Thursday, October 20, 2011

Video: To Build a Better 1964.

A great documentary that details the process of urban renewal that Vancouver under went in the 1960s. Pay close attention to the language of the narrator.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Grad School Update: Acceptance!

It's been over a year, in the making but it finally happened (despite a few setbacks): I've been accepted into a graduate program.
Yesterday afternoon, I received my acceptance letter to Simon Fraser University's Urban Studies program.

Worth it.

Honestly, I couldn't be happier. I was about ready to accept another rejection and try again next year. I would like to sincerely thank everyone who's supported me (especially those that read this blog). If there's any advice that I can impart on my experience is that: never give up, never settle, and focused persistence does pay off - look at the first post for this blog done in May, 2010. I know we've heard these things a lot in the recent days with the speech Steve Jobs gave a Stanford but a lot of the things he says are true: find what you love and go do that.

Here's to the future!

Monday, October 17, 2011

South Granville: More than Just Cars, Please.

A few weeks ago, I saw this advertisement at my local grocery store:
Immediately, I rolled my eyes and I took a photo because I couldn't believe that, in 2011, we'd need to advertise the fact that there is parking available - if it's everywhere (more than 1400 spaces!) why the need to advertise the fact?. I posted it to my blog and asked what people thought and got the attention of my local business improvement association who created the ads. They said:
it is unfortunate that you construe a simple customer service item as a major statement on transportation choices.

Sharon Townsend
South Granville BIA
While it may be a 'simple' customer service item, it was pretty easy to 'construe' as a statement on transportation choices. I checked out their website and the devote a large portion of their 'Find Us' page for parking (they even have a .PDF map) and link to Translink's trip planner and nothing on biking.

I would assume that South Granville's customers could come via different kinds of modes: walking, biking, and transit. Where is their customer service? Why not build on the fact that South Granville is actually really accessible by bike (7th and 10th avenue - 60,000 bike trips are made in Vancouver everyday) and is well served by transit (the B-line serves more than 50,000 people a day)? Why not promote active transportation options that are more sustainable, that make us healthier, and leave more cash in pocket to spend at local businesses?
City statistics for the summer of 2008.
Don't get me wrong. Parking is somewhat necessary as there are many different needs for different people. But why not serve all customers rather than just the one's that drive? The more you get people into the neighbourhood from various modes the better. A parking strategy will only work so long but then you run out of space and from my point of view, Granville street could use less car traffic, not more.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tour of Skytrain Control

Last week I got to fulfill a childhood/teenage/adult dream: I got to see Skytrain control. One of my colleagues from the BC Youth Summit for Sustainable Transportation was able to organize a tour of their maintenance/operations facility.

We met outside Edmonds station and walked over to the very secure yards and we had to clear security and I was even scolded for taking a photo on my phone (though, luckily, we were allowed to take photos once we were inside).

Our first stop once inside was a boardroom for a presentation about the system. For instance, the Expo and Millennium lines carry the same amount of people as 12 lanes of freeway in the AM peak period in the downtown direction. It has grown from 114 cars in 1987 to 258 today. But enough about the boring stuff.
They then took us to Skytrain control. Outside the main room are these display panels of the system. Top panels are the Millennium line and the bottom are the Expo line. The panel to the bottom right is the maintenance yards.
Here, our guide is explaining what the panels say. The yellow lines of track are 'go slow' zones they implement where the train is told to slow down (in case of maintenance or, for instance, around the mainstreet/stadium area where the train tends to jerk a bit with high speed). Red track areas are off-limits to the trains. Fun fact, most of the trains run on a schedule. That is they need to be at their stations at a certain time. If they're early, they wait a bit longer in the station and if they're late, they leave a bit faster in order to catch up. During peak periods and events, they throw in some trains without schedules that just run in the system as they can (a huge advantage of an automatic system - no need to worry about drivers!).

