March 27, 2007

No Silver Bullet

I usually try to wait a day or so before putting up a post on a hot issue.  But this time I can’t stop myself. 
The following just came in by email:

James Weldon, North Shore News (March 26, 2007)
NORTH SHORE – Lineups to the Lions Gate Bridge will quadruple by 2021, causing tie-ups on Highway 1 and major North Shore arterial roads, according to a new report by the province.
Evening rush-hour commuters can expect traffic jams four times the current length, regularly reaching half a kilometre along Marine Drive west of Taylor Way and up Capilano Road, say the authors.

 A little background here.  Ever since I moved to Vancouver in 1978, I’ve been aware that the North Shore has always wanted a Third Crossing.  The failure of that project in 1972 was a turning point in this region’s history – and is one of the reasons we are still a livable and economically prosperous city.  But that hasn’t stopped those stuck in traffic on the roads leading to Lions Gate Bridge from dreaming.
On this side of Burrard Inlet, however, we’ve done everything we can to prevent another crossing.  Coal Harbour was designed in such a way as to eliminate the possibility of a waterfront road, we refused to entertain any more lanes through Stanley Park, we rejected the possibility of an Alberni-Georgia couplet, and we traffic calmed the West End.  Councils across the ideological spectrum agree: no more capacity for single-occupant vehicles.
On the other side of Burrard Inlet, most people have come to terms with the situation.  In fact, given the modest growth of West Vancouver and western North Vancouver, the line-ups to the bridge really haven’t changed that much over the years.  The worst traffic is on weekends; most of the time it flows pretty well, and people have organized there lives to accommodate a three-lane reality.  (That’s one of the reasons their quality of life is so high – though they rarely acknowledge it.)
But when the Province announced a widening of the Sea-to-Sky Highway (and the real-estate development that would inevitably follow up the corridor), I wondered: what will happen to the traffic on Taylor Way and Capilano Road when all those new residents (who bought homes, as advertised, because Squamish is closer to downtown Vancouver than Langley) hit the road and start commuting?

Now we know:

 Its authors looked carefully at 20 possible improvements for the intersections and thoroughfares near the north end of the span. If all of them were implemented the cost could add up to $125 million.
The authors conclude that none of them will reduce commute times.

All of these improvements, which range in price from around $3 million to about $50 million, would do nothing to speed commutes, but would at least help get lineups out of the way of local traffic.
Temporarily, that is.
“Eventually, those storage areas will be filled over the next 20 years or so,” said the authors. “The lineups to the bridge will once again extend along Marine Drive, Taylor Way and Capilano Road.”
In the end, the only solution is to get commuters out of their cars, said the authors.

What the hell?  How could the Province be spending hundreds of millions to widen Sea to Sky without taking into account the intersection of Taylor Way and Marine Drive?  How could they do that without anyone asking what will happen?
It turns out someone did.  Liberal MLA Ralph Sulton called for the report, mainly because he wanted a solution to the problem facing his constituents now – not so much to deal with the growth that will come. 

….The report is something of a wake-up call, said West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan, who was a driving force behind the project. “I, in my naivete, thought there was some kind of silver bullet,” he said. “To spend a million dollars and not to be given a silver bullet is bit of a disappointment.”

I’m stunned.  What was he thinking could possibly solve the problem?  Another road down the Capilano River?  Or anywhere through the forested subdivisons of the region’s wealthiest residents?   Double decking?  Was there anywhere he could point to as a model for what to do,

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Thanks to reporter Jeff Nagel, the Surrey Leader provides some of the best regional coverage in the Lower Mainland.
Here’s his piece on the new structure for TransLink.

 “For those who thought TransLink was unaccountable, that’s nothing compared to this structure,” says Gordon Price, head of SFU’s City program.
“It insulates unelected people with astonishing power that will basically be setting the direction for the region.”

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 Download Price Tags 91 here.

Yes, it’s been awhile since the last issue.  But I have a good excuse: three weeks in Australia on a speaking tour, visiting six cities and renewing a host of friendships.  
We begin where change is most dynamic: on the Gold Coast of South East Queensland, where a new regional plan may be providing lessons for places like Greater Vancouver.
I’m not the first to have discovered that.  Michael Geller (past manager of SFU’s UniverCity), currently on a world tour, just reported back on his trip to the Gold Coast in the Vancouver Sun.  You can read about it here.
And while you’re at it, check out the blog City Alliance, devoted to comparisons of Auckland, Brisbane, Perth and Vancouver.
This is the second series of Price Tags on Australia.  The first series – Issues 52, 53, 54, 59 and 60 – can be found in the Archives:

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As in most cities, there’s lots of competition for ‘worst’ building.  Over at Pacific Metropolis, they’re inviting nominations for “a list of those buildings that we’d like to see torn down as quickly as possible – preferably before they’re granted heritage status.” 
Here’s my nomination:
The Academy of Music on Vanier Point. Not too many people know about it, thankfully, since it’s another of those 70s-style bunkers they built back then, like the Archives. What makes it my top choice is the lost opportunity. Shouldn’t an Academy of Music be a graceful, inviting, significantly placed icon in the fabric of the city? This is none of those.

