Item from Ian: “Elevated Bus That Drives Above Traffic Jams”

Ian: I don’t like the elevator type entry, but everything else seems feasible, and would not seem to require more than a streetcar track adjacent to the curb. This would also be a good incentive to finally bury power wires – seriously, why are above ground wires still a thing?

Seems to have impressive capacity (approaching a Seabus) … and speaking as a tall person, who is often almost clipped by high level bus mirrors, it certainly doesn’t seem any more dangerous than those.

From boredpanda:

It’s known as the Transit Elevated Bus (TEB) and it could very well be the future of public transport. It’s only a concept for the moment but a working mini model was recently presented at the 19th China Beijing International High-Tech Expo.

The bus will be able to carry up to 1200 passengers and will take them to work and back by literally driving over the traffic. It’s a brilliant idea that could potentially alleviate congestion and reduce pollution in the world’s most populous country. If approved it could also be ready in as little as one year’s time.



The Math on Affordability

From Crosscut:


Seattle’s diehard “urbanists” can be remarkably single-minded in their advocacy for new and denser housing, but they aren’t necessarily wrong. In fact, according to some recent number crunching on San Francisco’s rental market, they’re essentially correct on what it’ll take to bring the city’s skyrocketing rents back down to earth.

The Washington Post recently highlighted an analysis of San Francisco’s rental market by Eric Fisher, a computer programmer with a laudable dedication to data-digging. Fisher combed through roughly 70 years of rent prices in San Francisco, cross-referencing them with the city’s economic history and policy changes to create a mathematical model for predicting rent hikes.

Adjusting for inflation, Fisher found that San Francisco’s rents have consistently risen about 2.5 percent a year, with only a few slight deviations. This, despite a period of population decline, the introduction of rent control in the late ‘70s, and a few tech booms and busts.

The basic conclusion of Fisher’s analysis is that it’s extremely hard to bring rents down in a prosperous city. Only two things can really accomplish it: more housing units, or fewer jobs — particularly high-paying ones. That’s it.

Fisher graph

One Twitter user summarized the study succinctly: “We can have Prosperity, Preservation or Affordability, but we can only pick 2.”

Independent Retail and the Death of the Mall

From the Portland Mercury:


Scotto di Carlo and her husband Michael are local economy experts and the founders of Supportland—a network of independent restaurants and retailers that employ a shared points system (sort of like a universal punch card) that provides an incentive for supporting local businesses.

“Retail is changing rapidly and the sort of discount shopper that [might have gone to the mall] is just going online,” says Scotto di Carlo. “The reason people engage with retailers now isn’t just because they want a product, it’s because they want to engage with a sense of place and their community.”

In its nascence, online shopping was an augmentation of brick-and-mortar retail—but now it’s the norm, placing malls like Lloyd Center in the unfortunate blind spot between independent boutiques and more upscale shopping centers.

In April, the Wall Street Journal reported that a variety of prominent chains are slowly withdrawing from weaker malls—and it isn’t hard to imagine Lloyd Center making that list.

“We’re kind of in this transitional period, but I think that the market footprint of big box stores and malls is going to be vacated at a higher and higher level as we approach this new equilibrium between online retail and [independent retail],” says Scotto di Carlo. “I don’t know if the old investors have given up completely, but I really don’t see how the target market is still going to be there for Lloyd Center.”

Scotto di Carlo also suggests that smaller businesses generally steer clear of spaces like the Lloyd Center, because they violate the values of independent retail by design.

“What malls did is they said, ‘Let’s zero out sense of place and let’s build a wall around our environment,’ and that was attractive initially to customers, but nowadays people are really yearning for a sense of place.”

Has Portland Lost Its Way?

