Friday, March 17, 2017

Sudbury Events Centre Should Drive Creative Class Economy

A 2.2% property taxes increase to support a facility that’s forecast to lose between $600,000 and $850,000 a year - that’s what Greater Sudburians might be asked to shell out to replace our ailing Sudbury Community Arena.  The experts seem to be in agreement: after 66 years, it’s time for ‘The Barn’ to close its doors.  A new events centre will be expensive to build and an on-going drain for the City’s operating budget. How can we possibly afford to pay for it?

The way I see it, we can’t afford not to.

Richard Florida, author of ‘Cities and the Creative Class’, has long made the case that successful 21st century cities are those that attract and retain creative professional workers (see:“Richard Florida,” Wikipedia).  Successful strategies to charm the creative class involve a focus on providing lifestyle amenities like transit, bike lanes and vibrant socio-cultural assets, rather than reducing road congestion. In contrast to large cities, mid-sized centres like Sudbury are strategically positioned to offer a balance of positive lifestyle experiences accompanied by a lower cost of living.

The Greater Sudbury Community Development Corporation’s 2015 economic development plan, “From the Ground Up”, recognizes the numerous opportunities our city has to attract creative class jobs (see: “From the Ground Up, 2015 to 2025,” Greater Sudbury Community Economic Development Corporation, 2015).  Although ‘Canada’s Resourceful City’ is known throughout the world for mining and supply services, Greater Sudbury has evolved into a leading centre for health and education.  This week’s announcement by Cambrian College and Laurentian University to grow research and innovation in our community will surely enhance Greater Sudbury’s reputation as a ‘City of Science’ – an epithet underscored by SNOLAB Director Art McDonald’s 2015 Nobel Prize in physics.

Investing in community infrastructure must be strategic, and over the long term, sustainable - economically, socially and environmentally. Costs alone can’t drive decision making.  Sustainable decisions are those that look at a complete range of both costs and benefits, and consider future trends, like climate change and higher fossil fuel prices.   When it comes to the long-term health of a community, minimizing impacts on our natural areas and species at risk habitat are just as important as an affordable tax rate.

A community events centre isn’t about turning a profit, as a recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers made clear (see:“Proposed Sports and Entertainment Centre, Feasibility and Business Case Assessment, City of Greater Sudbury,” pwc (PricewaterhouseCooper), February 21, 2017). Very few similar facilities across Canada are operating in the black.  Most, like Sudbury’s Community Arena, annually lose money.  But so do transit systems.  And while Sudburians love to complain about our roads, I’ve yet to hear anyone suggest that the City get out of the roads business because roads aren’t turning a profit.

City’s aren’t businesses.  City’s deliver essential services, or services that enhance our quality of life.  If cities can make a buck out of service delivery, that’s fine.  If operating a transit system or providing police services aren’t profitable enterprises – that’s fine too.  Cities have other ways to pay.

Since our City is not likely to grow very much in the next few decades, a sustainable location for a new events centre will be one that supports the wise use of existing infrastructure and services.  Other mid-sized slow-growth cities have used new events centres to help stimulate redevelopment in priority areas of their communities.  Decision-makers in Greater Sudbury would be wise to learn from those experiences, and seek to maximize benefits for citizens and established local businesses.

A new events centre could be a catalyst to drive the kind of creative class economic development that Greater Sudbury is already pursuing.  Sustainability, rather than pie-in-the-sky optimism about future growth, must lead the conversation about the best location for a new facility.   Otherwise, we risk closing the door on an opportunity to help build up the parts of our community we are counting on for our long-term economic success.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

This post originally appeared in the Sudbury Star, as "Column: Sudbury centre would attract creative class," online and in print, March 11, 2017.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Car Free in Sudbury, Day 18 - Making Connections with my Community

Sudbury has been buried in several inches of snow – maybe even several feet. I don't know – I'm from the metric generation. What I do know is that a lot of snow came down this weekend – throughout the day on Friday and Sunday, with a beautiful sunny Saturday wedged in between.

I spent a good part of this weekend reconnecting with my City. Knowing that I won't have to drive has been, in some cases, quite liberating. Take Friday. On a snowy walk home from work, I stopped in at the Laughing Buddha and enjoyed a pint (Granville Island Winter Ale) or two (Beau's new Tripel whose name I can't remember now because...it's a Tripel - ok, the internet tells me it's Triceratops Tripel, which is appropriate, because I felt as if I had been gored by something with big horns after drinking it). On another Friday evening, I would have walked on by, with the expectation of plans having been made that would have included me behind the wheel.

These past few months, our Saturday mornings have been spent at the YMCA, which has some great programs for the kids. Dance, gymnastics, arts and crafts – and some quiet time for me between to read a paper and have a coffee. The Y is pretty close to Riverside Manor, but once the kids are decked out in their jackets, boots, snowpants, etc., it seems as if it takes them a little longer to move from Point A to Point B. I'm not sure that it's the extra clothing that's slowing them down there, but instead the distractions along the way – mountains of snow pushed up by the plow leading to climbing, snowball fights and just general goofing off. My kids have transformed a 5 minute walk into a 25 minute “Hurry Up”-fest.

But they love the Y, and it's just so awesome that we live close enough that we can visit whenever the mood takes us – with or without a car.

Of course, Saturday mornings are extra special for the kids, because they know that when the leave the Y, The Candy Store on Durham Street will be open and Dad can't resist a short visit there no matter how many times he says, “We'll see” in response to the question, “Can we go to the candy store today, papa please?” Yes, I'm a sucker for sweetness – and I like candy too.

This Saturday saw me come back downtown in the afternoon. A rally in support of electoral reform had been organized by a few students from Laurentian University, and they invited the community to come out and join them at Tom Davies Square. Ya, I admit, I get a kick out of things like this – to see people in my community come together around an issue that matters to them and to me. Especially those events that I don't have to help plan and can just show up to!

So, about 30 people came together Saturday afternoon – many of whom I had never met before (which always kind of surprises me at rallies like this. A few years ago, I ran into another 'regular' like myself, walking to Memorial Park, presumably to attend a rally. “What is it this time?” he asked. “Income inequality? Bill C-51?” “No,” I replied. “I think we're here for elephants and rhinos this time,” but I wasn't 100% certain until someone else handed me a sign). A few speeches were made, the high notes were hit, most speakers kept theirs short, and then we walked down to the MP's office (wedged between the Y and The Candy Store! I love Durham Street) and took some photos. The MP wasn't there. We knew that, we didn't care.  We hoped he was spending this beautiful day somewhere with his family.  He'll get our message eventually.  He's a good guy.  Good rally. Well done!

Back home. Saturday evening was set aside as grocery night this week, after our Sunday shopping experience last weekend. So we packed up the kids and our re-usable grocery bags, hopped on the bus, and – didn't quite make it to the transit terminal. Something was missing....apparently it was food in our stomachs, because when the first, “I'm hungry!” was spoken, it quickly turned into a chorus – as I had secretly hoped it might when I said it. We exited the bus on Larch Street and walked over to Peddler's Pub on Durham. It brought back memories to go there for me and Sarah, who had spent a few quality evenings there when we were dating – including one memorable St. Patrick's Day – memorable, of course, for us not being able to remember a whole heck of a lot of it. We had a great meal (here's a shout-out to Peddler's for that awesome Spinach Dip! And for Peddler's new axe throwing venue which is sure to be a hit for Sudbury's downtown), and afterwards walked down the road to continue our journey by bus to the grocery store.

Food Basics. Groceries. Re-usable bags. The one low point of the weekend. But this time, our shopping experience ended and just as we scooted across the street, we saw the bus coming. And the bus driver saw us, running (well, that's a relative term) across the street. He stopped the bus and waited for us to all climb on board. That made our evening. The low point came later – lugging the groceries from the bus to the front door of the house. The straps gave way on the one of the bags, right in the middle of the street. And of course it was the bag with the jars of pasta sauce and jam and everything else breakable. As we stuffed the products back into the now strap-less bag, I was picturing sauces everywhere – and more money down the drain. But surprisingly, nothing had broken, and it was all good. We didn't even hold up any traffic on “busy” Riverside Drive – because really, although the Transportation Master Plan shows Riverside as being at capacity (see Figure 8, page 10), I haven't seen it. And I didn't see it on Saturday night as we picked up our groceries.

Sunday. Church. Great service. The Minister talked about love, and in Sunday school, the kids decorated their own cookies. Veronica wanted to give hers to people who are hungry, which came out of nowhere and blew me and Sarah away. We'll be looking into how we can continue to encourage her and all of our children to think about other people in our community.

Boarding the 502.
After church, we hopped on the 502 Regent-University-Four Corners bus, going the long way around, because it appears to be the most convenient – even if it loops around and takes us back to where we started before heading to the transit terminal. Since we never know how long it's going to take to get the kids winter gear on or even just walk a hundred metres, we've realized that it's best to be early and take whatever bus we can take, even if it means a longer ride, or a wait at the transit terminal.

