April 19, 2019

A Night with Jarrett Walker: Building Human Transit with Shakespeare, String & Elephants in Wine Glasses

Public transit consultant Jarrett Walker says the value of his work with municipalities around the world is never predicated on delivering his own recommendation. Instead, he says he “fosters conversations, leading to confident decisions”.

That might get his firm Jarrett Walker + Associates the job. But as he demonstrates during this enlightening and entertaining chat — Price Talks’ second live recording at Gord’s West End apartment —”convening people in the presence of reality” is Walker’s true skill.

What does that look like? He discloses some of his interdisciplinary secret sauce, various processes and approaches to helping North American cities re-think how to move people. And some of it sounds very much like child’s play.

Walker is well familiar with Metro Vancouver’s complex political, geographic, and fiscal environments for transportation-related capital projects — he worked and lived here a decade ago as consultant to TransLink — and has some compelling advice for the audience.

(An auspicious collection of academics, advocates, and regional and municipal government leaders, with journalist and knitter non-pareil Frances Bula keeping everyone honest. Listen closely to the questions, and play a little game of “who’s who”.)

One such nugget: get over your reluctance to fight for municipal self-determination in transit. Another one, eminently Google-able for extra colour and context: take on the ‘elite projections’ of technocrats like Elon Musk when discussing what the future of transportation should look like.

Oh, and of course a few thoughts on ride-hailing. On Uber and Lyft: “People who can afford it become completely addicted to it. And it only works as long as not many people use it. It can strangle the city.”

Enjoy.

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TransLink sums it all up in two conveniently tweet-able sentences:

Public engagement is a key component of rapid transit planning. We value your feedback and want to hear what you think about the proposed Surrey Langley SkyTrain, and rapid transit options for the 104th Avenue and King George Boulevard corridors.

They do indeed, but apart from the project team’s appearance at tomorrow’s Vaisakhi Day Parade in Surrey, opportunities to have your say in person are over.

Public engagement is only open for one more week (through April 26) via online survey.

Before taking the survey, be sure to check out the engagement boards, describing the project and the various options considered for transit over the past few years, including this handy graphic comparing the different modes and technologies considered.

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. It’s odd that Vancouver, with its ongoing crisis in affordable rental housing, doesn’t pay more attention to Seattle – fast-growing, tech-boom city that it is – where the problem has been so much new rental stock available that the fear has been too many ‘ghost apartments.’  That’s changing, according to the Seattle Times:

The Seattle area is filling up new apartments faster than any region in the country, suggesting demand for housing is starting to catch up with the record construction boom — not a great sign for tenants hoping landlords get desperate and drop rents.

The new figures offer fresh insight into the years-long, multibillion-dollar experiment being waged by developers as they build more apartments in the city of Seattle this decade than in the previous half-century combined, betting on the long-term economic health of the region. Will enough renters eventually materialize to fill them, or will the city have a skyline of empty ghost apartments? …

(Market analyst Carl) Whittaker cited the region’s strong economy and foreign immigration pull for leading the country in drawing renters, as well as the fact that the metro is building more apartments to actually house them. Only three metro areas in the country — New York, Dallas and Los Angeles — built more apartments than Seattle last year. …

For a while it looked like developers might have been too aggressive with all those new units: Vacancy rates had been rising, recently reaching their highest point since the recession. Building owners struggling to fill up tons of new units all at the same time resorted to offering concessions like a free month’s rent or thousands of dollars in gift cards. The supply-and-demand equation flipped so suddenly that Seattle rents went from soaring at the fastest rate in the country to among the slowest.

Now, generally speaking, apartments in Seattle are filling up nearly the same rate as they are opening.

As PT has noted before, the fundamentals are beginning to shift in Vancouver too: falling house prices, increased supply in some areas, more to come.  While the housing crisis continues, it’s changing, and perception lags behind.

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In principle, the idea of infill in already built-out neighbourhoods is seen to be a good one, especially to broaden the choice of options.  At the community planning stage, there’s general acceptance.

Reality is tougher.  Two prominent cases for apartments on parking lots have received a lot of pushback – in the case of the Delbrook proposal in North Van District, council rejection; in the case of the Larch Street proposal in Kitsilano, considerable neighbourhood opposition.

Even in the West End, one neighbourhood you’d expect would welcome infill, the dilemma of scale and relationship to the existing fabric becomes apparent in these two examples.  The first – around five storeys, about the same as those examples mentioned above – was submitted almost immediately after the approval of the West End Community Plan in 2013 – a proposal for a rear parking lot at Cardero and Comox, as reported in PriceTags in 2014.  The comments detail the complaints.

Nonetheless, it is now under construction:

 

The other, a half block away, at 1685 Nelson, is considerably different in scale – actually an extension of to a heritage-quality house – but also meeting resistance.

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As Price Tags blog does more PriceTalks podcasts, we’re looking for more contributors to join the team. If you have a knack for organization, media production, and sharing engaging content, this might be for you.

Here are the basic requirements about this unique opportunity:

  • You must be a resident of the Metro Vancouver region
  • Familiarity with Zoom recorders and common audio equipment is a must
  • Some audio-editing experience (ie. Adobe Premiere, Audacity), or comfort with a wide range of computer platforms and software, and a willingness to learn

We usually record about once a week, typically on weekends at the Inspiration Lab at the Vancouver Public central branch, with occasional special events at other locations.

We’d like to do more editing and production with the interviews, more on-location recording, and shorter items on particular topics. Indeed, we’d look to new team members for ideas and innovation.

Depending on the candidate(s), interest and experience level, and availability, this could be one or more volunteer roles with possibility of honouraria, or a paid contract.

Interested?  Let us know at pricetags (at) shaw (dot) ca.

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Canadians always love getting big-deal American recognitions. This is one – the Pierre L’Enfant International Planning Award.

It should also help reassure the mayor, who has been heard expressing some reservations about viaduct removal. Cost, presumably, that could go for, oh, housing, not to mention placating some pissed off constituents.

But I don’t think he’d like to piss off June Francis if he announced that the viaducts will remain and Hogan’s Alley renewal won’t.

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As TransLink prepares to update Metro Vancouver’s transportation plan through to 2050, it will be convening discussions with the public around the future of how we’ll move.

 

Technological advances in electrification, automation and the sharing economy are converging to reshape the transportation sector. Shared micromobility is already taking many cities by storm with the rise of electric scooters and dockless bikes. How will Metro Vancouver adopt these technologies in a way that supports our quality of life?

You’ll also have an opportunity to demo an electric scooter or e-assist bike following the event.

Reserve here.

 

Emcee: Bowinn Ma, MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale and Parliamentary Secretary for TransLink

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Nothing new or surprising here for Motordomheads, but a real nicely paced visual summary of three case studies: Portland’s Harbour Drive, San Francisco’s Embarcadero and Seattle’s Alaskan Way – real-life examples of what happens when a section of freeway is removed or closed.

Why, why does Carmageddon never happen?  (Confident prediction: same with Vancouver’s Viaducts.)

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