Modern Retail in the Age of Amazon – 2


From Recode:

… the store’s real reason for being is to test what could be a breakthrough Amazon hypothesis: that by adding even more convenience to the convenience store model — with the help of a healthy dose of technology — Amazon might be able to carve out a loyal customer base outside of its website and inside a physical store where the vast majority of food and grocery shopping still occurs.

To that end, Amazon Go is outfitted with a cocktail of modern technology that enables shoppers to simply grab items off of shelves and automatically get charged the right amount without stopping to pay upon exit. No lines, no waiting.

While that means no cashiers are necessary, there are still people working at the store. On a recent visit, a greeter stood by the entrance, an ID checker was stationed near the booze, and at least six workers were visible inside the kitchen that passersby can view from the street. …

Shoppers need to download an Amazon Go app to their smartphone, and scan it at a high-tech turnstile upon entering the store.

After that, customers shop like they normally would, except for one crucial exception: when they’ve selected everything they want to purchase, they simply leave the store with the items and don’t stop to pay. If the store’s technology works as it should, their Amazon account is automatically charged for the right stuff they took as soon as they exit.

How? The store is outfitted with cameras and shelf sensors to help Amazon’s computer vision system work some magic. The technologies, in turn, connect you and the phone you scanned at the entrance with the items you grabbed off of shelves and carried out the door. On rare occasions, a human is needed to confirm that the technology got it right. …

Looking ahead, you can bet that Amazon didn’t spend five years building this technology to only use it in one store. … What about rolling out the technology to Whole Foods or Amazon Books locations, as many have speculated the company would do?

“There are no plans to … introduce this technology in any of the other physical settings that we have.”

City of Vancouver’s Engineering Services First Artist in Residence, Germaine Koh



Germaine Koh, Galleries West

The City of Vancouver’s Engineering Services has announced their first artist in residence,  Germaine Koh.  Ms. Koh’s work “intervenes in existing technological, architectural, and social systems to create connections”. Marisa Espinosa, Director of Green Operations for Engineering Services stated “Germaine has an amazing vision for this residency and she will challenge us to think creatively about our infrastructure and how it interfaces with the public. Germaine’s contributions remind us how we are all connected to the city and the communities we serve.”

The objective is for the artist to explore opportunities for colloborative work with the City’s infrastructure and operations that could result in temporary and public art installations . “My work is concerned with revealing the systems, structures and technologies that a society uses to organize itself, often by playfully suggesting connections between apparently disparate phenomena,” says artist Germaine Koh. “I’m sure I’m not alone in being curious about the often-hidden workings of the urban and natural environments, so I’m excited about the prospect of delving into the city’s infrastructure. I commend the City of Vancouver and Engineering Services department for creating a position that invites an artist to look widely across their different operations and help bring them to light.”


Germaine Koh, Fallow, 2009

Don’t Give Up on Mass Transit~Driverless Cars Equal Driverless Traffic Jams



The Economist offers an interesting look at traffic congestion and solutions in the North American context. While on this continent traffic congestion brings hundreds of billions of dollars of economic losses, there are challenges getting that money to fix things like existing transit systems. Somehow the driverless “deus ex machina”, letting the shiny new autonomous vehicle concept take up the commuting conversation puts  governmental decisions about finding money to fix transit in temporary abeyance.

Even The Economist cites the fact that you just can’t build more highways to get out of traffic congestion, and cite the paper by Duranton and Turner (2011). Building more roads “attracts more residents, leads to more driving by existing residents and boosts transport-intensive economic activity, until roads are once again crammed.”

So why do we think autonomous vehicles are so great? Driverless technology will mean fewer crashes and can drive closer together, temporarily boosting road capacity.  “But reductions in traffic will make living in currently congested areas more attractive and hence more populous. Miles travelled per person might also rise, since self-driving technology frees passengers to use travel time for work or sleep. And just as new highways prompt a rise in transport-intensive business, driverless vehicles could generate lots of new road-using activity. Where now a worker might pop into the coffee shop before going to work, for example, a latte might soon be delivered in a driverless vehicle. The technology of driverless cars may make us safer and more productive, but not necessarily less traffic-bound.”

And this is where road pricing comes in. If  “jams occur because a scarce resource, the road, is underpriced, so more people drive than it can accommodate. But tolls could favour use of the roadway by those who value it most. Some places already use such charges—London and Singapore are examples—but they are rarely popular. Some drivers balk at paying for what they once got for nothing, and others are uneasy about the tracking of private vehicles that efficient pricing requires. People seem not to object to paying by the mile when they are being driven—by taxis and services like Uber and Lyft—and the driverless programmes now being tested by Waymo and GM follow this model. If a driverless world is one in which people generally buy rides rather than cars, then not only might fewer unnecessary journeys be made, but also political resistance to road-pricing could ease, and congestion with it.

