Monday, January 31, 2011

Alternative Energy in Canada

I would like to take a look at Canada's power usage and where it comes from.  According to http://www.centreforenergy.com/ Canada's Total Electricity usage was 549 TW-h in 2009.


Map Showing Canada's Power Generation Plants
Photo Courtesy of http://www.centreforenergy.com

A total of  125 TW-h or 22% of Canada's Electricity consumption was generated from 136 petroleum fired plants,  114 natural gas fired plants, 22 Coal fired plants, and 33 biomass (wood scraps, etc.) fired plants.  This means that a total of 22% of Canada's energy usage is provided from non-renewable energy source.  According to http://www.electricity.ca/ in 2008 16.1% or 118 of Canada's 734 Mega tonnes of Greenhouse Gas (GHG).  This means roughly that Canada's 22% non-renewable electricity sources are mostly responsible for 16.1% of Canada's total GHG.  That is almost a 1 to 1 ratio.  The impact of our fuel based energy sources does not stop there.  We have to obtain the fuel from the earth, and this most likely means that it will be mined.  In 2001 oil and coal production accounted for another 7.5% of GHG in Canada according to http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/16-201-x/16-201-x2004000-eng.pdf. So by using a a non-renewable source of electricity we increase the impact since you have continually mine for your energy.
 

Map of Canada's Coal, Petroleum and Natural Gas Fired Power Generation Plants

    A total of  82 TW-h or 15% of Canada's electricity consumption was generated from 5 nuclear plants, with 95% of Canada's nuclear power being generated in Ontario.  Nuclear is better source of energy in terms of emissions, as nuclear plants do not have any emissions except for steam.  However nuclear power has the same problem as fossil fuel plants in that its fuel needs to be continually mined from the earth, and thus nuclear power does have a substantial impact on our environment.  Nuclear power also has a with the disposal of its radioactive waste which is poisonous and lasts for several decades before it becomes stable again.  Nuclear waste most often is stored in large cement bunkers deep in the earth.


Canada's Nuclear Power Plants
Photo Courtesy of http://www.centreforenergy.com
 A whopping total of  362.9 TW-h or 63% of Canada's electricity consumption was generated from 426 hydro plants, with 90% of Manitoba's, Quebec's, B.C.'s, and Newfoundland's power needs being generated from Hydro.  Hydro is good in that it generates very little emissions once the infrastructure is in place.  However Hydro power generates vast amounts of emissions during its construction as it requires massive dams and earth movements.  Hydro dams also have major environmental impacts, due to the flooding of ecosystems, and disruption of animals habitats once operational.  The good and bad news is that Canada has built up the majority of its hydro potential.
Canada's Hydro Power Plants
Photo Courtesy of http://www.centreforenergy.com

A total of  1.6 TW-h or 0.28% of Canada's electricity consumption was generated from 109 wind farms, and a total of  0.03 TW-h or 0.01% was generated from 1 tidal plant in the maritime.  Wind and tidal power are good in that they both generate very little emissions once the infrastructure is in place.  Wind and tidal plants get their power sources for next to free once operational.  Tidal power is very consistent since it is dependent on the moon, and that isn't doing anywhere soon.   However like Hydro plants, tidal plants require massive infrastructure and thus release vast GHG emissions during construction.  Wind is not the most consistent source as it can die down at times, thus eliminating your power generation at times.  Due to the inconsistency of wind and our current technology farms are limited to locations with high winds.  Wind and tidal power both also have impacts of the local animals living in the region, as wind turbines kill countless birds every year, and tidal plants impact marine life.


Canada's Wind Farms
Photo Courtesy of http://www.centreforenergy.com


Well that's it, those are all of Canada's electricity sources.  I am sure you have noticed the glaring exclusion...where is Canada's solar power?  Canada does not have any solar plants, yet we have more potential than Solar power giants such as Germany.  As the below figure shows the majority of Canada's land mass has at least 1000 kWh solar capacity.  Solar is the ultimate renewable source, it does not have any emissions during operation as it comes from our Sun, and our Sun isn't going anywhere for another billion years.  Solar power does not have any major impacts towards animals or ecosystems, does not have major infrastructure needs, and thus does not produce a large amount of emissions during construction compared to other sources.   Solar power does have the drawback of losing power generation during cloudy days or at night, however if we develop ways to store energy these challenges can be overcome.

Canada's Solar Power Potential
Photo Courtesy of https://glfc.cfsnet.nfis.org/mapserver/pv/index_e.php
 The below image depicts how much land mass would be needed to provide enough energy for the world.  With our current technology you would only need 16, 000 km2, or 0.01% of the Earth's 148,939,100 km2 total land surface area.
Solar Power Surface Area to provide Energy for the Whole World
Photo Courtesy of http://www.treehugger.com


Canada really needs to step up its game and eliminate the 22% non-renewable energy sources with solar and other alternatives, especially solar.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Edmonton's 150 km Diet

 

74 Farms Located within 150 Kilometers of Edmonton

If you are interested in making your habits more sustainable, there are countless ways to do so.  In this excerpt we are going to focus on how you can make your eating habits more sustainable.  The food at our local grocers often travel vast distances from places such as California or South America.  This requires fuel to transport those products, which costs money and the use of gasoline releases harmful pollutants.

The good news is that if you live in Edmonton your local options are bountiful even though our grocers choose not invest in them.  From the list below it is shown that Edmontonians have a total of 74 local farms that they can obtain their groceries from within 150 km.  From those 74 farms, a total of 76 different meat and produce products are available.  23 different fruits, over 41 vegetables, and almost all of your typical meat products are available from within 150 km.

Information concerning the location of farms and the available products was retrieved from the Province of Alberta's agriculture website at http://www.agric.gov.ab.ca/app21/rtw/ff/farm_fresh_map.jsp%20.  So if you want to determine exactly which farm provides which product take a look at the agriculture website.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Throw out the Coffee Cups for Good

Photo Courtesy of http://www.blogadilla.com

Have you ever been walking around and seen one of the disposable drinking cups from Tim Horton's, or Starbucks?  We live in throw away society and the majority of our trash comes from the packaging for our fast foods and drinks.  Did you know that the disposable cups from you local Starbucks or Tim Horton's cannot be recycled?  This means that the millions of disposable cups being sold world wide are just ending up in the landfill.

Why wouldn't the cups be recyclable, they are made of paper, and last time I looked paper is recyclable. The culprit is the fine layer of plastic that lines the inside of each and every cup.  This layer is vital in order to keep the liquid contained, otherwise it would just soak through the paper cup.  This layer of plastic poses problems for your local recycling facilities, as their technology is not capable of separating the plastic from the paper, and thus cannot recycle them.  Any cups that end up at the recycling facility end up being diverted to the landfills, adding increased costs for the increased transportation. 

