Tuesday, November 23, 2010

King George Boulevard: A Complete Street?

These are some mock ups I did for a project recently. The top is a section of King George Boulevard as it currently exists (or as close as I could gather from Surrey's GIS data / it was my first time using Google SketchUp...). You will see 3 travel lanes on the left and 3 travel lanes on the right in addition to a left turning lane. That's 7 lanes, or around 26 meters, dedicated to cars.

The picture below is what we envision King George Boulevard becoming. Large sidewalks, with bike lanes in each direction and limited to 4 travel lanes with a left hand turn lane (down to 16.5 meters!). (You can tell I spent a bit more time on this graphic and I also got a bit more used to SketchUp). Also, I'd like to mention that this version of King George Boulevard is a 'Green Street' (integrated stormwater management!). 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Images: 350 eARTh in Vancouver

Photo by KK+ @ Flickr
On Sunday morning, my partner and I woke up a bit earlier than normal (re: before noon) to attend Vancouver's 350 eARTh public art event. When we got to David Lam park around 9:45 AM and we saw around 50 or so people. For Vancouver, it was to be expected. I don't know how to explain it but Vancouver has a very high 'ditch' rate for events - that is, people say they'll be there but then don't end up going. It seems hard to muster a good crowd in Vancouver. However, it was before 10:00 AM on a Sunday at -5 degrees Celsius. Let's focus on the positive!

In the end, we were able to muster a great group of enthusiastic people. By the end of it, we were all numb from the cold and left with some great images. A big thanks to the organizers and the people who braved the ravaging Vancouver 'winter'.
More here:

TV / News:

http://www.ctvbc.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20080124/BC_Vid_Newscast_080124/20101027?hub=BritishColumbiaHome (starts around 12 min mark)

VPSN website:
350 Earth website:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Video: Toronto Boom Town, 1951

While trolling the National Film Board of Canada's website (everything is free to watch and I highly recommend you check it out), I came across this short 10 minute documentary on Toronto.
Synopsis: This short documentary studies the contrast between the sedate Toronto of the turn of the century and the thriving, expanding metropolis of 1951. Aerial views give evidence of the conversion of the old Toronto into the new--the city with towering skyscrapers, teeming traffic arteries, vast industrial developments and far-reaching residential areas housing over a million people. Toronto's mid-century progress is also Canada's, as manifested in the building of Canada's first subway, and in the bustle of the nation's greatest trading centre--the Toronto Stock Exchange. ***TAKES SOME TIME TO LOAD****

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Cost of Bus Service in Metro Vancouver

Last night was my weekly class with the SFU & City of Surrey Transportation Lecture Program and I'd thought I'd share some interesting info.

Translink staff gave a few great presentations. One of them dealt with Route Planning and the costs associated with routes/service. For instance, one service hour costs $118 on average for a bus. Around 80% of that cost is labour (driver and maintenance). So, a bus on the road for 18 hours/day costs almost $775, 000/year (which is more than the bus actually costs).

What does that translate to on the road? Here's an example bus route they gave us:

From point A to point B: 45 minutes
From point B to point A: 45 minutes
Transition time at each end: 10 minutes x2 (20minutes)
Complete Cycle: 110 minutes
Headway (frequency): 10 minutes 

For this route, you would need 11 buses on the road. The estimated cost for a year of service was $8.5million - remember, this is the cost for ONE frequent bus route. 

This is some large cash behind a service most of us take for granted. We all want more transit. We all agree that more transit is desirable. It simply comes down to complex question of how to pay for it.
99 B-Line Express via The Buzzer Blog


  • Human Transit's post on 'Mapnificent'. Like 'Walkscore', it seems like an interesting tool to use for understanding an area's accessibility but via public transit. Also, it's available for Vancouver!  Watch 'Mapnificent' describe itself below: 

    • Brent Toderian, Vancouver's Director of Planning, has a post on Planetizen about 'Hidden Density' - or Vancouver's Laneway Housing initiative/Eco-Density/Whateveryouwanttocallit. Found this via Price Tags. Also, have a gander at Lance Berelowitz's comment at the bottom (he's the author of Dream City
    • The Director of Planning for the City of Decatur, Georgia, makes a Call to Arms (and Legs, Hearts and Lungs). She writes, "I’d like to suggest that if there was such a thing as designer malpractice we would be in a lot of trouble right now."
    • The Globe and Mail asks, 'Gravy - Or good planning?' This will become an important question given the hostility the new Mayor has towards what he deems as over-spending on city projects (i.e. bike lanes...) Perhaps, he should sit down with the Director of Planning from Decatur?
    •  Sustainable City Collective asks, 'What Happened to LEED?' Indeed. For every 100 projects that registered for LEED certification last year, there are now 30.
    Laneway House in Vancouver

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Event: 350 Earth in Vancouver!

