Design & Development
December 5, 2019

Equity Perspectives no. 1: Vancouver Granville Bridge Connector & Mobility Equity Workshop

Last week, the City of Vancouver hosted a free public workshop on the Granville Bridge Connector project.

Currently, there are six design options being considered, with hopes of bringing forward a preferred design to council in early 2020. In theory, feedback from public engagement and workshops will be used to inform the selection of a preferred design.

In an effort to apply a lens of equity to this project, the city organized a Mobility Equity workshop, facilitated by the ever-insightful Jay Pitter.

To kick-start the workshop, Jay offered insight into what equity is, what equity can look like, and how that relates to transportation. Key takeaways:

Streets are contested spaces. Streets have been designed or re-designed for the efficient and high-speed movement of vehicles, often at the expense of people. As a result, aspects pertaining to safety, both physical and social (e.g. personal security), are often an issue.

This begs the question: to what extent has efficiency been prioritized over safety and security? To what extent do women, elderly, LGBTQ, visible minority and immigrant groups (among others) feel safe and secure on our streets? To what extent have such groups been overlooked in planning and design?

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In addition to my role as a new Price Tags contributor (thanks all for reading!), I have an academic and professional background in transportation, social equity, and the environment, and currently specialize in planning for transport equity, with an emphasis on walking and cycling.

Invariably tied to this are important considerations that relate to transport, such as land use and development (commercial and residential), climate change, displacement, gentrification, and (of course), the needs and wants of actual people.

Thus, when planning for transport equity, it is about more than just finding ways to engineer our way from point A to B. It is about finding ways to create safe, secure, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable places (yes! streets are places!) that improve mobility and accessibility fairly, and assist people in their ability to participate and flourish in socio-economic life.

With equity emerging as a hot topic, I often hear the question: “what is equity?”  and, depending on the context, “how can it be achieved?”. In reality, equity can be defined in many ways, and there are also many ways one can work to achieve it.

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Approved by the Vancouver School Board, BC Hydro’s new West End substation* will be sited on the property of Lord Roberts Annex adjacent to Nelson Park, the City’s largest non-waterfront park in downtown Vancouver.

This agreement has eliminated the need for BC Hydro to purchase private property (potentially taking away housing stock from the area), and will result in an out-of-sight underground substation, while providing significant funding to the downtown Vancouver school community.

While the benefits of siting the substation in a central location — and on a Vancouver School Board property — are fairly clear, what is not clear is the future of Nelson Park.

Here’s the latest and greatest: as a result of this siting, BC Hydro has requested permission from the Park Board to bury five underground power cables through Nelson Park to connect the substation to the electrical system. While the cables would be buried, there will be short term impacts (e.g. construction), as well as long term impacts such as the removal and destruction of park features, such as mature trees and community gardens.

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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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In recent years efforts across the City of Vancouver are being made to not only create new rental housing stock, but also protect its existing stock and the tenancy rights of its residents. With rental housing making up an estimated 50% + of Vancouver households, this is critical.

Housing Vancouver Strategy (2018-2027)

Responding to Vancouver’s current housing affordability crisis is the most significant challenge facing the City today – with Vancouver residents facing among the highest housing prices and rents and lowest median incomes among Canada’s large cities. Housing Vancouver (2018-2027) is the City’s vision for ensuring that Vancouver can be a home for people of all incomes and backgrounds, by prioritizing affordable housing and making housing markets work for all people who live and work in the City.

The need for new rental stock, particularly that which is social, supportive, and affordable is critical for several reasons, including for example:

  • Vancouver’s rental vacancy rate continues to sit below 1 per cent resulting in renters having limited options when they are looking for rental housing and face substantial competition for a small number of available homes.
  • The number of people paying more than 30% of income (the CMHC measure for housing unaffordability) on housing has grown astronomically as cost of living has far outpaced the incomes of many Vancouver residents: over 46,000 renters in Vancouver across the income spectrum are paying over 30 per cent of their income on rent. Out of these households, 15,000 are paying over half their income on rent – 58 per cent of these are headed by individuals aged 20 to 45, 15 per cent are families with children, and a further 14 per cent are seniors over 65.8.
  • Much of the existing stock, particularly social and supportive housing such as the Single Resident Occupancy buildings in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is old, unsafe, and virtually uninhabitable. This, combined with a growing homeless population makes the need for social and supportive housing that much more critical: The 2017 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count found 2,138 sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals in Vancouver – a 19 per cent increase over the 2014 Metro Vancouver count, with seniors, youth under the age of 25, and Indigenous residents disproportionately represented in comparison to other populations. An additional 4,000 people are living in private Single Room Occupancy Hotels (SROs), many of them in inadequate conditions.
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In Review: The Quest for Commute Trip Reduction Part – I

In part one of this series, CTR was described as a collection of tactics designed to reduce commute duration and distance, as well as reduce the use of single occupancy vehicles in favour of more sustainable, healthier modes of travel. The primary responsibility for implementing CTR tactics falls on employers (typically ‘large employers’ with over 100 employees). State/provincial and regional governments typically have responsibility for encouraging or legislatively mandating participation by employers, and offering support, incentives, and/or disincentives/penalties. Apart from legislation, governments may also work toward CTR through trip reduction ordinances (TROs), regulations, policies and guidelines that apply not only to large employers, but municipalities, transport authorities, housing developers, building owners, among others.

