Stephen Rees's blog

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

The Viaducts

with 61 comments

Thanks to twitter and Price Tags I have been able to find a picture of what could replace the viaducts in Vancouver. I last wrote about this back in April and the City ran a competition

Visualizing the Viaducts - Submission #71

DIALOG, PWL, Beasley and Green (submission #71)

The proposers wrote

Viaducts gone! Let’s realize the dream of our anti-freeway heroes of yesterday with a bold new strategy of parks and public places. Showcasing history and sustainability, let’s reconnect eastside neighbourhoods and Downtown to False Creek with upper and lower green spaces, museums, monuments and elegant boulevards. Let’s repair urban rhythms without impacting traffic, with great improvements for nature, recreation, non-motorized movement, views and living. Why wait – let’s do this now!

I could not agree more. One of the problems I was concerned about was the existing SkyTrain line. They seem to have left it in place.

The idea that the viaducts could be like New York’s High Line is, I think, mistaken (as is the even dafter notion of keeping the old Port Mann Bridge as a park).

According to Gordon, at last nights Re:Connect awards this “won both a judge’s honourable mention (there was no single winner) and the People’s Choice Award in this category.”

Good. Can we get on with it now please?

UPDATE 15 December 2011

Over 50 comments at the time of writing, so I think it is reasonable to add an update here. Spacing Vancouver has been offline due to problems with their web server and hackers. They are now back and catching up: this morning they added an article by Brent Toderian on the results of re:CONNECT. Spacing Vancouver was also able to use my recent panorama of the Georgia Viaduct taken from in front of  the Concord Pacific sales centre.

Georgia Viaduct from False Creek pano

Written by Stephen Rees

December 2, 2011 at 11:26 am

Posted in Urban Planning

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61 Responses

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  1. Any idea of the other categories and winners? There were three categories, I believe and this one is Category 2.

    Neelima Mahajan

    December 2, 2011 at 1:04 pm

  2. Yes – you can see a list of all the winners at the City of Vancouver web page as a pdf file

    Stephen Rees

    December 2, 2011 at 1:09 pm

  3. Hey Stephen. I’m curious why you discount the idea of transforming the viaduct into a kind of Manhattanesque Highline? Am I missing the obvious, in that your criticism may have something to do with the very different shape of the structures (ie. Highline flat, brushing up against a dense neighborhood; Viaduct, not so much).

    Jonathon Narvey

    December 2, 2011 at 2:28 pm

  4. Indeed. Unlike the previous generation of elevated passenger railways, which ran down the centre of the the street, the High Line was a freight railroad that went mid-block. Around the freight line were many industrial and distribution buildings, served by high level rail connections (see my flickr stream for illustrations of these points). The viaducts, on the other hand, have largely sterilized the area through which they run. About the only land use under and around them is parking (again a point I have illustrated on this bog and on flickr). Leaving the viaducts in place will surely bolster the continuation of this pattern, when what is needed is the sort of change that the re:CONNECT entries envisage.

    Stephen Rees

    December 2, 2011 at 3:09 pm

  5. There is a “Line”in Paris, called the “Promenade Plantee”. Originally a viaduct linking a railway station on the Bastille square to the suburbs and beyond, it became in the late 1990s a linear garden going on for miles, right down to the park de Vincennes, a big park in Eastern Paris. .
    Both the NY High line and the Promenade Plantee in Paris are within old built-up areas with lots of people right there..

    I am not a car-driver but find the idea of tearing down our viaducts totally daft! Do we want to send all the cars that use them on Hastings?
    If anything we should do what the Japanese do: built elevated freeways crisscrossing the downtown area of a town, used by cars that go mostly right trough..

    A lot of Westerners dislike these elevated freeways of Japan but, thanks to them, even in the downtown area of Tokyo and Osaka, within the railway loop line that circles them, there are quiet residential areas with low-rise buildings and few residential towers…..

    Vancouverites pride themselves on having defeated freeways but downtown Vancouver is a massive accumulation of towers with the latest built ones having smaller apartments than the one before.

    Red frog

    December 2, 2011 at 9:14 pm

  6. Red frog ++


    December 3, 2011 at 1:05 am

  7. A lot of Westerners dislike these elevated freeways of Japan but, thanks to them, even in the downtown area of Tokyo and Osaka, within the railway loop line that circles them, there are quiet residential areas with low-rise buildings and few residential towers…..

    Vancouverites pride themselves on having defeated freeways but downtown Vancouver is a massive accumulation of towers with the latest built ones having smaller apartments than the one before.

    Red froq + Voony – – – –

    Stephen’s idea that the elevated road “sterilizes” the ground plane is an acute observation. I’ve not been to Japan, but the notion of separation of cars and grade in order to “calm” or “beautify” the neighbourhood doesn’t work. And we didn’t win the Freeway fight, we lost the War. The cars came anyway.

    Water-Powell and Cordova one-way coupling total 30,000 ADT. Hastings is 35,000 ADT and Union-Venanblea 35,000. Main carries 42,000 to the Viaducts. The rest of Vancouver’s arterials suffer a similar fate at a rate of 10,000 ADT per lane. Graphic here:

    Now “sterilization” is probably not an apt description for what has happened to single family and high-density, human-scale build out fronting Water, Powell, E Cordova, Union, Venables, Main, and every other arterial in Vancouver. Planning and Transportation Planning have failed at this interface; no hand-shake and disastrous results for personal health and the values of private property.

    We argue that an effective transportation system is an essential component of a comprehensive urban design plan at a city and regional scale. That hasn’t been tried since the days of amalgamation with Point Grey and South Vancouver, in 1929.

    lewis n. villegas

    December 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm

  8. Lewis n villegas, please note that elevated freeways in Japan are for THROUGH traffic. There ARE roads at grade, including avenues UNDER the elevated freeways..Many residential streets in Japan have the width of our lanes in Vancouver and THAT does work quite well at traffic calming.
    So much so that on my first couple of visits I was amazed by the number of bicycles in downtown Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe etc.

    You can’t dismiss something that you haven’t seen and experienced. More often than not reality throw a monkey wrench in the great theories of “experts”..and the best laid plans of men. At first glance Japanese cities are a visual nightmare that shatters all stereotypes but they work perfectly well for them…. Being from Europe I felt instantly at home in Japan, while it took me a while to get used to a Vancouver that didn’t even have a rapid transit system at the time..

    Red frog

    December 4, 2011 at 10:20 am

  9. I agree with your frog. I can’t comment on Japan ’cause I haven’t seen it. I saw the freeway in Boston before the Big Dig buried it; I drive the Oakland Bridge into the central business district in San Francisco often; I’ve seen the Elevated trains in Paris, Chicago and Queens (oh, and here of course). I’m not convinced.

    So, do the elevated freeways in Tokyo have off ramps? Or do they truly just zoom by?

    lewis n. villegas

    December 4, 2011 at 3:06 pm

  10. Obviously urban elevated freeways in Japan have to have on-off ramps but they aren’t every few blocks either. You have to take in account the size of the greater Tokyo and greater Osaka that sprawls forever, thanks to so many areas with mostly low buildings.

    I am more familiar with Osaka than Tokyo as I have friends there. From Kansai airport to Kobe’s Sannomiya area takes 1 hr by express bus, all on elevated freeways (Sannomiya is the major transportation and shopping area of Kobe. There are the main stations of 3 different railway companies, a couple of subway stations, the terminus of an automated elevated light rail transit that service 2 artificial islands, department stores, pedestrian streets, underground malls etc.)

    Osaka best known “suburbs” are Kobe, Kyoto and Nara but there are a lot of other towns, in between the best known ones, that aren’t know by westerners though some of them have a population of 300 000, others 500 000. The Kansai area has around 22 million people. The Kansai, incidentally, is the birthplace of Japanese culture.
    The greater Tokyo has over 40 million. In both regions it depends of where one draws the boundaries..

    You have the right not to like “elevated anything” but I have spent enough time on various elevated transit systems (I first went to Paris and London at 14—that was L-O-N-G ago and use Skytrain daily) to be somewhat puzzled by your position as I find that riding any elevated transit is much more pleasant than riding underground ones ..and it is not as if I was a total “futurist”…both in France and in Toronto the most modern buildings I have I lived were from the 19th cent. I lived for a while with my parents in a 17th cent building and on my own in a medieval town etc.

    Red frog

    December 4, 2011 at 10:57 pm

  11. […] viaducts is the jury sentence. The winner of both the jury and People choice is the entry 71 and Stephen Rees is delighted by the result: The best we can do according to the jury and Public which have given a […]

  12. the absence of skyscrapers will spread business evenly over the area and prevent undue traffic congestion

    A Plan for the City of Vancouver, H. Bartholomew (1929).

