July 30, 2017

Buffalo Riverworks – ideas for Granville Is.

While visiting family back East I was pleasantly reminded that Granville Island isn’t the only waterfront area trying to redefine itself (full disclosure: I work for Bunt & Associates, the transportation engineering firm who provided the travel analysis for Granville 2040; although I did not work on that project.).
For several years I had heard of serious efforts underway to develop areas along the Buffalo River for recreation and legitimate (or at least taxable) non-industrial commercial activities. An area of the city that was formerly dominated by industry now shares some of this space with kayakers, river tours, residents, and lots of hockey players (getting to that).
As a quick primer, the Buffalo River is located southeast of downtown and meanders in a south-then-easterly direction for about 13 kilometres, starting from its mouth at the far eastern end of Lake Erie. The more well-known Niagara River that separates Buffalo from Fort Erie, Ontario and eventually leads to the Falls, starts about 2km to the north.

Like the Chicago River, much of the Buffalo River is still a working waterfront. On most days it still smells like Cheerios, which are made there. But unlike Chicago, the Buffalo River has never been on any tourist checklist. There were no tour franchises, no fun opening shots of the river on TV sitcoms; none of that nonsense.

Though Buffalo has long been big with architecture geeks, there has never been much focus on the river itself as a destination. Until as recently as five years ago, if you had told friends you were hanging out by the Buffalo River, they’d have logically concluded you were either trying to find work with General Mills or hustling.
Of course you’re still free to do either of those things down there but now there are also alternatives. Buffalo Riverworks is one prime example of development helping to achieve critical mass of interest and activity in this ‘new’ area of the city. It opened in 2015, and is a year-round and very flexible 5,000-capacity venue for arts, sports, entertainment, and casual – well, let’s be honest – drinking.

These pictures, taken on a random Thursday morning, show a versatile indoor and outdoor destination of a type that would be well-suited to a revamped Granville Island. Of course there’s more industrial room to play with in Buffalo, but it’s a good example of new and established land uses co-tolerating one another.

Off the main dining room, the main indoor floor serves multiple duties: spillover area for large events, dance floor for concerts (main stage off left of photo), and main floor for Buffalo’s roller derby team, the Queen City Roller Girls.

Outdoor areas include covered soccer/lacrosse field and field/ice hockey rinks that host adult and kids’ leagues year-round; including the annual Labatt Blue Pond Hockey tournament, the TCS Hockey League, and the Cup North American Championship. Each of these events brings in thousands of spectators, families, and participants all year long.

Whether hockey or roller derby or modest-sized concerts are your thing or not, the point is that this space is a successful draw and it works. It’s an interesting example of the type of flexible venue that should make its way into the conversation about the future of Granville Island – a year-round place for both locals and tourists.

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A high-profile and complex project, the Arbutus Greenway is a rightfully-recurring topic on this blog and other forums. Sometimes too recurring, though. It frankly elicited some fatigue last year with endless sustained and robust debate over its temporary surface treatments.
The City must have learned something useful from its first consultation round for the temporary greenway design, because the outreach process to inform the permanent greenway’s conceptual design is only half as long and almost over. As noted in Ken Ohrn’s previous post from January, the City is hosting three meetings and extending an online survey to the 15th to petition the public for its thoughts, opinions, concerns, and desires for the permanent future of this 9-km stretch of former rail corridor.

The second meeting is tonight at the Marpole Community Centre. The last is this Saturday, February 11th from 2:30-5:30 at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown.
It is still early days for this project and the City is rightfully asking the big questions: What do you want? What should be preserved? What are the ‘must have’s? However, being impatient, other colleagues and I have preferred to consider the ‘next step’ logistical/engineering questions about how this space will actually work:

  • What exactly is going in the 20m right of way?
  • Is space being preserved for eventual 2-way light rail?
  • How will the design minimize conflicts between modes?
  • What surface treatments are you considering? How will you maintain them?
  • How are you going to manage the transitions across Broadway, W 16th, W 33rd, et. al?
  • What are you doing with buildings currently encroaching on the right of way? 

