May 5, 2007

A Losing Game of Bridge

Here’s my latest column in Business in Vanouver  (May 1-7, 2007, Issue 914) – to whom I am continually grateful for publishing my comments these many years. 
 This is the unedited version, and hence a little longer than the published column.

The North Shore is about to lose this game of bridge.

Ever since the 1950s, the North Shore has wanted a Third Crossing. The failure of that project in 1972 was a turning point in this region’s history – and though it may seem counter-intuitive, that is one of the reasons we are such a livable and prosperous city. But those stuck in traffic on the roads leading to Lions Gate Bridge still yearn for something better.

On this side of Burrard Inlet, we’ve pretty much done everything we can to prevent another vehicle crossing. Coal Harbour was designed 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 have agreed: 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 in the westerly part of the North Shore so far, the line-ups to the bridge haven’t really changed that much. The worst traffic is on weekends; otherwise people have organized their lives to accommodate a three-lane reality. (And, counter-intuitively, that’s one of the reasons their quality of life is so high.)

Now things are changing: a faster, wider road and a lot more growth. When the Province announces the widening of a road, real-estate development invariably follows – and that’s what is happening up the Sea-to-Sky corridor. Squamish is closer to Vancouver than Langley, say the ads. The Sunshine Coast is booming. And everyone expects to drive.

Read more »

Globe architecture critic Lisa Rochon profiles Vancouver developer Ian Gillespie here.   
(You’d think that by now the hometown Sun would be embarrassed that Toronto’s newspaper is doing a better job of covering the built environment of Vancouver than they are.)
Rochon’s column profiles Gillespie’s projects from Shangri-La to Woodward’s, and makes this fascinating observation about the latter:

The vision is monumental, but I admit to being a little fixated on one clever design detail: the bike rack that (architect Gregory) Henriquez has squeezed into the front hall of the tiny units for people on social assistance. “For these people, the bike is really an important part of their lives and their livelihood. They’re not going to park it out on the street.
“They’re going to bring it inside their apartment, so we designed a rack for that purpose.” That insight speaks to the years that Henriquez has poured into the project, meeting with squatters and housing activists for countless consultations, and pushing his practice into the vanguard of architecture with a conscience.

Read more »

The new open space at Nelson and Mainland – now in the heart of new Yaletown  – is almost complete.  And already it’s generating hard opinions.

It’s a stretch to call it a park.  There’s hardly a living plant in the place.  The surface is either concrete or granite block, right up to the slender trunks of a handful of trees. 
And just in case you miss the point, they’ve added blocks of stone that aren’t too far removed from Jersey barriers.
The separation between the park and busy Nelson Street consists of angled, louvred black-metal screens, as harsh as a portcullis.

But, honestly, I haven’t decided whether I like it or not.  No doubt the rationale behind the park justifies all this hard-surface as appropriate to the Yaletown industrial history and aesthetic.
And it might work.  There’s a very good chance it will be one of the more interesting people-watching places in the neighbourhood, and perhaps even a performance space, spontaneously generated.
One thing for sure: everyone will have an opinion.

Read more »

No doubt the Minister of Transportation, Kevin Falcon, would like to thank all those who criticized TransLink for its failings and lack of accountability.  That provided the necessary cover to ‘reform’ an organization which had few defenders.  And to turn it over to an unelected board dominated by business interests.
Though there’s not been a lot of coverage in the major media, the proposed governance model is not going uncriticized.   Most effectively, Johnny Carline, the CAO of the GVRD, weighed in with a report that was affirmed by the Board.
You can read the whole report here.  But here’s the critical thrust:

… the Panel Report recommends that the new TransLink Board be composed of appointees with a strong emphasis on business expertise. That expertise is important in any governance model. It is usual to assume that senior staff will bring many of these skills to an organization and that it is desirable that a body of elected officials on a governing body includes business expertise amongst its skill set.

But to make ‘business expertise’ the central focus and overwhelming emphasis of what will be the effective governing body for transportation within the region is to take a dangerously narrow view of transportation as a ‘business’ divorced from its broader, vital public policy role.

If, however, it is to be argued that the new business Board will in fact be responsible for making the public policy decisions centrally involved in urban transportation decision making, and that having an ‘expert’ board unaccountable to the electorate is an appropriate model for such a role, then it would appear that far more than amending the governance of TransLink may be happening. The whole concept of what is considered to be politics and democracy versus what is considered to be business may be under reconstruction.  (My emphasis.)

In other words, the new TransLink is fundamentally undemocratic.  To turn the future of this region over to those whose allegiances will be suspect doesn’t pass the smell test. 

But will people in this region raise a stink?


Read more »

In Price Tags 93, the seond in a recent series on Australian cities, this time: Melbourne.
Click here:  
Like Vancouver (with which it shares the status of world’s most livable city), the Melbourne region is an overlapping mix of walking core, transit corridor and car-dependent suburb.  But Melbourne has become an even better city than it was, at least in its central area. 
This issue also takes a closer look at the pedestrian and cycling bridges that have been built in Melbourne and Brisbane (in part because they are river cities).   But in this case, Brisbane is an even better example than Melbourne.

Read more »

It’s happening!  At least one section of Pacific Boulevard – the surface expressway that runs through Yaletown – is being rebuilt according to the Jacobs/Macdonald Plan. 
Allan Jacobs and Elizabeth Macdonald, they of “The Boulevard Book,” worked up a design for the conversion of PacBlvd some years ago, though City Council didn’t have money to pay for it.  However, whenever and wherever adjacent redevelopment occurred, the design would apply.
You can learn much more about all this in Price Tags 19.
First section to be rebuilt: the blocks adjacent to Concord Pacific’s Beach Neighbourhood – just where the boulevard curves at Homer Street, east of the Granville Bridge.
It will be much more like a Parisian boulevard in concept:  a side street to the right, separated by a minor median, will handle neighbourhood traffic, while the through traffic will still have two lanes in each direction, with a major median between them. There should still be bike lanes.
What a difference!  Wouldn’t it be great to transform the boulevard with the new design (complete with streetcar) by 2010.

Read more »
April 27, 2007

Trampe the Bicycle Lift – Trondheim Norway

I’m note sure why there’s been this sudden spate of bicycle videos (or maybe I’m just discovering them) – but here’s another: the famous Bicycle Lift of Trondheim!
[Actually, Trondheim may be more famous as the first city to introduce electronic congestion charging for its core.]

Read more »

London’s Mayor, Ken Livingstone, comments about his congestion charge with the prospect of adoption by New York City.  Hint: he thinks it’s a good thing.

…. New York’s decision has another implication. It is a final nail in the coffin of the claim by rightwing pressure groups and anti-environmentalists that policies being pursued in London are against the interests of its economy – for the one thing that cannot be claimed against New York is that it is an anti-business city!
In reality, of course, the evidence was already in. Retail sales in central London are far outperforming those in the rest of the country. The West End theatre trade is strong. Tourism is growing strongly. Congestion charging has achieved exactly what it was designed to do – not cut the number of journeys, but shift them from private cars to public transport. It has cut congestion, and cut environmental damage, with the economy continuing to boom.

Read more »