Stephen Rees's blog

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

Death of downtown

with 12 comments

Richmond News

The Editor,

Richmond’s downtown has been ruined.

Less than 50 years from now, we will be demolishing thousands of tonnes of concrete along No. 3 Road and wiping the slate clean to start over re-building our city centre’s public realm.

I have lived in Richmond all my life. The other evening, I drove down No. 3 Road for the first time in three-and-a-half months. I’ll do anything to avoid visiting Brighouse these days. It is simply too sickening to see how my city has been defaced. The ominous concrete superstructure that marches along our main street is like a dark symbol of surrender — the public realm sacrificed for mega-project overwhelm.

Spending last weekend in Portland, Oregon, I was reminded it didn’t have to be this way. I rode both the Max inter-urban light rail system out to Orenco Station and the streetcar in Portland’s Pearl District — a proud example of urban renewal. By the way, both systems seamlessly inter-connect, move the masses and preserve a people-friendly, pedestrian-oriented public realm.

How did we fail in Richmond? We allowed ego-centric politicians and inexperienced megalomaniac bureaucrats to spend too much time building issue coalitions and too much time worrying about winning political points instead of spending time worrying about the details of urban design and the long-term implications of decisions made for short-term considerations.

Most cities set their public realm design objectives and their urban design principles and then choose a transit system that is compatible. When did detailed planning start for urban renewal in Richmond’s downtown? Months and months after council reluctantly voted to accept a transit system design foisted on them by outside politicians, bureaucrats and their manufactured coalition supporters looking to win a campaign.

My family settled in Richmond 98 years ago. I can honestly say, given my knowledge of Richmond’s history, the last five years represents the darkest period in our city’s history.

Bob Ransford,


Written by Stephen Rees

October 19, 2007 at 11:33 am

12 Responses

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  1. Wow. That’s harsh. I’m not that familiar with Richmond and the Skytrain line being built down No 3 road, but I kind of like the way it looks in Vancouver and I love the views you get riding it.


    October 19, 2007 at 3:44 pm

  2. I’ll take a contrary position on this one. The internationalism and hyper-commercialism of No.3 Road certainly makes it one of the more interesting and unique places in the Lower Mainland — and I suspect that claim to fame will only be enhanced once the Canada Line is running alongside it.

    The debate over what kind of rail transit would work best for the Vancouver-Richmond line is never-ending. But the bottom line is that something is being built — which is a near miracle, given the resistance to any kind of development along the Cambie or Arbutus corridors in Vancouver — not to mention Greater Vancouver’s regional politics and in-fighting.


    October 19, 2007 at 8:32 pm

  3. The closest analogy I think that will apply is that downtown Richmond will end up looking like the area around Metrotown, Burnaby. It’s rather “blah”.

    Sacha Peter

    October 20, 2007 at 12:28 am

  4. At Metrotown, the SkyTrain runs along the “greenway” that was the old BCER line. If forms a boundary between the commercial office towers and the back of the mall and the low rise, high density residential. It would be quite different if SkyTrain ran along the south side of Kingsway. It is also on the wrong side of the road making rapid transit access to the mall much harder than it needs to be. Like Canada Line, the Expo line was built down to a price, not up to a standard. When you have blown the budget on proprietary automatic trains, it doesn’t leave much for things like stations – and it shows.

    I used to think that No 3 Road was so awful, anything you did to it would be an improvement. There are no stations to see yet, but already the lack of escalators is indicative of the approach.

    You do know who Bob Ransford is, don’t you?

    Stephen Rees

    October 20, 2007 at 10:06 am

  5. I spent about 2 years in Richmond as a teenager in the early 80’s. Even then it was obvious that Richmonds “mall and parking lot” downtown was not meant for pedestrians or cyclists. When I returned on a whim and a bike ten years later I actually had to stop and look at the street sign to make sure I was on #3 Road.
    I’ve seen it again more recently and it’s more horrific then I’d even considered it might possibly get, IMHO.
    It’s not people friendly at all.

    Its concrete and signs with strips of asphalt for cars. It is a complete mess.
    As I recall, many parts of Richmond don’t even have sidewalks, which to me, is the epitome of contempt for citizens.


    October 20, 2007 at 1:01 pm

  6. Stephen, I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

    The walk from Metrotown station takes all of 45 seconds across the walkway and you’re in the mall. However, if what you’re saying is that if they put the skytrain north of the mall (and south of Kingsway) that there would be much better access to the buildings and restaurants on the north side of Kingsway which is much more ‘alive’ than the south side of Central Blvd, I agree.

    Ransford was one of the few people that ran the province in the van der Zalm administration, and one of the guys behind smart growth BC, but what does that have to do with what you’re saying other than that he penned the letter?

    I guess what I’m saying is that skytrain will be built down No. 3 up to Richmond Centre and lots of people will use it to get to and from downtown Vancouver, but it’s not going to cause this miraculous transformation into a “European-style” city which is what you seem to desire.

