Architecture
October 23, 2019

The Width-to-Height Ratio: What Works Best?

Adam Fitch commented on the post below, expressing doubt that we’ll end with a Haussmann-style boulevard on Broadway:

What is more likely to happen is that the areas immediately around the stations will be quickly redeveloped with clusters of 30-40 storey condo towers with a bit of chain and big box commercial at the ground level, ala Marine Gateway and Lower Cambie Village.

Perhaps something like what is emerging on West Davie in the West End:

Your basic Vancouverism – the style that transformed Downtown South in the 1990s: streetfront podium accommodating commercial uses, with separated towers above.

The model is essentially the high-density version of the ‘Grand Bargain’ – low-rise residential and slow-growth on the interior blocks, with a high-density buffer along the arterials (with the unstated class distinction that goes with it).  It’s a choice more likely to emerge from the Broadway planning process than a more simplistic consolidation of density in a few blocks around less than half a dozen station areas.

Irony alert: At the moment, a building-height-to-street-width ratio that might make sense on Broadway at roughly 100 in width feels more crowded and canyon-like on a street of 66 feet, even though the three-storey podium that creates the streetwall alleviates the impact of the towers.

It’s a variation on the development scale that has been allowed in the West End since the 1950s, evident elsewhere on Davie.

Or maybe it doesn’t really matter much.  So long as there is animation, transparency, sunlight and rain protection along the sidewalk, the height becomes irrelevant once we get used to it.

 

 

 

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As noted below, the Expo Line, which opened in 1985, has transformed the corridor along which it runs, especially at many of its station areas.  In that same time, nothing much has happened along Central Broadway.  Some of the blocks between Granville and Broadway seem curiously untouched since the 1970s.

The blocks between Granville and Burrard have some of the widest sidewalks in the city – and some of the least active street life.

This block from Burrard to Cypress has never had street trees, for no apparent reason:

At six lanes, it feels more like an urban highway than a streetcar arterial.  This is Motordom 2.0 – a redesigning of the city for the car and truck.

Because of the width of the road at six lanes and the height of the buildings at one and two storeys, there is no sense of enclosure, no ‘village’ feeling.  The Broadway subway offers the chance for a complete reordering when the train comes through  – a case where higher heights and densities will actually give the street a more ‘European’ feeling.

A classic example is in central Paris, where the ratio was set by Baron Haussmann in a 1859 degree that determined the height of the buildings as a function of the width of the street:

Six lanes allows five storeys, plus mansard roof (and no doubt higher storeys than our nine to ten feet for residential).  Even without street trees, it works.

 

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What does it mean to change a street name? What does it mean to be able to fish? What does it mean to have title over the land upon which you, and your people, were born?

This line of questioning may not immediately resonate with the majority of Canadians going to the polls today, intent on electing (or re-electing) the next Prime Minister. But it matters a hell of a lot to Indigenous people, to the Musqueam Indian Band, and specifically to Wade Grant.

In this long-awaited discussion with the UBC alumnus, former Musqueam council member, 2018 Vancouver city council candidate, and current Chief of Staff to Musqueam band Chief and Council, Grant entertains some direct questions from the settlers in the room (Gord and Rob) on issues we’re still only beginning to understand in mainstream Canadian society.

Beginning with some essential background — that, first of all, First Nations peoples didn’t even gain the right to vote until 1960, they couldn’t go to university unless they gave up their status as Indian, and the residential school system which has been the source of unimaginable cruelty and injustice was alive and desperately unwell until the 1990s — Grant steps us through some of the key factors that have led Canada, and BC, to this time of reconciliation. Whatever that means.

It’s actually meant different things at different times. Perhaps it started in 1982 with Section 35 in the Constitution. There’s no question the R v Sparrow decision is part of reconciliation. In fact, any measure that has specifically supported the health and welfare of people like the Musqueam — now numbering close to 1,400 people, after the smallpox epidemic of the 1860s reduced their population from 30,000 to just 100 people — could be considered a form of reconciliation.

Or…does love belong in the process? It’s a meaningful consideration and holds some currency to Grant, in that it allows him to consider himself Canadian, even while working to forgive those who have historically ground down the rights and resolve of First Nations peoples. Love, in fact, could be one of the key factors tempering the natural inability to forget the atrocities settlers committed, or simply endorsed (either way, we’re looking at you, Joseph Trutch).

