Business & Economy
October 5, 2016

Short List of Builders for the Ten Lane Massey Bridge Announced


In the “we just hoped this would go away” department, the Province’s ten lane bridge replacing the Massey Tunnel now has a short list of firms eager to spend their man years building it.
The bridge is to replace the Massey Tunnel for a bunch of reasons that keeps changing like the seasons. First we were told the tunnel was redundant because of the deeper drafts of ocean going ships that needed to access the reaches of the Fraser River to the east. Then we heard that the Massey Tunnel would fall apart in an earthquake and was unsound, a claim refuted by the son of George Massey who had championed the creation of the tunnel. The latest reason and the one I enjoy the most, is that the bridge will cut pollution by decreasing the idling times of vehicles waiting to go through the tunnel. There has been no comment from the Province about what happens when all that traffic going northbound hits the Oak Street Bridge, and whether the peak hour tunnel congestion idling might will just transfer to another place.
But onward to the short list of bridge builders. As reported by Business in Vancouver three consortiums have come forward to bid on this 3.5 billion dollar bridge, including a group called Pacific Skyway Partners which includes SNC-Lavalin Capital Inc., Fluor Canada Ltd. and John Laing Investment Ltd.

As stated by Business in Vancouver “The World Bank debarred SNC-Lavalin Inc. and more than 100 of its affiliated companies in April 2013 for 10 years over bribery related to the World Bank-funded Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project in Bangladesh and a power project in Cambodia.  SNC-Lavalin Inc. is a subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin Group, and, at the time, represented more than 60% of its business…SNC-Lavalin is facing several criminal and civil court actions inside and outside Canada. A federal preliminary court hearing about corruption charges related to its contracts in Libya is scheduled for September 2018.”

Business in Vancouver also reports that Gwyn Morgan, who was chair of SNC-Lavalin and just retired  advised Premier Christy Clark when she won the BC Liberal leadership in 2011. Clark named him to chair the Industry Training Authority Crown corporation in 2014. SNC-Lavalin was the firm that did the design build of the Evergreen Line SkyTrain extension, and also is building a BC Hydro generating station close to Campbell River.  

The other two consortiums are Gateway Mobility Solutions  and Lower Mainland Connectors, and their involved companies can be found on the Business in Vancouver link.  This new ten lane bridge should have its ribbon cutting opening in 2022, reducing idling on either side of the bridge.

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The New York Times suggests that smoother immigration policies and Vancouver’s ambitious technological hopes can spark a “Cascadia Innovation Corridor”, noting that Microsoft has already located a Vancouver office here with 750 employees and salaries totalling 90 million annually.
But wait a minute-Nick Wingfield’s article then describes the downer.“One serious obstacle to Vancouver’s tech ambitions is its head-spinning housing costs. The median price for a detached home in the metropolitan area in August was 1.4 million Canadian dollars (about $1.06 million), a 27.8 percent increase from a year earlier, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. In the San Francisco metropolitan area, the median single family home price was about $848,000, according to Zillow.”

The pay is also not as good. Median pay for tech related jobs  in the San Francisco Bay area is  $112,000 a year. In Vancouver it is just under $49,000 in Vancouver, adjusted to the American dollar.  Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University Andy Yan says it best, stating  “We have San Francisco real estate prices with the incomes of somewhere between Reno and Nashville.

Last month, the Premier of British Columbia and the governor of Washington signed an agreement “affirming their shared interest in creating regional economic opportunities for innovation in the technology sector”. Suggestions  include the development of a high-speed rail line between Vancouver and Seattle, and/or a dedicated lane for driverless cars on I-5 and 99, the highways linking the two cities.

Vancouver has had only 1.78 billion dollars in venture capital going to local tech start-ups compared to 8.9 billion dollars in Seattle. But with immigration policies that can bring highly skilled tech workers in from other countries makes Vancouver an attractive place for big tech companies on the move. Hootsuite is an example of an early adapter, with the social media giant creating a start-up valued at over one billion dollars.