A beautiful, snowy Sunday, and we're all on the bus heading home to do...well, nothing, really. The usual. Whatever takes our fancy.   So when the bus calls out "Science North" as the next stop, questions are asked, "Can we go?" - and there's no good answer why we can't, other than we've missed the stop!  And even that's not a good answer, because the bus will loop around back to the stop.  "Do you have our membership card?" Sarah asks.  Of course I do. I never leave home without it!

The Science North bus stop isn't exactly at the front doors of Science North.  It's on the other side of Ramsey Lake Road, at the hospital. But it's still a short walk to the building, albeit one where cars have to be dodged crossing Ramsey Lake Road (which was pretty easy on a snowy Sunday afternoon) and then again walking along the access road into Science North's parking lot (a little more tricky, given the blind curves here - a sidewalk would be nice, but I expect it wouldn't be used by all that many.  A typical Sudbury problem.
Veronica, Alice and Brian on the turtle at Science North.

Science North!  What an absolutely wonderful community asset this place is.  And not just because of the tourism it attracts.  It's a wonderful place to learn about so much - and even Brian, who is just 4, learns a lot by doing, seeing, hearing - just being there.  It's an eye-opener for our children, and Sarah and I are always learning something when we're there.  We are just so lucky to have Science North in our community.

After visiting with the butterflies and trying to race the cars along the electrical track without derailing them, we decided to sit in on the Climate Change program at the Object Theater on the top floor.  I hadn't visited this exhibit for years.  If you're not familiar with it, briefly, Rick Mercer plays a sheep whose pasture is drying out due to climate change.  Rick and his friends take us on a quick journey, looking at the problem, and identifying possible solutions - all with the help of videos and models.  Our kids got a kick out of it - Veronica seems to be aware that there's something insidious afoot in the world, with melting glaciers and extreme weather (a Science North and Dynamic Earth have helped inform her growing understanding of her world, that's for sure).
Veronica at the F. Jean MacLeod Butterfly Gallery,
Science North

Sarah, who hadn't seen Rick Mercer as Sheepy before, walked out of the Object Theater and says to me, "We can't go back to the car now."  She's always known that climate change would be bad news for our children.  I think what hit home for her was the discussion of feedback loops - and particularly, the role that melting permafrost will play with massive methane releases.  It's scary stuff, for sure.  But now I'm scared, too.  What is this going to mean for me ever driving our minivan again?  I want to do my part - every day, I feel that I'm doing my bit to help - but am I ready to give up the car, for good?

Oh, and we're also going to turn our backyard into a vegetable garden this summer, apparently.  Thanks, Rick Mercer.  I know you're right, and all, but...  Maybe you can come and help me build the garden!

Back home on the bus, after a walk to Health Sciences North from Science North (I'm sure the proximity of these two closely-named institutions has never led to any confusion).  The bus was late.  It was nice outside.  The kids were tired.  We didn't really care.  We hopped on the first one that came along, headed the wrong way of course - which meant that we had to pass the Science North stop again.  I don't think anyone other than Sarah was awake this time to ask if they could go (and that includes me - I've been dozing on buses for years).
Alice, ready to help sick and injured stuffed
animals, Science North.

My City is a beautiful place.  It's true that this whole car-free experience has at times led me to feel that my world has closed in on us a little.   Getting around isn't easy.  But luckily for us, we live in a very dynamic part of the City - with the downtown so close by, and along a transit route were we can just hop on a bus and end up at a world class venue like Science North, or continue along to the library at Laurentian University, or even further to the Laurentian Conservation Area.  Bell Park is accessible by transit as well.  And many of our favorite restaurants are within walking distance - staggering distance, even, for those nights where I might have a few extras on the way home (not that I know anything about that - wow, it's not easy to write when your fingers are crossed).   This weekend I fell in love with my City again, and I feel so happy, so excited that my children will grow up here - that they, too, will explore and come to love this place - a City that may be built for cars, sure - but ultimately, a City that operates on a human scale.

On the bus, going home.
We're off the bus at Riverside Manor.  Wake the kids up.  No, that's not working. Carrying Alice and Brian off the bus.  It's just a short, short walk now to the house, across the street, up the driveway...Boy, there's a lot of snow in the driveway.  I'd have to shovel that to get the van out if...

This morning, on Day 18 of our Car Free pilot project, the driveway still isn't shoveled.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Think Again About All Growth Being Good

Oh no!  The Census is out, and Northern Ontario is losing population!  Heads are scratched and teeth are gnashed.  Hands are held out – demanding more money from senior levels of government so that we can do something, anything.  We’ve got to figure out a way to grow Grow GROW  – or we risk turning Northern Ontario into one giant ghost town!

Ok, let’s step back for a moment.  What do those numbers really tell us?  The Census shows Ontario’s north has seen an overall loss of population between 2011 and 2016 – down 2,600 people to 548,449 in total. The decline isn’t evenly spread out.  Some areas, like Greater Sudbury and a few surrounding municipalities, have seen modest growth, while others like North Bay and Sault Ste. Marie experienced slight population loss.   The Census story is really more about population stagnation, rather than any significant decline (First release 2016 Census data is available here: “2016 Census topic: Population and dwelling counts,” Statistics Canada, February 8, 2017).

The data isn’t making any values judgement. The numbers can’t tell us what’s good and what’s bad.  And yet, time and again, our elected leaders, our media – and, I suspect, almost every one of us, view growth as both good and necessary for the health of our communities.  We have so completely accepted the pro-growth paradigm that we rarely pause to assess whether it’s true.

We’ve been told that we need to grow our cities in order to grow our economy. With more money in our pockets and in municipal coffers, we can do more things, buy more stuff, fix more roads.   Every new house on a formerly vacant piece of land means more property taxes collected by the municipality.  And the occupants of that new home are likely to be employed, maybe even at a new job, adding their own wealth to our local economy.

But what if it’s not true? What if growth isn’t always a net boon to our community?

That new house on formerly vacant land was likely to have been built on the fringe of an urban area.  Do the new taxes being paid cover the costs of extending services – roads, sewer and water pipes, school busing, maybe even transit?  Is this kind of growth sustainable over the long term?

We often hear that growth pays for itself.  That’s a myth.  All growth comes with costs as well as benefits.  Denser development in areas where services already exist – especially where those services are being used at levels well below their capacity – has proven to be less expensive to service than low density development on urban fringes.  We know this – and yet the Census shows that throughout Canada, we are ignoring this lesson (see: “Big Canadian cities see faster suburban growth despite bid to boost density,” the Globe and Mail, February 8, 2017).


Census data shows that Greater Sudbury experienced modest growth, adding 1,271 people since 2011.  But growth didn’t occur uniformly throughout the City.  Generally, inner city census tracts declined in population, while most of the growth occurred in Valley East, Valley West and Walden.  Outside of the City, Markstay-Warren increased its population by about 10%.

Plans to develop new greenfields in Greater Sudbury are underway.  Later this year, Council will be debating whether to build a new community arena and events centre on unused land on the former City of Sudbury’s urban edge.  And last year, the City committed to spending just under $100 million to build the Maley Drive extension, a new four-lane parkway along the former City of Sudbury’s northern urban fringe, in part to open up new areas of the City to development.

Meanwhile, the several dozen revitalization projects called for in the 2012 Downtown Master Plan are collecting dust after being shelved.  Transit ridership remains flat-lined since 2005, because people are moving out of the transit-supportive part of the City.  And, quite perversely, the City continues to offer those living in outlying communities a break on their property taxes, thanks to an area rating scheme that didn’t make any sense even at the time of amalgamation when it was imposed back in 2001.

We clearly have a conundrum.  The places in our communities which cost the least to service – existing urban areas – are the places which are losing population, while more expensive to service outlying areas are growing (see 2015 Ward 1 municipal election candidate Matt Alexander's excellent analysis: “Census Reveals Flaw in Greater Sudbury Transportation Master Plan,” Matthew Alexander @WestEndMatt, Storify.com, February 8, 2017).   And it’s happening not just in Northern Ontario, but throughout Canada.  In metro Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto, some of the fastest-growing census tracts are located in the suburbs and the exurbs.  While some existing urban areas (like Toronto’s Liberty Village) have seen spikes in population growth, many other inner-city areas have seen declines.

In Northern Ontario, where growth is stagnant, providing incentives for expensive development in preference to creating strong, viable transit-supportive communities is completely cuckoo – especially when we know that the costs of transportation, home heating and electricity are all going to rise.  Large homes, located far away from jobs in car dependent communities, are the antithesis of a fiscally sustainable development form.   That way lies financial ruin.

