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The Surrey Decision

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The Mayor’s Council has decided to support the choice of the electors in Surrey who want SkyTrain over LRT. I am not going to get into why that might be, since they are mostly new Mayors (good) and I have no doubt that the strongest instinct for human beings in group situations is don’t be the awkward, difficult critic. Try and find some consensus, or if you prefer, don’t block their favourite project this time as next time they will block yours.

The difference between SkyTrain and LRT is not the technology. The whole point about the Plan was that it was a real effort to try to match transit technology to the desired land use. There was actually a diagram I saw, not so long ago, that showed how buildout of Surrey LRT would see service on all of the major arterials. This would have facilitated building four to six storey apartments over commercial at street level all along the main roads while a mixture of “missing middle” would fill the bits in between. The Light Rail trains would have priority signals at intersections and exclusive right of way – so not streetcars. This produces journey times door-to-door comparable to grade separated – but without the escalators. Stations on LRT are cheap, and can be relatively close to each other. While the train is loading/unloading, the traffic crosses in front of it.

SkyTrain’s main selling point for electors (boomers: older white males) is that they don’t get in the way of the cars. Because the trains are small, and automated, you can build elevated structures (much cheaper than tunnels) along the highway alignments – see Millennium Line, Evergreen Line. Stations are more widely spaced than LRT. That is because to get people up to the platform you have to offer a faster ride for longer distances. Basically SkyTrain endorses sprawl: it makes longer distance commutes tolerable because the train is faster.  The Canada Line, by the way, is not SkyTrain and it isn’t fast. It’s just not as slow as the jammed up traffic on the surface.

SkyTrain does not have a driver. That means instead of running long trains with long gaps between them (like Edmonton) you can run short trains at shorter intervals, like the Millennium Line, as the cost is the same, but the service level much more attractive. Stations are expensive as they have to have elevators and some escalators. Ideally lots of entrances and exits to make transfers convenient (something the Canada Line deliberately ignored to keep the initial capital cost down) as the punters don’t like to have to cross two six laners just to catch their connecting bus which stops far side of the traffic signals and won’t wait for you.

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The development pattern produced by SkyTrain is now most clearly visible at Brentwood. The Lougheed Highway and Willingdon are both wide stroads with fast traffic. The station is surrounded on three sides by high rises. This does not look like a Walkable City. Yes, it is indeed Transit Oriented Development. But it is not at human scale. I used to think that the views made possible by living high up, would compensate for the inconvenience of waiting for the elevator (no one walks up to the 40th floor). But if all you can see out of your windows are the serried windows of the high rise across the street …

That is what the region has now endorsed for Surrey. The population and the overall density won’t be much different, but the point density at transit stations will be very different. But that allows the bits in between to stay something like they are now for longer. So not only do you not have to wait for a streetcar to finish loading, but you can also stay in your present accommodation.  No wonder it appeals to the sort of people who will vote for Doug McCallum.

POSTSCRIPT

Hours after I first posted this opinion piece some new analysis came to my attention from the Georgia Straight 

Written by Stuart Parker it is worth your time

…why Surrey could choose an LRT without sufficient public buy-in for the project and then have that project defeated by a candidate claiming that he could fund a $3-billion asset using $1.6 billion of other people’s money that they had set aside for a different project.

Who is Stuart Parker? “Stuart Parker teaches international studies and history at Simon Fraser University. He ran for Surrey council in 2018 as a member of Proudly Surrey.”

Note also there is a comment by Frank Bucholtz under the article which endorses it.

Towers at Marine Drive Station

High rise towers at Marine Drive Canada Line station

 

Written by Stephen Rees

November 16, 2018 at 8:25 am

Book Review: Trains Buses and People

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An Opinionated Atlas of US Transit by Christof Spieler

Published by Island Press October 2018  ISBN 978-1-61091-903-6 Paperback Full color 290 Photos 185 illustrations 248 pages Price US $40.00

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This review will be mainly of interest to my US readers. While there are some references made in the book to how other places do things, this book is concerned with how transit is provided in the US and how to do it better. In the same way that “Walkable City Rules” spells out how to improve car oriented cities – which is most of them – this book identifies what needs to be done to make transit more useful. Given this morning’s events here – where the Mayors’ Council voted to suspend work on the Surrey LRT and start on the process to switch priorities to SkyTrain to Langley – his thoughts on modes are very relevant.