What can you do about this?  You should bring a reusable thermos, especially if you are a habitual drinker and get a coffee from Starbucks everyday.  Often your local coffee stores will provide a discount to those that bring a reusable thermos, as you are benefiting them as well.  Companies do not want to spend money to provide you with a cup if they don't have to and will reward you for it. 

So please try as hard as possible to remember to bring a reusable thermos.  One way to ensure that you do have one is to keep it in your backpack, purse or car.  By using the thermos you also make your coffee last longer, and allows you to waste less coffee since it is less likely that you won't finish your coffee before it gets cold and unpalatable.  Not only that, but if we eliminated the use of these disposable cups, there would be one less piece of trash blowing around our sidewalks.

Increasing Computer Efficiency

Computers and the Internet are a large part of peoples lives these days, with at least one desktop or laptop for every household.  I have recently done a calculation of the power requirements of my home. Computers with all of the add-ons such as the monitor, modem, router, and speakers utilized 140 kilowatts a month or 30-45% of my total electricity usage.  That is a large portion of my bill coming from my computer usage, this however will differ with different people,  as not everybody will use their computer to the same extent.  However there improvements that can be made to reduce your computers power requirements while operational.  I would like to go over some of these improvements that can save money and energy. 


User interface for Grano.la Software
Photo Courtesy of http://grano.la/software/

First off I would like to mention a newly discovered software that increases your computers efficiency.  The software in question is Grano.la, you can find information about it and download it here.  All you have to do in order to save energy is download the program and install it.  The program is free for personal use, there is a commercial version that is available as well for a fee. The program once installed will not affect your computers performance, it simply applies a dimmer switch sort of operation to your computer.  There may be unnecessary processes occurring while your computer is running, Grano.la turns those operations off when they are not being used thus preventing your computer from wasting energy.  As shown in the picture above the program provides you with snap shot of how much money, energy, emissions you save, you will notice that as your computer is running the numbers will fluctuate since your computer is utilizing different operations.  However it hovering around 20% on my computer, so this means that I am now shaving 9%  or $4 off my total electricity bill.  I would highly encourage every one to install the program, it is free, it will not affect your computers performance and you get to save energy!

Grano.la is by far not the only software that you could download, you could definately search the expanses of the web or at your local computer store for other softwares.  However there are other options that you could implement to help save energy and money.  With most computers you can adjust your computers power settings  under the Control Panel as shown below.  You usually have a three options ranked in the order of their ability to save power; Power Saver, Energy Star, and High Performance.  Energy star would be the best option for users that utilize their computers for a myriad of functions such as music, browsing, movies, or games.  However if you only use a computer for basic functions such as taxes or emails I would suggest the Power Star option.  The more energy that your computer saves with each option the more likely your computers performance will suffer.  The Power Saver and Energy Star options will make small changes such as not representing file icons with a picture of the what the actual file looks like, among changes to the computers operating system that are not visible. 

Computer power options

Computer sleep options.
You also have the ability to set when you want to your computer to go to sleep, or when you want your monitor to turn off.  This is useful if you are very easily distracted and leave your computer on when you leave.  I would like to explain a little about what the sleep mode actually does.  There are two versions of sleep mode called stand-by, and hibernate.  Stand-by (or Sleep) will turn off most of your computers operations after taking a snapshot of the configuration of programs you had open.  Your computer is still on but uses a minuscule amount of power such as 4-6 Watts, whereas when your computer is on your computer uses anywhere between 100-400 Watts.  When you need your computer operational again it only takes a few seconds after you push the power button before every thing is restored.  The sleep mode is highly convenient for those with fast paced lives but still want to do something good for the environment.

Hibernate is the best option energy wise as it will completely shut your computer down using zero power, but it allows you to bypass the 7 minute computer start up process.  The Hibernate function takes a "snapshot" of your current configuration and current programs and stores the data, so that when you push the power button you are taken back to your last workspace.  The only drawback with hibernate is that it does take 1-3 minutes to restore your computer.  Most computers will activate the hibernate mode automatically if your computer has been sleeping for an extended period of time. 

I would encourage you to set the sleep mode to activate after short time frames, such as 3 or 5 minutes.  These settings will not affect your computers performance in anyway while you are using it, and will not put your computer to sleep in the middle of your work.  If you like to play music on your computer while you read, the computer recognizes this as a form of operation and thus will not put your computer to sleep, it would simply shut your monitor off.  If you set your sleep options to shorter intervals, this means that when you get distracted away from your computer and you forget to manually put the computer to sleep, it will not  wait 30 minutes or 1 hour before it goes to sleep.  You do not waste power needlessly and can restore the computer within seconds.

If you decide that your computer is not running as fast as it can, before you consider recycling your current computer to buy a new one,  why not consider upgrading your existing computer.  You can replace your existing memory cards or add new memory cards.  An upgrade of 4 GB of memory runs at $100 or two 1 G memory cards runs for $50.  By installing new memory cards there is a higher chance that you are increasing the efficiency of your computer, since newer cards are made smaller and more efficient.  Things that you need to know in order to upgrade your memory:

  • Memory cards work best in pairs, so to maximize the efficiency of your computer it is best to add two memory cards, or if you do not have enough slots, replace two of the existing cards with two identical larger memory cards.  Also take note which slots the old memory cards were located, as those locations were wired to match a pair of memory cards.
  • Your computer has specific needs and unless you are a computer engineer and know otherwise, it is best to ensure that you buy new cards that match the speed (e.g. 667 Hz) and type (e.g. DDR2) of the existing cards.  So before you buy your new cards make sure that you take a look at your computers type and speed, and buy two identical cards from the store with the same criteria.  If you do not buy the correct speed or type, the computer will not be able to utilize them and since it is trying to run without the proper memory supply may become corrupt and crash.
However you may determine that upgrading your current system will not work for you due to costs or lack of expertise, and decide to buy a new computer.  I would encourage you to buy a laptop as they are built to be more efficient.  Laptops are generally built to be more efficient as they have to be.  Laptops have to operate off of its own power source (its battery) at times, and they best way laptop manufacturers can maximize its customers satisfaction and thus increase sales is by maximizing a laptops battery life. 

You should also consider using the memory and hard drive from your old computer to upgrade your new one.  Don't just throw your old computer and monitor into the trash.  Computers and especially the monitor may contain mercury, among other rare metals.  Mercury is harmful to humans and the environment and if your are just throwing it into a landfill, you increase the risk of that mercury finding its way into our groundwater.  Those rare metals, such as gold are highly sought out commodities for recycling.  It is much more efficient to mine our old computers for these rare metals rather than destroying our landscapes due to actual mines.

