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Forum on the future of Sustainable Transportation, for New Westminster and the entire region

with 44 comments

New Westminster Environmental Partners held their AGM at Douglas College last night  (November 9, 2010). The meeting was preceded by a forum on the future of Sustainable Transportation, for New Westminster and the entire region. Speaking were Jerry Dobrovolny, the Director of Transportation for the  City of Vancouver (a New Westminster resident and former councillor), Joe Zaccaria of South Fraser OnTrax and  Jonathan Cote,  a City Councillor in New Westminster.

Jerry Dobrovolny opened with two presentations “How the Olympics and Separated Bike Lanes are helping Vancouver become the Greenest City in the world by 2020”

Separated bike lanes in downtown are being built on Hornby and have opened on Dunsmuir. this is not a new idea but has been around since the 1997 Transportation Plan identified cycling as a top priority.  Key city and regional initiatives recently have included a dedicated bike and pedestrian addition to the Canada Line bridge over the North Arm of the Fraser, the Central Valley Greenway, bike racks on all Translink buses and the Carrall St greenway. A key City policy was to not increase the capacity of the road system to accommodate the growth of population. These policies have been followed by several councils and parties, so they are not ideologically driven or partisan.

Vancouver is a growing city

  • Population  +27%  1999 – 2008
  • trips 23% 1995- 2005
  • 180% increase  in cycling
  • 44% in walking
  • Transit +20% (pre Canada Line ) 1994-2004
  • 10% decline in cars coming into the city 1995-2005
  • by 2009 the increase in transit ridership was 50% over 1995
  • prospect of  growth continues with a 23% increase in population expected between 2006 -41 and an increase in jobs

The Downtown cycle lanes trial project was the physically separate lanes on Burrard Bridge. Dunsmuir Viaduct was closed during Olympics so the lanes there were put in during the closure than the rest of the street followed as far as Hornby. When that street is completed there will be a separate pathway through downtown connecting the seawall to Stanley Park to a major connection into downtown.

More than 75% of all trips to Hornby are were made by walking, bicycle and transit before the trial started (city survey Aug/Sep 2010). An increase in active transportation means healthier citizens – cycling for half an hour a day increases life expectancy one to two years. Currently the highest mode split is in the 5km range of downtown, where 12 to 14% of trips to work are by bike. In downtown it’s mostly by walking. When cycling participation doubles, the  injury risk falls by a disproportionate amount.

He illustrated the trends in other cities and said that separated bike lanes are now “best practice”

“Riding a bicycle should not require bravery” Roger Geller Portland Office of Transportation. While 33% of people say that there is “no way no how” they would cycle,  60% say they are “interested but concerned”. The objective is thus in lowering the barrier to cycling by building facilities to make people feel safer. A UBC Cycling in Cities study March 2007 identified what people want. The City had provided over 400 lane kms of facilities but most are not separate.  The Burrard Bridge trial worked: cycling up 26%, with 1m riders in less than a year. Dunsmuir has seen a 400% in riders on two months: not all of these are new trips, a lot shifted from other routes. Pedestrians and business owners appreciate the greening of the street.

Dunsmuir bike lane at Granville

The separation is provided by a combination of planted barriers, car parking and bike parking: loading and drop off areas have different treatment with access to all driveways maintained, key right turn movements maintained with right turn lanes with a dedicated signal where space permits.

Dunsmuir mid-street bike racks

While 158 on street parking spaces were lost on Hornby, 162 spaces have been added on Seymour and Howe as a result of the reopening of Granville Street to buses. There are 10,000 space off street within one block of Hornby, and most people already walk two blocks to their parking space. The design of the street has been evolved through consultation and the use of a web page.

Less than 1% of total road space in Vancouver is dedicated to bicycles, which have a 4% mode share. The city spends $125m on transportation of which only $4m was on downtown separated lanes.

The Olympic Transportation Plan

(A copy of the presentation used is available at the City Web site as a pdf file). The Olympics were seen as a test of what it would be like a decade from now. VANOC brought in a bus fleet as big as Translink’s. Though it was a partnership it is important to note that each partner was pursuing different goals.  We did not say “Don’t come downtown” – we just said “Come, enjoy yourselves but not in your car”.

While there was increased travel demand, there was reduced road capacity as  streets closed due to security concerns. The Olympic was not expected to provide a huge lift in demand and was expected to be mostly later in the day, after the 8am peak but even so the roads would be at over 85% capacity for most of the day. The forecast for 2010 was  25% drive, 54% transit, 21% walk – bike – other (extrapolated trend from 1996 – 2007). We never saw any data collection and post mortems from previous games – only anecdotal information was provided by other olympic cities.

Vancouver conducted a downtown screenline survey and saw a 44% increase in trips (much bigger than model!)

before 407,000 during  584,000

Trips on sustainable modes more than doubled – 61% share on sustainable modes while single occupant vehicle use declined by 41% and transit share was 51%. Walking & Cycling across the False Creek bridges increased from 5,000 trips per day to over 20,000 trips per day. Vehicular people moving capacity was maintained with 20% less road space, partly due to the fact that transit buses were allowed in the special Olympic Lanes for the first time. 80% of spectators used walk, transit or cycle to get to events and the Olympic Line streetcar saw ½ m riders on 60 days.

The Olympics proved we can move to sustainable modes.

South of the Fraser

Much of the content of Joe Zaccaria presentation is on the  South Fraser OnTrax web page.  On Trax recognizes that while they use pictures of trains in their presentations, it may be a bus for a while. “We engage, we don’t protest,  we listen to reason and encourage solutions. We think that we need to engage the community. It is not about stopping development.”

In the issues summary he acknowledged the transit deficit, but stressed that “it is not about getting to Vancouver.  There is now more than 1 job per resident in the Township of Langley, and more than 80% of trips start and end South of the Fraser. We don’t have rail, and there is an aging population. There has been a disconnect between the regional strategy and what has been built. While we built around roads we lack “complete roads” (i.e. roads with pedestrian, transit and cycling facilities) and the is no program of  alternatives to roads for goods movement.

The solutions ON Trax sees as practical include integrated  land use and transportation planning, and LRT connecting Abbotsford – Langley and Surrey. He said that Chilliwack is “not really interested in transit”. On Trax is “open to alignment” [i.e. they are not convinced that the former interurban is the best solution] their objectives being safety and serving the areas of greatest concern. the line has to be economically viable and should be similar to the Portland MAX line with local feeder services.

They therefore support more community shuttles 15/15/7 (15 minute frequency for 15 hours a day 7 days a week). They think that the municipalities will build complete communities with complete roadways to provide opportunities for walking and cycling. They also see Light Rail as a development tool.

The South of Fraser sub region has a  population of 1m now, and that will rise to 3m by 2031.

[NOTE: I may have not transcribed what Joe said accurately – as I cannot type at the speed of speech. Jeff Nagel has pointed out in an email to me

“Metro Vancouver’s projections in the RGS (pg 66 appendix A) show 835,000 from Delta through the Langleys now, rising to 1.4 m by 2041. … Metro Vancouver population projected to be only 3.13 m in 2031 and 3.4m in 2041”
It is also possible that Joe was including the FVRD as well as Metro in his idea of what constitutes “South of the Fraser”]

Only 20% of trips “head over the bridge”. 30% of the population have no cars. He said that there will be increasing truck demand (citing the Gateway forecast)

Destinations in Abbotsford are not on the interurban right of way – nor are the proposed developments. [He was citing the Abbotsford committee reported here at the time] The interurban right of way “Will it still work for us?” While the line is still intact and working for frieght he felt that it did not meet passengers needs and cited the Abbotsford “horseshoe concept”.

When looking at Surrey, without the ALR land it is more dense than Burnaby. [i.e. development densities in Surrey are more than adequate to support transit]  Langley City has an ambitious master plan “Prarie Station” transit hub and a 200th streetcar line . Langley  township has 65% of population 76k within reach of that line now, with 184k by “build out”. They already have high density zoning in place for up to 20 storey buildings.

He then showed a comparison of cost for LRT vs SkyTrain with the “what could $2.8bn buy” from the Patrick Condon study.He also observed that the Translink Surrey Rapid Transit Study is out for public consultation

More information on the nonprofit society can be found at

Jonathan Cote – Sustainable Transportation

The issue needs to be looked at regionally: it is driven by the imperatives of climate change and peak oil.  He noted that the perceived conflict between transportation infrastructure vs urban form was simply a “chicken or egg” issue [serve or shape] It cannot be one or the other because neither can change overnight: therefore we  cannot wait for one to be finished first before we begin the other.

