Monday, February 28, 2011

Corporate Handouts

The government of Alberta has recently announced that it is providing six Alberta companies with $27 million.  The capital will be used by the companies to increase efficiencies in order to reduce green house gas emissions by "3.2 megatonnes over 10 years, equivalent to taking 64,000 cars off ."  While this is great, what I don't understand is why these corporations need government handouts?  According to Alberta regulations, these companies are required by law to install these efficiencies.  These companies produce millions in revenues and are able to pay CEO's lucrative wages in the millions, but they cannot spend a fraction of a percent of their income on improvements which are required by law?  Why does the general population have to suffer for the sake of a few that do not want to do the right thing?  Part of the problem is that society creates these situations where these CEO's probably know what they have to do, but they can't because they are employed in a position where it is necessary to maximize profits in order just keep the job.  Society creates this awkward position, and only society can change it.

The government could have instead giving all of the money to one person could have set up a program to install solar panels on 2700 homes.  Instead of Canada bailing out the auto industry a few years back, why couldn't they invested in high speed rail?  They both create jobs, however one will create a sustainable way to travel in Canada.

Societies practice of allowing 2% of the worlds population to own 50% of the worlds income has to stop if we want to create a sustainable world.  People are starving in the world, and we easily have the resources to feed them.  Corporations should only be making enough money for cover operational costs and future expansions.  The rest of the money should be going to public programs in order to provide free transit, health care, and the basic needs for every citizen.  Earning too much money is in fact unsustainable.

According to the UN it would only require 2% of the global GDP as subsidies to end hunger, cut our reliance on fossil fuels and create a sustainable world.  The thing is that this 2% of the worlds GDP is already being used to as subsidies, subsidies for unsustainable practices.  So we would simply just need to transfer the money from the current unsustainable investments, to investments that can see world hunger and our reliance on fossils eliminated.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Buy Nothing New Project...My Way

I love to shop. I always have and I always will. It doesn’t matter what I’m shopping for either. It’s one of my favorite pastimes. I could go shopping just to browse, whether I needed something or not.

My husband and I used to shop out of boredom. On a typical Saturday or Sunday, if we didn’t have any other plans, we would go to the mall. Almost always, we would come home with something new and almost always, we didn’t need what we bought. I can shop with anyone and everyone and I love shopping alone. Again, it’s a hobby of mine. I make a day of it. All I need is a latte and I’m off.

Most consumerism isn’t brought about by need. As a society, we just love stuff. We’re bombarded by flyers, sales incentives and commercials urging us to get out there and buy the newest shoes, cell phone, movie or electronic gadget. There is always some “deal” going on. Don’t get me wrong; I love a great two for one sale! The thing is, I would probably buy even though I didn’t need it. I love the feeling of something new. Nothing beats a new pair of shoes or jeans. But buying something just because it’s cheap doesn’t really make sense. I know I’m not the only one who’s been sucked in by these sales.

In the last few years however, things have changed. With the purchase of our first home and the birth of our twins, (I told you I loved a good two for one sale!), shopping for fun isn’t necessarily a priority. Frankly, I miss it. During my pregnancy I grew to the size of a small house. It’s been four and a half months and I’m not only back to pre-pregnancy weight, but I’ve lost a tiny bit extra. All I want to do is go out and buy an entirely new wardrobe! I feel amazing and I want the outside to match the inside. However, like I said, shopping is no longer important. In fact, it’s in the far distance along with going out to eat, going to movies, buying stuff for my house, etc. Basically, spending money has come to a halt. We don’t have the time and there’s often something more important on the list. Then there’s the simple fact that we pay for the house and our kids’ necessities before we think of anything extra. It’s just common sense. But it still sucks.

So, I have decided to turn this not so likeable situation into one that just might work. It seemed pretty drastic to me at first. However, I’ve been inspired by blogs, a little movie called No Impact Man and my own desire to add this to my list of eco-friendly things I do to create a positive life for myself and my family. This movement is called “Buy Nothing New”. Most people commit to this lifestyle for a year, but many bloggers out there, after experiencing the many benefits of this lifestyle, choose to do it permanently. Our family will only participate until the babies turn one in September. We’ll reevaluate after that point. It doesn’t seem that long, but ask me in a few months and my opinion might change.

I’ve read a lot on Buy Nothing New and some rules out there seemed too harsh for me. I know if I go that far, it would be way too hard to stick to it. I’d like to enjoy it, not feel enslaved by it. So here are the rules that we’ve outlined for our family.

The Project
· To reduce our impact on the environment, simplify our life, reduce clutter in our home, and save money in the process, we will not buy anything new until the babies’ first birthday. We will learn what things we can do without and meet our needs in creative ways. We will focus on our true priorities – our family and friends.
· Items we want may be gifts from others, borrowed from others or bought second hand.
· Gift cards that have not been used up may be put towards purchasing things we want.

· Food, hygiene, cleaning & safety products
· Baby necessities
· Socks & underwear (The idea of wearing used is totally out of the question!)
· Gifts for others (They aren’t choosing to do this project, we are).
· Activities/experiences with family & friends (Trips, festivals, etc.)

Continuing to Reduce Our Impact
· Use reusable coffee mugs/water bottles & shopping bags
· Buy items with the least packaging possible
· Only use disposable items if absolutely necessary
· Eat less take-out
· Shop more often for local products at the farmer’s market
· Lowering the heat – continuing to use our programmable thermostat
· Eat more vegetarian meals

So far, I love the project. Instead of spending time at the mall, shopping unnecessarily, my husband and I have spent more quality time together. We have gone for long walks, read more and enjoyed the company of our children and other family members and friends.

I am a very grateful person and I always have been. However, doing the project has made me become even more appreciative of all the “stuff” in my life. I take pride in using things until they really can’t be used any longer. I love finding a new use for something. I love spending more time at home and I am thankful for the small things – the smell of coffee, a great book. This project has already created positive changes in our life and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ways to Improve the Efficiency of your Home

I currently rent a basement suite in an older home from the 50's, and as a result it had several inefficiencies.  I have been doing some renovations to the the suite in order to end wasteful energy usage, and save some money.  I would like to relay some of my findings and research.  These of course are not the only options, and obviously everyone cannot do all of them.  However that being said, there are several improvements that can be made right away for free, improvements that will save you money and have a positive effect on the environment.


