Category Archives: cars

The TransLink Plebiscite for Vancouver

Greater Vancouver, transit plebiscite, rapid transit

We all want better SkyTrain service where it doesn’t break down, people aren’t mugged and it runs as late as the clubs, but at what price. From the http://mayorscouncil.ca/vancouver/ site.

Greater Vancouver is undergoing a plebiscite or referendum (it’s being called both) about whether to increase our provincial sales tax by .5% to cover upgrades to transit infrastructure. It’s becoming quite a fight because TransLink, the arms length governing body (so you can point fingers directly at the provincial government), has had an extremely bad history of providing good and competent governance and spending.

TransLink talked about the Evergreen line (rapid transit trains), scheduled to go east toCoquitlam and environs for twenty-some years. It’s been nicknamed the Nevergreen line. There were plans and then there weren’t plans. They had no money, they did have money. The reasoning changed back and forth. There have been other indications of incompetence which arrived with the firing of the CEO this year and appointing a new one. But now instead of paying for one, they’re keeping the old one on shuffling papers because I’m sure he received an overpriced severance package. How much is the new one working for: $35,000 per month.

The fight for the increase has the “yes” side saying it’s not about TransLink, it’s about making our tansportation better. And while this is correct, TransLInk is still at the help. Let me put it to you like this: If you gave me $100,000 to build you a house and I did but it was a year late, had shoddy workmanship, the windows kept falling out and the sidewalk I promised was still in the works, would you agree to increase the money to me because I promised that the next house would be better?

traffic, transit, TransLink, tansportation

Yes or no for the increases provincial sales tax. From @Doug88888 flickr

You can guess by this that I’m voting an adamant no for the referendum. Here are just some of the points to consider:

  • What does Prince George, or Penticton or Victoria get for an increased tax besides paying more for Greater Vancouver? Do they even get to vote? I doubt it. Or are we talking about a higher provincial sales tax for only some of the people? That sets a precedent for all sorts of regional taxes.
  • Once a tax, always a tax. No indication of how long this would last. We already have a 7% tax.
  • The Compass debacle-a year past the implementation date and the system is still not functional. There seems to be no end date in sight for it coming online.
  • Everyone who parks in a parkade or at a parking meter in BC pays a nearly 22% tax on parking. They call it the PST but it doesn’t stand for provincial sales tax. They sneaked in the change as parking sales tax without announcing it–where is this money going?
  • “Better roads, more buses, and more transit options will reduce commute times, lower pollution, and boost our economy – all for less than 35 cents a day.” Since it’s going on a sales tax, how is this figure even derived?
  • Past history shows that TransLink promised merchants on the Cambie corridor that they wouldn’t be inconvenienced
    TransLink, transit referendum, sales tax, increased PST, skytrain

    This fat cat makes more than the prime minister of Canada. From the notranslinktax.ca site.

    for long, definitely not more than a year. Merchants lost business over three years and some ceased to exist or moved.

  • Overpriced CEOs. New one gets $420K a year. (More than our prime minister)
  • Vancouver pays the highest prices for gasoline in the country with 48% tax. Where is this money going?

Here is a short history of BC provincial tax rates (from http://www.daveobee.com/victoria/20080224.htm)

July 1 1948 — 3%
April 1 1954 — 5%
March 27 1976 — 7%
April 11 1978 — 5%
April 3 1979 — 4%
March 10 1981 — 6%
July 8 1983 — 7%
March 20 1987 — 6%
March 31 1993 — 7%
February 20 2002 — 7.5%
October 21 2004 — 7%

I’m finding it hard to agree to a tax increase when TransLink is already reaping certain benefits. Another clincher for me is that I looked up fare rates for other large cities and compared them to Vancouver’s. In fact, I believe, geographically Calgary and Toronto are bigger. So if TransLink charges more for transit fares, and we have the highest gas tax, and there’s an exorbitant parking tax, where is all this money going? Click on fares to seem my comparison chart.

And for you to make your own informed decision you can check out the NO side and the YES side. I’m not against improved transit: I am against wasting my money and asking me for more.

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BC Hydro Screws You and Trees

car insurance, accidents, BC Hydro, tree trimming, Asplundh, responsibility,

My car is the far right one, just before the mulcher mangles it but that doesn’t mean anything happened except passing the buck.

I’m sure this will be of interest only to a select few, but it’s a tale with a lesson in futility, passing the buck, negligence and damage. In BC our electricity is handled by a company called BC Hydro, which once was provincially owned but now it’s not clear how much of it is privatized. They maintain the power grid, which includes checking power lines that lines ever street in their own unsightly web.

