Do you like your bike trails scrambled or over easy?

Since moving here ten years ago, I have been a regular cyclist on the Iron Horse Trail. This is a critical piece of infrastructure for our local sustainable transportation system, and so is a frequent target of complaints from trail users. It needs to be wider. It needs to be marked for pedestrians on half, and cyclists on the other, to better serve both users. The connections at either end (Ottawa Street in Kitchener and Caroline Street in Waterloo) need to flow more easily and safely onto other cycling routes. Perhaps most perplexing, though, is that for a trip along the whole length of the trail during a weekday, a cyclist can expect to spend half their time waiting for motorised cross-traffic at major roads. Here are two suggestions for relief that could make us all feel a little more sunny side up, and a little less burned.

Scrambled

The intersection of Courtland and Stirling is a perfect place for a Pedestrian Scramble. StreetsWiki has a good description (with images) of this signal innovation from traffic engineer Henry Barnes. The traffic would flow in one direction (along Courtland), followed by a signal to allow pedestrian and cyclist crossings in all directions (including diagonally), then the other motorised traffic flow (on Stirling), and another scramble crossing.

The reason this works so well is that most pedestrian and cyclist activity at the intersection is diagonal. The trail terminates at two opposite corners, and the other two corners are home to the GRT bus stops.

For a great time lapse photo of the scramble signal in action at Yonge and Dundas in Toronto, check out the Spacing site.

Over Easy

I think the argument could be made for pedestrian signals at trail crossings, as well as more use of pedestrian islands so that trail users only have to cross one direction of traffic at a time. Signals could even be timed for a comfortable cycling speed, so that a non-stop trip could be made along the length of the trail.

What is called for at first is a pilot project using crossing guards in the summer. For a few months between one school year and the next, we could employ a handful of crossing guards, with all of their existing training and experience, to shepherd cyclists and pedestrians across the major trail intersections with no more than a twenty second delay. If it works, increasing the use of the trail, then we can make the investment in signals and crossing islands.

Worth Repeating: Driving to work may cause planning problems

Here is another look at my contribution to the Waterloo Region Record’s Community Editorial Board, printed June 18th:

(http://news.therecord.com/article/730072)

“Driving to work may cause planning problems

June 18, 2010

By Jason Hammond

When my friends and I pass a major construction site, one of us will often remark, “Oh look, they’re installing a mess!”

Development is messy. Bring in heavy equipment, and before long all sorts of dirt and dust end up floating away on the breeze and choking passersby. Sometimes, as in the recent dispute over the Lang Tannery demolition proposal, it is the politics of development that is messiest of all.

The debate at Kitchener city council meetings and in this newspaper has had the positive effect of bringing many citizens, including myself, to a deeper engagement with our urban heritage. We learned about the past of the Lang Tannery, the present of the adaptive reuse being implemented by the developers, and the future of both parking provision and the pedestrian experience in our downtown.

It appeared at first to be a simple issue of heritage versus parking. We would knock down historical buildings, put up a gravel parking lot, and lose our recent momentum toward a more vibrant, sustainable and dynamic downtown. Of course, projects guided by public policy and millions of dollars are rarely so simple, and assignment of blame for the situation quickly became hard to pin down.

The first suspect was the developer, Cadan Inc, who has transformed the first site of the Tannery from a dilapidated complex of factory buildings to a rediscovered space that will focus the working lives of hundreds into a key area along the region’s central corridor. The tragedy is that they believe, likely in concert with many of their prospective tenants, that a lack of immediately available free parking would be the automatic termination of success for the project. So, the result is that the second site is sacrificed to bring the first site a better outlook for survival.

Of course, I wouldn’t be excited about knocking the buildings of the second site down in favour of parking if I owned the property, but I do not. It appears that the necessary steps have been taken to satisfy the official processes that would guide the development, so we are introduced to the second suspect: the city.

After extended public engagement to develop the official plan, we have a document that captures a common vision for the evolution of our community. Our neighbours have given their opinion, with the hope that the end product will prevent our urban changes from heading in the wrong direction. Among the assertions available in the document: protect heritage buildings, and avoid surface parking. Whoops!

Unfortunately, it is not this citizen-driven vision that directs staff as they process requests for such projects. The “applicable law,” as it is known, is the zoning bylaw. These bylaws do not always reflect the official plan, a consistency challenge that is likely unmet by a great number of communities across the province.

What to do? It seems that everyone is just doing their job. Perhaps a core problem is how we get to those jobs. Most of us drive to work alone, and much like the development approval system, it just seems to be the way things went yesterday and will likely go tomorrow.