The design of cities will have huge impact. There are three issues

  1. street design
  2. mixed use
  3. density

[Older parts of the region have] an interconnected [grid] vs the dendritic pattern of [post war development]. The dendritic pattern discourages transit and walking. Even master planned communities have only one way in.

Mixed use is not a new concept but the planning mentality has been auto dependent – and we need to get back to [traditional patterns] The segregation of land uses was driven by environmental concerns but the  places were we shop or work are no longer incongruent with residential use.

There is a strong correlation of transit use with density but many public hearings show that density is still a sensitive issue. We need to show that density can take a variety of forms and housing choices. Liveability needs to be included (many early high density housing developments forgot that) but it needs to be in the right place. High density, car dependent development is the worst of both worlds.

5 7 10

  • 5 minutes is the  average walk trip
  • at 7 minutes transit frequency you don’t need a schedule
  • 10 units per acre is the minimum to support frequent transit service

Many single family Vancouver neighbourhoods are 20 units/acre. He referred to a  CATO institute study which concluded that it would be cheaper to buy a car than provide transit in the US. He said that this simply illustrates the mistakes made when they planned their cities.

He showed a “Translink fantasy map” of a possible 2050 system (which is actually pretty much what we have now with a few additions in Vancouver (UBC, Kits and Arbutus lines), and the Evergreen Line). However there is a funding gap and the federal and provincial governments need to play a more active role. Municipalities are being asked to raise an extra $300m per year. Property tax is not appropriate: for one thing,  it won’t impact mode choice. A vehicle levy, gas tax or road pricing are all possibilities. While a vehicle levy or a gas tax would be steps in the right direction, serious work needs to be done on road pricing which is done now in a haphazard way – just tolls on new bridges. To affect mode share we need road pricing that varies by route and time of day. He said that this “has been successfully implemented in many cities across the world”.

Q & A

Q –  About people in wheelchairs on transit – “what’s the plan to make that better?”

a – Joe Zaccaria – Translink has increased the bus fleet with low floor buses. That is  not a cure all. We advocate light rail and BRT level boarding.

supplementary q  – “My chair is two inches too wide for the buses” [Note: the questioner was using a powered scooter, not a wheelchair. These are not designed to be used within buses but for on street use. This has been a long standing, unresolved issue as there is no regulation of dimensions for scooters, but they have never been accepted on buses and many cause problems on other transit modes too.]

Jerry Dobrovolny – The Main Street showcase program included bus bulges which brought the stop out into the travel lane.

q – Upass BC program – We are building a generation that’s transit reliant, what is the strategy to engage the transit generation? Catherine Cooper’s research shows that students will become transit users for life. What are the municipal strategies to support that?

Jonathan Cote – UPass more successful than anyone anticipated. The opportunity of that first transit ride experience has to be good. We need to have funding for adequate service. We won’t convert anyone to transit if the service is poor.

Jerry Dobrovolny:  Keeping up with the demand created by UPass is a problem. UBC has reduced the volume of cars and parking on campus but the challenge for TransLink is on the Broadway corridor which currently carries more people on buses than most US LRT systems. We also now have lower car ownership due to car shares etc

q – buses accelerate and brake too fast – install equipment to make ride smoother

Jerry Dobrovolny: The challenge for the bus operator is to stay on schedule

Jonathan Cote – I was an ICBC claims adjuster. Translink carries a vulnerable and aging population. The technology is far more likely to cause fall and injury due to braking. It is a big issue that is not easy to address.

Joe Zaccaria – To help keep to schedule  bus prioritization should be used to facilitate transit

Jerry Dobrovolny: we use signal priority now, but on grid system who goes first? We have full buses in both directions. We are adding conditional priority for buses that are running late.

q – how much effort goes into reducing the number of trips per person? Can that 5 minute walk become ten minutes?

Jerry Dobrovolny:– Transportation Demand Management: the best solution is to reduce the distances for trips through better land use planning – complete communities – do it all close to home. As [fuel] price goes up we see change in behaviour. As gas prices go up – people drove less and they used transit more – hit Translink with a double whammy. Trip chaining.

Joe Zaccaria – Bangkok vs Singapore – smart card road pricing – plus “aggressive rapid transit” and high car prices

Jonathan Cote – we need to start with the  younger generation: get them walking to school – not being driven

q – [Voony] my experience of transit is that suburban transit between Richmond and New Westminster on the  #410 bus at 7 minutes frequency is better than the RER suburban trains in the Paris region (30 minutes peak, 60 minutes off peak)  or the Hong Kong New Territorries. I do not understand why we keep saying our suburban transit is not good enough. It’s not frequency that is the problem, it’s lack of predictability. We need easier schedules to be able to memorize them and keep the bus on schedule, that is all. What is your position?

Joe Zaccaria – GPS bus stop real time – [he then attempted to explain Translink policies on buses] Over time the transit system is addressing that and question is [lack of] funding

Jonathan Cote– make it something intuitive – make it easy to understand



I must admit I was disappointed with the evening. We heard four “canned” presentations, with limited applicability to the advertised topic. The format also assumed that the panel were “experts” and the audience simply in need of information. I would have much preferred a livelier discussion, and I rather expected to hear at least something about the expected impact on New Westminster of the proposed replacement of the Patullo Bridge and the North Fraser Perimeter Road. It might also have been a good idea to allow for a more wide ranging discussion on what is really needed in New Westminster, where I regard the steepness of the hills as a severe constraint on both walking and cycling.

It did not help that the panellists all seemed to be defending the status quo and suggesting that we are generally on track and doing the right things – if only the senior levels of government would pay more for transit.

I did not stay for the formalities of the AGM, or the expected opportunity to talk to the panelists informally. Perhaps it got better. But my advice to NWEP is that they should take away the projector, microphone  and raised platform and use a format that actually facilitates dialogue and thoughtful expression. Of course, it is not possible to edit out people who ask questions – like the wheelchair and UPass – which address issues that are mostly of concern to a limited audience and not the region or city in general.

“Sustainable Transportation” is in reality a meaningless expression. We know that we have to reduce car dependency – and that land use is the key to that in the longer term and better transit and provision for walk and cycle trips essential. That is not really a debate any more. What we really needed to hear was why this has now become not just something nice and healthy to do but of desperate urgency.

Vancouver had the right objectives in 1997 – but nothing much changed for the next ten years or so. We had a Livable Region Strategy in 1995, but it was undermined by the “business as usual” interests. NWEP members do not need to be convinced of the need to become more sustainable – but they do need to think about why we have not done better up until now and what needs to happen to increase the pace of change. Fundamentally, in New Westminster especially, there is a need to protest – otherwise there is going to be a lot more car traffic thanks to wider roads and bridges. Traffic expands to fill the space available: Translink and the Province are currently determined to expand that space in the city. That is going to be a huge problem.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 10, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Transportation

44 Responses

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  1. The discussion after the (very quick) AGM business was a little livelier. It almost became a kitchen party with the remaining audience and panellists standing in a circle at the back of the room handing the microphone around.

    I think there were some new people, people who had never been to an NWEP event before that are now going to join and help organize protests around some of these projects threatening New Westminster, specifically the Pattullo replacement (4 lanes only!) and United Boulevard Extension.

    When planning the event we definitely wanted something lively and engaging, unfortunately the reality is staff members can only say so much and politicians either won’t come or will be reserved in what they say.

    You’re right, most of the people who are part of NWEP are the converted. And they would have come for the AGM regardless. The goal of the evening was to attract new people to come out, give them a grounding in the issues and get continue the dialogue from there, getting them engaged with NWEP and the issues we’re facing (just like the New West-centric discussion occurring after the AGM I described above).


    November 10, 2010 at 1:32 pm

  2. Great to meet you at the event, Stephen. I think your commentary is on point here. At the post-event beers-and-postmortem we suggested exactly what you do here, that a livelier format with less ‘formal’ presentation and more discussion and audience interaction would be worth trying next year. People really wanted to talk about the transportation issues that mattered to them, and there wasn’t enough time to hear them all out. I did hear a number of people in the audience say that they appreciated the presentations and had a good time at the event, though, so I think NWEP made out OK!


