May 12, 2017

More Power to the Transpo Engineers?

As reported in Metro News, by   there’s a report going to Vancouver City Council next Tuesday with the title “Complete Streets Policy Framework and Related By-law Changes”. What that really means is that the City Engineer is asking for changes in the Streets By-law to undertake work under the guise of the Complete Streets Policy as outlined in the Transportation 2040 Plan without having to schlep to Council for approval of things like lane changes or the making of public spaces that generally follow the plan.
The challenge with the lack of reporting back to Council is establishing what Council should know about-or not. My years working as the City’s greenways planner showed that even something that would be seemingly a public good and not contentious-like closing the street for a small greenway at 11th Avenue and Maple Street in Arbutus-brought over twenty delegations to Council. While Council approved the greenway, the final design that was built incorporated the existing street instead of the specialized surface promised to the residents, and was not to the design approved by Council. At some time when redevelopment occurs on that section of street, I am sure that the residents will remind Council of this lapsed undertaking and request a greenway reboot.

There’s been some contention over the City’s move towards walking and biking priority as per the 2040 Plan, especially  in recent events with the Point Grey Road, Commercial Drive, and the Kitsilano Beach bike lane and the Tenth Avenue Hospital improvements that will take out all but two metered parking spots on Tenth Avenue west of  Ash Street. These big “events” would still be going to Council.
One councillor, George Affleck wants to maintain council oversight on road use changes.  “It’s a great way for Vision Vancouver to avoid having to talk about bike lanes ever again. It would make me very uncomfortable,” said Affleck. “In my mind, the buck stops at council. Decisions on major developments, how we build our city, streets … those kind of decisions should be discussed in public with council oversight. That’s our job and when we start skipping that process, we’re in big trouble.”   “[The bylaw revisions] go against what I believe was the intention of that plan and why I supported it,” he said. “Changing a speed bump is one thing. But if you’re changing and getting rid of a lane or parking for bike lanes, making change that has significant impact not only on the neighbourhood but the city at large, city council should be making a decision on it.”
It’s an interesting point, as when changes do go to Council there is the opportunity for public debate and learnings for Council and the public. Do we need to have that discussion? Or should the engineer use delegated authority for changing modes and uses on public right of ways and do diversions and rerouting traffic routes? Are we at a place where the public good is recognized and  served by less Council oversight and public debate?


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Sandusky is a town of 25,000 people with a metropolitan area of 77,000  located on the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio, about 115 miles or 185 kilometers from Detroit.  This town was an important stop on the  Underground Railroad, and was a place where slaves trying to reach Canada crossed Lake Erie to Amherstburg Ontario. It was once centred around a railroad, and hosted Charles Dickens in 1842. Sandusky has an extraordinary waterfront that is now being transformed out of industrial uses into recreational ones.
The town has embarked on an ambitious endeavour to relocate their city hall into the downtown near the waterfront, and to redevelop one of the old industrial piers, Jackson Pier into a recreational multi-purpose space for citizens, with potentially a water park and other amenities. In fact, the town just announced its public process was to commence.

Now you would think that taking an industrial pier and redeveloping it for the public would be something that would be embraced by residents. While walking, fishing and access to ferries will be maintained, parking at the pier end-something that used to be standard-might not be there. And that started an online petition against the proposed park as  a “commercial decimation” of public property in downtown Sandusky. Why? People wanted the right to park at the end of the pier. In fact they want 40 spaces at the end of the pier.

You can go online and view a video with a proponent of Save Our Shoreline explain that people need access to water and need to drive to the end of the pier to get a “180 degree view” to feel better. There’s no mention of the recreational benefits of walking to the end of the pier, or the placement of a playground, or the benefits of a  commercial establishment to provide food and a warm winter place for  people enjoying the space. And no one has mentioned the Surgeon General of the United States’ advocacy of 20 minutes of walking a day, or the fact that in the 21st century  view spaces can’t be taken up by cars. To create community demands walkable sociability, face to face interactions and ways to knit an old commercial pier into a greenscape opportunity for workers and potential downtown dwellers in the future.
Motordom, and the right of vehicles to champion potential public spaces, is still embraced by an older population that rues what was, and plans their future based on their own auto dependent experience. Let’s hope Sandusky will look across the water at Amherstburg in Ontario with King’s Navy Yard Park a ten acre waterfront park cited as one of Canada’s Historic Places, and now expanding to include more park space. And you will note-there is no parking along that waterfront.