It was these and similar questions that, thanks to the Arbutus Communications Team, prompted an interview with Dale Bracewell, Vancouver’s Manager of Transportation Planning. We were originally going to meet on the greenway for a ride, but the weather had other ideas.
Over a half-hour chat, Dale walked me through the big picture and as much of the smaller picture as he could commit to at this stage. The City is still in the visioning stage but from previous consultation on the temporary greenway, known best practice, and feedback his team has received; there are already a number of lessons, known challenges, and likely themes the Arbutus Greenway will incorporate. Here are a few:

  • The Stanley Park Seawall is considered the local benchmark of greenway success. Elements that have traditionally ‘worked’ here will make their way onto Arbutus: accommodation of different mobility levels, integration with landscape and points of interest, separation of modes, etc.
  • Separation of modes will be a priority to reduce both actual and perceived risk of conflicts. This has been consistently communicated through all levels of project feedback. Depending on the area and availability of width, pedestrians and cyclists will be separated in some fashion.
  • Transitions across level streets will be a major factor in the design. Unlike other urban rails-to-trails greenways, Arbutus is neither sunken nor elevated, but level to the surrounding road network. Crossing minor roads will not be as problematic, but crossing major ones (Broadway, King Edward, W 41st) will likely require either some significant traffic network changes, expensive signalling, or level separation (bridges). This will drive some of the design’s biggest decisions and costs.
  • Integration with public transit will be another critical item. This thing might be part of the public transit network some day, so this is sensible. Easy access to and extra capacity at Arbutus extension skytrain station, W 41st St B-Line, and other crossing bus services will make their way into the Conceptual designs.
  • Protecting space for 2-way light rail is still on the table. This would be 8m-9m of the total 20m right of way. I’m not yet convinced there’s a business case for a streetcar or light rail here, but this space can be flexibly programmed in the short term while the transit corridor is being assessed/developed.
  • Other cities’ models will be reviewed. Ideas for some of the finer engineering and design elements that don’t come from the visioning exercise may be borrowed from other cities (i.e.,
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October 21, 2016

An old definition of a political liberal was a conservative who hadn’t been mugged yet. In similar fashion, the North Shore News reports that a lousy day on local roads turned the District of North Vancouver Council’s planned meeting agenda from its multi-modal Transportation Plan into a very old fashioned kvetch-sesh about traffic.
“The District of North Vancouver is preparing to embark on a major review of its transportation master plan.
Staff’s suggestions included a protected bicycle network, updating the district’s parking policies, a focus on the Main/Marine transit corridor, better co-ordination of traffic signals and whether the district ought to become a vision zero community – a growing movement among cities vowing to design their streets in such a way that there are zero traffic-related deaths or injuries.”

Phibbs Exchange redesign – on the agenda

Interesting stuff. However, this being a rainy day, a more poignant topic of discussion arose from the attendees.

“…the informal session quickly turned to an airing of grievances as the morning commute of many councillors had been particularly exasperating with near-simultaneous crashes on the Cut, Stanley Park causeway and Westview overpass.”

The story continues by noting on some uncomfortably-predictable exchanges between councillors.

“Coun. Jim Hanson said he faces the prospect of losing staff at his North Vancouver law firm, as their commute from across Burrard Inlet saps their quality of life. Hanson said the plan ought to come with some immediate steps that will alleviate congestion.”

  • Congestion hurts [my] business.

the steady drip of Quality-of-Life being sapped

“We need to integrate our efforts with the other civic governments of the North Shore, who are contributing to density without in any way contributing to infrastructure, which is overtaxed,” he said.

  • It’s everyone else’s fault.

Coun. Mathew Bond, who is a transportation systems engineer, said his morning commute to Coquitlam took twice as long as it normally would have with a lineup of stop-and-go traffic on Highway 1 stretching 20 kilometres past the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing.
“People can change their behaviour today if they so choose,” he said. “Doing some small, incremental things over time over the next two, three or five years, will buy us some time to make those major infrastructure investments and do those plans that are going to provide long-term relief.”

