April 26, 2019

The House that TEAM Built: Reflections from Living Legend V. Setty Pendakur

Legendary is not a term to be taken lightly, but neither are the accomplishments of TEAM (The Electors’ Action Movement), the municipal political party formed in 1968 in Vancouver by Art Phillips. TEAM steamrolled into City Hall with an 8-seat majority in 1972, and is credited with steering the city into a direction which is often recognized as upholding a world-class standard for quality of life.

Similarly, living legends are rare. But, in the case of V. Setty Pendakur — as with Vancouver council in the TEAM era — the ‘legend’ label just isn’t up for debate.

Transportation engineer, professor at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning, self-described agitator, family man, and the city’s first (and still only) member of council of South Asian descent, Pendakur is one of the central figures from that TEAM blowout. His opposition to the city’s long-planned downtown freeway brought him into the political fold, and the ’72 election result dealt with that issue decisively.

And that was just the start.

In just a single term of elected office — which, at the time, was just two years — Pendakur either directly led or influenced some of the most important changes this city has ever experienced, feats of urban planning and engineering whose reverberations are still felt today. The Stanley Park Seawall (and its curious connection to housing development); the waterfront plan, which led to the connected public paths from False Creek to the west side beaches; the Development Permit Board; the Property Endowment Fund; the social planning department; CD1 zoning; and the institutionalization of community consultation.

Pendakur dishes on these backstories, plus his impression of public life as a member of a visible minority over a generation ago. He speaks to what it means to be Canadian today. And he tells us which category of civil servant he considers to be most like a buffalo.

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By Jeff Leigh
The Vancouver Sun has posted an editorial about the controversy regarding the proposed Kits Beach Park bike route, “Don’t Wreck Kits Beach Park with Unnecessary Bike Lane
Leaving aside the quip about chanting anti-car slogans (the advocacy group I work with has as a guiding principle respect for all transportation stakeholders – there aren’t winners and losers), there are numerous fallacies presented in the op-ed piece.  Starting with the title.  The proposal is for a low-speed path, not a bike lane.

Cyclists, on the hand, cannot safely ride through the throngs of pedestrians on the existing path — although many try — and want a route that allows them to complete a seaside circuit without interruption or the inconvenience of vehicular traffic.

We agree that riding through a throng of people walking on the existing shared path isn’t safe.  But diverting people on bikes (especially families with children) to a busy street and through a parking lot, particularly in summer, isn’t about inconvenience.  It is about safety.  It is about respecting the principles established in our city for movement, with people walking at the top of the pyramid, and people on bikes next.  Not last. And certainly not behind preserving all of the space for cars that is being championed here.
This is about park planning.  Note the photo the Vancouver Park Board use on their web site:

The matter was supposed to be decided at a Vancouver Park Board meeting this past Monday, but the board voted to refer it back to the engineering department for further study.

The construction of a bike route wasn’t supposed to be decided by Park Board Commissioners.  The recommendation by Park Board staff was simply for staff to work with City transportation engineering staff to advance designs, and develop budget cost estimates, in preparation for a full public consultation.  The Park Board Commissioners did not refer it back to Engineering, as Engineering isn’t a Park Board department.  They failed to refer it back.  They left it in limbo.  References were made in the meeting to next year’s Park Board commissioners dealing with it.

Considering that a bike lane through this park has been debated for five years or so, one might have thought that all the study would be done. But the total cost, the number of trees to be lost and other details are still unknown.

All the study was not done as Park Board staff did not start work on it until late in 2017, in response to community pressure to deal with a worsening problem.  That pressure came from the cycling community.  But also at the table with Park Board staff were local residents and representatives of various park user groups.  The costs and potential tree impacts are unknown because that work hasn’t been done yet.  The staff recommendation was for that work to be done. Park Board staff will struggle to do it without hiring outside expertise, or working collaboratively with Engineering staff, who had offered to help.

