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

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Growing Smarter

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growing-smarter-webThis is the title of a new report. Actually the title is longer than that but I like to be snappy when I can. The publisher adds “Integrating Land Use and Transportation to Reduce GHGs” which you may be sure is right up my alley.

Two things before I go further. This report was published on September 27, and I have only just learned of it. I thought I had spent quite a bit of effort making sure that I kept on top of this topic since it is specifically addressing BC. It was not until today that I saw a tweet from Charlie Smith which linked to an article in the Georgia Straight by Carlito Pablo.

Secondly, the report was commissioned by The Real Estate Foundation of BC. Now my association with Real Estate in BC had lead me to create a mental link between realtors and the BC Liberals. During the campaign against the expansion of Highway #1 there were credible sources saying that the then Minister of Transport, Kevin Falcon, was holding fundraising breakfasts for the realtors in this region and the Fraser Valley and promising that highway expansion would enable them to continue to build and sell single family homes. As opposed to the denser forms of development that tended to support transit. The implication being that RS1 supports right wing voters.

The other important thing to note is that you do not have to rely on my opinion or that of Carlito Pablo. You can download the full report for yourself from the link above.

But I am going to copy here the list of recommendations

Recommendations include:

  1. Bolster regional government authority and integrate transportation planning with land use in ways that support climate action.
  2. Strengthen the Agricultural Land Commission’s authority to protect farmland and limit non-agricultural use of protected land.
  3. Strengthen coordination amongst key agencies, ministries, and orders of government and support collaboration through the Climate Action Secretariat and the Local-Provincial Green Communities Committee.
  4. Use market-based tools to more fairly share the costs of transportation infrastructure and expand transportation choice.
  5. Update tax and fee structures to support sustainable financing of civic infrastructure.
  6. Help establish a Low Carbon Innovation Centre in the Lower Mainland.
  7. Create long-term transportation financing agreements between local, provincial, and federal governments.
  8. Update community GHG reduction target requirements and provide provincial support to help meet these requirements.
  9. Establish GHG impact assessment standards for local and provincial transportation projects and planning agendas.
  10. Reinvest in BC’s Community Energy and Emissions Inventory (CEEI) system to provide defensible transportation sector data.

The report was commissioned by the Real Estate Foundation of BC as part of its research on sustainable built environments in British Columbia. The report was prepared by Boston Consulting, in consultation with the Smart Growth Task Force, with contributions from MODUS Planning, Design and Engage

This all looks very promising, and I am going to download it myself before I type anything else.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 5, 2017 at 2:46 pm

The need for more food

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PHOTOGRAPH BY LUCA LOCATELLI

I am going to venture out of my normal sphere and probably bring down a ton of criticism on my head. But even so I am going to recommend an article from National; Geographic that looks at how much more productive the Dutch have made their agriculture. And to its credit the focus of the article is on sustainability.

One of the reasons that I am concerned enough to court this criticism is that in this region we do not seem to have done enough to protect the Agricultural Land Reserve – especially from the depredations of the Port (which has been covered extensively here). But we also seem to suffer from an urban purblindness. Agriculture is a business that grows food. It is not necessarily one that preserves our preferred picture of the countryside, which seems to be driven by a romantic association with the picturesque countryside of our preferred artists – Gainsborough comes to mind but that’s because I’m English. Even in an era which has taken to mechanisation of many tasks  – just to make up for the lack of willingness of local people to engage in backbreaking repetitive tasks, and the unwillingness to allow for enough people who would do that work across our borders. We would still like our food sources to be local – but not based on greenhouses.

Thomas_Gainsborough_009

One of the earliest lessons I learned as Chair of the then BC Energy Aware Committee (now the Community Energy Association) was that people in Delta – residents and the people they elected – HATE greenhouses. They somehow retain the illusion that the food producing business is going to be green fields and peasants sleeping under hay stacks.

300px-Noon,_rest_from_work_-_Van_Gogh

In fact one careful bit of scheduling meant that I presented an award to Delta council for allowing a greenhouse to utilise collected methane from the Vancouver landfill to provide both energy and CO2 for its operations on the same evening that they were considering its expansion.

The people who now live in Delta do so because it is cheaper than Vancouver and there is a freeway that connect them to employment centres there and in Burnaby, New West and Annacis Island. Transit has never been good enough in Delta, even in the denser developed across the boundary to Surrey. And the distances between its centres make for some long trips. But they also like the landscape benefits of the Green Zone – and would like not have a greenhouse with its lights shining all night on their doorsteps. The Dutch appear to be a bit more realistic – but I am pretty sure they have people breathing down the necks of the chicken and milk producers illustrated in the story.