    If the “sprawling form” is of the kind that you experienced growing up (what people call 19th cent around here, but there are plenty of contemporary examples), then we can look to achieve Bartholomew’s objectives as stated above. The City of London is a good example to put a counterpoint to areas of 22 million or 40 million. Places that surpass the entire Canadian population in one urban region.

    From the point of view of transportation, the question arises—and I am the one asking, not answering—what population profile is most easily serviced? Is the streetcar mode best for connecting centres that are not more than 20 minutes apart?

    I don’t disagree with you that it’s more pleasant to ride up in the air. My point is about the people that live in the buildings that I see from the Skytrain window as I approach the Fraser River from the south, for example. The people on top get all the light, the air and the views. The people on the bottom get the noise, the shaddows and the view of the guideway.

    Evergreen line elevated on North Road is going to be a huge mess. The other thing that comes with high-density is a necessity, a responsibility, to create a high-quality urban environment. Those big ramps in the air “sterilize” the ground plane, to use Stephen’s term.

    lewis n. villegas

    December 5, 2011 at 2:00 am

  13. Noise travels upwards. It’s amazing how well you can hear sidewalk conversations from 20 storeys up when your condo windows are open.

    The condos on the west side of the Cambie Bridge (south end) are below the level of the bridge and do not suffer from the bridge traffic noise. The park and playground under the north end is also quite quiet.

    You also don’t hear much bridge traffic when you’re on Granville Island, either.

    The space under the viaducts is viable space.


    December 5, 2011 at 2:46 pm

  14. The plan posted above speaks a thousand words. Gone is the notion that the city could accommodate 7,000-10,000 people on the NEFC lands, because gone is notion that high-density towers will reign supreme in this concept. Other than a few towers surrounding the stadium, and the seven plunked down in a sea of green next to a revamped Pacific Blvd, public green space will dominate.

    The park is very attractive and it has my vote, but there are a few challenges and missed opportunities.

    One is that the land is highly contaminated with large pockets of coal tar and PCBs, so that makes remediation exceedingly expensive where you want to carve into the soils deeply to create the waterways. One may perch ponds on membranes above the surface, but the connection to salt water will be lost without a multi-million dollar outlay to excavate and ship the most contaminated soils to Alberta for incineration. You could excavate and create berms / earthworks and encapsulate the contaminated soils under membranes, but the disturbance of all that activity alone will send toxins into the Creek. The plan as indicated will change unless large sources of funds are set aside for remediation.

    Another is that if a choice is made between housing and park land, then the consequences of the latter choice must be understood. One million people are projected to move to the Metro over the next generation, and Vancouver will be expected to assume its fair share. By blocking what is one of Vancouver’s last remaining undeveloped sites, the large block of land currently zoned single-family will have to accept up to 10,000 more people. I say, bring it on. There are attached, freehold single-family housing types and small lot precedence out there that have stood the test of time, and densifying arterials with low rise residential and continuous retail at sidewalk level is already well on its way.

    Moreover, an opportunity to foster more human-scaled forms of mixed development on raw land may be lost. One doesn’t require major acreage to create beautiful and highly used parks unless one is proposing exclusive, single-use sports fields or large tracts of riparian forest lining the new waterways.

    The concern over traffic is a non-concern to me. The traffic to / from the downtown peninsula has decreased remarkably even when the population almost doubled. And the graphic clearly indicates Georgia St connection to Pacific Blvd.

    Too many of the concepts tried miserably to preserve the viaduct structures. This is not the Highland Park Line. These are two very large and domineering structures that have left the land below them derelict for decades. Tear them down, but leave one column to decay in the middle of a pond as a monument to one of the largest follies of the 20th Century: worshipping the private car.


    December 6, 2011 at 1:25 pm

  15. You get everything there..the “dreaded freeway” and greenery., temporary pedestrian streets etc. .in Tokyo Ginza

    Red frog

    December 6, 2011 at 2:20 pm

  16. @ Red Frog

    Thanks for your links. I believe Tokyo would kill to have relatively open land like Vancouver’s NEFC, viaducts or no viaducts. It’s obvious Vancouver’s space and crowding challenges are microscopic compared to Tokyo’s. In fact, it’s a blessing we don’t have to seriously consider building under viaducts … yet. That is horrible urbanism, but it is a necessity they created with past planning decisions.

    Until the next great earthquake, that is. Apparently, the recent massive earthquake north of Tokyo brought home the vulnerability of Tokyo itself, much of which is built on soft alluvial soils or unstable fill material.

    Your focus on Tokyo’s elevated roadways seems to ignore the city’s most remarkable public transit system. I would venture a guess that their transit rivals their road infrastructure if it doesn’t already exceed it in service quality and expenditures. (I don’t have time to research that at this juncture, but it’s on my list.) By comparison, our transit sucks and the road infrastructure could be said to be overbuilt. If we had the same level of population density as Tokyo’s, then we’d likely be floating in asphalt, have 8-storey freeways, and be drowning in smog so thick you could cut it with a Swiss Army knife.


    December 6, 2011 at 4:22 pm

  17. MB, I think that you are worrying too much about the soil contamination issue. I would guess that the soils at the NE corner of the false creek area are no different from the soils anywhere else around false creek, and many of those areas have been redeveloped successfully over the last 20 years or so – olympic village, concord pacific, international village, city gate, South false creek… why should it not be the same outcome here?

    Adam Fitch

    December 6, 2011 at 6:45 pm

  18. I submitted a concept to the ideas competition, and I also attended the awards ceremony/discussion forum. There were many great ideas submitted, and the quality of presentation was superb. I would encourage everyone interested in development in Vancouver to view the submissions at:

    I do not agree with those who say that a Highline Park or Promenade Plantee concept will not work for the Vancouver viaducts because the physical context is different. Yes, the physical context is different; the viaducts are not as historic, and there is not nearly the same built form of nearby buildings. But, Vancouver’s viaducts also have some great advantages over the Highline and the PromPlantee.

    they are bigger, thus there is more room to do interesting things and programs with them.

    They are near the water – great views for users.

    they are more modern and robust: could accomodate multiple uses and upgrades, including water features.

    The area is almost a clean slate; thus, converting one or both of the viaducts into recreational promenades could act as a huge catalyst to development.

    This would be financial advantage in redeveloping the area. Whereas, removing them is simply a huge cost. Not only the acutual cost of removing them, but the time involved, the cost to citizens to find new ways to get into and out of the downtown, and the costs of all the political machinations to arrive at such a point.

    I say the most realistic option is to keep them and repurpose them. Many things can be done under them to animate the area.

    I recommend people view Submission #38, among others.

    Adam Fitch

    December 6, 2011 at 7:01 pm

  19. MB wrotes ” Gone is the notion that the city could accommodate 7,000-10,000 people on the NEFC lands, because gone is notion that high-density towers will reign supreme in this concept. ”

    have you read the submission ? probably just check the picture above to say it.

    you can say “gone the view cones!”, “gone the gentle grade access to downtown!”, gone the “thru streets!” replaced by “lovely” cul de sac…
    but certainly not gone the notion of high density towers…Indeed massive condo wall is at the very core of the concept…

    Why you do you want remove the viaducts? to transform Vancouver in a resort city (a la Grande Motte (France) style which has eventually fell out of favor long time ago contrary to what say wikipedia) says the submission…
    and yourself?

    So far the arguments I have heard are basically the same one used by the people whose was burning the streetcars under Burrard bridge 60 years ago: they are old and ugly and anyway less and less people use them !
    Who tell you your grand-children will not curse you for you lack of foresight and excessively destructive spirit?


    December 6, 2011 at 11:10 pm

  20. @ Adam, back in 1986/87 when the Expo 86 land was transferred to Li Ka Shing, who created Concord Pacific, many boreholes were dug to determine where the contaminants were. The most heavily contaminated land remains in the undeveloped NE quadrant (sorry, working on memory here and have lost the references). This is one of the main reasons why (i) Concord never developed the land, and (ii) the concept plans indicate a park along the shore. As with any historic industrial site, the toxins vary in composition and exist in pockets usually directly below their source. Lumberyards and mills were less toxic than coal fired plants, chemicial plants, creosote treatment yards and tanning sites. Today this phenomenon is realized as plumes of hydrocarbons below gas stations and old dry cleaner sites.

    The Andy Livingston Park artificial turf playing fields were built over the contaminated soils which were encapsulated under a neoprene membrane about a metre below the surface. That was the cheapest way to mitigate the presence of toxins in the soil. The lights pierce through the membrane, and the concrete light bases had to be sealed. In other sites in the Metro such sites exist over peat bogs which were also historically used as landfill sites for garbage. Where you have organics mixed with toxins, you also have to have a cap or membrane coupled with a methane venting system.


    December 7, 2011 at 10:00 am

  21. And the winner is . . . DIALOG, PWL Beasley and Green (submission #71).

    What wasteful clap-trap. Is Beasley craving absolution?

    Trust me . . . you wont see that again: it’s soooooo contrary to Vancouver brutalism!

    Roger Kemble

    December 7, 2011 at 10:06 am

  22. @ Voony and Adam, the 7,000-10,000 people figure came from the city in their intial planning / community discussions. The False Creek Residents Association reacted with great anger.

    The specific concept posted above does indeed indicate a “wall” of buildings with green roofs lining a revamped Pacific Bld., but these are low or mid-rise. What is important to note is that they are oriented to the actual ground plane, not the viaducts which are five storeys up. This is advantageous because you’re not having to deal with a large dead void below them, and the viaducts will utterly fail if they were to be used as a “street” facade. There are a few point towers that pierce the green roofs below, however I doubt they will accommodate 10,000 people because the park land in this concept occupies a very large amount of land by comparison.


    December 7, 2011 at 10:18 am

  23. @ Adam, the cost of demolishing the viaducts would be a fragment of the original construction cost, especially if they use explosives, and only a part of the cost of redeveloping their surfaces into other uses. You’re probably looking at development costs in the $80-$150 per square metre range.

    While there may be a tiny handful of interesting example uses or structures under viaducts in a few cities, the vast majority of viaducts in the world create a severe land use challenge on the properties they overbearingly dominate. The social costs are horendous in some cities — guess where many slums are located? My concern is not in the possibilities of adaptive reuse, but in the land use at the original grade. You can create wonderful park-like features on top of the viaducts and maintain their views, but the price of doing so is paid at the ground level.

    The SkyTrain “viaduct” by comparison is light and airy and occupies far less space. Even so, this could be an opportunity to bring it down to Earth for a short stretch.

    One concept even painted a caroon sky and clouds on the bottom of the viaducts. Firstly, I find that perverse (like peel & stick fake rock facades on some houses)and much prefer the real thing. Secondly, after the first winter of leaking runoff and bird tweet the paint will erode and chip, and I don’t believe maintenance budgets would keep up, especially considering these things are almost a kilometre each.

    And your comment comparing demo-ing these freeway segments to burning old streetcars is, to me, ridiculous. Car dependency has well-documented destructive abilities across the world and stratospheric public costs. Just look up Jeff Kenworthy and a host of others (like previous posts by Stephen) to get an idea. Streetcars / transit doesn’t compare. Burning streetcars was a mistaken and highly ironic piece of symbolism. Removing the viaducts is nothing of the kind, espcially considering the challenges we face this century.

    [Moderator’s note: I had to correct the spelling of “ridiculous”]


    December 7, 2011 at 11:53 am

  24. One last comment. Should the viaducts be blown up in a dramatic fashion, I’d love to see the video on You Tube and shown in planning and architecture school studios regarding where to start when rebuilding our cities for the 21st Century.


    December 7, 2011 at 12:06 pm

  25. MB, either you don’t refer to the right entry, have some problem to decipher the illustration, or have some strange conception of what is a “low rise” building…
    entry 71, showcase a real condowall of easily 20+ storeys…the site context should enable you to easily guess that.
    (and yes the viaduct is already almost 5-6 storey high, and in fact you can’t build too much above the viaduct due to the viewcone policy).

    I don’t even see how you can say the building are lining a ‘revamped’ Pacifc Boulevard: they are simply not (you confound your wish and what the submission has to offer)…what is lining the pacific Boulevard is the skytrain track …and yes I agree with you, “[it] will utterly fail”, and especially in that location due to the lack of clearance under the guideway (btw, entry 109 is alleviating the problem by realigning Expo boulevard more north, effectively enabling the line up of the boulevard with building otherwise not possible).

    …And don’t get fooled ourselves, The skytrain track alignment is here to stay – if it wasn’t, the whole road layout concept could make no sense at all, because only the Skytrain dip preventing to connect pacific Boulevard directly to Prior justify the proposal 71 street layout…did you also notice that the skytrain viaduct hang over a good 80-100 meter above the “revamped” pacific boulevard? the guideway has pile every 25 meters or so, not sure how those pile gonna sit in the middle of the boulevard (which by the way look like 66 feet wide or so: it is pretty ambitious to fit in such a narrow ROW bike lane, streetcar and expect it will also handle the 14 lane or so of existing traffic)..maybe entry 94 thought of it, and that is the reason why they have something looking less good,..but may be more legible…

    You qualify of “ridiculous” my comment, based on your certitude of the day which seems driven by a phobie of car letting you to equal car=road and can’t imagine anything else on the road…but roads, and congestion was existing prior the car, and will certainly exist after…

    for the rest, (I am not sure what is wrong with building oriented to the viaduct…) I answer in picture in my latest post which Lewis should love (because it talks of good urbanism!).


    December 8, 2011 at 12:51 am

  26. Voony, the only illustrations I have trouble deciphering are ones that are absent from the post. Yes, my comments were based solely on the plan view, but humans see obliquely and in perspective. Once I took the time on another site and swam through the concepts and located the proper perspectives, then I agreed that the building massing is greater than what is possible to decipher in the plan. The towers top out closer to the stadia and step down to the park, though I find that incongruous with the very high density of CityGate, a project a stone’s throw away and approved and built under Beasley’s watch.

    However, you misinterpreted my “ridiculous” statement as referring to you. I clearly referred to Adam’s comment about the supposed “high cost” of removing the viaducts and his comparison of that to burning streetcars. You did not make that comment, and I’m sorry that it was interpreted that way.

    This concept indicates far more park land than what was originally envisioned by Concord and the city’s NEFC consultation process. Even though the towers are broad and step up in height as they march west, I doubt very much if they can cram 10,000 people into them without building more in what is shown as green space. I’m not advocating that scenario, just saying that the planned for density will have to be accommodated elsewhere.

    Moreover, I feel the saltwater inlet, as attractive as it is as only a concept on paper at this juncture, will be very difficult and exceedingly expensive to construct because of the contamination issue. This waterway design stands as much of a chance of approval as Li Ka Shing’s original concept for FCN which resembled Shanghai riffed by many canals cut deeply into the shoreline soils. I stand by my previous comments on this and predict the plan will change significantly as more soil tests are conducted in preparation for tender and construction. The federal fisheries act will play a significant role in the environmental review this project will inevitably have to undergo.

    Regarding your comments about traffic and congestion and “phobie” … C’mon, Voony, that’s insulting. I own a car and drive 26 km to + from work everyday. I wish I didn’t have to, but that’s the reality of poor transit and a well built out road system that occupies about 1/3 of our urban land base and that is dominated by the ridiculous inefficiency of the dominant single occupant. (BTW, I’m in a car pool). Moreover, we made the conscious decision to live close to services and our social life, to accept a far smaller property by comparison to the suburban financial equivalent, and to be within a reasonable commute to work. We could have moved to the suburbs and paid less for housing, but chose not to by design. This decision was based on experience. I commuted 110 km round trip for two years (2hr 15 min a day) in the 90’s, but decided to quit that job rather than continue on that course. To make these choices doesn’t make me car phobic. Moreover, I am proud we are living up to our principles and not being a hypocrite.

    What I’m reacting to is the fact that I believe the existing traffic on the viaducts can be accommodated on the many alternate surface routes. That the traffic engineers have had their way for a half century and it’s time to say enough is enough. That the traffic into and out of downtown is DECREASING, and should be further encouraged to continue decreasing. That it is possible to design NEFC so that the majority of the new residents in those towers “lining” a “revamped” Pacific Blvd. can be encouraged to walk everywhere. And to place all the necessities nearby or within the community to make this possible.


    December 8, 2011 at 2:33 pm

  27. * “The towers top out closer to the stadia and step down to the park, though I find that incongruous with the very high density of CityGate” absolutely. that is the problem of the building form, it is “suburban” in nature, and doesn’t relate to an urban environment.

    * also, note that according to “BEST” citing CoV, road space occupy 26.5% of Vancouver land area…for the record in Paris, where at some rare exception, all the grid pre-date the automobile area, the road space occupy 25%…

    “I believe the existing traffic on the viaducts can be accommodated on the many alternate surface routes”, I don’t disagree with that but I am questioning: is it the right choice to do?

    Hasting street badly needs an urban renewal treatment. Should it be a motor vehicle thoroughfare, or designed toward softer transportation mode: does the removal of the viaducts will allow the later choice?

    For reference, Hasting is something like 30meters wide, has 6 lanes of general traffic, Avenue Pierre Mendes France, Paris, 40 meters wide, has only 2 of them…recently reconfigured Passeig de Sant Joan in Bareclona has also only 2 of them… and is something like 60 meters wide…

    Of course, there is no money to be done by the development industry in the fixing of our badly derelict streets, and one has to understand what is the real motivation behind all this campaign to remove the viaducts.


    December 8, 2011 at 11:30 pm

  28. OK, I’m gonna need a little bit more time to digest this discussion. But will be back with comments.

    lewis n. villegas

    December 9, 2011 at 12:49 am

  29. Don’t waste your time Lewis.

    As with Formshift, re:connect, the jury’s choice of winners, display succinctly the profound lack of urbanism, urban understanding, extant in this town.

    We gossip over shiny trinkets eschewing any sense of interconnected community.

    Decades of childish preening, (thu mountains and the sea), have warped our sense of what a city is: who we are.

    Roger Kemble

    December 9, 2011 at 9:39 am

  30. Voony & MB—good conversation. Bit bumpy at times. Maybe cultural difference, but more likely a lack of a common language between architect and engineer. And that missing element surely haunts us.

    Vancouver’s road space is exaggerated by the inclusion of the 20′ lane. In Montreal, where we can see the lane system evolving over 200 years, we can also see lanes turned into streets producing a higher yield in the urban land. Vancouver was platted with 66-foot (one chain; 20 m) streets; 80-foot and 99-foot arterials. Broadway was one chain wide in the earliest CPR sections, from about Cambie to Main, and Bartholomew (1929) set about widening it to 99-feet. Perhaps the most remarkable example of this kind of urban widening is in the Quebec Citadel where Rue St. Jean was widened by slicing the front several feet of an extant two or three blocks of cheek-by-jowl buildings.

    Voony is right. It is not so much the width of the road, but the number of lanes that is the issue. However, in Paris, for example, the height of the fronting building is determined by the width of the fronting street. Haussmann’s widenings or percées not only opened new lines of communication for traffic, but set the urban conditions to build the maisonette fronting the contre allée and the boulevard. The railways were connected from their peripheral location to the centre (our contention that CN fall back to VCC to create a local-regional rail hub). And, when it was time to build the subway, cut-and-cover on the contre allée made the urban incision seem almost effortless. Haussmann is never credited for building sidewalks as well as boulevards, and installing water and gas systems as municipal infrastructure, along with parks, libraries, markets and jails.

    We’ve shown a schematic street section that will accommodate either LRT or BRT on Hastings, Broadway, or any 99-foot (1.5 chain, 30 m) R.O.W.

    Redevelopment gives up the first 10′ to the street as part of the process. The contre allée that results can be designed to function in the way you two are discussing. For example it could be one lane moving and one lane off-peak parking (ADT 20,000 max.). In cases where there is not transit in the centre area, the contre allée can serve as a local access road mixing slow moving vehicles with cyclists and skate boards. The two medians joint at the centre of the street on the blocks that require space for transit stations. The pedestrian crossing distance is typically 22-feet (0.67 chain; 12.33 m) and 30-feet on station blocks. There is always at least one island of safety for the pedestrian in the R.O.W. More often there is two. And these medians are sites for intensive urban tree planting.

    I think the real message of the competition is the need for an integrated approach. And while there were several urbanist entries to the competition, and among the jury selections, there is still a rampant avowal of the tower form as the default position at City Hall. That’s too bad, because this ‘modernist urbanism’ has always been but one of two options. With the human-scale, high-density stuff being used to deliver the most enigmatic quartiers in an equally ‘contemporary’ vein or style.

    lewis n. villegas

    December 9, 2011 at 10:11 am

  31. I think it’s great to consider the value of generous surface boulevards with a generous pedestrian realm and planting to replace the viaducts. I don’t really care if 25% of the existing drivers in the area (probably more than half who arrive from outside of the city anyway and who make no tax contribution here to maintain them) are inconvenienced with the removal of 6 lanes on the viaducts.

    Jeff Kenworthy gave a lecture at SFU downtown a few years back on the phenomenon of disappearing traffic when capital projects and the like blocked roads and travel lanes. Very illuminating. Traffic is fluid and always finds another way with a portion that just “disappears”. The fact is that at least 12% of the overall traffic into downtown has already “disappeared.” I believe that figure was calculated before the arrival of the Canada Line so it may well be higher. Removing the viaducts will not eliminate the traffic that uses them, but it will likely accommodate less than 100%. I’m fine with that.

    I’m not sure where you’re going with the percentage of the urban area used up by the road system, Voony. To me it’s fundamental to have a common denominator to even the playing field when comparing cities, and that can be a per capita calculation. I hope your eyes don’t glaze over.

    Greater Paris covers 2,845 km2 with a population of slightly more than 12 million people. That works out to an average of around 4,218 people per km2. At 25%, 711 km2 of the land in greater Paris is covered in roads with 59.2 square metres of asphalt per capita (there are 1 million m2 in a km2). This assumes parks and perhaps urban farms at the periphery were included. The 25% in roads may relate only to 25% of the urbanized area, excluding parks and agriculture (I have no figures for these), in which case the asphalt per capita would be even less.

    The city of Paris covers 105 km2 (1/27th the land area of greater Paris according to Wikipedia) with a population of 2.13 million, which works out to about 20,280 people per km2 and 26.25 km2 in roads. There are 12.3 m2 of asphalt per capita.

    Metro Vancouver covers 2,831.8 km2, only 13 km2 less than greater Paris, but with 9.78 million fewer people! The Metro has an average density of 812 people per km2, only 19% of greater Paris. The comparison ends there.

    Deducting agricultural land, parks and natural areas, port facilities and protected areas / watersheds, leaves 1,110.8 km2 in Metro Vancouver within what it calls the Urban Containment Boundary, which is 40% of the total Metro area. (I suspect it’s in the 70+ % range in greater Paris.) With 192.2 km2 listed as “road and lane rights-of-way”, 17.3% of the land within the UCB is devoted to the regional road system, which works out to 83.6 m2 per capita. This likely does not include private parking and driveways.

    Vancouver has about 610,000 people and covers 114.7 km2 of which 96.88 km2 is within the UCB. 30% of the UC land consists of the road system (29 km2), which works out to 47.5 m2 of roads per capita. An average parking stall is around 6.25 m2. The large proportion of land devoted to roads in Vancouver was originally critiqued by the Urban Landscape Task Force which was formed in the 90s, and this where the idea of creating greenways in Vancouver originated.

    Surrey has 35.85 km2 in roads and 69.62 km2 in single family and duplex lots, or 21% and 41% of the UC lands respectively. Vancouver has almost 7 km2 less land devoted to roads than Surrey, but over 100,000 more people. Surrey also devotes almost 27 km2 more land to single family and duplex lots.

    The amount of land tied up in roads, many of which were built at excessive scales especially in the suburbs, and especially in single family large lots makes our cities very inefficient and less resilient to things like higher energy prices, initiatives to counteract climate change, and in quality of urbanism.


    December 9, 2011 at 3:12 pm

  32. The most useful design figure to compare build out is gross units per acre, that is density including the roads. You can then assign a people per unit, and an area per unit, to get to population and total habitable area numbers. For design purposes it is important to take away park space, rivers, etc., when comparing urban areas. Less so the road space.

    It would be interesting to hear someone speak about the concrete realities of the London experiment with the congestion charge.

    In urbanism many of these quantitative methods can be associated or even directly linked to qualitative results. The Appleyard study of three streets in San Francisco was satisfied to settle on 16,000 ADT as the breaking point for livability. That was the point the researches found the neighbourhood started to be decimated by too high volumes of traffic. We found traffic volumes of 15,000 ADT on Powell and on Cordova. However, these are one-way couplings so one has to expect that 15,000 ADT one-way produces the equivalent qualitative results as 30,000 ADT two-way.

    The Vancouver Achievement gives the gross density for North Shore False Creek as 66 units/acre. Our 3.5 storey, fee-simple urban house achieves 75 units/gross acre:

    Luxury condominiums, as someone said, are really hi-density sprawl: The further apart the towers, the better the views. The developers don’t want hi-density, they want hi-rise. However, the problem is that as the towers spread out, it becomes more and more difficult to achieve bustle in the streets. The ‘fun’ factor of going out for a walk quickly erodes.

