Canadian, Canada Day

Happy Car-Free Vancouver

MEC Bikefest
Sunday was Car-Free Vancouver Day - with street parties throughout the city celebrating all the progress this city is making. I missed most of the action, as we were on a hiking/camping trip in Golden Ears Provincial Park (pictures here), but want to acknowledge the progress Vancouver is making.

There have been huge improvements to cycling infrastructure. Following up on last falls Burrard Bridge bike lane, there is now a dedicated bike lane over the Dunsmuir Viaduct all the way through downtown (more details). I've been taking it every day, and it really makes my commute a lot faster and safer. And it seems to be gaining popularity with local cyclists - every day I have to share the lane with more and more cyclists. Of course there is the same tired arguments from some critics, but the results will speak for themselves.

The next steps for Vancouver will be another separated downtown bike lane, linking the Dunsmuir lane with the Burrard Bridge. And if the city can find away around the province's mandatory helmet law, we might see Bixi bike sharing soon.

In other exciting car-free news, I've heard rumours that the city will try turning Granville Street into a pedestrian-only zone. After the success the street saw during the Olympics, I'm really happy city council is showing some leadership and reclaiming more public space from cars and returning it to pedestrians.

For a broader perspective on transportation issues, see Wired's The Man Who Could Unsnarl Manhattan Traffic.
Canadian, Canada Day

Roller Derby

Is there anything hotter then girls in fishnet stockings and booty shorts with retro roller skates showing off their athleticism? I didn't think so.

Roller Girl with a Bad Reputation  Bad Reputations  Roller Derby Warmup  Faster Pussycats

A few weeks ago a bunch off went to watch our first roller derby match. The Terminal City Rollergirls were competing in Richmond, but it was really easy to get there by SkyTrain. The girls were super athletic and the matches were exciting. My only complaints were the matches were a bit long and it was difficult to figure out what was going on half of the time. There were announcers explaining the rules, but the crappy audio system in the arena made it impossible to hear what they were saying. Regardless, we had a good time. Makes me want to watch Whip It again.

Next bout is June 26 in Richmond.
Canadian, Canada Day

Why I Signed the HST Petition

Yesterday I signed the HST Petition. It felt good participating in direct citizen driven democracy, but it wasn't a decision I took lightly.

I didn't do it because I dislike the Liberals. I don't like them, but that's beside the point.

I didn't do it because I dislike taxes. I appreciate what taxes pay for and actually think I should be paying more taxes.

I signed the petition because I think the HST is a bad tax for the environment. The HST represents a tax shift from goods to services. It benefits manufacturers and lumber companies, and punishes restaurants and hair dressers. For the environment's sake, we need to move away from a consumerist society focused on always buying new stuff.

Worse still, the HST will increase the price of bikes and bike gear by 7%. Cycling equipment is currently PST exempt, but come July 1, it will be taxed at the full 12% HST. The BC Government was only able to keep 5 PST exemptions, and they chose to exempt fossil fuels instead of bikes. So much for the progressive government who introduced the carbon tax.
Canadian, Canada Day

Is Vancouver an "Elite" City?

The Economist has a feature story about Portland and "elite cities". Portland is leading the way in the United States expanding public transit, encouraging local food, and building cycling infrastructure. For the most part, it's a positive article that compares Portland to Vancouver in Canada and many European cities. But then the Economist squeezes in this paragraph near the end:
Joel Kotkin, a Los Angeles-based demographer and author, thinks that places like Portland, San Francisco and Boston have become “elite cities”, attractive to the young and single, especially those with trust funds, but beyond the reach of middle-class families who want a house with a lawn. Indeed Portland, for all its history of Western grit, is remarkably white, young and childless. Most Americans will therefore continue to migrate to the more affordable “cities of aspiration” such as Houston, Atlanta or Phoenix, thinks Mr Kotkin.
Cities like Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco, and New York are expensive because there is a huge demand for what they're offering. I thought the Economist would understand the basics of supply and demand. More cities should be following Portland's lead instead of trying to be "cities of aspiration" - whatever that means.

Canadian, Canada Day

Portland - A Car Free Vacation

5 years ago, Portland was up there with Omaha in terms of places I wanted to visit. I had barely heard of the city. When I worked at Microsoft, it was only ever mentioned as a shopping destination, a place to buy a new computer or tv, as Oregon has no sales tax. Since I moved to Vancouver, everyone seems to speak of Portland as an environmental utopia - a place where everyone bikes, public transit is free, and restaurants serve local, organic food.

