Tuesday 31 December 2013

2013 at the Peanut

Well, it's been a year, hasn't it?

One of the big goings-on around here was that this blog became mostly-dead. We had a pretty good run, but the defection of one of our researchers and a decrease in the quality of the coffee in our staff room spelled the end of this enterprise. At least for now.

Blogging is a bit of a dying activity it seems. The CreComm program at Red River College pumps out a fresh new batch of bloggers each year, but content and quality are mixed and most are short-lived. Besides that though, we have stumbled across a few new local Manitoba blogs that you should check out. If we have missed any good ones, and I'm sure we have, by all means leave a comment and it will get added to the list.

New Manitoba blogs:

Around This Town - Written with an oddly familiar though slightly stuffy style. Might be worth looking at.

James Hoddinott - This teacher and novelist has a diverse blog, with posts about art, development, and other things.

RPARC - Former Waverly West And Beyond blogger David Watson makes a return here, writing on behalf of the Riel Parks and Rivers Commons organization, mostly digging into the emerging development of agricultural land in south St. Boniface -- something that has the potential of becoming a bit of a debacle.

Open Letters to Louis Riel: Fulfilling the Winnipeg Dream - Dr. Robert-Falcon sets up this blog as a series of letters to Manitoba hero/villain/founder/crazy person Louis Riel, but in doing so he tackles some hefty and important issues.

The Art Of Gettting By In Winnipeg - Melissa explores the 101 things to do in Winnipeg (and more).

Good Day and Great Days - Winnipeg Free Press journalist Lindor Reynolds allows us to follow along as she battles brain cancer.

Dave Shorr - One of Winnipeg's 100 most interesting people also took us along on a very personal and poetic journey through his own battles with cancer.

WHOLLY SHIT  ~ church reviews from a serious punk - A tip 'o the hat goes to James Hope Howard for finding this gem, with its refreshing and hilarious reviews of local churches.

Colin Blog-heed [title pending] - Winnipeg based but not about Winnipeg, this astonishingly well researched blog is a must-visit if you dig cartoons.

365 Portrait Project - Dave Lipnowski committed to posting a portrait every day in 2013. I have seen other one-a-day-for-a-year blogs that failed, but what makes this more remarkable is that each photo was taken the day it was posted, and the quality of the photos are excellent.

Sadly we haven't been following the blogs as closely as we should, but we do have a New Year's resolution to update the blogrolls in the sidebar .. and keep them updated.

New blogs that need just a little more encouragement to keep going:

Cam Does Winnipeg
Tom Scott In Winnipeg
Another Megan
Eden In Winnipeg
From The Mind, Heart & Toe...

Our most read posts of the year:

Derelict Properties Bylaw?
We would like to think that this 2011 post made a resurgence because our novel idea to apply the derelict properties bylaw to vacant lots finally gained traction, but no ... it was Ray Rybachuk's hijinks and eventual demise that sent people scrambling to the internet to find out more about the shady dude with marginal snowmobiling skills.

People in glass houses should buy small furniture
Our sneak peak at the (very small) floor plans for the new Glasshouse Condominiums in downtown Winnipeg. The funny thing is all of the floor plans were completely redesigned from what I posted here.

How to get to Vimy Ridge
Once again this 2008 Vimy Ridge post generated hits almost on a daily basis. Go, if you ever have the chance.

Phil Sheegl: The right man for the job
Gosh, what could have possibly drawn people to this sarcastic little post about Winnipeg's former CAO? I can't imagine ...

Proposed new Winnipeg Jets logo!
We have to admit that our redesign of the Winnipeg Jets logo didn't go over as well as we had hoped. That is to say, the Jets organization didn't email us and offer to buy it for $100,000. Nevertheless, it was fun to do.

The Manitoba Government subsidizes strippers
Perhaps one of our better posts of the year? One of the least bad? At least not so crappy as to prevent assiniboiadowns.com from linking to it. This one sneered at Minister Stan Struthers and the government's claim that it was saving tax payer money by cutting back "subsidies" or "funding" to the Manitoba Jockey Club...

The places receiving this so-called funding includes strip clubs like Teasers, which in addition to featuring "Sleek & Sheek, Sexy, Exotic & Erotic, Applebottom babes, Big bang bootys, MilkJugs, Curvy, Mind Melting Hourglass figures, Long Legged Ladies, Big Bouncing boobs, Shocker Knockers & fun all the way around" also offers VLTs for your gaming pleasure. Each VLT could net Teasers up to $50,000 per year in revenue, thus the government is likely funding "nipple popping snow shows" to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Thank you, Stan!

A big thank you to all of patrons of Anybody Want A Peanut throughout 2013 and since the inception of this blog. Also a special thanks to those who shared these pieces on twitter or elsewhere, and to the other blogs that linked here.

Finally, here are a few other year-end blog posts to check out:

West End Dumplings: Most Read Posts
Slurpees and Murder: 156 Lines
Observations, Reservations, Conversations: Part I and Part II and Predictions for 2014
Nothing In Winnipeg: Bookends
The Crime Scene: Top Stories of 2013
The Black Rod: Newsmaker of the Year
Conceit and Sociopathy: Yeah it's 2014
North End MC: 2013 stats 

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Winding things down at the Peanut

Well my friends. I think this blog has run it's course.

It all started 6 years ago -- SIX YEARS! -- with a rant about Bipole III. It wasn't long before I branched out into rants about Upper Fort Garry and rants about general government incompetence.

19 Bipole III and 21 Upper Fort Garry rants later, it's time to start winding things down.

I will keep this up on the webz for the foreseeable future. There is a great deal of content on this web site after all. I'm not gonna lie ... a lot of it is crap ... but some is actually researched and still relevant.

I'm also quite proud that my How to get to Vimy Ridge post still draws hits almost on a daily basis, and in fact visits to that one post have increased over time. I think that's pretty cool, because Vimy is an amazing place and I'm glad that I can still encourage people to visit it.