Municipal staff, elected officials, developers and employers all have key roles in shaping our community. By combining their efforts with adherence to new priorities, we can allow the latent radical shift in commuting behaviour that awaits improved options. As the dominance of parking demand in the Tannery project has shown, how we are able to find our way into a neighbourhood has one of the greatest impacts on how it looks when we get there.

Jason Hammond of Kitchener is the president of Grand River CarShare.”

Worth Repeating: We should make Earth Day a daily routine

Here is another look at my contribution to the Waterloo Region Record’s Community Editorial Board, printed April 19th:

(http://news.therecord.com/article/698555)

“We should make Earth Day a daily routine

April 19, 2010
By Jason Hammond

Here we are again, getting ready to celebrate Earth Day on Thursday as well as Earth Week. A few short weeks ago, we enjoyed another successful Earth Hour. In this time of focus on environmental challenges, perhaps we can take a moment to express heartfelt thanks to the people who are, effectively, celebrating Earth Year. There are those who take action for 52 solid weeks, and it is time more of us joined them. After all, this is one of the times of the year when we are all reminded of our common dependence on the natural systems that make our lives possible. That dependence extends to the results gained by dedicated folks who protect and promote those systems every day.

We are all familiar with the demands that we change our light bulbs, send a full blue box to the curb, and ensure our tires are at the most efficient pressure. Certainly, those of us who have not done so already may find Earth Week a suitable motivation to get started. For many, however, especially in such a green and progressive region as this, some of the events and exhortations seem stuck in the groove of basic action taken long ago. If that perception fits, the time has come for a deeper engagement where an inspired vision of a truly green community can be fulfilled.

By all means, take time to celebrate a healthier, more vibrant, and truly sustainable future. Gain new knowledge, and connect with providers of solutions, as well as fellow travellers on the road (or bike trail) to sustainability. Above all, have fun with it — eat, think and be merry. One great series of local events is the Living Earth Festival. Others include the Procession of the Species, the Bloomin Earth market, litter campaigns and local tree plantings.

After a wonderful week of engagement, we must not simply look forward to next year and another set of activities. In the weeks and months that follow, it is our responsibility to extend and deepen our excitement by remaining involved. For some, it is enough of a challenge to keep an eye on the amount of meat in our meals, the distance we travel alone in a car, or whether our thermostat can be set a degree higher in the summer heat. In this community, though, so many have taken these steps years ago.

If you are longing for a way to do more, you are not alone. Once we have each addressed the basic improvements in our own lives, there is a simple choice. We simply maintain our achievements, or reach out to contribute the most valuable thing of all: our time. As the gardens of our neighbourhoods come to life, it is an ideal time to revive our own bright ideas and make things a little more exciting.

There is an endless supply of meaningful work to be done, often constricted resources that can be applied, and an extensive network of worthy organizations ready to receive a new volunteer. Whatever the time available in each of our lives, there is a home for our efforts. Why wonder who will look after the kids when they can come along to help? Why worry about how work doesn’t leave much room in the day when a team to green the workplace can be joined, or started?

If we are seeking the single most powerful action to take for Earth Week, it may be to simply refuse to leave the ongoing efforts to the current group of dedicated activists.

That is the real power of Earth Day: to make it one of many.

Jason Hammond of Kitchener is the president of Grand River CarShare.”

Garden Party a success

Enjoying a beautiful day on the patio


Thanks to the group of volunteers that came out to the Garden Party on Sunday. It was beautiful weather, and we had standing room only beyond the patio. Thanks also to those volunteers who had a busy elsewhere, but sent best wishes and affirmed their commitment to help out over the next few weeks of the campaign.

Discussing municipal issues and our platform


We had a chance to review the platform with new volunteers, discuss the issues that matter in the variety of neighbourhoods represented by the group, and (of course) enjoy some harvest from the garden! I deeply appreciate the input that each of you have passed on from your friends, colleagues, neighbours, and personal experience, and I know we have a platform we can all stand proudly behind. Let’s harness our ambitions for the Region and continue to work hard and have fun over the next five weeks to Election Day.

You’re Invited: Garden Party

The Jason Hammond Campaign will be having a Garden Party & BBQ this Sunday afternoon, to celebrate current and incoming volunteers. If you would like to support the campaign in any way (requesting a lawn sign, spreading the word, etc.), learn more about our priorities for the Region, and register to spend some of your time over the next few weeks as a campaign volunteer, you are welcome to join us!

