February 21, 2017

1940, Housing, And Why this Matters

As Chris Brown reports on the CBC there has been a major brouhaha regarding the City of Vancouver’s 12,000 homes that were built before 1940. In a city that had almost a thousand demolition permits taken out in 2016 (the majority in Dunbar-Southlands) the past is getting-well, lost. Of those demolished, two-thirds  of the houses were built before 1940.
In response, the City has created a “Character Home zoning review” proposing to discourage the demolition of this older housing stock by permitting replacement houses to be sizably smaller. This has not gone over well with “Many homeowners, developers, pro-density groups and even key heritage advocates are all pushing back hard against the “preservationist” plan now under discussion.”
Arguments against the designation include stifling architectural design,  and freezing much-needed locations for townhouses and family focused higher density. The City of Vancouver’s Director of Planing Gil Kelley  notes “The younger generation is feeling sqSo opening up new options for affordability and different living option choices for them is really critical — even as people here who are older are trying to hang on to what they already know.”

There have been some issues regarding the  character home designation-how will property owners be compensated for reduced returns on the property? And if a character home is deemed to be beyond rebuilding (and there will need to be guidelines to define that) can those single family lots be filled with more family friendly and affordable higher density housing forms? And in the end, can we create a new way of looking at density in this Character Home zoning review that can move the large single family areas of the city into something that is denser and more attainable for newly formed families? Our future depends on that.

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Remember the Tom Tom Annual Survey of  Traffic Congestion suggesting that Vancouver is a parking lot of traffic?   And Minister of Transportation Todd Stone calling the Massey Tunnel one of the most congested places in British Columbia according to a Canadian Automobile Association Survey?
Business in Vancouver reporter Patrick Blennerhasset cuts through the congestion chat by talking to a transportation expert,  City of Vancouver Manager of Transportation Steve Brown. Steve notes that we need to define what we mean by congestion. Congestion can also be a very good thing-if transit or biking or walking is more efficient and gets you to a place faster, then congestion is your active transportation friend. The slower traffic, the safer active transportation users are too-while only ten per cent of pedestrians will survive a vehicular collision at 50 km/h that rises to a 90 per cent chance of survival with a vehicular collision at 30 km/h.

Steve Brown has great logic-“the key for Vancouver to continue to relieve congestion lies in creating alternative transportation methods to automobile trips…Over the last few years, we have seen a lot more concerns over congestion. And because we’re kind of falling behind on some of our transit infrastructure investments, we’re seeing that there are tending to be more trips lately relying on the road network.”

So…bolstering active transportation and transit reduces congestion, actually making driving easier for folks that want to do this. But doesn’t that defeat the purpose? And that is where misinformation comes in.

“Last year, Langley City councillor Nathan Pachal compiled the 2016 Transit Report Card of Major Canadian Regions. He gave Vancouver a high ranking in terms of public transportation—second only to Montreal—using Canada Transit’s Fact Book 2014 Operating Data by the Canadian Urban Transit Association, which gathers its data from transit agencies across the country and Statistics Canada’s National Household Survey. Pachal also called into question the accuracy of the TomTom rankings. He said during the transit referendum in 2015, discussion around congestion in Vancouver reached a fever pitch.”

And back to those Tom Tom Statistics-those are predicated upon counting the extra travel time during peak hours for a vehicle versus the time taken to travel during no traffic conditions, and then multiplied for 230 working days a year. Remember that Tom Tom’s clients are drivers, and therefore cities with freeways and highways that provide a quick exit are ranked highly, with no ranking given to alternative transit modes or active transportation.

While Vancouver ranked as the 34th most congested cities for vehicle users according to Tom Tom, “the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard, has ranked Vancouver 157th worldwide in terms of traffic congestion.”  Why? Because INRIX a Kirkland, Washington-based transportation analytics company, analyzed traffic congestion in 1,064 cities for its second annual report. Its methodology calculates congestion at different times of the day in different parts of a city using 500 terabytes of data from 300 million different sources covering over five million miles of road. ” This is a much more sophisticated analysis on “overall travel times” as opposed to peak versus free-flow times.

But neither of these two approaches factor in active transportation or transit, and measure a city’s performance by the efficiency of this type of movement. While Tom Tom may be getting a lot of attention, the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard is perhaps a more accurate gauge. Here’s to an index that also factors in other users besides vehicular.

