Art & Culture
March 24, 2016

.@tanyapazzy Highlights of Our Evening with JSK @JSadikKhan @pricetags #vanpoli #bikeyvr

On Tuesday I cracked myself up in prep for an evening with Janette Sadik-Khan (JSK), former NYCDOT Transportation Commissioner and author of Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution. Here are the highlights.
Whether you livestreamed it under the covers or attended at the Vancouver Playhouse, you probably had at least one moment of inspiration, imagining the delight that street transformation can bring to where you live. What if the City of Vancouver became the largest real-estate developer in town like JSK was for NYC?
Her statistics were all US based but we’re used to that. When we translate their numbers to our population, the information is uncomfortably more relevant than we would like. She included in her slides pictures of Vancouver and local examples to go with them. For those of us who attended her last visit, a few of the NYC successes were the same and still had a stunning, audible impact on attendees; she has more data to back her up now. She is confident and motivating.
Gordon Price is consistently a top-notch moderator and interviewer. He was a gracious Canadian host, animated, and entertaining. He had a great rapport with JSK. Price asked the pertinent questions and got solid answers.
What’s as interesting is who attended. At $5 a ticket, there were all ages and abilities present. I wondered how many business owners or BIA staff were there. Did Nick Pogor attend?
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch all of the electeds who introduced themselves from my perch on the balcony. I was pleased to see Vancouver’s Deputy Mayor Heather Deal front and center, who is also a Councillor Liaison to the City’s Active Transportation Policy Council and Arts & Culture Policy Council, among others. It was announced for the first time publicly that Lon LaClaire is the new City of Vancouver Director of Transportation. He introduced JSK. At least one Park Board Commissioner attended.
There was at least one City Councillor from New Westminster, Patrick Johnstone there – a fan of 30kph. I was tickled that Nathan Pascal, City Councillor for Langley City was there in his first week on the job! I was even more delighted to hear that the Mayor of Abbotsford Henry Braun was there. It symbolizes a shift in decision-makers toward at least open ears and at most safer, healthier city centres in the Lower Mainland.
The first rule of Hollywood is: Always thank the crew.
JSK started by thanking the 4500 within New York City’s Department of Transportation. She acknowledged that they implemented the changes her team tried – often quickly. Being fast and keeping the momentum up is key.
Interview well. Be yourself. Be bold.
When JSK was interviewing for the top transportation job with then NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he asked: Why do you want to be Traffic Commissioner? She answered: I don’t. I want to be Transportation Commissioner.
A City’s assets – the public realm – need to reflect current values. Invest in the best use of public space.
JSK on streets: “If you didn’t change your major capital asset in 50-60 years, would you still be in business?”
“We transformed places to park [cars] to places people wanted to be…we created 65,000 square feet of public space with traffic cones.” “Broadway alone was 2.5 acres of new public space.”
JSK talked about the imbalance between the space for cars and space for people. Crowded sidewalks of slow walking tourists that fast-walking New Yorkers were willing to walk in car lanes to pass or avoid. In Vancouver, we already see this imbalance in our shopping districts and entertainment corridors.
She appreciated working for a Mayor who would back her up on her bold suggestions and who asked her to take risks because it was the right thing to do.
Consultation + Visualization = Education + Transformation
People find it hard to visualize from drawings and boards. Create temporary space and program it.” Basically: traffic cones, paint, and planters are your friends.
“We need to do a better job of showing the possible on our streets.”
“Involve people in the process…Just try it out. Pilot it.

