I spent last weekend in Leavenworth.  No, not the prison; that’s in Kansas.  This is Leavenworth, Washington – the  mock Bavarian town.

And yes, it’s easy to mock Leavenworth.  It is very faux Bavarian indeed:

Originally a railroad and timber town, Leavenworth chose to go German in 1962 as an economic strategy.  It worked, even if on a summer’s day the primary economic activity looks to be the consumption of ice cream.

But there’s something about Leavenworth that satisfies, that makes it successful for the tourists it attacts.   And why is that? 

Because it’s an urban experience.  Because it meets David Sucher’s three rules:

(1)  Build to the sidewalk property line.

(2) Make the building front ‘permeable’ – no blank walls.

(3) Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.

The sidewalks may be skimpy, but the crowding adds to the effect, rather like Robson Street.  And the over-exuberant decoration constantly stimulates, with never a blank wall or parking lot to dilute the energy.  It goes on for about four shaded blocks – the right length for an urban village, similar (not coincidentally) to the length of a shopping mall.

And one thing more.  Leavenworth has the right combination of highway and commercial streets close by and in parallel – a model that works around the world.  I explored this phenomenon in Price Tags 102, comparing our version (Georgia/Robson) with Paris’s (Champs Elysees / Rue du Faubourg St. Honore):

In the case of Leavenworth, the traffic pours by on Highway 2 (solid red), capturing glimpses of the three-storey streetwall on Front Street (dotted line)  in all its kitschy glory. 

How could you not be curious and want to pull off? – which is easy enough to do at the intersections.

Front Street is narrow enough, with angled parking to slow down the traffic, breaking down the constraints of Motordom.  Here, people jaywalk.

Add in the oom-pah band, the crafts market, the unique boutiques, the flowers, the treed parks and the ice cream – altogether not a bad if totally incongruous experience on the far side of the Cascades.

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An interview in The Independent (August 3) with Dr. Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris, which is charged with the task of assessing future energy supplies by OECD countries.

Dr Birol said that the public and many governments appeared to be oblivious to the fact that the oil on which modern civilisation depends is running out far faster than previously predicted and that global production is likely to peak in about 10 years – at least a decade earlier than most governments had estimated.

But the first detailed assessment of more than 800 oil fields in the world, covering three quarters of global reserves, has found that most of the biggest fields have already peaked and that the rate of decline in oil production is now running at nearly twice the pace as calculated just two years ago.

On top of this, there is a problem of chronic under-investment by oil-producing countries, a feature that is set to result in an “oil crunch” within the next five years which will jeopardise any hope of a recovery from the present global economic recession, he said.

“One day we will run out of oil, it is not today or tomorrow, but one day we will run out of oil and we have to leave oil before oil leaves us, and we have to prepare ourselves for that day,” Dr Birol said. …

The IEA estimates that the decline in oil production in existing fields is now running at 6.7 per cent a year compared to the 3.7 per cent decline it had estimated in 2007, which it now acknowledges to be wrong.

“If we see a tightness of the markets, people in the street will see it in terms of higher prices, much higher than we see now. It will have an impact on the economy, definitely, especially if we see this tightness in the markets in the next few years,” Dr Birol said.

 “It will be especially important because the global economy will still be very fragile, very vulnerable. Many people think there will be a recovery in a few years’ time but it will be a slow recovery and a fragile recovery and we will have the risk that the recovery will be strangled with higher oil prices,” he told The Independent.


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Standing at the corner of Burrard and Pacific, 5 pm on Monday, watching the traffic flows.  Something seems familiar.

The traffic is moving.  Cars do back up on red lights, but most of the backlog dissipates on the green.  Even the worst bottleneck, where cars line up on Pacific west of Burrard, seems to be working itself out.  Enough merging vehicles get though the free right between onflows from other directions.  The whole intersection functions rather like clockwork.

The way the signals are cutting up the traffic into platoons, merging them together into a southbound flow, like packets on the Internet – it’s like something I’ve seen before.

