2014 blog summary… not nearly enough. More next year, I hope!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.  I’ve barely blogged this year… I really need to change that for next year!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 60 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The trouble with sexual assault (trigger warnings, also graphic content)

I’ve been trying to put this into words for several days now, ever since the Jian Ghomeshi story [link is to the most comprehensive, not the first, news story] broke this week.

People ask, time and time again, why victims don’t report. How these things happen over and over again, with little or no consequences for the perpetrator. I was left wondering last night what could have happened differently to stop this.

I’ll leave the broader, more technical, analysis to the countless experts out there.  Some good reading on what happens when victims do report is here, and a very personal account from a Twitter-friend is here.  I’ll also point out, as was reminded to me when I posed the question via social media of how this could have been stopped, that at least one woman did report it, which only made matters worse.

All I can bring to this table is to share my own experience.  I’m sure I’ve shared this story with some friends over the years, but never in a public space online.  It was so long ago now, and is admittedly somewhat repressed, so the details are missing – but they don’t matter here.

Years ago, probably about a decade ago now, since it was before I lived in Toronto, I came into the city to attend a friend’s party.  He’d offered me his couch to sleep on in advance, so I was comfortable drinking and not having to drive or find another way home at a late hour.  I don’t really remember anything in particular about the party, only that I had enough to drink that I wouldn’t drive home, and that by the time everyone left I was a little drunk, and very tired.  Another friend of the friend I was staying with decided that, even though he didn’t live far away, he too was going to crash on this friend’s couch.  I recall him flirting with me earlier in the evening, but not much more.  I don’t remember if I flirted back, but knowing myself at that time I probably did.

The couch was a sectional, so we could both sleep perpendicular to one another, with only minimal bumping.  I made it clear that I was exhausted and going straight to sleep.  He had other things on his mind.  He asked if we could cuddle, and I reiterated that I really just wanted to sleep.  After he climbed over to my half of the couch I said ‘fine’ but that I was going to sleep and it was his problem if I snored in his face.  Despite my lack of interest, and lack of permission, he wouldn’t stop touching me, and began touching himself, eventually grabbing my hand to touch him as well.  No amount of “I really just want to sleep” got him to stop, and I eventually gave in and got him off with my hand just to get it over with so I could get some sleep.  When one of the women in the Star article talked about doing things with Ghomeshi “just to get out of there,” I was immediately brought back to this moment.

I didn’t agree to it, and I didn’t enjoy it – I just knew it was the only way to avoid him going even further, possibly after I went to sleep.  I guess an advantage of being a man is I know how men work – most guys won’t make the effort anymore after they’ve gotten off, and this was easier than spending the next few hours saying ‘no’ over and over again or risking him doing something to me in my sleep.  We didn’t really say much the next morning, and I’ve only crossed paths with him a few times since, when neither of us have acted like anything was unusual.

I never said anything to him about it, and I never said anything to our mutual friend whose couch we were on and who was none the wiser.  I avoided this person for awhile, but our circles of friends didn’t overlap much, so it wasn’t really much effort.  The idea of “reporting” never even crossed my mind. Which brings me back to the original question – why not?  This was technically sexual assault.

In part, I didn’t think about it because I knew that, if I’d tried harder I could’ve been more successful at avoiding him.  I could have gotten up and walked away, despite my inebriation.  I had the means to pay for a taxi to get home, even if it meant adding it to my student loan.  I knew that if I said anything at that point, the immediate question would be why I didn’t just get up and walk away.  To this day, I still don’t know the answer to that question, though I doubt the alcohol helped my judgment.

The other big thing that comes to mind is that, by contrast to so many more ‘serious’ incidents, this was about the most mild form of sexual assault I could imagine – I used the word ‘technically’ above for that reason.  Compared to the allegations against Ghomeshi, this was nothing.  And compared to the crimes of people like Paul Bernardo (having grown up in St. Catharines, he’s never far from mind when this topic comes up), even the allegations against Ghomeshi are practically nothing.  There’s always someone in a worse situation when it comes to sexual assault, and what happened to me is incredibly trivial by comparison.

Lastly, there’s that nagging feeling of being the one responsible for it. Regardless of the lack of consent, the fact that there was flirting or some consensual activity preceding it makes it really hard to vilify the other party.  “I got myself into this” is always there in the background… not to mention how unpleasant the notion of turning in someone you actually kind of liked is.

So, it’s been this many years, and I still won’t be “reporting” this person.  At this point, I don’t even remember his name.  So I can empathize with all those who have not made their own reports.  Even if I now feel torn up and have questioned over and over whether I was one of many, like is alleged in the Ghomeshi case, or just a drunken fluke.  I can only hope that we can change our culture to prevent these things from happening in the first place – so no one is ever put in the position of having to even consider such things.