It is common for most people to own printers, printers do not utilize much power when they are on and are not printing, about 4 watts.  However if you want to save more power you can turn the printer off if you do not print that often.  Before you even print something, consider if you actually need to print it, when a printer is actually printing it uses 500-700 watts if laser, and 20-30 watts if ink-jet.  If you need to buy a printer try to buy an ink-jet, they are slower, however they save 5 times less energy when printing.  You could also skip buying a printer at all and allow the printing businesses that are around to do so. These businesses may charge between 10 cents per black & white sheets, and 30 cents per color sheet.   If you do not print that often, these businesses allow you to save the cost of buying a printer, and the energy of having to manufacture and recycle printers.  Printers themselves cost around $100 however the real cost comes from the ink cartridges which can run out quickly and cost around $45 per cartridge.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Transit Fares Based on the Distance you Travel

Sometimes it is not convenient to buy a bus pass as you do not use transit enough to break even compared to single ticket prices.  Single fare passes and the 10 pass booklets are priced much more expensively per ride than a bus pass, the price per commute with a bus pass goes down with every additional commute.  However if you only use transit a few times a month the single fares are beneficial.  You could buy a 10 pass booklet and use one only when you need to.  It is common with transit systems around the world for the single transit fares to expire after 90 minutes.  Once you board a bus or train you have to have it stamped to indicate the time that you got on, thus the clock starts ticking.  It does not matter if you only ride the bus for 10 minutes and then hop off to wait 20 minutes for another bus.  Those 20 minutes you waited for a transfer according to transit authorities, count as using transit. 

Having one blanket price is highly impractical if you need to do a series of chores at different corners of the city one day, but you do not use transit enough to justify the cost of buying a bus pass.  If your chores caused you to spend an hour at a doctors office after only utilizing the system for 30 minutes, you will have to use another fare for the way back.  I would like to see a fare system installed that would help decrease the costs if you only need to use a bus for 10 minutes.  With the current systems 10 minutes on a bus only utilizes 1/9 of the time allotted but yet you still pay 100% of the fare. 

One solution is to break the city up into zones similar to what is implemented for Vancouver's transit system.  Fares would be priced according to the number of zones that you would have to cross.  If you only have to travel within a certain zone the fare would be the least expensive, if you have to pass through two zones the price is slightly higher than for just one zone. The price would continue to rise for each additional zone that you would need to cross.  This way those that need to travel farther have to pay more, this makes sense since they are using more energy since they are utilizing the transit longer.  This helps decrease some of the inefficiencies with the single fare system, however people are still losing money when they have to walk to another stop and wait.

Possibly in the future we can have smart phones, or fobs outfitted with a signal emitter that allows the transit authorities to track the time you were physically on the bus.  When you board a bus or train there is a receiver that receives a signal that is being emitted from your fob, similar to what offices have installed to open doors.  This transmitter would be able to pick up your fob's signal when you are on board, and once you disembark your fob would leave the range of the transmitter. The transit authority would then load the commuting time onto your online transit account.  This system would have to utilize GPS on the bus as well, to ensure that time spent stuck in traffic could be deducted off of the bill. 

This sort of system would also help increase efficiencies since the bus driver would not have to wait for every person to show their proof of payment, you could install the sensor in the doorways of the vehicle similar to a metal detector at the airports. The door sensor would alert the driver if someone without a fob has boarded the bus.  This sort of system would reduce wastes and costs to the transit authority since they wouldn't need to provide paper fare booklets, transfers and bus passes.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ways for Restaurants to Reduce their Impact

I have already discussed how if restaurants implemented better operations they could possibly be more sustainable than every individual cooking at home.  Now I want to delve into some the bad habits that restaurants have and how they could be corrected.  I have had the opportunity to work in the kitchen briefly so I have had the chance to see how a restaurant operates.

I was surprised to find out that recycling is not that common a habit in the restaurant business.  I mean sure they will collect the empty beer bottles to retrieve the deposits, however most of the chefs and waiters at the restaurant did not place a high priority on separating the recyclables from the trash.  One of the causes for this is that the this is not the highest priority for managers and owners, and thus they do not enforce this behavior enough.  The restaurant industry centers around customer service, this means that the needs of the customers are paramount.

Since a large portion of waiters wages come from their customers pocket directly, this means that the waiter has to focus on serving them in order to even begin to make a living.  This in my experience led to rushed servers during the dinner rush, they will seldom pay attention to what they are doing outside of the customers view.  Servers in their rush will not focus on separating the waste properly, this also applies to chefs during a busy dinner rush.  Often restaurants are not properly staffed for a dinner service as well.  If restaurant owners would pay their staff proper wages and ensure that they are properly staffed for a dinner rush, this would allow for some relaxation.  Since a server would not be rushed when they bring the plates into the kitchen, they have time to separate the recyclables, wastes, and organic material that can be composted.

Restaurants could also reduce their impact on the environment by having their own gardens.  If restaurants could take a little land from the massive parking lots that would normally be provided for customers cars, they could construct their own garden.  The French Laundry, one of Thomas Keller's restaurants in California is a great example of this.  They grow their own produce by hiring their own gardener, they take what they need and sell any extra produce to competing restaurants down the road.  This restaurant is not only saving money by growing their own fruits and vegetables but they are also making a profit.  Not every restaurant would be able to afford their own personal garden, but with urban farming on the rise owners could make deals with more devoted gardeners to split the crops.  This way the business owners would supply the seeds, soil and in return the gardener would receive a portion of the produce as pay.  Owners would save money since they do not have to pay supplier prices.  Energy is saved since your products don't have to shipped in from faraway distant lands, your food is right outside your door...if you need a carrot you would go out and pick one out from the soil. You also know that the products you are serving your patrons are the highest quality since you grew them, and since they did not have to travel hundreds of miles to get to your patrons plate they would be fresher.  Restaurants could divert the ends and unwanted bits of vegetables that they don't use from the trash.  They could instead use these leftovers to create compost, thus even saving more money as they won't have to buy as much soil or fertilizer. 

Restaurants and the fast food industry contribute the most negatively with the left over packaging they provide.  In this day and age I am quite surprised that Styrofoam is even allowed to be used, but it is.  I find it quite confusing how we can justify producing products that will only be used for 30 minutes yet will last for hundreds of years in a land fill.  I would like see restaurants allowing people to bring their own containers to take their food home with.  I don't see why restaurants wouldn't encourage this behavior, it is a win win situation, owners do not have to spend money on containers.  Owners would also prevent energy and resources from being used to produce a container that will only be used for 30 minutes before the city has to use energy and labour to recycle or trash it.  The Coup in Calgary is a great example in that they will pay for the G.S.T. of your food if you bring your own container for leftovers or takeout.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Is eating out more sustainable?

The majority of people eat out for many reasons.  People may be extremely busy with commuting, work, sports, friends and families so eating out may save a few precious minutes for those that are not skilled at cooking. 

We all know that restaurants do not have a good track record for being sustainable in the sense that they sell a product at 500% mark up, most do not recycle and compost as much waste as they should, and they use Styrofoam take-out containers which often little our streets.  However, I would like to consider putting these deficiencies aside for a second to compare a restaurants ability to be sustainable compared to an individual at home.

