Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Videos: Transit Activity in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, NYC, and LA.

So I managed to get a flu or cold or something on Christmas Day so I'm home sick from work. Here's what's keeping me entertained: 

Friday, December 21, 2012

On being a pedestrian

In the last few weeks, Metro Vancouver was confronted with the sad reality that our streets are hostile environments to people where, within a short period of time, more than 5 people were struck by vehicles. A Vancouver Police Department spokesperson said, almost too bluntly as to imply it was business as usual, that multiple pedestrians are struck daily. This is unacceptable.

There should be no debate: our streets must be safe for all users. We can go back and forth over who's to blame for certain accidents but it's usually the pedestrian or cyclist that ends up hurt or worse, dead. Our way of thinking focuses blame on the minority road users for not following the rules or, more ridiculously, not wearing 'safety' gear when out for a walk at night. Blame the victim has to stop. No one deserved to be killed or maimed by a car. We live with a transportation system that favours automobile travel over all other modes. Human nature doesn't change with the mode that you choose but when one drives, the results are often more deadly

The Vancouver Police Department seems to think that the status quo is fine but perhaps pedestrians should wear reflective arm bands. This week, I personally had an incredulous experience with the VPD: Walking North on Burrard Street, I tried to cross 3rd avenue and a driver was trying to turn right onto Burrard and was slowly coasting forward, blocking the crosswalk, while only looking over his left shoulder the entire time. I stood at the curb and waved to get the driver's attention to show him that I was there. He didn't see me so I tapped his windshield with my umbrella handle and he still didn't hear or see me. I waved again more vigorously and he finally saw me and let me cross. A VPD cruiser going South on Burrard stopped and the officer rolled down his window and told me to approach. They put on their lights and I walked INTO the street with car traffic. He got out of the car and then escorted me back to the sidewalk where he told me that touching cars will get me a charge of mischief. I didn't say anything to the officer and he eventually let me continue on my way to work after a short lecture on how I should yield to the car.

Walking is one of the most natural things that humans do. We shouldn't restrict or criminalize being a pedestrian. What we really need to do is tame the bull. For those of you that think there's a war on the car, pedestrians are not on the winning side. Between 2005 and 2011, pedestrians accounted for 56% of Vancouver's traffic fatalities. ICBC data has been compiled into a map to show you where Vancouver's deadliest places for pedestrians are:

Believe it or not, we have a solution that prevents deaths and doesn't require people to stop driving: lower the speed limits. The BC government knows this:

Reducing Speed Reduces the Effects of Impact

Reducing the effects of vehicle impact is possible by maintaining a safe driving speed. By driving at a safe speed, you have more time to react and more distance for braking.
Ideally, you want your speed at impact to be zero (or better yet: no impact at all). However, in order for the vehicle to decelerate to zero, it needs to travel through the stopping distance. Stopping distance takes into account the road conditions, your reaction time, the distance between your vehicle and possible point of impact, and the speed of the vehicle. You do have control of your speed.
  • A pedestrian hit at 30km/h has a 90% chance of SURVIVING.
  • A pedestrian hit at 50km/h has an 80% chance of BEING KILLED.
At least this way, if you want to blame the victim, they'll be alive for you to do it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sandy and New York's Transit System

Last night, like many of you, I watched Sandy pummel the east coast. As it descended upon New York City, twitter began to flow with pictures and stories, all of which seem to come straight out of a bad Hollywood disaster film.

Explosions, fires, wind, and flooding ravaged New York City. I cannot imagine the efforts that will be needed to clean up and get back to normal. In particular, the city's transit system seems hard hit. Salt water and subways DO NOT mix. In a city that relied heavily on its transit system, this is huge. The Atlantic points out that they've even predicted an event of this type would happen in a report that was released last year.

