Design & Development
June 24, 2019

Survey Says~We are Ready for Denser Neighbourhoods

Vancouver’s man with numbers Mario Canseco has his finger on the pulse of Vancouver and his latest survey in Business in Vancouver suggests we are moving towards inclusive ways to house and age in place in neighbourhoods, and that we still value neighbourhood character.

Firstly around modular housing~74 percent of people surveyed were in favour of building more housing for the homeless. From Provincial sources there is now  data showing that despite the fears  of some residents modular housing placed in Marpole has the “lowest number of emergency services of all the modular housing buildings in the city”  and no calls for overdoses.

Secondly, survey respondents value older heritage housing, which provides a grounding between the past and present of Vancouver. Seventy-four percent of those surveyed wanted heritage buildings maintained even if it meant less rental housing construction.

Lastly when asked whether duplexes, fourplexes, townhouses and three-to four-storey apartment buildings should be allowed in our “single-family” zones, 71 percent were in agreement with densifying that way, with only 22% disagreeing with that. The majority of those against the diversity of housing in single-family zones were over 55 years of age.

The discussion of what should or should not be in “single family housing areas” has also been picked up by CityLab.

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With thanks to Scot Bathgate~this is not Metro Vancouver’s first rodeo with the canal idea. An early iteration of False Creek north included lagoons, and Expo 86 architect Bruno Freschi floated the canal concept with a connection from False Creek along Carrall towards Burrard Inlet. But these waterworks were suggestions for a mega development and a world’s fair. Both of these were also never built.

But this week in Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum actually told folks at a Business Association conference that  “water-filled canals could be constructed on a street with less traffic volumes, and that the idea first came to him when he visited Qatar”.

He also stated that he had already spoken to his city’s engineering department about the potential design. As the Daily Hive reports  CEO of the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Area Elizabeth Model diplomatically responded “Mayor McCallum has an interesting concept and as I have travelled so much and seen cities being built with canals… I understand his ideas but it really depends on the ease and functionality.”

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One of the great things about Vancouver is how absolutely passionate and involved  citizens are with the public landscape. Witness the ongoing discussion in the  placement and new design for the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) to be located at 688 Cambie Street on land provided by the City on a 99 year lease.

There is clearly a need for  a new art gallery and the design prepared by Swiss architects Herzog and De Meuron five years ago doubles the size of the current gallery space to 85,000 square feet. Remember that this is the first custom built facility for the Vancouver Art Gallery. The total cost of the project was $350 million 2013 dollars with the Province and Federal Governments conditionally pledging $200 million dollars with the remainder to be privately fundraised.

That sum of $150 million dollars may be the largest amount ever raised through the public. The Chan family who had gifted $10 million dollars to the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at the University of British Columbia graciously donated $40 million dollars to the new gallery in January.

I have previously written about the design which will create a new public space in Vancouver. In January new renderings came out that show more glass on the exterior and less wood. The new gallery would have two lower level galleries accessible for free, have a gallery area featuring Emily Carr’s work, as well as restaurant on the top floor.

But in May Kathleen Bartels the Director of the Vancouver Art Gallery did not have her contract extended . As the Vancouver Sun’s John Mackie reported, “The VAG has declined to give a statement on what happened with Bartels, who devoted much of her time at the VAG pursuing a new building at Larwill Park designed by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & De Meuron.”

In the interim John Mackie has written about Bing Thom’s 2005 design for the site which was for a multi-use facility including a cloud-like floating building. The concept housed “two concert halls, a new National Gallery of Aboriginal Art and an Asian art building.” The design called the Pacific Exchange was never pursued as the Vancouver Art Gallery wished to have a free standing building.

 

Respected urban design pundits Patrick Condon and Scot Hein have written this article in the Tyee which questions the selection of a Swiss “starchitect” for the design, which they say “expresses a facile interpretation of West Coast materials and forms fashioned into something that looks like the spawn of a ziggurat and a giant Transformer — a design that, for better or worse, increasingly seems fated to take its place in the catalogue of unbuilt Vancouver architecture.”

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Via Tom Durning this story from Washington State which is just starting to receive the settlement that Volkswagen is required to pay to all fifty states. In 2015 Volkswagen was found liable for working around emission standards on their diesel vehicles and were required to pay out almost three billion dollars to the states to “reduce diesel dependency and related pollution” as Hannah Weinberger describes in Crosscut.

