Cambie Corridor plans puts Vancouverism to the test
Hadani Ditmars in the Globe and Mail examines what is going to be happening at two stations on the new Canada Line. There is to be a new development at Marine Drive and the Oakridge Mall is getting a makeover. There is a surprisingly positive view given by Patrick Condon, who elsewhere has been critical of this sort of point intensity of development preferring the mid rise, spread along the street style of development that follows streecars. Rapid transit of any kind has fewer stations than streetcars have stops, so the development tends to cluster around the station and density declines as distance from the station increases. Or would do if the planning was done properly – Stockholm being about the best example.
I do not yet see that the “corridor” itself is going to see a lot of change. There are many home owners now asking for very large prices for their low density buildings along the street, which prompted a reaction from the city planner who pointed out that developers have to pay development cost charges to the city, and the sort of prices being asked and the likely permitted density increase did not add up to viable projects.
What I think is remarkable is how late the development is occurring. Most of it has yet to have much of a physical manifestation and it is only occurring at two points. Contrast that to the way Richmond’s city centre has been expanding – upwards – since the announcement of the line was made, with new developments open as soon as the line was and more on the way. In fact some of the development – out by the Oval and No 2 Road is quite remote from the line – and, indeed, any transit at all. There used to be a #492 express bus on weekday peak periods over the No 2 Bridge and direct to downtown. That went when the B line came in and was quickly revived when the loadings far exceeded expectations. The current idea is that people will take the #402 to Brighouse Station and wait in line for the single line shuttle service. Actually people wanting a seat tend to get on the southbound train at the previous station to ensure they get one and put up with the slower journey time. Brighouse still does not have a purpose built bus station – unlike Marine Drive.
I think there is very little point spending huge amounts of money on rapid transit systems unless you are willing to allow much greater densities. The lack of development along the Expo line in East Vancouver being something that I used to take groups of people to see, since they had heard so much about the success of Vancouver’s downtown and thought that somehow this progressive attitude extended geographically. Until now, within the City, about the only place which has seen significant change has been Joyce-Collingwood where industrial land was converted to dense, affordable housing – by reducing parking requirements.
The new buildings going up on No 3 Road have not had their parking requirements reduced. Indeed they are actually building underground parking – something hitherto only seen at City Hall. That recognizes that for a lot of Richmond residents employment is not in Vancouver but in other suburbs, and that the car is still the dominant form of commuting. Despite the raised bike lanes.
Development which actually increases parking supply (these sites were formerly car showrooms) inevitably increases car use – even if there is a rapid transit line nearby. Indeed, when the first Toronto subway opened along Yonge Street, traffic got worse. The removal of streetcars allowed more road space for cars, but the new high rise buildings at the stations had parking included in them.
I certainly congratulate Translink on its performance last year. It was a very good lesson in getting quarts into pint pots. I just think that they will hit the limit of what that can achieve fairly quickly. The Canada Line was built down to a price, and is going to be a problem when expansion become necessary. And if the development along the Cambie corridor exceeds the present two sites and becomes more widespread, the limits of that capacity will be reached very quickly indeed. In the meantime, what money is being spent is wasted on the pointless gating system.
Vancouver – and its region – desperately needs more and better transit and much more transportation choice. That is not news of course. And so far the region as a whole seems not to have embraced the idea that underlies the Vancouver Transportation plan - that human powered modes and transit should have priority. Density is still a dirty word – just like traffic congestion. And for a good summary of the history of that I recommend the ever more prolific Gordon Price - and endorse his recommendations.