September 13, 2007

More numbers: Why the kids are still living at home

Andrew Ramlo and David Baxter of Urban Futures were fast off the mark with an analysis of the latest census figures on families and housing, just released on September 12.  And what they chose to highlight is so counterintuitive, it’s difficult to grasp.
Despite all the cranes on the skyline and the overhyped marketing campaigns, this has been one of the slowest periods of housing growth – in both real and percentage terms – in three decades.

The 2006 data show that the 2001 to 2006 period represented the slowest growth in the region’s housing stock since the early 1970’s.  In addition, the stock of rental housing actually declined by over 10,000 units between 2001 and 2006….

The most recent Census release showed the number of occupied dwellings in the Vancouver CMA (essentially the same geography as the GVRD), has grown to 816,765 dwellings by 2006, eight percent more than the 758,385 that were occupied in 2001 (Figure 1).

While headlines bemoan what is perceived to be a white hot construction market, this actually represents the smallest percentage increase in the occupied housing stock the region recorded in the last 35 years, even below the 11 percent increase that occurred during the deep recession of the 1981 to 1986 period. It is also the second smallest absolute increase, falling just above the 1981 to 1986 low of 52,330 additional occupied dwellings.

And that’s one of the reasons so many young people are living at home.  (It’s just not kids; over 10 percent of adults between the ages of 30 and 24 were still at home.)
You can find the full report here.
Ironically, these numbers come out at a time when opposition is building to cut EcoDensity off at its knees.  Letters are being written, flyers distributed, petitions circulated and protests organized, all with the same intent: to ensure that as little new housing as possible will be built in the existing neighbourhoods of Vancouver. 
So long as the critics don’t have to take on the issue of housing supply raised by these numbers, they can probably get away without having to address the complex issues of affordability and alternatives for a new generation.

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Well, readers seemed to enjoy that little item on commute times. Here’s a piece in today’s New York Times with some more surprising numbers.

Forty years ago, half of all students walked or bicycled to school. Today, fewer than 15 percent travel on their own steam. One-quarter take buses, and about 60 percent are transported in private automobiles…
It has had several unfortunate consequences. Children’s lives have become far more sedentary. They are fatter than ever and at greater risk of developing hypertension, diabetes and heart disease at young ages….
The American Academy of Pediatrics in July issued a policy statement on school transportation safety …. The academy’s statistics on injuries and fatalities suggest that being driven to school in a passenger vehicle is by far the most dangerous way to get there …
Cities and communities throughout the country are trying to encourage more children to walk or bike to school. The only way this can occur is if children can travel there safely. That means more sidewalks and clearly marked bike lanes or paths separated from roadways, lower traffic speed on school routes, safer crosswalks, well-trained crossing guards at all corners near schools and adult supervision.Also helpful are traffic-calming measures ….

And here are the numbers that amazed me:

Seattle has reported a 77 percent to 91 percent reduction in traffic accidents after installing a citywide traffic-calming program that included 700 new residential traffic circles.

Vancouver was the first city in North America, as far as I can tell, to introduce traffic calming – in 1973, when diverters were permanently installed west of Denman. But I have never seen such high numbers for a reduction in traffic accidents associated with the traffic calming – at least for neighbourhoods in this city.

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September 12, 2007

Dave Peterson passed along news of this intriguing competition from “The Official Google Blog”:

Show us your university campus in 3D

Posted by Allyson McDuffie, Google SketchUp Education Program Coordinator
Today the Build Your Campus in 3D Competition begins. This spring, you and your (presumably equally artistic) friends can honor your campus turf as you hone your 3D design skills just by modeling your school’s campus buildings in Google SketchUp, geo-reference them in Google Earth, and submit them through the competition website to earn lasting online glory. And the winners get a visit to Google, all expenses paid.
You’re eligible if you’re a higher education student in the U. S. or Canada. You can team up with other students, or take the project on yourself. (To do the best work possible, we suggest you have a faculty advisor.) The deadline for entries is June 1, and the winning entries will be posted to the 3D Warehouse by July 10.
We’re pretty jazzed that our panel of judges includes Bobby Brooks from Walt Disney Imagineering, Ken Harsha from Electronic Arts, Janet Martin from Communication Arts Inc. Paul Seletsky from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Gary Smith from Green Mountain Geographics LTD, and Ken M Tse from HKS Architects, Inc.
We hope to see your stomping grounds soon.

