Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Mayor releases plan to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city by 2020

with 21 comments

Gregor Robertson used the platform of the current Gaining Ground-Resilient Cities conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre to launch “Vancouver 2020 A Bright Green Future” yesterday. This is the document from the Greenest City Action Team that sets out the objectives and looks as some of the possibilities to achieve the Mayor’s desire to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city by 2020.

My link in the paragraph above will enable you to download the complete report as a pdf file. If you would prefer, there is a short summary in today’s Vancouver Sun.  It does not discuss the recommendations – it merely presents them. And I expect there will be a lot of discussion about these ideas – what is there and, more importantly, what is missing.  On the whole, as a statement of objectives it is quite bold but “you know these environmentalists, they are never satisfied” (a line from the movie The American President, which was also about greenhouse gas reduction, in part. I’d link to the imdb quotes page, but that is one of the few they missed).

The report’s presentation is self-consciously modern. Much effort clearly went into appealing to modern sensibilities. No great slabs of grey text, or formal presentations. But lots of sidebars and anecdotes from other cities. Plenty of good positive examples, and lots of talk about the need for objectives and targets. Where it falls short is the lack of specific programs and commitments – so I do not think it is really a plan so much as a wish list.

Of course, my concerns are transportation and land use – because taken together that’s most of the greenhouse gas emissions.

Buildings and vehicles produce more than 85 per cent of Vancouver’s greenhouse gas emissions and are the focus of the next two sections of this report. However, there is an overarching issue that affects emissions from both buildings and vehicles: density. Land-use patterns are probably the single most important determinant of people’s greenhouse gas emissions and their ecological footprints.

To their credit they do not abandon Eco-density, the initiative of the last administration but they note

Much more can be done. Most importantly, Vancouver should complete the planning processes required to increase density and permit mixed uses.

Because this is a report of the Action Team – not a commitment by the City Council. So it does not have the status of a formal change to the City’s planning activities – yet. But Robertson himself referred to the document as a Plan. Ecodensity was not an easy sell for Sam Sullivan and company – and the issue will still raise the hackles of most communities within Vancouver, who are very happy with the way things are and are deeply suspicious of any change. Anything that affects both their current way of life, and their property values, is going to be subject to close scrutiny.

A series of more detailed implementation plans…will need to be developed by city staff through wide consultation with the community

Indeed. And this is followed by an exhortation to “everyone to do their part”. And I am quite sure that all of the neighbourhoods that had very close consultative processes under administrations prior to Sullivan’s will expect to have that approach returned.

UPDATE: Ned Jacobs has now published a damning critique of the Mayor’s commitment to consultation

Of course the city is not alone in transportation – so of course much of what it says about transportation in general – and transit in particular – is addressed to other levels of government and is all entirely predictable. What is very noticeable is the lack of a set of specific targets in areas where the City does have control. And as we learned this week from New York there is a great deal that can be done, very quickly and at relatively low cost. Paint and potted plants can do wonders.

There are a number of things the City can start to do quickly: and – as long as they stick to a continuous rolling effort – will have significant impact. In terms of broad objectives, this plan does not adopt the one that was pioneered by Copenhagen forty years ago – although there are ten different citations of that city in the document. Their objective was a reduction in the amount of space devoted to cars – both moving and parked. They have achieved that by a steady attrition: a small percentage is taken each and every year. Since traffic adapts to fill the space available, traffic has contracted.

Similarly in New York (18 citations) the decision was made to reduce the amount of street space used by cars by reallocating traffic lanes to become bus lanes, bike lanes and – probably most significantly – pedestrian space, much of which is not devoted to movement but sitting! The City of Vancouver, thanks to its charter, does not have to defer to senior governments here. It is master in its own house, and it can, if it wishes, move the furniture.