  • Swap out those incandescent light bulbs for CFL bulbs (Compact Fluorescent Lamp).  Incandescent light bulbs consume at least 4 times more energy than CFL's, and the majority of this energy isn't producing the intended light but rather wasteful heat.  CFL's may cost more initially at $10 for 4 bulbs as opposed to $4 for four incandescent bulbs (a 2.5 increase).  However CFL's also have an 8-10 times longer lifespan than incandescents (6000 vs 750 hours), this means you would have to buy 8 incandescent bulbs for every CFL and spend $32 vs $10 in order to match the same lifespan.  It is true that CFL's contain poisonous mercury, however if you properly recycle the bulbs you reduce the chance of environmental mercury poisoning.  For those that say that CFL's don't have the "warmth", the fact is that CFL's are offered in a variety of colours and shapes, so there is no excuse.
  • Use fewer light bulbs. Most often your bathroom will have a lighting system in place involving 6-8 bulbs.  You only need one bulb, so take out the rest.  If your lamps have room for more than one bulb, you only need to install one.
  • Configure your computer and monitor to enter into sleep mode at 3-5 minute intervals.  I have explained this more in depth here Increasing Computer Efficiency.  The article also explains about Granola which is a free program that saves you money by doing nothing after you install it.  Shut down your computer, and modem at night time to save even more electricity.
  • Unplug your TV when it is not in use.

  • Purchase a front-load clothes washer, as opposed to a top-load model.  A front-loading washer costs 26% more, but offers 40% or $200 savings off of your utility bills .  Top load washers basically fill the entire machine with water in order to suspend the clothes, and require an agitator to mix the clothes.  A front load washer is able to use fins to tumble and mix clothes in a smaller amount of water, using less energy and water.  Front load washers are also able to squeeze more water out of the clothes, making the drying process easier and quicker.
  • Use cold water when you do your laundry.  When you use hot water, you have to heat that water which can account for 90% of the costs of doing your laundry.  You clothes will still get clean if you use cold water, and you can see up to a $100 in savings a year.
  • Buy a clothes drying rack, or clothes line.  Using a drying machine is completely redundant, and requires massive amounts of energy about 12% of your total electricity usage.A drying rack only costs $25, or you could even get creative by using clothes hooks in a closet.  You will save the cost of a drying rack in one month of not using your dryer, which can cost $190 per year to use.  You also save money by not buying the dryer itself, which can run for hundreds of dollars.
  • Open the fridge door only when you need to.  Every time the door is open, you are heating the inside of the fridge, wasting the energy it used to get it cool.  When you have left overs, let them cool on the counter before you place it in the fridge.  The fridge will use more energy to keep its contents cool when they are above room temperature.  If you need to thaw something from the freezer place it in the fridge, the colder food will cool the fridge allowing it to use less energy.  When you need to make ice, fill the ice cube tray with the coldest water possible.  It is a myth that hot water will form ice quicker (it can happen, but you need perfect lab conditions), you will only be wasting more energy a) heating the water, and b) cooling higher temperature water.
  • Raise the temperature of the fridge.  The recommended temperature is 3°C.
  • Eat less meat and dairy.  Become a weekend-vore, and save money.  Livestock are very energy, environmentally and chemically intensive, as I have discussed here The Impact of Livestock.  Eating meat only on the weekend, makes it easier to manage your meat intake, and with your savings you can buy higher quality meat that grew up on an actual farm and wasn't pumped full of antibiotics.  You can raise the temperature to the highest setting when you don't have meat products, meat products tend to spoil the quickest and require cooler temperatures to slow spoilage.
  • Cook your meals in larger batches.  Cooking is very energy intensive, so the more food that you cook in one go, the more energy you save since you do not have to reheat the elements as much. 
  • Use a toaster oven.  Toaster ovens can run for as little as $20, and double as a toaster and an oven.  Whenever you use a large oven, you are heating a large space just to heat your food.  A toaster oven applies the heat more directly to the food, and does not heat up as large an area.
  • Use a dish washer.  Dish washers use less water than a sink full of water according to  To maximize the efficiency of your dishwasher, do not run the cycle until a full load.  Do not use the heat dry mode, instead allow your dishes to air-dry. 
  • Do not use a garbarator.  Garbarators are highly redundant,  and you are only adding costs for your city.  The less you put down your drain, the less money your city has to spend cleaning the water which translates into smaller bills for you.
  • Compost your food.  A composter runs for $60 for 400L.  The organic waste you place into your garbage most often ends up into a landfill.  Landfills do not allow the organic material to break down as quickly, and vital nutrients are not returned to the environment.
  • Grow your own food. The food from your grocery store often travels thousands of kilometers in order to make it onto your plate.  You can find more information here The Importance of Preserving our Farmland.

  • Only take 5 minute showers.  Your city invests large amounts of energy and money cleaning water so that it is safe to drink, the city then also has to clean the water from your shower. We are using large quantities of safe/clean drinking water every time we have a 15/20 (180L/240L) minute shower.  Most people take hot showers, so the longer your shower the more energy and money you use heating the water.  You can install a low flow shower head which start around $20, and use 40% less water.  Take a shower instead of a bath, a typical bath uses 150 L of water.
  • Install a low flow toilet.  Again we are using clean drinking water, but this time we are using it to flush our bodily wastes down the toilet.  A low flow toilet can cost as little as $80 and only uses 4 L per flush as opposed to 20 L for a high flow toilet.  If you have the money can save even more water by installing a waterless urinal, which run for $550.  You can also practice "If its Yellow let it Mellow, if its Brown Flush it Down."   Do not flush down anything other than toilet paper and your wastes, otherwise you pollute your water system and increase city costs and your bills.
  • Install a Grey Water System.  You can install grey water tanks and pumps from or  A grey water system will take water from your shower or sink and use it for your toilet water.  These systems are great in that they divert basically clear shower water from the sewage system , and reuse it for bodily wastes.  These systems will not only save water, but they will save you money as well.
  • Buy recycled toilet paper and avoid multiple ply.  You can purchase toilet paper that is manufactured from 100% recycled paper products and no this does not mean recycled toilet paper.  Soft toilet paper or 2,3-ply comes at the expense of freshly chopped trees.  The "softness" comes from fresh pulp, which requires large amounts of  chemicals, energy and heating.

