It’s A New West Thankgiving Thanks-Fest!

Well, it’s the Thanksgiving long weekend. And I thought that it might be a good idea to look around me, and take stock of all of the things that I have to be thankful for, particularly here in my adopted home of New Westminster.

Here in Canada, our Thanksgiving is based around the Anglican calendar, a liturgical festival that quietly mirrors the pagan Harvest Festivals in Britain, and those festivals celebrated very similarly by First Nations peoples who engaged in harvest festivals for many thousands of years. Over the centuries, the “thanks” part of Thanksgiving has come to mean many things to many people .

What does thanks mean to me, here in New West?

Like many things in life for me, it’s the details, the simple pleasures for which I give thanks. I don’t have to face hypothermia, typhoid, fighting off a bear with a skinny branch, or injuries sustained in clearing a patch of land to build a log cabin like our early Canadian forebearers did (and for which I also give thanks).

But, thanks are thanks, no matter what era in which one finds oneself. And here are some of mine.

***

The Library

New Westminster Library
Photo: Dennis Sylvester Hurd

Libraries are a sure sign that civilization is alive and well. At the risk of sounding like a very, very old man, libraries democratized information long before the Internet came along to claim the crown. And they’re still important, you young whippersnappers.

Ours is a five minute walk from my apartment. I have celebrated the New Westminster Library here before, of course, as have a number of writers here on Tenth To The Fraser. But recently I’ve discovered yet another treasure it provides me – classic movies on DVD! Netflix this!

Public Transit

Tranlink public transit New Westminster
Photo: Nathan Pachal

Although it’s been under attack recently, public transit in New West still kicks all manner of butt, and was one of my reasons for moving here. Then, I was without a car. I am therefore in favour of, and thankful to, any city that empowers its citizens to choose not to own a car if they don’t want one, or can’t afford one.

Since my little girl lives in North Delta, and it’s such a big deal to cross a river around here (with only 3 buses crossing a river, only one of which stops at a SkyTrain Station during regular service hours), I’ve since had to buy one. If only New West was looked to as more of an example of how public transit should be integrated into a community.

Moody Park

Photo: Robert John Davies Jones

Toward the end of the summer, I got off the 155 bus on 6th Street, between 10th and 9th. It was fresh, sunny day. There was a gentle breeze. The bus pulled away, and I looked across the road into Moody Park. The trees cast cool shade onto the grass, awash as it was with cheery sunlight. Dogs played. People gathered, laughing around picnic tables. It was life! And people were out in it, enjoying it together. It made me feel grateful to be here.

Rainbow Market

Photo: RJDJ

Rainbow Market on 8th street at 4th is the convenience store very close to my apartment – even closer than the Library! When there’s no milk for coffee, it’s been there for me in a pinch. But, it’s not just about the convenience. It’s about the time my daughter got a free candy (with my permission) when it was noticed that she was feeling a bit disappointed that day by the chap behind the counter. That kind of stuff counts.

9th Street

Photo: RJDJ

Some of the oldest houses that I’ve seen in New Westminster are just around the corner from me here on the Brow-Of-The-Hill. There is something about a house that is over a century old that really makes one feel very connected to a place that celebrates such an illustrious history, existing in a form that is both wonderful, and somehow alien too across the span of decades. It feels, at times, when walking in historic neighbourhoods like this one (as I’m wont to do), that time itself is something of an illusion.

I suppose too, I am in a state of constant admiration of those who live in those houses along 9th street. I am amazed at how devoted they must be to have made themselves so actively a part of that ongoing history just by taking care of a house like that, preserving that shared history for us all.

Drink Urban Lounge

Drink Urban Lounge
Photo: Raul Pacheco-Vega

I consider Drink Urban Lounge on Columbia Street to be my local, with a fine selection of beers, great food, and friendly wait staff. There’s something that is both cozy and sophisticated about it that I noticed the moment I stepped in there. I know The ‘Drink has been compared to a Yaletown place, but I actually think it’s its own thing.

When they played David Byrne on the box, along with some cool jazz, a spot of Bob Dylan, a touch of Wilco, they really had me. And one time recently, our hostess made us nachos even after the kitchen was closed. How great is that? Great enough to at least say “Thanks!”

Angelina’s

My favourite meal of the day is brunch. And when I crave it, Eggs Benedict is the first dish that leaps to mind, with strong coffee, fried potatoes, and freshly-squeezed orange juice – comfort food. All of this is mine at Angelina’s, a breakfast and lunch place down by the Quay (115 – 960 Quayside Drive ) which has become a fast favourite, for which I’m thankful is here in our city. It’s owned by a couple who are extremely friendly and know their trade. It feels kind of like a B&B without the first B. But, show up early, ’cause it’s cozy.

