Who is Local?

“Ahmadi is still months away from getting permanent resident status, putting him in the unlucky group of middle-class British Columbians who have found themselves targeted by a tax purportedly imposed to crack down on rich real estate speculators from overseas”

I’ve never been this hopeless

I would not call Hamed Ahmadi unlucky, he’s a victim of the all too common policy apparatus that confuses residency with visa status. The BC non-resident tax of 15% on properties is supposed to target “foreign” (read Chinese) investors buying in Vancouver with no intentions of living there. I presume there are multiple other ways to determine residency and “localness” for the purpose of determining who lives here and who does not. The BC government, in its haste to demonstrate it was doing something, took the easy route and used visa status as a proxy.

Hamed lives and works in BC, which meets my definition of local. While a speculation tax on non-residents is a reasonable approach, using visa status to determine residency, and providing no sensible exceptions for locals with alternative paper work is lazy and thoughtless policy making, so is not providing exceptions for people with home buying applications already in process. It’s almost as if someone looked at the polls and press and wrote the law in a day.

In many ways, this is personal for me because I lived in the US for 10+ years under various non-permanent visas that left me vulnerable to these poorly designed, thoughtless policy measures. I lived in the same town for 10 years, was very much a local by the time I’d left, with a stable set of friends, family, work, places I shopped in, hiked to, causes I supported, volunteer work I did, and more. So, Hamed’s story could have been mine, and in some smaller ways, was mine for other parts of my life.

“CTV News spoke with BC Liberal cabinet minister Andrew Wilkinson on Wednesday and asked several times for comment on Ahmadi’s situation. Wilkinson responded by repeating a piece of blanket advice for the people impacted. “Those who find themselves affected by the tax should seek legal advice because individual circumstances vary,” Wilkinson said.

This is typical of policy makers who are so removed from the day to day lives of the people whose behaviour they seek to regulate. The casual assumption that regular people can afford professionals who bill at multiple hundreds of dollars an hour speaks more about the types of people these ministers hang out with than anything else. But this sounds familiar too, I needed to consult lawyers multiple times to help me with immigration paper work.

As someone with a high level of institutional trust, and who thinks governments can affect our lives for the better with sound and thoughtful policy interventions, these types of hasty policy making are deeply disappointing. There are multiple other policy measures to make housing more affordable. The CCPA just released a comprehensive document of policies, focusing on the actual problem, the lack of affordable housing. Investment in affordable housing with a focus on cohousing and social housing, and zoning changes that reduce the protections afforded to affluent property owners would go a long way.

Originally posted on Interrobang 04-August-2016

Retire the Beg Button

Photo of a button which says push to cross, with an added hashtag DontMakeMeBegBiking down the Galloping Goose Sunday on my way to the excellent Panama Flats park, I came up on the intersection of the Goose with Tillicum Road, and traffic on Highway 1 (running parallel to the Goose) was flowing. It was in the middle of a minutes long traffic cycle, the appropriate time for people on foot and on bikes to be moving through unimpeded.

Except, that orange stick figure was telling me I should not go, which meant I had to push the “Beg” button first. Voila, the orange stick figure was replaced by the white one telling me I could cross. Of course I could cross, I was moving in the same direction as traffic and it was logical! Why was this even an issue?

I abhor beg buttons, and here’s why, this has been documented repeatedly.

It’s annoying for walkers: have you ever tried to walk a few blocks, stopping to hit the button at every single intersection? Or hit the button just a few seconds too late and had to wait a whole additional cycle? But it also illustrates the backwardness of our street design: pedestrians, who are supposed to have the right-of-way, are required to press a button at an intersection in order to get a walk signal, which should happen automatically

I’ve written many an unpublished diatribe that had those exact same words!

