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Archive for the ‘Driving’ Category

With this great spring weather we’ve been having here in the frozen north, it was time to get the bikes back out and try to get back to leaving the car at home for short trips.

Yesterday was sunny, warm and all the streets were clear for a quick six-minute trip to one kids’ preschool. It was so nice to be back out on the bike with a baby who actually likes riding in the back (unlike last summer with the non-stop screaming.)

I was happy to see that the city of Montreal estimates that leaving your bike at home one day a week instead of commuting to work will reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by 232kg per year.  You can read more here.

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There’s an interesting story in today’s Montreal Gazette about the impact of idling your car. Besides polluting and wasting fuel, it also damages the car engine because newer cars are designed in order not to have to be idled before you start driving, even in the winter.

Idle Threat

Bylaw rarely enforced. Only 106 out of 1.3 million tickets issued last year were for idling

Andy Riga, The Gazette

With some exceptions, it’s illegal to idle your car for more than three minutes in Montreal. But don’t worry too much about getting a ticket for the infraction.

In 2007 – the first year the bylaw was on the books in most boroughs – only 106 tickets were handed out for illegal idling. Of those, just two were in the downtown Ville Marie borough, the area with the heaviest traffic and most motorists needlessly idling.

They were among the 1.3 million tickets given for non-moving violations across the island.

Despite the low number of tickets, Alan DeSousa, the city executive committee member responsible for the environment, said he thinks the bylaw has reduced idling and raised awareness about its detrimental effects. The practice wastes fuel, causes pollution and creates greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

If Montrealers are ever going to break the idling habit, however, experts suggest the first steps will be to debunk persistent myths about car engines and to convince motorists they should forego the luxury of toasty cars.

The rest of the story is here.

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I’ve been reading a couple of interesting things recently about the oil sands projects in Alberta.

The first is this series, published earlier this year in the Globe and Mail. The eight-day series looks at the development of the oil sands, and the environmental and social cost of the projects, which are estimated to have a worth of $90 billion.

The second is the book Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (And Doesn’t Seem to Care) by William Marsden, a colleague of mine at the Montreal Gazette. Marsden, who is an investigative reporter, spins a great yarn about the development of the oil sands, from a loony plan to blast the oil from the sand with a nuclear bomb to the boom/bust/boom experience of a Calgary oil man.

Reading the book left me with an impending sense of doom. The amount of fossil fuels left on the planet is finite, yet we seem not to care, building more roads, buying more cars, and ignoring the environmental costs of harvesting energy this way.

Reading about the oil sands has been making me think about what our family can do to conserve fuel and oil around our house.

We switched to an electric furnace a couple of years ago to reduce our fossil-fuel consumption. Now our biggest fossil-fuel user is our minivan, and I’ve been trying to use it less. It has been more challenging than I thought.  I’m hoping once the weather warms up and I can get my bicycle and kids’ trailer back out on the road I’ll truly be able to reduce the amount of time we use our van.

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A few years ago I wrote a story (see below) for the Montreal Gazette about a British Columbia couple who were following what they called a 100-Mile Diet. For a year, they would only eat food that came from a 100-mile radius of their Vancouver home. Their project later became this book.

Writing that story really put the idea of trying to eat local in my head. Ever since, whenever I’ve had the choice, I try to buy locally grown food on my weekly (okay, sometimes daily) shopping trips. It’s not a hard job in the summer, when Quebec produce is everywhere, and we get a weekly box of organic vegetables from farmers  Jamie & Nora Quinn’s farm in Elgin, Qc.

But in the dead of February, with 20 cm of fresh snow on the ground, and last summer’s harvest just a dim memory, it’s another question altogether. You can usually find some root vegetables, maybe some hydroponically-grown lettuce and tomatoes, and apples from storage. Still, I thought I did a good job on a locally-grown dinner for the fam tonight:

  • Mashed Quebec potatoes and one of the last heads of celeriac from last summer’s vegetable deliveries
  • Quebec-grown turnips
  • Quebec-raised turkey meatloaf with Quebec carrots and onions
  • And for dessert, stewed Quebec apples.