So that's that. Upper Fort Garry is still nowhere near being funded and Bipole III is still a $4 billion burden to Manitobans that can potentially be reversed, but we're all done with those types of discussions here.

If you want more Peanut-esque policy-oriented posts, check out aroundthistown.ca

Sunday 8 September 2013

Waverley West bike paths already cracking.

Last weekend I did some suburban exploration on my bicycle. Among the things I discovered was an elaborate garden on or near a hydro corridor, complete with garden shed, shag carpeting, mysterious 50 gallon drums and other various containers laying about. The whole operation stretches close to 200 yards from one end to the other.

what's in the shed?
This was not far from Waverley West, Winnipeg's largest new subdivision, so I decided to toodle about the Bridgwater area of Waverley West to see what was going on.

I was excited to see Bridgwater (Yes, I'm spelling it correctly. There is no 'e'. That was the guy's name. Deal with it.) because we are being told it is going to be a dynamic "new-urbanist" suburb with a town center that promises to reinvent the "neo-traditional architecture of early-20th-century". Already this area is being compared to the walkable Corydon and Osborne Village neighbourhoods. -fp-

Sure, it doesn't look like much right now ...

Bridgwater Town Centre

... but just close your eyes and envision the multi-use buildings lining the sidewalks with patios, clock towers, fountains, and people bustling about. This is going to be no ordinary suburb, I'm telling you!

Part of this new ethos of suburban sprawl is a focus on active transportation. As we mentioned in a recent post, Bridgwater will incorporate a network of trails that will allow people to get around while mostly staying off the roads. I fully support this concept in principle.

Nice path to nowhere

As we also mentioned previously, as the network expands so too will the cost of maintaining these trails.

Especially if they're built like this ...
It's only an asphalt wound.
Yes, that's right. These brand news paths started cracking virtually the moment the steam rollers left the scene.

The path above is so new that it's not even shown on the Public Works Department AT plan as a "proposed" or "future" route. It doesn't even go anywhere, because the path that it will eventually connect with, this being the "future" path along Bishop Grandin and Kenaston, is nowhere near being constructed.

See I told you it was a path to nowhere.
So this brand new path that is already cracking will have to weather at least one more freezing winter and spring thaw before it even connects to something and becomes useful.

 The crack shown above is certainly not a one-off. There are many more like it, though this one is probably one of the worst on this stretch. But why is this cracking so soon? Did the company that poured the concrete in the new Investors Group Field win the bid to construct these paths? I know that some paths have problems with tree roots causing cracks, but there is not a tree anywhere near this path. It was constructed on newly graded treeless terrain.

Another question: why did these paths even get built at this time when they're not on the Public Works AT plan and don't go anywhere?

Another question: why are we spending $330,000 on an active transportation master plan, when the city goes completely off the map and doesn't follow the plan we already have in place? The thing about a plan is it doesn't work as intended if you use it to prop up the uneven back left leg of your desk.

Perhaps this Master Plan will be followed and will result in an orderly and sensible trail building strategy. That would be great, but there is only so much a plan can do. One thing it cannot do is ensure a path is properly constructed so that it doesn't crack before anybody sets foot on it.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Diagnose your health problems using beer.

More people are turning to the internet for self-diagnosis of health problems. This is one of the great benefits of the technological marvel that is the world wide web, and not only do I fully support it but I wish to contribute myself.

This is why I am sharing a system I developed to accurately pin-point your health problems using a cheap and easily accessible tool: BEER.

This is how it works: your body is a complex mechanism that processes inputs to generate energy and provide the nutrients that your body needs to operate, while expelling anything that is not needed. If your body is not operating effectively, it will expel more of one thing or less of another, and there will be tell-tale signs of this in the colour of your pee. Stick with me here ...

To take advantage of this underrated bodily function, I have developed the Perfect Urine Beer Scale (PUBS). Using PUBS, you can tell what ails you simply by comparing the colour of your pee to the colour of an ale from your local beer store.

The PUBS© diagnosis

If your pee looks like: COORS LIGHT

: The pale colour indicates that you are lacking vitamins and minerals in your diet. Go buy yourself some fruits and vegetables for a change. If your diet consists mainly of Coors Light and empty carbs, your urine will look like Coors Light. Coincidentally, your pee and Coors Light also probably taste the same.

If your pee looks like: KOKANEE

Diagnosis: You are healthy. This is a normal colour, which means that your body is operating normally so you can cancel your doctor's appointment. There is no need for you to waste his time and yours with a needless check-up when you can tell just by looking in the toilet bowl that you're in perfect health.

If your pee looks like: RICKARD'S RED

Diagnosis: The red tinge is a result of blood in your urine. You had better sit down for this part ... you are dying of cancer. If you haven't caught it by the time you start to pee blood then it is probably way too late. You shouldn't have cancelled that doctor's appointment last year. What were you thinking?


If your pee looks like: SLEEMAN HONEY BROWN

Diagnosis: This is darker than normal which indicates that you are dehydrated. The solution is to drink more fluids. No, NO, not BEER. I mean something besides beer. Get a glass of water or juice or something like that.

If your pee looks like: NEWCASTLE

Diagnosis: You are extremely dehydrated. What the hell were you doing? Never mind ... just find a cool room, perhaps a rec room in the basement, drink water and keep drinking until your pee returns to normal. Do it now, before you pass out and require an IV drip.

If you pee looks like: HOEGAARDEN

Diagnosis: The cloudy appearance is due to a kidney infection called pyelonephritis. It sounds bad, but don't worry, it is treatable with antibiotics although severe cases may require hospitalization.

Or you may have cataracts. Better get your eyes checked too.

If your pee looks like: GUINNESS

Diagnosis: You are a zombie. That is all you need to know.

Disclaimer: The accuracy of the PUBS© diagnosis may be compromised by eating Doritos chips with artificial colouring, especially Spicy Chipotle BBQ. Also, everything else may be grievously incorrect.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Should Fermor Avenue be renamed?