Especially here in Victoria, pedestrians take first priority, then people on bikes (pdf), all prioritized above car traffic in the official community plan. This is true in Saanich as well. If that is the case, and our municipalities were serious about improving the non car driver’s experience, then they need to aggressively retire all beg buttons. Remove them, or note that they are not to be used. I’ve of course heard anecdotal information from people in engineering/planning that they are disabled in some places. That’s not good enough. If you are going to disable a button, you need to label it as so, say DO NOT PRESS! And, while you’re at it, time your pedestrian crossing signs to maximize crossing time. I’m tired of seeing “Do not Walk” signs come up a good twenty seconds before car traffic stops, this is not necessary, and harkens back to a car first mentality that needed to have gone away with the 20th century. Why, I crossed a 3 lane (+ wide turning cuts) in Sidney at a deliberate saunter starting after the “Do not walk” (not the warning) had come on and still had a good few seconds before the car light changed to red.

Victoria is getting better, but there are still too many intersections where cars are prioritized. Take Fairfield and Moss, corners are two shopping/office blocks, a church and a busy community center/child care. But, guess what, there’s beg buttons still, and certain times of the day when crossing Fairfield is something you have to accomplish in 10 seconds or less. Completely unnecessary.

Time for a campaign to Retire the Beg Button at traffic lights and move them all to mid block crosswalks where we can cross the road by pressing a button that will make cars stop for a few seconds.

Originally posted on Interrobang on 17-May-2016

Coffee Roasting and Popcorn Lung

Cross-posted from Interrobang

Who among us coffee drinkers don’t love the smell of freshly roasted coffee? I am sure some of us imagine how much fun it would be to smell freshly roasting coffee more often. I don’t, because smell for me is an instant jolt of pleasure/pain followed by a rather rapid decline into the background.

Caution, though. New measurements from the US Centres for Disease Control warn of high exposure to some pretty nasty chemicals that can cause your lungs to be destroyed irreversibly, the unfortunately named “popcorn lung” or bronchitis obliterans:

Investigators with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, a research arm of the CDC, spent several days at Madison-based Just Coffee in July. Investigators tested personal air space and took air samples to measure the concentration of the chemicals diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione… NIOSH researchers found levels in three breathing-zone samples that exceeded the safety levels recommended by the CDC.

Coffee Roasting Plants and Exposure

The test results show a marginal exceedance in this case, but noted that ventilation is a big factor and these tests were done under well ventilated conditions on a warm and dry day when doors were open. So, exposure can be higher in other circumstances.

Worker exposures are to higher levels, and are more sustained, so they deserve the most attention.

So, local coffee roasters, it may make sense to confirm that your roasting environments are not exposing your workers to harmful, lung obliterating chemicals. Remember, organic, shade grown, fair pay, artisanal roasting aside, chemical exposures to workers don’t change. And, everything that smells good isn’t good for you.

One of my frequent points of emphasis (rants, some might say) is on the relative risk vs. media attention to exposures of people to ambient, day to day concentrations of potential harmful chemicals vs. those faced by workers everywhere. The last time diacetyl and bronchitis obliterans were in the news, it was around the use of diacetyl to produce that buttery smell so beloved in microwave bag popcorn (I don’t like it myself, olive oil all the way!). Despite reports of many workers facing severe lung issues, it took the detection of the disease of one person eating multiple bags of microwave popcorn over many years to actually move government regulators into action on diacetyl. People who work in factories, in the fields, and make things are exposed to thousands of times higher concentrations of harmful chemicals for longer periods of time, but their concerns are often de-emphasized.

This doesn’t mean ambient exposures in the general population are to be ignored, but worker exposures are to higher levels, and more sustained, so they deserve the most attention.

16-May-2016 Update

This US Centers for Disease Control page is a good collection of information and further readings. They recommend facility tests to measure diacetyl and its cousin 2,3-pentanedione, and better ventilation, worker safeguards and personal protective equipment as necessary. They also note that at least five workers in large scale coffee processing plants have been diagnosed with bronchitis obliterans.