Email to Mayor and Council about Roundabouts

This evening, in an incident that has happened countless times before, I had a near-collision with a car while cycling on the 10th Avenue bike route.  I don’t recall the exact intersection (I believe it was Prince Albert), but I was headed Eastbound and approached a roundabout.  There was no traffic (bicycle or car) in the roundabout, and no one coming to my left.  I headed straight through – I would guess at around 20 or 25 km/h given that I was going downhill.  This is still well under the speed limit of 30km/h on this road.

As I was travelling through the roundabout, a Northbound car approached on my right.  Rather than a) recognising that one is required to yield to traffic in roundabouts (the BC government has a lovely little page on this) or b) looking up and realising that driving straight through would involve hitting a cyclist, this car just kept driving anyway.  I was able to brake and swerve to avoid hitting her car (or being sideswiped by her), but then she stopped in the roundabout and had to carefully manoeuvre around me to keep going.

In my frustration I yelled out “what are you doing?!” because I honestly had no idea – she seemed uncertain as to whether she was going to continue or stop and let me through.  She responded with “it’s not your turn!”  The fact that this was her response suggested to me she had no idea how roundabouts work.  They don’t involve “turns” – they always involve yielding to whomever is in the roundabout.  Period.  You wait until it’s clear, then you go.

While the complete incompetence of Vancouver drivers is pretty common, and to be expected, I have to think at least part of this is connected to the way the road communicates to them.  I took this photo shortly before moving to Vancouver:

Just so I'm clear- are these roundabouts or do you make left turns to the left of them?

 

If you click through to the Flickr page it’s on, you’ll see by the caption that I was just as confused when I first saw them.  These signs do not mean roundabout.  And yet the City of Vancouver uses them on virtually every single roundabout in the city.  I’ve heard somewhere that the difference is that these are “traffic calming circles” and not “roundabouts,” but frankly the wording is academic only – this has no meaning when it comes to how they are used.

So, I wrote the following email to Mayor and Council.  I sincerely hope something is done, because the way people behave around these things right now is incredibly dangerous.

Mayor and council,

After the most recent in a long string of near-collisions in this city’s roundabouts, I’ve had enough. I think roundabouts are an excellent traffic management tool and I don’t believe the city should get rid of them. I do, however, strongly believe city needs to do a heck of a lot more to tell people how they’re supposed to use them.

Besides a public education campaign, I think the number one thing the city needs to do is adopt standard signage. Vancouver is the only place in the world I’ve ever seen “bear right” signs to signify a roundabout. If we all bear right without yielding, we crash into one another – that’s kind of how it works. In case you aren’t familiar with what I’m saying, the BC government’s Graphic Sign Index that includes this sign (item number R-014-R) is here: http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/publications/eng_publications/signs/2010_Catalogue/Standard_Traffic_Signs/Regulatory_Signs.pdf. It refers to this sign (in the index) as “Median symbol (keep) RIGHT ARROW.” This does NOT signify to anyone how they are actually supposed to behave at such an intersection, or who has the right of way.

Everywhere else I’ve travelled, including virtually every other municipality in the Lower Mainland, uses a sign similar to Rb-R-502-T in the BC Roundabout Signs Index (http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/publications/eng_publications/signs/2010_Catalogue/Standard_Traffic_Signs/Roundabout_Signs.pdf). This clearly signifies to all road users that they are to yield to traffic in the roundabout. I have often seen such signs in combination with something like Rb-W-500 to show the direction of traffic flow (many road users, especially cyclists, turn left against traffic through these, suggesting they don’t realise how they should navigate these intersections at all).

I would like to see council adopt a motion that mandates the usage of these signs universally throughout the City of Vancouver to signify roundabouts or traffic circles. A limited number of roundabouts in the city use these signs (though often in combination with the bear right one, which is even more confusing); I see no reason they can’t all be used this way.

Before I get a response that these are “traffic calming circles” and not “roundabouts,” the distinction is completely meaningless when one is travelling around one of these things and someone decides to drive or cycle directly in front of you (or side-swipe you). If the rules are the same, the size of island in the middle of the circle should not change the signage or communication made by the city. These are universally (outside of Vancouver) used and perceived as roundabouts, and it should be communicated to road users that this is what they are. The next time I’m cut off in one of these might be my last, and that’s not a result anyone wants.

Thank you,

Neal Jennings

 

 

How to cycle straight across Hornby on Helmcken going Westbound, in 7 easy steps.

How to cycle straight across Hornby on Helmcken going Westbound, in 7 easy steps.