My last post was about an idea to rename the Perimeter Highway after Winnipeg-born national hero Terry Fox. You can read more about it here and sign the petition here.

Response to renaming the Perimeter Highway has been lukewarm, both in the comments of my blog and in various web-polls. Perhaps the choice of thoroughfare needs to be tweaked. In the Free Press poll, 46% of respondents liked the idea in principle but thought a different road should be chosen.

If we were to choose a different road, what road would that be?

I nominate Fermor Avenue.

  1.  Fermor Avenue is part of the Trans-Canada Highway. The Trans-Canada Highway is (obviously) the route that Terry Fox was taking on the vast majority of his Marathon of Hope across Canada, and it was the highway he was running on when his journey ended.
  2. Of the two Trans-Canada routes past Winnipeg -- around the Perimeter or through the city via Fermor, St.Anne's, St. Mary's, Main, Broadway and Portage -- it is almost certain that Terry would have run through the city, not around it. Running through the city would have brought out more supporters, more media attention and by extension more money for cancer research. It is also a shorter route than the Perimeter
  3. Of the roads within Winnipeg that comprise the Trans-Canada Highway, Fermor is the least hassle to rename. There are NO business or residential addresses along Trans-Canada portion of Fermor, so NO businesses or homes would be affected.
 To clarify that last point, there are indeed businesses and homes with Fermor addresses, but those are west of St.Anne's Rd, so they are not part of the Trans-Canada Highway.

click to enlarge

You might be thinking 'hold on thar Baba Looey .. aren't there a whole bunch of businesses along Fermor in Southdale?' Yes there are, but they all have Vermillion addresses, not Fermor.

If Fermor was to be renamed in it's entirety, then there are 34 residential addresses that would need to change, as well as addresses for the YMCA, St.Vital Library and a minor Manitoba Hydro substation. On the other hand, if only the Trans-Canada portion of Fermor were to be renamed, then that would break up the naming continuity of the street creating yet another multi-name thoroughfare in Winnipeg.

Fermor west of St.Anne's Rd

One other concern: who was Fermor? Renaming a street in honour of somebody risks dishonouring the person for whom the street was originally named. I don't even know where to start when it comes to researching this sort of thing, but the street listings from the Manitoba Historical Society do not list anything for Fermor Avenue, so I'll assume this Fermor character was not anybody important. Possibly a small-time blogger or something.

The current proposal to rename the Perimeter Highway would involve dealing with the Province, whereas renaming Fermor is within the City's jurisdiction. Winnipeg's current mayor Sam Katz has not been shy about renaming streets in the past, and a photo-op with a member of Terry Fox's family would provide a nice distraction from auditors reports and the other tribulations of the embattled mayor.

Few plans are perfect, and renaming a significant street is always going to involve compromises or sacrifices. However, if we're going to rename a street after Terry Fox it ought to be a significant street, not some back lane. I happen to think that Fermor Avenue makes a lot of sense.


Fun fact: did you know that there was a notable Winnipeg Historian named Harry Shave? Now that's someone we should name a street after.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Should the Perimeter Highway be renamed?

How do you feel about the name "Perimeter Highway"? Is it too obvious? Is it getting a little stale? Maybe time for a change?

One blogger is calling for the highway to be renamed in honour of Terry Fox.

As most Manitobans know by now, the national hero was born here in Winnipeg, yet there is very little to signify that. A few years ago there was a movement to rename Wayoata school in Transcona in honour of Terry Fox, but in spite of the word "wayoata" not having any real meaning in any language that anyone was familiar with, the motion was denied.

More recently, a bust of Terry was installed in the Citizens Hall of Fame around the formal gardens in Assiniboine Park. It's easy to miss, but it's something .. I guess.

Some people think that an inconspicuous bust in a corner of a park is not enough -- that a native son as notable as Terry deserves greater recognition. One such fellow who writes under the pseudonym "Purple Rod" at the blog The Purple Rod (you probably could have guessed that) has started a petition to rename the Perimeter Highway after Fox.

Let's name a highway after a Winnipeg-born hero, and the recipient of the Order of Canada: Terry Fox. Despite suffering from Cancer, Terry Fox had a dream to raise money for cancer research, by running a marathon across Canada. He gave his life to help others. The annual Terry Fox Run, first held in 1981, has grown to involve millions of participants in over 60 countries and is now the world's largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research; over $500 million has been raised in his name.
Terry Fox never made it to Winnipeg on his Marathon of Hope cross-country run. Had he made it this far, he would not have run on the Perimeter Highway. He would have crossed the Perimeter and run straight through the city to take advantage of maximized fundraising exposure, not to mention the shorter distance. However we can't very well rename Portage Avenue. That would be a hellishly expensive nightmare. The Perimeter highway, by contrast, has few businesses that call it home and therefore few addresses that need to change.

Does it make sense to honour a man who, while being an iconic national hero, spent the majority of his life elsewhere?

Is renaming a road a good way to do that?

Is the Perimeter Highway a good road to rename?

If you answered "yes" to these questions, then you should sign the petition:

Sunday 18 August 2013

MAKE Coffee + Hipster Names

After dinner on Corydon Avenue last weekend I headed in the direction of Starbucks for an early evening coffee. On the way there I stumbled upon MAKE / Coffee + Stuff.

could use a plant or something
I had never heard of the place, but MAKE, it turns out, is part of the growing trend of gourmet coffee shops in Winnipeg.

To my knowledge this trend began with Parlour Coffee, opened up by Nils Vik (the younger brother, coincidentally, of a dude I went to school with) a couple years ago. Parlour opened with a splash, both because it was boldly located on a neglected block of Main Street, but also because it was a new concept for Winnipeg.

Nils and his coffee shop have since been profiled in numerous magazines, web sites and newspaper articles. The buzz is likely to continue as Nils is soon to open a second location in Osborne Village called Little Sister Coffee Maker. I believe it will do very well there. The demographics work, and the departure of Fuel several years ago left a gaping hole in the coffee landscape of The Village.

