Friday, May 27, 2011

Lemon Growers of Eastern Passage Unite!

Yesterday, I was almost struck by a car. I was walking my dog near my home, enjoying the sights and sounds of Eastern Passage, when a driver misjudged his speed and spacing. Fortunately he missed, and my children’s weekend was saved.
Typical scenery one would see safely if there was a sidewalk.
It was the second time on this stretch of road. After my first non-flying brush with death, I emailed my city representative and asked: “How would you recommend I proceed with getting a sidewalk/bike lane established along Shore Rd to Hartlen Point Gulf Course? 

Thankfully, I live in the highest taxed province in Canada, so there were plenty of people that came to my aide. 
My elected City Representative forwarded my one line email request to her ‘Council Constituency Coordinator.’ This nice lady replied to my email by giving me a reference number where I could track my inquiry’s progress online. She then forwarded my one sentence email to the Halifax Regional Municipality’s Traffic and Right of Way Department. There my sentence was reviewed and sorted and forwarded to the correct sub departments. 

Within a few days I received a very lengthy email detailing the municipality’s position on sidewalks and bike-lanes in my neighborhood. The email was drafted by two city staffers. One was responsible for “new sidewalk installations,” and the other was responsible for “on street bicycle infrastructure.” This is what they said.

This response is further to your request through Councillor XXXXXXXX for consideration of the installation of a sidewalk and bicycle lane on Shore Road to the Hartlen Point Golf Course. Thank you for bringing this request to our attention. I have coordinated this response with XXXX XXXXXX, who is responsible for new sidewalk installations, while I look after on-street bicycle infrastructure.

The bicycle lane in Eastern Passage currently runs on Main Road from the intersection of Hines Road to Cow Bay/ Shore Road. HRM's Active Transportation plan does not identify Shore Road beyond Cow Bay Road as a candidate route for bicycle lanes, probably because the road is not very busy and may have been considered adequate for use by cyclists without a dedicated facility. I did a quick Google Streetview assessment of the area nonetheless, and because of the curb on the inland side from Cow Bay Road to Shoreview Drive, it would be challenging to widen the road to install bike lanes on both sides. In one area around Norman's Lane, it would be impossible due to the proximity of the ocean. From Shoreview Drive down to the Golf course, paved shoulder bike lanes could be installed relatively easily (there would still be a cost +/-$80,000/km per side), but given that the connection inbound would be challenging, that it is not currently on the plan, and this cost would represent more than ½ of the best budget we have ever had in any one year for on road bike infrastructure, this is unlikely to happen in the near future. 

Typical scene one would see safely if there was a sidewalk.
Sidewalk Request
Prior to amalgamation, sidewalks were not required in several areas of HRM including areas of Sackville, Dartmouth and Halifax. Since then, all new developments have been installing sidewalks and we are rating areas without sidewalks and installing them, with the highest rated first. The rating takes into account potential for pedestrians including proximity to schools, daycares, parks, shopping, and public transit.  There are currently more than 250 locations on our rated list, based on our current funding, we are able to install 5-10 new locations a year.  The new sidewalks are funded 50% through capital budget and 50% through local improvement charges with limits approved by your local Councilor.
There is a sidewalk on the inland side of Shore Road from Cow Bay Road to Shoreview Drive. Sidewalks have been previously requested on Shore Road from Cow Bay Road to Government Wharf Rd, from Shoreview to Romkey, from Romkey to Caldwell Road and from Caldwell to Sandkey.  All of the above locations rate either at or below average, and therefore not high enough to be included in next years budget.  
I'm sorry I couldn't respond with better news, but I hope I have been able to give you some appreciation of the challenges faced in HRM with regards to the installation of infrastructure for Active Transportation.
I was impressed with the city’s response. My one sentence email request touched the desks of at least five city staff. Although my question wasn’t answered, I was impressed with the system in place that was able to tell me no before I even asked.
Oh sure I was disappointed to learn that while technically possible and economically feasible to have either a bike lane or sidewalk installed, my neighborhood development wasn’t in the city’s immediate plans. The 1.7 km of requested infrastructure would cost $140,000 and would cripple the city. In fact, based on their summation, I estimated that my neighborhood wouldn’t get a sidewalk or a bikelane for the next 25-50 years (250 areas listed/5-10 new infrastructure per year).  
I also walked away from my brush with civic government with a new sense of community pride. I was proud to live in a city that had a “Traffic and Right of Way Department,” and was dynamic enough to have people allocated for “New Sidewalk Installations” and another for “On Street Bicycle Infrastructure.” I was also impressed with how they referred to walking and bike riding as “Active Transportation.” It sounded very modern.
My one sentence crusade to city hall fizzled in December of last year. Life distracted me, and to be honest I was not that passionate about championing a sidewalk. Who gets passionate about sidewalks? My motive was pretty basic. I just didn’t want anyone to die. Plus, I think the view is a selling point for the city and could be marketed to help local businesses. 
My near death experience last night still didn’t inspire me. I was comfortable living dangerously in a sidewalkless world. Until that is I read this and this.
Surfing. Impressed?
The Halifax Regional Municipality, the very same people who informed me that my neighborhood could not get a sidewalk for 25-50 years, was approving $145,000 in public funds to give to a private company’s surfing competition. 
They say ‘you can’t fight city hall.’ They also said, ‘don’t argue with an idiot because you will loose every time.’ These articles inspired me to fight idiocy with idiocy, and believe me there is no bigger idiot than me. 