There is also an interesting take on the European attitude to GMOs.

BC is a huge province, but very little of it is capable of producing food. The bits that are good for food production have been vanishing under development. Only five per cent of B.C. is in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). It was supposed to stop that development but it has been under constant attack – mostly from the real estate / development people who argue that it increases house prices. But also from government and its arms length agencies who have been encroaching on it for dams (Site C being the worst but not the only offender) highway expansions, port expansion, industrial development and in Delta a huge mall and housing development as part of the deal with the Tsawwassen First Nation. The places we get food from now – mostly California – are going to be unable to provide what we need as they have already depleted their water table. The aquifers are not getting refreshed and the rivers are drying up, and the climate is getting hotter. That means we need to be pursuing a much more aggressive food policy which includes protecting the little productive land we have left and making it much more productive in the process – even if that does cut down its landscape value.

POSTSCRIPT: I just did a quick search on the tags ALR and “agricultural land reserve” because – as usual – once I have written something I think I must have done the same thing before. Yup. I’m not boring you, am I?

Written by Stephen Rees

August 31, 2017 at 4:30 pm

We have been changing

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censusSFhomes

This graph appeared on my flickr stream today. I was surprised, both by the relative position of Metro Vancouver compared to the other Canadian metro areas, and the steepness of the decline. I do not usually get into the land use, density, urban design stuff but what I see from other blogs and discussions had given me the sense that somehow we were losing the battle against sprawl. I know that people are quite rightly concerned about large houses in the ALR – that people in Richmond now refer to as AirBnB hotels – and that so much recent development seems to have followed the freeway expansions into areas which were not identified as of the Growth Concentration Area identified in the LRSP. But what this graph shows is that the conventional single family home on its own lot – or one that shares a lot – is no longer the dominant form of the region. And that we are outperforming both Montreal and Toronto in delivering other types of residence.

This is indeed good news, and a strong indication of why we not only need more and better transit, but that it will be successful because we have the density to support it. This also seem to be the subtext of a lot of commentary I have been seeing about why the BC Liberals did so poorly in this region. That includes, of course Peter Fasbender (former Minister for Translink) losing his seat (Surrey-Fleetwood).

And the source for this graph (Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto) was new to me too.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 13, 2017 at 5:10 pm

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dense

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Vancouver Aerial

This is a photograph of Vancouver’s downtown, which in recent years has become – in terms of urban development – one of the densest parts of the region. This was the result of a set of inter-related planning decisions, to allow for towers, closely spaced, and mainly for residential use. This was a departure from the way other places kept downtowns for other, non-residential uses. This has allowed for much greater choices in terms of how people get to and from work – and other activities. In most modern cities, built since World War II, the plan has been to allow for most use of cars, which has created large swathes of low density suburbs. Traditionally, prior to motorised transport, cities were designed to allow for most trips to be completed by walking. Railways and streetcars allowed things to be spaced out a bit more, but the greatest impact was the use of the personal automobile. Most North American cities are now turning away from this pattern of development and rediscovering the benefits of urbanity. (Most European cities made that choice much sooner – to retain the amenities and cultural significance of their central areas. ) Not just better energy efficiency, and cleaner air – though both are worthwhile improvements – but in greater interaction between people. More sociability, greater opportunities to meet other people – more culture, more entertainment, more choices of where to go and what to do.  Indeed the pursuit of higher densities remains a central plank of urban and regional planning – the subject matter of most of this blog – made possible by increasing the choices of transport open to residents. More trips that can be made without needing a car, by walking, cycling and public transport. That produces happier, healthier places. It doesn’t just protect the environment it increases economic activity.

Note too that one important lesson of developing a dense urban core is that green spaces – that’s Stanley Park in the foreground – can be successfully protected and made available for many more people to enjoy, rather than the large areas that get fenced off to keep people out in low density suburbs and exurbs.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2017 at 9:26 pm

North Shore bridges at ‘tipping point’

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Second Narrows Bridges

Second Narrows Bridge

Fraser Voices picked up on a Vancouver Sun story today: their concern, of course, was the bridge replacement for the Massey Tunnel will have exactly the same effect

Traffic is bad all over Metro Vancouver, but the worst spot to emerge in the last several years is the bridgehead at the Second Narrows in North Vancouver.

Municipal leaders were told in 2015 that the North Shore’s woes coincided precisely with the expansion of the Port Mann Bridge to 10 lanes in 2012.

Well municipal leaders have been told, many times,  that the region was headed for worsening traffic and congestion problems for much longer than that. In fact I have the feeling that I have written this blog post many times now.

