Transportation
August 22, 2007

A Thousand Little Things

It’s the big news down south in Seattle: Chaos Avoided! Gridlock mysteriously doesn’t happen! How can this be!?

They’re doing some major roadwork on I-5, the freeway that runs through the heart of the city, and only a few lanes are open where traffic is normally congested during the daily commute. Naturally, a major foul-up was predicted on the first day after the closures.

Didn’t happen. Hasn’t happened.

So how come? There’s a column in the Seattle Times by Danny Westneat today that helps explain it all:

The short answer is that this is always what happens….

In 1998, British researchers studied what happened to traffic in more than 100 highway and bridge shutdowns in Europe and the U.S. They found that on average 25 percent of all car trips simply evaporated.

People still went to work. Some commuters drove, some found another way in. Some other trips were just not made.

“Drivers are not stupid,” (Oliver) Downs says. “They change schedules. They don’t take some trips, or they delay them. The net effect of all these little decisions can be dramatic.”

There’s that word again. Is it me, or does “little” keep rearing up when the subject is our big problem, transportation?

Seattle’s primary transit corridor, the downtown bus tunnel, is closed. Gridlock was predicted. We dodged that by doing a “thousand little things,” such as moving bus stops and banning cars from Third Avenue.

Now we have closed part of our largest freeway. Still no gridlock. You drivers made sure of that. You did “fifty thousand little things.”

Yet all the plans for what to do next are big. Build big rail lines. Bigger roads. Paid for by the biggest tax increase.

Maybe some answers to our traffic mess are little ….

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Planning Director Brent Toderian thinks Vancouver’s designers should take this New York challenge to heart.
It’s in this issue of Metropolis.

We’re poised to build the sustainable twenty-first century—as Mayor Mike envisions in his 127 proposed projects, many of them impacting the design community: the creation of parks, retrofitting buildings, making schools community-friendly, new transit, and more housing. …
Will the design community respond to the challenge of building the twenty-first-century city? Will they rally around the mayor’s plan? Will other leaders be able to see beyond their own egos?

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Ian Wasson reports in from the City of Burnaby, where he’s an urban design planner.  They too are building a ped/bike bridge – the Griffiths Overpass – in the Edmonds area sometime in October.  It’s designed by Busby and Asssociates, and Fast and Epp.
 
And Patkau Architects and Delcan are designing another beauty for the Central Valley Greenway.

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In Price Tags 93, you can find examples of the new kind of pedestrian and bike bridges being built in Australia.  Like this one in Brisbane:

Peter Berkeley, Queensland’s bike and ped planner, has been on an international tour to check out cycling facilities, and he made a special trip up to Newcastle in England to see the Gateshead Millennium Bridge:

In order to allow small craft to sail beneath, the bridge actually tilts, like this:

You can see why it has become a tourist attraction in its own right, nicknamed the “Blinking Eye Bridge.”
As the debate over the Burrard Bridge continues (whether to widen the sidewalks, take some traffic lanes, not spend the ever-escalating amount – maybe $15 million, maybe $30 million), perhaps it’s time to consider the alternative: build a special ped/bike bridge across False Creek.
Discussion never gets very far because the centre of the creek comes under federal control as a navigable waterway, and the height of sailboats at high tide requires a high-level bridge, or some kind of drawbridge.  But maybe it’s time to face up to the trade-off: why should a relative handful of recreation boaters be able to trump a necessary and safe crossing for the most sustainable form of transportation possible?
Or maybe we can do a drawbridge after all.
These kind of bridges, after all, are becoming popular all around the world – designed by the Fosters and Calatravas who merge engineering and architecture into art.  They become icons for their cities. 
Maybe it’s time for us.