While this future would mean that fast transportation access is available to user payers, mass-transit and ride-hailing may be just as efficient and cheaper. And the expected congestion in the autonomous vehicle world will mean that underground transit~and faster ways to move a mass of people quickly and efficiently~will still be in fashion. As the Economist surmises ” should congestion prove ineradicable in a driverless world, people will continue to hope for technological solutions, like the long-promised flying cars. While we wait for that—and the clotted skyways that would soon follow—governments would be wise to keep their underground systems in good working order.”


Something people don’t believe – 2

A comment from the previous post by Barry Rueger:

I had cause to drive over the new Burrard bridge this week. Wow! Did they get it right. No confusion, traffic flows smoothly and intuitively, and none of the dreaded fear that a cyclist might suddenly appear out of nowhere.

If other bridges can be re-engineered this well there’s no reason why any driver should complain.

I happened to be at the Burrard Bridge at 2:15 pm on Sunday afternoon.

So here’s the traffic on the lanes feeding into the northern intersection of the Burrard Bridge.

It’s important to note that traffic on the weekend in the core can in some ways be worse than on weekdays.  While not reaching peak volumes, the congestion off peak is worsened by more through traffic for leisure-bound and shopping purposes, more street parking in place and drivers less familiar with the traffic patterns.

And yet, no significant back-up on any lane.  The signalling system was moving the traffic through like clock-work.

Okay, a one-time anecdote.  But there’s lots of data available for every hour of the day, every day of the week – if a reporter wanted to follow up on this story:

Did the bike lanes on the Burrard Bridge create more congestion?

It seems like an obvious question to get an answer for, given that every story most of the media does on bike lanes has as a starting assumption that they do.

Alex Botta, in the previous post, notes:

Maintaining their perfectly predictable reputation, Global News this morning led with the Cambie Bridge bike lane story accompanied by a minor sarcastic lilt and a suppressed eye roll. “Here we go again …”


I used to think that the news media was just out to create divisions among people in order to make drama and sell ads. Now I think there’s something else going on. They seem to be always be against any alternatives to cars.

I wonder if the eye roll was in the script. If so, who put it there?  …

It’s too consistent to be random. I’m suspicious.


Maybe someone in the media can respond. Why the knee-jerk cynicism?  Why the unexamined assumption?  Why not a story on the congestion from bike lanes that never seems to happen?

Getting Old,Giving up the Car and Why Ride Share May be Important



As cities mature and the population ages, the classic use of cars as the main way to get places is no longer an option for many seniors. Statistics Canada has reported that in 2009 nearly 30 per cent of seniors with licences have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.  In 2009 that total was 20,000 people. As reported in “Americans are getting older: 14 percent are currently over the age of 65, and that’s expected to surpass 20 percent by 2030. Modern medicine has extended people’s lifespans — and people are spending more years with less physical independence. And yet a smaller percentage of seniors move in with family or to retirement homes than in the past.” 

What that means is that there are a whole bunch of senior citizens that should not be driving or cannot drive that live in areas that are car oriented, without good transit connections. Those communities that were seen as perfect for young families with station wagons and SUV’s are not easily connected by transit or alternative ride share services for people without wheels. In the United States, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that drivers over the age of 75 are more likely to be in fatal crashes. Drivers over the age of 85 years of age are more likely to be in fatal crashes than teenagers.

Seniors who are isolated have lower life expectancies and poorer health. While 90 per cent now want to live the rest of their lives in their current home, access to shops, services and social activities like volunteering must continue.  While assisted transit services like HandyDart are available, they must be booked in advance, and are often not on time. Some communities are planning ‘lifetime Communities” districts, which incorporate shops, services, parks and community centres that can all be reached by walking or a wheelchair. Other experts see Uber or Lyft as being vital to fill the gap between HandyDart and the use of a personal car, indeed even calling on cities to name ride sharing as part of paratransit services, with Uber and Lyft even delivering groceries and goods to seniors. These ride share services will provide “an easy means of getting around for people who can no longer drive — allowing millions of seniors to remain in their homes without becoming isolated.” 

It is already being reported that seniors are comprising up to 40 per cent of  Uber rides taken in some communities. Despite fears that the application would be challenging for seniors to use, it has been accepted, and the app now allows others to book for seniors if they do not have a smart phone.  Up to twenty-two per cent of the seniors’ population are “elder orphans” without spouses or children to provide driving assistance, and ride share provides them with independence.  As one  ninety year old observed:  “I can go wherever I want – the road is endless with Uber.”



