Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

This Metro Transit launched an ad campaign aimed at increasing ridership.  The campaign entitled “Do it on the bus” is a cheeky double entendre, however in looking at the website I find it dissapointing.   You can see the site here

While I appreciate the fact that Metro Transit is launching this campaign to beef up ridership, I don’t buy into this campaign.   I feel that the campaign while cheeky, has little substance and I am not confident it will increase ridership.  The transit strike did of course affect transit use, coupled with decreased revenue and rising costs—it is a tough spot.  Furthermore, the cost of this ad campaign could reinstate the Alderney ferry service to pre-budget cut levels of 2012.  Cheeky ad campaigns, which lack substance, are not going to change behaviour, and in this case increase ridership.  During the election campaign there was much discussion about how to improve transit, and they were some great ideas.  Now is the time that our local government and we as citizens should be tapping into and exploring some of those ideas. However, across the municipality people are unhappy with the current transit models being used.  If the management of Metro Transit and HRM council feel that this is the best way to address the issues, then they are missing the boat.

There are issues with the Go Time service, route efficiency, employee morale and how the public perceives Metro Transit.   It is a double edge sword where public demand and economies of scale are working in tandem and causing problems for Metro Transit.   While for some people in HRM, Metro Transit may very well meet your commuting needs, but there are many I feel that this is not the case.  I know of many people who are frustrated by the frequencies of buses, the routes and lack of a truly integrated system.

For example let’s look at the new bridge terminal, yes it is shiny, bright and beautiful and we did need a large terminal in the network.  Though, just down the hill at Alderney are ferry and the potential for rail connections: a transit hub you say?  No, not in HRM: this example is but one of many that I feel undermines the confidence residents have in our public transit system.    Having a hub system that is properly integrated between bus, ferry, active transportation and one day rail would go a long way in address concerns and improving mobility for all residents across HRM.    There are three parts that I feel are contributing to our public transit woes: city hall, city infrastructure and human nature.

First, city hall since amalgamation there has been a well known divide between urban, suburban and rural councillors.   This divide is playing into how as a municipality we value public transit.   You have urban and some suburban councillors calling for better transit while rural councillors say not on my watch.  This divide was highlighted last year in the debate to cut back Alderney ferry or not.  There were councillors saying thing such as ‘I’ll cut the ferry because you cut my bus’.   The reality is that even with all the supposed focus on greener transportation, HRM is still from a policy perspective a very car centric place.    It is not merely that regional council must be looking at transportation through a different lens, so must the bureaucrats behind them.

Our city infrastructure plays a lovely piece in the perfect storm that caps transit at the knees.  Look around HRM, and consider how our roads are laid out.  All Across HRM we lack a grid structure, either because of geography or poor planning; couple that with narrow roads in the urban core and providing efficient transit is a challenge and an exercise in patience.   Metro transit made a good move last year in the introduction of a corridor on Portland Street, to increase frequencies of runs and modify the routing.   This is a good move because it takes into consideration of the limitations of geography and municipal infrastructure.  Having separate transit ways, like in other centres, is not a viable solution for Halifax but having corridors and transit hubs I believe is.

Lastly, we should address human behaviour and how that impacts use/non-use of transit.  As humans, we are wired to take the means that provides the least resistance.  If we are en route to a destination and there are two options: one takes say 15 minutes and one takes 1.5 hours—we will take the option that only takes 15 minutes.    All across the city, there are examples that trips on transit simply take too long.  For example if you are in Clayton Park and you need to get to Burnside, you better get comfy it would be roughly an hour and that is without traffic issues.  When I attended culinary school at NSCC Akerley, what was a 15 minute car ride took 1-1.5 hours on the bus.   So, because the city is truly built for cars and to move cars around quickly that is what a lot of people do.