He also explained that the system is super safe. The train all have multiple computers on them that work on consensus-like model. If one says something is wrong, the other computers (they may have up to 3) verify the situation and if they think that computer is whack (technical term), the train continues on its merry way. If all the computers are down or they all agree something is wrong, the train stops and is taken out of service.
 Us, listing and completely mesmerized by nerdy splendor.
And there she is, the brain of the operations: Skytrain control. This is the room that the whole system runs from I was actually surprised at how few people ran things. I guess that goes to show how automated the system is.
 This system overview screen is the power supply for the system. (ooohhh, ahhhh)

 I think these were emergency stops for the trains. Red buttons: it's hard to resist pushing them.
 View from the control centre of the maintenance years. Hello MK I's!

 Next stop were the maintenance shops.
Here some MK I cars were recieving a little love. They're usually hauled in every 20,000 km (I believe) and they travel roughly 400-500km/day.
While we were here, they were repairing a car with a broken door. So, DON'T HOLD/FORCE OPEN Skytrain doors everybody. It's just not cool, okay?

Here is a scale model of the MK I axel assembly (there's probably a better term for this). The wheels actually turn a bit which makes it steerable and provides a smoother ride along turns.*EDIT*
From Stephen Rees: Of course a computer on a Mark I is "old timer" - the cars are over 20 years old. And the word you are looking for is "axle". Conventional trains do not need steerable axles as the wheels are conical. The axles can tilt through curves. A steerable axle is needed on trains that use the linear induction motor as the gap tolerance between "stator" and "rotor" of a LIM is so small. *EDIT*

This is the actual computer aboard an MK I train. It's old-timey and glorious.
And that was it. I'd go back in a heart beat and I'd love to see more of the trains themselves. We're trying to take a look at the Surrey Transit Centre.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Documentary: Urbanized Screening in Vancouver

There's a special screening of Urbanized coming to Vancouver on November 21 at the Rio. Here's the link.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

South Granville: Bring Your Cars!

This is how my neighbourbood, South Granville, advertises itself - discuss! (My thoughts will come later).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I grew up learning that Toronto was 'the centre of the universe' and that I should hate it. Then, in 2004 after I graduated from high school, I hopped on a Greyhound to explore a bit more of my country for myself with Toronto as the first stop. It took 3 days to get there but after I showered off 72+ hours of bus ride, I fell in love with the city.

Vancouver is a big city but it is a bit deceiving. Our downtown is fairly small and we're only around 600,000 people which puts us as the 8th biggest municipality in Canada - behind Mississauga and Winnipeg.

Toronto, on the other hand, feels like a big city because it is. It sprawls practically unhindered in all directions, except with water to one side. It felt like being in a city from the movies - somehow more real than the one I was used to at home: bright lights and the world's tallest free-standing structure. It's safe to say I was hooked. This past summer, I went back for my third time.
This time around, I got to explore a bit more than I have in the past. I walked around the Trinity Bellwood's area and Little Italy. Trinity Bellwood's park was one of my favourite places to lay about  and people watch. I even got my hair cut at Garrison's By the Park (they give you free beer which is something I doubt you can do in Vancouver with our restrictive liquor laws). I also enjoyed many a coffee on College street (The Green Grind Cafe).
Toronto City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square are one of my favourite places. It's a true gathering and civic space that we in Vancouver don't have. Our city hall, the gorgeous art deco beauty that she is, is not in our downtown core and this can't serve the same purpose as Nathan Phillips Square. This summer while I was there, there was always something going on. 

Recently, they transformed the roof of city hall into a garden/green space. I put my nerd hat on (when isn't it?) and just gushed over how nice it was. They even planted edible plants (chives, I think).

Another space that was on my radar while I was there was Sugar Beach. It's part of an overall plan to revitalize Toronto's waterfront which is fairly disconnected from the City (thanks to an elevated highway) and that it's still fairly industrial. The design is fun and pretty. People seemed to enjoy it as a place to sun bathe as you can't actually swim in the water as the 'beach' is elevated. There's a small water feature but I wouldn't mind seeing some more places to cool off.

My observations here aren't anything special, just some stuff I'd like to share. Some last thoughts: Toronto will endure it's current political leadership. That is to say, Rob Ford, is one man and while he is the city's mayor, there is far too many good and engaged people in the city to let him run amok without a fight.
Until next time, Toronto.