March 26, 2018

Do We Accept That Autonomous Vehicles Will Kill Pedestrians?

Autonomous Vehicles (or AVs) were to make life easier with less road crashes and carnage. Nearly 38,000 people in the United States are annually killed on roads, and that number is rising. Autonomous vehicles would enable transportation for people who did not have drivers’ licences, and also dealt with the pesky problem of  drivers getting older. Statistics Canada figures from 2009 show that almost 28 per cent of drivers over the age of 65 are driving with some form of dementia. Autonomous vehicles would allow everyone to be mobile that could afford to use their services.
Transportation experts have continually pointed out that despite the positives of universal access to AVs there are some fundamental problems. Autonomous vehicles do not get rid of congestion, they just add to it. And while there may be less parked cars in downtowns and in cities, the streets may be designed to allow for the flow of autonomous vehicles and may not be inclusive of active transportation users such as cyclists and pedestrians. Perhaps that is the fundamental question: are we so engaged by this shiny new technology that human-powered active transportation and human based design of place and cities will be suppressed for the latest iteration of motordom?
In Tempe Arizona a homeless lady with her bicycle was struck and killed by an autonomous Uber. Sadly as reported in City Lab  by David Alpert, the police reported that the lady was not in a crosswalk, and the fatal road violence was blamed upon the dead victim. Nine other pedestrians had died in Arizona that week, but this death, by an autonomous vehicle was the one that garnered attention. But if all road deaths are reduced by 90 per cent, is that a reason to embrace this technology? “The woman was, indeed, not in a crosswalk. Bizarrely, there is a direct, curving brick path through the area, but it’s strictly ornamental: Pedestrians are forbidden from using it, and there are multiple signs posted to tell people not to use the path. The path follows what seems to be the most logical route to a nearby bus stop, and crosses the roads at narrower (and thus less harrowing) spots than the official crosswalk, which requires traversing seven lanes, counting turn lanes.This is the engineering reality of much of Tempe, and much of suburban America: Designers create inhospitable environments in which to walk, then try to prohibit walking in the least inhospitable parts of those environments. And often, when someone is killed, police rush to exonerate the driver.”
The Federation of International Pedestrians has been resolute in saying that no death is acceptable, and has insisted that autonomous vehicles be programmed to save all road users, not just the ones in the vehicle. There is an interest in adopting edicts like “Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities” which prioritizes people’s lives over the vehicle occupants. But as Alpert observes “We can insist that any pedestrian death is not acceptable, just as we do for aviation, where all incidents are studied intently, and commercial aviation deaths worldwide have plummeted from 2,469 people in 55 crashes in 1972 to just 44 fatalities—and none in a passenger jet—worldwide in 2017. There have been zero deaths on U.S. airlines since 2009.” 
It is time to stop justifying deaths on roads because of “speed” or “convenience”.  “Let this, the first recorded pedestrian killed by an autonomous car, set a better example for what we expect of our roads, and the technologies transforming them.”


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There are an estimated 8,000 electric vehicles in BC. These numbers may seem small compared with the millions of vehicles registered, but growth is tracking in the double-digits on a year-over-year basis. With significantly fewer emissions and lower operating costs, electric vehicles have the potential to benefit climate change and affordability – two important goals in our region.
·        Eve Hou, Air Quality Planner, Air Quality and Climate Change, Parks, Planning and Environment, Metro Vancouver
·        Chris Frye, Acting Director, Communities and Transportation Branch, Electricity and Alternative Energy, Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Province of BC
·        Anthonia Ogundele, Manager, Environmental Sustainability and Business Continuity, Facility & Environmental Management, Vancity
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From Park and Ken Greenberg  comes the video by Garrick Mason  “Something New from Something Old”  describing some unique and some familiar concepts in making great public spaces. Using conversations with urbanists in New York City and in Toronto, the film explores how low density streets can give up much space for the car, but space for humans walking and biking is still a street fight. Opportunities for more green space has come with the “glacial recedence of industrial uses that have revealed new opportunities. Eric Landau with the Brooklyn Trust describes how the area under DUMBO (Down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) has been transformed from industrial to park space. With ten per cent of the area being developed to cover the operational and maintenance costs of the new Brooklyn Park, former five acre industrial docking piers have been transformed into park experiences, each with their own unique purpose and use.
Opening up with music that was first performed by singers on New York City’s Highline, the film discusses the importance of public/private financing, noting that redeveloping green space as amenities creates real estate value for surrounding properties.
As the film maker observes: ” I decided to ask experts, designers, and planners involved in some of the highest profile conversion projects in Toronto and New York City about the rationale behind these conversions, the challenges involved in designing under such novel constraints, and the difficult issues — like funding, accessibility, benefit sharing — that come with them. Their answers were both fascinating and encouraging, pointing to a world in which the development of cities will have more to do with gracefully evolving in place than with spreading outwards to infinity. ”
You can watch the video on Vimeo by clicking on the  blue tab on the “Sorry” link below.

