Governance & Politics
November 5, 2007

TransLink: Beyond Google

Info VP at TransLink, Bob Padden, has some follow-up to the Google presentation:

… the partnership with Google is just the beginning of an extensive push to ensure that TransLink has an engaging and effective web presence. 
Over the last year I have been leading a corporate-wide initiative called “E-Revolution” that has generated a comprehensive strategy that will see us rolling out online fare purchases, a system that will provide next scheduled bus, initially, and real time bus arrival as soon as the GPS and new bus communications system is installed (branded as MyBus), actual congestion information that estimates wait-time and finally, personalized travel alerts that will let you know if West Coast Express is delayed or there is a problem with your bus connections. 
In addition to the customer information, we will be engaging stakeholders and the public in on-line dialogue for policy development and project consultations (“TransLink Listens” now has over 5,000 subscribers across the region and its representation mirrors the accuracy of telephone surveys). 
Hey, we may soon be relevant in the cyberworld that is the 21st century.   

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It was one of those days.  TransLink launched their new trip-finder service with Google – the first city in Canada to do so – on the day the media had some raw meat to feed on: bus driver assaulted by teenage girls; bus burned.  TransLink execs paid big bucks for car use. 
And so a very cool new service gets lost in the buzz.  Cynicism increases.  
But let’s go back and check out what Google Transit can do.  I’ll use the demonstration the nice young man from Google showed us.
Let’s say you’re from out of town and have heard about the “Giant Crab of Doom.”  Forget Stanley Park; you want to see the giant crab.   How do you get there when all you know is that somewhere in the city, there’s a large, ominous crab?
You go to Google Maps – here.  And you type in “Giant Crab of Doom.”  Really.  Go ahead, try it out.
Because Google Maps is now integrating home-made ‘community maps,’ you’ve come across Danielle’s personal list of “Great Fountains of the World” as the first entry.  And to the right: a map specifying the location of our very own doom-like crab.  But still, how do you get there?
In the box on the map to the right, after “Get Directions,” click on “To Here.”
Now type in your own address in the blank box, assuming you’re in Vancouver, or, if not, try “SFU Harbour Centre.”  Click “Go.”
Google Maps will have given you default directions to go by car to the Vancouver Museum.
But now the good part: On the upper left, under “Search Results,” second line down, you’ll see after “Drive There,” the option to “Take Public Transit.”
Which, of course, you will click so you can get this:

Now you have walking directions to the nearest transit stop that will get you to the closest place from which to walk to said crab.  Of course, there’s the name of the bus, the route, the schedule, and the option to get all the details for the reverse trip.  You get the travel time – 20 minutes in my case.
Up near the top of the box on the left, there’s “Options” to choose other dates and times, as well as alternate routes.
You can zoom in on the map to get a closer look, and change to “Satellite” or “Hybrid”  to see details of the urban fabric. 
It doesn’t tell you how much the trip costs – but there is a link to “TransLink” at the bottom.
Altogether, a very cool way to get to meet your crab of doom.

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Crosscut – Seattle’s Tyee – has a columnist, Knute Berger, who every so often tosses off a little diatribe on Vancouver.  Here’s an excerpt from his latest:

I am not a big fan of Vancouver-style high-rise density. The city is now the most expensive housing market in Canada, reports The New York Times, and the West End is as dense or denser than Manhattan. While the old-growth forest of Stanley Park falls — if you haven’t seen it, the devastation of last winter’s hurricane-force storm is appalling and still not cleaned up — the concrete forest of skinny towers on the artificial isle that is downtown Vancouver continues to sprout. A 60-story, five-star, high-rise giant nearly 650 feet tall is going up called Living Shangri La. It will be the tallest building in Vancouver. The views are great, but despite its setting, the downtown has the cold, generic feeling of a developer’s boom town.

The column is here.
Oh, by the way, the West End is not denser than Manhattan.  Not even close.  Not even as dense as parts of Toronto and Montreal.  I’m often surprised that people who should (or do) know better keep repeating that myth.  As though somehow it’s an indictment.