Following in Parlour Coffee's footsteps are Café Postal on Provencher in St. Boniface and Thom Bargen on Sherbrook in the Wolseley area of Winnipeg ... and of course MAKE on Corydon.

MAKE did not arrive with the splash of some of the others. In fact, it has been open over half a year and I had no idea it was there. The interior of the narrow space is sparse and raw, but clean in appearance. The coffee is the focus here. The owner, Jay, is happy to explain everything to you. The beans are roasted on demand in Victoria and couriered out to Winnipeg, where Jay grinds them as needed for his brewed, drip and espresso-based beverages.

The proprietor making a coffee
An architect by trade, Jay combines his interests in this little shop with a series of displays along the wall featuring unique buildings designed by Winnipeg architects. It gives you something to look at as you wait for your coffee to be crafted, which can take a few minutes depending on which type you choose.
Architecture storyboards and models
He also hosts fashion shows and other events from time to time. What MAKE lacks in furniture and decor it makes up for in diversity.

I am glad to see this trend of high-end independent coffee shops springing up in the city.

On my one trip to Europe I drank americanos because you can't find brewed coffee in the places I went. I began to really enjoy this beverage, and returned to Winnipeg with fond memories of relaxing with an excellent cup of coffee in the cafés and pâtisseries of dense European cities.

When I returned to Winnipeg, I wanted to recapture some of that European café experience, so I ordered an americano at Starbucks. The gave it to me in a 12 oz cup. It tasted nothing like what I had remembered.

I still get my donut shop coffees and my Starbucks coffees, but until recently I have been avoiding americanos unless I was in a restaurant or lounge where I suspected they might know what they're doing. Now these new coffee shops give me another choice, and choice is good.

It's also nice to see small independent places with a good product succeed in a market dominated by giant corporations with their cheaper offerings. These kinds of places add to the character of a neighbourhood.

But as one positive trend continues, another nefarious one is emerging: math in store names.

When I first came across Deer + Almond I thought to myself "there is no bloody way I'm eating in a place with a pretentious bloody name like that." Of course I did end up eating there, and it was very good ... but I still don't like the name. What does it even mean? What does deer + almond equal? Jackalope?

I didn't concern myself with it too much as it's only one restaurant in a quirky part of town. But now ... I might be getting worried.

MAKE / Coffee + Stuff has not only picked up on the concept of adding math to a store name, but they've taken it one step further by including a division symbol as well as an addition symbol. This is getting waaaaay to complicated.

Understand, I'm not afraid of math. I have a Masters degree in Economics, as some of you know, and I can tell you that from 3rd year on economics is almost pure math. My problem here is that math has a place, and that place is not in the name of your store.

But it may be too late. As Derek Sivers explains in the TED talk How to start a movement, it is the first follower who turns a lone nut into a leader and ultimately starts a movement. Now that we have our first follower in this math nuttiness, I am afraid a movement may be starting.

What I'm saying is, a few months from now, don't be surprised if you're walking down Sherbrook and you see a store selling plaid shirts and beard trimmers with a name like ..

Sunday 11 August 2013

Hydro Riel Station Project not going so well.

On the list of proposed and current Manitoba Hydro capital projects, the Riel Reliability Improvement Initiative Project is one of the lesser known. It is not as big or contentious as Bipole III or Conawapa, but it is still a significant project by most standards.

The $700 million dollar project to "sectionalize" Hydro's southern electricity distribution is intended to improve reliability and facilitate importing power from the US in a circumstance where our power supply suffers a catastrophic failure. You can read more about it on the Hydro web site if you want, but what you should know is that this investment is being made. What you should also know is that, like most of Hydro's recent projects, it is going to be behind schedule and over budget.

Now I don't know that for a fact, but signs are pointing in that direction. The Riel Converter Station was anticipated to be operational by 2014. That gives them 4.5 months to get this thing up and running, and the things that I'm hearing suggest that it is nowhere close.

One problem: one of the lead contractors, Comstock Canada, has declared bankruptcy. Because of its financial woes it failed to pay subcontractors working on the Riel project, and some of those subcontractors understandably stopped working. Comstock owes creditors almost $76 million dollars, ranging from $200 for Windsor Plywood to $3.7 million for Crown Utilities Ltd (which itself has been involved in probably unrelated lawsuits with Manitoba Hydro as recently as 2010.)

With the subcontractors off the job, aspects of the Riel project ground to a halt until eventually Hydro agreed to pay the subcontractors directly. Of course, when one part of a very complex project falls behind schedule, it normally impacts everything else because of overlapping dependencies between the various workstreams. In short, this whole Comstock issue has been very unhelpful.

By the way, Comstock has other troubles too -- it is embroiled in a $50 million lawsuit with Potash Corp and AMEC Americas over a failed project in New Brunswick. Potash Corp terminated their contract because they didn't get their work completed on time or on budget, or to the satisfaction of Potash Corp and AMEC.

Comstock meanwhile claims that Potash Corp and AMEC made life difficult for them by changing requirements all the time. Comstock therefore had no choice but to "perform its work out of sequence, in an 'inefficient' and 'unproductive manner'".

Perhaps it's no coincidence that work on the Riel Station is being performed in an inefficient and unproductive manner.

It is apparently commonplace on that project for work to be repeated or changed on the fly because of poor planning and coordination. For example, concrete will be poured, then it will be torn up because cabling needs to be installed underneath the concrete. Mistakes will happen on a large project, but that sort of thing is happening a lot more than it should on this Riel project.

I can't say if one particular entity is responsible for the poor work flow and mistakes that are made in the construction of this station, I just know that it's not going well, and ultimately it's Manitoba Hydro's responsibility to ensure its projects are properly managed.

I wonder what the new target date and projected cost is for this project...

Monday 5 August 2013

The City of Winnipeg: Can't it do anything right?

