Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sustainability the Low Tech Way

There is no single way to be sustainable, and very often you will find that environmentally conscious people will propose radically different solutions.  There is always the option to buy shiny solar panels, wind turbines, or you could always completely overhaul your house.  These are all solutions that would bring about great environmental benefits, however they can be capital extensive.

Do not despair if you cannot afford these high tech solutions, this is no time to be a pessimist.  So do not give up, there are thousands of ways you can reduce your impact.  Some solutions that can be made to your household can be found in one of my past blogs here Ways to Improve the Efficiency of your Home. There are great low tech solutions available that do not require excessive amounts of effort or cash.

Most of us take showers, and we all know that the water temperature is not immediately desirable.  As we can not afford a grey water system, we will most often let the water flow down the drain.  You can change this by taking an empty container, bucket etc. and placing it under the shower head until the desired temperature is achieved.  You can then place the bucket down an quickly jump into the shower.  The water that you collected can be used to do anything, you could use it to cook, water your plants, or you can dump it into the toilet bowl when it needs to be flushed, or into the toilet tank after the flush. 

You could also buy a shut off valve to install on your shower head piping.  The navy being stranded in the middle of a salt water ocean, have to really make an effort to conserve water.  The navy utilize a method of showering called a "navy shower."  Your shower essentially consists of getting yourself wet, and then closing the shut off valve.  You would then lather yourself up with soaps before you turn the water on again.  This form of showering only uses the bare minimum and you would only use 6L of water.

Another inexpensive way you can reduce your impact, is to repurpose and reuse furniture, clothing, or anything else.  Instead of giving up on the item and throwing it into the trash, take a second to brainstorm other ways it can be used.  Can it be fixed up to serve its original purpose?  Is there a way to spruce it up and give it the appeal that it once had?  If it cannot be salvaged to serve its intended purpose, try to put it to use in a way you never thought of.  Turn an old door into a new table, turn an old table into shelves, cut old t-shirts into rags.

If you cannot think of a way to repurpose do not throw it into the recycling right away, especially if it is particularly large.  Phone up your local charities and see if they will take it off your hands.  Take a picture of it and place a free ad on Kijiji.

Our consumerist society does not inspire creativity any more, sure it is easy to chuck the product in the trash knowing that you can buy a new one by walking into your local store.  Your old product required energy in order to manufacture, as does any new replacement.  You should try and prolong its lifetime as much as possible to reduce its impact. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Greyhound Bus Between Calgary and Edmonton

In this excerpt I am going to undertake a review of the Greyhound service between Calgary and Edmonton.  My first experience ever taking the Greyhound was frustrating I will admit,  but it also shows why you should not give up after one try or even before you try. 

The bus service is fairly inexpensive for a traveller at $38 each way with a student/seniors/companion/early booking discount.  As you can see it is quite easy to get a discount with greyhound.  The fare is more expensive when compared to the direct cost of the automobile fuel.  However when you factor in vehicle registration, insurance, maintenance and the purchase/leasing/renting costs the vehicle is significantly more expensive. 

One Tonne of CO2 Visualized
Image Credit: http://jutexpo.blogspot.com/

According to http://calculator.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx?tab=6 a coach bus has a carbon footprint of 0.01 tonnes of CO2 for 300km, meanwhile an efficient modern car has a footprint of 0.06 tonnes. This is a 6th of the impact than taking your own vehicle.  The website is outdated however and needs an overhaul.  There is no way to look at a list of departure times and the corresponding prices, you must go through a series of annoying steps inputting your choices. 

I had decided to make the decision to park the car in favour of a more sustainable public form of transportation.  My first trip on the intercity bus occurred when I needed to go to Edmonton for a wedding.  My girlfriend decided to take a bus that would have brought us to our destination an hour before the ceremony according to the written schedule.  We chose this time in order to avoid the difficulties with couch surfing at families in Edmonton and being in Edmonton for an extra night.  We however forgot that we were travelling in the middle in February, one of the coldest months.  We also forgot that we were travelling in Alberta, one of the coldest inhabited places on the Earth.  We also forgot that that this was one of the most miserable winters complete with excess snow and sub-zero temperatures. 

The world did not let us down, and predictably all of these variables came together spectacularly.  We arrived at the station early and joined a line of 30 to 40 people.  You could tell that the station had been built a while ago, and exhibits the concrete consruction style of the 80's.   The Edmonton station had the similar situation, and both exhibited signs that they were in need of some TLC and renovation.  The Calgary station is located south of the Bow River and west of downtown, the new West LRT elevated Sunalta station is being built on Greyhound front lawn.  This is wise placement for the station as you provide reliable and frequent transit service to and from the bus depot. 

It was 10 minutes before our bus was to leave, and we still had not even started boarding yet.  Then the dreaded announcement came that our trip would be delayed by 30 minutes.  I had asked one of the workers why, and our bus was being serviced right up to when it had to leave.  For some reason Greyhound did not have a contingency bus.  We eventually got on the bus, our bus was supposed to stop in Red Deer (which is halfway between Edmonton and Calgary), however Greyhound had the foresight to realize that they needed to get those that needed travel further than Red Deer faster.  If you can bypass driving into Red Deer to make a stop you can make up some time. 

The only other complaint I had was the bus stopped on the side of the highway to let 7-8 oil workers have a smoke break.  We were already late, I think they could have lived without a smoke break.  Not only that but if Greyhound is going to be letting people have a smoke break on the side of the highway, at least provide a coffee can so that they don't discard the butts into the environment. 

When we arrived in Edmonton the bus took an odd route that requires it to turn left at a light a.  We were stuck at this light for several cycles, as a I would like to see Greyhound outfitted with a priority switch.  This way the bus can get through the city quickly, changing lights to favour a quicker bus commute. 