And then I remember where.

At Denman and Georgia, the same thing.  Traffic westbound on Georgia and Pender Streets is cut up into platoons by the upstream signals and then merged with flows from Denman Street to be fed onto the Causeway.  The eastbound flow from the Causeway  is cut up into platoons before being fed onto the grid by the signal at Denman and Georgia (pictured above). 

Outside of rush-hours, it’s like clockwork.   And when demand overwhelms the intersections, vehicles are lined up in orderly rows, waiting to be processed. 

Vancouver uses intersection signals as meters on arterials that lead into the core, rather like a switching yard, to regulate the traffic flows on and off the downtown peninsula – at Georgia and Denman,  Terminal and Main, and now at Burrard and Pacific. 

They work  better in some ways than freeways which disgorge an uncontrolled flow of traffic onto surface streets.  But these switching points have explicitly limited capacity.  And Motordom doesn’t allow for limits on the number of vehicles a city is expected to accommodate. 

Hence the sense that these intersections are congestion problems, to be solved with more capacity (or at least not reduced capacity), rather than necessary regulators of a system that seems to work rather well once its limits are recognized.    Like clockwork.

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Yup, in addition to this personal blog and one I do for the SFU City Program, I have foolishly agreed to contribute to the Vancouver Sun’s Community of Interest – just me and three to four dozen others. 

Expect some repetition.

For my first major post, I took the opportunity to define Motordom – a word you may have seen me use occasionally in these posts.  Go here for a fuller explanation of its origins, along with a few illustrations.

UPDATE: And find out how the City of Sydney thinks it could revert to a pre-Motordom condition with Naked Streets.

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Engaged in a heated but friendly debate last evening with an engineer who worked on Gateway. 

His position: Gateway – the highway widening and new bridge – is serving an already existing need, namely the growth that has occurred south of the Fraser.  Cars aren’t going away, even if we have to switch to electricity.  Land use is in the hands of municipalities, and not a responsibility of the Gateway project.

Next day, I opened the Sun to the business pages:

Massive mall near Abbotsford interchange stirs up debate

A new shopping mall planned for an eight-hectare site near Abbotsford’s Mount Lehman interchange will be a major retail draw for Fraser Valley residents, according to the city’s mayor.

  “The potential regional draw for that centre is enormous,” Abbotsford Mayor George Peary said in an interview about the $170-million, 600,000-square-foot Shape Properties development, dubbed Abby Lane.

It’s huge and it’s got amazing freeway access. I think this will be the largest mall in the region. It will be relatively easy for people to get there from Langley, Chilliwack and Mission. Millions travel that freeway and they’re all potential customers.”

Opponents of commercial sprawl say the new plaza is an example of the type of retail they expect will pop up all along the highway because of the provincial government’s Gateway Program to add lanes to Highway 1 and double the size of the bridge.

I confess, I get annoyed by highway planners and advocates who ignore, discount or wash their hands of the consequences of their projects, especially when the evidence is so obvious.  Highways generate car-dependent urban form, which then produces the congestion that the highways and arterials were meant to address.   It’s a self-defeating cycle they seem not to acknowledge.  (Which means that TransLink , Metro and the municipalities must have a pro-active startegy to offset the consequences.  Otherwise we get more and more Abby Lanes.)

So, as always, I asked him this question: name me one good example of a place that had successfully addressed congestion with more roads and bridges.  A place that can serve as a model for what we are doing.  A place you want the South of the Fraser to become more like.

No answer from the engineer.

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Here’s a quote from a California candidate for Congress:

Just because oil is found on American soil, does not make it American oil. Unless America is preparing to nationalize its resources, that oil will belong to an oil company. And that oil will go into a world market that we do not control—a market that is subject to the whims of OPEC, terrorists in Nigeria, Russian bullying, China roaring, and our own wasteful energy habits.

