Art & Culture
October 9, 2019

US Government Agency Bullies Cities to Nix Rainbow Crosswalks

 

We’ve all seen them~those lovely rainbow crosswalks in cities that represent inclusivity and are often tied into  events celebrating gay, nonbinary and transgender people. Those crosswalks also just make people happy. In Peace River Alberta which has the most northern Pride Parade the city decided to paint a signalled pedestrian crosswalk in rainbow colours after examining the experience of rainbow crosswalks in Edmonton. In Edmonton’s pilot project summary  the city found that

the rainbow crosswalks did not decrease pedestrian safety. Stopping and encroaching behaviour differed at locations with and without the rainbow crosswalks. The observed motorist behaviour was consistent with the survey findings where people felt the rainbow crosswalks made intersections safer and were not a distraction.”

After over two months of observation and a survey of 3200 people, Edmonton found that motorists who drove through the rainbow crosswalks did not find them distracting. Based upon that information, Peace River painted up their own.  The city’s engineer found that the painting of crosswalks did conform to the Highway Marking Guide and to the Transportation Association of Canada standards.

But in the “you just can’t make this stuff up” department the town of  Ames Iowa (population of 65,000) received a letter from the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) saying that  the rainbow crosswalk in that city was a “safety concern, and a liability for the city”.  In the United States the FHA regulates national roadway signs and traffic signals. The letter wanted the City of Ames to remove their rainbow sidewalks.

The Ames City Council ignored the letter (by unanimous consent) after hearing the city’s lawyer respond : “Honestly, I just do not think they  (the FHA) have any jurisdiction over the roads in the city that we’re paying for with our own tax money,”

There is absolutely no reason NOT to have colourful crosswalks in any design. New York City, Seattle and Portland Oregon all have colourful crosswalks and they have not caused driver distraction or resulted in an increase of vehicular crashes. As the New York Times reports the FHA told the City of Ames that painted crosswalks:

diminishes the contrast between the white lines and the pavement, potentially decreasing the effectiveness of the crosswalk markings and the safety of pedestrian traffic. The purpose of aesthetic treatments and crosswalk art is to ‘draw the eye’ of pedestrians and drivers in direct conflict with commanding the attention of drivers and motorists to minimize the risk of collision.”

There’s no data to this odd governmental critique of a city’s colourful crosswalks, and the way it is written talks more about a bureaucrat’s pet peeve, not any actual impediment to pedestrian or vehicular behaviour.

Read more »

Imagine the West End in the seventies and early 80s.  After the highrise building boom, before Expo.  And before AIDS.

The West End was a welcoming neighbourhood for gay men who decanted into Vancouver from everywhere in Canada, from the world – the post-Stonewall generation of suburban-raised boomers.

For gay men, the West End was a paradise of one-bedroom apartments, even its own shopping street.  Clubs for every branch of the emerging LGBT communities. Beaches and park trails. Restaurants and bars. The streets were yours for your own parades.

 

Max Baker captured that time.

He used his colour camera like a camera phone today.  He was selective, reflected the in this retrospective taken from his personal photo albums.  His eye was for the beautiful, especially the men.

Max was photographing the beautiful boys of those days when it seemed there were hot guys on every block.  The sex mostly free of consequence, except emotional.  The city mostly affordable and the sky mostly blue.

Thanks to Jamie Lee Hamilton and volunteers, those pictures of Max’s from his albums are on display.

REMEMBER WHEN…” is a retrospective of personal photo albums created by photographer Max Baker.

The show is a the Mole Hill Gallery (who knew?) in the basement suite of a beautiful Mole Hill home – geographically near the centre of the gay population as it was in the 70s and 80s.

The images also show LGBT parades, parties and events from 1984 to 1994. Many of the images are identified, but the organizers are hoping visitors to the exhibition will be able to put names to some of the unidentified youthful faces from the 80s.

Sept 20 and Sept 27 only – at the Mole Gallery.  1-7 pm.

The Mole Gallery is located in the Jepson-Young lane between Bute and Thurlow, and between Pendrell and Comox streets. Official address is 1157 Pendrell in the rear.

 

Read more »

Bob Ransford got it right: the public art piece – ‘Off Centre’ by artist Renee Van Halm – is at the Joyce-Collingwood Station.