When we arrived at the Edmonton station we had 20 minutes to spare, with the ceremony was only a few minutes away.  The bus could not pull into the unloading stall due to a trailer on another bus that was in the way, so we had to wait 10 agonizing minutes as we were not allowed to disembark into the garage.  We finally disembarked and were able to make it to our wedding on time. 

Since then my girlfriend and I have taken the bus a few times, and those experiences were trouble free and left on time. 

The Greyhound Experience

This past weekend was the utopian example of how convenient it is live this lifestyle.  I was in Edmonton again saturday for a birthday, and left early sunday morning for a bus ride home.  I caught a bus from my parents place, transferred to the train and before I knew it I was at the downtown bus depot.  I had some time to kill so I convinced a friend to visit and have a coffee with me.  Although the Edmonton depot may move, it is in a prime location close to all of the amenities of downtown Edmonton.  You have a vast variety of gastro experiences beckoning you within a 30 minute walk.  You can go for a beer, a coffee, a glass of wine and read a newspaper or visit with friends and families while you wait for your departure. 

Greyhound definitely chose a route that showcases Edmonton strengths and serves as a great primer for visiting tourists.  When you leave the downtown bus depot you see the prominent Epcor tower to the north, you whisk by Churchill square and the stunning Art Gallery of Alberta.  If you are lucky you will ride by when one of Edmonton's numerous festivals welcome you with a plethora of sights and sounds.  You also pass by Jasper a lively entertainment destination.  The route takes you past the historic Hotel MacDonald just before the horizon opens for Edmonton's undeveloped river valley.  You take a steep valley road deep into the heart of the valley, where you ride by the pyramids of the Muttart.  On the other side you hit the historic buildings of Whyte ave another entertainment destination. 

The drivers have always been courteous and professional, and I don't have to burden myself with the stress of paying attention to fellow drivers erratic driving.  I can listen to my music, read a book or the local news, do my homework or business work or even come up with my next blog.  I don't have to worry about finding parking and the transit connections at either terminal are frequent. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

New Urban Design

I have stressed many times how important it is to have proper urban design.  So it is very encouraging when I read something like this Five Minutes to Work.  This article which is featured in Vue Weekly a free Edmonton newspaper, is not only a great read by it is very inspiring.  It can quite often feel like you are alone in this world with your views, so it great to see that individuals that are in positions to design our cities reflect those views.

It is very encouraging to know that our politicians and urban planners are aware of the costs of continuing our practice of unlimited growth.  It is refreshing that our urban planners realize that if you design a city properly, not only will people want to live there, they can do so without making a significant impact on the environment.

A challenge

I have weaknesses and strengths, this weekend I decided to act on one of my weaknesses.  Quite often we can get lost in our purpose, words, or actions.  I made a critical blunder and I forgot to treat people with due diligence and respect all the time, no matter how angry, sad, happy or frustrated I may be.  My emotions got the better of me and I became overzealous and acted like a thug…on my grandpas 80th birthday party no less.   I made a mistake and apologize for any harm, stress and pain I no doubt caused.  In fact I have made many mistakes in the past and I would like to extend the same apologize for those transgressions as well. 

I will not get into the details of my mistake, as that is not my place.  Its not the time to be a pessimist, the past is the past and it cannot be undone, that being said everyone starts everyday with a blank slate.  We all have the ability to make choices every day of our lives and the world we live in is connected and our actions affect everyone else in some way.

After my mistake I was offered some great advice, that I should “be proactive” with my endeavours.

Recently I have become more involved with trying to change certain behaviours that humans tend to possess towards the environment.  I keep being told how passionate I am about my efforts, however I feel that tends to discredit my actions as a fringe hobby that does not have an impact.  My mistake happened during an argument that involved factors about the environment, and some of my past environmental errors were brought to light. 

I am an adult and I have to take responsibility for my actions, I am not perfect and I will try my best to not claim or act like I am.  I admit that I have made mistakes in the past that have caused great impacts towards the very environment, the same environment that I am trying to protect.  I realize now that I will gladly reveal all of mistakes if that’s what it takes to have a conversation about the environment, I have nothing to hide.  I do not want these conversations to break down into you don’t do this and I do this, which will never benefit anyone.  However on that note I do not think it fair for people to focus one imperfection or blemish that a person may have, and using this to discredit the views that the person may have.  There is only so much evidence that scientists can gather, and so much time. I have to stop waiting for everyone else to start taking action, and have to start myself.  It is also not fair to say that we are only human, humans are capable of extraordinary things and are able to change very quickly as the last century has shown us. 
We all have the same makeup and needs on this lonely boat called Earth, and we all spill the same blood.  We have a crisis on our hands and some of us are in denial.  It took us 300 years to officially acknowledge that the world revolves around the sun, which is now considered common knowledge.  You can do what you want with this email you can forward it to make fun of it, or you can place it in the trashcan, it won’t hurt my feelings. 

I am going to undergo a challenge; one that I myself had not participated in until one hour ago.  I often walk around and criticize the dirt and garbage that I see.  I would make these complaints and yet I never did anything about it.  If I want to be proud of my city, my work cannot end where my lawn does.  I cannot complain about every thing and expect everyone else or the city to clean up the mess so that I can be happy.  I have to do some work, and I cannot expect anything in return, not even a thank you.  I may even be attacked for actions, but I will have to just grin through it.  So I am starting off small, and easy and I have challenged myself to pick up one piece of garbage from a street, lawn, building, river…be it on my way to or from work, the grocery store or bar, while I am jogging, cycling, or walking, you name it…be it a cigarette butt, grocery bag or tire and place it in the nearest recycling bin or garbage can. 

