Transportation
August 29, 2007

What they are thinking

Or rather, “What are they thinking!?”

Cars and more cars: In China, car ownership at present is about 20 million, but is projected to be 250 million in 2020 (an 820% increase in a decade!), subject to the availability of a fuel.

‘Bigger is better:’ An overwhelming sense of the development projects is that the bigger they are the better they are. In Nanchang, building setbacks are to be over 120 m in new plans, just about twice that of the Champs Elysée.
‘What context?’ Compared to North America, the approach to development has a disconnect in terms of both sense of scale and regard for the surrounding context. The primary objective is to create a superb standalone development, regardless of its context in terms of either use or scale.
‘Seven stories is cool’ In a number of areas buildings were universally seven stories high, since that was the height one could build without elevators. Their orientation was such that there was ventilation through single-loaded units. While most people owned air- conditioners, frequently there was not enough energy available to use them! Therefore, the natural ventilation achieved with building orientation was critical.

– Philip Weinstein, a senior partner of Toronto-based firm The Planning Partnership, at a Lambda Alpha meeting in Phoenix.

Hasn’t anyone in China calculated the amount of land 250 million cars would require to drive and park, not to mention the consequences with respect to energy security, greenhouse gases, local air and noise pollution, traffic deaths and urban design? It seems they are metaphoricallly going to drive off a cliff, and the only question is how fast can they do it.

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Business interests dominate new TransLink panel
By Jeff Nagel
Black Press
Aug 22 2007
The province has taken its first step toward installing a professional unelected board of directors to run a radically reformed TransLink. A screening panel of five people that critics say is too heavily weighted in favour of business interests has now been chosen to nominate prospective TransLink directors.
The panel consists of:
•Graham Clarke, chosen by the province. He is chair of the Vancouver International Airport Authority, governor of the Vancouver Board of Trade and owner of the Clarke Group of Companies.
•Former NDP premier Mike Harcourt, nominated by TransLink directors and Metro Vancouver mayors.
•Hugh Lindsay, chosen by the BC Institute of Chartered Accountants, is president of FMG Financial Mentors Group Inc.
•Dave Park, nominated by the Vancouver Board of Trade and that organization’s chief economist.
•Bob Wilds, nominated by the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council. He is the council’s managing director and is on the board of the Business Council of B.C. and a member of the Vancouver Board of Trade.
The five panelists are to propose 15 qualified candidates, from which a group of area mayors will select nine directors who will form the new TransLink board in January.
The panel is expected to begin its work soon on orders of transportation minister Kevin Falcon even though the legislation to overhaul TransLink introduced in the spring has not yet become law.

Note, these are not the people on the new board; they will choose those who will be, after being vetted by the region’s Mayors.  
The easiest question to ask of them is, of course: do you use transit.  But that’s a cheap shot. 
No, the critical question is this: name the place you’d like us to be more like.  Tell us about your vision for Vancouver and the Fraser Valley – and how you anticipate the investment we make in transportation will help achieve this vision.
Since we’re turning over city building in this paradise (to paraphrase the title of Mike Harcourt’s new book) to the Board of Trade, we need to know what their version of paradise is like.  So we won’t be surprised.

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August 27, 2007

Michael Pollan, the author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” – on my list for one of the best ten books read this year – wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine that tried to distill what nutrition science had learned these past few decades. It had one of the best leads to an essay I’ve ever read. Here are seven words that tell you what you need to know about what to eat:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

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August 27, 2007

A fine piece on cycling by world-traveller Michael Geller in the Sun over the weekend. Among the points he makes:

In addition to the obvious benefits of bicycles — reduced traffic congestion, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and lower transportation costs — bicycles offer another plus. In the Netherlands, you do not see as many overweight people as you do in North America.
While I have not seen any research, I am convinced there is a correlation between bicycle use and good health.
This is why I plan to ride my bicycle much more when I return to Vancouver, especially if I can be safely separated from the cars, and have a convenient place to park.

Just thought I’d highlight that personal commitment. (It’s not a requirement that someone has to cycle everywhere, all the time. At least start with the times and conditions that work.)
This just in – another indicator of progress in the region.

New Bike Routes in Coquitlam to Connect Region

Cyclists in the Tri-Cities area will have access to two new bike routes in Coquitlam this fall. The City of Coquitlam is working on two new road projects that will connect the region and make commuting easier for cyclists.
Cyclists will have access to dedicated bike lanes on Guildford Way and shared bike lanes on Foster Avenue. The Guildford Way bike lanes provides a regional connection from Port Moody to the Coquitlam Town Centre, while the Foster Avenue shared bike lane connects to a future bike route in Burnaby that is part of the regional bike system.

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August 23, 2007

Cheeying Ho of Smart Growth BC has an op-ed in today’s Vancouver Sun.  It’s a response to the  ecodenialists:

Cheryl Savchenko’s Aug. 14 column Eco-density is a thin concept raises some important concerns, but unfortunately fails to understand the key role that well-planned and well-designed density plays in creating more livable, environmentally sound neighbourhoods.