I was employed on the issue between 1997 and 2004. Back then, when we were sent across to the North Shore to listen to their complaints about transit – and ideas like a third crossing or a SkyTrain extension in a submerged tube to Lonsdale Quay and then up Lonsdale in tunnel – we said that the North Shore was not part of the Growth Concentration Area (GCA), and that since population was therefore not expected to grow there in large amounts, there were other areas where increasing transit supply was a higher priority. The GCA was part of the Livable Region Strategic Plan (LRSP) – and its transportation counterpart, Transport 2021. That said that we were going to build a compact urban region of complete communities that would protect the green zone and increase transportation choice.

We didn’t stick to that plan. The province of BC did sign on to it, but then steadily undermined it. And the LRSP eventually gave way to the present Regional Growth Strategy. The other neighbouring regional plans, designed to prevent them becoming exurbs of Greater Vancouver, were also largely ignored. The freeway widenings and new bridges were the recipients of huge sums from the province, and were never subject to a referendum. Bridge tolls were unpopular – and explain why the Port Mann line in this chart goes down while the Alex Fraser goes up.

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Given the investments made in widening Highway #1, “improving” the Sea to Sky, building the South Fraser Perimeter Road and the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges, it is hardly surprising that most development in the impacted areas has been car oriented. Transit developments have been concentrated in the part of the region that already had pretty good transit service. Transit Oriented Development – like that in Port Moody – either didn’t happen or was ineffective due to the lack of workable transit choices. The West Coast Express, being limited to weekday only peak hour direction only, just benefitted a those commuting to downtown Vancouver – the one area where employment growth had been sacrificed to condo development.

In fact the Vancouver Sun article doesn’t talk about transit at all, except for one mention about bus routes needing to catch up. But there always were options that could have been chosen, if the LRSP was to work as intended. The Millennium Line need not have been quite so useless: it could have been the full T line anticipated in Transport 2021 – UBC to Coquitlam with a branch to New Westminster. It would have had to be surface LRT, as originally intended to be built for the same price. SkyTrain could have been extended in Surrey. Passenger rail service could have been retained (and enhanced) to Squamish, Whistler and beyond and some better use made of the former BCER right of way to Chilliwack. LRT was entirely possible on routes like the Arbutus Corridor, with connections to the airport, and along the Riverside development area where CP has a somewhat redundant freight line along Kent Avenue all the way out to New Westminster and the TriCities. Sharing tracks between freight and LRT is entirely feasible as demonstrated by the Ottawa O train.

Otrain approaching Bayview 2006_0608

Translink might well have introduced its now highly successful #555 from Braid to Langley much sooner by the simple device (used for Delta and South Surrey express buses on Highway 99) of converting the hard shoulders of Highway 1 to exclusive bus lanes. There was no need for all those lanes on the Port Mann bridge – which is now carrying less traffic – as the congestion was only on the approaches. A bus across the bridge connecting the city centres of Surrey and Coquitlam would still provide much more convenient and direct service than SkyTrain does now.

The present BC Liberal administration has shown that it does not support increasing transportation choice. It shows that it is stuck in the 1950s mindset of continually increasing highway capacity, which never ever satisfies demand for very long, and always provides more opportunities for more expansion plans. And that suits the corporations and the property developers who keep on doing what they have always done – which includes large donations to the political party that made it so profitable. Not livable. Not affordable. Not sustainable.

Traffic congestion cannot be solved by increasing road capacity. Mobility and accessibility can be increased by providing more and better options as well as better land use planning. The two are inextricable. More single family homes on large lots with multiple car garages remote from everything, except a local school and park, is a recipe for continuing worsening of our environment. We have known this for a very long time indeed. What is very odd indeed is that people come here to look at downtown Vancouver and think we have achieved something remarkable when in fact the rest of the region is as bad or worse than most North American suburbs.  As Karen Quin Fung remarked on Twitter “We’re far from securing quality of life enjoyed now in CoV, for rest of Metro Van”

And building another massive bridge between Richmond and Delta will not change that.

The problems on the North Shore won’t be solved by upgrading interchanges either. And a Third Crossing doesn’t seem any more likely than in the last thirty years. Maybe the Mayor’s Plan to expand transit will help, but, as the North Shore Mayors recently acknowledged, there is not a lot in there for their area.

Screen Shot 2016-12-16 at 5.52.58 PM.png

Looks like they are going to need a lot more transit!

Update: January 27, 2017
“Plans to alleviate traffic on the Cut and Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing got a big boost Friday with the announcement of two new two-lane bridges over Lynn Creek shouldering the existing orange Highway 1 bridge.”

