Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Firenze

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We are leaving here tomorrow. It is a shame to have to say this, but I am actually glad to be going home. Our landlady in Florence told us that there was no point in staying for two weeks, there was not enough to keep us here. We have been in Venice last weekend largely as a result of this advice. We fell in love with Venice, and would have liked to have been able to stay longer. The expense alone was enough to deter that thought. If we could have got back to Vancouver from there … well anyway. Let me tell you about today, which is all about the sort of issues that get discussed on this blog all the time.

Last weekend, on Saturday, before our departure for Venice next morning, we took the advice of our Lonely Planet guide and decided to “get out of town”. Fiesole is a beautiful Tuscan hill village with stunning views and amazing archaeology. You can get there on a #7 bus, from Piazza San Marco within the 90 minute validity of a single ride. So tram ride ride from the apartment, walk across the Centro Storico, and up the hill we go, with a bus full of American art students. When we get to the village square – where the #7 turns round and goes back down the hill – there is a sign on the bus stop. Something obviously rushed out at the last minute on the office printer. No service on the #7 after 15:00 because of a road race – the 100km super marathon – a big deal – through Fiesole which means road closures and who knows when regular bus service can be restored. We saw the view – stunning – had lunch – ordinary but twice the price because of the view – and then caught the next bus back to town in case we got stuck and missed our train to Venice in the morning.

Today we tried again. Fiesole deserved a second chance, if only for its archaeology. Not just Etruscans and Romans but Lombards too. The bus stop for the #7 was beseiged. Local buses could not get near because of a flood of tour buses. In Livorno a massive cruise ship had landed, and tipped off its human cargo onto fleets of coaches full of punters sold on the idea of seeing Michaelangelo’s “David” for real. They get to see Florence in the morning and Pisa in the afternoon (or vice versa). The #7 bus stand is close to the Academy where this version (the real, authentic, actual statue as seen on tea towels and t shirts) could be seen. If you are waiting for a #7 local bus and many tour buses occupy the space where your expected municipal service is going to be, you get anxious. What if the local bus drives straight past, unable to pick you up because of this huge, throbbing airconditioned landwhale is unloading its cargo of bemused, earphoned tourgroupistes onto the one person wide sidewalk? It was chaos I tell you.

Eventually things sorted themselves out and the #7 arrived and we boarded within our permitted 90 minutes. It was a struggle for the bus from there but we just sat and observed how the usual dramas of urban life unfold. An MVA involving another bus, a BMW and a motorscooter, closing three of four lanes. A delivery van, double parked, while urgent packages are rejected for damage incurred while dealing with … a sudden intervention by several varieties of cops (carabineri, local plods, security company wannabes) misdirecting – an ambulance with the horrible wailing siren, unique to their kind, makes all thought impossible. Daily life in Florence.

Etruscan Altar

Roman altar

We got there. Roman ruins were seen. The difference to Etruscan ruins was noted. Lombard burials were studied in minute detail. The play of mottled sunlight on Tuscan hillsides was dutifully recorded. Lunch was eaten, beer was drunk, Fiesole was given its due. Time to return. The #7 is waiting in the square but somehow some other distraction means that it has – how sad – circled the roundabout and gone back down the hill, without us. We find a bench in the shade, where we can wait the quarter hour that must elapse before another #7 will appear. And as we sit observing the human life around us, we note the numbers of others who place themselves between us and the bus stop. There is no orderly queue. The bus has three doors, and all are fair game for entry. And the capture of the very few seats – let alone those that face forward and allow a view out of a window – requires strategy and cunning.

When the bus does arrive, two schoolgirls nip aboard and occupy the seats designated for those over 65 – to which I am entitled and feel that I have earned, being at the bus stop a full 15 minutes before they appeared. My partner deals with the smart cards (proximity reader not being proximate to the desired seats). They get the window seats and pretend not to understand my protests.

But all is well and we are seated, if not optimally at least satisfactorily, and eventually the girls get off and we can arrange ourselves … wait, what, some scruffy individual, wants to inspect my ticket?? No uniform, no apparent authority?

