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

Archive for the ‘Urban Planning’ Category

We have been changing

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censusSFhomes

This graph appeared on my flickr stream today. I was surprised, both by the relative position of Metro Vancouver compared to the other Canadian metro areas, and the steepness of the decline. I do not usually get into the land use, density, urban design stuff but what I see from other blogs and discussions had given me the sense that somehow we were losing the battle against sprawl. I know that people are quite rightly concerned about large houses in the ALR – that people in Richmond now refer to as AirBnB hotels – and that so much recent development seems to have followed the freeway expansions into areas which were not identified as of the Growth Concentration Area identified in the LRSP. But what this graph shows is that the conventional single family home on its own lot – or one that shares a lot – is no longer the dominant form of the region. And that we are outperforming both Montreal and Toronto in delivering other types of residence.

This is indeed good news, and a strong indication of why we not only need more and better transit, but that it will be successful because we have the density to support it. This also seem to be the subtext of a lot of commentary I have been seeing about why the BC Liberals did so poorly in this region. That includes, of course Peter Fasbender (former Minister for Translink) losing his seat (Surrey-Fleetwood).

And the source for this graph (Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto) was new to me too.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 13, 2017 at 5:10 pm

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dense

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Vancouver Aerial

This is a photograph of Vancouver’s downtown, which in recent years has become – in terms of urban development – one of the densest parts of the region. This was the result of a set of inter-related planning decisions, to allow for towers, closely spaced, and mainly for residential use. This was a departure from the way other places kept downtowns for other, non-residential uses. This has allowed for much greater choices in terms of how people get to and from work – and other activities. In most modern cities, built since World War II, the plan has been to allow for most use of cars, which has created large swathes of low density suburbs. Traditionally, prior to motorised transport, cities were designed to allow for most trips to be completed by walking. Railways and streetcars allowed things to be spaced out a bit more, but the greatest impact was the use of the personal automobile. Most North American cities are now turning away from this pattern of development and rediscovering the benefits of urbanity. (Most European cities made that choice much sooner – to retain the amenities and cultural significance of their central areas. ) Not just better energy efficiency, and cleaner air – though both are worthwhile improvements – but in greater interaction between people. More sociability, greater opportunities to meet other people – more culture, more entertainment, more choices of where to go and what to do.  Indeed the pursuit of higher densities remains a central plank of urban and regional planning – the subject matter of most of this blog – made possible by increasing the choices of transport open to residents. More trips that can be made without needing a car, by walking, cycling and public transport. That produces happier, healthier places. It doesn’t just protect the environment it increases economic activity.

Note too that one important lesson of developing a dense urban core is that green spaces – that’s Stanley Park in the foreground – can be successfully protected and made available for many more people to enjoy, rather than the large areas that get fenced off to keep people out in low density suburbs and exurbs.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2017 at 9:26 pm

North Shore bridges at ‘tipping point’

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Second Narrows Bridges

Second Narrows Bridge

Fraser Voices picked up on a Vancouver Sun story today: their concern, of course, was the bridge replacement for the Massey Tunnel will have exactly the same effect

Traffic is bad all over Metro Vancouver, but the worst spot to emerge in the last several years is the bridgehead at the Second Narrows in North Vancouver.

Municipal leaders were told in 2015 that the North Shore’s woes coincided precisely with the expansion of the Port Mann Bridge to 10 lanes in 2012.

Well municipal leaders have been told, many times,  that the region was headed for worsening traffic and congestion problems for much longer than that. In fact I have the feeling that I have written this blog post many times now.

I was employed on the issue between 1997 and 2004. Back then, when we were sent across to the North Shore to listen to their complaints about transit – and ideas like a third crossing or a SkyTrain extension in a submerged tube to Lonsdale Quay and then up Lonsdale in tunnel – we said that the North Shore was not part of the Growth Concentration Area (GCA), and that since population was therefore not expected to grow there in large amounts, there were other areas where increasing transit supply was a higher priority. The GCA was part of the Livable Region Strategic Plan (LRSP) – and its transportation counterpart, Transport 2021. That said that we were going to build a compact urban region of complete communities that would protect the green zone and increase transportation choice.

We didn’t stick to that plan. The province of BC did sign on to it, but then steadily undermined it. And the LRSP eventually gave way to the present Regional Growth Strategy. The other neighbouring regional plans, designed to prevent them becoming exurbs of Greater Vancouver, were also largely ignored. The freeway widenings and new bridges were the recipients of huge sums from the province, and were never subject to a referendum. Bridge tolls were unpopular – and explain why the Port Mann line in this chart goes down while the Alex Fraser goes up.