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There was much anticipation before the federal budget was unlocked yesterday. Many of us were particularly interested in how much money would go towards transit investments in our region and whether the 33.3% x 3 percentage split for transportation infrastructure amongst federal, provincial, and municipal governments would be adjusted.
At first I was underwhelmed by the initial commitment of $370M for transit projects in Metro Vancouver. It doesn’t seem like much for the next 3 years. I have been assured by those in the know it’s a great start for the planning and design of projects in The Mayors’ Plan (pedestrian and bicycle improvements, subway and LRT, for instance) with more funding to come after that. That depends on re-election, of course.
The federal government also announced it will cover up to 50% of transit project construction costs. It seems to me, assuming the provincial portion remains at 33% and the max of 50% doesn’t depend on the provincial portion changing*, 100%-50-33=17% for municipalities – a long overdue improvement in the funding structure.
My federal budget scoop on Monday about The Mayors’ Plan, directing our regional requests for federal funds, continues to be good scoop. The Mayors’ Council put out a PDF statement on the federal budget yesterday. The federal Infrastructure and Communities Minister Sohi meets our Mayors’ Council tomorrow. My source tells me we will get more details after that meeting. Stay tuned.

*The BC provincial election is May 9, 2017: contact BC political parties now urging them to put sustainable transportation in their platforms.

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“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
This was something a planning professor of mine once told me which I never really thought much about …  that is until I moved to Vancouver.
Hi, let me introduce myself formally, my name is Ian Robertson, and I occasionally show up in these woods with ‘Items from Ian’. I did my Architecture Undergraduate in ‘merica, worked for a while in the Netherlands, MArch in Australia, worked for a while in Vienna, and finished my degree right around the time that the world called an architectural timeout for a while, and I found myself in Vancouver.
What links my experience in these other places is that they all involved looking forward. The aforementioned quote from my planning professor, masterplanning cities and countries while in the Netherlands (itself a product of what must be the most comprehensive masterplan anywhere in the world), then Sydney Australia – where I was first exposed to the kind of 2030 vision which Vancouver also now espouses (except in Sydney’s case, it actually backed up by a Master Plan to give it institutional heft), and finally Vienna, which has a uniform building fabric and density which puts most cities to shame, and which turned the old Hapsburg Stables into a technology and culture and startup hub which exists only in Vancouver’s dreams.
This week I will be under the broad category of ‘Ideas from Elsewhere’ (‘Ian’s Items from Elsewhere’ if I wanted to keep the branding alive) … frankly I am always amazed that there is such a strong desire here to reinvent the wheel instead of looking for what works (and what doesn’t) elsewhere (transit referendums, city planning, existance of a master plan, regional transit, fare gates, bike path design, foreign investment, affordable housing, sea level rise planning, etc… are all examples of issues where in either trying to be unique, or in willfully ignoring precedent, Vancouver/BC is certainly ‘planning to fail’).
So, with that lengthy introduction, I give you my first post, written for a recent architecture criticism competition requiring one to talk about a Library of one’s choice. As you will see, the Library wasn’t really my topic of interest 🙂
Many thanks for Ken and Michael, and all the rest filling in … and most of all to Gordon Price, for his care in establishing this great platform from which to view the world deliberately and with consideration.
(Longread) Nov 2015, Criticism of the Mount Pleasant Library (Longread)
It is not often that a library erupts from an intersection like the prow of an ocean liner cutting through the neighborhood, but when completed in 2010, the Mount Pleasant Library did just that. Immediately it was the tallest building in the neighborhood, and it represented the starting gun for a race to redevelop much of the surrounding neighborhood.
Height is an unusual quality for a Library, as the Dewey decimal system is an inherently horizontal concept. The library’s apparent mass is the result of the nine stories of affordable housing stacked on top, as well as child care, retail, and a community center beside1 — a configuration resulting from the unique desire to place all its civic infrastructure in one basket.
The building, designed by what is now Perkins+Will, is additionally unusual because it was developed by the City of Vancouver itself as a mixed-use structure, combining older, insufficient and inconvenient infrastructure into one centralized location, as well as provide additional affordable rental to address the city’s almost zero-percent rental vacancy, and rapidly increasing rents. The mixed-use aspect is itself not that unusual for a rapidly urbanizing city, what is unusual is that the developer was the City of Vancouver, and Vancouver does not often place itself in the development game — much of the Vancouver’s recent civic infrastructure has been created by leveraging the ‘Community Amenity Contributions’ (CACs) of developers.
Vancouver’s urban infrastructure, such as this library, is dictated by a unique set of influences which directly affect the manner in which Vancouver builds its libraries, and other public amenities.
Infrastructure, being a public amenity, is typically funded through a city’s tax revenues. In Vancouver, CACs are not a tax, but rather are “are in-kind or cash contributions provided by property developers.”2 These contributions take place to facilitate a rezoning application,

