Vancouver Deputy Mayor Heather Deal has a number of portfolios – usually all the ways to make sure our City is becoming delightful – including Arts & Culture. She is passionate about the topic and a Councillor Liaison to the Arts & Culture Policy Council so I asked her to tell me more. She shared stories about her conversations with Vancouverites on public art. 1. Poodle on a Stick

Poodle (no official name) by Gisele Amantea got negative media when someone from the area complained that Main Street isn’t a poodle neighbourhood. Which is awesome because public art got people talking about the identity of their neighbourhood.

There were also complaints about cost and it not being a local artist (both based on inaccurate reporting).

(TP note: How many of our public art pieces have their own Twitter account? Follow @MainStPoodle)

When people complain to me about the poodle, I ask them what piece of public art they do like.

2. A-mazing Laughter

9/10 answer: A-mazing Laughter at English Bay – a Vancouver Biennale piece. So I ask them 3 questions about it:

Does it reflect the West End?

How much did cost?

Where is the artist from?

No one can answer that. Not one person to date.

(TP: I was able to answer all 3 – including who negotiated the counteroffer and donated it.)

3. The Third Piece

Then I ask for opinions about a third piece of public art. Very few can name one. Some come up with Myfanwy MacLeod’s The Birds in Olympic Village.

Some can name Giants by OSGEMEOS on Granville Island – another biennale piece from an international artist team.

4. I love it when people talk about our city.

Art is a great place to start that conversation. Learn about the hundreds of pieces of public art in Vancouver at the City’s website here.

5. Notice art.

Think about whether you like it or don’t. Look it up and learn about the artist and their inspiration.

Did you know that the poodle was made by an artist living in the region at the time and that it was inspired by the antique shops on Main Street? (TP: I had no idea.)

We also want to encourage people to think about what they like and want in public spaces such as art (murals, pieces, etc.) and what type of programmed space, festivals, and unprogrammed squares or plazas they’d like.

Ask yourself: Do you want to be entertained? Amused? Challenged?

Reminded of something in our history, negative or positive?

Awed? Do you want to be able to interact with it?

Does it compel you to take a selfie with it?

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Jane Jacobs, urbanist and author, believed in walkable neighbourhoods, urban literacy, and cities planned by and for everybody.

We celebrate Jane’s birthday every year by leading and tagging along on Jane’s Walks. You create a walking tour of an area you’d like to talk about or celebrate and people sign up for it. It’s less of a lecture and more of a walking conversation. Leaders share their knowledge, but also encourage discussion and participation among the walkers. The whole thing is free.
It could also be a jogging tour or a bicycling tour or a skateboarding tour…
The one hour orientation session is Monday April 25 from 5:30-6:30pm at the Mount Pleasant Community Library.
Jane’s Walks, now in its 9th year, are held Friday-Sunday, May 6, 7, or 8 in 2016.
 

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How many times have you thought: I’d love to sit outside but it’s kinda noisy and stinky with the cars right there?

This is my fourth post in a series on transforming our shopping districts into more pleasant places to get to safely and hang out in.
We’ve reached an awkward moment in Vancouver’s history where trips by active transportation and transit are increasing without updating our shopping districts to accommodate those modes as well.
If as of May, 2015 50% of all trips in Vancouver are made by walking, bicycling, or transit and we haven’t updated the safety for those modes in any of our shopping districts yet, is this affecting how well businesses are doing? It seems it must be.
Janette Sadik-Khan, likening a City to a business for a moment, said about updating streets: “If you didn’t change your major capital asset in 50-60 years, would you still be in business?”
Now that an interesting amount of data from best practices elsewhere confirms these changes are good for business, it is time for the City to plan improving the streets in our shopping districts with updates such as wider sidewalks including bulges, raised crosswalks, mid-block crossings, protected bike lanes and intersections, better bicycle parking, car-free plazas, space for transitioning between modes, and other additions.
Successful business owners like Jimmy Pattison always talk about exceptional, friendly customer service being the most important step for companies. What they really mean is that the whole customer experience – from the first website visit, to ease of getting there and getting through the door, to the impression the place is clean and appealing indoors and out, through the direct customer experience until the good-bye/see you soon – should be at least safe and pleasant or even fun.
Every successful business also adapts to the times to continue to be desired. They adjust to new ways their customers reach them (both online and via other modes of travel). Businesses are not served well by being seen as on the wrong side of history on the issue of safer streets.
Reach out to the successful ones who intend to be there throughout and after these transitions. The businesses who do well for many years do the following:

  • keep their awnings clean, readable, and free of green fuzz,
  • ask the City to install bike racks near them by tweeting details @CityofVancouver #311,
  • make sure the doors, floors, tables, chairs and bathrooms are clean,
  • greet customers with a smile,
  • make an effort to get to know regulars,
  • are in tune with what menu items or stock their customers really want,
  • have great relationships with their suppliers to get those items on a consistent basis,
  • handle complaints graciously – often with follow-up check-ins,
  • and always say please and thank you.

