High-Speed Transit: Vancouver-Seattle

Hi.Speed.RailIt looks to me like another stop along the slow ride towards high-speed rail in the Cascadia region.

But call this a trial balloon, a feasibility inquiry, a buncha baloney, a perfect dream, filling a hunger for options:  whatever, it’s a study by Washington State DoT (and many others, including BC’s MoTI) on tech options, routes and costs for a bullet-like train linking Vancouver, Seattle and Portland. It was presented Thursday, Dec 14, 2017 to the Washington State Joint Transportation Committee.  It includes a call for further investment to build a business case.

Video HERE.  Report PDF HERE.

Knutson (*) said the idea of rapid rail has high-level support from government in both countries — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan have publicly endorsed the concept — as well as from business, labour and environmental leaders.

“This really is about investing in ourselves and in the broader Cascadia region,” he said, “and in these tough, troubled times we need more openness, more connectivity, more trade, not less, and this could really be a powerful symbol.”

In January, the state will receive the results of an economic analysis paid for by private sector money, the majority of which came from Microsoft.  “We think that’s going to be really important because in this type of system it can also provide a lot of economic development for our area,” said Ron Pate, director of rail, trade and ports for the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The next step, Pate said, is to conduct a business case study that will look closer at ridership, governance, funding and financial mechanisms. It’s a document that will be used when speaking with future investors.

“Every time we’ve asked the question, ‘Is there a compelling case for this?’ it comes back and says, ‘Yes, keep going,’” Knutson said. “That’s what we hope to do.”

With thanks to Jennifer Saltman in PostMedia outlet the Vancouver Sun

(*) Charles Knutson, executive policy adviser to Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee.

Real Estate and Transit

How property markets responded to newly-installed public transportation — the Australian experience.


Burquitlam station — Evergreen Line.

Property markets rise and fall as transport systems reshape accessibility in cities. Planners occasionally use ‘value capture’ funding and financing to help pay for public transport. But understanding where and when values rise is critical to the efficiency and equity of such schemes. This presentation looks at recent evidence from a set of Australian busway, rail and ferry projects that reveals great variation in how transport affects property values, including both spatial patterning and timing of uplift.

Matthew Burke is an associate professor in Griffith University’s Cities Research Institute. His research focuses mainly on travel behaviour, transport planning and the interactions of transport and land use. Matthew also helps coordinate much of his university’s transport research effort. In 2017 Griffith University was recognized among the top 100 universities in the world for research in the field of transportation science and technology in the Shanghai Rankings.

Tim Louis, Lawyer, City Councillor & Outspoken Advocate~Retiring from COPE?



One of the kindest people I have worked with and without a doubt one of the smartest has just announced he is stepping down from the executive of COPE-the Coalition of Progressive Electors after three decades of public service. Lawyer Tim Louis served two terms on the Park Board and two terms on the City of Vancouver Council. He truly did read the Council package before each meeting and knew the names of each city hall staffer. Tim articled with and was mentored by  Councillor Harry Rankin who was also a lawyer with the same quick and dry wit, if not slightly more irascible.

I’d ask Tim if I could speak to him before a Council meeting and he’d respond that it would be fine as long as I “was not a card-carrying conservative”.  He chaired committee meetings, understood Robert’s Rules of Order, delegated with a strong sense of humour and responded to every phone call he received.  He often wore a Che Guevara Shirt to events, bright red, and moaned about the days when people asked him it was an image of Fidel Castro. It’s no surprise that a huge party is being held for Tim in February and it is sure to be packed full of people wanting to have one more chat and laugh with him.

Gordon McIntyre of the Vancouver Sun interviewed Tim about his remarkable achievements and accomplishments.  I was aware that if we were going to be in front of a committee meeting that Tim was chairing or sitting in on, that we needed to be prepared for those piercing blue eyes and quick intelligence that could quickly sift through any policy or program city planners had not really thought about in advance of the presentation. Tim calls this process “intellectual wrestling”.

While studying Law, Tim also was one of the founders of  the Pacific Transit Co-operative. The founders were all in need of disabled friendly transit, and they basically set up their own system which was in operation for 20 years commencing in the early 1980’s.  Remarkably this enterprise was operative in 19 days, a testament to this group’s organization and abilities.

Reporter McIntyre asked Tim directly what he thought of the Mayors of Vancouver he has worked with and known. Typically, Tim spoke directly and held back nothing in his terse and connected responses that also give a historical timeline on the politics of development.When asked to rank Mayor Mike Harcourt, Tim responded ” Harcourt, I’d give a good mark to. It was a Harcourt-COPE council where we saw council really put to work on behalf of the entire city, the citizens of Vancouver, and not on behalf of the developers.”