    From the VPSN Blog.

    On Sunday, November 21, VPSN is partnering with 350.org to take public art to a whole new (atmospheric) level. For the first time in history Vancouver will be taking a place in a global art exhibit to show how climate change is affecting the planet and demonstrate public support for creative solutions to climate change.

    People in Cairo, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Reykjavik, Bejing, Mumbai and 14 other cities will gather to create massive public art installations on the eve of the United Nations climate meetings in Cancun, Mexico where delegates will be working to create an international climate treaty. Every site will create large, unique formations that will be captured on camera by air and by satellite. 

    So, if you’re game for a Sunday that’s a little different from your last, join us at David Lam Park at 9:30am Sunday, November 21. Before then, please let us know to expect you by filling out this form and taking the time to also RSVP on Facebook.

    Want more details? Check out our website for 3 tips for having fun at 350 EARTH and 3 ways you can help us make it an inevitable success or see below…
    NOTE: Please plan to join us at David Lam Park promptly at 9:30am and plan to stay until 11:30am. Because we don’t control the satellite, folks MUST show up on time and stay until 11am to ensure the image will be ready to be shot by the time the satellite passes overhead.
    :: Check out our Facebook and Twitter pages.
    :: Visit the official 350 EARTH website.
    :: Want to volunteer? Email our Volunteer Coordinator Erin O’Melinn at erin [at] vancouverpublicspace.ca
    :: Want to be an event partner? Email Event Lead Jaspal Marwah at jaspal [at] vancouverpublicspace.ca
    :: Want more info for your blog, tweet, or newspaper article? Email Communications Co-Coordinator, Michaela Montaner at michaela [at] vancouverpublicspace.ca.

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Fred Herzog: Vancouver Colour

    Fred Herzog is one of my favourite photographers. He took these brilliant colour photographs of Vancouver. Check out his stuff here.

    *Disclaimer: Not all images are from Vancouver :P 

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    Sustainable Stormwater Management: Portland's Green Streets

    Green Streets Plan, Portland OR
    Watching the Streetfilm video about Portland's Bike Boulevards I posted not to long ago brought to my attention their Sustainable Stormwater initiative - Green Streets - and it got me really interested in them. 

    Stormwater seems like a pretty banal issue but it's actually very important in cities because they contain a lot of impervious, impermeable surfaces (i.e. streets). When it rains, the water runs off, collects and needs to be drained into our storm sewer system which then leads to our waterways (streams, rivers, etc.). Stormwater can pick up pollutants, dirt, and other contaminants and it can also cause flooding and erosion which destroys habitat and contributes to combined sewer overflows (CSOs).

    In Portland, they've opted for a fantastic approach to these problems. They believe that:
    Stormwater management systems that mimic nature by integrating stormwater into building and site development can reduce the damaging effects of urbanization on rivers and streams. Disconnecting the flow from storm sewers and directing runoff to natural systems like landscaped planters, swales and rain gardens or implementing an ecoroof reduces and filters stormwater runoff. [City of Portland, Sustainable Stormwater Management]
    Portland defines a 'Green Street' as one that uses these measures. In all, their comprehensive Green Street strategy aims to:
    • Reduce polluted stormwater entering Portland’s rivers and streams;
    • Improve pedestrian and bicycle safety;
    • Divert stormwater from the sewer system and reduce basement flooding, sewer backups and combined sewer overflows (CSOs) to the Willamette River;
    • Reduce impervious surface so stormwater can infiltrate to recharge groundwater and surface water;
    • Increase urban green space;
    • Improve air quality and reduce air temperatures;
    • Reduce demand on the city’s sewer collection system and the cost of constructing expensive pipe systems;
    • Address requirements of federal and state regulations to protect public health and restore and protect watershed health; and 
    • Increase opportunities for industry professionals [City of Portland, Green Streets]
    This approach is, to put it simply, beautiful! These facilities also combine other initiatives like bikes lanes, pedestrian safety, and beautification. They often replace multiple on-street parking stalls and in-place of the asphalt are beds planted in native species that absorb/divert large volumes of street level wastewater (sometime ALL of it).
    A typical greenstreet facility in Portland, Oregon. This one compines a stormwater treatment facility with a bulbout to reduce pedestrian crossing distances. Photos: Portland BES.
    This facility treats the cascade that used to come off Mt. Tabor during a strong storm. It also rationalized a difficult intersection and shortened pedestrian crossing distance by more than 50 feet.
    Pictures taken from here.