    November 10, 2010 at 3:30 pm

  3. Stephen, thank you for the detailed outline of the talks, and thank you for your very valid criticism of the format.

    We (the NWEP organizers) were hoping to have more discussion, and more dialogue, but the talks were (inevitably) longer than expected, and we were trying to be cognizant of time restraints of the audience. Unfortunately, I made the call to pass on a few prepped questions from the NWEP, which would have put the information into a more “New Westminster” context, instead using the time we had to bring the audience into the discussion by letting them use the limited question time, to obviously less-than-optimum results. I’ll take the blame for this.

    As promised, the AGM ended within 10 minutes, and it was followed by a much less formal discussion, where a few concerned citizens got to directly ask a couple of the panellists (including Jonathan Cote) about the urgent needs of New Westminster in the light of the NFPR and Pattullo replacement. It was unfortunate that the more impassioned speakers during that portion didn’t get up during the earlier Q&A. Or maybe we should have delayed the AGM another half hour to engage more discussion… lessons learned.

    I hope you will continue to be part of the discussion about the NFPR, the United Boulevard Extension, and the Pattullo Bridge and their impacts on New West. I think this will be discussed at length in the community this year. I tend to be, like Joe Zaccaria, more interested in engagement than protest, but I might be the minority here when the plans the Province and the region have for New Westminster are fully revealed…

    One thing I took out of the informal discussion later is that Vancouver’s decision to halt expansion of car space in the City is still policy: part of the reason why the Gateway expansion ends at Vancouver’s border, and why there is chatter about removing some infrastructure (the viaducts, etc.). I wonder if New Westminster’s leaders have the power under the Local Government Act that Vancouver has under the Charter to limit highway expansion: what would happen if our council stood up and said: no more capacity: no more lanes. Would anyone at Metro or the Province listen?

    Patrick Johnstone

    November 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm

  4. Notice that in my question: I think I have said 15mn peak, 30mn off peak, and not 30/60mn, for Paris RER.
    – It is typically the frequency of RER C to go to Versailles from Paris centre(where numerous tourists go to visit the famous castle. but if you want go from Versailles to La Defense, frequency is then effectively one train per hour after 8pm (Notice I talk about the largest district business of Europe in one of the most populous and dense region of Europe…).

    Anyway, you have well reported the essence of the comment.
    It was a comment mostly in reaction to the presentation of Joe Zaccaria, since my understanding of its talk it that transit in South of Fraser is deemed bad mostly due to the low frequency of some bus routes.

    (…in Hong Kong, I was referring more to the minibuses which more often than note run less frequent that the 15/15/7 goal for our community shuttle…)

    on the discussion, I could share a similar opinion: While interesting, presentations were too long, and may be lacking of “connectivity” between each other, letting the “too” short Q&A session sidetracked by the firsts question of the audience at the expense of a more New West centric discussion.


    November 10, 2010 at 10:34 pm

  5. Hi Stephen.

    Was really glad to see someone else having ‘generally’ the same opinion as myself on the event. I felt like I was being pitched at a trade show. Clearly someone such as yourself with your level of knowledge should have been involved. I enjoyed your [notes], and your commentary on the event, I am in total agreement with the term ‘sustainable’ not being relevant when all the GVRD is hell bent on unrealistic growth.

    And what was with giving the panelists a bottle of wine ? I think they can afford it, perhaps it would have done the NWEP better if they had announced a donation. I made note that no one declined the gift.



    November 11, 2010 at 3:07 am

  6. We could argue about the RER frequency as it depends about which RER line and which section of a given line…the average RER schedule is 22 pages there are more trains than one think. Not to mention that some suburbs are also accessible by other trains, along with the RER.

    La Defence is accessible by the Metro and RER and even trams. I am also sure that very very few people ever go from Versailles to La Defense after 8pm, as that business area is pretty much dead then.

    I post on a travel blog about Paris and 99% of the bloggers that have been to Paris several times (quite a few are from the USA) wouldn’t recommend a hotel in La Defense to their worse enemies.
    This is not really important and I don’t mean to diss Voony..just a different point of view..

    What bothers me a lot more is the title of Jerry Dobrovolny’s presentation “How the Olympics and Separated Bike Lanes are helping Vancouver become the Greenest City in the world by 2020”

    Get a grip on reality Jerry! Vancouver bike lanes are nothing compared to the number of lanes in many other towns. The first time I went to Osaka and Tokyo I was amazed to see the number of people using bikes in the downtown areas of these 2 cities.

    The funny thing is that Japanese cities don’t have separated bike lanes as in many European cities. They are more virtual lanes on wide sidewalks. And there are still enough quiet downtown residential streets, even in Tokyo, for bikes users (many are senior citizens) to be able to ride safely wherever they want to go.

    Where are Vancouver pedestrians only shopping streets and squares? anyone that watch news on foreign channels (BBC, TV5 etc.)or even Rick Steves travel shows knows that so many towns big and small have them. It is actually hard to find a town outside North America that DOESN’T have them!

    How many solar panels do we see in Vancouver? unlike the many one see in Europe and Asia? The city of Paris, like other cities, has installed panels on low income buildings and give loans to older condos to install some. Small windmills are cropping up on more and more buildings.

    Do we have in Vancouver the number of very small diesel or electric cars and mini-trucks (often made by small local companies) used in Europe/ Asia for many years?
    Is there in Vancouver the huge recycling program for all homes there is in Nagoya and other places??

    Robertson team only too often reminds me of pretty starlets in grade B movies that mouth off the right lines but haven’t read the book, much less understood it… To be fair the average Vancouverite isn’t as green as he/she should be…

    Red frog

    November 11, 2010 at 12:18 pm

  7. I have corrected the Stephen’s transcript because I was expecting your reaction, Red frog 😉

    If I have choose Paris (or Hong Kong), it is because those cities are arguably rich transit cities.
    but the experience one can have as a Tourist can be very different of the one can have as a regular suburban commuter (and no, you cannot tell them don’t go there because the place “sucks” as you do for your tourist mate)

    The point “C”

    in the NWEP meeting, the panel has been introduced by a talk on the point “C”:

    As you said, if the train versailles (A)-La Defense (B) is not good enough, the map is still showing great transit option thru (C)
    what the map doesn’t say is that options thru (C) take much more time, more transfer, and are also more expensive (because they cross more zone):
    (so people will probably still wait for the 60mn frequency train which carry not less than 50,000 rider a day for good reason).

    People dont like to go thru point (C) when it is not their destination: It justs provide the feeling that it is a waste of time.

    All you say, you should say it to people from Surrey:

    At a Translink meeting, Surrey councillor Marvin Hunt said transit in Surrey is bad because to go from Guilford (a) to Newton (b), you have to pass thru Surrey central (c) (they call it Vancouver centric)
    What is wrong with that? I don’t know too much.

    I feel it is the most efficient way to connect those centers

    At another Translink meeting last spring with its CEO, a guy explained that Transit in Surrey “sucks”, because his bus, the 301 from Newton to Richmond was running only at 60mn frequency off peak (and not running late evening).
    What is wrong with that? I don’t know too much.

    We are typically in the parisian example of the tangential line Versailles-La Defense:
    …but Newton is not versailles, and Richmond neither La Defense…

    The 301 is lightly patronized, and people should be thanksfull to have this service existing…after all, there is no lack of transit option to connect Newton to Richmond:
    bus running every 10mn or less to Surrey Central, where a train can be catched, and then there is no lack of bus connecting Expo to Canada Line starting with the 410…

    So, like you I don’t see anything wrong with some bus route running every 60mn or so in Surrey and that was the point, and yes I will not recommend people to stay in a motel in this suburb either, but that is another matter 😉


    November 11, 2010 at 10:36 pm

  8. Thanks Voony.. The problem we have in many areas of Metro Vancouver (I moved from downtown Vancouver where I could walk everywhere after hours, to Coquitlam..and still don’t have a car)is a chicken or eggs conundrum..

    We can’t have a dense transit system covering the whole metro area unless a relatively limited number of people are willing to pay a lot for it or we have lots more people.
    Only a definitely higher density (preferably without high rises) will make a more extensive transit system possible.

    Red frog

    November 12, 2010 at 12:05 am

  9. Will somebody please define what density is needed (pop/km2) for what mode of transit used? Until that question is answered, all talk about increased density for better transit is moot.

    The cheaper the transit option, the lower the density to sustain it, would be a logical assumption.


    November 12, 2010 at 6:24 am

  10. 10 units per cares supports 7 minute bus frequency for 15 hours a day 7 days a week – what part of that did you NOT understand?

