Governance & Politics
April 7, 2017

Port Mann Parameter: How to measure the cost of bike lanes

It happened again today: someone mentioned that if only we hadn’t spent so much on bike lanes, we could afford to fund … (fill in blank).  In this case, repairing the Lost Lagoon fountain.
Bikeways, greenways, any way but roadways, have become for some a rhetorical measurement of waste, kind of like the fast ferries.  Such examples are typically fodder for the Right.  (Try googling “Bateman poodle.”)  These days, Trump has given the Left equal opportunity: (Google “Mar-a-Lago cost-per-trip, Meals-on-Wheels.”)
Here’s a local example:

City councillor Melissa DeGenova said Saturday that at a rally earlier in the week she heard from many residents along that stretch who don’t want to pay the money (to bury utility lines on Point Grey Road) , and are upset the sidewalk expansion is happening at all. They believe the money could be better spent elsewhere, such as affordable housing for homeless or improvements to the Downtown Eastside …

Too much to ask residents of some of the most expensive property in Canada to spend $80,000 per house – but really they were objecting to the cost of the PGR sidewalk rebuild in the first place.
By the way, how much was that?

Up to $6.4 million.

Sound like a lot?  Let’s compare:

Dollars spent to maintain the bridges this winter
This winter had more snow and storms than most, with 22 days of snowfall on the Port Mann Bridge. TI Corp, which maintains and operates the bridge, spent about $5 million to operate the cable collar system on the Port Mann Bridge. Last winter, the cost to operate the system was $300,000.

To repeat: TCI “spent about $5 million to operate the cable collar system on the Port Mann Bridge.”
Note that that was only a one-time operating cost, not a permanent capital improvement like Point Grey Road.  But it does make for a handy new unit of measurement: The Port Mann Ice Removal Parameter.
For instance: Phase 2 of the Point Grey greenway cost one and a quarter PMIRs.
And this counter-lament: ‘If only the Port Mann Bridge had been designed properly, we could have spent the money filling in the gaps in the regional bike network.’
Or we could continue to use poodles:

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A plea for a lighter, greener, cheaper, more collaborative approach to building the “Greenest City”

The sad case of Point Grey Road.
by Patrick Condon
You would think the City of Vancouver was out to make us all raging nature haters. How is it that the provision of a simple thing like bike lanes has made city voters so apoplectic that it ranks at the top of the pile of election wedge issues. Its like getting upset about crosswalks. You have to try really hard to make folks mad about, or even notice, public infrastructure. But somehow the city seems to accomplish this feat again and again.
The newest catalyst for resident apoplexy is, yet again, Point Grey Road. Residents there are furious about a six meter wide sidewalk and tree boulevard strip currently under construction on the north side of this street – in most cases on land being taken back from lavishly planted front gardens that had gradually forested over unused city land.
Point Grey Road is, of course the street that the City closed to through car traffic to complete the City’s “sea wall” along the Kitsilano district’s shore. This original effort was understandably applauded by homeowners along this “golden mile”, but dismayed residents of other parts of the city and region who had become accustomed to going there for a Sunday drive to enjoy the attractive ocean views and, to some extent, gape at the homes and gardens of the well heeled.
In this more recent case the homeowners garner little sympathy from the broader populace, given that the street closure seems to have been a factor in the fantastic increase in property values there. Spurious safety concerns raised by golden mile residents ring hollow when the 10,000 daily trips which once passed their drives now inflict residents living along nearby 4th avenue.
This is all the more sad because none of this really had to be this way. The City lately seems incapable of anything approaching a light touch when it comes to their Greenest City agenda. The current approach to Point Grey Road is emblematic of this failure of imagination. Truly sustainable cities emerge with a much lighter hand. The City’s ham handed approach unnecessarily disrupts existing cultural and urban ecosystems, and, in the process, racks up unnecessary political and capital debts. Its sad. A much lighter approach to Point Grey Road was always available. But a lighter approach would have required a more holistic sensibility which, i would argue, the City lacks. A more truly sustainable approach would be accepting of “both and” solutions rather than the current “one way my way or the highway” approach.
The City’s approach to designing and building green infrastructure seems similar to the much maligned approaches taken by highway engineers of the 1960’s. Those folks happily ripped up city blocks for flyovers and cloverleafs, and leveled every neighbourhood in the freeway’s path. There is thus not a small measure of irony in using these same design approaches for green infrastructure in the only city that stopped a highway from gutting its downtown.
What would a lighter approach have looked like on Point Grey Road? Well i suppose the City could have started off by at least trying the one way street proposed by citizens prior to the City’s controversial and precipitous complete street closure. That plan could have been implemented with a can of yellow paint to mark the bike way and a few signs. If that proved inadequate after a few years then some new signs and some more paint to divert the one way traffic to 4th ave could have worked. This is the kind of “tactical urbanism” strategy famously used by Jannette Saduk-Khan, New York City’s transportation commissioner, who first used a can of paint and some movable chairs to close off Times Square in New York City, a move that both proved what was possible and allowed for low cost real time experimentation to get it right.
But instead we got a very over-engineered grey street, with green functions (walking, biking) rigidly, unnecessarily and expensively separated. We could have had a “complete” street instead, one with wheeled circulation functions more mixed and existing trees preserved. We could have had a street that enhanced rather than degraded ecological functions, a street that added habitat rather than removed it, a street where storm water was cleaned and infiltrated into the water table rather than discharged unmitigated into English Bay waters.

