Thursday, October 30, 2014

Making our roads work for everyone

Everyone benefits from a healthier diet: less fat & sugar, more fruit & vegetables. But did you ever wonder what a better “diet” for our roads would be? Given what we know about physical activity and human health, and the pollution from cars & trucks, a healthier “road diet” would include a greater proportion of pedestrians and cyclists sharing the road with motor vehicles.
But just like eating better, healthier road use has obstacles. Drivers often aren’t that good at sharing roads with cyclists or pedestrians, and when the two collide, generally it’s the person on bike or foot who suffers worse. As an occasional cyclist on Barrie’s streets, I notice many motorists don’t understand the road rights of cyclists or how to safely share, and when I drive, I even find myself unsure how much space to leave a cyclist when I pass.
The simple answer is bike lanes: a clear definition of where bikes and motor vehicles do or do not belong, a way to keep them safely separate. They can share the road, without the more difficult feat of sharing the same lane.
Yet city budgets have limited funds to widen roads to add lanes, a process taking many years for planning, studies, approvals, funding and finally, construction. Luckily, a much faster and more affordable approach exists. Many of our roads are already wider than necessary for the smooth flow of vehicular traffic, resembling speedways! By simply re-painting and redefining lanes, we can create a better way for all road users to share and maximize their benefit.
We can all share a road that's the right size.
Called “rightsizing”, the most common example is when a street with 4 car lanes (2 each way) is re-painted to 1 car lane in each direction and a double-left turn lane in the middle. This leaves space to add a bike lane to each side. Cities across North America are finding this an effective way to reallocate street space to better serve the full range of users.
Is this a “war on the car”? Far from it! With a 2-lane road, you often have obstacles in one lane or the other – a person turning left, a car parked in the right - which drivers weave back and forth to get around, creating risk. By moving left-turners to their own lane and parking off the main street, the remaining single lane allows smooth traffic flow, taking away the weaving or “racing” between drivers in 2 parallel lanes. In this way, 3 lanes more safely handle nearly the same traffic volume as 4. Average speed goes down a little while excessive speeding drops dramatically. This is the traffic calming every neighbourhood needs, and it comes without the annoying speed bumps or unnecessary stop signs between which hurried drivers “floor it”.
As a bonus, bikes can now travel, and be passed by cars, much more safely. “Rightsized” roads also experience a dramatic drop in collisions, good news for all road users.
And by making our roads more friendly and balanced, bicycle and pedestrian traffic can gradually increase and our “road diet” improves. It’s a win-win-win for driver, cyclist, and pedestrian with very little cost: just some paint and new signage.
Longer-term transit plans include expensive rebuilding or widening of many existing roads and new bike lanes will be part of that process, but for now, “rightsizing” lets us get a head-start on expanding our networks of active transportation without unduly penalizing the safe, steady flow of car traffic.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Healthier road diet includes more walkers and cyclists"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Don’t be shy about participating in Tampon Tuesday

Did the title of this article give you pause? That just proves the need for a very important program called “Tampon Tuesday”. Started by CTV London and expanded to Barrie by Kris Hughston, co-organized by Stephanie Lampron, this monthly event in support of the Barrie Food Bank is meant to coordinate with another monthly event most women face.
Although featured in a lot of upbeat TV ads these days, it’s not discussed in polite society, which is part of the problem. When we think of a food bank, we picture families who cannot afford basic groceries, and envision filling shelves with canned and packaged food to distribute among the hungry. Or, more recently, we may recall programs like FruitShare which add fresh local food to supplement a diet that would otherwise be too high on salty, sugary, starch-and-fat-based processed foods.
Groceries are more than just food
Yet rarely do we think about other things we get on our regular grocery shops, things that those with financial difficulties may also struggle with: toiletries and, as the Barrie Food Bank puts it, “monthly supplies.” When your grocery budget falls short, food may not be the only basic need you can’t bring home. And it’s not something that’s easy to include in the traditional food donation asks at Thanksgiving or Christmas, or for public school or special event food drives.
Luckily, Kris and Stephanie are on the case, partnering with the Barrie Food Bank and local sponsors to put on the monthly “Tampon Tuesday” event, targeted to this specific need. Although it’s a collection specific to these items, it’s also a networking event. Hosted by a local restaurant, currently Moxie’s Classic Grill on Bayfield St. who provides free hors d’oeuvres and drink specials, attendees drop off their feminine product donations in the bins at the door before meeting other local businesspeople or non-profit members, making new contacts, and learning all that’s new in the Barrie business community.
Fun activities include finding another guest based on half their business card, or draws for door prizes donated by various generous sponsors. Chay Today 93.1 FM attends to offer draws and radio coverage of the event.
Barrie’s Tampon Tuesday event has moved a few times, having started at Moxies and visited Michael & Marion’s, Lone Star Texas Grill and Il Fornello before returning to Moxies. It starts at 5 PM and runs for a couple of hours, on the last Tuesday of each month – which this month is October 28th. Although a majority of the attendees are businesswomen, men are also welcomed and a brave few of us get past the title to attend this fun and supportive event.
Local businesses or individuals are also welcome to provide door prizes to liven things up and thank attendees for filling several large bins with feminine products each month, so the Food Bank can continue to support the holistic grocery requirements of needy families. Contact Kris at 705-790-8123 if you need information or want to give. And if you can attend, we’ll see you one of these Tuesdays. Don’t be shy!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Green leaders keep Barrie clean

