Sunday, February 27, 2011

Update: Separated Bike Lanes in Vancouver

The City of Vancouver has finally released new statistics for the Hornby and Dunsmuir separated bike lanes. As you can see, cycling has some great numbers in the summer (more than 12, 000 trips during the week of July 26, 2010!) and while the counts are lower in the wet and cold winter months, people are still out using the bike lanes in decent numbers. Since Hornby lanes opened, cycling trips have continually increased in that corridor to an average of 600 trips per day.
It's difficult to assess what kind of change has occurred since before the lanes were installed because Hornby was a one way bike lane and now is a two-way lane. I'm going to also assume than many cycling trips are being pulled from the suicidal Burrard street lane. So far, the new lanes seem extremely promising and have barely affected automobile travel times. The City says:
Preliminary results indicate that vehicle travel times along Hornby Street, between Pacific and Hastings, are unchanged on weekday mornings and have increased by one minute (from 5½ to 6½ minutes) on weekday afternoons. This increase is equivalent to one traffic signal cycle.
Many people have questioned the legitimacy of the numbers the city is releasing. You can check out Frances Bula's blog for the details and the response from the City. If you have an issue with the numbers, go check them out for yourself.

I find it odd the many people will go to great lengths to see these bike lanes fail. If these people perceive the reallocation of our streets to cleaner, more efficient forms of transportation as 'war on cars', they may want to ask themselves, which side is winning?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Documentary: Urbanized


A friend sent me the link to this great documentary in the making. It's called Urbanized. According to the director:
Urbanized looks at the issues and strategies behind urban design, featuring some of the world's foremost architects, planners, policymakers, builders, and thinkers. I've teamed up once again with cinematographer Luke Geissbuhler, and we've been traveling around the world interviewing people and filming specific urban design projects that represent the issues facing cities today. The world's population is in the midst of a massive migration to urban areas, and the design solutions our cities implement in the next 20 years will be critical.
Currently, they're seeking funds to finish their project. For each level of donation you get some pretty cool things. I'm going to chip in since it seems like a worthwhile venture. Here's their promo video:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Vancouver, 1972: Beware the Freeway Octopus

Windsor Star Jan. 12, 1972
Here's an article from Windsor Star in 1972 at the opening of the Georgia Viaduct. The Viaduct, though approved by voters, was somewhat sneakily always intended to be part of a larger freeway system. Voters and citizens felt betrayed and they made their feelings shown. Beware the the Freeway Octopus!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reading

In three years on the job, with her potent combination of smarts, chutzpah and political savvy, Sadik-Khan has made great strides in moving New York City into the 21st century. She has overseen the building of hundreds of miles of innovative bike lanes; she's turned traffic-clogged streets like parts of Broadway into vibrant public spaces; she has secured huge grants from the Feds to improve bus service, and perhaps most importantly to her boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, she has made the streets safer than they have been in many decades.
  • Also, this:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Events: Not An Architectural Speaker's Series

The Museum of Vancouver (with the help of some friends) is putting on this interesting mini-walk series. I am putting together the Mini-Walk A with the Vancouver Public Space Network. If you're up for it, let me know if you'll be there. Here's the link to the facebook event - you have to register quickly because each walk is limited to 25 people. Afterwards there's a hangout with Gordon Price and we can all be nerds together!



Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Vancouver: The City That Never Was

Here are some amazing images of a Vancouver that never was. This development, Project 200, was contingent on Vancouver's freeway plans that never materialized and so the project never went ahead in full. Only a few buildings were built. Imagine if this was our city today. Gastown and much of Chinatown would not exist.



Rendering of Project 200
Rendering of Project 200
Rendering of Project 200
Rendering of Project 200
Rendering of Project 200
Rendering of Project 200
Colour renderings of Project 200 (uncovered by Bob Ripponat the Vancouver Planning Department), Vancouver’s infamous development and freeway mega-project that was not to be, via PriceTags20.



Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Finding a Place: Beyond Price

Everyone, I’m moving to REAL Vancouver. What I mean by this is, I’m moving from Metrotown (Burnaby) to 14th Ave W. and Burrard Street. I though it would be interesting to write about my choice of place.

Firstly I'd like to talk about the dialogue that currently occurs around real-estate in Vancouver. When people talk about real-estate in Vancouver they usually confine their conversation to just talking about the price. There are abundant articles in our local newspapers about how ridiculously expensive housing is here. Many of these articles only explore the kind of housing you could get for a certain price in different parts of the region (here, here). I’ll spoil the ending and tell you that you can buy ‘more’ the further into the Valley you go.

But there’s so much more to choosing a home than looking at its price tag. Certainly, price is a big issue since one can only buy/rent what one can afford.