Cities are confronting rising costs.  Many, like Greater Sudbury, are facing the need to renew fixed infrastructure, likes roads, bridges and pipes. No one wants to see taxes go up.  And yet we continue to dig ourselves into an ever-growing, increasingly costly hole by ignoring our urban areas, and concentrating new development on the fringes.  The Census can’t tell you that this kind of growth is unsustainable. But it is.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

An edited version of this post appeared in the Sudbury Star, as "Sudbury column: Not all growth is good," online and in print, February 11, 2017.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Some Uncomfortable Lessons that Progressives Can Learn From Steve Bannon: A Canadian Green's Perspective


In an effort to understand the apparent anarchy that's seized the White House since Donald Trump's inauguration on January 20th, the U.S. news media has been devoting a lot of ink to Trump campaign advisor and former Breitbart News editor, Stephen Bannon (for some good examples, see: "What Steve Bannon really wants,"Gwynn Guilford and Nikhil Sonnad, Quartz, February 3, 2017; "The World According to Bannon," Alexander Livingston, Jacobin, February 7, 2017; Bannon also appeard on the cover of Time Magazine, with articles available behind an internet paywall).  Pundits are pointing to Bannon, whom Trump recently promoted to National Security Advisor, as the beating ideological heart of the whole Trump operation.  Where Trump himself may be a narcissist, at times prone to being at odds with his own words, Bannon's vision offers a clear way forward for the new administration.  And if the Trump regime decides to pursue this vision, woe be to the world – because Bannon wants to take America to war.

Bannon actually believes that America, and what he calls the “judeo-christian west” are already at war – with the forces of radical Islam – even though many in the west either don't recognize it or choose to ignore it.  It's been reported, however, that a growing confrontation with Islam – to prevent the establishment of a new Caliphate – is a task that Bannon sees as a self-evident necessity if America is going to be great again (see: "Steve Bannon's war with Islam: Trump may not even understand his adviser's apocalyptic vision," Jaal Baig, Salon, February 5, 2017).

The Usefulness of Terror

It's easy for progressives – and indeed, for most rational individuals – to dismiss the idea that the West must devote its resources to confront radical Islam.  Actual evidence, produced by security experts throughout the world, provides a clear picture of the depth of the risk to the West that Islamic extremists are: minimal.  The Islamic world is no more ready to unite in a holy war against the West under the banner of a resurgent Caliphate than Stephen Harper is at cashing in his Conservative Party card and joining the New Democrats.

Yes, acts of terrorism – some committed by Islamic extremists, foreign or domestic, are responsible for the loss of lives and damage to property.  However, most of these acts of terrorism perpetuated by Islamic extremists are occurring in Muslim-majority nations.  While there have been a number of high-profile terrorist actions committed in western nations, the scale of damage has been extremely modest – and certainly not even close to approaching the carnage that is wrought on our streets every day by distracted drivers, or to the gun violence that plays out in North America's largest cities.

But Bannon and his followers really believe this stuff.  Fact and evidence just don't matter to right-wing ideologues.  Indeed, the thing to do nowadays is to label those who present facts and evidence as the basis for an argument as being part of a “fake news” conspiracy.  As fakery, facts and evidence are easily dismissed – and the fictional narrative of the alt-right replaces reality with a compelling fairy story – one not to be told to children at bedtime, however, lest they be kept up all night with nightmares.

America's Racial Divide

Feeding Bannon and his followers is a xenophobia that has always found a home, if only lately occasionally a mainstream one, in America (and to a much lesser extent, in Canada).  America's race-divided past remains a prominent political issue even to this day, 130 years after the U.S. Civil War, and almost 50 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King.  There have been those who have closed their eyes to this reality – wishing to pretend that the racial issues that have divided the U.S. in the past have been addressed, if not completely satisfactorily, than at least to the point that the nation has been able to move on.  Many of those who have viewed America's race issue through this lens are comfortably ensconced in the Democratic Party.  Although groups like Black Lives Matter have recently risen to prominence through their efforts challenging the continuing disenfranchisement of racial and other minorities, many Democrats and other liberals continue to ignore the importance of systemic racism as a U.S. Political issue.

But xenophobia and racism persist.  Whether it has been growing, or has simply emerged more into the open thanks to enablers like Bannon and Trump (and in Canada, people like Stephen Harper, Chris Alexander and Kellie Leitch), it's hard to deny that race is again an outward point of division in North America in a way that it has not been since the 1960s.

With this in mind, a question needs to be asked: Can progressives find any common ground with the likes of Stephen Bannon and Donald Trump?  The answer is – perhaps surprisingly – Yes.  I'll look at this now in greater detail – and after doing so, I'll offer some advice for a way forward that I think will unsettle some progressives and those in the environmental movement – especially those who continue to identify as classic liberals.

Being Progressive

First, a thought experiment.  When you heard that Trump was going to pull America out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), essentially killing the deal, how did that make you feel?  When I first heard, my reaction was mixed.  My first thought was, Good for Trump to keep an election promise – goodness knows we could use a little of that here in Canada.  My second thought went to the nature of the TPP – good riddance to a bad deal for Canada.  But my third thought went to how this was going to be interpreted by mainstream political pundits in the U.S. and here in Canada.  Clearly, they were going to get this one wrong.

I self-identify as a progressive, as I'm sure that many of the readers of my blog do.  The Green Party, which has been my home now for these past 10 years, is, in my opinion, Canada's only progressive political party that contends elections on a national basis.  I realize this opinion is at odds with the opinions of many New Democrats, who consider their own party to be the one and only progressive party.  And clearly, the mainstream media likes to lump most Liberal parties into the progressive mix, with self-professed feminist Justin Trudeau presumably the King of all things Progressive (see: "Chris Selley: Trudeau has been anointed the global standard-bearer for 'progressivism'. That's just bizarre," the National Post, January 5, 2017).

What does it mean to be a 'progressive'?  Clearly, there is no single definition, but prerequisites appear to be a dedication to equity, social and environmental justice.  Lately, however, the media has been identifying a liberal commitment to globalization – often in the form of international “free trade” deals – as another criteria for progressivism.  This probably comes as a surprise to many progressives – especially the ones who have railed time and again against sovereignty-destroying trade deals that lead to the off-shoring of jobs and the hollowing out of communities (see: "Justin Trudeau is Not Your Friend," Jordy Cummings, Jacobin, September 9, 2016).

Trade and Globalization

The mainstream media and Liberals have mis-read progressives' criticism of trade – and indeed of globalization in general.  I know I don't speak for all progressives, but generally progressives tend to be concerned about workers in both Columbus, Ohio and Kolkata, India – given that, in both cases, workers are actual people.  What progressives seek is equity and promotion of human rights – something that our so-called “free” trade deals are at odds with, due to the way in which they assist in concentrating wealth into the hands of the already wealthy, at the expense of the rest of us.

Progressives aren't against trade – fair trade.  What we oppose are star-chamber like clauses in free trade deals that bind the hands of democratic governments in order to promote the interests of for-profit multinational corporations.  But classic liberals like Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Tom Mulcair like these deals because they create freedom for capital – which is one of the tenets of liberal economic theory.

Of course, capital can be pretty free to run around on its own without the impetus of Chicago School neoliberals that want to temper the power of democratic governments.  In the 20th Century, John Maynard Keynes and his followers provided a pretty good program for international capital that led to the success of the global system post-World War II (at least in the West) – the system dominated by an America where the gap between the rich and poor was drawn closer than at any other time in history.  But the multinationals weren't making enough money, so the neoliberals embraced disaster capitalism and debt financing to create wealth which largely went to benefit those who were already rich.

The result: governments saddled with debt, giving away taxpayer money to rich corporations while those same corporations moved both capital and jobs offshore.  As good, well-paying jobs (many unionized) were replaced with tentative, unstable and low wage service jobs ('McJobs'), people looked about for answers.  For the most part, fingers weren't pointed at Wal-Mart, the source of affordable consumer goods – now mostly produced outside of North America.  Fingers also weren't pointed at the fossil fuel companies who lobbied governments to keep the price of burning their products artificially low.  Consumer goods (stuff) and cheap energy have remained high-demand items, so the governments that have supported keeping prices down through making globalization easier for corporations and passing on today's costs to future generations have remained relatively popular.  In doing so, however, governments have undermined our democratic institutions.

Identifying the Correct Problem Statement

Progressives, you know this.  This isn't news for you.  In Canada, the Green Party has a suite of policies adopted by members that, if ever implemented, would lead to greater instances of equity for people, fairer trade agreements, getting the price of energy right, and restoring the health of our democracy (see: "Vision Green", Green Party of Canada).  What progressives might find interesting, however, is that these same points – which we must acknowledge are contentious to liberals – are largely the same ones that Bannon and Trump based their successful 2016 Presidential campaign on.

Sure, there were Trump's racist and misogynist overtones that were clearly attractive to some.  And yes, Bannon and Trump, who are climate change deniers, clearly lack an understanding of what the real crisis facing America is - but the right-wing media in the United States has been on a mission now for years to convince Americans that climate change is left-wing plot.  In place of the climate crisis, Trump has his twin crises of radical Islam and immigration – the second of which is arguably at least a real issue for America, and not a trumped up social construct in the way that radical Islamic extremism is being portrayed (and by acknowledging the reality of the issue, I am in no way condoning Trump's solutions).

