Stephen Rees's blog

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

Richmond slides in best city rankings

with 9 comments

The Richmond Review decided to run this story on their front page. Which says a lot about free local “news”papers. It is taken from an annual Money Sense survey – and seems to me to lack even the most basic common sense. Our “best” ranking (according to the Review) is in the number of new cars in the city – we’re No 3! Whoopee.

We rated cities based on climate, prosperity, access to healthcare, home affordability, crime rates and lifestyle with subcategories in each area.

Yeah, it’s that prosperity indicator. Am I worse off now that I was in 2007? That was when I bought my car. It is now getting on for three years old. It works just as well as the day I bought it, though thanks to depreciation it is worth less now. That was true the moment I drove it out of the showroom  – but of course if it lasts long enough to become a classic collectable item that could change too. Though in the case of cars, patina does not add value they way it does with furniture and bronzes on the Antiques Roadshow.  (Actually in the case of this survey it makes no difference at all since “new” means “up to three years old”.) Monetary value is actually not a very good way of measuring things. For one thing the Roadshow never mentions inflation. If someone had bought me something in the year I was born that cost $100, it would need to be worth nearly $1,000 now just to keep pace with the decline in the value of money.

Is the number of new cars a good measure of “the best place to live”? Somehow, the fact that some of my neighbours like to trade in their cars every three years does not  make me any happier with Richmond. At the same time, the ranking of affordability is applied to houses: but once again it is perverse in that the way the information is displayed suggests that Vancouver gets top ranking as it is even less affordable than Richmond is. As far as that goes, since I am mortgage free where I live got “cheaper” in terms of its value – but now seem to have returned to what I paid for it. Once again, I don’t see house prices actually make much difference to my perception of the city over time – factored by average incomes or not. The indicator is called “time to buy a house” (Average house price divided by the average family income) where Richmond ranks third (#53 overall) with an indicator of 177. The most affordable place is Portage la Prairie in Manitoba with an indicator of 1, which is ranked #73 overall.

What they are really saying of course is that Richmond is, in the words quoted from Derek Dang, “highly desirable”. Unless that condo you bought now has the elevated Canada Line a few feet from your bedroom window. Accessibility is great, privacy and the view not so much.

Actually you need to read the somewhat complex methodology to see how these ranking were weighted.

Some of the indicators I actually like

WALK/BIKE TO WORK – 7 Points – Data taken from 2006 Statistics Canada reports

TRANSIT – 5 points – Based on the percentage of the workforce utilizing public transit according the 2006 census

So we get no credit at all for the Canada Line, yet it has had some effect on transit ridership since the last annual survey, there’s just no census data on that yet. But only commuting counts, even though it has had significant value for me (and, I suspect quite a few others) in changing my views about how easy it now is to get to events of all kinds in Vancouver, without having to pay an arm and leg to park. In Richmond walking and cycling still seem to be perceived as recreational activities – not serious transportation. The only real change recently has been again due to the Canada Line which meant the new bike/walk bridge to Vancouver and the bike lanes on the north end of No 3 Road. Not that either of these connect to a continuous network of course. And walking anywhere other than the dyke or within one of the larger parks seems to be an exercise in masochism. I live within a mile of the nearest shopping centre – but that mile is along Steveston Highway. There is a sidewalk (on one side only) no bike lanes, and traffic which averages 70 km/hr (posted speed 50 km/hr – speed enforcement negligible).   So (nearly) all the drivers like this route. Like most of the straight, wide arterials in Richmond it seems to offer a fast way to get around, with few pedestrian crossings and restricted volumes of traffic emerging from side streets or entranceways. I do see a few brave cyclists – and some harried pedestrians – but none of them seem to be willing to linger. Conversation on the sidewalk would be next to impossible, most of the time. I cannot leave my back door open in good weather – or sit in my back yard for long – because of the noise.

CULTURE – Bonus points.  A city could receive up to 5 points based on the percentage of people employed in arts, culture, recreation and sports.

This seems to me also to be perverse. Surely the measure of culture should be something to do with participation rates. Thanks to cut backs in all levels of government funding for the arts the number of people employed has been in steep decline for some time. But that does not stop people making art – they just find it hard to make a living at it. And again “recreation and sports” counted this way means that the Vancouver Canucks are seen as important and your daughter’s softball league counts not at all. (Richmond hosts regional and national girls’ softball tournaments at London park.)

In cities, as with most things, what gets measured gets attention. Trouble is, we don’t usually measure things that are very significant but hard to count. Or rather, “mainstream media” seem to get all excited (front page news  is an indicator) about some things which turn out not to be very important at all. At one time, crime rates got all the press. Since they have been falling, you do not see so much about that – but stories about crime (customers of a local restaurant robbed at gun point) and the “failings of justice system” (i.e. we don’t punish those found guilty harshly enough) are still lead news stories. Richmond has significant problems – flood risk, lack of preparedness for earthquakes, loss of farmland and green space, shortage of parks in the  central area, loss of industrial employment, lack of transit to employment locations, lack of public and affordable housing, no shelters for the homeless, rising rates of foodbank use, impact of the cuts in education funding – I could go on. Some of this might be captured by this survey – but most of it isn’t. And anyway just ranking us against other places in Canada does not tell us very much either.

Are we doing well? Are we doing any better than we were? Are we keeping up with other countries? I don’t know. Not from reading this anyway.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 14, 2010 at 12:38 pm

9 Responses

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  1. “But only commuting counts, even though it has had significant value for me (and, I suspect quite a few others) in changing my views about how easy it now is to get to events of all kinds in Vancouver, without having to pay an arm and leg to park.”

    Compared to a quote from your previous post:

    “The choice to go for grade separated rapid transit was more about leaving car traffic as untrammelled as possible.”

    I’ll leave that out there, but a (rhetorical) question: why did you sometimes drive to get to DT prior to the C-line? has that changed since the c-line?


    May 14, 2010 at 1:02 pm

  2. Mezz

    My use of the Canada Line does not indicate approval of its use of cut and cover technology! Indeed, I get around in ways that suit me.

    But at the same time I look at how mode choice is determined – and can be influenced. The interaction of transportation and land use planning is endlessly fascinating. Anthony Flint, for instance, wrote a book that “explored how narrative non-fiction can prompt a dialogue about the 21st century city – both the human-scaled urban neighborhoods embraced by Jane Jacobs, and the importance of infrastructure espoused by Robert Moses.” (Wrestling with Moses)

    I used to drive to events in Vancouver – but the price of parking downtown came to be a deterrent to driving. As did the slowness and inconvenience of transit use which was the next best alternative. Cycling would take too long, involve some steep hills, and risk the theft of the conveyance at the other end of the ride. The Canada Line now offers $2 for 24 hours parking at the Casino/Bridgeport Station – and, off peak, a $5 round trip cost. I don’t have to wait for a bus (infrequent, unreliable) and I can read while travelling underground. Though I would prefer to see the city I am travelling through, that isn’t an option transit now offers. But to go to UBC (for example) means two buses – twice the wait – and a slow, indirect ride. So there the car still wins despite the $5.50 parking charge.

    I spent years trying to use the transit system in Vancouver and had a free pass. But I could get home from work faster than transit (90 minutes plus) on my bike – and most of the time car pooled so I could have an extra two hours a day of useful time. I was also criticized for my bosses for taking transit to meetings. That was “time wasting” according to them – and they were deaf to my suggestions as to how we could make simple, low cost changes to the transit system to make it more attractive. They only wanted cheer leaders. “We’re No 1 in North America!”

    Stephen Rees

    May 14, 2010 at 1:50 pm

  3. Stephen,

    Your comment is one of the best plaid for rapid transit we are given to read.

    It is interesting also because it says a lot about human behavior in front of choice:

    For example you drive to Bridgeport to hop on the Canada Line, but you don’t seem to be willing to do the same thing to hop on the #480 UBC…

    The later bring you to UBC in 35mn (31km/h average, similar to #99B), googlemap indicates 28mn drive by car (40+ km/h average). So Translink could have hard time to do better with a surface transit…

    Going to UBC from Stevenson Highway is probably a ~50km round trip, gas cost probably is north of $5…but we don’t factor it in the equation may be because it is not palatable immediately…

    Note you can still go thru downtown without using the underground portion of the Canada line. At Marine drive, there is always a trolley going to downtown in the next mns or so…

    anecdotally, I use to take the Canada line at Aberdeen, and take my bike with me to downtown, because I feel safer to put in the rack in DT than let in Aberdeen:
    it is mostly due to where the bike rack are located at Aberdeen, and the fact there is always lot of bike on the DT racks, making me less isolated (and given choice, hoping thieves will not pick my bike).


    May 14, 2010 at 8:59 pm

  4. The benefits of rapid transit were highlighted in a recent article in the Seattle Times’ real estate section about the Tukwila area.
    1st quote:..”The neighborhood features some of the most affordable houses in the Seattle area. Recently a three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,768-square-foot house three blocks from the station was listed for $159,999 while a new, custom-looking four-bedroom, 2,590-square-foot house with coffered ceilings sold for $366,000″

    2nd quote: “People from SeaTac, Burien and all over the South End can come and park, take the light rail to get to Seattle quickly, avoid parking fees, save gas and cause less pollution, too. And as more people use the light rail for recreation and for transportation to and from the airport, there’ll be more people interested in looking at living in Tukwila.”
    read the full article at:

    What I find significant about the article is that while the LRT was built and even right after it opened, there was a lot of opposition about it in the letters to the editor..
    Public rapid transit, like public health care, was somehow seen as a communist plot, if not the castration of the red blooded US male.

    But when an average family finds out that by taking public transit, at least some of the time, they can afford a decent home and attend various recreational events, rapid transit start looking good.

    Red frog

    May 15, 2010 at 12:21 am

  5. Voony

    Your analysis is my mode choices leaves out some of the most important elements. At Bridgeport there is a combined headway of Richmond YVR trains – so service is both frequent and very reliable. Bus service in my experience in Richmond is neither. Translink do provide schedule information – but that is not a very reliable guide to wait times. That is why bus stops on the #3 are now displaying real time to next bus information – but, so far as I know, there are no plans to roll that out on any other routes. Translink also advise getting to the bus stop ahead of time – in other words, operators run early if they can to get more time “off” at the next timing point. Those are widely spaced. Buses in this region – and especially on Richmond local routes, get little if any priority in traffic. So service is neither reliable nor fast. So time spent at the bus stop is indeterminate, and is valued by users at twice the value of in vehicle time. And buses missing from the schedule altogether offer a real risk of significant delay.

    And given what I have already said about the time spent travelling, another transfer to a slow trolleybus when I am already on a fast train seems to me to be a retrograde step. Even if the view is better.

    Stephen Rees

    May 15, 2010 at 2:44 pm

  6. Not really sure if the view is better on surface lines. What people really enjoy watching is other people and there are plenty of people on the Canada Line.

    Even if a streetscape is nice, it is static and gets boring seeing it day after day. As well, too many streets are cluttered with moving and parked cars so it is tough to see people from transit vehicles.


    May 15, 2010 at 3:30 pm

  7. The view from the elevated track along No 3 Road is certainly not very appealing. Maybe there is more people watching when trains have longitudinal seating: there is almost no choice but to people watch on the New York subway.

    Stephen Rees

    May 15, 2010 at 3:35 pm

  8. […] Living small in Vancouver [The Globe and Mail] Richmond slides in best city rankings [Stephen Rees's Blog] BC Hydro, Grouse at stalemate over Eye of the Wind [CTV] Olympic Village […]

    re:place Magazine

    May 15, 2010 at 4:51 pm

  9. Yes there are plenty of people on Canada Line and, like passengers on all forms of transit, they’re all doing their damnedest to avoid eye contact with anyone else on the train. Most passengers travelling alone read, play games on electronic devices or look out the window. Even underground where there’s nothing to see a lot of passengers stare out the windows to avoid getting seen looking at anyone else.

    The longitudinal seating aboard Mark I SkyTrain cars forces people to look at each other, which results in some of the highest levels of shoe gazing and Metro/24 consumption anywhere. When the train fills up the alternative is usually someone’s rear end or crotch so the behaviour is understandable.

    If Richard manages to people watch on transit without negative responses from his fellow passengers then he must have movie star looks and a real gift for the blarney.


    May 17, 2010 at 9:38 pm

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