Previous City of Vancouver Engineers have fought long and hard against any encroachment on road space that might reduce traffic volumes. They seemed to have been unaware of the simple change in metric that is brought about when “people” are substituted for “vehicles” in the model. The #99 B-Line – the most effective bus route in the region – has almost no on street priority. There are no bus lanes on Broadway. The only thing that sets that route apart from most of the others is that it does not stop so often. On Hastings, a similar type of service is offered by the #135. It is not branded as a B-Line, but it works just like one. The Granville Street #98-B Line is now history: even that had hardly any priority within Vancouver. Contrast this to what New York is doing – and London, Paris and many others have done – in terms of bus lanes which have different coloured tarmac (no arguments about what is a bus lane) and camera enforcement (it is easy to see what is and is not a bus, unlike an HOV lane which is very hard to enforce).

Similarly the City can do a lot about parking. Not just on street but off street as well. But there is no overall parking strategy addressed in this report – apart from the need for bike parking, and for the ability to charge electric vehicles. This is really missing the point. But I can understand why they do not tackle it head on. Because that would immediately incur the wrath of the DVBIA. Well I suspect anything you do like this is not going to please that crowd so you might just as well face up to it. As long as there are lots of places to end car trips (parking spaces) there will be lots of cars. Yet three cars carrying on average 4 people in total take up the same space as a bus with 40 to 60. Or similar numbers of bikes or pedestrians. In Manhattan and Central London only 5% of the trips are in cars – so it is easier to make the case there. Not easier to win it, of course, since those car drivers are disproportionately influential people. Much harder here – as we saw with the Burrard Bridge trial, the short lived closure of part of Robson Street and the battle over Granville Mall.

Sure the City does not provide the transit service, but it can make the provision of transit a great deal more efficient and effective. A bus that can avoid traffic congestion is not only faster but more reliable. There may not even be any increase in the number of buses but those that are there will be moving more people than they can now, because they can complete more trips in a shift. That in itself makes bus lanes worth doing. But the longer term effect – as both London and New York demonstrate – is that you can get a lot more people using buses once you remove the element of uncertainty. The bus becomes reliable. And with only slightly more effort it becomes “the surface subway” that Janette Sadik-Khan spoke about this week. And a bus service can get introduced a lot quicker and cheaper than a subway line.

The contrast between the lack of specificity in areas where the city can do something (density, street use, parking) and transit, where someone else has to pick up the tab, is striking. There the ideas are definite – if a bit lacking in expertise.

  • The Downtown Streetcar project should get the green light, [of course – but since it only serves Vancouver, maybe you should consider following the example of Portland and pay for it yourselves? It is not now, nor ever has been, a regional priority]
  • express bus services should be expanded on busy routes (e.g. Commercial/Victoria) [see notes above about how bus lanes would be the way to achieve that]
  • Electric express buses should be used on Hastings, 4th Avenue, Broadway/West 10th Ave, and 41st Ave [You can do that on Hastings now, as long as it does not stop at intermediate points between downtown and the PNE. Electric B Lines would need a lot of wiring and some expensive “special work” to get in and out of the curb lanes between local buses. Putting trolleybuses back on the #41 sounds like a good idea until you look at the cost of wires to UBC. How about trolleys for Cambie while you’re at it? Maybe someone should start looking at my idea of putting poles on hybrid buses to extend the range and flexibility of trolley routes without more overhead wiring.]
  • Waterfront Station should be redeveloped into an accessible and attractive multimodal transportation hub. [DAFT – it is already. Redevelopment of one of the few outstanding heritage buildings in this City would be unforgiveable]
  • Local ferry services should be encouraged and supported. [yes, and the City can do that without Translink – West Vancouver just did. The False Creek ferries work very well without regional interference. Others could too, if they were financially viable ]

The one thing that is missing, that I am very pleased about, is there is no reference to a subway underneath Broadway to UBC.

Instead of a slab about what Translink should be doing, there ought to have been a direct attack on what is happening on Vancouver’s door step. The widening of Highway #1 may stop at Boundary Road, but that does not stop a huge amount of new traffic being dumped onto Vancouver’s streets. Yes I know that sounds like I am suggesting a Corrigan like bluster, but ignoring the impact of this vast increase in car traffic on the City’s east side is baffling. Not picking up the suggestion of pulling down the viaducts is a small issue in comparison. Freeway expansion will affect Vancouver. It is a very retrograde step – and the plan to make Vancouver “the greenest city” – is going to be undermined by the presence of large numbers of cars trying to get into Vancouver from the freeway.