North Shore News

Written by Stephen Rees

December 16, 2016 at 5:55 pm

The Ridge Redevelopment

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The Ridge

This is a new development that has recently been completed on Arbutus Street at 16th Avenue in Vancouver. It replaced a string of mostly single story small stores, the cinema and a bowling alley.

The Ridge Theatre

Here is what it looked like in April 2012. The only thing that has been kept is the sign, now above the entrance to the condominiums, around which the City Market has wrapped itself. The store occupies the most of the ground floor and has parking underneath.

The service road in front of the block that used to provide surface parking has become an open plaza currently being used to display seasonal offerings. Like the lower level elevator lobby to the parking, the goods on display appear to be just available for the taking, though I assume there must be some surveillance. The store has its own elevator to the parking level (P1)  the condos have their parking on the lower levels, with the own elevator.

The overall development is only four storeys which I assume reflects the cost of providing underground parking. Two surface lots on adjacent blocks north west of Arbutus, which used to be part of the parking serving the site are now closed off, presumably for more redevelopment. Access to the underground parking is through the rear lane, whose access and agrees at each end has been rounded off to deter left turns.

There was no requirement to replace the social function provided by either the cinema or the bowling alley, both of which were going concerns, if not as financially attractive to the land owner as the offer from Cressey. The City Market is a newish Loblaw offering but with more prepared food and organic produce, aiming at the Whole Foods/Shaughnessy market. They are not competing on price with the established food stores. It is a franchise operation, run by the man who used to have the Extra Foods store in the same location.

Certainly progress in terms of densification if lacking in the diversity of uses apparent in the older picture. Consistent with the aim of increasing population in what is essentially an inner suburb, but with little opportunity for any social interaction other than retail. The City Market does have a small cafe, with real gelato even in November, and I suppose that might spread onto the patio in summer. But I do not see this as much of a destination, or especially urban.

This block, with the gas station on the other side of 16th, marks the end of what is almost continuous retail down to Broadway. There is single family residential from here to King Edward, then multi family and a small mall with a large Safeway. And that is the next major redevelopment site.

Arbutus mall

Again, this will become condos over ground level retail with underground parking. Though some of the old ladies in my building wonder about how they will deal with ground water here, as the back of the lot used to be a swamp that was filled with sand to allow for development.

And, in case you notice any difference with formatting in this post it is the first time I have used the WordPress app for Mac.  

Written by Stephen Rees

November 27, 2015 at 1:21 pm

BC CLIMATE RESEARCHERS TACKLE LNG, ENERGY EFFICIENCY, TRANSPORT AND MORE

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Sorry about the shouty headline: the UVic Press Release uses all caps and my WP editor lacks a ‘change case’ key. This actually came to me from a tweet. You do follow me on twitter don’t you? There’s now a handy widget over there on the top right if you need it. Some of the tweets do get repeated by facebook, but not many of the retweets. And quite a lot of stuff that I see does not get blogged these days, especially since Twitter changed the way retweets are done that now can include commentary. Today, for the first time, I was able to retweet something with the terse comment “Horseshit!” – something, I now realize, I have wanted to do for a long time.

Climate research – and the long list of projects – is all very worthy, but I am afraid I am very much unimpressed. And I am also a bit inspired by a post in the Tyee which sets out the progressive manifesto 0f what needs to be done once we have got rid of Stephen Harper. So while the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) is doing its five year research project here are some things that we need to be doing right away. That is because action on climate change is now urgent. Like The Man said “We don’t have time for a meeting with the Flat Earth Society“. We do actually know what needs to be done and, sadly, these things seem to have slipped through the PICS net.

First note that they are hung up on gee whiz technology. We don’t actually need any of that. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that we know about, familiar technologies and techniques that are held back simply by a combination of out of date policies and inertia. BC Transit was forced to waste money on hydrogen buses (whatever happened to them? I asked BCT but they have yet to reply) when we knew plenty about trolleybuses and extended range hybrid dual powered buses too. Nothing was learned from that five year demonstration project other than it is possible to truck hydrogen across the continent and convince yourself that you are helping the environment.

Transportation and the Built Environment are treated in the research list as two separate programmes. I wonder if the researchers will talk to each other over lunch sometimes? Because we all know that land use and transportation are two sides of the same coin. The best transportation plan is a good land use plan. The best way to save energy from transportation is to cut the need to make motorised trips. Community Energy Planning should have become mandatory fifteen years ago, but Glen Clark shut down the Energy Efficiency Branch of MEMPR – and forgot all about the BC Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program. Most of the advances that we are going to see in the field of transportation will come from a combination of information technology and deregulation. (See Bridj below) There’s a great deal we can do to make better use of what we have but the rules and regs get in the way. Like bike helmets, for instance. By the way did you know that the researchers who did the study that supports BC’s current helmet law have themselves repudiated that study? Protected bike lanes work better to both save lives and encourage bike use – and they are amazingly simple to introduce. As The Lady said, if you want to see change, do it quickly. The Burrard Bridge case is as convincing as any that chaos will not ensue.