In order for an individual to be able to cook at home this means that they need an assortment of tools.  Every individual usually will not use up all of their produce or meat products immediately after purchase, so this means that the leftovers need to be cooled to delay spoilage  Since it is not possible or practical for every one to own a clay pot fridge or a root cellar, almost all households are installed with a typical freon refrigerator.  Refrigerators do not consume that much electricity compared other electronics such as your TV.  However the problem with refrigerators, comes with the fact that they need to remain on 24 hours 7 days a week in order to preserve your food.  This constant usage can cause the refrigerator to be the one of the main components of any electric bill. 

Most foods are not as satisfying raw, so this means you will need some way to cook your food.  Your options are limitless with bar-b-ques, grills, stove tops, microwave, toaster, and conventional ovens. Most homes are always fitted with one form of these, with the conventional stove and oven being the preferred.  This means that in order for every individual to even have the means to cook their own food they will most likely need their own fridge and oven, not to mention all of the necessary cooking equipment such as knives, pots and frying pans.

Restaurants will already have all of these tools at their disposal, restaurants will already have the necessary fridges and cooking elements.    If people would eat at restaurants all of the time, except for any non-perishable at home, this would eliminate the need for every household owning its own refrigerator and oven.  Since you would have a significantly smaller demand for refrigerators and ovens, not as much energy is used smelting the metal, or materials used to manufacture them.  However I have noticed with restaurants is that they need to keep the ovens, grills and such on for the duration of the whole dinner service in order to have it ready to make the meal when the chef requires it.

Not only that but the chefs that they employ are experts at preparing and cooking multiple dishes in short amounts of time.  Most restaurants prep the necessary ingredients ahead of time for any dinner service, this combined with a chefs refined cooking skills allows them to prepare more dishes and quicker.  By hiring experienced chefs, restaurants are able to make the process of cooking more efficient.  Restaurants also have the means to make larger batches of food at one time.  The more food you cook at once the more efficient it becomes since you do not have to repeat the same heating processes more than once.  When you cook a soup in a larger pot you only have to get the pot up to temperature once, where as if you cook the same amout of soup in smaller batches you have to get the pot up to temperatur each time.

A large amount of food that people buy ends up in the trash before they even open it.  Most people will do a large weeks worth or food grocery run, this becomes problematic as you now have a large fridge full of food.  It is hard to judge exactly how much food you can eat in a week, as opposed to one day.  It is hard to predict whether you might eat out, thus not eating the food that you had bought.  The food may spoil before you even get a chance to eat it.  Restaurants have the advantage of having chef's consistently checking product levels every day, its their job.  This way restaurants are able to order only what they need, the only problem comes with not being able to predict the number of patrons for any dinner service.  Restaurants have to basically guess how much food to get.   
Since restaurants need to order larger quantities of the produce and meats, this means produce providers do not have to individually wrap every item.  The food available at groceries stores is usually packaged in such a way that it meets the needs of an individual.  Restaurants would be able to forgo this excessive packaging, less packaging also means that the produce provider as well as cities save money.  Cities would save money since this means that there is less waste to process, and thus less labour and energy needed to recycle. 

So could restaurants be more efficient? Possibly.  Restaurants would need to become more affordable, and would have to change some of its operations, and practices but that is a discussion for another day.

Monday, January 24, 2011

High Speed Rail

 Photo Courtesy of http://colomboherald.com

One day you will be able to hop on your bus or train route heading downtown Edmonton, where you will disembark and enter the downtown high speed rail terminal.  You will pay your fare and enter the platform area and train with relatively little security.  You will glide through the fields of Alberta at speeds of 300 km/hr, until finally you arrive at the Calgary downtown terminal one hour later.  Leaving the terminal you seamlessly catch a connecting bus in your new destination.

With cities becoming increasingly connected in the future due new transportation methods, it is imperative to implement some sort of transferability of transit fares.  With technologies such as High Speed Rail (HSR)  making the 280km connecting Calgary and Edmonton essentially a hours trip. 

You could argue that a plane ride between the two cities would be a similar experience.  Airports are usually not incorporated into the middle of a cities downtown for obvious safety reasons, along with the fact that airports require large swaths of land for landing.  Having an airport in your downtown does not stimulate development, as nobody wants to listen to a plane landing every half hour.  Airplanes have to follow specific landing paths when approaching an airport, these landing paths may require high rise height restrictions to ensure safety (as Edmonton has learned from keeping its downtown airport open until recently).  Airports are also usually located on the outskirts of any municipality it takes time to get there. 



Berlin's HSR Terminal
Photos Courtesy of http://www.socketsite.com/

However HSR terminals are typically designed to have stations within a cities downtown limits.  This means that when you disembark from your train you are already located where the majority of  amenities and attractions are.    Since transit systems usually possess the best design and frequency within downtown limits, you are able to get where you need to quickly once you leave the terminal.  By designing a HSR system to have a terminal downtown, where the local systems are best built, you drastically decrease the need for an automobile. 

Airports also have the disadvantage of having stringent security checks in place,  where airport authorities consistently advise patrons to be at the airport 1-2 hours in advance for international flights and 30 minutes for domestic flights.  The HSR systems in other countries generally only ever advise patrons to arrive 30 minutes early for their departure. 

Highway two is the busiest corridor in Alberta, with 20,000 vehicles utilizing the corridor on a single day.  For anyone that has driven highway two you know that with that many drivers a day the chances of accidents, and delays are higher.  When you compare 100 individual drivers who could be tired, angry, sick, inattentive, as opposed to the two well rested healthy drivers of mass transit that could be driving those one hundred people.  You start to notice that by having 20000 individual drivers with varying elements affecting their ability to drive, you create a very dangerous situation on the road.  This fact is shown repeatedly through studies that are done world wide.  Between 2000 and 2004 in Canada had an average of 10,000 fatalities every year due to automobile accidents.  In the year 2005 Europe had 1.3 million automobile accidents, of which 40,000 people were killed as a result.  However the number of fatalities caused by HSR in Europe only reached 1,464 people.  The HSR systems in Europe caused 97% less fatalities than automobiles, with only 4% of those fatalities occurring to the patrons themselves.  This means that by encouraging those 20,000 individuals to instead utilize a properly implemented HSR system in Alberta we are guaranteed to reduce fatalities, and the costs to our health care system due to accident injuries.

With the prospect of HSR looming on the horizon, Canada needs to first of all make its local transit systems more efficient and convenient.  People will not want to ride HSR as much if they cannot get around easily at their destination without a vehicle.  One of the best ways to ensure the success of any future HSR system is to ensure that the transit systems in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton are massively upgraded from their existing state.  The good news is that both Calgary and Edmonton are building and approving plans to develop new LRT networks, the only thing holding both municipalities is capital. 