If I manage to find something that is still reusable (see below), I am going to let people know and give them the option to take it off my hands and put it to use.  It would not matter if you did it once a day, week, month, or if you only ever did it once, nor does it matter if you forget to do so.  It is very easy to think that I cannot do anything to help these days.  It is often quite easy to discredit our actions in such a large place full of 7 billion people, however picking up a piece of trash once in your life will have a significantly more profound impact than if you had never done it.  I welcome you to join me, and again it will not hurt my feelings if you can’t or don’t want to participate.

The attachments show what I managed to collect on a 1.3 km or 15 minute walk home from the bus stop.  As usual I got a little carried away, I even managed to find a bag to carry everything I found.  By the way does anyone need a perfectly good, slightly used flat-head screwdriver?

As always I welcome feedback or ways to reduce my environmental impact.  Have a great day!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fruit Garden in the City

Imagine you are walking in a downtown park, you are having so much fun you forget to eat lunch and your stomach rumbles with hunger, so you reach up and pick an apple off a tree.

I cannot think of any place where you can do this outside of a farm, your backyard or the wilderness.  Our cities invest in urban green spaces that are barren, when we could instead be planting raspberry bushes, strawberry patches,  and apple trees.  We have to spend the effort watering these plants every year anyways, why not make our urban plants give something in return.  These plants would still provide the visual appeal due to their annual blossoms.

There are many options for our cities with fruit bearing urban parks.  The city could harvest the fruit themselves and make a tidy profit at the local farmers market.  Or the city could simply allow its residents free pickings.  If you needed some apples for a pie, help yourself.  If you wanted some berries for a jam, help yourself. 

The fact is that we have people in our cities that are homeless and starving, and what do we do we plant ornamental crab apple trees.  Planting fruit laden parks could provide our disadvantaged with a free source of social services. 

Just think of the sort of charm that the annual community apple picking would lend itself.  We would have a direct connection between people and their food.  In a time when the world is consuming too much and prices for everything is rising, we should consider swapping new trees with the fruit bearing variety in order to further secure our local food source and sustainability.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Earth Hour

This weekend on March 26, 2011 at 8:30pm the 5th annual Earth hour will commence.  More information can be found here http://www.earthhour.org/.  If you do not already know what Earth Hour is, it is an hour dedicated to zero electricity usage.  This means that for an entire hour you unplug your TV, alarm clock, stove, fridge, and shut off your lights, fans, cellphone. Anything that uses electricity you would shut off, or unplug for one hour out of the 8760 hours of the year,  that is only 0.01% of your time. 

You can make it a date with your significant other, and light a candle before you turn the lights out and enjoy some cheese and wine by candlelight.  You can make it a celebration and invite your friends over for a few nightly drinks.

Quite often I have heard arguments that it won't make an impact, from those chose who not to participate in past Earth Hour events.  Lets take a look at this if the entire city of Edmonton of one million people were to shut of one single light bulb each.  Lets assume this was an efficient CFL light bulb at 35W, so each lightbulb would save 35Wh for Earth Hour.  This means that if the entire city turned off one light bulb, 35,000,000 Wh or 35,000 kWh would have been saved.  The electricity rate runs at $0.0/kWh, so this means that the entire city would have saved $2,800.  This is only from one light bulb per person, if you were to extend this to your TV, your fridge, etc. the savings would be significantly more.  And if the entire world could do this, all at the same time...just think what an impact it would make. 

This has another impact, since you utility company can look at how much power was saved the previous year.  With this knowledge our utility company knows they can expect less demand and can thus reduce how much power they would have normally generated. 

So please take the 0.01% of your time and participate in Earth Hour, its not time to a pessimist, your actions do make an impact.  You don't have to stop there, you can purchase a powerbar for your electronics and turn it off when you go to bed at night.  Just imagine what an impact would be seen if one million Edmontonians did that every night.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Review of Edmonton's West & Southeast LRT Route

Edmonton's West & Southeast LRT Lines
Image Credit: www.edmonton.ca

As some of you may know already Edmonton is expanding its LRT network for the first time in 30 years.  With the leadership of Stephen Mandel our northern city has finally realized that simply expanding our roadways does not solve any commuting problems.  Widening roadways has exactly the opposite effect as more people tend to use the roadway which can lead to congestion and traffic jams.

The link below redirects you to an interactive Google map, so that you can take a look at the planned stations.


Edmonton's West and SE LRT lines

First let me list some stats for the new lines.  The whole line is 26.89 km long and consists of 29 stations and a end to end travel time of 57 minutes and an average speed of 33 km/h.  For comparison, Edmonton's existing LRT line is 20 km long with 15 stations, end to end  travel time of 33 minutes and an average speed of 33 km/h. The new lines has a 77% increase in travel time, and a 15% reduction in average speed, however it also has an 93% increase in the number of stations.  

The doubling of stations per kilometer means that you are basically doubling the this lines catchment area.  While the existing line may seem faster, the travel times to not account for transfer times or time that is spent travelling to an area that is not serviced by an LRT stop.  If you do not place a LRT stop in an area it means that you have to travel to either station before or after and transfer to a bus or walk/cycle to your destination.  With the increase of stations per kilometer with the new line, it is more likely that your destination is more direct and you will not need to spend as much time travelling after disembarking the LRT.

Image Credit: www.edmonton.ca

The new lines will utilize low floor LRT vehicles, which enables the construction of low key glorified sidewalk stations and lower construction costs  (the full analysis of the benefits of low floor LRT can be found here.)  The new lines will still have its own right-of-way meaning that it does not have to compete with other traffic.  The new lines will still have priority signalling, meaning that any at grade intersections are prioritized to allow the train to proceed smoothly.  Gone will be the barriers of the existing transit, with a simple curb separating automobile lanes from the LRT line.  The curb will give way along the route for intersections and easy pedestrian/cyclist crossings and the track will be embedded into the the roadway.