Have you ever sprung into clean? Every April on a weekend near Earth Day, Barrie residents “Spring Into Clean” through community litter clean-ups, tidying parks, schoolyards, parking lots, roadsides, and other areas where litter accumulates. Living Green pioneered this activity in 2003 when the Georgian College student group Responsible Adventure Travel Society (R.A.T.S.) contacted us about doing a waterfront clean-up right around the same time that Tim Horton’s contacted us about sponsoring one, so we brought them together and got the City’s permission to coordinate a clean-up along Centennial Beach. The event grew by leaps & bounds, more sponsors came on board, and Living Green handed over coordination to the City of Barrie and moved on to start more new initiatives (the latest being FruitShare Barrie).
But litter doesn’t wait for spring, so the City also has the Adopt-a-Park or Trail program, which allows individuals or groups to take on spring and fall clean-ups of any city-owned park or trail. Your group can adopt here, or you can join in with an existing adoption, for example, Living Green has adopted Queen’s Park and the Barrie Green Party has adopted Kidd’s Creek Trail at Sunnidale Park.
Barrie Greens are crazy about collecting litter!
In fact, this Sunday, October 19th, marks a special anniversary for the Barrie Greens’ adoption of Kidd’s Creek: this will be the 10th year we tidy it up, having started the adoption process way back in the spring of 2005. To help us celebrate, Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner will take a break from trying to clean up politics and instead join us to clean up this wonderful green space in Barrie.
This is the first of two Green Party leader visits to Barrie; the second will be when federal leader Elizabeth May presents her new book at the Southshore Centre on November 22nd. (Watch this space for more info about this exciting visit.) Green leaders like to visit Barrie because of our enthusiastic support: in the past 11 years, the Barrie riding has consistently shown about 50% higher Green support than the provincial or national average and been in the top 10% of Green vote results.
This clean-up is now a long-term tradition with us; photogenic Barrie Greens at work are even featured prominently in the City’s official Adopt-a-Park/Trail brochure. We’ve found some pretty startling things alongside the normal litter: bikes and shopping carts (both functional and junked), waterlogged down comforters, wheel rims, tires, and clothing, to name a few. Getting this garbage out of the stream and forest is an important way to help nature thrive in our urban surroundings.
You can be a part of this, too! Our clean-ups are always open to the public, and are great fun for the whole family. Meet us at the Dorian Parker Centre at Sunnidale Park this Sunday morning at 10 and join us for 2 hours of tidying, then we’ll treat you to lunch! You also get to roll up your sleeves and get down & dirty with a provincial party leader; how cool is that? Dress for the weather and wear something tough and waterproof on your feet; we’ll provide gloves and trash bags. See you there!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "A variety of community clean-ups to choose from"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rosie's dinners build community