Currently, I live in a two bedroom apartment across the street from Metrotown Public Library and Burnaby Civic Square. It’s an older complex but has been maintained and renovated. It’s super convenient for most things like groceries but the neighbourhood lacks 'character'. I attribute this to Metrotown (the mall) and its ability to suck business off the streets. It’s also far from the rest of my friends who live 'in the city'. We often have to work around the schedule of the Skytrain, making sure we're on the last train home. It lacks neighbourhood space like pubs and cafes. We pay $1112 (including water/heat), which is great.
Current Diggs @ Metrotown (notice the GIANT mall on the right)
While I normally use Craigslist to look at apartment listings, a twitter friend told me about PadMapper. It basically aggregates CL (and other sites) data onto a google map so you can apartment hunt in spatial way.
PadMapper.com
Our new place is centrally located near two major Vancouver streets – Burrard and Granville. It’s a 20 to 25 minute walk to my new job (probably a 10 minute bike ride – which I’m excited about). It’s a one bedroom, about 600 square feet for $1250. It includes secure bike parking in the parkade and bike parking out front for those that come to visit (I noticed that major residential neighbourhoods, like the West End, lacks this amenity). We’re going to be paying more but I think it’s completely worth it to be in an interesting and vibrant neighbourhood.
New Diggs
I suppose I fall into the generation that is snubbing the suburbs and seeking a place in the city and is willing to put up with ‘less’ for ‘more’. What I’m looking forward to is an interesting and vibrant neighborhood, being near my friends, and being close to work.
What about you? How do you look for a place?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Reading

The concept of speed in our modern city makes one appreciate the idea of a pace-car to offset the rapidity of our contemporary life. This includes the physical (high speed rail, bus rapid transit, more horsepower, higher speed limits), as well as the virtual (rapid access to information via rss, web, smart phones, wi-fi) make just sitting (or strolling) and observing somewhat of a novelty.
  • "An ideal city doesn't exist."
  • National Geographic takes a look Under Paris and shows off some amazing photos. Check out the Gallery - I've actually partied in Chez George (an old wine cellar turned bar). I swear I'm not obsessed with Paris.
  • What good Rapid Bus can look like: EmX in Eugene, Oregon (from Urban Politic):

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Video: Retrofitting Suburbia (SFU)

Lecture: Jan Gehl, Cities for People

On January 24th, Jan Gehl spoke to a packed Vancouver Playhouse about his accomplishments and his latest book, Cities for People. Gehl is well known in his field for his focus on creating vibrant and livable places and his quest to restore life between buildings. Gehl also distinguishes himself by his approach to positive change: Typically he'll tell them to "try something" and if it works, keep going, if it doesn't, change it back. This incremental approach is seen in many of his projects including recently in New York. Though this may seem pragmatic, his concern is clear and focused. He believes there needs to be dialogue on how design and create our cities.
Toronto, 1900 (Celebration of the end of the Boer War) Look at all them bikes!
Gehl began his lecture with two important shifts in planning history: the rise of modernism and the 'invasion' of the automobile. He explained that prior to the 1945, cities were not expanding very quickly and that growth was centered around the core. Cities grew in a piece-meal fashion using the same 'vocabulary' (linear, horizontal, made for traveling at 5km/hour). By the 1960s, instead of spaces for people, cities were geared for the car: the 5km/hour scale became 60km/hour. At that point, cities began to lose all sense of place for pedestrians. Gehl lamented that the Traffic Planners were only concerned for making more room for the traffic and keeping cars happy. To him, this is where respect for people and the dignity of man began to deteriorate in the city.
Toronto, Yonge Street 1963
At this point, Gehl posited a very interesting question: "Why are architects not interested in people?"

He was referring to the way that architects tend to plan from on-high over models, often neglecting the streets and the 'people scale'. He called this The Brasilia Syndrome, after the planned capital of Brazil which was a marvel of modernist planning. Brasilia looked great from a plane, designed in the shape of a soaring eagle, but was not designed in the least for the comfort of pedestrians. It was a surprising revelation to hear this from a trained architect (as well as a lecture supported by an architecture firm).
Brasilia, Brazil: Majestic eagle from the sky
This is what you get on the ground...
Dubai is another city that Gehl lambasts for "birdshit architecture" where buildings are just seemingly dropped from the sky with no regard to the context on the ground. He accused architects of focusing on form and form alone when designing buildings (Frank Gehy *cough*) and compared the skyline of Dubai to his wife's perfume counter in their bathroom (where designers try to sell their product by trying to create elaborate shapes). This point reminded me of my own post about how Vancouver lacks interesting architecture. Though I still believe architectural diversity is important, more emphasis should be placed on achieving great public and pedestrian spaces and not showy pieces to be viewed from a distance. 

Gehl's attention then focus on Landscape Architects. He rhetorically suggested that they must surely be our 'heros' because they look after the people scale. In fact, they are obsessed with people! Their plans always include a multitude of people engaging in what he described as "unspecified public life" or ambling about, doing who-knows-what.

Gehl made another important assertion: "We know more about the habitat of the mountain gorillas, panda bears, or Siberian tigers than we do about Homosapiens." I completely agree. One thing that happens in Vancouver is that we tend to look outward at our natural environment (typically from the seaway or wherever).  We spend a lot of time, energy and attention on preserving or enhancing our natural world but not enough trying to enhance our built environment which is our habitat.

At the end of the day we should be striving to design a create lively, attractive, safe, sustainable, and healthy cities. We need to focus on creating spaces that are made for people - spaces meant to be traversed at 5km/hour. These are spaces that provide meaningful experiences. All it takes is for us to just leap and try something and create some incremental change that could have profound impacts. I highly recommend picking up Gehl's new book.