Monday, September 23, 2013

Video of BC Government Highway Plans...

Well, maybe it's not the BC government per se but this video (about 30minutes) will help you understand the era in which Christy Clark lives. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Translink Isn't Perfect

There has been somewhat of a hate-on for Translink recently as Gord Price noted on his blog this past week. This all seemed to come to fore from the recent revelations that the compass card system will not easily allow people who pay with cash fares on the bus to transfer to the Skytrain. While I agree this is not an ideal situation, there is a simple solution: get a compass card.

In an August 14 press release, Translink clarified:
To be clear, you’ll be able to transfer from bus to rail with the Compass Card or a Compass ticket. It is only customers who purchase fares on buses with cash who will not be able to use those transfers to transfer to rail—approximately 6,000 customers per day out of our 1.2 million daily rides.
This isn't news, Translink released information about this particular issue many moons've only just noticed now. To be fair, when I first heard about it, I was upset, too. But during the I Love Transit night a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to chat to Translink staff. Their explanation of the situation made sense: it really doesn't warrant that Translink spend millions and millions of dollars to accommodate a minority of users. Also, the current fareboxes on the buses have an additional 3-5 years worth of life in them and after that they will be replaced. Financially, this makes sense when using a limited amount of money (on a project that really wasn't Translink's idea in the first place). Not that you can really convince Jordan Bateman.

The change to an electronic farecard is a big change. Hiccups will happen.

Further, there have been assertions that Translink is a terribly mis-managed and wasteful organization. Translink, as a public agency, undergoes reviews and other audits regularly. These are then turned into reports and posted online for all to see. Before you assert that Metro Vancouver is home to the worst transit service in North America, please read these.

The Translink Commission commissioned an efficiency review in 2012 and the results do not support what most people think of the organization. In it's review, it used data from other transit agencies to compare translink. The review found that:
...TransLink’s funding formula is the best in Canada. It has enabled TransLink to go through a period of rapid bus and rail expansion, far in excess of any of its Canadian peers. TransLink has invested in technology that provides management with superior information to manage the system and for customers to use it. Its ample funding is evident in the amount of equipment and infrastructure it has procured and staffing levels it supports compared to its peers. Ridership and revenue growth has been among the strongest in Canada, yet it is not keeping pace with costs...
...In reviewing TransLink’s efficiency, two levels have been addressed. The first is at an overall financial level. This analysis makes clear that the organization is well run and manages its costs. It has abundant revenue sources and funded reserves and budgets in such a way as to include ample buffer room...
...Again, management are knowledgeable, engaged and candid about the challenges they face as well as receptive to seeking efficiencies. The service is well delivered and good quality but this comes at a price...
Another review of Translink in October 2012 came to very similar conclusions. Translink isn't perfect but I'm for one happy that we have it. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Next Generation Transportation: Election Impressions

This past Sunday, I attended an event called "Next Generation Transportation: All-Party Forum". Put on by Carbon Talks, Sustainable SFU, and SFU Public Square, they had a politician from all the major political parties in BC discuss transportation (it was far too amicable to call it a debate):

Mary Polak, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure 
Jane Sterk, Leader of the Green Party of BC
Duane Nickull, MLA candidate for Vancouver-Point Grey, of the BC Conservative Party
Harry Bains, opposition critic for Transportation and Infrastructure, BC NDP

Mary Polak knew her stuff and, not only that, she can speak rather well. She's an effective communicator and her only mis-steps were really policy ones (and her one reference of the Broadway Corridor as the Burrard Corridor). Two things really struck me as reasons to not vote BC Liberal. One, she called the Port Mann bridge a significant investment in cycling infrastructure. This completely laughable and I doubt that the Minister has ever cycled through a city in her life. Second, she reiterated her party's plan to hold a referendum on transit funding. However, she detailed that the referendum would actually not give the public a veto on funding but rather it would be a list of options and we would pick our preferences (even though the day after this event, the Premier said it would be a veto).

Referendums should not be used in lieu of making hard decisions that, in fact, you are elected to make. This is called passing the buck.

Jane Sterk was impressive if only for her commitment to the broader ideals of sustainability. I'm pretty sure she was the only one that acknowledged climate change, as well. Her handle on transportation issues didn't seem to be very strong but it was great to see the leader of the Green Party take on such an important topic. I would have liked to have seen someone from Metro-Vancouver speak in her place but maybe that's asking too much?

Duance Nickull is a bit of an enigma. He's running for the BC Conservative Party but was very much for things like transit, electric rail, and bike lanes infrastructure. He later explained that he's more of fiscal conservative (and re-iterated, no way affiliated with the federal Conservative Party). He's a self-described 'Geek' and loves using data to find solutions. I did not like the way he a few other candidate kept saying "I'm no _____ (insert 'traffic engineer, etc.') to get off from not understanding some of the audience's questions.*EDIT* Apparently he's not in favour of more bike lanes.