I suspect many progressives – who have never visited Breitbart News or an alt-right website, or who have never tuned into Alex Jones and InfoWars – might be surprised to discover that Stephen Bannon and Naomi Klein have both been talking about the same thing for years – what Bannon calls the “crisis of capitalism”.  It's disconcerting for me, as a Green and a progressive, to realize that at least in part, Bannon and Trump have identified what the real problem is today in the world at the beginning of the 21st Century.

The Project to Reform Capitalism

During the U.S. election campaign, it wasn't Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton who was talking up the need to reform capitalism – despite some mealy-mouthed efforts where she claimed that she would cancel the TPP.  It was Democratic Party nomination contestant Bernie Sanders who rightly pointed to the current situation of injustice and inequity that is rooted in the disaster capitalism of the neoliberals.  In the lead-up to the Democratic Party convention, many pundits were astonished to discover that many Sanders' supporters said that if Sanders didn't get the nomination, they might very well have to go over to Donald Trump.  They recognized that Trump at least, for all of his bombast, racism and misogyny, identified one of the primary culprits which they believed needed to be sorted out.  Clinton and most of the Democratic Party, however, would and could never admit that neoliberal economic policy – disaster capitalism – was at all responsible for the ills of American society.  The nation, they believed (and continue to believe, as far as I can tell) would go on, with some minor tweaking here and there.  Liberals always believe that muddling through with minor, incremental reform, represents the best course of action.

But the times have changed – and systemic reform is needed.  Clearly, many Sanders supporters weren't prepared to offer their votes to Clinton – the candidate least likely to initiate any substantive reforms.  Of course, many other Sanders supporters acknowledged that the sorts of reforms on offer from Trump would actually take America – and the rest of the world along with it – to a place much darker and less equitable than exists today.  Some – quite rightly, in my opinion – turned to Jill Stein and the U.S. Green Party.  Other Democrats ridiculed Stein – and some believe to this day that it was Stein that cost Clinton the White House (see: "So We're Still Blaming Jill Stein and Jim Comey, Huh?" Jim Newell, Slate.com, December 2, 2016).

Now, put aside for a moment how it is that Americans could buy into the notion of billionaire Donald Trump as an anti-disaster capitalist freedom fighter for the little guy.  A lot of what Trump/Bannon were selling was compelling.  Cancelling sovereignty-destroying trade agreements.  Withdrawing from the international community as part of an effort to put the interests of America first.  Throw in a Mexican wall to appeal to the xenophobes and a war against Islamic extremism for the Breitbart/InfoWars conspiracy theory alt-reality crowd, and the campaign sold itself against Hilary Clinton, candidate for the neoliberal status quo party.

I would suggest that Democrats and other liberals take a good look at how things are unfolding in America right now.  Trump is doing much of what he said he would do on the campaign trail.  Expect more of it.  Although Trump has ham-fisted a number of signature initiatives, leading to record-low approval ratings, much of what he is doing remains popular with a certain segment of voters – those who have rejected the neoliberal status quo.

Resistance and an Emergent Opposition

Resistance to Trump is growing – and as a Green and a progressive, I think that's clearly a good thing.  Right now, the focal point of resistance efforts has been Trump himself – and a desire to undo some of what Trump has already undone.  At some point, however, the Resistance will have to confront a stark reality – what will it offer Americans instead of Trump? To be effective, Resistance must become Opposition.  Those that expect a Democratic Party entrenched in its support of neoliberal disaster capitalism to be leading the Opposition have misread the times.  In short, liberals aren't equipped to offer solutions in opposition to Trump, because they are wedded to their own version of reality – one which may not be as devoid of facts and evidence as Trump's – but one which is clearly not based on the facts and evidence that good public policy ought to be based on as we head deeper into the 21st century (see: "The wages of liberalism is Trump," The Left Chapter, November 9, 2016).

At the very heart of liberalism today remains the desire to free capital at the expense of everything else.  Until true reformers emerge, liberals will have increasingly little value in any leading role in opposing fascism.  While I understand that consumerism, cheap energy and inaction on climate change remain very popular today, the next generation has already begun to reject these 20th century values in favor of the progressive values I outlined earlier: equity, social and environmental justice – values which are at odds with those of today's liberals – whether they admit it or not.

If Democrats try to lead the opposition to Trump, Trump wins.  And that's a problem, because Democrats are best positioned to be the leaders, given that they are the only other political party represented in Congress.  The media will look to Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and California Governor Jerry Brown to lead the anti-Trump charge.  The expectation exists, based on 150 plus years of history, that the task of politically opposing Republicans must fall to Democrats.

America, however, would be better served if the Democratic Party simply faded away – voted itself out of existence like the U.S.S.R. under Gorbachev, as an acknowledgement that its time in history has come and gone.  Of course, Democrats have another option – reform from within.  That's what Bernie Sanders wanted, and we all know where that got him.  I have zero expectation that the Party of Wall Street could sufficiently reform itself to the point that they walked the talk.  Here in Canada, we saw Justin Trudeau and his Liberals pretend to be reformers while campaigning in 2015 – but who have consistently failed to act in any meaningfully progressive way (well, meaningfully to progressives, if not the mainstream media).  The realities facing American under a fascist Trump regime are much more grave than those facing Canada in 2015.

The Opposition Must Reject Both Conservatives and Liberals

As it morphs from Resistance to Opposition, the Opposition should look to real reformers like Jill Stein and the U.S. Green Party to lead the way.  Bernie Sanders ought to publicly distance himself from a Democratic Party that has nothing to offer Americans in the 21st Century (save for it not being Trump), and take on a real leadership role.  Rooted in Green values that are fundamentally at odds with neoliberal disaster capitalism, the Opposition must reject both Republicans and Democrats alike.  The Leap Manifesto may be a rallying point for a way forward for the Opposition.

I know this is difficult to hear.  And I suspect that for many readers, it's difficult to believe – and after reading this far, I'm sure many will write me off as a long-winded quack.  I get it.  We all share a recent history where the world was enriched by liberalism and capitalism - and cheap energy.  But liberalism and capitalism have changed.  Neither remains sustainable going forward into the 21st Century.  Neither is equipped to confront the crises which we now face: the crisis of climate, and the crisis of democracy.

Progressives, the hard reality is that we know Trump and the right-wing are not our friends.  What we must learn, accept, and act on is the reality that liberals, who seem to us to be softer, and less sinister, are also not our friends, as they stand in the way of real and necessary progress.  Liberals – their values and solutions – must be rejected out of hand.  Their policies have ignored the erosion of equity, social and environmental justice, have precipitated the crisis in democracy, fuelled the climate crisis, and have led to the rise of fascism in the West.

Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Justin Trudeau, Chrystia Freeland, Rachel Notley and Tom Mulcair – these liberals are not our friends. Their support of a 20th Century world view and economic status quo mean that they have nothing to offer us in the 21st Century.  It's time that we put them on a shelf in the cupboard of history and closed the door.  If we continue to let them run amok, and assume leadership roles in the Opposition, Bannon and Trump win.  It's that simple.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Car Free in Sudbury, Day 11: Sunday Shopping

Sunday. We had survived a week without a car, but we'd had some help. Alice's birthday was a huge success on Friday evening, in large part due to the help of Sarah's friend and her shuttle service. Saturday was a ho-hum day – I was out and about in the downtown, at a training session for Financial Agents put on by Elections Canada, and then at the downtown mall buying Sarah's Sunday School craft items. But we knew that a test was coming – one that we had been dreading. Food at Riverside Manor was growing scarce. It was time for us to sally forth from our place of refuge, and to hunt down our dinner and snack food items.

It was time to get the groceries.
Getting my duck(lings) in a row for the walk to Church.
Sunday. That was our day. Since we were already committed to using a Family Pass to get to church (or rather, to grandma's house, where we spent a half hour watching kid's TV before walking the rest of the way to church and thus not repeating last week's mistake of arriving too early), we decided that we were going to get lunch and groceries on the road. Our Destination: the New Sudbury Centre – for lunch at Taco Bell and groceries at Wal-Mart.

Once again, we found ourselves taking the scenic tour of the South End by riding the 502 Regent / Four Corners / University the wrong way (well, 'long way') from the stop across the street from the church. When we arrived at the downtown transit terminal, we hopped on the 402 Barry Downe / Shopping Centre to head to the mall (as an aside, look, Sudbury – we need to get our act together on this whole “Barry Downe” “Barrydowne” thing – one word or two, let's decide, once and for all – maybe through a municipal referendum. This kind of stuff drives me nuts. And while we're at it, let's settle on a single pronunciation for each of Auger and Levesque streets).