One day last August, I came out of my place to find these guys mulching tree branches that they cut down from the trees encroaching on the lines. BC Hydro has all sorts of information, including this blurb:

Tree control pruning

BC Hydro regularly prunes trees that might grow into power lines. These trees are generally pruned on an established cycle. The specifications call for pruning practices that will not only provide for safety clearances, but are also the best for the trees.

Studies in arboriculture (the care of trees) have shown that certain forms of pruning are much less damaging to the health of the tree than others. BC Hydro has adopted a standard that calls for “natural target” pruning, which may initially remove more of the tree canopy than some other methods and may appear excessive, but contributes to the health of the tree in the long run and prevents severe cutting.

Well, I had to squeeze past the mulching machine, that was along side my car, to actually drive to work. When I parked and got out of my car I noticed (because I’d spent 5 hours washing my car the week before) that my bumper had been scraped and banged into, which cracked the paint. I was mad but knew it would be hard to prove. I also have other nicks and scratches on other parts of my bumper because if you try to claim it you get to pay something like a $200 deductible and your insurance could go up for all those dings.

So when I get home and I’m talking to my two neighbors we look up at the trees and notice the butchering. In some cases they didn’t cut the limbs away from the wires and in others, they chopped the tree so badly that as it continues to grow it will be more weighted on one side causing the branch to break or the tree to topple. Wow. The above statement (which takes some hunting on their site) seems to be an ideal they do not strive for.

I called up to complain about the tree mangling, unsightly at best, and also mentioned them banging into my car. BC Hydro tells me to file a complaint and an insurance claim with my car insurance. I was skeptical at best and already noticed the buck passing but I decided to do this as an experiment. I  have two car insurances; one half is private with Family Insurance. The other is mandatory through the provincially run ICBC.

Date of Accident: July, 2011 (it’s been so long I can’t rightly remember). Complaint filed with BC Hydro: Aug. 17, 2011. Letter from BC Hydro that they send to my landlady instead of to me: Sept. 27, 2011. In that letter BC Hydro says: oh no, it wasn’t us. It was our contractor Asplundh Tree Experts Co. Experts? I could do better with no knowledge of arboriculture. So BC Hydro can now weasel out of any responsibility. I call Asplundh. ICBC tells me it’s the Family Insurance side so I enter a long convoluted dialogue with a cynical man who queries, as devils advocate he says, as to how I could prove that they did the damage. I say, I know I can’t but I know it was them and that I was told to do this by BC Hydro.

We go back and forth, forth and back. Then Asplundh contacts him, after I tried calling them three times but to no reply. Asplundh wants photos of my car, which I take, as well as having a picture of the day that the mulcher mashed my car.  I send the cynical insurance guy the information. I email to see that he has received them. I email again and again and again. I get busy and forget about it, then email again.

car, car insurance, damaged car, Asplundh, BC Hydro, responsibility, mulching

Well, it could be worse, right? At least they didn’t drop a tree on my car. Creative Commons:Jason Edward Scott Bain, flickr

My prediction at the beginning was that no one will admit to anything and in the end my bumper will look the same because I can’t afford to pay the deductible every time. Eventually, I get an email from a different insurance adjuster with the blather that nothing can be done or proven. It seems maybe the previous adjuster quit. I’d bet money that my insurance company didn’t really even try to support me. I’ll bet anything that Asplundh just ignored them.

So what have I learned?

  • BC Hydro gets out of responsibility by subcontracting and not checking their contractors’ work.
  • Asplundh doesn’t give a rat’s fart how well they do anything nor hold their workers to any culpability.
  • Family Insurance isn’t there to support the insured, even in giving information. This also means they’ll be losing my business come time to renew my car insurance.
  • The next time I see any city workers in any form on my street I’m going to stop and take pictures of my car, of them and of their vehicles.

Thankfully, I looked at this as an experiment and didn’t expect a resolution. Too bad we’re running on such a lack of honor.

There, I feel better now.

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Writing Update

It’s time for another writing update. Recently published pieces include “It’s Only Words” in the British Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies, and the poem “Shadow Realms” in Witches & Pagans #23. The Aurora Awards voting is now open to Canadians. This is for Canadian speculative fiction, published anywhere in 2010. My poem “Of the Corn: Kore‘s Innocence” is nominated for the Aurora Award in poetry. If you want to see a list of the nominees and vote, you can do so here. Cost is $5.50 to vote unless you are attending the convention where the awards will be presented this fall. Voting is open until Oct. 15.

