Stephen Rees's blog

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

Regional Planning

with 4 comments

One of the ways to find material to put into a blog is to use Google News and its alerts. I was thinking about setting one up on “regional planning” – but as this article points outs

It lacks an emotional spark, and nobody has joined it up with a publicity campaign that would commend it to busy, preoccupied people. Therefore it never reaches the wider world of movie-goers, TV-watchers, players of video games, workplace automobile commuters, seniors, juniors, and moms and pops who drive to school to pick up their children.

And the only reason I looked at that article was that it was the first one in three pages of Google links that was not about the United States. And it may seem surprising, given what we Canadians like to think – and say – about Americans and their free market ways. But it is clear that communities – and their media – in the US take regional planning very seriously indeed.

It may be because it actually matters what is in the regional plan because that is a condition of getting federal funding. And that is critical for most infrastructure (that big word again) but especially for transport. It would be unthinkable for someone like a state Governor or Secretary of Transportation to simply announce a $2bn project as a “done deal” and just go through the motions of patently insincere “public consultations”. Indeed, in most states the citizens actually get to vote on projects such as the extension of light rail, and the widening of a freeway.

That does not happen here. The province yesterday announced a “request for qualifications” for a P3 contractor to build the Highway 1 expansion which includes the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge. As though it was going to happen. The endorsement of the environmental assessment is simply taken for granted. Because the officials at MoTH know that the EA is not really going to look at what the highway expansion will do to the environment or the regional growth strategy. They know the greenhouse gas forecasts are as bogus as their dismissal of the transit alternative. They know they are going to increase sprawl, and generate lots more traffic, and drain the transportation budget. You can hear them now in 2014 telling why we “cannot afford” the promised LRT – or even rapid bus – across the new bridge. Because transit is seen as something that might be nice to have but it not as essential as the opportunity to sell more houses and more cars and make more money by building things.

I am going to use my tombstone again, and I make no apology for doing so. Thank you for reading this. I’ll bet very few people do. The article on this blog that gets the most hits is the one where David Berner chose to copy the title from a frankly pornographic novel.

Tombstone

Written by Stephen Rees

May 26, 2007 at 12:51 pm

4 Responses

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  1. I very much appreciate your blog and the information contained in it. As I have indicated in an earlier psot we just returned to Vancouver after 3 years away and cannot believe what has happened to the region and the city. Our plan was to work for 3 more years and retire in the Fraser Valley. We are now rethinking this plan and we are looking to returning to eastern Canada to finish off our working lives.

    A number of things puzzle me and perhaps you could provide some comments on them.

    1. On a very practical level how did the Millennium line planners miss the opportunity to serve BCIT and the surrounding office parks with the line?

    2. In my work I visit clients in large office parks in Richmond, Langley and Burnaby that will never in the foreseeable future see transit service, at least not the kind the commuters would you use as an alternative to the car. If all the GVRD cities agreed to the liveable region plan how did this happen and when and how did the liveable region plan come off the rails?

    3. The peninsula area of Vancouver now has, I believe, the second the highest density in North America and levels approaching many European cities, and yet still transit, in my opinion, is still very poor in that area. What is the transportation plan for the area and where are the planned routes?

    4. I believe the combination of Vancouver’s ecodensity and the expansion of highway 1 and the Port Mann will increase sprawl. As Vancouver becomes more dense and provides less land for support services to that population, truck terminals, warehouse, transfer facilities, contractors yards, etc. these facilities will be forced more into the suburban areas and xurban areas of the region, thus causing more sprawl and dependency on the auto. Is there any empirical data or research to support such a position?

    5. Could someone please explain the polemic that exists between Vancouver and surrounding suburbs? Your note refers to Vancouver not wanting anyone to use their streets. “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”” Yes the good people of Vancouver don’t want more vehicles on their streets, conversly I don’t want any more warehouses and trucks in my neighbourhood that are only here to service Vancouver. I agree we need regional dialogue on how the region is to develop, without dialogue the liveablity of the region will be greatly diminished. How will this dialogue begin?

    Thank you

    Ron

    May 26, 2007 at 7:23 pm

  2. Ron

    Sorry about the delay in responding. Akismet is being overly officious in spamming comments – including my own, and I am trawling through the hundreds of spam posts to find the genuine comments such as yours.

    1. The Millennium Line was built by the province. As usual, it was done down to a price, not up to a standard, and was supposed to be open by 2000. It wasn’t. The route chosen along the Lougheed Highway was simply the cheapest way to go as the province already owned the right of way. It’s odd looping route was a result of the use of the existing yard to store trains. The line through Sapperton would have been a very low priority if it were not for the need to get the trains home again each night. The really important sections – out to the TriCities and along Broadway towards UBC are still not built.

