Governance & Politics
April 19, 2019

Still Time to Give Feedback on Surrey-Langley Skytrain

TransLink sums it all up in two conveniently tweet-able sentences:

Public engagement is a key component of rapid transit planning. We value your feedback and want to hear what you think about the proposed Surrey Langley SkyTrain, and rapid transit options for the 104th Avenue and King George Boulevard corridors.

They do indeed, but apart from the project team’s appearance at tomorrow’s Vaisakhi Day Parade in Surrey, opportunities to have your say in person are over.

Public engagement is only open for one more week (through April 26) via online survey.

Before taking the survey, be sure to check out the engagement boards, describing the project and the various options considered for transit over the past few years, including this handy graphic comparing the different modes and technologies considered.

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. It’s odd that Vancouver, with its ongoing crisis in affordable rental housing, doesn’t pay more attention to Seattle – fast-growing, tech-boom city that it is – where the problem has been so much new rental stock available that the fear has been too many ‘ghost apartments.’  That’s changing, according to the Seattle Times:

The Seattle area is filling up new apartments faster than any region in the country, suggesting demand for housing is starting to catch up with the record construction boom — not a great sign for tenants hoping landlords get desperate and drop rents.

The new figures offer fresh insight into the years-long, multibillion-dollar experiment being waged by developers as they build more apartments in the city of Seattle this decade than in the previous half-century combined, betting on the long-term economic health of the region. Will enough renters eventually materialize to fill them, or will the city have a skyline of empty ghost apartments? …

(Market analyst Carl) Whittaker cited the region’s strong economy and foreign immigration pull for leading the country in drawing renters, as well as the fact that the metro is building more apartments to actually house them. Only three metro areas in the country — New York, Dallas and Los Angeles — built more apartments than Seattle last year. …

For a while it looked like developers might have been too aggressive with all those new units: Vacancy rates had been rising, recently reaching their highest point since the recession. Building owners struggling to fill up tons of new units all at the same time resorted to offering concessions like a free month’s rent or thousands of dollars in gift cards. The supply-and-demand equation flipped so suddenly that Seattle rents went from soaring at the fastest rate in the country to among the slowest.

Now, generally speaking, apartments in Seattle are filling up nearly the same rate as they are opening.

As PT has noted before, the fundamentals are beginning to shift in Vancouver too: falling house prices, increased supply in some areas, more to come.  While the housing crisis continues, it’s changing, and perception lags behind.

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In principle, the idea of infill in already built-out neighbourhoods is seen to be a good one, especially to broaden the choice of options.  At the community planning stage, there’s general acceptance.

Reality is tougher.  Two prominent cases for apartments on parking lots have received a lot of pushback – in the case of the Delbrook proposal in North Van District, council rejection; in the case of the Larch Street proposal in Kitsilano, considerable neighbourhood opposition.

Even in the West End, one neighbourhood you’d expect would welcome infill, the dilemma of scale and relationship to the existing fabric becomes apparent in these two examples.  The first – around five storeys, about the same as those examples mentioned above – was submitted almost immediately after the approval of the West End Community Plan in 2013 – a proposal for a rear parking lot at Cardero and Comox, as reported in PriceTags in 2014.  The comments detail the complaints.

Nonetheless, it is now under construction:

 

The other, a half block away, at 1685 Nelson, is considerably different in scale – actually an extension of to a heritage-quality house – but also meeting resistance.

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Canadians always love getting big-deal American recognitions. This is one – the Pierre L’Enfant International Planning Award.

It should also help reassure the mayor, who has been heard expressing some reservations about viaduct removal. Cost, presumably, that could go for, oh, housing, not to mention placating some pissed off constituents.

But I don’t think he’d like to piss off June Francis if he announced that the viaducts will remain and Hogan’s Alley renewal won’t.

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Last Wednesday, the mayor addressed a full class at the Board of Trade, with a PowerPoint lecture that outlined the City’s progress on the housing crisis.

Not your grandfather’s BoT

With some helpful slides and a low-key professorial manner, he articulated some obvious but rarely made points:

  • We have in this society “a full-blown capitalist housing system” – 91 percent of housing developed by the private sector; 9 percent public.
  • Maps don’t end at Boundary Road.

  • The key to addressing labour supply needs and provide access to jobs is a good regional transit system.

Then, another chart:

Snap quiz: how many of us knew the City had almost reached its housing target for the shelterless?  In fact, except for minimum wage citizens, the results look pretty good.  Or so the mayor thought until he saw the media coverage.   Because good results, as the politician in the mayor noted, is not how data is portrayed.  But it is why the debate and discussion has shifted more and more to affordable rental.