The Quay

New Westminster Quay
Photo: Stephen Rees

I believe that human beings draw a strong psychological lift being near water. And to have a place to walk near it, with greenery, a pub, a playground, a River Market, and grocery store along the way, that lift is made all the more a thing for which to be thankful.

Army & Navy

Photo: RJDJ

This is one of my favourite places on Columbia Street, not just because of the wide range of fashions and household items at very reasonable prices. But, because it reminds me of my childhood in the 1970s, when all department stores were set up like this. The soundtrack helps. When you’re in the Army & Navy on Columbia Street, your soundtrack will be pop music of all kinds, as long as it was released between 1956 to 1976. It’s like being a kid again! Well, for me it is.

Queen’s Park and surrounding environs

Photo: RJDJ

Like I touched on when speaking about 9th street, history fascinates me, and with many homes dating from the early 1900s in this extraordinarily pretty neighbourhood, there is plenty to soak up. In addition, quiet, tree-lined streets in a neighbourhood that still passes the pint of milk test (15 minutes to buying a pint of milk without climbing into a car) once again shows me a big part of what makes a great place to live, and how neighbourhoods should be planned.

Really, I just enjoy walking around this neighbourhood, admiring the individual beauty of each house, admiring the aesthetics of another age, and once again being made aware of how important history and a sense of continuity is in New Westminster, and how I feel I’ve been invited into it.

Friends

Friends, of course.

I sure have made a lot of friends in this town, ones I love to chat with, to hoist pints with, to share stories with. There is nothing quite like a support network, with “support network” perhaps sounding a bit too clinical for what it actually means to me.

As we grow up and get older, our relationships become more selective, perhaps. And being Canadian, we’re a bit more guarded as to who we let in than perhaps our American cousins are. But, like our other cultural cousins, the British, once you’re in, you’re in. How can you not be thankful for something like that?

So, I am.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

***

5 Songs About Thanks

NWEP to host Urban Transportation Forum Nov. 9

NWEP AGM & Urban Transportation Forum poster
NWEP AGM & Urban Transportation Forum poster

The New Westminster Environmental Partners will be holding an Urban Transportation Forum and Annual General Meeting on Tuesday, November 9 at the Douglas College Student Union lounge.

The event, moderated by Tenth to the Fraser’s Will & Briana Tomkinson (yep, that’s me!), will feature local and regional transportation experts discussing what works in transportation planning, what doesn’t, and what’s coming to New Westminster.

The time is now to talk about our transportation future. New bridges and highways are planned, bringing more traffic to New Westminster. The City is working on an updated Master Transportation Plan. An ongoing “funding gap” at Translink is delaying important transit infrastructure projects.

Speakers will include:

  • Jerry Dobrovolny, Director of Transportation for the City of Vancouver and a former New Westminster City Councillor. He will discuss how the Olympics and Separated Bike Lanes are helping to Make Vancouver the “Greenest City in the World” by 2020. The presentation will include newly released data showing the shift in travel modes that occurred during games time, and discuss how cities can excel in a paradigm of peak oil and GHG reduction.
  • Joe Zaccaria, a sustainable transportation advocate from South Fraser OnTrax. Joe will present some quick facts from our neighbours in the south-of-Fraser region, including options to decrease motordom and make our communities walkable again. What is driving transportation needs in the south of Fraser? What is being planned and what is being hoped for? What does these mean for the whole region?
  • Jonathan Cote, New Westminster City Councillor. He will talk about how urban design and form affect sustainable transportation. He will also talk about road pricing and other issues in the local (New Westminster) and regional (Metro Vancouver) context.

A Q&A will follow the presentations, so bring your questions, concerns, and  ideas. You can also tweet questions @10thtothefraser or comment on this post to leave a question that you’d like Will & I to pose to the speakers during the forum. We’ll try to get to as many as we can during the time allowed.

If anyone is interested in live-tweeting the event, that would also great too!

Following these discussions, the NWEP will be reporting on this year’s activities, and will be electing new officers for 2011. Everyone is invited, admission is free and the general public is encouraged to attend and see what the NWEP is up to!

You don’t have to be a member to attend, but only NWEP members will be able vote at the meeting. Memberships ($5 annually) will be available at the meeting.

Where: Douglas College Student Union lounge, 88 Seventh Street, New Westminster

When: Tuesday, November 9th, 7pm

Who: New Westminster Environmental Partners are a group of residents, business owners, and other stakeholders who believe in thinking globally and acting locally. NWEP is strictly non-partisan, as we support sustainability being embraced by all political parties, organizations and individuals.