After a relatively uneventful lunch at the New Sudbury Centre's newly renovated food court (and look, you have to know our family to understand just how rare and special an “uneventful lunch” at the food court really is), we headed to Wal-Mart for groceries. We had our re-usable bags and sacks with us. We thought we were prepared. There had been talk about purchasing a bundle buggy at Wal-Mart, but we decided to brave it, and the groceries we would lug.

We finished our grocery shopping at five minutes to 3. The reusable bags were packed by Sarah, who is a pro at this sort of thing. Just 4 bags, that's not too bad. Veronica can carry the TP. Great. We can do this. It's easier than we thought. Why were we so scared? I mean, we've got eggs and everything packed in there. Let's get going.

OK, what bus can we catch, and where can we catch it? The 305 Lasalle / Peppertree stops on Lasalle, so we'd just have to walk through the parking lot and cross the street at the light. It heads straight back to the transit terminal. But it arrived at 2:54 – too late for us by a minute! OK, so how aobut the 402 Barry Downe / Shopping Centre that we took to get to the mall? The stop is at the wrong end of the mall, so carrying our groceries might be a bit of a hassle, especially since you can't take Wal-Mart buggies through the mall. Anyway, what time does it arrive? Oh. 2:52. Hmmm...not so good.

How about the 241 Howey / Moonlight / Shopping Centre? It's got a weird looking route – the transit schedule's map shows it coming into the New Sudbury Centre's parking lot. I wonder where the stops are, because I've never paid any attention to the bus stops at the mall when was driving the car. Anyway, before we try to figure out where it might stop, let's figure out when it will arrive. 2:52. Huh. So there are just three buses that run between the New Sudbury Centre and the transit terminal, and they all arrive at virtually the same time – and then nothing again for an hour. That's....pretty messed up, if I do say. Who thought this was a good idea?
Alice on the Wal-Mart Snow Mountain.

So there we are, with our groceries all packed away, standing at the doors of the Wal-Mart. With about an hour to kill. Not exactly cool. There's no way we're going to lug these groceries around the mall. So we decide to hop on the next bus, and just ride it. We'll be out of the way, and the kids might get a kick out of seeing a new part of the city – or fall asleep.

We took our time getting our winter gear on. Snow pants. Boots on the wrong feet. Boots on the right feet. Jackets which never seem to want to do up. We watched Alice do the trick where she puts he jacket on both arms at the same time over her head. It's cute. Hats on. Mitts....where are the mitts? Why do we always have to hunt for the mitts? So we killed a few minutes that way, before heading out to catch the 305 Lasalle / Peppertree bus headed in the wrong direction. We crossed the parking lot, pushing our groceries as far as we could before the wheels of the Wal-Mart buggy's seized up in a pretty good demonstration of an anti-theft device working the way that it should. Near the bus stop, the plow had come and created a snow mountain, which I think was magnetized in a way that drew our kids directly to it. One moment they were there, walking with one hand on the buggy – the next they were somewhere up in the snow mountain, waving and shouting “Mom! Dad! Look at me!”
Veronica - Queen of the Mountain beneath the cold, cold sky.

10 minutes later, the kids are exhausted, the wind has picked up (a lot) and it's viciously cold. Cue the whining and the sobbing and the crying and pleading, “can we go home now?” And the kids were complaining too. Still 5 more minutes until the bus arrives. I look down Lasalle and through the tears in my eyes I spot...nothing. Well, lots of things, but no bus. It might be there, though – down the road, between my wind-blown tears. It might just be there and I can't see it. It might be. It better be!

But it's not. The bus arrived 15 minutes late – which proved to be just in time. There was an insurrection mounting – an initiative to return the family to the mall, bags of groceries in a frozen Wal-Mart cart and all. I fought valiantly, but I couldn't convince Sarah to head back in. When the bus finally arrived, came to a stop in front of us, and opened its' doors, there was a mad stampede from the kids to get in – much to the annoyance of those exiting the bus from those very same doors, I'm sure. No matter. There was warmth there, even among the angry stares.
Sarah - Sudbury Sunday Shopper.

A late bus, though, certainly means a missed connection. Not so good, but at least we'd be able to hang out in the warmth (if not the ambiance of) the transit terminal for 45 minutes waiting for the 502 Regent / Four Corners / University to take us home – the distance of a 10 minute walk for me, but something completely uncontemplatable with the kids and with sore feet.

When the bus drove past the terminal's exit, I peeked through the window, hoping beyond hope that the 502 would be just as late as arriving as the Lasalle / Peppertree. No such luck. The terminal was deserted. Dang. By this time, everybody was just a little grumpy – we needed to be home, as quickly as possible. But it looked like a 45 minute layover. We got off the bus, and walked into the terminal – just as about every other bus running in the City on Sunday pulled in, including the 502! Unbelievable. The buses must have co-ordinated their schedules, somehow, probably through the magic of coffee breaks. Although there was a part of me that rebelled at the mathematical improbability that all of the buses in the City could find themselves equally late, at his point I didn't care. We hopped on the 502 and were home again in about 5 minutes.

Riding the Loop. Moments after this photo was taken, Alice
found herself located somewhere other than her seat.
But I was fuming still. It was now just a little bit before 4 o'clock. The better part of the afternoon was lost, in just having a quick meal at the food court and picking up groceries at Wal-Mart. This would have been about two hours in the car, no more. Four hours on the bus – with literally most of that time spent on the bus (or waiting for it!). We plonked the groceries down in the front of the door, got our keys out and unlocked....the van, to see if maybe the General Motors fairies had visited it and made it work again.

Rurrrr-rurrrr-rurrrrrr-rurrrrr-roooooow. No dice. Man, that doesn't sound good. At all. I'm not sure that's the battery. I don't even think it's the starter. I just don't really know, for truthfully, I don't have a clue when it comes to stuff like this, but boy, it sounded bad. Even worse than before – if that were possible. You know what it sounded like? To my ears, it sounded like that noise a car makes when something is busted and it's going to be expensive to fix.

I was about ready to call it quits yesterday. Waiting around. In the cold or other inconvenient places. Buses that don't run on schedule but are a part of lateness conspiracy. Watching the kids fall asleep for a few minutes, only to be ejected from their seats when the bus goes around a corner. Time has been taken out of my hands – I have no control over it. And I'm losing it, because I can't keep a grip on it. My Sunday afternoon – gone. And I had big plans for it. Yes indeed. Big plans. But they were foiled. No nap for Dad.

We decided that Sunday might not be the best day for a family outing – at least not when the weather was cold. Or rainy. Or windy. Or mosquito-y. Or otherwise miserable. We had heard the horror stories about Sudbury Transit's Sunday service – and now we had experienced them for ourselves, and although we may have lived to tell the tale, it was a close run thing.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Car Free in Sudbury, Day 6: Crossing the Street

Today is Alice's 5th birthday. One week from today, Brian will be celebrating his 4th birthday. For some time now, we've been planning a joint birthday party for our two youngest at the McDonalds on the Kingsway (ya, I know, I know....but McDonald's has something that's hard to find: food the kids will actually eat. Plus, the Kingsway location has a pretty sweet play area for kids their age. So...McDonalds). No surprise, our car free pilot project is complicating our plans.

Getting to and from McDonald's from our home on Riverside Drive is easy – with a car. Even to arrive at 5:00 PM on a Friday afternoon, if we can exit the driveway at 4:45, we'll still be there early (rush hour in Sudbury is not really something to fear). But as we've discovered, taking the bus presents some problems, one of which appears to be really problematic.

Rather than a 15 minute drive, riding the bus will take closer to 25 minutes, and cost us $15 (two ways – we'd use another Greater Sudbury Transit Family Pass). That's not bad – certainly, it's a shorter commute time than what we went through on Sunday with church. The alternative – taking a cab – would certainly cost a lot more – likely closer to $30, although we might save a few minutes.

But here's the problem. Although the bus ride would be just 25 minutes (including a transfer at the Transit Terminal), once we get to the bus stop across from McDonald's, we'll have a real dilemma on our hands.

How are we going to cross the street?

Seriously. The Kingsway. A little before 5pm. We're talking about 5 lanes of traffic (2 going east, 2 going west, plus the centre “turning” lane, which everybody in Sudbury uses not as a left turning lane for businesses off of the Kingsway, but as a lane of safe refuge for vehicles turning left out of businesses and onto the Kingsway – how often have I, as a driver, almost been hit by people driving cars, trucks, Handi-Transit, even buses, making illegal turns into these centre lanes? Anyway, point is, these lanes can be pretty chaotic for drivers – throw pedestrians into the mix and it could really be bad news).

There are no safe places to cross the street near McDonald's. The closest signalized intersection is about 400 metres west of McDonald's. We really would have little choice but to weave our way through 5 lanes of Kingsway traffic just to cross the road from the bus stop.