Washington State allocated the first $13.3 million dollars among six transit companies that purchased fifty zero-emission electric transit buses, and plans to also invest in electric school buses. In total Washington State  will receive $112.7 million from the settlement, and will be directing half of those funds to electrifying existing buses and trucks. Of the nearly 3,500 transit buses in the state, many use diesel as their fuel.

Volkswagen settlement funds represent a critical opportunity for states to accelerate the transition to zero-emission vehicles. Washington is taking a big step in the right direction here, and we hope other states — some of which are still spending on dirty diesel buses — will take heed,” says the National Resources Defense Council’s Luke Tonachel, who directs its Clean Vehicles and Fuels Group.

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Everyone has an opinion on them and in Asia there are over two hundred million in use. Although the technology is twenty years old, “e-bikes” or electric bikes originally had cumbersome heavy batteries that did not last long. Lithium ion batteries now replace those huge early batteries and can weigh ten pounds or less, half the weight of earlier e-bike batteries, and have a range of up to 60 miles or nearly 100 kilometers.

Technically the difference between an electric bike and a regular one is an electric drive system and a power control.  An e-bike can level the playing field for people of all ages and fitness levels to ride hills and shorten the time it takes to travel. While there is an electric motor to provide a power assist, it does not need to be used all the time, and e-bikes can also be used for small shopping errands that normally would require a car.

The Province of British Columbia has just announced that a bigger rebate of $850 to purchase an e-bike will be given to people who junk cars through their program.While only 2.5 percent of people in this province are currently biking, the Province’s mandate is to double active transportation trips~those by walking, rolling or cycling~by 2030. E-bikes are on the verge of becoming the next big thing in Metro Vancouver, and it turns out that electric bikers might actually be happier too.

There’s a new article in the Journal of Transport and Health coming out in September that examines the qualitative reasons that people on e-bike have adjusted to this form of travel. It turns out that people on e-bikes identify four main reasons for happiness:

  1. Having reliance and comfort in controlling the commute and having dependable reliability on arrival times, regardless of  traffic;
  2. Being able to be outdoors, with the sights, sounds, and nature visible on the commute;
  3. Enjoying the impact of moderate intensity exercise to and from destinations;
  4. Having the chance for enhanced social interaction with others along the route.
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I have previously been writing about  midblock crossings and raised crosswalks on this blog as well as on Walk Metro Vancouver’s website.

There is always lots of discussion about midblock crossings, and the term “jaywalking” was developed in the 1920’s to refer to those pedestrians who darted mid-block instead of freeing up that road space for rapidly moving vehicles. Pedestrians were moved to intersections controlled by engineering traffic standards, as the assumption was that traffic engineers were better judges of pedestrian safety than the pedestrians themselves.The American  Federal Highway Administration (FHA) striped highway pavements with the assumption that pedestrians are safer crossing at intersections with traffic lights and with all kinds of turning movements versus mid block two-way vehicular traffic.

I have also written about my involvement with the installation of the first permanent raised crosswalk in Vancouver located at East 22nd Avenue and Commercial Street north of Lord Selkirk Elementary School. The raised crosswalk is a walkable speed hump that is at the same grade as the sidewalk on either side of the street. The raised crosswalk serves to  elevate the pedestrian, and slows vehicular traffic which should be travelling the posted school speed limit anyway. You have probably driven over the  raised crosswalks located outside the Vancouver Airport.

So how effective are mid-block crossings and raised crosswalks at making pedestrians safer, more comfortable and secure on the street?Angie Schmitt of StreetsBlog has been collecting data on pedestrians and crossing safely, and the statistics she has found are quite shocking. In looking at how many drivers yield to pedestrians at a crosswalk without a traffic signal or signage, she found that only 16 to 32 percent of drivers will stop for those pedestrians.

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There is a  loophole enabling developers not to pay the full cost of property tax on undeveloped property in Vancouver. A developer can purchase a piece of land in the city and instead of immediately establishing a timetable for development can leave the land fallow for temporary community gardens or parks.  As Dan Fumano in this article dryly observes, the taxation on these temporary developer owned community gardens have been a “perennial” issue.