To also ensure the success of a future HSR system I would like to see some form of transit transferability between the transit systems of Alberta.  As it stands regular fares and bus passes in Edmonton do not work on the transit systems of St.Albert, or Sherwood Park without some form of extra fare requirement.  I would like to see one governing body for the transit systems of Edmonton and the surrounding municipalities.  This way you would only have to pay one fare, or zoned fares to travel around the region.  I would also like to see this governing body extend to cover Calgary's transit system as well.  This way when the cities become easier to travel between, as you only need to buy one transit pass to use either system.

Statistics of Europes fatalities were obtained from: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Transport_safety_statistics

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Importance of Preserving our Farmland.

The majority of the produce, dairy's, and meat products that line the shelves at our grocers do not come from local sources.  In the summer months our peaches, plums, and corn often originate at its closest from B.C.  Our onions, apples, and pears often originate from Washington, our lettuce and celery from California, our tomatoes, grapefruits and corn from Florida.  Our more exotic fruits such as bananas, pineapples, and avocados can originate from faraway lands in Mexico or the South Americas.  Our meats are often sent to centralized packing plants in east Canada, before they are distributed back.  Other food products such as our cereals come from centralized processing facilities in eastern Canada, and other various countries.  We are only hurting ourselves by sourcing our foods to foreign locations.

When we source our foods from faraway lands, this increases the cost of our food products in a few ways.  Our food needs to be transported somehow from these faraway lands, this transportation does not come cheaply.  Since Canada and the US has dedicated the majority of its time developing their roadway networks this means that the most frequent method of transporting our foods is via semi trailers.   This is problematic these days since the price of our food is directly tied to the price of gas, and guess what...the price of fuel is going up.  If Canada and the US had decided to develop their rail systems better, we could transport our food by rail more, and the price of our food is less connected to its transportation. Rail is a more efficient transportation method as it has its own right of way and doesn't have to deal with other drivers or traffic lights every 5 minutes.  Rail is also less expensive since you only need a few train conductors for every 100 rail cars, where as with semis you need a driver for every two trailers. 

Since our food spends a long time on the road, this also means that you have keep it fresh for the consumer when it arrives at its destination.  This means that food providers have to use preservatives to achieve this goal, these preservatives also cost money thus raising the cost of the food.  Preservatives can come in many forms which include cooler trailers, packaging, natural additives such as salts or smoke, and artificial preservatives.  The use of coolers require large amounts of energy, which in turn requires more fuel to run the semis.  Plastic is used for the majority of our packaging, this is unsustainable as plastic is produced from oil, plastic is not very biodegradable, and plastic requires large amounts of energy to recycle.  Unfortunately the majority of our foods use artificial preservatives since they are the cheapest.  We are basically poisoning ourselves by procuring our foods from distant sources, as these artificial preservatives are toxic to our nervous and immune systems. 

Do you remember the health scares associated with Maple Leaf recalling meat products due to Listeria infections?  The recall of tomatoes due to an outbreak of Salmonella?  Or the recall of beef products due to E. Coli, or Mad Cow Disease.  The point I am trying to make here is that when we centralize all of our food products into one massive plant, we make it easier for larger quantities to be susceptible to spoilage.  All of the products at these centralized processing plants touch the same hands, or piece of machinery.  This means that when one infected product is introduced to the system, it is hard to prevent the rest of the products from becoming contaminated as well.  Just like that all of the food that you located in one factory becomes inedible.  You can prevent this by encouraging local farming and processing.  With a more decentralized system, you protect more of the food sources.  If one factory becomes tainted, this does not mean your entire supply has become useless.  Your other locations were not exposed to the one bad product and can still distribute its products safely.

By obtaining the foods that line our grocers shelves locally we only stand to benefit.  We help our wallets as our food prices are lower.  You may argue that is not the case since prices at your local farmers markets are higher than at your grocer, however this may be due to local farmers not receiving deals from our grocery stores.  Our farmers in these cases have to transport, package and sell their products themselves.  When an individual farmer must carry all of the cost burdens themselves, they must adjust the price to ensure a profit.
By encouraging local farming you retain jobs, since you are now producing your own food you are also creating jobs in your area. 

When you centralize all the farming into one area you place a larger strain on the water supplies and soil in that area.  California is having troubles with water right now and needs to ship water in for their agriculture.  When you spread the farming out, and allow all of the lands to share the burden equally you reduce the risk of depleting one area and its neighbours of its resources.  You avoid drying up rivers, and making soils infertile.  By having large swaths of agriculture in one location, you also make larger amounts of your food supplies susceptible to bacteria, fungus, pests or other invasive plants, as the infections do not have to travel far to obtain their next target.  You also have to apply more herbicides, pesticides and fungicides in order to ensure that the crop will actually survive.  This only serves to increase your crop prices and the health risks to the consumer.

In the event of a political, terrorist or environmental turmoil that may cause borders to be closed, when you have your own food supply this would become less of a problem.  When the country that you currently obtain your food from closes its doors, what do you do?  You would have to source your food from other countries.  By sourcing food sources from other countries you could potentially increase the costs of your foods since you are putting a strain on the food supplies in that country.  If other countries were not willing to provide your new food supply, or it simply is not cost efficient you would have to start farming yourself.  This would especially become more problematic if it would occur right during the winter months, if you do not have the proper infrastructure in place to do you own farming at the drop of a hat, or if you have no farming land since you have allowed the suburbia's to annex it. 

One of the problems with building and living in the suburbs is that it encroaches onto our arable land.  It requires money and resources to develop the residential properties and roads, and if we decide that we need to reverse our expansion one day, it will require resources and money to remove the construction.  Once we pave over arable land with asphalt and houses we could potentially eliminate that lands future fertility, we are essentially making it impossible for us to have farm land.



 An example of a vertical farm design.


Cities should consider developing vertical farms as the future of farming.  As shown in the photo above a vertical farm is basically a skyscraper made specifically for crops.  The benefits of these can be great compared to traditional acreage farms.  Since they do not have a large surface footprint they can be placed inside cities.  This would exponentially cut your transportation costs since your products are already at your destination.  You could also build the skyscraper so that the podium of the building is the grocery store, essentially eliminating any transportation costs.  Since you your crops already reside within a building it is easier to produce a collection and packaging system consisting of elevators, chutes and conveyors also reducing the costs needed to normally transport the products to a separate processing plant.  Since your products are enclosed inside a building you can help protect them from harmful weather such as flooding, lack of rain and high winds. You can also help ensure that pests such as mice, birds and insects do not find their way to your crops, and thus can spend less money on the harmful pesticides.  However you can also make sure that vital organisms such as earthworms are still present. Since your crops are not sprawled out upon vast fields, it is also easier to regulate the health of your crops.  You could even install cameras on every floor to produce a centralized surveillance of the crops health. All of these factors would ensure that your crops have a higher success rate.  It is easier and cheaper to install watering systems in a vertical environment instead of across sprawling fields, since you can get gravity to do the majority of your work.  Since your crops are also inside, through ingenious building designs you can produce different climates for every floor, thus allowing you to produce some of the more exotic produce locally.  You could incorporate features into the vertical farm to collect all of your water needs from the rain, and you ensure that the crops on every floor are getting enough sunlight. 


