June 14, 2019

Re-Imagine Downtown Vancouver: 3-Year Progress Report

In 2015, the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA) undertook a strategic planning process that might have invited a bit of cynicism — give a fancy name and lengthy timeline to a stock-in-trade exercise, and call it transformative.

That exercise, however, was Re-Imagine Downtown Vancouver, and it has already proven to be anything but typical. For one, it’s a 25-year legacy ‘vision’ project laid upon a foundation of rigorous research and public engagement. For another, it included recommendations that, unlike many corporate visions, were tied to tangible actions that would change the very face of downtown and how it would be utilized for the next generation.

And as a public expression of that vision’s intention, CEO Charles Gauthier committed DVBIA to “bring something to life” within the first year of releasing the report. So they did — award-winning Alley Oop, the laneway behind West Hastings street between Seymour and Granville, which was transformed from service corridor into a bright, playful public space.

An even better example of the Re-Imagine commitment? The governance structure of the DVBIA itself which, behind Gauthier’s leadership, was re-jigged — Board refreshed, committees disbanded, committees created — in order to empower and energize the organization, and better position it to realize the recommendations contained in the Re-Imagine report.

As a result of bringing the leaders of tomorrow to the forefront of the organization, the DVBIA has, of late, found itself championing a variety of initiatives that, as Gord put it, seem a bit foreign for a business-forward organization. Bike lanes. Child care. Living wages. Why would a business advocacy organization be involved in many of the same issues that are often believed to make business more challenging?

Gauthier answers this question, and many more, with the support of special guests Landon Hoyt and Julianne King of the SFU Public Square research team that led the project. Armed with three years’ worth of data and insights, they compare reality to the plan, and give an honest assessment of how well-positioned the DVBIA is to move forward, both with ongoing dialogue, and the commitment to change.

Championing the Vision: 3 Years into Re-imagine” will be presented to members at the DVBIA Annual General Meeting next Tuesday, as one of the cornerstones of the organization’s resolution to renew its mandate for another 10 years, which will be subject to a vote.

Guess what? We think it might just pass.

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Do you live or work on the North Shore? Are you a fan of Price Talks, the podcast? Want to hear — and be part of — a discussion about decisions on housing, transportation, and public spaces in West and North Vancouver?

Join Gord and a panel of local residents and pundits in a public chat, and a live recording of Price Talks:

Wednesday, June 26
Doors @ 6:30pm | Recording @ 7:00pm

North Vancouver District Public Library – Lynn Valley Branch
1277 Lynn Valley Road, North Vancouver

Register here — tickets are free.

After the recording, the conversation will continue next door at Brown’s Social House.

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The ‘golden age’ of active transportation development in Vancouver continues, with ongoing expansion of the downtown bike network now reaching Drake Street.

Despite what you may hear elsewhere, Drake isn’t very sexy, or even that interesting. But as the City suggests, Drake is actually essential to the concept of a complete network, because it connects where people are coming from, to where they want to go.

A fair number of people cycle beyond the protected cycling facilities on Drake Street, indicating…strong desire.

Currently, cycling volumes on Drake Street are highest between Burrard Street and Hornby Street, the only section with dedicated cycling facilities.

That “strong desire” is based on evidence of an average of 500 daily midweek bike trips in the summer, about 40% of the volume at the separated portion.

By focusing on the rest of Drake, one can infer that, not only is the ultimate goal to provide safe passage for those venturing between Burrard/Hornby and Richards, Homer, or to destinations like David Lam Park, but that more people could be drawn into downtown by bike in the first place, if only these connecting bits (like Drake) had dedicated facilities.

Here’s where the City needs your input — they’re seeking feedback on two different design options, plus ideas on how to support the activities of local businesses, organizations, and residents.

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There are two stories here. One is told by Lloyd Alter in Tree Hugger that young people are just not into cars, and carmakers haven’t figured out how to get that group interested. Even an analyst for the J.D. Power research firm detailed the problem:

“Gen Z buyers’ participation in the new-car space is declining year after year. We expect to see them get their first job and buy a car. But we’re not seeing this.”

In the United States in 1983 46 percent of 16 year olds had drivers licences; in 2016 that figure was 26 percent. As Lloyd Alter observes “young people just might care more about the air they and their kids are breathing  than they do about the conveniences in cars.” He also points out that this socially responsible tech-savvy cohort chooses to live in places where they don’t have to drive.

The other story and it is Big News is that anyone 18 years or younger living in the City of Victoria will get a free transit bus pass, no matter what school they are going to. The 6,000 passes will cost $850,000, and will be covered by the City’s Sunday downtown parking fees. This is a great way for students to use the transit system and become accustomed to public transit, of course also meaning that there will be less vehicles on the road.

That was echoed by Susan Brice, chair of the Victoria Regional Transit Commission:  “Anytime we can get more kids riding the bus and making bus riding a part of their life and a habit, that’s good for all of us.” 

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There has been a lot of discussion in Parksville on Vancouver Island regarding Orca Place a nearly $7 million housing project for 52 homeless or at risk of being homeless residents which is currently under construction. The facility will be staffed with two employees at the facility at any time, and have over twenty people on the payroll. Support workers “will be responsible for maintaining security and safety within the building, and to maintain a good neighbour relationship with the surrounding neighbourhood.”

Despite these assurances a $52 million dollar seniors residence planned to be across from The Orca housing complex has been cancelled, with the seniors’ home founder placing the reason directly on the planned homeless residence.

It’s a huge disappointment — we were looking forward to it,” said Berwick founder Gordon Denford in an interview. “The last thing we wanted is where we are at today. But the risk is too great to our seniors, our future residents and our employees.”Denford stated that the placement of  Orca Place “is totally incompatible with a large residence that is home to approximately 250 vulnerable seniors, along with approximately 150 full- and part-time employees and a daycare for 30 of their preschool children.”

Nearly 150 jobs, tax revenue and development cost charges of more than $2.5 million, to be split with the regional district will also be lost.

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It really is astounding at how we can so easily erase the need for basic pedestrian amenity when new technology rolls around. Even the people at Amazon did not see the obvious usurping of the sidewalk by their six wheeled  sidewalk delivery robot as being a problem. You can see in the video below as “Scout” (yes they named him) dutifully takes up most of the sidewalk as he rolls on his route. There is no space left over for a pedestrian, a baby buggy or a user of any mobility device.

But now Amazon as reported in the Business Insider wants pedestrians to know that not only do they need to give way for these robots on narrow sidewalks, but “that the public should treat these robots in the same way that they would pedestrians.”. 

Yes you heard that right. The sidewalk delivery robots want to have the same rights and the same rules of the road as do pedestrians, and also will use the road only if a pedestrian would do the same with a level of comfort.

Sean Scott of Amazon states “If you feel safe walking on that road, that’s where we want to be. We want to be viewed as a pedestrian and treated as a pedestrian.”

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Take a look at Norway where the capital city Oslo has removed over 700 parking spaces in the downtown and replaced those spaces with benches, bike racks and public spaces.The City has 50 parking spaces left, mainly for disabled persons in vehicles and for deliveries to local businesses.

i have been writing about European cities going for slower streets, and finding that residents are happy with the slower vehicular speeds. The Economist observes that many European cities are going for outright vehicular reduction in their downtowns.  London and Stockholm have congestion charges, and I have written about London’s new ultra low emissions zone.

Paris has tried to limit vehicular use on certain days. But Oslo’s approach of closing off the downtown to private cars, and changing streets to limit traffic flow in one direction is the closest to a “downtown car ban” . While opponents to the ban have complained about limited access to the downtown, there are still vehicles in the downtown, just fewer places to park. Downtown Oslo business owners worried that “fewer cars could mean fewer customers”. While those statistics are not in yet, pedestrian traffic has increased in the downtown by 10%, and the experience in London showed that spending increased by 40% with people that walked, cycled or took public transit to downtown shopping areas.

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“A lot of people thought we were wildly pessimistic as to the speed with which we were facing this crisis. Turned out we were wildly optimistic.

This is happening faster than those of us who started getting interested in it 30 years ago could possibly have conceived.”

In recognition of the 30 year anniversary of Clouds of Change, the 1989 report from the City of Vancouver’s Task Force on Atmospheric Change, Gord speaks with a key influencers for his originating motion to strike the task force, Mike Brown.

You may know Brown’s name as one of the co-founders of Ventures West (R.I.P.) in 1968, the prototype for institutional venture capital in Canada. Or perhaps for his role in helping Ballard Power land a $1.35 million investment in 1987, on the road to becoming the planet’s first major fuel cell player.

Or perhaps you don’t know his name at all. But you should. That’s because he represents one of the most important, and least appreciated (or perhaps least well understood) factors in the race to deal with the climate emergency — capital. Moolah. Money.

He’s a capitalist, but as we learn in this conversation, from a person who’s been thinking about and working on climate change at last as long as many of this podcast’s listeners have been alive, there may not be any other choice for dealing with this emergency than using the levers of capitalism to make things happen, and fast. The marketplace? All the money needed to power the requisite innovations — billions of dollars, all attracted to speculation about the future — is there.

So people like Brown work at advancing solutions, through places like the Institute for Breakthrough Energy Technology, his incubator focused on helping companies shorten the hardware commercialization timeframe, despite the fact that he’s made his money, and “the real issues are going to turn up after I’m dead.”

He doesn’t have to do all this. Giving colour and shape to his pessimism, and using it to make his rich friends feel a little discomfort. But he also knows that when he drives around his electric car, he ain’t burning sunshine. And so he wants those rich friends to part with some of their hard-won capital, and put it towards something that will make a real difference. As he has always done.

“When I started thinking about this problem, I conceived that it was going to be something that would face my great-grandchildren. By the time we got to the mid-90s, it was about my grandchildren. By the time we got to 2005, it was about my children. Now it’s about me.”

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What’s the big deal about District of North Vancouver Mayor Mike Little’s decision to step off the Metro Vancouver Board?

Perhaps nothing, except that the only other local governments not represented by their top elected officials are Lions Bay and Bowen Island, representing 5,000 of the region’s 2.5 million. (Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov, currently on a paid leave of absence related to a sexual assault charge and pending court date, is still listed as a Metro Vancouver Board member.)

One could say the opportunity to serve on the Metro Vancouver Board is not just an honour, but a responsibility of some significance, perhaps moreso than most municipal committees.

Metro Vancouver is a federation of 23 municipal bodies responsible for the planning and delivery of regional services like drinking water, wastewater treatment and solid waste management, and for regulating air quality, as well as plans for urban growth, including affordable housing. Its Board of Directors governs this mandate, and consists of elected officials from each local government, proportional to their size.

And thus the number of Directors appointed to the Board depends on the population of the municipality (or electoral area, or First Nation). Furthermore, directors are allowed one vote for every 20,000 people in their jurisdiction, up to a total of five votes.

That means, the more populous you are, the more directors and voting power you have on the Metro Vancouver Board.

Does it make sense that the District of North Vancouver, in the midst of broad public scrutiny into its actions (or inactions) to address development and housing pressures, has just one representative on the MV Board for its 88,000 people, and that this representative is NOT the municipality’s elected leader?

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There is a perceptive cultural shift on how people in this province are viewing their residential streets and their ability to use those streets for more than just a vehicular driving conduit. I have been writing about how slower streets are now being adopted around the world and how slower speeds of 20 miles per hour or 30 kilometres per hour  reduces deaths and serious injury from vehicular crashes.

Slower street speeds also enhance livability, sociability, and the ability for neighbourhoods to use streets as public living rooms for street hockey and interaction. Lowering speed also reduces emissions and enhances sustainability.

In the City of Bristol which has universally adopted the slower speed, 95 percent of respondents want the slower speeds maintained in all residential and school zoned areas.

Mario Canseco has just released a new poll where he asked residents across British Columbia how they perceived the traffic on the street where they lived.  His online poll of a “representative provincial sample”  showed that  “58% of British Columbians say they would “definitely” or “probably” like to see the speed limit reduced to 30 km/h on all residential streets in their own municipality, while keeping the speed limit on arterial and collector roads at 50 km/h.”

When asked about Vancouver’s pilot project to have a demonstration project of slower residential speeds, two thirds (66%) of people in the Province thought it was a good idea, with only 22% saying it was a bad or very bad thing.

Here is where it gets interesting-Mario also found that people surveyed supportive of slower speeds were 74 and 72 percent voting for the BC New Democratic Party and the BC Green Party than the BC Liberals which were at 60 percent.

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