Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Vancouver

King Edward bike lanes

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This item was inspired by one of Ken Ohrn’s posts on Price Tags. Not that I am complaining, you understand. One must acknowledge that an effort is being made to improve cycling safety here, but at this particular location not much more was needed to produce something that would actually be safe. Designated lanes are better than sharrows – or nothing at all – but a painted line does not really do much to actually separate out two different  modes. A kerb would be better: a boulevard or barrier even more so.

The road is very wide with a large park like central median with mature trees. While the posted speed is the standard 50 km/hr the combination of the median and the broad paved area encourages much faster speeds. I observe that when I or my partner drive at the posted speed, everyone else is moving much faster. Since these improvements were made that has got a bit better at busy periods.

W/b at Valley looking east

This is the intersection of King Edward and Valley. It was formerly one moving traffic lane with parking permitted at the kerb. Paint has been used to designate a bike lane between the parked cars at the curb and the general purpose (GP)  traffic lane. You will also note that only a very short length of the curb lane becomes a right turn lane at the intersection.

If the double white line had been moved towards the curb by a metre then the parked cars would have acted as a buffer between the moving vehicle traffic and the bicycles, and the risk of dooring by a driver reduced. Of course, the risk of dooring by a disembarking passenger would have been greater and the bus stops required a different treatment.

e/b at Valley

The bus stop is on the far side of the intersection (of course) and the bollards have been put in now to stop the parking space being used as a queue jumper. Traffic backs up down the hill from the traffic light at Arbutus Street. You will also observe that there are no cars parked when the picture was taken (mid afternoon, weekday). That is because there is ample off street parking provided within the Arbutus Village development on the right. There is really no need for parking along this side of this part of the avenue. Prior to this work there were essentially two travel lanes – and a bit of a freeway mentality for the car drivers.   The green paint patches are for the driveways at the Village entrances/exits.

Now some will say that additional road width would be needed to allow for a proper protected bike lane. It seems to me that a narrower GP travel lane is already in place but has not done very much to reduce speeds. I suppose old habits die hard. Moreover there is plenty of space available but we do get awfully close to a knee jerk reaction when trees and lawn are threatened. Up at the Arbutus Intersection the paved right turn lane has been extended – simply because the large number of hefty off road pick ups and all wheel drive SUVs had created a longer informal turn lane out of the uncurbed median.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 3.23.31 PMThis is the Google map view

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Written by Stephen Rees

March 9, 2016 at 3:28 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

Policy Recommendations to Combat Vancouver Housing Unaffordability

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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 , ,

Election Impact on Transportation

with 12 comments

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 3.16.55 PM

I got a call this morning from Global BC, inviting my opinions for their live cable news show which only goes to Shaw customers. So if you have some other way of getting tv, this will help fill the gap. Gordon Price was in the same coat closet sized “studio” ready to follow me, for another show and the same subject. While he was talking to me I heard the feed from Burnaby in my earpiece, where Keith Baldrey was playing down the likelihood of a Broadway Subway. He said that Christy Clark has no interest at all in funding a project for a constituency that had rejected her but would probably be very willing to help Surrey get LRT. Oddly, Gordon was pointing out almost simultaneously that former Mayor Diane Watts would be able to do some of the heavy lifting for the same project in Ottawa. So no wonder Linda Hepner seems so confident that she can deliver an LRT for Surrey by 2018.

What I had to say was that she seems to be implementing Plan B – what do we do if the referendum fails? – before Plan A had even been tried. Plan A requires agreement on the question – still to be decided – on how to fund the project list decided by the Mayors before the election. In order for any package to be acceptable there has to be something for everyone. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that if one project was seen to take precedence, that would be the death knell for any funding proposal that did not deliver for the rest of the region. The Mayors, under the guidance Greg Moore, re-elected Mayor of Port Coquitlam, have been acting very collegially up to now. Translink is not just a transit agency, so there would be some road projects for the parts of the region where transit cannot be a significant contributor for some time. And no-one was being allowed to play the “me first” card.