At the time of this writing, CTR is not mentioned in any B.C. provincial legislation. CTR is not mentioned in Clean BC, despite its potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In Metro Vancouver, no municipalities appear to have adopted ordinances specifically for CTR, however, some plans and programs do support and reflect CTR-related principles, including:

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What is CTR?

Commute Trip Reduction (CTR), a facet of Transportation Demand Management (TDM), is a suite of strategies (i.e. programs/policies) designed primarily to do two things:

  1. Reduce long commute travel distances, and
  2. Encourage and enable alternatives to using a single-occupant vehicle (i.e. more sustainable, healthier travel alternatives such as walking, cycling, taking transit, and carpooling)

The responsibility for implementing CTR strategies falls on employers (typically ‘large employers’ such universities and hospitals), required by some form of government legislation.

Examples of CTR Strategies
  • Encourage cycling, walking, and transit instead of using a personal vehicle
  • Provide transit-oriented incentives such as pass subsidies or reimbursement
  • Provide subsidies or reimbursement for cycling and walking gear
  • Provide on-site cycling storage, and shower/change room facilities
  • Incentives and arrangements for carpooling/vanpooling to-and-from work
  • Allow employees to work full or part-time from home or remote/satellite offices
  • Strategically select or move the office location to a transit hub
  • Provide a Guaranteed ride home service

An example of a large employer recognized as having successfully employed CTR strategies is The Gates Foundation.The Gates Foundation has reduced their “drive-alone” rate from 88 percent to 34 percent by distributing a suite of transit benefits to employees, including free Monorail punch cars and free monthly Zipcar hours. It also disincentivizes parking: The company lot charges a daily rate instead of a monthly rate. The Gates Foudnation is estimated to employ over 1,500 people.

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One of the world’s most iconic vans is making a comeback…

But this time, it’s electric. Slated for production by 2022, the “electric microbus” is one of five new electric models in Volkswagen’s ID. series — a family of 100% electric vehicles, which includes a crossover, a compact, a sedan, and of course, the van.

Just like the classic VW van, there will be room for up to seven people with an adjustable interior that includes a table and movable seats. Volkswagen also intends on enabling all ID. series models with a fully autonomous feature option.

Distance, a major concern of many when it comes to purchasing an electric vehicle, is no longer an issue. The van will have an electric range of 400 to 600 km, comparable to pretty much any gas-powered vehicle. Further, Volkswagen has partnered with Electrify Canada (partnership formed by Electrify America in cooperation with Volkswagen Canada) to build ultra-fast electric vehicle charging infrastructure to give Canadians the reliability they need to confidently make the switch to electric. Planning and deployment are well underway, including network routes — you can check out the Vancouver to Calgary route here.

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In response to part 1 of this series, of which focused on the challenges in planning for electric micro mobility, part 2 presents the opportunities for doing so.

As mentioned in part 1, BC’s current Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) serves as one of, if not the primary barrier to accommodating these technologies. Accordingly, reforming such act is a critical first step in creating a more welcoming, legal, environment for electric micro mobility.

Thanks to the Road Safety Law Reform Group of BC, much progress on reforming the BC MVA has already been made. Comprised of representatives from the legal, health, and advocacy community, including HUB Cycling, BC Cycling Coalition, and Trial Lawyers Association of BC (among others), the Road Safety Reform Group published a position paper titled Modernizing the BC Motor Vehicle Act, that recommends the following key reforms:

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The wave of electric micro mobility: it’s happening fast here in Canada.

From e-bikes, to e-scooters, to e-boards and segways, increasingly cities in BC and beyond are speaking out about the need to accommodate such emerging technologies, while simultaneously grappling with how to do so.

Written in 1957, BCs Provincial Motor Vehicle Act (MVA), whose initial design was to regulate motor vehicles and their drivers, has proven to be a significant barrier in the creation of a more hospitable environment for these rapidly emerging technologies and their riders.

While e-bikes are now legally able to operate on BC roads (operators must be at least 16 years of age and wearing a helmet, with electric motors capped at 500 watts) how to accommodate users who wish to use different electric technologies — such as e-scooters and e-boards — remains a big question.

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