Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cyclist Dooring

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Imagine you are cycling along a roadway to your right you have a row of parked cars.  To your left you have an automobile lane.  You are whisking by when suddenly a car door has opened in front of you, a split second and your bike slams into the door flipping yourself head over heels.  You hit the ground and things go black.  Dooring is a common cause of injury and death for cyclists, and unfortunately when I Vancouver I had witnessed a poor lady get struck by an opening door.  Fortunately the lady was not thrown off her bike in this case. 

It is impossible to tell if the owners are still in their parked vehicle, and whether they have just parked their vehicle or if they are about to leave.  Dooring comes as a result of motor vehicles operators not properly shoulder checking before they start to open their doors and exit their vehicle.  Cyclists do not have many options in this case, if they try and evade to the left they run the risk of being hit by a travelling vehicle.

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The solution, its simple if you are parking please do your job to ensure everyone's safety and shoulder check before you attempt to exit your vehicle.  The best solution however would be for cities to provide the proper cycling infrastructure.  Provide a separated bike lane with clearly marked door zones.  In the above image you will notice the actual green bike lane on the left, to the right white diagonal lines indicating a door buffer zone between the cars and the bike lane.  So please encourage your cities to design and build your roads properly to guarantee the safety of every one.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Open Sourcing Designs

In these days of corporations and proprietaries our laws are great for protecting the interests as such, however they do not do much in the way of protecting consumers or promoting sustainability.  Suppose the company that built your phone went out of business?  What if your phone then broke?  How do you get your phone fixed when the manufacturer has shuttered their doors for good?  You could go to third party repair shop, but this may not always work as they do not know your phones design or where the parts come from.

One way to get around this problem would be for companies to open-source their designs, especially if they go out of business.  This way if they go belly-up, you do not have to resort to simply chucking out their product when it is in need of maintenance. 

Facebook has taken the lead by open sourcing the design of their data centres.  Why might Facebook do this?   Why would Facebook invest their money and time to develop a more efficient data centre, only to reveal the design to others such that they do not have to spend the same amount of time and money to develop the same or less efficient product?  That's just it isn't, we spend so much time fending for ourselves that we actually make things more difficult for ourselves.  If we were to open source all designs we would be to save an immense amount of energy and time duplicating the same work. 

When Facebook open-sourced the design of their data-centre they allowed other companies to save the time and install the more efficient design (using 22% less materials and 94% less energy) right of way.  This is energy savings that can be made right away as opposed to figuring out your own design. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Couch Surfing

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If you are a travel fanatic like myself a great way to save a little money and help the environment is to couch surf.  If you are not familiar with couch surfing, it is the practice of sleeping on someones spare couch (bed, air mattress, hammock, floor) for free rent most often.  In fact I recall a story about a man that lived in New York that did this. 

If you want to take part in this glorious act of mooching  is a great website.  You can find couches available all over the world.  This website requires couch owners and couch seekers alike to register.  This is very key to ensuring that both parties can stay safe.  Once someone has stayed at a persons couch they can also verify that it is as advertised, as you will notice with the verified notifications next to the majority of listings.  Some listings may require that you pay some rent or contribute to dinner, most often many of the couch owners are looking to meet new people.

This is a great way to meet new people, and reduce your impact, and stay in different and local residences.  

Surfing couches reduces your in a couple of ways, you are occupying space that would normally otherwise be vacant (the heating load per person in that residence is reduced etc.)  There are vasts quantities of spaces just begging to be used.  Also since you are not staying at a hotel there is less of a perceived demand for hotel rooms that would sit empty the fast majority of times.  Hotels also have very high standards of safety and sanitation and thus will most likely wash towels and sheets regardless of their state of cleanliness. 

Well anyways happy couch surfing!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Canadian ecoENERGY Retofit Renewed

Have you wanted to make some economical and sustainable improvements to your house, yet you don't quite have the capital to go ahead with it?  The Canadian government has renewed the ecoENERGY Retofit program.  This program has been established to help encourage Canadian households to improve the efficiency of their homes.  The programs set out to do this by offering rebates for various household improvements.  This program is great for those with older houses, the best way to cut your utility bills is to improve the efficiency.