    With the fee-simple, zero-lot line urban house, or row house, the fun factor is snooping on your neighbours. If you are out at night, even better, you can see in the windows. And all of it can happen in urban space where the width of the street, and the height of the streetwall make it a joy to experience. The sun shines in, rather than be blocked by shadows that can be blocks long.

    lewis n. villegas

    December 9, 2011 at 6:44 pm

  33. @MB some way back in the thread you wrote “The most heavily contaminated land remains in the undeveloped NE quadrant (sorry, working on memory here and have lost the references). This is one of the main reasons why (i) Concord never developed the land, ”

    BUT that does not mean that Concord will not develop the land. Indeed their intentions are clear and may be seen by visiting their sales centre next to the casino. There is a large – and as they admit – very expensive model there, which shows many towers dotting the landscape some of which are all glass to show that they are future concept buildings as opposed to ones currently under development. I counted 18 of these towers around the viaducts. The staff at the centre do not allow visitors to take pictures of the model in case at some later date people come back and say “but your model showed a tower of this shape and size on this site and now you have built something else”. So it is conceptual and mutable.

    Concord has not yet developed the site yet as there were other places easier and cheaper to build. But the value of the land keeps rising, there is no more waterfront to buy, so Concord have plenty of time to wait until they judge the market right for some more expensive development capable of making the remediation pay for itself. And judging by the model, they were going to put up high rise towers alongside the viaducts – and will doubtless use that intention to influence what the City finally decides to allow there.

    Stephen Rees

    December 11, 2011 at 4:16 pm

  34. This nugget from the 1929 Bartholomew Plan for Vancouver has helped me refine the whole tower vs. non-tower urbanism debate:

    The construction of the Distributor Street and the absence of skyscrapers will spread business evenly over the area and prevent undue traffic congestion.

    Bartholomew. Plan for the City of Vancouver, 1929 (p.25)

    You can read my analysis here:

    The way that the re:connect competition was set up made it a slam dunk that towers would replace the viaducts. That’s why we focused on the more challenging question of how to land the False Creek Flats in the market. This project that has preoccupied Toronto-based interests for decades.

    As far as the model goes, my suggestion is to beg for forgiveness, rather than ask for permission. Fire away! Do it in the name of history!!

    lewis n. villegas

    December 12, 2011 at 12:20 am

  35. MB, I mentioned percentage of the urban area used up by the road system, because you mentioned it first. (btw, if we remove only 2 Parisian parks, Vincennes and Boulogne, the road surface occupies more than 30% of the remaining city surface – needless to mention, railways occupy also a huge chunk of surface, like the Seine…so you end up with a pretty dramatic transportation infrastructure surface covering Paris).
    …..I agree it is not the most relevant metric, but I am not sure the per capita metric is more relevant here why:

    you then compare a mature city to a one with still lot of potential growth…and like we plan subway to accommodate growth, we have to not forget that not everything will be able to travel by subway: by the way I have found a wonderful quote it my week-end reading:
    […] underground transport does nothing to reduce surface movement in Paris; on the contrary, it multiply it.
    the more remarkable is that it has been pronounced in…1909 (see my last post referred in end comment).

    and anyway, large ROW came handy in 1900 to build subways on the cheap, like they did on the Parisian Boulevard des Marechaux in 2000 for the Trams…(notice thow traffic calming didn’t occur on the nearby motorway, the notoriously infamous Paris’s Peripherique… but on the street where people was already living, and the existence of the motorway was justifying that “traffic calming”)

    Lewis is providing great insight in his post on the function of the street, and he has a point on the “Livability” of the street as a function of the traffic (in term of vehicle) (we can easily understand that when traffic become to heavy, the street become a barrier)…and that revolve to my original argument…

    yes, we can move the viaduct traffic to the ground, and that is mainly Hasting, Pender,…but that is not a positive outcome at all…
    and as the quote expresses: you will still need a certain level of surface road, to both accommodate the necessity of an economic life and liveability…

    I can see that the removal of the viaduct deny both of them…

    …and I kind of agree with Roger Kemble: I have hard time to see urbanism thinking in the result competition, and I don’t think that was the concern of the Jury (and that is one “message” of the competition, Lewis).
    (in fact it was one entry, 37, which in my opinion was dominating the whole competition, by the sophistication of the urban thinking displayed, that including the integration of Public transit…I must admit I was pretty sure it was an European entry, due to the street’s wind turbines appearing in one display among other and betraying an advance in “sustainability” which eventually was too much to support for the too arrogant “World greenest city” credo…I have been puzzled a bit to see this entry lost to a much more basic concept).

    At the end, Lewis observation between traffic and “street liveability” has inspired me a post on it, where you will see that street is not equal to asphalt. (and where I put the above mentioned quote into context):


    December 12, 2011 at 1:08 am

  36. Stephen, from the NEFC High Level Review:

    “The phasing of parks in False Creek North has always been linked to the need to deal with the disposal of contaminated soils in the area. The provincial government is responsible for the cost of soil remediation. An agreement between the Province, City and Concord (property owner) regarding contaminated soils in FCN was amended in November 2000 to permit the Province to use the Creekside Park extension land (Area 9) for the long-term storage of contaminated soils to be relocated from Area 6A and 6B. When the rezoning of site 6A was considered in 2004, the ODP was amended to delay delivery of the Creekside Park extension until after the last of Areas 6A and 6C was developed. Therefore the timing of the development of a park on Area 9 (Creekside Park extension) is linked to the development of Area 6C.”

    I’m not sure where 6C is located, but there are definitely some serious soil contamination issues to examine in the NEFC areas prior to development. Some soil contaminants can be very toxic, such as PCBs and heavy metals, and require special and very expensive techniques to remediate. Removal isn’t easy when leaching into the water is occurring. What really twigged me on this issue are the deeply incised inlets in the park land indicated in the plan your posted. That won’t happen without removing the toxic compounds that would otherwise enter the marine environment. My guess is that the park design will end up sticking to the previous concepts with fewer fresh water ponds (likely recharged with storm water runoff from roofs and roads) and no saltwater inlets.

    Here’s an interesting article originating from the Vancouver Courier (picked up under the Burnaby Now banner) on the contaminated soil issue:

    Regarding the model, what you saw was the massing model that shows only the potential size and location of building envelopes. This early representation was probably a Concord trial balloon, let alone anything close to what actually gets built. Projects always change from conceptualization to construction, sometimes radically so. There is a common tendency in public consultation for the public to misread the early concepts as fait accompli. This is my own experience, and residents are usually delighted when they learn that their input really does change the plan. However, compromise also means that no one is entirely ahhpy.


    December 12, 2011 at 3:32 pm

  37. Voony, I’m merely trying to illustrate that Paris is so many ways more efficient — and beautiful! — than Metro Vancouver for many reasons, one of them being that much of its road system predates the car.

    I don’t have the landuse breakdown of Paris and all its suburbs, least of all railyards.


    December 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm

  38. @ Lewis: “The most useful design figure to compare build out is gross units per acre, that is density including the roads. You can then assign a people per unit, and an area per unit, to get to population and total habitable area numbers. For design purposes it is important to take away park space, rivers, etc., when comparing urban areas. Less so the road space.”

    I agree. However, some cities have excessive road standards — suburbs vs inner city in any western North American city for example. That’s why I find what Patrick Condon and Peter Calthorpe have called the “asphalt subsidy” useful. Naheed Nenshi, the new mayor of Calgary, said that suburban lots are subsidized to teh tune of about $10,000 each in terms of the gap between the public resources that draw compared to what they pay in taxes. Granted, it’s more of an economic rather than urban design term, but sometimes the financial ramifications on public resources is a good counter argument to those who would practice the mallification of greenfield sites and ensuring the m2 of asphalt per capita remains high.


    December 12, 2011 at 3:54 pm

  39. Always a plus if we can inspire, Voony. Panerai’s 1980’s “De L’Îlot a la Barre” [From the Block to the Slab] has the best analysis of Haussmann’s Paris I’ve found. My partner for the competition gave me a copy. It is now available in translation. The thesis is exactly what you describe. They analyze maisonettes along the sides of Sebastopol that end up occupying the entire city block. Put another way, the building is surrounded by streets on all sides. One is on Avenue Pereire, if I recall correctly. Of course, the Unite d’Habitation do just that. But, now the rhetoric of the freed land plane, and the tower in the park, intrudes into the orderly development of human-scaled urbanism.

    Looking at the suburbs, the parking lot area becomes a very difficult issue. Forcing connections between adjacent parking lots is just the tip of the problem of bringing suburban areas back into balance.

    The point that I am interested of exploring on the transportation side is whether BRT/LRT on Main and on Hastings would take up enough trips to radically change the ADT numbers for private autos on what once were local streets (Water-Powell, Cordova, and Union-Venables). Canada Line, Expo, and 99-B Line seem to be great success stories—maximum capacity all. Makes me wonder why we are so slow to implement BRT and LRT, then just watch it grow. It is as if everybody gets it, except the ones doing transportation planning.