There is this thing called Water Wednesdays. I'm not sure how it started or exactly what it is, but I've see people tweeting about #WaterWednesday on Twitter for the past several weeks. From the 2 minutes and 40 seconds of research that I did, I have deduced that it involves weekly gatherings over the summer in Memorial Park aimed at promoting water stewardship.

Well, I am happy to proclaim that I am doing my part. At least I am trying to...

I have a small vegetable garden in my yard.

Proof: Beans from my garden

My intention has been to water it, not with a garden hose, but with rain water collected in my rain barrel.

The rain barrel I got from one of those mad one-day sales that the City of Winnipeg holds every spring. In an effort to encourage sustainable living practices, the city sells rain collection barrels and compost bins at a discount, but only for one day a year and at a few locations around the city. This results in massive lines as people wait, hoping the barrels and bins don't run out before they get their chance to buy one. If you miss your chance to get one that morning, you have to wait another whole year for the next sale (or go to a store and buy one for regular price, but honestly, who would do that?)

I was fortunately able to score a rain barrel in one of these sales, but here's the thing: it's a piece of shit.

A few days after a good solid rain this spring I went to draw water from the barrel, but there was none to be drawn. It was empty. How can that be, I thought. Then after the next rain I tried again, and again it was empty.

The problem: a big crack in the base of the barrel.

I was able to find time on a weekend some weeks later to wash out the barrel and fix the crack using some "fix-all" type of glue that I have.

That problem was resolved and the rain barrel once again filled up with water. And then one morning about a week later as I was walking to the garage, I saw this:

The weeds next to my rain barrel are doing very well this year.

If you can't make out the image, it is water gushing out of the side of my rain barrel.

I could fix this leak too, but the barrel is only 2 years old. How many more leaks will there be in year 3, 4 or 5? In addition, the lid to the barrel is cracking from UV damage and the overflow hose is getting brittle and cracking as well.

At first I blamed myself. Maybe I mistreated it somehow. Maybe I was supposed to rub lotion on it every morning to protect it from the sun or something. I was full of regret for having neglected this barrel in some way, until I found out that somebody else I know with the same City of Winnipeg rain barrel had the same sort of cracks appear in theirs as well.

From this, I can only conclude that the rain barrels are pieces of crap.

The city's heart might be in the right place when they hold their annual barrel and bin sale, but their execution is flawed, firstly by making it such a pain in the ass to get one, and secondly by selling faulty barrels.

This Wednesday, as you pause to reflect on our sustainable use of water, ponder this: the rain barrels that the city is selling us to conserve water and preserve the environment are all going to end up in a landfill as big plastic pieces of junk that never did their job.

Sunday 21 July 2013

Zipper Merge

So I was driving recently on the freeway in Saskatoon and ... oh wait ... maybe I should explain for those of you who have never driven in a city besides Winnipeg: a "freeway" is a road with no stoplights where you can drive at highway speeds. Saskatoon, a city one third the population of Winnipeg, has one. It's called Circle Drive.

As I was saying ... I was driving on Circle Drive in Saskatoon when I approached a construction project to extend the freeway to the west. That's when I saw it: a sign that said "ZIPPER MERGE AHEAD".

source: http://ckom.com/story/circle-drive-millar-back-normal/110318
The concept is simple: drivers are to stay in their lane until the point at which one of them ends, and then they are to take turn merging -- one from the left, one from the right -- like a zipper.

I quite like it.

It's a nice alternative to the situation that we normally encounter here in Winnipeg. That is, the majority of drivers all pile into the single lane that is continuing, causing a huge backup in traffic. Then a minority of drivers zip ahead and cut in at the front of the line or somewhere close to it.

There are a couple of problems with this, one being that it creates an unnecessarily long traffic queue, another being that it causes animosity among drivers. The drivers who get in line right at the start of the queue and wait patiently as the line trudges along resent the selfish nimrods who zip past them in the empty lane and cut in at the front.

But why should you get in line half a mile before the construction starts when there is a perfectly good lane that can legally take you right up to the merge zone? That isn't rational.

I've been on both sides. Sometimes I get in line, and when I do I get annoyed at those who don't. Depending on what kind of mood I'm in that day, I may even do my best to keep them from merging in front of me. Sometimes, if I'm in an unusually pissy mood, or if the guy trying to merge is driving a pickup truck with a license plate that says "GORJUS" and is wearing a ball cap backwards (I have seen this), I'll even tease them by leaving space for him to merge and then closing up to the car in front of me at the last second, and then I'll go extra slow to give the guy behind me a chance to close up behind me too.

That's how I roll.

However, sometimes I'm the douche bag who zips up the empty lane, although in my head I say to myself "Oops, is this lane closing off? Gosh, I hadn't noticed. I guess I ought to merge over here at some point." -- as if I can telepathically communicate to the drivers waiting in the queue that I didn't mean to drive up the empty lane, it's just that I didn't notice the construction signs. Silly me.

However, I won't drive right to the front of the line because that would be rude, and it would negate the little excuse that I made for myself that I only inadvertently failed to get in line.

This is all normal behaviour, right? Good. Just checking.

Sometimes those who set up the construction sites make it worse than it needs to be. For example, the signage for the construction on the Pembina overpass on the south Perimeter Highway in Winnipeg begins more than 2 kilometers in advance of the lane closure, with signs that warn you that there is a lane closure ahead and the speed limit is reducing to 70 km/h. As a result, most drivers pull over into the right hand lane and slow down to 70 km/h on the highway so far in advance of the construction that you can't even see where the construction begins.


In writing this blog post, I found out that the zipper merge is a new thing for Saskatoon. They only started to experiment with it in May, because, as one person put it, "People have been so bad historically in this city anyway on road construction and merging that anything might improve it".

Saskatoon borrowed the idea from the state of Minnesota, a pioneer in the zipper merge revolution, and so far they have found that it works quite well. My own experience with it was pretty good. I mean, about as good as merging at a road construction site can be. It's not comparable to, say, a full-body hot oil massage, but you know ... it wasn't painful.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation says that the zipper merge "has proven to help traffic flow by decreasing queue lengths as much as 35 percent" and "reduced lane-changing conflicts and sudden-stop crashes."

