Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sixth Street Streetcar

When you think of San Francisco, what do you see?  For most people who haven’t lived there, it’s probably two things – The Golden Gate Bridge, and F Market Streetcar running up and down Market Street

While New West and San Francisco don’t share a lot of similarities, a significant one is the steep hilly terrain.  Anyone from New West can testify getting up or down the hill along 6th, 8th, or even 12th street gives you your thirty minutes recommended exercise for the day. 

This means people coming into or out of New West using the Skytrain are either limited to walking the Downtown and Quayside areas, or getting a bus or taxi to get up the hill.  Cabs are a limited option due to the expense.  The bus service up the hills is generally decent.  Busses generally operate 10 to 15 minutes or apart or faster on 6th street, and 15 – 20 minutes apart on 8th and 12th.  The 6th Street bus is particularly well used and often crowded.  It is also part of Translink’s Frequent Transit Network, dictating service at least every 15 minutes 15 hours a day. 

Partially due to that crowding, along with many other well know reasons, many people are reluctant to ride the bus.  New West needs a frequent, reliable, attractive public transit option for getting up and down the hill.  To that end, I believe New West should restore a streetcar route along 6th Street.  Just picture it – image the red and green car sitting in the Old Spaghetti Factory passing by City Hall, the Royal Westminster Regiment, dropping commuters off at uptown and with tourists checking out other parts of the city they may not have seen before. 

Historically, two streetcars ran up the hill; 6th Street, which then went along Edmonds, and 12th Street.  The two then joined near Kingsway and connected with the interurban.  6th Street is a major commercial corridor all the way to Edmonds, and Edmonds is developed all the way to Kingsway, so matching that part of the route makes a good starting point.  However, there is no major anchor at Kingsway and Edmonds, so it would probably make sense to run the line right out to Edmonds Skytrain, matching that portion of the current 106 bus route. 

You can find a map of the old streetcar routes at Matthew Laird's History of the BC Electric Railway page. Matthew also writes regularly on Tenth to the Fraser.  

The benefits of a streetcar, particularly in New West are plentiful. 
-          Environmentally friendly: the streetcar is electrically powered, thus getting powered from BC’s relatively clean hydro power. 
-          Attractiveness:  Rails has consistently been shown to be more attractive to users than a bus.  Witness the recent change to the Canada Line from the 98 B-Line.
-          Historic: Fits with historical character of New West, particularly the downtown area.
-          Touristy:  As San Francisco has shown, a heritage streetcar in the right place can be very attractive to tourists.  This would also open more of the city up to tourism opportunities. 
-          Reliability: Rail service tends to meet service schedules better than busses do
-          Quieter:  Streetcars will fit into neighbourhoods better, and be less disruptive
-          Capacity:  higher capacity than busses as demand on the corridor increases

-          Overhead wires restrict some tall traffic.  6th street doesn’t carry a large amount of truck traffic, but there are major crossings (Royal, 8th Ave, 10th Ave) that would be affected. 
-          Accessibility issues – I’ve only ridden historical streetcars which are not accessible at all.  Modern ones, like the new streetcars going to Toronto are accessible.  I would presume modern designed cars, even those with an historical bent, are made friendly for those with wheelchairs, strollers, et al.  Worst case, modern accessible cars could be mixed with heritage types. 
-          Traffic flow – currently, buses on 6th pull out of the main travel lane allowing vehicles to pass while passengers embark/disembark.  Streetcars would block the lane while loading passengers.  Pedestrian bumps currently on the road are just for crossing, but maybe they could be modified for use by a streetcar.

Naturally, some study needs to be done to implement a project like this.  Specific routing at the southern terminus, traffic impact studies, where to locate the northern terminus, who will pay for what – these and more questions will need to be answered.  However, lets not get so lost amongst the questions that it takes a decade to move forward at all (a la Vancouver’s downtown streetcar project).  Do the studies.  Look at the results – I believe they will be strongly in favour.  Then get it going.  As my son would say, “Ding Ding!”

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Local Businesses Blast Body Armour Ban

On Tuesday, the BC Government introduced legislation that will restrict the purchase of body armour to law enforcement, security personnel, and other people with a demonstrated need.  Among the several businesses supplying police equipment and surplus military gear in New Westminster, opinions on how the law would impact to business were mixed.  However, thoughts on how effective the law will be were clear.

Dave’s Surplus, on 12th Street, said they currently only sell body armour to police and law enforcement officials.  Staff there felt there was no need for civilians to possess body armour, “other than maybe bouncers.”  The main problem, they said, was once body armour is put onto the general market, you “can’t control where it will go,” after the first purchaser is done with it. 

Based in Victoria, MD Charlton is a law enforcement supply company with a major branch on Columbia Street.  Like Dave’s, they currently sell body armour only to police, military and similar services.  As such, they said the legislation will have no impact on them and would like to see body armour off the street.  To assist with this, people who buy armour from them can return the armour when it expires, and they will dispose of it for the user. 

