Governance & Politics
January 19, 2017

The NYC Fifth Avenue Pedestrian Mall?


Dna info reports that the New York City Police Department is finding it challenging to have a President-elect living in New York City. “The massive NYPD presence around Trump Tower is costing the city millions of dollars, which has yet to be reimbursed by the federal government, to the alarm of Mayor Bill de Blasio and local elected officials.”

But Janette Sadik-Khan has an elegant solution which she shared with the New York Times. Donald Trump lives at Trump Tower at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, the same five lane Fifth Avenue “that joins the New York Public Library, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, as well as numerous cathedrals of commerce, tourism and high-end retail. Because the avenue is such a popular destination, retail floor space there rents for $3,000 per square foot a year, the highest price in the world, more than double the cost of similar space along the Champs Élysées. It seems appropriate that gold is a popular color for building facades on Fifth.”

As people flow through this area of Fifth Avenue in their day-to-day activities, the street and sidewalk movement has been challenging due to the required police officers and secret service agents near the Trump Tower. And New Yorkers are  unhappy “The motorcades and security restrictions that will result will permanently paralyze the city’s streets. The swearing-in hasn’t even happened, but the swearing has already started: New Yorkers want their Fifth Avenue back.”

Ms. Sadik-Khan sees this as an opportunity to not close Fifth Avenue but to “reclaim” Fifth as a  “pedestrian street, free of private vehicular traffic but shared with mass transit. The change, which should span the stretch of the avenue from Central Park to the Empire State Building at 34th Street, would create a truly American public space: an entirely new civic platform at the nation’s new center of political gravity.” Since commercial vehicles are already banned from Fifth Avenue, two lanes would be reserved for buses, and the other three lanes could be dedicated for pedestrians. New York has already proven that streets that accommodate more people are great for business bottom lines.

New Yorkers get their street back, the federal government gets a zone that would make the job of protecting the president easier, and President Trump gets a public space he can call his own.

It would be a win-win all around.

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Sometimes its easier just to get out of the box, build something, call it a demonstration project-and if it is successful, make it permanent. As CBC reports that is exactly what the City of Montreal is doing on Atwater, Roy and  Wellington Streets.
The City of Montreal will spend $1.7 million dollars over three years to transform one block lengths of Roy Street East and Wellington Street, and several parts of St. Ambroise and Atwater Street. Grants will be given  to neighbourhoods to create and animate pedestrian oriented pilot projects. Depending on the effectiveness of the closures, the streets will remain fully pedestrianized year round or for part of the year.
This is the third year this program has been operating, with approval ratings as high as 90 per cent from participating neighbourhoods.

 
 

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That 3.5 billion dollar project that just seems to go ahead regardless of public input  from others in Metro Vancouver or from other Mayors has just reached another (no pun intended) milestone-it’s out for preliminary construction work tender.

The Delta Optimist states that the contracts are for  “site preparation in order to improve ground conditions for future lane widening.” One contract will be for the Delta side of the river-the other will be for the Richmond riverbank. All of this despite concerns regarding the soft river delta soil and  environmental impacts. This land is part of the one per cent of alluvial soils that used to produce  86 per cent of the vegetables in British Columbia.

As the Delta Optimist states “Last week project director Geoff Freer made a presentation to Delta council to provide an update as well as reiterate many of the positives of the 10-lane bridge, which also includes an extensive series of road projects on both sides of the river.“If we don’t build a new bridge or build a new crossing, things will certainly get a lot worse. So, with or without the project, traffic is going to increase and we will see continued congestion that will continue to get worse,” said Freer.   He also explained how other options, including twinning the existing tunnel, aren’t feasible.”

The bridge should be completed  for 2022 and will be tolled. Delta Mayor Lois Jackson is advocating a regional “buck a bridge” toll so that all bridges are universally priced, and this bridge is used. The Province is anticipating approval from the Federal government environmental assessment and the success of their application to the Agricultural Land Commission, expected very soon.