INRIX Global Traffic Index Scorecard:

  •   Los Angeles
  •   Moscow
  •   New York
  •   San Francisco
  •   Bogota, Colombia
  •   Sao Paolo, Brazil
  •   London, England
  •   Magnitogorsk, Russia
  •   Atlanta
  •   Paris, France

 TomTom Traffic Index ranking:

  •   Mexico City
  •   Bangkok, Thailand
  •   Jakarta, Indonesia
  •   Chongqing, China
  •   Bucharest, Romania
  •   Istanbul, Turkey
  •   Chengdu, China
  •   Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  •   Beijing, China
  •   Changsha, China
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There has been a lot of discussion about housing density and what higher density can look like without going to the high-rise tower form.  On CBC Radio and in a lecture at Simon Fraser University local architect and adjunct professor  Michael Geller speaks directly-it’s time for Vancouver to get unstuck from the high-rise model, while providing more  supportable scale and rhythm to the street.

“When you put a high-rise on a major street next to a single-family house — like Venables and Commercial where the rest of the development is three or four storey scale — I think people are uncomfortable with the juxtaposition…Instead Vancouver should build more mid-rise buildings, and make better use of lots by building homes closer together and to the end of the lot lines.”

Vancouver has locked onto the high-rise model, which is more  lucrative to build and efficient. Michael Geller suggests we look to Amsterdam for guidance, where most of the city’s new apartments are lower than ten storeys.  Michael cites the floating rowhouses of IJburg just east of Amsterdam which have higher densities than traditional floating homes, and also the Aarhus Harbour Apartments in Denmark, which takes advantage of light and views for each unit. Calling this the middle ground between single-family and high-rise towers, Michael suggests that this form could be accepted and achieved across the city.

“You are going to see more of these buildings being built because they’re going to be built in locations where you can’t get approval to build high-rises given current community attitudes.”

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Wanyee Li with Metro News reports on tiny houses and their owners, folks that have a 250 square foot house on wheels with compost toilets and loft beds. Earlier this year Price Tags reported on the AirBnB rental “Moonbeam”a van rentable for the night in Vancouver, which was completely booked out.
The City of Vancouver does not allow people to live in vehicles, so while these tiny houses can easily fit into a trailer park, they are not legal in the City of Vancouver.
“Samantha Gambling, co-founder of the BC Tiny House Collective, was buying paint to put the finishing touches on her 320-square-foot house when Metro spoke with her Thursday. It’s just a matter of normalizing [tiny houses] and having conversations with policymakers to make those changes happen so that it can be a viable housing stock.”

Ms. Gambling sees the tiny house as an alternative type of housing, suggesting that residential property can be further subdivided down to accommodate these diminutive dwellings. Hers was built at a cost of  approximately $70,000, “Tiny houses are not going to solve all the systemic problems that exist in our society.“But it will fit alongside single-family dwellings and high rises and microsuites and the whole spectrum.”

There is a BC Tiny House Collective volunteer meeting today the 20th, at CityStudio, 1800 Spyglass Place Vancouver  at 6:30 p.m.  Here is a link to a report on Tiny Houses prepared by Natradee Quek at UBC.

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Next City reports on something that   proves that everything old becomes new again with innovation, including the use of cameras monitoring intersections. UBC engineering professor Tarek Sayed states what everyone who has looked at the civic systems to get speed bumps or signalized crosswalks knows-“We have to wait for collisions to happen before we can do anything. A fundamental ethical and practical problem which faces traffic engineers is, in order to improve safety, you need a certain number of collisions … which you would try to prevent later,” says the University of British Columbia civil engineering professor. “It’s very reactive.”
Sayed has taken a proactive approach, developing a video camera system that monitors intersections for near collision misses, and has computers track the results. “The system, called, somewhat inelegantly, “computer vision and automated safety analysis,” uses off-the-shelf cameras, or cameras that are already installed in an area, to film a given intersection. Computer algorithms can track anything that moves through the intersection — cars, bikes, people — and can figure out quite a bit about each one. The computer knows whether the moving blip is a person or a car, how fast they’re going, how close they got to hitting another road user. The computer can even tell, with about 80 percent accuracy, whether a person is distracted by their phone while walking.”