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. . . says the Economist. Today’s measures and tools may not be adequate, and a much more radical approach is necessary.

That climate change is happening, that it is very largely man-made and that it is exceedingly dangerous, are all now hard to deny

The Economist counsels innovation (increasing the available options).

But remember three things. One is that spending money to reduce grave risks is reasonable. The second is that some of today’s climate policies cost a lot more than a greatly expanded research portfolio and yield rather less. The subsidies that have created thousands of wind and solar farms have achieved only a little and at great cost. Other green subsidies, such as some of those for biofuels, have done actual harm. There is plenty of money to be saved.
A third is that one of the best measures against climate change raises money. Well-designed carbon prices can boost green power, encourage energy-saving and suppress fossil-fired power much more efficiently than subsidies for renewables. A few brave places have plumped to set such prices through carbon taxes: the latest is Alberta, in Canada.

And the summary:

In short: thinking caps should replace hair shirts, and pragmatism should replace green theology. The climate is changing because of extraordinary inventions like the steam turbine and the internal combustion engine. The best way to cope is to keep inventing.


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A stunning visual portrait of the new bike route from Burrard Bridge to Point Grey Road, by Kathleen Corey and Brian Gould – this time with extra drone!



“World premiere” – is that a bit much?  Well, the politics of PGR alone makes it of international interest.  But the design of the project, particularly at the south end of Burrard Bridge, is an achievement of transportation engineering worthy of wide recognition.  So pass along this link to friends and contacts around the world:

There’s also another reason to help spread the word, and the video.
Price Tags has devoted a lot of pixels to the “New Point Grey Road” in the belief that capturing its success visually would ensure its survival, even in the face of political promises that the project would be ‘reviewed’ to make it “accessible to all Vancouverites” – which can only mean opening it to through traffic.
This video, I think, captures something so beautiful and powerful that such a change to the ‘New Point Grey Road’ will never be seriously considered.



False Creek’s oldest bridge, Seaforth’s spreading trees. Joined by paths like those between Jericho and Kits Beach.

Pocket parks sewn into a ribbon – Tatlow stitched to Volunteer. Ride a tandem by the seashore, run your fingers ‘long the seam.

A dozen cars for every bicycle? A dozen bikes for every car. What was louder than the waves is but an eddy in the wind.

Gentle ripples lapping at the wall, trickles open up a crack. The waves were out there waiting, and now they’re rushing through.

As the ships sail Burrard Inlet, the seacycles ply Point Grey.


Music: Dexter Britain, The Time to Run (Finale)
Waves: Tim Kahn, Arcadia Beac

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Further to the item below, the impacts of transportation on the quality of life for one of the most affluent parts of the region will be determined in large part by what happens to its east – notably in Abbotsford.  And if your mental geography is like mine, you may not realize the direct connection.  Literally: 16th Avenue.

I explored that issue here in March, 2011.

… with an airport that could one day be the second aeronautical anchor of the Lower Mainland, Abbotsford would inevitably be absorbed into vast undifferentiated regional sprawl if it wasn’t for the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Meanwhile, keep your eyes on 16th Avenue, which I’m pretty sure the highway planners are.  Imagine an expressway connecting with the Trans-Canada Highway, past the Abbotsford airport, streaking in a straight line across the ALR to the new interchange they’re building on Highway 99 at White Rock, and serving all the expanded streets to the international border crossings. 