Land, of course, is the other essential factor. Grant speaks about MST Development Corporation, a partnership between the Musqueam Indian Band, Squamish Nation and Tsleil-Waututh Nation, and which fully or partially owns many valuable parcels of land in the Lower Mainland: Jericho Lands, Heather Street Lands, and the former Liquor Distribution Branch site on East Broadway in Vancouver, Marine Drive Lands in West Vancouver, and Willingdon Lands in Burnaby.

There’s the promise that all this land might make something greater than the sum of their parts, just as Grant himself represents as a product of many ethnic backgrounds. Such fabric comprises the blanket that is Confederation today.

It’s a conversation that might have promised, as Gord suggests, some quicksand and a land mine or two. Yet, perhaps thanks to Grant’s deft approach to defining and discussing reconciliation, it’s all very Canadian. Have a listen.

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As you’ve probably noticed, residents all over Metro Vancouver are e-scooting on the streets despite the presence of prohibitory bylaws. Accordingly, some recognition is long overdue – and here it is: Shared Micromobility Guidelines.

Published in July by TransLink in collaboration with Metro Vancouver, the document is not designed to recommend the adoption of specific bylaws or policies but to inform municipalities of the relevant considerations for permitting shared micromobility devices within their jurisdictions.

The guidelines focus on six areas:

  1. The collection and sharing of Data to measure success.
  2. Payments and Price Structures that are financially sustainable and adaptable for integrated and secure payments.
  3. System Planning and Design for a fair balance between innovation and public interests.
  4. Right-Of-Way (ROW) Management to identify and manage risks.
  5. System Operations to ensure service providers are held accountable and have an appropriate level of risk management.
  6. Permit Structure and Conditions for short-term and long-term permit structures.

Few would disagree that these guidelines are a sign of progress.  But they stand to have little impact if provincial and municipal regulations and bylaws aren’t amended to permit the operation of these technologies.

For example, so long as the City of Vancouver continues to prohibit the use of e-scooters along trails and paths (the only place they legally can operate under the provincial Motor Vehicle Act), guidelines for shared micromobility services are virtually meaningless.

So, while I commend the creation of these guidelines, I eagerly await amendments to city bylaws, the provincial Motor Vehicle Act, and the new BC Active Transportation Design Guidelines.

You can buy one, you just can’t use it.

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You won’t likely find “The Grand Bargain” in a planning text, even though it explains in a phrase the de facto understanding that has shaped many of the places where Canadians live.

The bargain looks like this:

This is North York* between the Sheppard and Finch subway stations – a one-block-deep corridor of high-density mixed-use development on either side of Yonge Street.

Go another block further and there is a cliff-face drop in scale, where single-family suburbia begins under a canopy of street trees.

Post-war Toronto and its suburban cities decided to accommodate density (those concrete towers especially) where there was primarily commercial and industrial zoning.  With the opening of the Yonge Street subway in 1954, the station areas made ideal locations, especially where there was already a streetcar village.

To deal with community blowback at the sudden change in scale and alienating architecture, especially if the bulldozing of existing residential neighbourhoods might be required, planners and councils struck a compact: we won’t touch a blade of grass in your single-family zones.  Your status will be maintained.

Hence the Grand Bargain: high-rise density, low-scale suburbia, little in between.  Massive change for one, almost none for the other, and spot rezonings thereafter.

On the other side of the country, something similar was going in Burnaby.  In the fifties, the Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board produced a vision – ‘cities in a sea of green‘ – and provided the guidelines to go with it, notably where to consider apartment zoning.  David Pereira details the evolution of Burnaby’s commitment to the regional vision and its apartment zones, renamed town centres, in the 1960s.

That bargain when built out looks like this:

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You can forget about reducing vehicular emissions, a major source of climate change, if we can’t change our habits. As the International Energy Agency has stated while there are 350 plus of different electric models of vehicles planned in the next five years, only 7 percent of all automobiles will be electric by 2030.  Around the world sales of internal combustion engine vehicles (ICE) have fallen 2 percent, the first reduction in ten years. Surprisingly China and India have had substantial declines in the purchase of ICE vehicles, by 14 percent and 10 percent respectively.

