Smog an individual responsibility

It’s good to see Orillia City Council looking at the issue of smog.

Next month, council will consider a staff report on a smog-fighting policy and look at a draft bylaw to limit vehicle idling to three minutes.

In May, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is launching the "Turn it off" campaign to raise awareness about the effects of automobile fumes on human health. The health unit is doing something important during the campaign: putting a price tag on smog. The organization estimates it costs $16 million in health care to deal with bad air in the region.

Smog is such a huge problem, these small measures may seem like a burp in a hurricane. And no matter what sort of bylaw the city implements, it will be difficult to enforce. But in small measures, the actions raise awareness about the direct impact each of us has on our own environment. It also brings to mind some options for reducing our individual impact.

The upside of having yet another thing to feel guilty about is that acting to reduce the smog you create actually saves you money. Letting a vehicle idle for more than 10 seconds consumes more fuel than restarting the engine. With gas at a $1.06 a litre, turning the engine off has added value.

Perhaps one of the best things the city could do is legislate a moratorium on drive-thru windows at fast food outlets. And there be dragons. The windows are enormously popular, and they have proliferated in recent years. When it comes to idling, shutting down these systems would make a huge difference. But it would also be unpopular and controversial. Businesses have created entire operating systems built around the drive-thru window. Many buildings themselves are designed to accommodate the service.

Any local bylaw that doesn’t look at this aspect of the problem will be ceremonial at best. In some ways, Orillia’s attempt to deal with smog and the complications it involves is a microcosm for the challenges we face on a national and international level. But we have to start somewhere, and awareness is as good a place as any.


Suttons Bay: The High Road or the Drive-Through?

by Kathy Finch

Planning Commissioner, Village of Suttons Bay

The Village of Suttons Bay is at a crossroads. The Planning Commission and Village Council finds themselves in a debate on the topic of drive-throughs: Is there a place for them in the Village…or not? There are adamant opponents to drive-throughs, just as there are steadfast supporters of the concept. Then there are also those who need this discussion to assist them in deciding the direction best taken for the whole community.

Why such a dilemma over drive-throughs? They exist almost everywhere and are common sites in our daily lives. The drive-through came into existence when America decided to design its towns for how people live — in their cars. They are very convenient when in a hurry, when it’s raining, and when people find it difficult to jump in and out of vehicles for quick stops. Lately, however, planners and people have questioned the practice of designing environments around vehicles instead of around the humans that use them.

More satisfaction is felt in areas designed for the human scale, such as neighborhoods with narrower roads, with sidewalks and trees, and with buildings and homes where the front door is more prominent and welcoming than the garage door. Today’s planning reflects this and is becoming more focused on people and the quality of life they feel in an area. Traditional Neighborhood Design, Smart Growth and Sense of Place are just a few of many buzz words used to describe this feeling. You’ll know a well-designed town, neighborhood, or plaza when you feel it, because you’ll like being there. Think of a place that you enjoy and most likely it has the elements that define the goals of today’s planners. Does that place you are thinking of feature a drive-through?

What exactly constitutes a drive-through is not being contested. It is agreed that it is any commercial use that, by way of site layout or design, encourages or permits patrons to remain in their vehicle while receiving goods or services. Obvious exemptions are service stations and car washes because their services cannot be delivered without the vehicle entering the businesses themselves.

Is Suttons Bay living in the past? Is it now being asked to catch up to reality? People use their cars — a lot. It’s a fact of life in this (and the past) century. Shouldn’t towns be designed for the way people truly live? And yet, walk through any northern small town and along with the wind through the pines you’ll hear a soft murmur of its people. Listen closer and the murmur becomes audible enough to make out the words, "don’t change, don’t change, don’t change…" You can hear that in Suttons Bay. Many residents do not want any changes, and when the inevitable changes happen, they accept them slowly and grudgingly. These are the people who speak often and loudly to the Planning Commission and the Village Council with the message, "Under – Any – Circumstances — Do – Not – Compromise – the – Character – of – This – Village!" They want their town to keep its character, to remain small. They want it to be easy and pleasant to walk to the post office and to the bank and the shops. They want the buildings to be inviting and not too big or too tall.

These same people also want Suttons Bay to have a viable economy and for business owners in town to stay in business. This is achieved when customers are served in the best possible manner. In order to satisfy and keep customers, business owners must give careful thought as to how to provide what customers want and to deliver it to them how they want it. Convenience is one of the things customers ask for.

Meanwhile, demographics show the average age of the community creeping up as more and more retirees move to the area. Businesses want to be available to these customers who may find the current pedestrian atmosphere more difficult and less inviting. At the other end of the spectrum, the young family also finds itself at a disadvantage when having to unload and reload youngsters at every stop for items such as banking and prescriptions. Area businesses, when thinking drive-through, are thinking of these customers, as well as those who appreciate convenience and have others places to go.

