Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Richmond

Plan for deeper dredging in Fraser River has high environmental price

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Steveston Ladner Canoe Pass and Mt Baker 2007_0710_1058

The story comes from Business in Vancouver and has a very even handed approach. I adapted their headline to be less even handed since I feel somewhat incensed by the behaviour of the Port Authority. As are the Voters Taking Action Against Climate Change. And it is also worth I think reframing this argument not so much about saving the planet as saving the place where we live from the inevitable consequences. It is not that dredging of the Fraser “may” reduce the protection provided by the wetlands. The mechanism described by Michael Church is readily apparent. The Port of course chooses to ignore it.

The problem is that the Port Authority has a very limited remit and no responsibility at all to the community within which it operates. The current Board’s view is that they only have to satisfy the “stakeholders” of whom the port businesses are about the only ones that get any attention. In exactly the same way the business in general is dealing with climate change – hoping it will go away or someone else will solve it cheaply and at public rather than business expense, all the while ensuring the greatest possible rate of return on capital employed for the shareholders rather than the stakeholders. It is this fundamental misconception – that the economy is somehow more important than the environment – that is the heart of the problem. A different kind of government in Ottawa could easily change this perception. We  - the people of Canada – are in fact the shareholders of the Port. But our government – at all levels – chooses to ignore that and places the interest of short term financial profits above all else. Including the impact of tidal surges on the population of Richmond, where urban development was allowed against all common sense and the regional plan.

This blog has often commented on the port and Richmond. When I lived there I felt personally threatened. No I no longer live there its a more academic exercise – but I still feel that we ought to have public agencies that are acutely conscious of their broader responsibilities. A business like approach is NOT appropriate in any Public Corporation. That is why it is in the public sector, not the private. If all that mattered was profit, then it could be privatized. But even our right wing governments realize that there are public interests in controlling the operations of ports – and all the other kinds of transportation and its associated infrastructure.

It is hardly surprising now that people here do not see the decision to downgrade the protection afforded to whales not as scientifically driven (when has the Harper Government ever paid any attention to science?) but as a spectacularly inept gift to the oil for export lobby. The timing alone is terrible, but when they have a secure parliamentary majority, and the polls trending once again in their favour, what do they care about optics? On the other hand they have finally decided to something about DOT111 tank cars: what a shame it took the deaths of so many people fo force them into action. Whatever happened to the precautionary principle? I would take that approach to dredging deeper in the Fraser. If for no other reason than every dredging operation I have been in touch with was always temporary – since each time you dredge a hole it fills up again. As any kid with a bucket and spade at the beach will tell you.

Richmond Bikes Still Lagging Behind

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That has been my view for a long time – but the title is taken from a “Friday Feature” in the Richmond News. Although I no longer live there, I still find that I go there quite a lot. The airport, picking up parcels from couriers who did not find me at home, car servicing, the doctor … the list is quite long. I have not tried to get there by bike. Though it would be straightforward enough, and with bike racks on buses, easy to avoid Vancouver’s hilly bits. But if I am going to use transit anyway, why hamper myself with a bike? We also still like walking on the dyke. And at one time we used to put the bikes on the car rack and go further. I am not sure why that has not been happening of late. I feel a Bicycle Diary coming on but I will leave that for later.

Richmond ought to be great for cyclists as it is as flat as a billiard table. There has long been a cycling committee there – and I am afraid that they have not achieved very much. If you remove the use of the dyke – which is much more about recreation than transportation – then there is actually not much cycling in Richmond. It is still very much a car oriented suburb and what facilities there are, were grudgingly conceded. Or pushed by the availability of funding from Translink or extracted from developers. Few bike lanes – lots of sharrows. And one or two paths shared with pedestrians and unpaved.

Raised Bike Lane No 3 Road

There is a pretty fair summation in the News piece.  It would not have gone amiss to have pointed out that the No 3 Road lane was separated and raised – for some of its length, but ruined by incompetent paving and never corrected. The best example of arterial road reorganization is still Williams Road. For much of its length the traditional four lanes of traffic has been reduced to two with a centre turn lane and bike lanes each side. This gets altered at intersections, with  no priority for bikes, and actually improves traffic flow, just as separated bike lanes have done in Vancouver. It also should stop on street parking – but is not well enforced.

Bad Parking 1

The biggest issue for me is that after twenty years of “demonstration” it has not been replicated and should have been. Critical intersections like Granville at Garden City, or Shell at Hwy 99 remain diabolical for cyclists.

Highway 99 overpass

The News does not expect much to change any time soon and I think they are right. The City Council is very secure and is unlikely to face any great challenge at the ballot box, so smugness rules. They will not change and no-one seems likely to make them.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Extending the Canada Line?

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UPDATED April 24, 2012

The headline in the Richmond Review actually reads “Extending the Canada Line won’t happen in our lifetime, says Richmond mayor”.

That is his opinion and he is entitled to it. But the – shortish – piece under it also illustrates not only why he may well be wrong, but also why Strategic Planning is too important to be left to politicians – or people who seriously think that perception is reality.

Malcolm Brodie has shown himself to be a capable politician – simply because he has survived in his position for such a long time, not been tempted to get out his depth, and now and again stood up to the bullies in the provincial government who come from the same part of the political spectrum as he does. I do not buy the appellation “non partisan”. Malcolm is no socialist, nor is he in the slightest danger of being labelled Green. But he also shows that his perspective is what the local electorate generally wants to hear. South of Granville, most of Richmond is still single family homes (though many have “mortgage helpers”) and, like most people up to the eyes in debt, deeply distrustful of change in the neighbourhoods. After all, that was why they bought where they did, and they do not want to find themselves living somewhere else without moving. So this kind of stuff plays well with the local Chamber of Commerce, which is where he was speaking.

But Richmond is changing, and changing fast, and not just in the bits served by the Canada Line. Though the massive retail development proposed in the Bridgeport area is getting the headlines, change is happening along the bus routes, because of a council decision that allows that. Even though only of one them is classified as frequent (#410). At one time most change was small bungalows on large lots getting replaced by monster homes. That still happens within the subdivisions, but along the edges (i.e the arterial roads that are bus routes) the development of choice is townhouses. Lots of them, packed in tight and usually with lane way access. Because even though there may be a bus route, most people are still going to drive and parking standards have not been relaxed.

This blog has consistently pointed out that the Canada Line was not, in fact “specifically built with the idea that it could be extended”. Malcolm and other Richmond Councillors might have thought that, but they were not in charge. In fact they wanted surface light rail on the old B Line “central reservation” – which could have been easily extended, much cheaper but was also incompatible with automatic train operation. The Canada Line has significant limitations – mostly short underground stations – and a P3 “concession agreement”. The single track bit in Richmond does limit frequency as it is operated in two directions.

South end of the Canada Line at Richmond-Brighouse Station

South end of the Canada Line at Richmond-Brighouse Station by "indyinsane", on Flickr

As I have said, what could be done is to build a one way loop by tacking new track on the end of the Brighouse Station and linking back to Lansdowne, taking in the areas with significant traffic generating potential. (No 3 to Granville, east on Granville, north on Garden City, west on Lansdowne). Then it can operate at line frequency as there would be no need to wait until the train gets back to Landowne. The loop might have stations at City Hall, and two more on Garden City.  Indeed, I can imagine the sort of people who think concrete would greatly improve the Garden City lands as salivating at that thought. Not that I am proposing such a thing – or even saying that it would be a Good Thing. Just sketching out a possibility.

I think the cited “$107.9 million per kilometre” as the cost of the line probably includes the very expensive underground route in Vancouver. Single track guideway around a couple of square kilometres of high rises might be a lot cheaper. Though don’t expect the people living at track level to cheer about that. Ideally, of course, one builds rail rapid transit before the people move in. Much easier then to get the thing accepted, and a much better rate of return on capital employed. There is even enough room on the ground, thanks to the old BCER tracks which ran along Garden City and Granville, explaining the generous right of way those roads have, and the bizarre layout of their intersection.

This might well happen, if things develop as nows seems likely. Peak oil, and the lack of affordability of electric cars means that finally Greater Vancouver could get serious about providing alternatives to single occupant motor vehicles. This would be because transit is much more fuel efficient per passenger kilometre even if it is in old diesel buses – and exponentially better if it is in modern electric trains. And the majority of people who live in Richmond now are not people like Malcolm Brodie. They know at first hand what very high residential densities and excellent public transport look like. They just have not been very much involved in municipal politics – as the present ethnic make up of Richmond Council makes clear.

Of course, some of the other likely scenarios have to play out differently too. The major earthquake and tsunami might not happen for a while longer – or we may have actually done something effective to mitigate their impacts. Similarly sea level rise – expected to be much higher in the Pacific North West – will happen, but for Richmond to continue to exist will require a radically changed approach to flood prevention. Salt water ingress into the soil may have some impact on the remaining agricultural lands (if they have not all been paved for port expansion) but fresh water flow from the Fraser might hold that back – despite the loss of the last glaciers and much less snow pack.

One thing I would caution people like Malcolm making prognostications like this is the propensity of history to show that they were wrong and often much sooner than you might think. It does seem to me that those who have been saying that the North American style of car oriented suburb was a short lived idea and one that has now seen its heyday pass are much better founded in their understanding than someone who says “you’re going to have a huge expense for really very little value in terms of densities”. Malcolm really does not understand what is happening in the broadest sense. It may play well now that we are embroiled in trying to cut costs and avoid more property taxes, but it is very short term, local thinking.  And that worries me when we say that the Mayors need to be in charge of the agency that plans the region’s transportation system.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 20, 2012 at 10:43 am

Steveston Waterfront

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Waterfrontrezoning

Take a look at the web page set up by Onni that looks to raise support for broadening permitted uses on the waterfront at the BC Packers site. The buildings are already under construction. The idea that these will accommodate Richmond’s preferred uses “marine industrial” is fanciful. Onni’s is even worse. Here is what I submitted. What do you think?

The question is disingenuous – and the use of a banner stating “I support” that remains in place when looking at any page (and no banner for any other position) shows just how one-sided this process is. No information is presented on need. Nor is any information presented to assess what other uses might be appropriate. Is the best you can come up with a simple repetition of every other suburban shopping centre? Steveston is a destination full of people wandering around and looking for something to do. Apart from a few pubs and many restaurants – plus the boat yard at one end and the cannery at the other – there is in fact very little for visitors to do in Steveston. Most come to eat fish and chips, or drink coffee. Onni needs to show that it understands what makes for destination attraction, to build Steveston’s appeal and retain visitor interest. Ordinary retail is just not good enough. We need something as interesting as Granville Island – but sufficiently different and preferably tied into to the history of the place. Go and do some research – talk to the Rouse Corporation (Faneuil Hall in Boston) or the people who did Covent Garden in London. I do not support your proposal. Nor do I think that the City’s idea of marine industry is viable. What we need here is some imagination.

UPDATE

Maybe the Rouse Corporation is not such a good place to go. The Architect’s Newspaper Blog looks at what is now proposed for New York’s South Street Seaport now that ownership has changed.

The design is a huge departure from the desolate barn-like mall developed by the Rouse Corporation in the 1980s, where to this day nachos and tropical cocktails remain de rigueur. The new owner, the Howard Hughes Corporation, hopes to bring New Yorkers back to one of the most spectacular sites in town, while welcoming tourists and not quarantining them in a thematic trap.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 22, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Posted in Urban Planning

Tagged with , , ,

The Bicycle Diaries

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bike

There is no copyright in titles, but I do happen to be reading David Byrne‘s excellent collection of short pieces right now, and the return of the warmer weather saw me get my bike out of the shed this weekend. I simply wiped off the dust, pumped up the tires and oiled the chain. Everything seemed to be working ok until I needed the small front gear ring – so I need to do a bit more adjustment on that for when I leave Lulu Island.

Byrne’s diaries are “observations and insights – what he is seeing, whom he is meeting, what he is thinking about – as he pedals through and engages with some of the world’s major cities”. Well worth reading. My aim is perhaps more limited and I doubt I will be covering anything like his geographic compass. What I tend to be thinking about when I am cycling is cycling – and the state of the route I am using, as opposed to the state of life, the universe and everything.

Steveston at No 4 Rd

Steveston at No 4 Rd

In no particular order let’s start with Richmond. I have been cycling here now for 15 years or so, and I have seen very little change in that time in the bike route network or its facilities, and many have needed upgrading for a long time. The concept of cycling as transportation seems foreign to Richmond. though being completely flat, it shouldn’t be. The dykes are fine – though I would prefer a better surface than loose gravel.  Some of the issues of cycling in Richmond have been covered here in this blog, so I will try not to repeat myself. Both No 4 Road (at least north of Steveston Highway) and Steveston Highway itself should be avoided. These are arterial routes that drivers use for fast travel: they are posted at 50km/hr but hardly anyone drives at that speed. There are no marked cycle facilities of any kind so wary cyclists who have no choice but to use short lengths of these roads ride on the sidewalk, illegally but a lot more safely. Please, if you have to do that, ride slowly so that you can stop quickly if someone walks out of a gate in a hedge.

Garden City might be good alternate to No 4 but there is no way you can proceed safely south through the Granville Road intersection.

Empty trail 2

The Shell Road trail is a joy to ride but dead ends at Highway #99. The boundary between MoT and CoR is marked by signs and a clear shift in attitude. MoT does not seem to have a cycling policy. While Highway #99 is getting bus lanes added to it (and not before time!) the bridge over Shell Road is a work site. Underneath, in the CN right of way is the works yard. There is plenty of room here for a northbound continuation  of the bike route all the way to River Road within the road allowance. It would be nice if, when the work is finished, at least the bit under Highway #99 was left as a bike route. I will be surprised if it is.

Highway 99 overpass

A common issue for many major intersections in Richmond is the use of right turn lanes. These are simply designed to speed up vehicle movements – and pose a significant hazard to cyclists and pedestrians alike. Cars driving fast west along Westminster Highway and turning north onto Shell have no intention of stopping, and the location of the crossing at the apex of the bend actually reduces the sightline of cars and bikes. Signalization of intersections like this (the next one north at Shell and Alderbridge is the same) ignores the turn so you don’t get a button to push or a light to stop the cars except on the straight through movements. And even then, traffic making left turns does so when you get the white walk sign (the existence of cycles is simply ignored by drivers and traffic engineers alike).

Shell at Westminster Hwy

Shell at Westminster Hwy

The section of River Road between No 4 and Shell has been narrowed to deter car racing. However this is a residential street on the south side, so cyclists who do not want impatient drivers crowding them through the chicanes use the sidewalk. The dyke is also an alternate through route, but less convenient if you are headed to or from Vancouver over the new Canada Line Bridge.   And as I noted at the time, that drops you down to Kent Avenue for the climb back up to the ridge. A gentler, straight ramp to S E Marine Drive would have been far better and neater. The “sharrows” on the tarmac seem to indicate use of Cambie but I would avoid Marine for the same reasons I avoid Steveston Highway. Kent to Ontario is much quieter.

If the climb from Marine deters you there is a lot of choice – put the bike on a variety of bus routes or the Canada Line itself. Ontario Street southbound from the Ridgeway, on the other hand is a joy. Just a note to other users. Those round things in the middle of intersections make them traffic circles NOT roundabouts. If you don’t know the difference you should.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 17, 2010 at 11:34 am

Posted in bicycles, cycling

Tagged with , , ,

Interchange ‘entirely for port,’ says councillor

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Richmond Review

The City of Richmond has long wanted another interchange on the freeway. Their preferred location would be Highway #99 at Blundell. The province does not want to do that, but has offered a new partial interchange on Highway #91 at Nelson Road. However, in order to get that Richmond would have to contribute $3m.

One of the reasons the City is saying it needs the interchange is to reduce truck traffic on Westminster Highway. This has increased dramatically as the port industrial lands on the south arm between LaFarge and Riverport have been developed. Richmond would like the new access road to be grade separated at Westminster Highway. They can’t have that either.

Local councillor Harold Steves is quoted in the paper edition but very oddly, this is left out of the on-line version I linked to above.

Steves maintains the province wants to build a new bridge over the South Arm of the Fraser at No 8 Road and the new interchange is needed to facilitate it.

“Everything to build this new crossing is falling into place,” he said. “It would destroy East Richmond farmland.”

The Ministry of Transport never gives up on a defeated road proposal.  This one has been around for a long time. It would also have, of course, a new crossing of the North Arm to connect up to Boundary Road.

Screen shot 2009-10-24 at 4.28.57 PM If you look to the map on the left, Boundary Road runs due south from the point where Highway #1 turns east. Just draw a mental line due south, and you will see how it neatly falls halfway between the Deas Tunnel and the Alex Fraser, and skirts (or not depending on how you define it) the brown area in the middle of Delta – Burns Bog. It would remove some traffic from both Marine Drive and the Knight Street bridge to the west and the Queensborough Bridge to the east.   And it would also add capacity which is currently maximised at the tunnel. While the counterflow system designed to ease commuting to and from Vancouver does help those flows, it does so at the expense of counter peak movements – which have increased significantly as a result of the dispersal of both employment and industry away from Vancouver’s downtown.

Previous proposals from the MoT fell foul of the Cities of Vancouver and Richmond, as well as creating great concern over the ALR, the Bog and the green zone generally.  This route is missing from Transport 2021, which was incorporated in to the LRSP. Of course the province no longer has any concerns about these issues, as it determination to pursue the Gateway project on the south bank of the South Arm demonstrates. You can also see how much of the land south of Westminster Highway is now grey not green. That’s port industrial development, and a lot of it fairly recent. The picture below shows the view upstream from the east end of Steveston Highway. The left side of the picture is almost filled with empty containers stored on new fill, mostly dredged from the shipping channel – a process which is continuing even as I write this.