5 months ago, I emailed the City of Vancouver to ask about how I was supposed to cross Hornby Street Westbound on a bicycle when riding on Helmcken. At that corner, Helmcken is right-turn-only, and there is a protected bike lane on the left side of Helmcken on the other side of Hornby. The city, just now, replied with the following instructions.

1. Turn right on Hornby into the bile lane, reposition your bicycle and wait for the light
2. Proceed into the bike box in the intersection of Hornby & Helmcken
3. Wait for the light then proceed into the separated bike lane on Helmcken st.

By my count, this is actually 7 steps (and three full cycles of the traffic light)! 7 steps to continue in the same direction on a road!! None of which is marked in any way at the intersection.

Email to TransLink Commission on the YVR AddFare

I mentioned in a previous post a number of Compass Fare Hikes set to take place with the rollout of the new smart card in the Vancouver area.  At the time, I questioned  TransLink’s legal interpretation of the Commission’s ruling in 2009 about non-cash fares not being subject to the YVR AddFare.

On December 23rd, TransLink quietly applied to the admission to get their approval for this change.  I guess they realised the error in their ways.  If they’d be honest about this for the rest of their fare hikes, that would be wonderful.  Anyways, here is my email to the Commission.

Hello,

I’m writing with respect to the proposed additional AddFare at YVR stations. I was hoping to refer to your previous decision on this topic, but the commission has conveniently deleted from your website all the relevant documents linked from the page about the decision here: http://www.translinkcommission.org/html/yvr_add_fare_decision.html . I will thus go from memory as best possible.

First, I’m thankful TransLink has finally decided to put this issue to the Commission, as their initial communications have all suggested they would simply be implementing this fare increase because they believed they had the right to do so under the original agreement. I believe that TransLink has been incredibly dishonest about this and other fare changes and I almost want to oppose this on principle. The new double-fare for those who pay cash on buses is another example of this. This type of dishonest approach to fares risks losing faith in the transit system that many Lower Mainlanders are very proud of, and the Commission has an opportunity here to show that the public will truly be represented, regardless of poor decisions made by TransLink management.

Next, I must say that the answers provided in the document titled “Information Requested by the Regional Transportation Commission” are wholly unsatisfactory. In many cases, management hasn’t even bothered to answer your questions. It is as if management expect the Commission to simply rubber stamp whatever it asks for, rather than treating this as a serious process of public engagement.

The answer to question c, in particular, doesn’t answer most of the question. What it does say, though, is telling. The AddFare program has been a total failure in coming up with revenue for TransLink, bringing in over $5million less than anticipated. This doesn’t appear to be an effective revenue tool. This could be a result of the Commission denying TransLink the ability to charge the AddFare on FareSavers initially. But adding it to Compass card charges isn’t going to remedy the problem, as demonstrated by the numbers presented by management in question d.

Speaking of question d, I find the rationale fascinating. TransLink has chosen to move forward with Compass cards, which will result in an effective fare increase for those who used FareSavers or cash before due to the discount rates applied to prepaid cards and the problem with transferring from buses to trains. And yet at the same time, TransLink and is complaining that its own decision is going to lose it $1.4 million as a result of it being so successful!! This is illogical for a number of reasons, the biggest one being that the effective fare paid by someone with a stored-value card as opposed to a FareSaver will be higher system-wide. Next, people using FareSavers currently at YVR stations are not going to cause losses (since if you decide against this change, we aren’t paying it now and won’t pay it in future). Only people who currently use cash and will eventually use Compass cards will cause a reduction in the AddFare revenues. Why should FareSaver users (who provide significant financing to TransLink through interest-free loans) be punished for this? And is it really plausible that people who are currently paying cash at YVR station will switch to prepaid Compass cards at the same rate as people paying cash elsewhere in the system? Such people are likely to be travellers in town for the first time (who will be unlikely to already have purchased a fare before arriving at the station), or people who use transit so infrequently that they don’t even buy FareSavers. Even if these people have the ability to buy prepaid Compass cards at the airport somewhere before getting to the station, they will be paying $6 just to obtain the card (which can’t be used towards their fare) – which is more than the AddFare!! This will mean a one-way trip into the city for such a person will cost them $6 + $4 x 86% + $5 = $14.44 after applying the 14% discount! I highly doubt such users will “switch” to stored value Compass cards over cash (would would yield a $9 fare, being $4 for two zones plus the $5 AddFare) based on this cost!! Even without the AddFare, it will be cheaper to pay cash of $9 than to pay $9.44 to buy a Compass card with enough value to get them into the city. If anything, this is a great way to encourage people to take taxis, which I suspect is not the goal of the Commission.