An example of an urban farm in the middle of a city.

Cities are generally a Celsius or two warmer due to the heat coming off of over a million residents, buildings and vehicles.  This makes it easier to grow crops since warmer weathers generally make better conditions for plants.  Urban centers also increase the chance of rain, as opposed to rural lands.  Farmers could instead of conventional rural farming, take advantage of "Urban Farming."  There are often abandoned properties, parking lots, and even backyards that citizens do not utilize.  Farmers could convert these into "Urban Farms," the farmers could pay rent for the land or could strike up profit or produce sharing deals with the owners of the land.  Since you are again already inside of the municipality your transportation costs are drastically reduced; you do not need to transport your produce from remote rural locations.  Urban farms and vertical farms allow those individuals that are interested in agriculture to do so without leaving the comforts of an urban center.

Cities could also help by installing fruit bearing plants in their urban parks.  Instead of the decorative trees and bushes most municipalities install, they could be producing food to sell to its residents.  Municipalities could be making money off of the trees that they would plant anyways.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cancelling the Yellow

It arrives once a year, even though it is entirely redundant for most people.  Yellow pages continues the wasteful tradition of delivering a phone book to every residence, regardless of whether they actually wanted one.  These yellow pages are wasteful in a number of ways, the fact that they are made of paper, the fact that some one has to deliver all of these phone books, and the fact that recycling the thousands of phone books requires energy.

The good news is that there is a way to cancel your unwarranted "Subscription".  If you do not want the yellow pages to be delivered to your residence any more since you see the sustainability of using the Internet instead, go to http://delivery.ypg.com/delivery//form.php.  You have will have to fill out your information, and most importantly select the boxes under the "I don't want to receive" column. 

If a phone book still happens to make its way onto your door steps, please make sure that you remove the plastic bag that wraps each phone book before you throw it into the recycling.  Since our recycling facilities simply do not have the labour or machinery to remove the plastic, the phone book will end up in the land fill instead.

Comparing Canada

A new website If It Were My Home now allows you to compare any country to another under a few criteria.  These criteria include employment rates, electricity and oil usage, infancy mortality rates, health care costs, salaries, birth rates, the amount of free time, mortality, AIDS and class.  I did some comparisons of Canada's energy usage to several countries, the results are quite shocking.  All of the European countries that I had checked (UK, France, Germany, Spain) had at least 20% less electricity and oil usage.  This includes the comparable climates of Russia, Sweden, Norway (Norway uses more electricity than us however), and Netherlands.  Japan and Australia also uses less electricity and oil. 

The biggest surprise for me was that Canada uses more electricity and oil than the US, China and India.  Yikes!  The US is notorious for its love of oil and we use more.  The stats about China are surprising, but it could be that since China extracts the majority of its energy from coal, that this is not considered under oil.  Even when compared to more third world countries such as Cuba, Canada still uses more power and oil.

I agree it is not fair to compare our resource usages to warmer climates, as Canada is colder and requires more natural gas to heat our homes.  However other countries of comparable climates such as Russia use less electricity and oil.  Other countries of larger populations, warmer and colder climates, varying economic statuses all use less resources than Canada.  So what is the reason for our increased unsustainability?  Do we not have enough alternative energy sources?  Are Canadians too in love with the Automobile?
I think this presents a clear warning and argument that Canada needs to change.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bulk and its Impact on your Waste Line

I had my first exposures to the benefits of buying bulk food whenever I would visit my girlfriend in Ottawa.  As we made our way from the airport we would swing by a Bulk Barn to pick up some groceries.  The sensation of Bulk Barn only recently opened its first store in Edmonton last, and business must be booming since it wasn't long before they opened a second location.  Sadly Bulk Barn has not opened a location in Calgary as of yet, and no visible plans to bring one anytime soon.  Bulk Barn is a store that sells the majority of its products without packaging which range from cooking ingredients, dried fruits, and snacks.  Since the products are have no packaging you can grab the exact amount that you require, not some companies predetermined amount.  This provides more freedom, and allows you to manage your costs , and there is a smaller chance of the food spoiling since you are only buying what you will use.

One of the factors for the cost of your groceries originates from the amount of packaging that is required.  When a product is portioned smaller this produces a higher ratio of surface area to volume this is not only wasteful , but it also raises the cost since companies have to use more packaging materials.  You can notice this for yourself,  Safeway is great for showing the price as ratio of the amount of the product.  The larger portion always has a lower price.  I do not quite understand food producers need to package and repackage food that lines our grocers shelves.  For example when you buy your cereal, most companies will package the cereal in a plastic bag inside a cardboard box.  Why do they use both, why do they not just use the plastic bag as it can produce an airtight seal, thus preserving the integrity of the food?  Most of the no-name or grocery store brands of cereals will offer this option, and guess what it is cheaper!

After enjoying the benefits of having a good bulk selection at the Save-On-Foods in downtown Edmonton,  I was quite disappointed when I moved to Calgary.  Since Safeway is headquartered in Calgary it has taken a dominant position in town, almost all grocers are Safeway.  Safeway has dismal bulk options and coupled with the fact there is not a single Bulk Barn or Save-On-Foods in Calgary and it makes it difficult to reduce my waste when buying groceries. 

Why must there be so much packaging in the first place?  Well part of this reason probably has to do with how quick our lives move these days, consumers want everything to be ready made and out the door.  I would like to see more than the dry grocery products offered in the bulk options.  Why not set up a machine that can dispense milk, shampoo or cleaning products into a patrons own container.  There should be more flexibility where if you want to take the product home in your own container, you can.  As it stands right now you cannot for most products.  This should be extended to take out at restaurants as well, however I must note that there are some restaurants that already allow this such as The Coop on 17th Ave in Calgary.

Whenever I take out my recycling I am reminded by just how much of our waste comes from our groceries.  I feel that grocery stores could also help reduce waste not providing plastic grocery bags for people to take their groceries home in.  Most people will not change if they don't have to, so if you remove the plastic bags out of the equation, people will have no choice but to bring reusable bags.  Many places around the world have already implemented this practice, it just seems to be Canada that is lagging behind.  Grocers could also reduce waste by setting up some sort of electronic receipt system.  Instead of having a receipt printed out every time that you make a purchase, you could have your receipt instead sent to your email.  This would also make it less likely to lose a receipt which come in handy for tax time.