Coffee image By Ailura – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Choir Performances

In case you did not know, I am in a choir, The Choir, actually, and we have much fun practicing and performing. We’re doing three shows and an open rehearsal next week, so please come and sing along (or watch and wave).

The Choir Open Rehearsal at GVPL Downtown – Wednesday Sep 16 – 730
We’re hosting our (first ever) open rehearsal at the Greater Victoria Public Library Atrium, always an interesting space for music. Join us as we rehearse for Rifflandia. This is a free preview, a rehearsal, so not quite the finished product. But we’ll have as much fun.

Rifflandia Performances Friday Sep 18 – Sunday Sep 20

If you’re coming to Rifflandia (and you should if you can spare the money, lots of great acts including A Tribe Called Red, Modest Mouse, Mother Mother, Joey Bada$$ and so much more, and The Choir!) We open the Royal Athletic Park on all days, so come early to the gates, which open half an hour before show time! It can take 10-15 minutes for you to queue up and get in, so come on in and stay. You’ll need a park pass at least.

Friday – September 18 – Main Stage Royal Park 3 PM.

Saturday – September 19 – Rifftop tent – Royal Park 12:30 PM

Sunday – September 20 – Rifftop tent – Royal Park 12:30 PM

What the choir is about …

See you next week!

How to avoid hitting people with your car doors

A cyclist was taken to hospital in Victoria this afternoon after colliding with a van door. The woman in her 20s was heading west on Pandora Avenue just past Vancouver Street about 1:15 p.m. when the driver of a white van parked on the side of the road opened his door

Times Colonist – 12-August-2014

Dear most of us who drive cars, and therefore have to open doors to get out of them, here are two things we can do to avoid hitting cyclists (and other people) with our car doors.

Separated bike laneChange the system! Advocate for separated bike lanes in your city/town, especially on major roads. The current setup of curb – parked car – cyclist – moving car means the cyclist has to choose between getting swiped by moving traffic, or risk “colliding with a van door”. The City of Victoria is planning a separated bike lane for this very street. Imagine how hard driving would be if there were people walking along the road with you, and not in a separated walk lane (also known as a sidewalk). This process of building better facilities for cycling will take a few years, but it’s worth it for everyone. Cyclists are safer, pedestrians are safer because cyclists are less likely to use the sidewalk. Car drivers are safer on major roads because they will have fewer people in their way, what with all the cyclists using their fancy separated lanes, and all the car drivers looking at all those fancy cyclists saying “Hey, I can do that too!”. Tell your city to start building separated cycle tracks now.

Door Lane

Open the door with your right hand! Try this next time you park a car and exit. Open the car door with your right hand. As your right hand swings across your body to get the door handle, notice that you’re now facing left automatically, it’s magic. You’re no longer opening the door with your left hand while looking right to pick up your cellphone or your bag. This simple hack ensures that you always check that it’s safe to open a door, and that there are no humans (or large animals) in the door lane before you open the door. I could tell you to always check before opening the door, whichever hand you use, but who am I kidding. We have limited attention spans and we’ll forget to look that one time there’s a human in the way.

Door picture courtesy Gary Kavanagh used under a creative commons license. Picture of bike lane is from the City of Victoria pdf I linked to.

Break the link between employment and healthcare!

Cross-posted from Interrobang:

The US Supreme Court ruled along political lines on the 30th of June, 2014 that “closely held corporations”, over 90% of all US businesses, are now free to discriminate against women (and it was specifically women and birth control) if their religion leads them to believe birth control kills babies, or that women who use birth control are Satan’s spawn (the belief does not have to be factual).

The Supreme Court says corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women.

The justices’ 5-4 decision Monday is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law. And it means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under objecting companies’ health insurance plans.