On the other hand, drive-through businesses require more acreage. A common argument is that fewer parking spaces are needed when you have a drive-through. This is not so. The parking requirements are the same. Enough parking has to be provided for the interior space and usage of the building, regardless of whether a drive-through lane exists on the outside. Added to the parking lot is additional paved area needed for the "stacking lanes" to keep waiting cars off area roads. Drive-throughs are designed to have enough room for vehicles to wait in line on the property so as to not block traffic on the city streets. Additional pavement is needed to provide turn around room for the vehicles as they leave the drive-through lane. This vastly increased amount of pavement serves to disconnect the human from the experience. It builds a world designed for vehicles, not humans.


True, two drive-throughs already exist inside the Suttons Bay Village limits. Both are located at banks. In the past year, the third bank doing business in town proposed a drive-through in the heart of downtown. The plan was controversial; area residents took to the streets and let their opposition be known. Some residents were opposed to any additional drive-throughs and some were only opposed to a drive-through at the proposed location. Although the bank eventually withdrew its plan, public sentiment led the Planning Commission to propose an amendment to the zoning ordinance that would prohibit all future drive-throughs in the village. The Village Council, however, voted unanimously to reject the drive-through ban. Council members said the village should be open to the possibility of drive-throughs. Meanwhile, the third bank has again submitted a site plan to the village for a branch with a drive-through, this time asking to be located a few blocks from downtown. The discussion continues.

What are other communities doing? Some large cities, like Toronto, are actually allowing fewer drive-throughs and placing more restrictions on them citing health and safety reasons. The health reasons are obvious. Exhaust fumes are detrimental to all forms of life and to the climate of the earth as a whole. That has been proven over and over. Also, it is healthier for all humans to shut off the ignition and walk, using actual muscles, into a business establishment. Safety becomes a factor when lines of cars waiting for donuts and hot coffee impede other vehicles and pedestrians alike. Toronto sees all of this and is working to change the situation.

How are businesses responding? Locally, the Sutton Bay Area Library has a delivery and pick up service for their patrons who, for whatever reason, can’t get to the library itself. Traverse City State Bank offers pick up and delivery of banking for its business customers. Area shopkeepers don’t have to tack a note on the store’s door that says "Be back in ten minutes" and lose potential customers while making yesterday’s deposit. The bank comes to the store. In other locations, many fast-food conglomerates are seeing that smaller, more efficient restaurants are more profitable than the traditional ones with drive-throughs. These smaller establishments fit better into communities and neighborhoods; they are accepted and supported by the surrounding area. This is what progressive businesses are investing in.

Just as larger communities are turning away from drive-throughs, Suttons Bay finds itself now considering whether to allow more. Suttons Bay has to be mindful of being reactive instead of being proactive. To react is to take action after the fact. To be proactive is to plan for action, in advance of changes needed.

It has been said that to compromise a strongly protected sense-of-place is to compromise the integrity of a community, that a successful community and its commerce and economy is directly related to its character, and that its standards should never be lowered. People flock to towns like Suttons Bay because of how they exist today – and today they are different that all the communities in southern Michigan that run together in their sameness. The Up North towns are walkable, inviting, and not overrun with pavement and parking lots. To take steps toward making these Up North towns function the same as those towns downstate will make them less different, and thus less attractive to those who come and spend their vacation days and retirement years within these towns. If Up North becomes the same as downstate, why would anyone ever come to Suttons Bay?

Suttons Bay can take a stand. It can stand for Character. It can stand for the belief in human interaction. It can be a welcoming community where, if you are unable to get out and about, the integrity of the community comes to your door. It takes care of you. Imagine having a human interaction as your prescriptions are delivered to your door instead of receiving them with a whoosh of stale air from a nameless pneumatic tube. Then the next knock at your door brings a stack of new books, movies and some new music the librarian thought you might enjoy. That’s a community many would choose to live in.


Owners battle ban

Drive-thrus threatened


The Observer

Restaurant owners are lining up to place an order at Sarnia’s drive-thru window.

Local and national representatives from McDonalds Restaurants, Tim Hortons, and Ontario’s Restaurant, Hotel, and Motel Association have already met with Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley to discuss local interest in banning drive-thrus.

Association president and CEO Tony Elenis said business owners want the chance to comment before any decisions are made. He said drive-thru service doesn’t produce as much pollution as some have suggested.

"They believe there is a lot of misinformation being circulated," Bradley said.

The lobby group maintains drive-thrus allow the elderly and handicapped an opportunity to buy items they otherwise couldn’t. No community in Canada has banned drive-thru service, the group told Bradley.

