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

Dan Burden – Active in Action

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SFU City Program – free public lecture at SFU downtown April 22, 2010

Dan Burden

Dan Burden

Dan Burden spoke last night summarizing his extensive experience in remaking places for people instead of cars. He used a lot of illustrations which I have not been able to locate on line. He does have a collection of images on flickr using the identity walkablecommunties some of which I have used below as well as one of my own (Bryant Park) and some others I have found on the web. SFU were making a video of the presentation as well, which will be on their web page eventually.

He opened by saying that Vancouver is the lead city for bringing about change for what we need. He intended to “validate that you are in the right field”. There is going to be a profound change for North America which for the last sixty years has been designed around the car. His job has been taming the urban highway. This mean dealing with both building form and street form – to make them relate to the human being – and do a better job of moving cars.

Lunchtime in Bryant Park

Bryant Park New York City – the only activities here  in the 1960s were drug deals. But only little things needed to be tweaked. “We needed to find the right height for the wall around the park so that people could see in”. It has become a social gathering place – we changed the wall and put in over 3,000 chairs which are portable, and only 30 a year get stolen.

Victoria BC

Victoria BC

Victoria BC

We are going to measure everything by the foot.  All areas are going to transition as we return to health and social equity. There will be bigger and more massive storms (illustrated by the picture of the Fallen tree in Stanley Park)  and this will effect every waterfront.

Density does not generate traffic – it generates pedestrians and cyclists. By maximizing sight lines we create public realm. All over America there are places were the streets have been laid and the sewers put in, but no houses will ever be built. This suburban expansion was the wrong concept at the wrong time – all the housing stock in Florida will not be sold in ten years.

We now see places like Calgary, Vernon, Edmonton where the spillover of knowledge and technologies in making human places has happened. But it must also be acknowledged that overcoming change in order to not have the worst possible change takes courage “Just ask Fred Bass” – Burrard Bridge.

In Seattle they are taking out the McDonalds and Burger Kings and putting in coffee houses as part of mixed use developments.

“Our cars matter. I am not anti-car but I am pro people”

There is a serious problem with SOVs.  The traffic system will always break down. Car buyers are very fickle. Just two years ago fuel efficiency was 17th on list of what people look for in a new car. A long way behind cup holders. That changed, but  gas prices have not come down as far as they were, and will not again.

West Lafayette Indiana – in showing how the narrowing of streets worked he remarked, “It’s the intersection that mediates traffic” not the width of the street.

After WWII we designed cities for cars. It was the federal housing administration that discouraged through traffic and mandated cul-de-sacs. It was not one class that was responsible. He showed a picture of 11 Mile Road in Detroit, Michigan. “That is now a scary place. Not exactly of what the modernists predicted.”

As recently as 1972 a traffic engineer in Los Angeles was quoted as saying “If it weren’t for the damn pedestrians there wouldn’t be a traffic problem.”

Tennessee Ave in Tallahassee – an arterial road 7 lanes wide that kills one pedestrian a year. It will be narrowed to 4 lanes and will move more traffic.

Today people are returning to cities for their health. He told the Cherokee 2 wolves story to illustrate how we can no chose which way to go.

Using a picture of the inner harbour in Victoria be highlighted several people who were “loitering” – change that to “lingering” and it becomes a good not an evil.

“How do we count the capacity of streets?”

For a long time we simply looked at vehicle capacity. We now need to look for other indicators such as the number of weddings on a bicycle.

He compared two roads and said that “the one that is safer makes more money”

Marine Drive, Dundarave, West Vancouver

Marine Drive, Dundarave, West Vancouver

Marine Drive,  Dundarave, West Vancouver

Vancouver, West Broadway

Vancouver, West Broadway

West Broadway, Vancouver – tripled density along the street

Robson Street, Vancouver “streets that are full of life”

Many cities have the original “bone structure” – the street system that predated the car and that can be revived. Seaside Florida was based on drawings from 1928, and simply designed to recreate the sort of place people had known int heir childhood.

“We will make more meaningful all spaces”

Sustainable places

Examples of sustainable places he illustrated included

High_Point

High Point, Seattle

Seattle – High Point – were there is a wide mix of housing types and a strong emphasis on water retention

The most unsustainable – Abu Dhabi – where there were no pedestrians or cyclists – but it will become the most sustainable – they have the will and the resources.

Bogota – example of public transport/ bicycle integration

West Palm Beach – rebuilding city that had fallen into ruin – Espanola Way – south beach

Monterey CA – mixed use “jewel box” devt on one third of an acre

30th Street in Vernon

30th Street in Vernon

Vernon BC – “off the charts on aging in place”. It also shows the importance of scale and edges in bringing back people into cities. He used a graph  that showed how pedestrain use increases and traffic declines based on the work of John Holtzclaw of the Sierra Club. As density increases from  3 to 4 units/acre to 20 units/acre, the number of car trips fall and the number of pedestrian and cycle trips increase.