    Stephen Rees

    November 12, 2010 at 9:27 am

  11. Cote Units. Am I a unit, or some fraction of a unit.


    November 13, 2010 at 4:48 am

  12. 10 homes per acre… 25 homes per hectare in metric.. This isn’t even that dense..lots of room left for a vegetable growing garden around each home.
    how many people in each unit? 2 in average?

    Red frog

    November 13, 2010 at 11:44 am

  13. That’s 2,500 homes per km2, or around 10,000 people. And I agree, that’s not very dense.

    Excluding land for roads, lanes, parks and public institutions, as it turns out you can fit 26.7 of Vancouver’s standard single-family lots (33’x122′) into one hectare. That would make over 53 homes should each lot possess the standard house plus a lanehouse, as allowed per Vancouver’s new policy.

    That way you’d have perhaps 15,000 people per km2 … still lower than low rise multi-family neighbourhoods. But more than enough to make transit investments profitable in the long run.


    November 15, 2010 at 1:09 pm

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    re:place Magazine

    November 16, 2010 at 8:18 am

  15. Gateway doesn’t actually end at Vancouver’s border; Hwy 1 is being expanded (inwards) to 6 lanes from Boundary Road to the north end of the Cassiar Tunnel.

    Dave 2

    November 16, 2010 at 12:08 pm

  16. @MB. Even still having 15,000/km2 may not give you a high transit ridership.

    It also depends on whether or not the bus route takes the people in that area to the areas they need to go.

    Both go hand in hand.

    But if bus route takes people where they need to go then yes a really high density isn’t needed as much as most think.

    Paul C, Vancouver

    November 18, 2010 at 6:15 pm

  17. Good reporting, Stephen.

    I sense a disconnect between all the elements of urbanism, including footprint, open urban space, building type, hierarchy of public R.O.W.s, transportation and other systems, economics & finance. That’s too bad because almost every one of these things are concrete and measurable, and “good” urbanism ultimately depends on how they are designed to interact.

    A density of 10 units per acre doesn’t even reach the density of the Vancouver lot with a basement unit (12 units per acre). Per catchment, or 5 min. pedestrian shed, that’s 1200 units and anywhere up to 3,000 people. That may be enough for bus/trolley. But, I don’t think it would deliver the transportation system we see in Vancouver today. Maybe the bus system of the 1960’s.

    It would be interesting to test the Surrey-Langley-Abbotsford interurban option in the only way we can account for all the elements of urbanism all at the same time—in a well designed charrette.

    My concern is that the grid, and the suburban paradigm that populates the South of Fraser municipalities, is too entrenched to provide adequate levels of intensification in the right kinds of footprint or shape. We might hit “quartiers” of 10 to 15,000 people, but if there is only transit within easy walking distance, and all the shops and services are suburban or strip, then the gains may not pan out.

    On the other hand, if intensification were of the TOD variety on the brown fields that are strewn along the BC Electric R.O.W., then the overall impact may be more robust.

    In the final analysis, it may be better to build pedestrian oriented streets than try to retrofit the likes of the King George Highway.


    If we accept evolution, a reptile laid a mutant egg that grew a feather and became a chicken. The egg came before the chicken. That too is concrete and measurable.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    November 18, 2010 at 9:41 pm

  18. @Lewis.

    You are correct that the bus service we see today in Vancouver would not be met if the density along the routes was at 10 unit / acre.

    Which is why I feel anchor points is a major reason for having a better bus service than the density itself requires along a corridor.

    The fact that a lot of people want to go east and west to UBC and Skytrain from other areas outside of Vancouver. Gives us a better system along those routes. So people living along those routes enjoy a better system because other people need to travel along them as well.

    As I said above density in and of itself does not mean transit will be used. But density can help considerably when the routes in question go to where people need to go. It also helps those people who live along a route even though they may never go to those major anchor point destinations.

    I enjoy a highly frequent bus service along 41st for the simple reason of UBC and Skytrain on either side. I may not go to those destinations. But because a lot of people are I enjoy the frequent service that is provided because of that.

    Paul C, Vancouver

    November 19, 2010 at 5:28 am

  19. @ Paul C, I live in the mid-Main Street corridor and see every day the much improved transit service since the Showcase Project (articulated trolleys with curb bulges at stops). That project had a budget of only $6 million and had to cover Main from the inlet to the river. They workshopoed with teh community and spent very wisely.

    Mid-Main is predominantly single-family lots beyond a half-block distance. However, the small lot configurations on parallel streets + the multi-family lowrises on the arterial (some new ones are pretty decent e.g. Nesters + Domain) add a significant boost to the population without going with high-rise treatments.

    What I’m saying is that such medium-density communities and transit configurations work well.

    @ Lewis: “In the final analysis, it may be better to build pedestrian oriented streets than try to retrofit the likes of the King George Highway.”

    I don’t agree. King George would be a perfect “laboratory” to explore surface light rail options and human-scaled urbanism configurations. It’s predominantly 34-36m in width, and there are several appalling car-dominated malls between Surrey Central and the #10 that to me are neighbourhood town and village cores in waiting.

    Moreover, the existing cross traffic points are widely-spaced, unlike Broadway in Vancouver for example, which makes a dedicated median for light rail more feasible.


    November 19, 2010 at 11:41 am

  20. Meredith – there are low rise condos near Main on other streets such as 37th. The loss of low rise, affordable housing at Little Mountain at the same time as Main was improved was shocking. The site, of course, remains vacant. This is known elsewhere as “lack of joined up thinking”.

    Stephen Rees

    November 19, 2010 at 11:50 am

  21. Further, King George should receive substantial pedestrian and streetscape improvements in all cases.


    November 19, 2010 at 11:56 am

  22. I agree, Stephen, that Little Mountain was a loss of a significant amount of low rent public housing. I sure hope they make up for it (and much more!) in the new development and in nearby neighbourhoods. And we can’t forget about mixed use … more retail on Main St please.

    However, one glance at VanMap or Google Earth tells us that the site was very low density with huge open spaces. That’s how they did public housing in the 50s. The amount of wasted land was very significant, and the gods aren’t making any more land in this town.

    The public housing project existed in a park-like setting on the site, while also being directly across Ontario Street from QE Park, one of Vancouver’s largest green gems. Some of the comments about the loss of “park land” with the new development were a bit rich. However, they did a tree survey of the site prior to demolition and I’m happy to see tree protection fencing around the best specimens. Any new development will have to respect the mature trees.

    I’ve not heard much about the proposed project lately. Maybe it’s stalled in financing limbo like the rest of the world.


    November 19, 2010 at 12:09 pm

  23. 1. On building type

    I rented the upstairs of an up-and-down duplex at 37th & Main back in the days of expo 86. The Main Street Trolley was my favourite ride in & out of the fair, especially on Friday nights.

    My unit had a significant advantage. The living spaces fronted the street, but the sleeping areas and the kitchen faced the rear lane. There was cross-ventilation for passive-solar cooling, and dual orientation. The sun was in the kitchen in the morning, and in the parlour in the afternoon.

    The gross density for the up-and-down duplex is 12 units per acre. The gross density for a 3-storey walk-up apartment is 40 – 60 units per acre (gross density measures the land area required for the area plus 50% of the fronting public rights of way). The density for the Simpson-Villegas, FormShift, arterial-fronting, fee-simple house is 69 units/acre…

    However, since we are talking about urbanism as a whole, what we see going up in the Lower Mainland are ground oriented units in strata-title row pattern, spaced 40-feet (12 m) apart to the front & rear neighbour. That’s the problem of “decency”.

    I’m looking at my neighbours across the rear lane 80 feet (24 m) away. 70 (21 m) would be a practical minimum.

    In Greenwich Village, where the densities are high, dual aspect units are 50-feet (15 m)from the fronting neighbour and 80-feet (24 m) at the back. Where the streetwall is about 30-feet high (9 m) the urbanism is very good. However, since about 1850’s apartment houses have been built, and the distances to the rear neighbours have been curtailed, the streetwall raised to the height of casting permanent shadows, etc. We can see the same historical process at work in Boston’s “real” houses of Beacon Hill, and the apartments in the Back Bay.

    Our three-storey walk-up apartments are not a sustainable building type. We can do affordable, human-scale, high-density by framing choices of building type in neighbourhood urban codes.

    However, we won’t get the same results by leaving it to market forces.

    2. On Design (Hierarchy) of the Public R.O.W…

    If the intensification of our neighbourhoods is to take place on the arterials, then the design of those arterials will have to be very much part of the solution. For example, my Main Street in the 1980’s was not good enough to sustain high-density, human-scale intensification.

    MB, for FormShift we showed LRT on the arterial with 5-foot medians either side complete with urban trees. Greening the right of way, and providing pedestrian islands of safety, are part of a “good” urban code.

    3. the King George, Surrey

    “I don’t agree. King George would be a perfect “laboratory” to explore surface light rail options and human-scaled urbanism configurations.”

    MB I think that if you try to intensify the strip mall and the big box parking lot, you’re going to end up putting the commercial out of business. That may be fine in the long run, but short term I don’t see it working. I can’t see the Costco’s embracing moving plant and property to another location so that we can bull doze the site and start anew.

    I feel differently about the strip mall at Newton Town Centre… chiefly because the BC Electric ROW cuts across the grid at an angle in that location. I can pick up brownfield land at a discount all along that R.O.W. making the prospect of new development in TOD a reality (transit oriented development, or 400m or less from the rail stop). While I am not going to be able to make a going concern of a redevelopment of the Newtown Centre, I can probably cluster TODs all around its perimeter and along the railway.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    November 20, 2010 at 9:08 am

  24. @MB

    I do agree that transit does not require high density areas for it be viable. And good frequent service can be provided and does work. In areas with medium density.

    But just having medium density does not mean that ridership and thus service will be good.

    I can’t say whether the bulges work or not. As I’ve never had the chance to use them in in an on going situation. I have lived near 41st and Knight my entire life. In the case of 41st. There are a few things I would do to improve the service.

    Paul C, Vancouver

    November 20, 2010 at 4:15 pm

  25. Paul C, you are right,and this map of the job density in Vancouver can give another reason why transit is good in Main, or rather better on Main than let say Knight, where residential density is as around Mian if not higher:

    But it is not all, you will notice that most of the bus patron transfer at Main skytrain station (and in fact usually bus 3 (like 8) is usually empty when it hit Hasting#Main).
    That is what is also missing on bus 22 (Knight): rather much longer journey to Downtown (and for people heading central Broadway, boarding the 99 at Clark is like expecting to win at a lottery)

    I am not really sure you can sort a magic formula on density vs bus service, in fact it all depend of travel pattern if all want go in the same direction, sure low density could accommodate pretty good transit (and that is what happen in Zurich or Calgary where Job are much more concentrated in CBD than in Vancouver [1]), but if you have a more dispersed travel pattern, like in Vancouver, thing could be different.

    Then, since people took the example of Main, there is a second dimension of the problem.

    people mention the urban form of the area seeming to explain that SFH neighborhood are good enough to have artics bus to come every few mn at the bus stop… that is eventually forgetting what Brent Toderian call the “invisible” density.
    In clear around Main, like almost everywhere in Vancouver, a huge proportion of the population are asked to be “invisible”, that says to live without a front door, and personal mailing address, in the basement of happy home owner/landlord crying fool as soon as some one want to erect a building with all suits with full windows above ground…

    As much as I understand that people can have an issue at having an underground transit, frankly I don’t understand why the same people seems content with a urban form where half of the people are condemned to live underground like rat ?


    November 21, 2010 at 10:06 pm

  26. “As much as I understand that people can have an issue at having an underground transit, frankly I don’t understand why the same people seems content with a urban form where half of the people are condemned to live underground like rat ?”

    — Voony

    With a friend in Toronto, we have talked about measuring the density along the King and Queen Street streetcars to get a sense about the density/service issue. He can get the ridership numbers; I can nail the built form & density.

    Shouldn’t that be a concrete measuremen? Threshold densities for supporting bus, BRT, LRT and subway?

    My point about the 3-stoery walk-up being “unsustainable” is that if all the daylight and ventilation is coming from—say—Main Street, then we have people living “like a rat” one, two, and three stories above ground. Furthermore, this building type does not perform well at the level of the neighbourhood street. It’s better to have suites with doors directly on the street. Or, at a maximum, four suites, or six, sharing one door on the street. Yet, the market is building three, four and five storey walk ups as the alternative to the tower and the slab.

    I return to my original point. The most important issue for “good” urbanism is to be able to deal with all of these “metrics” as a connected system.

    It is not just transit service, or density. It is a combination of factors that interplay, that we can measure and predict with a more or less high level of certainty. However, for reasons well beyond my ability to understand, we fail to do it.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    November 21, 2010 at 10:51 pm

  27. Lewis Villegas, you seems to express the opinion that the retail business wealth is related to parking availability:
    “MB I think that if you try to intensify the strip mall and the big box parking lot, you’re going to end up putting the commercial out of business.”

    I respectfully beg to disagree, and indeed believe that “intensification” is the way for them to keep in business.

    I will give you the example of Richmond:
    People coming by car along number 3 (or Hazelbridge) are bound to waste lot of time in traffic: so in fact in Richmond parking is not an issue, but access to it is…
    obviously mall owners could call for more road…but at least in the case of Richmond they will probably not get it, so they will have to resort to other trick to attract more customer (since traffic will make driving to their place a loosing proposition), and that is to be more local pedestrian/transit user friendly…

    We can see it working very well at Aberdeen (where the Mall morphed itself from a traditional suburban one to something very much urban), and people flock there, at least in number good enough to have Aberdeen looking to expand.

    It is also the way it has been working along Sheppard in Toronto, where in the last decade (following the opening of the Sheppard subway), Canadian Tire has relocated its shop at Sheppard#Leslie to be along the street, and have the parking lot on the side, rather than on the front, making the shop more accessible from bus/subway. That could be considered half baked but still it is a step in the right direction.
    I could also give the example of Bayview village Mall, (at Sheppard and Bayview) which is considered as the most profitable Mall in Canada, which has converted parking space into building…
    And obviously the whole conversion of North York Yonge street (between roughly Sheppard and Finch) from a strip mall boulevard ala King Georges, to something very urban.

    While it is not to ask a CostCo or other bigBoxes to move way, I think retrofitting existing suburban strip mall shouldn’t be an option, and in the case of King George, it is a requirement.

    Unfortunatly, Dianne Watts could speak very nicely about “urbanism and transportation”, but in the meantime, what we see for one questionable step forward (city hall relocation, questionable seems it cost $150 Millions, and if you take the Zwei number, that could have been more than good enough to have an LRT/streetcar along King Georges ) is 2 step backwards, like Tynehead and Campbell height.

    So far the only thing Surrey is doing well is whining at the first occasion.

    On the opposite side, colorful Mel Lastman from North York could have been far less soft spoken than Dianne Watts, but his legacy in term of “retrofitting” his city (North York before amalgamation) has been so far much more convincing (that said he got much more time too, but it was not whining like those Surrey politicians and other lobbyist of south of the Fraser).


    November 21, 2010 at 10:51 pm

  28. Lewis:
    “With a friend in Toronto, we have talked about measuring the density along the King and Queen Street streetcars to get a sense about the density/service issue. He can get the ridership numbers; I can nail the built form & density.

    Shouldn’t that be a concrete measuremen? Threshold densities for supporting bus, BRT, LRT and subway?”

    In Toronto, I found myself taking countless time those streetcars, but has neither lived and worked in the neighborhood.

    And I guess I was not alone in this case. there is numerous of theaters and other specialties shop along King… Queen street is something like between Main and Commercial, with numerous of gallery…well they are “destination street”.

    That is to say, yes residential density count, job even more, but some other aspect too, like connection to a larger network (that is the subway in Toronto), and a combination of factors like you say… we can measure if we know how to identify them, but can we predict them ? I think it is a bit more complicate

    because if we knew how to do it, we could be able to reproduce Queen street pattern, and starting by Granville Mall…apparently we don’t know how to reproduce such complex syncretism.

    but it is still good to understand what work, an what is not.


    November 21, 2010 at 11:20 pm

  29. Voony,

    We’re always respectful to each other. What I was suggesting to M(e…)B was that if we try to intensify strip retail as our first priority we may be courting financial disaster. In most municipalities in our region, with few exceptions, retail is linked to the automobile, and the ability to draw from a wide radius. For a retailer like the Great Canadian Superstore, they consider an 11 minute driving radius, not a 5 minute walk.

    In Richmond, and regional shopping malls in our area, the parking lots are sized for the crowds that show up 23 december, not today or tomorrow. Hence the vast wastelands.

    Landsdowne and Aberdeen Malls (and Metrotown, Brentwood & Lougheed Malls)… are interesting case studies now that they are connected to transit.