"They want to be consulted and we’ll give them that opportunity. There won’t be any decisions until they can share their scientific studies."

Sarnia Coun. Anne Marie Gillis has proposed that Sarnia review the issue as part of re-assessing the city’s official plan. She wants to "grandfather" a ban so that no new restaurants or businesses could open a drive-thru window, reducing the number of idling vehicles and improving air quality.

Council agreed to consider the idea when the city reviews commercial aspects of its official plan later this year.

"Residents are starting to object to drive-thrus," Gillis said. "People are starting to think more green."

The backlash from business was to be expected, Gillis said.

"The fact is, 35 years ago we didn’t have drive-thrus and yet we managed. They are a convenience but, we have to ask ourselves, how much convenience are you willing to give up to save the planet?"

The idea of banning drive-thru coffee shops is being examined in Toronto, London and West Vancouver, Gillis said.


Save gas: Don’t use the drive-thru!

I know I’ve been all about cars this week, but I couldn’t resist mentioning today’s Ideal Bite tip, released as part of the Web portal’s Bust-a-Myth Week.

Myth: You burn more gas if you turn your car off and on than you do if you let your car idle.


In fact, according to Grist’s Ask Umbra, the ultimate authority on green decision making, an idling car will emit double the pollutants of a car that is turned off and then restarted during a nine-minute period.

I’m not sure if that holds true if you turn your car on and off nine times in nine minutes while waiting for a Chipotle-infused Snack Wrap at the drive-thru. But it reminds me it’s best to avoid drive-thru lanes at fast food restaurants, banks and espresso stands anyway.

Idling 15 minutes per weekday can cost you up to $100 in wasted gas over the course of a year. American drivers use more than 2 billion gallons of fuel each year while idling.

Bite’s advice: Turn your car off if you’re going to stay put for more than 10 seconds and you’re not in active transit.

Anyway, idling, when you could just get your butt out of the car, is just pure waste.

Parents, you ought best not idle in school parking lots either while waiting for the kids, according to the Bite.

If you really want to make change beyond your own Subaru footprint, check out this link for a list of resources for starting an anti-idling program at your kid’s school district, where school buses are the huge polluters when it comes to idling emissions.

While we’re at it, let’s start a conversation: Do you idle much? Have gas prices forced you to turn off your car while waiting for drive-thru services?





New York, Mar 16 2008  7:00PM

With global glaciers — a vital water source for millions, or even billions, of people worldwide — melting at a record rate, the United Nations Environment Programme urged countries to agree on a new emissions reduction pact.


According to the UNEP-backed World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), data from nearly 30 reference glaciers in nine mountain ranges indicate that between the years 2004-2005 and 2005-2006, the average rate of melting and thinning more than doubled.


The centre, based at Switzerland’s University of Zurich, has been tracking glaciers for more than one century, and has noted that while between 1980-1999 average ice loss had been 0.3 meters per year compared to 0.5 meters after the start of the new millennium.


"The latest figures are part of what appears to be an accelerating trend with no apparent end in sight," said Wilfried Haeberli, WGMS Director.


On average, one meter water equivalent corresponds to 1.1 metre in ice thickness, which suggests a further shrinking in 2006 of 1.5 actual meters and since 1980 a total reduction in thickness of ice of just over 11.5 meters, or nearly 38 feet.


"There are many canaries emerging in the climate change coal mine," said Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director. "The glaciers are perhaps among those making the most noise and it is absolutely essential that everyone sits up and takes notice."


2009 will be a crucial year, with the "litmus test" coming in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the negotiations process for a successor pact to the Kyoto Protocol is scheduled to conclude, he said. "Here governments must agree on a decisive new emissions reduction and adaptation-focused regime. Otherwise, and like the glaciers, our room for manoeuvre and the opportunity to act may simply melt away."


The WGMS research found that some of the most dramatic glacier shrinking has occurred in Europe with Norway’s Breidalblikkbrea glacier thinning by close to 3.1 meters during 2006 compared with a thinning of 0.3 meter in the previous year.


However, some glaciers — such as Echaurren Norte in Chile — posted increases.



Expansive tastes

UPDATED: 2008-03-05 04:16:39 MST


Quiznos plans to sink its corporate teeth deeper into Calgary this year by opening three new outlets, CEO Greg MacDonald said yesterday.

The toasted-sandwich maker currently operates 25 outlets in Calgary.

MacDonald said Calgary is a "good development market" because of the city’s strong economy, noting Quiznos’ profits in Calgary, as well as the rest of Canada, have ballooned 200% since 2005.

