September 19, 2016

Those Unsafe Suburban Curving Streets

The Business Insider has a compelling article about the street grid. For millennia we designed and developed the street grid as the most functional way to develop a place.

Emily Badger with City Lab confirms what we always suspected. While going to the suburbs for a “safer” life,  people have actually been going to suburban communities composed of curving street plans that “ make us drive more, make us less safe, keep us disconnected from one another, and that may even make us less healthy”.

A key part of the  20th century Garden City movement and the development of the Radburn Plan for suburbs in North America was discarding the grid pattern and going for organic, round street shapes.  Norman Garrick and Wesley Marshall started researching street network designs  commencing with bikeable Davis California. Even though Davis has more than 16 per cent of the population biking to work, it also has the lowest traffic fatality rates in the USA. By looking at the data of over a  quarter of a million crashes in 24 California cities over 11 years, these researchers discovered that “the safest cities had an element in common: They were all incorporated before 1930″.  And they all had the grid pattern.

A lot of people feel that they want to live in a cul-de-sac, they feel like it’s a safer place to be,” Marshall says. “The reality is yes, you’re safer – if you never leave your cul-de-sac. But if you actually move around town like a normal person, your town as a whole is much more dangerous.”

The researchers also found out that people who live in curvilinear suburbs versus grid pattern suburb spend 18 per cent more time driving  and have less contact with local shops and services. Grid cities have better connections for walking and biking, and with less car crashes, are safer.

Cul-de-sac roughly means bottom of the sack in French.Time to reorder and get back to the grid.

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This article in Forbes Magazine describes the creation of a data visualization called Tube Heartbeat. Produced by Oliver O’Brien it shows the movement of London England’s transit passengers as they move around the 268 tube stations on 11 lines. The images are updated in fifteen minute intervals, showing how up to 4.8 million passengers a day use the system.

We already use analogies like arterials for the road network-the pulsing of the volume of passengers using the London tube  network  looks very organic, confirming that public transportation is indeed the heart of a city.

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It is in the “weird stuff  that won’t go away” file-as part of the trinity of the twentieth century approach to things, suburban Delta is home to the huge Port Metro Vancouver proposed expansion onto Class 1 farmland, the building of a mega mall again on Class 1 farmland, and just to round out the trio-a new bridge replacing the handy Massey Tunnel, again taking away farmland for the approaches.
Price Tags has discussed the Massey Bridge at length. There has been some surprise that this bridge is being located again on the sensitive river floodplain, and in an area which has not been identified for increased density by Metro Vancouver.
Three months ago  Metro Vancouver mayors rejected the project, because of environmental concerns and fears about the lack of a  rigorous assessment process. The Mayor of Delta was the holdout,  favouring the  3.5 billion dollar ten lane bridge that would take seven years to build, and come directly into that community.
And the reason for the bridge instead of the twinning  of the tunnel  keeps changing. Originally we were told the tunnel needed to be replaced to allow for the draft of ocean-going ships to access docks upriver on the Fraser. Then people in the region were told that the Massey Tunnel might collapse in an earthquake. After a solid rebuttal from Doug Massey, son of George Massey for whom the tunnel is named, the reason for the new bridge changed again-now it is to stop bottlenecking traffic.
Thankfully the City of Richmond’s Transportation Department produced a report  this week that lays out a number of concerns about the George Massey Tunnel replacement project. As reported in the Richmond News, City Engineer Victor Wei ‘s report states
“there are significant gaps in the assessment of the impacts of the project, omissions of technical analysis as well as unsubstantiated claims of predicted project benefits.”
Sure vehicles will get over the Fraser River quicker, but what happens then? As Mr. Wei noted that the Provincial government “just see the Highway 99 corridor. They don’t seem to care about anything else”.  
That is what others have been thinking too. There is little information on how traffic interchanges are being planned, nor what happens when all that free-flowing traffic gets to the four lane Oak Street Bridge. Lastly, Wei notes that the” Ministry has given varying forecasts of traffic for the new bridge. The report states the higher traffic volumes of 115,000 vehicles per day by 2045 are used to justify the need for a new bridge. Meanwhile the bridge can only expect to see about 84,000 vehicles per day by that time, if it is tolled (which it will be). “