If we can provide more affordable housing and better salaries, will tech flock to the city?

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This article published in World Crunch describes the innovative work that another by-the-sea city, with a very  large elderly population is undertaking to improve place and home for senior citizens.  With a quarter of its residents, approximately 700,000 people as senior citizens,  the municipal government
 “has forged a comprehensive plan, called PIAM, to revamp public spaces and improve the homes of the elderly. It expects to implement the changes beginning next year. The plans include new, better-suited furniture in public places (park benches that are specifically adapted, for example, to older people’s body shapes), prototypes of tricycles the elderly can use along cycling tracks, and more roofs over bus stops. The city also plans to measure how long it really takes seniors to cross busy streets and reprogram traffic lights accordingly.”

Prototypes are needed for better wheelchair access in public places, and in the home “simple measures, such as raising the height of sockets, having fewer items of furniture, not using carpets, mats or rugs, or fixing handles” she says.

The work is based upon WHO’s (World Health Organization) age friendly city designation. But what is important here is that this process involved collaborating with all parties including seniors to ensure that old people are included-without barriers, be they architectural or cultural. It is all in the detail, and Buenos Aires seems to be on  the right track.

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The new Vancouver suburb as reported by Kerry Gold in the  Globe and Mail last Friday is not in British Columbia, but across the Pacific in Beijing China, just thirty minutes from the airport. Prior to the Beijing Olympics, the Olympic Committee from China came to visit Vancouver. I was part of the team that was to show them the City, specifically the Greenways and work in the downtown core. But that wasn’t what the Olympic Committee wanted to see-they loved the “suburbs” and housing of Mount Pleasant, with the post Victorian housing form, spilling gardens, and sidewalked lawns. This, they said, was a paradise.
So it is no surprise that “Vancouver Forest” has been created in Beijing, an  “oldey worldy”  smattering of  housing types with streets placed on a grid, trees and gardens. With 900 single family houses on 55 hectares, housing size varies from 3,000 to 5,000 square feet. The developer Beijing Capital Group partnered with  several British Columbia based firms, including Paul Roseneau and  EKISTICS. The project took 13 years to build. All the houses except the show homes are built of concrete instead of wood, and the average price is 3 million dollars.
The housing could not be built today in Beijing as the priority is  for higher density units, and this type of housing is perceived as “elitist”. And a lot of Vancouver Forest is empty. Paul Rosenau says:
A lot of our projects sit 50 per cent empty, not because they’re not sold. They are sold overnight. What’s interesting about the Chinese market is – and this is very different than here, very different than our culture – is people don’t really believe in putting their money into the bank. Anyone who has money, as soon as they have enough saved up, they buy a piece of real estate. These are middle- to upper-middle-class people. A lot of my friends in China, professional designers, someone like me, the boss of a [boutique] company like this one, they all own 15 or 20 apartments or houses. I have a friend who’s the equivalent of me in China, and he has about 20 pieces of real estate. I asked him, ‘Why do you keep buying property?’ He says, ‘how else would I invest my money?”
It is also surprising to see the form of housing that is so often demolished by newcomers replicated in this Beijing suburb. What is not surprising is how much our city spaces and housing are prized and emulated in this project and others, suggesting that Vancouver will be a source for inspiration, emulation and immigration for a long time to come.

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The BBC has used a new term- after a web-based advertisement went up looking for a “granny-sitter” for a spry 93-year-old grandmother who is active, loves her crossword puzzles, baking, and “singing old drinking songs”.
Ross Elder and his girlfriend realized that his grandmother was not thriving in an old age home after a stroke. The couple made the decision to move Ross’s grandmother in to an apartment in London England where they both worked, and posted an ad for a person to be a companion for her. The pay? In exchange for three days of care, free rent in the same apartment.

“We decided to rent a place overlooking the river that was much better for nearby walks and getting around,” Ross says. “We organised some professional care as we realised it would be a challenge but I wanted someone to be with her all the time.”