Salon AP coverage

I am not going to debate the wrongness of this decision, the notion that businesses can have religious beliefs, and can use them to discriminate against certain types of people is not up for debate. And, the discrimination is very specific and targeted…

The other, more ubiquitous discrimination is in the notion that the health care you get has anything to do with the work-for-pay arrangement you have with the organization you work for. I am probably the millionth person to mention this, and whole books have been written on the subject, but, the link between healthcare and your employer is wrong because it anchors discrimination. This particular egregious case goes one step further and discriminates based on gender as well, not just work status.

The US had a chance to sever health benefits from employment when they had a three-year debate on expanding health insurance coverage. Thanks to the ability of small political minorities to filibuster and block action, and a corporate-funded reluctance for change, the US kept their employer-based health insurance system in place, and with it, all the discrimination that entails. Uwe Reinhardt reiterated a number of these points recently in the New York Times.

Back Home

Is BC any better? Yes and no. Thanks to Canada’s Medicare, parts of our health care system are universal and not subject to employment ties. But, there are several exceptions making us a two-tier health care system:

  1. The health insurance tax or MSP (what our government cutely calls a “fee” in order to not call the yearly increase in this fee a tax increase): Many employers will pick up part/all of this tax for their employees, whereas one that doesn’t can pay more than 1000 dollars a year for a family. While there is an element of progressiveness to the pricing with very low-income people paying less/nothing, it is weak, families making > 30K per year pay full price.
  2. Drugs: For some reason, drugs are not covered by our “universal” healthcare system and are provided by workplace “supplemental benefits”, as if taking a thyroid pill every day is a “supplement”. The CCPA makes an excellent case for universal pharmacare, if you need more convincing. 10% of Canadians cannot fill prescriptions for financial reasons.
  3. Our public health insurance system assumes people don’t have eyes or teeth. So, if you want your cavities filled, a root canal, or want to see clearly, you need “supplemental benefits”, and these are mostly employer-provided. Oral health is a clear marker of health inequality.
  4. Mental health is not covered, this is inexcusable, as Andre Picard notes.
  5. Treatments that improve overall health, like massages, are not really covered. Once again, your employment status determines whether you have the “luxury” of holistic preventative measures to reduce stress, pain, and many other issues.
  6. Historically and currently oppressed groups, Canada’s indigenous people for example, get a short shrift on the benefits like massage, nutrition, counselling and holistic treatment they need because of disparity in employment availability.

This quote from the Andre Picard article I mentioned summarizes the discrimination.

The well-to-do pay. The middle-class scrape together the money the best they can, sacrificing so their child can get care. And those without the means wait, or do without care.

There are other side-effects. Because “benefits” are expensive, companies have a vested interest in only having certain “valuable” employees benefit. The rest get treated as contractors, have their hours strategically reduced, and much more.

It’s almost as if there’s an unspoken moral argument here, you don’t deserve good teeth or a massage if you don’t work for a living.

Yes, you can buy individual supplemental insurance, or pay per use, but neither of these are cheap because you as an individual have no bargaining power.

We in BC also have a long way to go to break the link between healthcare and employment. Will it cost the average BC resident more money? Let’s consider:

  1. A simpler system with one buyer is administratively efficient. It takes the thousands of decision points every HR administrator or group in every company/union has to make and transfers that to a single entity. Public universal plans are about four to ten times more efficient (pdf) than fragmented private plans.
  2. A bigger entity can negotiate much better rates for you, whether it is for drugs, or for dentistry, or for anything else (a bigger risk pool). If all of Canada administered one simple pharmacare system, we would negotiate much lower prices with pharmaceutical companies. We would also have better funding to run and evaluate effectiveness studies.
  3. Funding preventative, holistic healthcare means fewer hospital visits. In a universal system, there are no artificial barriers between a massage, drug treatment, surgery, stress reduction counselling, or ergonomic counseling for back pain. You don’t have to prove your work injured you in order to get the right treatment, your first point of contact with a medical professional (not necessarily a doctor) decides which path works best. You do not have to get sick enough to go to the hospital before you get treatment covered by insurance.


