Stephen Rees's blog

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

Policy Recommendations to Combat Vancouver Housing Unaffordability

with 7 comments

This is a bit frustrating, but it derives from a feature of Tumblr that does not permit comments. In view of recent experience I must admit to being tempted to move this blog to Tumblr. So, to you new readers looking at this paragraph and thinking about telling me I am wrong, and then going on to insult me – and even issue death threats for being blocked – I am NOT going to allow your comment to appear until I am satisfied that you are not just another troll.

The link to this quote came up on Twitter and is very interesting: I do not know the author (Saeid Fard) but Wisemonkeysblog is a good source of useful tweets and retweets

The piece opens

There has been a lot of talk from all three levels of government addressing Vancouver’s (and the rest of Canada’s to a lesser extent) housing affordability problem. Each has taken its turn to punt the issue to another level of government. In that vane, here is a non-exhaustive list of policy solutions that would attack the issue along with a highly subjective measure of expected impact.

and there are some ideas I will pass over. But not this one


Invest in (fast) transit

Expected Impact: Low to Medium
Jurisdiction: Municipal (with Provincial cooperation)

A better transit system in Greater Vancouver would connect more affordable neighbourhoods to the core and unlock their livability. Vancouver does have natural, geographic boundaries like oceans and mountains that restrict how far we can develop, but a lot of our constraints are self-imposed. In cities like New York, you can live as far away as Connecticut and still make it to midtown in about an hour. You can’t get to downtown Vancouver from parts of Burnaby in that time during rush hour.

There are several observations that occur to me. Impact is likely better than anticipated but will take time, firstly because it is not just provincial cooperation that is needed, the feds have to come up with their third too. But even if the Yes side gets a majority in the current (we are still counting) plebiscite, it is NOT binding and what would you bet on Christy finding reasons why BC can’t afford more transit for Metro Vancouver.

Moreover, a lot of employment is outside of downtown Vancouver, and much of that in places difficult to serve with any kind of transit. But also, of course, by “fast” I think he means grade separated trains and those take a long time to build.

Burnaby actually has more, and faster, transit options, than nearly any other municipality. They have also rejected trolleybus extensions (Corrigan can’t stand the wires) and an additional WCE station to help BCIT students and workers on the Willingdon corridor get to their TriCities/Maple Meadows homes faster.

Anyway, “faster” transit may not help if the overall trip is less convenient, due to transfers, access and so on. Often what is needed is not so much faster transit as more frequent, reliable transit and better route penetration into low density areas to reduce access times. When the overall trip experience includes long walks, indeterminate waits and discomfort (no shelter, no seat, no toilets at the station) it doesn’t matter how fast the transit vehicle is. Moreover, in some cases, you also need to be able to get on and not have to watch one or more transit vehicles depart without you.

But you regular readers know that and I doubt Tumblr readers will find their way here. Will they?

Afterthought: but I was also going to say that the original concerns about suburban sprawl appeared long before freeways did. Railways – interurbans and rapid transit – spurred dramatic growth on the edges of what had been fairly compact areas from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards. I know several people who were greatly concerned that the opening of West Coast Express would turn more of Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Mission into bedroom communities. I am not sure if anyone has done any follow up research on that, and the lack of a proper census probably renders that moot now.


Written by Stephen Rees

June 20, 2015 at 6:14 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with , ,

7 Responses

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  1. How about replacing income tax with a land value tax. A uniform land value tax – a property tax which ignores the building/improvement value – would lower all land prices by an equal amount, proportionate to land value. People could trade property the same as before, since all properties are affected proportionately. But selling/purchase prices would be lower, offset by higher carrying costs from the tax. It would require smaller mortgages, and would in fact be a transfer of interest payments to banks for tax payments to the government/community, which provides the services and other benefits which create land value. Lower income (or other taxes) would leave more money in peoples’ pockets.
    It would particularly penalize vacant land and spur density, helping the supply/demand balance. It would require only simple provincial legislation to impose the tax, or to allow municipalities to ignore improvements in their property taxes, as many did up to approximately the 1960s.