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Price Tags did award a 2016  Gordie to the Trump Tower for being one of the most polarizing planning issues of the previous year. In our comments we noted-

Trump Tower –”what are they thinking low hanging fruit, definitely a huge sore spotOfficial opening postponed, although much of the building is in every-day use through the back door.”

Price Tags has visited the Trump Tower on business in New York City and noted that the interior was-well-kind of early 1980’s, complete with lots of outdated marble finishes, and a lot of what could only politely be termed as Las Vegas glitz. However Price Tags was fascinated to learn that the Vancouver Trump Hotel that is still not opened already has a load of reviews, as noted in the Metro News.

“If you’re looking for a luxury hotel offering “unpresidented” guest service, “only takes Russian Rubles” currency, and “sucked, bigly,” look no further than the bizarre Google reviews pouring in for Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver…At time of publishing on Tuesday afternoon all but two of the 58 anonymous, user-submitted written reviews for the hotel that accompany its Google listing are negative — most of them mocking the Trump brand using the President-Elect’s own insults and idioms. “Unpresidented care for guests,” quipped Grant Moore, who gave the hotel just one-of-five stars. It was a reference to Trump’s Dec. 17 tweet in which he misspelled “unprecedented.”

While some Trump Hotels have been rebranded “Scion” hotels, Vancouver’s Holborn Group has not indicated that any rebranding will happen at the Vancouver Trump Hotel due to be opened any day. Until then, the Google listings are the only hotel reviews available for Vancouver’s Trump Tower.

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The ALR-or Agricultural Land Reserve-is one of the most precious things we as citizens of this province own.This article in the Delta Optimist describes how the Fraser River delta lands which are the most fertile and arable in Canada are being eroded by the Province of British Columbia’s Ministry of Transportation, Transport Canada and the Vancouver Port Authority. For what? Wait for it-a truck staging area.  This seems like a rather strange use of Class 1 irreplaceable agricultural land given that there is plenty of space available in the Tsawwassen First Nations lands which have been already been loaded with sand and can no longer be used for agricultural purposes.

This parking lot will be located at Highway 17 and Deltaport Way and will alleviate “truck congestion as well as queuing and parking along Deltaport Way and the causeway.”  Built at a cost of 18 million dollars and leased to the port, this parking lot “would accommodate up to 140 trucks on the east side of Highway 17A and, to the west, a parking area for 40 early arrival trucks, a restroom and an inspection area for B.C. Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement. Only port-authorized trucks would be allowed to access the facility, which would have surveillance cameras monitored by port security.”

To make everyone feel better, the governments and the Port state that “initially” only four hectares or ten acres of farmland will be taken out of the Agricultural Reserve to accommodate 25,0000 square meters of asphalt. Road access for this truck waiting parking lot will also be over arable farmland that is privately owned, and that land is not included in the calculation. This is just the first slice out by the government and the Port, as more truck parking lots will be needed when the second phase of the Delta Port Expansion-which will take out essential migratory feeding grounds for the western sandpiper -is approved.

It’s a bit hard to think what the problem  paving this arable land solves. Truck drivers have already done massive protests on the sides of the highways and certainly could line up there, perhaps even slowing traffic so that pedestrians can cross Highway 17 to the Tsawwassen Mills mall. You would think with advanced communications and technology that trucks could be told when to arrive at the port to pick up their load. Somehow taking Class 1 agricultural land from the ALR slice by slice for truck parking seems so 20th century. Let’s hope there is a rethink.
Removing this land from the ALR needs to be approved by the  Agricultural Land Commission, but the Province has indicated there is a “big announcement” soon.
http://www.marketwire.com/library/MwGo/2016/9/20/11G114970/Images/Deltaport_Truck_Gates-c8fa40312fea88caa18df9aff27d6a1b.JPG

 

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From the Richmond News the City of Richmond has decided to create a bylaw restricting the size of houses built on the ALR (the Agricultural Land Reserve) in that municipality. A couple of things-if you purchase farm land you do not have to pay the 15 per cent foreign owner tax. And if you can crop blueberries or have a calf born on the property you can claim you are a farmer and have the land taxed as agricultural instead of as a large house executive estate.