And hoping that someone else might introduce road pricing is not a Plan, any more than expecting to win the lottery is retirement planning.

21 Responses

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  1. Hi Stephen! I greatly appreciate you writing on this topic. Your insights about parking and the opportunities for bus transit – as a more flexible and cheaper alternative – parallels my own thinking. I’m very excited I found your blog- you have a lot of progressive planning insights that I appreciate.

    If you have a chance, I’d love for you to take a look at my blog I just started: http://theurbanbriefcase.wordpress.com/
    I recently wrote two posts on transportation. As a student in urban studies, I address a variety of metropolitan issues.

    Best,
    Dan

    theurbanbriefcase

    October 21, 2009 at 12:01 pm

  2. Regarding Broadway to UBC subway line, page 36 says “Vancouver urgently needs a rapid transit line along
    the congested Broadway corridor.”. In fact it is the very first line in the public transit section.

    Historically ‘Rapid Transit’ in Vancouver has meant either ‘light-metro’ (SkyTrain) or ‘B-line’ bus but there is already a B-line bus along this route. I suspect they haven’t fully let go of the dream of a subway to UBC just yet.

    Overall, the report doesn’t display a great deal of leadership or conviction I don’t think. More of a wish-list as you say Steven and collection of feel-good statements. “The attached report is a pathway to victory” (Executive Summary, Page 6) – are we about invading a country or creating a more sustainable urban community?

    Chris S.

    October 21, 2009 at 2:34 pm

  3. Chris – Yes, I know what it says. I was pointing out what it doesn’t say. While Gordon Campbell has made his preference clear, I think it is very significant that this “Action Team” took a different approach. And if it comes to that the Regional Growth Strategy did not get specific about technology of rapid transit – and that is still legally the binding Plan for the region – it talks about “Intermediate Capacity Transit Systems”. That was due to the province’s insistence on SkyTrain when most of the region wanted LRT because it was cheaper and could spread out across the region faster. And how anyone thinks of a subway as a SkyTrain – well that’s just doublethink.

    Stephen Rees

    October 21, 2009 at 3:05 pm

  4. Probably because the UBC Line is being “studied” (again!) from square one – i.e. examining what technology would apply.

    Also mentioned on Page 22 of the City’s powerpoint presentation (with a pic of SkyTrain MKII)

    http://vancouver.ca/greenestcity/PDF/Overview-GCAT-quickstarts090924.pdf

    Ron C.

    October 21, 2009 at 3:37 pm

  5. “And how anyone thinks of a subway as a SkyTrain – well that’s just doublethink” – true but for all intensive purposes along the Broadway corridor they may as well be the same. Both are horrendously expensive when compared to alternatives that offer comparable capacity and service quality.

    The Millennium Line kind of ends in the middle of no where at the moment. There is a strong case to me made for extending it at least as far as the Canada Line and I think the city will push heavily for this.

    Chris S

    October 21, 2009 at 4:10 pm

  6. I agree Chris. The Millenium Line To Canada Line is the most important 2.5 kms of rapid transit yet to be built in our region.

    We need to think about networks and not just hub and spoke. This would give us the most network for the least track.

    Andrew

    October 21, 2009 at 10:41 pm

  7. I think the idea of extending the Millennium line to VCC-Clark should have been abandoned once it became clear that the rest of the line would open years earlier. At least Commercial made some sense as an end point.

    If the Millennium Line is to be extended, it should be simply to make it end somewhere better than VCC-Clark. In that case the shortest, lowest cost route must be chosen and it must be in addition to Broadway LRT, not instead of it. An above ground link to the Olympic Village station would be the cheapest possible extension with a reasonable end point. From there it would connect with both Canada Line and the Downtown Streetcar. There is talk of Vancouver building a new City Hall near that location which would seal the deal in my mind.