    Moving on, the conversation here is starting to get to the level of putting the competition to good use. The way I read #37 is that the building footprints are out of scale, making it a chore and not a pleasure to experience the ground plane. Obviously, I’m going to question the height of the buildings.

    What strikes me about the plan Stephen posted here is that it is “Towers in the Park” all over again. We’re back in Paris, but sitting with the master at Le Corbusier’s atelier.

    The plan is deceptive. Everything about it speaks about adjusting the scale of urban space back to a human-scale urbanism: the continuous planting of trees along the side of the streets; the presence of medians with trees in the centre of some streets; and the creation of a park on the cleared viaduct land a couple of blocks north of Thorton Park (a green link between the two is missing). But, when I began to focus on the little footprints for the big towers… then the feeling started to grow that we were parked-out. Saying no to park space is a bit like dissing apple pie. But, do we really need all that park? Or do we just need better urbanism?

    Is the choice we face making “endless green,” or putting the lie to Modern urbanism? Isn’t it more fun to walk on a good street than to walk in a green park? Isn’t Montmatre, designed in the 1600’s—the Baroque century—more fun than the Tuileries? The footprint or land area is probably about the same.

    Modern urbanism is like the feeling you get walking into an empty house. The spaces are all empty and they feel deceptively small. But try walking in those vast wastelands of Modern urbanism, NSFC included. They go on forever. Returning to the metaphor of the empty house… what happens when we put the furniture in? Good interior design is all about establishing and defining the circulation paths. We want to keep them open, but we also want to define them. Edges are important, and we don’t just want to push the furniture against the walls. The place fills up, but it seems to grow in size too. Many more “places” crop up than we ever had any right to imagine when it was empty.

    The city works the same way. The enclosing gesture is the sign that things are going right. The wide open Modernsim is the sign that power has been concentrated in too few hands. Not only can we fight city hall, in the final analysis, that is the only civic thing to do.

    lewis n. villegas

    December 12, 2011 at 8:51 pm

  40. @ Lewis: “Saying no to park space is a bit like dissing apple pie. But, do we really need all that park? Or do we just need better urbanism?”

    An excellent comment. Not that good urbanism doesn’t need to be properly ‘ventilated’ and shaded with green public open space, and not that the waterfront should remain as a public amenity for all rather than as a private asset “owned” by the adjacent owners of luxury condos. But decent park planning and design usually trends toward providing quality amenities within the boundaries, not just pushing the boundaries as far outward as possible.

    Lisa Rochon had a prescient piece in Saturday’s Globe and Mail on this topic. She used Paris’ Place de Vosges as an example of exemplary urban design and park planning. She addressed issues like envelope / containment, activity programming and connectivity and compared it to other successful urban plazas and parks like Bryant Park in Manhattan, and some not-so-successful spaces like parts of Toronto’s waterfront and the seawall of FCN. It’s nice to have green open space, but it’s the nuanced articulation of that space that really counts.

    Though I see the carved out saltwater inlets in the posted plan as an exciting marketing aid, the chances of it being built as indicated are pretty slim because of the contamination issue I mentioned previously. I would hate to see the space taken over by single-use sports fields (nearby Andy Livingston Park has enough all-weather intensively-used sports surfaces). Another way of saying it is the 2.5 acres / 1,000 people planning rule for creating park space is not the only metric. Quality and diversity of use should be the primary measure, even if the park space is a little small, and the connection to the adjacent developments must be well thought out.

    My old UBC prof once said that there are two ways to design a city: with its transportation system, or with its open space. The wisdom of focusing more on the latter makes more sense as the small amount of land left to develop in Vancouver — and its increasingly fragmented nature becomes more apparent.


    December 13, 2011 at 9:31 am

  41. MB “My old UBC prof once said that there are two ways to design a city: with its transportation system, or with its open space. ”

    Your old prof was obviously thinking of a road based system. A system that is based on people (and their goods) is much more space efficient than one based on motor vehicles and allows for more open space for people. The system that the viaduct designers had in mind was based around the Single Occupant Vehicle. The only open spaces were those to drive through or park on. Why anyone needs a monument for that now baffles me.

    I inserted “their goods” since current road advocates seem to think that allowing for the movement of large amounts of freight through urban areas is somehow beneficial to the local economy which is, of course, specious.

    Stephen Rees

    December 13, 2011 at 9:48 am

  42. @ Lewis: “The point that I am interested of exploring on the transportation side is whether BRT/LRT on Main and on Hastings would take up enough trips to radically change the ADT numbers for private autos on what once were local streets (Water-Powell, Cordova, and Union-Venables). Canada Line, Expo, and 99-B Line seem to be great success stories—maximum capacity all. Makes me wonder why we are so slow to implement BRT and LRT, then just watch it grow. It is as if everybody gets it, except the ones doing transportation planning.”

    Well, Lewis, this has been rehashed over on Human Transit ad nauseum. LRT is an expensive (usually surface) rail-based system that’s best implemented where it will have the most impact. I know you look at it from an urbanism viewpoint, and that’s a valid view to have. But when it comes time to finance its construction and the decision-makers start looking at the ridership numbers, then they have every right to question the funding if paying to have trams displace perfectly good bus routes will not result in much of a difference in ridership. I would argue strongly that replacing the Main Street (or Hastings) articulated trolleys with trams will not have any significant effect on increasing transit use, but will greatly deplete overall transit funding.

    This is why I see Condon’s schtick that one Broadway subway will pay for five (or more) trams on arterials as patently misleading and bent to support a rather narrow point of view. The fact is that such a scenario will displace five or so perfectly good – and some exemplary — bus routes at great cost and little return, and ignores the fact that Broadway is a special case.

    Having said that, I do see a great role for trams on arterials in any city where there is inadequate bus service. Moreover, purposely linking the funding of trams and other significant future transit expansion to land use in the form of greater densities utilizing human scaled urbanism would have a powerful and I’d say beneficial effect on Canada’s suburbs. Moreover, there may be an intermediate role for trams that lies between the regional rapid transit system and local two-stop bus service.

    I suggest that this topic should not be narrowed to overly prescriptive solutions and allow for great flexibility to adopt whatever rail or bus system is most suited to particular situations, albeit full scale regional subways and rapid transit systems, surface express buses, or trams at the local level. I say this because transit is one of the most powerful tools we have to redirect the growth in our cities into more resilient and humane forms, and we need an array of tools in the toolkit. One Home Hardware multi wrench won’t cut it.


    December 13, 2011 at 10:04 am

  43. Stephen, I agree completely with your comments on the road system. And yes, in the 80s when he made that comment the impact of the SOV was not well-thought out. To think that Gateway’s $6 billion justification was to free the movement of goods when the old Port Mann was chocked with SOVs is to shake one’s head at the irony.


    December 13, 2011 at 10:10 am

  44. @MB
    I think you have a rather pessimistic view when it comes to the ridership potential of tram vs. bus. I believe rail based transit, whether on-street or off, is fundamentally a different transportation mode than the bus and has the potential to greatly increase the number of transit passengers. It’s a factor that I badly underestimated when I so boldly predicted that the Canada Line would not meet ridership goals. As one of the sardines on that line M-F I am punished every day for my invalid assumptions about the effect of transfers and the origin of passengers.

    The big question in my mind is what kind of metropolitan region you want to encourage. A street railway on a designated truck route almost by necessity displaces buses. Thus the street railway must be designed in such a way as to retain many of those previously served by the bus. This has negative implications for passengers travelling non-stop through the service area. A grade separated railway, on the other hand, mostly benefits those from outside the areas through which it travels. It encourages long commutes by transit.

    The urbanists prefer the street railway for its connection to the area through which it travels. Executed well, closer stop spacing more evenly distributes demand and encourages a parallel built environment: a continuous strip of medium density with every point on the line and on many side streets within walking distance of a tram platform. This form of transit is designed to remake the city by focusing attention on the direct service area. Suburban commuters are not well served by this model and I would argue that’s deliberate. The last thing an urbanist wants to do is encourage suburban development.

    The grade separated railway has a very different focus. Because a train can travel several km in the time it takes to complete a 5 minute walk to a station, short distance transit passengers are discouraged in favour of long distance ones. This model assumes suburban development is going to happen anyway and seeks to shift the suburban commuter from SOV to transit. One could argue that getting one commuter out of his car has greater value that serving multiple urban residents who already have a bus available. The urban development in this model is node based and usually has a far greater disparity in building form between node and the area surrounding it. Thus the “invasion” of towers in areas dominated by lower density commercial and residential uses.

