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What Michael Geller noticed

October 20, 2014

He’s in London, and this is what he saw:



What I find odd about some business and community leaders in a town like Vancouver: their tepid and often begrudging (when not hostile) response to cycling and bike lanes suggests a lack of awareness of what is happening in the world around them because it’s not change that reinforces their worldview or adds to their personal benefit.  Geller, coward or not, sees change in other places that makes it more understandable at home.

Three things I learned about Chinatown

October 20, 2014

This Sunday, I joined a tour hosted by the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of B.C. – “On the Streets and Up the Stairs” – where, four flights above Pender Street, we were welcomed here:



This is the meeting room for the Mah Society of North America – one of the family/clan societies that provided mutual help to those Chinese, overwhelmingly male, who had few options for support outside Chinatown in a hostile Vancouver.  Over the last century, these societies acquired their own buildings, constructing them floor-by-floor on narrow lots primarily along Pender Street.  (You can find out much more here, in a 2005 report done for the City by CCHS on society buildings.)

Looking down from the walls are the faces of prominent members who, maintaining dignity in a discriminatory society, would likely be surprised to experience the Vancouver of today:



Some today – like Councillor Kerry Jang (second from left, below) – represent all of Vancouver, even as the societies struggle to find a relevant role in the large, amorphous Chinese community, many of whose recent arrivals have no historical or geographical relationship to the benevolent associations or even to Chinatown.



Our guides were John Atkin and Bob Sung, here on either side of Larry Wong, below, whose memoir, Dim Sum Stories, reveals the world of his childhood and youth in Cinhatown, from the 1940s to ’60s.



From them, I learned three intriguing things about the design of the society buildings:

Only the benevolent societies had buildings with outdoor inset balconies, a style (often crudely imitated in faux-heritage design mistakenly thought to be a generic architectural feature of southern ‘Chinese’ design).



Secondly, the floors were often added over time, each serving a particular purpose: one for a hospital, another for society meeting rooms, others for commercial uses.

And third, there were no secret tunnels or hidden rooms (constructions of a xenophobic media taking their original cue from Charles Dickens’s last novel) nor were there even courtyards, at least in Vancouver with its shallow lots and dividing lanes – except in one case behind the Yue Shan building, the consequence of the serendipity of construction over time.



A narrow passageway leads to Pender Street to the south; the backs of ancient storefronts, now blocked over, are evidence of the shops that used to line Market Alley to the north – a possible restoration of which might be in the future as energy and diversity return to Chinatown over the next decade.   But it won’t be the Chinatown of memory, or even the one of today, which is already going through a transition as new and non-Chinese-related businesses move in and new condos are constructed.

But the one key thing I learned: without the presence of the benevolent associations, just as in the past century, there is no true Chinatown.




Next event for the CCHS is “From the Silk Road: Asia in Fashion, Fashion in Asia.”

Fashion historian Ivan Sayers will expand your fashion knowledge as he presents extraordinary historic clothing from his own world-class collection.

Thursday, November 6

6 pm (program at 6:30 pm)

Richmond Cultural Centre Performance Hall, 7700 Minoru Gate

Before Nov 6 – $30, at door – $35

Tickets here.  Event 814008.

Twinning Tweets: Hype and Happenstance

October 20, 2014

Occasionally two tweets will come in on my feed, literally one after the other, that make a point larger than either does separately.  For instance, a tweet from Tom Fletcher…

Tweet 1



… followed by this one from from Taras Grescoe:

Tweet 2

Tweet 3


Which either makes Fletcher’s point, or negates it.

No Longer Ageism in American Cycling: True in Vancouver?

October 20, 2014

Last week’s Comment from



The basis for that?

I’ve been using every opportunity over the last few months to talk up a fact I noticed in June: biking is still growing a bit among people ages 18-24. But almost all the growth in the last decade actually comes from older people. American biking rates are now almost identical among people aged 25 to 54, and (this really knocks my socks off) almost identical among people aged 55 to 84.

Is Vancouver’s ‘biking rate’ the same for people 25 to 54 as it is for those 55 to 84?

Ohrn Images: Warm Reception

October 20, 2014

Went out for a little ride this afternoon on a warm and breezy day. So glad I did.


Ohrn R


What is the busiest bus route in North America?