The CBC  notes that the City of Richmond is forwarding their report to the BC  Environmental Assessment Office for review, at the same time as a series of open houses are being held regarding the proposed bridge. The Mayor of Richmond remarked that other cost-effective changes, such as public transit, banning semi-trailer trucks on the bridge at peak times, and (surprise!) building a second tunnel to ease congestion have not been thoughtfully considered.
If you want to have your say about this bridge proposal, there is one more open house scheduled for today. You can find  information here from the Environmental Assessment Office  of the Provincial Government on how to attend or how to write to get your views known. We need to approach this issue in a sustainable way as if agricultural land, public transportation mobility and the future of our region truly matters.

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This article in the Vancouver Sun by Susan Lazaruk describes how  hopes to provide a tool for landlords to find-well, tenants. That is not particularly hard to do in Vancouver, with a very low vacancy rate.
But while you could argue having prospective tenants “bid” on an apartment allows for bigger financial gains for the landlord, the CEO Jordan Lewis says :

the new site will assist landlords in finding “quality tenants” and also give a voice to tenants to submit a lower offer if they have those strong qualities in the hopes a landlord would choose them over the highest bidder. We want tenants to be able to negotiate on pricing,” said Lewis, who has an engineering background. “Right now the tenant has no voice.”

Yes you heard it right. This application gives you a chance to have a voice. Bids for apartments are “sealed” and sent to the landlords, along with a “rental resume” so that tenants can sell themselves.

Landlord BC, an amalgam for three different landlord associations, represents rental property owners. “LandlordBC has concerns about any app that would facilitate or could encourage bidding wars,” said David Hutniak, of LandlordBC. “Our concern is that is what could very well happen with this app. It’s going to make it more challenging for tenants to find affordable housing.”

Clearly bidding on rental housing produces commodity pricing on something that is a basic necessity. It is a bit of a take off on Rentberry in San Francisco where tenants are charged $25.00 a pop to put in an application. In this case, Vancouver landlords will be paying for the service.

Let’s hope this is just a temporary aberration and goes away. Indeed it might be just as good sending a handwritten letter to a building owner or landlord-colleagues rent in the very best places imaginable, successful with that approach.

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This article in the Financial Times asks the question directly: is urban cycling worth the risk?
Sure we know about the extraordinary health benefits, getting to places efficiently, and living in a smart way. But in a 2014 survey “64 per cent of people surveyed by the UK’s Department of Transport said they believed it was too dangerous for them to cycle on the road. These decisions are often based on gut feelings or anecdote: a friend who has had a great experience commuting by bike can inspire us to follow suit, while seeing or hearing about a bad cycling accident may put us off for life.”
In London England nine cyclists died in 2015 as a result of crashes at intersections. In response to this, the new cycle superhighway just opened in London on Blackfriar’s Road phases the traffic lights so that cyclists go through intersections separately from motorized vehicles.

Surprisingly Transport for London’s analysis points the finger at the DESIGN of trucks being responsible for crashes, and is urging for a new truck design with improved visibility for drivers.
And are you safer biking or walking?
Mile by mile, people in the UK are actually more likely to die walking than cycling, according to figures from the Department for Transport. For every billion miles cycled last year, 30.9 cyclists were killed, while 35.8 pedestrians were killed for every billion miles walked. Both activities are significantly safer than riding a motorbike – 122 motorcyclists are killed for every billion miles driven.
While you are statistically more likely to succumb while walking, you are three times more likely to have an injury biking.  But back to how to make biking in cities safer- John Pucher and Ralph Buehler’s book City Cycling  notes the following: London, with an average of 1.1 deaths per 10,000 commuters, fared better than New York’s 3.8. But both lagged far behind the 0.3 annual average deaths in Copenhagen and 0.4 in Amsterdam.

And we know the reason: Copenhagen and Amsterdam have long standing policy and demonstrated implementation of separated bike lanes, not painted lines or share alls, but actual bike lanes with separate traffic signals. It is possible to do a complete commute on some of the bike lanes without crossing a vehicular interloper.
It’s great to see the Financial Times take an active interest in cycling and commuting, and they include additional information  in their article on health benefits, and pollution exposure. Bottom line-infrastructure is key to safe urban cycling, and retrofitting for separated bikeways is the 21st century way to increase ridership and enhance safety.