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There is a renaissance occurring in many American towns that are reclaiming their downtowns when bisecting highways are rerouted from town centres. Mayor Bob Crowell is the Mayor of  Carson City Nevada. This is the capital of Nevada and has a population of about 55,000 people, located fifty kilometers or 31 miles from Reno Nevada. Since the last mid-century, Carson City hosted a highway right through their main downtown area, with the highway effectively bisecting both sides of the street and minimizing pedestrian and cycling movement. Traffic was through traffic, and  there were metal fences on the side of the sidewalks to keep pedestrians further separated away from the travelled portion of the road.
The 21st century brought two changes-a plan for the new Interstate 580 to go around the downtown area, and a 1/8th  cent sales tax devoted to community improvements, including a downtown revitalization project to bring the city’s heart back into a walkable, bikeable sociable place. The total cost of the new downtown streetscape revitalization plan was 11.4 million dollars.

“A big part of what we’re doing down here is to create not just a sense of place, but a sense of community,” says Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell. “Some will say, you know, you are just doing this for downtown businesses but we are doing it for the entire city so that we all share in what is happening with the diversification of northern Nevada.

There are wider sidewalks and a bicycle lane, shorter pedestrian crossing distances on streets and new trees and light poles similar to those installed in this historic town in the 1800’s. Even the benches located on the main street echo the sandstone brick used to build the capital building in 1869, also situated on the main street. One side street has been closed and made into a public plaza and water park. This new McFadden Plaza is located directly across the street from the state capitol building.

There was a lot of discussion about the changes in the streetscape, but as the Director of the Downtown Business Association noted “Downtown Carson City has always been a gathering place for our locals to get together on a Friday night or Saturday. This should expand that to make it a fun, easy-to-get-to place to shop, have a bite to eat or visit local pubs any time of the day or day of the week.”

The  proof is in the use, with the area fast becoming an arts and entertainment centre as more businesses open up along the Main Street. Carson City has its downtown back.

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The Economist has just reported that pedestrians may be sharing the sidewalk with a new interloper-a new version of robotic delivery system developed by “Piaggio Fast Forward, a subsidiary of Piaggio, an Italian firm that is best known for making Vespa motor scooters. Gita’s luggage compartment is a squat, drumlike cylinder that has been turned on its side. This, as the picture above shows, is fitted with two wheels of slightly larger diameter than the drum. These let the whole thing roll smoothly along, keeping the luggage compartment upright, at up to 35kph (22mph).”
This  item called a “Gita” is designed to walk a pace or two behind a human owner wearing an electronic belt, and can carry 18 kilograms of cargo for up to eight hours before needing recharging. Gita carries shopping as well as delivering goods ordered online.

Piaggio is now putting a dozen or so Gitas to work in pilot projects around America, doing things like carrying tools for workers, guiding people through airports and assisting with deliveries. And it is not alone. Starship Technologies, an Estonian company started by Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, two of the founders of Skype, has similar ambitions. Starship’s as-yet unnamed suitcase-sized robot has six small wheels, travels at 6kph and holds 10kg of cargo. Rather than doggedly following a human being, it navigates itself around using cameras and ultrasonic sensors—though a remote operator can take control of it to supervise tricky manoeuvres such as crossing roads.”

One challenged faced by these “robots” and their designers is what is called unstructured environments, mainly the fact that these transporters have to share sidewalk space with unpredictable human beings.  Robotics have not learned how to navigate space that is full of people-yet. But engineer Matt Delany is  not giving up. “The pedestrian environment is very cultural,” he says. “If you monitor people over many long repetitions in testing, a robot can learn the best routes.”

Because this new generation of robotics will not be on vehicular streets and road surfaces, the regulation and safety concerns have been to this point minimized. These robotics may be the new shape of autonomous home delivery, using a sidewalk near you.