Dave thinks “there could/should be some kind of community-based climate-change mapping exercise, somewhat similar to this Google SketchUp
contest.”  Great idea.

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September 11, 2007

I’ve often heard it said (though I haven’t been able to find a citation) that the maximum length of time for a commute to work is 40 minutes. Whether in ancient Rome or contemporary Toronto, whether by foot or by limo, 40 minutes is it. After that, people make changes: they move, they change jobs, they change mode of transport.
Well, it looks like Toronto has a minute to go. FromCanWest:

OTTAWA — Canadians are spending more of their lives getting to and from work – a whopping 12 days a year, according to a new study.
Based on data from the 2005 General Social Survey released by Statistics Canada on Wednesday, commuters spent an average of 63 minutes a day making the round trip, the equivalent of nearly 275 hours of commuting.
Toronto commuters topped the charts, with residents there suffering an average 79 minute round trip — roughly 340 hours a year or two solid weeks.

Then this:

Vancouver, on the other hand, has remained steady over the last decade,with round trip commutes holding at about 67 minutes last year.
Average travel time in Canada’s major cities:
Toronto — 79 minutes
Montreal — 76 minutes
Vancouver — 67 minutes
Ottawa-Gatineau — 65 minutes
Calgary — 66 minutes
Edmonton — 62 minutes

So how come Vancouver bucked the trend of increasing commute times? What’s going on here?
And here’s a prediction: after we spend approximately $3 to 4 billion on road ‘improvements’ to reduce congestion, commute times will start to increase in Vancouver.

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September 11, 2007

David Pereira was listening to Kevin Falcon on the Bill Good Show last Friday.  He tried to go online to the document the Transportation Minister referenced when talking about the ambitious plans that had been in the works for some time. 

Having discovered that the link on the Minister’s site was dead, he made a request to his office for it, and they’ve now placed it online.  You can find it here.

The document was produced in 2003/04, but since the Minister considers it relevant today, it’s worth a look.  You won’t be surprised to find an extensive list of highway projects for the whole province, including, of course, Gateway:

These documents are as important for what they omit as what they include,  As with a report from the Vancouver Economic Development Commission on Gateway, I did a quick search, wondering how many times certain words or phrases came up – such as “climate change.”

The answer: zero.

Or the impact on “agricultural lands” of expanding highways.


On the possible impact of “peak oil.”


“Cyclist,” “pedestrian.”

Once – in connection with maintenance on a highway underpass.

“Greenhouse gas emissions.”

Twice – in connection with RAV, the Canada Line.

As I mentioned with respect to port strategies: how can an organization charged with strategic thinking have no viewpoint on the issues which will determine the fundamental livability, viability and even the existence of parts of this region through which their  roads will run?

Remember: through the new TransLink structure, the Province – that is, the Ministry of Transportation – will be fundamentally determining the strategic direction of this region. According to Ministry’s backgrounder, the Province develops a long-term 30-year vision for the transportation system between Pemberton and Hope with which all TransLink plans must be consistent.

So at the moment we have a Premier who is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 33 per cent below current levels by 2020.  And a Ministry of Transportation who, according to Vaughan Palmer’s September 11th column, forecasts that the Port Mann/Highway 1 widening will produce less than a one-per-cent increase in carbon dioxide emissions (as well as “effectively no change” in congestion on the free bridges – Alex Fraser and Pattullo – impacted by Gateway.) 

