Fredericton

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Can we all calm down about that roundabout on Smythe?

Posted by on 14 Jan 2013 | Tagged as: Fredericton

There hasn’t been this much discussion about a Fredericton proposal since the escalator.

smythe_round

The comments on the City’s Facebook Page range between “Best idea ever” to “Wheel of Death”. Most of the concerns seem to be related to how it would be dangerous to have a roundabout on a highway. The rest seem to think that Fredericton drivers won’t be able to handle it.

Many multi-lane freeways end at a traffic light. Just a few blocks away, the Vanier does just that. Is there really much difference between a light and a roundabout? As for the poorly skilled drivers, maybe this will motivate the police to actually enforce the other traffic laws.

This leads to questioning why they would put a roundabout on a freeway? There are two possible answers:

1. This whole thing is a bluff.

Is the city strong-arming the province into building the overpass? City officials have said repeatedly that they have lobbied the province for an overpass. The province is claiming that they can’t afford one, but maybe the city is hoping that this will force the province to put one in.

2. It is part of a larger plan to “de-freeway” highway 8.

As it is no longer the Trans Canada, it doesn’t get the traffic it used to. Wouldn’t it make more sense to change the nature of the road so that it serves local residents instead of through traffic? Lowering the speed limit and adding more access points will do just that. They would do this with more roundabouts, like this badly drawn example that would make it so you can go from the Vanier to College Hill (and back again):

newround

Once this is finally built, people will eventually prefer the roundabouts. It will be so much easier to get around Uptown Fredericton.

Is it time for a congestion tax in Fredericton?

Posted by on 24 Sep 2012 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton

Congestion taxes are a trendy new way for cities to collect revenue. Many large cities have them in the form of tolls or extra registration fees on cars.

Fredericton can do it differently by only making the people that cause congestion pay. Much of the congestion is caused by poor driving, such as stopping in merge lanes and blocking intersections. Rather than try to correct that behavior, why not milk it as much as possible?

It can be done in four easy steps:

  1. Create bylaws that make it illegal for cars to stop in merge lanes, block intersections, etc. The difference would be that the ticket would be the responsibility of the car owner (like a parking ticket). That way, the cars won’t have to be pulled over to issue the ticket.
  2. Hire a bylaw officer to take pictures of cars stopping in merge lanes.
  3. Send the tickets in the mail.
  4. Hire someone to count the masses and masses of money that comes in.

This solution will singlehandedly solve the problem of the declining unconditional grants, the pension deficit and frustration caused by rising property tax bills.

You won’t make everybody happy about that strawberry field

Posted by on 10 Sep 2012 | Tagged as: Fredericton, landuse

Looks like Fredericton city councillors are in a tough jam. They want to sell some land that they own. Trouble is, there’s currently a popular strawberry U-Pick operation running on part of it. There’s also a wetland that can’t be developed (we’ll just exclude this portion from further discussion). Another problem is that the residents near there have become accustomed to having that area undeveloped and simply don’t want more houses there.

So now there are three proposals:

1. Develop the entire property into a single-family residential neighbourhood, just like the properties that are near it.

2. Turn the entire property into a park while keeping the strawberry operation intact.

3. Keep the strawberry operation, but develop the wooded portion.

Let’s have a look at some arguments that were seen about it: (can’t link to sources due to paywall)

  • “If you build houses there, then you are creating sprawl” – False. If you don’t build houses there, they will be built somewhere else, cutting down trees somewhere else. They would have to be built further away, possibly outside city limits with no water/sewer access and create more carbon by people having to drive farther to get to work/shop.
  • “If the wooded area isn’t developed, it would cost a lot for washrooms/parking” – False. The proposal isn’t looking to make the wooded area into a park, just to leave it wooded.
  • “It is better for the environment to keep the berry field there” – Questionable. This is a commercial farming operation, not claiming to be organic.
  • “Many great memories were made there and it should be kept for that reason” – True. The debate about the strawberry field is entirely emotional. This essentially makes it a tourism issue.

