Saturday, November 17, 2018

Pedestrian & Bike Underpass of Alaska Highway?

Crossing of the Alaska Highway by bike or foot is a challenge.  There are no designated crossing points of the highway between the lights at 2-Mile Hill to the north and the lights 6 km to the south at Robert Service Way.  Yet we have a major multi-use path between downtown and the neighborhoods west of the Highway at the north end of the airport there are no safe crossing points.  Not only for cyclists, but there is considerable pedestrian travel from McIntyre and Hillcrest, walking downtown around the north end of the Airport.
Excerpt from Whitehorse current Cycle Commuting Map.

So in the age of extravagant spending on highways, why not providing a safe, separated crossing of the Alaska Highway?  This would not only benefit cyclists, but also all the walkers; by separating the crossing it would not inconvenience drivers either.  Although this may seem a bit of a radical idea for 1950's-era Whitehorse, in progressive sustainable transportation countries it is the common way of keeping vulnerable road uses safe when crossing major roads: they recognize that the two modes are not compatible and need separated spaces.

Cycleway underpass in Oulu, Finland.  Note large comfortable size that accommodates snow clearing equipment (
I would propose the underpass be located at the north end of the airport.  This location would service both Hillcrest and folks coming down from McIntyre.  Also if the trail on the west side were extended to Valleyview folks could use the underpass to access downtown via the airport/Black Street gully stairs.   It is already grade-separated on the east-side so only only the west side would need to have a ramp down from the trail.  Here is what it could look like:

Proposed location for Alaska Highway underpass at north end of Airport.
I did some calculations:  A 3.6 m high underpass can be accommodated under the highway here.  (3.6 m is a recommended height I found in a reference that can accommodate snow clearing equipment).  It should be a big, open, lighted box underpass that is lit and inviting, not a dank culvert such as used on Hamilton Blvd (look to the dutch examples to see how to do these right).   The path would slope up from the airport trail at 3% grade through the underpass.  Then on the west side the trail would need to gain another 2.5 to 3 m to reach the elevation of the ditch on the west side.  This would be a ramp down of about 55 m long at 5% (which is the recommended maximum grade for All Ages and Abilities (AAA) cycleways).  It would be tight on the west side so some retaining walls would likely be required at the underpass entrance, but these are used in many places around Whitehorse (Pelly Construction's yard on Industrial Road, Robert Service Way/Millennium Trail, etc.) So it is all do-able.

If we are willing to spend millions on the Alaska Highway, why shouldn't we expect some safe, separated infrastructure for vulnerable road users too?

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

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 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.