Policy & Planning
December 13, 2019

Things I Learned from Kevin Desmond

TransLink’s CEO addressed the Real Estate Institute President’s luncheon this week with a general overview of regional transit.  And though much was familiar, there were still items worth noting.  Time for some bullet points.

Said Desmond: “This is the most exciting time to be involved in public transit in its history.”  I believe him, especially when you’re running the most successful transit agency in terms of ridership growth in North America.

How successful? Up 18 percent between 2016 and 2018, when almost every other system is flat or dropping.  And it’s not just because of SkyTrain expansion. It’s bus ridership that has led the growth in actual numbers, and it’s where the biggest growth is going to come in the next few years.

Big message to the real-estate industry: Don’t just think of development at the station areas; think transit corridors, especially the new Rapidbus lines.  (Why the change of name from B-Lines?  Because they were just big buses running more frequently with limited stops.  Rapidbus involves a redesign of everything from the stops, the signs, the lanes and the land use.)

Irony alert: many transit users can’t afford transit-oriented development. This is not just an issue in the burgeoning station areas like those along the Millennium Line or potentially along the Broadway corridor; it’s also an emerging problem along the new Rapidbus lines, where the housing may be too expensive for the target population the transit is meant to serve.

The desirability of high-density station areas was affirmed when Marine Gateway (along the Canada Line in Marpole) sold out in four hours.  That made the industry pay attention when the condo market seemed to be oversold.  (It shouldn’t have been that great a surprise: many of the purchasers would have been familiar with similar development in Hong Kong, Singapore or Shanghai – where metro transit and high-density housing are indivisible and desirable.)

The Capstan station in Richmond, paid for by the adjacent development, changes the political message about how we fund transit infrastructure.  More by the private sector, less by the public.

Expect Broadway subway service in 2025.  Construction starts next fall.

If the money is approved for the a Surrey SkyTrain extension, service to Langley could also start in 2025, which would otherwise be the starting date for service to Fleetwood, the destination without the extension.)

As public consultation on the Transport 2050 strategic plan continues (phase 1 here), remember the previous one: Transport 2021 in 1993.

Almost everything proposed and planned was achieved.  “We put it together and we stuck with it and we did it.”  (Despite the BC Liberals sabotage by referendum, which they have still not acknowledged or apologized for.)

The future: electric, connected and self-driving.  Autonomous cars may not be happening as soon as expected, but by the end of the next decade, 60 percent of the entire bus fleet could be zero emission.  That’s especially notable given that a lot of housing will be constructed along the Frequent Transit Network.

Desmond also emphasizes the mundane: maintaining assets in good repair, even as we try to understand and integrate the disruptive forces in transportation.

 

*Photo by thestar

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The New York Times explores the Boardwalks of real-estate development:

… the surface lots that are peppered throughout cities, a vestige of a time decades ago when car ownership had surged and mass transit use had declined. Surface lots bloomed throughout the country, in big and small markets. Now, these lots are becoming more valuable.

“It’s like when you’re playing Monopoly, and you get your ticket for Boardwalk — that’s how rare it is,” said Gina Farruggio, a broker …

Sales of such lots in the U.S. have surged to more than 200 in 2016 – more than double the amount in 2006 through 2014.  It’s something that’s been going in Metro Vancouver for several decades – and at a vastly different scale.

The Times profiles a major development in Los Angeles at Culver City along the Expo Line:

The 500,000-square-foot development (on 5.2 acres), called Ivy Station, is expected to open next year with 200 apartments as well as 240,000 square feet of office space, 55,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, plus a hotel.

Amazing Brentwood by comparison is on 28 acres: 1,300,000 square feet of retail, 500,000 square feet of office, and about 1,700 residential units.

Perhaps not comparable given the difference in area – except for one thing.

  • At Ivy Station: 1,500 parking spaces.
  • At Amazing Brentwood: 1,400.

 

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Sesame Street is 50.

The Washington Post celebrates its Kennedy honours here.

While us Boomers weren’t the target market (by 20, I knew my alphabet), our kids were – and every generation thereafter.  But Sesame Street did teach me a lot about a particular version of New York – a working class street of brownstones, stoops, a mix of shops and homes, a mix of people.  This was not the suburbia of my neighbourhood or the rest of sit-com TV.

And while this version of New York was, well, nice, it was also edgier than even today’s version of the show, and it prepared me for a New York in the late 1970s and 80s that was anything but nice.  As the Post writer recollects:

On a recent afternoon’s binge, I watched one “Sesame” musical number from 1975 called “The Subway!” several times in a row. It’s funny and impressively clever — edgy, even, when compared with the show’s present-day tone. “You could lose your purse; or you might lose something worse, on the subway,” sang an old-lady Muppet, squeezed into a subway car with a trenchcoated Kermit the Frog, a testy Bert and too many others.

Sesame Street taught me the ABCs of an urbanity of which I had no experience.  And so, when I had the chance to experience it, I saw the city not just as some dangerous, undesirable, perverse world but as a place to which I had been given an introduction by a green frog and his friends  – even the underground world of The Subway.

*Here are the lyrics to The Subway:

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Burnaby at Brentwood has gone full urban.

This is the Lougheed Highway at Willingdon – one the signature crossroads of our region.  On the right, a massive mixed-use development called (awful name) Amazing Brentwood.