“A Book By Its Cover” is in the Mirror Shards anthology, which is now available online and will be out in print very soon.”Tasty Morsels” in Polluto #8 should soon be making its way to me from the other side of the pond in England. This story blends parts of Little Red Riding Hood with aspects of the goddess Diana. And the poem “Obsessions: or Biting Off More Than You Can Chew” should soon be out in the gothic anthology Candle in the Attic Window from Innsmouth Free Press. I have another poem, “Leda’s Lament” coming out in Bull Spec but I’m not sure when.

I also just received word that “Gingerbread People” will be in Chilling Tales 2, edited by Michael Kelly, and published by Edge Publishing sometime next year. This tale was hard to place because it uses the motif of Hansel and Gretel but is a dark tale of incest, drugs, abuse and murder. I wrote it based on infamous sociopath killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. My premise was, what is the nature of true evil and which is worse: the person who commits the crime or the person who convinces them to do it?

And in little over a week I’ll be traveling to Europe. I hope to do some work on my writing while I’m there. I will also be going to British Fantasycon so soon the posts here will change to travel and observations along the way. Before then I have one story to rewrite and send out.

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Filed under cars, crime, Culture, entertainment, fantasy, horror, news, poetry, Publishing, science fiction, Writing

How to End Your Life

pedestrians, car accidents, walking safely, traffic, safety

Creative Commons: by Shuets Udono, Flickr

I’m sure I could write an unending series of stupid things people do that could or have cut their lives short. But perhaps the most common that all of us might do is the act of being a pedestrian. Walking isn’t really an art since we’ve done it from the time we gave up crawling (except for those who get too drunk). Walking is however something that takes attention.

If you walk unconsciously, you’re bound to run into trouble. I know someone who was walking and talking with friends, looking sideways, and ran into a pole and smashed her nose. Then we have the infamous jaywalker. In North America, in most places, this is illegal and for a good reason too. It’s not just that you’re taking a chance with your life because you’re too lazy to walk to a corner, but you also disrupt the flow of traffic and could cause a car accident with another car or with you. Is it really worth shaving a few seconds off of your trip? Not to mention, the more walking, the better you keep in shape.

I am both a driver and a walker. I walk where I can and don’t take my car if I’m going ten or twenty blocks (on most days). When I’m a driver, I respect pedestrian rights. When I’m a pedestrian I respect car driver rights. Too many people feel entitled, but last I looked  no one owns the world. Although pedestrians have the right of way in British Columbia (and many other places) this does not mean they have the right of way in the middle of the street or against lights. At intersections and corners, yes they do but there are still rules. You can’t step right in front of a car and expect them to stop. You would become road pizza.

However, in Vancouver I’ve noticed that if you are standing at a corner, most cars will never ever stop for you. I step off of the curb but not in front of the car, and make eye contact. I kinda like my life. When I start walking I have the right of way but even when I hit the lane going in the other direction, I stop first and look, making sure cars are slowing down and stopping. I’ve had people try to run me over halfway through a crosswalk.

The best way to end your life is to cross against a light, or run across the street because you just have to catch that bus or get that coffee. In the dark or in Vancouver’s notorious rains, people aren’t always that visible. All cars have blind spots and if you run out suddenly, even at a corner, the driver who is turning might not see you. This happened to me once, in the rain, in the dark. All I  saw was a flash of legs and it was so sudden. A few seconds different and that person would have been severely injured.

BC has intersections with blinking green (or yellow) lights on the main street, and stop signs for the side streets. The blinking light means they’re pedestrian controlled and it takes a person pressing the button to have the light turn red. When the light changes, the cars on the side street can get through. When the light turns red the pedestrian is supposed to stop and let the cars go. Red always means stop, even for pedestrians, yet you’ll find people sauntering across without even looking. And crossing anywhere, whether with the light or if you have the right of way, without  looking is a good way to make yourself a smear on the road. Bicyclists and skateboarders (and rollerbladers) who feel that the rules don’t apply to them and think they should go down the middle of the road could find themselves statistics.

Yes, pedestrians often have the right of way, but we’re soft flesh and cars are giant metal monsters with exoskeletons. So if you want to end your life sooner than later, walk against the traffic rules or step out in front of a car without looking, because you want to make them  brake suddenly. The best thing to remember is respect. Riders, drivers and pedestrians have to respect each other and not feel that they’re the entitled ones where the rules don’t apply. Go talk to the bodies in the morgue and see if disobeying those rules helped them.