“…mode is not the most important aspect of transit. What riders care about most is where transit goes, how fast it is and how reliable it is. It is better to think of modes as tools … one mode or another may be a better fit in terms of capacity, cost or capability”

It is also significant, I think, that he lives and works in Houston, Texas and takes light rail for most of his journeys. It is frequent – every 6 minutes – and has its own right of way with signal priority at intersections. So he gets pretty much the same sort of on board experience as someone who rides SkyTrain here – but without the need to use an escalator or elevator. He probably has a much better chance of getting a seat. For me that is another essential but then I am very nearly as old as Prince Charles.

” most importantly … it goes to the right places” so it can be used for a wide variety of trip purposes not just the journey to work. Far too many US railroads with passenger service take Commuter Rail far too literally – and West Coast Express is one of the prime examples of how useless it is for anything other than the weekday commute to downtown.

Fortunately not only is there a really good book, with lots of information, there is also a web site.   And that will do much more for you than reading any review.

This is a reference document which you will want to keep handy. It is also something that is worth just idly skimming – for places you know or those you might want to visit. And yes there is a list of best and worst – you can learn from both. Toronto does get a couple of mentions. Vancouver none at all. Neither does Montreal rate a mention. I hope that one day Mr Spieler comes here. I would be happy to show him around.

I would also say that I would disagree with him about speed. The actual pace of the mode over the ground is much less important than how long the overall journey takes, and how convenient it is. If there is a lot of stair climbing and hanging around in grim surroundings, the fact that you get onto a fast train eventually is less than adequate compensation. The Canada Line is downright slow – but it is still better than the #15 bus for almost any trip. And if you want to avoid the traffic congestion that often impacts the bridges to the airport, more reliable than driving, on most trips. In my most recent travels the impact of a two hour wait for a METRA train from Naperville to Union was far more significant than the fact that it never seemed to get much faster than 30 mph, and stopped even more frequently than the CTA Blue Line to O’Hare airport. And the walk from the end of the train to the taxi was a significant issue too.

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And when we got home we felt that is was worth splashing out on a cab rather than struggle with our bags on and off a train and a bus – and then a drag through the streets. Had we not been so encumbered then the transit ride would probably been a comparable time but considerably cheaper. You note that fare doesn’t even get mentioned in “what riders care about”.

I would recommend this volume for everyone who likes maps and data, and is interested in US transit. I would also like to see something that does like for like comparison with cities around the world. We used to like to compare Metro Vancouver to Zurich – and Phoenix – just because they were comparable but very different indeed.  I know that I am going to find myself thumbing through it quite a lot. It is a lovely production.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 15, 2018 at 4:30 pm

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

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Vancouver Public Library: New Roof Garden

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We went downtown today to see the recently opened extension to the main public library. There is a new top floor with an large public space, currently hosting an exhibit about the changing city and above that a rooftop area that is mostly paved but with some planting (shown above).

I have also uploaded a set of photos to my flickr stream which I am linking to below

Vancouver Public Library

This poster is displayed in the main lobby. It is not meant to be taken literally.

Vancouver Public Library

As you can see it is not that hard to find your way around the new 9th floor.

There are two open patios on the 8th floor, also accessible from new exterior stairs as well as the internal escalators, elevators and stairs.

Vancouver Public Library

There is also a planted area that is not open to the public on the 9th floor as is the green roof above it.

Vancouver Public Library

The whole thing is all very nicely presented but I have to confess a feeling of being underwhelmed. The new space did get quite a lot of notice in the media, so I suppose I was expecting something more.

Vancouver Public Library

Vancouver Public Library

Vancouver Public Library

Movable tables and chairs are a very good idea. Maybe as the plantings grow and more people start to use the space, things will look better. No doubt sunshine will help but frankly the view is unimpressive. Not much of our glorious setting is visible from here – just the towers and the roof of the stadium

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Written by Stephen Rees

October 3, 2018 at 4:55 pm

Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan Amendments

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The image and text below is taken from the latest Arbutus Greenway Newsletter from the City. I would expect that if you are deeply concerned about the Greenway that you would already have signed up for, but I suspect there might be a wider audience who will find this information of interest.