The route from Balsam Street and Cornwall Avenue in the west to Ogden Avenue and Maple Street in the northeast would result in the loss of about 930 square meters of green space, roughly the size of two basketball courts. Demonstrators before the meeting carried signs reading: “Is concrete the new green?”

There are many options that reduce that impact, and offsets that result in no net increase in paving if that is desired.  Those options are open to the Park Board. Utilizing existing pavement would be the first way to answer the concern.  That means dealing with the question of retaining all existing parking, designing a safe route down the existing service lane to the restaurant, and so on.
But if the goal is to remove paving, fine.  Should we start with the tennis courts, the basketball courts, or one or more of the three parking lots?  Or should we instead simply find a way not to encroach further. A basketball player and a tennis player holding signs saying “No Paving in the Park” may be inclined to opt for the latter.
Lowering the tone of the debate doesn’t help. Why is a safe path through the park called a cycling speedway?  Why the references to the Tour de France by path opponents?

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On the surface the conflict on Kits Point is about a continuation of the Seaside Route through and around park space. The Park Board has punted that decision.

Delay and indecision is pretty much the Park Board strategy everywhere within their jurisdiction.  See Jericho:

But the way some of the Kits Point residents (the most successfully parochial community in the city) have framed the debate, it’s also about a larger policy issue.  Is cycling for all an activity to be accommodated and encouraged in parks?
Two Park Board commissioners (John Coupar and Sarah Kirby-Young, NPA) used concerns over lack of details – no route, no costing – to avoid a decision to proceed.  That no doubt surprised the staff who must have been instructed to prepare a report without those details in order not to inflame the community with the impression of a foregone decision.
So the Park Board failed to affirm or reject the position of the opponents, which (without quite saying it) is that cycling should be kept out of their park.  Quote: “ ‘I’m happy with that. It’s a reprieve for the moment,’ said Peter Labrie, a Kits Point resident who believes a bike lane through the park is unnecessary.”
If the Park Board refuses to make a decision on a properly designed bike route to connect and continue the Seaside, they would be affirming that position.  Their position by default would be that an activity which promotes healthy recreation, is necessary for active transportation and advances the city’s sustainability goals is not something to be encouraged in their parks.  (You can see why they don’t want to have to say that.)
This protest is also about an even larger agenda, as articulated by Howard Kelsey of the Kitsilano Beach Coalition.

(Kelsey) suggested the decision represented a broader win against cycling advocates he believes had held sway over the city’s agenda.”
“The cycling agenda was just put on hold,” he told supporters. “They are not driving the agenda anymore.

Conclusion: Many Kits Point residents and allies want to discourage cycling in the city by preventing the funding and construction of safe cycling routes for all.  And they have come very close to saying that.
The question now is whether those running for office will also support or reject that de facto position.  Or will they pursue the NPA strategy of never saying no but never articulating a positive alternative, and where possible never voting for anything decisive.  Cycling will simply be suffocated.

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Peter Ladner added a comment to The New Point Grey Road – 4 that I wanted to copy here – first, so it wouldn’t be missed; second, to add my own comment.  Which is this:

I never put any credence in the idea that a Vision council would close PGR at the behest of the rich – good ol’ Chip, in particular – to please their friends, contributors or the Mayor’s new neighbours.  So I was surprised when that kept being repeated as a presumed motivation.

It doesn’t make sense.  First, that a centre-left party would be willing to do such a thing. I’m pretty sure they didn’t get a lot of votes from the north side of PGR, and aren’t likely to now.  (Hello, Nelson Skalbania.)  They’d be more in danger of losing support from their base.

Second, in the face of local opposition, the first instinct of a party in power is to spend the money somewhere else, preferably closer to their supporters.  I well remember when I was on Council that as we were planning a Nanton Street greenway, it created some modest resistance on the West Side.  Given both opposition and other choices, the money ended up being spent on the East Side.  One need only walk or cycle the 37th Avenue Ridgeway to see the difference: almost no amenities west of Ontario; abundant traffic calming, public art, street furniture and pedestrian lighting to the east.