The couple had heard about the the Seniors Citizen arrangement in Deventer Holland where young students are offered free accommodation in exchange for providing thirty hours a month of companionship to seniors. The one proviso? The students could not annoy the seniors. Apparently it is an arrangement that has worked well for both parties, providing much-needed socialization and support.

Ross Elder has over 200 applications to review for a granny sitter. As he says “Loneliness is a huge problem and I never really realised the impact it can have. There are issues around safety to consider but young and old people cohabiting can help older people be more independent and even stay in their own homes.

In a city with an aging seniors’ population this could be a solution to provide companionship and support. Isobel Mackenzie the Seniors’ Advocate for the province has said that we need to think about redesigning our cities and inner city spaces to accommodate seniors with mobility and with mild dementia issues. Perhaps this model could be a first step.

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In a not very surprising article in the Vancouver Sun, Chuck Chiang notes that Industry observers agree: The 1.2-million-sq.-ft. Tsawwassen Mills could be the last major shopping mall development in the Lower Mainland for the next decade, if not longer. Sky-high land prices throughout the region mean that low-density commercial developments such as malls are a difficult business case to make.
This reminds me of a conversation with a friend who was the vice-president of a major development company in Vancouver. That person was bringing 300 units to the market when the City of Vancouver was releasing all those units in Olympic Village. The verdict? The market was flooded with new units, and it would take time for demand to outpace supply. Will this mall have a similar impact on small businesses in Ladner and Tsawwassen, attracting those customers and lowering the independent stores’ profitability?
Developer Ivanhoe Cambridge has plucked a unique piece of Class 1 farmland on Tsawwassen First Nation Territory and put up 1.2 million square foot mall and a 6,000 car parking lot. Joni Mitchell would weep at this paving of paradise. But unlike other mall locations like Oakridge and Park Royal there is no high density housing associated with the project, and no large local population to draw from. With poor public transit and two bus stops plonked on Highway 17, you are not going to be attracting a lot of non car users, unlike McArthurGlen Mall located on the Canada Line on Vancouver Airport property.
In this case a private company has taken advantage of this location to build a 200 plus store mall on Highway 17. Even the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure appears excited, using highways leaderboards to indicate “Expect heavy traffic with Tsawwassen Mills Opening”. As the Vancouver Sun article states “It is suggested that shoppers are willing to drive 1.5 hours to a unique, outlet-based destination mall, and consumers often stay for up to three hours (compared to an hour at a typical mall).”

The new mall manager is quoted saying “In today’s economy, shoppers are really looking for value as part of the equation. So the fact that we have some of these brands … is a real draw for the consumers. We are trying to draw from the Interior, Vancouver Island, the whole Lower Mainland, and even parts of northern Washington State. Upward of 20 per cent of our expected traffic will be what we call the ‘tourism market’.”

The mega mall opens on October 5.  Another “more local” serving mall will be built to the east of the mega mall in the near future.

 

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The Urbanarium held an event last night at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre playhouse where Gil Kelley, the new General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability spoke about himself, his new role, and his perception  of the new directions for the City of Vancouver.
Vancouver has always had an intense familial  relationship with planning and the Director of Planning for the city. We all want to know what is going on, and what mettle that person has for city making, kind of like keeping an eye on an obscure relative you want to like but want to assure yourself that they are truly related to you. I would say as a City we take this position very seriously, and embrace the process of city planning as a tacit expression of our own exuberance, hopes, dreams, and futurism.
Gil may have said it correctly when he alluded to the fact that both Portland Oregon and Vancouver have  passionate focus upon “urban planning substituting for major league sports”. We want to watch, participate, and if our team is losing, we sure want that Planning Department to know.
Describing himself as an active listener that likes to ask “why are we doing this?” Gil perceives his role as part planning director, and part doctor, diagnosing challenges and creating capacity building opportunities with his staff.
Gil worked for the City of Berkeley California for 14 years, was Director of Planning in Portland Oregon for 9 years, and worked and consulted for the City of San Francisco lastly as the Director of Citywide Planning. He also has an abiding passion for educational advancement of planning and was a Loeb Scholar at Harvard University. He has the unique experience of working in the four big cities in Cascadia “where land and sea converges” and described the issues facing San Francisco in terms of housing affordability and access as the harbinger of what could occur in Vancouver.