As I have stated before 800 m is the largest distance that will encourage spontaneous transit usage, as it takes about 12 minutes to walk 800 m.  So I have created maps outlining each lines 800 m walkable zones.  Please note that these zones are not entirely accurate as they do not account for obstacles such as fences, buildings, hills or rivers, these zones are meant to provide a rough understanding of how walkable an area is.

West LRT

West LRT Line 800 m Catchment Zones
The West LRT line is 12.57 km long from the western Lewis Estates station to the western edge of Downtown Edmonton and consists of 14 stations.  The City of Edmonton website estimates that the maximum travel time from the Lewis Estates station to the campus station will be 28 minutes, so this work out to an average travel speed of 27 km/hr.   The following tables outline the distances, times and destinations within 800 m for each station on the West LRT line.

The ideal distance between stations would again be 800 m, based on this 10 of the 14 planned west LRT stations fall under 15 minutes of walking time between stations.  This is again shown through the 800 m walking zone map, as there is often some overlap between the zones.  The overlap tends to increase as stations approach the core, this is ideal as you want to promote walking in the core as much as possible.  It can also be noted that the five outermost stations reside in neighbourhoods that utilize modern suburbia planning methods.  This means that no grid network of roadways exists and that it will often be a hassle for sustainable transportation modes to navigate these regions. 

As you can see the west LRT line connects 3 hospitals, 2 shopping centers, 2 commercial roadways, more than 14 schools, more than a dozen community leagues, 2 post-secondary institutions, and a number of parks including the river valley.  My list does not account for the hundreds of businesses, and tens of thousands of residents along the line. 


Downtown LRT Connector Walkable Zones
The Downtown LRT connector is 1.91 km long from the western Campus station to the eastern Quarters station and consists of 5 stations.  The City of Edmonton does not provide estimates for travel times for this section yet, but assuming similar west LRT average travel speeds of 27 km/hr, the maximum travel time will be 4.5 minutes.  

With the existing and the new NAIT lines this will bring the total number stations in the downtown area  to twelve.  The new downtown LRT line will run parallel one block from the existing LRT line and the station locations will be staggered between the the existing station locations.  With the exception of the Churchill stations, it will only take at most 5 minutes to transfer between lines. The following tables outline the distances, times and destinations within 800 m for each station on the downtown LRT connector.

From these tables it can be shown that the downtown LRT connector is highly walkable with no inter-station walking times exceeding 7 minutes.  There is also a high mix of attractions and destinations within 800 m of the downtown line.  This includes 1 mall, 2 post-secondary schools, 1 school, a intercity bus station, a future downtown Arena and district, the farmers market, and 1 hospital.  Again my list does not account for the hundreds of restaurants, bars, and businesses or the thousands of downtown residents. 

The downtown LRT design is also great in that it sets out to turn 102 ave into a partial pedestrian mall  (see image above Image credit: www.edmonton.ca).  There will only ever be 1 car lane along 102 ave for business and local access, and west and south bicycle lanes will be installed along with wide sidewalks.  The section of 102 ave between 99 and 100 st that flanks Churchill square will be completely closed to automobile traffic. 


Southeast LRT walkable zones
The West LRT line is 12.41 km long from the eastern downtown Quarters station to the southeast Millwoods station and consists of 10 stations.  The City of Edmonton website estimates that the maximum travel time from the Lewis Estates station to the campus station will be 25 minutes, so this work out to an average travel speed of 30 km/hr.   Its interesting because you can see that by dropping 4 stations from approximately same length as the west line you increase your average speed by 3 km/hr. The following tables outline the distances, times and destinations within 800 m for each station on the southeast LRT line.

The ideal distance between stations would again be 800 m, based on this only 4 of the 10 planned southeast LRT stations fall under 18 minutes of walking time between stations.  This is again shown through the 800 m walking zone map, as there is not that much overlap between the zones.  It can also be noted that the four of the outermost stations reside in neighbourhoods that utilize modern suburbia planning methods.   Two of the stations reside in industrial zones. 

As you can see the southeast LRT line connects 3 hospitals, 3 shopping centers, more than 6 schools, and a number of community leagues, and a number of parks including the river valley.  Again my list does not account for the hundreds of businesses, and tens of thousands of residents along the line. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

103 Year old Cyclist

Over at Treehugger they ran a story about the "World's Oldest Cyclist" Still Riding Daily at Age 103.  Octavio Orduno was born in 1908 the year right when the first car was introduced to the world, the same car that proliferated into the crisis of fossil fuel dependence that exists today. 

Octavio has lived for over a century, you just have to think of the wisdom and experiences this man would have gained.  This man has been through the evolution towards our modern society.   He has been through the roaring 20's, dirty 30's, both world wars, and the abandonment of proper urban design after WWII.  This man would have experienced the construction of national railways and their abandonment. He would have experienced roadways being used by all modes of transportation, and the roadway hijacking by automobiles.

Yet with all of his wisdom and experiences, he chooses to maintain a active lifestyle of cycling.  That certainly makes a statement.  It is also probably due to his decision to be active and continue cycling, along with the fact that he doesn't smoke that has led to his prosperous life. 

The main point to take away here is that if a 103 year old man is able to cycle, then there is no doubt that you cannot do so as well.