If bulk is not an option for you, here is a list of some alternatives to help cut your waste:
  • Keep several reusable fabric bags in the back or trunk of your car, so that there is no way you can forget it home.  This way you always have one available when you are grocery shopping.  If you do not have any reusable fabric bags they are conveniently available for sale at any grocery store.  However any sort of bag would work such as backpack or duffle bag.
  • If you need to use the plastic bags available in the produce section for your fruits and vegetables, try to save the old bags once you get home.  This way you can reuse them the next time you need fruits or vegetables.  I find it is easier to place these bags inside my fabric bags so that I do not forget them.
  • Demand more bulk!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Living Big

Narrow apartments in Japan.

I have never understood until recently how people could live in such small apartments such as those that exist in New York or Japan.  As shown in the picture above, apartment buildings are sometimes three meters narrow.  Your entire apartment could be as small as most others bedrooms.

The secret to living in such an claustrophobic environment is to live close to all your amenities.  Downtown becomes an extension of your home, and what could be a better living room that a cities downtown.  My girlfriend and I had the opportunity to live in a downtown Edmonton apartment building for 8 months last year.  Our apartment was south facing, right on jasper ave.  It was a 2 minute walk to our grocery store, and we had the amenities of downtown Edmonton in our backyard.  Even for the state of Edmonton's downtown, it still had a wealth of activities to offer.  We had the legislative grounds, the river valley, and Churchill square were within walking distance.  We lived in one of the main bar districts, and had another one across the river.  The majority of festivals would take place in Churchill square and the parades would pass by right in front of our apartments. 

People these days are starting to focus more towards creating experiences with their money rather than being obsessed with physical possessions.  If you can strip away your need to own things, this sort of life style is more than manageable.  Everything you need is usually downtown, for laundry you go to a laundromat.  To do your work you can go to a coffee shop armed with your laptop, most cafes will provide Wi-Fi for free, you just have to purchase a coffee or snack.   Most recreational equipment like skates, skis, roller blades, bikes, canoes, soccer balls can be rented, so you won't have to own those.  If you need more space, most cities offer large parks in their downtown, such as the river valley in Edmonton or Central Park in New York City.  If you need to watch a movie you have movie theatres available for your use.  If you need to host a dinner party you can use one of the numerous bars or restaurants available.

In order to attract residents towards living in these sorts of spaces, developers have to ensure that they design the space smartly.  You cannot facilitate the same penny pinching practices that contractors employ.  You have to make the space seem bigger than it actually is, with high ceilings and higher quality materials.

By utilizing your city as your living room, living big is possible in small cramped spaces.

Good day for Edmonton Transit


Our future West and South East LRT Corridors with stations.

Edmonton councillors today voted to approve the new South East and West LRT alignments.  This is a great victory for Edmonton that has been LRT devoid unlike other cities around the world.  I was worried for a second there, it looked like city council was going to send the West LRT back to the drawing board to consider the 87th and 107th avenue corridors.  However I should have known better, our City council knows what is best for Edmonton and voted to show it. 

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/Edmonton+council+route+line/4134787/story.html#ixzz1BWtAp3OB

If you are not familiar with the new LRT expansions proposed I would suggest you take a look at the below links.

For some quick info, the city has produced these booklets:

WEST LRT
http://edmonton.ca/transportation/West_LRT_Booklet.pdf

SOUTH EAST LRT
http://edmonton.ca/transportation/Southeast_LRT_Booklet.pdf

 For some more in-depth information look here:

WEST LRT
http://edmonton.ca/transportation/ets/lrt_projects/west-lrt.aspx

SOUTH EAST LRT
http://edmonton.ca/transportation/ets/lrt_projects/lrt-service-to-millwoods.aspx

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Making Transit more Bike Friendly

As a cyclist I have noticed that transit systems or even pedestrian pedways in Calgary and Edmonton are not very bike friendly.  Calgary is currently going through a trial phase with bike racks on their bus', and Edmonton is in the process of implementing bike racks on more bus'.  However the LRT systems in either cities are very limiting towards cyclist in that they will not allow bicycles onto to the train during peak hours.  I can see where they are coming from, as the trains at these times are packed and a bike would take up more room where it already limited. 

This has prevented me from bringing my bike when I need to take the train to visit friends during rush hours.  I like to bring my bike on the train so that I don't have to rely on poorly designed bus routes after disembarking.  By bringing my bike, I can leave the destination LRT station when I want to, and I can get where I need to quickly. 

To correct the problem bikes on the trains, I would like to propose this nifty idea I found about not too long ago.  In the photo below you will notice a bike rack platform coupled to the front of a train.  This sort of system would be quick for cyclist to load their bike into and hop onto the train. 


Bike rack LRT attachment.

You would have to make some modifications for a high floor LRT vehicle design by raising the bike rack to platform height.  I could even see hydraulics being utilized so if you have multiple LRT styles (high and low floor vehicles), you could simply design a one model fits all systems bike rack.  With an LRT attachment like the one displayed bicyclists would not have to limit their travel outside peak hours, and you LRT passengers wouldn't have to deal with the hassle with having bikes on the train.

LRT stations in either Calgary or Edmonton are not very bike friendly either, due to over the top bunker style platforms.   The culprits are the suburbia central platform designs that consist of several flights of stairs in order to go under or over the train tracks.


Photo showing Belvedere Station on the Edmonton LRT

A simple remedy would be to install a humble bike ramp channel on the stair cases.  It is physically exhausting to lift your bike up and carry it up or down several flights of stairs.  The bike ramp would not take up much room on any given staircase and would allow a cyclist to push their bike up the stairs.  This puts less strain on ones body and is safer since people don't have to awkwardly juggle the acts of carrying a bike and walking up a flight of stairs.  These bike rails are already installed on some of the stair cases that connect Edmonton's river valley to downtown, and I would like to see them carry this over to their LRT stations and pedways.  I have found that some of the "Plus15's" (Calgary's term for their pedways) around Calgary do not all have the bike ramps as well.


An example of a cyclist utilizing a bike ramp.

Raised Pedestrian Road Intersections


Some examples of raised cross walks.

I would love to see more raised crosswalks (as above) and intersections, or at least one in Calgary and Edmonton.  Raised crosswalks enable a pedestrian to cross a road seamlessly.  Rather than having the sidewalk slope down to the road level and back up at the other end of the road, these crosswalks continue at sidewalk height across the road.  Raised crosswalks are an extended form of a speed bump, in fact they have the same traffic calming effect on cars.  Since a car has to go up and down over the crosswalk it ensures that cars passing through slow down.  Another safety bonus is that since a pedestrian is crossing the street an additional six inches higher, this serves to make them more visible to oncoming cars. 

As seen in the photo below you could install central medians as another great safety feature.  The raised curbs of the median act as barrier to passing vehicles.  If traffic is clear in the direction nearest to you, cross the lanes into the median refuge.  When the timing works (and motorists start choose to obey the law and stop for a pedestrian) then you only have one more direction of traffic to cross, not two.  This makes it safer for those that have mobility issues and cannot move as quickly across the street. These medians are great for cyclists as well.



 An example of a raised cross walk with a protective pedestrian refuge.

