines will.

Reducing pedestrian collisions requires increases enforcement of all traffic laws and that certainly includes jaywalking. If anybody claims that they want to reduce pedestrian/automobile accidents in Calgary yet opposes enforcement of laws against jaywalking that person is clearly and simply full of shit. Drivers who run red lights and go through crosswalks with pedestrians in them should be ticket just as idiot pedestrians who blindly step into traffic should.

If nothing else this weeks incidents proved yet again that folks such as Druh Farrell and her anti-automobile supporters are driven only by blind ideology as opposed to outcomes. Anybody who is outcome driven and truly wants to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities would have applauded the Calgary police service and their crackdown on jaywalkers.

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Gian-Carlo Carra’s $100,000 “high-level rendering”

OK, it is hardly news when Gian-Carlo Carra and other members of the Flakey Four on Calgary city council waste the tax dollars and time of Calgarians. It is no shock that Carra want’s to transform a portion of his ward into some unpronounceable European modelled walkway at the expense of automotive infrastructure.

Gian-Carlo Carra has really outdone himself this time though when he went begging to city council for $100,000 to study this inane proposal a year ago and we are now presented with the “high-level rendering” below.

rendering

bathers

Yes, $100,000 and one year to create drawings that look like they were done by a 6 year old.

The rest of the “high-level” renderings can be found in a Metro article here. The quality and depth rivals the picture above.

Simple words such as “picnic” apparently are beyond the spelling ability of these folks doing this fine study and they depict nude sunbathers in the pictures too (not well drawn unfortunately).

There really is little more to be said about this. It is just another gross example of finite city of Calgary tax dollars being wasted on the whimsical notions of a city councillor. I really wonder what the tendering process is (if any) to do these six figure studies that take a year to draw stick people.

Just wanted to document this beauty so people have yet another thing to point at when Nenshi and his Flakey Four allies on Calgary city council (Druh Farrell, Brian Pincott, Evan Woolley and of course Gian-Carlo Carra) try to claim that we need to keep imposing record high property tax increases as there simply is no waste to be cut in city hall.

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Calgary’s war on cars now targets suburban park-and-ride users.

The ideologically driven transportation department in Calgary is hitting new lows in their war on cars as they now attack folks who park their cars in order to use transit. That’s right, it’s not good enough that people park their cars at LRT stations in suburban communities and take the train to work. These people are expected to walk, ride bikes or somehow find one of those rare, crowded and often pungent busses that will take them to the station.

The City of Calgary plans to remove 1250 stalls from Anderson LRT station!

Councillor Brian Pincott is of course absolutely giddy with this notion. He feels that the parking lot is not “walkable” enough. No surprise that he is one of the head members of the “Flakey Four” on city council.

I stopped by the Anderson LRT station today to take a few pictures. As can be seen below, the lot is already full beyond capacity to the point where people are desperately double parking and hoping to get overlooked by Calgary’s finest ticket issuers.

Anderson stationIMG552

It should be noted though, that the bike racks at the station languish empty as usual.

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So where are these 1250 commuters going to go? Whether Nenshi’s council like it or not, citizens simply are not going to abandon their cars no matter how hard they are pushed. This was proven with recent numbers showing that the vast majority of Calgarians prefer personal autos despite years of an anti-auto agenda from the Nenshi administration.

Cars are already overflowing into neighboring communities as the picture below demonstrates. Residential permit parking and mass enforcement may drive out these commuter refugees but they will still have to go somewhere.

IMG554Commuters can’t go one more station South as the Canyon Meadows park and ride is already full to overflowing (likely spaces next on the city hit list).

IMG555

The sad irony is that many of these displaced commuters will throw up their hands and just drive the entire way downtown rather than ride the train.

This sort of planning idiocy will also of course contribute to the growing trend of businesses relocating to areas like Quarry Park and up near the airport as downtown becomes increasingly unviable for employees. This of course increases the ongoing exodus of citizens to bedroom communities and the ever demonized “sprawl” accelerates.