With Gordon Campbell Tim stated “We went back to a developers’ council with Campbell. You can see that very clearly when you look at the north side of False Creek with its high towers and density developed under Campbell and compare it to the south side of False Creek, where there is mixed income, low-rise and much lower density.”

M~ 22/11/95_campbell

With Philip Owen Tim states “Philip was a very decent man. Give him credit for bringing in the four pillars (drug strategy), the supervised injection sites.” 


And then there was Mayor Larry Campbell, who as the City Coroner was the inspiration for the television show Da Vinci’s Inquest. Larry was also opinionated and outspoken, and Tim notes that COPE made a “mistake” and that feelings have still not been resolved


Tim perceives Mayor Sam Sullivan as “another developers’ mayor. He called it eco-density, which was just a greenwashing, taking density and giving it a green veneer. ” 


And for current Mayor Gregor Robertson?  “As far as I’m concerned Vision is the NPA, only with bicycle lanes”.


This is an individual that was concerned and represented the average voter at City Hall and urged controls on gambling expansion within the City. Tim was also against Wal-Mart  operating in Vancouver,  forecasting a world where there would be a “race to the bottom” when foreign-owned businesses put local retailers out of business. Tim is passionate, refreshing, and speaks his mind. He will be very much missed, but I’m sure there will be more endeavours. If you want to go to Tim’s party, details are here.




That Semi~Private Public Space



The Guardian has written about the rise of that  open public space that appears to be public but can be controlled by developers who actually built the space. That seems to be the case in Great Britain “where Pseudo-public spaces – large squares, parks and thoroughfares that appear to be public but are actually owned and controlled by developers and their private backers – are on the rise in London and many other British cities, as local authorities argue they cannot afford to create or maintain such spaces themselves.”

The situation is a bit different in the City of Vancouver where access to space or easements through large developments are negotiated as part of rezoning development, and are accepted by developers in exchange for items like higher density or height. These agreements are maintained for the public to have access on property that would normally be in the private realm. And they also enable developers to build more on their properties in exchange for the perpetual maintenance and use of a portion of the site.

Large developments may also be required to keep a certain portion of their interior for the use of the public, such as the amenity area on the second floor of City Square at 12th Avenue and Cambie Street.  A former development planner was aghast when a coffee area tried to brand that amenity space as part of a coffee bar instead of as a resting lunch place open to all the public who ventured there.

In Great Britain these private open public spaces colloquially called “Pops” are not subject to local authority agreements as they are in Vancouver and are instead provided at the whim of the landowner. In looking for the governance and regulation of fifty such sites in the City of London the Guardian newspaper could find little information. In response, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan will be indexing and compiling a list of all of these semi public spaces, and looking at how to monitor these public spaces. The new London Plan aims to have a more transparent approach to semi private public space, forming agreements with developers on the use and access of public areas as part of their development agreements.

As Matthew Carmona, an urban planning professor at the Bartlett School observes “Public space, whoever owns it, should be open and free to use, and these things need to be guaranteed at the time that we as a society give permission for developments to happen, But cities like London have always had diverse combinations of ownerships, predominantly public but also private and semi-private. There’s all sorts of complications and nuances which I think fail to be understood by claims that all privatisation is bad, and all public ownership of public space is good. I’m not interested in using the issue of privately-owned public spaces as a surrogate for a larger political argument. I think there are many instances where private spaces are well-used and enjoyed, and contribute socially and economically to the city.”



Why is the West Side of Cities the Best?



In cities and towns why was the west side always seen as the best? Market Watch’s Steve Goldstein observes that researchers have found that it is  ” due to the impact of air pollutants at the time of the Industrial Revolution, as prevailing winds in the U.S. and Europe typically blow from west to east.”  Even today there is a price differential between the east and west sides of major cities even though the pollution that caused the difference has been minimized.

Called a “deprivation index”, pollution was the reason for up to 20 per cent of neighbourhood segregation based upon blue-collar workers and house prices. Even in pre-industrial times large cities like Paris and London had preferred west sides and east sides. The more polluted an area, the higher the percentage of low skilled workers living in the district.  By examining 5,000 industrial “chimneys” located in 70 British cities 130 years ago, researchers found that the spatial distribution of pollution correlated with areas of deprivation in cities.

The findings have implications for planning today to ensure that residential areas are situated near prevailing winds and away from sources of pollutants. And even today, that west address is still seen as best.



