Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Trade Mission

Last week’s trip to Long Beach, California, was a trade mission.  I helped staff a display for Carmanah Technologies, a Victoria based business that specializes in solar lighting systems for a variety of community and industrial applications.

Carmanah’s new crosswalk beacon system makes it safer to cross the street, a simple need at probably thousands of locations across North America where too many cars and too many roads are compromising the urban environment, discouraging kids from walking to school and creating a host of other problems in a society becoming too comfortably sedentary.

Solar powered systems are a fraction of the cost of hard-wired systems and Carmanah’s beacons have been well received by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration.  The company’s previous forays into the marketplace connected them with the engineering or signal systems communities, but the Pro Walk – Pro Bike – Pro Place conference was a revelation.  The people at this conference are passionate about their work to humanize American cities and make walking and cycling an option for more people again.

I know a lot of the people working in the field, from advocates to practitioners working for cities or states, and some of those who play a major role in developing standards or approving systems for making walking and cycling safer and more appealing in the U.S.  The conference has always had a few handfuls of Canadians and international delegates in attendance, and it’s always good to keep those networks current.  I think if you check with Carmanah, they’ll confirm my impression that I provided a valuable addition to the team, making introductions and connecting their guy with the people who are looking for the kind of technology solutions Carmanah has to offer.

Taking Victoria technology on the road to markets that matter is good for business and I was happy to be part of that.  Carmanah paid the freight – covering my expenses for the conference, and I think they got a good deal.

Previous “trade missions” to previous editions of the Pro Bike conference helped me do my work in Victoria, and our standard bike rack design is a result of my first trip in 1998 (the conference was held in Santa Barbara that year).  The inverted “U” design is now being used in numbers of municipalities in the Capital Region and the basic design has been adopted in Vancouver too.  Our racks are finished and installed by city staff, supporting good jobs here in Victoria.

My next mission unfolded in Philadelphia (2000), where I starting putting together our bid to bring the conference to Victoria.  By 2002 when the conference hit Minneapolis – St. Paul, we had won our bid and, along with other local advocates and a politician in tow, we put together a great promotion to make sure delegates signed up to come.  Pro Bike (as it started out as) had only come to Canada once before, but so many were excited to come to Victoria.  When it arrived in 2004 nearly 600 delegates were here, along with spouses and family, and the various business exhibitors that populate the trade fair element of the program.  Estimates of economic impacts for Victoria approached almost $500,000 in local spending (and yes some of that was on beer).

Pro Walk – Pro Bike next hit Madison, Seattle and Chattanooga, and I made sure I was at all of them.  The Long Beach conference brought the National Center for Bicycling and Walking together with the Project for Public Spaces and attendance has hit 800.  My attendance over the years proved a good foundation for connecting Carmanah to new markets.  Our conference centre asked me a couple months back about bringing the conference to Victoria again and one of my connections from the city of Vancouver will chase me down soon to talk about bringing it to the big city.  Economic development isn’t handed to you; it’s something you have to work at.

I expect Carmanah will harvest all the contacts made and realize some successes at selling their technology to cities in need – and who doesn’t need safer walks to school, a better pedestrian environment, lower collision rates and better health outcomes, to name a few of the benefits of making walking safer again.

Multiply my experience by the many companies and businesses in Victoria who export product or expertise abroad – across Canada, into the U.S. or overseas to established or emerging markets.  Trade missions are good investments, not just junkets for the lucky few.

I worked hard (had a good time with old friends too), and probably added some value to Victoria’s economic prospects while I was at it.  Don’t be fooled by those that offer discount ideas about how we can prosper.  We have to build what we have at home, but we also have to reach out for ideas and take what we have to offer to a world equally as eager for what we can share. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A week or so ago I dropped a note into the CBC's inbox and sent the same letter to our local newspaper.  It followed the news that Victoria City Council was facing signficant and costly challenges to upgrade the city's building portfolio, after seismic issues and the cost of fixes were shared at a council meeting.  The storyline suggested, incorrectly, that the last council was unaware of the issues and unprepared for the news.

Current councillors endorsed a motion to make sure consulting reports to the city were delivered and shared in a timely matter so council could consider costlier projects with the full knowledge of the pressures any new report might reveal about the city's financial challenges.  The motion and the story were founded on something of a fiction about how much was known about some of the elements of the city's infrastructure deficit, a liability councillors have known about for years.

Here's the unaired, unpublished letter I wrote in response to the flurry of news stories that followed the motion and discussion at council.

Kudos to Lisa Helps and Marianne Alto on pushing for timely release of reports to city council on the details of our infrastructure deficit.  They should know that a timely report to the last council began the discussion about the fate of the Johnson St. Bridge.

To Lisa’s question about whether or not we would have made the choice we did had we known about the costly seismic fixes needed for other city assets, the answer is yes.

Most of the cost of the bridge is unrelated to the fiction of architectural extravagance that Helps and others continue to promote.  Movable bridges are never easy and there are no off the shelf designs that can be dropped into place like a Spencer Rd. interchange. 