There are concerns with a universal single-payer system:

  1. As Vox points out, if a government administering the single-payer system decides not to pay for contraception, then no one gets it. So, getting good universal healthcare is about constantly winning political battles. The good thing about universal healthcare in Canada is that it is incredibly popular, polling near 90% approval (pdf). So once quality is improved, governments will find it hard to cut back.
  2. Like any other public system, the quality of the institutions drafting policy and administering the system is vitally important. Well run public systems are efficient. But conservative movements in the last 30+ years have worked hard to dismantle the quality of public institutions and trust in such institutions. In this reality of shrinking budgets and staff levels where bureaucrat is a term of insult, ensuring that public system expansion is handled efficiently is no given. There is an entire industry of political parties, think tanks and media devoted to tearing down the concept of a publicly administered good, and ready to pounce on every little misstep (Remember the Obamacare roll out anyone?)
  3. Will employers raise wages from all the savings they get from not providing health benefits, and will these raises cover the increase in taxes we will pay for universal healthcare? Probably not right away, but it will happen eventually.


Clearly, we can’t transition tomorrow. A public system would need to be in place and functioning before our employers get out of the health insurance business. I would phase universality in the following order:

  1. Drugs
  2. Teeth and eyes
  3. Preventative and palliative care.

We would also need to rethink the”fee for service”, where healthcare providers are paid per widget, and think about a different system closer to a salaried model, more on that in future blog posts.

Snippets of dreams remembered

Or what happens when you make a single-minded effort to sleep in on the long weekend. These dreams all happened between 5 AM and 9 AM Sunday morning. I don’t usually interpret dreams, and am always pleasantly surprised when I remember them.

Banana FlowerI wake up in my old bedroom in Chennai feeling bad that I have only one day to go on my trip, and that I need to start packing to leave. My packing is all awry, my passport is nowhere to be found. When I actually wake up, I am home, and happy that my “trip to India”, whenever that might be, has not even begun.

Bee on flowerI turn around in bed and feel sharp pain as a bee (or wasp, my dream said bee) has bitten me in the ass (yes). I turn once more, and the sting is actually near my elbow, or is it? Were there two bees? Was there actually a sting? My dream state is not sure. Either way, I wake up, no bees.

SaddleI am fixing S’s bicycle seat, and every time I shake it (this seems to be an important part of the fixing), a new part falls out. The seat, the post and the bike get more and more complicated and full of parts falling all over the place. I feel frustrated and lost, this seat is never going to get fixed, I question my skills. I wake up, relieved it was just a dream, but the seat’s still next to me in bed, parts still falling off. I then wake up for real. I love dreams within dreams and used to get them often, to terrifying effect. Thankfully, they’re now an occurrence rare enough to require immediate documentation.

PS: I was reminded by the NVPA recently that I am required to keep a dream journal.

Double for Nothing: Leaving the left lane empty

Car Space

Apparently. my fine province is poised to bear down heavily on those most dastardly of villains, people who dare drive their motor vehicle in the left lane…

“There will be a number of measures that we will be implementing to do a better job in getting people out of the left lane,” Stone told Kamloops’ CHNL radio last week. “You know, it already is the law, today, not to be in the left lane unless they’re passing. … [There are] a number of initiatives that we’ll be announcing soon that we hope will make a difference to get those left-lane hogs out of the way.” – See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/jack-knox-b-c-poised-to-make-a-move-on-left-lane-hogs-1.1158661#sthash.MYd8WAan.dpuf
“There will be a number of measures that we will be implementing to do a better job in getting people out of the left lane,” Stone told Kamloops’ CHNL radio last week. “You know, it already is the law, today, not to be in the left lane unless they’re passing. … [There are] a number of initiatives that we’ll be announcing soon that we hope will make a difference to get those left-lane hogs out of the way.” – See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/jack-knox-b-c-poised-to-make-a-move-on-left-lane-hogs-1.1158661#sthash.MYd8WAan.dpuf

“There will be a number of measures that we will be implementing to do a better job in getting people out of the left lane,” Stone told Kamloops’ CHNL radio last week. “You know, it already is the law, today, not to be in the left lane unless they’re passing. … [There are] a number of initiatives that we’ll be announcing soon that we hope will make a difference to get those left-lane hogs out of the way.

