History & Heritage
January 23, 2020

Outpouring of Support for City of Vancouver Proclamation for Mount Pleasant’s Davis Family

This week I wrote about the City of Vancouver turning down recognition of the Davis Family who transformed the 100 block of West Tenth Avenue, and who worked tirelessly to bring in the Mount Pleasant zoning that supported maintaining the area’s Edwardian and Victorian houses. Way before the City of Vancouver launched laneway houses, the Davis Family was already making rental units available in the houses they saved from demolition, and oh yes, they built a few laneway houses too.

Every time I think of the Davis Family and their three generations that have promoted neighbourliness and community building I come up with a new initiative they pioneered. One was eliminating the harsh “crotch dropping” of mature street trees to allow for the unfettered access to hydro lines in the trees. The Davis family refused to allow BC Hydro to butcher their street trees, taking the keys to the offending  tree cutting vehicles and not giving them back. The compromise  was taken forward to  City of Vancouver council,  and that was raising the hydro lines in mature trees so that the trees were not brutally altered. That is now civic policy  for mature tree canopies.

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Following up on the Province of British Columbia’s “Move Commute Connect’ strategy which intends to double the percentage of active transportation trips by 2030, the Province has just announced some new legislation. This legislation will allow the Province to enforce signalling and speed limits of vehicles. New regulation will also finally deal with the pesky challenge of what to do about things on the road that are not pedestrians, bicycle riders or car drivers.

Think of it. In British Columbia segways, hoverboards, electric scooters, electric skateboards and electric motorcycles are really not supposed to be on roads. And they really are not supposed to be on sidewalks either. The idea is that you are using those technologies on private property, at your own risk. The Province is allowing for a three year pilot for municipalities to explore how these items could be used, either on roads, sidewalks or bike paths, with an evaluation after the three year period.

The darling of these “micromobility” ways of moving is the E scooter. They are also cash cows for the E scooter industry with the investment in installation in cities being paid back in just a matter of a few weeks. It is no surprise that horror stories of E scooters littering sidewalks in cities have emerged, as different scooter companies try to get their piece of the pie.

But what problem are E scooters solving? Kelowna has a fairly successful trial of them on the 12 km. trail system between UBC Okanagan, downtown Kelowna and Okanagan lake. But in a study done in Paris it was found that if scooters were not available 47 percent of people would have walked, 29 percent would have used public transit, and 9 percent would have biked, with only 9 percent saying they would have used a car.Should we be encouraging E scooter use if it is taking people away from walking and cycling and using transit?

And exactly who is using the E scooter? Wired.com reports on a study that found that people in the $25,000 to $50,000 salary range were more likely to use E scooters, and surprisingly showed that 72 percent of women thought positively about using a scooter than men at 67 percent.This is interesting in that men still account for 75 percent of E scooter trips.

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I have written before about  the Davis Family and their remarkable work on the 100 block of West Tenth Avenue. You know the block~instead of indulging in cash-cropping existing Edwardian and Victorian houses into three storey walkups during the 1970’s and 1980’s this extraordinary family restored them. At that time renovating very old houses and using them for  rental accommodation was not the thing to do.

But the Davis Family led by John Senior (who passed away in the 1980’s)  and his wife Nita (Pat)  with sons John and Geoff persevered, and over five decades the extraordinary streetscape of the 100 block of West Tenth emerged.

Pat Davis passed away last summer and it seemed like the right thing to do to ask the City of Vancouver to do a proclamation in February of 2020 to have a day during “Heritage Week” designated as “Davis Family Day”.  There were several reasons for my request~not only did the Davis Family renovate this block and provide rental housing, they stewarded it, and it made sense to get their community building and volunteerism in the civic record for future generations. They were also instrumental in the development of the zoning for this entire area of Mount Pleasant.

The Davis family maintained the street and helped their neighbourhood. Pat or her son John would be out sweeping the sidewalk and picking garbage off the road in the early morning. There was a bicycle with a basketful of flowers next to a city tree, and two adirondack chairs if someone wanted to sit next to the grassed boulevard. They welcomed neighbours and community.