Westley Surplus on Front Street is less restrictive on who they will sell to.  “Anyone should be able to buy it,” the manager said.  Westley has no restrictions in place and will sell armour to anyone who wishes to purchase it, meaning this law will significantly impact how they sell armour. The manager also stated the proposed legislation has created an environment for price gouging, with some stores more than tripling the prices of their armour in anticipation of the law. 

Where all three stores agreed was on the effect the legislation will have on safety.  Everyone stated the proposed legislation will make no difference to public safety or significantly affect the gangs’ ability to get armour.  Westley said you can get anything you want off the internet, and MD Charlton spoke at length about different ways armour comes into the province.  Internet sales, from both Canada and the US were named the primary culprit by all stores. 

Other than banning possession, the proposed legislation seems to have no ability to restrict internet sales.  Without similar restrictions in place in other provinces, there is nothing to prevent out of province stores selling to buyers in BC.  Private sales from the U.S. are also an issue.  According to MD Charlton, Canadian Border Services Agency does restrict the flow of body armour coming from the US, however a lot of it slips by with generic descriptions such as “shirt” or “clothing.” 

Given the multitude of sources of armour available to those who want it, will the proposed legislation make local streets safer?  According to those who sell the armour here, the answer is a resounding no. 

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Burger Burger - Top Notch Value

I was coming back from the Quay this weekend, really hungry, and craving a burger. I was taking the 106 up Sixth Street, and my instinct was to head to McDonalds or Wendy’s for something familiar. But as we came up to Fourth Avenue, I saw a sign I had passed with curiosity many times, the sign for a joint called “Burger Burger.” So I rang the bell, hopped off at Fourth, and sauntered across the street.
Walking inside, I was nearly blinded by the bright, colourful walls floors and tables. I don’t know if it was just the colours, but while not seeming dirty, the place didn’t totally feel clean either. There was nothing specific I noticed, so it was probably just the way the d├ęcor works.
I found the counter, and after perusing the menu for a moment, ordered the classic – bacon cheeseburger with fries and a coke. “So you want the special,” the helpful lady at the front counter offered, while pointing me at the signs of specials I had completely missed. “Yes I do,” I replied while pulling out my debit card.
I grabbed a seat at a nearby table, and had the whole place to myself. So I took two papers as the restaurant thoughtfully provides a large rack of reading material. Most of it is the free stuff you’ll get anywhere, but it’s nice to have a sizable collection to choose from. I didn’t time how long it took to get my meal, but it was somewhere in the 5-10 minute mark.
The burger was very good. The patty was tasty, but nothing extraordinary. I couldn’t tell if it was a pre-made, or just a plain fresh made patty. Either way, it was nicely cooked. The bun was nice and soft, and the bacon and veggies were crisp. It was very nice to bite into, and tasted good. The fries were also good, crisp outsides and nice soft innards. They came unseasoned, but the tables have plenty of salt, pepper and vinegar so you can get them right to your liking.
While I can’t say it was an extraordinary meal, I can say it’s a big step up from anywhere else at the same price. Burger fries and coke came to $5.97 with tax – basically the same as McDonalds, and a world apart in quality. So the next time you’re craving a burger Uptown and are feeling drawn to a fast food joint, walk just two more blocks and grab a Burger Burger burger instead.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Rapid Transit - Time to Implement Continuous Growth

With a lot of jubilation, tremendous public interest, and a big final sigh of relief, the Canada Line of Metro Vancouver’s Skytrain system finally opened on August 17th. . Early reports were ridership was even higher than expected. While a lot of the media has focused on those people who have been inconvenienced by the new line, I think the numbers speak for themselves – the line appears to be meeting or beating expectations.

Supposedly next on the list of rapid transit projects is the Evergreen Line connecting Burnaby (Lougheed) to Port Moody and Coquitlam. The tale of this line is almost epic, started, stopped, and made the number one priority so many times it would make your head spin. For brevity, the last few things to happen were

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Letter From the City

The other day we received a letter from the Utilities Department of New West.  “That’s odd,” I thought; we rent so the only bill we get is for electricity, and I was very certain our payments were up to date on it. 

Turns out it was a letter to inform us (to paraphrase) “you seem to be making payments on the wrong account number – please make payments to this number instead,”  all written in very nice bureaucratese. 

I appreciated this letter for two reasons.  One was the fact they even sent it.  Someone picked up the fact we were paying on an old account number, corrected the payments and sent us a note with all the information we need to avoid the problem again.  Almost every other time I’ve had an account number change (not just with utilities, also credit cards and other accounts), no one told me.  I just noticed that a month or twos worth of payments were missing, and had to sit on hold for 30 minutes to talk to someone and then wait for three weeks for the payments to get moved around.  So to get a courtesy letter saying this is happening is much appreciated. 

But what really struck me about the letter was it was hand signed.  Not just printed off and mailed, not just a photocopy of somebody’s signature, but someone actually signed the thing with their own hand before sending it off.  Maybe it’s just me, but I appreciate the fact that even for something as trivial as this, someone has put their name down as responsible for the matter.  I would thank them by name, but I can’t read the signature.  So I will give my thanks to the New West Utilities Department as a whole – little gestures are appreciated.