The Greenway currently ends at Fir St. The former CP right of way ran beyond this point northwards to West 1st Avenue where it was joined by the line from Terminal Avenue (that became The Olympic Line) and then went over False Creek on a trestle. The Olympic Line terminated at Granville Island and the land between the station and West 2nd Avenue was used to build a Starbucks. If the proposed amendment goes forward non-transportation use of this land would be allowed, and the potential to re-establish a through route following the former Interurban line could be lost.

POSTSCRIPT

I have received that following information from the City

“The intention is to connect the former Olympic Line with the Arbutus line, and the Citywide streetcar network plan is considering routing options to do that. We are not using the Option Lands due to engineering and safety constraints.”

SECOND POSTSCRIPT August 31

Loonie deal: City of Vancouver may resell portions of Arbutus corridor for $1

In the Georgia Straight

“In the purchase agreement between the city and CPR, Article 11 stipulates that if these properties, which have a total combined area of 0.62 hectare, are removed from Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan, CPR will have the option to buy back the lands for $1.”

Arbutus map

In line with the Arbutus Greenway Design Vision and the Arbutus Greenway purchase agreement we have determined that the area between West 1st Ave and West 5th Ave is not required for future greenway purposes. Therefore, the City is proposing to:

Amending these bylaws will not change the current zoning of the properties.

The proposed changes are supported by the Arbutus Greenway Design Vision which has highlighted a number of safe and accessible alternatives for the proposed greenway extension routes to False Creek and Granville Island.

To learn more about the amendments please visit our website here. You can also read the July 24, 2018 Policy Report.

 

Share Your Thoughts with Council on the Arbutus Corridor ODP

Vancouver City Council will hold a Public Hearing on the Arbutus Corridor ODP Amendment on:

  • Date: Wednesday, September 5, 2018
  • Time: 6:00 pm
  • Place: Council Chamber, Third Floor, City Hall

There are two ways you can participate:

 

Written by Stephen Rees

August 23, 2018 at 4:35 pm

Arbutus Centre: Park impact

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Block D will replace what now remains of the existing mall. It is a three storey building. The Main Floor now houses the liquor store, bank, Safeway (pharmacy and convenience store only) and the dance studio. The top floor used to be offices but is currently unoccupied. The building sits on a basement car park with what used to be the Village Recreation Centre which is now used by the Dance Co with a pool now rented to a company which teaches children to swim. That part of the building although underneath the stores is at ground level on the park side.

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This view is taken from the path through the park looking south east. Immediately in front is the pool and the roof of the atrium between the liquor store and Safeway can be seen at the top of the building. Behind it is one of cranes in use to construct blocks A and B.  (UPDATE – those two large trees at the sides of this picture have now been cut down to allow for sewer construction.)

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In the drawing, the point where I was standing to take the picture would be on the bottom edge midway, looking south east.  I have put a ^ mark in the title space which ought to line up no matter what screen you are using to view this.

So the pool block gets replaced by the row of town houses set in echelon along the path. Behind that looms Block D. Here are the elevations for that block – west and north respectively.

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Block D will be twelve storeys high or 72m (236ft) geodetic datum. But sits on land one storey above the park ground level – to the right of the image above. The extended Yew Street is on the left of this view.

The crane is currently constructing blocks A and B which were granted permission for 8 and 6 storeys respectively. Since the crane has to work over the 8 storey structure, the tip of the vertical tower of the crane is probably a good indicator of where the roof of the proposed block D will be.

Unbelievably the design panel and staff reports both draw attention to the impact on the park – and use words like “massing” and “shadowing” to characterize the issue. But that is not enough in their view to stop the proposal. They both indicate that somehow this can be mitigated even though the developer will have been granted permission to proceed. I simply do not understand why this council would approve this proposal before any of the necessary changes have been designed. It is not at all clear how these impacts can be reduced. It is also not clear how staff will determine that the concerns have been adequately addressed.

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This building was recently completed at the SW corner of West Boulevard and 37th Ave. It is pretty typical of what has been approved in recent years.