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From the Washington Post

On July 15, the day after Bastille Day, Parisians will wake up to discover thousands of low-cost rental bikes at hundreds of high-tech bicycle stations scattered throughout the city, an ambitious program to cut traffic, reduce pollution, improve parking and enhance the city’s image as a greener, quieter, more relaxed place.
By the end of the year, organizers and city officials say, there should be 20,600 bikes at 1,450 stations — or about one station every 250 yards across the entire city. Based on experience elsewhere — particularly in Lyon, France’s third-largest city, which launched a similar system two years ago — regular users of the bikes will ride them almost for free.

For more, click here.

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I saw the Fred Herzog show at the VAG last night – and I wasn’t alone.  The place was packed, full of under-30s.  Like those of us old enough to remember some of the places captured by Herzog’s camera, they were amazed at the compositional quality and play of colour in his prints. 
The younger ones came, I think, to gain into insight into a Vancouver they never had the chance to see.   (Though that sentiment shouldn’t be overdone: so much of what Herzog physically saw from the 1950s to the 70s is still here.  One West End shot has most of the elements remaining: the B.C. Electric building, the houses of Mole Hill, the streetcar apartment building.  But like the shots of Hastings Street in the Downtown East Side, the people, the mood, the social reality – all irretrievably changed.)
What makes Herzog so important, with a status that goes well beyond Vancouver, is his use of colour.  No other photographer of the street was using colour stock back in the 1950s; it was considered too garish, too associated with advertising.  Herzog’s collection, until recently, was almost entirely on slides, since prints didn’t give the quality he desired when enlarged.  Now digital imaging allows what you see on the walls of the gallery.
Or in books:

(A mixed bag of essays, but worth the trip.)
Herzog documents the Vancouver we were – and many will lament the loss.  Don’t.  We’re not that different, just evolved.  There is no clean break from the city that Herzog saw.  Like it, he is still with us, still walking the same streets for the same purposes.  
Even racially, Herzog captured the early days of the city we have become:    
Some of his works, like Jackpot, look as though Jeff Wall had set them up.  Some are immortal: perfect moments from the 1950s.  They certainly deserve life beyond the gallery walls.  Suggestion: create bus-shelter scale posters and mount them on the streets on which they were taken.   Or, like in Montreal, build an outdoor gallery, perhaps on the sidewalks of Georgia Street or on the old Larwell Park site (between Hamilton and Beatty), perhaps the home of the new Art Gallery, certainly the location of the Olympic gathering place in 2010.

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Randy Gragg, one of the best writers on urban design and architecture in America, profiles a Portland developer, Joe Weston, in an article in The Oregonian. Weston, who is building in the Vancouver Style, may the the first of many.

Sunday, March 11, 2007
Standing in the 27th-story penthouse of his soon-to-be-finished condo The Benson, developer Joe Weston foresees a taller, thinner Portland.The building is the city’s first “point tower.” Each floor will be 8,000 square feet or less, hence the “point” compared to the more typical Portland “slab towers” of 12,000 to 20,000 square feet.
Vancouver, B.C., built hundreds of these more slender buildings in the past 20 years, increasing the city center’s population by more than 50 percent and drawing the attention of cities across the world for its combination of higher density and livability. For years, Portland has sent delegations of planners, architects and politicians north of the border to see them.

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The last issue of Price Tags had a section on Portland’s South Waterfront, and the new park being constructed along the Willamette River. 

I wondered whether this was the finished state, particularly of the asphalt walkway.  And no, of course it isn’t.
Ken Pirie from the office of Walker Macy, the designers of the waterfront master plan, sends along an image of the eventual plan for Bargeway Park:

Nice to see the separated path for feet and wheels. 
 Ken explains:

The city has no money currently to build the full Greenway with proper paths, but new condo dwellers demanded something resembling the grand open space they thought would be there instantly!  We hope to also design the eventual park but much will depend on city funding and on the cooperation of river frontage developers.

I would have thought that the developers should have been required to design and build the park as a conditon of approval.  After all, it only adds value to their product.

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