With a referendum on transit funding, we just won’t know.

Pictures from TransLink of mockup Mark III Skytrain vehicle
On the top is a next-generation Mark III SkyTrain vehicle, a product we will see with the coming of the Evergreen Line and perhaps again if more SkyTrain expansions are approved in Metro Vancouver.

As I was looking at how referendums on funding (especially transit funding) have been done in other cities like in Los Angeles and Seattle, as pointed out by some others, it hit me that those referendums have always focused on just one-matter at a time.

In essence, what I’m saying is that when Los Angeles decided a sales tax on transit, only a sales tax was decided that day. A proposal to extend that sales tax by another few years (Measure R) was put to the test in a separate referendum (where it lost). The same has occured in Seattle, and the same in other American cities that have put transit funding decisions to referendums. There was not ever an instance where more than one option was decided at a time.

What the B.C. Liberals have proposed to do in Metro Van is not going to be simple like this at all.

With a single matter, it is not difficult to inform the voter on what that funding means for him/her as a taxpayer, and exactly what will be built out of that funding if it passes. Perhaps that is why it worked so well in Los Angeles and in Seattle.

In Metro Vancouver, we don’t know what the referendum question will look like. However, in this referendum, we may be required to decide between a multitude of options (at least, if anything former minister Mary Polak said before the elections holds true, save for the no status quo part – there will be a status quo option), which is completely different from how the same decisions were made in the numerous cities in the UNited States. With a multitude of options, not only does informing voters require far more effort (because voters will need to know what each option will mean), but it will also be impossible to make promises out of this referendum.

Because there will be no way to be certain how many of those options will pass and how many won’t (or if any will pass at all), there will be no way to know how many projects will be able to proceed; and – for however many that do – that still leaves the debate of which one will be built first/at all. So, that opens up the possibility that some parts of the region will be simply left out. But, we won’t know which – and I think that in particular will leave some of us very worried.

So, there’s another key problem I have with a referendum on transit funding. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to inform people which payment option will pay for what improvement. We just won’t know.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Don’t expect the Surrey Board of Trade to care about nature

Panorama of Crescent Beach and nature in the fall. Photo credit: CC-BY-NC-SA - Flickr: Jeremy Hiebert
Panorama of Crescent Beach and nature in the fall. A Fraser River coal terminal proposal will result in coal trains regularly passing this area. Photo credit: CC-BY-NC-SA – Flickr: Jeremy Hiebert

I wanted to remind our citizens what the Surrey Board of Trade really stands for.

They will not side with you, and they will not side for sustainability, if doing either of those means having to side against their own primary mandate and purpose: to protect money.

Apart from any of mine, there have been a lot of great letters sent into the Surrey/North Delta Leader in the past few weeks. Do check out the Letters page [CLICK HERE] for more.

Don’t expect the Surrey Board of Trade to care about nature – Surrey Leader

Re: “Money over environment – again,” The Leader, Letters, May 30.

Your readers shouldn’t bother expecting the Surrey Board of Trade (SBOT) and Anita Huberman to have any legitimate, consistent concern for the environment.

When the province announced the Gateway Program, despite the cries from activists regionwide on its unsustainability, cost, and potential to offset transit investment, the SBOT ignored those concerns and fully supported it.

When Gateway Casinos proposed a massive casino at the edge of South Surrey – in an unsustainable, outer-city greenfield location with no transit access – it spawned marathon council meetings where hundreds spoke out against it, many for the reason of its unsustainable location.

Siding against concerned citizens, the SBOT fully supported it.

Their other new endorsement – Light Rail and the Light Rail Links coalition – has largely ignored studies and finished research on Surrey rapid transit, which have found that a Light Rail network will fail on modal-shift from car to transit and will not cause any net reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions.

The SBOT has long dismissed the only option that will actually reduce emissions, which is SkyTrain expansion.

I’m not surprised that the SBOT is now supporting the Fraser Surrey Docks coal terminal proposal. Our business leaders clearly prefer money at any environmental expense.

Daryl Dela Cruz, Surrey

The Real Reason Children Have Lost the Freedom to Roam

Response to StreetFilms: Children Have Lost the Freedom to Roam

The video above is certainly right that the car-orientation of our society is among the biggest drivers (no pun intended there) in kids’ changing commute patterns. I’m a bit of an urbanist, and I can say that I’m certainly not a fan of how so many communities in this world are being oriented towards the car, as opposed to kids and people.