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Insensitivity to Living Things Hits a New Low

I know that we’ve had little sun in Vancouver this year and that with the last week finally revealing summerlike temperatures, people were awestruck. But I wonder if the following incidents are because people didn’t realize what sun could do or because they’re just exhibiting an ignorance and negligence which is, in fact, criminal.

On July 4th an Alberta mother left her four-month-old baby alone in the car in Kelowna. The exterior temperature was 30 degrees Celsisus (86 Fahrenheit), so the interior would have been even hotter. When the RCMP broke the window to get the baby out the mother returned and proclaimed the baby was okay. Seriously, she may as well have left her baby amongst containers of toxic chemicals as well. In a half hour a car sitting in temperatures of 90 degrees F can reach 124F, hotter than most of us could stand. Babies can’t regulate their temperature.

Another incident yesterday had a mother leaving her three-year-old child unattended and locked in a hot car while she went into a nearby house. The exterior temperature was 25 degrees Celsius. It’s not just that it’s dangerous to leave any living thing in a hot car, it’s also highly irresponsible and against the law to leave a child that young unattended at all.

The third in a week was an RCMP officer leaving his young police dog locked in a car while he went fishing for three hours. Imagine how hot that car would get. And another puppy died because it was left in a car for three hours where the temperatures reached 68 degrees Celsius. That’s four incidences in one week, and one death.

I’d like to say that the RCMP officer should have known better, but really, everyone should. Just as we must have a license to drive or to marry I think it would not be a bad idea to have a license to parent or to own a pet. We’re dealing with lives here. Granted that half of the population has an intelligence below average (okay, it’s a sliding scale with many at the “average” range) but this isn’t intelligence; it’s common sense.

Besides never leaving a living being locked in a hot metal box for more than a few minutes, parents should not be leaving children alone, period. There are a range of dire events that could affect unattended children in homes or cars. Here are just a few:

  • heat exposure
  • cold exposure
  • suffocation
  • kidnapping
  • car being hit or brakes being disengaged
  • fire
  • choking
  • falling

These are not cautionary myths to scare children. These are real, and animals and children die from the negligence. All this while RCMP are still investigating the death of an 18-month-old child left alone in a house while the parents went for a walk at 1:30 am. Their heat had been cut off so they were heating the place by keeping the oven going. Still, the child should not have been left alone. Don’t people understand that the word “parent” means that you’re in charge and the caregiver? If a living being is left in your care you are responsible for its well being. Use your brains and think about the consequences of leaving them alone, or in a hot car, or in a swimming pool.

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I Don’t Hate Bicyclists!

bikes, cars, commuting, traffic, no cars, bicyclists, bike lanes

Creative Commons

Okay, I have to revisit this topic, as my bicycling friends think I’m out to get them. Let me reiterate. Bikes are a good thing. Bicyclists are a good thing. Bike lanes are a good thing. But… there are major transportation issues in Vancouver and I firmly believe the way they’re being handled is not the best answer and is causing antagonism.

Listening to my biking, driving and walking friends, there are several factors at play. Vancouver wants to cut down on people driving to the downtown core. Not a bad thing but as the mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, said, he believes in the dangling-the-carrot approach. Right now, it feels as if Vancouver is punishing anyone who drives. First, we have the highest gas prices in the country. This is partly because of the province’s supposedly green policy, which again punishes drivers, doesn’t tax gas companies and doesn’t offer a cheap and efficient alternative.

Coupled with a downtown core that you can only reach from North and West Vancouver by two bridges (Lions Gate and Iron Workers Memorial), or from the south side of Vancouver by three bridges (Burrard, Cambie, Granville), this adds to a crush for people commuting to work.  From the east  there are several roads and only one pseudo bridge, the Georgia Viaduct. It looks like a bridge and acts like a bridge but other major streets going into Vancouver are Powell, E. Cordova, Hastings and Expo Blvd. via Prior St. (which is also the street that leads to the viaduct).

bike lanes, bicyclists, biking, traffic, commuting, Vancouver, no bikes

Wiki Commons

Now I believe bicyclists have a lane over the Lions Gate Bridge and there is one over the Burrard St. Bridge. These are fine, and Burrard used to have a shared pedestrian/bicyclist sidewalk. I used to walk it and learned that this was the safest thing because bicyclists on the road were very much in danger of being smunched and on the sidewalk they smunched pedestrians. It wasn’t the best solution so making a lane was the better choice and when you have bridges you have to choose one of them. Lions Gate Bridge is closer to downtown and Cambie and Granville have too many feeder routes. There is no “from the west side” to get to downtown Vancouver unless you take a boat. But from the east, the most popular car routes are the viaduct and probably Hastings. Hastings is two way but the viaduct feeds onto a one-way street downtown or a one-way street out of downtown. Unfortunately in this case, the city chose the worst possible street that conflicts greatly with drivers coming in and limiting ways to turn. One or two of the other streets would have worked better.