The Ridge

This is The Ridge at 16th Avenue and Arbutus.

Both of these are four storey buildings on a major arterial. What is proposed now is a building three times this height, overlooking a park.

AFTERWORD

The tweet below appeared on my Tweetdeck feed on Tuesday July 17 around 2pm

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Written by Stephen Rees

July 14, 2018 at 1:19 pm

Arbutus Centre Update

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There was a Press Conference held at City Hall at lunchtime today, while the rest of the world was watching a football match. I did not speak on camera but I am hoping that I will be able to link to both the CBC coverage and Jen St Den of the Vancouver Star Metro in due course.

This week I came across an interesting blog post about the Urban Design Panel’s take on the proposed development.   Frustratingly the link on that page to sources just takes you to the city’s page on the development  which is silent about the UDP. To find that I had to do some digging but I did eventually find the minutes of the UDP meeting on February 26 2018 . You have to click on the link that gives you a pdf file: the Arbutus proposal is the first item. I am going to quote from that

1. Address: 2221-2223 Main Street
Permit No. DP-2017-01206
Description: The proposed amendment to the existing CD-1 (642) is to permit an increase in the maximum allowable floor area across Block C and D, from 67,065 sq. m (721,881 Sq. ft) to 77,611 sq. m (835,400 sq. ft.); and an increase to the maximum building height on Block C from 57 m (187 ft.) to 60 m (197 ft.), and on Block D from 57 m (187 ft.) to 72 m (236 ft.). The proposal is being considered under the Arbutus Centre Policy Statement.

Zoning: CD-1 Amendment
Application Status: Rezoning Application
Review: Second (First as Amendment)
Architect: Brett Hotson, DIALOG
Norm Hotson, DIALOG
Owner: Wendy LeBreton, LARCO
Delegation: Margot Long, Landscape Architect, PWL
Peter Joyce, BUNT
Staff: John Chapman, Tim Potter & Grace Jiang
EVALUATION: SUPPORT with Recommendations

 

So the interesting bit for me are the recommendations: recall first that this UDP meeting came after the Open House (February 13). The Policy Report considered by Council on June 19 states

The application was reviewed by the Urban Design Panel on February 26, 2018, and was supported with recommendations (see Appendix C). Staff conclude that further refinements are required to the design as conditions of the rezoning amendment as noted in Appendix B. A reduction of density on Block D is anticipated through design development. The applicant has proposed to replace this floor area by adding a penthouse storey onto the eastern wing of Block A through a Development Permit amendment.

So now I have two documents, essentially saying the same thing. The project was reviewed and a number of concerns identified.

Panel’s Consensus on Key Aspects Needing Improvement: Having reviewed the project it was moved by Ms. Avini Besharat and seconded by Mr. Sharma and was the decision of the Urban Design Panel:

THAT the Panel Support the project with the following recommendations to be reviewed by City Staff:

• Balance distribution of density between the two parcels; the density may need to be reduced to achieve appropriate massing and to mitigate the overshadowing.

• Reduce the shadowing of the Public Square, street, and private courtyard on parcel D;

• Reduce shadowing of the park;

• Further design development on the architectural expression in order to simplify and calm down expression of the building;

• Further design development to the view analysis to include roof top structures and mechanical RTUs and to review how they impact the view. The height may need to be reduced to preserve the view of the North Shore Mountains.

Related Commentary: There was a panel consensus that the original concept was the preferred choice. The second concept was a big change from the original. The original application was a better fit and blended in smoother. The current concept is too bulky especially with building D.

Then panel agreed there was a very significant addition of height and density being absorbed mostly on the western parcels which created a misbalance. The original concept was lost because the additional density has been dropped on one block, and should have been better distributed. A consequence was a large parcel created that is out of context.

A panelist noted there were fundamental issues with planning and massing of the entire space. If massing is properly planned in the first phase there would be better relation. There is a loss in transition down to the lower scale units. A panelist noted the site is in a real bowl which could be to the applicant’s advantage.

Moving forward with the architectural expression the strong parti concept has been diluted as well. In the earlier models the parti was cleaner and simpler. A panel member suggested looking at the elevations to determine if they want to be closer or completely different from what is across the street. The elevations should be revisited to be a lot cleaner without losing elevation and height.