  • Use a room heater.  The central heating systems that most houses come equipped with are grossly inefficient for a number of reasons.  These systems generally use a gas-burning furnace to heat the air and then use fans to distribute the hot air throughout your house.  This means that you are heating the entire house just so that you can be comfortable in one room.  You are heating 90% of the house that you are not in.  A electric room heater can run as low as $25, and come with built in thermostats.  This way the room heater will only to a desired room temperature, and directs the heat directly at you.  This way you stay warm and you don't have to heat your whole house.  You could easily reduce the temperature of your furnace down to 16.5°C using a room heater.
  • Buy a digital thermostat if you do not already have one.  Digital thermostats run as low as $27, with the basic models allowing for 5 and 2 day programming.  There are more expensive digital thermostats that run for $100 plus, these have features that give you more programming variety, and can display your heating data real time.  With a digital thermostat you can lower the temperature while you are at work during the day and sleeping at night.  It is recommended to set the temperature at 16°C while you are out/sleeping, and 19.5°C while you are home, which can see up to 15% savings.  Do not worry about your pets, they will be more than comfortable at 16°C.  It is also shown that you sleep better in cooler climates.
  • Insulate your house.  If you live in a older house, you are probably losing the majority of the heat your furnace pumps out.  The better you insulate your house, the more likely you are to retain your heat and save money.  You can apply weather stripping on your doors and windows, at $10 for 10 meters.  You can purchase door sweeps for as little as $5, and plastic film to cover your windows at $14 for 10 m2. You can purchase outer wall electrical outlets seal packages at $4 for 8 outlet seals.  You can buy foam piping insulation for your hot water pipes at $2 for 2 meters.  Your furnace is most often in an area of the house that you do not occupy often, this means you are heating a room that you are never in.  You can buy insulation bubble wrap for your heating ducts at $40 for 4 m2.   You can add insulation in your attic, it is recommended to install an insulation rating of R-49, and will run you for $50 per 4.5m2.
  • Close the door.  Don't leave the door open for extended periods of time.  Cover your windows with heavy drapes at night time.
  • Turn your water boiler temperature down.  Water boilers maintain the set water temperature, regardless of whether you are using the hot water or not.  Your water temperature only needs to be set at 50°C or 120°F.  The water is still hot, yet if you run straight hot water it will not scald you.  It is recommended to not set the temperature below 50°C since legionnaires disease can form.  Install a check valve directly outside the water heater so that the water does not mix when it is not flowing.  You will save money and still have enough hot water.  If you have the capital available you can invest in a tankless water heater at $1000 per unit.  Tankless water heaters only heat water when you need it, and can see savings up to 30% off your heating bill.
  • Turn your fan onto the lowest setting.  If you own a ceiling fan turn it on the lowest speed in the clockwise direction that forces air upwards.  This air then follows the ceiling to the walls and then down to the floor again.  There is greater heat transfer between your skin and moving air.  So by turning your fan on, you are circulating air slowly and you feel warmer.  You can see heating savings up to 10%.  Fans use little power at low speeds as little as 24 watts.  So turn the fan on when you are home, and off when you are at work or sleeping.
  • Water

  • Install a rain barrel.  A rain barrel runs for $80 for 190 L, and connects to rain spout leading off of your roof.  This is water that would have normally soaked the ground where it fell, however due to the municipal infrastructure this water instead goes down a drain into the storm water system where it pumped into the local river.  Instead of relying on water that was cleaned, and pumped to your household, you can utilize free water for your gardens.
  • Don't use fertilizers or pesticides.  These chemicals are detrimental to human health, the environment, and wildlife.  Pesticides allow super bugs and species to develop which are resistant to the chemicals.  These chemicals are washed away into the local water supply anytime it rains, polluting our waters.
  • Plant cloverleaf lawns.  Cloverleaf lawns do not require fertilizer and add vital nutrients such as nitrogen to the soil.  Cloverleaf also aerates the soil.
  • Use a push mower.  A push mower runs for about $100, and does not require any fuel. Leave the grass clippings on the lawn as a natural mulch, giving the lawn back vital nutrients.  Cities encourage its residents to do this as it costs money to make the unneccesary haul to the landfill.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Clearing the Clutter

A Cluttered Sidewalk
Photo Courtesy of

When two people cannot walk shoulder to shoulder on a sidewalk, that is when you know you have bad sidewalk design.  Cities and businesses often crowd our sidewalks with lamp/traffic light poles, utility/newspaper/mail boxes, fire hydrants, parking meters, bus signs/shelters, benches, trash/recycle/ash cans, menu/business boards, information kiosks, patios, and trees/planters.  Sidewalks are usually only built to be one meter. A one meter wide sidewalk is simply not enough space to place all of the listed items, and still provide enough space for people to walk.

Jasper Ave Redevelopment Streetscape Cross-Section
Photo Courtesy of

It should be mandatory for city planners to include at least 1.5 meters of walking space, space that is dedicated only for pedestrians.  This means that at least an additional 1.5 meters of sidewalk space is dedicated for trees, fire hydrants, parking meters, benches, bus stops, etc.  Ideally the pedestrian zone should be 3 meters with 3 meters dedicated for the clutter.  Keeping the walk way clear of clutter allows people to get where they need to quicker, it also creates a more open and appealing atmosphere.  The sidewalk dedicated for the clutter also serves to act as a buffer to protect pedestrians from errant automobiles, and splashes.

Where would all of this space come from, you ask?  Most often roads will have parking lanes, median boulevards.  A typical lane will be 3 meters, so if you eliminate just one parking lane from a roadway, you will have more than enough room to widen both sidewalks by 1.5 meters and provide the buffer from the clutter.

Row of Parking Meters
Photo Courtesy of
Another thing if you are going to install rows of parking meters that take up important space on the sidewalks, at least make them useful.  Most often cyclists have trouble finding places to lockup their bicycles due to the lack of bike racks, and have to resort to utilizing awkward trees, street poles etc.  IF you are going to install parking meters, at least install a model with a simple hoop so that cyclists can always find a spot to lock their bikes.

Example of Parking Meter with Bike Lock-Up Capabilities
Photo Courtesy of

Now what can we do about some of the other clutter that line our sidewalks such as the newspaper stands, and trash cans? 

Curb Bulb at a Sidewalk Corner
Photo Courtesy of
Curb bulbs should be built at intersection corners.  These bulbs essentially widen the sidewalk by another 1.5 meters at intersection and can serve  multiple purposes.  You can develop a utilitarian power center at every intersection by placing newspaper stands, trash/recycle/ash cans, and benches all in one spot.  The bulb can also serve to disrupt through-traffic in a parking lane during peak hours, and make it safer for pedestrians as you suddenly don't have drivers speeding through the inner most lane.  Curb bulbs also make it easier for transit to function since buses don't have to pull into a parking lane in order to get to the bus stop.  This usually forces the bus driver to have to wait 5 minutes to pull out from the bus stop due to inconsiderate drivers.  A bus bulb instead comes out from the curb to the travel lane, and also allows transit patrons to keep clear of the pedestrian travel zone.

Edmonton's Ash Can
Photo Courtesy of
Edmonton has taken another innovative step towards clearing clutter from sidewalks, one that I would like to see applied everywhere.  The most common trash I see on the ground, tends to be cigarette butts, and smoking packages.  Edmonton has decided that enough is enough, and installed these nifty small ashcans along Whyte Ave. and Jasper Ave.  The ashcans are small making them easy to install on any pole, and cheaper to build.  A few of these should be placed along every block, providing no excuse for the disrespectful tossing of butts.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Event Ticket Transit Fee

One thing that I would like to see is Transit fee applied to each and every single ticket for events at large stadiums, similar to Edmonton's U-Pass.  The U-Pass is a deal that was struck between the city and its Universities, and charges every student $110 for a whole semester.  If the U-Pass did not exist students would have to pay $360 for the whole semester, this is a 70% savings.  The U-Pass is charged to every student regardless of whether they actually use the transit, and has limited scenarios in which it can be opted out.  This is great since the majority of students have limited funds, and provides unlimited access to the whole city at a discounted rate.  The U-Pass also serves as an encouragement for those that would normally drive to take transit since they are paying for it anyways.