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There are several posts in Price Tags that have followed the inception and building of the Tsawwassen Mills mega mall located on Tsawwassen First Nations Land in Delta,nestled between the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and the Port lands, under the control of the Federal Government.  An article  written in 2013 by Daniel Wood in the Georgia Straight  outlines a conversation with City of Richmond City Councillor Harold Steves, who is also a founder of the Agricultural Land Reserve incepted in 1973. Full disclosure, Harold is a member of a very old farming family that not only tilled these lands, but started up the first seed companies in the province. And that place, Steveston? It’s named after his family.

In that Georgia Straight article, Harold noted that over 400 hectares (which is 988 acres) of Class 1 agricultural land in Delta would be lost to port expansion, and another 100 hectares lost to the residential units being built to the west of the megamall. This does not include the 80 hectares of Class 1 agricultural land sitting below the megamall site.

“That’s the best soil in Canada,” says Steves, incensed by the shortsightedness of corporate capitalism. “You’re looking at the Richmondization of Delta.”

We don’t often think of this, but the Fraser River delta which supports and nourishes Metro Vancouver is similar to the great deltas in the world that provide agriculture to surrounding populations. It is also because of its agricultural status and relatively low land values that it is the most vulnerable to use as industrial or commercial lands.  Somehow we don’t value food production and the protection of  farmland  with a high monetary price.

This area of Delta is also on the great Pacific Flyway used by millions of migratory birds on a route that extends from Alaska to Patagonia. Annually this route is used by birds travelling to food sources, breeding grounds or warmer climates. Boundary Bay and this part of Delta are used by birds for a rest stop on the journey, and has been federally recognized.

But  back to Tsawwassen Mills, now a 1.2 million square foot mall built by Ivanhoe Cambridge. With 6,000 parking spaces this will be on of the biggest malls in Canada, with a second 600,000 square foot “more local” shopping centre to the east of it. It is a “drive to” destination. And that is what the developer thinks we will do.

To the west of this development a total of 1,700 housing units are being built, again on Class 1 agricultural land. Half of the new housing will be single family homes; 35 per cent are townhomes, and 15 per cent are apartments. A new road is being constructed connecting this residential development directly with the mall for easy shopping access by car.

Tsawwassen Mills has been having a challenge getting employees to staff the mega mall’s stores. At a recent job fair, 3,000 jobs were available but only 500 potential applicants showed up. The minimum wage jobs and poor transit connections will hinder hiring. The lack of a good separated sidewalk and protected bike lane from Tsawwassen to the mall will also thwart local residents who are active transportation users.

Tsawwassen Mills mall is now lit up at night. While there is shielded light in the parking lot ostensibly to minimize migratory bird disruption, no such regard has been made for the large illuminating signage visible for kilometers on the south side of the mall, as noted in this letter to the Vancouver Sun. Subsequent to that letter being published, another  illuminated sign has appeared.

For a mall that is slated to open on October 5 with 150 retail outlets, 90 businesses are concerned they will not have adequate staffing. There is the supposition that shoppers from across the region will drive here to spend a day shopping  instead of going to the United States or shopping online. While some light is shielded to minimize disruption of migratory birds, new commercial signage seems to be exempt from any concern.

We as a region have lost hundreds of acres of Class 1 agricultural land that will never be retrieved. A mega shopping mall perches on the sensitive delta which is also on the floodplain.

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It’s that time of the year again, where thousands of children nationwide go back to school. There are some interesting trends happening to ensure those children travel safely. In Edinburgh Scotland six schools have created exclusionary zones for blocks around the schools. The project called “School Streets” bans cars  from the streets an hour before school has commenced to an hour after school is over to encourage a safer environment and to encourage children to walk and cycle to school. An initiative of the City of Edinburgh’s City Council, the ban will also alleviate congestion and pollution levels at the school sites.

And for those who think that Sasquatch or Bigfoot is really a Canadian hanging out in beer commercials -Sasquatch has international work in Portland Oregon.

