Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for March 3rd, 2008

Tyee on EcoDensity

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I am sure that a lot of you have RSS readers set up for the Tyee’s web page, especially those who have contributed to the longish debate that occurred here last time I picked up something by Erick Villagomez. Well he’s back with more but this time the focus is on affordability.

On the face of it more homes per acres or hectare should be cheaper other things being equal. Land costs are the largest element of most ground oriented houses, so it you can get more people into the same space then you would have thought that the cost per dwelling for high density isa lower than fro low density.  But land values are not the same over time or across space, and the comparisons that Erick produces introduce both dimensions. He also makes statements like

the costs of renting (or buying) such dwellings is still intrinsically tied to the land value of the lot on which it lies. So — similar to the situation described above — if land values continue to rise, so do the costs of rental.

Which seems to be sound theoretically, but runs contrary to actual experience. Landlords acquire property as a store of value, and in the expectation of capital gain. As long as the rent they collect covers their holding costs, and they have good tenants who are problem free and take care of the premises, raising the rent may not be the most important concern. Of course there are corporate landlords who will try to raise rents as much and as often as the law allows, and they often wonder why they have such a hard time getting and retaining good tenants. Or rather their unfortunate building managers do: the corporate executives being above such mundane concerns.

The point of all this of course is just to stress once more that density is not in and of itself the answer to anything. It can reduce costs, both of land and servicing. It can be affordable, if the land use is done properly and people can save on other costs. I was looking recently at new packages of timber frame housing being sold in Britain: the unit cost seemed to me to rather high, until I realized that the occupants would not have any energy costs. So initial capital outlay may be high but life cycle cost should be economical. Above all, the people who distrust politicians who come up with brand names for simplistic solutions are right to be wary.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 3, 2008 at 12:13 pm

Posted in housing, Urban Planning

Tagged with ,

Garden City Lands

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The Garden City Lands Coalition has created a new web site. For people unfamiliar with the issues it provides a neat summary. The link on the blogroll takes you to their blog (of course) which is a good way to keep up, but probably requires some basic knowledge and background.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 3, 2008 at 8:33 am

More on cycling in Europe

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World Transport Policy & Practice
Volume 13. Number 3. December 2007 (link goes to download a large pdf file)



At the Frontiers of Cycling: Policy Innovations in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany

John Pucher and Ralph Buehler

This article presents six detailed case studies of cycling in the Netherlands (Amsterdam
and Groningen), Denmark (Copenhagen and Odense), and Germany (Berlin and
Muenster). Except for Berlin, they represent the very best in coordinated policies and
programs to make cycling safe, convenient, and attractive. Not only are cycling levels
extraordinarily high in these cities, but virtually everyone cycles: women as well as men,
the old and the young, the rich and the poor. Moreover, they cycle for a wide range of
daily, practical trips purposes and not mainly for recreation. Berlin is a special case. It does
not even approach the five other cities in their cycling orientation. Nevertheless, its recent
measures to encourage cycling have achieved an impressive bike share of trips for such a
large city, higher than any other European city of that size. Thus, all six of the bicycling
case study cities examined in this article truly are at the frontiers of cycling. They have
many lessons to offer other cities in the Western World about the best ways to encourage
more cycling.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 3, 2008 at 8:06 am

The Broadway Tube

with 33 comments

Two items of interest – the first a short piece in the Province which reports on the generally favourable response to an opinion survey released by the Mayor’s office. I think someone needs to tell Sam that he will not be responsible for building this line. As usual it will be built by the province using a project office independent of Translink and almost certainly a P3. The amount to which such projects are responsive to municipal concerns varies – Vancouver gets more attention than Richmond, of course, but it is still well outside the control of the City.

And then there is the same story but spun the other way by CTV, which stresses the impact on businesses.

It has this gem

City Councillor Suzanne Anton said the method of “cut and cover” is actually more effective for businesses because the road is kept open.

“When you tunnel, you actually have to close whole intersections for lengthy periods of time which we’ve seen downtown,” she said. “When you cut and cover, you actually keep the road open the whole time. Cambie Street, with all its challenges has been open the 100 percent of the time.”

I have seen deep bored tubes constructed in more than one city. Only in Vancouver have I seen intersection closures, but that was not due to boring, but to the open cut construction of station boxes. In London, when the new Victoria Line was bored through the central area it included a new underground station concourse underneath Oxford Circus. The intersection remained open throughout as a steel “umbrella” was built over the site. What Susan Anton seems to think is that the way it whas been done for the Canada Line is the only possible way. I can understand politicians wanting to get in front of the tv cameras, but I would caution them from making statements which only reveal the depth of their igorance.

Or, come to that, prejudice.

Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon says with any major project there will be an impact.

But if the line is built down the Broadway corridor, the “cut and cover” option is pretty much impossible, he said.

CTV goes on to note that

The method and the location of the project is yet to be decided, and the soonest the project could be complete is six years from now.

But our Kevin is certain he knows what the outcome will be before the studies have even started. That is because in the final analysis, whatever any objective study might conclude he already knows how he wants it done. And his first concern (as always) is that motorists keep – or gain more – roadspace.

The real questions of course will not be asked at all. There will be no publicly accountable study which looks at the various options and comes up with an objective assessment of priorities. The UBC line has come to the top of the heap by some magic process, not one that we humble mortals will be allowed to question. Just like the Gateway was only ever compared to “do nothing”, such studies that will be done will have forgone conclusions. The Minister does not want any surprises.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 3, 2008 at 7:47 am

Posted in transit