I like that point: density can result in better neighbourhoods if it’s done well.
Ecodenialists are essentially making an argument for sprawl: green is good, and more is better.  Nor can we sacrifice any of our green space to accommodate others.  Let them plough over green space somewhere else.
In theory, green space is perfectly compatible with increased density.  Go no further than False Creek, where new urban parks have replaced polluted industrial lands.  But that requires taller buildings on tighter footprints – and the highrise is anathema to the low-density neighbourhoods most fearful of Ecodensity. 
Highrises, however, are not necessary. Infill development can beautifully complement the existing fabric of our neighbourhoods, as lane housing in Mount Pleasant or rowhouses in Grandview illustrate so well. 

Ah, but then there’s loss of ‘green space.’  Gotcha.
There’s no point trying to avoid the trade-offs necessary in considering the changes that will come with Ecodensity.  The first step, though, is deciding whether they are necessary and defensible.  The case for one-planet living must be constantly made and affirmed as both do-able and desirable.  If the communities affected are partners in the process, then there’s a good chance of success.  As CityPlan has demonstrated, it can be done.
I’m waiting to see whether those who have been arguing for more decisive leadership on sustainability will step up to defend Ecodensity – particularly those on the Left who have been arguing that it is just a limp repackaging of existing policy and that even more must be done. 
However, if the proponents for the status quo, the ecodenialists, gain some traction, then clearly Ecodensity has substance.  Why else try to fight it? 
Those who claim to support sustainable development (emphasis on the latter) have to make a choice: come to Ecodensity’s defense, or passively wait to see whether Sullivan and the NPA Council will be punished for pushing forward.  That gives them the option to come out and shoot the wounded, even if it means the momentum for change will be lost.

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It’s the big news down south in Seattle: Chaos Avoided! Gridlock mysteriously doesn’t happen! How can this be!?

They’re doing some major roadwork on I-5, the freeway that runs through the heart of the city, and only a few lanes are open where traffic is normally congested during the daily commute. Naturally, a major foul-up was predicted on the first day after the closures.

Didn’t happen. Hasn’t happened.

So how come? There’s a column in the Seattle Times by Danny Westneat today that helps explain it all:

The short answer is that this is always what happens….

In 1998, British researchers studied what happened to traffic in more than 100 highway and bridge shutdowns in Europe and the U.S. They found that on average 25 percent of all car trips simply evaporated.

People still went to work. Some commuters drove, some found another way in. Some other trips were just not made.

“Drivers are not stupid,” (Oliver) Downs says. “They change schedules. They don’t take some trips, or they delay them. The net effect of all these little decisions can be dramatic.”

There’s that word again. Is it me, or does “little” keep rearing up when the subject is our big problem, transportation?

Seattle’s primary transit corridor, the downtown bus tunnel, is closed. Gridlock was predicted. We dodged that by doing a “thousand little things,” such as moving bus stops and banning cars from Third Avenue.

Now we have closed part of our largest freeway. Still no gridlock. You drivers made sure of that. You did “fifty thousand little things.”

Yet all the plans for what to do next are big. Build big rail lines. Bigger roads. Paid for by the biggest tax increase.

Maybe some answers to our traffic mess are little ….

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Planning Director Brent Toderian thinks Vancouver’s designers should take this New York challenge to heart.
It’s in this issue of Metropolis.

We’re poised to build the sustainable twenty-first century—as Mayor Mike envisions in his 127 proposed projects, many of them impacting the design community: the creation of parks, retrofitting buildings, making schools community-friendly, new transit, and more housing. …
Will the design community respond to the challenge of building the twenty-first-century city? Will they rally around the mayor’s plan? Will other leaders be able to see beyond their own egos?

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Ian Wasson reports in from the City of Burnaby, where he’s an urban design planner.  They too are building a ped/bike bridge – the Griffiths Overpass – in the Edmonds area sometime in October.  It’s designed by Busby and Asssociates, and Fast and Epp.
 
And Patkau Architects and Delcan are designing another beauty for the Central Valley Greenway.

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In Price Tags 93, you can find examples of the new kind of pedestrian and bike bridges being built in Australia.  Like this one in Brisbane:

Peter Berkeley, Queensland’s bike and ped planner, has been on an international tour to check out cycling facilities, and he made a special trip up to Newcastle in England to see the Gateshead Millennium Bridge:

In order to allow small craft to sail beneath, the bridge actually tilts, like this:

You can see why it has become a tourist attraction in its own right, nicknamed the “Blinking Eye Bridge.”
As the debate over the Burrard Bridge continues (whether to widen the sidewalks, take some traffic lanes, not spend the ever-escalating amount – maybe $15 million, maybe $30 million), perhaps it’s time to consider the alternative: build a special ped/bike bridge across False Creek.
Discussion never gets very far because the centre of the creek comes under federal control as a navigable waterway, and the height of sailboats at high tide requires a high-level bridge, or some kind of drawbridge.  But maybe it’s time to face up to the trade-off: why should a relative handful of recreation boaters be able to trump a necessary and safe crossing for the most sustainable form of transportation possible?
Or maybe we can do a drawbridge after all.
These kind of bridges, after all, are becoming popular all around the world – designed by the Fosters and Calatravas who merge engineering and architecture into art.  They become icons for their cities. 
Maybe it’s time for us.

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