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I spent all day yesterday at a Stakeholder Transportation Forum – part of the public consultation process for Transport 2040, to help shape TransLink’s 30-year strategy.
And lest your  eyes glaze over and your brain turn numb when contemplating such a wonk-fest, be assured, this was one of the best such processes I’ve attended – certainly the best use of the Wosk Centre I’ve ever seen – where the feedback was immediately transcribed, refined by a ‘theme team,’ projected for all to see and vote on, and the senior staff of the agency were all present to listen.
Of course it was also a bit of a farce.  It doesn’t much matter what we think: the real 30-year plan will be devised in Victoria, by people we have never heard of, who never attend sessions like this, who are accountable to basically one man – the Minister of Transportation.
Under the proposed restructuring of TransLink, the provincial government establishes the 30-year vision for integrated transportation from Pemberton to Hope; it sets “clear goals to guide TransLink and other transportation agencies in preparing their respective plans.”
Regardless of what the citizens of the Lower Mainland may prefer, TransLink’s strategy and plans must be consistent with the provincial government’s.  If Victoria determines that the Lower Mainland is to become the loading dock of North America, then the priority will be the roads and bridges and rail lines needed to achieve that, and that’s where the money will go.
In any event, much of the discussion that filled the Wosk Centre simply isn’t relevant to the Ministry of Transportation.  It’s policy branch, for instance, is described as “responsible for planning the future of the highway system and for implementing large scale capital projects.”  No menton of land use, transit, climate change, sustainability, blah, blah.  These boys build roads.
I keep waiting to hear when stakeholder consultation will occur with the Ministry of Transportation – really, the only people who count, since they will be the ones shaping our future.  I understand they meet with the Gateway Council, with those whose vision is consistent with the Minister’s, but what about all those who spent a day at the Wosk Centre? 
Perhaps the policy-makers in Victoria will get a PowerPoint presentation and a pdf file.

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October 23, 2007

 The Times of London got their hands on the proposed transport plan for the 2012 Olympics:

Olympics chiefs set to ban all car travel
The team organising the London Olympics in 2012 is adopting the most aggressive anticar policy ever applied to a major event in an attempt to deliver a permanent shift in people’s travel habits. The eight million spectators will be banned from travelling by car and forced to take public transport, walk or cycle….
All spectators travelling to an event in London will receive a free all-zones travelcard. Those from outside London will be able to buy discounted, flat-rate rail tickets from any station to the capital.
In an interview with The Times, Hugh Sumner, the ODA transport director, said: “We have a very aggressive programme to make it the greenest games in modern times. We want to leave both a hard legacy in terms of infrastructure and a living legacy in the way people think about transport and about how they travel to sports and cultural events.”

Vancouver’s legacy (in addition to the Canada Line) is just the opposite: a major commitment to highway construction to ensure that you will be able to drive – at least to and through the region.
Downtown, however?  I can’t imagine that anyone will be able to use Expo Boulevard since it actually runs under B.C. Place.  And rumour has it that Robson Street will be closed off to vehicles from the stadium to Denman Street. 
But what happens afterwards?  Do we just return the streets to the cars, pretending that nothing has or will change to our happy-motoring nirvana? 
In truth, things are changing already.  The number of vehicles coming to the downtown peninsula continues to decline:

What this chart shows is that the number of vehicles entering the central business district has declined by 7 percent over the last ten years, even as the number of trips by all modes has increased by 22 percent.
That’s so counter-intuitive, given the growth on the peninsula, that people don’t really appreciate the change.  It’s also the reason why we’ve been able to remove so much lane space for the construction of new buildings and the Canada Line on Granville and Davie without gridlock catastrophe.
The downward slope in that chart is likely to continue, particularly given the change from cars to transit that will occur with the opening of the Canada Line. 
Just as Expo introduced Vancouver to the pleasures of urbanity when properly done, so will the Olympics offer another opportunity to change the use of our public spaces after the games are over.  It’s another way we can take advantage of the investment in both the celebration and the investment. In fact, if Council doesn’t plan now to reallocate road space in the post-Olympic period, it will lose a critical moment of opportunity – and the real benefit that comes with our billion-dollar subway.
Even better, it won’t be embarrassed when London shows how it should have been done.