I'd do it. I've done it before. Something similar yesterday, as a matter of fact. I was attending a climate change workshop hosted by Greater Sudbury Earthcare. It was at the Lexington Hotel on Brady Street, between the underpass in the east and the Steelworker's Hall to the west (you know it – formerly the Howard Johnson, formerly the Holiday Inn). It's a nice facility – but it's a terrible location if you're on foot, especially in winter. There are no sidewalks on the north side of Brady Street, and the sidewalk on the south side actually ends short of the entrance to the hotel – so it's not like you can just scoot across the road. Throw in some snowbanks on both sides of the street, and let the fun begin.

Dodging traffic on Brady isn't as bad as on the Kingsway, generally speaking. I didn't have much problem doing it yesterday, even after jumping off of the snowbank. But I'm relatively able-bodied person. If I had any mobility issues, forget it. I'd have to take a cab to the Lexington, even though it's less than 5 minutes from my home, on foot. No buses run along Brady, either – it's in a pedestrian dead zone. In my comments back to the City on yesterday's excellent event, I made note that the City really should refrain from holding events at this location, due to the lack of accessibility. I'm sorry, Lexington – I really like you. I just don't like the idea of taking my life in my hands trying to get to you. One slip or trip and it doesn't matter how able-bodied I am – crossing the street can turn into a life or death choice.

Crossing the Kingsway at 5 in the afternoon with three small children? Forget it. We're not going to risk it. Sarah and I discussed this, and it took us no time at all to agree that the bus simply isn't an option for accessing McDonald's – a popular family venue on Sudbury's busiest commercial street. In retrospect, had we known that we'd be running this pilot project, we would not have selected McDonald's on the Kingsway for Alice and Brian's joint birthday party. It seemed like a good idea at the time – and it was – but times have changed, and now we're stuck dealing with the fallout.

We talked about riding the bus around the loop, staying on it until it circles back to drop us off on the north side of the Kingsway. We could do that. Yes, it would take longer – an extra half hour – but it would safely deposit us on the north side of the road, which is where we want to be. But something inside of me rebels at the notion of spending an extra half hour of my time simply because I can't safely get across 60 feet of asphalt. It all seems....a little unreasonable.

Something like this came up elsewhere in the City last year. Connect the Creek and Rainbow Routes had asked the City to look into installing a safe pedestrian crossing on Regent Street, between MacLeod and Ontario (Killer's Crossing) streets. Right now, the Junction Creek Trail (which is a part of the Trans-Canada Trail in this location) intersects Regent almost exactly mid-way between MacLeod and Ontario. To boot, there's a parking lot on the west side of Regent for Greater Sudbury Utitlities workers, whose building is located on the east side of Regent. If you want to get to the other side of the street here right now, your choices are: a) head south to the signalized intersection at MacLeod Street, going about 400 metres out of your way, just to cross the road safely; b) head north to the signalized intersection at Killer's Crossing, ignore the name/rep of this intersection, and travel 400 metres out of the way; or, c) brave 5 lanes of traffic on Regent Street – which generally isn't as bad as the Kingsway, but which can still be a bit of a trial, to say the least. Especially if one has children, or mobility issues.

I wrote to the City about this proposal (see: “Let's Make Regent Street Crossing At Junction Creek Safe For Pedestrians,” Sudbury Steve, December 3, 2016). I let the City know that there have been times that I've wanted to take the Junction Creek trail west of Regent with my kids, but I just didn't feel safe hustling them across Regent Street in absence of some sort of signalized crossing.

Pedestrian crossovers have started sprining up throughout the City. They've taken on various forms, but many have flashing amber lights, activated by pedestrians who want to cross the street. Some even have pedestrian islands, which allow those who aren't moving as quickly to take refuge mid-intersection (great for seniors and those travelling with small children!). Given the City's recent commitment to installing this helpful form of pedestrian infrastructure, one might think that a trail crossing used by several dozen GSU employees daily might warrant some consideration. The City's initial reaction, however, was to recommend signs urging pedestrians to take option A) or B) – travel 400 metres out of their way in order to use existing signalized intersections.

The good news is, that recommendation didn't go over well with the elected decision-makers. Now, the City will be looking at creating a safe crossing for those who will continue to cross the street in that location, with or without a safe crossing. Signs clearly were not / are not going to alter pedestrian behaviour in that location. And no one should expect them to.

All of this, of course, is symptomatic of a problem that's much larger than Greater Sudbury. It certainly afflicts many cities and towns throughout North America. In short, we've designed our cities for cars, and have neglected prioritizing the safety of pedestrians. And why wouldn't we? In most of our cities, there are more cars on the road than pedestrians. Why build sidewalks on even one side of the road when there aren't any people around to use them? Our car-dominated urban form was self-perpetuating: the more of it we built, the more of it we needed, so that we could accommodate an ever higher number of cars.

But it's 2017. The times are changing – although not uniformly. Before moving to Riverside, my family spent a couple of years in the Valley. If you don't know the Valley, it's a relatively flat area of the amalgamated City of Greater Sudbury that is, shall we say, a lot more spread out than the former City of Sudbury. Large lots. Few sidewalks. Hardly any mixed uses. Not just car-centred, but car-dominated. Pedestrians aren't just an afterthought, they're actively discouraged.

Despite this, the Valley is one of the fastest-growing parts of the City (although given Greater Sudbury's economic circumstance, let's keep that statement in perspective – the City is not growing fast by any stretch of the imagination – and we may in fact be losing population. But new homes continue to go up, and a good percentage of these are being built in areas outside of the old Former City – and many are in the Valley, East or West). Although Chelmsford, Val Caron and Hanmer have all seen a decline in commercial activity over the past several decades, residential growth is up. New subdivisions are being planted in farmer's fields (and floodplains!). Roads are widened to accommodate even more traffic. Property taxes are lower in these areas because there is a perception that they are not as well serviced as properties in the former City of Sudbury. New and costly roads are planned to facilitate more extreme low density development. Meanwhile, ridership on Greater Sudbury Transit is stagnant – or slightly down. And the City's infrastructure deficit stands at $1.4 billion (see: “City would need $1.4 billion to catch up on infrastructure deficit,” Sudbury.com, September 29, 2016).

I took the bus to and from work when we were living in Val Caron. It wasn't that bad – for me. There was a bus stop within a short walking distance of the house, and I work across the street from the transit terminal. It was generally ok. But the evening bus would drop me off on the east side of Municipal Road 80 in a location where the closest signalized intersection was about 800 metres away. There was no choice but to cross 5 lanes of traffic – generally travelling at more than the posted 60 km/h maximum – without the benefit of a safe area to cross. Transit riders getting off at these stops in the Valley are literally taking their lives into their hands every time they try to cross the street. The City must know this, but nothing gets done. And maybe that's a good thing, because given the Regent Street crossing example, I suspect the City's answer would be to pull up the signs and end having the buses stop in these locations.

Sounds crass, I know – but with municipality's increasingly focused on liability issues, it's something that might be around the corner. I don't know how I feel about this. On the one hand, limiting bus stops to signalized intersections would be a huge problem for transit riders in the Valley, both of them. Ok, that joke was in bad taste, but the fact of the matter is that people in suburban and outlying areas aren't using transit services to the same degree as those in denser, more urbanized areas – and maybe it's time that Cities like Greater Sudbury acknowledged this. We can't keep spending money on a transit service that doesn't attract riders. Rather than having a mediocre transit system for the majority of the City's residents who won't use it, let's have a really good system for those living in transit-supportive neighbourhoods – those of us who are already paying higher property taxes, and who are actually saving the City money (or at least costing it less) in servicing infrastructure, thanks to our choice to live in denser communities.

Maybe with some of that money we save by focusing transit services primarily in areas where there is an expectation for ridership growth, we can put up a few more pedestrian cross-overs in locations where people want to cross the street: at the Junction Creek trail on Regent, and somewhere along the pedestrian waste-land that is the Kingsway. One third of Greater Sudburians don't have access to a motorized vehicle. I suspect most of them don't live in the Valley. Let's make getting around on foot and by bus easier for those who want to get around on foot or by bus – and especially for those who have no choice but to get around by foot or by bus.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Car Free in Sudbury, Day 4: 5 Minutes Late or 55 Minutes Early

5 minutes late or 55 minutes early.  That was our conundrum on Sunday morning (Day 3) of our Car Free “Pilot Project”.  Initially, we were happy to discover that the Sunday 502 bus – an amalgam of the 501Regent-University and the 819 Copper-Four Corners – would take us to all of the destinations that we needed to get to on Sunday.  First, Church service at St. Mark’s on Walford, followed by Sarah’s work at the South End Food Basics, and then on to home for me and the kids.  However, our initial enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by the realization that we would need to take the 9:15 AM bus in order to get to church before service began – or risk walking into church 5 minutes late – an unacceptable option, even if it would have allowed us to sleep in a little longer on Sunday morning.

Anyway, it was off to church on the 502 bus, which left the downtown Transit Terminal at 9:15, and arrived at the Riverside stop near our home shortly after.  This year, the City of Greater Sudbury appears to be making a real effort to remove the snow banks at bus stops.  We were pleased to discover that the entire bank had been removed between the sidewalk and the street (in the area called “the boulevard” here in Greater Sudbury – a.k.a. “that asphalt strip between the sidewalk and the curb”).  It made waiting for the bus a pleasant experience for everyone, as the unplowed banks provided an opportunity for some playtime.
Alice, Sarah, Brian & Veronica - waiting for the 502 bus.

