Tag Archive | technology

Open Data Waterloo Region

There is now a website for Open Data Waterloo Region as well as a mailing list.

Open Data movements are about getting governments to open up their data sets in accessible electronic formats for citizens to use as they see fit. This allows people to render the data more widely understandable and readable, and to combine data in fruitful ways.  I’ll leave further explanation as links: Three Laws of Open Data, 8 Principles of Open Government Data, and Creating Effective Open Government Portals.

In Ontario, Ottawa and London have strong Open Data movements. Here in Waterloo Region, despite the high-profile technology focus and the proliferation of Blackberries, we don’t yet have one. I’m hoping to fix that, perhaps in time to have some impact on the upcoming municipal elections.

Anyone who is interested in helping to build Open Data Waterloo Region — to advocate for and to use local government data to improve our community — is invited to an informal organizational meeting this Thursday in Waterloo. (See the Facebook event listing if you like.) Whether or not you can make it, you are welcome to join the Facebook group to show your support and stay updated on progress. Please direct people who may be interested to this post.

Thursday, September 9, 6pm – 8pm.
Huether Hotel – the BarleyWorks operations room (2nd floor of BarleyWorks)
59 King St N (at Princess St), Waterloo, ON
(Google Maps link. Note that getting there requires traversing several flights of stairs.)

Good ideas: Permeable pavement

Most pavement is impermeable to water. As a result, paved surfaces need to be designed to funnel water into drains, and drainage and sewer systems need to be designed for the high capacity necessary to deal with runoff from the huge number of paved surfaces in our cities. Instead of replenishing groundwater, precipitation is redirected to rivers and lakes. Runoff from roads carries with it automotive pollution, which is then concentrated in downstream bodies of water.

Various technologies are coming into use, however, for pavement that is permeable to water. Porous asphalt and pervious concrete are fairly new techniques, so they are still being developed and improved. The main difficulties include weight resistance and longevity, as well as cold climate installation. And, of course, it’s more expensive to install (particularly for cold climates), though it may be cheaper than conventional pavement if considered together with the costs of storm-water management.

What’s the point? First off, urban runoff is reduced, and with it pollution and the need for large and extensive drainage systems. But there are other benefits that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere. On impervious road surfaces drainage can work poorly, leading to the sometimes hazardous accumulation of water, which could be averted by permeable pavement. Likewise, it can prevent the ubiquitous puddles that form in depressions on sidewalks and paths. This pavement can also eliminate the need for drainage grates that are often encountered on bike lanes, which can be a hazard and nuisance to cyclists. If pervious concrete is used, it has the added advantage of reflecting more sunlight than asphalt, which can have a significant mitigating effect on climate change.

The technology is promising and I am surprised that the Region of Waterloo hasn’t yet taken up the idea. The Region should investigate permeable pavement and at least pilot the technology. They could do worse than paving the path through Waterloo Park as a test.

Good ideas: Hybrid garbage trucks

Hybrid buses seem to be all the rage these days in many cities — and including Grand River Transit. If hybrid buses make sense, then why are there no hybrid garbage trucks?

Especially when operating suburban-type routes, garbage and recycling trucks make very frequent stops. This means they lose quite a lot of energy to braking, which could and should be recaptured. From each of their frequent stops, they have to accelerate their massive weight — and here an electric motor would do a much better job than a diesel one, I would think.

As with buses, the hybrid drive should make the diesel engine last longer and of course improve fuel use. In addition, there is the significant external benefit of lower diesel emissions and, especially, less noise. Garbage trucks struggling to accelerate with their diesels is a truly awful sound in the mornings.

So hybrid power makes sense for garbage trucks at least as much as it does for buses. Why aren’t they on the roads, then? My uninformed guess is that it has to do with them being owned and operated by private companies as opposed to the public transit operators that buy hybrid buses. GRT’s hybrid buses cost around 50% more than the regular ones, and that probably has something to do with it as well.

Upon investigation: within the last year or two such trucks have appeared, not just in hybrid electric form, but also as hydraulic hybrids. The industry group Calstart has a Hybrid Truck Users Forum that is working on hybrid refuse trucks, and impending U.S. government emissions standards seem to be pushing manufacturers in this direction. New York City is trying out a few competing versions, and will probably set the example for others. With increased demand, competition and scale will drive down costs, and I suspect hybrid garbage trucks will become the norm for new purchases within a couple of years.


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