The Davis Family were involved in all of Mount Pleasant’s planning processes in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The RT-6 zoning in the area was a result of their own work, where existing Victorian houses could be renovated into several units with a coach house in the back.  Laneway houses were also originally a Davis Family innovation.

It seemed a slam dunk for the City to recognize the extraordinary contribution of this family to conserving Mount Pleasant’s history and contributing so greatly to community neighbourliness.  I thought a proclamation to have the Davis Family stewardship in the civic record would be a good thing. But I was wrong.

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In the very good news department,  Sadhu Johnston the City Manager of the City of Vancouver has announced the new City Engineer and General Manager of Engineering Services. That individual  is Lon LaClaire, who has been Director of Transportation in Vancouver since 2015.

Lon is taking over the position vacated by Jerry Dobrovolny who is now the Chief Administrative Officer of Metro Vancouver.

For people that have worked with Lon, he is extremely forthright and has a collaborative approach to working across civic departments and within communities. He’s a proponent of active transportation and was part of the team that so successfully convinced Vancouverites to walk, bike and take transit during the 2010 Olympics. Changing the way people in Vancouver move to be less car intensive and more active transportation and transit related is echoed in Vancouver’s transportation plan.

You can listen to a Vancouver transportation related podcast between Gordon Price and Lon LeClaire recorded last November here.

How transportation ties in with active transportation, health, sociability  and the role of cities is changing in the region, with progressive mayors like City of North Vancouver’s Linda Buchanan and City of New Westminster’s Jonathan Cote leading the conversation.

All of us at Price Tags welcome Lon’s leadership, and look forward to his stewardship in Vancouver and in the region.

Below is the text that was distributed to City of Vancouver staff by the City Manager.

 

“I am pleased to announce that after an extensive recruitment process for City Engineer and General Manager of Engineering Services, Lon LaClaire is the successful candidate for the role.

I am very happy that Lon is taking on this position permanently to head up Engineering Services at the City. Lon has a deep understanding of our priority areas of work in Engineering Services, and having been part of the department for 23 years, I know he is keen to continue the great work planned and underway in the department.

Lon comes to the role with extensive experience in transportation, having started with the City working on the Millennium line, the Downtown Transportation Plan, the Canada Line and transportation planning for the 2010 Olympics. Lon has connected the department’s work to the transportation component of the Greenest City Action Plan, as well as the Transportation 2040 Plan.

In 2015, as Director of Transportation, Lon led ground-breaking projects such as the Arbutus Greenway, Burrard Bridge upgrade and implementing new parking strategies. Experience with major projects like this puts Lon in a strong position as he begins his new role as GM. His cooperative approach and ability to make connections to how our work interacts internally as well as with major partners across the city and the region will be invaluable. I know he will bring his experience and appreciation of collaborative projects to the wider department.

Lon will be starting in the role immediately. Please join me in congratulating and welcoming him as City Engineer and General Manager of Engineering Services.”

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It is not often that a  Vancouver person’s  working life has a half century of documentation and film.  In 1964 Vern Frick was documented in this YouTube video which was produced for CBC and described his daily work as a postman. In the video he stops on Granville Street for his morning coffee. The original postal station D was on Broadway close to Fir Street, and you can see the Fir Street off ramp for the Granville Bridge in the video below. You also see a different Vancouver, with wooden houses, front porches, and a mailman who knows everyone on his route.

Vern Frick later worked as a postal inspector and ended up in safety management with the Post Office. Although he retired over 20 years ago from the post office, he kept on with his second job which was as an usher with the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition). And what a life he experienced with that job. This  2018 article by Susan Lazarek with the Vancouver Sun describes Vern as the “longest-serving employee of the PNE, who has been on shift as a part-time usher for virtually all the shows at the annual exhibition venues since the summer of 1963, is working his last shift on Labour Day.”

He was at the Beatles concert as an usher in August 22, 1964 (which ended after twenty minutes when fans rushed the stage).

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Via Kris Olds and Croakey.org this story is from Gemma Carey who lives in Canberra Australia and is an associate professor in the Centre for Social Impact at the University of South Wales.