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There is a lot of history in Vancouver Fire Halls and retired fireman Alex Matches has documented and written about much of it. There are political stories, where firemen in the City of Vancouver in the early 1900s were not allowed to “cross the line” into neighbouring Point Grey to put out a house fire. And there were still a few amazing early stations to go through even twenty years ago.  One located on east of Main Street is now demolished~but it had a circular wooden ramp inside for the fire horses to walk up as they were  bedded down on the second floor in standing stalls. The standing stalls areas were still there, along with the cribbing marks made by bored horses teething on the wood. In its construction and its use, it was a thing of beauty, something we would have marvelled at today. It was demolished for a more late twentieth century version.
As reported in the Vancouver Courier there are “modernist” fire halls built between 1950 and 1970 that are now facing demolition in Vancouver that have   “unique features include huge, open bays and massive hose-drying towers.” As Heritage Vancouver’s Patrick Gunn observes “The architects from the ’50s on, they looked at this use and, instead of hiding it, they really celebrated it and that’s where you come up with the amazing, strong, visual forms.”
No. 5 fire hall at 3090 East 54th Ave. — one of the earliest of the modernist fire halls — was demolished in 2016. Dating back to 1952, it was designed by Townley and Matheson, the architects of city hall. It’s being replaced with a new building topped with affordable housing. The expected completion date is the end of 2018.
Gunn said while the building needed upgrading there were ways to achieve that without demolishing it. “It’s a community loss. It’s a visual point in the community similar to schools. So you eradicate that and then you have something new built, which is functional and safe, but Vancouver has lost another piece of its architectural legacy, which plaques and photos can’t replicate.”
Fire hall No. 17 at 7070 Knight Street is now going to be demolished with an energy-efficient building replacing it. Even though the modernist fire halls are on the annual endangered sites watch list as “an important part of the movement towards modernist civic architecture in Vancouver during the post-war period” they are not being conserved.
The following other fire halls are described by Heritage Vancouver as potentially endangered:
No. 2 at 199 Main St. at Powell, which was built in 1950 and renovated in 1974.
No. 7 at 1090 Haro at Thurlow, which was built in 1974.
No. 8 at 895 Hamiliton St. at Smithe, which is the reverse design of fire hall No. 7. The concrete building was built in 1973.
No. 9 at 1805 Victoria at East Second Ave., which was built in 1959 with a concrete and masonry façade.
No. 20 at 5402 Victoria Dr. at East 38th Avenue, which was built in 1962. Heritage Vancouver describes it as an “interesting single-storey structure with a window curtain.”
Fire halls that fall under the “brutalist” subset of modernist buildings include fire halls No. 7 and No. 8. “brutalist” architecture as using a lot of raw concrete and being even more massive than mid-century ones.”
Fire department historian Alex Matches book on Vancouver’s  Fire Department history and heroes is available here.
From Vancouver Archives taken in Victoria BC