As Stephen Rees says on his blog: “I cannot imagine anyone believing that it is possible to double the size of the region’s major traffic artery and not generate one trip!” – which is essentially what these models, these reports, these strategies – whether sincere or disingenous – require.

The document may be named “Opening Up BC” but the thinking behind it is closed.

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Phil Boname over at Urbanics Consultants sends along a couple of interesting notes on Washington’s Metro and streetcars:

Your last PriceTag was fascinating – on several levels. Firstly, our Toronto office in the 1960’s participated with Washington DC associates in planning some of the Metro station. The biggest breakthrough (which the Socred government foolishly resisted in the 1980’s planning and development of the Expo line) was the leveraging of entitlements related to many of D.C.’s station impact areas (e.g. upgraded land uses, increased densities, purchasing land at wholesale, etc.) and thus using real estate as a significant means of paying for the subway system’s capital costs (land would be sold by the transit authority to competing developer interests at its highest and best use, re-zoned value).
Secondly, during the latter part of WWII, I rode the Washington DC streetcars all over town not realizing that I would be in the same streetcars in Toronto in the 1960’s (purchased by TTC when DC shut down its trolley system)!! 

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In the op-ed I wrote for the Sun a few days ago, I noted the prevalence of a tendency in political commentary to a “lazy and jesting cynicism.”  And we’re seeing pretty else nothing but that with respect to comment on EcoDensity. 
For example, Geoff Olson’s article in the Courier:

I’d prefer to not think of EcoDensity as Sam I Am’s green edicts n’ sham. But I’m skeptical, given this buzzword is the brainchild of the same guy who gave us “Project Civil City,” with its code language of friendly fascism for the city’s down and out.

After framing the various ‘sides’ to EcoDensity, he takes the easy out: dismiss the policy as without substance and focus on the political inadequacies of the Mayor.  By the end of the column, it’s just plain silly.
What a waste.

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Though the following came in as a response to the posting of the latest Price Tags on Washington (you can download it here), I thought I’d reprint John’s comments in case readers missed it. 
Of course I appreciate the compliments on the issue, but John also has some interesting observations on the differing response to change in Washington neighbourhoods:

Wow! I live in DC, and this is one of the best articles about the history of DC transit and the impact of the modern metro I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe its from a website based in British Columbia. Thank you!
… he is right about the nimbyism in existing and already intact neighborhoods in the more affluent parts of DC. In those areas, such as Cleveland Park, there would be resistance to increasing the density beyond current limits, though there have been some well-designed projects just north of the main “village” that have been built in recent years.
An example where things aren’t going as well, though still moving forward, is Tenley (which is two metro stops further out from Cleveland Park. There a core group of long-time residents have fought every attempt to add more density to the hub of the metro stop. Projects have move foward, however, but it is a much more delicate dance. Areas such as Columbia Heights, which were hungry for development from the existing neighborhoods, while eyed warily have still enjoyed much greater community support.
DC does get much greater recognition now than it used to – and still has great challenges. But I still find it a hidden gem of US cities. Any visitor we’ve had, including my own parents who have never lived in a large city, has been blown away that the city and surrounding burbs / town centers are so much nicer than they ever imagined.
Thanks again for highlighting DC, and for creating such an accurate and detailed overview of the efforts here.

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A good friend passed on a New York Times article about the new mayor of Washington, Adrian Fenty, one of the new breed of young civic politicians in US cities:

The son of a black father and a white mother, Mr. Fenty attended Oberlin as an undergraduate and got his law degree from Howard University.  In Adams Morgan, an ethnically mixed area of young professionals, Mr. Fenty’s parents enjoy a near cultish following. For decades, they have owned a running shoe store there, Fleet Feet, and Mr. Fenty’s father, Phil, has coached hundreds of marathoners. “All the people who voted for me are just a subset of Fleet Feet customers,” Mr. Fenty jokes.

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