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

Archive for May 24th, 2007

Draft charter calls for leap in housing density

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Draft charter calls for leap in housing density

Frances Bula, Vancouver Sun May 24

Expect a howl of outrage from Granville Street. Increased density along major routes is an obviously essential part of eco-density, but don’t expect that to carry much much weight with the movers and shakers of the NPA who have already one major scalp: they stopped bus lanes (they called it “Say No to Granville Highway” to make it sound respectable).

It is probably worth spending some time at the web page devoted to the initiative, because the document itself is very brief. This is what it says about transport:


  • Create communities that allow people to live closer to most of their day-to-day destinations, including work, parks, shops, community centres, park and recreation areas, child care centres and other services.
  • Reduce transportation’s carbon footprint by favouring more sustainable transportation modes and introducing disincentives to car use.
  • Design neighbourhoods to be highly walkable and cyclable with good access to transit, bicycle and pedestrian networks to provide connections to other areas in the city and the rest of the region.

That’s it. There’s a slightly longer bit in “Sample Tools and Actions” – but not much. And anyway it is all about “could” not “will” or “should”. I detect a certain air of diffidence about the whole thing. It does not seem that NPA is going to get at all worried about the challenges facing the planet – or the region – any time soon.

Toronto has had a similar strategy for some time. That was based on the realization that they simply could not afford to expand their subway system – and that it made little sense to build a subway under a neighborhood and at the same time promise no increase in density. Which is what happened with the Bloor – Danforth line. They decided that the major arterials would see both an increase in density and improved transit. The density would be three and four storey apartments on top of the groundfloor commercial/retail, with townhouses in the streets behind with tapering density as you got further in to the residential areas. Not clusters of highrises around subway stops, as had occurred on Yonge as was anticipated on Sheppard East. However, so far as I know, the streetcar system has not yet seen any significant expansion. For, as usual, that depends on finance from the province.

The City of Vancouver has wanted streetcars for its downtown for some time. That has never been part of the regional strategy. In fact is is quite easy to sell trams to city dwellers – even on streets like Broadway. What they don’t want is people from outside Vancouver using their streets to get through their neighborhoods. In their minds, Granville is a “residential street” . Significantly, Portland decided to add streetcars to its city centre, but as a separate venture to the regional rapid transit system.

VPL #6674, Philip Timms, 190-, streetcar on 600 block West Hasting

Vancouver developed as a streetcar city, and the basic structure is still there. Of course in those days, through traffic was carried by the railways. The major commercial streets could cope with the traffic they generated and did not have to carry the self propelled commuters and the heavy trucks of today. Which is why we cannot just rebuild the past.

But I have a strong suspicion that the outcome will be something that can appeal to the pressure to keep neighbourhoods pretty much as they are, while providing a good opportunity for the developers and realtors to carry on making huge amounts of money.

(This post was updated on May 26, 2007)

Written by Stephen Rees

May 24, 2007 at 9:30 am