However, even in Minnesota not everyone is an advocate. One blogger: "I get how the zipper merge is supposed to work, the problem is the people who don’t. ... The zipper merge is going to be this century’s conversion to the metric system in the ’70s. Great idea, made perfect sense, and was dead on arrival."

Much like a roundabout, I don't know how you could fail to understand how it works. Having never experienced such a thing before, I found it exceedingly easy to understand. Mind you, I have underestimated the stupidity of other drivers before.

Even if some people don't catch on to the concept of a zipper, I think it's worth trying out here in Winnipeg because it eliminates the dilemma of deciding between two bad options: burn 5 minutes of your life in a line of cars, or be rude and selfish by cruising to the front of the queue.

Taking turns is something we're taught to do as little kids. As adults driving cars it shouldn't be that hard.

Monday 8 July 2013

Winnipeg Trails: The old and the new

Introducing Winnipeg's newest active transportation trail:

looking north
The trail joins Beaverhill Blvd in the Niakwa neighbourhood to the north with Bishop Gandin Blvd to the south, near the intersection with Royalwood's Shorehill Drive.

looking south towards Bishop Grandin
bridge over stormy water ditch
The path is called Shorehill Trail. It was paved and functional about two weeks ago and is currently undergoing some finishing touches. The provincially funded strip of 4-meter wide asphalt was budgeted at $720,000. At less than 300 meters long this new trail is not cheap, at almost $2500 per meter.

A large part of the cost is due to the bridge spanning the storm water ditch that runs along Bishop Grandin. The bridge seems over-engineered for a walking/biking trail to me. Workers have been building that bridge or whatever you want to call it for several months, and have constructed it much like a road bridge over a creek. Installing a prefabricated walking bridge likely would have cost a fraction of the half-million dollars or so that this thing cost, but perhaps they want it to be able to support vehicular traffic -- an ambulance in emergency situations, for example, or an escape route for Niakwanians trapped by a derailed crude oil train.

The primary purpose of this path is to allow kids to safely walk from their homes in Royalwood to schools in Southdale. Previously they would take a shortcut through the ditch or walk along the railway tracks if there was water in the ditch. Somebody who grew up in a small prairie town might say: 'what's the big deal? Just don't go on the tracks if a train is coming.' But I guess there is a new safety standard these days. Everyone is all like 'don't go on the tracks' or 'wear your helmet' or 'don't play with the guns'. Where will it stop? I don't know but I won't complain because this new path personally benefits me.

I run. I bike. I rollerblade. I use the trails in Winnipeg all the time, and I would love to see a network of functional paths connecting the city, allowing people to get around with minimal interaction with traffic, if such a thing is feasible. They need to be functional and well designed though. (Note: a two-meter wide path with a red-light camera stuck in the middle of it is neither ...)

We've made great strides in the past 5 years, but much like Winnipeg's roads, old trails crumble as new ones are built.
painful memories
This photo shows the approximate location of The Incident last week whereby my rollerblade wheels jammed in a crack in the path, slinging me down into the concrete, splitting open the end of my finger and gouging out a gruesome wound in my knee that could take months to heal.

This nameless path is less than half a kilometer from the spiffy new trail shown earlier. Sometimes older cracked paths are repaired temporarily with tar that gets soft and sticky in the sun and the heat. Sometimes paths -- those that are forgotten or deemed less important -- are simply left to break apart. Rarely is a path torn up and redone (although I have seen one example lately).

Even trails that were built only a few years ago have large cracks running through them. This is a reminder that, like our roads, we need to be able to maintain and occasionally rebuild the new infrastructure in addition to the existing stuff. As the network grows, this cost will grow too. It's not slowing down either, as new developments like Bridgwater Forest incorporate trail accessibility into their neighbourhood design.
source: http://www.winnipegtrails.ca
All this trail building seems to be paying off. More people are biking to work than ever before, and even more are using the trails for exercise and recreation. It's a good thing. However, trails will never replace roads in a town like Winnipeg. They instead constitute a duplicate network of infrastructure. Your MLA may secure provincial funding to build a new path in your area, and pose for a picture in your local Canstar paper ... all of which is fine ... but where will the money for the upkeep come from down the road?

All things considered, I think Winnipeg Trails Public Works is doing a pretty good job. It can't be easy to stay on top of repairs to existing trails as all these new ones get built. However, the challenge for the city will be to ensure these hundreds of kms of paths are kept in good shape, and don't end up like this:


Tuesday 2 July 2013

Reston flood update - with pictures

I don't know what's happening with the weather these days, but man, the Gods must be mad about something. Heat waves and massive tornadoes are killing people in the US, and here in Canada it's flooding all over.

Of course everybody knows about the disastrous flooding in Alberta, but recently a pair of freakish storms swept over Reston Manitoba dumping 10 inches of rain in 2 days. I stopped by Reston on my way back to Winnipeg from Saskatchewan to check things out. Here is my report:


Hi. Cherenkov here reporting from Reston. As you can see, most of the water has receded from the town, but there is still a lot of work to be done to get things back to normal.

Reston Golf Course - Hole #1
Roughly half the houses in this town have been flooded. Many basements were destroyed, and the foundations of some older houses have crumbled, likely requiring the the houses to be demolished and rebuilt. As of Friday, water continued to rush through the ditches towards town, and pumps were running constantly to drain low-lying areas.

Pumpin' Water

Like most disasters, this was a story of a community coming together to help each other. Families, teenagers, friends of residents, and people who weren't even connected to the town, came to help.

Mennonites from southwest Manitoba descended on the town to help however they could. Some of them were still there on Friday when I visited. They are good folk, those Mennonites. Well ... most of them.