Ian Wasson at Burnaby City Hall gave me a heads-up:  Brentwood was ready for a walk-through.  And easy to get to – seamlessly connected to one of the most beautiful SkyTrain stations in the region.

At the same time Brentwood Mall was under redevelopment, the City rebuilt Lougheed into more of a complete street.  There are at least four modes of movement integrated but separate, with great materials, thoughtful landscaping and exciting urbanism in three dimensions.

We’ll explore Brentwood this week.  But here’s the judgment:

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As noted below, the Expo Line, which opened in 1985, has transformed the corridor along which it runs, especially at many of its station areas.  In that same time, nothing much has happened along Central Broadway.  Some of the blocks between Granville and Broadway seem curiously untouched since the 1970s.

The blocks between Granville and Burrard have some of the widest sidewalks in the city – and some of the least active street life.

This block from Burrard to Cypress has never had street trees, for no apparent reason:

At six lanes, it feels more like an urban highway than a streetcar arterial.  This is Motordom 2.0 – a redesigning of the city for the car and truck.

Because of the width of the road at six lanes and the height of the buildings at one and two storeys, there is no sense of enclosure, no ‘village’ feeling.  The Broadway subway offers the chance for a complete reordering when the train comes through  – a case where higher heights and densities will actually give the street a more ‘European’ feeling.

A classic example is in central Paris, where the ratio was set by Baron Haussmann in a 1859 degree that determined the height of the buildings as a function of the width of the street:

Six lanes allows five storeys, plus mansard roof (and no doubt higher storeys than our nine to ten feet for residential).  Even without street trees, it works.

 

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What is this — a café? A library? A corner store?

Unless you regularly travel by transit to Langara College or the Alliance Française, you’re forgiven for not recognising this as the 49th and Langara Skytrain station. This photo was taken from the west side of Cambie Street looking east on 49th Avenue.

And unless you’re standing in front and looking directly at the entrance, there’s no way to identify this as an essential part of urban infrastructure.

Why is Translink so bad at signage? The last time we travelled by Skytrain from Waterfront Station to the airport, we wondered why, unlike every other subway system on the planet, Translink didn’t have big prominent station names on the walls of the stations. One station looks pretty much like another, and when you look out the window at a station platform upon arrival, there’s no obvious signage to tell you where you are.

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These images have been sent to us by an ardent PriceTags reader who wonders why a public outreach process  was not undertaken in ascertaining the best “bus zone” treatment for Broadway. Our reader notes that the bike street green paint used for Vancouver’s bike lanes is weathering as well, and suggests it might be better to look at any national standard as a guideline instead of a requirement, and choose the best surface possible.

This is of course a temporary treatment to see whether it has any impact on vehicles parking in bus zones, and the materials are not permanent. But you can already see the oil and dirt on the painted portion after mere days.

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Maybe, actually, the development absurdity of the year.

An application has come in to build a five-storey commercial building on the northeast corner of West Broadway and Granville Street – identified as the location for the South Granville station on the proposed Broadway line.

To repeat: a five-storey building on top of a subway line.

But that’s not the absurdity. This is: “Also included in the project are six levels of underground parking.”

To repeat again: a five-storey building with six levels of parking. On top of what will be one of the busiest metro stops in the region.

 

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The best summary so far:

Over the years, Vancouver has watched as its peers have dealt with the darker sides of Uber and Lyft: muddy passenger safety records, negative impacts on congestion and emissions, flouting of local regulations, and widely criticized labor practices.

Now B.C. transportation leaders are cautiously optimistic that being a last-adopter will prove to be a virtue. They hope that strict data-sharing requirements, a stringent licensing scheme for drivers, and a long-term vision to mitigate added traffic with fees on curbside access and downtown streets at rush hour will help make ride-hailing more sustainable here. …

Meanwhile, TransLink’s buses, trains, and ferries are swelling with riders: Vancouver’s system-wide boardings jumped more than 7 percent in 2018, following nearly 6 percent growth in 2017. …

Somewhere in this mix of ingredients for transit’s success: the absence of Uber and Lyft, which have proven to be mortal foes of many transit systems in North America. … over an eight-year span, TNCs might be responsible for nearly 13 percent of declining bus ridership in a given city.

Those extra car trips have led to measurably more traffic. In San Francisco, a study by the SFMTA found that 50 percent of increased traffic delays between 2010 and 2016 in that city could be linked to Uber and Lyft. …

Local officials are also intent on mitigating congestion impacts or negative effects on transit ridership. To keep an eye on how many cars are on the road, B.C.’s new regulations require ride-hailing companies to share data upon request, including trip rates, wait times, and the times and locations of pick-ups and drop-offs. Over time, local and provincial governments may consider pricing schemes that encourage certain types of ride-hailing trips and discourage others, such as charging fees to access curbside pick-up zones, said McCurran.* The revenue could potentially help subsidize certain types of ride-hailing trips, such as those that connect to TransLink stations. …

(Andrew) McCurran is hopeful that Vancouver will be able to pull off something that no city on the continent has really been able to do—welcome ride-hailing as a complement, rather than a competitor, to public transit. …

In contrast with U.S. cities that have rushed to be first to the table with new mobility offerings—be they autonomous cars, hyperloops, or drones—Vancouver may prove that is pays to be last.

Full article here.

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