Transit in Two Cities: A Comparison of Seattle and Vancouver

Last month the Seattle Times sent reporter David Gutman up to Vancouver for a story on the similarities and differences in transportation between the two cities – an unusual commitment in this day of constrained resources.  He talked to a lot of people (including Price Tags) and here is a much-abridged version of what he found. (Full story here.)


With three fully-built light-rail lines and an interconnected bus network, Vancouver’s transportation system is like Seattle’s, just a couple of decades in the future. But the Canadian city differs in its rock-solid commitment to building housing right on top of transit.

Metro Vancouver — which comprises Vancouver and 23 surrounding cities and towns — is a region being built, more and more, around its thriving and ever-expanding light-rail system. …

South Lake Union, home of Amazon and the epicenter of Seattle’s construction boom, currently has 15 major projects under construction, about evenly split between apartments and office space.

South Lake Unions are sprouting up at SkyTrain stops all over Metro Vancouver. …

“There’s different attitudes about density than in Seattle, that’s for sure,” said Kevin Desmond, CEO of TransLink, the agency in charge of transit and roads in Metro Vancouver. “But if you’re going to manage congestion, which is getting worse and worse in Seattle, you’ve got to get people nearer to transit.”  …

Throughout the region, 146 developments are being built close enough to a SkyTrain station or track that they need special permission from the rail agency.

In 2012, there were only two such developments. …

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The World of *Mageddons

Most things change, but some never do. It’s time for a (nearly) serious review of the World of *Mageddons™ .  We’re happy to do it, so that you don’t have to, and since few others will call this type of failed prediction what it is:  failed.

What this *mageddon review does illustrate is the difficulty for anyone in public life who makes decisions.  While it’s easy to dream up *mageddon scenarios, it’s much harder to plan, make decisions and commit big resources amid strident choruses of negativity, and amid the usual incomplete information and the fundamentally unknowable nature of the future.

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David Bowie in Brooklyn,David Bowie in the Subway Station


Trust New York City to lead the way. In this post from the David Bowie retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum has used its starpower to transform the Broadway-Lafayette subway station in an ode to Bowiedom.

There are also  five different transit MetroCards that have been Bowie branded, and those have been released in a limited edition of 250,000 not consecutively but randomly. The  Broadway-Lafayette subway station’s walls are full of photos of Bowie’s remarkable performances, images and life. And here’s the coolest part, this subway station was the one closest to Bowie’s New York City home. You have until May to see this unique collaboration of images that have been curated with the co-sponsorship of Spotify. Spotify is also introducing the “David Bowie Stories” series, looking at the musical icon’s life, tales and essays in concert with photos and videos from the David Bowie Archive. This subway artshow/branding has been an effective blend of pop culture history and art. Here is an opportunity for other  transit systems pick up the idea of crossmarketing cultural events and exhibitions, making art in transit more accessible to all.

Below is a six-minute YouTube video of a transit walk through the Bowiefied Subway Station.




Arbutus Greenway — Concept Design Preview

After buying an abandoned, inacessible railroad, taking out the rails and ties, building a temporary set of paths, and holding 25 outreach events involving over 5,000 participants — it’s time to get a gander at some serious plans.  Read on, indeed, to a 38-page PDF that’s chock full o’delights.

It still amazes me that there is so much within a 5-minute walk or a short bike ride of the Greenway (check out the nifty map on page 2).  And I’m very pleased to see serious thought has gone into connectivity from the Greenway to the bike lanes on the north and the south — and all of them in-between.

It’s not specifically mentioned, but I really do hope that the design will find a way include those celebrated Heritage Blackberries.

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Subway to UBC [Updated]— In Serious Talks

Similar to YVR Airport’s approach, UBC may decide to kick in some money and other inducements and approach senior governments to help pay for running the Broadway subway from Arbutus to UBC. The distance is around 7 km, a longer distance than the currently-underway Broadway Millennium Line extension that stops at Arbutus.

Perhaps the owners and developers of the 92-acre Jericho Lands should get onboard for this ride —  making their development transit-oriented, benefitting themselves and benefitting the city as a whole.

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Amazon Repurposing Vancouver’s Downtown Post Office?



In a 21st century  reboot of the 20th century icon, the downtown post office on Georgia Street may be repurposed into office and commercial space for Amazon. It’s a perfect transition for the Amazon model with fulfillment centres that requires trucking bays, easy access on and off the downtown peninsula and a location that employees can easily access by public transportation. The post office has 686,000 square feet and occupies an entire block. The biggest fulfillment centre in Amazon’s stable is in Baltimore Maryland and cover one million square feet.

In this article by John Mackin, “Real-estate sources say the online retail giant wants to add a million square feet of office and commercial space downtown, part of an expansion to double the Vancouver Amazon workforce to 2,000 people by 2020.”

The Vancouver post office was built in 1958 in the International Modern style by the same architects that designed the iconic Marine Building.  The post office’s interiors have two storey ceilings and over two stories of parking. Local historian and author John Atkin astutely surmised ““It was built as a processing and distribution centre. So you had trucks come in, trucks go out, sorting, and big open spaces, so that you could run complex postal-sorting machines and conveyor belts, and all that stuff. So you have almost the perfect existing structure waiting there for a firm that would do stuff like Amazon, which is product in and product out.”

There was a rezoning application for towers  submitted for the site three years ago but that has been put on hold according to the City. In its potential adoption of the downtown Vancouver post office, Amazon gains a distribution centre in the middle of a downtown market boasting the  most population density in Canada.The Amazon remorphing of the post office also opens up opportunities for other archiac post offices across the country that could be repurposed for local distribution centres.

Amazon Warehouse Job Fair