So there seems to be strong logical and popular support for option 3, yet the city has set up an all-or-nothing approach. They are only voting on option 2. If that doesn’t pass, then they will still be in the same position where they were when they started and we’ll keep having this debate year after year. There is a lot of popular support for keeping the strawberry fields intact, but there’s little reason to keep the wooded area intact. The only people who want that saved are the residents who live nearby, just like what happens with so many other developments.

Save the strawberry field for political reasons, but develop the wooded area into something nice. The city could use that area and build an excellent walking and bike friendly neighbourhood. It’s about time that Fredericton gets some high quality residential neighbourhoods. We aren’t used to them as our usual gang of local developers just opt for the cheapest options that earn them the most profit. Perhaps there will be less resistance to such things in the future if someone can prove that Fredericton will welcome quality development. It’s time to set the bar higher.

 

Here’s a map. The grey area is the strawberry field, the area with the diagonal lines init is the rest (wooded area and wetland).

How not to spend $100,000

Posted by on 23 Jul 2012 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton, landuse

How much did it cost the City of Fredericton to tear down that old strip club? They sold the land for $100,000 less than they paid for it, plus they paid to tear down the building. You would think at that price, they would be able to force the buyer to build a nice, high-quality building.

What will we get instead? A squat (presumably) wood-framed building with “horizontal siding” (probably vinyl). Another typical cheapo Fredericton apartment building (will the rent also be cheap? Doubt it.)

Don’t get me wrong, the developers should be free to build as cheaply as they like, but when they get an indirect subsidy from the city, the bar needs to be set higher.

More details about the site are available here at yourfred.com

Fredericton Municipal Election Last Minute Voting Guide

Posted by on 14 May 2012 | Tagged as: Election 2012, Fredericton

Today is the day to vote. Didn’t take the time to evaluate all the candidates? Didn’t bother to read the Questions That Count from the very excellent Chamber of Commerce Municipal Affairs Committee? No problem, I’ve picked the winners for you.

  • Ward 2: Grandy
  • Ward 4: Megarity
  • Ward 5: Savoie
  • Ward 6: LeTourneau
  • Ward 7: Burhoe
  • Ward 8: Ericson
  • Ward 10: Levac
  • Ward 11: Rogers
  • Ward 12: Kelly
  • Health Board: Mullin
  • Mayor: Woodside

For the councillors, I evaluated their responses to the Chamber of Commerce survey and their online presences. In many cases, their responses were so close that there was no real clear winner. If it was a tie, I selected who had the best online presence.

For the health board, I had to choose Doug Mullin as he seems to be the only serious candidate. Some of the candidates didn’t even come up on Google. Some of them are chiropractors.

For mayor, it wasn’t an easy choice. Hayes has all the answers, but where the mayor doesn’t really set any of the policy, I had to go with Woodside for his political experience. Hayes would make an excellent mayor, but he would be much better if he had some time on council. Still, he raised some important issues and I hope those issues continue to get raised between now, and the next election.

Don’t know where to go vote? Locations are here: http://www1.gnb.ca/elections/municipal/allmunpollstationslist-e.asp

Beware of bad promises: Traffic Calming

Posted by on 29 Apr 2012 | Tagged as: Election 2012, Fredericton

One of the recurring topics on Fredericton council candidates’ web sites is the issue of speeding. Seems that it’s a problem everywhere and candidates are promising all kinds of solutions. One must be careful what you wish for, or else you may get it, and it won’t be what you asked for. Let’s take this abomination as an example:

This is the Adams St. Traffic Circle. It’s not a roundabout, it’s a failabout. It was put in to address the concerns of a few loud complainers. It’s too bad it doesn’t actually work and may even make things worse. Although it’s hard to tell from the picture, it’s not quite in the centre. This is presumbly so the snowplough can make it past. This also means that when going in one direction, cars don’t actually have to slow down. In the other direction, cars have to slow to a near stop in order to make it through. Many (including transit buses) just go around it the wrong way. In fact, many speeders just go through it the wrong way anyway.

How do we prevent that?

