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

Public Transport and Neighbourhoods

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Hank Dittmar at SFU Surrey Centre City November 3, 2008

Hank Dittmar

Hank Dittmar

This was the first of a series of lectures being given this week to introduce the new Visiting Fellow in Sustainable Development at SFU’s City Programme

The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment is one of 29 charities set up by the Prince of Wales. This one has a focus on the built environment. It is an educational charity practice based learning and is creating exemplars and models for the practice of Sustainable Urbanism. There will be exemplars on every continent by 2011. Each one includes strategies of climate mitigation and adaptation.

The following “Timeless principles” are used to guide the design
– mixed use, mixed income neighbourhoods: this allows for everyone to be be able to access the goods and services they need in a short walk: “the 5 minute pint”
– interconnected street network
– transect
– location efficiency and access to public transport
– design by hand

Local intelligence and adaptation

Appropriate technology
– renewable energy
– sustainable urban drainage
– financing and affordability
– materials

Cities and CO2 – There are two views of the city. Traditionally cities are looked at as concentraion sof the problem. On the basis of emissions per on square mile cities appear to be a problem. But when shown as emissions on a per capita basis it becomes clear that cities are very efficient places. City dwellers produce less GHG per household than those in suburbs – mainly because they do not have to drive so much.

The idea of the Transect was originally developed by Andres Duany and is covered in the link to his earlier lecture. Mr Dittmars has created a Typology of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Places. He stressed that different parts of city need diff transit types from“5 minute frequencies in the urban centre” to lower frequencies in the outer suburbs with a fast “line haul” to the centre. He showed a number of examples they have evaluated and observed that Zurich most effective transit system in the world.

He sees an increasing role for trams which goes beyond that of the regional metro. he was not inetersted in debating bus vs rail since different modes have different applications. He showed examples of seven different alignments and noted that there is a growing interest in on street running. One of the Best Case examples showed Zurich where the inner urtban area (T3 in Duany’s transect) has curb lane trams. He had a wide range of images to demonstrate that public transport is not something to be tucked out of the way.
He was especially impressed by the fact that the City of Portland financed its streetcar by “value capture”. The provision of the system had increased the value of the land along the route and some of this was transferred to the City to pay for thge system. It is also worthy of note that Zurich voted against metro for upgrading tram system. It was he said a rare expample of a system designed to benefit the users and not the operators.

Sherford Plan

Sherford Plan

Sherford is a new town near Plymouth planned around the distance people are prepared to walk. They first determined what is within the walkable distance of the houses. They also drew “desire lines” showing where the trips would be concentrated. They created four neighborhoods with activity centres but 40% of the land is reserved for a county park,  which alos houses the wind turbines that provide much of the local power needs. This has shown what it takes to make a town work well is to make it work for the pedestrian.

Walthamstow – is a suburb in North East London. Since it is the terminus of the Victoria Line and has suburban rail servcies too is is one of the most accessibe places in London. However most of it was developed in the late nineteenth century with mostly two storey buildings. The plan was to make Walthamstow a reception area for higher density to capitalise on its accessibility but this was met with a  storm of protest against high rise developemnts. Earlier developemnts in the East End had imposed tower blocks which were not only very unpopular but had also become very unsafe. They held an  enquiry by design which showed that mansion blocks of 5 to 8 storeys with internal courtyards, and terraces with more than 2 storeys woudl be acceptable and increase net resiential density. They also developed a plan to rebuild the existing one storey shopping mall into a 5 to 7 storey building with retail on ground floor. They also “increased permeability” of the centre to create easy walk to station. In a survey this design was preferred by 60% of the respondents. When built out they will have added 2,438 new households and also  reduced emissions of CO2 by 4,654 tonnes.

Opposition to development is based on the impact that people have experienced. Development has usually made the place worse. The aim now is to produce developments that enhance the quality of people’s lives.




Q – You seem to have only very traditional architectural designs. Poundbury has been laughed at for its quaintness
A – It is laughed at only by the people who don’t pay a premium to live there. It has also been copied by architects all over the world

Q – how much of public acceptance is due to what people are used to?
A – environment doesn’t determine behaviour but it does enable it

Q – affordable housing – how is that achieved?

A – It is a typical requirement of the UK government that 15% to 30% of a development must be affordable housing. Housing Associations can apply for central government grant to help offest the cost of development. Dvelopers also use shared equity: the developer sells a portion of the freehold. Affordability is created by central govermnent policy and funding

Q – Do you have anywords of advice for municipal councils on streetcars
A – You can start small and you can save large amount of money by staying with the lightest, leat complicated system. It is a city development strategy not just a transit strategy.  Portland provides a model of value capture from upzoning. Streetcars don’t exist in isolation: they are a neighborhood scale distributor and collector, they are not a line haul transport system.

Q – How do you finance mixed use developments? And how do you get employment?
A – This is covered in his book New Transit Town. They found that there is not a problem with financing mixed use development in city centres. So the answer is to go and find the people who are used to doing it. People don’t know how to finance complex sustainable development. He wants to create an asset class of mixed use since he knows that “if you measure it, they will finance it”
For employment it starts with retail and commercial development which has to be in places on where people want to go. Since initially at least there will be few people around, they must be on a desire line to somewhere else. The first phase will be the high street where there will be strong traffic from day one. In other words build the neighborhood along the arterial roads.

Q – What is your view of the UK’s ‘town centre first” policy  and of suburbs in Vancouver
A – Town Centre first is under attack in UK by the big box retailers who calim it is “unfair restraint of trade”. Many cities in the UK applied the  wrong standards to big box stores in town centres – he cited the example of Lincoln – which had unintended consequences
– He said that he had not had the opportunity yet to walk around suburbs but it seemed that SkyTrain did not think through the role of stations. He was also critical of the idea of the tower in the park. This provides density that is not well connected – “a vertical cul de sac”.  However he acknowledged that it is very hard to go into established single family neighborhoods and change things

Sherford High Street

Sherford High Street

Q – Your design of a High Street seemed wide and lacking intimacy and seemed to be car dependent. It is also noticeable that shopping malls are pedestrian streets in private space
A – Sherford is modelled after Marlborough – which is what people wanted and  is very successful. There will be pedestrian streets off the high street. And ” we crank every wide street to slow traffic. We have to accommodate the car – for now. We have got to get people close where they want to go. Even in Amsterdam 40% of the people drive.”

Q – ecodensity – is there an example of retrofit density that has been succesful anywhere?
A – No I don’t know of one within the blocks. Many places have increased density on arterial streets e.g. Pasadena. Mostly increase in density in neighborhoods comes from allowing accesory units and alley units

Written by Stephen Rees

November 4, 2008 at 12:15 am

3 Responses

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  1. […] Original post by Stephen Rees’s blog […]

  2. Very interesting and is along the lines of what the LRTA have been reporting. Today, the UK is anti tram and pro bus, because buses need new roads and highways and the UK Roads Lobby has the Treasury’s ear.

    This on par with the Gateway project and our own Roads lobby.

    Malcolm J.

    November 4, 2008 at 7:40 am

  3. […] 2 comments This was the second Hank Dittmar lecture I attended this week – this one at the SFU downtown campus. He subtitled this […]

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