Florence tickets

It seems when the “smart card” was waved in front of the reader, no new ride authority was actually established. My partner’s card is fine, mine despite its three ride validity remaining is deemed “expired”. FIFTY EUROS cash to expunge the offence, once the details of the UK passport I carry with me to get free entry into National Monuments (but not, be it noted Fiesole Museums or archaeological sites) are copied onto a three part, no carbon required, form.  He even digs into his clothing and produces photo ID which shows that he is actually the Yoda of ATAF – so there is no point in arguing – and a new crisp €50 note saved for “a rainy day” is handed over. The alternative is not worth contemplating. The shame, the publicity, the headlines. Far better to sign on the dotted line on a form – being Italian – that I have no hope of understanding. Your card reader, ATAF, failed but I must pay the price, or face ignominy.

I note, from a distance, that once again the Compass card is under assault. That Cubic is once more fair game in the fare evasion/faregates/fare or foul fraud foofooraw. Meh! Life goes on. I will be back next week, refreshed. Able to sleep all night and function on Pacific Summer Time. This too will pass.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 29, 2014 at 11:19 am

Posted in Fare evasion, transit

Tagged with , ,

An alternative to the Broadway Subway

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This route could accommodate a ground level Light Rail Transit system at a lower cost and a more rapid construction program than a Broadway Subway.This bike tour is 7 kilometres long, and will cover the eastern half of the route.Along the way, we will stop at important places and discuss the pros and cons of this alternative concept.

I am not going to be able to join this “Jane’s Walk” because I am taking as month “off” in Italy. (Do people who are retired need holidays?)

While I am out of town you could join this event. Let me know in the comments section below if you go, and if you did because you read about it here. I doubt I am actually that influential. But I was invited and I can’t go. But maybe you could and would like to hear about what might be a Good Idea. The Walk Leader is Adam Fitch and he asked me to post this. Equally if you think he has rocks in his head also please post below.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 25, 2014 at 7:56 pm

Posted in Light Rail

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Search Engine Ecosia Awarded “B Corp” Status

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The following is a Press Release issued by Ecosia.org. I have been intrigued by the idea of B Corporations and have been looking for ways to invest in them instead of the conventional corporations who are bound by their commitment to increase profits at the cost of everything else. I had not heard of this search engine before – but I did try it and it found me. Google, of course, was supposed to “do no evil” which is not quite the same thing as looking for positive things to do, but many internet companies are trumpeting how they are switching to solar or other renewable power sources – which actually makes financial sense too. Here is the press release. I have no financial interest in Ecosia.

BERLIN – Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees, has been awarded B Corp status, joining the growing movement of B Corporations certified by 2014 Skoll Award recipient B Lab.

A B Corporation is a new type of company, which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. Nonprofit organization B Lab is the B Corp certification body.

“Our mission has always been to create a more sustainable world,” Ecosia Founder Christian Kroll said. “In 2009, we promised our users to focus on impact instead of profit – and now there is an entire movement for our philosophy.”

Ecosia lets users help plant trees when they search the web. By donating 80 percent of its ad revenue, the search engine has raised over $1.5 million for rainforest protection since its founding in December 2009. The company’s mission to cultivate a more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable world has it working to plant one million new trees in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest with The Nature Conservancy by August 2014.

“Our users understand strength in numbers because they see its impact everyday,” Kroll said. “Ecosia’s B Corp certification expands that energy to a growing network of smart, accountable businesses who know that social, environmental and economic sustainability is the only true way forward.”

About B Corp
Certified B Corporations meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, legally expand their corporate responsibilities to include consideration of stakeholder interests, and build collective voice through the power of the unifying B Corporation brand. As of April 2014, there are more than 990 Certified B Corporations from over 60 industries and 32 countries, representing a diverse multi-billion dollar marketplace.

www.bcorporation.net/community/ecosia-gmbh

Written by Stephen Rees

April 25, 2014 at 8:04 am

Plan for deeper dredging in Fraser River has high environmental price

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Steveston Ladner Canoe Pass and Mt Baker 2007_0710_1058

The story comes from Business in Vancouver and has a very even handed approach. I adapted their headline to be less even handed since I feel somewhat incensed by the behaviour of the Port Authority. As are the Voters Taking Action Against Climate Change. And it is also worth I think reframing this argument not so much about saving the planet as saving the place where we live from the inevitable consequences. It is not that dredging of the Fraser “may” reduce the protection provided by the wetlands. The mechanism described by Michael Church is readily apparent. The Port of course chooses to ignore it.