You can no longer turn right for blocks and blocks. As well, no one knows for sure who has the right of way. There are some signs. Cars yield to bikes coming up on their right side. Big barricades limit delivery vehicles from offloading supplies. If a bicyclist wants to turn left from the right side bike lane, how do they do that, especially with concrete barricades limiting them? I should also say, that the city says 1800 people a day use the bike lanes but the one that goes along the Georgia Viaduct onto Dunsmuir St. doesn’t look that busy. My walking friend who works downtown says he’s never seen more than four people on it at once, nor have I until the other night, out of rush hour, when I saw five. But either way, they could have put this bike lane on a different street where it wouldn’t have inconvenienced drivers and still given bicyclists a free lane.

Now, how do you keep bike lanes and not punish drivers because, yes, there are many drivers as well and many reasons why a person can’t just bike into the city. Let’s not even mention winter weather. Try this. Don’t punish people for living farther out and having to commute into work. Charge the same price, make the bus/train really cheap and more people will take it. Don’t stop the SkyTrain at 12:30 am when clubs are open till 3 am. Don’t blame drivers for all the faults. Do encourage people with better education for cyclists and motorists. Don’t do things like critical mass, which only raises the antagonism level. Do think about the structure of a city ringed by estuaries, rivers and the ocean. Make taking the bus in the downtown core completely free, as Calgary does. Think about dangling the carrot.

I’ll end with that we do need a better solution and if I could afford an electric/hybrid car I would have changed long ago. I also stay as far away from downtown as I possibly can, except when I go to my doctor. I don’t go for drinks, dinner or movies downtown because parking is expensive, roads are blocked and I feel like I’m bad just because I have a car. I’m an environmental advocate but I also can’t afford to buy an $800 bike and I can’t sell my car. So before we blame another group the best solution is to work together, which means listening reasonably to all sides, not believing one way is the only and right way.

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The Grinch is Gassed Up and Ready to Go

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

We all know about how the Grinch stole Christmas, but he eventually had a change of heart, or perhaps even got a heart. But maybe we don’t really know who the Grinch is. Consider that the Grinch had to get around Whoville to steal Christmas and to do so he needed a vehicle. I think the Grinch never advertised it but he began by stealing gas.

And when the Grinch, like Scrooge, turned compassionate and happy, well there was still the essence of Scrooge and the Grinch permeating the atmosphere. They are now called the gas or oil companies. Whether it is Exxon, Chevron, Texaco, Shell, Mohawk, Arco, or a host of others through the US, there is one thing in common: they milk us on gas prices.

Gas prices have risen a lot in the past five-ten years. But every time they spike, we’re told, oh there was a hurricane in Venezuela, or an earthquake in Saudi Arabia, or a broken fingernail in the US. Considering some of our gas comes from the US and Canada and much more from other places, and that it’s stockpiled, it’s interesting how the price will change instantly with any climatic issue, whether it’s expected or not.

Creative Commons

But I’d like to know what climatic catastrophe causes gas prices to go up during Christmas and summer break, on the weekends and during rush hour. I think in the new year I will plot out the shifting prices as the gas companies continue to scrooge us for every penny, every day in every way. An example of the Grinch Gas is prevalent this week as prices went even higher, a week before Christmas. Sunday it was $1.19 a liter. I’m rounding these numbers and for you US people it’s about 3.8 liters to the US gallon (the imperial gallon is slightly bigger) so if you multiply it by four you’ll get an idea of what we’re paying a gallon.

Monday morning, gas actually dropped to $1.17 and by the time I drove home it was $1.19. This morning it is $1.22. I’m sure we’ll see it $1.25 by Christmas so thanks, Mr. Grinch. You’re definitely a mean one. What’s so interesting is that every once in a while some back-bencher speaks up and says, hey, this should be investigated, and then you never hear anything again. And the prices go up and the reasoning never actually makes sense, unless you just believe that it’s the Grinch and he’s nickeling and diming us, giving cheap excuses for sucking us dry, liter by liter.