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August 21, 2007

What is your hope for the future?
That we’ll turn out not to have already terminally soiled our unthinkably rare and lovely little sphere of water and air.
Isn’t that a rather perfumed way to describe the earth?
I suppose it’s a bit wet, but I’m from Vancouver.  Green streak a mile wide.
William Gibson interview, New York Times Magazine, 8.19.07

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The architecture critic of the New Republic, Sarah Williams Goldhagen, writes about “American Collapse” – the decay of the nation’s infrastructure here.
And then she makes a few comparisons:

But forget, if you wish, the vast infrastructural building taking place across economically exploding Asia and the Middle East. Look no farther than Europe or Canada, areas in what used to be called the industrialized world, where metropolitan regions are facing the same problems of demographic shifts, higher labor costs, and aging infrastructure that we face in the United States. Again and again we find examples of metropolitan regions thathave successfully risen to these challenges.
Two of the most extraordinary recent success stories are Barcelona and Vancouver…. Vancouver’s physical remaking in the past two decades has been so remarkable that it has become a phenomenon, a brand: the “Vancouver Miracle,” a city that, twenty years ago, was an emptied-out downtown littered with disused industrial lots and is today a lively, highdensity, twenty-four-hour city filled with attractively designed high-rise residential and office towers, well-preserved historic buildings, plentiful public parks, and vibrant cultural institutions. Vancouver is currently the fastest-growing residential downtown inNorth America.

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August 20, 2007

After the GVRD announced a change of name to Metro Vancouver, editors assigned reporters to another story on that old chestnut: the amalgamation of the region’s municipalities into a megacity, a la Toronto and Montreal.
Jeff Nagel at Black Press did the most comprehensive piece here.

This region now has a spiffy new name – Metro Vancouver – replacing the clunky old Greater Vancouver Regional District.
Could the name change approved this summer be just the first step towards a mass merger of the 21 member municipalities into one giant megacity like Toronto or Montreal?
Not likely, according to a sampling of politicians and experts.

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As I learned on Council, when it comes to the issue of housing, especially in the Downtown East Side, advocates are fearful of too much success.  Some fear resources and sympathy might dry up if the problem is addressed.  So the problem is played up and the progress played down.
The danger is that we might miss some pretty amazing progress.
 

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Here’s today’s Province editorial:

One of the main problems about the current debate over Lower Mainland transportation is that it always divides itself along ideological lines and is invariably presented as an either/or proposition: Either you build more public transit or you build more roads.

But the fact is that we need both, and then some. …
As readers of Brian Lewis’s column will know, a new group has been formed to press for passenger rail service in the Fraser Valley. Founded by SFU graduate student John Buker, Rail for the Valley states on its website that our governing politicians “want to spend billions of dollars on highways, but they continue to neglect basic rail transportation needs south of the Fraser River.”
As we said, though, this is not an either/or proposition. The Fraser Valley needs an expanded Port Mann Bridge, better roads and more truck and bus routes.
And it needs passenger rail.
Above all, it requires a decently-funded, comprehensive travel system that offers people as many transportation alternatives as possible.

I hear that argument a lot – that we need a balanced transportation system – curiously used to justify the Gateway. And to imply that the critics of it are being unreasonable.
But the Port Mann/ Highway 1 widening is completely about roads. There’s nothing balanced about it. There’s nothing in the budget for rail; there are no plans for rail; there is only the suggestion that twinning the bridge will maybe, at some undetermined time in the future, make room for rail, disconnected from any transportation planning for rail.
And here’s the problem: it will catalyse auto- and truck-dependent development throughout the eastern valley before rail ever shows up, making it considerably more expensive if not futile to introduce rail afterwards.
If The Province wants to be something more than an apologist for Gateway, it should demand that Gateway be stopped until there’s a plan – and more importantly, a budget – for “a decently-funded, comprehensive travel system.”

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August 17, 2007

Walkscore, the Sightline Institute-inspired mechanism to measure the walkability of your neighbourhood, has, as they say, gone viral on the Internet.  So popular has it become in just a few weeks that even Google couldn’t handle the load at times.
David Brewster at Crosscut has a nice piece on Walkscore (mentioned earlier here).

So how do you reframe the notion of density, a word that suggests eating one’s spinach and conjures up images of a hated neighbor playing loud music at 3 a.m.? Hint: it involves your feet.
The first framing device to make more people embrace the joys of tighter living quarters is carbon footprint, scaring people out of their subdivisions with an ominous rumble of the extinction of the earth if we don’t start abandoning our cars and do more walking. The second framing notion is “walkability.” A compact, walkable neighborhood sounds sociable, old-fashioned, village-like. Not density, but desirability.

Brewster discusses some of the recent studies and nuances regarding walkability, including this observation which seems to apply to the recent spate of articles opposing Ecodensity:

Another paradox is that really charming walkable neighborhoods soon line up the pitchforks to oppose increased residential densification in any form.  

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