Membership in NWEP is open to all residents and community stakeholderswho support our mission and are willing to work with us in a cooperative, consensus based-decision making process to promote sustainability in the City.

NWEP’s mission is to work with residents, businesses and government agencies within the City to achieve environmental, social and economic sustainability in New Westminster, through the identification of issues, education, public advocacy, the promotion of best practices, and the implementation of effective projects.

Flat-fare transit system, not ‘smart’ cards, is the way to go

In 2013, TransLink will launch a new electronic fare system that would allow it to charge riders only for the distance they actually travel, rather than by zone. But just because they can charge more for people traveling long distances doesn’t mean they should.

A ‘smart’ card system is anything but. It makes intuitive sense to drivers to say that someone traveling from King George to Waterfront ought to pay more than someone going from Columbia to Sapperton. But when it comes to public transportation, riders paying more for traveling a longer distances hamstrings efforts to get  more people out of their cars.

TransLink should be doing all it can to provide incentives for suburbanites traveling long distances into work to take transit instead of driving. I understand that it costs more for TransLink to carry them, but it is more challenging and  impactful to remove a car from the road that would travel from Surrey into Vancouver than a car traveling only a few blocks.

The current zoning system is terrible. There’s no good reason a person should pay more to travel from Patterson to the next station, Joyce, than from Patterson to Metrotown on the other side of the zone boundary. The zone system also makes it vastly less attractive for residents of Coquitlam and Surrey (and beyond) to choose the SkyTrain over driving. (Exclusive transit use is almost unheard of in those areas, as I know having grown up in Coquitlam/Port Moody. Service frequency is too low, and there are significant gaps in bus coverage, depending where you need to go.)

The fare changes proposed are better than the current system. But what we really ought to do is implement a flat-fare system. Yes, it means that we subsidize riders in the ‘burbs. Taking transit at least some of the time is easy in New Westminster, much of Vancouver and parts of Burnaby. Everywhere else in the Lower Mainland, it’s a significant sacrifice. Paying more for less service makes it even less attractive to choose public transit.

Resisting the call of the car

A bus waits near New Westminster SkyTrain Station. Photo: Dennis Sylvester Hurd (via Flickr)
A bus waits near New Westminster SkyTrain Station. Photo: Dennis Sylvester Hurd (via Flickr)

This week is I Love Transit Week, a celebration of public transportation hosted by TransLink’s The Buzzer blog. Join Buzzer blogger Jhenifer Pabillano and other transit-lovers Thursday, July 15 at The Heritage Grill in New Westminster for an evening meetup with food, games and fun! You can also enter to win a Summer Commuter Prize Pack from TransLink & Tenth to the Fraser.

Odysseus stopped up his ears with beeswax because he knew alone, he would not have the strength to withstand the lure of the sirens’ call. I did the modern green equivalent.

I never intended not to get my driver’s license. When I was eight years old, my mother bought a new Honda, and I remember asking her to hold on to our old car for me, so that I would have my own car to drive when I turned 16. I remember counting down to the magic day when I’d be allowed to get my driver’s license. But a funny thing happened when I finally did turn 16. Life got busy, and I put off writing my learner’s test. Then, at some point after that, my environmental conscience became activated. Suddenly not driving became a point of pride.

Thirteen years later, as I come up on my 29th birthday, it looks like I will finally submit to the pressures of my husband, mother, friends and countless busybodies who have nagged me over the years to get my license. It irks me that people count it as a deficiency not to drive. While there are times when it certainly would have been more convenient, in my mind the karmic debt of adding to the plague of single occupant vehicles in the Lower Mainland outweighed the occasional frustrations. Now, with two kids and an increasingly complicated schedule of to-ing and fro-ing, I am forced to admit that the convenience of driving is sometimes a necessity, and that it is unfair for my husband to always play chauffeur.

Guiltily, I am looking forward to having the freedom to go alone to places not well served by transit. I imagine gaily whisking my children off at the spur of the moment to do wild and wonderful things, singing happy road songs and stopping at a drive-through for cheeky treats along the way. But at the same time, I am fearful of giving in to this perception of ease, forgetting that there is a cost beyond the total at the pump and taking the car for granted.

I’m afraid that freed of my self-imposed limits, I will turn into the kind of lumpen lazybones that drives to the corner store. I get little exercise as it is. I don’t see the sense in driving to the gym so I can spend time on a treadmill when I could be walking my children to Moody Park Pool or muscling the stroller up and down hills to the SkyTrain station. As satisfying as those walks can be, I know if I had the choice to take the car, I would. It’s just too easy to indulge.