Precedent for Vancouver? NYC Congestion Charging

From the New York Times:

The plan … would create a congestion zone stretching from 60th Street south to the Battery, from the Hudson River to the East River. Trucks and commercial vehicles would be charged a fee of $25.34 to enter during peak traffic times. The plan would also impose a surcharge of $2 to $5 on trips in for-hire vehicles, including yellow taxis and Uber cars, in much of Manhattan. …

An effort by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2008 would have charged a fee of $8 to drive into Midtown and Lower Manhattan, but it died in the State Assembly without coming to a vote.

Mr. Cuomo said that he would review the task force’s report and discuss options with state lawmakers over the next several months. He can reject any or all of the plan.

(Governor) Cuomo, a Democrat who is up for re-election this year, almost certainly faces a legislative battle over congestion pricing, especially with lawmakers from the boroughs outside Manhattan who fear that a congestion plan would hurt their constituents who drive because they have limited access to subways and buses. …

But there were sighs and complaints from drivers who live or work inside the congestion zone, and others who said the proposed fees were unfair. ..

Kendra Hems, president of the Trucking Association of New York, an industry group, said the congestion plan would harm hundreds of trucking companies and increase the cost of deliveries ….

Several state lawmakers also criticized the proposed fees. “I will fight any scheme which punishes Staten Islanders as they commute to work,” said State Senator Andrew Lanza, a Republican. “The Manhattan elitists don’t want outer borough residents clogging their streets.”

Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senator John Flanagan, the majority leader, said that while the chamber’s Republicans would consider the report, they were “always wary of imposing additional cost burdens on hardworking taxpayers and doing anything that makes it less affordable to live and work in New York.”

Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Carl E. Heastie, the Democratic speaker of the Assembly, said they would be reviewing the report. “As the speaker has said, we need to develop a long term funding plan for our mass transit system,” Mr. Whyland said.

The task force recommended rolling out a congestion plan in three stages, beginning this year with investments in the public transit system in the boroughs outside Manhattan, followed in 2019 by a new surcharge on for-hire vehicles, including yellow taxis and Uber cars, which would be paid by passengers.

The congestion zone — the last phase of the plan — would not begin until 2020. Trucks would be charged first, and after any problems were smoothed out, the congestion zone fee would be extended to all vehicles, except for buses and for-hire vehicles. …

In total, the congestion plan would raise between $1 billion and $1.5 billion annually, according to estimates.

Free Public Wi-Fi

Shaw and City of Vancouver have put in place around 550 free public Wi-Fi locations in the City of Vancouver, with more to come. Shaw’s PDF HERE.

Locations are clustered along commercial areas in the city.  Apparently, there is no cost to the city, and none to the public during use.

. . .  the Shaw offering also includes an additional 500 plus WiFi locations spread widely throughout the downtown core and surrounding areas, including the following highly-concentrated spaces:

• Broadway (Oak to Cambie)
• Commercial Drive (Venables to 1st Ave)
• Davie Street (Jervis to Burrard)
• Denman Street (from Davie to W. Georgia)
• Downtown Eastside
• Gastown
• Granville Street (from Drake to Cordova)
• Main Street (Broadway to E. 16th Ave)
• Robson Street (from Denman to Burrard)

It also includes 125 Mobi by Shaw Go bike station locations, of which 49 are currently enabled with #VanWiFi provided by Shaw.

Bandwidth speed will generally be 10 Mbps and there is no limit or cap on data
usage. No personal information is required to access the VanWiFi network.

To connect to VanWiFi:

  • Select the VanWiFi network name from your device’s Wi-Fi settings menu
  • Open your browser and you will be automatically re-directed to the WiFi terms and conditions page. Read and then click the button to accept the terms and conditions.
  • You will be re-directed to the VanWiFi home page ( and are then connected to the internet.

Chinese Housing Market Not So Hot~Metro Vancouver Implications?



It had been forecast for some time with the tightening of lending and monetary restrictions. But as the Wall Street Journal reports housing prices are “stalled” in Beijing and Shanghai and prices are dropping in other cities.

Mansion Global observes “Demand has dried up in these areas as a result of government measures including higher mortgage rates, higher down-payment requirements and limits on buying a second or third home. Would-be sellers are increasingly putting plans on hold in hope that prices will rebound. While China has seen brief property downturns before, the high debt levels that fueled the boom makes this slump a particular risk for China’s economy and the policy makers trying to manage it.”