The problem is that the Port Authority has a very limited remit and no responsibility at all to the community within which it operates. The current Board’s view is that they only have to satisfy the “stakeholders” of whom the port businesses are about the only ones that get any attention. In exactly the same way the business in general is dealing with climate change – hoping it will go away or someone else will solve it cheaply and at public rather than business expense, all the while ensuring the greatest possible rate of return on capital employed for the shareholders rather than the stakeholders. It is this fundamental misconception – that the economy is somehow more important than the environment – that is the heart of the problem. A different kind of government in Ottawa could easily change this perception. We  - the people of Canada – are in fact the shareholders of the Port. But our government – at all levels – chooses to ignore that and places the interest of short term financial profits above all else. Including the impact of tidal surges on the population of Richmond, where urban development was allowed against all common sense and the regional plan.

This blog has often commented on the port and Richmond. When I lived there I felt personally threatened. No I no longer live there its a more academic exercise – but I still feel that we ought to have public agencies that are acutely conscious of their broader responsibilities. A business like approach is NOT appropriate in any Public Corporation. That is why it is in the public sector, not the private. If all that mattered was profit, then it could be privatized. But even our right wing governments realize that there are public interests in controlling the operations of ports – and all the other kinds of transportation and its associated infrastructure.

It is hardly surprising now that people here do not see the decision to downgrade the protection afforded to whales not as scientifically driven (when has the Harper Government ever paid any attention to science?) but as a spectacularly inept gift to the oil for export lobby. The timing alone is terrible, but when they have a secure parliamentary majority, and the polls trending once again in their favour, what do they care about optics? On the other hand they have finally decided to something about DOT111 tank cars: what a shame it took the deaths of so many people fo force them into action. Whatever happened to the precautionary principle? I would take that approach to dredging deeper in the Fraser. If for no other reason than every dredging operation I have been in touch with was always temporary – since each time you dredge a hole it fills up again. As any kid with a bucket and spade at the beach will tell you.

Public Furniture | Urban Trees

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There is a sculpture exhibit on Spanish Banks at present. It is the latest manifestation of Vancouver Biennale – and the title is theirs. And that is really what has inspired this opinion piece. I think it is misleading – the furniture is not public. The artist, Hugo França comes from Brazil. This is what the signage at the exhibit says

Hugo França reimagines fallen trees in poetic ways, transforming them into beautiful sculptress for public enjoyment. The sculpting process respects the natural features of the trees, promoting minimum waste and the beauty of the natural organic forms, lines, flaws and imperfections. Their memory remains alive with their uniqueness, offered back to the community in harmony with the natural environment. This is the first time the artist is creating public sculpture outside Brazil and using a variety of of local wood species.

The pictures are all in a set on flickr which includes a Google map showing the location.

Public Furniture | Urban Trees 1
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 2
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 3
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 4
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 5
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 6

The signage also includes the warning “Please do not cross the line” (in large friendly capital letters) but as you can see from some of my images this seems to be moot. The line – a bit like crime scene tape – has been supplemented by snow fence, which has also fallen – or been taken – down. One of my flickr contacts Tom Abrahamson remarked “Elaborate and nicely done bench at the beach. Just have to hope that the usual brain dead idiots are not trying to put it on fire or damage it.”

This is an issue for all art works outside of private houses. Put something on display in public and unless you guard it night and day it is at high risk of damage. Even if the damage is unintentional. There are, of course, raw logs that end up on all our beaches. It is a feature of the remarkably careless way logs are moved around – in log booms.

River Eagle North Arm Vancouver BC 2007_0530

But also the natural erosion of the banks of streams and inlets mean that trees – or what remains of them – get cast up on beaches. In Vancouver these are carefully marshalled to provide a certain amount of amenity to visitors, who thus bring much less in the way of furniture to the beach with them. In other places, chairs, tables, loungers, windbreaks – and umbrellas – all proliferate. On many beaches around the world the provision of such amenities is a source of income.

4 poster beach bed

Yucatan Beach

At the beach in Spanish Banks near where the sculptures are placed, the city allows people to cut up spare logs for fuel or other purposes

Trunk full of stepping "stones"

The sound of chainsaws is as common at this beach as dogs barking at others. There seems to be a clear understanding of which logs are for cutting – and that people will not take the work of others for themselves. But somehow we are not so trusting when it comes to art.