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Patrick Johnstone is a city councillor for the City of New Westminster as well as a cyclist, writer, and engaged citizen. He’s going to be posting items on New Westminster’s Innovation Week, and has invited everyone to attend the events for the City’s eight day events for Innovation Week. You can also go to Patrick’s website here at . Here’s Patrick’s first post:
Starting on February 23, New Westminster is running its second annual Innovation Week, an 8-day-long series of events celebrating how innovation in technology and organization can transform a City.
New Westminster is investing in becoming a smarter city through what it calls an Intelligent City Initiative. Innovation Week is a showcase for this model, and an opportunity to bring people from around the region together to dream about the cities of a rapidly-arriving internet-empowered information-dependent future.
The opening on Friday evening demonstrates how varied the topic of “innovation” can be. A free public reception in City Hall (511 Royal Ave) will include a digital media show by local students and artists where data from the City’s award-winning Open Data Portal is translated to digital signals that are in turn worked into video and musical performances. If that’s not enough, a local craft brewery will be there to release a Limited Edition brew formulated with the help of the Mayor of New Westminster – Jonathan Cote.
There are many events over the week that should be of interest to people across the region. The theme for 2018 is Transportation, so there will be forums and dialogues on topics like regional transportation and mobility pricing. But there are also discussions about digital inclusion, a livable Cities symposium, Public Art tours and a PechaKucha evening featuring regional transportation and planning thought leaders.
The interactive events of the week include classes for youth on coding and a Hack-a-Thon where teams of programmers will compete to use the City’s Open Data Portal to create apps to solve local government problems or gamify everyday municipal operations. A Business Expo will concentrate on the Tech economy, and a pitch event and forums will bring together Angel Investors and government funding agencies interested in helping new start-ups or established businesses. Through the week, you will be given reasons to dream, and information and resources to make that dream work.
A list of the several events is available on the Innovation Week website:
Innovation Week
February 23 – March 3, 2018
Various Locations in New Westminster
Open to the public, most events free (but please register first to help organizers out!)


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High Performance Buildings


Thanks to the new BC Energy Step Code, the North Shore will soon be an “efficient new home zone” stretching all the way from Deep Cove to Horseshoe Bay. Meanwhile, interest in the über-efficient Passive House standard is exploding. And in keeping with its commitment that all new buildings will produce zero operational greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the City of Vancouver is full speed ahead with its Zero Emissions Building Plan.

Join the Board of Change for an engaging and inspiring evening of learning about the policies and programs that are helping to transform the province’s built environment, yielding buildings that consume up to 80 percent less energy than the average home.

Robyn Wark, Team Lead, Sustainable Communities, BC Hydro
Sean Pander, Green Building Manager, City of Vancouver
Sandra Rohler, Certified Passive House Designer, Rohler Passive House Design

Moderated by: James Glave, Principal, Glave Communications


Monday, February 26

5:30-7:30 pm 

Executive Briefing Centre, SAP Labs Vancouver – 910 Mainland Street

Attendance is free but guests must register.

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With the call for sustainability, why are we not seeing health benefits and energy reductions going hand in hand in office environments for workers? Studies indicate that people spend over 90 per cent of their time in doors, with little data being collected on what the impact of that is. But there is mounting evidence that there is a high physiological cost to being indoors, with unnatural light sources for such long periods of time.
E. O Wilson was a biologist that encouraged “biophilic design on the belief that humans are “hard-wired by our evolutionary biology to be emotionally attracted to the natural world.” As this New York Times article observes it is time to stop calling buildings and building use “green” with energy efficiency and small carbon footprints, but look at how to make these environments the very best health promoting places for people who spend significant parts of their lives living there.
Studies show that levels of the cortisol stress hormone are highest in people working in artificially lit cubicles without outside views. These are also typically where workers that are tied to their desks  in the office are placed. Cognitive performance and mood can be further disordered by carbon dioxide levels from poor ventilation common in many older office buildings.  As  Judith Heerwagen, an environmental psychologist who has studied workplaces and their impact around the United States. “More time and creativity has gone into designing natural habitats for zoo animals,” she observed in an online post, “than in creating comfortable office spaces for humans.”
In Washington D.C. the U.S. General Services Administration is now designing buildings with green roofs and atriums, and daylight lit offices with large windows exposing views to the outdoors. Space is now being designed for office workers to engage with each other and to promote walking,  “adding healthy exercise to work days spent largely sitting behind a desk.” And the paybacks are huge, with lower absenteeism. Research is also showing that workers in office with leafy plants concentrate better and are 15 per cent more productive. Studies have shown that fresh air and daylight help with health and alertness. A study of hospitals found that windows looking at nature resulted in patients needing less pain medication and being released a day earlier than average.
It just makes sense to meld sustainable building design with better health for workers using those buildings, and making health benefits just as important as green technology.  There is a quick video on YouTube available here describing the biophilic approach to creating work space.