So why take the heat on PGR?  I presume because it’s part of a long-standing, cross-party commitment to completing the Seaside Greenway, creating a continuous car-free route as close as possible to the water – whether seawall and/or bikelane.  The NPA led the way, in my partisan opinion, with the work we did on the Seaside route on the north side of English Bay: a lane taken on Beach, parking eliminated or reconfigured, and yes, the paving of a separate lane through the greensward starting at the foot of Cardero Street. 

With clear opposition to extending the seawall on the foreshore below PGR (hell, today it would be impossible to build the seawall around Stanley Park), the current PGR creates the next best thing: a link between Kits Beach and Jericho, and there’s no real substitute for that.  It was worth taking the heat.


Here’s Peter’s take on the same issue and the reaction of a local resident:

I sometimes wonder how much of the opposition is cover for a totally understandable screw-the-rich instinct. What would the reaction to this closure be if the adjacent residents were all lower income? Why aren’t people outside this area happy that disproportionately higher property values along PGR mean higher city taxes for those benefiting from this closure and therefore lower taxes for everyone else?

People overlook the fact that the ridiculously rich people on the north side of PGR are a small minority of beneficiaries of this change. I estimate that a majority of the beneficiaries north of 4th are tenants, not to mention other people from around the city who will now be able to enjoy this street and its five rarely-used waterfront stairways.

Other than the odd angry outburst, there’s no evidence that life is any worse along 4th Ave.

Here’s one PGR resident’s expression of relief, from the West Kitsilano Residents’ Association website:

“Regarding the impact of more traffic on these side streets due to the change of making PGR open to everyone in the city including those of us living on PGR who no longer are kept up at night to 11am with load radios blasting from idling cars backed up at the PGR & Alma traffic light.

“Nor do I have to wait to get into and out of my car when parking or leaving my home because of reckless speeding commuter traffic who had no regards for the fact that we live on the street. Also I can walk my dog on the sidewalk since bikers, who feared for their life riding on PGR (especially between Blenheim and Alma) were riding on the sidewalks!

“My question to those now regrettably having to live with extra ‘local’ traffic on their streets: Are you dealing with 9-10 thousand commuter extra speeding cars? This was the nightmare we were living with for years.

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Richard Campbell makes the case:
Today, by my quick estimate, the parks lining Point Grey Road would cost around $300 million to acquire.


Currently, these parks are rather isolated and difficult to access.

Point Grey is not very safe to cycle on nor very pleasant to cycle, walk or run along. Certainly not a pleasant or even safe family outing. There is little free parking so people can’t easily drive there either. The noise of the speeding traffic makes the parks less enjoyable to spend time in. People driving and cycling by would likely get harassed and honked at if they tried to slow down to enjoy the view. Certainly, the we are not able to get fully value of this gift from previous generations with Pt Grey as a commuter route.


While the Sun’s headline screams Vancouver’s Point Grey Road set to become a ‘park for the rich’ with new plan restricting traffic, the reality is anyone rich enough to afford a bike, a pair of shoes or a $2.75 bus fare will be able to enjoy the new Point Grey Road. …
With only 50 or so homes along the Point Grey waterfront, not even most millionaire can buy a piece of the view. With the Point Grey Cornwall Greenway, everyone will be able to enjoy the fantastic $300 million views!
Full post here.


UPDATE: The report to Council is here.

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Richard Campbell noticed first:



It tooks years too long, but at last the seawall is now connected from the Convention Centre to Coal Harbour Green.   

Because the new path comes in at a hard angle, west-bound cyclists crossing the ped path at fast speed on a downhill slope will have to pay special attention to distracted pedestrians coming down the stairs and not sure which route to take.  There’s a need for some of that green surface treatment at the crossing.

Backstory here and here.


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