So, to truly improve transit, I feel we need to do the following:

  • Stopping viewing public transit as a burden to municipal coffers and starting viewing it as an asset
  • Use our natural harbour to a greater extent to help move people in our public transit model
  • Develop a stronger hub system, and expanded the corridor model that was introduced last year on Portland St
  • Management and council actually need to sit down with transit users and transit drivers to talk about what will make the system better from their perspective.
  • Don’t spend money on ad campaigns, when they could be better directed to improving actual service.
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The last two weeks have been active in our HRM political arena, and in some decisions not for the best.

                                                                                                                                             Solid Waste Issues

Well we have been touted as national and even international leaders in waste diversion…the wheels are coming off the truck.  The report was completed by Stanec and sights cost concerns and service delivery issues.  Presently, the municipality is seeking input from citizens on the Stanec report.   Additionally, in a motion by the Environmental and Sustainability committee, there is a request to the province to allow HRM to collect the 5 cent bottle deposit and reduce the deposit from 10 cents to just 5 cents.   This revenue would go into general HRM coffers, and while on the surface is sounds good—I do not support this motion.

The impact this would have across our municipality to people at or below the poverty level is huge.  Consider people who collect these refundable in your neighbourhood to help supplement their weekly budgets.   Equally important are all the people that enviro-depots now employ, some of these individuals have barriers to employment and programs such as Youth Live help citizens across HRM obtain entry-level employment.   Government should be about making things better for all by providing the framework to do just that, added municipal revenue should not be on the back of the poor.

                                                                                                                                                                                     Crime Mapping

On February 14, the day of love, admit some fanfare Deputy Police Chief Moore debuted HRP’s crime mapping site.  While I believe that information is power, and have concrete factual evidence can help to debunk myths running around our city.  However, alleged comments by Moore about how sexual assaults, between intimate partners are not included on this site, because people are not interested in that is ridiculous.  The max number of days of data is seven days, and you can select which crimes you would like info on.  Furthermore, the potential to marginalize areas is real, and well I overall applaud this project—I hope it will do more good than harm. I do feel overall that our force is doing a good job, and crime stats are down.  However, the HRP needs to continue and build on the community engagement/liaison model.  You can see the crime mapping site here.

Transportation

Winter has been hard on our roads in Dartmouth and across much of the region, daily I observe potholes—some that are true hazards.  As council continues to drag their heels on an improved public transit system, roads will only become worse—more use will result in more wear.  The failure to reinstate full harbour ferry service at Alderney is short-sighted and is sending the wrong message about the value of mass transit.   We are fortunate to have a beautiful harbour, and we must use it as a crucial component of our mass transit system.   Having an integrated land and marine mass transit system in Halifax is the right choice.  It is time council and the bureaucrats at Metro Transit listen to citizens and make a transit system that we so long for.   The Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission has an online petition to bring back late ferry service, see it here

Metro transit is also starting the process for a new 5 year plan.  There will be public consultations, however if they are like other public consultations in HRM… I’m not sure of the value it will hold.   This year’s installment of new buses is almost approved; HRM will purchase 22 new buses to replace aging vehicles, at the cost of $406,422 each.  Finally, public consultations were held last Wednesday about intersection reconfiguration at Rainne/Cogswell and Agricola/Cunard by switching them to roundabouts.  The current configuration of these intersections is at the best of times scary for all who cross them.  I do feel there is merit in this proposal; however my reservation lies in how the changes will impact pedestrians.  The installation of roundabouts must be mindful of the fact these two intersections are heavy in pedestrian traffic as well as vehicular. You can learn more about the project here.

BJV

 

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Six years ago in Vancouver, British Columbia, an innovative volunteer began a trend that is now operating in twenty North American cities and counting.   Termed “Land Share”, “Sharing Backyards” or “Urban Garden Share” is a way for people in urban centres to garden and share.  It is a simple yet wonderful concept, not everyone has the ability or time to garden.  Though, there are some with a green thumb but no space to put it into practice. Bringing these two parties together, creates a garden space and an end of season harvest for two families!

