Pointless Gesture of the Month

Doug Clarke picked up on this item from Streetsblog:

Revealing statistic:

People riding bicycles — both conventional and electric — are responsible for a vanishing trace of pedestrian fatalities in NYC. Drivers who speed and fail to yield remain the biggest causes of death. Yet the Midtown North precinct, which only issued 37 speeding tickets in the month of February [PDF], confiscated 38 bikes on Wednesday. …

NYPD officers confiscated 247 electric-assist bikes in a 24-hour period on Wednesday, AMNY reports. E-bikes remain illegal under state law even though federal rules have permitted them for years.

The sting appears to be part of a citywide crackdown in the name of traffic safety.

Aging, Design and the City and Why This Matters

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By 2030, one-quarter of all Canadians will be over 65 years of age, which will have profound impacts on Canadian cities, urban life, housing and health services. The City Program of Simon Fraser University hosted a lecture on Friday March 24 on Aging, Design and the City.This well attended lecture was also available on-line and attracted an international contingent of people who joined via the internet.

Director of the City Program Andy Yan brought together a host of speakers from various backgrounds and institutions to commence the conversation of what happens to Metro Vancouverites as they age-do we stay in our houses, or do we go? And where do seniors go to, and what is the housing seniors are looking for?

Elizabeth Tang from CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation) noted that in focus groups across Canada, people aged 55 to 75 have a lack of concern for planning future housing. Even seniors older than 75 years of age are not thinking of changing from their current dwelling. Factors influencing their choice to age in place included their personal health status, the cost (especially in Vancouver) and the quality of life. Co-housing, where seniors have their own accommodation but share common areas and kitchen facilities appear popular, with Burnaby’s Nikkei Place, Maple Ridge’s Ridge Meadows Seniors Society and Vancouver’s PALS (Performing Arts Lodge Society) being mentioned. PALS also has a children’s daycare on site allowing seniors to have interaction with children and their parents.

Vancouver architect and developer Michael Geller noted that everyone has a different idea of the best place to age, be it in France, a fine hotel, or even on cruise ship. He identified five future trends: People aging in place with supportive governmental programs, more senior friendly duplexes and townhouses; more purpose-built rental and ownership buildings, as well as co-operative and co-housing options; enhanced buildings offering the “continuum of care” with different types of housing and levels of care; and more “alternative tenure” buildings with a mix of ownership and lease housing options.

Architect Eitaro Hirota described the work NSDA architects are undertaking in care facilities, and the importance of sun orientation and the need for communal spaces that can be private, semi-private and public. Simon Fraser University researcher Dr. Habib Chaudhury discussed the parameters needed for age and dementia friendly communities, as well as two assessment tools developed for wayfinding and walkability.

This session provided an  introductory discussion on the trends and impacts of aging on the city and on services. There will not be enough age appropriate housing to go around. Just as there is a pinch in the market for young people looking for entry-level housing, there will be a dearth of housing for seniors. The Nikkei Place  in Richmond houses  40 seniors with an average age of 89 years. The waiting list to get into the Nikkei Place  is already eight years long. We need to adapt our policies, programs, cities and housing to reflect the growing numbers of seniors that will rely on these services  in their waning years.

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Feds Not Funding Massey Bridge. Province Not Matching Metro Vancouver Transit.

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The Federal government’s budget came down last week and it was called “Building a Strong Middle Class”. With that sentiment, the Federal Government provided 2.2 billion dollars for Greater Vancouver transportation projects including a Broadway subway, Surrey light rail and replacing the Pattullo Bridge. These are all part of the TransLink Mayors’ 10-year Greater Vancouver transportation plan.

Surprise! As reported in the Delta Optimist by Ian Jacques the Federal government didn’t provide any funding for the single-minded Provincial government support of the Massey Bridge, so the Province will have to pony up the $3.5 billion dollar estimated cost on their own.

The Province had  one more salvo for Metro Vancouver mayors who have universally rued (except for the Mayor of Delta) the placement of this overbuilt Massey bridge in a location that will have dire ecological ramifications  and is quite frankly in the wrong place for the region. The Province announced they will not be matching the Federal mass transit and transportation funding for Metro Vancouver. Nope. The cities still have to find a third of the funding.

Think about that-this is the Province that insisted on a Metro Vancouver  referendum to fund transit despite the wishes of Metro Vancouver mayors. This was a 7.5 billion dollar plan, with one third each being provided by the Federal, Provincial, and Municipal governments IF voters accepted a  0.5 per cent infrastructure sales tax.  That initiative was sounded defeated, with Transportation Minister Todd Stone victoriously concluding  “We are very proud that we fulfilled our commitment to give the people of the region a voice”.  At that time the Minister also stated Doing nothing is simply not an option. The region is going to have to decide how it’s going to come up with its one-third of the cost.”

Is the funding  missing  for Metro Vancouver’s transit and transportation plan going towards the Massey Bridge? And where will the Province come up with the  billions of  dollars for the 2016 estimated cost of 3.5 billion dollars? Surely there is a less costly solution that could include mass transit and a smaller ecological footprint.

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A Vancouver Special Space? Named After Architectural Visionary, Bing Thom

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Ralph Segal was the senior architect and development planner for the Planning Department of the City of Vancouver. He is a well-respected professional that cares deeply about the city, and who was involved in most of the major planning and design decisions in the City in the three decades prior to his retirement.

Ralph has suggested in the Vancouver Sun letters that a special public place be named after the late Vancouver architect Bing Thom, who was cited by Stephen Hume in his series on 150 Noteworthy Canadians in the Vancouver Sun as a “Visionary artist, calm philosopher who meditated every day — even while juggling complex obligations that involved hundreds of millions of dollars — business wizard, respected by all as a kind, decent man, his stunning architecture marked the world.”

Quoting Ralph Segal  “Thank you to Stephen Hume and The Vancouver Sun for the profile of Bing Thom, in which are cited his many prestigious national and international awards and medals for architectural excellence. As impressive as this list is, it does not even begin to touch on the equally important contributions he has made to mentoring and encouraging innumerable individuals and groups that he has inspired with his visionary advocacy and pragmatic approach to problem-solving.”

A fitting commemoration to all these accomplishments would be the naming of a special public place, preferably in northeast False Creek, a downtown precinct now being designed, envisioned as connecting adjacent future and existing neighbourhoods such as Chinatown, Strathcona and the Downtown Eastside with False Creek. A prominent public meeting space named in his honour would celebrate the depth of his insights into how the art of city-building can be the vehicle that brings together people of all backgrounds and interests, furthering his philosophy of inclusiveness.”

You can read a bit of the extraordinary contributions Bing Thom has made to Vancouver and public life on this link from Price Tags. Here’s hoping that Bing’s legacy can be honoured in a place name.

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Picture of the Year, So Far

An image from a New York Times story, the last in a series, on the personal resettlement program of Syrian refugees in Canada.  Powerful on its own, the image, in context, says much about our country and its times.

Carole Atkins, a bubbly teacher’s assistant soon to turn 69, was a hockey fanatic, the oldest player in her league. Now she was initiating the Hajj children in the sport, outfitting them with gear and taking them to a weekly class while their parents stayed home. “Skate hard,” she told them as they bounded onto the ice.

Watching from the stands, the sponsors tracked the children’s every move. Moutayam, a fourth grader and the family comedian, was outskating everyone, even the Canadian-born children, charging to the front each time and finishing first. “Oh my God, it’s like he’s running on the ice,” Ms. Atkins exclaimed to Jan Dowler, the sponsor by her side.

As Month 13 approached across Canada, every group of sponsors and refugees had to determine what their new relationship would look like. Some were mutually relieved to be done, the chemistry never quite right. In other cases, the Canadians continued directly funding the Syrians, unable to cut the financial cord. …

Still, with the deadline nearing, the Hajj sponsors faced uncomfortable, nagging questions: Were they doing too much for the Syrian family? Should they stand back and stop acting as chauffeurs, planners and all-around fixers? Were they willing to let the family make mistakes? Even if they wanted to stop helping, would they be able to?

Full story here.

Architecture: A Really Bad Idea, Perfect for Our Times

Here’s a concept that initially one might take as satire.  But then, these days, it’s hard to beat reality.

From CNN:

The Big Bend: A U-shaped skyscraper that aims to be the longest in the world

The Big Bend is a curved, 4,000 foot-long skyscraper planned on Manhattan’s Billionaire’s Row. It’s the brainchild of Oiio Studio. …

The Big Bend is just an idea – for now. Oiaonomou has sent the plans to a few companies and is currently seeking investments.

Branded by Trump, financed by Russians, built for billionaires, will remain largely empty.

Quote: Don Luxton on Change

Don Luxton led off a panel discussion at SFU Woodward’s last night, hosted by Heritage Vancouver, with an explanation of The Future of Heritage In Vancouver – What the New Thematic Framework Means for Our City.  (It’s not just about registering more Edwardian mansions and arts-and-crafts bungalows.  There’s a place for lawn-bowling pitchs, aboriginal middens and gay bars.)

Don is the perfect guy to do it as the consultant to the City’s next phase in updating the Heritage Register.  (He worked on the first one back in 1986, for heaven’s sake, and is one of the key go-to consultants in the province.)  Indeed, maybe Don should be on the register himself: he’s been around long enough and certainly worth preserving.  His contribution has been historic!

 

Don has less patience these days for using indiscriminate heritage preservation as a nimbyist strategy to prevent change.  Indeed, his best quote came late in the evening:

“This is not a city to be in if you’re afraid of change.”

Recent Developments 5 – Bike Box

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Wraps on utility boxes have been around for awhile.  But typically the coverings have been, um, pedestrian – appropriate, I suppose, since they’re next to sidewalks.  City scenes, leafs, whatever blends in.

This, though, on Denman near Pendrell, is a recent development that maybe marks something more offbeat:

No, not because it’s a bicycle!  The images on image: public art from the Biennale.

More, please.

 

 

Webinar: Helsinki, Nordic Innovations – Mar 25

Next-Generation Transportation Free Webinar Series

Helsinki — Nordic Innovations

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The Finnish capital is one of the least dense cities in Europe but has managed to significantly reduce congestion. It boasts a range of exciting transport innovations, including the Crown Bridges—a series of green bridges for walking, cycling and public transport only—and a planned conversion of urban expressways with a 80km/h speed limit into urban boulevards with a 40km/h speed environment.

Finland puts paid to the excuse that density is an absolute prerequisite for great transportation and urban innovations.

Risto Jounila of WSP Parsons Brinkerhoff will tell us about a range of such innovations in Helsinki and other Finnish cities.

 

March 25, 3 PM PDT

Free, but reservations required. Reserve.

More information

Livable Cities 2017 Symposium – Apr 13

“Livable Cities” brings together interdisciplinary research, creative inquiry and city planning methods to explore current city development through sound, smell and other embodied perspectives.

Presented by Simon Fraser University and hosted by the City of New Westminster, this one-day symposium will take up various disciplinary approaches, including architecture, community development, and socio-cultural issues.

Communities in flux across the Lower Mainland present unique opportunities to engage with city planning strategies, urban densification, and the impact of soundscapes, smellscapes and mobilities on local urban environments.

Visiting Scholars include Mel McBride and Randolph Jordan. Evening concert curated by Barry Truax.

Thursday, April 13

9:00 am – 9:00 pm

Anvil Centre – 777 Columbia Street, New Westminster


TICKETS
General Admission: $10
Seniors 55+: $5
Students: Free with valid student ID
Tickets include access to all Symposium events, including panels, presentations, workshops, and evening concert.

Workshops: Free and open to the public (with registration)
To reserve your spot, please note first and second workshop choices when completing registration.

Tickets are available via Ticketsnw.ca

Details here.

Bicycle Museum Auction

Legendary Cap’s Bicycles Langley once had a museum, and now you can buy its bikes via Able Auctions in Surrey.  Bid online HERE (starting at item 33. Note the mixed-up lot sequence, with bikes, skull-themed jewelry, Darth Vader statues, disco boots and comic books somewhat intermingled) or attend in person from 9:30 a.m. Sunday March 26 at 13557-77 Ave., Surrey, BC.  Preview on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The auction involves other collections too (398 items including around 200 bikes), so the exact item timing will be unpredictable. But the variety of bikes is immense.

Click to expand.

Patrick Condon on Point Grey Road

A plea for a lighter, greener, cheaper, more collaborative approach to building the “Greenest City”

The sad case of Point Grey Road.

by Patrick Condon

You would think the City of Vancouver was out to make us all raging nature haters. How is it that the provision of a simple thing like bike lanes has made city voters so apoplectic that it ranks at the top of the pile of election wedge issues. Its like getting upset about crosswalks. You have to try really hard to make folks mad about, or even notice, public infrastructure. But somehow the city seems to accomplish this feat again and again.

The newest catalyst for resident apoplexy is, yet again, Point Grey Road. Residents there are furious about a six meter wide sidewalk and tree boulevard strip currently under construction on the north side of this street – in most cases on land being taken back from lavishly planted front gardens that had gradually forested over unused city land.

Point Grey Road is, of course the street that the City closed to through car traffic to complete the City’s “sea wall” along the Kitsilano district’s shore. This original effort was understandably applauded by homeowners along this “golden mile”, but dismayed residents of other parts of the city and region who had become accustomed to going there for a Sunday drive to enjoy the attractive ocean views and, to some extent, gape at the homes and gardens of the well heeled.

In this more recent case the homeowners garner little sympathy from the broader populace, given that the street closure seems to have been a factor in the fantastic increase in property values there. Spurious safety concerns raised by golden mile residents ring hollow when the 10,000 daily trips which once passed their drives now inflict residents living along nearby 4th avenue.

This is all the more sad because none of this really had to be this way. The City lately seems incapable of anything approaching a light touch when it comes to their Greenest City agenda. The current approach to Point Grey Road is emblematic of this failure of imagination. Truly sustainable cities emerge with a much lighter hand. The City’s ham handed approach unnecessarily disrupts existing cultural and urban ecosystems, and, in the process, racks up unnecessary political and capital debts. Its sad. A much lighter approach to Point Grey Road was always available. But a lighter approach would have required a more holistic sensibility which, i would argue, the City lacks. A more truly sustainable approach would be accepting of “both and” solutions rather than the current “one way my way or the highway” approach.

The City’s approach to designing and building green infrastructure seems similar to the much maligned approaches taken by highway engineers of the 1960’s. Those folks happily ripped up city blocks for flyovers and cloverleafs, and leveled every neighbourhood in the freeway’s path. There is thus not a small measure of irony in using these same design approaches for green infrastructure in the only city that stopped a highway from gutting its downtown.

What would a lighter approach have looked like on Point Grey Road? Well i suppose the City could have started off by at least trying the one way street proposed by citizens prior to the City’s controversial and precipitous complete street closure. That plan could have been implemented with a can of yellow paint to mark the bike way and a few signs. If that proved inadequate after a few years then some new signs and some more paint to divert the one way traffic to 4th ave could have worked. This is the kind of “tactical urbanism” strategy famously used by Jannette Saduk-Khan, New York City’s transportation commissioner, who first used a can of paint and some movable chairs to close off Times Square in New York City, a move that both proved what was possible and allowed for low cost real time experimentation to get it right.

But instead we got a very over-engineered grey street, with green functions (walking, biking) rigidly, unnecessarily and expensively separated. We could have had a “complete” street instead, one with wheeled circulation functions more mixed and existing trees preserved. We could have had a street that enhanced rather than degraded ecological functions, a street that added habitat rather than removed it, a street where storm water was cleaned and infiltrated into the water table rather than discharged unmitigated into English Bay waters.

There was a time not so long ago where the City was pursuing these simpler green infrastructure strategies; notably at its Crown Street Green Street Project of 2005. That seems like a different world now. Take a look at that sustainable street with its naturalized drainage and no need for storm drains and expensive curbs and pipes. Would Point Grey Road not have been the natural place for a public display of this lighter green touch? a project that could have been implemented for a fraction of the cost of the current project? and a project strategy that you can easily imagine working around existing mature trees rather than savagely clear cutting every shred of green within the right of way?

Sadly our chance to get it right on Point Grey Road has passed. But there is, I believe, a larger issue here. Its not too late to engage in a fundamental rethinking of what it means to be the Greenest City. Its not too late to recognize that a green city is an efficient city, a city that looks for the most modest and easy to realize solutions possible; a city that finds the solutions that emerge most easily and almost by themselves; a city that analogically follows the judo maxim of “Maximum efficiency, minimum effort” rather than the smash face brutality of over engineered solutions evident at Point Grey Road.

The proliferation of unneeded urban highways in our North American cities is just the most obvious example of the problem with the smash mouth tactics of failed urban engineering. We should not repeat that mistake in applying “green” infrastructure to the fragile ecosystem of the city.

In the end, the world’s “greenest city” must, to be worthy of the name, be a city that works with not against ecological systems, and works with not against its most dominant species: its citizens. We should have learned by now that its a mistake to depend on technocratic responses to narrowly defined problems. In the end, a green city becomes and stays green by always seeking the lightest possible way to achieve both its ecological and political ends. And those ends are enhanced by an open and holistic citizen focused process. The planning for Point Grey Road has more than once failed to meet this green standard. To be the greenest city means learning to avoid this mistake.

PT Update: A Post on Some Posts

Additional material on previous items:

Further to the post below on vault lights in sidewalks, PT quoted from a blog titled Vanalogue.  Hadn’t heard of Christine Hagemoen‘s history-themed contribution to our city – “exploring and featuring all things analogue (or ‘old school’) in Vancouver (and the rest of the world).”

Our loss, because it’s been active since 2013, and it’s really good.  Delves into all kinds of surprising items about this place, with a lot of background, insight and illustration. Check it out.

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PT has added a credit to the post on Larry Beasley and Metro Vancouver’s Potential Third Housing Sector, where we quoted Daphne Bramham‘s column:

Price Tags relies on journalists like Daphne to do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to coverage of local issues, in particular.  And we wouldn’t be the first to note that such experienced professionals are in danger in this new media environment.  We’ll make sure we give them credit.

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Some interesting comments already to the post on Branch Plant Politics.

Rebecca thought “stuff like this belongs in another forum.”  Dan Ross thought not.  And Geof provided a particularly good commentary, worth bringing forward:

The urban/rural-suburban divide is perhaps *the* defining political fact, geographically and culturally. Rob Ford weaponized it. The NDP is divided over it. Christy Clark used it as a referendum wedge.

Urbanism changes our politics. I believe there is scholarship to that effect: the experience of urban diversity actually changes people’s views. Living in the city tends to make people more liberal. Mixed developments and transit make future liberal voters, just as suburban plots and freeways make future conservative voters.

At the same time, cities exacerbate and highlight hierarchy and inequality. City and suburb sort us by tribe, by education, by income. Often these are side-by-side, as with our own downtown east side. They are the home of both the poor and the smug elites: a politically explosive combination of others.

Urbanism is a class thing. To the rich (old neighbourhoods are like old money) go the spoils: the walkable neighbourhoods, the bicycle paths, the subway lines. Like a working class man who would not be caught dead with a posh accent, suburbanites denied these things reject them.

At its best, urbanism physically challenges echo chambers as we are brought face to face with those who are not like us. (But not all those who are not like us: tragically and perhaps shamefully, many Democrats in U.S. cities did not know a single Trump voter.) At its worst, it dissolves our community bonds and rubs our noses in who we cannot be and what we cannot have.

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Geof is not alone.  From the Washington Post:

From The Guardian:

 

 

Massey Bridge and a Letter from Delta

 

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A  cogent letter appeared in the Delta Optimist from a Delta resident who has suggested that there are ways to immediately ameliorate the “bottleneck” at the Massey Tunnel which has feverishly fanned the Province’s clamouring for a $3.5 billion dollar overbuilt, ecologically unsound bridge.

Mary Taitt notes that estimates indicate that the  bridge building will take four years, and by 2021 costs will easily be in the 6 to 7 billion dollar range, even though  “an additional tunnel could be constructed much sooner and for a fraction of the cost. At the same time a rapid transit system could be afforded and developed.”

Moving onto the “bottleneck” of traffic, the writer makes it clear that there are economical and prudent ways  to fix this:

1. Restore 601 fast buses to/from Delta to Downtown Vancouver.

2. Stop trucks using the George Massey Tunnel during rush hours.

3. Re-establish the weigh station to stop trucks in rush hour, stop oversize trucks and dangerous loads using the tunnel and force all trucks to use the slow lane.

The tunnel is  “only hazardous because maintenance is deliberately neglected. After the recent earthquake upgrade it was estimated to be good for another 50 years.”

Ms. Taitt has won an international award as part of the Delta Farmland and  Wildlife Trust. She also reminds readers about the important ecological aspects inherent in the use of the Massey Tunnels. “The tunnels will protect the Fraser River, the greatest salmon river in the world, from becoming an industrial sewer for the Port of Vancouver…The current local, provincial and federal governments are facilitating the destruction of the Fraser River. We must stop them using our money to build a bridge that will be the headstone to the death of the Fraser River, its globally significant estuary habitats and its vital delta farmlands.”

“Building more Roads to reduce Congestion drives Traffic up”

Nic Slater posted this excellent three-minute video, produced in Great Britain but with much relevance to the situation with the proposed Massey Bridge. You just can’t build your way out of congestion with roads, and eight out of ten  of these massive projects take out vital ecological habitat, and two-thirds of the projects destroy landscapes that were culturally important.  Road building also means that people move away from town centres where they can cycle and walk.

Sound familiar?

 

“Global Urbanism” in the New Downtown “Blended” Mall

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The Guardian  comments on the “Oculus”, the  1.4 billion dollar mall linking New York City’s One World Trade Center, the subway lines and trains. Michael Sorkin, an architecture professor at New York’s City College pinpoints the new trend in these downtown shopping malls which he notes “is virtually indistinguishable from Dubai duty-free. The effect is compromising and imperial – a real estate formula.”

The 100 shops contained in this downtown mall are the same multinational shops you’d see anywhere in the world. But what is curious here is that while malls in suburbia are declining, the urban mall contains a commercial mix that   integrates “so seamlessly into its urban surroundings that it can be difficult to draw any line between city and mall whatsoever. London’s Boxpark, Las Vegas’s Downtown Container Park and Miami’s Brickell City Centre are examples of mall-like environments that try to weave into the street life of a city.”

Using the principles that attract people to downtowns, these urban malls attempt to  offer a physical experience that is different from that of being online.  As one mall  builder noted Customers prefer to be outside and to feel less artificial”.  Landscaping, paving of open spaces and how the space will be used for public space is now taken into account.

There are also cost savings with these urban malls, where  spaces and buildings are exposed to open air and are naturally ventilated, as opposed to heating and cooling the massive big box mall.

Hong Kong has over 300 shopping malls built with subway stations and as part of skyscrapers. Hong Kong’s transit system also develops property so that transit riders can seamlessly move to shopping experiences and to the office. But is this the way forward, with international brands and downtown shopping experiences? And how can independent shop keepers and regional stores compete with the international brands?

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