Even common models must be adapted to the idiosyncrasies of specific locations and extensive design work and modeling would have been required for any of the options that were considered.  The existing Blue Bridge, with its top heavy, overhead counterweight system, is not a good design for cities like Victoria, where seismic vulnerability is acute.  The engineer most experienced with our bridge told us that of the two choices Victorians had before them in 1920, they picked the wrong one.

Many Victorians, I think, would not, in any event, endorse Helps’ embrace of mediocrity in place of a more sympathetic design for a city that prides itself on presentation.

While the details of seismic issues facing numbers of city owned properties may not have been spelled out in detail, councillors past and present have been repeatedly warned about an existing and growing infrastructure deficit associated with aging infrastructure, including city building portfolios.  The bridge was at the top of the list and we chose a responsible course of action to check that project off the list and start planning for many of the other challenges Victoria faces.

It will be helpful to have timely and detailed reports on infrastructure challenges and other issues provided to council and the public, but councillors should take care to make sure not to re-shape the facts to fit their own storyline.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What's Up . . .

Social media and so many other websites are demanding my attention.  It's keeping me from updating my blogs on what's new or an issue in Victoria I'd like to comment on.  That will still have to wait for another day, but here's a news release I just popped out this afternoon.

Local tech company Carmanah is taking me on the road to help promote lighting and beacon systems that make crossing the street easier and safer.  Who could argue with that?

I haven't missed a Pro Bike conference since I started going in 1998 and brought the whole show here in 2004.  It's a growing event and nearly a 1,000 delegates will attend - engineers, planners, advocates, and companies that do business in support of cycling and walking (bike rack manufacturers, bike share promoters, and of course companies like Carmanah that have technology that can support active transportation.

Part of my mission is funded by the CRD - I'll look for sessions where I can steal ideas (I'm good at that), that will help us as we work here to implement a regional pedestrian and cycling plan.  Design and other programs are evolving fast and this is my professional development opportunity as well as my chance to take away ideas for a more sustainable capital region - part of my mission in life.

Don't be shy - visit my Capital Bike and Walk site at http://capitalbikeandwalk.org or my bike parking resource at www.bicycleparkingonline.org and donate to the cause.  Your support helps us continue the work we need to do to keep a firm grip on our title as the Cycling Capital of Canada, not to mention a most walkable, livable and healthy city too.

For immediate release

September 6, 2012

Road technology offers two way travel for ideas

Capital Bike and Walk Executive Director John Luton will travel to the Pro Walk – Pro Bike – Pro Place conference in  Long Beach, California next week to showcase local Victoria business with Carmanah Technologies and cover learning sessions he hopes will inform implementation strategies for the Capital Region’s Cycling and Pedestrian Master Plan.

Luton will be helping staff Carmanah’s exhibit at a trade fair element of the conference where the company’s innovative solar powered crosswalk lighting systems will be promoted. 

He’s also working with CRD staff to bring back lessons learned to share with local designers and advocates.   “Programs and engineering for active transportation are evolving fast and we need to embrace the most current and cost effective solutions to help realize our common objectives to grow cycling and walking for transportation”, says Luton.  “At Long Beach, I’ll have access to some of the best ideas at work in the world”.

Carmanah's solar flashing beacons can be found across the region and in jurisdictions throughout North America.  A strong Safe Routes to School component to the conference is an ideal target market that Luton hopes to help connect Carmanah with. 

“Making walking to school safer is key to getting kids back on their feet”, says Greg Miller, Managing Director of Traffic at Carmanah.  Carmanah’s new beacon system is known as a Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon or RRFB, which is a new device that has been proven by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration to be effective at reducing dangerous pedestrian collisions.  The new device will soon be installed by the District of Saanich on Burnside Road near Marigold Elementary and Spectrum High School.  Saanich is the first municipality in the region that will be installing the new device as part of an evaluation process.

 Luton aims to look at bike share operations, separated bike lane designs, “complete streets” for buses, bikes and pedestrians, car-free streets or events, and more on the newest in bicycle parking.  Capital Bike and Walk continues to work with the Downtown Victoria Business Association, local staff and other user advocates to expand and improve bike parking options downtown to meet rapidly growing demand.

 “I’m excited to be promoting the best of Victoria business and anxious to help keep Victoria and the region building a more active, sustainable and prosperous community.

 For more information:

John Luton,

Executive Director, Capital Bike and Walk

Home:  22 Philippa Place

Victoria, BC  V8S 1S6

250-886-4166 (cell)


About Carmanah Technologies Corporation

As one of the most trusted names in solar technology, Carmanah has earned a reputation for delivering strong and effective products for industrial applications worldwide. Industry proven to perform reliably in some of the world's harshest environments, Carmanah solar LED lights and solar power systems provide a durable, dependable and cost effective energy alternative. Carmanah is a publicly traded company, with common shares listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol "CMH”. For more information, visit carmanah.com.



Public Relations: David Davies