The researchers estimate that, after a storm of this magnitude, it could take the subway system about 21 days to get working at 90 percent functionality. If all potential damage is considered, Jacob and colleagues warn that timeline could increase to several months, and that "permanent restoration of the system to the full revenue service that was previously available could take more than two years."
MTA carries 11 million people on an average day. In a presidential election where the climate was not mentioned once, this is potentially big wake up call.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

An Idea: The Urbanarium

Beijing's Urbanarium
A few weeks ago, the Museum of Vancouver hosted a great event part of a series called Built City. It featured Ray Spaxman and Brent Toderian, talking retrospectively about their times as Vancouver's city planners. It was really interesting to listen to what each of them had to say regarding their career.

I had never heard much about Spaxman (my bad) but he instantly captivated me. He spoke of planning with principles, the difference between managing and leading and, overall, is incredibly humble. He spoke of something he called an 'Urbanarium' (judging buy audience reaction, he's spoken about it many times before). He described as a place with a model of the city where one can learn about cities with a bird's eye perspective:
An urbanarium is an idea that Ray Spaxman and a group of private planners and architects conceived in the early 1980's that was unfortunately never followed through. The idea was to build a scale model of downtown Vancouver, including False Creek and extending to the East False Creek Area. When a development is proposed, the applicant would be required to replace the existing scale buildings on the model with the new proposal so everyone could see the context. ... The model extending along the Cambie Street Corridor would be very helpful as development is proposed over the next few years.
Beijing's Urbanarium
I would love Vancouver to do something like this (physical or digital). I think the Museum of Vancouver would be the place to house such a thing. But why don't we take it further?

My idea of an urbanarium would be coupled with a program that teaches people how their city works and using the city as a laboratory. While we have programs that do this to an extent - the best so far being the City Studio - they're still out of the reach of the majority of people (including me because of the hours needed).

I'd love to base such a program on the Transportation Lecture program that the City of Surrey runs in partnership with SFU. I was part of the inaugural class in 2010 and found it a great experience. It brought people together to learn and interact with city staff and other professional about how transportation works in Surrey. Best part was that there are very few obstacles in the way of participating: low costs, no pre-requisites, workable hours for people with a job or school.

I think people would love to learn about how their city works (or doesn't) and why. It's my dream to help start a program like this in Vancouver.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Boomerang vs Boomers

Photo: Brandon Yan
Canada’s nests aren’t quite as empty as they’re supposed to be, data from the 2011 census shows. Some 42.3 per cent of young adults aged 20-29 are living with their parents, down slightly from 42.5 per cent in 2006 — but still well above the level of 26.9 per cent in 1981.

Almost 50% of my generation is still living at home. This isn't neccessarily a problem but it does highlight the need to re-think or at least re-examine our generation's situation.

Translink's 2013 Base Plan: A lesson in contrasts

BC Minister of Transportation standing next to a relic
There couldn't be a further disconnect between the picture above and this headline if you tried: TransLink to scrap much of expansion plans

The picture is from the announcement last week made by the BC Minister of Transportation, Mary Polak, on the reduced toll on the new Port Mann Bridge. The sad headline is from this week when Translink announced that its revenue will not be enough to continue with service expansion and will be reducing services in some cases. You can read about the sad affair on the Buzzer blog: Translink's 2013 draft base plan.

What they've stated as 'financial challenge' should really be translated as 'political failure'. The fact that our Minister is posing with car, on the world's widest bridge (at 65m wide...last holder of that title was only 49m wide), at a highway expansion project well into the billions of dollars, and yet we can't find the money to provide equitable bus service for our region shows where this government's priorities are. This is unacceptable.

A serious discussion on transit funding needs to happen now and WE need to start it. There is a group out at UBC called Get OnBoard BC that seems to have their act together but I'm hoping their focus will be regional and not too heavily weighted to the needs of their campus. Peter Ladner also wrote an excellent piece you can read here. I'll be getting together with some friends to figure out how to best spend our time and energy. At this point, I'm almost willing to stage a sit-in protest on the new bridge! 