Harry Bains from the NDP was rather quite docile and couldn't really get his points across very clearly. However, he did nail the question of the referendum. Bains may well be the next Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure but it's clear that he might not entirely understand his portfolio.

These are just my impressions.

The format of the event was perhaps too take for an election. It would have been interesting to mix up the panel of politicians with professionals and community advocates to spice things up - have these people hold the candidates' feet to the fire and make then answer the questions.

Overall, I thank SFU for holding such an important event.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Interactive Data Visualization: Inequality and New York's Subway

Another interesting set of data from the New Yorker:
New York City has a problem with income inequality. And it’s getting worse—the top of the spectrum is gaining and the bottom is losing. Along individual subway lines, earnings range from poverty to considerable wealth. The interactive infographic here charts these shifts, using data on median household income, from the U.S. Census Bureau, for census tracts with subway stations.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Interactive Data Visualization: Metropolitain

Metropolitainis a datavisualization experiment by Dataveyes
One of the most intricate and dense underground networks in Europe, the metro is a central component in the daily life of millions of Parisians. As a result, the official metro map conditions the very way commuters approach time, and space, as they tend to select their journeys based on the perceived smallest distance between two points. This visualization offers to challenge this conventional view. Metropolitain takes on an unexpected gamble: using cold, abstract figures to take the pulse of a hectic and feverish metropolis. 
You are invited to play around with two views: the projected journey time between two stations, as well as the number of people touching in at each station. The metro map is no longer arbitrarily dictated by the spatial distance between two points, but transforms along the user exploration, to reflect its actual accessibility.

This is really, really cool.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Two Months is Too Long!

It's been almost exactly 2 months since I've posted something. I've been pretty busy - working full-time, grad school part-time, and all the other stuff in between. But, really, I've been avoiding putting fingers to keys. It could be that I'm just on an urbanist-overload. Whatever it was, I realized that I missed this. So what's new?

I went through a little mid-grad school crisis in which I thought long and hard about what I really want and considered taking a break from my program to do a 6 month certificate program in Dialogue and Civic Engagement. But I think I'm probably on the right track and I'm going to try and finish my MA in one go.

I'm pretty sure I've settled on a research topic for my MA project. I plan to evaluate the City of Surrey Transportation Lecture Program because I think it's an interesting platform to inform and engage citizens and city employees.

I went to San Francisco for Easter weekend and had a great time. It was my 2nd time staying at an AirBnB place and I highly recommend it. Our host was fantastic and turns out she was friends with the President of BART's Board of Directors and we got to nerd out about transit, cities, and star trek. This was my 2nd time going to San Francisco but this time I got to see much more of the city by foot. Every street is a delight if not just for the gorgeous old apartment buildings. I'll throw up some pictures in a subsequent post.

I've been in the newspaper again talkin' inter-generational struggles...kind of.

This summer, I'll be taking an urban design course with Michael Von Hausen so that should be exciting. Oh, and I've booked flights to Tokyo so I can fulfill my dreams of re-enacting Lost in Translation. I'm pretty exciting about posting every tidbit from that trip.

Hopefully more frequent posting (said every blogger ever).

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hate/Love the City

Photos by Jonathan Dy
Last month, I was in an event put on by the Museum of Vancouver called "Vancouver, I love you but..."

Inspired by the work of Tobias Wong, MOV asked a group of us Vancouverites to rant about our grievances with one of the most livable cities in the world. The rants ranged from serious to humorous, somber to sarcastic. While I was honoured to share the stage with such wonderful people, the night was more about our relationship to the city than the people ranting themselves.

Hosted by our relationship counselor Andrianne, we ranted and then talked a bit more about what was behind our anger, despair, and frustration. Once we ranters has our turn, the audience had theirs: Adrienne ordered the lights out and, since we were in the planetarium, the stars up and over us. She asked us to shout our pain-points into the celestial abyss above, to propel them far away with the full power of our lungs - there wasn't a quiet voice in the house.
Photos by Jonathan Dy
We let out collective sigh and Adrianne brought up the sun. She read us a passage by Francis Bacon (I think  it's this one) as Barbara Adler played some soothing accordion. In this space, the audience was asked to fill in the blank: Vancouver, I love you because ________.

In a city that changes so quickly and aggressively, that is the focus of much media attention for being this or like that, we carry a lot of baggage. Rightfully so. There's a lot of hard work to be done but there are still many good and great things about Vancouver.