As all the basements were torn apart and emptied onto the streets, volunteers drove around and picked up the garbage, hauling it to a temporary dump at the old elementary school where it was sorted out into giant piles.

I know one young man who, with his friends and some others, hauled in rocks to shore up Highway 2 to prevent it from getting washed out. Highway 2 was acting as a dike, holding back water that was building up on the north side of the road. Although water was rushing over the highway, if the road had collapsed the situation would have been much worse.

Note that it was residents and friends who protected the town and shored up the highway -- not the province. Sure, the Premier drove out five days later and toured the area for a photo op, but I've heard that the town and municipality have been on their own to deal with the situation. I do expect, however, that some disaster assistance will be coming their way at some point. We all know how good the province is about doling out flood compensation.

The damage wasn't limited to houses. The CP Rail line through town was washed out.
Rail line on western edge of town
This is a minor line that dead-ends not far into Saskatchewan, and it would not be a surprise if CPR shuts it down rather than repairing it. If so, that would be a blow to the grain elevator in town that was purchased and reopened by some local farmers.

It will take a while for everything to get fixed. If another big storms rolls through I'm not sure what will happen, but them country folk are resilient.

Friday 14 June 2013

We're gonna need a bigger bus.

Thank God for preseason games, is all I can say after Wednesday night. There are a lot of bugs to work out in the Bombers' new system.

I'm talking about the transportation scheme (although the Bombers' on-field game, um ...,  has a few holes as well).  I'm sure it looked great on paper, but holy smokes ...

There were two main busing options from my neighbourhood: the special Bomber Blue & Gold Express, and a regularly scheduled University bus. There were two Express buses scheduled, but I wanted to get to the stadium early so I could wander around and check things out, so I left the house almost an hour and a half before the game to catch a regular bus.

Ya, good thinking there cherenkov ... the bus I wanted to catch was 25 minutes late, and when it came it was packed full and I couldn't get on. I would have been no better off waiting for the Express ... there was a line-up of 60 people when I walked by there, and this was stop number 2 on the route. Only about half were able to get on the first Express bus. The bus driver then proceeded on it's route to pick-up point number 3 knowing full well that he wouldn't be able to pick anybody up.

Anyhow, I finally got to the stadium, but a good 10 minutes late for kickoff. I would have missed more of the game had I not gotten off the bus at Pembina Hwy and walked the rest of the way. You see, this is a two-pronged problem: a lack of buses and massive traffic bottle necks. From my perch up in the nose bleed section of the the new ball park, I could see buses lined up on University Crescent right up to the end of the first quarter, when this photo was taken:

Bus Math

I can't help but think a little math would have gone a long way in ensuring sufficient bus service to the stadium. The stadium holds about 30,000 people. There are 5,500 parking spots at the stadium. (I heard there were problems with the parking too, but I won't get into that.) If we assume two people per car, that's 11,000 people parking, leaving 19,000 other people who have to get to the ball park some way.

The Bombers asked people to take the bus, and people took the bus. Winnipeg Transit said they accounted for 5000 people taking the bus but that 8500 people actually did take transit (or attempted to?).

I don't know why they only accounted for 5000 people when 19,000 people needed to get to the stadium and no on-street parking is available in the area. But even if only 5000 people were to take the bus, I don't think they had that covered. Most Winnipeg Transit buses seat 38 people, so let's say 60 people cram on a bus in total. The transit plan had 45 total Express buses for game day service -- the Blue & Gold Express and the Park & Ride Super Express. 45 x 60 = 2700 people. This barely covers half of the passengers that they anticipated.

They also had extra service on the 161 route from downtown, the last of which was optimistically scheduled to leave the U of W at 6:20 and get to the stadium 10 minutes before kick-off. There was no other extra service from any other areas of the city, leaving people to rely on the minimal Express service or the overloaded regular University buses.

Anyhow, they will no doubt add more buses for the home opener later this month, which may solve problem #1: not enough buses, but it doesn't solve problem #2: massive gridlock. In fact, it may make it worse.

I can't help but point out at this stage that had our waffling leaders put rapid transit in place before the stadium was built this might not have been such a big problem.

So what's a person to do? I thought I might bike next time, but even the volunteer-driven bike valet was overwhelmed.

It is a conundrum...

I have thoughts on the new Investors Group Stadium too, but those will have to wait for another day. I'll just say this: it is very nice in some ways, but there are still some big shortfalls including congestion problems within the concourse. But hey, the Rum Hut made it over to the new place!

Monday 10 June 2013

Gordon Bell's Field of Reality

Monday June 10 at 10:30am, there were be an official unveiling of the new "Field of Dreams" for Gordon Bell High School.

I wrote a few blog posts about this particular project back when it was starting, and I have to admit that I was not entirely supportive. Much of that has to do with the way in which the project came about. This piece of real estate on the edge of downtown was vacated by a car dealership in February of 2007. Canada Post bought the land over half a year later, in November of 2007, and had already designed a facility to fit the unique area when the movement to turn the area into green space began in September of 2008 with this Free Press editorial by Nancy Chippendale.

In the wake of the Upper Fort Garry debacle, where a highrise apartment development was toppled very late in the game by the 'Friends of Upper Fort Garry' to make room for an expensive and unnecessary interpretive centre, I was not sympathetic to additional efforts to replace in-progress development with supposed green space.

However, I have slowly come around and I'm willing to acknowledge that this Field of Dreams concept is mostly a good thing. After all, there are several important differences between this project and the Upper Fort Garry SNAFU.