October 17, 2014

A quick Google, and you might think it’s Vancouver’s 99 B-Line:


Busiest 1


NAA closer read, and you can see that there’s a qualification:

As of 2010, the route was the busiest bus route in Canada and the United States,[2] with a 2011 average weekday ridership of 54,350 passengers.[1]

It depends, then, on what you consider “North America.”  Technically, it includes all 23 independent states as far south as Colombia – which means, of course, that Mexico is part of North America.

In which case …

560PX-~1In July 2005, the Metrobus corridor (in Mexico City) began operation on Insurgentes Avenue. It was the first BRT corridor in the city, extending over 20 kilometers (12.4 miles), with central stations. The number of passengers has rapidly increased since then from 250,000 daily in 2005 to 270,000 in 2007, an annual increase of approximately 10%.

In 2008, the corridor was extended nine kilometers (about 5.5 miles) to the south, and by the end of the year, the Line 2 in the Eje 4 Sur began operating twenty kilometers (12.4 miles) from east to west.

In 2009 the demand of the system grew to 480,000 daily passengers. In 2011 with the construction of the Line 3 in the Eje 1 Poniente, Metrobus increased 17 kilometers (10.5 miles), consolidating 67 km (41.6 miles), and 710,000 trips per day.


Maybe Darren Davis of Auckland Transport (who alerted us to these facts) can tell us what the daily volume of the Insurgentes line by itself is today – but one thing for sure: if the B-Line is going to be the busiest bus route in North America, it will need a few hundred thousand more passengers per day.  Even if it feels like it already has.

Past and Present: The Impact of Cycling on Transit

October 17, 2014

Streetcar 1While travelling in Minnesota a few weeks ago, I had the chance to read a biography of a little-known Minnesotan, Tom Lowry.  The title of the book gives you a good idea of his contribution to Minneapolis.

Lowry was a business leader in the last half of the 19th-century, a risk-taker, the classic American entrepreneur, at home in finance and investment.  “But his heart and his dreams were never far from the streetcar company he created.”

Lowry’s Twin City Rapid Transit Company was one of the most important in the U.S., stretching over 48 miles, shaping Minneapolis in the process.  Not much, it seems, is remembered of  his legacy – people may know of Lowry Hill – but his story is a classic, told in this now-obscure biography.

I reference it, though, for this amazing development that occurred at a moment in crisis in much of the financial world – the Panic of 1893 – when earnings from fares were critical if Lowry was to keep his company.  Yet fares were declining drastically – and here’s why.

Coincidentally with the slump in business due to the financial panic, the company had to contend with severe bicycle competition during the years 1893, 1894, 1895, and 1896.

Everybody remembers the extent to which the bicycle was used for business and recreation purposes during those years, by all classes of people, rich and poor, men and women, young and old.   Between the hours of 7:30 and 9:00 am each week day, all the principal streets to the downtown district were crowded with bicycles, and the same condition prevailed in the evening, which greatly reduced the company’s revenues.

This so-called Bicycle Craze hit the liveryman as hard as it hit the Minneapolis Street Railway.  Outdoor recreation parties on holidays, Sundays and evenings always took to the bicycle.  Bicycling was carried to such an extent that many fashionable people went to the theatre on their wheels instead of in carriages.

It is hard to give the public an adequate idea of the extent to which the bicycle craze cut into the street railway earnings.


A phenomenon of the past? Maybe not. Here’s an excerpt from Nathan Pachal’s observations on last year’s June-to-June decline in transit use in Metro:

About 50 percent of all bus trips take place in Vancouver and UBC. According to TransLink data, bus ridership actually grew in most part of the region in 2013. Vancouver/UBC and the Northeast Sector were the major exceptions. So while more people are taking the bus in Surrey, less are in Vancouver.

Looking at the preceding table, the Trolley Bus Network saw the largest drop in ridership. As the Trolley Bus Network really only serves Vancouver/UBC, it support previous data that transit ridership is mostly declining in the City of Vancouver.

I believe that are several reason for this decline. One of the reasons is likely due to overcrowding on the bus network; people are simplly deciding to not take the bus. With the City of Vancouver investing heavily in quality cycling infrastructure, I wouldn’t be surprised if people are shifting to cycling. It would be interesting to see the mode split between driving, transit, and active transportation from 2010 forward in the City of Vancouver.


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