Sometimes, to love a city, you need to hate it.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Casino Urbanism

Many municipalities in the Lower Mainland are gambling on casinos as their best bet for more revenue (Sorry for the puns). Today, it was announced, that Surrey city council narrowly voted against a casino project, with Mayor Watts casting the deciding vote. As we have seen in Vancouver, Casinos are controversial projects due the possibility of increased traffic, crime, and predatory practices that prey on the most vulnerable, however, the allure of more money in an era of shrinking budgets is almost too hard to pass up. Casinos also tend to leave a less than stellar footprint in our urban environment. They need large parking lots (even with transit accessibility...I'm looking at you, River Rock!) and their buildings are ugly by most standards. Here's what Surrey's would have looked like:

I'm not sure why they rendered it at night...but I assume it was to hide the fact that it was an ugly complex. 

Add caption
According to council documents, this would have built 1400 parking spots. The City of Surrey doesn't actually have a parking rate for casinos but the engineering department prescribed 15 stalls for every 100 square metres...

In Langley, where I grew up, the city approved a casino near the heart of 'downtown' and city hall and this is what we got: 

Not exactly the built environment we aspire to create. I couldn't find parking numbers but that parkade holds about 500 cars alone. 

River Rock Casino in Richmond is on the Canada Line and still has room for a few thousand cars...not to mention the hideous 7 storey parkade (though, 1200 spots are set aside as Park & Ride): 

Starlight Casino in New Westminster: 

Ariel shot of it unfinished but I doubt that it would make a difference on how it looks : 

Good on Watts. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A slight review of the last year and looking forward

It's 2013 and that means I've been in grad school for a year now. Since last January, I've taken 3 courses, gone on a field trip to Portland, and I think I've settled on what I want to write on for my master's project (though, I'm still not in the Masters portion of my program...something I'll still need to apply for).

Overall, I've had positive experiences in SFU's Urban Studies program. I've found that because the program is so flexible (i.e. you can do it part-time and classes are in the evening), that you get a wonderful diversity of people in it. The professors have also been mostly friendly and helpful.

Grad school is kind of what I imagine university would be like. It has small class sizes, responsive and engaging profs, intellectual dialogue, and you're studying things you're genuinely interested in. However, there are still the usual pain points: University bureaucracy is still decades behind and very rarely caters to the needs of students. 

The only real downside to this program is that everyone is at a different place in the program and it's hard to keep the social aspects of school alive but we manage. 

This semester, I'm learning about Research Methods which may sound boring but I'm pretty excited about it. Also, I'll be going to Seattle on our program's annual field trip. 

I've also been keeping busy with other things. You can find me at the Museum of Vancouver on January 25, ranting about our city in an event called "Vancouver, I love you but..." You should check it out! 
Inhabiting Vancouver is like being in a relationship with a beautiful and popular lover who irritates, wounds and drives you crazy. As any relationship counselor will agree, it’s just not healthy to keep these hurt feelings inside.
Now Museum of Vancouver presents Vancouver I Love You But… an evening of urban talk therapy. 
Date: Friday, January 25, 2013
Time: Doors/Ranter's Lounge at 6:00pm, Performance begins at 7:00pm
Location: Museum of Vancouver
Admission: $12 early bird (before Jan 11) | $15 | $12 MOV members
Whether it’s architecture, style, racism, the weather, street manners or the state of arts and culture, noted Vancouverites and regular citizens will open up and share their grievances about the most livable city in the world. The truth may hurt. Or it may make us laugh until we hurt. Either way, our travelling relationship counselor--Scottish performance artist Adrian Howells—will help us process our anger and move to a healthier relationship with the city.

Featuring rants by: 
-Stephen Quinn: Host, CBC Radio’s On The Coast  
-Sam Sullivan: Former Mayor of Vancouver and Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia. 
-Tami Knight: artist, mountaineer and a circus trainer. 
-Watermelon: nudist, baker, comic, licorice pusher, high functioning stoner/pin up girl. 
-Brandon Yan: urbanist and mega-tweeter @pre_planner.  
-Kevin Chong: author of four books, most recently the novel Beauty Plus Pity, and the memoir My Year of the Racehorse. 
-Mack Flavelle: Creator of stories, software, communities and the future. 
-Amber Dawn: author of Lambda Award-winning novel Sub Rosa (2010), and editor of the anthologies Fist of the Spider Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire (2009) and co-editor of With a Rough Tongue (2005). 
...and you! 
*Don't miss the Ranters' Lounge from 6-7pm, complete with cash bar, sad-face photo booth, accordion dirge by Barbara Adler and side-splitting show from our friends at Definitely Raining
This event is inspired by Object(ing), the MOV’s exhibition of art and design work by Tobias Wong. The last piece Wong created before his death in 2010 was a riff on the LCD Sound System song, “New York I love you but you’re bringing me down.” Wong wove that message in Morse Code into the structure of a floor-to-ceiling bead pendant. The message embodied the ambivalence that so many of us feel for the cities we love.