Bulk Barn In Calgary

Calgary's First Bulk Barn Conveniently Located a 6 Minute Walk from Whitehorn Station

Calgary's first Bulk Barn has opened today!  It is located at 3508 32nd Avenue NE conveniently six minutes walking distance southwest of the Whitehorn LRT station.  When I was in there after work it was surprisingly busy being only its first day open, and they have not even made any announcement about their opening as far as I know.

Bulk barn has a great variety of candies, spices, nuts, and dried fruit/vegetables.  I am a big fan of bulk barn since they have more of the more "exotic" spices that Canada seems to be adverse to such as cardamon, or cumin seeds.  Other groceries stores like Safeway only offer limited bulk options and the spices they do sell only come in plastic of glass bottles, or large bags which contain more spices than you need.  At bulk barn you can get the exact amount you need.  They also sell popcorn spice at 1/3 of the price of the pre-bottled varieties else where. 

As I have explained in my previous post Bulk and its Impact on your Waste Line, when you use less packaging your costs go down as well.  Bulk barn is generating huge savings while eliminating a large amount of plastic packaging waste,  and they are passing these savings onto their clients.  The items at Bulk Barn are considerably cheaper than the prepackaged items found at other grocery stores. 

So make sure that when you shop at bulk barn that you try and use the smaller bags available by their spices, and save these bags so that you can reuse them on future Bulk Barn visits. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Asbestos in Canada?

I was unaware until recently that Canada was one the very few asbestos producers in the world.  The only mine left in Canada is run by Lab Chrysotyle in Quebec. Not only that but our government recently just ended subsidies for the industry.  Wow...talk about a blemish to calling myself Canadian.  Not only do Canadians allow asbestos to be mined, but we have been propping up the business with our tax dollars.  When did anyone ever ask me if I supported this idea?  Cause surely if they would ask any Canadian the answer would ruffle a few feathers.  Why do our governments continue to support unsustainable and just plain dumb practices. 

For those of you that don't know Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and was often used in older buildings as a protection against heat, chemical, and electrical damage.  If an older building is being renovated and asbestos is found, this is often highly reported in the news and the contractors take extreme measures to handle the substance with care. 

So if such a toxic substance has the power to make headlines, why is it that our government allows workers to be exposed to it?  Why is it okay for us to sell asbestos to developing countries, when we do not allow the sale of asbestos in our own country?

The European Union has already placed a ban a long time ago, its more than past time for us to follow suit.  Spread the word and put the pressure on our government to remove this blemish from our badge of honor of being Canadian.

Improving our Electricity Network

Alberta's Electricity Generation Plants
Image Credit: http://www.centreforenergy.com

Most Canadian homes are retrofitted with your run of the mill electric meter on the side of the house, and most homes are connected via hundreds of kilometers of electricity transmission cables to a remote power plant.  Some places like Alberta generate the majority of their electricity through coal fired plants. 

Electricity Generation by Source for Canada's Provinces
Coal plants have to be located far away from your urban center in order to avoid poisoning the very people you are trying to provide power for.  Hydro dams and wind farms are typically located far away since these power plants generally have to be in very specific locations to take advantage of a river or high winds.  The remote locations mean that you will have to transport your electricity very large distances through transmission wires, accounting for 7-8% of power losses.  Not only that but these power plants are generally designed to produce large amounts of power.  Since a municipals electricity demands are constantly fluctuating throughout the day due to the million different activities of its inhabitants, it is very hard for our power plants to match the consumption in such a way.  This large scale power generation is going to lead to some inefficiencies, since they are producing power blind.  This means that our power companies are basically guessing how much power they should generate, as they do not have a system in place that provides instant feedback concerning electricity requirements.  So if a power plant produces more power than is consumed, we are wasting that electricity. 

What is the alternative?  Is there an alternative?  Yes as always there is an alternative.  In this case you can upgrade your electricity network to a smart grid, and develop a more distributed power generation network. 

A smart grid consists of installing a digital smart meter for every household.  This smart grid would replace or hook up to your existing utilities meters, and would come with a display screen inside the household.  This display would not only present you with real time information of your utilities usage, but it would provide information on how much of a strain the power plant is under a given period of time.  This sort of system serves to benefit both the producer and the consumer with savings. Power providers are provided with instant power usage information, and can adjust the power generation to reflect the usage.  This will eliminate the need for our power providers to produce excess power just so to account for unexpected power usages. 

Your household display would also allow your utilities provide to provide you with the amount of usage at different periods of time.  It is more efficient to run one generators at maximum capacity as opposed to three at a third capacity.  With the smart grid users are provided with the best times to use power to avoid the need for utility providers to run generators at lower levels of efficiency.  This way someone can look at their display screen and decide to run their dishwasher at night time when everyone is sleeping. 

Households would also be able to see on their display screens exactly how much electricity a particular device is using at any given moment.  This would allow residents to detect phantom power draws, devices that still draw power even they are shut off.  Residents would then have no excuse not to unplug a device when it is not in use, as you know it is drawing power.

Urban Wind Mill
Image Credit: www.treehugger.com
The other part of the solution is to distribute the power generation more.  I mentioned previously that the majority of our power comes from large centralized power plants, and there are significant losses.  These losses come as a result of resistance in transmission lines since most power plants are located hundreds of kilometers from urban centers.  If you are producing your power on your roof the electricity does not need to travel through hundreds of kilometers of wires and losses will be minimal.  You would still be connected to the grid so if your power source cannot generate enough electricity you can sap from other sources. 

The best defense against no power generation is to diversify the power sources.  If you install urban wind mills and geothermal plants for every community, and solar power panels on every roof, then when it is cloudy or windless you will always have an backup power source.  This system also has a guaranteed redundancy built in, where if one households solar panel system breaks down the other 1 million households will still be generating power.  With a centralized power plant you are putting all of your eggs into one basket, if the steam turbine at the power plant breaks down it is not only expensive but it also presents the possibility of knocking out the power for large portions of a city. 

Towns have made deals with power companies such that the presence of a wind mill brings more benefit to the community that simply providing power.   These towns usually set up deals such that the wind mills are owned by the town and excess power is the property of the town and can be sold off.   This extra money is then used to put money back into the community.  So essentially you have the ultimate local economy being propped up by your power source.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


The City of Edmonton diverts 60% of its residential waste from the landfill, meanwhile the City of Calgary only diverts 20% of its residential waste.  Meanwhile Germany diverts 70% of all of its waste from the landfill in 2008.  This is not just residential waste, this is 70% of residential, industrial, and commercial waste that is being diverted from a landfill.  Meanwhile Canada recycled 27% of their waste in 2004, and the US was only able to recycle 33% of its waste in 2007. 

How does Germany manage to recycle so much?  Germany decided in 1996 to place the onus of recycling on the manufacturers of the waste.  Germany created laws to place to make large companies responsible for the packaging that they distribute.  This means that companies in Germany are required to ensure that every single piece of recyclable material is recycled. 

The rest of the world leaves the responsibility of recycling up to its citizens, this creates a mess of a disjointed system of a million different individual efforts.  By making the consumer responsible for recycling you don't tackle the problem at the source, and instead take a "clean up after the mess" afterwards approach.  This sort of system ensures that the taxpayers are footing the bill to clean up after the mess that companies create with their packaging.  Governments have to build landfills, run sorting plants, garbage trucks and pay waste management employees.   Companies are do not have to worry about any cost or impact that their product incurs once it leaves their doorstep. How did we come to such a point, where companies have no responsibility in our societies other than to make money, and yet the citizens are left dealing with the trash on streets and the extra bills?

Germany's approach tackles the root of the problem, decreasing the chance of waste being produced in the first place.  If you eliminate the creation of the waste in the first place, then you do not have to worry about processing it.  All companies have the capacity to eliminate all wastes from their products and processes, it just takes a little innovation. 

Since companies have to clean up after their own mess under these laws, it becomes beneficial for companies to produce less packaging, since this means that they do not collect as much of it as well.  Companies in Germany are motivated to streamline their manufacturing processes in order to create less waste, increasing sustainability and efficiency.

Calgary is still not offer recycling for multi family residences until 2015...that is unbelievable.  No wonder Calgary is only recycling 20% of its residential waste.  Put the bins out there now, and at least give your citizens the option to recycle their waste.  History has shown that improper waste management has caused the collapse of civilizations.  Modern cities such as Rome, or Paris have had insufficient waste management systems in the past, which caused waste to build up in the streets and ultimately caused chaos and mass fatalities due to plagues.  History has also shown that our trash has also been a gold mine, as humans have long been making money by reselling/reusing trash.  We have the capabilities to eliminate the creation of the majority of modern waste, its about time that governments step up to the plate and hold companies accountable. 

What are some other ways you can recycle:
  • Become familiar with what is recyclable here
  • If you own a business or a manager set up separate bins for plastic, paper, organics, and waste
  • Donate any unwanted clothes or household items to a Local Charity
  • Save your fruit and vegetable scraps, among another 75 household items and 163 items for your compost to use for gardening
  • Save your onion, garlic, potato, carrot scraps among other vegetable scraps to make vegetable stock and save money
  • Leave grass clippings on the lawn
  • Get creative and reuse common household items for other purposes
  • Instead of buying something new, first take a look at yard sales, flea markets, Value Village, http://www.kijiji.ca/ or http://www.ebay.ca/

Not Getting the Message

Our governments are not getting the message.  With our future being depleted of its sources of readily available oil, governments should not be in any case building new roads.  Funding for any new roads should be eliminated from the budget, leaving only road projects that involve critical maintenance or projects that have already started and it would be detrimental to traffic to leave it in its present state.  The automobile is not going to play as big a role in the future as everyone seems to think.  I quite often hear the rebuttal that "cars are not going away,"  and those people are quite right cars will not completely be eliminated.  Cars serve an important niche for remote and long distance commutes, but that is it.  The majority of commutes are under 20 minutes, and can be easily be replaced through walking/cycling/transit.

The days of driving a Ford F150 or any automobile to pick up your groceries, are coming to an end.  It is time that the government starts preparing for this imminent future now.  We need to start putting in place the infrastructure that is needed allow a sustainable commuting culture.   

Put a halt to road expansions now, so that we have the money to spend on smart city designs.  Create bus only lanes at major choke points right of way, choke points occur anywhere that geographical constraints restrict the movement of people such as bridges over our rivers, or shear hill sides.  These locations will see the largest congestion, so when you provide transit with a clear way through these choke points you dramatically make transit more appealing.  The next priority is to create bus only lanes along major and minor roadways.  It is time to stop making transit a money losing business, start giving transit the priority all the time and it will make money.  Add more buses to routes to increase frequency, and create new routes to service those areas without effective transit.  Extend transit service hours to into evening to provide transit for the 5-6 hours night time void.  Create separated bike lanes as well, countries like Germany show that it is possible to create a city so that to cycle the entire width of a city under an hour. 

This is the time when our government needs to act and create the option to ditch your car.  We will have to make these changes regardless, and if we start now we will avoid the large capital crunch that is unavoidable when the oil finally dries up.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bicycles in the Workplace

Automobiles for employees are often quite heavily subsidized by their businesses and workplaces.  Your workplace most often provides you with a parking stall so that you can park your vehicle upon arrival.  Parking stalls are not cheap by any measure, and can run from $25,000 for a surface parking stall to $50,000 for an underground parking stall.  That is a large amount of money being thrown around just so that a car can be parked for 8 hours a day.  Companies will most often also provide their employees with a vehicle/fuel allowance. 

Companies could be making it easier on their wallets by giving their employees a bicycle allowance.  Businesses could own a set of bicycles which are available for their employees to use to make deliveries, attend close-by meetings, or to grab a quick bite to eat. 

Recently while taking the C-Train through downtown Calgary I have noticed Calgary Police force members in full winter gear riding bicycles.  It should be mandatory for all postal workers, police members, civic workers to use a bicycles in denser neighbourhoods.  This is the precedent that I would to see our government set by making public employees bike.  Police officers should use bicycles to patrol every street downtown,  among other popular streets such as 17th ave in Calgary or Whyte Ave in Edmonton.  This would provide police officers with the maneuverability in tight spots that is simply not possible with a vehicle.  Since police would be able to mingle with the crowd more, they would be able to exert more of a presence. 

Postal workers could use bikes with attached racks to carry all of their postage, cargo bikes could even be used to allow postal workers to deliver large packages.  Not only are our governments saving money, but they are also creating a more active and thus healthier lifestyle for our public employees.  These employees instead of sitting in a comfy seat for the majority of a 8-hour shift are now getting physical exercise.  When we encourage people to commute by transit or pedal power, we remove cars off the road and reduce the costs to our health care systems.

If a business is located downtown or in a dense neighbourhood, they could be generating significant savings by not subsidizing automobiles for their employees.  Businesses could also join forces with the local transit authority to provide their employees with a discount on transit fares.

Workplaces should also make it easier for their employees to bicycle to work by providing some amenities and policies.  Employers should allow a more flexible range of hours, so that an employee can show up within those hours and start working.  If you set a rigid schedule you make it very unforgiving for cyclists who have a wide array of obstacles they could encounter on their commute to work.  Work establishments should at least provide the very basic bike rack for employees to lock their bike upon arrival.  It is surprising how such a simple thing is for the most part neglected.  Employers should also make arrangements to have a shower installed so that employees can clean themselves of dirt/sweat.  Businesses should also provide the tools or lubricants necessary to give your bike a tune up and ensure a safe commute.  Businesses could also arrange to have monthly group bike rides, among other bike friendly events. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Prevent Poverty and Prevent Unsustainability

If you live in a wealthier nation  it is quite likely that you lifestyle is subsidized with the labour and health of poorer nations.  It is quite baffling in todays world that nations are still led by dictators that suppress the rights of its citizens. 

Our way of life is subsidized in the products that we purchase.  Our I-Phones come at the expense of Foxcomm Chinese factory workers under great duress, with workers often committing suicide.  Yet Apple is a reputable business right?  Our fatigued pants come at the expense of the turkish workers that man the sandblasting machines, sufferering lung diseases due to the sand they have to work with.  Our  chemicals and plastics come at the expense of the health of workers in Louisiana, which has been dubbed cancer alley due to the high rate of cancer in the area.  Our organic foods come from Spain where African workers are paid $2/hr.  Our shoes come from child labour.  Our plastics are recycled at the expense of others health, as they have to be melted releasing poisonous chemicals.

The majority of the worlds resources reside in the poorest nations, how is that possible?  Companies are allowed to extract resources, with the countries citizens never seeing a cent.

The nations poorest have little money and as a result are forced to buy the least expensive food.  Quite often the cheapest foods will not be the healthiest fruits and vegetables but rather the processed junk food.  These processed foods often have very little nutritional value that you often get hungry again right away, leading to higher obesity rates. 

Due to the lack of laws regulating proper urban design or plant emissions, ghettos are created.  Impoverished citizens can only afford to live in these inhabitable locations.  People living in these "communities" are forced to drink contaminated water, and breathe smog filled air.

If we put in and enforce international laws to prevent humanitarian crimes and poverty we will dramatically reduce the option of unsustainable practices.  When companies have to adhere to laws and ensure their workers and surrounding citizens health do not degrade, you will see the quality of emissions from smoke stack and water disposals dramatically increase.  People will not have to live downwind of pollutants and chemicals, this will only serve to increase their standard of living and decrease the governments health care costs. 

When you have to pay workers fair wages you can eliminate the need to manufacture poisonous chemicals that no one wants to work with.  If you can't expose your workers to dangerous substances, you develop safer alternatives.  These alternatives will most likely be safer to both living beings and the environment.  When fair wages and humane working conditions are mandatory, businesses will seek to save money through sustainable practices that increase efficiency.

When businesses can longer provide products readily at the expense of others backs, this also changes consumer habits.  The consumers of wealthy nations can no longer rely on impoverished people to make products inexpensive for them.  Since products will inevitably rise in price, this will force consumers to think more about what they are buying.  They will explore more greatly opportunities of reusing or fixing a product, whereas before they would have just thrown it into the trash.  When you have to feed the whole world, consumers will not be able to buy as many meat products since the land normally being used to feed livestock now has to be used to feed starving humans.

When every single human being on the planet is provided health care, food, shelter, sustainable transportation and is not being oppresseed you reduce the need for the billions of dollars being spent on militaries and defenses.  When the whole world is happy who is going to attack you?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Low vs. High Floor LRT Stations

High Floor LRT Vehicle
Image Credit: http://macjo.macewan.ca/?p=3677

The vehicles on Edmonton's existing LRT line are high floor LRT vehicles, meaning that the majority of equipment such as the motor are placed underneath the passengers feet.  This as a result raises the vehicle doorways by several feet, and as a result of that you have to raise platform heights several feet. 