What we can do to help local businesses – especially through this transition:

  • make an effort to thank and support local businesses and their owners – especially the ones who support safer streets for all,
  • avoid lecturing (or “You should…” sentences to) business owners who have no intention of changing; it’s a waste of energy; they will learn the hard way,
  • go to the business manager or owner before complaining elsewhere if you have any problems: Assume If you like us, tell your friends; if not, tell us! is the motto of every business,
  • spread the word about great experiences in person, on social media, and with your friends and co-workers,
  • every time you visit, casually mention to the server what mode you took to get there,
  • notify the City if you see loose bike racks, street lights out, plastic bags stuck in street trees, etc. by tweeting the details to @CityofVancouver #311,
  • and always say please and thank you.

The City, together with residents, business owners, employees, and our visitors will need to pitch in to improve the health, safety, economic viability, and delightfulness of our shopping districts.

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1) Bikeshare system area

On February 24th, the City of Vancouver announced the Summer 2016 launch of our first bikesharing program.
They explained that the initial geographical area where bikeshare bikes can be picked up/dropped off would roughly be Arbutus to Main Street and 16th Ave north to, and including, the downtown peninsula. I thought this was odd. Why Arbutus? It’s not bike friendly. Why didn’t they start at Cypress? Improvements on Cypress Street should be completed before May. It would be much safer to ride along.

2) Arbutus Corridor announcement

On March 7th the City announced a major deal to purchase the CP railway along the Arbutus Corridor and, once the old tracks are ripped out, it will become a stellar active transportation corridor of green space.
A-ha! Oh-ho! Arbutus as a western boundary within the new bikeshare system area makes more sense now. It felt like some puzzle pieces in my head were coming together. Hadn’t a City Councillor recently talked about trail connectivity?

3) What does the map say?

The City plans to upgrade active transportation on all 3 False Creek bridges within the next 5 years, G-d willing. Remember that rendering of 2-way walking paths and 2-way bicycle lanes down the centre of the bridge? Some of us want that type of improvement sooner rather than later, of course. Ask anyone who wants to walk or ride a bike to work downtown and lives in Fairview or Shaughnessy.
I always urge pedestrians and bicyclists to avoid Granville Bridge entirely for now as it’s very unsafe and unpleasant to use. There’s a narrow space for the 2 modes to share that to get to it, in some parts you have to cross traffic going quickly around a curve. Worse, I understand 2 people in wheelchairs cannot easily pass each other in that narrow space. They have to maneuver to get around each other over the deafening traffic going 80kph. I’m embarrassed by that.
One person who shall remain nameless whispered, “follow the train tracks”.
I opened maps.google.com, which took me to google.ca/maps, and followed the faint train tracks along Arbutus north from 16th, doo doo doo, to 6th Ave where I had seen bunnies many times, doo doo doo, I hadn’t really thought about where the train goes after that, doot da da doo, east to Fir Street. I froze. Ooo. Fir & 6th. That’s very close to the Granville Street Bridge!
I visualized the possibilities. My first thought: Lord’s. Oh Lord, that place has beautiful shoes! Imagine taking a stroll or riding bikes on the middle of the Granville Street Bridge surrounded by trees and gentle people to check out the store’s fascinators, stop for a nosh somewhere, smell the flowers at GIF, and get some more nail & cuticle butter at Rocky Mountain Soap Company.
Going to South Granville by booking a car, taking a bus, or riding over Burrard Street (and then what?) just doesn’t seem appealing. But the Arbutus Corridor land purchase is looking more appealing every day.

