Monday, January 31, 2011

Subway Art

One part NYC subway map, one part pretty looking, and one part pretty sounding: A recipe for awesome. Check out the link above and try it out yourself. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bludgeoned into Modernity: Paris, Haussmann and the Opera

Here is a paper I wrote for an Art History class during my undergrad. Just goes to show you how cities, planning, and urban design can work its way into many different faculties. Also, here's an article by the NY times you may find interesting.

At the start of the 19th century, before Paris was The City of Light, it was a dark, cramped and unhealthy city that rested on an obsolete medieval framework. However, the fall of the July Monarchy and rise of Louis Napoleon’s Second Empire at mid-century ushered in an era of rapid transformation. Raymond Escholier wrote, “The second of December 1851 had two great victims: The Republic and Old Paris.”[1] Emperor Napoleon III chose a strong-willed man from Bordeaux, Georges-Eugène Haussmann, to manage and implement Paris’ modernization. By the fall of the Second Empire, Paris was a city of “generous boulevards, linked by squares and anchored by monumental public buildings.”[2] Nowhere is this more evident than Charles Garnier’s Opera House – a symbol of Second Empire France that evokes its modernity, wealth and social progress. However, Garnier’s Opera house design and its central location represent, not only Haussmannization realized but also something much more. Under the initial guise of an Imperial institution and façade, it reflects Paris’ socio-economic shift of the fading influence of the old aristocracy to the rise of the middle and upper-middle classes – a predominantly bourgeois Paris.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Architectural Diversity in Vancouver

When people visit Vancouver for the first time they often remark on how beautiful, vibrant, and diverse it is. Indeed, it's a very photogenic place to be. However, one of the things people also mention is how everything looks the same (re:dull) - it's lack of architectural diversity, if you will.

Condos, Condos, Condos
If you've ever set your eyes on the city skyline, you'd find a fairly uniform sea of green and blue glass. Douglas Coupland aptly titled his conversational book about Vancouver, 'The City of Glass'.

The uniformity isn't just in colour and material but in size and shape. Most of Vancouver's towers are slim and the height is regulated to protect 'view corridors'. The large exceptions in Vancouver's skyline are the One Wall Centre and the Shangri-La. Currently, the City is reviewing its building height policy to allow much taller buildings in a few places in the city (and some taller buildings in heritage areas like Gastown and Chinatown).

From Left to Right: Shangri-La, Pacific Center (TD), Scotia Tower. One Wall Center

When I think of great cities like New York, Chicago, and even Toronto, I see distinct buildings and distinct skylines. I'm not arguing that great architecture doesn't exist in Vancouver but it seems less apparent. As a city, are we missing interesting buildings? Consider Toronto's recent acquisition of interesting buildings: the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal addition to the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario renovation (by Frank Gehry)
ROM by Dmitri_Lytov @Wikicommons
AGO by John @Wikicommons
I'm certain I'm not the only one that thinks Vancouver lacks a certain flair in its built environment. I think Vancouver has great potential for great architecture - we've proved it in the past. The Vancouver Public Library (Central Branch), designed by Moshe Safdie, is a great example (and one of my favourite buildings). The design was chosen through a competition and was the public's choice.
Boecko @Wikicommons
So, what are your thoughts? What are your favourite buildings in Vancouver?

Friday, January 14, 2011


The new Times Square is a uniquely democratic experience. There is no screening process, no admission fee, and no reservations are required. ... Previous to the ban on autos, no more than 20 moving vehicles could fit on each of those same blocks. And rather than those relatively few motorists who merely passed through the space without fully appreciating it, we now accommodate many more people who choose it as a destination. It now functions as a linear park, a civilized place for walking, meeting, conversing, relaxing, observing. If one chooses to, you can even hear yourself think. And it’s all free.
Unlike the ‘fragmented, deconstructed housing estates’ built in the West, the slum has ‘order and harmony’ he claimed, adding: ‘We have a great deal to learn about how complex ­systems can self-organise to ­create a harmonious whole.’

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Public Bike Share Programs: Seeing Eye to Eye

Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
I had the urge to add another segment to my Bike Share posts after reading Stephen Miller's blog post, "People riding bikes aren't jerks, they're just like you" (Greater Greater Washington).

Miller argues that bicycle advocates often neglect the 'empathetic' appeal in favour of more issue-based arguments (public health, sustainability, etc.). What he means is, that they often fail to portray cyclists as everyday citizens trying to get from point A to point B. This is completely true and Vancouver is no stranger to the negative results this produces.

Cyclists are perceived as reckless and undeserving of respect because they don't show any. Cyclists become the 'other' - completely unrelated. Furthermore, when cities and governments start providing bike lanes or building other facilities for cyclists there is a concerted, vocal, and fierce backlash because it looks like road is being given away to an irresponsible minority. But it doesn't have to be this way. Here's where Public Bike Sharing comes in:
It's hard to underestimate the importance of Capital Bikeshare in showing the general public how hopping on a bike can become an easy part of everyday life. The bikes are comfortable, steady and ubiquitous.
Capital Bikeshare by Mariordo @Wiki Commons
A PBS system, as mentioned before, essentially becomes an extension of the transit system - easy and accessible (and cheap!) Bike infrastructure would be seen in a completely different light as more and more people realize the necessity for such things. These systems are catalyst for local bike cultures, helping them reach 'critical mass'.