    Jeff Dean

    June 20, 2015 at 10:49 pm

  2. Back in the 90s I conducted a fun little urban design study on Burnaby’s Berry Point where a WCE stop was planned. Three options were proposed, from a Burrard Inlet kayaker’s beach-campsite to a full blown waterfront village with a large marina. In all three options there was a significant WCE station with a bus stop squeezed between the south side of the CP tracks and a steep slope. The transit link would have used Penzance Drive to Willingdon and on to the Brentwood mall bus stop. The Brentwood SkyTrain Station came along couple of years later.

    Ports Canada was anxious to sell the Berry Point lands cheaply, and we found out why in the next round of evaluations, including the all-important geotechnical and risk assessments. We suspected some contaminated soils existed on the site, but decided to proceed first with a geotechnical assessment. The engineer discovered that the ground (predominantly fill materials) and the slopes above the site were not seismically stable. The cost of remediation with concentrated vibro-compaction materials and techniques would have topped (if memory serves) $20 million, more if sheet piling was specified, and that’s before any development considerations, including a necessary vehicular bridge over the tracks required by CP.

    The poor physical condition of the site, the instability of the slope above, the costs of remediation of these conditions, and the cost of basic access infrastructure are what killed the project. Had it gone differently, Lower Mainlanders would be able to enjoy a village by the sea not unlike Granville Island with a WCE stop.


    June 23, 2015 at 4:12 pm

  3. Yes it just shows how we all work in silos, doesn’t it. I was completely unaware of why that site wouldn’t work and heard several conflicting stories from people who ought to have known better. Thank you for clearing away that obfuscation.

    Stephen Rees

    June 23, 2015 at 7:17 pm

  4. Vancouver is unaffordable because on one hand homes are big, with a sizable lot, and on the other wages aren’t following
    Vancouver is actually ranked in the # 200s in some international real estate surveys..

    2 bedroom terrace in London’s east end (E1): £800,000/ 989 sq.ft–99,88 sq.meters on 2 floors..small gardens (front and back), 1 small bathroom, small but very nice kitchen.
    OK London is expensive (£75 million for a 9000 sq ft apartment by Hyde Park, £42.5 million for a laneway house, also around 9000 sq ft. no garden and the land is leased).

    Lyon -France…not far from Metro-Vancouver in importance..
    468 000 € 3 bedroom house, 90 sq.meters on 2 floors. 140 sq. meter garden, partly used as car parking. 1 bathroom, 2 shower rooms.
    There are bigger houses, similar in size to those in Vancouver, for over 1 million Euros and up..

    New Japanese wood frame houses, 3 -4 bedrooms, around 80-100 sq. meters on 2 or 3 floors, no garden, a very tight car parking by the house entrance, feet from the neighbours’ houses on 3 sides, are around $cad 1/2 million

    Red frog

    June 30, 2015 at 11:24 pm

  5. I’d love to know more about this ‘Corrigan hates wires’ thing. When was there a proposal to extend the trolley-lines into Burnaby? Are there handy documents?

    Brendan Dawe

    July 4, 2015 at 11:35 am

  6. I doubt there are documents now. I worked for BC Transit at the end of last millennium. I looked at the trolleybus network and noted that the termini of many trolleybus routes were not destinations so much as city boundaries. Actually that equally applies to some conventional bus routes to this day. It seemed to me also when I looked at matching up bus route needs to the the new Millennium Line stations we could sensibly change one or two routes. The clearest example is the #9 terminus at Boundary Road. Extending that route from Boundary Loop to Gilmore or Brentwood stations made sense in terms of possible transfers. In fact it still does. While trolley overhead does not come cheap (the back of the envelope figure I used at the time was $1m per kilometre) the payback is in customer convenience. Unfortunately, no-one believed then that translated into revenue. The idea went nowhere – and has not been revived. You can also attribute that to the “not invented here” syndrome: Service Planning resented any “guidance” from Strategic Planning. And I heard that Corrigan didn’t like the idea either. Of course he would not have spoken directly to me: I was far too low on the totem pole.

    Stephen Rees

    July 4, 2015 at 12:33 pm

  7. Ah ,that makes sense. Thanks for filling in.

    I’ve long thought that Boundary Loop and Kootenay Loop seemed rather glaringly short of anyone’s destinations.

    Brendan Dawe

    July 4, 2015 at 9:23 pm

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