Public transit, whether you use it or not, is an integral part of our region - not funding transit adequately means the road ahead will be bumpy and way more congested. Our current political leaders our either unwilling to do anything or too concerned on how to break the news to us that we'll have to pay more. Let's just get the show on the road (or rails) already! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In Memoriam: Isaak Kornelsen

This is Isaak. I sat beside him on my train ride from New York City to Montreal. Over that long journey, we talked about a lot of things. He told me about what he wanted to do in life and that he was looking forward to going to Sweden for a bit. I could tell that he was bright person and a good friend.

He was visiting New York and was on his way up to Montreal enjoy the Osheaga music festival which was a coincidence since I was doing the same thing. When we got to Montreal, we exchanged numbers so we could meet up at the festival, however, Osheaga was so big and hectic that while we did text each other, the meet-up never happened. I did get to wish him a safe journey home.

I just learned that on Monday Isaak was killed in an accident. He was biking along Whyte Avenue in Edmonton when he clipped a parked truck's mirror, lost control and fell under a moving cement truck.

I only knew him for a day. I can't imagine what his friends and family feel. This world has undoubtedly lost something special.

I'm sure I have more to say but it'll have to wait - I'm too angry to keep writing right now.
Ghost Bike dedicated to Isaak

Cyclist killed on Whyte Ave identified
 Cyclist killed on road remembered as ‘great runner and even better person’

TransitLive: If you're a transit nerd, you'll love this!

You can now watch transit in Regina LIVE on the internet. It's actually oddly soothing. Take a look!

Urban Prototyping

By now you may have seen these design by Softwalks to transform sidewalk sheds/construction sites in more humane places. Take a look at this short video:

Such a simple idea/design with a wonderful impact. It's little projects like these that cities should most definitely encourage.

Vancouver has finally gotten on the 'Parklet' program this year with Robson Street's 'Urban Pasture' (parallel park near Main Street was their first attempt).

Photo by Paul Krueger
I think this one area of urban intervention/DIY urbanism that Vancouver tends to be too cautious experimenting with. Viva Vancouver has done an outstanding job with Picnurbia last year and Pop-Rocks this year but rather than being the innovator, Vancouver tends to follow suit a few years later.

 San Francisco on the other hand seems to be a city with serious urban ambitions. The Atlantic Cities has a post on The Next Generation of DIY Urbanism Projects in which they outline some cool projects. My favourite is the 10-mile garden (or 16.1km garden for us Canucks).

You’re not allowed to park in front of a fire hydrant. But that doesn’t mean you can plant a garden there. Add up all of this fire-hydrant-fronted space in San Francisco, and it would be the equivalent of a new 10-mile garden in the city.
San Francisco also has a great festival called Urban Prototyping. It is "is a design and technology festival focusing on replicable digital and physical urban interventions that explore new possibilities in public space. Every project produced will be open source, publicly documented, and replicable in any city in the world." Does Vancouver have anything similar?

Monday, August 27, 2012

New York, I love you: Part One

From July 25 to August 2, I was in New York City for the first time. I flew from Vancouver, with a quick stop in Toronto, to La Guardia and I got a spectacular fly-over of the city.

The city from above is a wonderful view. You get to see the patterns and shapes of urban living that we never really think about on the ground but are coerced into navigating everyday: the culmination of centuries of human activity. I don't want to write a big giant post so I'm going to break my experiences into more manageable chunks. First up: Brooklyn.

I was really lucky to stay in an apartment in Brooklyn (Park Slope). I rented a room from a wonderful designer for $50 a night and it was my first time using airbnb AND it came with a great perk: a bike!
Interior of the apartment

My Brooklyn bike!

 The neighbourhood, like most of them in New York that got to see, consisted of low-rise apartment blocks (walk-ups). All of which utilized the most they could from the lot space, meaning no front yard or unnecessary embellishments. But, what I did notice was that people used their stoops for socializing (and escaping the heat inside their brick boxes). No matter was hour I came or went, people were hanging outside with their neighbours.

Designated fallout shelter in the neighbourhood
Any direction I decided to explore, there were always corner stores, restaurants, bars, and other shops. Down the street was Toby's, an excellent bar and wood-oven pizza.