Friday Funny — the iArm

“Freedom”, it claims, “from the tyranny of holding stuff.”   Delta Technology presents the iArm, the forearm mount that gives you, well, an extra arm. Just 4.5 lbs and fully adjustable, the iArm lets you take your favorite gadget with you. And with the optional “multi-mount”, you can secure up to three items at once. Attaches to tablet PCs, eReaders, remotes & more!

Available at Amazon.ca.

Spoiler alert — do not read below the image.

Spoiler below here



This is a gag gift — an empty box, so that you can spiff up otherwise dull gift choices.

Says the Amazon site:

  • Gift box appears to contain ridiculous products from clueless companies
  • Just pack your real gift inside, sit back and watch the expressions
  • 6 sides of real graphics and jokes will have everyone passing it around

High Density Rental in the very West of Point Grey?



In the thinking out of the box department newly minted City of Vancouver Councillor Hector Bremner introduced a motion at Council to rezone West Point Grey as a new zone for rental residences. Bremner was specifically looking at the zoning of the area north of 4th Avenue and west of Blanca which borders the University of British Columbia lands. Why? Because the zoning on that land means that lots must be 12,000 square feet. Minimum. To give you an idea of how massive that is, the normal city lot of 33 feet by 120 feet has 3,960 square feet. This West Point Grey area requires footprints three times the size of the standard city lot. Of course lots of influential people live there too that have no interest in new rental zoning. There are current for sale listings for residences in this area ranging from $14 million dollars to $28 million dollars.

As reported by Matt Robinson in the Vancouver Sun Bremner stated “This is a chance for this council to put its money where its mouth is and … actually take action and say mandated mansions in the 21st century is not more important than creating housing right next to UBC…I saw just how dilapidated and derelict many of them are. The rest are owned by numbered corporations, largely out of country, passing amongst each other to avoid property transfer tax”.

Councillor Bremner says he has reviewed the financials and believes six storey residential buildings would be viable in this location. His aim was to turn 150 acres into rental housing zones with a potential of 10,000 units.  Councillor Bremner’s motion also mentions the fact that smaller units would benefit seniors, housing could be created for UBC students, and that this motion was entirely in keeping with Council’s expressed policy identifying potential changes in low density residential neighbourhoods as a high priority. The West Point Grey Residents Association was not too happy, and suggested that the land price was too high to be used for constrained social housing funding.

In a letter to council, the West Point Grey Residents Association expressed “dismay and opposition” toward the idea. It faulted the motion for lack of consultation and stated that scarce social housing funds would be squandered on purchases of such high-priced land. This does however commence the conversation of  where the City’s new Ten Year Housing Strategy will land, and who will decide the equitable distribution throughout lower density residential areas.



Metro House Prices Go Up, Vancouver Taxes Too


As reported in Business in Vancouver housing prices in Metro Vancouver are not doing a southern retreat anytime soon,  despite any policy interventions at the provincial or municipal level. The president of the Royal Lepage Realty Company describes it this way: “Attempting to use public policy to steer property prices in huge, rapidly growing cities like Toronto and Vancouver is like a tugboat trying to turn an ocean liner. Consistent, measured policy can have a positive impact. Just don’t try to turn the market on a dime or you risk losing the ship.”

Does supply and demand always triumph policy? Low inventory in Metro Vancouver means house sellers can ambitiously price houses, with prices expected to increase by five per cent in 2018.  In the long-term prices may be more stable because of new stricter federal rules  for people applying for mortgages due to be enacted on January 1.Forecasts suggest that the average sales price for a house in Metro Vancouver will rise to $1,353.924. This compares to a nationally expected price increase of 4.9 percent. And the average sale price of a house in the rest of Canada is less than half the Metro’s average sales price at $661,919.

Meanwhile on December 12 the City of Vancouver Mayor and Council  increased the hike on annual property taxes  from a  recommended 3.9 per cent in the report to a “last-minute” increase of  4.24 per cent. This extra increase of  over two  million dollars in revenue  as reported by Global News  is for “housing initiatives and social grants” but insiders note that the amount is structured to be spent entirely at the discretion of Council. It is also a new precedent for a Council to increase property tax expenditures beyond that reported at the last-minute with no preceding public discussion or process. This will surelybe part of the fodder for the municipal election this Fall.

Council has increased property taxes above the level of inflation, and  these taxes have increased by 8.1 per cent in two years. Council has also increased utility rates which are charged separately  as well as garbage collection rates and a new charge for “street cleaning” of $19.00 per unit.

There is already unfortunate rhetoric  with  elected officials sparring about  the last-minute increase in the 1.4 billion dollar budget. This is being debated not from an economic standpoint of accountability but in terms of  the politics of housing affordability and racism. It’s starting to feel a lot like the 2018 municipal election year.




Colourful Stairway to Health In NYC



We all know them-those anonymous grey stairs that are just about everywhere. At the north side of Vancouver City Hall. On the west side of the Cambie Canada Line Station.  Kudos to this project in the Bronx of New York City as reported in NextCity that were placed on stairs specifically to make them more interesting and to address obesity. The two neighbourhoods where they were placed have the highest rate of obesity in the city, where 35 per cent of residents are classified as obese.

Funded by playground building organizer KaBoom, the stair murals were designed to encourage people to use the stairs, according to New York City’s health commissioner. The mural artists were chosen through an open request for proposals. The artists then partnered with DreamYard a Bronx youth arts organization to host workshops to create the designs, incorporating ethnic imagery and symbols.  This process built  trust and secured neighbourhood buy in for the art.

The murals will be in place until the summer of 2018 and it will be interesting to see their condition after a New York City winter. In the interim two sets of drab grey concrete stairs have become colourful focal points for the neighbourhood, championing creativity, imagination and health.




The Halifax Explosion~Reforms,Racism and Trees



December 6, 1917 marked a horrifying event in Canada when over 2,000 people lost their lives in the explosion of a munitions ship in Halifax harbour that also made over 25,000 people homeless. Imagine~one fifty of the population was killed or injured. As the Vancouver Sun  reported the explosion resulted in the opportunity to rebuild the city with better constructed houses, paved roads,  and proper water pipes and discharge sewers, an effort that took many years.  Many organizations, the City of Boston  as well as the Rockefeller Foundation teamed together to bring health and sanitary services back to the community. This has been documented in a new book edited by David Sutherland called We Harbour No Evil Design: Rehabilitation Efforts after the Halifax Explosion of 1917.

Halifax still had open sewers and a declining tax base in 1917 but the funding that came to rebuild the city in a sanitary way was not distributed evenly. In Halifax’s North End author Michelle Herbert Boyd observed that while wealthier areas such as Richmond were  provided for, the African Canadian neighbourhood of Africville received scant assistance. Instead while Richmond was “being reconstructed and improved after the Explosion, the main sewer line was brought directly through Africville to empty into Bedford Basin; Africville residents were not themselves given sewer service, and to add insult to injury, they had to endure raw sewage from their Richmond neighbours running through their backyards whenever a line broke.”  In the 1960’s Africville itself was destroyed as part of the rehabilitation projects in vogue at the time; only a handful of residents had proof of title.


Remnants of the force of the 1917  explosion are still evident today. Arborists taking large trees down in Halifax find trees girdled by metal shrapnel from that blast. Only three types of trees can survive catastrophic explosions-maples, poplars and willows, due to their softer bark and adaptability. Halifax could never sell its timber anywhere after the blast due to the shrapnel in the tree trunks potentially damaging sawmill saws. But each year a Christmas tree is still sent to the City of Boston to thank the citizens for the help and service during that disaster one hundred years ago.

Images of the devastation after the Halifax explosion can be seen in the YouTube video below.










Driverless Buses Trialled for Seniors in Japan



As reported to the World Economic Forum  cities with large aging populations such as Singapore and Paris are trialling experimental self-driving buses.  Japan is undertaking a demonstration project in  rural Nishikata which is 115 kilometers north of Tokyo, which has limited bus and taxi services. Should the trial be successful Japan could launch these autonomous vehicles in the next 12 years, providing shuttle service for seniors.

One company which is making autonomous vehicle software noted why the autonomous transit was necessary . “Smaller towns in Japan are greying even faster than cities, and there are just not enough workers to operate buses and taxis”. 

The  driverless shuttles take seniors from a service area to a complex with multi health care services. Curiously the town of Nishikata has an age breakdown close to  the country of Japan, with one-third of residents aged 65 years or older. Seniors are increasing in population~overall population has shrunk nearly 5 per cent.

The actual shuttle goes a turtle’s pace at 10 kilometers per hour, and the vehicle is being monitored for road safety in different climactic conditions, as well as how the vehicle deals with obstacles in its path. For aging places without resiliency in younger population growth, the automated shuttle may take the place formerly occupied by family members getting seniors to and from services and shops.





Christmas in Grandview & Kits…


Just like in the olden days when  Sally Ann bands came through neighbourhoods playing and collecting money for charity, the Impromptu Rock Choir is carolling in Grandview and Kitsilano tonight and tomorrow night. Take out the earbuds, turn down the TV, and answer the door when a Santa collects for charity to benefit people in the Downtown Eastside! The choir meets every Tuesday at the WISE Hall on Adanac at Victoria.


Smile! You are on Camera in Richmond.



Anyone that is walking, biking or driving in the City of Richmond knows that the intersection is not a very safe place. Cars go through on red lights, cars block the intersections, and it is often challenging for a pedestrian to legally cross the street. This is also reflected in the fact that 88 per cent of all accidents in Richmond occur in the intersection.

Under the guise of  enhancing public safety, Richmond city Council’s general purpose committee has recommended that Council approve a 2.2 million dollar upgrade of all existing traffic cameras to live recording, and install video cameras at all of the City’s 175  signalized intersections for 2018.

The report states “Threats of violence and terrorism remain an existential threat not only in international locations… but also domestically in cities in Canada.
“Richmond is an international gateway into Canada with major facilities including the airport and Metro Vancouver Port…It is prudent to address potential threats to the city’s community safety needs.”

Sure, but it will also be very helpful to have film footage of accidents, and it will be interesting to see if the universal camera installation makes a change in the driver behaviour and accident rate in Richmond’s intersections. The Richmond News also states that if the funding is approved by Council, staff will be looking for partnerships from the Province and Federal governments to help pay for it. You can also go on-line here to view photos being taken by the Richmond intersections that are currently operating with cameras.


Can the “Pimp My Zimmer” Campaign translate into more Colourful Streetscapes?



From Britain and the BBC News comes this interesting piece that may also have impacts on how we design and think about city streetscapes. In Britain, the walkers used by the disabled and seniors are called “Zimmers” after a manufacturing company that used to produce them. One care home worker noticed that these walkers are all designed and made in a slate grey colour, the same colour that people with Alzheimer’s and dementia have trouble differentiating and seeing. Undertaking a project called “Pimp My Zimmer” volunteers came into the care homes to paint and modify the walkers with art  so that each one was individually identifiable as being unique to the owner. The simple act of colouring up walkers and walking aids meant that seniors with dementia felt more confident at identifying their own walking device, and actually used it more, of course creating more sociability and well-being. Trips and falls were also reduced with the use of the colourful personalized walkers that were no longer the imperceptible colour of grey.

City and parks planner Alan Duncan created the “Wellness Walkways” a special treatment of the walking environment around Mount Saint Joseph Hospital and the adjoining care homes in Mount Pleasant. Using non glare concrete sidewalks with saw cut joints, generous garden beds with plants for smell and touch, and benches that  wheelchair users could transfer to, Duncan created a safe comfortable environment that had strong visual and sensory cues for seniors.

In the City of Vancouver sidewalks are left grey, and powdered textured paint or colour is not used to change the colour.  With an expanding seniors population that will be using walking as a main mode for transportation perhaps it is time to experiment with making surfaces for walking more colourful and bright, and enhancing colour and form on street amenities such as benches, wayfinding and receptacles. As cities examine how to keep an aging population more active and fit, and encourage sociability at any age, splashing colour on sidewalks and surfaces could encourage walkability. The BBC video about “Pimping My Zimmer” can be viewed here.


Delta Wants a Direct Bus, No Transfers to Canada Line


With Mayor of Burnaby Derek Corrigan now the chair of the Mayor’s Council at TransLink everything old is new again, and Tsawwassen residents are apparently rallying for direct bus service from Tsawwassen to downtown Vancouver, getting rid of that pesky Richmond transfer at Bridgeport station  to  the Canada Line.  All of this occurred on Monday at Delta Council where a TransLink planner was making a presentation on the Southwest Area Transport Plan.  Instead of concentrating on how walking, biking and transit was going to develop and fit more seamlessly in this motordom suburban community,  several members of Delta Council decided to rally for the return of a direct bus from Tsawwassen  to Vancouver. Why? Because seniors purportedly want it.

As reported in the Delta Optimist,  the planner noted  that “the decision to direct transit passenger to the rapid transit station was to maximize the investment made in the Canada Line. Although some people may not like the idea of having to transfer, the rapid transit service is a far more faster and reliable way to get to town…buses going to rapid transit is good design used around the world.”

That was a prudent way to say that being able to transfer from buses to rapid transit is efficient and should be seamless.  TransLink did note that if Delta really wanted a direct bus, then a partnership with some other organization, perhaps the City of Delta or a seniors’ group was needed to run that service.  How can the transfer from the bus to Bridgeport Station be made easier for older suburban citizens and why is it an issue? If frequency of bus trips to and from the station improved, would that suffice?