These crossings are great for those of age, since most elders often have mobility issues.  By keeping sidewalks at the same grade while crossing you decrease the chance that a senior will slip or trip over the curb.  A person in a wheelchair puts less strain on their muscles as it is one less incline they have to pull their body weight up.  There is also less of a chance of their wheels getting caught in a gutter.  These crosswalks will needed soon especially with the baby boomers entering their senior years.

Another feature that I would love to see are complete intersections being raised as seen below.  These have the same benefits as before as far as traffic calming and easier pedestrian crossings.  However by raising whole intersections you can make it easier for pedestrians to make diagonal crossings without the change in altitude.    Accidents are the most frequent within intersections, so if you reduce the speed that someone can traverse through an intersection you can reduce the number of accidents.



An example of a raised intersection.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Automobile Manufacturer Accountability

Why is there not a higher degree of accountability for automobile producers?  Sure they go through stringent safety testings, and automobiles have many laws regarding their use, but that is more a result of governmental action.  Automobiles cause great destruction as their users often do do not drive properly.    People that veer off our roads due to distracted driving strike bridges, guard rails, lamp poles, fences, homes, other vehicles, animals, pedestrians, and cyclists.  Each of these collisions need to be repaired, and each of those repairs cost money.  However this responsibility is waived off onto the user in the form of insurance.  When a car passes its safety criteria, rolls off the manufacturing line and someone inks a contract with their John Hancock, why does it seems that GM or Ford or any other Automobile producer is suddenly off the hook.

Cigarette packs are required to have doctors warning labels advising any potential patrons of the risks of using its product.  Why do automobile producers not have to apply labels to the side of their vehicles, according to Stats Canada 44,192 deaths were a result of vehicles between 2000 and 2004. That's an average of 11,000 vehicle related deaths a year in Canada.  Yet automobile producers are still allowed to constantly plaster your Internet, television, billboards, newspapers, radios with flashy adverts that make driving a car seem cool.  However not one single advertisement that I've noticed had to display the number of deaths caused by their products, not one!  Alcohol ads recently started issuing the statement to "Please Enjoy Responsibly".  How come a car ad does not have to list of the things that you shouldn't do while driving.  It just seems like backward logic with groups like MADD,  that tend to blame the fact the drinking and driving causes so many deaths annually.  However the fact is that those individuals were driving while drunk, as in driving a 2000 pound vehicle. 

Why do automobile manufacturers have such a free reign over our society, yet have little responsibility for the maintenance when their products cause damage.

Benefits to Taking Transit

I thought I would outline some of benefits that I have observed from my experiences using transit:

1.  You become healthier because you have to walk to your bus stop, and walk to another bus stop if you have to transfer.  Since you don't have your vehicle available when you are at work, you are forced to make more active choices to obtain lunches, or make a quick shopping trip during your break.  You have less stress because you don't have to worry about the erratic driving of others.  You also have less stress because you don't have to worry about someone breaking into your vehicle, when you don't own a vehicle that is one less possession you have to worry about being vandalized.

2.  When you commute using transit, you free up 30 minutes that you would have otherwise spent driving.  You could use these extra minutes to read the newspaper, watch a video on your smart phone, finish up some last minute assignment or work on your laptop, do some last minute touches to your appearance, update your blog or Facebook status, chat with other passengers, or even sleep.  You can make a call that you didn't have time for last night.  Since you don't have to focus on the road and the driving of others (you have your own personal chauffeur)  you can learn more about the city you live in.  You may discover a store or restaurant that you never knew existed before.  You have more time to appreciate the beauty of your surroundings.

3.  The majority of people commute alone in their automobile.  They isolate themselves from the rest of the world, away in a false security bubble of steel and glass for 40 minute as they commute to work.  When you take transit you are suddenly immersed with other people that are utilizing transit for their commutes, you are not isolated anymore.  You can no longer ignore that your actions affect others, that you are connected to your surroundings.  Transit can make it easier for people to make more responsible decisions since your interactions help you to see that other humans are out there.  Drinking is a large part of our society these days, as it is a social lubricator.  Transit helps create a safer environment for drinking since those that use transit never have to worry about drinking and driving, because they will never be driving.  The fact is that transit can act as a social lubricator for those that want it to. 

4.  There is a large economical side to ditching the keys for a bus pass. The most obvious reasons are that transit passes are cheaper than the combined costs of fuel, insurance, parking, registration and the purchase of the car itself.  Most new cars cost upwards from $20000, you would be able to commute by transit for 18 years for that price.  However some of the less obvious costs about cars revolve around maintenance.  The more that you drive your vehicle the more often you will have to maintain your vehicle.  When you drive you use up fluids, wear down tires, brakes, and other moving parts.  When you drive you constantly increase the odds of a rock chipping your windshield, a nail puncturing your tire, winter salts rusting your car, or a another commuter colliding into your vehicle.  I don't know about you but I am not a mechanic by any means, so that means that most people would have to bring their car into a shop for repairs and mechanics are not cheap.  These hidden costs can add up quickly, however with transit you never have to worry about the maintenance of the vehicles, someone else does that.   With transit you only have to pay for your fare and board a bus, their are no hidden costs or responsibilities.

I understand that some people cannot go completely car free, some individuals need to commute for work or a chore that takes them to a far secluded corner of the city.  However I propose that these individuals consider car-share programs that may exist in their area, or renting a car when they need one for a trip.  Other alternatives include walking, cycling, carpooling and catching a cab.

Tickets for Hostile Driving towards Bus'

One thing that I would like to see, which I have not heard of ever being implemented any where , is issuing tickets for hostile driving towards bus'.  Whenever I am on a bus and it needs change lanes, or pull out of a bus stop cul-de-sac,  I notice that it cannot do so for quite a while.  Every time a bus needs to change a lane, its almost guaranteed that the bus will have to sit there as multiple cars will speed by, as they don't want to be stuck behind the "bus".  This often results in a bus driver having to take matters into their own hands, and will commence changing lanes cutting someone off.  This is dangerous and wouldn't be necessary if others drivers would play nicely.  Any one that uses transit often knows that most bus routes are designed to hug the right lane so that passengers can be dropped off and picked up from stops at the sidewalk.  So when a bus needs to change into a left lane they will not be there for long, as they are most likely turning left or avoiding an obstacle.

By discouraging this kind of hostile behavior towards bus' you can ensure that there is one less element causing delays.  I think that it can easily be enforced by installing video cameras facing forward at the front of the bus and facing backwards at the back of the bus.  This would be similar to the video cameras installed on police cars.  Transit systems would be to able capture license plate numbers and issue tickets for any infractions, and would have the evidence to back their cause.  You could even utilize these cameras to provide an extra eye on the road to capture other non bus related infractions, or accidents thus decreasing our police forces burgeoning load and adding another deterrent for bad driving habits. By allowing a bus to get to its destination on time you increase safety, and public transits attractiveness in this automobile frenzied world.