This idea can be applied to hockey/football/baseball games, concerts, or any large scale event that occurs.  The Rexall place arena in Edmonton has a capacity of 16,839 seats.  The University of Alberta has 35,000 students which allows a 70% reduction in price.  At the same scale, 16,839 patrons for a hockey game would see a 33% savings in a transit round trip from $5.70 to $3.78.  If a fee of $3.78 was applied to every ticket for all of the Oilers games in one season alone, the transit system would see a surplus of $2,800,000.  This is only the money from hockey tickets, however according to The Edmonton Journal a total 322,114 tickets were sold in 2010 for concerts.  This would have provided an additional $1,200,000 for a total of $4,000,000 per annum.  According to the City of Edmonton the public transit budget is $155,000,000.  

The revenue from a transit fee from events at Rexall Place would make up 2.5% of the total budget.  This money could be used to expand transit to new areas, to the airport, for late-night service, and for LRT expansion.  You could also expand this to the Shaw Conference Center, Edmonton Expo Center, Stadium, and Telus field with 5,000 [330,230], 24,000 (2500), 60,000 (>20) and 10,000 (>47) capacities, [attendance], (events) respectively.

You could even go further and apply this to office buildings with hundreds of employees. What if you could apply this on a city scale?

The majority of patrons attending an event at Rexall place or the stadium use transit anyways.  The transit fee would allow the majority of event attendees to get their cheaper, and would also increase transit revenue at the same time.  The ticket transit fee would also encourage those that don't usually choose transit as their main mode of commuting, to take transit.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sustainable Communities

Sweco's Proposed City Center Airport Land Design
Photo Courtesy of

With the release of the five stunning Edmonton City Center Airport designs, it seems fitting to discuss some of the ways that new communities could be made more sustainable. 

Yes it is fine that everyone doesn't want to live downtown, but lets at least get the residential design right.  You will often find that roads will abruptly come to an end in the form of cul-de-sacs in suburban communities.  Developers will completely encircle the cul-de-sac with private residential properties, and don't have enough foresight to leave a measly 1-2 meters for a pedestrian link.  Also since the majority of suburban properties are enclosed with fences this means pedestrians need to go 10 times the distance just to get from point A to B.  Communities should be built in grid systems, which allow commutes to be direct as possible.  Grid systems create the shortest commute possible since you know you only have to head in one of two directions (North-South, East-West) in order to arrive at your destination. Since more people are walking to get their groceries or to visit their dentist, this means that fewer cars need to pass by in front of your house. Residential roadways do not need to be built as wide, creating safer environments for children and neighbourhoods are not segregated by a mile of pavement.  Grid systems also make it easier for transit planners to provide frequent bus routes through the area, since they do not have to follow meandering roadways.  Transit travel times can be slashed and transfers are easier.

 Bird's Eye View of Perkins and Will Airport Lands Design
Photo Courtesy of

Is it coincidence that all five of the designs submitted for the redevelopment of the airport lands show separate blocks of residential properties with enclosed communal green spaces? With this type of design you still get your privacy, but you don't impede travel or set up barriers with fences.  Through innovative space designs you can create access points for the communal backyards between buildings without fences, yet you can still create a sense that it is private property.  With communal green spaces residents can still plant vegetable gardens if desired.

Perkins and Will Example of a Communal Garden
Photo Courtesy of

One of the biggest blunders of suburban communities is that developers never integrate all of the necessary amenities.  Most suburban amenities are usually located 2-3 km away, and are not clustered in one area making it next to impossible for commutes by walking.  If you reduce communities into smaller, more compact developments, each centered around a cluster of the basic amenities such as grocery stores, and employment you reduce the reliance on cars.  If you create smaller communities that are at most 800 m from the necessary amenities, it only takes 10 minutes to walk where you need to be.  Since residents are not driving to their destination, the businesses can eliminate the vast sea of  parking stalls that usually accompany suburban businesses.  Communities should also be well connected to neighbouring communities to maximize the number of amenities available. 

If you can eliminate the need for citizens to own cars, this also means that you don't have to provide as much land to store vehicles.  Residential properties can be smaller since they do not have to incorporate garages and driveways, reducing the cost of mortgages.  If you locate employment nodes nearby and provide direct and frequent bus routes you make this possible.  Employment is usually the cause of a majority of vehicle commutes, and often the commutes consist of driving more than 30 minutes only to park the cars for eight hours before you have to drive home.  Move the employment closer to the employees, and make it easier for cars to be left at home.

Foster and Partners Example of Public Park
Photo Courtesy of

Each community should also be built with local public parks or water features.  Suburban developments some times provide artificial storm water lakes or parks, however they also allow privileged property owners border-side property rights.  This again exponentially increases commuting distances for the majority of the community members for the sake of a few.  The borders of parks and lands should remain public, and acquisition of the border rights to the land should be prohibited. This will only serve to ensure that the natural amenities can be accessed by the maximum population, and will encourage healthier lifestyles as the quick access allows greater a chance of leisurely walks, and sports.

Example of Solar Panel Communities
Photo Courtesy of

Regulations should also make it mandatory for developers to install sustainable sources of energy for property owners.  Developers have the capital capabilities to invest in larger quantities of solar panels, a wind turbine, or a deep thermal well.  If a developer were to install solar panels on every property, significant savings could be seen from a larger order from manufacturers.  These savings could be then realized by the property owners when the developer adds the reduced solar system price to the purchase price.  Not only that but savings would be realized through the renewable solar power generation, as you don't have to pay for your utilities.  Developers could also install a single wind turbine for each community to serve the same purpose. 

Example of Urban Wind Turbine
Photo Courtesy of

Developers also have the opportunity to install thermal wells to provide a renewable heating source, reducing the need for each home to have an independent gas-fired furnace or water boiler. Large underground rain water tanks could also be installed in every community.  These rainwater tanks would be able to provide the water for toilets or gardening.  The water that people use to water lawns or flush toilets is drinking water, and the city uses large amounts of energy to ensure that it is safe to drink.

All of these sustainable resource investments can eliminate or reduce the strain on municipal utility structures.  Most modern cities are built with most suburban communities being on the far outskirts of town.  Large quantities of energy are required to drive pumps, more electricity is lost delivering through longer transmission lines, and more resources and materials are needed to build infrastructure.

Lower capital costs are overrated, and most people do not look at the larger picture.  Most often initial costs are lower because they skimp out on simple features and causes inefficiencies and high operating costs.  If developers would invest just a little more to create more compact and sustainable communities, utility and commuting costs would be minimal.  You would create communities where chances interactions with your neighbours, and healthier lifestyles are high.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Grit on your Sidewalks

I have recently written an article about needing a sidewalk app, and some of the hazards that pedestrians face in winter cities.  Most municipalities divert the duty of winter sidewalk maintenance onto the shoulders of its citizens for residential neighbourhoods.  When the weather warms up the snow will melt, and then when night falls the steady stream of water will freeze.  It is the residents responsibility to manage this ice build up, and to deter the possibility of a law suit most residents will spread road salts onto the ice to lower the waters melting point.  This newly melted ice then makes it way into our gutters, however the ice suddenly has a higher salt content.  The salty water is unsuitable to be dumped into the local water system.  Residents that use salts on our roads are causing more damage than is immediately obvious.  The city has to use more money and resources to clean up water that could have been normally dumped into the local river.  Most cities are dumping this salty water into the water supplies anyways.