I spent many mornings at Southside Coffee and Colson Patisserie (America, I love your buttery pastry!). When I got my bearings enough and got over my fear of biking in New York (without a helmet, too!) I decided to take a spin. 

To my delight, Brooklyn is littered with bike lanes, traffic calmed streets, and bike signage. 

This bike lane is along Prospect Park
Took an easy ride around/through Prospect Park. The park is absolutely gorgeous and well used. During the summer, they have free concerts for 'Celebrate Brooklyn' but I didn't manage to make it out to any. Near the park, the Brooklyn Public library is a lovely art-deco building that originally opened in 1941.
Brooklyn Public Library grand entrance 
Grand Army Plaza
My other bike trips took me to Brooklyn Bridge park. Most bike lanes that I encountered in New York were just your run-of-the-mill painted line near the curb and these, as always, presented challenges since they were regularly blocked with parked taxis or delivery vehicles. But again, they had some great quality lanes near the park:
Not only was a bike lane carved out but look at the ample pedestrian space! 
My destination was the Brooklyn Bridge pop-up pool. It was free but they only allow 60 people in at anyone time so they time you in 1 hour shifts. Since it was midday on a weekday, I had no issue getting in.

Not my picture: elevated pool image © kevin chu/KCJP
It was a great use of a waterfront space that's obviously going through some transition. 

View along the park edge
Some fun design along the way
 Everywhere I went in NYC, they seemed to understand the importance of just providing some simple tables and chairs for people to use in their public spaces. Along the waterfront of the park, people were enjoying the view and enjoying some food from nearby vendors (I had a hot dog covered in macaroni and it was delicious!).

Downtown Brooklyn was a busy place but I was there mostly for one very, very nerdy reason: The New York City transit museum. 
Downtown Brooklyn 
New York does transit well and it has a long history to prove it. The lower level of the Museum is a functional track (re: live!) that stores a large collection of NYC's past subway trains. 

The trains are in excellent condition and even have their old advertising in tact: 

Hello, Jane Fonda!

Brooklyn overall was a great place to stay. It was a more relaxed experience than staying in Manhattan would have been and I definitely miss it. But, having 8 days of no work just pleasure seeking can skew one's view. I definitely saw some challenges that the area is/will be facing: Tale of two worlds: Statistics paint picture of extremes of wealth and poverty that exist side by side in Brooklyn.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Vancouver as No Fun City: Is Liquor a Cultural Lubricant?

Check out my post on Urban Studies!

Vancouver is often called the City of Glass. While it is a title bestowed upon it mostly based on the city’s prominent slender glass condominium towers, it also alludes to the way in which municipal and provincial regulations enforce the idea that it is also a fragile city. This conservative attitude towards urban living is translated on the street-level as “No Fun City”. Indeed, this idea plays a significant part in Vancouver’s cultural narrative.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dialogue Notes

Last week I was on a community dialogue panel along with Faye Wightman, President and CEO of the Vancouver Foundation, and Paula Carr, Community Strategist at the Collingwood Neighbourhood House. Each of us gave a 5 minute 'presentation' from our own perspectives relating to social connections and the Vancouver Foundation's recent report which found that a lot of us in Metro Vancouver feel lonely or isolated.

I talked about my experience with #space98 and how I came to realize (after visiting Portland) that sometimes we are the one's we're waiting for - that is, don't wait for someone else or the City to do that thing you wanted to do. It seems our region has a lack of self-esteem. The report found that:
Many people in metro Vancouver are retreating from community life. In the past year, most of us have not participated in neighbourhood and community activities. It isn’t a lack of time that stops people from getting involved. The most often-cited reason for not participating in neighbourhood and community life is a feeling that we have little to offer.
I found this disturbing since we should all have things we can contribute. I then went on then about the intergenerational divide:
Young people are most likely to feel that the two generations are not making enough of an effort to connect. 51% of those aged 18 to 34 agree that the two generations do not make an effort to get to know and understand each other. 30% of people over 65 agree with this statement.
I suppose I would be part of that 51% had they asked me. I recalled my experience with an 'intergenerational dialogue' where I ended up in a room full of people my age and I could count the older people on one hand. At this dialogue it was the opposite. How can we get together in one room?

