The New and Improved Times Square, New York

16 02 2010

Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced that the small sections of Broadway that were closed to traffic last spring will become permanent pedestrian-only plazas.

The experiment was conducted last spring to test whether or not closing the section of roadway would improve traffic flow. Despite its inability to truly acheive this goal, Bloomberg states that a large reduction in pedestrian injuries coupled with a favourable response from business owners convinced him to shut the street down for good. And though traffic slowed on some cross-town routes, it actually did improve quite significantly on others. But safety was the defining factor.

From the New York times:

Advocates for the project said it had vastly improved safety in the area, pointing to a 35 percent decline in pedestrian injuries and a 63 percent reduction in injuries to drivers and passengers, according to city data. Foot traffic grew by 11 percent in Times Square and by 6 percent in Herald Square, and a survey of local businesses found that more than two-thirds of the area’s retailers wanted the project to become permanent.

What I find most interesting about this whole thing is the response from the business owners. In all my experience I’ve found that one of the most difficult things to deal with in trying to create a more pedestrian friendly space is business owners insisting that the loss of vehicles in any way will negatively affect their business whether it be shutting down a street on a Sunday, removing a large surface parking lot, redusing on-street parking, etc. Here, in one of the busiest places on earth, we have two thirds of business owners requesting that the area become a permanent pedestrian plaza. This looks to me like a fantastic precedent, not just as a space converted to pedestrian use, but as an example of businesses actually requesting it.

There have been allegations of the city not wanting to expose their traffic data and that Mayor Bloomberg has made another decision for the city without undertaking proper consultation with the city. The decision was made to close the streets permanently before the data was released for public viewing. While this may be true, it is no mystery that Times Square belongs to the pedestrians. If you’ve been there, you know that the sidewalks just aren’t big enough to handle the demand. So lets say this were a highway, becoming increasingly congested because traffic demand is getting higher. In such a case, the road would be widened, or another would be built. Here we have exactly the same problem, except for once it is the people who overpower the cars. I can side with that.

New York times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/12/nyregion/12broadway.html?hp





South China Tigers in Danger of Extinction

10 02 2010

This is pretty wide spread news already I know, but might as well publish it here too. The Wildlife Conservation Society has recently estimated that there may be only 50 South China Tigers left in the wild. The tiger population in general is diminishing worldwide with an estimated 3500 of the large cats left (This from Treehugger). National Geographic puts that number as low as 2500. Habitat destruction and fragmentation is the main cause of this disappearance. That is, development either entirely replaces, or cuts large swaths through the habitat of the tigers thereby displacing them or disrupting their hunting environment making it difficult or impossible for them to effectively cath and eat prey. Poaching is also a major problem with much of the demand coming from the makers of traditional chinese medicines that use tiger parts as main ingredients.

I’m not often one to write about endangered species because generally, I think people know what is giong on, they just pretend to be too far removed and careless to do anything about it. But on the issue of tigers specifically, it would truly be a shame, not just ecologically, to lose one of the most beautiful creatures on earth.





Let’s All Have Coal Ash for Breakfast!

14 01 2010

You can find someone to deny just about anything, and, I’m making an assumption here, but I would not find it remotely hard to believe that people like this can make a REALLY good living pulling stunts like this.





GMO’s in Your Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

9 09 2009
From: ildcalifornia.org

From: ildcalifornia.org

Tree Hugger recently published this brief article on genetically modified organisms in our North American food. I am aware that both the Union of concerned scientists and Tree Hugger are biased towards environmentalism, but I think this article has some good points. To sum it up, the article cites a study recently undertaken by the Union of Concerned Scientists that found that yields from GMO crops are marginally better than those from natural crops. This raises questions about the reasons for using GMO seeds.

If GMOs are developed to increase yields, then hey have failed. If they are marketed to reduce costs for farmers, and the price of GMO corn seed is now triple what it was just a few years ago, then they have failed yet again. If these seeds are engineered to use less herbicides when, according to recent indications, many weeds are becoming roundup-resistant, requiring a cocktail of herbicide applications in certain farming areas while crop land is being abandoned in others, they have most certainly failed! 

If these things are true, you’ve got to wonder what is going on in our agriculture industry and why it is going on. It certainly doesn’t seem to be for the benefit of the farmers or the people.