Where: Backyard of 118 Strange Street (between Victoria and Dominion, one block west of Park St.)
When: 2:00 to 5:00 p.m., this Sunday, September 19th
Who: Regional Councillor Candidate Jason Hammond, members of the campaign team, and YOU (and anyone you think might be interested in volunteering)
Why: To introduce the campaign to new (or potential) volunteers, and help them get to know the rest of the team

So, pass on this invitation to those who may be interested in Jason’s campaign and considering spending some volunteer time with us over the next month. Speak about it with your friends, family, neighbours, and colleagues. We’ll see you there!

RSVP’s are not required, but very much appreciated to help with planning the event. Please email electjasonhammond@gmail.com if you are able to RSVP. Either way, we look forward to seeing you.

YKF? Why not?

The Region of Waterloo International Airport (YKF) has the released the results of their online new destination twitter contest. As you can see, Halifax is a top choice, which was a safe bet all along.

The ability of local travelers (and the tourists we attract) to fly directly in and out of the region is very attractive, and helps to boost our economic vitality. Service levels are increasing, with Bearskin growing again from four to five daily trips to Ottawa (having launched the route with three just a few short years ago). WestJet is also flying new seasonal service to Vancouver, but you’ll remember that the “seasonal” service to Calgary was eventually made a permanent fixture given early adoption and passenger volume.

There is a serious environmental challenge to deal with, as well as the impact of noise on nearby properties. Flight has a bad wrap for emissions, and is often unaccounted for in international negotiations on climate. I hope that with the new Aviation Program at the University of Waterloo, our community could become a focal point for research into improving the environmental performance of flight, and keep the world connected without doing damage to our atmosphere.

However, until rail service is improved (you can trust there will be future blog posts here promoting high speed rail), we can expect passengers to choose flight, especially for distances beyond the Windsor-Quebec Corridor. That being said, if you’ve never taken the train to Vancouver, or Halifax, I can heartily recommend both adventures!

If the choice is flight, we can at least eliminate the trip to Toronto for trips served at our local airport. To better support the Region’s investment in this facility (including the new Combined Airport / Fleet Maintenance and Firehall Services Facility), we need to begin serving the airport with Grand River Transit.

Such service could also link Breslau to Kitchener and Cambridge via Victoria Street and Fountain Street, with possible connections through to Conestoga College. Not only would this serve both flight passengers and airport employees, but the route would represent a continuation of the commitment to connect our Townships (begun with the current service to St. Jacobs and Elmira).

Our airport is a critical element of both our economic health and our transportation infrastructure. Let’s help it to succeed, and do what is needed for all our major services: demand the best performance, while delivering the resources that make excellence possible.

Eating our way out of sprawl

The Fertile Ground team
This is Andrew and Angie, just two of my farmers; and it’s good to know your farmers.
Perhaps the most powerful focus for the local consumption movement is what we really do consume: our food. Many of us are familiar with various arguments in favour of local food. It can taste better and be more nutritious. There are three other primary benefits that I’d like to highlight today. My vision is that we can develop strong relationships between farmers and eaters and create a Waterloo Region where four townships feed three cities. Tasty, tasty policy.

Local food is a sustainable transportation choice, just as much as carpooling to work, or cycling to a friend’s place on a weekend afternoon. Did you know that our very own Regional staff at Public Health have done important research into food miles? Kudos to Marc Xuereb, also a founding member of Grand River CarShare! Food represents an enormous portion of the world’s “stuff” that we burn through every day. However, much of this resource use is unnecessary when we eat local organic foods.
When we grow certain crops for bulk markets far away, on land that is less than ideally suited, it requires chemical support. Monocultures are also a pest’s dream (they have an endless supply of their favourite victim plant, with no pesky interruptions). There’s also the packaging, the extra water for irrigation, and so on. All of this must be shipped and pumped. Then, the product itself is shipped through the whole value chain, processed, packed, distributed, retailed… and then it finally comes home to your table. The 100 Mile Diet was Waterloo Region’s “One Book, One Community” selection in 2008, so I’ll presume that I can move on.