The dilemma, as Kennedy stated, is this:

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A few years back I wrote about the magic of the Idaho Stop.  In Idaho traffic laws were revised in 1982 with an innovative bicycle code that allowed  “bicyclists to do a “rolling stop” instead of a dead halt at stop signs~treating the “stop sign” like a “yield” sign. Some cyclists and police officers advocated for an amendment to this law which was passed in 2006. The amendment stated that cyclists must stop on red lights, and must yield before proceeding straight or making a left turn at an intersection. The benefits of the Idaho Stop according to two studies are that safety is improved, and cyclists can move to see around obstacles, lessening car collisions. “

You would think that this aptly named Idaho Stop would just be a good thing for cyclists to practice, keeping themselves safe and at the same time allowing them to review exactly what is happening in an intersection. They are not legal in British Columbia, as many a ticketed cyclist can attest. It is puzzling that the adoption of the Idaho Stop has been painfully slow, with even New York City’s Doug Gordon the co-host of “The War on Cars”podcast wondering why rolling stops are not allowed in T intersections.

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YouTuber Michael Beach (not the actor, but about whom not much is searchable) came up with a simple but effective idea: urban analysis using maps – the maps we actually use these days: Google Earth and Streetview.

With the seamless use of video, illustration and a lot of research, he takes us on computer-aided visits to cities around the would, and provides sometimes insightful, sometimes scathing analyses of urban places.  His YouTube home page is here.

His views are, of course, personal and in some cases overly simplistic, given he’s never been to many of the places his mouse hovers over – but he’s never boring, even if his voice sometimes seems like an over-caffeinated Thomas the Tank.

Here’s the example an urban environment closest to us: North York in Toronto.  This one, literally focusing on the transit corridor along Yonge Street, will both terrify and assure those who wonder what could happen along the Broadway corridor with the arrival of SkyTrain.

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Michael Alexander came up with a great name (‘Granville Grind’) for the opportunity to include a stairway from the Granville Bridge deck to the Island below.  It should be a necessary part of the Granville Connector – the City’s name for a centre walking and cycling path across the bridge.

There’s an online survey (here), open houses and workshops through the end of April.

Michael notes:

In the future, they say they will consider an elevator to Granville Island. If they also build a stairway, and call it the Granville Grind, it will become a destination and a challenge. But if you take the survey or visit an open house or workshop, you can push for it now.

Both the City and Granville Island should priorize an elevator and stairway now.  It is, after all, part of the Granville 2040 redevelopment vision (detailed here) and makes sense from a transportation view, providing a link for all the transit that crosses the bridge.

But best of all, it would be an attraction all on its own – at a time when active tourism has proven its worth (hello, Grouse Grind) and seems to be the big new thing.

As Michael discovered at the Vessel in New York’s Hudson Yards:

Michael: “It’s not just New York City that can make stairways into destinations.”

 

UPDATE:  Scot Hein adds this recollection.

I vaguely recall that Bruce Haden, the originator of the Granville Island elevator and stair proposal in August 2002 (hard for me to believe it has been 17 years), came up with that name (‘Granville Grind’). We started referring to the potential as a fitness asset by that name within city hall at that time.

 

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I’ve seen at least at two studies which demonstrate that ‘gentrification’ does not necessarily lead to major displacement of poorer residents.  But that goes against the dominant narrative, so is often not acknowledged – or it’s dismissed.  Indeed, the meme that investment or development leads, ipso facto, to gentrification is spreading, most recently at the open house for the Kits Larch Street rental project:

 

Here’s another perspective from Jesse Van Tol, chief executive officer of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition:

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Inspire Jericho Talks is a speaker series to share inspiration, spark ideas, and explore the possibilities for the Jericho Lands redevelopment. Upcoming Inspire Jericho Talks will cover such themes as connecting communities; respect the land; and indigenous inspiration.

How can we create healthier, happier and more inclusive communities? Keynote speaker Charles Montgomery looks for answers at the intersection of urban design and the science of well-being to explore the profound effect that the way we design our neighbourhoods and cities has on health and happiness.

Charles Montgomery is an urbanist and leader of interventions to improve well-being in cities around the world. He is the award-winning author of the acclaimed book, “Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.”

Wednesday, April 17

7- 9:15 pm (Doors open 6:45 pm)

Kitsilano Secondary School Auditorium, 2706 Trafalgar Street

Tickets are complimentary; however, registration in advance is required.

Access to the auditorium will be provided through the Main entrance on the west side of the building. The school is fully accessible. Bike racks and parking is also available at the west entrance off of Trafalgar Street. Frequent transit service is available close to the site along both West Broadway and MacDonald Street.

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