Driver distraction is measured by how long it takes the driver to stop the car.  Sayed also suggests that lower vehicular speeds would lessen the impact of  any pedestrian crashes. This system is used in several countries and the redesign of one intersection in Edmonton Alberta had a 92 per cent reduction in collisions after the computer vision and safety analysis.

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The Economist has just reported that pedestrians may be sharing the sidewalk with a new interloper-a new version of robotic delivery system developed by “Piaggio Fast Forward, a subsidiary of Piaggio, an Italian firm that is best known for making Vespa motor scooters. Gita’s luggage compartment is a squat, drumlike cylinder that has been turned on its side. This, as the picture above shows, is fitted with two wheels of slightly larger diameter than the drum. These let the whole thing roll smoothly along, keeping the luggage compartment upright, at up to 35kph (22mph).”
This  item called a “Gita” is designed to walk a pace or two behind a human owner wearing an electronic belt, and can carry 18 kilograms of cargo for up to eight hours before needing recharging. Gita carries shopping as well as delivering goods ordered online.

Piaggio is now putting a dozen or so Gitas to work in pilot projects around America, doing things like carrying tools for workers, guiding people through airports and assisting with deliveries. And it is not alone. Starship Technologies, an Estonian company started by Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, two of the founders of Skype, has similar ambitions. Starship’s as-yet unnamed suitcase-sized robot has six small wheels, travels at 6kph and holds 10kg of cargo. Rather than doggedly following a human being, it navigates itself around using cameras and ultrasonic sensors—though a remote operator can take control of it to supervise tricky manoeuvres such as crossing roads.”

One challenged faced by these “robots” and their designers is what is called unstructured environments, mainly the fact that these transporters have to share sidewalk space with unpredictable human beings.  Robotics have not learned how to navigate space that is full of people-yet. But engineer Matt Delany is  not giving up. “The pedestrian environment is very cultural,” he says. “If you monitor people over many long repetitions in testing, a robot can learn the best routes.”

Because this new generation of robotics will not be on vehicular streets and road surfaces, the regulation and safety concerns have been to this point minimized. These robotics may be the new shape of autonomous home delivery, using a sidewalk near you.

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In one of those stories that just has to come from the Maritimes someone thought it might be a good idea to tow a couch behind an ATV and go through the drive in line at McDonald’s in Miramichi New Brunswick at 3:30 a.m. last Thursday.

“Miramichi police say an officer spotted the couch, being towed behind an ATV, at 3:19 a.m. Thursday in the drive-thru. Cpl. Lorri McEachern says the driver of the four wheeler took off after the officer turned on the lights atop his cruiser, stranding the two “intoxicated” men outside the restaurant.

She says the driver raced through the parking lot, across the highway and onto the frozen Miramichi River, still towing the couch through much of his escape.”

Two couch surfers were caught. The crime? It is illegal to tow a couch through a drive through. However it should be noted that both men were wearing helmets.Two local men, aged 28 and 39, will face yet-to-be-determined charges.

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The lack of Provincial response to the concerns of adjacent municipalities and mayors to the impending Massey Bridge mega-billion dollar construction project is truly the sound of one hand clapping. The Province is sure that the bridge is good for the Port and its own concepts of  twentieth century commercial trucking and traffic, and nothing is swaying their determination to foist this behemoth upon us.
The Richmond News  and Graeme Wood reports that the Mayor of Richmond, Malcolm Brodie was “disappointed yet unsurprised that the provincial government issued environmental approval for the 10-lane, $3.5 billion bridge. The concerns raised by Richmond about this project have continually been ignored throughout the public consultation and environmental assessment processes.”  The Federal Government, who could have also done a Federal review, has refused to do so, saying it is outside their mandate. However, as Councillor Harold Steeves notes, a similar Federal review was done for the Port Mann Bridge. So why the change?

And why does the Massey Tunnel need to be removed? Could this not be used for mass transit or a bicycle link? But no, “according to Geoff Freer, executive project director of the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project, the four-lane tunnel cannot be left beneath the river because it poses a risk to dyke stability during an earthquake. However, the City of Richmond is not aware of any special risks to the dykes associated with the tunnel.”