  1. The land was vacant for a much shorter period of time. There was a year and a half between the closure of the dealership and the start of the movement to build a recreation field on the site. It takes a bit of time for people to recognize an opportunity and get organized, so this is not unreasonable. By contrast, the area on which the UFG interpretive centre is supposed to be built was a little-used parking lot for as long as I can remember. It was only when a developer saw the value of the land and decided to make use of it that the "Friends" jumped in to "save" it.
  2. The Field of Dreams movement was a grass roots movement, driven by the community to fulfill an actual need in the community. By contrast, the UFG project is the work of an elite, wealthy cabal to build something that is not needed by anyone.
  3. The Field of Dreams is achievable and affordable. It wasn't cheap -- the bill will reach close to $7 million or perhaps more, including land purchase -- but with fundraising by students, an actual desire for the project and will to make it happen, things eventually fell into place. By contrast, the Upper Fort Garry project is unaffordable, and will probably never be completed as planned. A park on the foot print of the old fort will indeed be built, but it would have been built in any event, in some form or another, with or without the Friends of Upper Fort Garry. However the elaborate plans that the Friends have cooked up for the park still require an extra $3 million to finish, and then they have to raise another $5 million or so for the interpretive centre which is the specific part of the project that the residential development was killed for. That money will be very hard to come by, when there are so many other causes that provide community benefit or greater exposure for donors. That is why the site is still a parking lot, and it will remain a parking lot for the foreseeable future.
So I guess I was wrong to look at the Field of Dreams project in the same light as Upper Fort Garry, and it's nice to see it actually come about.


The design of the actual site is quite nice, and fairly true to the original diagram by Scatliff Miller Murray (h/t MrC):
The field is not unidirectional as shown above, but a compact soccer-type field with two goal lines. Otherwise it comes pretty much as advertised.

It should be noted that although a standard high school soccer field could fit in this space, as I showed in that previous post, they chose not to do that. Instead they opted for a north-south orientation in the middle of the space, which is an elegant design with the circular track around it, but it necessitates a smaller field.

About that track ... it is quite narrow, so there will be no racing around it. It also merges with the sidewalk at one point which is certainly less than ideal.

This is a park where, to some degree, function was sacrificed for form.

However this is mostly nit-picking. Compared to what the students of Gordon Bell had before (i.e. nothing), this is a fabulous facility. I hope they get good use out of it, and I hope that my car insurance premiums don't go up too much because of soccer balls flying onto Portage Avenue and causing accidents.

Thursday 16 May 2013

A good sign for Winnipeg's condo market

Back in February I gave a preview of floor plans and prices for the Glass House condos that will rise across the street from the MTS Centre in Winnipeg. With condos the size of a shipping container selling for a minimum of $170k and units less than 800 square feet selling for upwards of $350,000 with a parking stall, you could say I was skeptical.

"I hope the market is there, but I don't know that it is" I wrote.

Well, now I know ...

There was a preview of the condos this past weekend in City Place where an actual condo space was constructed in the mall for people to experience in the flesh (or drywall).

This preview event was delayed by two months. It was initially supposed to be at the end of February or beginning of March, but that's okay because the extra time was well spent: All of the condo floor plans were completely redesigned.

This is good. I was critical of the long corridors and wasted space in the original designs, as well as the tiny kitchen areas. The kitchens are still tiny, but the floor plans in general are much better. They have reduced the number of units per floor from 14 to 11 so the average size is larger, and the layouts are more open, more creative and most have less wasted space.

A good example is condo b1. In the old layout this space was occupied by two units, but with a stairwell on one side and elevator on the other, both units had narrow hallways leading into a cramped living space. In this layout, they took that space between the stairwell and elevator and turned it into a usable den or sitting area.

As mentioned, the kitchens are still small. In the display unit last weekend I measured the total counter space at 49", broken up into 3 sections. In reality there was more like 3' of usable counter space. A person could upgrade with an island in the kitchen, but then you would lose the space for your table. This is probably not a bad option for a condo lifestyle though.

Nevertheless, the suite looked quite nice. The materials and finishings, which were standard trim, looked of good quality, and the 9' walls gave an open feel to the rooms (as did the lack of a ceiling).

The $3000 Francisco Nunez paintings didn't hurt either. The demo pad was really a miniature art gallery, with every room festooned with artwork from Gurevich Fine Art

All of this probably helped contribute to what I would call an impressive first two days of sales. There was a board mapping out all available condos, with red dots indicating those that had been sold. A super quick count showed that as of early Sunday afternoon, close to 40% had already been snapped up. I don't know what Longboat was hoping for, but that's pretty good in my books.

This is a hopeful sign, as downtown Winnipeg continues to fight its way forward towards a future as a livable urban area. There are big plans afoot for additional condos right in the core area, including Fortress Real Development's proposal for a 30-ish storey condo tower on Graham Ave. and another "residential project to be announced in the near future" by the Artis-Longboat team that's building the Glass House condos. This is in addition to the Heritage Landing and Sandhu condo towers already in progress on Assiniboine Avenue and the continued development on Waterfront drive.

If Longboat is successful in selling most of its 209 Glass House condo units, as expensive as they are, that will encourage other downtown residential developments to proceed. That in turn may encourage a real grocery store to open up downtown and things may begin to snowball until we actually have a moderately dense and vibrant core area!

Perhaps I'm reading too much into a two day sales blitz for a single project. I think the changes to Manitoba's liquor laws and the prospect of little pubs and music joints has me in a dreamy state of optimism that will abruptly end the next time somebody gets stabbed for a case of beer in downtown Winnipeg.

Sunday 5 May 2013

Jane's Walk - Point Douglas

A few photos from today's Jane's Walk with Rob Galston.

The start ..
Great attendance on a gorgeous day!

Vulcan Iron Works

Barber House

... these windows belong to the Indigenous Cultural Education Center

Yellow house!

This year is the first year that I've done this Jane's walk thing. I'm glad I did .. they're a great way to learn about some areas of the city that you might not normally spend time in, see some new things, and hear some interesting stories while getting in a nice leisurely walk.

Saturday 4 May 2013

Jane's Walk - The West End

Just a few pictures from today's Jane's Walk of the West End with host Christian Cassidy.

Our host ..

The West End Cultural Centre.
It was a good turnout ... about 50 people.

West End Commons
a.k.a. St. Matthew's Anglican Church

This is a building of many purposes:
church, community resource centre, and soon affordable housing

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