September 30, 2006

Go Boom, Fall Down

Woodwards, a homegrown department store, was once the anchor of the Downtown East Side.
When it closed, it took the economic vitality of the neighbourhood with it.  After years of controversy, a new plan was agreed finally to.  Details here.

But it required the demolition of additions to the original store, seen below in the right middle with the wooden supports. 

Saturday morning, September 30, 8:32 am, marked the end of the old Woodwards.

 $1.49 Day RIP.

There’s now an open space Vancouver has never seen before – and won’t for long. 

UPDATE: Yun Lam Li has just posted a video of the demolition on his website here.  It’s part of what will eventually be “The Reincarnation of W” – a project that began in July and will end with the completion of the building in 2009.   It’s already very Koyaanisqatsi – and still gives a jolt when the blasts go off.

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September 29, 2006

What happened to the buskers?  A few years ago, Robson Street was awash in musicians, and not just on weekends.  Some were pretty good, others a waste of sidewalk space.  Now it’s unusual to head a good sax riff on Granville.  Where did they go?

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It’s not clear yet whether this motion from the Greater Vancouver Regional District on elements of the Gateway Project – widening Highway 1 and twinning the Port Mann Bridge – constitutes a turning point in the debate, but it was certainly a big boost of support for those opposing the project as currently planned. (For the motion, see below.)
So far as I know, there has been no response from Kevin Falcon, the Minister of Transportation. No doubt we’ll get more of the same: decision made, we’re laying asphalt. Nor have we heard from the Premier – which is increasingly mysterious.
The GVRD’s main point is that the expansion of general-purpose traffic into the Valley undermines the direction of regional plan – of which Gordon Campbell was an author. It looks like his legacy will not be a more sustainable region, but just the opposite: a web of freeways from Squamish to Hope to South Surrey that will lock a generation into wasteful transportation modes and urban development at exactly the wrong moment in history. The fact that he has nothing of consequence to say about climate change is another indication of, perhaps, denial, more likely a fear of the risk involved in changing direction.  Sad.
Here’s the motion that will go into the minutes to be approved at a subsequent board meeting. The last paragraph, which “strongly opposes the freeway expansion project and twinning of the Port Mann Bridge” was the part added by Vancouver Councillor Suzanne Anton. That’s the part that counts.

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September 25, 2006

In my case, the Vancouver-Portland love-affair is literal. I married an Oregonian. But lots of Portlanders and Vancouverites have a platonic relationship, particularly planners, politicians and those interested in urban development.

A busload of admirers from down south showed up a few weeks ago, organized by Metro, the regional government of the Portland area, accompanied by a few reporters. Their stories are now coming in – and you can read this one from the Portland Tribune on the web. Here’s an excerpt:

People drew different lessons from the journey.

Halfway through the trip, Metro planner Marc Guichard stood on the rooftop patio of an eight-story condo tower, complete with putting green and birdhouses, and looked down on an exquisitely landscaped courtyard. Ten years in his field had worn him down, but “I feel revitalized,” he said.

Later, as the bus rolled through suburban Vancouver, Portland developer Bradley Malsin said the Canadian city, with its difficulty keeping jobs downtown, shows that Portland should place more emphasis on supporting jobs-oriented development, especially given the softening of the condo market in Portland.

“I think the residential market is a dangerous one,” he said.

“I saw lots of very cool ways to re-create a downtown that still feels like a community … and gets people out of their cars walking around,” Milwaukie city councilor Carlotta Collette said following the trip. She then turned downright giddy: “I’m charged!”

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September 22, 2006

It used to be that new information on climate change came in every month or so. Now it’s daily, and it’s getting more prominent coverage, as illustrated in the Sun with this close-to-home story on the work of SFU earth-sciences grad Johannes Koch who has been documenting the retreating glaciers of Garibaldi:

 Lots of newspapers ran this lovely, scary map of the Arctic:
“This situation is unlike anything observed in previous record low-ice seasons,” said Mark Drinkwater, of the European Space Agency’s Oceans/Ice Unit. “It is highly imaginable that a ship could have passed from Spitzbergen or Northern Siberia through what is normally pack ice to reach the North Pole without difficulty.”
Ah, good news: soon it will be possible to start drilling for oil and gas, and shipping year-round through the Northwest Passage.
I’m reminded of that 2002 New Yorker cartoon:

(CEO gives a speech at a board meeting): “And so, while the end-of-the-world scenario will be rife with unimaginable horrors, we believe that the pre-end period will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for profit.”

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September 21, 2006

Back in 1989, in my second term on City Council, I vividly remember the week when James Hansen spoke before the U.S. Senate on climate change. Hansen, now Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, could speak with authority, and he did: global warming was real, it was happening, and for the sake of the planet and civilization, it was time to respond. Here was Science speaking to Power.

Even as a novice politician, I realized that regardless of the urgency, change would come slowly: our economy was based on fossil fuels, and we measured our prosperity by increasing the rate of consumption. But given, as the saying goes, that the economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment, the public would accept the need for change if properly prepared.

City Council accepted my argument that we as a municipality should start that preparation, and established what became known as the Clouds of Change Task Force. I expected that within a decade, real change in attitude and behaviour would be evident.