    A node based transit system will attract many urban residents from the nodes themselves and the bus routes serving intersecting arterials. It will also attract some pedestrians from the surrounding low density, however, the largest single group of passengers will be suburban. Ridership will be high and the line will be deemed a success.

    The ribbon style transit system will not serve nearly as many suburban passengers, but if paired with redevelopment will allow the urban environment to absorb a number of new residents who might otherwise be forced out to the suburbs.

    The node based design does accommodate a lot of population growth, but by and large they are not in the market for a 1/4 acre Fraser Valley lot. The ribbon based design puts more front doors on or near the ground and thus has greater potential to attract families who will otherwise flee to the suburbs.

    Pushing families to the suburbs will inevitably result in calls for more “rapid” transit and wider freeways – more node development. It’s a self reinforcing cycle that’s been in place for over 50 years and explains why the near future is likely to look exactly like the recent past.


    December 13, 2011 at 3:17 pm

  45. David, I sympathize with your CL experience. I use it fairly often, but the most crowded experience I’ve had with it was during the Olympics. One time I was sardined between four beautiful young women who were singing a Russian song (I asked where they were from) with excellent harmony. I didn’t mind that at all.

    My comment about the ramification of tramification (pardon!) was that it’s wonderful under the right circumstances, but should not become an absolute for every circumstance. So much depends on the character of the street in question (i.e. the intensity and spacing of heavily used cross streets, its current transit levels …) and its place in not just the neighbourhoods, but in the region. For example, there are many reasons I would recommend a full subway on Broadway coupled with an improved two-block electric trolley service on the surface that in turn coexists in a much improved pedestrian realm. I would also encourage the city to consult with the community on applying the principles of human scaled urbanism as opposed to the current tendency that originated from the early 80s to tower up. But there are very few other places I’d recommend this solution.

    The phenomenon about suburban commuters packing the trains could apply to a large degree in Calgary, but certainly not the urbanism that is mistakenly thought to automatically accompany light rail as it did in the pre-car streetcar suburbs, which are now part of the inner city. Calgary and Metro Vancouver and many other Canadian cities would benefit widely with trams, and I commend cities like Edmonton for actually establishing detailed policies around them. But Edmonton has no eqivalent to Broadway outside of downtown, which indicates that many streets are unique and need special treatment … or should I say help.


    December 13, 2011 at 4:13 pm

  46. I would also encourage the city to consult with the community on applying the principles of human scaled urbanism as opposed to the current tendency that originated from the early 80s to tower up. But there are very few other places I’d recommend this solution.

    By consult with the community do you mean specifically consult with you?

    . . . the early 80s to tower up. Curitiba has been “towering up” since the ‘70’s, still is, and, last time I was there, seemed pretty fine with human scaled community.

    Have you experienced Woonerf traffic sharing/calming?

    As for fast moving shiny trinkets they are very disruptive to install and they cost an awful lot of money.

    I would suggest the problem with traffic is traffic engineering and the problem with human scaled urbanism is human.

    Spontaneity goes along way and sometimes happenchance works.

    You seem to have a lot invested in this.

    Roger Kemble

    December 13, 2011 at 4:44 pm

  47. ” Saying no to park space is a bit like dissing apple pie. But, do we really need all that park? Or do we just need better urbanism?”

    I second that comment too. In fact it is a perfect case where “more” is the enemy of “better”.
    As pointed out by Lewis, all those green patches are disconnected (the situation is eventually made worse for Andy Livingstone park deprived of sun) . For the block East or West of Main, considering their geographical situation, park there could be probably no more viable than the Thornton park.(which almost only and worthy “raison d’etre” is to preserve the perspective on the railway station building) and effectively those parks do basically nothing to repair the scars inflicted to the urban fabric by the viaducts.

    I have read the Lisa Rochon’s article… I am not sure about the Paris’ Place de Vosges
    (by the way, we call this kind of space, the garden in the middle of a place, “square” in “français”, but Quebecers, better defender of the french language than French call them “Carre”, and they have a good example in Montreal: “carre Saint Louis” …and all that get origin in the typical London’s garden square style which has impressed so much the french for generation, and more especially Napoleon III)…but there is an acute observation certainly worth to be put emphasis on:

    Unlike Stockholm, for instance, where restaurants and highly active parks connect effortlessly in and out of the water, [Fred Kent] notes, “Vancouver’s waterfront has been ruined by its new communities of high-rise towers surrounded by isolated playgrounds with no seating, or isolated rocks. They’re designed for people who don’t want much to happen in front of them. There’s no sense of life or delight.

    It is not that the waterfront is that bad but it is far cry to be good (he problem is that the local have no good example surrounding them to make them aware of that)…and as suggested by the winning entry, kind of privatizing the waterfront, we are promised more of the same.

    To the dilemma
    “My old UBC prof once said that there are two ways to design a city: with its transportation system, or with its open space”
    , I could suggest that cities exist by and growth organically along transportation system lines…that said transportation is not equal to SOV…

    and Thanks Lewis for the tip on the Panerai’s book. I will try to get an hold on it (myself I could recommend “The autumn of central Paris” by Anthony Sutcliffe published in 1971: lot of detailed information in it).


    December 13, 2011 at 11:17 pm

  48. @ Voony, I suggest the problem with the seawall parks in Vancouver is that they are outward-looking and not designed with an activity program, and this singular attention to open space planning and design literally turns its back on the city. It’s all about the view … though I am thankful the previously inaccessible and private waterfront in much of the central city (espcially the former rail yards) is now an acccessible public amenity. It’s now time to look inward and do something about our pathetic notion of town square amd public plaza, and provide a counterpoint to the cult of the view.


    December 15, 2011 at 10:32 am

  49. Roger, what I mean with consulting with the community on Broadway is consulting with the neighbourhoods at least a half kilometre on either side of that arterial. And yes, that means me; though I’m a little further away now, I have lived in that corridor for a quarter of a century and visit it regularly.

    Although I have yet to go to the Netherlands (it’s high on my list) I know about Woonerfs and have read case studies on them. I agree that they are a valuable urban design mechanism that is widely successful at the neighbourhood level and make for attractive local streets and cooperation among residents. But they are not for major arterials. One can dream for the day that high-trafficked arterials are no longer necessary, but one would have to dismantle our economy to do that.

    On with the revolution!


    December 15, 2011 at 10:46 am

  50. Great conversation….MB I focused on elevated freeways in Japan because viaducts IS the theme of this post.
    I have been to Japan many times and the only time I use elevated freeways on a trip is when I go from Kansai airport to a hotel in Kobe.
    Otherwise I use transit extensively. from commuter trains to subways to tramways (including old-fashioned ones) to Automated Elevated Light Rail Transit (similar to the French VAL system) to buses to water buses and the odd short distance ferry..
    While crowds can be daunting, using any of these systems is amazingly easy, especially for one used to European systems.

    Here is a Wikipedia photo of one of my favorite train spotting area in Tokyo. At times one can see 3 trains at once..

    Red frog

    December 15, 2011 at 2:34 pm

  51. Sadly enough, When I was recommending an Anthony Sutcliffe book yesterday, the Time was publishing his obituary


    December 15, 2011 at 10:21 pm

  52. MB Dec. 15

    Roger, what I mean with consulting with the community on Broadway is consulting with the neighbourhoods at least a half kilometre on either side of that arterial.

    From my perch, consulting thu neighbours, I have put in my time. I am, though, a cut above the soi-disant experts prancing around this conversation.

    At my most recent job in Nanaimo I pulled out all the stops and really wow-ed ‘em. There are more neighbourhood committees than neigbours so that was some feat!

    As for recent charrettes here in Nanaimo, what with a combo of inchoate poseurs and docile neigbours the planning department just follows developer pressure ignoring whatever vestige of public input one may be able to discern.

    My last job in Vancouver was designing Mountain View Village the curvilinear mixed-use residential/retail on the Vancouver south side of Kingsway at the Burnaby line. Needless to say the community input was dominated by the, then, president of the Fishermen’s’ Union: I forget his name.

    We had public meetings. We had residents visit the office. The overwhelming concern was loss of the view. Of course, we preserved the view: go look. But the acrimony lasted.

    As for re:connect: I am stunned that such an ill-conceived plan could be a winner.

    I did my time at SCARP, emerging with the necessary creds. I was visiting lecturer at S.of A., UBC, for years, and a one term visiting lecturer at A., UNAM. Clearly I was talking to a brick wall at all those institutions.