“There is a difference between densirty and form. It is important to grasp that. It is not about sidewalks and crossings. It’s about the buildings.” They have recently rediscovered the importance of smaller scale grocers in urban places.

Michael Freedman – clustering to promote walkability – Highgate Village Burnaby

Burnaby, HighGate Village

Burnaby, HighGate Village

Complete Streets

Dundarave shows how managing traffic better made a better, more vibrant place.

Hamburg NY – street narrowing

La Hoya Blvd Birdrock San Diego – reducing 5 lanes to 2 got speeds down to 20mph and people got home sooner. That is because they replaced the traffic lights with roundabouts. All of the shops are doing better.

Rubber band planning

Rubber band planning

Rubber band planning

Just by using pins and flexible string to determine routes, a six year old can do a better job of planning streets. The pins indicate where people are located and where they want to be. The string between them shows the shortest route. The flexibility of the string shows where these desire lines can be grouped showing where the pedestrian crossings and pathways need to be. You then just replace the string with pen lines.

“Transportation is too important to be left to transportation planners”

He showed a number of examples of people power, citing the founder fathers, and the need to inform people. It is essential that the process involve people. [Quite unlike the present practice here of “public consultation”] He spoke of “turning back planning”. Robert Davis the inventor of Seaside simply wanted to make a place like he remembered from his childhood. Many of his examples showed that it only takes on person to start

The Cycle of Strip Development

Land Use Planners set out what was needed to accommodate people and their activities which produced growth. This required the attention of transportation planners who expanded the system  and encouraged further growth, which called for the land use planners to examine how to accommodate growth and so on. The only way of breaking the Cycle is to put the land use planners and transportation planners together with community planners.

Q & A

Q     As a result of making cities more desirable we also make the city more expensive

A     In Seattle they require developers to build workforce housing – a percentage of each development must be affordable. Or they pay for extra density to the city which the uses those funds to buy land for affordable housing.

Q  In Vancouver we have the downtown East Side which is bisected by the  6 lane Hastings Street. There are a lot of low income income people and also problems of drugs and theft. Do you have experience of  similar low income high risk areas?

A  Yes. All parts of the community have to be brought back. The social services have to work. Division St, Grand Rapids, Michigan was the same. The problem is how to get people to come and take part in the process. We had a design charrette for 118th St Edmonton which is now one of the most beautiful streets in the city. Initially one six people came – five of whom were simply seeking shelter. But one of them was inspired and cleaned up – and then became a very effective change agent. “It is the wealthy who will get the first fruits – the are the first to come back – but everybody must get cared for”

Q     Are mandatory parking minimums part of the problem?

A     Yes. See  Donald Shoup – The High Cost of Free Parking – minimum parking requirement is the problem

Q  second part – what is it going to take to get rid of minimum parking requirements? Is anybody here going to make that commitment?

[laughter]

Q  You spoke about the health improvements brought by these projects. For instance you said that  Marine Drive in West Vancouver “lowered blood pressure”. Have you empirical evidence?

Walter Kulash has noted that road rage is worst on suburban streets that have higher speeds. “We should probably have in car BP monitoring”

Q Returning to parking minimums – parts of Burnaby are walkable but they are surrounded by single family areas and that’s where the demand comes from for on street parking.

Public streets are public. Having your own spot on the street in front of your house is not a right. We have to come up with right way to charge for parking. Look at the example of Cambridge where residents have to have parking passes. We also tried to get high school students paid for parking on streets which would then become a fund for street improvements. There should be a premium for priority on parking to increase turn over that then provides money to neighborhoods. “No one has taken me up on that yet.” But we also need to ask “Are we really using the street properly”. Many suburban streets are too wide and could easily accommodate angle parking.

Q      How do we work with the “suburban mess”?

A      I am currently staying in Richmond, which has lots of “super blocks” and hence broken connectivity.  We need to remove the barriers but we are a conflicted society. 80% of N America is suburbs. Deciding where and how you stitch is a very big task. “It is not easy but it”s going to be fun!”

Q     GVRD vs Translink – two authorities – one for land use one for transportation

See New Zealand. They reinvented transportation and land use planning to make it into one team. They then sent teams to cities like Vancouver and stole their best ideas

Q   I am wondering about how long these streets are?  How far before energy peters out?

A    There is a need to change character of the street to reflect their neighborhoods: we tend to work in half mile sections.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 22, 2010 at 11:21 am

4 Responses

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  1. Hi Stephen
    Great post. Tonnes of great info.
    I couldn’t find 11 Mile Road, Detroit in Google maps though. Only 8 mile road.

    Chris of Adelaide

    April 23, 2010 at 9:55 pm

  2. 11 Mile is 3 miles north of 8 Mile… much of its length appears to be frontage road for I-696

    Dave 2

    April 28, 2010 at 9:15 am

  3. […] on Burden Stephen Rees does another great job in summing up Dan Burden’s talk – Active in Action – on his […]

  4. […] 3, 2010 Stephen Rees sums up Dan Burden’s talk – Active in Action – on his […]


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