September 11, 2007

One Minute More

I’ve often heard it said (though I haven’t been able to find a citation) that the maximum length of time for a commute to work is 40 minutes. Whether in ancient Rome or contemporary Toronto, whether by foot or by limo, 40 minutes is it. After that, people make changes: they move, they change jobs, they change mode of transport.
Well, it looks like Toronto has a minute to go. FromCanWest:

OTTAWA — Canadians are spending more of their lives getting to and from work – a whopping 12 days a year, according to a new study.
Based on data from the 2005 General Social Survey released by Statistics Canada on Wednesday, commuters spent an average of 63 minutes a day making the round trip, the equivalent of nearly 275 hours of commuting.
Toronto commuters topped the charts, with residents there suffering an average 79 minute round trip — roughly 340 hours a year or two solid weeks.

Then this:

Vancouver, on the other hand, has remained steady over the last decade,with round trip commutes holding at about 67 minutes last year.
Average travel time in Canada’s major cities:
Toronto — 79 minutes
Montreal — 76 minutes
Vancouver — 67 minutes
Ottawa-Gatineau — 65 minutes
Calgary — 66 minutes
Edmonton — 62 minutes

So how come Vancouver bucked the trend of increasing commute times? What’s going on here?
And here’s a prediction: after we spend approximately $3 to 4 billion on road ‘improvements’ to reduce congestion, commute times will start to increase in Vancouver.

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September 11, 2007

David Pereira was listening to Kevin Falcon on the Bill Good Show last Friday.  He tried to go online to the document the Transportation Minister referenced when talking about the ambitious plans that had been in the works for some time. 

Having discovered that the link on the Minister’s site was dead, he made a request to his office for it, and they’ve now placed it online.  You can find it here.

The document was produced in 2003/04, but since the Minister considers it relevant today, it’s worth a look.  You won’t be surprised to find an extensive list of highway projects for the whole province, including, of course, Gateway:

These documents are as important for what they omit as what they include,  As with a report from the Vancouver Economic Development Commission on Gateway, I did a quick search, wondering how many times certain words or phrases came up – such as “climate change.”

The answer: zero.

Or the impact on “agricultural lands” of expanding highways.


On the possible impact of “peak oil.”


“Cyclist,” “pedestrian.”

Once – in connection with maintenance on a highway underpass.

“Greenhouse gas emissions.”

Twice – in connection with RAV, the Canada Line.

As I mentioned with respect to port strategies: how can an organization charged with strategic thinking have no viewpoint on the issues which will determine the fundamental livability, viability and even the existence of parts of this region through which their  roads will run?

Remember: through the new TransLink structure, the Province – that is, the Ministry of Transportation – will be fundamentally determining the strategic direction of this region. According to Ministry’s backgrounder, the Province develops a long-term 30-year vision for the transportation system between Pemberton and Hope with which all TransLink plans must be consistent.

So at the moment we have a Premier who is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 33 per cent below current levels by 2020.  And a Ministry of Transportation who, according to Vaughan Palmer’s September 11th column, forecasts that the Port Mann/Highway 1 widening will produce less than a one-per-cent increase in carbon dioxide emissions (as well as “effectively no change” in congestion on the free bridges – Alex Fraser and Pattullo – impacted by Gateway.) 

As Stephen Rees says on his blog: “I cannot imagine anyone believing that it is possible to double the size of the region’s major traffic artery and not generate one trip!” – which is essentially what these models, these reports, these strategies – whether sincere or disingenous – require.

The document may be named “Opening Up BC” but the thinking behind it is closed.

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Phil Boname over at Urbanics Consultants sends along a couple of interesting notes on Washington’s Metro and streetcars:

Your last PriceTag was fascinating – on several levels. Firstly, our Toronto office in the 1960’s participated with Washington DC associates in planning some of the Metro station. The biggest breakthrough (which the Socred government foolishly resisted in the 1980’s planning and development of the Expo line) was the leveraging of entitlements related to many of D.C.’s station impact areas (e.g. upgraded land uses, increased densities, purchasing land at wholesale, etc.) and thus using real estate as a significant means of paying for the subway system’s capital costs (land would be sold by the transit authority to competing developer interests at its highest and best use, re-zoned value).
Secondly, during the latter part of WWII, I rode the Washington DC streetcars all over town not realizing that I would be in the same streetcars in Toronto in the 1960’s (purchased by TTC when DC shut down its trolley system)!! 

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In the op-ed I wrote for the Sun a few days ago, I noted the prevalence of a tendency in political commentary to a “lazy and jesting cynicism.”  And we’re seeing pretty else nothing but that with respect to comment on EcoDensity. 
For example, Geoff Olson’s article in the Courier:

I’d prefer to not think of EcoDensity as Sam I Am’s green edicts n’ sham. But I’m skeptical, given this buzzword is the brainchild of the same guy who gave us “Project Civil City,” with its code language of friendly fascism for the city’s down and out.

After framing the various ‘sides’ to EcoDensity, he takes the easy out: dismiss the policy as without substance and focus on the political inadequacies of the Mayor.  By the end of the column, it’s just plain silly.
What a waste.