The real challenge~and you see it in marketing everywhere~is the ICE motor vehicle manufacturers peddling of their darling, the SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle)  built on a truck frame that gets around car regulations due to its truck platform. These SUVs are killing machines, and along with trucks represent 60 percent of all vehicle purchases and directly responsible for a 46 percent increase of pedestrian deaths. As well, drivers of SUVs are 11 percent more likely to die in an accident.

Automakers advertise the SUV’s as safe rolling dens for drivers, and there are now globally 200 million SUVs, up from 35 million ten years ago. Sales of SUVs have also doubled in a decade.

The numbers are staggering~half of all vehicles sold in the United States are SUVs, and in gas conscious Europe, one-third of all purchases are for SUVs.

And they have an appeal. “In China, SUVs are considered symbols of wealth and status. In India, sales are currently lower, but consumer preferences are changing as more and more people can afford SUVs. Similarly, in Africa, the rapid pace of urbanisation and economic development means that demand for premium and luxury vehicles is relatively strong.”

Given that 25 percent of global oil goes to vehicular consumption, and the related CO2 emissions, “The global fleet of SUVs has seen its emissions growing by nearly 0.55 Gt CO2 during the last decade to roughly 0.7 Gt CO2. As a consequence, SUVs were the second-largest contributor to the increase in global CO2 emissions since 2010 after the power sector, but ahead of heavy industry (including iron & steel, cement, aluminium), as well as trucks and aviation.”

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From Daily Scot:

Walking through Victoria’s Harris Green neighbourhood located just east of downtown, you witness first hand the city’s density boom as construction cranes and development-proposal boards proliferate. I noticed an intense cluster of projects around the Cook and Johnson Street corridors.

A new Bosa development on Pandora has condos built above an urban Save-On-Foods location, a new precedent for mix use in Victoria:

There is also preservation of heritage for two developments (Wellburns Market and The Wade)  which incorporate existing landmark structures with new apartment living.

 

Keep your eye on this area as Victoria pushes for more options to address the housing crisis.

 

 

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In early October the task force set up by the Metro Vancouver mayors came to a consensus and decided that an eight lane immersive tunnel would be the agreed upon option to replace the aging Massey Tunnel. The existing four lane Massey Tunnel still has another fifty years of service, but if used for transit would need seismic work for a one-in -475 year seismic event, and flood protection at entrances. Since these upgrades would be substantial, the task force examined five options, choosing the eight-lane tunnel. Two of the lanes of the tunnel would be dedicated for transit.

The Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council will now review the report and the decision of the task force, and forward their recommendation to the Province. Under the previous Liberal government, the Province had more of a quick and dirty approach which favoured an expansive and overbuilt ten lane bridge with all the requisite overpasses and land usurping ramps. Using the immersive tunnel  technology allows for slope grades  that would allow transit lanes to be converted to rail in the future. While cost estimates were not discussed, it is suggested that the cost of this option is similar to building a bridge. Environmental impacts would result from excavating both river banks, as well as mitigating  damage to existing fish habitats. You can take a look at the report of  the Massey Crossing Task Force here.

While a smaller crossing  at the existing Massey Tunnel with a separate crossing of the Fraser River that aligned up to truck routes for Vancouver  port bound traffic may have made more sense, it appears that cost was a factor in the choice of one bigger tunnel. The fact that this proposed tunnel is being located on sensitive river delta that will be prone to future flooding also needs to be addressed.

This time the Province under the NDP government asked the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council to come to a consensus of what type of crossing would replace the existing Massey Tunnel. Of course a complete environmental assessment will also be necessary, expected to take a year to produce.

There’s no surprise that critics are decrying the fact that the previous Liberal provincial government’s massive bridge will not be built, throwing their hands up about the fact this could have been built faster. But while the previously proposed overbuilt bridge may have proceeded faster, the previous government had no plan on how to manage congestion on either side of the bridge. They never addressed the fact that traffic heading to Vancouver had to throat down to the two lane Oak Street Bridge. It was in many ways a pet project to produce jobs and votes, but did not have the supportive infrastructure to move increased projected traffic anywhere. It was also not supported by the Mayors’ Council with the exception of the Mayor of Delta who has been an outlier and port trucking traffic booster.

And that brings up the concept of induced demand. As described in this City Lab article,  induced demand “refers to the idea that increasing roadway capacity encourages people to drive, thus failing to improve congestion”. 

There is also “Marchetti’s Constant” .

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