December 13, 2018

Christmas Wish Granted? Universal Internet and Public Washrooms on TransLink System Coming!

As public transit for a major city we have been wondering why TransLink does not have continuous public internet along the system, and why there are no washrooms, because it is a human need and everyone needs access to washrooms. We have been exploring those issues for some time in Price Tags.

TransLink has now announced that free access to internet service is coming, and will be offered on SkyTrain, the SeaBus and on transit.

As the Vancouver Sun noted, there had been cut and paste internet service offered at SeaBus terminals and on the SeaBus, but service was not extended beyond these locations. Working with Shaw the idea is to provide uniform service across the transit network, with the proviso that such coverage will take six years to be completely implemented. And yes, you will be able to access the internet even if you are not a Shaw customer. Trials will start next year, and the complete internet coverage of the public transportation system is said to the first in Canada.

And to make matters even more comfortable and convenient, the TransLink Board has approved the development of a strategy to provide washrooms on the system “over the longer term”.

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As reported in the Zero Hedge, the tightening of money in China is impacting North American real estate, with the Wall Street Journal estimating that more than 1 billion dollars of property has been dumped in the United States as Beijing moves investors into debt-reduction regulations.

In the third quarter of 2018 “Chinese investors dumped $1.05 billion worth of prime US real estate in the third quarter while purchasing only $231 million of property, according to data firm Real Capital Analytics. This marks the second consecutive quarter where investors were net sellers of US commercial real estate, and the first time investors sold more US property than they bought since the 2008 crash.”

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Back to Delta, which unfortunately still advocates for through vehicular traffic befitting a 20th century suburb and does not champion safe walking and cycling design as a first priority on their streets.

Residents in Tsawwassen on Upland Drive, Beach Grove, and now at 16th Avenue at 53A Street have separately asked the City of Delta to ameliorate traffic problems and to slow traffic down to make it easier for local residents to walk and live safely and comfortably. The response for Upland Drive which is used as a shortcut and carries three times the volume of the surrounding streets was a set of speed bumps which keep vehicle movement on the speed  bump to 50 km/h. However this does not slow speed on the rest of this curving street with no sidewalks, and does nothing to stop the commuter shortcutting.

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Housing issues are a real concern for young people trying to work in Vancouver and attempting to find a place to live that does not eat up everything they earn. But there is the other side of the population cohort experiencing similar pressures, seniors who are retired and on fixed income with housing that because of the real estate market is often insecure and unstable.

Dan Fumano touches on this in his article on the Grey Tsunami and the challenges seniors have when being asked to leave rental accommodations they have lived in sometimes for decades. Duke of Data and Simon Fraser University Director of the City Program Andy Yan observes that renters in Vancouver that are seniors “are more likely than younger renters to face what Statistics Canada calls “core housing need.

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There is an extraordinary video on YouTube with Vancouver television host Jack Webster taking an early ride on the SkyTrain from New Westminster to downtown in January 1986. The video has some funny angles~Mr. Webster whose Scottish brogue made him often undecipherable has to pay fifty cents for a senior’s fare on the bus, and does not have the change. He has to dismount the bus and walk across to the station, something he grouses about.

He is greeted by Michael O’Connor, who was the Chief Administrative Officer for the former “GVRD”, the Greater Vancouver Regional District (now Metro Vancouver) and later became head of B.C. Transit.  Mr. O’Connor now heads up NaiKun, the project harnessing wind power off Haida Gwai. The “Mr. Hodgson” who is chairman of the GVRD board is actually the highly respected  Stuart Hodgson who was the first Commissioner of the Northwest Territories and worked at bringing services to run at the  community level in remote arctic towns.

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While New York City real estate experts have suggested that anywhere between 10 and 20 percent of Manhattan’s retail space is vacant, that figure in itself may not be an indicator of good retail health of an area. A successful retail area may be more about the uses.

The writer Derek Thompson in the New York Times had a real estate broker walk 18 prime retail blocks. Out of 246 storefronts, only 13 had for rent signs in vacant storefronts, suggesting a vacancy rate in the manageable  5 percent range. But there is a change of use in retail. Food and drink categories have been the main businesses leasing retail spaces in New York City in the last three years, with what is termed as “fast casual” eateries multiplying  over 100 percent in ten years.

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Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie and Richmond City Council  seem to have had a bit of inside information when they sent a letter to the Province regarding the  review of the multi billion dollar proposed Massey Bridge. As reported in the Richmond News  the letter reiterated that Richmond ” as council, think the best option is to upgrade the existing tunnel and to twin the tunnel.”

And as reports, it turns out that Claire Trevena the Provincial Minister of Transportation  has already met with the Richmond mayor and staff on November 14th. On November 26 the following memo was sent to Council which stated:

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It’s been a strange couple of weeks south of the Fraser River in Delta, where new Mayor (and old city manager) George Harvie got right down to business on his motordom agenda, insisting with the new Metro Mayors’ Council that he still wants the Massey Bridge. The new chair of the Mayors’ Council Jonathan Cote told Mayor Harvie that deciding whether there was going to be a multi-billion dollar ten lane bridge replacing the Massey Tunnel was not in Metro Vancouver’s  jurisdiction.

But Mayor Harvie is gathering like-minded pro-bridge people around him, and took the eyebrow raising step of appointing one of the unsuccessful candidates running for council under Harvie’s slate to a position in the mayor’s office. It’s the “director of public engagement and intergovernmental affairs” given to Param Grewal, a $125,000 position.  Mr. Grewal is an older vintage as is the mayor, and of course is advocating for the Massey Bridge.

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It’s been obvious that the constant increase in Vancouver real estate pricing did not appear to be a locally driven construct.  Global Televison  and Sam Cooper’s team have referenced a confidential report from Police that studied 1,200 luxury residence purchases in Metro Vancouver in 2016. The study  found that while only ten per cent of the purchasers had criminal records, 95 per cent of those transactions were “believed by police intelligence to be linked to Chinese crime networks.” This means that  home purchases could have laundered one billion dollars of black/gray cash in 2016.

The house purchases examined were in the 3 million to 35 million dollar range. The study did not include housing between 1 and 3 million dollars or condo flipping due to a lack of resources to scrutinize over 20,000 transactions. Researchers felt that significant suspicious activity would be found in these purchases as well.

Evidence is appearing that the funding for these real estate  purchases is from the street proceeds of selling fentanyl, and laundering that cash. One unidentified expert stated “You know that Netflix show Ozark, about laundering drug cartel money? I always think that if those characters came up to Vancouver, they could launder all their cash in just one day.”

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There is a strange and oddly captivating drama taking place in Chinatown’s Sun Yat Sen Classical Garden where the tranquil peace and well thought out contemplative space has been invaded by a most unusual contemporary nemesis. A river otter has somehow braved several busy arterial roads to end up in the garden, enjoying the privacy and bounty of the garden~and unfortunately eating the koi, the very specialized and highly prized fish that are the centrepiece of the pond. Koi are colourful varieties of carp, and are bred for their size and colour. The longest living Koi  who was named Hanako lived 226 years. Koi  are a Big Deal and if you ask anyone that has a pond with koi they will tell you how special they are. Koi also recognize who feeds them and will follow that person around the pond and watch them. And they are not cheap~a six inch koi with red patches can cost $3,000.

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