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A few weeks ago, an email discussion among some high-profile urbanists appeared in the PT inbox about this:


It’s a new house, just being completed, designed by Tony Robins (details here), located at a high-profile intersection at Point Grey Road and Alma.

The discussion began with this observation:

Richard Johnson:

Sitting on the northeast corner of Point Grey Road and Alma, directly across from Hastings Mill Park rises my nomination for Vancouver’s Most Hideous Urban Design for 2016. Actually, maybe for this century.

Thoughts on how this fits into the neighbourhood and enhances this special setting across from Hastings Mill, adjacent to the bikeway and at the entrance to Jericho Beach?

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At Vancouver City Council on May 4, two reports will come forward for debate and approval: South False Creek, and Point Grey Road.

Seaside Greenway – South False Creek – Burrard Bridge to Cambie Bridge

Project Goal:  To upgrade and improve safety of the All-Ages-and-Abilities (AAA)
recreational facility on the South False Creek Seawall.

This report presents a plan to upgrade the Seaside Greenway (i.e. Seawall) on the south shore of False Creek between the Burrard Bridge and Cambie Bridge to improve safety, comfort and capacity for all users. This will be achieved primarily by widening the path where it is currently narrower than 6.0m and by separating people cycling from people walking. The design has been developed to minimize impacts on green space and trees, to respect existing character, and to improve walking and cycling connections to the Seaside Bypass and the future Arbutus Greenway.


 Seaside Greenway Completion — Phase 2 – Public Realm and Sidewalks, Point Grey Road, Alma Street to Tatlow Park

This report provides recommendations for the creation of an improved walking
environment and enhanced public realm on the Seaside Greenway between Alma
Street and Tatlow Park (Macdonald Street). The key components are:

• Wider, more accessible sidewalks and new or wider front boulevards with
street trees on the north side of Point Grey Road
• Expanded green space and street closure at Point Grey Road Park

These public realm changes were approved in principle by Council in July 2013.

Phase 2 of the Seaside Greenway Completion will improve the walking environment
and public realm between Alma and Macdonald Streets, including lighting and
pedestrian amenities, and be the final step in the creation of a continuous 28km route
for walking and cycling.

OK out there, engage those partisan issues lists and contrarian “comment cut n’ paste” files. Who will be the first to leap to their keyboard and howl: “gated community”, when describing a Greenway that has no gates, and that anyone can travel any time using two feet, two wheels, three wheels or four wheels. Or perhaps the first to engage in yet another satisfying round of “bash the rich”, since it can be imagined that property values on PGR are rising faster than elsewhere, and that a large house with ocean and mountain views is expensive only because it’s on a Greenway, and before the Greenway, these homes were all cheap like borscht.  Or perhaps the first to bash PGR as a “bike lane”, since this is easier to vilify than a Greenway, and the cut n’ paste thing works better too. Have fun!!

Personally, I’ll be cheering loudly for more green space, safer and more attractive places for people to walk or ride a bike, and for upgrades to two big chunks of our 28-km Greenway.  Bring on the Arbutus Greenway and connection.


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“Every time we go through this, it seems to be the same pattern. There’s predictions there’s going to be ‘Carmageddon,’” Price said. “Every time it doesn’t happen. And then we go on to the next one, and have to go through the whole cycle again.”

– Gordon Price, SFU City Program, in The Province


Today in Metro:

A year and half after the city raised an uproar by shutting a stretch of Point Grey Road to vehicles to make way for a bike lane, travel time for buses and cars is almost identical to what it was before the closure, according to data released Monday.

The city monitored how re-routing extra cars to Macdonald Street would affect the 22 bus re-route using “extremely detailed” GPS data and found travel times to be “so similar it’s hard to say whether there’s a change,” said Lon LaClaire, Vancouver’s acting director of transportation. “

“It’s pretty much the same,” LaClaire said. “There’s no real interesting story there.”


But of course the interesting story here is that there’s no interesting story.  Imagine if the delay had been even 5 minutes.  Carmageddon!

It’s so frustrating when confident predictions of bad things don’t happen, but it’s important to acknowledge for the next proposal of a greenway or bike lane.  Let’s see if we get any.

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