New home prices have decreased 8 per cent from October through to mid-December, a startling retreat from double-digit price increases in the previous year. As many Chinese families took on big and risky loans to buy apartments, price drops could mean some owners will owe more than they can sell the homes for. “New restrictions in many cities make it harder to unload a property. To ease the pressure, the government is encouraging the growth of a rental market.”

While overall house prices have increased by 7.5 per cent from the previous year, price drops in smaller cities without large population demand will mean no one will buy these units even at a discounted rate. The World Bank has identified property price uncertainty as a major concern in China’s growth  in 2018. In Shanghai previous condo purchases in a development  protested at a developer’s office as unit prices were decreased by seven per cent from the amount paid a year before.

China’s property market accounts for a significant share of economic growth—as much as a third, according to Moody’s Investors Service—sending ripples outward into the global economy. The property boom stoked imports of housing materials, cars, appliances and other products. UBS called Chinese property one of the major engines of global growth in 2017.”  If the real estate bubble is bursting  in China, will there be any  impact in Metro Vancouver real estate?



Job Jar~City of Los Angeles Graphics Designer


Seriously. This is their advertisement.



If you do graphics design, the City of Los Angeles needs your help. They are looking for someone who  “designs, coordinates and prepares ads, posters, pamphlets, brochures, covers, displays, signs and exhibits for informational, educational, publicity, sales and promotional purposes, and technical and administrative reports and presentations using computer graphics software or by hand; translates statistical and other data into maps, charts, graphs, illustrations, project slides, and other presentation media; or may act as a lead person to employees engaged in these duties.”

And hopefully that new hire can  rework this advertisement. You can find out more here.

The Friday File~ Veronica Moss, Auto Lobbyist



From StreetsBlog comes this cameo from  Saturday Night Live actress Kate McKinnon depicting Auto Lobbyist Veronica Moss. As StreetsBlog observes: “we were granted unfettered access to Veronica Moss, lobbyist for Automobile Users Trade Organization (AUTO). Veronica gave us a few precious moments inside her SUV to talk about roads, traffic, cyclists, and big cities. After instructing us on proper honking techniques for “old people” and children, she also offered up some choice bons mots. Here’s a sample: “People need to be able to drive their cars – that’s an American right!” “Bikers are a pimple on the butt of any city.”


More here.

Using a Bike — Why and How Fast?

Results of a recent study from UBC asking 260 people about their bike trips — purpose and how fast (among other things).

It’s seems that the 2000+ bike trips were mostly for utilitarian reasons:  75% (school, errand, work).


Also, in the coming months we will share research reports and papers generated from this data on our website.

Dr. Alex Bigazzi
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Civil Engineering and School of Community and Regional Planning, The University of British Columbia

Panel: Family-Friendly Housing – Feb 1

In partnership with RAIC-Architecture Canada, the Museum of Vancouver explores how housing for the “missing middle” can contribute to community building and resiliency.

Moderated by Gloria Venczel from RAIC-Architecture Canada, and featuring guest speaker Gordon Price (SFU Centre for Dialogue) as well as housing experts Graham McGarva (Founder, VIA Architecture), Darren Kitchen (Cooperative Housing Federation of BC), Robert Brown (Catalyst Community Development Society), Colleen Hardwick (PlaceSpeak), Danny Oleksiuk and Rachel Selinger (Abundant Housing Vancouver), these professionals will be present to answer your questions in this break out workshop session.


Thursday, Feb 1

6 pm

Museum of Vancouver

$17 – Adults
$15 – Seniors and Students
$10 – RAIC Members and MOV Members

Disruptive Change in Vancouver


Changing Vancouver just posted a particularly graphic example of possibly the worst transition from good to bad architectural and urban design in the city’s history.  It happened in the West End after the zoning changes of 1956.

Here’s a house in 1956, the year before it was redeveloped. The building that replaced it is an 80 unit rental building designed by Peter Kaffka, called Barracca Court when it was built in 1957. 

The home was the work of Parr and Fee, seemingly the architects to the upper middle class in the city who favoured that Queen Anne elegance in their wooden ‘mansions.’  And then, in the decade after the ’56 rezoning, it and hundreds of others would be bulldozed for the concrete towers, of which Kaffka was the architect of many – essentially simple concrete boxes with punched windows, surrounded by parking lots, a bit of grass and minimal landscaping.  Modernism used to justify the least design and the highest return.

The real mansions, of course, would be built in Shaughnessy, to where the rich fled from the West End after 1909, after which their homes would be transformed into boarding houses.