    The examples you cite along Younge may well be the ones I was at last year. One in particular (I’m sorry, I have very bad knowledge of Toronto) was awful. Got there on subway. The mall was at the intersection of Yonge and some other huge arterial just a few stations north of Bloor. The mall may well be drawing more customers from transit than the car, but the scene outside was not pedestrian friendly.

    In the case of the local malls I have cited with rail transit connections, the problem is similar. Walking connections are all but non-existent.

    On the Queen & King streetcar lines:

    “In Toronto, I found myself taking countless time those streetcars, but has neither lived and worked in the neighbourhood.”

    Point well taken. Generating ridership is not just about density and jobs… trips are generated by “the network” and by “the destinations” or places.

    Voony, if we can start to identify where to start to count, I think we will be able to begin to put a set of criteria that a place like the Granville Mall—Metrotown or Landsdowne—does not meet. And a set of criteria that presents a threshold for “good” urbanism.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    November 22, 2010 at 10:57 am

  30. @Lewis

    “Shouldn’t that be a concrete measurement? Threshold densities for supporting bus, BRT, LRT and subway”

    It would be nice if it were that simple. In that a certain density level equated to a certain number of riders. Thus a certain level of service is needed.

    But its not because there is more to transit ridership than just density and service level.

    “My point about the 3-story walk-up being “unsustainable” is that if all the daylight and ventilation is coming from—say—Main Street, then we have people living “like a rat” one, two, and three stories above ground. Furthermore, this building type does not perform well at the level of the neighbourhood street. It’s better to have suites with doors directly on the street. Or, at a maximum, four suites, or six, sharing one door on the street. Yet, the market is building three, four and five storey walk ups as the alternative to the tower and the slab.”

    While the built form may have a slight impact I don’t feel it is the biggest thing we should look at. Certainly certain built forms will lend themselves to be more transit friendly. But the difference between a 3 story walk up and a detached home with 2 suites in Vancouver. Neither one would cause someone living it to favour transit. From what I can see the built form only matters if it makes access to transit easier or harder.

    Paul C, Vancouver

    November 22, 2010 at 3:44 pm

  31. Paul C… let’s just replay the line I gave “voony”—of course, we respect each other’s views. So, given that, let’sgo deeper…

    “…there is more to transit ridership than just density and service level”

    Transit ridership, sad to say, is not my #1 priority in sussing out “good” urbanism. Quality of living space is higher. However, transit is right up there with six other “primary elements” of urbanism I like to keep “under my fingers”.

    “While the built form may have a slight impact I don’t feel it is the biggest thing we should look at. Certainly certain built forms will lend themselves to be more transit friendly. But the difference between a 3 story walk up and a detached home with 2 suites in Vancouver. Neither one would cause someone living it to favour transit. From what I can see the built form only matters if it makes access to transit easier or harder.”

    The baseline measure for transit, built form, and any other metrics in urbanism we care to look at is whether or not they provide for a more enjoyable way of life. Let’s call THAT “sustainability” and, for the sake of clarity, take it one point at a time.

    “While the built form may have a slight impact I don’t feel it is the biggest thing we should look at.”

    Agreed. We need to be able to have MANY balls up in the air, all at the same time. It is not about “picking a winner”, then having all the other variables fall into line.

    “Certainly certain built forms will lend themselves to be more transit friendly. But the difference between a 3 story walk up and a detached home with 2 suites in Vancouver. Neither one would cause someone living it to favour transit.”

    I don’t agree with the first sentence. Built form is not a determinant for “transit choices”. Rather, the distance to transit, the level of service, and the cost would be among the factors that I would be interested to measure.

    Built form is a determinant of density. Different building types—and this is the point most often missed in our region—deliver the same levels of density, but perform at opposite ends of the spectrum from the point of view of delivering on the resulting quality of urban space.

    The difference between a 3 storey walk up and a detached home with 2 suites in Vancouver is in the order of 5x the density. That scale of intensification should have dramatic effects all across the full metrics of “good” urbanism. To try to argue against it would be tantamount to missing the most fundamental tenets of what urbanization has to offer (both positive AND negative).

    Will building type leverage transit choices? Yes, but not directly. Once the build out is in place, the possibility of ridership—if not the actual demand—will make the local authority test new, higher capacity systems.

    However, my preferred way of looking at this question is to say that if we can combine density with proximity, then all the bets are off. The urbanism, yes including the transit, happens just because it makes sense. Because it is there and it is more convenient, and cheaper to use than the tank parked in the garage.

    Our greatest challenges stem from the fact that (a) most of us have only experienced suburbanization, and (b) not many among us have lived with the convenience of being able to just walk out the door and find 90% of what we were looking for within a 5 minute walking radius of our front door.

    Go to places that do that, and witness the car being relegated to a much lower status.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    November 23, 2010 at 10:42 pm

  32. @ Lewis WRT malls … I want to make it clear that I do not see “intensifying” the existing strip mall or big box paradigm as a viable economic enterprise in a future where the cheap fossil energy they are founded on potentially forces great renting upheavals in the world economy.

    Localization based on transit and walking may well be forced even without an urban design initiative when fuel exceees $2 / litre. Transit-accessed public / farmer’s markets could become the new supermarket, but the local produce will dominate over 3,000 km broccoli. Here’s to our local farmers and small shop owners.

    This is where Surrey has vast potential, It has the land, not the least a great hunk of the ALR, but several thousand hectares of mall parking parking lots and very low density residential areas to convert.

    @ Voony, the map is for employment density, not residential density. However, they are probably largely overlapping anyway. It’s too bad they dodn’t show the employment density at UBC. It follows right behind the Broadway corridor …. i.e. it’d be a big dark blob on the map.

    I am mystified why TransLink would favour communities that have yet to grow (Surrey) ver communities that have already grown (Vancouver) in their transit funding priorities. Both have their own separate needs which require separate responses, but one is already 40 years behind in meeting existing demand.


    November 24, 2010 at 1:01 pm

  33. @ Lewis: “…regional shopping malls in our area, the parking lots are sized for the crowds that show up 23 december, not today or tomorrow. Hence the vast wastelands.”

    Suggested correction: “… CARS that show up …” Big difference. Crowds require far, far less infrastructure and public expenditures than cars, even including transit on the crowd side.


    November 24, 2010 at 1:11 pm

  34. @Lewis

    In response to my comment that certain built forms can lend themselves to being more transit friendly. I should of clarified that by saying that I was thinking of the difference between a suburban type mall with a huge parking lot versus a detached home in Vancouver as to simple basic things to compare.

    I can’t comment on the different kinds of built form as it really isn’t something I’ve looked at in detail. All I’m saying is while it would have an influence on the density and layout and access of the area. It doesn’t mean that transit ridership in that area will go up as well.

    The things I feel play an impact on whether and individual rides transit is. One does it take the individual to where they want to go. Two is the time to get their reasonable for the distance being travelled. Number two links up with the frequency how fast it travels and the distance an individual has to travel by foot or bike at each end. This is where the built form can have a slight impact. The easier it is for an individual to access the transit. The more it helps with number two. Number three would be the cost. Is it an economically viable option to take transit for the individual. There a fourth hurdle and that relates to people not wanting to change. There are probably a lot of people who drive who could easily take transit but for whatever reason don’t have the desire to change how they do things.

    Paul C, Vancouver

    November 24, 2010 at 3:31 pm

  35. @MB

    “@ Voony, the map is for employment density, not residential density. However, they are probably largely overlapping anyway. It’s too bad they dodn’t show the employment density at UBC. It follows right behind the Broadway corridor …. i.e. it’d be a big dark blob on the map.”

    Employment density is just as important as residential density.

    What would be nice is if they had a density map for school as well or at least mix that in with the employment density. Sadly though they don’t ask how you get to school on the census.

    Paul C, Vancouver

    November 24, 2010 at 3:34 pm

  36. “Doomsday” scenarios are not “good” urbanism. Cities throughout history have been bombarded by seige, fire and plague, tsunamis and earthquakes, and yet have persevered typically on the same site.

    There can be no denying that the rubber tire and asphalt paradigm of the second half of the 20th century was a great economic driver, and remains at the centre of our productivity. I would frame the issue around how we adapt that infrastructure, tame it, and change it where the results are damaging our way of life.

    So, more often than not, regrettable as it may be, when crowds show up they come in cars. Is there another way? Not in Coquitlam or Surrey, to name two.