Union of Concerned Scientists: www.uscusa.org

Treehugger Article: www.treehugger.com/files/2009/09/why-gmo-foods-have-failed.php?dcitc=daily.nl

Equally or more biased view on GMO benefits: www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo/asp/default.asp





We Could All Use a Second Look

25 08 2009
From: CTV, 2009

From: CTV, 2009

“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way. “

– From the film Dead Poets Society




Hydro-Electricity vs. Rainforest Protection

25 08 2009
Dam Reservoir from: Mongabay, 2009

Dam Reservoir from: Mongabay, 2009

Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest is a hot topic this week it seems. The Guardian Newspaper published an article today on the proposal for 229 small scale dams in the Brazilian Amazon. This comes after my post yesterday on rainforest depletion vs. economic growth in Brazil. The issues are similar. On one hand, you have the farmers, villagers and residents of smaller towns trying to lift themselves out of poverty and grow along with their country’s economy. On the other hand you have the Indian tribes of the Amazon as well as a world wonder of a natural ecosystem that is ultimately quite fragile. The guardian article talks about how the tribes are changing drastically and adapting to modern times, with wireless internet installed recently and televisions in a few homes, all of which are powered by a generator that runs from 9am to 9 pm. The article only makes mention of the village of Pavuru though, leading me to wonder if any of the other 29 directly impacted villages have any of these comforts? Even if they are becoming accustomed to such things, they state that they do not need electricity from the dams. They fear that damming all the tributaries will prevent fish from migrating upstream and thereby cut off their access to some fish – the main source of food for the tribes.

The Amazonian tribes are also displeased with other government plans to build roads, and other hydro-electric dams, inluding plans for one of the largest dams on earth. Once again, I am going to have to side with the rainforest on this one. As with other developing countries in the world, Brazil has the opportunity to develop efficiently and differently than North America and Europe. They can efficiently consume electricity, construct buildings with passive cooling in mind, and plan to grow in harmony with their natural surroundings rather than grow overtop of  them. While constructing a select few small scale hydro-electric dams may not have a dramatic effect on the surrounding ecosystem and villages, building one of the world’s largest dams, or blocking most waterways with 229 small dams, will certainly have a detrimental effect. The scale of these projects is simply too large for the system in which they are being placed.

The Guardian Article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/aug/23/brazil-amazon-electricity





How to Store Nuclear Waste in Canada

24 08 2009
From: ecofriendlymag, 2009

From: ecofriendlymag, 2009

Community resistance to hosting public need facilities such as power plants and landfills is nothing new. Governments historically have gone into communities and imposed these public need facilities on helpless citizens. Sometimes governments succeed in stifling community opposition but in other cases, communities band together to reject the proposal as was the case with the European and American multi-billion dollar nuclear waste storage plan. The same will likely apply to the storage of nuclear waste in Canada. Or will it?

The Canadian Government has opted to address the storage of nuclear waste by working with the public. On behalf of the Canadian Government, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) was tasked with developing a site choosing process which will comprise of two major components: a willing host community and a good geological site with a steady rock formation where groundwater is not easily available. NWMO is working with organizations and individuals on important principles and elements for a fair process to identify an informed and willing community to host the storage facilities.  Interested communities are invited to volunteer themselves as a potential host community. It seems that the Canadian Government is willing to cooperate and ask rather than tell. Additionally, the Canadian Government has asked NWMO to work with the host community for 8 to 10 years to discuss concerns and issues regarding storage of nuclear waste.

An aside: Canada has more than two million high-level radioactive bundles of nuclear waste that needs to be stored for approximately 10 000 years. It will cost between 16 and 24 billion dollars just to construct the storage facility. While ample research has been done to ensure safe storage of nuclear waste no one really knows what will happen within the next 10 000 years, or even the next 100 years for that matter. So who should bear the potential unknown risks of storing nuclear waste? While the Canadian Government is putting emphasis on identifying a willing host, aboriginal communities appear to be targeted. NWMO has specifically identified aboriginal consultations as a separate component of implementing a nuclear waste storage plan. Is this a good thing? Are we honourably trying to better educate and consult with aboriginals? Or are we simply trying to entice certain communities who are in desperate need of money and job opportunities? Both of which will be made available to communities who host nuclear waste. Just a thought to consider…

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2009/08/19/f-nuclear-waste-storage-options.html

http://www.nwmo.ca/

Thanks to Sarah English for contributing