  • Man who commutes 70 kms/day by car says [other] people should change their behaviour.

But Coun. Lisa Muri questioned whether residents could be persuaded to leave the car at home, especially when their work, errands or family commitments may require them to travel to several neighbourhoods, numerous times in the day.
“I don’t know how to change my behaviour to get from Lonsdale to Seymour without changing my whole family’s life,” she said. “It’s awesome to think that if you build it, people will get out of their cars and onto a bus or another mode of transportation but is it going to happen? . . .  People have cars. They want convenience. They want to be able to get to their destinations quickly.”

  • Woman counters with, ‘No, they shouldn’t.’

Instead, Muri suggested it may be time to pull up the drawbridge on the North Shore. “I envision there’s room for 100 people at the party and there’s 500 in the lineup out the front door and they all want to come into the party. I just want to say to the 400, ‘You know what? We’re full now. You’re just going to have to wait your turn.’ But we’re not doing that,” she said.

  • Let’s fix things by keeping others out.

Coun. Robin Hicks rubbished the notion that trying to stop population growth would solve any problems, noting that banishing the North Shore’s service workers to the farther-flung suburbs would only add more cars onto local roads.
“We can’t put up barriers or walls like Trump might try to do. People are just going to come here from everywhere,” he said. “We’ve got to learn to live with the population.”

  • That’s not a good idea;
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October 18, 2016

The Toronto Star today features a chin-stroking piece on a D.I.Y. device that Mr. Warren Huska of Toronto uses for his 18-km daily commute between The Beaches and North York.

Now, when he mounts his trusty two-wheeled steed, Huska is protected by a pool noodle. Strapped to his bike’s frame with bungee cords, the floppy foam cylinder is a reminder to drivers not to get too close.
…for the past year, drivers have given Huska a wider berth.

 (Randy Risling / Toronto Star)

Most of Toronto is not kind to commuter cycling. Biking along the lakeshore is nice in decent weather and the old City of Toronto’s grid allows some relatively direct connections parallel to arterial roads. But north of St. Clair Avenue and the Don Valley, you are on your own.
The city’s new bike network plan looks pretty good on paper, but each separate project will need its own follow-up engineering, design, and approvals stages. This is where a lot of consultants will be paid a lot of money to investigate and design cycle lanes that will never get built. As a consultant myself, I encourage my Ontario colleagues to shoot for the moon.
With less network redundancy in the ‘burbs, direct connections need to be made along arterial roads. What are the odds that the City will reduce car capacity along the widest roads in York, Etobicoke, Scarborough, or North York to accommodate cyclists? Slim.
In one of those ‘why hasn’t anyone thought of this before’ moments, Mr. Huska has created his own portable cycling infrastructure; and by his account, it works.
Huska took up the noodle in mid-2015, when Ontario enacted new laws requiring drivers to leave one-metre’s distance when passing cyclists on the road.

“The edge of the noodle (helps them) gauge space instead of them trying to judge where my elbow was,” said Huska.  The change he noticed was “almost magical,” Huska said.
In a perfect world, dangling a pool noodle from the side of your bike to nudge motorists towards safer driving behaviour wouldn’t be necessary. But as anyone who’s ever had to bike along Lougheed Highway, Kingsway, even Hastings Street can tell you, our world is sometimes a damn mess. Good for Mr. Huska for taking some clever initiative when the City of Toronto won’t. Read more »

For those who didn’t catch The Toronto Star’s piece on Don Mills, it’s an interesting and refreshingly neutral take on why suburbia was so popular in the first place. It is common these days to associate this type of suburban development with social and economic isolation as well as crippling dependence on the automobile. But once upon a time, some very intelligent people would not have disagreed more.
Even if some of our contemporary criticism is undeniably true, it’s useful to remind ourselves that we are products of our times; and that our decisions and judgements are not divorced from the contexts in which we make them. These developments were originally sold on and commonly perceived as the embodiment of personal and economic freedom. We couldn’t possibly be this wrong again, right?
Today we’re supposedly more enlightened. But considering the absolute, unquestioning enthusiasm with which city planners once promoted suburbia is an opportunity to ask ourselves if the trends we currently hold to will stand up to future scrutiny.
Whether it’s protected cycle lanes, automated vehicles, underground parks, or bioswales, what will we look back on forty years from now and ask, “Just what in the Hotel-Echo-Lima-Lima were we thinking?”