In order to be eligible for the program you must register with the program and then undergo a pre-retrofit evaluation.

The program is broken is several different categories:

  1. Heating systems
  2. Cooling systems
  3. Ventilation systems
  4. Domestic hot water equipment
  5. Insulation
  6. Air sealing
  7. Windows/doors/skylights
  8. Water conservation
 Some of the easier retrofits include (rebate value in brackets):

  • Installing a digital thermostat ($40 for 5)
  • Installing low flow toilets ($65 per toilet, up to 4)
  • Replace your doors and windows ($40 per unit)
  • Air seal your place to meet Evaluation requirement ($190)
  • Attic Insulation ($250-$750)
  • Install a drain water heat recovery coil ($95-$165 per unit)
  • Replace your hot water heater ($315-$375 per unit)

Calgary LRT Improvements

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Calgary's LRT is finally starting to modernize.  I was quite taken back when I moved from Edmonton to Calgary to find that the fare machines at Calgary's LRT station did not offer change.  Edmonton's fare machines are not all that futuristic, and they only allow you pay with cash.  At least Edmonton's fare machines allowed you to use bills and gave change. 

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Until recently the vending machines at Calgary LRT stations did not offer change, the machines still do not still accept bills.  However the machines do accept credit cards, and will soon also accept debit cards.  Calgary will eventually roll out a smart card next year, which will help eliminate the waste associated with single and monthly fares.

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Calgary is also making another improvement to their LRT stations.  The stations are being retrofitted with LED passenger information signs. These signs will provide another level of information for patrons, such as messages detailing delays.  Calgary currently has 3 branches, soon to be four next year and these signs will help by displaying the destination of the arriving train.  These signs are of a great benefit for the hard of hearing, and even for those who are not in loud environments.  Also with installation of GPS on the trains which started in April, these signs will be able to display real arrival times of your next train. 

The future is finally starting to arrive in Calgary.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bicycle Infrastructure in Vancouver

I recently went on a trip to Vancouver, as a part of our trip we rented bicycles and toured the city for 8 hours.  That's right we rode our bikes around for 8 hours, it was highly convenient and did not have any accidents or close calls.  I would like to reflect on some the things that Vancouver has done right for cyclists. 

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Often cities will create a separate sign to indicate that there is a bike route along a certain road (as pictured above.)  Well Vancouver does this but they also do something else which is quite clever. 

Someone very smart at city hall in Vancouver realized that they have to put up address signage anyways, so why not take on a little bike symbol if it a bike route.  This way if you need to find a road that is bike worthy you only have to go a block to look at the street signage. 

Almost all cities tend to treat bicycles as automobiles, when they are not.  There are many laws that should not apply to bicycles.  Cyclists are exposed to the elements, so the longer you have to wait at a light the longer you freeze, get wet from the rain/snow, or are blown from the winds.  Cyclists are also self powered, so if you have to stop every block for a stop sign you lose your momentum every time and it becomes tiring especially if you are going uphill.  Cyclists with their bikes only weigh at most 250 pounds, we will not cause the high levels of damage that a car weighing 2000 lbs will. 

Well thankfully someone over at Vancouver realized this and placed priority bicycle crossing signals at a few intersections.  It is not simply enough to place a priority signal at an intersection, Vancouver also placed one specifically for bicycles at intersections.  These were flush with the road such that when you pull up you can simply reach over and push the button, you do not need to disembark your bicycle and clamber onto the sidewalk.

Reused rails and stones acting as a crosswalk.

A third thing that was very prominent in Vancouver was use of interesting and dynamic streetscapes.  Vancouver would at least provide bicycle stands (many cities cannot even get this basic step down), but they would also provide interesting bike stands.  If you want people to live downtown and keep your city vibrant you have to give something back, one way to do that is to make it a place that people want to stay. 

So often we find that cities like to think they are the only city on the planet and that they cannot copy what others are doing because it won't work here.  Get your head out of the sand, all cities face the same problems it about time that we start working together to solve them.