However, to an extent I disagree with this video in the claim that children have “lost the freedom to roam” solely because of a car-oriented culture, and car-oriented communities. The comments in the video seem to imply that children have lost their freedom to roam simply because of that, or alternatively because their parents do not allow them to walk or bike.

Kids are not unlike adults: they are free actors in a free society (tips hat to Jarrett Walker), and they have the right to choose what seems best for them (with the assistance of parents). There may be reasons that children are actually choosing to be driven to school in the morning out of lack of choice, not because the society around them is car-oriented. There may also be reasons that parents are choosing schools further away from home for their children.

I happen to know that both are happening in my community. And, it’s not because of any specific development and land-use orientation towards the car.

The effects of school schedules and overcrowded school buildings

At the North Surrey Secondary school here in Surrey, too many students and an overcrowded school building have forced the school to adopt an awkward five-block schedule [CLICK HERE]. NSSS staggers students across the 5 blocks, so that older students study for the first four and younger ones for the last four (or combinations with study blocks). I’ve noted this before in my newsletters several times as one of the problems of lack of education funding in not just this city, but also this province (B.C. has the worst student-to-educator ratio in Canada 16.8:1, vs. a national 13.8:1 average – from the BCTF and Statistics Canada)

North Surrey Secondary's 5 block schedule
North Surrey Secondary’s 5 block schedule

I have one friend who goes to North Surrey Secondary, and lives just under 1 mile away, and is driven to school. In her case in particular, in the morning, she asks (and has arranged) to be driven to her school with her brother. But, in the afternoon, they have no problem making the 20 minute walk back to their home.

As with 11th and 12th grade students, as a result of the awkward 5-block schedule the school has been forced to adopt, her and her brother are expected to be at school and in class by 7:55AM – 45 minutes earlier than is expected at most other high schools in the city. That already means, in spite of being driven, waking up very early in the morning to go through preparation.

Transit options aren’t much better; the 335 bus route runs only every 20 minutes in the morning, meaning a missed bus means being late to class, and a trip that would take longer than simply walking. However, even if the buses ran frequently enough to be reliable, relying on transit would add an additional monthly cost of $104 ($52 per student) – not exactly an encouraging prospect for many parents who have cars for their own purposes, and who might not pay much to drive their kids to school in the morning (and possibly from in the afternoon) – especially if it happens on the way to work.

Some people have the luck of parents who will wake up earlier and cook in the morning to prepare food and other daily necessities. But, other students might be like how you see Umi-chan in the opening scenes of STUDIO GHIBLI’s From Up on Poppy Hill. These students, girls or guys, might have to cook for themselves, in addition to cleaning up and doing other errands in the morning to start the day. These errands can take a long time.

This reality seems to reflect itself in many online polls of students. In this poll on Discovery Girls [LINK] (you need to answer in order to see the results), 57% of respondants take 30 minutes or longer to get ready in the morning. This second poll on Smart Girls [LINK] has similar results: 30% of girls take at least an hour to get ready in the morning. 63% take 30 minutes or longer.

Image of the poll on smart girls. 63% of respondents require 30 minutes or longer to get ready in the morning.
Image of the poll on smart girls. 63% of respondents require 30 minutes or longer to get ready in the morning.
For the people who take over an hour, they may have to wake up as early as 6:20-6:30 in the morning in order to meet the 7:55AM schedule, considering the time of commute.

It’s been studied that adolescents naturally tend to be “night owls” – they prefer to be awake in the later night hours and awaken later in the day. This is because of hormones, and it happens with every teenager. Early wake-up schedules simply do not sit in well with teenagers.

This is why, in my belief, a lot of them will value those extra 20-30 minutes in the morning they can sleep in addition to being in the comfort of a car in the morning on the way to school – sheltered from rain, storm, wind, and other potential sources of discomfort.

The effects of student-educator ratio

Students from across Metro Vancouver protest overcrowded classrooms at a rally on March 2, 2012
Students from across Metro Vancouver protest overcrowded classrooms at a rally on March 2, 2012 [CLICK HERE to learn more about this]
The other issue in my community that I pointed out earlier is student-educator ratio. Here in British Columbia, we have the worst in the country. We are far above the national average. That is a factor that can make parents here very concerned about the education their students receive.

Why? Higher student-educator ratios have impacts on the education students receive. Lower student-educator ratios mean better education.

As I mentioned earlier, people are free actors in a free society. They are free to make the decisions they want in order to get the best. Parents are free to choose to send their children to a different school that may offer a lower student-educator ratio or an otherwise statistically better education, even if it’s further from home and, perhaps, driving to school is required. This, I believe, is one of the big contributors to why many students are being driven to school.