The 16th Avenue interchange when completed:


And it won’t just be the airport and connecting routes that generate the traffic; much of it come from the urban form in Abbotsford itself, which looks like this:



With more to come.  Here’s a drawing of the new shopping centre proposed for the Townline Hill section of Abbotsford, sent in by Ken Wuschke: “Essentially it is a parking lot surrounded by retail. Towards the street there will be little connectivity to pedestrians walking by as all the stores have doors facing the parking lot.”



Two points to make: this is what is being approved by a municipality whose leaders are loudly critical of the air-quality consequences of Metro Vancouver’s proposed incinerator.  And this is the form of development supported by the Province’s infrastructure commitments: bridges, highway-widenings, goods-movement corridors – like the 16th Avenue interchange, and very likely, support for the widening of 16th Avenue itself.

Needless to say: there’ll be no vote on that.

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I know that just by quoting from Charlie Smith’s latest piece in The Straight – Bombardier brings Canadian grit and French glamour to European passenger rail – there’s the danger of once again unleashing the pro-and-con, back-and-forth debates over the choice of SkyTrain versus light rail.  But readers might otherwise miss some interesting background, as documented by Smith, that is buried late in his piece describing Bombardier’s Francilien – the most colourful suburban train in Paris’s history.

Here’s the excerpt:

Meanwhile in Vancouver, Bombardier has come under criticism in the past for its contracts with TransLink and the provincial government.

Critics contend that TransLink was saddled with outrageous costs because SkyTrain cars were too expensive for the relatively small number of passengers they carried.

This meant huge sums were being taken out of the operating budget to pay down debt when that money may have been better spent expanding service and lowering fares.

In 1999 after the last NDP government had approved the Millennium Line, consultant Alan Greer wrote a scathing report for the B.C. government.

In it, he declared that “the most relevant information advanced in support of the SkyTrain option was misleading, incomplete or unsubstantiated”.

Greer’s report also claimed that the Rapid Transit Project Office high-balled the cost of street-level light rail by tripling the estimated price of a maintenance yard to $110 million,

The company that prepared this estimate, Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin, had been Bombardier’s partner on SkyTrain systems.

Back in 1999, a graduate student named Tamim Raad cowrote a paper with one of his professors, Peter Boothroyd, highlighting costs differentials between street-level light rail and SkyTrain. Raad is now director of strategic policy and planning at TransLink.

Depending on the assumptions, Raad and Boothroyd concluded that the gap was between 34 percent and 133 percent.

This meant that in their eyes at the time, the SkyTrain network was $700 million to $1.6 billion more than a light-rail system would have cost.

Perhaps most damning was a Light Rail for Vancouver Committee analysis, which concluded that an order for SkyTrain cars cost $42,000 per passenger space. That was more than double the cost per passenger space for light rail in Denver.

In 2006, TransLink agreed to a $113.2-million contract for 34 SkyTrain cars from Bombardier. That worked out to $3.3 million per car.

More here.

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I wrote the original of this essay back in the 1990s, and then submitted an update to Plan Canada, the magazine of the Canadian Institute of Planners, in 2002.  Much to my surprise, and pleasure, it subsequently received the ‘Article of the Year’ award.

While still searchable, it’s likely to disappear unless reprinted – which is the point of including it here.



2003 Plan Canada Award for Article of the Year

The View from ’56:

Thoughts on the Short-Term Future of Transportation Planning

by Gordon Price

A few years ago, the Ford Expedition assembling plant in Wayne, Michigan, made more money in after-tax profits than the combined budgets of every municipality in British Columbia. The number of SUVs sold in North America has roughly doubled since 1996, now totalling about four million a year.  They are classified as light trucks (in order to drive through various legislative loopholes) and are expected to soon surpass passenger cars as a  percent of the market.