From Planetizen:


A few weeks ago, Portland residents got some unsurprising news: the city’s housing prices are officially rising faster than anywhere else in the nation. …

Increasing numbers of residents are clearly upset at a wave of historic property demolitions, making way for ungainly ’50s-style white boxes and uber-trendy, in-your-face “space invaders”—or outsized, alien-looking new buildings. Human-scale places are being crowded out by new tall buildings, and luxury condos like the new Park West tower are casting unwelcome shadows over Pioneer Square and other civic spaces. …


Today the emphasis is still on mixed use and streetcars, but thanks to global architectural fashions, the anywhere-Modernism has come back—artsy (some would say cynical) designer packaging for a free-wheeling style of outscale real estate development. In the city’s new Central City 2035 plan, it’s easy to find generous deregulations for developers, but difficult to find any meaningful heritage protection. …

Nowhere is this cultural amnesia more apparent than in the city core, where planning officials seem determined to create a pale imitation of Vancouver, British Columbia. That Canadian city has done an admirable job of partially mitigating the wave of global capital that washed over its shores, fueling a tall-building boom. But Vancouver has also seen many problems and controversies, and confronted lessons that Portland would do well to study more carefully.

Moreover, Vancouver has several crucial (if too easily overlooked) differences from Portland. Its large blocks allow point towers (slender towers in the middle of the block) with minimized impact on the streets, whereas Portland’s small blocks result in massive volumes at the street and dark, dead spaces (like Burnside below US Bancorp Tower, one of the most notably dead Modernist places in the city).

Continue reading

Barcelona: Mass Tourism and the Radical Mayor

From The Guardian:

Barcelona mayor

… the challenge most likely to define her time in office will be taming Barcelona’s tourist industry. In its transformation, since the 1992 Olympics, into the self-styled capital of the Mediterranean, and the fourth-most-visited city in Europe, Barcelona has become a victim of its own success. In the old town, evictions are common – a direct result of rents being driven up by tourist apartments – and residents complain that their neighbourhoods have become unlivable. “You really can’t walk down some streets in the summer,” one local told me, “as in, you physically can’t fit.”

The scale of the problem is made clear by a few simple figures: in 1990, Barcelona had 1.7 million visitors making overnight stays – only a little more than the population of the city; in 2016, the number has risen to more than eight million. …

As tourism has exploded, radically reshaping the city, the question of who Barcelona is ultimately for has become increasingly insistent. “Any city that sacrifices itself on the altar of mass tourism,” Colau has said, “will be abandoned by its people when they can no longer afford the cost of housing, food and basic everyday necessities.” …

Soon after her election, Colau announced a year-long moratorium on new hotels and tourist apartments, disrupting over 30 planned hotel projects. In March 2016, the city hall extended the ban, and is proposing to direct any future expansion to the periphery of the city, away from the over-burdened old town.

City hall has also fined Airbnb and its rival Homeaway €60,000 each for advertising illegal tourist apartments – ones that had not been registered and were therefore not necessarily paying taxes or fees. In April, city hall announced it was looking into a specific tourist tax levied on those not making overnight stays: cruise ship passengers and day-trippers. Many of these initiatives have come from Ada Colau’s new tourism council, which features input from ordinary Barcelonans, as well as the industry.


Full story here.


Commuter Challenge Results — It’s Bikes

HUB held it’s Commuter Challenge, the annual pre-Bike-to-Work-Week event, on Wednesday morning. Thirteen teams (2 from Norco), each member starting at the same time from a common point, timed their trips to Granville and Georgia. A first this year, the person riding a bike led the way for all teams — over distances from 10.4 to 2.4 km (average 5.4  km).  Teams left their start point at around 8 a.m. and arrived at the finish line at around 8:30 to 9 am. The heart of rush hour.

Participating teams:  Norco Bicycles, Lafarge, Translink, City of Vancouver, Vancouver Coastal Health, Netherlands Consulate, VanCity, The Georgia Straight, Two Wheel Gear, Momentum Magazine, Roundhouse Radio, Bike Doctor.

Check out the results chart:  the times and comments for each team are in the order of:  bike, car, transit. Also check out a few team photos.

True to national form, the Netherlands Consul General rode in the challenge, and the team used two bikes — one an electric.


Dollars and Tunnels and Buses – 2

From Peter Robinson at the Suzuki Foundation:

Today’s announcement that the B.C. government will provide one-third of funding for Phase 1 of the Mayors’ Council’s transit plan fails to address a critical gap that must be closed to get projects moving.

Transit is a fundamental issue for our region. It affects everything from the economy to the environment to the length of our daily commutes. The federal government has committed 50 per cent of the funds needed for projects across the country. If the provincial government and regional mayors can’t set aside political differences and create a plan to come up with the full remaining amount, Metro Vancouver risks losing the federal investment to regions that can.