As a birthday surprise, Emily planned a trip for the two of us to Portland. Amtrak has been running a direct train to Portland for the past few months (and will continue until at least the end of the summer - I highly recommend the trip!). We got up really early on Friday morning, road our bikes down to the train station (5 minutes, all downhill), and at 7 am our train left en route to Portland.

Pacific Central at Dusk

I really love travelling by train. The seats are comfortable, there is lots of leg room, the ride is smooth, you can get up and walk around, and there is no such thing as a traffic jam. Supposedly, you can even drink your own booze. I'm not sure what the ideal time to show up at the train station is - we were there an hour early, and that was too much time, even for clearing customs (the other great benefit - not stopping at the border for customs) and loading our bikes into the baggage car. The train has a plug for every pair of seats that we used to watch movies on my laptop.

Amtrak Bike Storage  Comfy Amtrak Cars  Bike + Train = Awesome  Go by Train - Union Station

The only downside of rail travel is it is slower then driving or flying. The infrastructure in Canada and the US has barely been touched for 40 years. On a lot of bridges, the train had to slow down because it is not safe to go at full speed. Can you imagine if that were the case on any highway? People would freak out. Yet it is the norm for train travel. On our journey south we had to transfer onto buses between Everett and Seattle because a mudslide the night before had made the tracks unsafe for passengers, even though our train was allowed to continue without us. Luckily it only delayed us a few minutes, but a small delay on passenger rail often grows. Later we had to stop to let a freight train pass (which slowed us down by another 10 minutes), as freight has priority over passenger rail and is allowed to go faster because less people care if a freight train derails.

SkyBridge  I'd Rather be on the Train

Portland lived up to many of the stereotypes I had of the city. There's a quite environmentalism that pervades the city. People just bicycle, recycle, and eat local. There's no smugness to it, it's just the way things work here. The hotel we stayed in (Marriot Courtyard City Center - highly recommended!) was LEED certified, celebrated earth hour, and had bike parking for guests, but it didn't seem overly environmentally friendly.

Earth Hour at our Hotel  Hotel Bike Parking  Courtyard Marriott

We visited the farmer's market on Saturday morning and it blew me away. I thought Vancouver had great farmer's markets, but this one was about 5 times larger then Vancouver's biggest market and was packed with people, all enjoying a sunny morning in a park in the middle Portland State campus. Most of the restaurants we visited emphasized their "sustainable" menus items, which I think was meant to indicate that the food they served was local and organic.

Portland Farmer's Market

Experiencing the food in Portland was one of the highlights of the trip. Portland has two food innovations I'd love to see copied in Vancouver - the food cart and brewpub theatres. Food carts in Portland are more then just hot dog carts. They are converted mobile home trailers that are semi-permanently located on the edge of parking lots. And some of them serve excellent food. From what I read, some aspiring chefs start with food carts, as the start up costs are lower. Now, brewpub theatres are just that, theatres that serve beer - usually some of Portland's fabulous micro-brews. Emily and I went to the Living Room Theatres on Saturday night and watched a great foreign film (Terribly Happy), and I got to have a beer and sit in a big, comfy sofa chair. It's such a perfect idea, and it exists because Portland has looser regulations then Vancouver - the food carts, brew pub theatres, and many of the converted house restaurants we ate in would all be illegal in Vancouver.

Benson Bubblers  Farmer's Market Flood  Gluten-Free Heaven  Street Food Breakfast

Some of the other touristy highlights were:
- Visiting the Saturday market. It was too packed with people to do much shopping, but it was a vibrant scene.
- Walking around in the Japanese garden was very zen. Then we Zoobombed down on our bikes from Washington Park into Nob Hill.
- Shopping in Hawthorne Village, which was kind of like Main Street or Commercial Drive in Vancouver, with vintage clothing, Japanese nick knacks, and lots of good restaurants.
- Getting smarter at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. A decent science museum, similar to Science World in Vancouver.

Japanese Tea Garden  Japenese Fountain  Portland Saturday Market  Keep Portland Weird  Blast Off  Emily in Space

I'm really glad we took our bikes down to Portland. Amtrak only charges $5 for a bike reservation fee, and getting around Portland is really easy on bikes. When we first arrived and saw the street cars zipping around (all free downtown), I didn't think we'd use the bikes. However, they really came in handy in Washington Park and for exploring the east side. Portland has done a lot to make biking easy. The street cars all have multiple hooks for hanging bikes inside. All of the downtown bridges have bike lanes. And, the biggest change from Vancouver - finding bike parking was easy. Everywhere we went had bike racks, and throughout downtown there are bike corals where they've converted a single parking spot into enough space to fit a dozen bikes on the street. The only problem we found biking around Portland was figuring out what streets were bike friendly. Luckily, most were, but there is definitely a lack of signed bike routes and connected bike lanes. Often we found ourselves biking down a bike lane only to have it disappear with no indication where we should go.