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Though the following came in as a response to the posting of the latest Price Tags on Washington (you can download it here), I thought I’d reprint John’s comments in case readers missed it. 
Of course I appreciate the compliments on the issue, but John also has some interesting observations on the differing response to change in Washington neighbourhoods:

Wow! I live in DC, and this is one of the best articles about the history of DC transit and the impact of the modern metro I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe its from a website based in British Columbia. Thank you!
… he is right about the nimbyism in existing and already intact neighborhoods in the more affluent parts of DC. In those areas, such as Cleveland Park, there would be resistance to increasing the density beyond current limits, though there have been some well-designed projects just north of the main “village” that have been built in recent years.
An example where things aren’t going as well, though still moving forward, is Tenley (which is two metro stops further out from Cleveland Park. There a core group of long-time residents have fought every attempt to add more density to the hub of the metro stop. Projects have move foward, however, but it is a much more delicate dance. Areas such as Columbia Heights, which were hungry for development from the existing neighborhoods, while eyed warily have still enjoyed much greater community support.
DC does get much greater recognition now than it used to – and still has great challenges. But I still find it a hidden gem of US cities. Any visitor we’ve had, including my own parents who have never lived in a large city, has been blown away that the city and surrounding burbs / town centers are so much nicer than they ever imagined.
Thanks again for highlighting DC, and for creating such an accurate and detailed overview of the efforts here.

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A good friend passed on a New York Times article about the new mayor of Washington, Adrian Fenty, one of the new breed of young civic politicians in US cities:

The son of a black father and a white mother, Mr. Fenty attended Oberlin as an undergraduate and got his law degree from Howard University.  In Adams Morgan, an ethnically mixed area of young professionals, Mr. Fenty’s parents enjoy a near cultish following. For decades, they have owned a running shoe store there, Fleet Feet, and Mr. Fenty’s father, Phil, has coached hundreds of marathoners. “All the people who voted for me are just a subset of Fleet Feet customers,” Mr. Fenty jokes.

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Thanks to the Vancouver Sun for running my op-ed today:

Making paradise

The ‘village on the edge of the rainforest’ didn’t become one of the world’s most livable cities by happenstance

  Gordon Price Special to the Sun
CREDIT: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun files ANOTHER JEWEL IN THE CITY’S CROWN: The new, wider seawall along Coal Harbour in the Bayshore hotel area.

Once again Vancouver is the world’s most livable city.
And the usual responses: (1) So what else is new? (2) How can they ignore the Downtown East Side? (3) Have they seen our housing prices?
But never: “Well, that just shows what a great job our local politicians are doing.”
If our rating goes down a few notches, you can be sure the blame will be disproportionately allocated to whoever sits in the mayor’s chair.
Until then, those presently in power shouldn’t expect any credit. That doesn’t come with the job.
Still, we lotus eaters expect our leaders, minimally, to pass this paradise on to the next generation in reasonable shape. In fact, given our blessings, we expect them to improve on it — to be paradise makers.
Paradise making is not without precedent: You can trace its origins back to the 1950s, when Jim Wilson, the head of Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board, articulated a vision for our future as “cities in a sea of green” — the basis for all the regional plans that followed.
With the inheritance of the North Shore watersheds, creation of a regional park system, establishment of the agricultural land reserve, designation of the Green Zone and concentrated growth in downtown and regional town centres, connected by rapid transit, that’s pretty much what we created.

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In this article in the Sun, writer Frances Bula came up with a great angle on “City Making in Paradise”- the new book by Ken Cameron and Harcourt, with Sean Rossiter.  (More below on their appearance at the SFU City Program on Friday, September 7th at 7 pm.)

Bula not only detailed the ‘nine decisions that saved the region,’ but added a bonus five decisions that made Vancouver a success (our regional parks and water system, for instance) – and nine terrible decisions that we’d want to change in retrospect (ending social housing programs, ripping up the interurban).

Better than reading about it, though, is to hear the authors get into the gritty details – which is what will be happening tomorrow night at SFU Harbour Centre at the launch of a new series of interviews with the leaders who shaped the city and region of today:

The Paradise Makers” will tell their stories on the First Friday of every month (with a few extra evenings thrown in).

Mike Harcourt and Ken Cameron
Friday, September 7, 7pm

Bob Williams
Friday, October 5, 7 pm

Rand Iredale: Architect, Mentor, and Pioneer
Friday, October 19, 7 pm

Ray Spaxman

Friday, November 2, 7 pm

Admission to public lectures is free; reservations are required.

Email or call 778-782.5100.
Venue: SFU Vancouver (at Harbour Centre), 515 West Hastings, Vancouver.

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September 5, 2007

From Dave Brook:
Thanks for your DC issue. I thought you might be interested in these guys.

PARK(ing) is an investigation into reprogramming a typical unit of private vehicular space by leasing a metered parking spot for public recreational activity. We identified a site in an area of downtown San Francisco that is underserved by public outdoor space and is in an ideal, sunny location between the hours of noon and 2 p.m. There we installed a small, temporary public park that provided nature, seating, and shade. … By our calculations, we provided an additional 24,000 square-foot-minutes of public open space that Wednesday afternoon.

They produced a fun video

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