As reported here, a day after a 15-year-old student was hit by a car while walking home from school, the Portland Bureau of Transportation called in Bigfoot to walk children across school crosswalks. Interviewed  by Koin 6 News Bigfoot says:

“I’m just trying to send a message, I hope that if they’ll stop for me, they’ll stop for the little creatures on the road. Every intersection should be considered a crosswalk and that drivers shouldn’t go faster than 20 mph in school zones to ensure students’ safety.”
The messaging is clear-slow down if you are driving near school zones, or better still, walk  or bike with the kids to and from school. It’s a great way to start everyone’s morning.


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KPMG has published an interesting take on what policy changes need to be in place for the rise of autonomous or driverless vehicles. Given that so many enterprises are working on this technology, KPMG feels that this will be the car of choice within twenty years.

Realizing that such a dramatic and drastic change in driverless technology will mean a reboot in policy at all levels of government, KPMG has identified five areas where there are major policy ramifications. These are:

1.Transport Infrastructure Investment-Since decisions on public investment are based upon cost benefit analysis, driverless cars are a certainty in the future. Because of that, financial analysis of transportation projects today should be factoring in the use of driverless cars. It is suggested that with no need for crash barriers, lanes could also be closer together, with significant less cost for roads, and use of land.

2. If in a driverless world there is no need for driver’s licenses, there are implications for countries that have dual licenses, for example, British Columbia where the license is also the Medical Services Plan card.  Other countries use the driver’s license as a citizenship card. Time will be needed to separate the systems apart. Traffic regulations will need to change to reflect driverless technology standards. Vehicle registration may form a basis of raising revenue for the use of a driverless car.

3.Revenue-Driverless cars still need roads and there will be investment in digital technology for the vehicle’s bandwidth and for communication to other vehicles.Government may want to create the control centres for these vehicles and not leave it to the private sector, providing a usage tax to replace gasoline tax revenue.

4.Spatial Planning-Having access to a vehicle without owning it means more accessibility and universality in usage, with more vehicle miles being travelled and higher usage of vehicles.Street widths can be narrower and KPMG suggests that there is no need to use sidewalks and curbs to separate pedestrians from the technology.With no need for garages or parking lots or on street parking, this could mean a revamping of land use on a scale not seen since the introduction of the car.

5. Security-There will need to be a protocol to ensure that the systems cannot fail, nor can they be undermined by malicious intent.With falling accident rates and little fatalities, the insurance companies will need to refocus their businesses. Personal data associated with the use of these vehicles will also need to be secured in a way that can access the payment systems in the cars, but still be confidential.

KPMG sees this time as an opportunity for policy makers to commence the thinking of how best to maximize efficiency and revenues with a technology that will have great social and economic ramifications. It will be curious to see in a few decades whether their perceived policy direction forecasts were accurate.

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There is a lot of chat about driverless cars-but this article from the New York Times and this one in the Atlantic Monthly identify a fear that is being expressed by many-how will driverless cars interact with those pesky uncontrollable pedestrians who will want to cross streets and otherwise get in the way? How do you build trust and share the road from the perspective of the driverless car passenger and  those on foot or bicycle? a California start-up is figuring out how a driverless car would communicate with other cars, and those pedestrians. John Markoff notes in his article

The company is emphasizing what is known in the artificial intelligence field as “human-machine interaction” as a key to confusing road situations.How does a robot, for example, tell everyone what it plans to do in intersections when human drivers and people in crosswalks go through an informal ballet to decide who will go first and who will yield?

There are five situations discussed  where driverless technology is being challenged.You can control the behaviour of a driverless car, but what if it interacts with a car driven by a real human, subject to split second decisions and thought patterns? And what happens on snowy or icy roads when laser sensors may not compute where the road surface is. For a technology that is based on GPS, a temporary detour or a changed traffic pattern  on a road could be an obstacle. Couple that with potholes that sensors cannot read and may be  misinterpreted on the road surface. Lastly, and perhaps the most crucial in a life and death situation, does the car save its occupants, or does it sacrifice its occupants to avoid hitting a group of pedestrians? And who will make these ethical calls on autonomous car performance?