The Review piece is mainly a response to the urging last week of the local MLA to accept the deal that is being offered. There is no response from the Port, but also no word at all from the MoT. The previous minister dismissed calls for the doubling of  the Deas Tunnel, saying that is was not a current priority for the province. And, of course, if the long range plans of the MoT never change, which certainly seems to be the case, that might well explain his response. It is probably cheaper now to build yet another cable stayed, post tensioned bridge (like the Golden Ears) than sink more tubes adjacent to the existing tunnel. But more importantly, as Steves notes, it also opens up a lot of land for highway oriented development. In exactly the same way as the SFPR converts land from agriculture to industry in Delta. And as the widening of Highway #1 will facilitate along the valley.

Container storage

Written by Stephen Rees

October 24, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Richmond: Bike lane experiment begins

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Richmond Review

I went for a ride along it yesterday and took some pictures – thinking that it might make a blog piece. But then it seemed to me that it would, once again, look like a personal attack on Larry Pamer, which is not something I wanted to do. He is quoted extensively in the Review article – for example “I think the design is absolutely world-class” which is hyperbole.

By the way the pictures were all taken late morning of BC day – a public holiday. This explains the emptiness of the images – there were no cyclists or pedestrians to include.

No 3 Road at Cambie nb bike lane
Two major issues are that the bike lane does not connect to any part of the cycling network – neither Cambie nor Sea Island have bike lanes. But then the Richmond “network” is pretty much disconnected anyway. Very few usable routes are continuous for any great length. The other is the quality of the surface

“And the northbound lane has slight slope imperfections—due to crews spreading the asphalt by hand because the contractor’s machines wouldn’t fit on the narrow lane, according to city spokesperson Diana Waltmann.”

“Slight slope imperfections” means that you get a very lumpy ride indeed. Pamer tries to make that a positive – and the City is not going to make the contractor do it properly.
Plant climbing frameAnd of course the whole thing is incomplete – and there will not be a southbound lane any time soon. Not until the development industry can be persuaded to pay for it.

R8066 nb on No 3 Road on #98 B-LineThe width is about the same as most on street bike lanes in Richmond – about half a traffic lane – and the gutter that is used to separate the lane from traffic does give a bit more “breathing” room. But of course whenever there is a bus stop or a right turn, the lane ends.
No 3 Road at Cambie nb sidewalk
It seems to me that much more money and effort went into trying to reduce the impact of the Canada Line structure with planting and landscaping – to little effect. At present the line provides some welcome shade. I am not sure that it will be so welcome on a wet November morning.
bus stop provision nb No 3 Road at Yaohan Centre
Very little new has been done for cyclists in Richmond for the last several years. “Sharrows” do absolutely nothing, as far as I am concerned. I also happen to think that routes through quiet streets would be a better strategy than bike lanes on busy arterials. Such a strategy could also be used to help improve walking and cycling access in subdivisions otherwise designed to deter through traffic. But that goes well beyond the present discussion. The “raised bike lane” really achieves very little – unless it deters casual parking in the lane which bedevils the few other Richmond arterials that do have painted bike lanes.

The real argument should be about is this going to be a “Great Street” which is the City of Richmond’s declared intention. And the answer to that, on present evidence, has to be “No!” The problems of No 3 Road are little to do with bike lanes. The curse of No 3 Road is the automobile – and the fact that the road tried and failed to accommodate them. The City itself does not provide any parking – that is all left to the property owners on ether side, and the ITE parking guidelines. Since this parking is private it is free, but only to those actually visiting the premises at the time. You cannot park and then walk between the various destinations – you must drive, or your car will be ticketed and then towed.

Much of the parking is at the front, so few of the buildings have any “street presence” – and anyway these days shops care little about window displays. Where shops have been put at the back of the sidewalk in the podia of large buildings on other streets in Richmond the windows are usually blank. But that is not the real issue either. All the entrances and exits to the parking cross the sidewalk at a sharp right angle. So curb lane traffic crawls, held up by the cars trying to negotiate the tight curves and of course waiting to get in and out of traffic flow. So it doesn’t. Hence the frustration of the drivers and those who will tell you to avoid driving on No 3 at all costs. No-one walks on No 3 Road for any distance, and I can’t say I blame them.

The whole street is built at very low density – partly because of the height restrictions needed for safe aircraft operations. No 3 Road is close the end of both main runways. But mostly becuase of the assumption that anyone going to No 3 Road will get there by car. Will the Canada Line change that? Well the B Line didn’t but it only had ten eight years and on the whole not much happened in that time. The buildings that did go up followed the same set of rules – which were all about cars. Until the city centre is rethought in terms of people it will not change enough. And the bike lanes are a very small change indeed.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 4, 2009 at 8:24 am

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