… by 1940 it was listed … as ‘rooms’, a role it retained until it was demolished.  … in 1956 it was known as The Pillars, split into 7 apartments.

Here, of course, is the irony.  The houses of the rich became the homes of the poor, providing critical accommodation during the Depression and War, after which the concrete highrises provided accommodation for the new class of service and corporate workers in the post-war boom.  Today, the West End is still home for lower-middle-class renters, despite the rising pressures of affordability.

That wouldn’t have happened if it had been declared a heritage neighbourhood, its original housing stock preserved and renovated, and its population kept to a fraction of the 40,000 it now accommodates.

General Motors Cars Go to “Level Four” with No Manual Controls



The reports that General Motors  (GM) will be mass-producing a “self-driving car that has no steering wheel, pedals or any other manual controls.” This car will be on the street in 2019 and has no steering wheel, no brake or accelerator pedal, and a car dashboard that is …well, not a real dashboard. Surprisingly the interior of the car and the placement of the seats is as if someone was driving.

Pundits are already talking about the interior following “rigid interior design rules when you’re not required (or able) to drive” while GM is asking for a waiver of federal laws regarding safety because the rules are designed as if someone in the car-a human-is actually driving it.

These vehicles are being tested in San Francisco and in Phoenix, and apparently occupants will be able to “end the ride” by having a “stop request”. Waymo which used to be part of Google is also producing some autonomous vehicles without steering wheels and pedals, and have a

Waymo, a company that used to be part of Google, has also “made a limited number of autonomous vehicles without steering wheels and pedals,” according to The Associated Press. That company has a program for people to ride in self-driving cars in Phoenix which has been operating in the past year.


Something people don’t believe

From The Sun: Vancouver city council approves new bike lane for Cambie Bridge.

Staff said fewer vehicles use the bridge today than 20 years ago, and that modelling studies have shown it has enough capacity to handle projected road traffic even after the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts are torn down.

The number of vehicles has dropped not only on the Cambie Bridge but into the core of the city and into the city itself.

And people don’t believe it, deny it or simply ignore it.

Why is that?  Probably because it defies ‘common sense’ and personal experience.  As well, every few months there is another story on worsening congestion in metro Vancouver. And, likely, because it makes it more difficult to argue that bike lanes cause congestion – even though there’s lots of anecdotal and statistical evidence that it doesn’t happen.

Remember, for instance, all the media stories after the Dunsmuir, Hornby, Point Grey and Burrard Bridge changes were made: the worsening congestion, the longer back-ups, the angry motorists, the apologies from engineering staff for their mistaken projections …?

What, you don’t remember those stories?  Probably because they didn’t happen.

If there had been even modest increases in congestion that anyone actually noticed, the media would have been there with cameras roaring.  But they don’t report stories of bad things that didn’t happen.

We go through this cycle (pun certainly intended) every time: the City announces some bike infrastructure committed in plans publicly vetted and council approved, the media do their ‘another bike lane in face of public disapproval’ stories, the shock jocks yell ‘Carmageddon,’ the NPA says it’s too much too fast, the lanes get built, nothing bad happens, bike traffic improves and the traffic flows (sometimes better) – and then we start the cycle all over again with the next project.

And car traffic continues to drop.

And most people don’t believe it.

The London Underground Salaries Map



The London Underground map was drawn by draftsman Henry Beck in 1931. Mr. Beck was working as an engineering draftsman in the London Underground Signals Office and drew up the iconic map in his spare time. He was 29 years of age when he produced the map that is instantly recognizable and has been in use for almost ninety years.

Londoners have a strong attachment to their underground and to their “tube” line. As reported in the Indy 100, a job search engine, came up with the idea of pinning salaries within a quarter-mile of  tube stations and depicting those on the tube map.

As Adzuna co-founder Doug Monro states “Londoners love to argue about whose tube line is the best, and in terms of pay the Waterloo & City Line takes top place in the commuting charts, with the Circle and Central Lines following close behind. Meanwhile, Victoria Line commuters may boast of frequent tubes and a speedy service, but this research conclusively shows jobs located along the Victoria Line route offer the lowest pay, proving the Victoria Line is not where the money is.” 

Salaries also decrease the  further a person travels outside the central core. But at the locations close to the Barbican, Monument, Bank, Cannon Street and St. Paul’s  salaries were over 50,000  British Pounds which is close to $86,000 Canadian dollars. Adzuna also created a map by tube line colour showing the average advertised salary available within a quarter-mile of each subway line’s tube stops. That graph is below.