It’s a small but colourful piece of the just-completed station upgrade funded in the blandly named TransLink Maintenance and Repair Program – a $200 million program of 70 projects that have been rolling out since 2016.

As these small and large improvements continue, it feels like a golden age of renewal for TransLink, reflected not only in physical changes but also in additional capacity and ease of use.  Like these, as reported in The Sun:

On Tuesday, 24 new Skytrain cars will increase capacity by five per cent on Expo Line and nine per cent on the Millennium Line during peak periods.

As well, commuters can expect more frequency on 12 key bus routes with the addition of 40,000 service hours. On Seabus, sailings are being increased to every 10 minutes during peak periods. …

The regional transportation authority has implemented a new artificial intelligence algorithm that improved the accuracy of bus departure estimates by 74 per cent during a pilot project.

It can even seem excessive:

When headways are every two minutes on a Sunday afternoon, passengers don’t really need a schedule.  But hey, it shows they care.

Let’s remember this as we reflect back on the 2015 referendum – a totally cynical move by the BC Liberals, which delayed the inevitable funding and cost millions, only serving to demonstrate how easy it is to trash government if you make the price visible.  The Liberals have barely acknowledged (and never apologized) for imposing that referendum on the region.

The least they could do now is to recognize how TransLink has improved, helped shape the region, and is more necessary than ever.

Read more »

I met G.B. Arrington in Portland, Oregon, when he worked for Parsons Brinckerhoff as a cofounder of their Placemaking Group, with a world-wide reputation as an innovator in Transit Oriented Development (TOD).  Now in ‘retirement’, he’s the Principal at GB Place Making, LLC – and a resident of Barcelona. 

His Facebook page provides a constant stream of images and observations from the Catalan city, most recently on the Festes de Gràcia – heaven for an urbanist with an appreciation of public spaces and how they can be used.

Here’s a selection of his posts (click on the title to see the images):

 

Festes de Gràcia is a little more than a week alway and the metamorphosis of the neighborhood is already underway. 22 Gràcia streets and plazas will be decorated by residents. I’m told the festival attracts over 1.5 million visitors. Yikes. This is what Carrer de Verdi looked like this afternoon – the street has been doing decorations since 1862 and remains one of the most famous of the Festes de Gràcia. The street just around the corner from us has also started decorating.

 

The real attraction of Fiesta Mayor de Gràcia are the creative spectacular transformations. The streets in the neighbourhood compete to win the prize of being the best decorated street. And the crowds come to ooh and aah. This block long suspended Viking ship would be an example.

 

Many of the Fiesta Mayor de Gràcia decorated streets successfully create an immersive experience at a grand scale – one moment you are on a normal street then you pass through into a tunnel of color seemingly reaching up into the sky. Where was this decorator for my senior prom?

Read more »

 

Go back 40 years ago and there were two important events on university campuses~one was the  Fall used textbook sale; and the second was the Fall annual indoor plant sale. Everyone bought indoor plants for their rooms and apartments, and these sales were held at universities across Canada. Indoor plants were a  big “thing”.

As The Economist  writes, indoor plants which pretty much disappeared off people’s radar for decades are now back~and it is young people leading the trend towards houseplants. Even Greenhouse Mag describes the social media trend towards indoor plants, viewing the universally accessible Instagram and Pinterest as “democratizing access to high design”. That includes young people using houseplants in interiors as a fashion statement in keeping with “nature-infused design aesthetic”.

Google searches for succulents (a type of plant) have increased ten times in the last nine years. On a more practical level young people often live in apartment units without yard access, and while there is care involved for houseplants, “they are neither as demanding nor as costly as pets or children”.

Read more »

John Davis Jr. with Pat Davis

It seems only fitting on this civic holiday which is called “British Columbia Day” in this province that we celebrate the remarkable Davis family and Pat Davis who passed away last week.  Over a period of five decades the Davis Family stewarded a group of Edwardian and Victorian  houses on Mount Pleasant’s  100 block of West Tenth Avenue just east of city hall, restoring them. At the time in the late 70’s and early 80’s renovating old houses and fitting them with rental units was not the thing to do. The Davis family fought pressure to turn their houses into a cash crop of three-story walk-ups  on their street, and proudly display a plaque indicating that their restoration work was done with no governmental assistance of any kind.