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Michael Alexander, the chair of Simon Fraser University’s City Conversations sends this link which promises to change how the U.S. Department of Transportation analyzes car travel. As reported on the T4 America website, At long last, USDOT has finalized new requirements for how states and metro areas will have to measure traffic congestion and in the final rule — responding to the outpouring of comments they received — they backed away from most of the outdated measures of congestion that were proposed.”

There are four main changes:

  1. Vehicular delay paints an incredibly one-dimensional picture of congestion. Focusing on average delay by simply measuring the difference between rush hour speeds compared to free-flow 3 a.m. traffic fails to count everyone else commuting by other modes, rewards places with fast travel speeds at the expense of places with shorter commutes and less time spent behind the wheel overall, and completely ignores how many people are actually moving through the corridor.”

This indicator will no longer be used, and the Canadian Automobile Association and the B.C Government should take note.

2. The addition of  “person-hours” measure of delay, which will consider how many people are using the road instead of just how many vehicles are delayed… If one corridor moves three times the amount of people as another corridor because of a carpool requirement or a lane dedicated to high-capacity transit, it shouldn’t score the same for congestion just because the travel speed or average delay is the same.”

3. Tracking carbon dioxide emissions and the change in CO2 emissions generated by on-road mobile sources on most bigger roadways.

4.  A new multimodal measurethe portion of non-single occupant vehicle travel.” Because transportation in urbanized areas is inherently multimodal, it is important to account as much as possible for the options that are available to travelers in those urbanized areas.”

Michael Alexander asks:

Q: Does Canada follow U.S. statistical models? Do we have our own standards? If so, how do they compare to the new U.S?

And he also notes: Under these new guidelines Vancouver is no longer “the most congested city in Canada.” 

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Fireworks are big business in the City of Vancouver, and are the centre piece of a summer “celebration of light” where we celebrate which country can make the most impressive display and percussion. Years ago it was a tobacco company that had its name on this festival-now it is a car manufacturer.
City Council has just announced that they will be approving $50,000 for  a New Year’s Eve celebration downtown with live bands and two fireworks displays-one at 9:00 p.m. for families with kids, and one again at midnight.
Fireworks do produce light, noise and air pollution, although in the moment the light and noise are pleasurable to viewers. They  also release  chemicals and particle-laden haze. But what is the impact of fireworks on birds and animal life? Does it make a difference to make that kind of noise in the summer or the winter? And why is there so little written about the ecological impact of fireworks?
The  Audubon Society cites the case of New Year’s Eve 2010 when 5,000 red-winged blackbirds were startled from their nests in Beebe Arkansas when professional grade fireworks were set off by amateurs. They died by colliding into buildings, cars and trees. It appears that fireworks are also more problematic in the winter months when large groups of birds cluster together at night.
There are other studies that show that shorebirds leave nests and become disoriented, including a  2011 study from a New Year’s Eve in the  Netherlands that recorded thousands of birds taking flight for 45 minutes “clearly disturbed and stressed by the fireworks, with wetland areas and nature reserves being especially sensitive areas due to the large number of birds that gather there.”
The impact on whales in captivity of large percussion fireworks has also been studied and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association has set up standards for coastal areas where marine mammals and birds could be disturbed by fireworks. It can also be argued that fireworks are similar to  natural occurring thunderstorms and lightning to wildlife.
There is no doubt that fireworks and celebrations have gone hand in hand in the 20th century. Are fireworks still ecologically appropriate in the 21st century? Or are fireworks so culturally tied to our ideas of celebration that any ecological impact is not important?


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This article by Toronto’s Darryl Kaplan suggests that the love affair with shopping malls will be extinct within 15 years. Quoting Kaid Benfield who writes about the trends towards walkable downtowns and suburbs “This decrease in outer suburban development isn’t “urbanist wishful thinking”:  it is fact.  It’s also fact that central cities are growing again, after decades of decline – and, for the first time in a century, growing at a faster rate than their suburbs.

And people are driving less with annual decreases in miles driven peaking in 2005 and now at  1995 levels. People ARE using car shares, biking and walking and using transit. There is quite simply a modal split away from a motordom dominated life.