Professor Carey writes that the smoke enveloping Canberra has shown the need “for better health warning systems, especially around hazardous air pollution, and for equity considerations to be foremost.”  

In her city “the unprecedented fires which began on New Year’s eve brought a thick ‘fog’ of smoke across the ACT (Australia Capital Territory) and parts of New South Wales. Canberra, where I live, is perhaps worst hit with particle readings of up to 1800 2.5PM. The limit for hazardous levels is 200 2.5PM in the ACT, according to the ACT Government.”

Professor  Carey wrote in December that women being  pregnant in a climate emergency meant they are stuck indoors. “At that time, dangerous particles of 2.5 micrometres or smaller (‘2.5PM’) were at 100-300 – ranging from serious to hazardous.”

The air in Canberra is ten times over the hazardous level and is the poorest air quality of any city in the world. Air with this type of particulate creates complications for people with lung and breathing issues, and can impact heart disease and cancer rates. Research shows that the longer the exposure to these particulates, the higher the incidence of disease. Couple this with research showing that pregnant women exposed to these particulates appear to have babies that are premature, weigh less, and can be miscarried.  What is not being calculated is that families in Canberra are also experiencing direct stress due to the fire disasters as well as the long term implications of particulate exposure.

Poorer areas in the city have worse air. Professor  Carey states “We have no precedent in the scientific literature for the health implications of what is currently happening in Australia.”

Clean air is costly~“Since New Year’s, nowhere indoors is safe. Shopping malls, libraries and national monuments – where many were seeking refuge – are filled with smoke. Air conditioning systems are simply not designed for this level of pollution.”

Even air purifiers which cost 500 to 800 dollars are not affordable to many people and there are none left in Canberra or its suburbs. Indoors people wear high grade pollution masks. “I take it off only to shower and eat.”

The  air particulate mask is only good for 100 hours and costs 50 dollars. Again as in the air purifiers, there is an equity issue of who can afford and access them. The masks  available at hardware stores are not designed for the particulates that are raining down on Canberra.

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Last Fall Consumer Reports revealed that although most Americans killed in car crashes are male, data shows that it is fact women that are at a greater risk of death or serious injury in a car crash. A female driver or front row passenger with a seatbelt is 17 percent more likely to die, and 73 percent more likely to have a serious injury.

Crash researchers have known for forty years that the bodies of male and female react differently in crashes,  but automotive research still stubbornly clings to the “50th percentile male” which is understood to be a 171 pound 5 foot 9 inch dummy  first developed in the 1970’s. And that crash test dummy has not substantially changed, despite the fact that the average American man weighs 26 pounds more.

It was not until 2003 that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) used a scaled down male dummy to represent a woman. This dummy was so scaled down that it also could double as a 13 year old child. It is a 5th percentile crash dummy as even to  1970’s standards it represented only 5 percent of women.

Crash tests do not recognize that  half the drivers in the United States are now female. The 5th percentile female crash dummy rides as a passenger, not a driver. As Consumer Reports writer Keith Barry states “Because automotive design is directly influenced by the results of safety testing, any bias in the way cars are crash-tested translates into the way cars are manufactured. So if safety tests don’t prioritize female occupants, carmakers won’t necessarily make changes to better protect them.”

Automotive safety relies on regulation to do the right thing. Using crash dummies that are not smaller models of male dummies is the first step, along with recognizing that women’s  structures are different than men’s. Today’s average female is five inches shorter and 27 pounds lighter than the average male, and wear seatbelts differently and sit closer to the steering console.

While there is a new generation of dummies coming, there is still no plan to build an average female for crash tests. Called THOR (Test Device for Human Occupant Restraint) these new models are due to be used in Europe this year for testing and will collect more data than previous crash test dummies.

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With thanks to Duke of Data Andy Yan for the reference, here’s a memory for those of a Certain Age that were taking transit in Vancouver in the 1980’s and 1990’s. At that time, the city seemed to be covered with ubiquitous places where you could get muffins, most near transit hubs. Muffin shops also carried coffee, not the fancy stuff of Starbuck’s creativity but the kind that came straight out of a glass carafe, and usually had the consistency of caramel.