    Sacha Peter

    October 20, 2007 at 2:19 pm

  7. Can I assume that you are a youngish, physically fit male? Think of Metrotown Station from the perspective of someone in a wheelchair, or a young mother with a big stroller, two kids and a lot of shopping. You have to wait for a tiny elevator. Cross a busy street, cope with curbs, and then get back up to the shopping levels. Transit designers must produce stations that work for everybody. The Mall provides easy access for cars with plentiful parking and direct elevators to the stores. For transit users, especially from the SkyTrain access is distinctly second rate. Yet the trains could have been brought closer to the shops with direct level access – at a price, and not one that the mall or transit felt like paying. That says a lot about our society.

    I had missed – but just discovered – that Metrotown station is being reorganised

    Ransford is also a developer. Yet his opinion of Richmond Town Centre seems oddly congruent to what a Euro-centric, leftish greeny thinks. Anyway, its not what he or I want, its what the Plan says its objective is. And I do not see Richmond’s City Centre becoming anything like what the City’s declared aims for it are.

    There are even parts of No 3 Road that don’t have sidewalks (and I have the pictures to prove it)!

    Stephen Rees

    October 20, 2007 at 4:35 pm

  8. Richmond — or at least No.3 Road, to the best of my knowledge — is not one of the original streetcar villages. Thus, I can’t see it ever becoming an urban village in the spirit of the European cities — or even downtown Vancouver for that matter. It can’t embrace a streetcar village DNA that it doesn’t have (unlike, for example, Lower Lonsdale in North Vancouver; or Kerrisdale or Commercial Drive in the City; or even Steveston).

    If anything, Richmond Town Centre reminds me of the some of the dense but auto-centric neighbourhoods of Southern California. This is not an entirely bad thing. Furthermore, I just don’t agree with the notion that the Canada Line will usher in the death of liveability in Richmond Town Centre.

    Re: Metrotown. Up until recently, I was one of the stroller pushers. A double-stroller, in fact. I agree that it wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t all that bad either. The elevators are cramped sure, and there’s a short hike involved, but it’s not worse than what I’ve experience using rapid transit in other cities (the elevators servicing London’s Tube, for example, are nothing to write home about; and some major cities don’t even have elevators servicing their rapid rail lines).


    October 20, 2007 at 10:06 pm

  9. The old interurban used to run on Garden City to Granville then Railway. “Brighouse” where City Hall is, was not exactly a village, but it doesn’t really matter now, since the redevelopment of the City Centre is so far advanced and so widespread. In my humble opinion the City Centre is much too big to be walkable – but then that may be because my mindset was formed in London where “the City” was the one square mile that used to be inside the walls.

    Auto centric in terms of city centres is a very bad thing indeed. Cities need to serve people not the machines some of them choose to move around in. Embracing sustainability and a walkable centre means reducing the amount of space devoted to moving and parking cars. A good start is the relocation of the car dealers from Minoru, and the removal of a big chunk of surface parking for the new Canada Line station at Lansdowne.

    Surface light rail would have displaced more cars, and provided better accessibility, but that tram has now gone.

    Stephen Rees

    October 21, 2007 at 4:01 pm

  10. Agreed 100% that walkable neighbourhoods trump auto-centric neighbourhoods everytime. But, given the circumstances, I think Richmond is relatively better off than many of its “peer suburbs” in other West Coast or Canadian metros.

    In fact, I think Vancouver’s suburbs overall rate quite well against the suburbs of Seattle or Portland — and Skytrain has a lot to do with that. A Portland suburb like Beaverton, for example, hasn’t exploited light rail in the same way that Burnaby or New West are creating significant density along their two Skytrain lines.


    October 21, 2007 at 5:59 pm

  11. I think that the design and location of the Richmond-Brighouse Station is fine. There are a few issues involved.

    The first is not pandering to the wishes of the mall owner at significant public cost and expense (i.e. to purchase mall property for a station and to divert the guideway over the street to the mall for the benefit of the mall). If the mall wants to be closer to the station, the mall should build out to the curb. This will undoubtedly happen in the future at both Brentwood Staton and Lougheed Station. The classic model is Yorkdale Station in Toronto – originally the station stood in the median of the highway with a passage that led to a barren mall parking lot. The mall eventually built a connection to the station.

    Secondly, having the guideway along the side of No. 3 Rd. avoids ugly tall mezzanine stations that would be required if the stations were down the middle of the street. The stations are much smaller in scale, like Holdom Station, Renfrew and Rupert Stations on the M-Line, rather than the taller mezzanine stations like Brentwood Station. If the guideway were to divert to the mall side of the street, you would need an unsightly bent (post and lintel type support) across No. 3 Rd. Likewise, a pedestrian bridge from the station across No. 3 Rd. would be counter to encouraging a pedestrian environment. i.e. there’s

    Thirdly, the standalone design for the station will encourage more pedestrain traffic around the entire public market precinct (the only walkable area in Richmond) rather than funnelling people into the mall.

    Also, it is safer to have a station on its own rather than primarily integrated with the mall, since mall hours are more limited than transit station hours.

    ron c.

    October 22, 2007 at 12:09 pm

  12. I HATE richmond now…i’ve lived here all my life in downtown richmond and it was nice to walk around the sidewalks on a nice sunny day and now LOOK AT IT!!! it’s filthy and ugly with A LOT of cars and people and now to think that when the skytrain opens…all the downtown junkies will come HERE!!!! that’s sooooooooo gross even when u think about it!!!

    Izzy Lou

    February 14, 2008 at 8:09 pm

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