Jack Knox: B.C. poised to make a move on left-lane hogs – Local – Times Colonist.

I get it, people who drive slowly in the left lane are annoying and are a potential safety hazard. But, given that a car already needs so much more space than a bicycle, a bus full of people or pedestrians, does having a rule saying you’re only supposed to use half the road for the majority of your driving make any sense? Think about an alternative reality in which bike lanes are built for double the capacity just in case you want to pass a slower cyclist, would never happen, right?

A minor point, but some of the aspects of our personal auto culture are egregiously wasteful, yet attract little attention because “it’s always been that way.”

NaMo and me: Thoughts on the Indian election

ModiThe Indian electoral map is now covered in a swathe of orange (my favourite colour, the irony…) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leader Narendra Modi (NaMo) prepares to become the first single party majority government since 1984. Their victory was enabled by a big swing away from the ruling party, and a first past the post election system that leaves them in absolute power with less than a third of the electorate voting for them. This post is not about numbers and electoral analysis, there’s plenty of of that elsewhere.

As a left-wing, non-religious progressive sitting far away from India, I am dismayed at the power the BJP will have to make things difficult for minorities of all kinds, non-Hindus, the GLBTQ, and more. The BJP has made noises about “simplifying” environmental clearances, which only means more mines, more coal and more displacement, especially of poor people and tribal communities. Fundamentalist acts of violence may also increase, Kafila has already compiled a number of incidents of Hindu aggression towards mosques and Muslims. This parliament will have the lowest Muslim representation in a while, with not a single Muslim BJP representative.

Pankaj Mishra writing in the Guardian has a good summary on Modi, the BJP, its religious cadre the RSS, and more…

Boasting of his 56-inch chest, Modi has replaced Mahatma Gandhi, the icon of non-violence, with Vivekananda, the 19th-century Hindu revivalist who was obsessed with making Indians a “manly” nation. Vivekananda’s garlanded statue or portrait is as ubiquitous in Modi’s public appearances as his dandyish pastel waistcoats. But Modi is never less convincing than when he presents himself as a humble tea-vendor, the son-of-the-soil challenger to the Congress’s haughty dynasts. His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer – through privatisation or outright gifts – of national resources to the country’s biggest corporations. His closest allies – India’s biggest businessmen – have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced


So, what happened?

India party-wise election resultsThis NDTV article is a quick and basic summary of why Modi and the BJP won. On the negative side for the congress, the atrocious corruption, a reluctant leader (5th generation placeholder of a once “great” ruling family), a prime minister who has to sit in the upper house because he can’t win elections, a country with infrastructure gaps and poverty greatly in odds with the aspirations of its people, and general disgust with the status-quo. I would have been dissatisfied with the congress as well.

On the positive side for the BJP, their party was well organized, they had a big ground advantage with the RSS and more, Modi’s long tenure as chief minister of an outwardly successful state (Gujarat’s success predates Modi by more than 10 years, but why let facts get in the way) helped, and the cult of personality around his “decisiveness” was built by the BJP and amplified by the media. India is of course a very complex electorate which requires very different messages to the different groups. But the overall message was simple, Modi rocks!, we’ll do better, Rahul Gandhi is an idiot, and the congress is corrupt.

What next?