After we had done that we got to answer questions from the participants/audience. Some things that came up for me:

  • We can design buildings that cover 2 of the 3 pillars of sustainability. It's hard to measure happiness...there's no LEED standard for happiness. 
  • We now design buildings to be as anti-social as possible: condo buildings where you can only go to your floor (a 'security' measure), we don't like kids hanging around alleys so we put up gates, etc. 
  • There are ways to circumvent anti-social design: have a floor pot-luck, gather in the common spaces - don't be scared off that you might fail. 
  • They're called apartments for a reason...can we build togetherments?
  • Federal funding cuts are hurting many programs that try to build community networks.
  • If you're in a car dependent suburb,  you know your neighbour's car before you know your neighbour: you see them go from the garage to the car in the morning and from their car to their garage in the evening - no room for interaction. 
  • Dogs are great ways to meet people: people will stop to pet them and talk with you and you can bring them to the dog park. However, hard to find apartments that allow pets these days. 
  • Be the first to ask your neighbour to borrow some milk or sugar. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Dialogue: Building Community - Social Connections Matter

Hey all,

Tomorrow, I'll be a panelist for Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Foundation's dialogue event in Richmond (easily accessible by Canada Line). Here's the deets:

July 04, 2012 11:30 AM to 2:00 PM (lunch from 11:30 am - 12:00 pm)
Richmond Cultural Centre
180-7700 Minoru Gate, Richmond
By many accounts the Metro Vancouver region is on the fast track to sustainability, renowned for being “green”, embracing diversity and scoring high in terms of livability. But new research by the Vancouver Foundation suggests that people in the region may be feeling a sense of isolation – a lack of connection to their neighbours, to their community and by extension to their city and region – a finding that has the potential to undermine even the best sustainability efforts. What factors are contributing to this trend - our planning approaches and patterns of growth? Our growing population, or increasingly multicultural population? The transition to a digital age? Other factors yet to be determined? How do we address this divide and build social connections that foster strong and healthy communities? What examples of cohesive communities can we learn from moving forward?

Opening/Closing Remarks: Malcolm Brodie, Director, Metro Vancouver, and Mayor, City of Richmond

Facilitator: Peter Holt

  • Faye Wightman, President and CEO, Vancouver Foundation 
  • Paula Carr, Community Strategist, Intercultural Neighbourhood Development, Collingwood Neighbourhood House
  • Brandon Yan, Vancouver Public Space Network
For the Vancouver Foundation Report, click here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Velo-City 2012 and more!

Whoa - I've been a busy bee lately. FT work, 8 hours of school/week and I have some other fun stuff coming up.

Tomorrow at Velo-City, I'll be presenting on the topic of Youth Engagement in Transportation Planning. My presentation partner and I hope to raise some interesting points and suggest some tactics to egaging an important and diverse demographic. Session starts at 3:00PM:

Here's the title slide (because I think it's sexy):
If you're at the Conference on Tuesday send me a tweet and we'll meet up (@pre_planner). I work FT so I may not be able to attend much of the rest conference (gotta pay the bills+tuition, yo!)

My next speaking engagement will be for Metro Vancouver and the Vancouver Foundation on July 4th in Richmond: Building Community - Social Connections Matter. You have to register to attend.

As the only 'youth' speaker, it should be an interesting and worthwhile series.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Liquor: Cultural Lubricant?

I'm currently in a class in my program that's discussing the topic of art and culture in the city and I'm working on a bit of a small research paper. Personally, I’ve always been interested in Vancouver’s live music and live performance (improv, theatre, etc.) scene and the lack of space or venues. I feel like pressures in the City are working against such artistic ventures – in particular outdated or unnecessarily burdensome regulations. Recently silly alcohol regulations have come into the spotlight with the Rio Theatre and the EXP bar.
Now gone Richards on Richards, Photo from Vancouver Is Awsome
For venues, liquor sales are an important revenue stream. For bands or performers renting a space or throwing a show, liquor sales can be equally important. I want to argue then that over-regulation and liquor licensing restrictions restrict Vancouver's creative scene. Is liquor a cultural lubricant?