Taking transit encourages frugal trip planning. If I can’t bus there, I don’t go. I live only in walkable neighbourhoods. I apply for jobs only on major transit routes. I  plan to complete multiple errands per trip, and challeng myself to use only one bus ticket per trip whenever possible. In a car, the incremental cost of gas isn’t enough of a disincentive to really change transportation behaviour. But even an extra 15 minutes by bus can seem too much to bother. To some people, this might sound a bit masochistic, but it’s no different than a shopaholic freezing credit cards in ice. Sometimes it hurts, but I am convinced that taking the bus is good for me.

And this is (partially) what brought me to New Westminster. When the cost of an extra bedroom priced my husband and I out of the rental market in downtown Vancouver, our relocation choices were constrained by my reliance on public transportation. New Westminster, nexus of the Lower Mainland, was the next best thing to downtown for easy access to the places I needed to go. I miss walking to work, but in a city of just six square miles, I can walk almost anywhere I want to go (though here it really can be uphill both ways!). And yet there are five SkyTrain stations and buses every 15 minutes or less to all the main commercial districts. The commuting time to Vancouver is the same or faster by SkyTrain than by car at rush hour – and I can relax by reading or playing Bejeweled at the same time.

I really do love transit. What can I say? I like to cheer for the underdog. I don’t think people give public transportation the credit (and funding) it’s due. I consider doing without a private vehicle a public good. I am hoping that the 13 years I spent doing without will help fortify me against the lure of easy driving. I may have to swallow my pride and drive the damn car, but I hope to continue my transportation diet of buses, SkyTrains and my own two feet.

Public transit: A hallmark of civilization

SkyTrain at New Westminster Station; a robust transit system is the sign of a real city (Image courtesy of Richard Eriksson). One of the reasons I moved to New West was for its transit system. I have two Skytrain stations (out of six in total here in New West) and four buses to choose from to get me home from downtown Vancouver, and the surrounding area. That enables my choice of a carless lifestyle – and choice is what modern living is all about.

This week is I Love Transit Week, a celebration of public transportation hosted by TransLink’s The Buzzer blog. Join Buzzer blogger Jhenifer Pabillano and other transit-lovers Thursday, July 15 at The Heritage Grill in New Westminster for an evening meetup with food, games and fun! You can also enter to win a Summer Commuter Prize Pack from TransLink & Tenth to the Fraser.

Listen: A robust transit system is one of the hallmarks of civilization.

One of the things that the Ancient Romans gave to the Western world is a widespread way to get around the whole of their empire. Even then, one of the ways to draw their civilization together lay in a transit system to match the times, to suit the cultural paradigms and economic realities of the day, and to grow with a shifting population. They knew that it is the way to the future.

In the ancient world, it meant roads. And today, it means an affordable, accessible public transit system that runs on clean energy, and stands as a force to change the world for the better.

What? Change the world for the better? Isn’t that overstating things just a bit?

No.

I don’t think it is, actually.

Now, it must be said that I’ve written about the need for public transit systems before elsewhere, particularly in public transit as a green building strategy. And sure, if more of us used public transit, there would be less automobile traffic, and therefore less carbon monoxide in the air, and less need to bore holes in the earth and risk our oceans and other natural habitats to keep those cars on the road.

Nothing against car travel in general, mind. But, what if we didn’t need it? What if our priorities informed by a new vision of the future allowed us to consider petroleum dependence and mandatory multiple automobile ownership to be the remnants of a century gone by? When I said that one of the hallmarks of civilization was a transit system to suit the cultural paradigms and economic realities of the day, and to grow with a shifting population, this is what I meant.

OK, so here’s something to consider. We need to think about how to re-define what it means to live in cities, and in suburbs too, in this 21st Century of ours. Simply put, I think we should leave traffic jams, enormous invisible clouds of exhaust fumes from millions of individual cars, and vast stretches of parking lots to hold those cars out of it as much as is humanly possible.

And again, as much as automobile traffic isn’t intrinsically bad per se, what if we could allow people to move all around their cities without cars, from more points of entry? What if we could do it more efficiently, with less overall cost, with less pollution, and with less dependence on fossil fuels which is becoming a dead end in the sustainable energy stakes?

Here’s something else.