    2. While the LRSP was adopted region wide there is no authority to enforce it. The GVRD lost its land use powers when Bill van der Zalm developed Fantasy Gardens, and no one has wanted to restore them. So the plan is honored in the breach. The municipalities all (more or less) think the plan is nice to have but go their own way whenever it looks like they will get a useful increase in tax revenue.

    3. The transportation plan for Vancouver is on the city web page, and the ecodensity initiative is recommending it be revised. Translink is trying to get more buses, but its future is uncertain, so thanks to UPass we can look forward to overcrowding on most routes in Vancouver for years to come. The Canada Line was not in any plan – regional or city – and is swallowing resources. The City road network is largely completed, and City engineers are trying to persuade Translink to allow them to spend their MRN allocation on other things like bikeways and pedestrian improvements. The other cities’ engineers on MRTAC are not keen on establishing this precedent in case it threatens their own favourite road building schemes.

    4 The best research on the change in land use is on the GVRD’s web page. They report each year on how the LRSP is doing. Essentially all the industrial land in Vancouver and much in Burnaby along the Expo Line has now gone for housing. The developers make more money more easily from building condos and townhouses for sale than industrial commercial for rent, except in areas where they can buy cheap land – usually the ALR.

    5 As long as there are 21 municipalities jealously eyeing each other these local fiefdoms will war with each other. It is about time we had effective metropolitan government.

    Stephen Rees

    May 28, 2007 at 6:55 am

  3. Ron Said: (May 26th, 2007)

    “1. On a very practical level how did the Millennium line planners miss the opportunity to serve BCIT and the surrounding office parks with the line?”

    2. In my work I visit clients in large office parks in Richmond, Langley and Burnaby that will never in the foreseeable future see transit service, at least not the kind the commuters would you use as an alternative to the car. If all the GVRD cities agreed to the liveable region plan how did this happen and when and how did the liveable region plan come off the rails?

    3. The peninsula area of Vancouver now has, I believe, the second the highest density in North America …

    4. I believe the combination of Vancouver’s ecodensity and the expansion of highway 1 and the Port Mann will increase sprawl. …

    5. Could someone please explain the polemic that exists between Vancouver and surrounding suburbs? … ”

    The Millenium Line would have to jog about 1 km south to get to BCIT, and then jog back another 1 km north to go east along Lougheed. It couldn’t serve both Brentwood and BCIT. The extensions further west in Vancouver, to Granville Street, and beyond, eventually to UBC, are all blocked by the City of Vancouver and it’s endless property owner politics. The City would never agree to any alignment proposed by the Millenium project office, because some would be angry to be impacted, and others would be furious to be left out.

    Those suburban office and industrial parks may not be served by rapid transit, but buses shouldn’t be a problem if they are located on or near arterial roads. A comprehensive regional bus network will be more viable with a better arterial road system and a suburban freeway network similar to Edmonton’s Anthony Henday Drive:

    http://www.infratrans.gov.ab.ca/INFTRA_Content/docType353/Production/ahdmap.htm

    The notion that Vancouver has the second highest densities in North America is a Gordon Price/Larry Beasley/Georgia Straight piece of self-serving mythology that helps in marketing downtown real estate at $600 per square foot, … at which prices a family of four can live in a comfortable 1,500 sf apartment for a mere $900,000. Of course, that doesn’t take account of monthly maintenance fees! There are many census tracts in Montreal and Toronto with much higher densities that can be found anywhere in Vancouver.

    A genuine increase in urban densities in Vancouver, sufficient to produce lower, more affordable apartment prices, should reduce the demand for family housing in the suburbs. That needn’t push out industry if the densities are increased in residential neighborhoods. Why isn’t every block within three blocks either side of Cambie Street being rezoned for seven or eight stories rather than three? Because Vancouver ratepayers believe that supply side restrictions will assist them in obtaining the highest possible price for their homes when they eventuall do sell.

    As for the “polemic” between Vancouver and the suburbs it’s partly a contest to maximize property prices and to capture shares of the industrial and commercial tax base. But it’s also about political and social status. Besides a concern that Gateway and Port Mann could lead to a more competitive real estate market and therefore lower real estate prices in the core, which could cost someone who’s anticipating a non-taxable capital gain of over a million dollars in their principal residence $50,000 if prices simply slipped back a mere 5% or so, there’s a phobia about losing political status to Surrey and Langley. Even people who don’t own their homes or apartments but live in Vancouver proper like to think of themselves as better, more sophisticated people that the dweebs who live in the outer suburbs. But if Surrey eventually has more people than Vancouver, inevitably senior government and mass media attention will gravitate there, and those living in Vancouver will have lost some of their political clout and status, and therefore some of non-monetary standard of living.

    Budd Campbell

    May 30, 2007 at 1:30 pm

  4. “a more competitive real estate market and therefore lower real estate prices in the core” is not going to happen any time soon. It is a simple function of limited supply and seemingly insatiable demand. Comes from being “the best place on earth” I suppose.

    Stephen Rees

    May 30, 2007 at 3:48 pm


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