Karon Liu in the Star wrote last spring about the muffin trend, stating that “the bar (was) set by Toronto-based muffin chain Mmmuffins (full name: Marvellous Mmmuffins). In the chain’s ’80s and early ’90s heydays, almost every Canadian mall had a location that offered a rotating menu of flavours. Everyone had their favourite: some liked the cornmeal muffin, others peach bran, while my mom loved the seldom-seen pineapple muffin…”

Marvellous Mmmuffins started in 1979, was franchised, and peaked in the 1980 to 1990 years. By 2019, what was once a bevy of stores had shrunk to only two with one of them, the Second Cup, picking up on the new trend towards espresso and specialty coffee.

It may seem a weird trend now where people are careful about ingesting carbohydrates , but in the late 1980’s Liu observes that the muffin had the three ingredients necessary for the  “yuppie” (“Young Urban Professional”) lifestyle.

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Andy Yan, our  very own Duke of Data and Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University shared his discovery of this dated gem from 1966. Filmed just two months before Walt Disney’s death, the YouTube video below describes Mr. Disney’s next big project.

Walt Disney of Disneyland fame had read a few of the old classic books on planning and had decided to make EPCOT~the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow~ as a way to get industry working on innovation technology that would support the people living in the experimental community. You will see Mr. Disney holding up plans that look more like amoeba swimming around, with a bit of Buck Rogers streamlined arty design.

Of course you just can’t go and repurpose a town to create an experimental community, so Disney bought 47 square miles of swamp in the middle of Florida, got permission to create his own municipality, and made plans for 20,000 residents to live there. Just like Apple’s headquarters everything was circular with plans showing businesses in the centre of the proposed town and residences on the suburban perimeter.

The video below is cringe worthy for several reasons,  with the drawings looking strangely similar to  Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities and the Radburn Plan. Walt Disney was basically building a new town where he planned that workers and industry would live in harmony and commute by monorail and “PeopleMovers”.

With Walt Disney’s death in 1966, the more conservative Disney board morphed EPCOT into a series of international pavilions and steered away from the creation of a new community.

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I have been writing about Leading Pedestrian Intervals  (LPIs) and spoke on CBC Radio this month about why this innovation should be adopted everywhere.

For a nominal cost of $1,200 per intersection, crossing lights are reprogrammed to give pedestrians anywhere from a three to ten second start to cross the street before vehicular traffic is allowed to proceed through a crosswalk. There are over 2,238  of these leading pedestrian crossing intervals installed in New York City where their transportation policies prioritize the safety of walkers over vehicular movement. New York City had a 56 percent decrease in pedestrian and cyclist collisions at locations where LPIs were installed. NACTO, the National Organization of City and Transportation Officials estimates that LPIs can reduce pedestrian crashes by 60 percent.

Since 75 percent of Vancouver’s pedestrian crashes happen in intersections, and since most of the fatal pedestrian crashes involve seniors, it just makes sense to implement this simple change to stop injuries and to save lives.

There has not been much political will in the City of Vancouver to adopt Leading Pedestrian Intervals, and there are only a  handful in the city. Kudos to the City of Surrey’s Road Safety Manager Shabnem Afzal who has tirelessly led a Vision Zero Plan (no deaths on the roads) and has been behind the installation of Leading Pedestrian Intervals at over seventy Surrey intersections.

As reported by CBC’s Jesse Johnston, Leading Pedestrian Intervals  “allows pedestrians to establish their right of way in the crosswalk.”

Quoting Ms. Afzal, “”It puts pedestrians into the crosswalk far enough to make them more visible to drivers. We normally implement them around T-intersections where there may be a potential for conflict between a vehicle and a pedestrian…It is a no-brainer really that we have to try and protect those most vulnerable road users. Especially given that it’s low cost and we can implement LPIs anywhere where there’s actually a signal.

Kudos to Surrey and to Road Safety Manager Ms. Afzal for getting this done.

When can we expect the same kind of response  from the City of Vancouver?

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