    Broadway could then get the on-street solution its pedestrian friendly environment deserves and not be limited on the eastern end by any arbitrary point. In fact Commercial and Broadway is a place where on-street LRT could literally go in all directions. To the east there is the badly underserved BCIT campus and a growing number of business parks. To the north is ‘The Drive’ where car ownership is low and to the south is a bus route that already requires articulated trolleys every 7 minutes to serve an area that’s almost completely occupied by single family homes (albeit with secondary suites in a large number of them). Put 4 storey mixed use buildings along Victoria Drive and you’d quickly exceed the ability of the buses to keep up.

    What neither TransLink nor Victoria seem to grasp is how efficient LRT is. Trams in Europe and Asia carry twice as many people per hour as the theoretical maximum of Canada Line while costing only a tiny fraction as much to build. Operating costs are lower than buses because each driver can move 3-6 times as many passengers and rail cars have long lifespans.

    If densification is successful the most efficient way to provide transit services in the near future on Hastings, Broadway, 41st, Main, Fraser and Victoria would be streetcars.

    David

    October 21, 2009 at 11:02 pm

  8. I think the idea of extending the Millennium line to VCC-Clark should have been abandoned once it became clear that the rest of the line would open years earlier. At least Commercial made some sense as an end point.

    If the Millennium Line is to be extended, it should be simply to make it end somewhere better than VCC-Clark. In that case the shortest, lowest cost route must be chosen and it must be in addition to Broadway LRT, not instead of it. An above ground link to the Olympic Village station would be the cheapest possible extension with a reasonable end point. From there it would connect with both Canada Line and the Downtown Streetcar. There is talk of Vancouver building a new City Hall near that location which would seal the deal in my mind.

    Broadway could then get the on-street solution its pedestrian friendly environment deserves and not be limited on the eastern end by any arbitrary point. In fact Commercial and Broadway is a place where on-street LRT could literally go in all directions. To the east there is the badly underserved BCIT campus and a growing number of business parks. To the north is ‘The Drive’ where car ownership is low and to the south is a bus route that already requires articulated trolleys every 7 minutes to serve an area that’s almost completely occupied by single family homes (albeit with secondary suites in a large number of them). Put 4 storey mixed use buildings along Victoria Drive and you’d quickly exceed the ability of the buses to keep up.

    What neither TransLink nor Victoria seem to grasp is how efficient LRT is. Trams in Europe and Asia carry twice as many people per hour as the theoretical maximum of Canada Line while costing only a tiny fraction as much to build. Operating costs are lower than buses because each driver can move 3-6 times as many passengers and rail cars have long lifespans.

    If densification is successful the most efficient way to provide transit services in the near future on Hastings, Broadway, 41st, Main, Fraser and Victoria would be streetcars.
    BTW I love your blog!

    David

    October 22, 2009 at 1:48 am

  9. The M-Line extension is supposed to provide access to Vancouver’s secondary business district – the Broadway Corridor. If the M-Line were to terminate at Olympic Village Station, access to the offices on Broadway (say the TransMountain Building near Hemlock) would require either transferring to the streetcar at Broadway & Commercial or two transfers from M-Line to Canada Line and then to Broadway streetcar.

    Another problem with an M-Line extension along West 6th Ave. is the Fairview Slopes hill from West 6th to Broadway. Even if the M-Line were taken to Granville Island along the interurban RoW, you still have the steep hill which might be treacherous in winter. When you have commuters complaining to no end about having to stand in a crowded Canada Line train, I don’t think they’ll buy into walking up a steep hill from West 6th Ave. to their destination on Broadway.

    BTW – my understanding is that City Hall will be expanded onto the block north of the existing City Hall. That block is also owned by the City and allows for a direct connection to Broadway-City Hall Station. The view cone over that site allows a tower to be built on the northeast corner of the site.

    Ron C.