I’ve written before about Rose “Rosie” Romita’s holiday dinners at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, which she puts on with volunteer assistance and donated food. But it’s time to update the story, because her dinners are evolving from charity to community, becoming something even more than just feeding the hungry.
Regularly serving as many as 800 meals to people who otherwise might not have a chance at a good holiday feed is pretty special, but sharing a meal together is a bonus. And that’s why more people are being invited this year: not just to get food, but to share community.
Although our city and our houses are getting bigger, our families seem to be shrinking. Many people either don’t have much or any family to spend the holiday with, or have family who are too far away. Eating alone or as a small family is fine, but on traditional holidays it can seem lonelier, somehow.
So if you find yourself in that situation this year, please come to Rosie’s Thanksgiving dinner! Students, seniors, or anyone who doesn’t have a big group of family or friends to spend the day with, please join us at the Community Wholeness Centre (CWC) at 59 Maple on Monday from noon to 6. You can bring kids or friends, too. All ages, all incomes, all kinds of people; the more, the merrier!
The event is also open to local musicians if you’d like to have a welcoming audience, and even if you aren’t so musically skilled, the karaoke machine will be set up for your singing pleasure.
This is the only turkey - please donate more turkeys!
Photo credit: J.T. McVeigh
Of course, none of this can happen without the support of the community. There are always plenty of volunteers willing to lend a helping hand, so many that it’s not worth leaving your family behind just to come down and help out. But other donations are always needed. The CWC is getting the ball rolling by donating the kitchen and dining space, but there is still a great need for turkeys to be the main course. Beverages, desserts, and other treats are always appreciated, or care items like new socks or toiletries that can make life a little easier for those getting by with less.
So again, one and all are welcome this Monday from noon to six at the Community Wholeness Centre at 59 Maple street. If you are able to donate a turkey or any other kind of food or supplies (or grocery money or gift cards), please email or call 705-722-7763. Your donation and your company are appreciated by all as this dinner grows into a tradition for the whole community, a chance for us all to come together and give thanks for our blessings many or few, most of all our thanks for having each other.

A version of this - with Rosie's name censored out (!) - was published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Thankgiving dinner truly a community event"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation. Comment on Root Issues at

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Local government can be the most responsive to voters

Municipal elections are the poor cousin in our democracy. People pay much regard to national media – whether TV, newspapers, or online news digests – but the national media pays little heed to local elections except for the odd high-profile mayoral candidate who gains attention for a stunningly successful social media campaign or shockingly criminal behaviour. That leaves us with the local media’s dwindling staff and space to cover the particulars of local races.
And this is ironic, because local government can be the most responsive to voters, sets new tax rates every year, and provides much of our day-to-day public services, like roads, transit, recreation, and social benefits. You have a far better chance of reaching your councillor on the phone, or even having the mayor call you back, than you have of such personal contact with your MP or MPP. And since our municipal officials aren’t beholden to specific party platforms or leadership, you may have more luck swaying their point of view, or introducing a bold new idea into the process.
Although the Examiner ran this stock photo with my column,
Barrie actually uses touch-screen electronic voting.
This makes municipal elections important. Once the votes have been counted, the person elected will serve the next four years, with almost no chance of recall or dismissal even due to the most egregious abuses of office or common sense. So knowing about your choices before you vote is crucial.
One handy way is to compare candidates’ answers to the same questions and meet them in person at all-candidates meetings. To candidates, it may seem they have to attend many of these meetings, they may even find it a nuisance – which should be your first red flag, because the job of city councillor requires a seemingly endless regimen of meetings and consultations. So I would take very seriously the willingness of a candidate to attend as many of these events as possible.
One upcoming all-candidates meeting has a special twist. Hosted by Grace United Church (at 350 Grove St. E.) and the Barrie chapter of the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness, this event that starts at 6 PM on October 7 includes the special “Day in a Life” interactive role-play. Presented by Alliance members, it challenges participants to make it through a month’s expenses (rent, food, incidentals) without exceeding the fixed income of a pension, welfare, or disability cheque. All Barrie candidates for mayor and council have been invited to navigate a Day in a Life before taking their seats to answer questions from the public about their vision for Barrie.
A majority of candidates, including all in the mayoral race, are planning to attend this meeting, so this is a wonderful chance to come and see how they stack up. And because the debate format is always limiting, there will be a meet-and-greet afterward where you can talk one-on-one with candidates, in case you haven’t had a chance to meet them at your door. Refreshments will be provided by Grace United.
All questions will be taken in advance, so if there is something you feel should be asked or answered, you can submit it to to be put to the candidates for response. You can also leave questions at the event and we will ensure they are passed on to the candidates in your ward for personal response. Make an informed vote!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation