Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for April 13th, 2008

Density the Richmond Way

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I have done a similar thing once before for Price Tags #44– but somehow that ended up more like a lament for the then unprotected trees than a careful examination of the impact of a new policy.

Richmond has decided to allow increased densities along arterial roads which are also bus routes. At the same time it wanted to encourage the use of rear lane access, to cut down on the number of driveways emerging on to through traffic routes. Williams Road is an east west arterial that has been reduced to one moving lane in each direction, with bike lanes and a centre left turns only lane. It works really well, except when the yahoos decide that the turn lane is for overtaking. The bike lanes also should mean no parking on street. Yeah, right. Not when there is a yard sale, or a realtor is showing a home. Or someone from California gets lost.

The road has always had partial bus service – but a few years ago now Translink introduced a Community Shuttle to cover most of the road.

Extract of bus map

We are going to be looking at the section between Shell and No 4 Road. Most of the houses here used to be bungalows or side splits. Short fat houses with quite large yards.

Standard side split

A 4 bedroom house like this is currently listed at $725,000. Here is the plan for this site.

Rezoing Application

So after rezoning there can be two homes. Each of which will be tall, long and thin. And look like these under construction next door.

New Construction next door

Houses like this can have up to 6 bedrooms and also list around $700,000. When completed the redevelopment will look a lot like these new houses across the street. One thing that strikes me is that as these developments have progressed in small discrete increments, while there is a family similarity, there is not the rather dull regimentation that tends to characterise larger scale developments. I have always been quite surprised at architects here who praise the London terraced house, which I grew up in and still find a bit depressing in their lack of individuality. Owners of such properties tend to go a bit overboard in trying to distinguish their homes ( see “My pink half of the drain pipe”)

New houses

As you can see from the diagram on the rezoning notice, access will be from the rear lane for vehicles. This means that the front door is only actually used by visitors. Or, I suppose, the odd process server or transit user.

On the same listing search I found a site on Williams for “3 properties for potential townhouse site total 31,650 sf lot. High density district.” listed at $2.2m. What is noticeable about the area I have highlighted is that all the replacement houses were single family detached. Although, the degree of separation is minimal, and I rather think that they will be occupied by large extended families or have a secondary suite (Richmond will allow one per house, but many I know have more). I have no idea how many townhouses you could get onto a lot that size.


This is a quite large bungalow, still very presentable and, in my eyes desirable, if out of my league financially. The large yard is what I like – but the new houses have no space around them. The ground level is also about a foot or two higher – using grey, dredged river sand as fill. So there is not much recharge of the ground water here. The increased weight of the houses and the lack of rainwater penetration means this land is going to be sinking ever lower.

It seems to me that if this is the sort of redevelopment pattern we can expect to see across the region’s older suburbs, much of the anxiety has been overdone. In my view, the transit service in Richmond is still less than adequate. It is not at all unusual for me to get a call from my daughter for a ride home after school as the overloaded shuttle bus has passed her – and it’s a 30 minute wait for the next one. The new homes do not have parking out front – which means that the general street ambiance is improved over the older rented properties which all seem to have a large number of vehicles parked around them – many immobile.

For reference a typical new home is around 2000 square feet, on a lot 35′ wide and 120′ deep. Oddly the listings I have been looking at do not specify the number of parking spaces but at this price I would expect a 2 car garage. Given the land value and the typical cost of a wood frame structure, the profits in this kind of development are substantial, but the main requirement for a developer is having access to a workforce. The construction technique is labour intensive, with very little prefabrication. It is not uncommon to see workers on site 7 days a week, and tipping up frames by hand. Finishes have usually been vinyl siding made to look like lumber, or stucco. Recently some truly tacky fake brick and stone facades have appeared on the “build to suit” sites. Most development has been on spec, to a fairly standardised appearance, I think owing a lot to the “craftsman” image.

In back of the arterials, the subdivisions are also changing but more slowly. The density of houses per unit of area does not seem to be changing, but lot coverage certainly is. I noticed a house down the street standing empty, with its windows gone, and the garden full of slash. So I expect to see the JCB move in soon. I will keep my camera eye on it and do a follow up later.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 13, 2008 at 7:45 pm

Posted in Transportation

State Farm Blooper

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When two people send you the same story within 20 minutes, you know you are going to have to blog it.

got a bit bent out of shape when a large US auto (and other) insurance company made fun of someone who decided to switch to cycling due to high gas prices. The reaction was massive and predictable and State Farm backed off and has not only withdrawn the ad but yanked it from Youtube too.

Thanks to Al Pasternak and Ron Richings

Written by Stephen Rees

April 13, 2008 at 5:54 pm

Posted in bicycles

Tagged with

What I have been doing this morning

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I have gone back into the SFU posts and added photographs by Jason Vanderhill (with his permission of course). I am trying to ensure that posts here have a balance between words and pictures – or rather illustrations (“For what good is a book without pictures or conversations” thought Alice) and I really appreciate his blanket approval. Jason is not only a better photographer than I, but he also uses a Sony Cybershot which seems to get images that my Nikon 4800ED can’t manage.

I have been reading John Taplin’s blog about the American economy, and he seems to back up my worst fears.

And, by the way, if you have been thinking we are doing well becuase our dollar is at par to theirs, think again. This graph shows how many of our dollars it takes to buy a Euro.

And that is not good news either. (This is not one of those charts where up is positive) I find the Sauder School UBC Currency Trends service very useful. As Taplin points out since oil is priced in dollars, the apparent rise in fuel cost is not hitting them. And they also do not have to worry about a flood of cheap US imports of goods – since the US does not make make nearly so much these days, and what they do make does not fit all that well into a European lifestyle. Although Tony Blair did drive a Dodge Caravan (which says a lot in itself).

And also I have been reading Erika Rathje’s suburban observations. She didn’t like my suggestion of using Google image search but for some reason I found this appealing

I have also been avoiding the news about the property price crash in the UK

I am joining the ranks of the hopeful – that continued overseas interest in Vancouver and the chance of a quick Canuck buck off the Olympics will keep our market bouyant. Not that I intend to move again after this one.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 13, 2008 at 1:01 pm

Posted in blog update

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The hub of car culture takes a turn to public transport

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The Toronto Star reprints something they credit to The Economist. Oddly enough I cannot find the original on the Economist web page.

It has some distinct echoes for us here. Once again Zev Yaroslavsky, the man who nearly stopped the subway with a ballot initiative, is talking about a neighborhood revolt against transit oriented development and “elegant density”. “Joel Kotkin, an urbanist at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., compares it to rewriting a DNA code.”

But there is not one mention of the transit system that created Los Angeles – the Pacific Electric – also known as “The Big Red Car”. In fact this has entered popular culture. Watch almost any black and white silent movie from Hollywood’s early days – most were shot outdoors and with no sets – and there will be a street scene with trolley or interurban car. (For the impatient the trolley footage starts a 6:52 – but it is worth watching the whole thing – trust me)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (spoiler follows) was about the plot to build freeways and destroy rapid transit

Judge Doom: A few weeks ago I had the good providence to stumble upon a plan of the city council. A construction plan of epic proportions. We’re calling it a freeway.
Eddie Valiant: Freeway? What the hell’s a freeway?
Judge Doom: Eight lanes of shimmering cement running from here to Pasadena. Smooth, safe, fast. Traffic jams will be a thing of the past.

Eddie Valiant: So that’s why you killed Acme and Maroon? For this freeway? I don’t get it.
Judge Doom: Of course not. You lack vision, but I see a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off, off and on all day, all night. Soon, where Toon Town once stood will be a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly prepared food. Tire salons, automobile dealerships and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see. My God, it’ll be beautiful.

and the classic line

Eddie Valiant: That lame-brain freeway idea could only be cooked up by a toon.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 13, 2008 at 7:11 am

Delta Celebrates Earth Day

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Written by Stephen Rees

April 13, 2008 at 6:34 am

Posted in Environment