Through programs like Sharing Backyards ; people who have the land but no time or ability to garden can share their land with individuals who are green thumbs.  At the end of the season, both parties split the harvest equally.   It is an amazing grass roots approach to local food sourcing!  Also, it is teaching both parties involved about community, teamwork and the true cost of food.   The price of produce seem in the large grocery chains does usually not reflect the true cost of production.  That is to say to include the labour, time, and materials used to grow said produce.

Equally beneficially, are the positive environmental impacts.  Firstly, growing your own food helps to reduce your carbon footprint.  It eliminates the need to consume resources for food transportation.  Secondly, gardening is good for the local environment.  It aids in protecting and increasing the local biodiversity and aids to support the communal ecosystem.  Through techniques such as companion planting, one can reduce the need for harmful herbicides and insecticides while supporting a healthy insect population in the garden.

Sharing land and resources will also help to create new notions of community or strengthen old ones.  Historically, neighbours have been there to support one another.  This program brings back an old custom, that in the last fifty years has slowly been dying.  Bringing people together through food, whether in production or feast has always made us closer.  It allows us to see what makes all of us similar, celebrate differences, celebrate nature and the bounty from earth that our hard work yields.   Most important, it breaks down barriers around race, status in life, family situations, economic status and knowledge.

Urban gardening is a must as we move further into the 21st century.  It will help to foster a strong, local secure food source.  It will allow us to act in an environmentally sustainable manner, growing and consuming in season.  Reducing demands on resources for food production and transportation.   Finally it will bring our families and communities closer: making life better for everyone!

Ecology Action Centre: http://www.ecologyaction.ca/content/food

Sharing Backyards: http://www.sharingbackyards.com/

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Councillor Dawn Sloane, recently sparked a debate in regards to exploring the possibility of banning plastic bags in HRM. This is an interesting issue, and it raises many questions.   Firstly, there are many other cities that have banned plastic bags: Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon, Toronto, Alberta’s Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to name a few.

Other cities who have banned plastic bags are listed in this article: http://people.howstuffworks.com/how-many-cities-have-a-ban-on-plastic-bags.htm

Plastic bags are made from polyethylene, and can last in the environment for hundreds of years.  They fit nicely into our current consumer and consumption based society.  Currently, in HRM Pete’s Frootique charges 5 cents/bag and Quinpool Road Superstore is bag-less.  However, most people have countless cloth re-usable bags, and speaking from personal experience charging 5 cents/bag is truly not a deterrent to using plastic bags.  In Ireland for example, they began charging 15 cents/bag in 2002. Within five months, a 90% reduction in plastic bag use was recorded. Additionally, the money raised from the bag levy is used to fund environmental projects. While, I feel a bag tax may in the short-term address use however it is in my opinion a band-aid solution.  I agree with Lezile Lowe in that we need a cultural shift to consume less, and reduce the need to recycle these plastic bags.

I think we need to take it further and develop some long-term vision on environment at the municipal level. We need to systematically shift our perception of the relationship we share between humanity and the Earth.   There are strong collectives in HRM raising the alarm such as Our HRM Alliance.  We as a municipality need to seriously look at striking plans to invest in renewable energy, improved public transit/active transportation systems, water protection, urban farming, coastal protection.   Additionally, as noted by Our HRM Alliance I second their desire to have a master plan for Halifax Harbour. We want to move forward and be sustainable: we need to focus more of healthy communities in the sense of humans, flora and fauna.  In developing  HRM environment  policy we can evaluate past successful practice in other jurisdictions, which will save time and money as we would not have to re-invent the proverbial wheel.

We need strong encouragement and policy in HRM to foster smart, development that is sustainable on the social, environment and economic areas.

Referencing Articles:

http://www.openfile.ca/halifax/story/explainer-plastic-bag-ban-scare-2012

http://www.thechronicleherald.ca/opinion/107427-lowe-let-s-try-a-250-plastic-bag-tax

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2205419.stm

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