Actually, given the political cynicism  realism I was hearing from Baldrey and Price, perhaps this explains why Kirk LaPointe was so confident that he could deliver transit for Broadway better than Gregor Robertson. Peter Armstrong – who paid for much of the NPA campaign – must have given him some reason for believing that he would be favoured by the federal Conservatives (who featured so prominently in the revived NPA organization apparently) – and maybe even the province too.

It is very sad indeed that we cannot talk about how will build a sustainable region and meet the challenges of a world that will be sending us more people – whether we have plans to accommodate them or not. How we move to higher densities without upsetting existing residents, how more people can give up using their cars for every trip as things become more accessible and walkable, how transit becomes one of several better options than driving a single occupant car that is owned – not shared. How we have a region wide conversation on what needs to be done, and how we pay for that, in a way that satisfies a whole range of wants and needs across communities.

Worse, that is seems to be really easy to get funding for a major upgrade to a freeway interchange in North Vancouver when there seems to be no possibility of relieving overcrowding on the #99 B-Line. No doubt the new highway bridge between Richmond and Delta will still get precedence in provincial priorities. Once the Evergreen Line is finished there will be the usual protracted process before the next transit project starts moving and, as we saw with the Canada Line, perhaps expecting more than one major project at a time is over optimistic. The province also has to find a great deal of money for BC Ferries, since it seemed very easy to make a decision on the Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo route really quickly – without any clear source of additional financing for the identified structural upgrades its continuation demands.

If the fix is really in for Surrey, who is going to find the local contribution? Assume that the feds and province pick up a third each, can Surrey cover the rest alone? Is it likely that the other Mayors will vote for a package that gives the major capital spending preference to Surrey? And if not, and Surrey does find a way to that – a P3 is always a possibility – do Surrey transit riders and taxpayers pick up that tab? Who operates Surrey LRT and will it have the same fare system – or do the rest of us have to pay more for that?

No I couldn’t cover all of that in the time allotted to me. I spent longer getting down there and back than I did talking. But these ideas and the questions they raise seem worth discussion below.

Kirk LaPointe and the Pie Crust Promise

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A “pie crust promise” is one that’s easily made and easily broken. Politicians seem especially prone to this failing. They make a promise then realize afterwards that what they have promised is not that easy to deliver – and even if they do will have far reaching consequences that they had not considered. Kirk LaPointe is an inexperienced politician: he has lots of experience of course, just not of working in the public sector as an elected official. The following exchange on Twitter yesterday seems to reflect this reality.


Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 12.08.48 PM

He tweeted a commitment that the “NPA will bring free WiFi city-wide”. Let us take him at his word and assume away some of the practical difficulties. What would free WiFi everywhere, all the time mean? For a start everyone who has a modem and a contract with a telco will cancel it. If I have free WiFi from the city why would I pay for it? I am not at all sure that Shaw and Telus would be pleased by this development. Providing free wifi would also mean that a lot of services that can now be accessed over the internet would be preferred to other delivery methods. If I have free wifi do I need a home telephone? Skype or a VOIP service would probably do. There were, once upon a time, shops that would rent out DVDs. Very few remain as delivery methods  of video content have changed. City-wide WiFi would have a similar impact, I think.

There are already extensive telecommunication networks across the city – and most of their customers are unhappy. Canadians are convinced that they pay far too much for cable tv and cell phone services – especially if they use a lot of data. Considerable amounts of capital have been invested in cell phone towers and cables of all kinds. Much of the fibre optic cable that was installed in the gadarene rush a few years back remains dark. The original companies went bust, and their networks were scooped up at bargain prices. Which is one reason why we no longer complain about long distance charges. It has always been the last link in the network – from trunk line to individual customer that has been the weakest link. Very few of us enjoy fibre optic into our homes or businesses. But free city wide wifi should sort out that problem – but probably not to the satisfaction of the current carriers.

Just as Mayors who try to tell railway companies what to do find themselves in unexpected difficulties, so, I think, will Mayors who decide to upset the apple cart for the telecommunications companies. Vancouver is a very important market for them and they have already shown companies like Mobilicity and Wind that they do not take kindly to those who try to take even a small share of their market.