    SE Clay Street, Portland @ Portland Online
    If you'd like to be impressed, you can download Portland's 2007 Green Streets tour map here.

    You can read the Water Environment Research Foundation's (WERF) case study on Portland here.

    According to the WERF case study, Portland staff emphasized that that right-of-ways are already within a city's authority which makes Green Streets projects fairly easy to implement. However, planners should still consult with stakeholders (homeowners, businesses) about their aesthetic preferences and expectations to ensure community acceptance.

    Also, they stress that:
    a successful sustainable stormwater program requires a multi-disciplinary approach that involves landscape architects, engineers, planners, reviewers, department heads, and watershed managers.They knew they needed the participation of all these groups in discussions and planning for individual projects as well as Citywide initiatives. This type of collaboration can also bring more resources to the table where funding for a project or initiative might be limited. [WERF, Portland Case Study]
    There wasn't too much about this on the City of Vancouver website but I did manage to find this. It doesn't seem to as much a priority or practice as it is in Portland. Vancouver, like Portland, receives its fair share of rain and I'd like to see these gems all over the place.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Illustrated Vancouver: Burrard Station Cutaway

    Skytrain cutaway of Burrard Station, from the book Transit in British Columbia: The First Hundred Years. 
    From Illustrated Vancouver.

    Translink Moving Forward: Property taxes if necessary, but not necessarily property taxes.

    'Moving Forward' plan map - Translink
    Earlier this week, Translink's board forwarded two Transportation and Financial Supplemental Plans to the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation. Read about it here and here and at the Buzzer.

    The Mayor's Council will either approve one of these plans or neither which would keep Translink on it's 'base plan' (i.e. working with what they have).

    Option 1: 'Delivering the Evergreen Line and the North Fraser Perimeter Road'
    • Funding the Evergreen SkyTrain Line connecting the Lougheed and Coquitlam town centres and for an extension of United Boulevard in Coquitlam as the first phase of the North Fraser Perimeter Road goods movement corridor from the Queensborough Bridge in New Westminster to Highway #1.
    Option 2: 'Moving Forward'
    •  Same as above AND proposes additional road and transit improvements across Metro Vancouver, notably in the South of Fraser and North Shore sub-regions. 
    • Would add over 425, 000 hours of annual transit service (23 million transit trips per year).
    • South of Fraser would receive HALF of this service.  
    Translink's Board recommended the 'Moving Forward' plan. This issue comes down on how to pay for it. Translink has two options: raise property taxes OR create a Transportation Improvement Fee or TIF (a charge on motor vehicles registered in Metro Vancouver that would vary according to their environmental impacts measured by engine size, kilometres travelled or other metrics). The Board concedes that raising property taxes is politically difficult to do. However, it also says that a TIF would be complicated and costly to implement in a hurry without provincial assistance.

    The TIF needs more time to be examined. They argue that, "done correctly, [TIF's] can help manage demand on the transportation network and contribute to greenhouse gas reduction while producing revenue to support a better transportation network."

    In order for these projects to go forward (and to receive/use Federal monies) a deal must be signed by the end of the year. Translink's board proposes this:Translink is able to pay for the first year of the 'Moving Forward' plan and the Mayor's Council would need to approve a property tax bylaw for 2012. Alternative funding sources  and TIF's will be examined but if by the end of that year, no new funding source has emerged, property taxes will be raised in 2012.

    It will be an interesting situation to watch in December when the Mayor's Council meets. The governing structure of Translink is an often debated subject. The Mayor don't want to impose more taxes on their constituents but their constituents want more transit service.

    I think Translink has chosen a practical recommendation given it's limited abilities in raising money for its projects: Property taxes if necessary, but not necessarily property taxes. 