Not bad for a snowy February day, I’d say.

Here’s that story I wrote:

How what we eat helps climate: What’s good for the environment is great for the economy
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
By Monique Beaudin, The Gazette

Eight months ago, Vancouver writers and J.B. MacKinnon undertook what many thought would be an impossible task – for a year, to eat only food produced within a 100-mile (160-kilometre) radius of their home.

They were concerned about the environmental impact of the global food-distribution system: trucks carrying summer fruit and vegetables to snowbound Canadians, burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“Our food is travelling even more than we do, and that seems ridiculous when a lot of things like salads, carrots and potatoes can grow locally, but you don’t necessarily see them in your local grocery store,” Smith said.

They never expected their “100-mile diet,” which they chronicle in an online magazine, to draw international attention and generate buzz all over the Internet.

(more…)

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Our quest to leave our car in the driveway to reduce our family’s contribution to climate change continues.

I’ve learned it takes excellent organizational abilities, superior time-management capabilities and the skills of a cultural animator to persuade some people in my family that taking a wagon, or God forbid, walking, is a fun way to get where we’re going.

So far walking has gotten us late to school (once only) and to yoga class, but I figure the 20 minute walk made up for the first few minutes of the missed class.

But I’ve decided that we are going to not use the car for trips under one kilometer, which covers school and most after-school activities. In a one-kilometer radius of our house there are grocery stores, pharmacies, a coffee shop, bakeries, a dollar store, a bank and an excellent Italian butcher shop. 

We are definitely going against the flow on this one. New research by Statistics Canada found nearly 69 per cent of Canadians travel everywhere by car. The number is a bit lower in Montreal — 66 per cent — which experts attribute to the fact that Montreal is a high-density city and we live closer to the places we need to go.

Maybe we’re just afraid to walk. According to this story in the Montreal Gazette, increased traffic in the city is causing everything from miscarriages to cyclists being hit by cars to increased hospitalizations for respiratory problems.

There are four bus routes within a five minute walk from our house, but really, I’d much rather walk. At least with walking you know approximately when you’ll get there, which I wish was true for travelling with the STM. One of our local bus routes is totally unpredictable. The bus is almost always late, if it even shows up.

It takes a new way of thinking to get things done this way. You have to take into account the slow walking of a five-year-old. But on the upside we are having much better conversations than when we’re in the minivan, separated by three rows of seats and a radio that is always on. And it’s excellent exercise.

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Our worst offending anti-Earth behaviour must be driving our minivan. With five people in the family, it’s a handy way to get from here to there. Still, you can’t argue that it’s environmentally friendly.

My husband was kind enough to remind me of the damage our driving does after a recent shopping trip to the West Island. Heading for Joe Fresh, the mini-clothing boutique located inside a few select Maxi stores in Quebec, we racked up 70 km round trip. I tried to argue that we did our grocery shopping at the same time, so really, it was two trips, not one, but he didn’t seem convinced.

The next day I decided we should take public transit to a doctors’ appointment for our kids at the Jewish General Hospital. It’s a 13-km round trip from our house, and one that lately has been incredibly aggravating. On-street parking is practically non-existent there unless you want to park six long blocks away, and I usually have at least two kids in tow, that’s not a fun walk. I’ve been late for our appointments lately as I circle the hospital, prowling for a parking spot.

So we all hopped on the bus, at a total cost of about $10 round trip, which was less than we would have paid for parking, never mind gas. The only drag was that it took took us nearly 45 minutes to get there and 45 minutes more to get back. Even though I find the bus relaxing (if it’s not overcrowded), I felt like I really don’t have an hour and 30 minutes to blow sitting on the STM’s finest.

Still, I am going to try to leave the car home more often and switch to the BMW – bus, metro, walk. Oh and the train. I love the AMT commuter trains. Now sitting on that train with a good book in hand, and a tasty piece of chocolate would be a fun way to spend 90 minutes.

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