Portland Bike Corrals  Bikes on Street Cars

Portland is an impressive city, but it isn't perfect: there are a few ugly freeways dividing large parts of the city; a lot of the commercial district felt very disjoint, even more so than Vancouver; and there were surprisingly high numbers of obese people and smokers. However, I loved the bike friendly feel and the great food options.

Tale of Two River Banks

I want to go back to Portland again this summer. The train makes it very easy to visit for a long weekend, and there is still more I want to see and restaurants I want to try. I also want to take advantage of the zero sales tax - I'm thinking of picking up a new camera or a smart phone next time.
Canadian, Canada Day

Good-Bye World - Sorry About the Music

When it comes to music talent, Canada has an embarrassment of riches. It's too bad the Olympic closing ceremonies were just an embarrassment. Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette, Simple Plan, and Nickelback? Which hosehead chose that lineup?

If I was the artistic director, these are the 10 songs I would have chosen to highlight Canadian music:

The athletes would have entered the stadium while K'Naan sang Wavin' Flag.

The solute to the Canadian athletes would have included a video montage of the medallists and the song Gold Rush by Basia Bulat.

The Canadiana portion of the program would have featured:
Tournament Of Hearts - The Weakerthans
The Hockey Song - Stompin' Tom Connors
Maple Leaf Forever - Michael Buble - The best song in the closing ceremonies. I really liked the dancing mounties (especially the female ones), lumber jacks, and giant beavers.

I would have introduced the Russian Sochi 2014 committee with Gimme Sympathy by Metric. This could also be used to shut down the torch - with no disrespect to Mr. Neil Young.

The dance portion of the evening would have had the athletes rocking out to Feist - 1 2 3 4, Hannah Georgas - The Beat Stuff, Tegan and Sara - Arrow, and Numero# - Tonton Klaxonne.

And as everyone filed out of the stadium, they would have been serenaded by local band Said the Whale singing Out on the Shield - the best anthem for the games.
Canadian, Canada Day

Olympics: Out with a Bang

What an amazing last day to the Olympics. The hockey game was a real thriller. We watched the game in Yaletown, and after it ended the city just went nuts. We wandered down to Granville and Robson where the mob was congregating. It was a real zoo. I've never seen so many maple leafs and giddy Canadians. When we made it to Granville and Robson, the crowd was so think you couldn't walk anymore. You just got pushed along, completely at the mercy of the crowd. It was slightly frightening, and the group I was with had to escape to find some breathing room.

Granville and Robson  Basking in Victory  Welcome to Canada  Maple Leaf Forever

Canadian, Canada Day

Jumping on the Olympic Bandwagon

A few days of sun has brightened my opinion toward the Olympics. That and some rocking music, crazy crowds, and exciting curling.

On Friday night we tried to get into the German Fun House but only made it into the waiting pen where we could drink $9 German beers in a parking lot. After that we ended up in a pub and then wandered through downtown where hordes of drunken teens were partying it up. It was a crazy crowd. I saw someone burning an American flag, two young Indian drummers start a spontaneous dance party, and lots of Canadian pride on display.

Saturday, Emily, Steph, and I ventured down to Surrey to check out there Olympic Celebration site. I was a bit worried when we had to wait for 30 minutes to board a SkyTrain, but once we escaped the Vancouver Olympic crowds it was smooth sailing. We didn't have to wait at all to enter the Surrey site. No lineups! It was a breath of fresh air, and there were lots of fun Surrey sporting activities like plywood curling and plastic sheet skating. All kidding aside, it was a great site. The concert was awesome - Said the Whale and Mother Mother put on fantastic sets.

On Sunday I had tickets to see Women's curling and the ladies didn't disappoint. China beat Canada in an extra end - Canada's only round robin loss. It was an excellent match and the crowd was loud.

Monday, Emily and I stopped in to the Yaletown site to see Jill Barber. She didn't garner the crowds that Deadmau5 did last week or I'm sure Girl Talk will this Friday, but it was still a good show.

And then today at work there was a surprise Scavenger Hunt, like a Waterloo Scunt but while getting paid. We raced around downtown in teams getting pictures of us doing crazy Olympic stunts. It's amazing what people will let you do if you tell them your on a scavenger hunt and just need a quick picture. The festive Olympic atmosphere helps too.