 

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The Gastown area in downtown Vancouver – especially the 3 blocks of Water Street – will need major street rehabilitation soon. The City is not sure what they’ll find underneath the street so it could take a year or it could take longer. Gastown’s 150th Birthday is in 2017 so it’s too late to start now to be ready in time.
Nothing is confirmed yet. The vision I like the best would be to open Water Street to people, closing it to vehicles – except delivery vehicles at scheduled times. This would leave more room for café style areas, big gatherings around the Steam Clock, space for active transportation, and pop-up markets and festivals.
If that happens, part of the vision would be Cordova Street becoming a 2-way street that vehicles – including taxis, transit and tour buses – would move to. As it stands now, if you do drive west on Dundas then Powell Streets, by Carrall Street if you haven’t turned left (at the 5 corners), you find yourself on an unpleasant, slow drive through wandering tourists and zig zag bicyclists for the 3 blocks of Water Street. It’s clear most of the vehicle traffic is passing through, frustrated. Not stopping to buy anything.
What Would Janette Do? Janette Sadik-Khan says people find it hard to visualize things from boards and drawings. She says to try things to help people visualize and to see what works since the streets are already not perfect. What if before the street rehabilitation started, for late 2016 and 2017, we made Cordova a 2-way street and opened the 3 blocks of Water as a car-free space? Café tables & chairs with wine and pastries, programmed events including the 150th birthday celebrations, and no tour buses blowing dark exhaust in our faces…
Wouldn’t it be better to know what worked and what didn’t before we dig it up then rebuild it? It seems to me the consultation process after we’ve had a trial period would have more consensus about what was delightful and what wasn’t and be more valuable than varying speculations over unknown results. According to best practices in other cities, the businesses in Gastown would thrive from this. A 2-way street is better than a 1-way for business (Cordova) and no vehicles is even better (Water). If the City did intercept surveys before and after we’d have even more data.
What I know for sure is: it isn’t working well now for any mode. Making Cordova a 2-way street for 11 blocks (including re-signalling) and changing transit routes would probably take the most time. One possibility is to keep transit routes the same, allowing the #50 bus to be the only vehicle permitted on Water if necessary (besides delivery vehicles at low volume times of day) as Phase I.
The above photos are of Cardiff, Wales, UK. The middle photo with the tables and chairs could be a model for Gaoler’s Mews in Gastown.

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Did you really think I was going to skip this topic?
The Grandview-Woodlands Community Plan – including the Transportation component – is likely to go to Vancouver City Council in April for approval. Within it are some interesting percentages. Out of about 550 respondents, 75% support adding pedestrian space and improving the public realm (page 18). 70% of respondents support making cycling more comfortable and convenient (page 24). These responses refer to the area as a whole, though, not specifically Commercial Drive.
There are also questions about retail areas: 39% support retaining or improving on-street vehicle parking in retail areas. 54% support “limit(ing) or possibly reduc(ing) on-street parking to provide opportunity for enhanced pedestrian, bicycle, and/or transit infrastructure”(page 37).
You call that a survey?
Even How to construct a bogus survey doesn’t suggest being as blatant as the Commercial Drive Business Society (BIA) was with their rant plus fear-based questions they call a survey. I’m disappointed with Kenneth Chan‘s coverage of it in Vancity Buzz as if it is a good survey. Alone, it doesn’t deserve the attention. Don’t encourage him by looking it up.
A better account is this earlier story by CKNW showing both sides. They included the photos that Bandidas Taqueria, in support of safety improvements on The Drive, generously posted of their completed Commercial Drive Society “survey” before sending it in. Check it out if you’re curious about the “survey” wording. With the questions so geared against safety improvements such as wider sidewalks and bike lanes on The Drive, Bandidas’ answers seem absurd, amusing, and brave.
What next? Here are some strategies for how to move forward.

A) Carrot

An urban planner suggested luring some of the reluctant, long-time business owners by highlighting the culture of the neighbourhood: evoking a plan of a Euro chic, romantic scene fit for Little Italy. He envisions renderings of electric bikes (today’s version of the 1960s Vespa) parked in a row in front of pizza parlours (in lieu of car parking) like our memories of a lifestyle we yearned for while watching films like La Dolce Vita or Roman Holiday.

B) Stick

An aware and involved citizen muttered to me that banquet halls catering to private parties with considerable drinking and lots of space to park your car don’t mix well in the public’s eye. He thinks the best strategy is to heighten the public’s awareness of those businesses’ encouragement to drive and get MADD involved.
From Federico’s website (with no mention of how to arrive via transit or bicycle and no suggestion to take a taxi home):
“Ample Parking is available in the area
*Il Mercato underground parking
(NW corner of 1st and Commercial)
*Royal Bank during non-banking hours
(located across the street)
*Street and meter parking”

C) Collect and Share Data

In North American cities, businesses consistently grossly overestimate how many of their customers arrive by car. Data-driven decision making should count more than an emotional fear of change. For example, this annotated, chart-filled review of 12 studies from around the world.
City of Vancouver staff plan to conduct intercept surveys (real ones) on Commercial Drive, measuring the modes of customers before and after the upgrades so Vancouver finally has its first All Ages and Abilities (AAA) corridor on a high street and first valuable data to show the effects on business.

