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

Archive for February 2nd, 2008

Traffic fatalities dropped in 2006

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Canadian Press

OTTAWA – Transport Canada says traffic fatalities fell in 2006, even though the number of drivers rose.

The department says fatalities dropped 0.6 per cent to 2,889 and serious injuries were down 2.6 per cent to just over 15,000.

The number of drivers rose to 22.3 million in 2006 from just over 21.9 million the previous year.

Since 1987, road traffic deaths have declined by 32.5 per cent and the department says it wants to reduce the death toll by another 30 per cent by 2010.

Traffic fatalities account for almost 95 per cent of all transport-related deaths.

2,889 is a big number

To put it into perspective, seventy-seven Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed since the Canadian military deployed to Afghanistan in early 2002 (as of Jan 15).

Written by Stephen Rees

February 2, 2008 at 12:38 pm

Posted in Transportation

Train in Spain sets out to beat the plane

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The Guardian

Oh the subs at the Grauniad are having fun today. The last time I posted about high speed trains I got lots of hits. So I am going to do it again. A new high speed line will open this month from Madrid to Barcelona

I found a much better image than they did anyway (but the site is in Spanish, not surprisingly). The trains are German, where they are called ICE (InterCity Express) and like the French TGV need special tracks to get to their top speed. 220 mph

The aim is to have 10,000km (6,200 miles) of high-speed track in Spain by 2020, meaning that 90% of the population will be no more than 30 miles from a station through which the train passes.

The Barcelona line is to be extended to Perpignan in France, making the Catalan capital just four-and-a-half hours from Paris. Work to join Madrid and Lisbon is under way.

December saw the opening of lines connecting Madrid to Valladolid and to Málaga, which have slashed journey times and proved hugely popular. Carrillo describes the success of these two lines as “unprecedented and well ahead of what we expected. Traffic has doubled on the Málaga line, and grown by 75% on the Valladolid line.”

The distinction between the Spanish and British models of investment, says Christian Wolmar, the author of a history of Britain’s railways, comes from conflicting philosophies of rail’s worth.

“We ignore the social values of trains,” he says. “Just as we don’t expect motorways to pay their own way, we shouldn’t expect trains to.

Actually AVE is expected to be profitable. And another way to correct this imbalance is to charge road users for their use of road space. And charge more to use the road at peak periods.

At these sorts of speeds even Canadian distances look conquerable.

“Time spent in a train is time won, while in a plane it is wasted,” he [Aberlado Carrillo, the director general of the state rail operator Renfe’s high-speed service] says. “In a train you can work, read, talk, use the internet, eat, or simply relax and enjoy the journey. With a plane, the only objective is to arrive.

“Personally, I am not bothered if the plane arrives 20 minutes earlier than the train. The question is how that time has been used.”

And of course if we were really serious about greenhouse gas emissions, we would be seriously looking at ways of getting people off planes and into electric high speed trains.

UPDATE February 18 2008

A story in the travel section of the Guardian has a very different looking AVE train

Written by Stephen Rees

February 2, 2008 at 9:17 am

Posted in Railway

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CP steam train part of B.C.’s celebrations

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Alright, I will admit that it was an excuse to use one of my pictures. This loco will be “used to celebrate the province’s 150th anniversary of when it became a British Crown colony.

The steam train journey will wind its way through communities dotting the CP line from June 1-30 as part of the provincial government’s bid to celebrate B.C.’s rich heritage and progress since 1858.

Goody.

Actually this image should really be creditted to a very nice CP official, who refused to let me cross the tracks to get on the sunny side of the train – but then agreed to take the picture himself. He did a great job. Getting shots of the engine on these occasions is always difficult. The gricers are bad enough. But the people who insist on standing in front of the loco to have their own picture taken drive me to despair.

I think I will treat you to another one

Written by Stephen Rees

February 2, 2008 at 7:35 am

Posted in Railway, Transportation

Mentally ill overwhelming police: report

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Pete McMartin

This is not normally I subject I would go for here. But given my reaction to the latest sophistry from Kevin Falcon, we need to understand why people on SkyTrain get bugged by an “aggressive panhandler or nut”

Come to think of it, isn’t it time that someone told Mr Falcon that people with a mental illness should not be referred to as “nuts”. I applaud Rafe Mair for being open about his mental illness. I find it hard to do that myself, but I will stand alongside him and Corey O’Brien. And before you sneer, think on this: it can and probably will happen to you. It is a lot more likely than winning the lottery.

UPDATE This is now (Monday February 4) getting more attention on CBC News. Today the province is now talking about a 150 bed facility in the DTES before the Olympics – but as the former advocate for mentally ill (fired by the Liberals when they came to power) there are 2,000 people on the streets and another 1000 in shelters, all in need of care and not getting it.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 2, 2008 at 7:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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Paradise Makers 1 – Architects

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SFU City Program at Harbour Centre

Audio Podcast

In the programme this is entitled “The Challenges of Today’s Vancouver” but it seemed to be mostly about “iconic architecture”. I have used the title above because in the series that makes more sense – look at the list of the other lectures and it is all about different groups of paradise makers.

Gordon Price tells me that I am addicted to blogging. Well he may be right, but he started me on this – although he will not be aware of it. I was impressed by PriceTags and thought I should be able to combine writing and pictures in some way to further my own views. And the WordPress free software and web hosting made it a lot easier than the work that goes into his excellent publication. I am no designer. I am also relying too much on technology – as I found when my palmOne Tungsten E2 told me it was going to shut down to save its battery. I think I will go back to my Moleskin.

So I have decided to start writing now while it is fresh in my mind, as I do not have the copious notes I usually have.

The evening started with a slide show by Scott Hein of the City Urban Design Studio – which is part of Development Planning. He outlined the principles that the City of Vancouver uses to assess development proposals. These include, compatibility and fit, neighbourliness, livability, safety and security, view protection , open space, streets as urban realm, heritage conservation, waterfront access and tree retention. (You know if a building satisfies half of these criteria it cannot possibly be exciting too.)

He then showed a number of buildings to illustrate these principles at work. (At some future date I may try to find images to back up these bald words). Gastown Parkade, The Portico at Granville, Grace (Downtown South), Parks – which is seen as a “centre of excellence” for buildings like the restaurant at Kits Beach

And coming up – Woodwards. If I understand him correctly the secret of doing a whole city block is to make it look like at least four – and preferably many more – different buildings. With a courtyard and “a sense of playfulness” (no I am not making that up!).

He also referred to “iconic” buildings which included the Seattle Public Library, the Experience Music Project and the Guggenheim in Bilbao Spain as a “provocation” to the panel.

The Panel was composed of

  • Brent Toderian – who is not only the Director of Planning but a fellow blogger (I didn’t know that)
  • Trevor Boddy of the Globe and Mail
  • Hadani Ditmars “Writer at large” author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone
  • and Bing Thom – who designed SFU at Surrey Centre

Now at this point the Palm gave out so now we are into impressions not records. The good news is that Brent has posted to his blog already “Does Vancouver need (or want) Iconic Architecture?” So maybe I do not need to write too much here as he is obviously much better at telling you what he thinks than I will be. He wanted to recast the question a bit and thought what most people want to know when they talk to him is “Why do all the buildings look the same?” Fortunately all the panel members spoke in English and not in architecture. I am afraid Scott Hein left me fumbling – for I really did not understand half of what he said. All professions have their own jargon, and architecture is no different. Except that architects take existing words and give them quite different meanings to their everyday usage: like “articulate” for example. And not many other people use words like “fenestration” either (it means windows). At the GLC, where I used to work, I moved from Planning into Policy Studies, as I found most of the planners were actually frustrated architects, all stricken with the same communication issues. No wonder – they need drawings and models to make themselves understood.

Trevor Boddy was one of the better performers, and his “after dinner” speaking style appealed to everyone. He started off “I like Velveeta”. The reason the buildings all look the same is that they are the building equivalent of processed cheese. Perfectly safe, nicely packaged and convenient – nutritious but a bit bland. He has some very powerful views about why architecture in Vancouver is going wrong. And he is also very adamant that the Globe and Mail is a better paper than the Vancouver Sun. Which is not saying very much.

He was especially scathing about the view cone calculations that determine the both the size and shape of the buildings in downtown – but the views themselves may only be visible if you stand in the centre of a busy street intersection. He felt that it was more important that you be able to see the inlet when you drive down a street. (I think he may have been ironic, but it’s hard to tell with architecture critics.) He thought that Canadians tended to “sand each other down” – and he said that he gets more vituperative email when he says something nice about a building, than any criticism he makes. He also talked about what lack of affordable housing and the march of the condos eastwards is going to do to the “cultural creatives”. Or maybe that was Bing.

Hadani Ditmars has been travelling back and forth between the Middle East and Vancouver: she contrasted the experience of living in cities like Beirut or Baghdad – which seemed like an endorsement of bland to me. She showed images of two buildings both designed by leading architects, and now ruins: both loved by the locals, and both likely to be replaced by corporate Bahrain style buildings. She also talked about experiencing the city from the #22 bus, and the way innovations like a congestion charge change the everyday experience of moving though a city. But also about talking to people on the bus. I have not done her credit – there are not many people who quote ninth century Sufi poets so readily or effectively. Her presentation style played havoc with the sound, so Boddy took her beads.

Bing Thom spoke very simply. He used short words in short sentences. quikShift would like him. He thinks that the old grey hairs need to get out of the way and let the younger generation have a chance. The current code, which he wrote, and allows planners so much discretion, needs to be discarded. If only because the planners have not used that discretion. He also said he had been threatened by the planning department. An interesting argument developed with Brent – who said that the planners do not and will not “bonus for architecture” – good architecture being a basic requirement. He sharply pointed out that Bing’s “glass shard” had not been built – and went off on a riff on “bait and switch”architecture. There was general agreement that marketers were to blame for most of the failings of our buildings, though developers got a rough ride too – mostly because they use cost as a reason for not doing good design. This also provoked an exchange with Gord, who asked why good design necessarily meant “expensive”. Bing also had a very good example of what happens here – with the use of the site of the former bus depot in front of the Sandman Hotel. This could have been a major multipurpose centre but instead they are going to go for an international competition for a new Art Gallery. The VAG thinks it needs a unique building as part of its identity – picking up the AGO’s lead ( a truly dreadful building in my view by the way) of using architecture as a “brand”. And they are not willing to share the site with anyone else – even if they get the top bunk. Bing bemoaned the loss of 18 months work bringing various groups together for nothing.

Michael Geller had some ideas about what could have been done at the existing VAG building – and that prompted a lot of clucking about the Robson Square clam shell – universally derided. Bing also thought the convention centre extension a huge mistake likely to be replicated by the soccer stadium.

The microphone in the centre of the room was left open for anyone to come up and speak during the discussion. Michael Geller had a go – and accused architects of copying the “eyebrows” he had put on one Japanese inspired building but now appear everywhere. One young woman unwisely said “I don’t know about architecture” which brought the swift response that everybody experiences it, but being Canadian is too polite to talk about it. The example of the London “gherkin” was brought up – which, if it had not been, I would have. It is iconic all right – and very controversial. But perhaps that is the point. It gets “ordinary people” talking about architecture. The designers, apparently, did not want to build an icon, just a good building.

If I may go off on my thoughts at this point, it does need to be recognised that controversy and icons go together. The buildings of Richard Rogers for example, like the Pompidou Centre or the Lloyd’s building, are a result of form following function, and not just hiding all the services in the concrete pile at the heart of a glass tower. But the most iconic of buildings – the Eifel Tower – was not built by an architect and had no real function other than to display its own structure. At the time it was the centre of an uproar. European cities after all have had riots over operas. London had a sense of similar outrage over a building which neighbours St Paul’s cathedral (now there is an icon) “a carbunkle on the face of an old friend” said Prince Charles – one of the few occasions I found myself in agreement with him.

The discussion actually finally got around to this point. Do we actually want arguments and controversy? Brent felt that of all the things on his agenda, iconic buildings would be pretty low on the list. (applause) He also said that density is not the answer to all our problems. “It won’t cure the common cold.” Hadani thought that there should be more involvement of ordinary people in the decision making process. Bing just thought there should be better buildings and more new minds. Trevor spoke last and I think very presciently. He talked about learning to fly: about how you have to get the plane to climb to the point of stall. He thinks that Vancouver is at that point – shuddering just before plummeting. How you handle the descent is, of course, the test of the pilot. He thought that the 1989 Toronto crash had actually produced some good debate about what the city should look like. It seems to me that is a high price to pay for getting better buildings – but I hope he is right and he stiffened my resolve to sit out of the housing market a bit longer.

It wasn’t a lecture – but it would have made good television. I do not think it was videoed as a lot of these things at SFU are: but it should have been. Perhaps Gord should consider inviting Shaw tv over next time.

(WordPress servers shut down unexpectedly in the middle of writing this piece. I think you can probably see the join. Web based software has a number of failings: unpredictability being the worst.)

Written by Stephen Rees

February 2, 2008 at 6:02 am

Posted in Urban Planning

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