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Given the investments made in widening Highway #1, “improving” the Sea to Sky, building the South Fraser Perimeter Road and the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges, it is hardly surprising that most development in the impacted areas has been car oriented. Transit developments have been concentrated in the part of the region that already had pretty good transit service. Transit Oriented Development – like that in Port Moody – either didn’t happen or was ineffective due to the lack of workable transit choices. The West Coast Express, being limited to weekday only peak hour direction only, just benefitted a those commuting to downtown Vancouver – the one area where employment growth had been sacrificed to condo development.

In fact the Vancouver Sun article doesn’t talk about transit at all, except for one mention about bus routes needing to catch up. But there always were options that could have been chosen, if the LRSP was to work as intended. The Millennium Line need not have been quite so useless: it could have been the full T line anticipated in Transport 2021 – UBC to Coquitlam with a branch to New Westminster. It would have had to be surface LRT, as originally intended to be built for the same price. SkyTrain could have been extended in Surrey. Passenger rail service could have been retained (and enhanced) to Squamish, Whistler and beyond and some better use made of the former BCER right of way to Chilliwack. LRT was entirely possible on routes like the Arbutus Corridor, with connections to the airport, and along the Riverside development area where CP has a somewhat redundant freight line along Kent Avenue all the way out to New Westminster and the TriCities. Sharing tracks between freight and LRT is entirely feasible as demonstrated by the Ottawa O train.

Otrain approaching Bayview 2006_0608

Translink might well have introduced its now highly successful #555 from Braid to Langley much sooner by the simple device (used for Delta and South Surrey express buses on Highway 99) of converting the hard shoulders of Highway 1 to exclusive bus lanes. There was no need for all those lanes on the Port Mann bridge – which is now carrying less traffic – as the congestion was only on the approaches. A bus across the bridge connecting the city centres of Surrey and Coquitlam would still provide much more convenient and direct service than SkyTrain does now.

The present BC Liberal administration has shown that it does not support increasing transportation choice. It shows that it is stuck in the 1950s mindset of continually increasing highway capacity, which never ever satisfies demand for very long, and always provides more opportunities for more expansion plans. And that suits the corporations and the property developers who keep on doing what they have always done – which includes large donations to the political party that made it so profitable. Not livable. Not affordable. Not sustainable.

Traffic congestion cannot be solved by increasing road capacity. Mobility and accessibility can be increased by providing more and better options as well as better land use planning. The two are inextricable. More single family homes on large lots with multiple car garages remote from everything, except a local school and park, is a recipe for continuing worsening of our environment. We have known this for a very long time indeed. What is very odd indeed is that people come here to look at downtown Vancouver and think we have achieved something remarkable when in fact the rest of the region is as bad or worse than most North American suburbs.  As Karen Quin Fung remarked on Twitter “We’re far from securing quality of life enjoyed now in CoV, for rest of Metro Van”

And building another massive bridge between Richmond and Delta will not change that.

The problems on the North Shore won’t be solved by upgrading interchanges either. And a Third Crossing doesn’t seem any more likely than in the last thirty years. Maybe the Mayor’s Plan to expand transit will help, but, as the North Shore Mayors recently acknowledged, there is not a lot in there for their area.

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Looks like they are going to need a lot more transit!

Update: January 27, 2017
“Plans to alleviate traffic on the Cut and Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing got a big boost Friday with the announcement of two new two-lane bridges over Lynn Creek shouldering the existing orange Highway 1 bridge.”

North Shore News

Written by Stephen Rees

December 16, 2016 at 5:55 pm

Granville Island 2040: Phase 3

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I went to the “Open House” on the Granville Island 2040 plan this afternoon. This was not an open house format in any sense I would use. There were three longish identical presentations during the day with an opportunity to ask questions or make comments at the end of each. A few display boards were in the Revue Stage Lobby – so this one was the leftmost of the icons in the image above “Draft Directions”. Apart from these boards, there were no materials being distributed nor is there very much on the Granville Island web page. It may be that the presentation may be made available there later as there was a tv camera pointed at the presenters. I did not stay for the comments and questions.

The theatre was by no means full: I estimate around 70 people were present and I do not include staff or presenters in that number.

The presentation was made by Darryl Condon of the architecture company HMCA retained by CMHC. While there were several others at the two top tables, on the stage, facing the audience none of them gave formal presentations but were available to answer the comments and questions.