    I have visited the Netherlands, Rotterdam, Amsterdam etc. and rode the rails to Bruxelles, Liechtenstein and Gay Paree. As a tourist I will not talk authoritatively about those glorious towns other than to say, I am amazed at all the bicycles.

    My attention has been distracted, though, by #71 re:connect’s, ostensible winner.

    Obviously the erstwhile European Kings and Emperors had a more mature sense of place than our dominant developer-money/architect-money/planner-money game at play today.

    I did not enter the competition having been discouraged by the jury’s choice of the previous FormShift comp.

    Re:connect #71 has absolutely no inherent urban qualities.

    I have perused all the published entries: all lacking the same, irrevocably wedded to an orthogonal grid quite unnecessarily (virgin territory for heaven’s sake): no concept of spatial enclosure, no interconnectedness. Had I entered, my first priority would be to demolish the three sports emporiums that consume the area for, as our director of planning describes, an entertainment enclave.

    Until Vancouver decides to become a city we can expect more of the same: professional complacency, public participation be damned!

    PS Voony . . .

    Anthony Sutcliffe. The Autumn of Central Paris: the defeat of town planning 1850-1970 . . . a great loss!

    Roger Kemble

    December 17, 2011 at 1:05 pm

  53. @ Roger: “my first priority would be to demolish the three sports emporiums that consume the area for, as our director of planning describes, an entertainment enclave.”

    Uh oh, you’ve just squatted and dumped on the steps to the alter of these sacred tabernacles. Not that I don’t agree with you (royally screwed societal priorities and all that). But they are there, and in reality peeing into the holy water may be all we can manage until society has gone flat broke from paying for said priorities.


    December 20, 2011 at 10:34 am

  54. I would argue strongly that replacing the Main Street (or Hastings) articulated trolleys with trams will not have any significant effect on increasing transit use, but will greatly deplete overall transit funding.

    Voony, David, MB, cats, urbanistas, et al…

    Mercy me I stopped reading the thread and went back to writing the VHQ report… I am dithering there on whether or not to propose a street car on the existing rail ROW on False Creek Flats, Raymur, Powell Street & Pacific Boulevard (where the design competition brief identified it too large for the amount of trips it gets).

    Voony is right. I am looking at this from the urban design lens.

    1. I am showing street sections where the fronting residential intensification is worked out, and where there is road space dedicated for either BRT or LRT. That’s… either/or. It is a strategy for implementation. When B-Lines get dedicated lanes and signal priority they pave the way for future LRT. LRT comes when higher capacity is needed. B-Line to BRT is the first step in the strategy, and not overly expensive if we are able to trigger private redevelopment along the way. That remains to be seen.

    2. I am looking for street revitalization together with surface transit implementation. Besides improving the resulting quality of the urban space, this move can be designed to take away space from SOVs. Thus, taking cars off local streets and arterials by design, and not just transit implementation.

    3. My numbers for BRT are the Broadway B-Liine (100,000 ADT); my numbers for LRT? Using earlier posts here with David, I’m guessing 2 x BRT or 200,000 ADT (Expo line). And, I am inspired by the idea of adding a café car and running LRT rouge on the main trunk railways.

    4. Urban design can also add another dimension. Urban spacing for LRT need not be closer than 800m or 0.5 miles. Consider that the urban footprint is tighter than suburban sprawl. So, a limited amount of stops will get the job done. From Marine drive to Hastings (5 miles) 10 stops might get it done.

    If the urbanism is well wrought out, people will not mind walking 10 minutes to good service. It will be fun and convenient. Saves you an extra trip to have fresh bread with dinner, etc. I concur with David’s notion about the “perception” of getting on rail. And there are also the benefits of rationalizing the bus routes around the transportation spines.

    I have questions about whether taxis and trucks could use BRT ROW off-peak. But, I also wonder if there will ever be an off-peak on effective transit routes.

    lewis n. villegas

    December 20, 2011 at 11:23 am

  55. MB Was not the idea, not so long ago, to demolish those three bulbous foreigns objects seriously mooted? The Olympic arena was only built two years go!

    Was not the theory that the real estate was more valuable than sports fans? They’d be happier with more parking out in the boonies . .

    I am not a real estate expert but the concept of raucous entertainment surrounded by residential seems magnificently incompatible . . . but we have invested in that bloody roof . . . oh well wait for the first rip or malfunction . . .

    Roger Kemble

    December 20, 2011 at 12:08 pm

  56. @ Roger: “I am not a real estate expert but the concept of raucous entertainment surrounded by residential seems magnificently incompatible …”

    Well put. We used to hear the roaring monster truck rallies up by QE Park when they still hosted them at BC Place. A Madonna concert was another auditory mark on the calendar. She even out blasted a couple of U2 concerts — didn’t mid them because they’re music is more complex. And these events are not even listed under “sports”, which seem to be a lot quieter.


    December 21, 2011 at 9:36 am

  57. @ Lewis: “If the urbanism is well wrought out, people will not mind walking 10 minutes to good service. It will be fun and convenient. Saves you an extra trip to have fresh bread with dinner, etc. I concur with David’s notion about the “perception” of getting on rail. And there are also the benefits of rationalizing the bus routes around the transportation spines.”

    yes, but at what cost? There isn’t a lot of non-senior government sources of revenue out there that haven’t already been tapped. Sure there’s a bit of room left locally, but no city in the civilzed world pays for major transit upgrades without especially federal help. And we all know that ain’t gonna happen until a better government is elected in Ottawa, one that understands that cities are our most important national socio-economic assets.

    This is why I am loath to jump on the tram while a perfectly good electric trolley service already exists on Main Street.


    December 21, 2011 at 9:44 am

  58. @ MB: I’m for making the trolley BRT by giving it dedicated lanes (a municipal move) and signal priority (an upgrade cost). That reserves the ROW space for a future LRT—as demand dictates—and, I agree, we need a municipal role for the federal government. But, what is missing is the realization that BRT represents a boost in service capacity over articulated trolleys and B-Lines.

    On to the suburban side of the equation.

    Suburban and urban development strategies fall into different camps. Not necessarily opposing camps. But, there are clear and stark differences.

    1. When it comes to servicing suburbs with transportation, for example, it seems to me that the attempt has broken the bank.

    In my view the problem is that the suburb is a child of Modern planning; and it was never intended to be serviced by transportation, a feature of the “other” urbanism we were leaving behind. Even at one bus every 30 minutes, I can’t figure out how anyone can sustain that level of service and not have to (a) opt for smaller buses; (b) develop a just-in-time inventory approach to service delivery; c) charge too high a fare; and (b) lose money every year.

    2. I have proposed setting a density floor that must be achieved in order to “qualify” for public transportation.

    Part of what informs this opinion is my observation that a suburban lifestyle is a conscious decision by most to live by a different set of principles. In an ideal world, suburbanites would drive to commuter stations, shed the car or bike as they do in Islington, Germany, and go downtown to work.

    3. There are some structural issues that impede our ability to develop active transit hubs—this not just in the suburbs.

    In a move that I am now tracing all the way back to the Colonial Office, or the granting of a license to the Hudson’s Bay Company, our practice to permit private “shopping centres” rather than build public “civic centres” is coming home to roost.

    The civic centre would be complete with municipal urban design plans, and private parcels for sale. This not being the case, the transit connections at Lougheed, Brentwood, Metrotown, Oakridge and Pacific Centre are… well, not “world class”.

    4. Of course, I also see clear strategies for how suburbs could reach the minimum threshold for public transit, and in so doing help the rest of the region by being a net contributor to financing transportation.

    The Downtown Revitalization Program of the 1980’s and 1990’s allowed me to complete a couple of sites in the Lower Mainland before a change of government folded the tent.

    We never got the incremental residential intensification component off the ground. But, we did manage to develop strategies to create “sense of place” and tame high volumes of traffic.

    As many have suggested, suburban intensification could be planned on a “nodal” strategy that looks to develop high-density station areas. The “fishing in a barrel” example in our region today is the BC Electric ROW in Surrey-Langley. Lying farel for over a half-century the land uses adjacent have trended down to the point where it would be feasible to assemble land and do Transit Oriented Design.

    5. Transportation and planning decisions need to be opened up to a more transparent process, and there needs to be an elected body in charge of the public transportation purse.

    We need transportation strategies for suburban lands. But what we are getting today seems to be overly politicized by having the mayors and the municipalities toasting each other to see who is the next one to get the fat goose for Christmas.

    These five observations seen through the urban design lens. I am sure there are distortions and welcome any help at understanding the transportation issue from the transportation side.

    lewis n. villegas

    December 26, 2011 at 2:00 pm

  59. […] is pretty much the stance I took from the start. Indeed what is really different is that the “viaducts could be […]

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