I know several students who have been moved to different high schools by their parents in order to obtain a better education. These actions do have results. One of those people I know, in particular, helped start the Can You Contain It! Campaign with Metro Vancouver. She’s a very active environmentalist and lifestyle change activist, with a very big record of community involvement through selfless acts of service.

A solution?

In my view, the solution to both of the problems is simply to ensure that children have a better education and a good learning environment – we must make sure that there are enough teachers for students so that they can get a better education closer to home, and big enough school buildings so that no schools have to adopt awkward schedules that force students to come very early.

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Encouraging active commutes to school

That still leaves the issue: What can we do about schools in car-oriented communities? I do believe that car-orientation plays some part in why students are driven to school, but I also believe that the solution isn’t difficult.

I believe that encouraging students to cycle (and parents to allow their kids to) is the solution to the problem, as is ensuring there is bike-friendly infrastructure (although in car-oriented communities, lower traffic volume on low-density residential streets can actually permit very safe cycling even without dedicated bike infrastructure like bike lanes). Cycling is something I took on for commuting in my final years of high school, and in my view it often provides a perfect balance between an active commute and a reasonable travel time to school in the morning.

How to encourage cycling? Not difficult. Urban and suburban areas should adopt programs like TransLink’s Travel Smart (a program by our metropolitan transit agency that encourages people to commute sustainably) and introduce them to schools. I know for one that Travel Smart has had much success in encouraging active commuting to schools in my city through incentives.

A group of kids cycling in Japan
A group of kids cycling in Japan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons – C.K. Tse

Japan: A sustainability shift example for the world

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

I love Japan, and I find that there is so much about it in its people’s culture, traditions and ways of thinking that the rest of the world should consider following, to solve problems and make progress in a world of uncertainty and in a world that needs some change.

The Japan I see to day is a great place that triumphs high fuel efficiency in vehicles, compactness and efficiency, and electrified rail lines as the primary, most affordable and most widely used form of transportation. I actually never knew, however, that it was on the verge of today’s China at one point in the past – encouraging middle-class citizens onto cars and creating wastelands of its natural environments, and creating pollution and illness in cities as a result. So, when I read this, it brought me great surprise to think that today’s Japan could not have been today’s Japan with the presence of leadership and a voice in the opposition parties, even as they never came to power.

From the International Herald Tribune Global Opinion’s Latitude:

Japan’s Pollution Diet

By ALEXANDRA HARNEY

TOKYO — Seeing Beijing wreathed in smog throughout the winter, it has been hard not to worry about the costs of China’s rapid economic growth. As Jon Stewart pointed out on The Daily Show: Can’t a country capable of lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty find a way to keep its own capital safe for habitation?

Japan rightly prides itself on blue skies, Prius taxis and mandatory recycling.

Five decades ago, people were asking similar questions about Japan. Even as the world marveled at the country’s 10 percent annual growth, alarm was growing over air pollution in several cities. Emissions of nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide tripled during the 1960s. Japan became known for pollution-related illnesses: Yokkaichi asthma, Minamata disease (mercury poisoning) — both named after the cities where they first appeared — and cadmium poisoning, known as itai-itai, or “ouch-ouch,” because of the excruciating bone pain it caused.

Today, Japanese cities are among the world’s least polluted, according to the World Health Organization. Japan’s environmental record is hardly spotless, but the country rightly prides itself on blue skies, Prius taxis and mandatory recycling. What’s more, it managed to clean up without sacrificing growth by investing in pollution-control technologies and giving local governments leeway to tighten standards beyond national requirements.

It wasn’t easy. The Liberal Democratic Party, which governed Japan almost continuously from 1955 to 2009 and returned to power in December, wasn’t proactive in cleaning up the country’s air and water. That’s partly because until the mid-1990s Japan’s electoral system incited politicians to pander to the interests of business. With candidates from the same party required to also run against one another, most politicians stood little chance of distinguishing themselves on policy and so tried to secure votes by courting business and industry associations.

It was only when citizens’ movements, which grew out of protests against the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and the Vietnam War, got the attention of opposition parties in the 1960s and early 1970s that the government was forced to confront pollution. “I saw the government and L.D.P. as responding just enough, just in time, when the pressure got strong enough that they could defuse the opposition and stay in power,” said Timothy George, a professor at the University of Rhode Island and the author of a book on Minamata disease.

The first result was a blizzard of laws — 14 passed at once — in what became known as the Pollution Diet of 1970. Air pollution fell dramatically in the years that followed.

[READ MORE – CLICK HERE]