I am not going to simply report all of what the presentation covered as I expect that the draft plan will be available in due course. The vision of that plan will include the idea that GI is a “zone of public possibility” which will acknowledge both its history and the collective creative potential of its users. The principles governing the development include

  • public good has priority over market forces
  • an increase in diversity of users
  • social and environmental resilience
  • a place to learn and be challenged

There are others too.

Among the ten key goals are #6. Pop up culture (currently the Island’s offerings are very static) #7. Reduce the dominance of private cars

Strategies

As you might expect I was most interested in what is being termed CarLite. Access is a critical issue, and reducing car use depends on increasing the availability of alternatives. Currently 1/4 of the Island is roadway or parking. There are 980 parking spaces on east side and 300 on the west (Granville Bridge being the middle). There is a declining use of cars to get to GI (increases in walking, cycling and use of ferries were reported in an earlier post) The aim is to make the west side car free, while maintaining access for deliveries, people with disabilities and drop off and pick up of passengers. This is expected to produce more vitality and activity. Many places have already made significant progress in prioritizing pedestrians e.g. The Rocks, Sydney; DUMBO and Times Square, New York. It is also intended to increase the amount of nighttime activity following the examples of Amsterdam (which has a Night Mayor) and Brixton which has a Night Market.

I want to intervene here to point out that despite the commitment to increasing inclusiveness, there was no mention of the very successful Richmond Night Markets.

It was also noted that the present arrangements allow little access to the water, and a number of suggestions were offered as to how to increase this including sales from boats or places to “dip your toes in” False Creek. The Public Market will be expanded to be more than a building: it will become a precinct with open air stalls, food trucks and the like. There is also a commitment to make greater use of the many “in between spaces”. With the reduction of car park spaces, there will be a greater opportunity of large flexible spaces and mixed use.

The two most important pieces from my perspective were what is now being called Alder Bay Bridge

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The display map in the lobby was nothing like the present proposal, which is now designed as both a curve, landing further north west and not crossing at the narrowest point. This will allow for use by pedestrians and cyclists, protect the “sanctity of the green space” and link to an enhanced path along the northern edge of the island.  Examples of curved bridges as art pieces with sculptural quality were shown but not identified.

Frank Ducote photo

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Frank Ducote photo

Two alternatives were shown for an elevator connection to Granville Bridge. The bridge now carries 6 bus routes, with an effective average 2 minute wait time for a bus between GI and downtown, but getting to GI now is actually not that easy. So an elevator to midspan bus stops makes obvious sense. What makes much less sense is the City proposal of a median “greenway” on the bridge. Any pedestrian would, I think, prefer a view of the water and the scenery rather than of lots of traffic. (One idea I have seen that was not shown is a walking deck beneath the car deck.) An elevator to a median bus stop would require structural alterations to the bridge. So if there were two elevators, one for each direction of bus service, they could be built outboard of the structure. They might even be temporary initially as a proof of concept, but more elaborately could include a wider sidewalk and bumpout bus stops – again my thoughts not what was shown.
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This was also in the lobby but not mentioned in the presentation.

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This survey was for people who had attended the presentations, and will not be on line for long. But CMHC is encouraging further input

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Thanks to Frank Ducote for the pictures taken of the presentation

Written by Stephen Rees

December 3, 2016 at 6:08 pm

How Cities Should Be Designed

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This graphic was posted to Twitter by Professor Chris Oliver.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 5, 2016 at 2:31 pm

Granville Island 2040

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Granville Island

Photo by Alyson Hurt on Flickr 

I went this morning to a workshop called “Getting to and Moving Through Granville Island”. It is part of Granville Island 2040, “a planning initiative that will set out a comprehensive direction and dynamic vision for the island’s future” organised by CMHC and Granville Island. The session, facilitated by Bunt & Associates, collaboratively reviewed current infrastructure, mobility services and travel patterns as well as seeking ideas and opinions on critical transportation elements for the Island’s future. It was a group of about 20 “stakeholders” which included local residents’ associations, City of Vancouver staff, Translink, both of the ferry companies, the local business association, BEST, Modacity and Ocean concrete.

There had been a meeting the previous day dealing with land use, and there will be many more opportunities for people who are interested to get involved. You can even Instagram your idea with the hashtag #GI2040 – which I have already done. But there’s a lot more to this idea that I want to write about.