We could possibly change this if we wrote our government representatives, en masse, but people are complacently willing to shovel money into the big gas, oil and car corporations (ask why it took so long to get electric cars into the world and who owns those prototypes). Of course even if we all rose up as one Whoville entity to make the Grinch back down, you could bet that those boys in Saudi Arabia and the other gas producing countries have the Grinch by the short curlies. So really, when you look at it, there are quite a few Grinches out there and every time a Whoville is saved another Whoville is put under the gas company thumb of profit profit profit.

Here’s to the Grinch maybe some day getting a heart, but you’ll never see the gift of cheap gas on Hanukkah, Christmas or any other festival about charity.

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Vancouver’s Misquided Transportation Woes

Vancouver seems to have its head up the exhaust pipe when it comes to transportation. World class city, right? World class transportation? Not yet. Okay, they tried with the new Canada line from downtown to the airport and that’s great for the long distance traveler and it does service a couple of campuses so that’s a plus. Of course they’ve been putting off the line going east that would run to Maple Ridge, Burnaby and Coquitlam where a majority of commuters come from.

When we look at the cost of riding public transportation the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) works under the belief of punishing people for distance. The farther out you live the more you pay. Of course the farther out you live the more beneficial it would be for you to take public transit. On a cost to the consumer basis Greater Vancouver runs on three zones. I don’t take public transit if I can help it for the following reasons: it’s more expensive than putting gas in my car, which of course makes driving my car more convenient as I don’t have to get up as early, struggle to find space or wait, should I miss the bus/ or it be too full. I also don’t have to worry about sitting beside drunks, perverts or thugs (and I have had experiences with two of those on public transit in the past), and I don’t have to worry about getting mugged at a station.

Places like Mexico City, with a population over 20 million, make their transit fairly cheap because they don’t want even 10 million cars driving into the center (the pollution alone is enough to take people down). But not all cities are that big. Still, places like Calgary and other large cities have either free transit in the downtown core or one price for all areas. The cheaper you make it, the more people will use it. The more expensive it is guarantees that people will stick to their cars. But Vancouver doesn’t seem to see that. Sure there is a cost to running these services but I think lower rates and increased users would work better and still cover the same budget if not increase the revenues.

The other major stupidity in transportation planning as far as SkyTrain goes is that they cut service to it at 12:30 on all evenings. If I wanted to go downtown and not  drive, I would be left with the very sporadic bus service or expensive taxis. People coming from farther out of town are less likely to take transit to go drinking. It would be the safest thing if Translink ran the SkyTrain through the night, maybe on the hour and the half hour. Then, no matter what time you leave a club you know you can get home quickly. Somehow the great minds of Translink have never figured this out.

Now Vancouver has also gone on a green kick, which is not a bad thing. However being green or “eco” has become a catch phrase for popularity and sometimes the thinking behind it is lacking. Vancouver decided to put in bike lanes, not a small lane,  with a painted line that runs beside the car lanes, but a full car lane, girded with concrete blocks for the masses of bicyclists to ride through in relative safety. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. After all, it’s a pretty scary prospect to bike through commuter traffic every day.

The problem stems partly from the fact that downtown Vancouver is accessible mostly by bridges: Burrard St., Cambie St., and the Georgia viaduct ramps. There are a couple of other ways into downtown but those three are the major routes. Two of the bike lanes use two of these routes, though one is more after the ramp.  The Burrard St. bike lane doesn’t seem to have affected much but the one that runs along Hornby St. closed off accessibility to certain business, such as the Railway Club, making it difficult for deliveries, or musicians setting up. And now you cannot turn right to go to the BCIT campus but must do a loop de loop around. Why they didn’t pick one of the other streets that are less traffic laden, I don’t know. They want to encourage people to use bikes but there are numerous people who must use cars whether for health or the vagaries of their jobs and making driving more inconvenient isn’t the way to go.

The other odd thing about all these proactive bike lanes is that there are very few cyclists using them. I’ve been downtown in the morning and afternoon rush hours and times in between and I’ve never seen more than three cyclists in the lane. Now I don’t work downtown regularly so maybe every time I’ve been down it’s been an exception. However, a friend who does work downtown says they are empty most of the time. These lanes are the size of a car lane and they seem to be very spacious for a so few cyclists. So why is Vancouver, burdened with a $20 million dollar debt, thinking of building yet another one? Do we really need it? It’s eco-friendly, it’s cyclist friendly but is it really going to make a difference or just making commuting more difficult?