I have decided to organize an international sidewalk festival- Eastern Passage Lemon Aide Stand Celebration.
According to Mr. Bousquet there are several steps in receiving funds from the city.
Step One is to set up a non profit organization to front the grant.
I am very pleased to inform everyone that I am the new Chairman of the “Eastern Passage Lemon Growers Cooperative.” Lemon Growers in Eastern Passage have always felt under represented within the local community, and it was thought that by pooling resources together we would be able to reach more people with limited marketing capital. Eastern Passage lemons are known world wide for their bitterness, and some aficionados have claimed that they are ‘liquid sarcasm.”
Step two: Create a Promising Budget
Lemons: $50.00
Sugar: $100.00
Water: $15.00
Sidewalk: $145,000
Lemonade Concessions: $15.00
Concert Concessions: $190,000*
* I have yet to invite U2, Rolling Stones, and Old Man Luedecke. They have neither confirmed nor denied their attendance.  
Step Three- Inflate attendance figures.
Estimated attendance to the festival is 1 billion people.
Step Four- Pull the economic impact out of the ‘air’
The Festival will pull the province and the country out of debt. There will be a lemon in every pot and a lemon aide stand on every sidewalk or bikelane. I believe my business plan is as credible as the surfing competition. All I need for this to be a success is to have the City build me a sidewalk.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mahone's Hotel- A favorite then and now.

In the Church Of Ireland in Irvinestown, Northern Ireland the 423 Squadron crest is hung in tribute. Alongside are squadron insignia from other Royal Canadian, Royal Australian and Royal New Zealand Air Forces who called the region home during the Second World War. The ‘Donegal Corridor,’ located along Lough Erne and the Donegal Coast was a pivotal location during the Battle of the Atlantic and the airmen stationed there helped turn the tide on the war. 
The founding members of 423 hunted Nazi submarines from their Sunderland Flying Boats. They flew in fog and night, and in the wind and storms of the North Atlantic to protect the convoys that were supporting Allied efforts in the European theatre.  At the end of the war 423 and their sister squadron 422 would log over 44 000 hours and sink or damage eleven submarines. It would cost fifteen aircraft and 101 crew.
It has been sixty-six years since Castle Archdale was the home base of 423 Squadron. Although much has changed in the world, there are still young men and women who fly over the oceans to protect those in need. In March 2011, members of HMCS St John’s Helicopter Detachment from 423 Squadron visited Irvinestown and Castle Archdale to pay their respects and honor their common history.
Local historians Ms Breege McCusker and Mr. Joe O'Loughlin guided them through the sites. They walked the grounds of the former base and toured the shoreline where the Sunderlands were launched, recovered and maintained. They traveled to Irvinestown and had lunch at Mahone’s Hotel, a favorite 423 restaurant both then and now.
Mahone's Hotel.