    Saturday, November 6, 2010


    In the great urban debate of car versus bike, I reluctantly side with cars. I am a driver, mostly out of necessity, as I live in the 416 but work in the 905. Being a driver, however, does not mean I am against bicycling, or against urban bicycling....
     I would be for bicycling in dedicated bike lanes, or bicycling in any context that is safe and accessible and doesn’t force cyclists to imperil themselves riding in heavy traffic. Bicyclists have the right to bike safely and properly, but motorists also have the right to drive without constantly worrying about when a cyclist might suddenly appear, speeding along without (shudder) a helmet.
    Cyclist passing Toronto City Hall, 1899 @ Wiki Commons

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    The Death and Life of Gastown: Part Three - Post-War Modernity

    At the end of the war, Canadians were more affluent than ever before and as the economy boomed, so did the population. These factors converged to ensured the proliferation of the suburbs — Canadians looking to realize their domestic dreams of idealized living. Aided by the rise of the automobile — by 1960 two-thirds of households owned a car[1] — middle-class families fled the city towards the periphery of Canadian cities where there was room for a family home with a yard in a quiet and clean neighbourhood.
                As Canadians sought their suburban lives outside the city, “the exodus of the middle class . . . triggered  a ‘filtering down’ — that is, a decline in households’ socio-economic status, conversions of single-family units into multi-family accommodation, and subsequent physical deterioration of an aging housing stock.”[2] Furthermore, the perception of the inner-city in contrast to the idyllic suburb, the conditions of the inner-city ‘slum’ were considered the root of many social problems.
    Apartment Building in Strathcona, 1960s - Vancouver Archives, CVA 780-361
     Mary Louise Adams states that “psychology was so often posited as directly shaped by the environment that there was no question of someone in a ‘bad neighbourhood’ not turning out badly.”[3] If the iconic suburbs of Levittown and Don Mills were symbols of success and progress then the inner-city remained an obstacle in realizing Canada’s post-war society.

    Don Mills, Ontario
    Levittown, PA

                With the optimism of reformers in the post-war period with the resources made available through the expanding welfare state, municipal governments began to look at transforming their inner-cities through massive redevelopment and modern planning practices such as zoning bylaws. Jill Grant argues that “faith in progress and science, and growing nationalism, enhanced confidence that Canadians could improve their cities and the lot of their inhabitants.”[4] This ‘faith’ manifested itself as high-modernist urban design and its adherents sought to bring about a Utopian vision of the city. In Vancouver, it was the reaction to this ideology that was in part responsible for the revitalization of Gastown.
                Vancouver, like elsewhere in Canada and North America, was highly affected by trends and ideological movements in urban planning and design. James C. Scott notes that, ideologically, “high modernism implies . . . a rejection of the past as a model to improve upon and a desire to make a completely fresh start. The more Utopian the high modernism, the more thoroughgoing its implied critique of the existing society.”[5] To that end, Gastown and much of the Downtown East Side represented the antithesis of high modernity.
                High modernist urban planning and design believed that the city should reflect a single, rational plan and that it that should be “consciously designed from start to finish following scientific principals.”[6] It emphasized the segregation city space by use and function through the implementation of zoning laws. These bylaws would accompany the complete reconstruction of the city in which no concession is made with its preexisting form, context or history: “the new cityscape completely supplants its predecessor.”[7]
    Le Corbusier's Radiant City, A plan for Paris

                Underlying these aspects of modernist planning was the belief that if an urban environment could affect its residents negatively, it could also have the opposite effect if planned correctly. The modernist city would provide “an environment minutely tailored to the latest dictates regarding health, efficiency, and rational order.”[8] Furthermore, if the city was to be a concise, consistent singular plan, it needed a singular planner. In Vancouver, planning was the purview of a select group of people, with one man, Gerald Sutton-Brown, wielding a great amount of power over the City’s development.

    [1] Doug Owram, Born at the Right Time: A History of the Baby Boom Generation (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 70.
    [2] Trudi Bunting and Pierre Filion, eds., Canadian Cities in Transition: Local Through Global Perspectives, 3rd ed. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2006), 14.
    [3] Mary Louise Adams, The Trouble with Normal: Postwar Youth and the Making of Heterosexuality (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), 57.
    [4] Jill Grant, “Shaped by Planning: The Canadian City Through Time,” in Canadian Cities in Transition: Local Through Global Perspectives, ed. Trudi Bunting and Pierre Filion, 3rd ed. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2006), 327.
    [5] James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 115.
    [6] Ibid., 111.
    [7] Ibid., 104.
    [8] Ibid., 130.

    Video: NYC Bike Commute

    Mapping Your NYC Bike Commute from Streetfilms on Vimeo.