This loophole has been flying below the radar for quite some time. In 2017 Kerry Gold in BCBusiness  noted that  15 properties were converted from class 6, or commercial, to class 8—community garden or public park use. While developers cite the high value of holding land and the length of time it takes to get development permits as reasons to allow the low tax rate for community gardens, Simon Fraser University’s  Duke of Data Andy Yan has another take.

We are rewarding land hoarding and subsidizing it through these community gardens. We are losing tax money to subsidize this thing that looks good—and all we’re getting in return are really expensive taxpayer-subsidized tomatoes. They are the most expensive tomatoes in North America.”

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While most cities are now embracing the importance of ensuring that cyclists and sidewalk users have safe accessible ways to travel to services, shops and schools, Saskatoon has proven to be the remarkable disappointment, choosing hyperbole and conjecture instead of good data and researched example in ripping out their existing protected downtown bike lane.

We talk about equity, sharing the road and giving the most vulnerable road users priority,  but places deeply entrenched in vehicular movement use those politics to continue the 20th century domination of road space. I have written about the Transport for London study released this spring that shows that street improvements for walking and cycling increased time on retail streets by 216 percent, with retail space vacancies declining 17 percent. Best of all, and just like studies conducted in New York and Toronto “people walking, cycling and using public transport spend the most in their local shops, spending 40% more each month than car drivers”.

Back to Saskatoon. This is a perfect place to put in protected bike lanes, and they are needed to provide connected, safe travel. But imagine this~in April Saskatoon City Council voted to remove the protected bike lanes on Fourth Avenue North which had been in place for two years. Why? Because of “member of the public” complaints about limited parking space. What that really meant is that drivers could not park in front of businesses as they had been accustomed to.  Drivers were also concerned that bike lanes were cleared of snow before vehicle lanes, and that cyclists were in danger in drivers’ “blind spots”.

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Trust The Tyee’s Chris Cheung who consistently finds the story in front of the headline, and his latest article does not disappoint. Douglas Coupland wrote a book on Vancouver called “City of Glass”  describing  Vancouver’s towerscape, which is tall, not particularly inviting to look at, and appears to have a whole lot of glass.

Chris Cheung  introduces Genta Ishiumura, a recent graduate in Architecture who looked at Vancouver’s glass landscape after taking a course on “window behaviourology” in Switzerland from Tokyo architect Momoyo Kaijima.

In a time when we are moving toward a more sustainable city, Ishimura notes that the floor to ceiling glass walls of towers are energy wasters, requiring a lot of energy to maintain ambient temperatures. The glass towers are also rather impersonal~in Vancouver it has not been about the close views, but the long range distant vistas. And focusing on the long range views adds “a lack of intimacy and creates a disconnection between occupants and the world outside”.

Ishimura suggests a two fold approach in his thesis work: firstly, create a new exoskeleton for existing towers to deal with the energy loss of huge windows. Secondly, use the opportunity provided by the exoskeleton to create new windows and balconies for more floor space with a flexible use.

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There are two stories here. One is told by Lloyd Alter in Tree Hugger that young people are just not into cars, and carmakers haven’t figured out how to get that group interested. Even an analyst for the J.D. Power research firm detailed the problem:

“Gen Z buyers’ participation in the new-car space is declining year after year. We expect to see them get their first job and buy a car. But we’re not seeing this.”

In the United States in 1983 46 percent of 16 year olds had drivers licences; in 2016 that figure was 26 percent. As Lloyd Alter observes “young people just might care more about the air they and their kids are breathing  than they do about the conveniences in cars.” He also points out that this socially responsible tech-savvy cohort chooses to live in places where they don’t have to drive.

The other story and it is Big News is that anyone 18 years or younger living in the City of Victoria will get a free transit bus pass, no matter what school they are going to. The 6,000 passes will cost $850,000, and will be covered by the City’s Sunday downtown parking fees. This is a great way for students to use the transit system and become accustomed to public transit, of course also meaning that there will be less vehicles on the road.

That was echoed by Susan Brice, chair of the Victoria Regional Transit Commission:  “Anytime we can get more kids riding the bus and making bus riding a part of their life and a habit, that’s good for all of us.” 

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