First of all, you can promise to restore the police force’s traffic unit. They used to have three cars that just handed out tickets and responded to problem areas. Now, the cops just rotate the traffic jobs. You can also promise to listen to them when they do complain about speeding traffic.

Next, you will need to use science to prove that there is a speeding problem. Traffic counters also record speed so if the average speed is higher than the speed limit, then it has been proven that there is a real problem. The next step is for city staff to come up with a design of the calming measure (such as speed bumps). The citizens will then have to go to every house on the street and ask them if they want a speed bump in front of their house. If they can get enough people to agree, speed bumps will be put in.

This is exactly how it was done on McGibbon St. Science proved that there was a problem, the residents acted on it and got high-speed speed bumps installed. These allow cars to go over them at 40km/h, and don’t impact emergency vehicle response times as much as the low-speed ones.

Another idea is to install bike lanes. These will make the road look narrower and slow down the traffic.

If you do hear a lot of complaints about speeding traffic, remember that knee-jerk reactions don’t always work.

 

How not to lose a municipal election in Fredericton

Posted by on 24 Apr 2012 | Tagged as: Election 2012, Fredericton

Here is yet another municipal election. We have a number of fresh faces, and a number of the same-old faces. Here are a few tips based on observations I’ve seen:

1. Know your demographic: old people

They have the highest turnout rate of any municipal election. They don’t know how to use a computer and the only way you’ll reach them is by knocking on their door. Make sure you promise enough things that they will like. This is probably where most of your votes will come from.

2. Know your demographic: Young people

The next highest turnout rate is young people. They are the ones using social media. You’ll need to reach out to them. And by reach out, I don’t mean just getting on social media, you’ll need to find people and encourage them to share your message. Easier said than done.

The other great challenge you’ll have with them is that they are disillusioned with politics. You are going to need to convince them that you will actually change things for the better.

3. Don’t be vague.

I’ve been looking at a number of campaign web sites. I don’t see a lot of details. I see things like “I believe in a strong downtown” and “I believe in transparency”. What exactly are you going to do to “strengthen” downtown? Change the zoning to allow taller buildings? Tax breaks for high density residential buildings? Diagonal parking? Elections for other levels of government usually have very specific promises. Municipal elections should be the same.

4. Fredericton is behind the times. Use that to your advantage.

Big city trends usually take a few years before they trickle down to places like Fredericton. For us, this is not a bad thing. This gives us the ability to look into the future. This is especially important when it comes to things like housing trends. Larger cities are seeing younger people want to move to higher density neighbourhoods where they will be able to walk to many of the places they want to go. Make sure your voters are aware of this and how it will benefit them (hint: lower taxes)

5. You won’t be able to stop sprawl.

The previous paragraph mentioned a trend to move to the cities. This will not stop sprawl. It will slow it down, but you can’t stop it. If you do manage to get elected, any attempts at stopping sprawl will just push it out of city limits. This will mean that you double-failed as you will decrease city revenues while increasing air pollution. Nobody wants that.

Oh, and if you make it seem like car-owning suburban single-family home dwellers are the enemy, you won’t get elected. Remember Toronto? Please don’t make that mistake (not that I’m saying that any of the current candidates are anywhere close to Rob Ford).

How hard is it to find out if Fredericton has free parking on Easter Monday?

Posted by on 11 Apr 2012 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton, opengovernment

Don’t work for the government? Bet you had to go to work on Easter Monday. If you’re a Fredericton Transit user, you’ll have to find your own way in. If you have access to a car, you’ll drive in. Now, the question is, when you get downtown, will you have to put any money in the meter?

A quick check of the city’s website should provide an answer, right?

Well, not quite.

Let’s go and have a look at the city’s homepage:

You don’t see anything about city services on the holiday at all, except for a notice about the garbage being picked up on the holidays. So if the garbage collectors don’t get it off, what about the parking enforcement people? Let’s go check the parking section of their web page:

Information about all kinds of things relating to parking, but nothing about what days are free. Now, let’s use the search box on the top right corner of the page:

What will that bring us?

Oh, how about this?

Hmm, not promising. Maybe this search doesn’t work like Google:

And we get:

That isn’t the most helpful search results page. Instead of the page title, they show the file names. That probably wasn’t intentional, but maybe next time they should go with the second lowest bidder. Still, at least this way we’re warned in advance before we click on a PDF file.

As you can kind of tell, the top results are a series of press releases relating to hours around Christmas. The others are irrelevant. Let’s just try one more search before we give up:

Which gets us:

Some more results. Clicking on each one and reading it fully gives us our answer. Yes, it’s the one that I circled in red. I only found that after clicking through all the other ones. Let’s click on it and see what it says:

There you have it. That’s how “easy” it is to find out information about parking in downtown Fredericton.

Sorry about all the pictures, I hope you weren’t reading this on your phone on a pay-as-you-go data plan.

The Chilling Realty of Charles LeBlanc

Posted by on 24 Jan 2012 | Tagged as: Fredericton, tech

In case you haven’t already heard, blogger Charles LeBlanc was arrested and charged with libel. Many people have questioned the validity and applicability of the charges. This blog post isn’t going to do that, instead, we will be discussing the seizure of computer equipment for “evidence”.

During the raid, they took his computer, monitor, speakers and cable modem. None of these were actually required as evidence, not even the computer.

Charles’ blog is hosted on blogspot.com, a Google service. His computer has nothing to do with serving web pages. During a normal investigation, the police would subpoena Google to get the IP address of the poster, then subpoena the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to get the owner of the IP address’s account. That is all that is needed as proof. Even with the PC, there is no way they can get any more proof that it was actually Charles sitting in that chair typing those words. In fact, assuming he used the online post editor, there would likely be no trace at all on his computer. Even if they needed to access the computer, there are forensic tools available that will make an image of the hard drive on-site, without the need for a complete seizure.

This is clear evidence that our court system does not understand technology at all. This will be abused. We now know that someone can have IT equipment removed at the mere accusation of libel. How often will we see this being used as an intimidation tactic?

 

Review of GoFred bus tracker (beta)

Posted by on 09 Jan 2012 | Tagged as: Fredericton, opengovernment, Reviews, transit

Fredericton Transit just released a bus-tracker mobile app for Android. (or did they, as a recently printed Gleaner article implied it was CGI’s idea). It’s still in beta, and completely unfit for general use as they don’t have GPS tracking available for every bus in the fleet. However, it’s a great example of how open data can be used.

All of the screenshots below were copied from the Android Market page as Android phones don’t have the ability to take screenshots (unless they are rooted).

The opening screen implies that this app won’t just be for bus tracking. Hopefully we’ll see some more services on there soon.

 

Here we have the main menu. The bus tracker is the important part of the app, the route planner just takes you to your phone’s built-in Google Maps Transit navigation service, the schedule just goes to the city’s web site.

 

Here, we can choose which route to track. For a really good test, you can click “all routes”

 

And here’s the main screen. The first issue that jumps out is that we see the fleet numbers in the bus icons. This is because they are getting their data from the dispatch system. The fleet numbers are very useful for dispatchers, but not that good for the general public. If you click on one of the icons (like you see above), you’ll see the route numbers listed. Trouble is, as in the example above, you see two route numbers and no direction (N or S). If you’re waiting for a specific bus, you won’t actually know which one is yours until it is close enough for you to see the destination sign.

Great start, but needs some work.

Future plans?

At this time, nothing has been divulged. One hopes that they are able to fix some of the issues above before they go out of beta. For that to happen, they would have to have access to the dispatch schedules to determine which actual run the bus is doing. From there, they could determine how long you have to wait for the next bus at any particular location. That would allow for a phone (text or IVR) interface as well as other innovations such as display signs.

It would also be nice if they indicated the accessibility level of the bus. They could display an icon for a low-floor bus.

Once that is complete, the next step would be to open the data so it could be used by anyone. Don’t want to support an obsolete phone platform? No problem, let someone else do it instead. Want to let a business make their own transit info sign? No problem!

It’s a great start, hopefully the momentum continues and allows the app to get better.

Update: iOS version now on iTunes

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