Minimal Low Floor LRT Station
Image Credit: http://spacingtoronto.ca

Edmonton's new west and south east LRT designs will use low floor LRT vehicles.  Instead of placing the majority of equipment that runs the vehicle underneath passengers, it is moved above onto the roof.  This dramatically lowers the vehicle doorway and the station platform heights.  The platform height is handily lowered to the height of your basic sidewalk, essentially allowing passengers to disembark anywhere a sidewalk is present, the same way a bus can.  Stations become nothing more than a glorified sidewalk.   Simply install a shelter, a few benches and you have a station.  This makes it much easier/cheaper to construct stations as opposed to high floor LRT stations.

Edmonton's McKernan-Belgravia Station
Image Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org

With a high floor station you have to build stairs, and ramps just so that people can get onto your station.  You have to build railings so that people do not inadvertently fall off.  Since you raise your passengers up you increase their exposure to the cold and bitter wind.  With a high floor LRT line you have no chance of building quick, easy and cheap stations that easily blend in with the community.  High floor stations are prominent structures and will stand out if you try and incorporate it into a trendy neighbourhood.  High floor platforms also run the risk of creating a barren wall along one side, a great place for passerby to relieve themselves or their garbage.  The photo of Edmonton's McKernan-Belgravia station above is the most minimalist station that is probably possible with high floor LRT.  A low floor LRT station will not have much of a distinction or impact and you can integrate it into a neighbourhood.

Low Floor LRT Station Integration with Surrounding
Image Credit: http://www.connect2edmonton.ca
Low floor LRT vehicles have another benefit if you embed the tracks into the road.  When you embed the tracks into a road as opposed to using ballast, other non-rail vehicles can use the right-of-way.  Embedded tracks allow buses to use the car-free right of way.  High floor LRTs allow buses to do this as well, the difference comes with buses can utilize the low floor LRT platforms to load and unload passengers.  This bus-LRT compatibility is a gold mine for transit planners, as they suddenly can use buses for contingency service along the same route.  Instead of having a contingency bus service using a separate routing due to incompatible station heights, the replacement buses can reduce passenger stress/hassles by using the same right-of-way.  This compatibility is also great as a quick fix to increase service along the route.  If you do not have enough trains to increase service due to an event you can throw some buses onto the route to fill the void.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Edmonton's Existing LRT

Edmonton's existing Clareview-Century Park LRT is highly successful attracting just under 100,000 daily riders or 10% of Edmonton's population.  The success of this line could be greatly improved with some minor modifications.  Portions of the LRT line run along abandoned CN right-of-ways using the the existing corridors.  This makes sense in a expense sort of way as your land purchase costs are significantly lower, however this does not make sense in a social way.  Some of the existing right-of-ways run through industrial areas with little opportunity for community integration.

Edmonton's LRT Right-of-Way

When you enclose the LRT corridors with fences you exacerbate pedestrian travel routes and times.  Instead of being able to cross the LRT corridor right away a pedestrian or cyclist needs to travel north or south several blocks.  Eliminate the fences and install signal systems for pedestrians/cyclist, creating an awareness of any incoming train.  When you make the LRT corridor less of a impenetrable barrier the more likely people will embrace it, the LRT becomes a symbol representing unity and connections for every community it passes through.

The corridor in the picture is extremely wide (35m), certainly much wider than it needs to be.  The corridor should be limited to the width of the LRT tracks (6m).  You could easily fill this space with a linear park or housing.  The slimmer corridor would create less of a dead zone, and would increase the appeal of the area.

Map of Edmonton's LRT

The entire system spans 20 km across the entire length of the city, with 15 stations and a one way trip takes 33 minutes.  However there are a few sections of the LRT line that could do with a station.  As I have stated before the optimal spacing between stations at least should be 800 meters, this is approximately 10 minutes of walking time. 

Most cities often overlook infilling their current systems as a way to boost ridership.  However this being Edmonton's only LRT line, I think they can be forgiven for its pursuit of LRT expansion as opposed to infill right now, we will however take a look at the possibilities for infill.  The following table shows the travel distances and corresponding travel/walking times between stations.

Keeping in mind that the maximum optimal spacing is 800 meters, eight sections fail to meet this criteria.  Closer station spacing is vital to ensure that the greatest number of people have access to the LRT system.  If you build stations far apart you reduce the chance of spontaneous transit usage since you have to walk 20-40 minutes just to get to a station.   Infilling is a great way to increase ridership for cheap as it does not require the massive capital investments that comes with building completely new lines. 

Of those eight sections the section between Southgate and Century Park should be one of the first to be infilled.  With a staggering void of 3.17 km between stations, this section begs for at least one station, possibly two.  This section of the LRT corridor is surrounded for the most part by residential properties, which would provide the catchment that is necessary for any station.  The Belgravia-South Campus and Stadium-Churchill sections possess similar situations, being surrounded by residential properties making them most suitable for an infill station.  The South Campus-Southgate section should also be considered, however this may take a little bit more work as portion of this section is buried underground.

Brownfield with Smokestack
Image Credit http://www.panoramio.com/photo/20030040

The Clareview-Belvedere, Belvedere-Coliseum, and Coliseum-Stadium sections should be considered as long term infill stations to coincide with redevelopments.  These sections run through mostly industrial sections and would require extensive rehabilitation to create a livable environment.  There is an interesting opportunity for redevelopment on the large 37 acre brownfield where the old meat packing plant smokestack now stands.  You could easily place a station just north of the Yellowhead to service a new neighbourhood on the brownfield property.  Such a development would support the planned transit oriented development around Belvedere.

The section between Grandin and the University presents a unique opportunity to build a bridge station, taking advantage of the spectacular river valley view.  You would be able to whisk away joggers enjoying the river valley, and help establish the river valley as a attraction.