Transportation
September 12, 2006

Frontiers in Traffic Calming


Mary Jo Porter from Seattle knew I’d love this piece from Monday’s Seattle Times: a ladybug painted on an intersection in Wallingford by the residents.

Thinking of it as a traffic-calming device, more than a dozen residents joined Sunday to create the ladybug artwork, surrounded by flower petals in vivid yellow, black and red paint.
With a radius of 26 feet, it stretches across the intersection, with some painted leaves spreading onto the adjacent pavement.
“Our goal is to cut down traffic and bring the community together and create a sense of neighborhood,” said Eric Higbee, who lives on the corner and helped lead the project.
The intersection artwork, a pilot project for the city, has been in the works for about five months, he said, adding that the neighborhood received a $1,400 city grant to pay for the paint and perm

It’s an idea that comes, of course, from Portland – the City Repair Project.  Hopefully it will spread across the border.

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There’s a provcative critique of Vancouver’s downtown architecture by Robert A.M. Stern in the Sun today. (Here for subscribers.)

“I think there are too many glass towers in Vancouver,” says Stern.
“That’s one reason they all look alike, there’s nothing to write on, so to speak. So you get funny little hats on these buildings, and sometimes you get strange balconies. There are more triangular balconies in Vancouver than anyplace else I’ve ever been. I wonder if they’re storing arrowheads on these balconies.”

I have to agree with him on this. Every generation produces its version of the Vancouver Special (highrise edition), and this one has built a lot of ’em. (115 on the downtown peninsula since 1986, excluding the West End).

“They try to look different, but somehow they all look exactly alike. So I think there’s a kind of boring uniformity. None of them are really bad, they’re not ugly, but [there are] too many identical things.”

We achieve, as I’ve said before, a very high level of mediocrity. Our urban planning is, fortunately, superior to our architecture. In that respect, I don’t agree with Stern:

… [Georgia] is so pedestrian unfriendly and uninviting,” he says.
“It could have been done, should have been done in a very different way. Could have had the high buildings, but should have had more street texture below.
“And no retail. Those people don’t eat,” he chuckles, “they make reservations.”

This suggests Stern has been doing too much drive-by analysis, without understanding the specific reasons why, in this case, we kept the view corridors open at the ground plane on the north side of Georgia (to see the park and mountains), and created ‘green courts’ on the south side. Georgia has its own guidelines, so that unlike most other downtown streets (which have that mix of low- and highrise forms) it retains its special character as a ceremonial boulevard.
Stern is certainly not the only one to feel that Vancouver, while admirable in many respects, lacks signature buildings, or that our planning processes constrain if not prevent great architecture outside the mold the planners have prescribed.
PT reader Timothy Thomas asks:

With all our progressive public policy, why don’t we have more progressive public architecture? … it does seem that we should have more imaginative buildings than we do. Are we underachievers in building fascinating new architecture? Do we discourage aesthetic innovation, preferring architectural comfort food?

Do we?

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September 7, 2006

Okay, TransLink, get on the phone immediately to Google – (650) 253-0000 – and ask to be the next partner for Google Transit.
What’s that? Go here.
TriMet, the Portland Oregon transit agency, has become the first (and so far only) agency to integrate Google Maps with their schedules. So you can now get instructions on how to get from A to B, map included, anywhere they go. So cool.

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Alan Ehrenhalt, the Executive Editor of Governing Magazine made a special visit to Vancouver this spring to witness the city’s condo boom firsthand.  This widely-respected monthly targets state and local government officials in the U.S., and has a readership of 275,000. 
You can read the cover story here.  And if nothing else, check out the photo essay: A Downtown Dilemma.
 

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A new Price Tags has just been published.  PT 88 compares two downtown intersections in emerging neighbourhoods – Downtown South and Triangle West – and looks for the common elements that transform a street corner into a crossroads.
Here’s one of the corners: Davie and Richards, with an overhead view of Emery Barnes Park (by Paul Lafontaine.)

You can download the issue from my web site – www.pricetags.ca – or do so directly by clicking here.
I welcome your responses – and responses to the responses.  Just click on Comments at the end of this post.
If you’d like to receive notification of the latest Price Tags by e-mail, send a request to pricetags@shaw.ca

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