I wouldn’t expect the Americans to nationalize oil reserves any time soon (they’re counting on ours, no doubt) – but I’ll make this prediction.  As the largest single consumer of oil in the States (the military) does its own assessment, significant pockets of light, sweet crude will end up in ‘military reserves.’ 

It’s not unprecedented.  In 1912, Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admirality ordered the conversion of the British fleet from coal (which Britain had a lot of) to oil (which they didn’t).  Why?  Because of the advantages of oil for speed and distance.  

To get a secure supply of oil, Churchill helped form the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (ultimately BP) with concessions in Persia (ultimately Iran).  With 51 percent of the shares, the government could excercise control over the company, and if necessary over Persia.  And we now know where that led to.   

One way or the other, as oil gets scarcer, the military will exercise its control.   In any conceivable trade-off, oil will go to fuel their Hummers, not ours.   And those who complain in the States will be accused of a lack of patriotism or not concerned about national security – which pretty much ends the debate.

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August 22, 2008

Oil is the source of the power of our enemies, and the enemies of democracy and peace. Until we shift the global economy decisively away from petro-economics, the West will decline quite swiftly in relation to the petro-powers. There is no peaceful future for a world run on oil. This is now not just a matter of environmental concern; it’s a geo-strategic urgency.

Andrew Sullivan

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This just in from Rick Cole, the City Manager of Ventura, California – and one of the most articulate voices for Smart Growth in America.  (He was also a councillor in Pasadena.  A great speaker, too)

Take a read of this interview in which he discusses “the triple-witching hour – heating up the planet, running up unsustainable debt, and running out of cheap energy” – and reflect on its relevance for us just up the coast.

An historic election cycle, rising gas prices, a struggling real estate market, and a global credit crunch are forcing voters and politicians alike to rethink the behavior and models that have shaped American life since the middle of the 20th century. In the following TPR interview, Ventura City Manager Rick Cole makes a persuasive case that Americans must find a way to ensure that the silver lining in these troubling times will be new development standards based on the smart growth model.

With the unprecedented run-up in gas prices at the pump, do you think smart growth is an idea whose time has finally come?

Yes, but I’d offer two qualifiers. First, gas prices will go down. They’ll never go back down to what we paid a year ago, but the slowing global economy will eventually bring some temporary relief. Second, we can’t put long-term policies at the mercy of immediate crises. I think it’s important to take the long view. It’s not today’s gas prices that will force adoption of a smart growth model-suburban sprawl is doomed by the triple witching hour of heating up the planet, running up unsustainable debt, and running out of cheap energy.

That view has yet to penetrate the media and political mainstream. The dominant voices insist we can restore business as usual either by greater production of existing energy sources or by switching to new energy sources-or both. Even most environmentalists focus on greener cars.

Understandably. We’ve been building both our landscape and our economy around the car for more than 60 years. Even if we adopted a universal program of smart growth across America tomorrow, it would be decades before we had repaired and reshaped our landscape and economy to a more sustainable model. In the meantime, there will be tremendous pressure to exploit existing and new energy sources to maintain the suburban model we live in. But we can’t ignore Stein’s Law. Herb Stein was the pragmatic economist who first observed, “Things which can’t go on forever, don’t.”

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On the day that oil almost hit $140 per barrel:

Ironically, GM once enjoyed a significant lead in the electric car business. In the late 1990s, it produced more than 1,000 experimental EV1 electric cars – one of the greenest vehicles ever made. GM leased the cars to hundreds of enthusiasts, who fell in love with the plug-in vehicle.

But in 2000, the company pulled the plug on the plug-in after sinking $1-billion into the venture, convinced that it would never make money selling a fringe car to geeks.

Eight years and a quadrupling in the price of gasoline later, (GM CEO) Rick Wagoner now readily admits killing the EV1 was one of his biggest mistakes.

Globe and Mail, Report on Business

Just one, mind you – just one of his biggest mistakes.

Will GM and Ford be going to government to bail them out and finance their transition to ‘green’?

Detroit and Oshawa, with the Texas and Alberta oil culture, have taken us down a tragic road.

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