The Mayors’ Council has presented a plan to apply new revenue tools to raise the remaining 17 per cent required, but the province hasn’t committed to implementing it. All today’s announcement does is repeat history by failing to provide a complete solution to the region’s transportation challenges. Our leaders need to move now to implement to the tools needed to generate the required funds. If they fail, we will all pay the price.

Dollars and Tunnels and Buses — Oh My!

Two announcements today, one by the Mayors Council and the other by the Provincial Gov’t on transit funding.

The difference that matters is the timeframe — the span of interest, of vision, of commitment.  Short message:  it ain’t even close.

The Mayors want to settle funding for the full 10-year plan, and secure priority access to the massive Federal funding that is on the table.  The Province will only discuss their share of the current Phase 1 money in play — $370 M from the Feds, $246 M from the Province and the remaining $124 M from the region.

Noteworthy ideas from the Mayors:  Increase property tax (rejected by Mayors in earlier discussions).  Return control of Translink to the Mayor’s Council.  Move towards mobility pricing. Try again for a share of carbon tax, or another provincially-controlled revenue source.

The Mayors have proposed to provide 100% of life-cycle operating costs, estimated at $3.9 billion, and the remaining 17% of the Vision’s capital costs, estimated at $1.9 billion over 10 years, by generating new revenues from the:

  1. sale of TransLink surplus property, generating $150 million total towards the Vision.
  2. one-time 2% transit fare increase in 2018, resulting in an average impact of 5¢ – 20¢ per single use product, and generating $106 million, over 10 years
  3. incremental fare revenues from expanded service generating $454 million over 10 years
  4. new Regional Development Cost Charge for Transit, generating $216 million, over 10 years with a representative impact of $1,000 per residential unit, and with the potential to apply benefitting area rate(s), with more analysis and options to explore.
  5. Adjustment of the existing 3% cap on the TransLink Property Tax so it applies to existing owners, with an added annual impact of $4 per average house, generating $339 million over 10 years
  6. allocation of a portion of the region’s federal Gas Tax Fund worth $391 million, over 10 years
  7. introduction of mobility pricing by 2021, generating a net $326 million, over 5-6 years
  8. Vancouver and Surrey will contribute land and other in-kind services to partially off-set costs of the major projects planned in their municipalities.

And suggested the Province contribute:

  • $3 billion over 10-15 years for a 33% share of capital costs of the 10-Year Plan
  • Redistribute and return $50 million in Provincial Carbon Tax subsidy provided to households outside Metro Vancouver back to the region to fund transportation improvements (or another provincially-controlled regional revenue source) 
  • Support for the Mayors’ Council’s efforts to implement regional mobility pricing 
  • Return governance of TransLink to Mayors

While these discussions go on, the Feds are watching, and a long line of others jostle for position at their door.


Report from Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail

The proposal is also the latest salvo between the province and cities as they figure out how they will come up with the $370-million needed to tap into the matching $370-million on the table from the federal government.

Both sides say they need to come to an agreement within weeks or they risk going to the end of the line behind other cities and provinces that have put together their agreements faster.

Report from Jeff Nagle in the Surrey Leader.

 “We feel we’re in striking distance of making this mayors’ plan a reality but we need a partner with the provincial government and so far we haven’t had that,” New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté said. “We know there’s going to be substantial federal money available for transit, the type of money we haven’t seen in a generation. My big concern is if the mayors and the province can’t get together to get an agreement in the very near term the reality is I think that’s going to be a lost opportunity for our region.”

BikeMaps: Doorings


We’ve compiled collision data from ICBC and to develop a list of dooring caution zones in the City of Vancouver. Doorings were the most prevalent type of cycling collision reported through official reports (Urban Systems, 2015). In the five dooring incidents reported to, three of the five cyclists were injured, and two sustained injuries serious enough to require an emergency department visit or overnight hospital stay.

Have a look at the dooring caution-zones map and accompanying table of dooring caution-zones. If you cycle in these zones, be sure to keep adequate space from parked cars, or use a nearby designated cycling facility. A map of Vancouver’s cycle routes is available here.

bikemaps 2

Item from Ian: Vancouverism Bonds?