Describing the years of  Director of Planning Ray Spaxman’s leadership and that of  Co-Directors of Planning Larry Beasley and Ann McAfee as the decades of “big thinking” in the planning department, Gil noted that Vancouver’s big picture may seem fuzzy, but it is a moment in time to talk about the global impacts of climate change and the transformative global economy. Foresight and imagination are needed to avoid a two class society. Gil described the City of San Francisco where millennials and baby boomers are drawn to the inner core of the city while lower-income people and families left the city. While 70,000 people come to San Francisco annually, 60,000 leave, resulting in a 10,000 annual population increase in a city of 850,000 people.

A new diverse economy supportive of inclusivity and equitable for all people is needed. In the past, traditional city planning and the civic tradition was popular, but now a new alignment is needed to bolster livability, and address the need for social equity. Add to this mix the need to bolster our waterside city against earthquakes and floods, and Gil points out the need for a “four city compact” where San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver can discuss and compare urban issues and solutions to common challenges, and the paradigm of inequity.
To create affordable housing, community engagement is needed and trust created with the community. Gil notes in his review Vancouver has the zoned capacity to take growth up to the year 2041, and stresses the importance of dealing with housing as a regional issue. He also mentioned the importance of good city planning for public health, but did not elaborate.
The rapid pace of development in Vancouver means that there needs to be staff empowerment and mentoring for planning staff to problem solve. Gil proposes revisiting the area plans to assess what worked, and what didn’t work. He identifies the need to be proactive, re-evaluate the effectiveness of layered by-laws, and bridge the generational gap, where there are new attitudes about density, development, lifestyle and transit. Couple this with a look at whether community amenity contributions from development are going to their best use, and how sustainability goals can be best achieved.
This Urbanarium event had three men on the stage-one the guest, two other prominent local architects with Urbanarium, all older males, all dressed the same, not reflecting the diversity of the audience and certainly not Vancouver. Gil took aim at the architectural profession, noting that it was time for architectural design to do a better job on the street,

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Opening on October the 5th the huge Tsawwassen Mills mega mall (and we are talking 1.2 million square feet, or over 17 football fields side by side) with 6,000 parking spaces and 160 of 200 stores needs employees to staff the place. There have been several job fairs as merchants scramble to find 3,000 employees to staff their stores. In fact the Bass Pro Shop needs 400 people  for a 148,000 square foot operation. 

For some reason there’s not great public transportation for employees that will work at the mall. But think of this-if minimum wage is $10.85 an hour,and a monthly bus pass is $90.00 to $170.00, a full day’s wage or more is eaten up pretax just in  public  transportation.  There just are not a whole bunch of folks willing to work minimum wage who also have access to a car for the commute to this mega mall near the Tsawwassen ferry. This mall on the  former farmland floodplain is approximately 30 kilometers from the Scott Road Skytrain Station. Coming from Vancouver or Richmond potential employees will have to use the Massey Tunnel, and deal with single lane access through the tunnel going southbound mornings to work. There is an express bus from Bridgeport Station in Richmond to the ferry terminal, a slower bus that has more stops, and a local bus that connects Tsawwassen. From Surrey to the new mega mall? Nothing.

Quebec based Ivanhoe Cambridge  who are building this monolith are betting on the formulaic model of “destination” shopping like their Vaughan Mills Toronto and Cross Iron Mills location near Calgary. Glen Korstrom in Business in Vancouver  notes that the  mall has decided to operate a daily employee shuttle service to connect the Scott Road SkyTrain with the mall 14 hours a day. While such a service would make sense for transit users too especially at the proposed $2.00 a ride, its for employees only and will involve a 25 minute trip to the mall from the SkyTrain Station.