Coastal Command’s efforts during the war have never fully been appreciated and yet had they failed, the world would have been a very different place today. In the cemetery at the Church of Ireland in Irvinestown lay some of Canada's best. They were young men who served their country far from home. Flying over foreign oceans, hunting and protecting. They were the founding members of 423 Squadron and their tradition continues. 
Somewhere off Ireland now


Friday, May 13, 2011

In the end, I will be surrounded by misfits, autistic savants, and high functioning alcoholics.

Moose Jaw Officer's Mess

A friend of mine recently visited.
He lives in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan with his wife and baby daughter. We met while we were going through phase II of military pilot training. I grew up and got a real job. He was good enough to stay and instruct future students. 
Moose Jaw is many things. There is a sign as you enter the town that says “Moose Jaw, Culture Capital of Canada 2007.” I am not sure what that means.  I do know that Moose Jaw was the ‘Tick Capital of Canada’ for 18 consecutive years. Last year they lost that title to a SPCA shelter in Yellow Knife.
Cheese. In more ways that one.
There should be a sign that states “Moose Jaw, the City where grown men cry.” It has been a focal point of Canada’s military pilot training for 40 years. Countless dreams have been forged and crushed under its prairie skies. I am not ashamed to admit that I had a hard time. I wasn’t a natural ‘hands and feet’ pilot. I worked like a man who had nothing left to loose.  My effort and my friends got me through and in the end, I was good enough.
My friend was much better than I was. He was asked to stay and instruct future Canadian Forces pilots. I was asked to get as far as one could get from the pilot training system.
Autistic Savant on the left, me on the right.
When we were going through Moose Jaw, we belonged to Apache Flight. It was a rag tag group of misfits, autistic savants and high functioning alcoholics. Somehow in the crucible that is Moose Jaw all of us forged a pretty tight bond. They say a friend will help you move, a good friend will help you move a body. I know that to be true.
Anyways, my friend visited. It was the third time in a year and a half he stopped by. He didn’t really come and see me or enjoy Eastern Passage wine. He came to see a friend of his who was battling cancer. The first time he came out, his friend was just completing chemotherapy and the cancer was in remission. He introduced us to his friend at that time, and I remember being careful about touching things. I didn’t want to give him my cold. I spent the night with my hands in my pockets. Cancer is a shitty disease and makes us feel like fools.
One of many misfits and my daughter.
A couple of weeks ago my friend visited for a second time. He came at the request of his friend’s mother. The cancer had come back, and doctors gave him weeks to live. He dropped everything and came to help the best he could. He spent long hours sitting beside a dying friends bed, waiting for him to come back into consciousness. He argued with him, even in his friend’s sickened state, so that others would be allowed to say their peace. He arranged video conferences between friends across Canada and in Afghanistan. He said and heard things that no twenty-something should have to endure. 
His second visit happened while I was at sea. He stopped by late one night to say hello to my wife. They talked and consoled each other. When he left, he hugged her on the front porch and said goodbye. They didn’t worry about what the neighbors might think.

High functioning alcoholic.
This past Friday my friend visited again. He brought his lovely wife (she is way too good for him) and his ginger baby girl. He was going to his friend’s funeral. We offered our place for as long as he needed, and made it clear that we wanted him to stay as long as he could. He was apologetic that he was only staying one night. The funeral would be in a town a couple of hours from our place and he needed to help his late friend’s mother with the funeral.
Yesterday, my wife received an email from his wife. She thanked us for letting them stay. She also said that the funeral was postponed because of a medical emergency, and that they had been staying in a hotel room for the past three days. The baby had caught the flu.
Last night my wife and I were talking about everything that had happened. She said, ‘Its so sad.”
I said, “He isn’t in any pain anymore and it gives me comfort.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know that no matter what, if something ever happened to me, he would be here for you.” I also know that standing beside him would be a group of misfits, autistic savants and high functioning alcoholics.

Godspeed Matt.