Of course, we still need to work on respecting the rules of the road and each other. I think looking at the Motor Vehicle Act is required but that's another post.

Again, Vancouver should be looking seriously at considering such a system. My greedy self would like to see it in place for Velo-City 2012 which will be in our great city.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Public Bike Share Programs: Part Two - Vancouver!

Public Bike Sharing in Vancouver? Yep, it could have happened for the Olympics.

In 2008, Translink commissioned a report on the feasibility of a Public Bicycle Share (PBS) Program in Vancouver. The report looked at many of the successful systems around the world (see chart below), including the one in Paris and Montreal that I talked about in my last post.
These cities have generally succeeded in introducing the bicycle as a useful public transit mode with some reaching up to a 15% subscription rate and reportedly achieving a 5% drop in car trips. Essentially, a PBS acts as an extension of the existing transit system and is comparatively cheaper and more feasible in dense, congested urban areas where conventional systems may be constrained. These systems also lead to more 'private' cycling and a general increase in cyclists on the road makes it safer for all road users (critical mass).

 As for the feasibility, the report looked at these indicators:
  • An environment where many short and medium length trips currently occur or could occur (high population, employment densities and a diverse mix of land uses).
  • An environment which is be bikeable (quality of the cycling network, topography, climate). 
While the report looks at many Metro Vancouver neighbourhoods which are strong candidates, its focus, particularly for its introductory phase, is mostly on Vancouver. It stresses the need for prominent and visible stations and an optimized fare structure (i.e. first half hour free, like in other cities).
As you can see from this chart, the recommended option is the larger network. This is so that the system has enough density and reach to ensure success - it must facilitate spontaneous trip making so one wouldn't have to worry about looking for a docking station. The plan is based on having docking stations every 300m.

As for the cost, it is projected to need $18.5 to $34.5 million dollars to set up and would only need $7 to $12 million to operate a year. It is projected that user fees would make up 70% of the system's operating costs (imagine if existing transit services recouped 70% of its operating costs from user fees!).

Ultimately, the report suggests that Translink implement the PBS program. I would highly agree that the benefits are great. I can already imagine being able to replace a lot of my shorter bus trips with this kind of a system. However, given the financial shape that Translink/Region are in currently, it probably isn't feasible at this time. Apparently, the City of Vancouver is looking into it as part of the Greenest City initiative. A survey found 80% of Vancouverites would use a PBS system in the summer, 70% in the winter. Read more about that here.

What do you think? Is Vancouver ready for this? 

If you want the details, I suggest reading Translink's full reports here.
Read Part One Here.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Public Bike Share Programs: Part One

First post of the New Year!

If there's anything that's consistent about the end of a year, it's 'best of' lists. One of the more intriguing lists was one by The City Fix that I linked to in my last Reading post. They named 11 of the best new transit systems for 2010. What was interesting about this particular post was that of those 11, 3 were public bike share (PBS) systems. The ones they note are in Washington, D.C., Mexico City, and London.

The Bike-Sharing Blog
This is important because the bicycle is quickly gaining a status as a genuinely useful transportation mode (particularly in North America) and gaining status as an integral part of the transit system. The Bike-Sharing Blog has counted that in 2010 there have been a 49% increase in PBS systems around the world - a estimated total of 238. In fact, they've been spreading quite quickly around the world (see graph). If you want to learn more about them, check out their blog but I'll explain a bit here and what it could mean for Vancouver.

What is a PBS system?
PBS systems usually comprise of a fleet of public-use bikes that can be accessed via smart card from self-serve docking stations. Generally, there's an initial subscription fee but then users have low-cost or free access to the bikes and can pick them up and return them to any docking station. They can be funded by subscription revenues, general public revenues and revenues derived from the sale of advertising rights and parking charges (or a mix thereof).
'Boris Bikes' in London by ZanMan @ WikiCommons
This idea behind the PBS system is to facilitate short/day-to-day travel needs and to integrate it into the larger transit network (once it becomes extensive enough).

The only system I'm personally familiar with is Velib in Paris. Launched in 2007,  it has since grown to 17,000 bicycles and 1,202 stations, roughly one station every 300 metres throughout the city centre. I had the chance to use it one night after the Metro had closed and it was very easy (even after a few glasses of wine).
Velib in Paris by Rcsmit @ WikiCommons
I inspected a bike, put my credit card in the kiosk and it took a deposit and released the bike. When I returned it into a station 20 minutes later, it returned the deposit. Since I returned the bike within half an hour, the ride was free. Trips that lasts longer than 30 minutes incur a charge of €1 to €4 for each subsequent 30-minute period. The increasing price scale is intended to keep the bikes in circulation. Short trips are the idea and over 80 million of them have been made since Velib launched.

In London, success has even been more apparent. Along with a similar bike share scheme as Paris', London also created new bike lines they've named 'Cycle Superhighways' in order to increase safety and to keep trips short. Barclay's Cycle Hire has 90,000 registered users and there have been over a million trip made in its first 10 weeks. It's also reportedly the ONLY part of Transport For London (TFL) that will turn a profit.

In Canada, Montreal has the successful Bixi Bike program (London's bikes are made in Quebec by Denvinci!). Toronto is following suit after an abortive attempt in 2001. What about Vancouver? Tune in to the next post!