To remove 1250 spaces from a lot that is already filled beyond capacity is a whole new level of stupidity from our city planners but I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

This is the city that is letting a homeless charity lose $350,000 per year purely due to their anti-auto agenda.

Eventually Nenshi will move on to his federal ambitions and the city will tire of his allies in the “Flakey Four”. How much damage will these ideologues cause to the city before they leave though?

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Time to clear up some things on the Calgary Southwest ring road

The hard-left collective four on Calgary’s city council (Druh Farrell, Brian Pincott, Gian-Carlo Carra and Evan Woolley) have managed to stir up quite some discussion through their hyperbolic posturing during a committee meeting the other day. Discussion on issues is always a good thing. The Flakey Four (ht. Rick Bell) however are on more of a water muddying mission than any real pursuit of facts. It has been something of a dark comedy as we listen to these four initially claim to be concerned about costs (they never have shown such concern before), yet invariably go on anti-auto tirades as soon as extended discussion ensues.

The four aforementioned city councillors are all inner-city representatives with long-established reputations of being anti-suburb. These four are extremely ideologically driven and consistently oppose anything they view as being supportive of suburban development or automotive infrastructure. Their opposition to the ring road has utterly nothing to do with the cost of the project and everything to do with the fact that the road will serve the needs of suburbanites.

It’s time to cut through some of the BS.

For starters, this is a provincial issue and not even within the jurisdiction of Calgary’s city council. The province has already made it clear that this project is going forward no matter how much noise inner-city councillors make.

Next is a demonstration of need. Opponents of the ring-road are simply claiming that we don’t need it. In the poorly edited image below I will demonstrate the need.

ringroada

I couldn’t find an image that combines current traffic flow with the projected ring road location so I cobbled one together. If you can squint really well or expand the image you can see the need for this traffic artery demonstrated.

The poorly drawn yellow line is an approximate rendering of where the ring road is going to go. The dark purple lines on the map indicate roads that carry over 100,000 vehicles per day. People familiar with Calgary’s Southwest will recognize the traffic bottlenecks immediately. Glenmore Trail, Crowchild Trail and 14th Street SW are all heavily congested with both commuter and trucking traffic. As can be clearly seen, all of those roads will see a great reduction in traffic with the coming of the ring-road as traffic can and will by-pass those narrow and traffic-light laden routes.

The red line is pointing to where development will be happening in the city of Calgary. The city boundary includes those areas and development down there is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when. Calgary is a fast growing city and despite the efforts of our density obsessed members of city council, 92% of people are choosing to live in the suburbs. Most People just do not and will not squash themselves into inner-city condos no matter what the inner-city ideological four think.

Hundreds of thousands of people will be building on and living in the Southwest region of Calgary in coming years. Is not one of our common complaints that infrastructure is always built after the fact rather than in anticipation of growth? The need for the ring road is already there and will only become more acute with time.

The need for the ring road is clearly established. The Flakey Four loves wistfully talking about the amount of LRT tracks that could be laid with the money but that will not aid in the movement of goods and services. Your plumber is not going to ride the train to your house, a parent of a family of five is not going to ride the train to get groceries and the grocery store will get it’s stock by truck, not LRT.

With the need established, the more realistic area of contention is the cost. It must be remembered, the need is not going away and the cost will not be going down over time. That said, the ballpark cost of $5 billion is a very large number. We need to break down and work out why it is in that range as much as we can before the province lays out more detailed information on this.

For a history of the ring road click here. The gentleman who created this blog has done a fantastic job of digging up and documenting the history of the road as well as reporting new developments on it. Considering it appears that the province’s first approach to the Tsuu T’ina band on this road was in 1947, there is a lot of history to cover.