The Tyee did an excellent piece titled Vancouver's Creative Space Crunch:
"Because it's so difficult to get things like liquor licenses, Vancouver is missing out on the opportunity to re-purpose spaces that are not being used," says Fazio, the Waldorf brand and design manager. "You would see that happening right away if things loosened up. You would see people going into new space so quickly."
How difficult is it to get a liquor licence? I'm not sure but someone is selling a liquor primary on craigslist for $150,000:
Yep. You can really sell everything on Craigslist
According to other online sources, they can go as high as $2000/seat. 

What I'd like to do is to hear from people who run a venue or musicians/artists to hear their perspective. I've created a form with some questions, which is by no means scientific. Please pass this around: 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Vancouver's First Public Bike Repair Station...Almost...

Here's an update on the #space98 project.

I've applied for a neighbourhood grant in the range of $1000 and I've been in discussion with Urban Racks - they supply some of Vancouver's bike infrastructure. Word is still out on the grant but Urban Racks has generously agreed to help me and they will also supply bike racks and some of the cost for what could be Vancouver's first public bike repair station! Amazing, right?

Example of a station by Bike Fixtation
I sent this proposal to the City of Vancouver, Translink, and some community partners a few weeks ago (I followed up a week ago, as well) but I've yet to hear a word from the City or Translink. I think this is a HUGE opportunity for Vancouver and great publicity since Velo-City will be here soon. I have high hopes the City will move quickly on this. I'm also looking for a community partner to take charge of the station's upkeep (perhaps in exchange for publicity/advertising a logo, etc.). If you know of a bike shop or organization, tweet me @pre_planner or comment here.

If one of these was installed on Granville Street between Broadway and 10th Avenue, would you use it? Is this something Vancouver should have?

I've got some of the pieces, I just need permission and some community support. What say you?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Manifs Casseroles: Vancouver

Tonight I banged my pot with hundreds of other people and marched through the streets of Vancouver. Our sound - a sound that started in Quebec and that now echoes across the globe - resonated across the city. We wanted to be heard and we were. 

We marched because we wanted stand in solidarity with Quebec students. I marched because I believe our generation needs to speak up NOW.

Just from what media coverage these protest are getting, it seems this is predominately (though, not exclusively) a youth movement. It's about more than tuition now - Quebec crossed that line long ago. What we're learning right now is that when a Quebecers oppose the Quebec government, they're no longer Quebecers; when a Canadians opposed the Canadian government, they're no longer Canadians. We must and should speak truth to power. We are utilizing our democratic rights and expressing our anger, frustration and even hope. 

Why does this matter to me? It matters to me because decisions are being made at all levels of Government that concern our future, that defy the facts that climate change is real and that economic growth as we know it is forever possible. My generation is perched perilously on the edge of a precipice - put there with very little of our own doing. 

But of course, our concern is just our entitlement bleeding to the surface, right? 
Image taken by Mike Soron
Countries, Provinces, and Cities are not businesses and we should hope more from them. The current political system is set up to fail the future. We must do what we can and I'm not even sure what that entails. Putting my thoughts down here is part of it: expressing ourselves and telling our parents and grandparents what keeps us up at night will help them understand what we're going through. 

I believe Gord Price was right when he forecasted the collision of worlds
...why would those in their twenties put up with financing the Boomers end-life at the cost of their own beginnings? Why would they remain passive if they felt Boomers were taking them down even as they stood in the way of change.
Put that combination together – inequity in the present, disregard for the future and refusal to change – and you have the conditions that disrupted North American society in the late 60s and North Africa practically yesterday: young people with resentments, not much to lose and a lot of new ways to communicate.

I am scared but I am hopeful. 

I hope you'll join me. 

No attribution to photo. Article can be found here.