But more than maintaining a group of heritage houses that described the rhythm and feel of an earlier Vancouver,  the Davis family extended their interest and stewardship to the street. In the summer a painted bicycle leans on a tree near the sidewalk with the bicycle basket full of flowers~in season there is a wheelbarrow to delight passersby full of  blooming plants. An adirondack chair perches near the sidewalk. And every morning, one of the Davis family was out sweeping the sidewalk and ensuring that no garbage was on the boulevards or the street.

As author and artist Michael Kluckner notes the Davis Family’s stewardship profoundly altered the way city planning was managed in Mount Pleasant. As one of the oldest areas of the city with existing Victorian houses, zoning was developed to maintain the exterior form and add rental units within the form. The first laneway houses in the city, called “carriage houses” were designed for laneway access and to increase density on the lots. And when it came time for a transportation management plan, residents threw out the City engineer’s recommendations and designed their own. That plan is still being used today.

John Davis Senior passed away in the 1980’s but his wife Pat and his sons John and Geoff maintained the houses and managed the rentals. Michael Kluckner in an earlier Price Tags post described the Davis Family as being strongly in the tradition of social and community common sense.

They championed street lighting for Tenth Avenue, with the street’s residents  choosing (and partially paying for) a heritage type of lighting standard. The City’s engineer at the time thought that the residents of Tenth Avenue would never pick a light standard that they would have to pay for . The City’s engineer was wrong.

Pat Davis also single handedly changed the way that street trees were trimmed by B.C. Hydro. When I was working in the planning department I received a call from B.C. Hydro indicating that trimming work on the Tenth Avenue large street trees had to be halted due an intervention from Mrs. Pat Davis. Pat was horrified that hydro crews were cutting back street trees down to their joins (called “crotch dropping”) to ensure that hydro wiring was not compromised. A spritely senior, Pat Davis had taken the car keys away from  B.C. Hydro personnel  and refused to give them back until the hydro crew agreed to leave.

Read more »

 

 

If you are not in Vancouver this summer, it is understandable if  you think the photo above is staged. It is not. Photographer and past Price Tags editor Ken Ohrn was walking along English Bay in the evening with his wife Sylvia, who is an accomplished artist. Ken handed his cell phone to a “stranger” to take this photo.

Ken was asked if he found out who the “stranger” was that took this shot which is absolutely iconic and contains all the elements of our summers. There’s English Bay, the freighters in the background, a marvellously complex sky, people on the beach, a touch of the mountains, and the pathway into Stanley Park.  And of course ice cream from one of the many local vendors in the area.

While Vancouverites will tell you that the rainy season goes from January to December, the summer does have a unique appeal  with waterfront accessibility unlike other major cities in Canada. The  beaches are public, with the City’s Greenways policy designed to link up all the shoreline for walking and biking.

Read more »

Research has shown that walking is good for your physical and mental health, and building cities and spaces that are connected and walkable provide increased opportunities for social interaction. Transportation expert Jeff Tumlin has a TEDx Talk on Sex, Neuroscience and the City pointing out how vital these links are.

NPR.com’s Paul Nicolaus explored current research on every day interaction on the street.  Elizabeth Dunn and Gillian Sandstrom from the University of British Columbia studied the impact of customers talking to staff in coffee shops, with half of the people asked to interact with staff, and half not to interact. They found that those that had limited interaction with the coffee shop staff  increased their general mood and increased happiness.

“The same researchers found that these seemingly trivial encounters with the minor characters in our lives — the random guy at the dog park or the barista at our local coffee shop — can affect feelings of happiness and human connection on a typical day.”

Studies also found that when walking brief eye contact “increased people’s sense of inclusion and belonging”,  and can trigger the neural release of the peptide hormone oxytocin, called the “cuddle chemical” in Jeff Tumlin’s TEDx talk.

No one likes feeling invisible when someone walks past. The Germans even have a term for it — wie Luft behandeln, which means “to be looked at as though air.” And while people may not necessarily want to talk to everyone they meet on the street or in the coffee shop,  psychologists have ascertained that even brief eye contact increases the sense of inclusion and belonging.

Read more »