What can we do to avoid the use of road salts on our sidewalks?  The best solution would be to prevent the ice from forming in the first place.  Instead of piling the snow right up to the sidewalk, you could instead set the snow mountain a feet or two back from the sidewalk line.  This way when the snow melts the ground having some permeability will allow the water to be absorbed into the soil.  Some ice may still form even with these stringent precautions, in that case you should consider chipping the ice away.  Both of these methods have no environmental impact, but they do require some physical exercise.  Many of our seniors may not have the strength for these tasks.  As last resort sand should be utilized, sand has its drawbacks however it is far more environmentally sound.  Ensure that you use a dark sand since this allows the sand to absorb what little warmth is  available from the sun and melt the ice.  Sand will not kill your bushes and grass when spring time comes around.  Sand will not poison our water, soil and local wildlife.  Sand can be found naturally in most environments as opposed to salt, and its because of this that it is so destructive. 

Salt not only destroys our environment, but it provides the ions necessary for rust to form on your cars.  Road salt also has the nasty habit of creating salt rings and ruining our clothes.

Is it really worth it to save a buck buying a bag of salt as opposed to sand?

App for Unshoveled Sidewalks

City sidewalks can be hazardous in the winter,  if you rely on alternative transportation you will know this.  You have to deal with large puddles, slippery ice, mountainous snow drifts, and anti-shovelled walkways.  Making your way through this obstacle course can be quite physically demanding at times, for a young person even never mind an 80-year-old granny.  Do you ever wonder why you do not see as many elders on the sidewalks in the winter, it could be that they simply can't take the physical toll on their aging bodies.  I have seen a individual in a power wheelchair launch themselves over the curb, due to the ramp being shut in with snow.  City infrastructure is not very age/disability friendly, and it will never have been more necessary due to the baby boomers, the largest portion of our population entering their senior years.

I would like to see a website/phone app set up, where the citizens can instantaneously relay information concerning the state of our sidewalks.  We right now rely on a phone system (311), which is set up by the municipality to provide information and catalogue complaints.  However this sort of system has a sort of hollow empty feel to it, as you never know if the operator you spoke with actually cared enough to lodge your complaint.  The 311 system is often tedious, and well bureaucratic which tends to deter complaints since people have better things to do than wait on the phone for 10 minutes every time.  You never get the satisfactory visual feedback that the problem is actually being considered and corrected. 

The app would be designed such that you can utilize the phones built in GPS at the touch of a button, or by manually pinpointing the problematic sidewalk location later on your computer.  The app would be designed to change the color and hue of the location, the more that people pinpoint the location.  Once some one had marked the location, the map would place a green marker, however if someone else passed by and noticed the same problem, they would pull out there phone and notice that the location has already been pinpointed.  They would pinpoint the location as well, adding to the identification of the problem, the color the marker would change to yellow, until eventually when the location has been picked by 10 people the point would change to a glaring red.  The map would also be useful as people that are walking around can take a look at the map to see whether a path has been cleared.

On the other end city planners would then have a huge swath of information available at their fingertips, and they didn't need to send roving fleets out to locate these hazards.  A city employee would be able to check the map daily or hourly, and they would know where there would be hip breaking ice.  When the city has 24-7 real time information, they can actually do something about these problems.  The city can then look at whether it is their responsibility or whether the sidewalk hugs a residential property.  If the sidewalk sits in front of a home owners property, they can then find their phone number and explain the citizen's responsibilities. 

The city can also collect the data over a range of time, and can see whether certain sections are consistently causing the same problem due to fresh snow, thawing, old-broken sidewalks, bad designs or neglectful property owners.  If a citizen is consistently neglecting to care for their sidewalk, the city would know this now.  The city would then have the proof to implement fines, or find out whether it is a senior that does not have the physical strength to clear a foot of snow.  If a specific section of sidewalk is consistently forming ice, city planners can find out why since they now it is constantly happening.  They can find out whether it is due to the sidewalk sloping down for a driveway entrance, or it is due to windrows encroaching on sidewalk space.  They would have the information they didn't before and could make an informed decision with limited resources.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Namibia's Coastline Sets Precedence for National Parks

Newly Minted 1500 km Namibia National Park

Namibia has set the tone for the type of action that is required to preserve eco-systems and the delicate global climate.  Namibia has recently commissioned a newly minted 1500 km national park that hugs the country's coastline.  The national park covers 26.6 million acres which is larger than the country of Portugal, and connects South Africa’s Richetersveld National Park to the south, and Angola’s Iona National Park to the north.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Impact of Livestock

With the price of our groceries bills rising due to rising gas prices, how can we change our eating habits to save money.  Well we could eat less, with rising obesity rates across the globe it is evident that maybe humans are eating too much.  Another way we could reduce our grocery bills is by including less meat in our meals.  Meat is consistently the one of the most expensive portion of any grocery bill.  You don't believe me, just take a look at your grocery store!  The majority of the people I know eat meat with every meal and yet it is the most expensive portion of their meal. Not only that but most people usually eat more than the recommended daily servings of meat for every meal.  The price of meat is also rising due to the price of corn rising as well, corn is a major part of livestock diets.

It is recommended to only eat one serving of meat per day, where a serving size is between 65-100 grams.  Most people will eat two strips of bacon (24 grams) for breakfast, deli meat (85 grams) in a sandwich for lunch, and a chicken breast, steak or pork chop (100-200 grams) every dinner.  This means that a typical individual is having on average 210-310 grams of meat every day, over the recommended meat daily serving size by 100-200 grams or 50-100%.  This means that grocery bills are 50-100% higher than they need to.

A single person eating 250 grams of meat per day translates into 90 kilograms of meat a year.  A typical cow weighs 400 kg, only about 35% or 140kg is edible meat.  So this means that every three people consumes approximately two cows worth of meat over a given year.  Now lets say that approximately half of the population of Edmonton eats at this rate, so that is 500,000 people.  The city of Edmonton eating at a rate of 90 kg of meat a year consumes at least 300,000 cattle a year.  This works out to be 2 cows for every 3 people.

Lets take a look at why meat products are so expensive.  Cattle farming typically requires 5.75 acres of land per cow for grazing purposes.  One 400 kg cow requires 120 L of water, 10 kg of hay, and 10 kg of corn products a day to stay healthy.  Cattle typically live for 2 years before they are slaughtered, so that means over a two year lifespan each cow will consume 90,000 L of water, 6,000 kg of hay, and 13,000 kg of corn products.  Based on these numbers in order to feed 500,000 Edmontonians you would have to use enough water to fill 11,571 Olympic sized pools, and farm land equivalent to 7 times the size of Edmonton. 