What would happen if public and private sectors got together on this; companies, urban planners, community leaders, elected officials, academics, engineers, and more? What if these people enabled tracks and transportation hubs that could deliver you into the lobby of your building itself, because buildings, stations, and tracks have been entirely integrated into city planning? What if the money you spend on gas and insurance for your car could be split, with some of it supporting that system, and the rest supporting a better holiday, a home improvement project, or greater contributions to your child’s education fund with what’s left over?

Here’s what it comes down to.

When I was a kid, the 21st Century, which was the Future at the time, was imagined as a consumerist’s heaven, with food in pill form, robot maids (which I’d still love, if any scientist eggheads are reading this) and appliances that could grill the perfect steak just by asking it nicely. But, that was a vision imagined in a time where this was what people were thinking most about, to wit; affordable, labour-saving goods.

It was post World War Two during the fabled ‘Baby Boom‘. It was a boom period where consumer goods were concerned, too – like automobiles, folks – which were rolling off assembly lines. At that time, everyone could afford them, unlike during the Great Depression. And unlike now, in an age of increasing gas prices, and at a time of massive environmental damage related to unchecked industry.

The Future as it was imagined was a 20th Century vision of what the 21st Century would be. But, now we’re actually here in the 21st Century. And now that outmoded vision of the future has to change. Thinking about new ways to travel to our jobs, to see our families, to shop, to go on vacations, and to feed economies which are sustainable are the new flying car, folks.

Investment in the emerging technology in sustainable energy, and in turn made practical by a transit system that can support cities and suburbs that are planned around them are the keys to a new vision for what defines this epoch in history. To not invest in public transit is simply behind the times.

The Ancient Romans gave the Western world roads. And it changed the world. We’ve come a long way since all roads led to Rome. Let’s treat our public transit as a necessity, and maybe the road we’re on will lead us into a future we can count on for better communities, better cities, better lives.

TransLink BC is helping us to celebrate I Love Transit Week, July 12-16. Check out the posts to be found on TransLink’s the Buzzer Blog for more information.

5 Songs About Transit


I Love Transit Night at the Heritage Grill (plus, a contest!)

Update: the winner is … Jessica! She wrote,

I have a few friends who despise transit, but I like it! Why NOT pay the discounted UPASS fare and get unlimited travel around our great city?! It’s so fun travelling via transit when special events are happening because you could meet to many people it’s crazy; Olympics, Canada Day, etc. I also like the texting feature where they will text you times for the next bus; it’s super helpful. The bus is where you don’t need an excuse to not do homework, stress, worry about life…it’s my down time to just reflect. Some bus drivers are awesome characters! GO TRANSIT.”

Thanks everyone for playing – and sharing what you love about public transportation! The winner was picked via a random number generator.

Photo: Waferboard (via Flickr)
Photo: Waferboard (via Flickr)

This week is I Love Transit Week over at the Buzzer Blog. TransLink blogger Jhenifer Pabillano describes it as “a low key but sincere celebration of what people like about transit (even though there’s much we don’t like!)” All this week, The Buzzer Blog will be publishing essays, photos and interviews about transit, and you’ll see some of these also in the printed edition of the August Buzzer on SkyTrain and buses.

Tenth to the Fraser will be participating too. Look for two pieces related to transit in New Westminster to be published this week, one from me and one from frequent contributor Rob Jones. Transit and transportation is a huge issue here at the nexus of the Lower Mainland, so if you feel inspired to, feel free to submit a guest post about your take on the issues. You might also like to re-read Rob’s piece about his daughter’s love for Columbia SkyTrain Station and perhaps visit the current library exhibit illustrating New Westminster’s transportation history.

Then, on Thursday, July 15, Jhenifer is hosting an evening transit meetup called I Love Transit Night at New Westminster’s Heritage Grill. “I Love Transit Night” will feature food, fun and games. Here’s a link showing last year’s live meetup.

Plus, The Buzzer has offered us a Summer Commuter Prize Pack to give away to our readers. To win, just leave a comment on this post sharing an anecdote or commentary that illustrates what you like about public transportation. We’ll pick a winner via random draw at the end of I Love Transit Week and announce it on the blog. (Please be sure to leave a valid email address in the comment form so that we are able to contact you if you win!)

The prize pack is a tote bag filled with stuff for a summer commute, including:

  • TravelSmart tote bag
  • TravelSmart water bottle
  • Personal hand-held fan
  • Travel pillow
  • Mini puzzle for passing the time
  • A granola bar snack
  • Vanity Fair magazine
  • 2010 Olympic transportation map
  • Transit stickers and buttons
  • 3-zone bus pass (available after July 16)

If you’re in the mood to read more about transit in New Westminster, here are a few more good reads from our archives: