Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A first look at Whitehorse's Newest (and Last?) Bike Lanes

After a summer of work, the entire length of the rebuilt portion of 6th Avenue downtown has opened back up.  It was rebuilt from Ogilvie Street at the north end to Jarvis Street at the south.  Folks may remember that this section of 6th Ave had a lot of potholes, gravel boulevards, no curbs and sidewalk only on one side.

But now the rebuilt 6-block long section of street has been developed as a "Complete Street", that means it is supposed to be inclusive of all road users, not just cars.  It has sidewalks on both sides, BIKE LANES and two car travel lanes.  The City of Whitehorse consulted with  Whitehorse Urban Cycling Coalition (WUCC) in the design of the street back in 2016.  At that time, the Coalition felt that 6th Ave was not the priority for a major investment in cycling infrastructure and as such was supportive of use of basic bike lanes on the street.  From the looks of the completed project, the City pretty much fully implemented the
recommendations of the Coalition at that time.

But why might these be the last new bike lanes in Whitehorse?  In 2018 the City, at the urging of WUCC, developed the Bicycle Network Plan.  This is a long-range planning document that envisions a fully connected cycling network for the City.  A key component is the adoption of a more contemporary approach to cycling infrastructure:  recognizing that cyclists of All Ages and Abilities need separated, safe cycling spaces when road speeds exceed 30 km/hr.  Under such a model (which is adopted by progressive cycling communities and countries), on-road bike lanes are not used because they recognize the incompatibility of high-speed motor vehicles and an inclusive view of cycling.  The Whitehorse Bicycle Network Plan largely recommends a network of "protected cycleways" and separated cycle spaces.  So, if implemented as planned, there are unlikely to be any new un-protected cycling spaces (aka "bike lanes")
Note disconnected nature of bike infrastructure today.
Proposed Bicycle Network for downtown Whitehorse (from Bicycle Network Plan)

None the less, it is always great to have new cycling infrastructure, so let's take a look:

The bike lanes are a full 1.5 m wide, which is wider than some of the older bike lanes in town, such as Lewes Blvd or 4th Ave north of Ogilvie.  The bike lanes appear to be demarked according to the current Canadian standards (which are okay, but certainly not to the progressive standards such as used in Netherlands and other cycle-leader countries).  This includes the cycle symbol painted on the roadway on either side of every intersection and signage noting the bike lane at every intersection.  The bike symbol itself is in a raised "paint" that is quite rough to ride over.  I wonder how these marking will survive winter plowing?  The lines-marking lines themselves are recessed into the asphalt, such as what was done on the south half of 4th Ave, so hopefully they will last longer.

The roadway was designed to slow motor vehicles and make the road more community friendly.  Of course, this includes the roundabout* at Black Street.  The re-build has "tightened" the turning through the roundabout, so it does slow you down to drive a motor vehicle through it.  Interestingly, the bike lane itself goes almost straight through the roundabout, making it pretty easy to ride through (single file as the sign says!)

Other elements to "slow" motorists down include:
  • Parallel parking along the street (parking spots are 2.4 m wide plus an extra 0.6 m as a "door zone" to reduce risk of door-ing on the bike lane; parallel parking is good because it causes motorists to be more alert and cautious)
  • Note space between parked car and bike lane to help reduce risk of "door-ing"
  • Curb extensions at intersections to narrow the roadway, making a shorter crossing distance for pedestrians; and
  • Narrow travel lanes, only 3.0 m wide, which makes the road feel "skinny".  Again it will be interesting to see what happens in the winter.

So that is the good, but what are learning for improvement for the next project?

End of bike lane at Jarvis St.
  • Well, it is a bike lane. As I discussed above, that is a bit of an antiquated type of cycle infrastructure now;
  • It is a bike lane from nowhere to nowhere.  It is not connected to a bike network (as is currently the problem with almost all of our City's bike infrastructure), at least for now.  At minimum it would be good if the bike lanes stripes could be extended southward past Main Street to the south end of 6th Ave at Lambert St. (I think that is a reasonable ask of the City); and
  • Lip at curb-cuts makes for some unnecessarily rough riding. 
  • All of the curb-cuts (where the curb drops down, for example at ally-way entries) have a terrible inch-high "lip" that makes for an unnecessary hard bump/hit on your bike when you roll over them. I don't know why they didn't make them smooth like their accessible curb-cuts at cross walks.  Perhaps this is something we can get the City to address in their Servicing Standards for future project.  

Go for bike ride and check it out before the snow comes!

* the roundabout at Black was built a few years ago.  My elementary-school age son has been walking through this intersection since kindergarten, some years before the roundabout was built.  Since it was built, we've seen crossing busy 6th Avenue has been much easier and safer for him.  These mini-roundabout really do work for making safer streets for all road users.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

An idea to help balance Yukon's books: Stop subsidizing oil and gas.

The current Yukon Government realized they are going to be facing a $40-$60million shortfall (deficit) starting in 2018.  So they convened the Financial Advisory Panel to think up what to do.  This group did some online consultation this summer, which I did not hear about and missed the opportunity to provide input on.  Now they are doing consultation in the communities and an online survey (see https://yukonplans.ca/)

Here is my suggestion to help address this deficit:  stop subsidizing the use of oil and gas (propane).  This post is a bit of a work in progress as I mull through this idea, but I thought I’d get the idea out there now and update/revise this post as I think the matter through further.   If this topic piques your interests, please check back and I’ll provide more specifics.  

Based on my breakfast-table estimates this morning, I figure Yukon Government foregoes somewhere between $10million and $20million per year in revenues by subsidizing consumption of fossil fuels.  The perversity of these subsidies are:
  1. Yukon produces no oil or gas, so there are no benefits flowing to Yukon from these subsidies (increasing oil and gas consumption does not benefit our economy); 
  2. almost every dollar spent on oil and gas is a direct loss to the Yukon economy (all of those dollars are economic leakage and leave the Yukon); and 
  3. for most of the uses, we have made-in-Yukon cleaner, safer alternatives and solutions that would keep the money in the Yukon.
The Yukon subsidizes fuel usage in two ways:  firstly, Yukon has the lowest tax rate on gasoline in the Canada at $0.062/L. This is less than HALF the rate changed in any Province (lowest is Alberta at $0.13/L.)   That alone is worth $4million a year on tax revenue!  Secondly, Yukon offers tax exceptions on burning oil and propane for heating.  That means NO tax charged on these hazardous materials that are costing us a lot (for example spill cleanups, leaky tanks, heath-care costs, deaths by carbon monoxide poisoning, etc.).   Tax exceptions (which are subsidies) are also issued for commercial use such as mining.  Sure, there may be industries that we want to help support, but giving them a subsidy for how much fuel they burn is crazy.  Wouldn’t it be much better to give those vulnerable industries direct support that is in someway inversely proportional to their success?  These total tax breaks, based on the current tax rate of $0.072/L for diesel (which is what heating oil) is worth about $6million a year.  

I have a lot more specifics and details on this which I hope to write up and post here, but this is the gist of the idea now.  If you think this idea has merit and it seems wrong to your for government to raise your income taxes or cut service, but continue to subsidize burning of these dangerous and polluting substances, then please go to https://yukonplans.ca/ and complete the survey.  Participate in the public meetings if you can.

The Details:

Current Fuel Taxes

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Two months of Solar Hot Water monitoring

October's Performance

With October done we now have a second month of data from the Solar Domestic Hot Water monitoring project.   In September we had relatively good performance with 41% of the water heating needs supplied by the solar panel.  October on the other had great sun for about a week mid-month, but then was much cloudier, shorter days and substantively lower performance.  Here is both September and October's graphs so you can compare the two months:

Again, a few observations:
  1. Total energy used this month for hot water heating was up 79 kWh to 356 kWh of energy put into the heating of hot water.  Of this only 15%, or 52 kWh was solar supplied.  The higher energy use this month could possibly be explained because the basement is heated off of the hot water system.  I did observe that the basement's infloor heating system was running periodically to supply heat to the basement. 
  2. The amount of solar heat collected this month was again lower than modelled (52 kWh vs. 80 kWh modelled).  Also, as a percentage, the solar fraction as only 15% which was slightly lower than predicted at 16%.  
  3. The total amount of energy actually delivered as hot water was about the same as last month: 131 kWh.  September was 127 kWh, so it looks like hot water usage was consistent with last month. 

There Goes the Sun

Below is a picture of the solar collector and the sun at about noon on November 6th.  As you can see the sun isn't really clearing the trees much.  The sun now goes behind the escarpment downtown shortly after 3pm.  You can see the solar panel itself mounted on the veranda roof (behind the power pole.) So from this point forward, it doesn't like the system will be collecting any heat until February.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Why a Carbon Tax is good for the Yukon’s economy

I’ve been really confused by the Yukon Party’s opposition to the carbon tax.  It seems they don’t understand the Yukon’s economy.  It needs to be said that in fact a carbon tax will be GOOD for the Yukon’s economy.  This is for two reasons:

1. The productive part of the Yukon’s economy actually has a very low carbon intensity.  We have a highly educated workforce and most of our economy is not resource intensive.  Mining, oil & gas are only about 13% of Yukon’s GDP (see Yukon Bureau of Statistics’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by Industry 2014).  Because mining produces a product (metal), that actually overstates the value of the resource industry when it comes to jobs and salaries paid.  Therefore the bulk of our economy is low-carbon intensity.  With a carbon tax, the Yukon’s economy is more competitive relative to carbon-intense economies.  In other words, the Yukon will perform better relative to other provinces when carbon taxes come into play.  This is a basic of economics:  do what you are good at and the Yukon is good at having a low-carbon intensity economy.

The Yukon also has excellent opportunity to further de-carbonize our economy by increasingly switching to renewable energy (primarily hydropower, but also biomass and to a lesser extent wind and solar).  Other jurisdictions do no have the natural resources to produce renewable energy that the Yukon does.  As such, the Yukon can readily further reduce its exposure to carbon taxes and become even more competitive.  