The largest cost factor that differentiates the Southwest leg of the ring road from the rest of the segments is that the road goes through the Tsuu T’ina native reserve. This brought about a great deal of added costs as compensation for land and other factors came into the deal that other legs did not have to deal with. Dealing with potential burial grounds and other culturally sensitive issues arise on the reserve.

There are clauses in the agreement that guarantee some of the contracting on the construction of the road to the reserve. When working in the North, mandatory hiring of native contractors is usually part of our obligations in permits to work on crown land. The reasons why it costs so much more to use native contractors would be fodder for an entire series of blog postings. Be assured though that while native contractors can often do a fantastic job, they cost a great deal more than any other contractors tend to.

The ring road goes through the old artillery range of CFB Calgary. The clearing of the land of potential unexploded ordnance before construction is a huge and unique cost.

The Southwest ring road is in some environmentally sensitive areas that other legs of the road did not have to deal with. Crossing upstream of the  Weaselhead area is one example as well as crossing smaller water bodies like Fish Creek.

From the ring road blog:

The Southwest Ring Road includes:

  • 26 km of six and eight-lane divided roadway
  • 37 bridges
  • Crossings of Elbow River and Fish Creek
  • Rail flyover
  • 13 interchanges:
      • Westhills Way SW interchange
      • Sarcee Trail SW interchange
      • Old Strathcona Road SW interchange
      • 90 Avenue SW interchange
      • Anderson Road SW interchange
      • 130 Avenue SW interchange
      • 146 Avenue SW interchange
      • 162 Avenue SW interchange
      • Stoney Trail/Highway 22X systems interchange
      • Spruce Meadows Way SW/James McKevitt Road SW interchange
      • Sheriff King Street SW/6 Street SW partial interchange
      • Macleod Trail SW interchange

 

As demonstrated above, this is a very large project with many unique costs and challenges.

It took two referendums and decades of negotiations to get an agreement with the Tsuu T’ina band to get this ring road going. Part of the agreement also says that if the province does not have this road going within 7 years of the land transfer, the deal will be void. There is no time to dither on this. We can’t navel-gaze and think about it for a few years now. It would take decades longer and unimaginable compensation to do this deal again if we break it with the Tsuu T’ina now.

I don’t know how much it would cost to simply break the agreement right now but be assured there is a clause that states we would be paying the Tsuu T’ina  a great deal of money just to get out of the contract. Something that can’t be measured in dollars would be the lost faith and trust between the Tsuu T’ina band and the province/city. Trust is a limited commodity with First Nations as it is. Breaking new deals won’t exactly help.

One more thing that many folks are neglecting to mention is that the projected costs include 30 years of the maintenance of the ring road. The $5 billion is not simply for construction, it covers decades of maintenance that will be expensive under any circumstance.

It was irresponsible for Alberta Transportation to toss out what they now call a “ballpark” figure on the cost of the ring road. We need more detail before we can properly understand and absorb the costs associated with this critical piece of infrastructure. Having no detailed breakdown for the costs leaves room for opponents such as the Flakey Four to speculate and it is difficult to counter such unfounded speculations.

We need detailed costs and we need our provincial representatives to debate and work on these costs. There probably is room to reduce the cost of this project if we look closely enough. Let’s be clear though, the ring road is going ahead. To cancel the deal now simply is not a realistic option no matter what some inner-city councillors are dreaming.

Sideline the Flakey Four when it comes to further discussion on the ring road. They would oppose the project if it was 1/4 of the projected cost. Their issue is not with cost, it is with ideology and it always will be.

The ring road needs open and rational discussion and the place for it is in our legislature rather than city hall.

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Let’s put the proposed Macleod Tr. bike track to the test.

Nobody should fear a test unless they have reason to believe that they will fail it.

To say that taking a lane from Macleod Tr. Southbound (1 St. SE) in Calgary’s downtown in order to give the space to a tiny minority of bicycle commuters is a radical plan would be a gross understatement.