I find it hard to believe the unqualified declarations, like this one on live mint, that this is some kind of “capitalist” revolution. India has been here before. There seems to be a collective amnesia on the previous BJP-led administration that was in power between 1998-2004, made very much the same noises, albeit with a moderate face in front, Mr Vajpayee, and made a big show of development in cities, “business friendly” (code for crony capitalist) policies, nuclear chest-beating and more. All this culminated in the infamous “India shining” election of 2004, where the BJP’s triumphant march to re-election was upended thanks to the utter failure of trickle-down economics to actually better the lives of the millions without basic infrastructure and a route out of poverty. While India’s upper class celebrated victory, rural India unexpectedly returned the congress to power. The BJP would do well to remember this. They can’t ignore basic income/food support to the poor, or ignore the vast inequality, riots will break out. So, it will be a hard slog. I also don’t see any answers on how the BJP is going to transform India’s institutions to provide its people with their basic needs, because this is not about who is in power, this is about the quality of a country’s institutions (What I learned from “Why Nations Fail”).

How do I feel?

I have not lived in India for more than 15 years, so I have missed most of this, and when I visit, I live in a state that is generally doing well, one where regional parties dominate, and where the BJP won one out of 39 seats. I also avoid the shouty political media when I’m there. I was born into an elite-caste middle class community with much privilege. Indian politics left me cold and disgusted when I lived there, so anything I say needs to be clearly filtered as coming from one who was an outsider then, and even more so now.

While I am disturbed, I am not sure what many other progressives dismayed by the results would have wanted instead. Yes, the conservative BJP will treat its minorities atrociously, people may die, and their so called market reforms are likely to only exacerbate India’s already unacceptable inequality. But I don’t see what alternative the voters had. The ruling party was corrupt, disorganized and bereft of vision and inspiration, the various left of centre parties fragmented, inexperienced, and generally shut out. A change was coming, and the BJP was the only party positioned to take advantage of that change. I can’t bring myself condemn the Indian electorate for going with a message of change and good governance (true or not). The gap is in the inability of progressive Indian polity to build an alternative. While the Aam Aadmi Party and Kejriwal has made progressive and populist noises recently, and even managed to win state elections in Delhi, they are young and in Kejriwal, they have a rather unpredictable leader. They were not ready, and voters can’t be expected to trust inexperience.

Going forward, there are many routes for a left of centre progressive movement to take hold in India. The AAP, and other smaller parties would do well to look to countries like Brazil where worker and peasant movements slowly built and organized their way into power, and are still doing well by making their countries’ institutions better. India deserves a good progressive political option and one that is able to provide good governance without abetting pogroms against minorities, a low bar, but one both the BJP and the congress has so far failed to meet. I don’t know if the AAP is the answer, they performed reasonably well first time out with a 2% national vote percentage (not much, but good given the party fragmentation in India), and has room to grow as long as they can attract good people and build from the grassroots. They will have plenty of time before the next election to get better organized, more experienced and be a bigger force. And who knows, maybe the congress could reinvent itself as a centre-left Gandhi family-free party of good governance, stranger things have happened.

Meanwhile, I hope (with little evidence) for everyone’s sake that the BJP concentrates on good governance and building institutions, and gives its chest beating and macho Hindutva glorification a rest (yes, asking a lot). The people of India voted for change and a better life, not more violence, military aggression and fighting with Pakistan. I hope that in my naiveté, I am not being blasé about the ascendance of a very dangerous administration. But I remain a strong believer in the power of the Indian electorate to stick to basics and put authoritarians in their place, not like it did not happen before.

PS: The really nice picture of Modi tattooed (temporary I hope) is from this Jacobin magazine article on Modi,  his “neoliberal orthodoxy and violent Hindu nationalism.

Hey, comment on Victoria’s Cycling Master Plan!


The City of Victoria is coming out with a master plan for biking . They would really like to know what you think about biking in the city and what improvements you like to see in their master plan. Here’s where you can contribute. Look at the poster above for places where the City’s holding consultations and workshops.