D) Carry On

Make the changes, with public consultation. Do it because you were elected on the platform to do so.

E) All of the Above

Speaking of everything, please see this PT post about Slow Streets’ The Case for a Complete Street on The Drive.
Thoughts?
 
 

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969 Burrard St & 1019-1045 Nelson St

This is my second article on Good Friday about a development application that saves or restores a church. And I’m not even Christian. Also, I recommend this article be enjoyed accompanied by Geoff Berner’s song Higher Ground

From the City’s website (bolded font is my doing):

The City of Vancouver has received an application to rezone 969 Burrard Street & 1019-1045 Nelson Street from CD-1 (445) (Comprehensive Development) to a new CD-1 District. The proposal includes:

  • restoration of First Baptist Church;
  • new church ancillary spaces, including a 37-space child daycare, a gymnasium, a counselling centre, offices and a cafe;
  • a new eight-storey building containing 66 social housing units, owned by the church;
  • a new 56-storey tower containing 294 market strata residential units, with a cafe at ground floor;

Other key parameters of the proposal include:

  • a combined total new floor area of approximately 561,881 sq.ft.;
  • a floor space ratio (FSR) of approximately 10.83;
  • 497 underground vehicle parking spaces.

This rezoning application is being considered under the Rezoning Policy for the West End and the West End Community Plan.

The project is called First Baptist Church (FBC) for now. I live close to this property. I think 56-storeys at the highest point downtown in earthquakey Vancouver is a little high but I can live with it if it’s structurally well-built. This building does not obstruct view corridors and falls within the dome skyline.
Currently the entrance is quite unwelcoming with fencing and a big, flashing, lighted sign at Nelson & Burrard. It’s unclear where to enter and not wheelchair accessible. The plans for creating an open, accessible space with a cafe look inviting. The sidewalk on Nelson may be widened as the left turning lane west of Burrard is not well used.
The developer is the First Baptist Church. The builder is Westbank. The architect is Bing Thom. The Traffic Consultant is Peter Joyce of Bunt & Assoc. I spoke to him and others at the Open House – which PT Guest Editor Thomas Beyer covered.
What I object to strongly is the amount of car parking they plan to include. They want 120 parking spaces over the minimum required for a total of 497. (Do we still have minimum parking requirements in downtown Vancouver and why don’t we have a maximum number permitted?)
The overall parking ratio is 1.4 – in the centre of downtown Vancouver at the corner of Nelson & Burrard. That means 1.4 parking spaces for every 1 unit. It’s 0.4 for the rental building and a whopping 1.6 for the strata.
To give you some perspective, these days in Metrotown many high-rises will have a parking ratio of about 1 or less. Portland is building high-rises with 0.6 or less. Some high-rises are proud to be at 0. Granted, this high-rise plans to have a number of 2-3 bedroom suites. Still, allowing so much car parking downtown encourages too much driving and drives up costs. This much car parking doesn’t meet any of our City goals.
I have worked with numerous developers over the years interested in having all access carsharing in their buildings – even before there were incentives from the City to minimize parking requirements for doing so. It’s a popular amenity for buyers. FBC is not including any carsharing as they have no interest in reducing minimum parking requirements. This leaves their buyers with fewer convenient, transportation choices.
The plan is to have 6 levels of subterranean parking. The cost of adding 6 floors underground is staggering in concrete and steel. For developers, the reduced construction time with fewer levels can be a considerable savings for them as well. Housing rates are so expensive in Vancouver that even if the intention is to sell posh 2-3 bedroom suites, the higher cost of the units from additional parking doesn’t make sense to me. Many downtown families have 0 or 1 car and carshare when they need 2 on one day.
Also, units will be sold with parking spots – not unbundled (where the buyer gets to choose to buy a unit with or without a parking space).