    I am still looking with an open mind at the use of elevated transit to string together our malls en route to the CBD (central business district—which, fortunately, is being rebalanced thorugh residential intensification). Is the mall the right place to board Skytrain? Or are these regional centres so lacking in “good” urbanism, that to put transportation there is tantamount to putting transportation out of reach?

    The choice of transportation matters for “good” urbanism. We’ve uncovered in the Evergreen debate that Skytrain is a blight on the sites it touches. Is it possible that the decision was made the other way around? Were the regional malls the only places willing to accept a “node” on the Skytrain network, along with all that we know comes with it?

    However, I agree that there is change underfoot. I just want to remain flexible on the time scale for that change. Hoping for Doomsday sounds a lot like the flip side of apocalyptic fervour. One advantage the Europeans have over us is that they dealt with beliefs grounded in superstitious group behaviours in the century of the Enlightenment, and have moved on.

    My friends in transportation alert me to the fact that one residential unit and one job count about the same for generating transit trips. So, employment density is a critical component for transportation planning. What we like to see in “good” urbanism is a clustering of jobs and housing around centres or “quartiers” that would be nodes on a transportation network. There would still be the need for “campus” style employment centres for those kinds of work that we deem too noxious to have in our midst.

    As far as Translink, I wish that we could fold it into regional and local planning, and give it teeth (representational government). Then decisions about funding priorities might used to shape built form and character of our neighbourhoods or quartiers, and vice versa.

    On built form & transportation.

    I think the issue in built form that we don’t understand regionally—at least not yet—is that different types of “building type” can deliver equivalent levels of density. Thus, we can achieve with podium-and-tower the same neighbourhood build out that we can achieve with 3.5-storey, fee-simple product. Or, we can reach that density with 3-storey walk-up, double loaded corridor, strata buildings. Given these facts, that can be easily demonstrated with case studies from neighbourhoods built and functioning in North America stretching back to the middle of the nineteenth century… how should we choose?

    If we choose on the basis of “good” urbanism, then it has been shown that the focus should be put on the resulting quality of the urban space. Modernism turned its back on the street. It was a noisy, filthy, dangerous place to be. As recently as the 19th century, even here in Vancouver for a brief few decades, the street was the public realm and the site for social mixing. Similar choices would be indicated if we chose on the basis of strengthening the local economy.

    We have lost that process. Given up the street as public realm. It is for this reason that efforts at understanding “good” urbanism are tainted with a nostalgic air of “the recovery of the public world”. But, we should understand that historical process, and put an end to the idea that it is all “in the rear view mirror”.

    From a review of multiple value-systems, including sustainability, choices cluster around certain types and not others. I have not seen such an open and transparent public consultation process unfold in our region.

    If we can make the right kinds of interconnected choices, and have “good” transportation among them—it is possible to analyze the nexus between transportation choice and impacts for improving the resulting quality of the urban space in detail—then I think the kinds of factors that Paul C identifies weigh in.

    However, we are seeing it work the other way too. It is possible to choose a blighting implementation—damning the local values of place to a worse fate—intensify with an ineffective building type, and still get high ridership numbers.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    November 25, 2010 at 10:40 am

  37. Lewis, using words like “Doomsday” to minimize and deflect widely-predicted economic contractions does nothing to achieve your goals (and mine) to foster more humane urbanism and increase resiliency in our cities, which do not just fulfill the primary function of providing habitat, but are the central focus of a nation’s economy.

    The use of such loaded words also wrongly presents people who know a thing or two about peak oil as kneejerkers.

    Instead, it would be far more productive to actually consider that energy (and the price attached to it)occupies a primary role in the design of cities, and that there will be far less energy available within this decade.

    That requires much planning.


    November 25, 2010 at 4:31 pm

  38. I was hoping you would get the “push back”, MB. I am not being cavalier, but standing for the data.

    Have you heard about, “Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s Oil Sands”, by Ezra Levant? I heard the author on the CBC. The short of it is that we are a leading oil producing nation, and a success story at that. Yep. It’s technology that is leading the charge. But the author also considers factors such as industry regulation, worker’s rights, and quality of life. Canada is now the #1 supplier of oil to the U.S. Compared to the other major producing regions—Middle East, Africa & South America—we look very friendly.

    I care about the environment, both natural and urban. And, like you, I think we can do much better. But, aren’t you getting tired of all the tirades? Don’t you ever sit back and wonder about what the motivation is behind all this chest-pounding?

    Do we have to go back to the middle ages to balance the inputs and outputs of urbanization? Or can we reach for a better future? (I know, that sounds like the modernist ethos).

    There was a cluster of books in the early sixties that still ring true today. Let’s just take two from the U.S.: “Complexity and Contradiction in Modern Architecture” by Robert Venturi; and “The Death and Life of the American Metropolis” by Jane Jacobs. “Complexity” argued for “both-and” thinking.

    Powerful stuff. Can we be both “environmentally balanced” and “technologically advanced”? Are science and art grounded in the same creative processes?

    I dunno. Let’s raise the ghosts of Leonardo and Michelangelo and get ready to have ourselves bitch-slapped into the 22nd century. Of course they—and we—would want the BEST stuff.

    Some days I think that what we are really missing is courage.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    November 25, 2010 at 11:33 pm

  39. Lewis, I don’t pay any attention to chest thumpers and tirades, but I give much credit to professional, detached, peer-reviewed and unemotional assessments like this

    which I’ve posted on other sites. There are many more like Rubin, and if you care to read even a quarter of the comments following his important lecture, you’ll discover they are dominated by scientists and economists and geologists enjoined in great debates, not in tirades and chest thumping.

    Peak oil isn’t about running out of oil, it’s about runing out of CHEAP oil. The tar sands, deep sea, coal + gas to liquids and all the other petroleum alternatives elevated by mainstream economists and political commentators linked to Big Oil (e.g. Lavant)who care not to bend an ear to geologists, are NOT cheap. That is THE critical issue.

    Other very significant issues abound as well.

    Yes, there is much oil contained in remote or difficult to access fields, but first the preliminary estimations are nowhere near what is actually recoverable. The energy returned on the energy invested (EROEI) to get it to market is becoming less and less because the energy required is more and more, meaning there is increasingly less net petroleum energy available. That is simple thermodynamics. The tar sands burn 1 barrel of oil equivalent to get 3. Saudi Arabia used to burn 1 to get 25, but since the largest supergiant oilfields in the world have been in decline for a few years now, the ratio is narrowing fast. In that context, the laws of physics are the ultimate natural limitation to things like building cities and putting food on the table and moving people asnd goods and globalization.

    So, less oil with ramped up prices. That is a sure formula for great economic change, and even the IEA reports, the bastion of oil reserve estimations (that is also, unfortunately, historically subjected to censorship and editorialzation by its petro state sponsors) has just recently commented — four years late — that the peak in workldwide oil production occurred in 2006.

    As for the tar sands, sure they contribute a significant amount to the Canadian eoconomy and government revenues, but practically no tar sands oil is used to ship our food from California at present, and when it does, it will be a lot more expensive when the cheap conventional mideast imports to the US decline more. Higher prices in fuel will lead to higher prices in food. That is yet another connection to physics.

    Ezra Lavant may not have considered that the future tar sands operations will contribute 7% at best to the current worldwide level of oil consumption. And that’s after it triples production and burns triple the amount of natural gas, which just happens to be the primary space heating fuel in Canada, one of the world’s coldest countries. There is yet another petroleum price increase right there, and it will get even worse once the transportation sector determines NG is the primary short-term substiture for higher-priced gasoline and diesel. It is more than ironic that tar sands revenue to Big Oil and governments and oil patch employees may well be counterbalanced by the losses due to higher prices on everything oil touches.

    Moreover, the tar sands are heavily subsidized, which begs the question, Why drag the economy further down by propping up an already massively profitable industry?

    Then there is the biggest issue of all, climate change. Mitigating the effects of sea level rise alone on Canadian cities like Richmond and Halifax has the potential to cost several orders of magnitude more than the total benefits to our economy of the oil industry. There are huge international pressures developing to ramp down carbon-based fuels as the world heats up. This is one mother of an environmental crisis … but action is unfortunately ties to the perception that the “economy will die” without the current level of petroleum consumption. The other great irony is that that level will go down anyway, whether we want it to or not.

    We live in coastal BC. The entire Salish Sea basin has around 10 gigawatts of estimated tidal power potential, and much more with wind. Moreover, conservation is said to be the greatest “energy source” of all because it can help “free up” currently wasted energy.

    It was said that the Site C dam is necessary to meet current electricity demands in BC, but also that its power potential is only equivalent to the growth in power demand over the last decade for the millions of standby lights on our electronic equipment and unnecessarily gargantuan big screen TVs and other power-sucking gadgets designed soley for entertainment.

    When the above issues are examined, conducting business-as-usual becomes a profoundly moral issue. But there are those who insist we cannot tamper with the existing economic structures, and that there are no limits to growth.

    Apparently, there are, and they are being reached as we speak.


    November 26, 2010 at 3:46 pm

  40. Having said all that, I remain an optimistic non-Doomer. Planning for the inevitable is crucial, but plan (and design and create) we must.


    November 26, 2010 at 3:56 pm

  41. On post-carbon transport:

    “We will need to shift most of our mechanical transport to “grid-connected vehicles” (GCVs), vehicles — like trolleybuses and electric rail lines – that can draw power from the grid continuously (and increasingly, return surplus energy back to the grid as well). At first, this may sound like a revolution in the direction of passenger transit, and much of it is. Gilbert and Perl call for high-speed rail replacing intercity aviation, growth of urban public transit, and so on.”

    “Trolleybus infrastructure may be one of those investments that would make total sense in a world that correctly priced its carbon impacts, and other externalities. So long as the market is distorted, though, government simply has to override those market considerations in its own purchasing and planning decisions. Yet another reason that government, not just private industry, will need to drive this next “transport revolution.”

    –Jarrett Walker in reviewing “Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freigh Without Oil”


    November 29, 2010 at 4:33 pm

  42. OK challenge levant’s credentials, MB, but the argument makes sense. A collegue who is a chemical engineer says Canadian oil is a “success story”. Maybe he’s a red too. He cites technological advancements, you know, that dirty word “progress”.

    I commented to him on cap-and-trade. One of its first successful applications was for the desalination of the Rhine. Once upon a time salt was a big commodity. Mines from Holland, France and Germany raised the level of salination in the Rhine to the point where the waterway was all but dead to anything except commercial traffic. How to claw back in a multi-jurisdictional environment where the politics of one nation are likely never to align with those of a neighbour?

    They came up with a trade-based system of incentives. As far as I understand it, success all around.

    Oil is a commodity, and we have to assume that supply & demand will out. You & I may one day be neighbours in a really walkable community for diverging reasons, but we would both be keeping prices in check by keeping demand down. We would walk and bike and stay in shape, and the oil producers would hate us.

    Thermodynamics is not simple and i agree that the easiest areas to fudge on are in the amount of energy & waste necessary to extract an energy from tar sands. Levant would argue that Canadian regulation would step in, I would worry about the possibility for corruption in our political system.

    Are we the largest exporter of oil to the U.S. or not?

    At a meeting of urbanists at Richmond City Hall a few years ago Gordon Price asked staff there what the latest science said about sea level rise in Richmond. Eight inches, I think, was the reply. (I remember leaning over to Gord and saying, “that’s one row of concrete blocks”. it may have been 16″ and my quip may have been “two rows”. But I know it wasn’t three).

    I think we are on common ground when we focus on the hidden triggers of conservation, and technological refinement (yep, through government subsidy of R&D) to get more and do more with every barrel. And to diversify and use a lot more energy sources.

    I’d like to see us living in homes that push back energy into the grid and collect a fee. I had an interesting chat with a dad in a swimming pool while our daughters took lessons. He was describing the advantage of dams over nuclear. The nuclear plants have to stay hot all the time. The dams can shut off and wait until prices increase before they release water and power up the turbines.

    Because it is one grid in North America, we can deliver just-in-time to reap profits from California and the Eastern seaboard.

    So, its not business as usual. There are great gains to be had from conservation, and governments investing in research and development. Where you and I share a lot of common ground MB is that we happen to agree that a big chunk of that conservation can be had by building good urbanism.

    Growth? I’d like to pose the 500-year question… How much did the world economy grow since the Renaissance (Leonard and Michelangelo to return to that argument)?

    Not all of it was predicated on population growth. But a good deal of it was accelerated by the “invention” of double entry bookkeeping and the development of commodity markets (trade with the middle east, within Europe as in the case of the Venetian Fleet, etc.). While Europe traded at fairs that were operated under rules of bartering things dragged on. Coin returned to the realm and all of a sudden a real fluidity ensued.

    So growth is sometime predicated on “development” in the purest sense of the word. The inescapable future must be that of the zero-footprint urbanism. Zero energy footprint, where the inputs and the outputs balance. We can follow many roads, and all would seem to lead there: energy, economy, livability, ethics, & just plain common sense. But, I don’t think we’ll be getting there faster than one step at a time.

    Your quotes from JW serve to underscore our many points of contact. We’re not about to give up the fight any time soon, either.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    December 1, 2010 at 10:21 pm

  43. Lewis, you cover our points of agreement well in the latter part of your post, including two-way grid-connections with buildings that produce energy as well as consume it.

    I don’t question Levant’s credentials, and never would because I’m not qualified to. They are what they are. But when commentators focus on Canada’s petroleum future without adequately addressing peak oil and climate change, they are not accounting for externalities that have the potential to radically erode confidence in our most basic socio-economic beliefs and structures.

    It’s not just demand that affects price, but availability of supply. This is what the geologists have been saying for decades. Demand can be turned off & on like a tap, but not supply once it’s constricted.

    There is a huge difference between conventional oil from concentrated supergiant fields (which are now in decline) and unconventional oil sources like the sands, and others that are more dispersed. And the differences are not just in price points, but in determining just what is recoverable from increasingly difficult sites.

    My stepsister is a senior petroleum engineer with Suncor in Calgary, and she gets it. Her work is focused exclusively on the tar sands. She mentioned that once the worldwide price of oil climbs again, she and all her colleagues will be extrordinarily busy, way more than now when she’s already doing a lot of OT, and the lights will burn every night in downtown towers for many years.

    But she also knows that the vast majority of Calgarians do not work in the oil patch, and that while tar sands related economic activity will increase significantly, the effect of higher costs of petroleum on the economy will drag it down. Oil activity pushes, but oil prices pull. Once the balance is upset, there will likely be great hardship evolving in families who live at the periphery and who are more car-dependent than inner city folks, on the shipment of food from Califormia, on the affordability of insufficiently insulated buildings, and so on.

    We used to be able to drive straight to Vancouver from Calgary in large cars on a $20 bill in the early 70s. You cannot do that now, even when you factor in the monetary escalators to 2010 dollar values. Nowhere near it.

    Oil has increased in price over 400% in the last decade or so. There is evidence that the sudden price spike to $148/barrel was the catalyst that caused the Great Recession of 2008/09. That was the straw people in some quarters saw that broke the weak and overextended financial institution’s backs, and the next spike may well lead to more of the same, because many of those institutions are still there, weak as ever, but propped up by public bailouts.

    Yes, oil is a commodity that is governed by economic tenets, but it not just any commodity, it is the world’s Number One commodity. It has the singular puropse of firing up and lubricating the world’s economy. No other commodity has reached that level of dependence.

    As for sea level rise, the last IPCC report predicted it will be in excess of a half-metre by the end of this century. Since they made that prediction, a horrendous amount of observed data (i.e. not just computer models and projections) put that one to bed because climate change is happening orders of magnitude faster than the predictions, especially in the Arctic. We are dangerously close to several tipping points, such as the release of methane from the vast stores contained in the permafrost and in frozen undersea clathrate hydrates. Leaks have already been detected in Siberia. Sea rise could very well be in metres (plural), not fractions of metres.

    When you had your little chuckle in Richmond about a potential 20 cm / 8″ sea rise, you should have known that the highest natural point of land in Richmond is one metre BELOW sea level at the average high tide. Also, the soil conditions are such that salt water infiltration through the subsurface layers has been increasing in the past few years, and the soft alluvial mush won’t support the weight of a major build-up in the dikes without sinking. Buildings there have floating footings for a reason … but they’re still sinking, albeit very slowly. Dikes and diesel pumps are a temporary measure, and there is a good chance the issue of moving over 300,000 people to higher ground will become a planning priority in a couple or three generations, as well as figuring in the loss of thousands of hectares of high quality agricultural land just when we can’t afford to. What would that cost?

    Is there such a thing as good urbanism in floating communities?


    December 3, 2010 at 11:28 am

  44. Wouldn’t you know it. Another article on the public subsidy of the tar sands.


    December 3, 2010 at 12:55 pm

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