The second important factor is that this represents an enormous opportunity for more local green jobs. Waterloo Region Record reporter Terry Pender recently noted that some local farmers are already converting their land to locally destined produce, to support our growing urban farmers’ markets.
When we keep our diet local, we will also keep our food budget local. This means more stable and lasting income for our local farm families, giving them a brighter future and a deeper connection to each of their urban neighbours across the region. Perhaps the best way to provide real resilience for our farmers, and share what Angie calls the “inherent risk of farming,” is Community Shared Agriculture (CSA). There are many CSA operations locally (Fertile Ground, reroot, Transpire Organic, Garden Party, etc.), where you pay the farmer at the start of the season, and enjoy your share of the bounty.
Picking up local veggies by bike.
So, here’s the big deal that is discussed most rarely. I am a firm believer that Community Supported Agriculture can finally put a halt to our sprawling ways. By eating locally, we begin to truly value and respect the farms that surround us. That’s not a subdivision waiting to happen; that’s dinner. Working in partnership with programs to inspire developers to invest in existing urban spaces (light rail transit, brownfield incentives), and restrict them (strict countryside line for planning regulations), the ultimate backstop for sprawl prevention is thousands of local food eaters declaring their support for our farmers. This also addresses the need of farmers to retire securely, knowing that their land is more valuable growing three square meals, not three car garages.

Registration, please…

I’d like to share a personal memory about the need for registration of guns (below), but first…

Over the last few weeks, we have seen the latest round of debate over the gun registry develop and diversify.  There are upcoming votes of various sorts (on Parliament Hill, of course, plus one at the Region).  In a follow up to tonight’s Waterloo City Council proceedings, Jeff Outhit’s online Record article states:

“The issue is not under the purview of this council,” Coun. Mark Whaley said in an interview. “It’s a federal matter.”

…and Jeff wraps up with this:

Council took no action after hearing delegates express their views.

Is is just me, or does “Council took no action” hardly seem like success?  The message needs to be clear.  One person who deserves kudos for a clear and articulate message is Police Chief Torigian himself, with a great op-ed piece on September 4th.  He does readers a service by shedding light on the need to get past partisanship and provide officers with the resources they need to save lives.

For a nice overview of some of the noteworthy political mechanics around the issue, check out Geoffrey Stevens’ piece from this past weekend.

So, a few years ago, I had just spent a few weeks in a new apartment when there was a knock on my door.  I opened it to find my property manager and a police officer advising me that there was “a situation in the street” and that I should remain in my apartment.  Sure enough, I heard officers closing the street to pedestrians.  Later that evening, I watched coverage of the event on CKCO (always odd to see your own street on the news).

According to the news report, police had been responding to a call when they were able to determine that registered guns were present in the household, and they decided to play it safe.  This information allowed them to protect the lives of many neighbours until things were resolved well over an hour later.  People in the area were able to be informed and removed from potential harm, including the elementary school students in class nearby.

Why on Earth would we take a program that cost so much (yes, perhaps too much) to initiate, and which provides the potential to save so many lives, and throw it all away?

Some highlights from a package assembled by Andrew Telegdi for his delegation to Waterloo Region Council on the matter, set for Wednesday September 15th at 7:00 p.m. in the Council Chamber at 150 Frederick:

  • Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council calls for decisions based on evidence [they shouldn't have to ask]
  • Canadian Association of Police Boards’ open letter to MPs notes concern over “ideological attack” on gun control, and the manipulation of public opinion with falsehoods taken as fact.
  • Representatives of major associations in the health professional community showcase important statistics and facts highlighting the reality of gun deaths in our communities [prescription: know the facts]
  • More stories of prevention and investigative value offered by the registry.
  • Let’s hope that Waterloo Region Council declares support for the gun registry and its role in protecting our neighbours.  Let’s hope that the reason the federal government is using a private member’s bill is because they know it will fail.  Let’s hope it does.  Let’s hope our local MPs put partisanship aside and vote against the bill.

    Pipeline feels like giving up

    I was happy to hear John (@JMacArch) asking this very important question of our local candidates, and James (@KingandOttawa) spreading the word…

    KingandOttawa RT @JMacArch: Are pols along Grand Rvr elected in ’10 deciding on multi-B $ pipeline from L Erie or growth with present resources? #Vote WR

    This is a fundamental issue, and represents another opportunity for our local policy to evolve.  Here are some of my thoughts on the proposed pipeline to Lake Erie, and why it concerns me:

    • our perceived water scarcity in this region has developed a cluster of researchers and experts on the subject and technologies of water conservation and efficiency.  As the whole world faces greater challenges posed on water supplies by our changing climate, we can combine our local expertise and entrepreneurial inspiration to provide the support they need.  These are just some of our current and future local green jobs.
    • we have a tremendous amount of wasted water in our daily lives, at our workplaces, and through the delivery system itself.  In addressing these losses, we can find new supply within our current and projected capacity.
    • the cost of the project was projected by the Region at $500 Million over a decade ago, and as John notes it could easily climb so much higher.  What else can we do with those hard earned tax dollars?  How much are we willing to spend to avoid local improvements in favour of a far-flung gamble?
    • we’re not getting off the hook that easily regarding the protection of our local sources on the surface and below.  Let’s improve our land use planning to secure the water that’s right here, where we need it, and where it brings our wild spaces to life.
    • check out the comments that GREN (Grand River Environmental Network) made in this Record article by Greg Mercer for this year’s Earth Day.
    • we are most definitely speaking of a pipeline to Erie, not Huron (as many folks may recall was an original option).  The laws that govern our Great Lakes prevent the mass movement of water between the lakes’ watersheds, and Nature provides free of charge a proven way to return water to Erie (the Grand).
    • it’s all summed up rather well (harhar, no pun intended) by the University of Waterloo’s Rob de Loë, as quoted in this Imprint Article last year:

    Rob de Loë, professor and research chair in water policy and governance at the University of Waterloo feels that the issue of a pipeline becomes a philosophical question concerning whether or not we respect natural limits. “The pipeline suggests that we are not prepared to change our existing ways of water use,” he said. “I don’t feel that it is necessary right now. Just because we can take water from Lake Erie doesn’t mean we should.”

    The Region must act accordingly to create adequate policies for both water conservation and land use planning. “We can go further” said de Loë. “We need to make efficient use of existing supplies before we entertain an alternative supply.”

    The current Canadian average for water use is 329 litres of water per person, per day. “This number is very high and speaks to our attitudes as Canadians — that we maintain an endless water supply,” said de Loë.

    So, let’s challenge each other to be wise with our water, and apply such incredible sums of tax dollars to projects that move us forward into a more sustainable and resilient future, instead of sliding backwards into old ways of planning that no longer serve us well.

    Worth Repeating: End of the Oil Age

    Here is another look at my contribution to the Waterloo Region Record’s Community Editorial Board, printed February 22nd:

    (news.therecord.com/article/673100)

    “End of the oil age is clearly on the horizon

    February 22, 2010

    Jason Hammond

    Transportation makes up an enormous portion of both our household expenses and our collective carbon footprint. The way we navigate our way across Waterloo Region today is so comically inefficient it has to be considered the low hanging fruit as we struggle with the dual economic and climate crises.

    We all remember the gas price increases that made news before the recession set in 18 months ago. Data from MJ Ervin & Associates, a London-based consulting firm that tracks gas prices, provide a wealth of information about what Ontarians have paid for a litre of regular unleaded fuel. From 2001 to 2008, prices increased an average of 7.5 per cent each year. The basic reason is simple: global demand is through the roof. Of course, as demand crashed in the recession, so went the price.

    If we look forward to a strong economic recovery, we can also look forward to returning to that path of high fuel prices. By 2014, with business as usual, we would be paying $1.70 per litre. Considering that the global supply of oil is peaking, prices could rapidly go much higher. For our climate stability and air quality, the true cost is disastrous.

    As Thomas Friedman pointed out in the New York Times a few years ago, Saudi oil minister Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani had a habit of noting that the stone age did not end because we ran out of stone. Likewise, Friedman adds, the oil age will not end because we run out of oil. It is clear that we are already in the transition to cheaper, greener alternatives. The best route to success for our local economy today is to navigate this major shift in an exemplary fashion, and as early as we can muster.

    Waterloo Region is positioned to move beyond total dependence on such increasingly expensive fossil fuel energy, but there is a long way to go. A report by the University of Waterloo and the Region of Waterloo states that more than 80 per cent of area commuters drive to work alone. That leaves plenty of room for improvement.

    There are a number of helpful and necessary infrastructure improvements on the way. In the next few years, we can expect more intercity train service, and a major shuffle of local Grand River Transit bus service as a rapid transit spine redefines our transit experience. However, not all shifts take years, massive investment, or new technology. All too often, the necessary shift is one of political will and reform of our collective habits.

    Whether we are concerned about transit service frequency, access to cycling trails and lanes, a vibrant and welcoming pedestrian environment, or any other sustainable transportation solution, there is a universally effective response. We must heartily use what we already have. Even once a week at first, we can take the time for an evening walk through the neighbourhood, a transit ride to work, or planning a meal with local, organic, and seasonal food. Only by voting with our feet can we prove both the need and the benefits to our neighbours and elected officials.

    More than that, we can all take the opportunity to add our own morsel of change to the menu. As our lives become healthier, less expensive, and less impactful on the natural systems that sustain us, we owe it to our community to share our secrets of success with our family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, and decision makers. Together, we can respond to the end of cheap energy with the end of our total dependence on it.

    Jason Hammond is the president of Grand River CarShare.”