But, looking across the street to the south side of Riverside, I fear that when we are going to be waiting for the bus going the other way, into the downtown, our experience might be quite different.  There isn’t any sidewalk on the south side of Riverside, and the bus stop in this location is almost right on the street.  There is a little shovelled out area for standing, but I’m not optimistic about keeping three, shall we say “active” children corralled there for more than a few minutes.  Someone (the home owner behind the stop?) seems to have built a little bench to make one’s stay at the bus stop a little more pleasant (what a great idea – and the impromptu street furniture here really adds to the streetscape, as well as the feeling of living in a neighbourhood where people care for and look out for one another).

Alice on a snowbank.
(if you would like to share your own Greater Sudbury winter sidewalk experiences, please consider doing so at the Walk Safe SudburyFacebook Group site. They're collecting information there to help inform our municipal council about what the City's priorities should be to help achieve better winter pedestrian outcomes next year, when the budget for sidewalk clearing is expected to increase)

The bus came right on time, and I used the Family Pass, which would prove to save us a couple of bucks on transit.  The bus was pretty full, so the 5 of us were forced to sit in different parts of the bus – Sarah in one seat by herself, me in another across the aisle from the 3 kids in backwards/forwards seats at the back of the bus.  Everything went well (although there was some discussion among the kids over whose turn it was to “pull the string” when it was time to get the bus to stop).  But suddenly, the bus took a corner rather quickly, and Brian, who had been looking around behind him at the sign posted in the back of the bus showing a wide turn and a bus running into a car (this kind of “vehicular interaction” being appealing to Brian, I think, given the way that he plays with his own dinky cars), was tossed from his seat.  Luckily, the quick witted woman whom he was sitting beside managed to grab a hold of him.  After profusely thanking her, Brian sat with me for the rest of the uneventful trip to Church.

And so we arrived at the Walford Road stop at around 9:35.  55 minutes early.  From this stop, it was just a very short walk to the Church, which was good, because it was rather cold yesterday morning – especially with the wind, which we discovered to be blowing quite vigorously through D.J. Hancock Memorial Park on the northwest corner of Walford and Ramsey Lake roads.  We quickly made our way to the Church.

Only to discover that all of the doors were locked.

What were we thinking?  Apparently, we weren’t thinking.  I think that Sarah and I were just so impressed with ourselves that this would be one day – perhaps the very first day – that we weren’t feeling rushed to get to Church on time, that it just never occurred to us that arriving so early might mean a bit of a wait outside!
The Family (Look! There's my shadow!) outside of church.

So we waited for about 15 minutes, out of the wind at least – although it was cold.  We were all dressed for the cold, luckily, so it wasn’t that bad.  But it was still very nice to head inside when a gentleman with the keys showed up!

After taking off hats, mitts, boots, snow pants, etc., and hanging them up, we were then faced with about 40 minutes of not really knowing what to do.  Sarah went to set up for Sunday School, and I was left with kids in the basement, making a mental note to myself that next week I need to bring a game along with me to fill in the time before service.

St. Mark’s is located pretty close to Grandma’s house, so after Church, we walked there, and had a nice visit while waiting for the next bus to take Sarah to work.  It turns out that it would be just a short bus ride for Sarah from her mom’s place.  And the kids and I could stay there until the bus returns and heads north to the downtown.  Except for one thing: we broke out the Family Pass to pay for the day, and that means we’ve got to ride the bus as a family.  When one needs to get on, we all do.  So rather than spend a little more time with grandma, we hustled the kids out to the bus heading towards the Four Corners so that Sarah could get to work on time (actually, about 25 minutes early).

After Sarah’s departure at the Food Basics stop on Regent Street, the kids and I had a lengthy trip back home from the four corners.  Usually, getting home from the Four Corners in the car would take us about 5 to 7 minutes.  The meandering route of the 502 bus – without a prolonged stop at the Transit Terminal – meant that we continued to ride the bus for an additional 50 minutes.  But we got to see quite a bit of the City – something which the kids seemed interested in, at least – this time (let’s see how long that lasts).  The 502 headed to Health Sciences North, our hospital, and from there out to the University (which seemed to be the only popular destination / origin for riders on the bus, save the Transit Terminal).  Then it was back to the hospital, south on Paris to Walford, past the church and back past Grandma’s house.  The bus meandered through the old Memorial Hopsital parking area for some reason, and then wound its way to Paris Street through Boland and a few other low density streets where no one got on or off.  From Paris we headed into the downtown and stopped for about 10 minutes at the Transit Terminal.  Upon departing the terminal, it was just 4 stops to Riverside – I probably could have beat the bus home on foot if it were just me, but it would have been a different story with the kids, so we rode.

(as an aside: is Greater Sudbury selling naming rights for these stops?  If not, perhaps they should be – every time a business name is called out over the automated system, that creates an awareness of the existence of the business – we call that “advertising”, and I suspect it’s something that the City is doing for certain businesses without any financial winfall.  I suspect that this may be occurring because transit riders are familiar with prominent businesses in the area of certain stops – so in that respect it’s a service to bus riders.  It just seems – I don’t know – a little unusual that the City picks and chooses which businesses it’s going to highlight at certain bus stops, especially if there is no financial compensation from those businesses.  Perhaps I’ll look into whether the City is getting any money from businesses like Food Basics in the near future) 

What was clear to me from Day 3 was that while the bus might take us the destinations that we want, it does so on its own schedule - and that’s not always convenient, or, I suspect, workable in some situations.  We sort of kind of made it work yesterday, but to be honest, I don’t know what might have happened to us if it had been colder outside.   We need to be better prepared for the waiting – thinking ahead about where we might be able to spend some time (how far is the Tim Horton’s on Regent from St. Marks? Can I the kids make that walk without too much complaining, and will my coffee stay warm when it’s minus 20?), and bringing along items of distraction for the kids – games, paper, crayons, craft materials – to fill in the gaps.

We made it through Day 3, and Day 4 has been uneventful.  I’ve got a call in to my insurance broker to find out what it might cost me to have the insurance on the van removed.  The van isn’t going anywhere any time soon – which is actually kind of good news, because we were a little concerned that it might be slipping down our sloped driveway and onto the street in front of our house.  A friend of Sarah’s came along on the weekend with two concrete cinder blocks which he placed behind our rear tires, which will prevent any roll back, real or imagined.  It doesn’t look all that great – and I want to assure any neighbours of ours who are reading this blog that it’s purely intended to be a temporary measure, until we can figure out a way to push the van further up the (icy) driveway.

So far, it’s been ‘so far, so good’ - which is good.  I wonder what this week will bring us?

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Car Free in Sudbury - Day 2

I received the phone call just as I arrived at work.

"Honey, the car won't start," my wife tells me.

"Oh?"

"Ya, I turn the key and the dials all go haywire and the lights start blinking on and off, but the engine isn't doing anything, and there's this really bad noise...."

"Oh...."

This isn't the first time this has happened.  A few years ago, we purchased a 2005 Chevy Grand Caravan against the advice of my mechanic, Mike.  Mike told me that Grand Caravans from that year tend to have electrical problems.  Two years in, we've got a busted radio, a window on the driver's side that rolls down but won't roll up again, and a number of emergency lights on the dashboard that are either on all the time, or blink on and off whenever they feel like it (which can be a little unsettling when you're behind the wheel).  Just before Christmas, we were getting ready to go to volunteer at the Salvation Army Kettle at the LCBO in New Sudbury when the van refused to start.  Two out of three of our kids, my wife and I had no choice but to take the bus - which was actually kind of fun, especially since I was dressed up as Santa Claus - but it the cost was probably pretty close to what we might have paid for a cab.

Anyway, the van isn't going anywhere at the moment. I don't know what's wrong with it (although I suspect it might just be the battery), but to get it looked at, we're going to have to get it towed to the shop.  If I had a clue about cars, maybe I could figure it out - but I don't have a clue about cars, and I don't seem to know anybody who does.  As an aside, one of the interesting things about being a long-term member of the Green Party is that one tends to develop friendships with like-minded people - and since so many Greens don't drive, or like me, try to minimize their driving, most don't have the first clue about the mechanics of the internal combustion engine (maybe because we secretly think it's the Devil's Work - just joking. Or am I?).

When I returned home from work last night, of course I had to try it out myself.  Turns out my wife gave a really accurate description of what's going on, although a simple, "It's f*%#ed" probably would have sufficed.

"It's time we talk about this," says Sarah, my wife.  "We've put a lot of money into this van - are we going to keep doing that?"

"Of course we are.  This might only end up being like $300 bucks or less, plus a tow."

"You know, maybe it's time..."