Calgary transportation planning appears to be actually trying to go ahead and take away 25% of the lane space from a piece of roadway that services 25,000 vehicles per day. This initiative appears to be based on some very weak speculation and projections of how much further Calgary’s traffic will be congested or how many new cyclists such a plan could draw. It doesn’t take a deep study to know that the claim by the transportation department that such a move would only increase people’s commute time by one minute to know that such a statement is nothing less than utter hogwash.

Calgary taxpayers paid tens of millions of dollars to build the roadways that will be covered by this rather aggressive cycle track network plan. It is not too much to ask to see some simple testing conducted to assure us that the impact upon downtown traffic will be reasonable and that these invisible thousands of potential cyclists will indeed pop out of the woodwork?

We should put the Macleod Tr. bike track to the test by temporarily setting the track up and getting true, hard figures on how well this may or may not work. Again, when we are talking about 10s of millions of dollars in infrastructure at risk here, the cost of such a test is negligible. No more cute artist’s depictions of how the new street would look. No more projected numbers on how many people would give up their cars in favor of a bicycle. Let’s lay down the barriers and see how it goes.

The required barriers are cheap and doubtless the city keeps them in stock for construction projects.

barrierThere are plastic barriers that are very cheap and easy to install as well.

plasticbarr

For intersections, temporary lights have been used on construction projects for decades. We are in the days where a $50 cell phone can store and play an entire feature film. Programing temporary traffic signals is pretty easy.

stoplightWe will need a little painting done. We know that we have spare city staff as they used 10 of them to paint the simple little green box below and now are all fully qualified in road painting.

bikeWith one weekend of construction we could take the lane from Macleod Tr. South and give it to those masses of awaiting cyclists. Let’s say we do this in May so the proponents can’t use the weather excuse and let’s say we leave the barriers up for a full 30 days.

With such a simple and reasonable test we can find out definitively just how traffic will be impacted by this proposed bike track. We will also find out how many new cycle commuters will be drawn to the new track. Most importantly, we will give commuters and businesses downtown a good taste of what the cycle plan has in mind for them as they target all of Calgary’s busiest central roadways for more cycle tracks.

The cycle proponents should be thrilled with such a concept. They are confident that most Calgarians want to give up main roadways for cycle tracks. They are confident that thousands of auto commuters are just waiting to cycle to work every day but have not done so due to the lack of a track. This experiment should prove the cycle advocates correct right?

Imagine how easy it will be to sell future bike tracks once Calgarians see that traffic is not impacted and that the bike lane looks like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting with commuters on bicycles mingling with happy families all riding together with beatific smiles on their faces as they enjoy these vibrant, sustainable lanes!

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Doing tests and pilot projects for major changes to roads is actually standard practice in many Calgary transportation initiatives despite their not doing this with the bike track plans.  When I was living in the Northwest a couple years ago, temporary barriers were installed along 4 st NW as a pilot project for traffic calming. The barriers were changed and moved a couple times after real impacts were measured and citizen input was taken into account (people in the neighborhood were not pleased).

On Macleod Tr. South, a pilot project was undertaken to change morning congestion around Avenida as things had been bottlenecking. As can be seen with this detailed report, the pilot project led to a significant saving in commuter time and was made permanent. Had the project not aided traffic flow, it simply would have been scrapped. This is simple good planning. There is no reason why such pilots and tests can’t be applied to cycle tracks.

Edmonton Trail and Memorial have both seen major pilot projects on traffic flow and doubtless every major road in the city has seen some testing at one time or another.

Let’s put this whole debate to rest and put the case for cycle tracks at the expense of major road arteries to rest once and for all!

I suspect that the cycle track proponents will adamantly oppose the concept of such a test for the reason stated in the very first sentence of this posting.