“Last year, a Globe and Mail investigation found wealthy investors bought farmland in Richmond without any intention of farming and took advantage of tax incentives to pay meagre property taxes while, in some cases, operating illegal hotels. The investigation found local and foreign buyers enjoy large tax breaks meant to encourage farming. Last week, Richmond councillors voted to ban short-term rentals such as Airbnb.”

One of the City Councillors Harold Steves said “so-called monster homes built in 2015 on the ALR surged in size to an average of 12,087 square feet, compared with 7,329 square feet in 2010.” In a report expected to create a lot of controversy staff will be regulating house size and set backs as well as the size of other buildings on the properties contained in the ALR. The Province and the Agricultural Commission do not provide regulations across the province, instead assuming that each municipality will limit the size of estate houses on ALR farmland.

Consultation meetings will be held in March. Options include limiting floor area to 5,382 square feet for a principal residence based upon provincial guidelines, or using Delta’s zoning guidelines restricting building size to 3,552 square feet on lots smaller than 20 acres. Given the  importance of maintaining the richest agricultural lands in Canada, Richmond will work to “minimize residential development on agricultural lands and increase farm viability” . Kudos to the City of Richmond for doing the right thing.

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The Guardian‘s Greg Lindsay discusses what many transportation planners have been worrying about-we all assume that Uber will displace and disrupt taxi and private automobiles-but what if we are wrong? What if Uber disrupts basic transit service?

“Traditional thinking would suggest that UberPool, which allows users to split the cost of trips with other Uber riders heading in the same direction, will always be inferior to public transport. Sitting in the backseat of a Prius may be more comfortable than standing on a crowded bus or train, continues this reasoning, but carpooling can’t substitute for mass transit at rush hours without massively increasing congestion.”

But oops! “Uber began offering “ride shares” for as little as $1 , introduced optimised pickup points that algorithmically recreate bus stops, and started testing semi-autonomous vehicles it hopes will solve its increasingly contentious labour issues.”

It is estimated that Uber passengers only pay about 40 per cent of the cost of each ride, and it has bee assumed that this might be predatory pricing with an aim to monopolise and control the market.  When a system wide shutdown of the metro system happened in Washington DC , Uber, Lyft and other services offered shared rides way below the cost of a metro transit ticket.  London’s tube strike last week saw Uber fare surcharges rocketing up 450 per cent in some cases.  “As a spokesperson explained, “without this pricing, there would simply be no cars available”. Meanwhile, the number of licensed private-hire vehicles in London has nearly doubled from 59,000 in 2010 to more than 110,000 by the middle of 2016.”

What to do? Cities are partnering with Uber to fix weak transportation links and “then using its looming inevitability as an excuse to not improve their own service. Diverting funds to pay for blanket subsidies will only hasten the public system’s implosion.” Lindsay argues that the way to incentivize transit use and retention is to leverage “every tool at cities’ disposal, including lane access, parking regulations and incentives to shift the peak of rush hours commutes, to create communities that are at their best when served by mass transit – and could never be built around a million Ubers.”

It’s a compelling thought to create transit friendly cities and densities by putting public transportation policies and priorities first.

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Geekwire reports an unsettling story that the City of Seattle’s Pronto bike-share service will shutter on March 31. “In October 2014, Pronto Cycle Share debuted as a public-private partnership. In 2015, the City Council set aside $5 million to expand the program. But plans changed after Pronto reported that it was “insolvent” due to operating losses ($1.2 million of debt) and low ridership numbers a controversial and ultimately unsuccessful program in Seattle, with fewer-than-expected members signing up to rent bicycles on-demand to get around the city.”