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From the New York Times:

Slicing and re-slicing a limited pie By Brad Plumer

There’s a little-noticed and remarkable fact about American energy use that helps explain some of the bitter policy fights we’re seeing right now: The United States actually uses less electricity today than it did back in 2007, even as the population keeps growing.

There are a few reasons for that: American homes have gotten far more energy-efficient with the spread of LED light bulbs and energy-saving appliances. And industrial electricity use fell significantly after the financial crisis and hasn’t fully rebounded.

Why does this matter? If electricity consumption is flat, then all the different sources of energy we use — coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar, wind — are locked in zero-sum competition with one another. If a new natural gas plant or wind farm goes up, something else has to get pushed off the grid.

That’s exactly what we’ve seen. The rise of fracking has made natural gas incredibly cheap. Solar and wind, already subsidized by Congress, have seen their costs drop dramatically. As a result, coal and nuclear power are losing market share fast.

Same in Canada? Does it matter in B.C.?

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In a pretty dramatic move to halt air pollution, The New York Times reports on China boldly ceasing the production of car models in China that do not meet fuel economy standards for the country. They stopped over 500 different car models effective January the 1st. This suspension impacted both domestic and foreign  automobile ventures, including partnerships with Volkswagen and Benz.
China produced 28 million vehicles in 2016 and also has scores of smaller-scale car factories. While there is some credence that this new policy  centralizes and consolidates the car industry,  “the measure pointed to a mounting willingness by China to test forceful antipollution policies and assume a leading role in the fight against climate change. The country, which for years prioritized economic growth over environmental protection and now produces more than a quarter of the world’s human-caused greenhouse gases, has emerged as an unlikely bastion of climate action after President Trump’s rejection of the Paris climate agreement.”
China is also providing incentives for power companies to operate more cleanly by creating the largest carbon market. While the Chinese government currently has bonuses to produce “clean energy” vehicles, these will be replaced by quotas for clean energy vehicles in 2020. When you have the biggest consumer demand for cars in the world, global automobile manufacturers  respond in a relatively positive way.  As Michelle Krebs an AutoTrader Group analyst observed ” “The simple fact that China is the biggest market means automakers will be accommodating“. China is now leading the way in auto emission policy, unlike the United States which is looking at relaxing tailpipe emission standards.
This YouTube video from CGTN from January 2017 shows that at that time only one in fifty cars in China were electric, and unfortunately portrays electric vehicles as “cheaper than taking transit”. It does illustrate how remarkable China’s new policy is in demanding the adaptation from automakers to clean energy vehicles in a relatively short time frame.



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From my colleague in Australia Greg Vann  comes this article from the World Economic Forum on trees. We all know that trees are wonderful. They eat carbon dioxide. They give off oxygen. They change the way we psychologically feel, and there’s evidence showing that being surrounded by trees is very good for your mental and physical health. So which city has the most trees?
Trust the MIT’s Senseable Lab partnership with the World Economic Forum to come out with “Treepedia”. Using Google Street View a “Green View Index” was created with “a rating that quantifies each city’s percentage of canopy coverage based on aerial images. ”  You can take a look at the Treepedia index here.
And below are the top-ranking cities for trees, with the percentages expressing the amount of tree coverage:
15. Tel Aviv, Israel — 17.5%
14. Boston, Massachusetts — 18.2%
13. Miami, Florida — 19.4%
12. Toronto, Canada — 19.5%
11. Seattle, Washington — 20%
10. Amsterdam, Netherlands — 20.6%
9. Geneva, Switzerland — 21.4%
8. Frankfurt, Germany — 21.5%
7. Sacramento, California — 23.6%
6. Johannesburg, South Africa — 23.6%
5. Durban, South Africa — 23.7%
4. Cambridge, Massachusetts — 25.3%
3. Vancouver, Canada — 25.9%
2. Sydney, Australia — 25.9%
1. Singapore — 29.3%
You can learn more about Treepedia from one of its developers, Juan Pocaterra on this YouTube video.



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