7 to 12 storeys created significant shadowing on the park, open space, and street. Yew Street will be completely shaded in the afternoon. The impacts are also significant on the view. Viewpoint is important and cannot be ignored. A big bulky building has a lot of negative effects on the neighborhood; in this case Main Street is too over shadowed. There are intrusions to public views in the City of Vancouver all the time however these issues are on the whole block.

Building C, on the west façade has so many different fenestrations and proportions. In general a calmer and boulder contemporary expression would be more successful. A panelist noted public views can be better distributed back to building C.

Just to be clear “parti concept” refers to the idea that this development has to fit into its surroundings.

” The parti is a simplified version of the plan, and it describes the overall configuration or organization of the building.” is one of the definitions offered.

It seems to be inconsistent to approve a building – but with the observation that it does not fit into its surroundings. If planning is supposed to achieve anything at all cannot it be at least based on a simple concept – does it fit in?

 

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This illustration shows most clearly what has changed since the original proposal was approved. This building is much too big for this site.

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And this table shows the figures for dwelling units over all four parts  – which I am afraid got a bit confused during the press conference but are in fact not confusing at all. Council policy was recently changed to require 30% social housing units in large scale developments, but Larco are still only offering 20%. And just in case you were wondering what “affordable rental units” might cost I have replaced (July 17) what was here with something more reliable.

In the case of the 2109 West 35th Avenue development, Baker said that renters must have an annual income of $150,000 to be able to manage paying the rent for a three-bedroom unit at $3,702 per month, based on the 30 percent affordability threshold.

So don’t go confusing “affordable” with “social housing” – they are quite different and should NOT be added together.

Even so, staff are still recommending adoption, because of the $2m now being offered towards the Arbutus Greenway.

As was pointed out in discussion today, there are plenty of examples of developers being required to meet different specifications as a condition of approval, who manage to complete their projects and casually ignore these requirements with no penalty.

It really seems odd to me that staff would recommend approval of a project which raises so many concerns. A much safer approach would be to deny the application for expansion, but suggest to the proponent that this proposal needs to revised and then resubmitted once these concerns have been dealt with to the satisfaction of staff. However, the concerns of building height and massing are such that they cannot be reasonably accommodated just within areas C and D, and A & B are now under construction so that the only changes could be made there would be on the allocation of units between the market/rental/social/affordable classes.

No building recently approved along Arbutus Street is over 6 stories: not the Ridge (at 16th Avenue) nor the recently completed block at 49th and West Boulevard. Approving a 12 storey building sets a new standard which will undoubtedly be embraced by  developers on the half dozen or so sites around Arbutus Village which are either already acquired or on the point of being so. We accept that there is a need for more housing on the West Side in general, but dumping all of it on Arbutus Village seems a bit much.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

July 11, 2018 at 3:29 pm

Petition to Van Council: Vote Down the Arbutus Mall Rezoning

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Council: Vote Down the Arbutus Mall Rezoning Amendment

We, the undersigned residents of Vancouver, call on City Council to respect due process and community input, and to reject the rezoning amendment for 2133 Nanton Avenue (Arbutus Centre), which goes to public hearing on July 18th, at 6:00pm.

The application seeks to add 127 new units to the development and to increase the maximum height from 8 storeys to 12!

The developer’s stated rationale for their application is to provide more housing in the midst of Vancouver’s housing crisis, but even with the new proposed social housing and below-market units in the amendment, the majority of the development will still to be out of reach for lower and middle-income residents.

If Council approves the amendment, they will be backtracking on a 2011 rezoning agreement based on years of community consultation in exchange for a negligible contribution to affordable housing.

In order for residents to be able to trust the city and its planning process, Council should vote NO to the Arbutus Mall rezoning!

Contact Octavian Cadabeschi for more info at 604-813-2105, or
ocadabeschi (at) unitehere.org

Note the email address has been munged to reduce the impact of robot scrapers

This petition can also be submitted online

You could also print off the text above and add signatures, names and addresses below and send to City Hall.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 9, 2018 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Urban Planning

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