First of all I think it is very unfortunate that the process separates out transportation and land use, since I am convinced that these must be considered together: they are two sides of the same coin. Secondly the process centres around the vision for what people want to see by in 2040, and then there will be thought about how to achieve that. I think it is immediately apparent that CMHC has its own process for deciding how to replace Emily Carr University when it relocates to False Creek Flats. This long term vision has to assume that it sorted out, and that CMHC has achieved its own objective of seeing increased levels of activity on the Island.

The workshop started with a presentation by Bunt & Associates of some recent transportation data they have collected last month, compared to data collected on the same days in August 2005. I did not take notes, thinking that there might be a handout or perhaps material on the website. So I am forced to summarise the findings without any of the figures in front of me. There has been an increase in the number of people going to the Island, but a drop in the number of cars. The increases come from increased use of the ferries, pedestrians and cycling. They conducted cordon counts between noon and 6pm midweek and a Saturday and a very limited interview survey, to help identify where people came from, how many were in the group and how much they spent. Car occupancy has increased. The Island is now also on the itinerary of the Hop-on/Hop-off service which wasn’t the case ten years ago.

There were some very obvious weaknesses in the data. For instance, transit passengers were only counted at the cordon when they got off the #50 bus. It is my observation that many people walking into Granville Island have come from the bus stops at the southern end of Granville Bridge. While some of that “multi-mode” travel is apparent from the interview survey, it is not like a trip diary. There were also no counts in the evenings, when the use of Granville Island shifts considerably to the theatres and destination restaurants like Bridges and Sandbar.

There were the usual workshop activities of putting sticky notes on maps and talking in breakout groups, and some of the common ground was apparent early on. Reuse of the abandoned Historic Railway to connect to the mostly empty parking lots and Olympic Village station, for instance. By 2040 that may even extend to the tram envisioned for the Arbutus Corridor, and even if that can’t be achieved by then, the Greenway linkage to the Seawall was a favourite too. Currently while pedestrians and bikes have a few options, vehicles have only one, and I am relieved to report that no-one thought there should be more. In fact the traffic count shows that the current four lane access is excessive, and could be replaced by two lanes with the space better utilised by dedicated bike lanes, wider sidewalks and possibly a tram line.

The idea I want to examine in a bit more detail was popular with the transportation people, but might have some resistance from the “Islanders” i.e. the people who work there everyday. But I will get to that later.

Google Earth image

The need for a pedestrian bridge

There is a 50 meter channel between the east end of the island and the separated pedestrian and bike paths of the seawall. There is very little boat traffic into the pocket of False Creek: the main exception being people in kayaks and dragon boats using the docks south of the Community Centre.

My first thought was that the almost useless Canoe Bridge at the other end of False Creek could be relocated.

Canoe Bridge

But it is both too short (only 40 meters) and has that really ugly support in the middle. I also dislike the fact that the entrances onto the bridge are narrower than the middle, which seems to me to be utterly pointless. I also wonder about the flat underside, and whether an arched bridge might be better both operationally – for boats given rising sea levels – and aesthetically. My inspiration is from one of the newest bridges in Venice, Ponte Della Costituzione also known as Calatrava Bridge after its designer.

Ponte Della Costituzione

This is much too big for our location – 80 meter span and up to 17.7 meters wide in places. But you must admit it is very beautiful: in fact it well illustrates my dictum about a lot of architecture – it looks pretty but it doesn’t work very well. It has a lot of steps, some of them very steep, which makes it a barrier to people on bicycles (intentionally) and people with disabilities.

Actually bicycles aren’t permitted anywhere in Venice, but although this bridge might present a challenge, evidently not enough of a challenge, hence the presence of the local plod.

Ponte Della Costituzione

No, I don’t know how often they have to be there, but they did have quite a few folks to talk too while I was there.

The lack of accessibility meant that as an afterthought a suspended gondola was added

Ponte Della Costituzione

and, unsurprisingly, was out of order at the time of our visit. Wikipedia notes “The official budget for the project was €6.7 million, but actual costs have escalated significantly.”

However, I am pretty sure that someone can come up with a better design of a bridge for the 50m gap, and a way of ensuring that it is not a cycle freeway, but a gentle stroll for pedestrians. The reason is not that I am anti-cyclist, merely tired of the constant aggravation of the “shared space” on the seawall, which the City is now dealing with. It is also essential to the mandate of Granville Island 2040 that none of the Island becomes a through route to anywhere. One of the reasons that mixed use and shared space has worked so well here is that the Island is the destination. It is an exercise then in placemaking, not making through movement faster or more convenient. Indeed unlike so many places in Vancouver which now advertise “this site may have an antiloitering device in place” we must come up with lots of ideas to implement loitering devices – things to encourage people to linger. Or as Brent Toderian likes to call them “sticky places”.