2.       Use of fossil fuels represents a significant economic leakage for the Yukon.  In 2013 the Yukon consumed about 226 million litres of gas, diesel (inc. heating fuel and jet fuel) and propane (see Yukon Greenhouse Gas Emissions: the Transportation Sector, 2015).  If we assume this is about $1/L, that is $226,000,000 that left the Yukon with just about no economic benefit to the Yukon (we essentially burned that money).  Any reduction in fuel usage will result in more money staying in the Yukon’s economy and can be put to more production use.  For example, the money could be used by Yukoners for arts, entertainment, culture, health care, education or just about anything will be more useful that burning the money.  This will also help build the local economy since more resources will be used and consumed locally.  Even a 10% reduction in fuel usage will be $22 million dollars that would be repatriated to the Yukon’s economy.  That is almost exactly at 1% increase in our GDP which would have wiped out the GPD decline the Yukon experienced in 2013 and 2014.  

Another thing that makes me mad is the rhetoric does not reflect the realities of math.  The carbon tax will have almost no measurable impact on the price of goods (and zero impact of the cost of services) because the amount of fuel used to transport goods to the Yukon is very very small relative to the value of the goods.  Where you will see the difference is at the gas pump and on heating fuel.  But it is not much of a difference:  the $10/tonne tax will be about $0.02 /L at the pump.  Yup, that is it: less than the price difference between gas stations and less than the difference between regular and premium.  If you drive the speed limit and drive conservatively, you will increase your fuel economy by 10% which more than offsets the fuel price increase of 1.7%.  Any driver can fully mitigate the any fuel price increase. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

First month of Solar Hot Water monitoring data

With the end of September we now have our first full month of energy monitoring data for the solar domestic hot water (SDHW) at 704B Wood Street (see http://forestpearson.blogspot.ca/2016/09/solar-domestic-hot-water-monitoring.html for background).

Since September is an equinox month (average day/night) we can kind of assume it is representative of annual average sunlight.  So it is fortuitous that the first month of monitoring has been September as it gives us some indication of what annual performance might be. 

And the result?  Significantly less saving than predicted by the energy model.  The interesting thing is it does not seem to be due to system performance (which is performing better modeled), but due to a more insidious factor:  Conservation!  Basically the residents of the home are not using enough hot water to realize the potential of the system.  This is because there are a number of hot water saving measures designed into the house (including a very large drain water heat recovery system), that there are only 2 to 3 occupants in the house and lastly the residents are very energy conscience and therefore don't use a lot of hot water.

The first rule of energy conservation wins yet again:  reduce the consumption first before looking at efficiency, and only then (last) is renewable energy generation (which is what the SDHW system is.) 

Below is a graph of September's energy performance of the system. I'll explain the three bars and the preliminary findings below:

  1. The first bar on the left is the predicted hot water performance from the HOT2000 building energy model.  The model suggested that water heating in September would take 487 kWh of which 34% would be supplied by the solar system.  I don't know the details of what and how the model works, but I do know a few of the assumptions that help explain the difference.  HOT2000 standard reference defaults to assuming there are 4 people in the house (2 adults and 2 children).  It assumes they use 225 L of hot water a day at 55degrees C.  In the actual home there are 2 to 3 adults, they only use 125 L/day and the tank temperature is maximum 45degrees C.  So on water usage alone this house uses 44% less hot water than the model.
  2. The middle bar is the actual total energy usage of the hot water system.  In September a total of 277 kWh of energy was put into the hot water system, of which 41% was supplied by the solar system.  Therefore we see 43% less total energy input, which matches well with the reduced hot water usage recorded (versus the model).  But we did see in September 2016 that the solar contribution at 41% was substantively higher than that modelled.  
  3. The last bar (on the far right) is very interesting:  this is the amount of energy that actually supplied hot water to the tap.  The difference between this and the middle bar is energy lost as heat leaking off the storage tanks.  What we see here is only 131 kWh was used (of which 47% was solar supplied) to make hot water.  The remaining  146 kWh was presumably heat loss off the two big storage tanks.  Normally this would be considered "bad", but in the case of this super-insulated home, this might not be so bad.  This is because the house is electrically heated and with the high level of insulation, much of the "waste" heat off the tanks will be retained by the house.  This then displaces electricity that would be used to heat the house.  Of course, in the summer there really isn't any heating needed, plus the tanks are in the basement, a location that doesn't need to be as heated.  But none the less, the heat loss off the storage tanks isn't a total loss. 

Preliminary Findings

After one month of monitoring, it appears that the savings from the solar domestic hot water system are substantively lower than predicted.  This is not due to system performance, but due to low demand for hot water. 

Because this home is primarily in "first block" power (< 1,000 kWh/month), the electrical rates are quite low and therefore the savings (displaced electricity) are low.  At this time, first block power is approximately $0.109 / kWh.  At this rate, the solar system only saved about $12.49 in the month of September.   If that is representative of "average" savings, the total annual savings from the system are only about $150/yr.  That means it will be a very long pay-back for this system at these low electrical rates.

What I conclude from this is the solar hot water system seems to work well with good performance, however its value in a small, high-efficiency home, is low.  It is a technology that would be better suited to large homes with higher hot water demands or commercial/institutional buildings with large hot water demands. 

But, let's see how the rest of the year goes.