Rainblossom Project

Not long ago near this location another art installation appeared. Red umbrellas hung from some trees. They did not last long. I saw some being “adopted”. Just as some people will pick flowers in public places. Though they do seem to respect the floral tributes left on benches.

bench marker and flower

I have heard of flowers being stolen from graves, and I am afraid some of my family’s monuments in a cemetery in East London were destroyed by anti-semitic vandals.

The art work benches are not actually public furniture – because they have not been provided for people to enjoy through use but merely by looking at them. Even though their very nature invites touch – they have been lovingly smoothed – and relaxation. Unlike the unfinished logs on this and other Vancouver beaches

View from the Boat House pano

The art is also not going to last very long in this state as the cut surfaces have not been “finished”. Exposed to the elements, they will decay. Indeed in their natural state trees decay and return to the soil even before they fall

Detail of downed tree

It isn’t the tree we want to preserve, it’s the work of the artist we value. But the work has potential value that exceeds that of the visual amenity. We long ago recognized that lawns – the product of careful gardening, extensive and expensive maintenance – are vulnerable when used for human activities, but we stopped putting “Keep off the Grass” signs in most city parks many years ago, recognizing the value of lawns for games, recreation or even a quiet snooze.

early tanner

The introduction of tables and chairs onto city streets was also a risky undertaking, but in New York at least, theft – or other unintended uses – does not seem to have been a problem.

I think it would be a Good Idea if we could turn the guys with chainsaws loose on some of the raw logs on our beaches to see how they could be improved. Not for firewood. Well not initially anyway: for the failed experiments, possibly. But to increase their utility – and quite possibly their beauty too. And pubic art will get used as a sitting place or a climbing frame, and needs to be sufficiently robust and secure enough to withstand that.

Art climbing

Art reduced to a bench

Art as adventure playground

Art climber

Written by Stephen Rees

April 20, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Repeat a lie often enough …

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Am I being a pedant? Or does my commitment to speaking the truth just keep getting me into trouble? I like Mike Harcourt. I have met him, and even “worked” alongside him: well they call them “workshops”. But he repeats a canard in his latest letter to the Vancouver Sun that irritates me

Vancouver … we are the only major North American city without a freeway (thank goodness).”

Vancouver Boundary

I just created the map above: I was surprised that the City Boundary does not appear on Google maps so I added a very crude dashed line along Boundary Road. The map area to the left of that line is the City of Vancouver. You will note that Highway 1 also known as the TransCanada Highway and “the freeway” is to the left of the line too. Vancouver does have a freeway. Not very much maybe and it just runs through the north east corner of the City and for some distance in a tunnel. But it is a freeway and it is well within the City limits.

Mike Harcourt was indeed instrumental in making sure that a freeway was not built through Chinatown – and downtown. Well done Mike. I salute you. But that does not mean that Vancouver is without any freeways at all.

 

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

April 11, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Downtown Bus Review & Robson Street

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E40LFR 2130 wrap 95FM Robson at Howe 2007_0827

Last November I went to a discussion on what should be done about downtown buses and in particular the impact of the closure of one block of Robson behind the Art Gallery. You  can now review Translink’s proposed bus route alternatives and comment on them. As I very rarely use any of these routes and I do not consider myself any kind of expert in the field of bus routing in general (I leave that to Jarret Walker) or downtown Vancouver (that’s Gordon Price) I will refrain from further comment.

As it happens you can also see what is proposed for Robson Street tonight at the Art Gallery.

Viva Seating installation

I am not happy that this blog post is so short, so thanks to the Georgia Strait here is some more information about Translink’s recent performance

Last year, Metro Vancouver’s transportation authority received a total of 36,390 complaints, up from 32,617 in 2012.

The number of transit-related complaints went up about 10 percent, to 31,595 in 2013 from 28,408 in the previous year.

Transit service and ridership both decreased in 2013. Service hours were tightened [I think that means reduced] to 6.792 million from 6.927 million. Boarded passengers declined to 355.2 million from 363.2 million.

By the way, of the transit-related complaints, 28,494 pertained to the Coast Mountain Bus Company, 1,526 to HandyDART, 599 to the West Coast Express, 551 to the Expo and Millenium lines, and 425 to the Canada Line.

…”less than half (44 per cent) of TransLink’s customers feel they are getting good-to-excellent value for the money they spend on transit, this also is down slightly from 2012 (48 per cent).”

But in case that is all too negative for you here’s Daryl’s latest take on improved efficiency.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

April 3, 2014 at 3:56 pm

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