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The business of bike lanes

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We already know that taking automotive lanes out of arteries like Macleod Trail and 12 Ave for bike lanes will greatly tie up our already congested traffic in Calgary. Despite that, city planners are planning to destroy that expensive infrastructure that we paid for in order to service a handful of cycle commuters. Aside from the traffic catastrophe, how will these cycle tracks impact local businesses?

Recently Calgary’s fervent bicycle advocates have been trumpeting an opinion piece by the head of Calgary Economic Development that claims that cycle-tracks that come at the expense of automotive lanes are good for local businesses. It should be remembered that Calgary Economic Development is essentially an extension of Calgary city hall (it is funded by city hall) and it is not a group that represents businesses despite a name that may imply such. The Calgary Chamber of Commerce or the Downtown Business Association on the other hand actually do work with downtown businesses and the Downtown Business Association has already expressed concern for the agresive and poorly planned expansion of bike tracks throughout downtown.

The sources that keep claiming that bike lanes are good for business tend to be almost exclusively environmentalist and cycle advocate blogs.

When actual businesses are asked how bike lanes have impact their businesses we hear an utterly different story.

Who should we believe? Environmental activists or the business owners who are actually being impacted? Would all these business owners be lying and wanting to harm their own bottom lines? If bike lanes were so good for business, somebody had better tell all those business owners below.

In Ottawa the stories are piling up on how bike lanes on Laurier have been detrimental to their businesses from restaurants to a copy shop.

In Vancouver it was found that bike lanes reduced business revenues by 11%.

The full Vancouver bike lane study is below and well worth a read. Despite their claims, it appears that cyclists are chintzy shoppers that only made up 8% of customers on the streets with separated lanes. The cost of the lanes to local businesses was estimated at $2.4 million per year in sales.

Stantec report on study of impact on business from separated bike lanes

A Toronto eatery has been terribly impacted by bike lanes. I guess the logic is the old: you have to break a few eggs….

Not good when the egg being broken by cycle ideologues is your small business.

In Halifax bike lanes have damaged small local businesses.

Even in New York City zealous cycle advocates have managed to get bike lanes on Broadway with catastrophic results. 

With a short trip down google one can easily find a myriad of these kinds of stories from Australia (where at least the weather cooperates) to the USA.

Instead of listening to actual business owners who are looking at their bottom lines, cycle advocates are citing pap from sites like “treehugger.com” (yes there really is such a site and they are using it).

If these bike lanes are so bang-up-good for businesses, why don’t we see these business owners themselves out in the streets demanding them? The answer is that business owners are bound by the hard realities of making a profit rather than the fuzzy ideologies of the anti-car set.

The Stantec report on bike lane impacts on business (linked again below) is one of the most comprehensive of it’s kind that has followed up on the placements of separated bike lanes in Canada. Every councilor should read that in full before considering accepting the insane bike lane plan that calls for closing a lane on Macleod Tr. among other critical road lanes.

Stantec report on study of impact on business from separated bike lanes

 

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City of Calgary’s war on cars getting ridiculous.

Macleod Trail

I honestly have to wonder if the plan to close an entire lane on downtown Calgary’s section of Macleod Trail (1 St SE) in order to put in a bike track is not a bait and switch tactic. Perhaps the plan is to get people so worked up with this profoundly stupid plan that Calgarians will sigh in relief when our ideologues in city planning decide to move the lanes over to 4 St SE in that precious parking lot of subsidies that they call “East Village”. The question on most people’s minds when it comes to this plan is; “Can they really be that stupid?”. Sadly the answer is yes.

Let’s look at some numbers right now to dispel some of the weak bullshit that proponents of this pending traffic catastrophe are using in order to justify this idiocy. Last spring the city took a lane of parking from 7 St. SW and created a separated bike track. I checked it out and didn’t find it too bad aside from a lack of cyclists actually using it. The lane came at tremendous expense as our cities finest needed to have 10 people to paint a simple box. It’s done, the lane is now there and we are expected to get over it.