Livestock such as cattle make up a large portion of our resource usage.  The agriculture industry is responsible for 70% of the worlds total fresh water usage, and up to 50% of the grains produced worldwide are used to feed livestock. 

Comparison of Grazing and Feed Crop Land Required for 250 grams (red), 100 grams (orange), and 50 grams (yellow) of meat per day to the area of Edmonton

Lets look at how this could change if every single person were to at least follow the recommended guideline of only 100 g of meat or one chicken breast per day.  This works out to be 1 cows for every 4 people.  A single person eating 100 grams of meat a day translates into 35 kilograms of meat per year.   This would be a 40% reduction for the majority of peoples eating habits, and would represent a a significant reduction in grocery bills.  Just by eating the recommended daily servings of meat, Edmonton is consuming 170,000 fewer cattle.  In order to feed 500,000 Edmontonians eating the recommended daily servings you would have to use enough water to fill 4,692 Olympic sized pools, and farm land equivalent to 3 times the size of Edmonton. We could reduce our environmental impact by 40% simply by following the recommended daily meat serving size.

It is proven by the millions of vegetarians and vegans worldwide that developed nations do not need to eat meat products in order to survive.  Obviously there are going to be individuals that like the taste of meat, and therefore are reluctant of completely giving it up.  You do not have to eliminate meat from your diets completely, however we should do as much as possible to reduce our meat consumption.  If 500,000 Edmontonians cut their daily meat consumption to half of the recommended daily serving (half a chicken breast), or the recommended servings for 3 days of the week, it would only need 2000 pools and farm land equivalent to the size of Edmonton.  This is works to 8 people for every cow, and would represent a 75% reduction in your grocery bill.  With your savings you could even invest in higher quality meats such as filet Mignon more often.

Livestock require large tracts of land just to allow them to graze and exist.  Farmers allow their cattle to deplete the pastures of grassland, this combined with the heft of the heifers causes soil erosion.  We are depleting our arable land everyday by continuing to raise livestock.  We need to preserve what arable land we have left, since 40% of our arable land has already degraded worldwide. Quite often cattle farms will be located right up to freshwater sources.  The large quantities of manure being excreted by the cattle are allowed to leach into our drinking supplies everyday.  Cattle not require large amounts of water to grow, but they are also poisoning our drinking waters.   The cattle themselves produce green house gasses in the form of methane.  Cattle manure contains high levels of phosphorous, the same harmful substance found in fertilizers.  The large quantities of land being used for livestock is also encroaching on other wildlife habitats.  Rainforest's are also being cleared in order to create grazing lands, and an estimated 70% certain vital life giving forests have been devastated.

Cattle's not only require large amounts of land to roam, but large amounts of land are required to grow the cattle feed as well.  The problem with this is that we are growing grain to feed our cattle in order to feed our selves, where we could be using the land to grow food for the 1 billion starving people worldwide.  We could easily provide the earths population worldwide with enough food to survive.  We cannot however have the whole world consuming meat products at the rate that wealthy nations do.  The corn and hay that is grown in order to sustain livestock also requires large amounts of water, fertilizers, and pesticides.  Fertilizers and pesticides require energy to manufacture and are disrupting the balance of ecosystems, these chemicals also leach into our water supplies.

Depictions of industrial pig factory farms (top), chicken
factory coops (center), and cattle factory farms (bottom).
Photos Courtesy of 

This all depends on the livestock being raised in a humane manner, however it turns out that a new 20th century trend of livestock farming has emerged to meet the levels of consumption.  This new way of livestock farming is called factory farming.  These animals are often only given a few inches to move, as multiple animals are packed into one tiny pen in order to save space and thus money.  Many of these animals never see daylight, and are forced to live in their own defecation.  On top of all this the animals are not respected or well treated by their handlers.  The animals are often killed in plain view of the others,  which is just cruel as these animals feel fear.

These situations are also highly dangerous for the animals in the case of natural disasters such as tornadoes or fires, as the handlers often vacate the premises leaving thousands of animals susceptible and defenseless to the threat. 

One of the reasons that these factories even exist is partly due society having removed itself from the process of having to butcher its own food.  We hire someone else to prepare and package our food, such that a large majority never has to witness the horrors involved with the process.  If we never see or know what happens then it must be ok, right?

Dairy products also put the same strains onto our environment, and if you eat both dairy and meat products you are essentially doubling your impact since the cattle that produce your milk are not the same as the ones providing your meat.  It is recommended that you consume 2 cups or one glass of milk every day.  A healthy cow can produce 30 litres of milk a day, this means that 100 people will consume the milk from one cow in a single day if they follow the recommended dairy consumption and 7000 cattle are required to provide enough dairy for Edmonton. 

Livestock require large amounts of antibiotics to ward off illnesses, which helps facilitate super bugs.  Milk production also requires large amounts of energy to heat the milk in order to pasteurize the milk.   There are also harmful effects from the hormones that are used to allow the livestock to develop bigger and faster as well as the human that ingests the meat.

Livestock farms and the feed crops worldwide are responsible for 8% of total water usage, 26% of total earths land surface, 37% of pesticide use, 33% of phosphorus pollution, 18% of green house gasses, 37% of the worlds methane, 50% of antibiotic use, 66% of ammonia (which causes acid rain), 67% of nitrous oxide.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Electronic Bills

Sometimes it is the easiest methods that can be implemented to save money, and resources.  However many of these practices are not being implemented by businesses.  Once a month we receive the dreaded bills for the services that we utilize, be it utilities, cellphones, cable, Internet, insurance or rent.  The majority of the service providers make it the standard to deliver hard copy paper bills, and allow for opt outs to receive electronic billings. 

With over 90% of Canadians having access to the Internet, service providers should start switching to opt in services in order to obtain paper billings, or elminate paper options completely.  Electronic bills are usually set up in two ways.  The service provider may make it so that you go to their website with a user login, where you can view a breakdown of your bill charges and even download a pdf file of your bill.  The alternative that utility companies implement, utilizes Canada Posts e-mail service, which requires you to set up a mail account and allows sends you pdf files of your monthly bills.  Both ways are convenient in that it allows you to download your bills onto your hard drive and create an electronic filing cabinet.  If for some reason you are away from home, and need information off your bill you can access it through a mobile phone or laptop. 

When you choose to opt out of hard copy billing services, you save wasteful energy and resources in a few ways.  Since you are no longer receiving hard copy bills, it is one less thing that has to be mailed to your doorstep.  Postal service uses large quantities of fuels in order to sort the mail and transport it each individual household.  However if enough people cancel their hard copy bills the fuel usage and emissions can be drastically cut. 

