March 03, 2010

Volunteers needed to improve Erin trails

As published in The Erin Advocate

The view from the top of the water tower hill is a spectacular asset, now enjoyed by a relative few. If the Height of Land Trail could be converted to a loop route into the downtown core, with proper markings and educational signage, it would be something of which Erin could rightly be proud.

I mention that trail only because it is my favourite, but there are others in the village and elsewhere in Erin that need improvement, and I would gladly work on any of them.

There's a new effort being launched to plan and carry out trail upgrades in the Town, and volunteers are needed. Better trails would not only improve the walking experience for residents, but give the town an economic boost by making it a more attractive destination for visitors.

"If we want to build the community, we need connections," said Steve Revell, an avid hiker who has been involved with the Erin Trails Subcommittee. "We need planners and dreamers and schemers and workers."

He was speaking at the recent screening of the film Who Killed the Electric Car?, sponsored by Rob's Automotive Service, part of the Fast Forward environmental film festival presented by the Climate Change Action Group of Erin and Credit Valley Conservation (CVC). It was a receptive audience for the trails message, and several people signed up to help.

Picking up on the car theme, Revell held up a pair of sturdy shoes. "These get good mileage, and use a variety of fuels," he said. While there were no details about emission controls, the point was clear: walking is great for both human health and the environment.

To find out more about the trails effort, call Revell at 519-833-2571, or the Town office at 519-855-4407. An informal meeting will be held to look at maps and discuss possibilities.

For those of us who depend on vehicles, but would love to part ways with gasoline, the 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? was a discouraging chronicle of how oil and car companies, governments, inadequate technology and even consumers contributed to the death of the GM EV1 car in the 1990s.

While interesting, the film was too long and sentimental for my taste. It follows activists in their quest to stop GM from obsessively destroying virtually every electric vehicle it had put on the market. Fortunately, it is old news. Watch for Revenge of the Electric Car this year.

More interesting was the live presentation after the film by Ross McKenzie, Managing Director of the Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research at the University of Waterloo ( Funded by governments and the auto industry, WatCAR has more than 300 researchers working on new fuels and ways to make vehicles lighter, safer, more "intelligent" and user-friendly.

Conditions are better now than in the 1990s for electric cars. Gas prices are higher, the public is more open to new technology, environmental concerns are more urgent, and car companies see innovation as a means to survival.

Recent electric cars include the Toronto-based ZENN (Zero Emissions No Noise), like a golf cart with a car shell, for short-distance, low-speed city driving only.

"The challenge is to downsize the battery without compromising performance or power storage," said McKenzie.

Commuters with "range anxiety" are more likely to go for something like the Chevy Volt, coming out late this year in the US. It uses both electricity and gasoline, but unlike other hybrids, all the power to the wheels is provided by the batteries. The small gas engine only kicks in as a generator to boost the batteries after you travel about 65 km, providing an uninterrupted range of about 500 km. The price has not been announced, but it is estimated at $40,000 US, minus possible tax credits.

A batteries-only car with more range and speed than the ZENN is the Mitsubishi i-Miev. It is now undergoing cold-weather testing (using the heater cuts the 160-km maximum range in half), but it won't be available here until next year. A full re-charging with 100-volt household current could take 14 hours, but new inventions in quick charging could cut that to less than an hour.

It looks like a Smart Car and sells in Japan for about $50,000 US, according to That's what I would expect to pay – for three or four used cars.