Khan announced he wants to try to persuade foreign investors to instead put their money into helping build affordable homes through a new agency, Homes for Londoners, which plans to build new municipal housing with backing from public and private money.

Something I’ve thought about often, and spoken of a few times, is a kind of investment agency, where you can invest in Vancouver, instead of investing in a bank … returns would be better, and the funds (as Kahn proposes) could build affordable housing.

Vancouverism Bonds?

How about learning from the futures markets, and instead of buying corn futures, buy housing futures, redeemable for a house if things go pear shaped wherever you come from, but not requiring you to physically own any particular housing unit (your safe deposit box in the sky need not be built for you specifically to have access to your funds, just like banks don’t have to have cash on hand for all investments).

Vancouver Futures?

“Why UBC Should Let Way More Students Live on Campus”

From The Tyee, by Patrick Condon:



Vancouver’s future is dimming due to unaffordable housing and overloaded public transit. How the University of British Columbia builds student housing could make a major dent in both problems.

But not if the university sticks to its current plans.

For starters, not only is UBC building too few units on campus, the new projects it proposes will force students to pay more than top dollar, even by Vancouver standards. …

Ponderosa-Yale610pxPutting far more students on campus could be done in the “street and courtyard” style found in cities like Paris, Berlin, Oslo and Barcelona — and in university settings like those at Yale and Oxford. The design allows students to circulate on active, energizing streets, or find rest and contemplation in quiet courtyards only a few steps away. Trips to classes or other on-campus destinations would be shorter if housing were mixed throughout campus instead of distilled into a few high-rise hubs. Female students might feel safer after dark because a more densely inhabited campus creates more “eyes on the street” and fewer hidden, lonely pathways. …

Build enough housing on campus the right way, and UBC will reap another great reward. The campus which now often feels like a glorified office park, would finally reflect its stated aspirations. UBC would become a true community of learning — one worthy of joining the ranks of other great mixed use university towns like Oxford, Cambridge, Heidelberg and Bologna. All are mid-rise, all are vital, walkable, safe, and sustainable.


Full column here.

Transit Funding In the News

Kelly Sinoski writes in the Sun:

The B.C. Liberals are expected to pledge $246 million Thursday to expand Metro Vancouver’s transit system, but property taxes and transit fares will likely have to go up to cover TransLink’s contribution to the plan. . .

. . . Fassbender said the provincial funding was approved after mayors suggested they could cover TransLink’s $124-million share of costs through existing funding sources, such as raising property taxes and fares and selling surplus properties. He would not go into further details, saying that was up to the mayors. TransLink is authorized to collect a certain amount of property taxes each year for transportation.

Mayors acknowledged they have pitched a mix of existing and new funding sources, such as a vehicle levy or regional carbon tax, to fund transportation.

“The fact that they are prepared to look at that is a step in the right direction,” Fassbender said. “My understanding from the mayors’ plan is they will be able to meet the regional share through existing funding sources.”

Once that’s done, he added, the parties can work together on new funding sources, such as creating developer fees for high density along transit corridors. Municipalities already collect charges from developers for amenities such as pools, parks and affordable housing, and have pitched the idea of transportation fees as a way to inject much-needed cash into the beleaguered transit system. 

This is 33% of the expected amount needed in the first round.  It appears to set the funding formula in place (50 – 33 – 17), which should carry over into the distribution of the much larger Federal funding now on the table.

If this initial round ($124M)  is financed by the Mayors through existing funding sources, I expect that funding for the next, much larger round will have to include other, newer sources — perhaps some of them under Provincial control. There is a hint here — in a mention of “transportation fees”.

Meanwhile — just how interested is the public?

Fassbender’s announcement coincides with a new survey by Angus Reid Global that found 90 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents believe a regional multi-year transportation plan should be rolled out immediately to improve housing affordability. The survey suggests two in five residents say transportation is one of the two most important issues facing the region today, second only to housing affordability.

About 88 per cent of those surveyed are worried that high housing prices in Metro are exacerbating regional transportation issues because it forces people to live farther away from work, family and friends, while 39 per cent say they are frustrated getting around the region — whether they drive or take transit — and believe the experience is only going to get worse over the next five years.