According to a 2014 article titled, America’s Shopping Malls Are Dying A Slow, Ugly Death, the news is bad , “About 15% of U.S. malls will fail or be converted into non-retail space within the next 10 years, according to Green Street Advisors, a real estate and REIT analytics firm. That’s an increase from less than two years ago, when the firm predicted 10% of malls would fail or be converted… Within 15 to 20 years, retail consultant Howard Davidowitz expects as many as half of America’s shopping malls to fail.”

Yesterday I was reminded that there were no neighbourhood  bakeries or butcher shops in the local big malls, and how valuable those services are to the local community. Indeed those services ARE the community, the same as local merchants that support local events and sell the Girl Guide cookies on behalf of the neighbourhood troop. That fineness of grain and neighbourly attention to being part of the community is valued and coming back. As Kaplan states,  “as quickly as retailers turned their backs on our pretty Main Streets some years ago, we will reject their giant flashing lights and empty parking lots. And when they see the future and seek to re-connect with a real community, we will welcome them with open arms.”


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KPMG has published an interesting take on what policy changes need to be in place for the rise of autonomous or driverless vehicles. Given that so many enterprises are working on this technology, KPMG feels that this will be the car of choice within twenty years.

Realizing that such a dramatic and drastic change in driverless technology will mean a reboot in policy at all levels of government, KPMG has identified five areas where there are major policy ramifications. These are:

1.Transport Infrastructure Investment-Since decisions on public investment are based upon cost benefit analysis, driverless cars are a certainty in the future. Because of that, financial analysis of transportation projects today should be factoring in the use of driverless cars. It is suggested that with no need for crash barriers, lanes could also be closer together, with significant less cost for roads, and use of land.

2. If in a driverless world there is no need for driver’s licenses, there are implications for countries that have dual licenses, for example, British Columbia where the license is also the Medical Services Plan card.  Other countries use the driver’s license as a citizenship card. Time will be needed to separate the systems apart. Traffic regulations will need to change to reflect driverless technology standards. Vehicle registration may form a basis of raising revenue for the use of a driverless car.

3.Revenue-Driverless cars still need roads and there will be investment in digital technology for the vehicle’s bandwidth and for communication to other vehicles.Government may want to create the control centres for these vehicles and not leave it to the private sector, providing a usage tax to replace gasoline tax revenue.

4.Spatial Planning-Having access to a vehicle without owning it means more accessibility and universality in usage, with more vehicle miles being travelled and higher usage of vehicles.Street widths can be narrower and KPMG suggests that there is no need to use sidewalks and curbs to separate pedestrians from the technology.With no need for garages or parking lots or on street parking, this could mean a revamping of land use on a scale not seen since the introduction of the car.

5. Security-There will need to be a protocol to ensure that the systems cannot fail, nor can they be undermined by malicious intent.With falling accident rates and little fatalities, the insurance companies will need to refocus their businesses. Personal data associated with the use of these vehicles will also need to be secured in a way that can access the payment systems in the cars, but still be confidential.

KPMG sees this time as an opportunity for policy makers to commence the thinking of how best to maximize efficiency and revenues with a technology that will have great social and economic ramifications. It will be curious to see in a few decades whether their perceived policy direction forecasts were accurate.

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It’s an interesting match with a disruptive technology pairing with a 20th century retailing success. At Wal-Mart’s Annual Conference held on June 1st, it was announced that Wal-Mart Stores will test grocery delivery with Uber and Lyft drivers, starting with Uber in Phoenix and Lyft in Denver by mid June.

Customers pick groceries online, employees package the groceries, and Uber and/or Lyft drivers deliver them. The service charge for such service is in the ten-dollar range.

The intent is to take advantage of the shift as North Americans continue to spend more with on-line purchases. Howard Schultz the CEO of Starbucks was also saying to shareholders that Starbucks outlets would be rebranded as  “destinations” now that shopping mall traffic is diminishing. Now you will go to the mall to “experience” Starbucks.

This article in Toronto’s Star newspaper describes more. The City of Vancouver was at first reluctant to accept the Wal-Mart model back in the day.  Will this kind of on-line  grocery shopping and “uberlivery” or “delyft” be mainstream and part of  Metro Vancouver’s future?


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