Quoting one business owner who manufactures and sells bean bag chairs who has had no luck finding employees for the new mega mall, “Metrotown is not a problem for hiring,  we get tons of resumés. It’s easier for more people to commute with SkyTrain. Burnaby is also a more populated area than Tsawwassen.” 

The Bass Pro shop has raised their minimum wage offer up by  5 per cent to attract employees at $12.00 an hour, with a few dollars an hour on top for commission. But with no public transportation and no car share planned, potential employees have been hard to find. There are eight days left until Tsawwassen Mills mega mall goes live, with or without staffing.

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Just as we are head towards the dark months of the year, this article from the Washington Post provides background on the American Medical Association’s warning that streetlights — such as those in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Houston and elsewhere — emit unseen blue light that can disturb sleep rhythms and possibly increase the risk of serious health conditions, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. The AMA also cautioned that those light-emitting-diode lights can impair nighttime driving vision.

Everyone is on the LED bandwagon, including the street lighting in many metro municipalities. The City of Surrey  is spending 11 million dollars on upgrading street lighting to LED, with an expected energy savings of 1 million dollars a year. Surrey will be one of the first municipalities to be completely converted to this new light technology.

Know to be cost efficient these lights last 15 to 20 years, not two to five like the previous high-pressure sodium street lamps, and the light is spread more evenly. New York City has responded by using a bulb with less intensity for street lighting intensity bulb that the AMA considers safe.

There was an early Federal push in the USA to adapt to and use LED lighting, and it appears the higher intensity of these earlier lights are the problem. Lighting is measured by color temperature, which is expressed in “kelvin,” or “K.” The original LED streetlights had temperatures of at least 4000K, which produces a bright white light with a high content of unseen blue light.

Now, LEDs are available with lower kelvin ratings and roughly the same energy efficiency as those with higher ratings. They don’t emit as much potentially harmful blue light, and they produce a softer amber hue.

Researchers have indicated that blue-rich outdoor lights may decrease the hormone melatonin which balances sleep and regulated the body’s circadian rhythm of  the sleep and awake cycle. Researchers note that the real challenge may be that humans have not evolved to see light at night. The AMA also expressed concern on the impact of this light on wildlife, animals and birds.

It’s an example of the early adoption and embracing of a new technological improvement without rigorous testing of potential health impacts on human as well as other animal and bird life.

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It is the French  as reported in The Economist that in the early 1900’s came out with the carrefour giratoire, the precursor to the modern traffic circle. When installed in Paris, traffic circles require circulating traffic in the traffic circle to give way or priority to car traffic coming from the right.
If you have driven in France in the last ten years, you will have seen a proliferation of traffic circles, with estimates of 30,000 existing and a further 500 annually installed. Why? Because of road safety. The graph below shows the USA with the greatest number of road fatalities and the smallest amount of roundabouts.

As the Economist article states, In America, for instance, which has a mere 4,800 roundabouts, a quarter of all road deaths take place at intersections. America’s Federal Highway Administration, which helpfully supplies a “roundabouts outreach and education toolbox” to overcome public distrust, says that they reduce deaths or serious injuries by around 80%, compared with stop signs or traffic lights” 

There are some challenges with traffic circles, especially in the safe and efficient design for pedestrians to cross at well delineated places. Traffic circles also require a lot of land when there are two or three lanes of traffic in the circle.  They do however lend themselves to great art installations and plantings, and these have multiplied in France with the rise of local authority spending. In addition, the traffic circle has become worthy of architectural analysis:

“The roundabout has accompanied the development of the fluid society,” suggests Laurent Devisme, of the National Architecture School in Nantes. Like modern life, it requires “judgment, anticipation and commitment”. 

Perhaps the traffic circle is one of the  last hurrahs of motordom, celebrated as a place people go through and to but never linger in. Could improved intersection design, greater visibility, and slower vehicular speeds accomplish the same and allow for better walkability and livability?

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