Hard copy bills also have an environmental impact in that they are printed on paper.  The paper production process is very energy intensive.  Machinery is required to cut down the trees down, which is usually done via a process of clear cutting which is extremely devastating to our forests.    You then have to transport the felled trees from remote regions over large distances to the pulp mill using helicopters or large machinery.  Once at the mill, machinery is used to remove the bark and chip the trunks.  These chips must then go through a process involving high temperatures/pressures and chemicals to create paper.  It is not over yet, the finished product has to be shipped out from the remote pulp mills to local retailers worldwide.  It takes about 24 trees to make a ton of paper or 50,000 8.5 x 11 sheets, a fraction of the millions of paper bills still being delivered in each city.

The process of producing paper is a double edged sword since we are not only using large amounts of fossil fuels, contaminating water, and generating harmful emissions, we are also removing the trees that can help mitigate these consequences.  It is not so bad to produce paper as long as we recycle it right?  Not necessarily, the recycling proccesses are more efficient than producing new paper however it still uses up to 40% of the energy.

The elimination of hard copies can be applied in other ways as well.  Recently my employment has decided to eliminate hard copies of pay stubs.  Businesses can now sign up to have their pay stubs emailed through Canada post.  This means that payroll processes can become paper free as they can set up direct deposits for their employees and can have an electronic copy of their pay stub emailed.  So if your work is still in the stone age by printing pay stubs or even checks, suggest that they make the switch.  Your bosses will not likely object as it will save the company money and make themselves as well as you look good.

The government of Canada also allows you to have your tax returns, and GST checks to be deposited directly into your bank account.  This saves you the hassle of having to go to your bank to deposit the check, and prevents our government from wasting paper and money.  The information on how to do this can be found at

You can also cancel the wasteful process of having a phone book delivered to your residence as I have described in a previous blog at Cancelling the Yellow.  The direct link to cancel your phone book delivery can be found at

You can also eliminate your newspaper delivery, since the articles being printed are also available on their websites for free.  If you are an owner of a e-book reader you can sign up for electronic subscriptions to various international newpapers and magazines.  If you are an avid reader you can also use a single e-book reader to store up to a 1000 books.

So please take the 5 minutes it will take to check with your service providers, and cancel your hard copy bills, cancel your phone book delivery, and sign up for direct deposit tax returns.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Home - Our Current Situation

I recently stumbled upon a new documentary that already has some 400 million views.  The video called Home, is available for free on YouTube here.  The video is about a hour and a half long, so you will need to set aside a little bit of time to watch, but it is well worth it. 

The video revolves around stunning aerial birds eye views of the worlds beauties and man-made ugliness.  The video starts off fairly slowly depicting some of the developments that brought us to the environmental mess that we now find our selves in.  The video then picks up pace by showing us some of the climate and environmental changes occurring today, and the corresponding causes.  Home tends to focus more on the agricultural and resource extraction effects on our environment, and presents numbing facts such as 80% of the worlds resources are being used by only 20% of the worlds population, and the 20% consists mostly of the wealthier nations.  That 3/4 quarters of our fishing areas have been depleted, or that 70% of our water usage is a cause of our agriculture and livestock. 

The video paints a dire picture of our current situation, however it ends on a positive note that it is not time to be a pessimist and that we can change our behaviors to reverse the impending climate changes.  I deeply hope that you will watch this video and pause to think about your actions and how they do affect everyone else on the planet.  There is no isolated variable in our Home and we need to start realizing this.

Calgary's Downtown Transportation Network

Calgary's Downtown LRT Corridor

Due to a switch in offices I now labour in at location where commuting is possible with Calgary's LRT.  My oh my, there are many issues with Calgary's downtown setup that I have since discovered.  The Calgary LRT system utilizes a combination of older Siemens U2 vehicle and various models of the modern Siemens SD-160 vehicle.  Both models have a maximum capacity of approximately 260 people per vehicle.  Each train in operation can only have three vehicles, since the downtown platforms are only the length of three LRT vehicles.  This means that each train can only hold about 750 people.  However the downtown stations have been undergoing an overhaul, with a new platform length allowing four car trains by 2012.

Each train passing through the downtown during peak hours (7-9am, 4-6pm) are often at maximum capacity, especially the Somerset-Crowfoot line. This means that each train is carrying at least 500 people aboard.  There are two lines that run through the downtown Somerset-Crowfoot, and Downtown-McKnight, and at peak times both lines run at 5 minute frequencies.  This means a train is passing by one way every 2.5 minutes, and 1.25 minutes both ways.  This means that the downtown corridor during any peak period has five trains each way, or 5000 passengers. 

The design of the downtown LRT corridor is efficient in that platforms are minimalistic and allow patrons to get to the train quickly.  The LRT corridor runs along its own right-of-way, which means that automobiles cannot travel along the road.  The right of way also runs at grade, which means that intersections with vehicle traffic are not grade separated, this is good since Calgary was able to build the corridor inexpensively. 

However the problem with the LRT corridor is that the transit vehicle is not given priority at every intersection.  The intersection traffic light sequence runs on a cycle, so a train has to wait for the light if it arrives at the intersection later than it was scheduled to.  I do not know why Calgary does not change this, they are basically saying that it is more important to move 15 cars rather than 500 transit riders.  How does that in any way make sense?   With the current set up it takes 10 minutes to travel 2 km, at an average speed of 12 km/hr. 

What can be done to improve this dilemma?  500 people should not have to wait for 15 people, when a train approaches switches should be triggered to change the light immediately for a seamless commute for the higher volume transportation mode.  This would shave off 3 minutes at least of travel time through the core. 

The fact that the Downtown-McKnight line terminates downtown does not help either, since all of the trains for that line have to stay downtown and there is no immediate exit for them on the west end.  This problem will however be corrected in 2012 when the new West-LRT expansion opens, and continues the McKnight line west past 10th Street SW station out of the core.

Calgary's Downtown LRT Corridor
As the above map indicates with the bubbles, there are 18 total LRT-car crossings.Four of these crossings are for east-west traffic near the outskirts of downtown.  The remaining 14 crossings are the result of north-south vehicle traffic.  The crossings are divided into crossings with no immediate downtown exits (red) and crossings that have direct downtown exits (blue).  This means that the city is causing the LRT system to stop unnecessarily at the 10 red intersections.  The north-south red intersections could be eliminated since they cannot cross the CN rail right-of-way.  The remaining six north-south blue intersections could be halved to 3 intersections by converting the roadways from their existing one-way traffic design to two-way traffic.  Essentially 10 north-south redundant crossings could be eliminated increasing the speed and convenience of a more heavily utilized and sustainable transportation mode.

In the past week there has been three separate occurrences of vehicle collisions which caused 10-15 minute LRT delays, since the collisions happened right on top of LRT tracks cutting off access to the core.  The elimination of 10 intersections would greatly reduce the occurrences of service interrupting accidents.  Every accident that occurs has the potential of affecting thousands of LRT commuters until the way can be cleared, costing tens of thousands of dollars in lost working time and LRT operations.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Increasing Transit Frequency

One of the biggest drawbacks of Edmonton's and the majority of transit system, is that transit routes seldom have frequency higher that 30 minutes.  Patrons of Edmonton's LRT line already see the benefits of having higher frequency routes, Edmonton's LRT sees about 100,000 patrons or 10% of Edmonton's population in one day.   Part of the LRT's popularity can be explained due to its frequency not slowing past 15 minutes.  During peak times the LRT runs at 5 minute frequency, 10 minute frequency during midday and early evening , and 15 minute intervals during late evening. 