Most of the change we need will start happening once we stop subsidizing fossil fuels. Indeed it is quite remarkable how much change is already under way, despite billions of dollars propping up what will soon be a dying industry. The tar sands are already uneconomic, and unnecessary, just as LNG export is a really stupid proposition in the present market. So stop throwing money at oil and gas, and you not only free up some fiscal headroom for sensible policies, but you also give the market the sort of signals it would have got if you had stuck to your guns over carbon tax. Ditch revenue neutral as a policy objective there, keep jacking up the carbon price and spend the proceeds on public transportation – local transit and high speed electric trains for longer distances. Electrify the main corridors straight away (Toronto – Ottawa – Montreal, Edmonton – Calgary) and then start building new high speed railways as cancelling freeway expansions permit. Maybe by then the Americans will have started to catch up with the rest of the world, and we can talk about Vancouver – Seattle – Portland.

What I do see as problematic is that we will probably be better at civilizing the suburbs than getting real change in urban areas, where many more people live in multifamily buildings. It’s pretty easy to put up your own solar panel, and put both a Tesla car and a home battery in your own garage. If you can afford it. It is going to be much harder to get equivalent changes in condos, though co-ops seem to be doing better with things like bike storage. Public housing, of course, has to go back on the agenda. It is not enough to make the existing housing stock more efficient when so much of it is out of range of the middle class, let alone the people who struggle on unlivable wages and such welfare assistance as survives. I do not see any work being done by PICS on environmental justice. But make no mistake, we do have to tackle the issue of the lack of jobs in range of affordable housing in transit deprived areas. We do need to think about how our energy policies can be used to create better employment prospects for our own population rather than simply looking to exploit export markets for barely transformed raw materials. “Researchers will also identify opportunities to substitute timber products for carbon-intensive steel, concrete or plastics used in many sectors, including the building industry.” Start first by banning the export of raw logs to ensure that there will be some local industry to produce these wonderful things.

I am really against spending so much on building technologies – where the potential savings in fossil fuels in BC are limited – when you have no plan to tackle the major user of liquid fuels – personal transportation. Again, we know that old fashioned ideas like trolleybuses, trams and interurbans – even diesel buses, for goodness sake – produce far less ghg per passenger kilometre than single occupant internal combustion engine cars and trucks. So we really do not need any more research on  “the distribution potential of alternative fuels including compressed (CNG), liquefied (LNG) and renewable (RNG) natural gas.” Even if every car could be electric, zero emission at a wave of a magic wand we would still have all the present problems of traffic, road deaths and urban sprawl. There is even less saving in ghg in having a carbon zero or even positive reduction in CO2 building if it is stuck out in the middle of nowhere – and everybody is driving to and from it! On the other hand, increasing bus service frequency and reliability – mostly by paint on the streets – is a well established technique for increasing transit use – and it doesn’t all come from cannibalising walking and cycling. Much of it comes from unpaid chauffeuring.

The article on Bridj really got me thinking. First note that this service is actually delivering something slower in downtown DC than can be achieved on a bike. But then this guy is also wasting time “20 minutes to shower and change” after his ride. Imagine someone from Copenhagen or Amsterdam writing that. Bridj could be a serious challenge to transit – much more than Uber and Lyft which are aimed at the taxi market. Or it could be a very useful supplement, and work much better than Community Shuttle service does in the suburbs. Indeed, when you look at how it works, isn’t that a good description of what HandyDART was supposed to do? And how about we simply abandon (once again) the old “separate but equal” philosophy, and instead of having a segregated service for people with disabilities – which actually does not work very well at all – but have a service which anyone can use. But is cheaper to deliver because you separate out the paying for it from using it. $5 for a ride on a profit making service? If the math is right, that is cheaper than most Community Shuttles, and much less than HandyDART. The driver, of course, would continue to help those who need assistance for door to door movement. As I have always said, in the low density areas (which includes most of Vancouver south of 12th Avenue) we need something better than a bus but cheaper than a taxi. Bridj isn’t going to attract people who can use really good transit. But then we don’t actually have that in much of the region, and it is not at all clear that we will turn out to be ready to pay for more of that yet. Oh, and before I forget, we would also need to sort out a much more equitable transit tariff, based on ability to pay, but that is a subject for another day.