This year was licensed in California to road test driverless cars, and is relying on “deep learning” technology which is  “a machine-learning technique that has gained wide popularity among Silicon Valley firms. It is used for a variety of tasks, like understanding human speech and improving the ability to recognize objects in computer vision systems.” plans to revolutionize commercial vehicles for parcel delivery and taxi services.But in these investigations of new driverless cars (and there are over 20 initiatives with this technology in Silicon Valley alone) there is still no cogent discussion on street design or active transportation movement for bicyclists and pedestrians. It would seem to me that cities and citizens need to have an active say in how driverless technology will or will not impact city streets and the ability of people to randomly walk or cycle across streets. There is not much information on how this technology will interface with  community liveliness and street use. It’s an important subject and I’d like to see it addressed.

As stated in Markoff’s article quoting a roboticist

“A lot of the discussion around self-driving cars has no human component, which is really weird because this is the first time a robotic system is going out in the world and interacting with people.”

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Back in the early 1990’s, a forward thinking, mindful and driven group of young landscape architects, architects, planners and city lovers sat down for a coffee. They mourned the fact that the city was developing without thinking through the language and connection with the urban environment and nature. They also understood the interconnectedness of systems, circulatory for traffic and city services and the need for access to  punctuated green park space alleviating the increasing density of urban building.
At a time when “being green” and environmentally friendly were not watch words they insisted that there had to be a way to respect nature in the city, plan with it, and incorporate it in everyday life.
The seven members of the Urban Landscape Taskforce formed in 1991 are an early who’s who on placemaking:Moura QuayleSusan AbsJoost BakkerRobert Bauman, Claire Bennett, Cindy Chan Piper and Sarah Groves. Moura, who became Dean of Agriculture at University of British Columbia and is now a professor of the Sauder School of Business was the chair.

They were supported by an eager group of volunteers including Michael Dea, David Fushtey, Doug Paterson, Brian Perry and Jeannie Bates.

In 1992 this Taskforce created a final report titled greenways-public ways. For some reason this document has never been scanned and is not easy to access. This is a true shame as it lays out very clear principles for decision-making that not only guided the work in creating greenways, but is helpful in assessing placemaking decisions today. The principles also lay out a plan and approach to ecology in the city by :
1.Recognizing legacies;
2. Recognizing diversity and balance;
3. Caring for and respecting the environment;
4. Making connections to nature and places for all citizens;
5. Creating and promoting community definitions of landscapes;
6. Encouraging innovation;
7. Promoting fairness and equity;
8. Ensuring decision are informed.
From these strong principles, the Taskforce urged the establishment of a “Greenway Trust” to create “corridors linking open spaces” which would invite residents to experience “the outside inside” of a city. These “greenways” are actually what we would call sustainable “green streets” today. The linkages would include a completed waterfront walkway system, ecological reserves such as the Grandview Cut and pedestrian and bike paths through spaces to allow for direct connections. The greenways would also showcase the latest in sustainable practices in storm water management and street design, and be a backdrop to commissioned public art and landscaped plantings.Greenway streets also would have pedestrian and bicycle prioritized before cars.

Instead of setting up a private “greenways trust” which was legally challenging for the City to do, Council created an interdisciplinary  Greenways team with planning, landscape architecture and engineering expertise. This interdisciplinary team would propose a greenways network connecting parks, schools, commercial areas and services.  An Urban Landscape Inventory would inform the best locations for greenways, which would go border to border across the city in all four compass directions.
By establishing a greenways system that recognized landscape legacies, a public realm plan was to be created that would be accessible for all residents. The team also recognized the importance of supporting a parks management plan, and the need  to reclaim local streets for pedestrians and cyclists. Public consultation and connection with residents in explaining the plan was also key. But imagine-a report from a quarter century ago stating “Examine the current street budget which is vehicle-based and use budget re-allocations to exponentially increase funds for streets designed to include cyclists.  A policy is needed to provide for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles on our streets, in ways which are safe and effective.”
The remaining strategies from the Taskforce are still relevant today: Developing a street strategy for all users, Prepare an Ecological Management Plan, Adopt ecological performance standards, Promote the urban forest and Ecological literacy. Community gardens were also  addressed, as well as the need to celebrate the  diversity and culture of the different neighbourhoods.

The Urban Landscape Taskforce was very concerned about making the pedestrian comfortable and at ease using a convenient system of greenways. They  also addressed the need for new street design such as the Dutch Woonerf, stating
The Dutch woonerf is an excellent example of the redesign of streets to enhance their social role in neighbourhoods.

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