Well in a matter of a few months the city has compiled some numbers and now is claiming that traffic flow has increased on 7 St SW due to the bike track. At best that is a half truth. Traffic flow on 7 St. SW has increased but that has been due entirely to the city finally synchronizing the traffic light system there and has nothing to do with the lane itself. Those lights could (and bloody well should) have been synchronized with the same effect on traffic flow without a bike track being placed at all.

Some are trying to spoon-feed us the horsepoop that this justifies the crazy plan to close an entire traffic lane on one of downtown Calgary’s busiest streets and that this will actually aid traffic flow on Macleod Trail South. Macleod Trail South (1 St SE) and 7 St. SW are completely incomparable as city transportation corridors and it is nothing less than utterly disingenuous to try and compare them as many are trying to do.

To begin with, the lane taken to use as a bike track on 7th St. SW was a parking lane, not a driving one. If anything, just the loss of people stopping and meddling around to parallel park eased flow a little bit. If traffic flow was the real goal, it could likely have been doubled simply by getting rid of the parking lane and opening it up to vehicular traffic along with synchronizing the traffic lights. Many drivers now choose to use other streets to drive rather than the one with the bike track as well which contributes to increased flow on 7th but decreases flow wherever they have spilled to of course. To reiterate, the bike track itself had nothing to do with the increase in traffic flow on 7th St. SW.

Next, 7th St. SW was one of the least used streets in all of downtown Calgary. It is a short connector of a street with only a couple lanes that only moved about 5,000 cars per day. Macleod Trail South (1 St. SE) in the city core however moves over 25,000 vehicles per day and is one of the most critical arteries in the entire core. The proposed area for this ludicrous bike track is not a parking lane, it is a traffic lane and it is heavily utilized. To squash thousands and thousands of cars into even less lanes will impact traffic on all of the roads feeding this critical route as well. Anybody who works downtown knows just how fun it is to try and turn on to 1 St SE during rush hour. Now imagine that task with one less lane and a ridiculous two way bike lane in the way. We can count on increased traffic jams on 4th Ave, 6th Ave and so on as people desperately try to adjust to this loss of critical infrastructure. There are bus stops on one side of the street and will be bike tracks on the other. Over 25,000 vehicles will be squashed in between as there is no comparable egress from downtown nearby.

The statement that the transportation planning is anti-car is quite well justified when looking at this lunacy from them. To purposely target the busiest street in all of Calgary to accommodate 1% of commuters proves this point rather well. Why the hell is it impossible to synchronize traffic lights throughout the city anyway? Oh yeah, our planners are focused on traffic “calming” rather than flow. In the last 20 years the percentage of people who choose to commute to work on bikes in Calgary has remained at a flat 1% range despite a huge increase in bike infrastructure.

There will always be a hardy one in a hundred souls who want to ride a bike to work all year round. That number has not grown however and it simply will not. People will not give up their cars and ride bikes to work no matter how hard our city tries to pressure them to. Do we really expect a middle aged person in the suburbs to decide to spend an extra two hours of their day riding a bike back and forth to work in the snow downtown? How about in summer? How many folks do you think will ride a bike for 15km each way in 30 degree heat? Do they all have the time and means to shower and change every day at work or will they funk it out? We have to get realistic here.

If city transportation planning really isn’t anti-car, then why does cycle infrastructure always seem to come at the expense of vehicle infrastructure that is already heavily in use?

As a growing city, we have pressures on our transportation infrastructure. Our freespending mayor loves using that as an excuse to keep up his lobbying for record tax increases. We will get much more bang for our buck in transportation infrastructure if we began planning and building it to reflect the real needs and wants of commuters. That would require having city hall dropping their anti-car agenda however and I am not sure if and when that may happen.

As a final note, it is not like we shouldn’t have seen this coming. The city planners released a plan to run a bike lane at the expense of as many as two automotive lanes down the entire length of Macleod Trail. Don’t underestimate their capacity for ideologically driven foolishness.

 

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