Item from Ian: The Doomerang Generation

pricetags: Astonishing how this story finds its parallels in Vancouver, San Francisco and other cities attracting world capital.


The air of unreality about these hip house floggers is entirely fitting. House prices are unreal. Ridiculous. Every day there are stories about the insanity of our current housing crisis, but it goes on and on. We laugh at images of what are basically cupboards for sale or rent. We cry or sigh with identification at the tales of young folk who can never really leave home.

Except that some are not so young. Fortysomethings are having to move back in with their parents after marital bust-ups or because they no longer manage their own housing costs, the so-called “doomerang generation”. …

What does it now mean to be an adult if the old markers of adulthood become out of reach? Levels of home ownership are in decline. We now have a fully fledged caste system delineated by property.

This is happening in the US, too. Wages for under-30s are going down. International surveys indicate that what millennials crave is job security. Lack of security also means delaying that other marker of maturity – having a baby – often indefinitely. All over the world, women are choosing not to procreate. This is entirely understandable. Why would women have children when their jobs are not secure? Many younger women feel their choices have been absolutely narrowed.

A global downturn has meant that many of the foundation stones that we used to mark adulthood have been dug up, so that everything feels a bit shaky.


Full column here.

Thoughts On Commuting

BC Business reports on an online Insights West poll of 802 residents throughout the province about their commute.  Results vary, of course, by location, and there are plenty of insights into how we get to work, and how we’d like to.

Asked to describe their ideal work commute, compared to their actual:

City of Vancouver

  • 18% would drive, and 21% do.
  • 29% would take transit, and 38% do
  • 16% would take a bike, and 10% do
  • 31% would walk, and 20% do


  • 34% would drive, and 43% do.
  • 23% would take transit, and 19% do
  • 11% would take a bike, and 3% do
  • 23% would walk, and 9% do

Transit riders, in particular, do not like overcrowding (77%) and waiting (64%). To me, this suggests that demand exceeds capacity.


Transit congestion


And Eric MacKenzie discusses the poll in 24 Hours Vancouver

According to an Insights West poll conducted for BC Business, 23% of B.C. residents surveyed said they consider their commute “moderately annoying” and a further 6% said their daily trip is “very annoying.”

However, tedium among people on their way to work or school is nearly exclusive to those who drive or take public transit. Some 96% of those travelling on foot and 95% of cyclists described their commute as some level of “pleasant.” Less than two-thirds of drivers and transit users did the same . . .

. . . Meanwhile, results of the poll suggest that the same trends will continue. More than 90% of cyclists said their commute is better or the same compared to five years ago, but 33% of drivers and 28% of transit riders said their trip to work got worse over the same period.

Give us transit so long as we don’t have to pay for it

From The Sun:

Metro Van

Two-thirds of Metro Vancouver residents are calling for immediate transit improvements, saying better mass transit could help resolve the region’s housing affordability issues, according to a new study by Angus Reid Global. …

About 58 per cent of those questioned in the online forum say they voted no in last spring’s plebiscite, while 42 voted yes.

Spectacular Cycling Numbers

Charlie Smith writes in the Straight about the numbers of people riding bikes in Vancouver.  He calls the results “spectacular”. And with good reason, and great timing, as we head into another Bike to Work Week.

Vancouver records spectacular increases in cycling trips

When Lon LaClaire joined the City of Vancouver’s engineering department in 1997, council had just passed a landmark transportation plan with 76 major initiatives. It marked the first time that the city explicitly expressed a desire for more trips by walking, cycling, and transit and set out ways to accomplish that . . .

. . .  Within a decade, however, cycling had almost tripled and there were more than 50,000 bike trips inside the city, according to a May 2006 report by LaClaire.

By 2013, the city reported that 83,000 trips were taken on a bike. The following year, this rose to 99,000, and by 2015 the number shot up to 131,000. That’s a 32-percent hike in cycling in a single year.

“These jumps are just really, really shocking,” LaClaire said . . .

. . .  According to LaClaire, one of the biggest obstacles to cycling is the perception that it’s not safe. That’s where the separated bike lanes have helped.

“The more that we build these facilities where people can visualize themselves taking that route on a bike, the more likely they will,” LaClaire said. “I would say the results of what we see on these investments kind of validates what people have been telling us in our surveys.”



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