Of course if the tunnel is removed it allows for bigger ships to  go up and down the Fraser River’s south arm, increasing industrialization of farmland. And here is the weird part-“The provincial environmental assessment certificate issued Thursday calls for the tunnel to be filled in beneath the dyke and the four connecting tubes to be dug up from below the river bed.”

There is a Metro Vancouver water line that is pesky and in the way. That will need to be moved to allow for deeper dredging for big ships. What’s interesting is the certificate does not  “assess the implications of such dredging, as tunnel decommissioning would not directly change the size of vessels using the river; the certificate only addresses the footprint of the bridge.”

If you are not already confused, Mayor Brodie has stated that since the bridge’s towers are on land (Provincial jurisdiction) and do not directly impact the river, the federal government will not be involved. Never mind the fact that the removal of the tunnels will cause massive river bed disturbance. And Minister of Transportation Todd Stone is calling the ten lane Massey Bridge a “green bridge” now because it is reducing idling. 

The bridge is counter to a regional transportation plan supported by all the region’s mayors except for Delta’s mayor who supports the bridge in her jurisdiction. Mayor Brodie is supportive of a cheaper tunnel alternative, and also brings up the fact this bridge complicates regional road pricing. You can be sure this bridge will be tolled. The tolling fee is not announced, but will be higher than the Port Mann bridge because “The bridge’s initial cost is higher than the Port Mann Bridge and traffic projections show it will see less traffic.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.

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The Globe and Mail‘s Kerry Gold reports on a new wave of condo buyers that is happening at a faster pace than expected. Seniors instead of holding on to their equity rich housing until infirmity forces them into supportive care facilities appear to be cashing out and moving to condominium developments, many with similar  square footage on the floor plate as their previous homes.

Called “the transitioning buyer” these older condo purchasers will spend approximately half their equity in their new abode.Developers including “Nic Paolella, director of development for Marcon Developments in Vancouver, says he’s seeing the beginning of a potential flood of downsizers that will become one of the biggest drivers of the condo market. Marcon is a mid-size condo developer with a projected 1,000 units coming on the market this year.”

“This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of amount of capital out there for downsizer buyers,” he says. “We are only at the start of that wave. We are in for a lot more, and it could be a five- or 10-year run of the aggressive downsizer buyer,” he says. “And they have specific interests of where they want to be – often, in a similar neighbourhood to where they were living. Often, they want walkability and access to amenities without a car.”

With the high prices commanded by Vancouver housing, sellers can also now negotiate to continue to live in their homes until their respective condos are ready for occupancy. This can also be for the buyer’s benefit as “if the new buyer plans to tear the house down, as they usually do, it’s more difficult to remove a full-time paying tenant. And if the house is left empty, the owner is looking at paying the new vacancy tax.” 

Despite the cooling off of Vancouver housing prices this year, the Teranet-National Bank home price index still shows prices up 17 per cent from 2015.  “Long-time realtor Stuart Bonner, who specializes in expensive west-side Vancouver properties for Re/Max, says he’s seeing retirees taking a more “proactive” approach. “Nobody would have predicted what prices have done in the last three or four years. People are saying, ‘My house is worth what?’ They are stunning numbers. A lot of people are saying, ‘I’ve got to take some money off the table.’ These are educated people who realize it won’t go straight up forever.”

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The Rick Hansen Foundation has announced an Accessibility Certification Program providing accessibility audits to ensure barrier-free experiences for people with mobility, vision and hearing disabilities. These standards also make it as easy as possible for people with walkers and young families with strollers to use buildings, public streets, walkways and parks.

The Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) has developed RHF Accessibility Certification, an inclusive design and accessibility rating system. Similar to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), it measures and rates accessibility features. According to a recent survey conducted by Angus Reid Institute, 88% of Canadians consider a LEED-style rating program for universal accessibility to be worthwhile.

Trained RHF Access Assistants are currently conducting free beta accessibility reviews and rating buildings throughout Metro Vancouver and the greater Victoria-Colwood area. The first phase of pilot testing of the new RHF Accessibility Certification is underway until June 2017.

To learn more about this innovative pilot and how you can help make your communities accessible for everyone, contact Karen Marzocco, Project Manager at, or visit

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