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July 21, 2006

Weekend Rumour

The escalating costs of construction – a world-wide phenomenon – may be taking down a high-profile project in this town. Literally.  Speculation concerns a highrise that might not make it above the second storey.  Could this change the exuberant mood of a pre-Olympics city?

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Here’s a cool thought for a hot day:
As far as I can tell, the diverter at Chilco and Robson marked the first traffic calming of its kind in North America.
It was part of a system of miniparks and barriers constructed West of Denman Street in 1973 to discourage short-cutting traffic. Thirty-three years later we can appreciate how literally ground-breaking it was.
A much more detailed story of how it came to be can be found in the current issue of SFU City – the e-magazine of the City Program. You can find it here.

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It’s official (by way of Calgary): Brent Toderian is the new City of Vancouver planner.
“Brent joined the City of Calgary in January 2001 as Chief Subdivision Planner. In December 2004, he moved to the Centre City team as Project Manager, Centre City Plan and was promoted to Manager, Centre City in June 2005.”
Reviews so far are good.
Brent is also a graduate of the SFU City Program’s Urban Design Certificate Program, and was instrumental in getting the program to offer courses in Calgary. Here’s a piece from the Calgary Sun.

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Vancouver Sun columnist Pete McMartin is in full curmungeon today: Little Mother just wants you to know who’s the boss.” (Registration required.)

Little Mother is nice. She has the best of intentions. Of this, she is absolutely convinced. She believes she knows what is good for you, because, after all, she is a mother, and mothers know best…

McMartin’s latest scourge:

The City of Vancouver passed an anti-idling bylaw Tuesday that calls for drivers who leave a car running for more than three minutes to be levied a $50 fine…

You see how benign that is? How good for you that is? Little Mother has your best interests at heart. An idling car wastes gasoline. Gasoline, when combusted, causes greenhouses gases. Greenhouse gases cause global warming. Global warming is bad. Therefore, idling is bad. Therefore, we need a bylaw against it.

The usual formula: treat the issue with contempt while acknowledging its logic. And then, the coup-de-grace:

… every study of the Greater Vancouver region has shown that the air quality here has grown better every year since the late 1980s. Not worse, better….

The question could be asked then:

Why is there a need for this bylaw when the effect of its enforcement would have, at best, minimal impact on air quality?

But why, Pete, has air quality improved?

Could it be that all those Little-Mother laws, those interventions in our lives by government since the 1970s, have made the difference, have actually achieved the improvements which you can now use as justification to oppose anything similar?

In Jack Doyle’s Taken For A Ride: Detroit’s Big Three and the Politics of Air Pollution, you can find a detailed account of the automotive industry’s fight against environmental regulation and health legislation – every step of the way. From seat belts to catalytic converters, there wasn’t an improvement they didn’t oppose. And the techniques are all familiar: pretty much the same tools being used today to oppose action to deal with climate change.

Including ridicule and contempt.

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July 19, 2006

Couldn’t say this better ….

Translink Report: Commuters will abandon transit and take cars
19 July 2006
VANCOUVER – Today the Translink board voted to support the provincial government’s Highway1/ Port Mann Bridge expansion plans, despite its own study that found transit ridership would decrease if the roadway was twinned, said the Livable Region Coalition, a group of concerned citizens, city planners, environmental organizations and transportation experts.
“This is a huge U-turn for the GVRD,” said Ian Bruce, climate change campaigner with the David Suzuki Foundation. “We’re heading down the same congested road as cities like Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, and Toronto.”
If the highway1/Port Mann project goes ahead as planned, Translink staff stated, ridership on the SkyTrain Expo line would decline by as much as 500 trips during the morning rush hour, while the proposed Evergreen Line would lose as much as 5% of its potential commuters. Construction of the Evergreen Line is already in jeopardy due to a lack of funding commitments from the B.C. government. A forecast of lower ridership numbers as a result of Hwy1/Port Mann expansion means operating costs for this line would be more expensive than budgeted for….
“Putting a priority on more roads makes future rapid transit projects like the Evergreen Line less feasible, if not impossible,” said David Fields, Transportation Campaigner with Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC).
The project has yet to go through an environmental assessment and will go before the GVRD board this fall.

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Today on Andrew Sullivan‘s blog:

The real danger is a newly emboldened Islamist region with a chokehold on the world’s oil….  We can pretend we can affect that outcome, but I fear we cannot. We can only watch and redouble our efforts to get energy from sources other than from a region on the verge of full-scale conflict. (Emphasis mine.)

B.C.’s strategy: redouble our efforts to build more roads, bridges and an urban form dependent on an oil-based transportation system.  And then price the system as though it were free. 

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More evidence from Stats Canada that we’re getting what we say we want.
“B.C. Residents Driving Less,” reports today’s Sun: “British Columbians … travelled five billion fewer kilometres in their cars than the year before.”
How come?
A shift to public transit, says TransLink.
Price at the pump, says the B.C. Automobile Association.
Is it possible that we’re seeing the consequences of good local and regional planning? As we build more of our communities with the right combination of density, mix, proximity and transportation choice (the latter a result of the former), we’re getting positive results.
The evidence accumulates in Vancouver: commuter trips are not lengthening, transit use is up significantly, car trips are dropping in the central core, walking and cycling are up dramatically.
Apparently, compact, complete communities with transportation choice – you know, the livable region stuff – actually work.
But then skip over to the business section: “$1-billion development proposed for Abbotsford. Highway interchange would come with retail, commercial and residential project.”
Since the company will construct the interchange on the Trans-Canada Highway in order to service the development, one can pretty much anticipate the design of the components, all separated, all provided with abundant parking.
Apparently, though, this doesn’t work, given the experience of places that have tried it. “Widening and building new highways actually causes, not relieves, traffic congestion in Cincinnati and other major U.S. metropolitan areas. … up to 43 percent of traffic in Greater Cincinnati is caused just by expanding the area’s road network.”
The evidence accumulates: no matter how many billions we spend on nore roads – in fact, because we widen highways and build interchanges – traffic gets worse. In the places we haven’t built freeways and have offered alternatives, things get better.
Check this out, and more, at the Livable Region Coalition site. The link is in the Blogroll on the left.
Update: Clark Williams-Derry at the Sightline Institute weighs in with some well-founded scepticism about those Stats Canada driving figures here.

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A perfect day, really: sunny but not too hot. The beaches and bikeways are packed, and people seem in the mood to dance the day away. In some cases literally.

On Granville Island, a tuxedoed busker serenades the crowd with French ballads. A young couple finds just the right tempo to dance to his songs, and because they’re good, because they can really dance, their performance enchants the surrounding audience. They, however, only have eyes for each other as they dance among the pigeons and the children, perfectly in step and, you’d guess, in love. If it wasn’t all happening spontaneously, it would seem way too hokey. But it isn’t, of course. It’s a Sunday afternoon on Granville Island.

Not too far away, on Kits Beach, another kind of dance. I’m not really sure who they were or what they do, but here’s the scene:

In amongst the beautiful bodies, seated in a circle, half-dressed in white, chanting to the beat of some oddly shaped instruments, these young people from a myriad of races watch two of their own engage in what seems to be a highly choreographed version of martial arts. “Dance fighting,” says one of the observers.

Whatever it is (something Brazilian, perhaps), it’s perfect for Kits Beach.

Oh man, I love this city in the sunshine.

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