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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for October 19th, 2006

Tag, you’re out! School bans recess games

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ATTLEBORO, Mass. — Officials at an elementary school south of Boston have banned kids from playing tag, touch football and any other unsupervised chase game during recess for fear they’ll get hurt and hold the school liable.
Recess is “a time when accidents can happen,” said Willett elementary school principal Gaylene Heppe, who approved the ban.
While there is no districtwide ban on contact sports during recess, local rules have been cropping up. Several school administrators around Attleboro, a city of about 45,000 residents, took aim at dodgeball a few years ago, saying it was exclusionary and dangerous.

(source: Associated Press Published: Thursday, October 19, 2006)
You couldn’t make this up. The motive, of course, is fear of liability for a law suit once a child is injured and the school is sued. Maybe the parents should now get together with a class action suit against the school for making the children obese due to lack of physical activity – actually a much worse, and real, threat to their well being than the scraped knees that we have always accepted as part of the price of kids playing in the yard. In fact, I cannot see any reasonable court taking a suit about tag seriously, but then all you have to do is go to http://www.thisistrue.com to find plenty of really silly law suits.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 19, 2006 at 4:01 pm

Posted in Urban Planning

Downtown Vancouver

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Lunch with a friend in downtown Vancouver today gave me the opportunity to look around at the construction sites of the new Canada Line stations on Davie and Granville Streets. Work is at an early stage so there is not much to see, and there are fences with heavy sheeting around the construction zones, to protect passers-by from the dust of drilling. So no opportunities for photography – even though pictures of holes in the ground have little appeal to me. I think that Peter Battistoni (of the Sun) must have had privileged access for his photos which appeared in the paper earlier this week (not on line).

Davie Street is now unusually quiet. The hotel next to the station site has already converted its on street parking into back in, perpendicular – making the most of the siuation by increasing the space marked for “valet parking”. Nearly all of the on street meters in the area (which are pricey) were occupied, though none of the shops seemed busy. Mind you, this is a part of town where one computer specialist only opens in the afternoon.

The noise on Granville ( block south of Georgia) was deafening. While there was some pedestrian traffic on the narrow sidewalks, left open during construction of the station box, most shops seemed quiet – and this was between 12 and 1 when you would expect the office lunch time crowd to be out and about.

Much more interesting was a construction site of one of those thin towers with townhouses in the base that will occupy a site on Homer. The excavation looks to be three or possibly four levels down for underground parking, so these are not going to be cheap housing! Fascinating to watch a Bobcat shovelling crush around the base of the columns.

While most works in the core will be deep level shield tunneled, the station boxes will take two years of cut and cover before these streets reopen. I will have to go look up how the interchange of passengers between the Canada and Expo lines will be handled. Looks like a bit of a hike to me, but I suppose that there was insufficient clearance between the top of the old tunnel and the street for a station – and an extension further south to replace the SeaBus seems to likely to remain a pipe dream (sorry about that).

UPDATED 26 October 2006 and photos added

Further south on Sea Island, box girder construction is starting on the approaches to the new Moray Channel bridge, and the trench on Cambie Street between 49th and 41st is well advanced.

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Arthur Laing Bridge

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Middle Arm Bridge

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Written by Stephen Rees

October 19, 2006 at 3:50 pm

Translink halts plans to fight congestion

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Translink halts plans to fight congestion

This is an admission of failure.

Coun. Suzanne Anton said failing to expand the system “would almost be like giving up on our mandate.”

“We’ve made a deal with citizens,” Anton said. “If you get out of your car, we’ll provide you transit. So we’ve got 100,000 people a day at that [Broadway SkyTrain] station out of their cars, and we’re not able to keep up with the transit they require. That’s the big challenge for this board.”

The mandate is in the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority Act, which requires that there should be a Strategic Plan and that that Plan must support the region’s growth strategy. Both of these requirements have essentially been abandoned. Instead of a Plan there is a long shopping list of capital projects, with priority going to those that someone else will pay for. The GVRD’s growth strategy has not been revised since it was adopted in 1995, and has been augmented by the Sustainable Region Initiative – only no-one is exactly sure what that means. The LRSP was written in fairly general terms, but once Bill van der Zalm got rid of the GVRD’s land use powers, there wasn’t much they could do about regional planning anyway.

The GVTA has never been popular. Regional authorities cannot expect to be universally liked, but the “two steps removed” indirect election of Board Members leaves the distinct impression that as a body the GVTA is not especially accountable, and the Board has not done enough to remove that impression. It has not shown that it is open (moving its own key discussions into in camera session or Board workshops at the slightest excuse: trying to extract information from its web page is, to say the least, frustrating) and resorts to press releases and spin rather than candour.

Moving to a three year planning cycle was the product of internal staff maneuvering. The five year Strategic Plan setting targets that were increasingly difficult to meet, and the staff conviction was that it was better to work with the province and – if they would be willing to play – the feds – than try to go it alone.

The GVTA was supposed to be a regional body with secure funding. That hope died with Ujjal Dosanjh, and the ill considered vehicle levy. The province has always had the view that Greater Vancouver has recourse to property taxes, and the GVTA now uses them (something that its predecessor, the Vancouver Regional Transit Commission refused to condone) but with understandable reluctance. Although it has happily accepted that if it fixes its rate early enough, the product will get higher as assessments rise. And the new commercial parking levy is another property tax, but at least it does not impact too many voters directly.

Voting is, of course, at the heart of the problem. Though Greater Vancouver has the majority of the province’s population, the way that seats are distributed in the leg does not reflect this. And the more right wing governments have always managed to do well in the “heartland” by appealing to anti-metropolitan sentiments in small towns and rural areas. They are not alone in this. Ontario has always got away with underfunding the TTC using very similar electoral arithmetic.

Mr Harper is probably not very sympathetic to the ideas of the LRSP or transit. He certainly has shown a less than enthusiastic commitment to the environment – same edition of web edition has this on the front

The Harper government’s green plan will adopt a go-slow approach to cleaning up air pollution

which doesn’t even make the print edition. And the federal support for transit and cities in general was a Liberal commitment – and therefore easy to avoid.

Raising all its own money from within the region would have been politically very risky. The commitment to the LRSP is wide but paper thin. Everyone accepts the need for clean air and water and lots of greenspace. We would all like sustainability – as long as it doesn’t actually cost us anything. But very few voters would support a large scale commitment to the sort of changes needed with the price tag now attached to them. Much better, from a political standpoint, to spread that cost to the province – or the country – as a whole, if at all possible. But that puts the GVTA at the mercy of other levels of government who have other things to worry about than the GVTA’s mandate.

So now we wait for Falcon’s review. I am not going to offer any hostages to fortune by making predictions, but I cannot say I am hopeful.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 19, 2006 at 9:40 am