There is one such place now at what would become the landing place of the new bridge. Ron Basford Park is one of the few quiet places on the Island, where people who work there seek peace: somewhere to have a picnic lunch or breastfeed their babies. It is the end of the Island and there is a footpath around its perimeter. I think it is quite possible to design the end of the proposed pedestrian bridge to ensure that this peace is preserved. If the bridge is used as way to get people on bicycles on and off the Island more quickly, there will be considerable conflicts at both ends. But Ron Basford park is also home to amphitheatres: there are concerts and all kinds of activities at other times.  So the Granville Island management is going to have to display some pretty nifty consultation expertise here.

Granville Island is a unique place. It seems to defy all reason and logic, but it undeniably is very successful as a destination, and whatever happens will need to preserve as much of the place’s eccentricity as possible. Or even enhance it.

As Dale Bracewell remarked at the end of the session, Granville Island actually needs several transportation plans for different times of day, days of the week and times of the year. In the summer, the Island attracts at least half of its users from the rest of Canada and other countries – people who probably only visit the Island once. In the winter, the Island – and its market in particular – is the place that most people in the vicinity rely on for groceries. As the residents’ association rep pointed out, they are the people who keep the market going in the winter. There will be further traffic counts later on in the year, to measure the different pattern that emerges when tourists are a less significant part of the mix. And, of course, there will need to be some reflection of what happens once the University leaves: there are around a thousand students now, plus staff and support workers.

There were some hints about how the land use will change. The buildings underneath the bridge, currently used as parkades, are likely to be repurposed. The area at the west end of the Island, currently where there is free parking for the Public Market, will likely see reuse that better utilises its location. But all of this depends on getting more viable choices for transit. So the other really important idea is the installation of elevators up to the bridge deck with new bus stops. Sadly, the City is still wedded to the notion of a centre median greenway – which is utterly daft. The reason people walk over the bridge is the view. No-one is going to want to walk a long way across the Island and the creek with no view other than four lanes of fast moving cars!

Written by Stephen Rees

September 9, 2016 at 6:23 pm

The Ridge Redevelopment

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The Ridge

This is a new development that has recently been completed on Arbutus Street at 16th Avenue in Vancouver. It replaced a string of mostly single story small stores, the cinema and a bowling alley.

The Ridge Theatre

Here is what it looked like in April 2012. The only thing that has been kept is the sign, now above the entrance to the condominiums, around which the City Market has wrapped itself. The store occupies the most of the ground floor and has parking underneath.

The service road in front of the block that used to provide surface parking has become an open plaza currently being used to display seasonal offerings. Like the lower level elevator lobby to the parking, the goods on display appear to be just available for the taking, though I assume there must be some surveillance. The store has its own elevator to the parking level (P1)  the condos have their parking on the lower levels, with the own elevator.

The overall development is only four storeys which I assume reflects the cost of providing underground parking. Two surface lots on adjacent blocks north west of Arbutus, which used to be part of the parking serving the site are now closed off, presumably for more redevelopment. Access to the underground parking is through the rear lane, whose access and agrees at each end has been rounded off to deter left turns.

There was no requirement to replace the social function provided by either the cinema or the bowling alley, both of which were going concerns, if not as financially attractive to the land owner as the offer from Cressey. The City Market is a newish Loblaw offering but with more prepared food and organic produce, aiming at the Whole Foods/Shaughnessy market. They are not competing on price with the established food stores. It is a franchise operation, run by the man who used to have the Extra Foods store in the same location.

Certainly progress in terms of densification if lacking in the diversity of uses apparent in the older picture. Consistent with the aim of increasing population in what is essentially an inner suburb, but with little opportunity for any social interaction other than retail. The City Market does have a small cafe, with real gelato even in November, and I suppose that might spread onto the patio in summer. But I do not see this as much of a destination, or especially urban.

This block, with the gas station on the other side of 16th, marks the end of what is almost continuous retail down to Broadway. There is single family residential from here to King Edward, then multi family and a small mall with a large Safeway. And that is the next major redevelopment site.

Arbutus mall

Again, this will become condos over ground level retail with underground parking. Though some of the old ladies in my building wonder about how they will deal with ground water here, as the back of the lot used to be a swamp that was filled with sand to allow for development.

And, in case you notice any difference with formatting in this post it is the first time I have used the WordPress app for Mac.  

Written by Stephen Rees

November 27, 2015 at 1:21 pm