    October 22, 2009 at 11:28 am

  10. I agree with David 100% One argument I have heard and read against LRT (besides the one that LRT are smaller than SkyTrain, a fact easily proven wrong by a visit to Seattle and Portland) is that we can’t have different types of transit (forgetting that we already have buses, Seabus, The West coast Express) BUT the fact is that most cities– big and small alike–have various types of transit. Paris has a regular metro, a fast one (that is a commuter train outside downtown) buses and tramways (LRT). more and more LRT in fact.
    In Many towns the commuter trains coming/ going from/ to far and wide destinations are used as short distance transit within the town (in Japan for example).
    As I said (too) many times the problem is that those responsible for transit, both the politicians and TransLink decision making staff, have no personal experience of transit in other places (including Toronto and Montreal) and aren’t even interested in learning about it.

    Red frog

    October 22, 2009 at 11:45 am

  11. Far be it from me to stifle discussion, but did none of you notice that the document and the issues I raised are about far more than extending the Millennium Line?

    Stephen Rees

    October 22, 2009 at 12:01 pm

  12. My personal preference is that no more money be spent on SkyTrain whatsoever, but VCC-Clark is a ridiculous place to terminate anything. Extending to OV is simply the shortest, least expensive way of having an end point that allows connections to other areas like Downtown, Richmond, YVR and Granville Island.

    People heading from SkyTrain to West Broadway would transfer to the tram at Commercial-Broadway. The majority of travellers would have to transfer there anyway since traffic on the Expo Line greatly exceeds that of the Millennium.

    For all their billions and all the talk about how Vancouver/Burnaby gets all the lines, SkyTrain really only benefits long distance travellers, mostly people outside Vancouver/Burnaby.

    The high density green city being envisioned is very badly served by SkyTrain because most people along the route are faced with long walks or bus trips just to get to stations and travel times for short distances actually exceed those for much less expensive options.

    Two examples:
    - For a passenger on the Expo Line bound for the Broadway VCC campus it’s faster to walk the three blocks along Broadway than to transfer to the Millennium Line and walk up the hill.
    - On Tuesday afternoon a half dozen of us went from Waterfront station to the Apple store in Pacific Centre. Half used the Canada Line while the other half walked. The trio on foot got to the store more than a minute faster.

    While on the topic of walking as a green alternative I discovered three years ago that I would always catch the same crosstown bus whether I walked to it or took the connecting bus near my house first.

    Once I confirmed that walking was just as fast as the bus once waiting time is factored in, I took it to the next level and timed how long it took me to get to SkyTrain on foot versus the time it took using one or more buses. In the morning my regular bus would finally catch up to me when I was within 2 minutes’ walk of the station. In the evening the difference averaged 4 minutes.

    In exchange for 6 minutes a day I lost 10 pounds and felt much better.

    David

    October 22, 2009 at 1:14 pm

  13. [...] Rees has written a lengthy piece on the GCAT recommendations released at the conference, particularly around public spaces and [...]

  14. Ok then, to discuss something other than the UBC M line, is there a way to restore express trolley service on the disused Hasting Street express wires? The old 34 Hastings Express did not stop anywhere between Main and Kooteny Loop iirc; unlike the current 135 that stops at Commercial, Nanaimo, Renfrew, Windemere etc. Is it not possible for trolleys running on the express wires to pull over? I’m sure I’ve seen such a feet in the past. Apparently there’s a plan for a “B Line” version of the 135 that would not stop at every stop on Hastings in Burnaby. Two problems with that: service on the 130 would have to be beefed up to provide local service on Hastings west of Willingdon, a new route would be needed to provide local service east of Willingdon, and this would not involve using the Hastings Express overhead.

    David

    October 22, 2009 at 7:22 pm

  15. As for Waterfront Station, they must be referring to a plan to remove the parkade and plaza west of the station… yes our city has not had a great record of perserviing our heritage buildings (Birks Building, et al), but I’m sure there’d be a huge uproar if either of our remaining 1910s era Railway Stations were slated for the wrecking ball.

    David

    October 22, 2009 at 7:28 pm

  16. I attended an open house on the Waterfront project this summer. The plan is to extend Granville Street another block north out over the rail yard by removing portions of the existing parking facility. Waterfront Station would gain a huge plaza on the north side with an east-west street on top connecting the extended Granville with a roadway built through what is now the parking lot on the east side of the building. Access to Seabus, SkyTrain, WCE, etc. would be via this new indoor space. The old station building would only be altered on the north side and only below the current street level where the plaza would go.