When a route's frequency is high it does not matter as much when you miss a bus. With infrequent routes wait times at most are 1 hour or 30 minutes, if you just missed your bus you have to wait the whole interval for the next bus to arrive.  Whereas when a route has quicker intervals such as five minutes, the most you will ever have to wait for the next bus is 5 minutes.  Your maximum possible wait time is always equal to your frequency, unless of course your bus is late.

This is highly convenient as you do not have to carefully plan your routes and trips for errands.  If I want to go somewhere that is only accessible by bus I have to find out when the next bus will come to take me there,  since I do not want to wait 30 minutes in -20°C weather.  I also have to find out multiple departure times at the end point to head home, since I do not know exactly when I will be done my errands.

On top of all that I need to arrive at my bus stop 5-10 minutes early, since bus drivers do not always respect the fact that their customers actually depend on transit services as their main mode of transportation.  A bus should never be allowed to arrive earlier than the specified route timing, the bus in a perfect world should wait at the bus stop until the designated time has passed.  This fault should improve with the installation of GPS tracking services soon to come to Edmonton and Calgary transit,  as supervisors will suddenly now have a way to track a bus drivers performance.  However it may also happen since the bus may have been delayed by 10 minutes, so this brings your total wait times up to at least 15 minutes by including the 5 minutes that you had to arrive early to just to make sure you could catch your bus.  This does not include walking times that you spend to get to your bus stop, destination or bus transfer.

However with higher frequencies I would be highly more likely to simply walk to the bus stop without carefully planning my trip, since I know I would at most only be waiting 5 or 10 minutes.  The fact is that it makes for much more convenient, and stress free transit commuting.

What leads to this design of infrequent routings?  A large part has to do with the nostalgic notion that transit planners possess, that the bus service has to reach every doorstep with little or most likely no transfers.  City planning also changed after WWII, as City Planners threw the knowledge proper city planning from our forefathers out the window.  If you look at most cities downtown cores which were developed ages ago, you will notice a similarity.  Most downtown's and mature neighbourhoods were designed in grid like patterns with roads running north-south, and east-west. 

Downtown Edmonton Grid Style Road Network

However if you were to look at the road network for the newly minted neighbourhoods, you will notice a similarity as well.  Suburban planning dictates that the design of its road network focus on making car commutes as light free as possible.  This results in a spaghetti like mess of roads that wind and curve, complete with cul-de-sac dead ends. 

Example of Edmonton's Suburban Road Network
This means that there are often only a few main entrance ways into a suburban neighbourhood.  If you want to get to a specific location within the neighbourhood, the only way to get there is to follow the winding roads that take you to 10 other places before you get to where you want to be.  This also applies to pedestrians since they have to deal with fences and insufficient access points between cul-de-sacs.  Suburban road networks are a nightmare for bus routes.  In order to service the neighbourhood a bus route has to utilize the poorly planned winding roads, which increases the travel time.

Transit planners have a belief that its citizens hate transfers (where you have to get off one bus to catch another).  Well the fact is that we do hate them, when they are planned incorrectly.  When you have to wait 30 minutes for one bus only to have to get off to wait for another bus for 30 minutes, yeah...nobody is going to A) enjoy that or B) want to do that.  So since transit planners believe that its patrons hate transfers, they do everything in their power to design routes to eliminate them.  This causes routes to turn off of a road to serve a neighbourhood only to turn back onto the road it left later.  This sort of planning only serves to add travel time to those that don't live in the said neighbourhood, a route that could have went straight down the road had to add a series of zig-zags.  This type of planning is only compounded by the lack of access into and out of suburban neighbourhoods.

Example of Calgary's Route 33 Deviation from Straight Route

How could we rectify this?  To start from a blank slate, every major roadway should be assigned its own high frequency straight route.  These routes will follow the road as much as possible, directly between bus and LRT stations along dedicated bus lanes when possible.  I would like to compare bus routes in north east Edmonton, to show how much more efficient the bus system could be by implementing this type of routing.

Existing North-East Edmonton Routing

I have selected four existing routes (11-blue, 182-green, 180-red, 152-black) to study between Clareview/Belvedere and Northgate stations. The relevant information for these routes is tabulated below.  With the routes current frequency and travel times, a total of 10 buses are required at any point in time. 

Direct North-East Edmonton Routing

I have drawn up what four direct routes (153 Ave.-black, 144 Ave.-blue, 137 Ave.-red, 132 Ave.-green)  would look like utilizing more direct routing.  The first thing you will notice is that the total distance for the four direct routes drops 14 km or 33%. Both sets of routing have approximately similar spacing of 400-500 m or 10 minutes walking distance.  The new route trip times average at about 15 minutes.  With a higher frequency of 15 minute for all routes you would only need 8 buses to operate the four routes at any given time.  This is a 20% drop in the number of operating buses, which will see savings in maintenance and fuel since you are not running as many buses. 

I would now like to apply this on a city wide scale to generate some a rough idea of how this would improve service on a whole.  The existing LRT line that runs north-south across the entire city is approximately 20 km.  So we can say that the city is roughly 20 km by 20 km.  Now lets take divide the city into routes 400 m apart (Why 400 m? 400 m or 10 minutes is the widely accepted maximum walking distance transit users will walk to reach a bus route).  This means that you will have approximately 50 west-east and 50 north-south city-wide routes.  Edmonton's LRT takes approximately 33 minutes to complete one way of its city wide trek, so we will assume that each city-wide route takes 35 min to complete one way.  This amounts to approximately 7000 minutes of bus travel time to complete a full loop for each 100 routes.  The city currently has a fleet of 940 buses.  So if you were to implement 15 minute frequencies for each route you would only need to utilize 500 buses or 50% of our current fleet, and 700 buses or 75% of our current fleet for 10 minute frequency.  This means that you can provide city wide 10 minute bus service with direct routing, with an surplus of 240 buses under current operating restraints.  These extra 240 buses can be used to increase service in specific areas, or to have spares for when buses need to undergo repairs.

With direct routing under existing fleet capabilities, Edmonton would be able to provide its customers with city-wide 10 minute frequencies.  You would only have to walk 10 minutes north-south or west-east to stumble upon a bus route, and patrons would only have a maximum waiting time of 10 minutes for any bus. By implementing direct routing you make your system more convenient since patrons do not need to look up bus routings, if they want to head north or south they simply walk east or west 10 minutes at most to find a route.  You simplify the commuting for transit riders as they no longer have to worry about missing their bus as much, and do not have to research their route options.