The city  last year intended to buy out the bike-share program and relaunch the service with electric bikes. This year instead the funding will be used for expanded pedestrian and  bicycle facilities.“This shift in funding priorities allows us to make critical bicycle and pedestrian improvements — especially for students walking and biking to school,” Mayor Murray said in a statement. “While I remain optimistic about the future of bike share in Seattle, today we are focusing on a set of existing projects that will help build a safe, world-class bicycle and pedestrian network.”

This failure is in contrast to the success of Seattle car shares, which has had fantastic growth, or the launch of bike share in Portland where the  “recently-launched bike-share program is off to a hot start.”

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In the Good News department,  the CBC and the Delta Optimist are reporting that Ladner and Tsawwassen businesses have had a relatively successful Christmas season despite the lure of the 1.2 million square foot Tsawwassen Mills mega mall being so close by.

“Independent retailers in south Delta, B.C., say a push to support local businesses has helped mitigate the impact of a new mega mall nearby. “The whole ‘shop local’ thing really resonated with the people of Ladner,” said Andrea Frustaci, head of the Ladner Business Association.In the fall, some shops in the area said sales were down by as much as 50 per cent after the Tsawwassen Mills mall opened the month before”.

Many local residents decided to forgo the mall and bring their shopping dollars to the community that has supported them for so long. As one business owner told the Delta Optimist“Customers commented that they enjoyed our space, the knowledge that we have and the desire to shop local. You would be silly to not believe that the mall impacted local shopping. They have sheltered space, so the weather certainly played a factor in some people choosing to shop at the new mall versus shopping here in Tsawwassen. A lot of the folks did make the conscious decision, however, to stay and shop in the local community.”

Another shop owner stated “The Christmas season was good. I think we had a bit of a less volume, but those that were shopping were motivated to shop local and buy local,” Irving said. “Shoppers told us that they checked out the mall, but came back in December because they wanted service, the time and care that we put in with our customers, the free gift-wrapping and the special touches. What we noticed in December is that shoppers said we want you here and they continued to support, so I don’t have fears moving forward. We are here to stay – we are not going anywhere.”

The new Tsawwassen Commons mall  beside the Tsawwassen Mills mega mall has several stores now open. At 550,000 square feet it is the same size as all the retailing in Tsawwassen and Ladner and aims to serve “everyone in a seven minute driving distance”. Kudos to the local residents for keeping their own town centres, alive, one business at a time.

Tsawwassen Mills Mega Mall with Tsawwassen Commons in red

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Remember when you shared your coloured pencil  crayons in school and the other kid didn’t give the black pencil crayon back? That is what Public Art artist Anish Kapoor is accused of doing.
The Smithsonian magazine says it all. “Earlier this year, Kapoor sparked outrage from artists all over the world with the announcement that he had made a deal to become the only person in the world allowed to use the blackest pigment of black paint ever developed. Known as Vantablack, the unique carbon nanotube-based pigment is produced solely by a British company called NanoSystem, and was originally developed for military technologies. However, Kapoor made an agreement with the company that he is the only person allowed to use it for artistic purposes.”

Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate”(2006)  repainted in the Vantablack paint he is alledgedly not sharing

Other artists are upset. Said artist Stuart Semple”When I first heard that Anish had the exclusive rights to the blackest black I was really disappointed… It just seemed really mean-spirited and against the spirit of generosity that most artists who make and share their work are driven by.”  Learning from Kapoor, Mr. Semple has released his own special colour pigment that he calls “Pink”. And everyone in the world can use it-except Anish Kapoor.

“Semple is currently selling “Pink” through his website for £3.99 per pot (about $5). However, before purchasing the powdered pigment, buyers have to agree to a legal disclaimer that states they have no intention of letting it fall into Kapoor’s hands.”

Mr. Semple sums the banned black paint up this way: [Kapoor is like the] kids who wouldn’t share their felt pens. They just sat there in the corner without any friends.”

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