Finally, I’ve noticed that none of management’s answers to your questions come with any sort of backup or support. For example, they say “most” travelers from YVR will be air travelers, without any studies to support this. They have provided no explanation for how much administration of this new “exemption” program will cost, and whether it will even come close to being paid for by the nominal amount of additional revenue this whole scheme is trying to earn. If this increase is to be approved, the public should be able to see a logical and evidence-based analysis to support it.

If TransLink is trying to encourage people to take public transport to and from the airport, and is trying to encourage people to use the Compass card, then I strongly believe this is not the way to do it. Applying the AddFare to day passes and stored value cards gives visitors and residents alike a disincentive for taking transit. For many visitors, the Canada Line is the first experience of transit they have in our city – if that experience is marred by perceived gouging, they may choose not to take transit in the rest of their stay. I think this would be a terrible result, and I strongly oppose this proposal.

Sincerely,

Neal Jennings

 

My 2013 WordPress year in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.  Apparently I didn’t write much this year. I should rectify that for next year.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,800 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Open letter to TransLink on Compass Fare Hikes

Dear TransLink,

I’m writing about what I’ve decided to call the Compass Fare Hikes.  You don’t call them that, but more on that in a moment.

It’s come to light over the last couple of months that with the full implementation of Compass a number of changes will also come to the way we will pay our fares.  Specifically:

  • To obtain a Compass Card, which you have suggested will be the primary method of fare payment, users have to pay $6 in exchange for only $5.50 of credit, meaning riders will be incurring an extra 50 cents on each card purchase.
  • This will entitle users to a 14% discount on fares, which is significantly less than the FareSavers currently offer.
  • The elimination of FareSavers also eliminates the ability of anyone without a monthly pass to prepay to avoid the AddFare at the YVR stations, since your questionable interpretation of the Commission’s ruling suggests you think Compass is NOT “non-cash fare media.”
  • Bus riders who currently pay cash and subsequently transfer to SkyTrain or SeaBus will be forced to pay twice to continue their trip.  TransLink Police recently confirmed this isn’t just because of faregates, and that bus tickets will be completely invalid within the system (presumably even if the gates are open).
  • This is all in addition to the Tariff Changes announced last month, made under the guise of what “makes sense” and a suggestion that TransLink has too many riders.  These changes affect those who used Employer Passes, monthly passholders with family who ride with them, and West Coast Express riders.

Call these things what you like, but for anyone who uses these fare media or routes, these are fare increases.  Anyone who buys a Compass Card is paying more for their ride than we would have before.   Casual riders who use FareSavers will pay more than we would have before, both in general and at YVR stations.  Bus riders who transfer to SkyTrain after paying cash will pay more than they would have before.  These changes undoubtedly increase the amount of money riders are paying and, in turn, the amount of money received by TransLink on account of fares.

Some of these things have come as a surprise to many – such as the policy change on the YVR AddFare and the bus transfer issue.  They haven’t been announced clearly or publicised, at best hidden stealthily in texts about how great Compass cards will be.  And when they do surface, you have told half-truths about the alternatives (insisting the cost of allowing bus transfers was $25M when the cheapest alternative was only $9M) in order to distract from the fact that you are effectively increasing fares.

I worry about what other surprises TransLink has in store for us.

I’ve heard the arguments about these things affecting a small number of riders, though I question whether that’s still true after you add up all of the people affected by these things.  I’ve also heard all the spin that suggests these are just making things make “more sense” or that they are meant to encourage Compass use.  But at the end of the day, these things are fare hikes for a lot of people.

I love that we are upgrading to a smart card system – it’s about time. I want Compass to succeed.  This is why this frustrates me so much – if Compass is blamed for all of these fare hikes, you will only continue to build public opposition to it, and the data you so covet will be less useful to you.  You are also putting at risk what I think is a very positive reputation in the community – of all the cities I’ve lived in, I’ve never known one where most people look at the transit authority and say “yeah, they’re pretty good” the way people in the Lower Mainland (particularly in the city of Vancouver) do.  Your planning, quality, and customer service are phenomenal compared to other transit agencies.

So I ask of you: be honest with us.  It’s so blatantly obvious to me and other transit users that these changes are intended to increase funds flowing from riders to TransLink.  We know you have budget issues – we can’t escape this news.  So tell us the truth and call these changes what they are: fare increases.  Tell us that you’re sorry you have to do it, but that you have no other choice but to make up for budget shortfalls.  We might not like it, we might not sing your praises for it, but we’ll appreciate your honesty.  And, eventually, we’ll accept it.  Stop the lies, and stop the distractions.

Tell the public the truth and maybe some people will be on your side.  Until then, I will continue to find it hard to believe the sincerity of your statements on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Neal Jennings

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