"Time for what?" I ask, as it hits me.  She's talking about going carless.  It's something that we had discussed - fantasized about really, the way a hungry person might think of apple pie and ice cream when you know you're having broccoli with tofu for dinner.  But there's fantasy and then there's reality.

We've got three kids. Veronica, our oldest, is 6 years old.  Alice will be turning 5 next week.  Brian will be turning 4 the week after.  Veronica and Alice go to St. Denis school in the City's South End.  Brian stays at home with Sarah right now.  Sarah works part time at Food Basics in the South End, usually on weekends.  I work downtown, across the street from the bus depot.  Since I moved to Sudbury more than 15 years ago now, I've never taken the car to work - always transit - or lately, on foot - although sometimes on my bike, although given how close I work to where I live, I find taking even taking the bike to be a little bit of overkill.

After living in the Valley for a few years, we purchased a house on Riverside Drive, between Douglas and Broadway - so closer to the underpass and downtown than to Regent Street.  My family refers to our home as "Riverside Manor", perhaps out of irony, I'm not sure.  Anyway, it's in a great location.  It usually takes me less than 10 minutes to walk to work, although I've made a habit of stopping in at the Old Rock on Durham in the morning to get by Bubba refilled with their excellent dark roast coffee (they roast the beans at their other location on Minto).  For me, being without a car is easy - as long as I'm just going to and from work.

But Sarah's day has typically been a little more hectic.  Recently, her circumstances have changed, and she hasn't been driving as much.  We've noticed a real reduction in the amount of gasoline we're using in the vehicle.  Previously, we were putting in about $350 a month.

Veronica and Alice are bussed to school in the morning - their bus stop is just down the road from our house.  In the afternoon, the bus drops them off at our front door.  On Saturdays, along with Brian, they both attend dance and gymnastics programs at the YMCA downtown.  That's just a short walk from our house, through the underpass beneath the rail yard and up again into the downtown.  Some days, the walk proceeds normally.  Other days, little legs get tired quickly, and what would normally be a 5 or 7 minute walk turns into a zombie march.  Anyway, I'm at the Y right now - so we made here again this morning, on time.  I always insist that we be on time.

But besides the school bus for the kids, walking to and from work for me, and walking to the Y, for just about everything else, the van was meeting all of our transportation needs.  Ok, sometimes we'll walk downtown for whatever (usually to attend one of the many festivals that go on in Sudbury's downtown during the summer) or to go to the Farmer's Market at the Elgin Street train station where the trains don't stop any more (ok, there's the Budd Car - but that's it).

Can we really get by without a car?  I mean, I realize that having the van was an expense.  It runs about $450 a month, I estimate, between gas and insurance - and that's if nothing breaks down (which would be a rare month, lately) or when at my own peril I ignore the little sticker in the top left corner of the windshield that tells me when I should be changing the oil.  And then there are extra travel costs, should we decide to go out of town.  So sure, car ownership is an expensive way to get around.

But in Greater Sudbury, what are the alternatives?  Sure, there's the school bus, and walking, and maybe biking (I took my bike down to Stack Brewery on Kelly Lake Road this past summer, just to see if I could do it and survive.  I refilled my two growlers, slung by back pack over my shoulders, and took the Trans Canada Trail from Kelly Lake Road all the way back to Riverside Drive, just a few feet from Riverside Manor).  But what about for everything else?

Well, how much "everything else" is there?  Especially in the winter.  Besides Sarah going to and from work, there's Sparks on Tuesday night, where Sarah and her good friend, the other Spark Leader, car pool out to Chelmsford.  There's groceries (although there is a grocery store fairly close to our home, we tend to shop at the Food Basics where Sarah works, because it's a really good store, and we like the prices.  And the customer service is fantastic! At least that's been my experience).  And church on Sundays.  And Science North and Dynamic Earth for the kids whenever we can find the time (we've got a Family Membership and I have to tell you, it's one of the most worthwhile things I've ever purchased.  The kids just can't get enough of Science North, and I am always finding something new, ever time I go - I love it too.  I am so lucky to live in a City that cherishes science to the degree that Greater Sudbury does).

"Sarah, you really want to go car free?" I asked.  "You think we can do this?"

"I think we can.  Do you want to try?"

My first reaction - like most people's, I think - something that I take a degree of comfort in - is to resist any and all change.  This despite having a background in urban planning and having learned about how change happens regardless of what we want, and about how we can best manage and shape change to suit our needs better.  But when push comes to shove, it's easy to ignore what the text books tell you.  Do I really want to try going without a car?  "No, Sarah, I think this is a bad idea." I say.

Wrong answer.  She's been thinking about this all day, whereas it was something frankly that hadn't occurred to me. Car broken. Get fixed. Wait til it break down again. Get fixed again. Spend money. Use Visa.

"You know, we can save money here - and that's something we've been talking about trying to do a little better."  She then proceeded to lay it all out for me.  That's why I know we would save about four hundred and fifty bucks a month from just eliminating the regular use of the car.  Turns out, the real savings might be closer to around $700 a month, when additional travel and vehicle repair are added in.

But leave it to me to put a negative spin on something as good and exciting as 'saving money'.

"But how much will it cost to save that kind of money?"

For one thing, we're going to need to take the bus a little more often.  And that's a problem.  Greater Sudbury's transit system has two major issues with it: it's expensive, and it's inconvenient.  Those issues aren't unique to Greater Sudbury transit, mind you - but that's no comfort.  Anyway, at least it's generally reliable, and the bus drivers are courteous.  And if buses would stop burning to the ground, I'll add "pretty safe" to the list (see: "Sudbury bus catches fire," the Sudbury Star, January 27, 2017).

One of our problems is we won't be taking the bus enough to justify a monthly pass ($84 a month for a 31 day pass - you can activate it at any time throughout the month, which is cool).  So we'll be relying on the use of 5 and 10 ride passes (10 rides is $24.50, so $2.45 a ride - a much better deal than the $3.10 paid at the fare box).  For Veronica, a 10 ride pass will cost $18.50 - so a buck eighty five a ride.  And since Alice has her 5th birthday next week, she'll also have to start paying the same fare (in Greater Sudbury, kids under 5 ride for free, so we won't need to start paying for Brian until next year). By using 10 ride passes, a one-way trip for the family to whatever destination that we can access by bus will cost $8.60.  There and back again = $17.20 (see: "Greater Sudbury Transit - Fares," for a complete list of transit fare prices).

Whoa. $17.20.  Seems...kinda high for a single trip.  Greater Sudbury has a daily family pass - unlimited rides for a family of 5 like ours, for $15 bucks.  I went to the Transit Terminal yesterday and bought one.  This might be a help - but the fact is, most of our "other" travel by car was spread out throughout the week.  If we want to make this work and save money, it looks to me like we're going to have to change the way that we do things - somewhat.

Tomorrow will be the first test: Getting to and from church.  Luckily, our church is on a transit route.  Unluckily, church service is on a Sunday - which makes sense from the church's perspective, but it means that we'll be using transit on a day that transit services are reduced.  I'll offer up for sacrifice on the alter of Greater Sudbury transit that family pass I purchased yesterday, so we'll still save some money at the fare box.  But we'll have to arrive at church 45 minutes early (the May family early for church? Unheard of!), and may need to leave church before service ends, which is a little embarrassing.

"We're going to try this," Sarah told me yesterday.

"But only as a pilot project - just for one month," I respond.

"We'll see how well we've done, how much money we've saved."

"We'll see how much it cost us in terms of time and money."

But I'd already given the game away.  The moment the words "pilot project" were out of my mouth, I thought of my friend Matt Alexander, he of Sudbury Moves.  Matt likes to tweet about 'pilot projects', because he knows a little secret.  Once you start a pilot project, it's hard to stop it.  Sure, they run for whatever the length of the pilot is, but by the end of that time period, people have made their adjustments.  Their complaints and reasons for resistance - their very natural resistance to change - has been worn down or has just evaporated.  The pilot project has become the new normal.  And that's why Matt loves pilot projects for things like new bike lanes.

Of course, Matt is going to be my inspiration throughout this one month pilot project (Car free?  In Sudbury?  In FEBRUARY?  Craziness!).  After all, Matt and his spouse lived in Greater Sudbury for a number of years without a car.  And while close to the downtown, they weren't as close as my family lives.  They made it work.  They've since moved to Toronto, where Matt has a new job - a job that, ironically, where he needs to have daily access to a car - despite living on top of a subway line!  Sure, Matt didn't have 3 slow-moving little people with little legs who cost additional bus fare - but if Matt did it, why can't I?

So, here we are.  We're going Car Free.  In Sudbury.  It's my hope to continue to write about my experiences throughout the month, while exploring the City and how it treats people who - like me, now I guess - are getting around without a car.  Since I already walk a fair bit, I've been storing up my observations on what really works here - and what doesn't.  This new car-free experience will give me a reason to share them.

I look forward to you joining me and my family on this car free journey.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)