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809 West 23rd Avenue

The last PT Guest Editor wrote about comparing Burnaby’s density to Vancouver’s in Who Does Density Better?
A 1920s-era church at 23rd Ave & Willow could be saved if it’s turned into 6 townhouses with the flexibility of 4 lock-off suites. It’s 600m from King Edward Station and the neighbours are outraged it will no longer be a Single Family Home (SFH). There seems to be more outrage about this lot than there is about skyscrapers going up in Burnaby.
Let’s start with what we know then learn a bit more:

  • Metro Vancouver has mountains to the north, a border to the south, and an ocean to the west. Therefore it can only expand to the east, which it has been doing. We need to limit urban sprawl for all kinds of environmental, health, and economic reasons.
  • It is estimated that by 2030 the region’s population will be about 1 million more people than it is today. They will need places to live.
  • The City of Vancouver has, for about 2-4 mayors now, been encouraging density and running on platforms of density.
  • Friendly-density or “gentle densification” describes alternatives to high-rises such as 3-7 story multi-unit dwellings, townhouses, quadruplexes/fourplexes with a coach house, etc. and this density debate article is more amusing/sad 4 years later, depending on your point of view.
  • Transit-oriented development (TOD) “is a mixed-use residential and commercial area designed to maximize access to public transport and often incorporates features to encourage transit ridership.”
  • The Marpole Community Plan, approved in 2014, allows for RM8 (Townhouse, Rowhouse) and RM9 (Townhouse/Rowhouse/Low-rise).
  • The Cambie Corridor Planning Program Phase 3 was approved by City Council in April, 2015. It covers Ontario to Oak Streets, 16th Ave south to the river. Since then the City has held launch events, walking tours, and workshops on Phase 3. It is currently in progress.
  • There was an open house in September, 2015. From the City’s website: “Staff have completed their initial review of the rezoning application and have requested revisions to the application including changes to improve the heritage conservation approach, explore further on-site tree retention and improve the relationship of the proposal to the surrounding residential neighbourhood. Once revisions are received staff will notify the public and invite further community feedback.
  • I asked staff what “improve the relationship of the proposal to the…neighbourhood” meant. Basically, due to feedback, revisions have been requested. They want to give people more time to give feedback. They would like to hear from people why this church is worth saving.
  • There is still time to provide online feedback on this development application (with no clear deadline in sight).

Hair splitting leads to split ends:

  • This property is within the Cambie Corridor near Douglas Park but about 1 block outside the area where changes are likely to be permitted.
  • Once Phase 3 is complete, it could be applicable without rezoning but this application was submitted months before the completion of Phase 3.
  • The residents who don’t want it say it’s spot zoning.
  • The City and developer say it’s not spot zoning it’s an application to rezone from RS-5 (Single Family) District to CD-1 (Comprehensive Development) District under the City’s Heritage Policies and Guidelines, including the Heritage Action Plan.

This Vancouver Courier article from October, 2015 explains what’s going on in depth.
What do you think?
SFH – (Single Family Home) is also the abbreviation for at least 2 other meanings. Those who don’t want more density in Vancouver – are they Stronger, Faster, Healthier or So F’ing High?
When people are outraged at building townhouses on a large lot in Vancouver, is it a sign that the reality of density, the people who want different housing options, and the future Vancouverites who don’t usually get a say are winning?

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Let’s work backwards from September, 2016. Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place, almost always held in the US, will be in Vancouver. In fact, we’re having a whole Placemaking Week Sept 12-18 AND celebrating Jane’s 100th birthday (may she rest in peace).
Vancouver Bike Share (the temporary name until CycleHop announces a sponsor) launches in June, expands in July, and should be running smoothly by September. Inshallah.
Five protected bike lanes downtown are to be built and finished by the end of July, 2016. Yes, 2016. It sounds like more than it is. Some are little blips on the map.
Cambie, Smithe, Nelson, Beatty, and Richards.
Here’s my 2 cents: I applaud the speed and approach. We should be constructing multiple lanes at once. Building upon and expanding the current AAA network is key.
The couplets on Nelson and Smithe (one-way on each street in same direction as vehicles) are: on Nelson from Richards to Beatty (shouldn’t that go to the Cambie Street Bridge?) and on Smithe from the bridge to Richards. If Nelson/Smithe went as far as Hornby instead, people would have so many more options and we would almost have a complete All Ages and Abilities (AAA) link from Yaletown to the West End.
Linking the bike lane on Homer Street northbound for one more little block from Georgia to Dunsmuir’s protected bike lane would help. Surely continuing the bi-directional protected bike lane on Dunsmuir for one block west to Burrard – a major transit hub of Burrard Station – is also a priority. Don’t make me take the one-way painted bike lane the wrong way for a block! #ungapthemap
Some of the bike lanes in the plan could conflict with vehicles turning. Please be careful in the final design.
You have 24 more hours to email your comments on this project. You might as well take a look right now. View the information displays from the March 8, 2016, open house and email your comments to downtownbikenetwork@vancouver.ca by March 25.

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