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The Province reported this morning on a follow up analysis of ICBC’s 1998 Gradated Licensing Program. The authors’ determination, after selectively gerrymandering some original data, was that fewer “young people” were getting their drivers licenses. This fits with a friendly narrative of ‘the impending end of motordom’, but neither the data they present nor the story they tell back this up.
The article relies almost exclusively on personal testimonials of a few of them who’ve decided to forego – or forestall – getting their licenses.

I can appreciate having to personalize a story, but this is clearly just fill. It isn’t proof in support of anything. You could just as effectively claim that “more and more” Metro Vancouver teens are worshiping the devil, then interview some goth kids at the mall. Boom. Proof.
It is not merely my cantankerousness. Lazy puff-piece articles such as this are so easily picked apart and dismissed that they cast illegitimacy on the very notion of societal change. It’s not difficult to see why the right casts the entire narrative of ‘fewer cars’ and ‘sustainability’ into suspicion when this stuff is part of a reputable paper’s drumbeat of truth.
It comes across as propaganda. It’s not; at least intentionally. It’s just very lazy journalism: a few selectively-framed half-facts packaged to tell a little story that we want to be true. Fabricating a trend, and then over-implying its significance, does more harm than good.
And there is some truth in there. Some portions of teens – the 16-18 year olds – really are getting fewer licenses, according to the data. However, this is quickly offset by equal increases in licenses from 19-21 year olds. The result is a minor net increase in the numbers of these “young people” getting licenses between 2003-2013.
“Our future will be carbon-neutral (because young people are getting fewer licenses)!”. “US abandoning suburbs for city living!”. These narratives carry a lot of weight, and a lot of people would like them to be unreservedly true. But at present they’re not. They’re not even trending towards those absolute ends.

Minus the bombast, there are some relative truths. There are fewer young drivers of certain ages than before. The ratio of suburban-to-urban home construction is slightly less exaggerated than in previous decades. This is good news.
But middle class white flight has never abated in the US, especially in the northeast. New highway construction still wildly outpaces new transit, especially in Alberta. A lot more new homes are still built in the suburbs than in the city, especially everywhere.
It’s good to recognize sustainable trends, but better not to overstate or misrepresent their significance. Our problems aren’t solving themselves, no matter how badly two reporters from The Province are in need of a paycheque.

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Whom should I kill?” That is the fundamentally thorny question that researchers are considering in the programming of autonomous vehicles, as discussed in this article in the New York Times.

More specifically, the question of whom to sacrifice in the event of a high-speed avoidance maneuver – the guy in the car or the pedestrian in the crosswalk – is one which researchers are asking in the hopes of framing the car’s understanding and response to situations of mortal risk.

To the majority of respondents of a recent poll of autonomous vehicle passengers, the answer was clear: ‘hit the pedestrians’. This is not surprising, but it opens a whole raft of moral questions that are not purely theoretical. In a world of autonomous vehicles, this situation will arise, as it currently does with humans behind the wheel.

Making a split-second decision of how to avoid injury to oneself and others is a terrible choice for a person to have to make. The first instance of an autonomous vehicle choosing to hit ‘person X’ in order avoid killing ‘person(s) Y’ will be even more contentious; with lingering societal anxiety over agency and moral priority. This will be doubly fraught because the car will have made a pre-programmed decision, with the priority of lives already part of its parameters in a given situation.

Even stranger, it may be possible that an autonomous car’s ‘prioritization parameters’ could be one of its advertised features. Perhaps cars will be set with a standard set of avoidance programming; but for a bit more, you can get one that will put its passengers’ lives first.

It’s all very weird and unsettling, but I’m a ‘glass half full’ kind of guy. Just think how busy it will keep the lawyers.

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