Art & Culture
August 22, 2008

The Air in Beijing

It’s been fascinating, when watching the Olympics in Beijing, to see how dramatically the air quality can change from day to day.  Or at least the weather.  Because it is true that what we might think is smog may be a low and cloudy ceiling.

At least that’s the conclusion I came to after reviewing the day-to-day pictures of Beijing published on the web site of the Asia Society.

They asked a photographer to shoot the view out his window every day from March 2007 to today – and then correlated it with the air-quality index.

The best day so far was on August 12, five days into the Games.

The worst was on December 28, 2007:

Interesting that a clear blue day does not necessarily mean the best air quality.  Even more interesting will be to see what happens after the games, when all the cars return to the roads and the closed industrial plants start up again.

The Asia Society’s web site with a short video on Beijinjg’s air quality challenge is here.

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Yeah, it’s been bad.  Vancouver in June.

But what a loss for the World Triathlon, held this last weekend on the beaches and streets of the West End. 

I’m sure the organizers were aware of the variable nature of our climate, but they clearly weren’t prepared for the cold. 

It was a great race, especially exciting for spectators who could literally see some of the world’s best athletes mere inches away during the run.

Except, of course, there weren’t a lot of spectators.

And what a shame for both the athletes and the city.  This event could have been spectacular, given the setting, the event and the lead-in to the Olympics.  Watching the cyclists come over the hill on a closed-off Davie Street, seeing Denman filled with uniformed teams of every race, rooting for our competitors in action – just hints of what could have been  a transforming event for Vancouver.

I just hope this won’t discourage the World Triathlon from coming back.


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October 23, 2007

 The Times of London got their hands on the proposed transport plan for the 2012 Olympics:

Olympics chiefs set to ban all car travel
The team organising the London Olympics in 2012 is adopting the most aggressive anticar policy ever applied to a major event in an attempt to deliver a permanent shift in people’s travel habits. The eight million spectators will be banned from travelling by car and forced to take public transport, walk or cycle….
All spectators travelling to an event in London will receive a free all-zones travelcard. Those from outside London will be able to buy discounted, flat-rate rail tickets from any station to the capital.
In an interview with The Times, Hugh Sumner, the ODA transport director, said: “We have a very aggressive programme to make it the greenest games in modern times. We want to leave both a hard legacy in terms of infrastructure and a living legacy in the way people think about transport and about how they travel to sports and cultural events.”

Vancouver’s legacy (in addition to the Canada Line) is just the opposite: a major commitment to highway construction to ensure that you will be able to drive – at least to and through the region.
Downtown, however?  I can’t imagine that anyone will be able to use Expo Boulevard since it actually runs under B.C. Place.  And rumour has it that Robson Street will be closed off to vehicles from the stadium to Denman Street. 
But what happens afterwards?  Do we just return the streets to the cars, pretending that nothing has or will change to our happy-motoring nirvana? 
In truth, things are changing already.  The number of vehicles coming to the downtown peninsula continues to decline:

What this chart shows is that the number of vehicles entering the central business district has declined by 7 percent over the last ten years, even as the number of trips by all modes has increased by 22 percent.
That’s so counter-intuitive, given the growth on the peninsula, that people don’t really appreciate the change.  It’s also the reason why we’ve been able to remove so much lane space for the construction of new buildings and the Canada Line on Granville and Davie without gridlock catastrophe.
The downward slope in that chart is likely to continue, particularly given the change from cars to transit that will occur with the opening of the Canada Line. 
Just as Expo introduced Vancouver to the pleasures of urbanity when properly done, so will the Olympics offer another opportunity to change the use of our public spaces after the games are over.  It’s another way we can take advantage of the investment in both the celebration and the investment. In fact, if Council doesn’t plan now to reallocate road space in the post-Olympic period, it will lose a critical moment of opportunity – and the real benefit that comes with our billion-dollar subway.
Even better, it won’t be embarrassed when London shows how it should have been done.

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Speaking of convenience stores (below), here’s another take from Lisa Margonelli’s Oil on the Brain.  (There are some books you know from the first page are going to be good reads.  This is one of them.)
A gas station owner with a convenience store can make more money selling water than gas – at least if the water has sugar in it.
Markup on gas: 7 percent, and falling.
Markup on sunglasses: 100 percent.
Markup on ice: 60 percent
Markup on candy: 43 percent.
Markup on cigarettes: 19 percent.
Best of all is what’s in the ‘vault’ – the coolers, always opposite the door, that bring in a high percentage of the store’s profits.
Impulse buys make up three-quarters of the $132 billion (US) Americans spend in convenience stores.  After driving around, looking to save a few cents, complaining loudly about the price of gas, we happily blow it on sugared water.

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