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It may not be news to us – but the New York Times just ran a story on how expensive condos are in Vancouver:

 “When I try to explain to friends in the States how much it costs here, they don’t believe me,” Ms. Gill, 29, who is a real estate broker, said of the city’s high prices. “They say, ‘You’re lying.’”
But $840 a square foot — which is how much the couple paid for their condo — is not unusual these days.
Downtown Vancouver is the most expensive housing market in Canada, according to a survey of 21 cities worldwide released last April by Century 21. The average sales price for a condo in Vancouver was around $419,750 in 2007, up 14.6 percent from last year, according to Royal Le Page Real Estate Services. The average sales price in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, was about $241,818, up 15.7 percent from last year, and in Montreal, $201,818, up 4.6 percent.

The whole story here.

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“There’s never enough” – that’s the first rule of non-market housing.  Advocates for affordable housing in a tight market like ours have no difficulty making that case: the evidence is abundantly apparent, whether in the media or on the streets.
So it’s easy to lose perspective.  In fact, the list below (circulated by the Mayor’s office) came as a bit of a surprise to me.  I hadn’t realized there had been any completed projects this year, nor that there were that many units under construction. 
Perhaps because Councils unanimously support these initiatives (with only a couple of exceptions I can think of in 15 years on Council) and the Left is reluctant to give the Right any credit at all, gains are discounted and difficiencies magnified.
It does look as though most of the housing to come will be the maintenance of existing SROs, upgraded and secured and concentrated in the Downtown East Side and Downtown South.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to make much difference, either in politics or perception.   And in fact, I wonder if it really makes a difference to homelessness.  The truly dysfunctional rarely find a place in these government-funded projects, since they’re often too disruptive to those who wish to maintain a stable environment. 
Nonetheless, whether sufficient or not, it’s an improvement.  And that’s always worth acknowledging. 
Social Housing Projects Completed in 2007:

Project Address New Units Converted Units Grace Mansion 596 East Hastings   85 units Helping Spirit Lodge 1475 Kingsway   36 units Southview Heights 3131 East 58th 57 units   Triage on Fraser 5616 Fraser St.   30 units Jackson Ave. Hsg. Co-op 230 Jackson Ave.   23 units The Vivian 512 Powell St.   24 units Total 6 projects/255 units 57 units 198 units

Social Housing Projects Under Construction:

Kindred Place 1321 Richards St. 87 units   Beulah Gardens II 3355 East 5th 89 units   St Vincents 4875 Heather 60 units   Triage on Hastings 65 East Hastings 92 units   Icelandic Residence 2020 Harrison Dr. 77 units   Woodwards Singles 131 W. Hastings 125 units   Woodwards Families 122 W. Hastings 75 units   Passlin Hotel 768 Richards St. 46 units   Pennsylvania Hotel 412 Carrall St.   44 units Total 9 Projects/695 units 651 units 44 units

Social Housing Projects Funded and in Development:

Portland on Main 980 Main St. 80 units   Small Suite Demonstration 337 West Pender 120 units   Olympic Village, Parcel 2 151 West First Ave. 88 units   Olympic Village, Parcel 5 85 West First Ave. 99 units   Olympic Village, Parcel 9 1685 Ontario St. 69 units   Union Gospel Mission 601 East Hastings 133 beds, rooms and units   Carl Rooms 335 Princess Ave.   47 rooms Marble Arch Hotel 518 Richards St.   145 rooms Orange Hall 329/41 Gore Ave.   27 units Orwell Hotel 456 East Hastings   55 rooms Park Hotel 429/33 West Pender   56 rooms Molson/Roosevelt Hotel 166 East Hastings   45 rooms Savoy Hotel 258/60 East Hastings   28 rooms St. Helens Hotel 1161 Granville St.   98 rooms The Rice Block 404 Hawks Ave.   44 rooms Walton Hotel 261/5 East Hastings   51 rooms Lu’ma/Aboriginal Mothers 2019 Dundas St. 10 units   Trio Downtown Eastside 30 units   Circle of Eagles 1470 East Broadway   17 rooms Lu’ma/Aboriginal Families Broadway/Nanaimo 20 units   Total 20 Projects/1262 beds, rooms, units 649 units 613 rooms Grand Total 35 Projects/ 2212 beds, rooms, units 1357 units 855 rooms Read more »
October 8, 2007

I always thought it odd, when sitting on Council, that some people just didn’t like good news.
Whenever reports came in that detailed how we were making progress as a city, the reaction of some was (1) disbelief and/or skepticism, (2) “It’s a good first start …” (3) “Yeah, but what about … ” (That’s one of the main purposes of the Downtown East Side: no matter what we do, there’s always the DES.)
Most often the reports simply don’t get much coverage.
So I’ve heard about this report from a few people, but it doesn’t seem to have registered:

Vancouver has experienced significant growth since 1990, with the number of people increasing 24% and the number of jobs increasing 14%. Along with this growth, the demand for City services, the number of automobiles, and the built area have also increased substantially. Nationally, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have increased 25% and provincial emissions are up 30% since 1990.

Despite these pressures, Vancouver’s 2006 GHG emissions from civic operations (corporate emissions) have fallen to 5% below 1990 levels and city-wide (community emissions) have been limited to 5% above 1990 levels.

Vancouver’s per capita emissions (4.9 tonnes/person) are down 15% compared to 1990 and are less than half of those for Toronto (9.3 t/person) and a fraction of those of other cities such as Calgary (17.5 t/person), Seattle (12.4 t/per person) and Portland (13.7t/person).

To sum up: Vancouver’s population is up 24% but Vancouver’s GHG emissions are up 5% since 1990 and appear to have stabilized (if not started to decline).

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September 19, 2007


According to Leif Toudal Pedersen from the Danish National Space Centre, the ice-covered area (light green in this image) is currently around 3 million sq km, which is about 1 million sq km less than the previous minimum levels recorded in 2005/6. Over the last ten years the sea ice coverage has shrunk by around 100,000 sq km per year, so a drop of 1 million sq km in just one year is an enormous change.

The strong reduction in just one year certainly raises flags that the ice (in summer) may disappear much sooner than expected and that we urgently need to understand better the processes involved.

Shouldn’t we be scared, even a bit?

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Maybe because they have already gone through the trauma of serious water constraints, Queenslanders seem to be more serious about the consequences of peak oil.  Or at least some in their government are.
Peter Berkeley, the bike guy from Brisbane who was in Vancouver a few weeks ago, reports in on news at the state level:

Our Premier Peter Beattie retired last week (it all happened very quickly)  The upshot being that there has been a complete reschuffle of the cabinet … 
A major development is that Andrew McNamara, an MP from Harvey Bay has taken up a new ministry called Sustainability, Climate Change and Innovation.  In the hands of anyone else you might say that this is just a rebadging of the old environment department but Andrew has been trying to get the issue of Peak Oil on the radar of the Government and the community for years now. 
He was sworn in on Thursday and by Saturday there was a front page article in the Courier Mail on Peak Oil.  I have attached a link for your reading pleasure. 
Report warns of petrol chaos

From: The Courier-Mail
September 15, 2007
QUEENSLAND is heading for an oil shock. And it is not a matter of if, but when.
As crude oil prices hit a record high yesterday, an as-yet unreleased Queensland Government report warns of massive social dislocation, rising food prices and infrastructure headaches because of rising oil costs.
Video: Oil reaches record prices

Syvret: End of the Oil Age near

Concidentally, there’s a good piece in the New York Times by Gregory Mankiw today on the merits of carbon taxing over cap-and-trade:

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