I expressed skepticism of his proposal. I did not have the same number of characters at my disposal on Twitter as I do here so I used a pithy, North American expression. It became popular after a clever conman sold the Brooklyn Bridge. Not once, but twice! You have to admire that sort of chutzpah in a salesman. But we are now wary of such schemes, are we not? I think we should be equally wary of candidates for civic office prepared to make what my Mum used to term “a rash promise in a weak moment.”   Or maybe Mr Lapointe will now try to reel back some of his apparent commitment for the same reason that I must now explain I do not actually have a bridge to sell. Which I had assumed would be obvious.

Of course we have been sold bridges recently. Bridges that we did not actually need. Bridges that we now cannot afford. Not that that is stopping another politician from trying to sell us a third one. We have far too readily accepted nostrums from politicians that could not possibly deliver what they promised. Widening roads and building new ones has never solved traffic congestion, nor can they for more than a brief period. Just as cutting taxes for the wealthy did not make us all better off: wealth did not trickle down nor did the rising tide raise all boats. Yet we still elect these rascals.

I am not in the bridge selling business. I am in the skepticism business. I have no axe to grind other than a desire to sow seeds of doubt: for doubt has always served me better than faith. Free WiFi city wide? I doubt it. I really do.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 6, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Batteries included: Network Rail begins on-track trials of prototype battery-powered train

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‘What’s this got to do with transit in Metro Vancouver?’ you might be asking. Well, it’s a trial of a new technology that does actually have potential impact here.

Network Rail and its partners believe battery-powered trains could be used to bridge gaps in otherwise electrified parts of the network or be used on branch lines where it would not be cost effective to install overhead electrification equipment,

You can read the entire press release, if you are interested. A couple of important bits of information are missing: the weight of batteries and what they do to the power consumption of the train when it is running under the wires. The second bit there is probably one of the key determinants of whether this project goes on to production. There are many prototype tests: many of them have short lives or look very different by the time they get into production.

The technology is the interesting bit, because it does not necessarily need to be confined to trains. Vancouver has an extensive network of electric trolleybuses, but the wires do not always extend to useful destinations. It is very expensive to construct the overhead (back in 2004 I used to use the figure of $1m per kilometre for plain track – more for “special works” like switches and diamonds). So to add enough wire to get trolleybuses from say 41st at Crown to UBC is cost prohibitive.

The “new” trolleybuses – actually entering service at the end of 2006 – have much better batteries than the previous generation, but even so can only run at low speed and limited distances. And someone has to be stationed at each end of the gap to do the pole pulling. So battery power is for short distances and for temporary disruptions. Routes like the #7 Dunbar – Nanaimo have been running diesel buses under wires most of the way for at least a year by my observation. This new technology could see faster, longer operation on battery power for longer distances. This would both reduce the use of diesel – a worthy aim in itself – and cut costs. As long as someone comes up with a automated pole puller. Routes like the #9 could actually terminate somewhere useful, like Brentwood Mall, instead of the traditional loop at the city boundary. The #41 could run out to UBC electrically and use the wires for most of the route.

This is probably more likely than seeing CMBC put poles on hybrid buses to achieve the same objectives.

Translink 2135 on wb 9 Broadway Vancouver BC 2007_0108

In other news

The draconian changes in drunk driving rules in BC have worked to reduce collisions and casualties. No mention is made of why this change in legislation was controversial in this UBC study, so it does not come across as an evenhanded or even objective assessment of the policy change. Were the fears of the restaurant/pub operators justified? Are there any civil liberties concerns about the presumption of innocence lost at the “sobriety checkpoint” or the absence of due process when the police impose penalties without judicial oversight? Or is the unspoken rule any life saved is worth any cost?