Also this year, Quiznos will start experimenting with drive-thus. To date, the Denver, Col.-headquartered restaurant chain, unlike many of its competitors, doesn’t operate that staple of the North American fast-food industry.

About half of all sales at restaurants operating drive-thrus are made at the drive-thru window.


MacDonald said Quiznos hasn’t been hurt by the fact none of its restaurants has a drive-thru. But, he conceded profits could increase once the service is implemented.

"We don’t need to do drive-thrus, but it’s just a matter of how you can grab more sales," he said.

"We have to logistically figure out how to make it work. But we put people on the moon, so I’m sure we can make drive-thrus work."

A related issue is drive-thrus have been caught in the crosshairs of the environmental movement, which argues cars idling in a lineup contribute to pollution.

Debate about whether drive-thr us should be regulated is heating up city hall in London, Ont., and it has surfaced briefly in Calgary.


March 3, 2008

Drive-Thrus Could Face Difficult Future

A number of Canadian cities are looking at banning, regulating, or studying the environmental impacts of drive-thru restaurants, EcoSpace reports.

The cities, including North Vancouver, BC, Edmonton, AB, King’s County, NS, and Toronto, Peterborough, London, Ajax, Mississauga, and Sarnia, ON, are worried about the environmental damage caused by idling vehicles.

It’s not just Canada, either. In the U.S., two cities in California and one in North Carolina have imposed moratoriums on drive-thrus as a result of similar initiatives, according to the article.

But not everyone is convinced on the effectiveness of such bans. A study by consulting firm RWDI, paid for by North American coffee and donut chain Tim Hortons, concludes that cars idling in a drive-thru are less harmful than having the engines shut off for a few minutes and then restarted.

The stakes can be huge. Most Burger Kings, for example, generate between 50 and 60 percent of their daily total sales averages at the drive-thru, and The National Restaurant Association’s 2007 Quickservice Restaurant Survey reveals that 89 percent of operators believe their drive-thrus will represent an even larger portion of sales in 2008, QSRWeb reports.


Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us

· Secret report warns of rioting and nuclear war
· Britain will be ‘Siberian’ in less than 20 years
Climate change threat to the world is greater than terrorism

Climate change over the next 20 years could result in a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters.

A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a ‘Siberian’ climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.

The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.

‘Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,’ concludes the Pentagon analysis. ‘Once again, warfare would define human life.’

The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defence is a priority.

The report was commissioned by influential Pentagon defence adviser Andrew Marshall, who has held considerable sway on US military thinking over the past three decades. He was the man behind a sweeping recent review aimed at transforming the American military under Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Climate change ‘should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern’, say the authors, Peter Schwartz, CIA consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of the California-based Global Business Network.

An imminent scenario of catastrophic climate change is ‘plausible and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately’, they conclude. As early as next year widespread flooding by a rise in sea levels will create major upheaval for millions.

Last week the Bush administration came under heavy fire from a large body of respected scientists who claimed that it cherry-picked science to suit its policy agenda and suppressed studies that it did not like. Jeremy Symons, a former whistleblower at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said that suppression of the report for four months was a further example of the White House trying to bury the threat of climate change.

Senior climatologists, however, believe that their verdicts could prove the catalyst in forcing Bush to accept climate change as a real and happening phenomenon. They also hope it will convince the United States to sign up to global treaties to reduce the rate of climatic change.

A group of eminent UK scientists recently visited the White House to voice their fears over global warming, part of an intensifying drive to get the US to treat the issue seriously. Sources have told The Observer that American officials appeared extremely sensitive about the issue when faced with complaints that America’s public stance appeared increasingly out of touch.

One even alleged that the White House had written to complain about some of the comments attributed to Professor Sir David King, Tony Blair’s chief scientific adviser, after he branded the President’s position on the issue as indefensible.

Among those scientists present at the White House talks were Professor John Schellnhuber, former chief environmental adviser to the German government and head of the UK’s leading group of climate scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. He said that the Pentagon’s internal fears should prove the ‘tipping point’ in persuading Bush to accept climatic change.

Sir John Houghton, former chief executive of the Meteorological Office – and the first senior figure to liken the threat of climate change to that of terrorism – said: ‘If the Pentagon is sending out that sort of message, then this is an important document indeed.’

Bob Watson, chief scientist for the World Bank and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, added that the Pentagon’s dire warnings could no longer be ignored.

‘Can Bush ignore the Pentagon? It’s going be hard to blow off this sort of document. Its hugely embarrassing. After all, Bush’s single highest priority is national defence. The Pentagon is no wacko, liberal group, generally speaking it is conservative. If climate change is a threat to national security and the economy, then he has to act. There are two groups the Bush Administration tend to listen to, the oil lobby and the Pentagon,’ added Watson.