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Stockholm extra — more analysis of the congestion-charge vote from Streetsblog:

On Sunday, residents of Stockholm, Sweden voted to continue their city’s seven-month long experiment with congestion pricing. The referendum represented a definitive success for a system that reduced traffic congestion by as much as 50 percent and decrease noxious air pollution by 14 percent. Yet, even after the referendum in which 53 percent voted in favor of congestion charging, Stockholm is still stuck in political gridlock over its gridlock. The same voters who approved the congestion charge also catapaulted into power the center-right political parties who are most opposed to it. We spoke with James Savage, the editor-in-chief of The Local, an English-language, Internet-based, Swedish newspaper in an effort to sort it out and see if he had any advice for
New York City:
Streetsblog: So, what happened in yesterday’s election?
James Savage: The tradition in Sweden is to hold all elections on the same day so we have municipal elections, we have a general election and local referenda on various issues. The general election resulted in a change of government with the ruling Social Democrats thrown out after twelve years. In Stockholm, the local municipal authority, which was also Social Democrat, was thrown out and replaced by a center-right coalition.
SB: The headline in your newspaper describes the result of the congestion charging referendum as “Neither a Ja nor a Nej” — I’m sure I’m not pronouncing that correctly — but what did you mean by that?
JS: Yeah [laughing], you’re not. The congestion charge was introduced by a Social Democratic municipal authority that had gone into elections in 2002 saying that, in fact, there would be no congestion charge. But then the Social Democratic Government, in order to get the support that it needed from the Green Party at the national level, agreed to impose the charge on the municipality in Stockholm. The Social Democratic leadership in Stockholm cooperated with their national leadership even though it was against their manifesto’s promises.
SB: Annika Billström (pictured right) is the leader of Stockholm’s municipal authority? She’s the mayor?
JS: She was the mayor. That’s one of the things that happened yesterday. She is no longer the mayor and how much that depends on the way congestion charging was introduced — that’s one of the questions that people are asking now. People suspect that it played quite a large role in her defeat.
SB: How come?
JS: She started out against congestion charging and then basically lay down as soon as the Central Government tried to impose it. That annoyed people even though, ironically, residents of Stockholm eventually started to appreciate the congestion charge and voted to keep it.
SB: So, the party that brought on congestion charging was essentially punished for they way they went about it and yet the referendum still voted in favor of congestion charging.
JS: It’s rather contradictory isn’t it? But that is basically what happened and the center-right alliance that has been elected to replace Billström and the Social Democrats is broadly opposed to congestion charging.

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Transportation planners around the world were waiting with anticipation to see how the electorate in Stockholm would vote on whether to continue with their controversial congestion charge.

Results are in, and they’re tight. From the International Herald Tribune:

Near-complete results for the Sunday referendum showed that 51.7 percent of Stockholm voters approved the traffic toll, while 45.6 percent voted against it.

The congestion fee was contested when city officials introduced it in a seven-month trial that ran between January and July.

But public opinion swung in favor of the charges after studies showed that weekday traffic on average dropped 20 percent during the trial, while pollution decreased 9-14 percent

A city analysis showed permanent congestion fees would bring a net profit of nearly 500 million kronor (€54 million; US$69 million) a year — money that would be spent on improving public transportation and better roads.

The debate is not over yet. New centre-right governments (still left by the rest of the world’s standards) at both the national and civic level are not predisposed to support a permanent introduction of the charge, given opposition from the Stockholm suburbs.

Which points again to a fascinating anomaly about road pricing.

You would think, in principle, that right-wing governments would be strongly in favour of road pricing. Here, after all, is a way for the market to regulate the distribution of a scarce resource by sending proper pricing signals to individuals, who can then make their own informed choices. Better yet, it provides a stream of revenue to fund the alternative – more transit – that also serves those negatively affected by the charge. And the money doesn’t have to come solely from general revenues or other taxes. Best of all, the system actually works, and delivers what it promises.

What’s not to like?

And yet proposals for road pricing turns right-wingers into raving socialists. There’s nothing so heart-warming as to hear a conservative politician defend the right of the poor working person to use the road already paid for through taxes. So let’s spend billions to build more roads to deal with the congestion created by building all the ‘free’ roads in the first place. It’s all about ‘the psychology of the previous investment’ – and to hell with ideological consistency.

One other observation for the moment: the effects of congestion charging seem remarkably similar in those cities that have introduced it. A 20 percent drop in traffic occurred both in London and Stockholm.

The debate is not over yet

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Vancouver planner Jeffrey Patterson sends along a media release from the Congress for the New Urbanism, which has decided to weigh in on Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct controversy. Or more particularly, on the flaws in the analysis done by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT):

… WSDOT holds up its computer models like “the Wizard of Oz, saying the model says this, and we must accept it.” But in truth, WSDOT has adjusted the models with inflated traffic to fit their “mental models.”
WSDOT calls this practice “conservative,” but the authors note “this suggests that only the risk of building too little capacity is considered, and not the risk of purchasing too much capacity at an extravagant cost.”

You can get Smart Mobility’s whole report here, and WSDOT’s report here.
There are substantial differences between Alaskan Way and the Gateway Project, but when it comes to models and analyses, there’s one fundamental similarity: the reports produced to justify the billions to be spent use many of the same devices to come to the same pre-determined conclusions. The analyses done for Gateway, particularly with respect to transit and land-use, are almost embarrassing in their superficial brevity. So here’s an even briefer summary:
Yesterday’s solutions at tomorrow’s prices.

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