I’ve already outlined the issues with people coming in from the eastern cities and the reluctance with the cost of public transit. Those same people have to deal with empty bike lanes on major arteries helping to clog the city’s heart. It’s not the way to make it work. Put up large transit lots in a few areas outside the downtown core where people can park and take free transit or nominally priced transit into the city core, or even rent a bike. Make transit cheaper for those farther out. That would help, but going backwards and charging people more and more the farther they must commute will never get people on the side of commuting with public transit. Vancouver has to learn how to dangle a carrot and make public transit and commuting a pleasant experience.

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Traveling in India: Transportation Travails

I think there are many great tales that often take place around transportation: planes, cars, trains, buses, elephants, camels, bikes, rickshaws, etc. Especially if you’re traveling (obviously) there are more tales than the everyday commute, but even living in one’s own city will afford you adventures.

India was probably the most diverse in terms of transportation and terror. I already wrote about flying in “Frightful Flights” but the rest was its own adventure. I never did ride an elephant and though I saw one being ridden it was definitely not the most common form of transportation in India. That would be feet, as most people are too poor to afford more.

I took a few buses from town to town. Many of these were Greyhound size buses and usually without incident But a few trips were driven by kamikaze drivers on winding hills through treacherous roadways. These buses tended to be more like school buses with a picture of one or several Hindu deities up from as well as bright color trims or other decoration. The bus could be one where everyone had a seat and was a mixture of tourists and locals, or one that was a reservation only, air-conditioned, elite tourist only bus. Reservations certainly didn’t guarantee the type of bus or a seat.

On one supposedly reserved bus it was jam-packed full of locals with live chickens and other produce. We knew that we’d paid extra for the privilege of riding locally. It was a bumpy, dusty and long ride and we were packed close enough to examine the weave of each other’s clothes. After someone managed to puke on the bus, the answer being to put paper over the acrid mess and continue onward, several of us opted to ride on the roof of the bus. The tourist luggage was up there anyways and this was a good way to keep an eye on our goods and get some fresh nonvomit-ridden air. Of course this is illegal and had we been stopped some baksheesh would have changed hands, probably from tourist hands to police hands.

As it was, it was a fun way to see the country, and not experience the claustrophobia of the overcrowded bus. I had a couple of bus rides in Nepal too but they were calmer and cleaner. Busing to the next town wasn’t that far but the seats were narrow and metal. Metal is fine in a warm climate but at 5’4″ I was nearly too tall to sit in the seats. I would have stood but I was hit so badly with dysentery I nearly fainted and had to sit, thanks to the Nepalese who noticed my state and motioned for me to sit. Three of them can fit on a bench but I could barely jam my knees down and they were pressed against the seat in front of me. I also took up the room of 1.5 Nepalis. And anyone taller than me had to stand because they just wouldn’t fit. Imagine a 6’2″ man standing next to a tiny Nepalese woman.

Perhaps the most terrifying ride of my life took place in a jeep. The Himalayan hill tribes in the state of Meghalaya tended to drive mostly jeeps, which makes a lot of sense when you see the winding, curving roads with nothing but the foothills of the Himalayas framing them (those foothills equal some of our mountain ranges). One day we went out to Cherapunjee with Hanocia’s brother driving us in the jeep. I had tried to the drive the jeeps there but with the handling of a jeep which is somehow different and tippier, and the right-hand steering, left-hand gear shifting, I just couldn’t get it to work. (Oddly in Ireland with the same type of driving but a car instead, I had no problem.)

So we drove up and took the day looking around. We were there in Oct./Nov. and the days get shorter sooner. We ended up driving back in full darkness. There is no light pollution from distant cities in the foothills of Meghalaya. And the roads are narrow hairpins. As we found common and strange in India, cars would drive with their lights off and only turn them on when they encountered another vehicle. Imagine how terrifying this is as we wind through a hairpin, get to the outside curve and then there is a truck barreling at us, and they both turn their lights on to blind each other.

Hanocia’s brother swore he had to do this to save his lights and that the battery was going. Usually driving regenerates the battery but needless to say we were nearly breathless with fright. After a few encounters with oncoming trucks on the narrow roads we insisted he turn the lights on or we were going to get out and walk. We were miles and miles from Shillong but a long walk in the dark was preferable to dying in the dark.

Since this post has gone long enough I’ll leave off the train rides for a another time, but I can say this: after all these years I still vividly remember the transportation and the tales attached with traveling in India.

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VANOC, RCMP and the Olympics

Okay, another update. I didn’t post for the last two days because yes, I’ve ventured into Olympic land, only because friends came up from the US and I wanted to see them. Wednesday I braved driving downtown. Yes, driving, not busing, walking or other. One friend works for city parking and he said the parkades downtown are nearly empty because no one is driving.