If you want to know the future of transportation in North America, start there.  That’s where most of the money has gone, and where people’s expectations reside – in big cars on big roads.  The future, apparently, is like 1956, only more so.

I choose 1956 for a reason. That was the year American President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act that funded the biggest public-works project in human history. The Interstate Freeway System – over 40,000 miles of superbly engineered roads, criss-crossing the continent many times over – changed everything in its path, from cities and regions to popular culture. They were called ‘freeways’ for a reason: no tolls, no stoplights, no limits.

Canada had a more modest program to build the Trans-Canada Highway.  But given the success of the car culture, both countries have embedded in the collective consciousness a set of assumptions, reinforced countless times a day through advertising, that will continue to shape transportation policy and funding priorities in the short-term future.

First assumption: ‘As We Buy More Cars, Government Will Build More Roads.’   It doesn’t matter so much who builds the roads (even if they’re tolled) so long as there’s always the expectation of more asphalt.

At the personal level, when it comes to the purchase and use of vehicles, a second assumption holds sway: ‘There’s Always Room for One More.‘  No one goes into an auto showroom wondering if there’s space out there for one more car, nor would it be acceptable for government to say, hold on, we’re full up. With no upper limit on capacity; it’s effectively infinite.  You will rarely get a planner or engineer to tell you what the ultimate capacity of a road system should be; their job is to translate infinity into reality.

Thirdly – and this is the message conveyed in every auto advertisement – ‘The Car Should Never Be Constrained by Other Cars.’ The image of the open road is iconic; free-flowing traffic is assumed to be the natural state of affairs, if only our tax dollars were effectively used for their intended purpose (back to Assumption 1).

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Here’s where I’ve been for the last fortnight.  Speaking at events in Auckland, New Zealand.

The most significant was at an “Auckland Conversations” – a great format where they bring in speakers from around the world to address issues of interest or concern to this Kiwi city of about the same size as Vancouver (and rated about the same on all those livability lists.)

So here’s the video of my talk:


Click through to the site.  The talk starts after the introduction at 6:15.

Has sustainability had its time?  Given the doubling down on fossil fuels and carbon transfer by countries like Canada and Australia, is there any point to pursuing modest and inconsequential strategies in our cities?  Are post-motordom cities like Vancouver able to resist the development of sprawl-feeding road infrastructure, the squandering of valuable agricultural land and an unwillingness to finance sustainable transportation infrastructure?

While the challenges of sustainable development are more important than ever, local leaders need new alliances to build the post-sustainability city. Gordon Price will dissect current trends, pose some provocative scenarios and, using Vancouver as an example, offer some alternatives.

There’s a challenge at the end that I’ll open up to anyone who comes up with a good entry.

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And the year is only six days old.


It’s going to be a challenge to beat this one:

The project … would see over 220km of car-free routes installed above London’s suburban rail network, suspended on pylons above the tracks and accessed at over 200 entrance points. At up to 15 metres wide, each of the ten routes would accommodate 12,000 cyclists per hour and improve journey times by up to 29 minutes, according to the designers.

Developed by landscape practice Exterior Architecture, with Foster and Partners and Space Syntax, the SkyCycle would separate bicycles from the city itself in the name of speed and distance – and in doing so recreate the fundamental flaw of the freeway.

Transportation in the city is not about separation; it’s about integration – for which the bike is ideally suited.  If getting somewhere fast within a built-up city over distances longer than three to five km, then that’s better suited to rapid transit.  The bike is ideal for multiple destinations, decided by the cyclist, integrated intimately into the fabric of the city.  SkyCycle does just the reverse.

And while proponents argue that they “certainly don’t want to take money away from making cycling safe on the roads.  … our ambition is to redirect some of the money spent by central government on rail and road expenditure,’ that’s not what happens in the real world.

SkyCycle would spend millions to achieve something better done by other modes, reducing accessibility for cycling, in the name of a megaproject that would ultimately fail and be used as a reason to deny funding where it’s needed for better biking.

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