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2014 at 9:42 am

Public Furniture | Urban Trees

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There is a sculpture exhibit on Spanish Banks at present. It is the latest manifestation of Vancouver Biennale – and the title is theirs. And that is really what has inspired this opinion piece. I think it is misleading – the furniture is not public. The artist, Hugo França comes from Brazil. This is what the signage at the exhibit says

Hugo França reimagines fallen trees in poetic ways, transforming them into beautiful sculptress for public enjoyment. The sculpting process respects the natural features of the trees, promoting minimum waste and the beauty of the natural organic forms, lines, flaws and imperfections. Their memory remains alive with their uniqueness, offered back to the community in harmony with the natural environment. This is the first time the artist is creating public sculpture outside Brazil and using a variety of of local wood species.

The pictures are all in a set on flickr which includes a Google map showing the location.

Public Furniture | Urban Trees 1
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 2
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 3
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 4
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 5
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 6

The signage also includes the warning “Please do not cross the line” (in large friendly capital letters) but as you can see from some of my images this seems to be moot. The line – a bit like crime scene tape – has been supplemented by snow fence, which has also fallen – or been taken – down. One of my flickr contacts Tom Abrahamson remarked “Elaborate and nicely done bench at the beach. Just have to hope that the usual brain dead idiots are not trying to put it on fire or damage it.”

This is an issue for all art works outside of private houses. Put something on display in public and unless you guard it night and day it is at high risk of damage. Even if the damage is unintentional. There are, of course, raw logs that end up on all our beaches. It is a feature of the remarkably careless way logs are moved around – in log booms.

River Eagle North Arm Vancouver BC 2007_0530

But also the natural erosion of the banks of streams and inlets mean that trees – or what remains of them – get cast up on beaches. In Vancouver these are carefully marshalled to provide a certain amount of amenity to visitors, who thus bring much less in the way of furniture to the beach with them. In other places, chairs, tables, loungers, windbreaks – and umbrellas – all proliferate. On many beaches around the world the provision of such amenities is a source of income.

4 poster beach bed

Yucatan Beach

At the beach in Spanish Banks near where the sculptures are placed, the city allows people to cut up spare logs for fuel or other purposes

Trunk full of stepping "stones"

The sound of chainsaws is as common at this beach as dogs barking at others. There seems to be a clear understanding of which logs are for cutting – and that people will not take the work of others for themselves. But somehow we are not so trusting when it comes to art.

Rainblossom Project

Not long ago near this location another art installation appeared. Red umbrellas hung from some trees. They did not last long. I saw some being “adopted”. Just as some people will pick flowers in public places. Though they do seem to respect the floral tributes left on benches.

bench marker and flower

I have heard of flowers being stolen from graves, and I am afraid some of my family’s monuments in a cemetery in East London were destroyed by anti-semitic vandals.

The art work benches are not actually public furniture – because they have not been provided for people to enjoy through use but merely by looking at them. Even though their very nature invites touch – they have been lovingly smoothed – and relaxation. Unlike the unfinished logs on this and other Vancouver beaches

View from the Boat House pano

The art is also not going to last very long in this state as the cut surfaces have not been “finished”. Exposed to the elements, they will decay. Indeed in their natural state trees decay and return to the soil even before they fall

Detail of downed tree

It isn’t the tree we want to preserve, it’s the work of the artist we value. But the work has potential value that exceeds that of the visual amenity. We long ago recognized that lawns – the product of careful gardening, extensive and expensive maintenance – are vulnerable when used for human activities, but we stopped putting “Keep off the Grass” signs in most city parks many years ago, recognizing the value of lawns for games, recreation or even a quiet snooze.

early tanner

The introduction of tables and chairs onto city streets was also a risky undertaking, but in New York at least, theft – or other unintended uses – does not seem to have been a problem.

I think it would be a Good Idea if we could turn the guys with chainsaws loose on some of the raw logs on our beaches to see how they could be improved. Not for firewood. Well not initially anyway: for the failed experiments, possibly. But to increase their utility – and quite possibly their beauty too. And pubic art will get used as a sitting place or a climbing frame, and needs to be sufficiently robust and secure enough to withstand that.

Art climbing

Art reduced to a bench

Art as adventure playground

Art climber

Written by Stephen Rees

April 20, 2014 at 3:43 pm