Well, “no one” isn’t quite true but I left New Westminster around 4:30 pm, took the highway to E. 1 Ave., then turned down Clark Dr. to Pender St. I took Pender to downtown (already knowing which streets were closed) to Gastown but anticipating Gastown’s usual traffic jam I turned up to Hastings St. In retrospect I should have gone through Gastown to Richards. On Hastings I had about four blocks to go to Hastings and it took about 20 minutes, or about four lights to get through each light. Yes, there was traffic there but there was nothing to do but just endure. And true enough the parkade was empty.

I met my friends at the Kingston Pub on Richards St. and yes there were people but I seriously didn’t look around at anything else. The Kingston’s alcohol seems to be in the normal range but they had an ahi tun caeser salad for $19. That is overkill. I did get a serving of calamari for $10, which would have been quite fine but the batter wasn’t cooked all the way through, but they were crazy busy.

On Thursday I spent the day with my friends on Granville Island (where they are charging for parking, with a 2-hour limit, where normally it’s free parking). There was a huge Francophone pavilion but we didn’t go in, but we wandered into one studio to see a video broken glass show that was short and interesting. Bridges Restaurant is the Swiss House but there was a line-up even for a drink (the Swiss-Canada hockey game was about to start) so we didn’t get in there. We got into the Atlantic Provinces show (we say Maritimes) because a friend was working the show. Music with some tales of the musicians’ homes and slide shows behind. It was very good and fun. I wished there’d been room to dance as Maritime music always has you toe tapping. Basically there were line-ups for everything and I hate line-ups so a lot of patience is needed to get into any of the houses. But it is a free cultural Olympiad (some of it) and that’s kinda cool, fun and informative all at once.

Now I’ve been looking at the results for the Olympic games online but have not been able to get any so-called channel (CTV) to actually show what’s supposedly being broadcast live.And I have not gone to see the Olympic cauldron for which VANOC has received huge criticism for putting it (and everything else) behind huge chainlink fences so that people couldn’t see or take pictures. They’ve now cut holes and moved the fence in but it’s typical of the VANOC heavy handedness and the blocking of lanes (which they somehow didn’t have to do in Salt Lake City). And I’m not venturing to Whistler where you need a permit to drive (or do it after 6 pm) or have to take a bus that yes, you must also buy a ticket for.

Another aspect of the whole Olympics is the SECURITY, which doncha know does not include taking care of the violent anarchists. That falls to the city’s police force and is not included in the budget. But there’s the tale of a guy who is a doctoral student and works at a local hospital in one of the labs. He decided to be part of the Olympics and was interviewed to be a guard. He got his uniform, was accredited and worked two shifts. When he showed up for his third shift his security card didn’t work. In between the accrediting and working and the nonworking card he’d been called and questioned by the RCMP, that bastion of moral righteousness and law.

It’s not that he’s a protester. It’s not that he belongs to any subversive organizations. It’s not that he has any criminal record. It’s because he works with a nonviolent protester of the Olympics, a professor by the name of Chris Shaw. He works with the guy but doesn’t really know him and was in fact a supporter of the Olympics and did not believe in Chris Shaw’s point of view. But it seems even if this man who had already passed all the testing to be security for the Olympics did not pass the RCMP’s scrutiny because of working in the same lab as a nonviolent protester.

This is typical of the ineptitude and misplaced scrutiny of the RCMP. Of course, any time the media asks for the RCMP to comment they say they can’t because of privacy concerns. Those privacy concerns are really only for themselves because the media has usually already talked with the person on the other end. And if the RCMP actually used this tight of a scrutiny of their own members we might not have a man tasered to death at the Vancouver airport, or a man shot in the back of the head while in a holding cell. The RCMP used to be reliable, balance and upheld the law. They are so tarnished now they may as well get rid of the brass buttons on their red serge. They continue to pull the “Homeland Security” fiascos that George Bush would be proud of, while at the same time doing nothing to stop the anarchists who did smash store windows and injure city police. Between VANOC and the RCMP it’s amazing that we’re not all being questioned and ticketed.

So while you’re here enjoying Canada’s open hospitality (why is it that I almost wrote hostility) make sure you’re squeaky clean. And if you’re not, don a black hood and the RCMP won’t be able to see you. It’s just to bad the sports and arts of the Olympics are constantly overshadowed but the idiocy of ineptitude of the various arrogant and money grabbing Olympic committees.

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