If you’re looking for some ideas, the Greater Victoria cycling coalition recently released their thoughts on the city’s master plan (pdf) (disclaimer I am on the board of the Greater Victoria cycling coalition, though my contribution to the report was mostly proof-reading) . Some highlights for you in case you need some ideas to contribute to the city:

  1. Improvements to neighbourhood arteries such as Haultain, Vancouver, and more
  2. Protected or buffered bike lanes on heavier traffic roads such as Pandora (The city is currently planning a one-way track on Pandora).
  3. Clearer road markings on intersections, and the use of “bike boxes” at traffic lights so people on cycles can safely and visibly get ahead of traffic

There’s more. Read the report, it’s not very long.

Here is some of my personal feedback (beyond everything in the report) based mostly on the parts of the city I cycle in,. and the parts where I feel changes would make a big difference.

  1. Protected (buffered) lanes, or cycle “tracks” downtown and beyond: Lanes where cyclists are not buffeted by cars and buses have the potential to increase cycling among those hesitant to ride in traffic. The city is planning to build a buffered lane on Pandora from Cook all the way to Wharf. This is a good start, and needs to be doubled, either with a two way lane on Pandora (which the city is very hesitant to do), or a corresponding cycle track on a street going east. Also, View street is already not a convenient throughway for cars, wonder if a buffered bike lane would fit there.  
  2. Vancouver street: Vancouver is a nice and peaceful street to ride on, wide, only one lane of car traffic each way, residential and mostly flat. Vancouver is already a widely used bike way for people going North-South, especially from Fairfield and Cook street village and North Park. But, there are some difficult stretches. Firstly, Caledonia, where cyclists need to pass a busy street with speeding cars. While cars are not allowed through north on Vancouver street past Caledonia, my near misses and my friends’ similar stories tells me that many car drivers don’t listen. Let’s fix this, either with more enforcement, or actual physical barriers to slow vehicles down/stop them. Also, there are a number of stop signs on Vancouver that result in a choppy cycling experience. Changing these stop signs to allow through traffic on Vancouver would improve the cycling experience. There is marginal car traffic on those east-west roads anyway, so I think this would be an easy fix. While we are at it, changing car speed limits to 30 kph would calm Vancouver down even more. Vancouver’s connection past Bay is also currently a bit klunky and needs improving.
  3. Haultain. This is my favourite street to cycle on in Victoria, and one I use regularly. Haultain, while not on Victoria’s current official cycling network, is well set up for biking, with physical barriers preventing through traffic both at Shelbourne and Richmond, leading to a fantastic cycling experience from Cook street all the way into Oak Bay. From my perspective, Haultain mostly works, but connecting it west past Cook and making an easier path for cyclists coming off the Bay bridge would be useful. The turn onto Cook from Haultain also needs some attention, it’s difficult in peak hour traffic. Also, while bikes are supposed to trigger the Shelbourne light, this seems to not work for me much of the time, which means I wait a while for this light to turn, especially unproductive when there’s little traffic on Shelbourne after peak hours. I wish this light could be turned in to a simple stop/yield, with an optional bicycle/pedestrian triggered light to be used in times of “heavy” traffic on Shelbourne.
  4. portland_bike_boxRight turn lanes and cyclists. Many of our streets without bike lanes, Johnson is a prime example have this feature where the right-most lane becomes a turn-only lane. This may be convenient for cars, but it means cyclists have to keep merging left into traffic, stressful even for experienced riders in traffic and disruptive for motor vehicle traffic as well. It’s here that painting bike boxes could be very useful. But they won’t help when traffic is moving. Cook and Johnson now have a marking where the right-most lane is right-turn only except for buses and cycles. So, when traffic is moving, cyclists could just pedal through, but when it is stopped, they could use the painted bike box. The city should do this at every intersection.

Many more thoughts, but please contribute. The city especially needs to hear from the people I think constitute the heart of cycling in the city, those who cycle, but would not identify themselves as cyclists per se (human is the preferred identity!). You know who you are, speak up (It’s an election year, BTW).