    It was quite a grand plan and it looked good. The estimated time line was extremely long however. Neither the city nor TransLink expect it to be built before 2030.

    David

    October 22, 2009 at 8:03 pm

  17. If Greg R. is serious about Vancouver becoming the greenest city in the world (shouldn’t we be a bit more modest to start??) he should make sure that home owners get the type of grants and income tax reductions other countries (in Europe for example)give to their homeowners (and even renters!) to reduce their energy consumption with truly energy efficient appliances, solar panels to produce heat and electricity, heat pumps, mini wind turbines, super insulation, run of river micro plants (that also protect fish runs) etc. etc.

    Yes I know that it is a Provincial and Federal domain rather than a municipal one but surely Robertson has more clout than 1000s of Joe taxpayers???

    In other countries the major Hydro providers actually have a special division (with branches all over the country) that helps home owners check the energy status of their home (various home audits are compulsory for anyone selling a home) then help them get government grants and loans, give them a list of accredited trades to do the work, liaise with municipal inspectors to check and certify the finished renovations etc. etc.
    Does BC Hydro has such a program?

    http://www2.ademe.fr/servlet/KBaseShow?sort=-1&cid=96&m=3&catid=17780

    ADEME has way more info if you can read French: http://ecocitoyens.ademe.fr/mon-habitation

    Much of the Green Vancouver plan sound great in theory but it is unrealistic in practice for most of us…

    Red frog

    October 22, 2009 at 11:20 pm

  18. I think that it’s fitting that they’re holding the conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre considering it’s one of the most sustainable buildings in Canada. And has bees on the roof! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_REv2rcamz4

    Cameron

    October 23, 2009 at 9:36 pm

  19. Steven I think you may have missed a point in reference to a Broadway rapid transit line. At the top of page 36 it says “Vancouver urgently needs a rapid transit line along the congested Broadway corridor.”

    Also, the redevelopment of Waterfront Station does not mean its demolition, and since it is a Class A heritage building demolition is totally out of the question. Instead the plan is to build a modern glass platform hall that extends from the north side of Waterfront Station and encloses the existing SkyTrain and WCE tracks and leaves room for several additional tracks. The street grid would be extended around the station with Seymour continuing another block north before turning west and becoming Canada Place Way. Several new parcels of developable commercial land would be created in the area.

    I still don’t know how Vancouver can expect to be the greenest city in the world when that inherently means we compare ourselves to the undisputed world leaders like Amsterdam and Copenhagen. I believe more than 90% of the Netherlands’ buildings are now connected to district energy systems.

    It’s a laudable goal and I’m glad its the direction we’re moving. Now I want to see some action, including the grit to finish the Millennium line and get SkyTrain out to UBC.

    East Vancouverite

    October 24, 2009 at 9:00 pm

  20. David

    I did not miss anything. I chose my words carefully. The plan – so called – does NOT specify a bored tube under Broadway out to UBC which is what G Campbell has been saying they would build. “A rapid transit line” is NOT the same thing as “a bored tube” – nor is there any mention of a start and finish point, or indeed exact route (“corridors” can be very wide) though everyone here loves to speculate

    An extension to the north side of the station is also not what I understand the word “redevelopment” to mean. There have been all kinds of proposals around the station for all sorts of developments. I would not say that there is one plan to which there is any degree of certainty at this point.

    But all of this is nit picking. There is not a lot of point trying to be the greenest city if you are set in the middle of a low density, car oriented sprawling region which is anything but. And there is more to being green than building one subway

    Stephen Rees

    October 24, 2009 at 9:23 pm

  21. “After years of hype, it looks like the mass-produced, all-electric car is really on its way. Puget Sound is poised to become one of the key markets for the initial wave of electric cars, in part because of plans to begin building next year a network of more than 2,000 charging stations throughout the region” from an article in the Seattle Times dated October 25,2009

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2010131927_electriccars25m.html

    Red frog

    October 28, 2009 at 10:46 am


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