Unfolding the Future: Autonomous Lanes

Despite all the talk (and hype) about autonomous vehicles arriving in our cities in the next decade, the problem is not so much technology as humanity.  Regulating the complex, messy spaces of a dense urban environment will also require preventing human beings from doing silly things outside the vehicles and on the streets, where they can’t be rationally programmed.  (Yes, I’m thinking of you, cyclists, who will more than ever be able to go wherever they want without fear of distracted or crazy drivers.  How long will it take the AV lobby to want to prohibit any user on the road that isn’t also rationally programmed?)

So where could AVs go now that provides exclusivity for vehicles, and physically prevents other users from sharing the space?  Why, freeways of course.  And that’s already occurred to proponents around the world, including some nearby.

From Curbed:

There’s no question that self-driving vehicles are the future. But Seattle-based venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group is hoping to get the jump on the autonomous car future by proposing one of the country’s first dedicated self-driving car lanes, running along I-5 between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Madrona envisions the lane completing over the next 5 to 15 years, starting with introducing autonomous cars into the HOV lane. Eventually, the lane would be entirely reserved for self-driving vehicles. …

Connecting these two centers with a dedicated autonomous vehicle lane would improve the link between the cities while costing significantly less than a proposed $30 billion high speed train line.

There’s another reason why these kind of proposals could be pushed forward aggressively: they would allow the elimination of truckers (the most common job in many U.S. states.)  That’s a huge economic incentive, regardless of the political pushback – and the single jurisdiction of most interstate freeways would make it easier to do it.  But again, it’s not the ability to invent and manage technology that matters as much as adapting and managing the humans.

Are Cars the New Smoking?

Digital positive from celluloid negative.It took decades to move the conversation on smoking, but now it is pretty much a social faux pas to light up. Once, it was the epitome of in-crowd behaviour and carried a certain sophistication.

Will we ever get there with cars? We are, it seems to me, right in the middle of the process now.  And despite progress, the outcome remains uncertain.

An article in the Oxford Academic Journal of Public Health, published in 2011, introduces the topic this way.

Caution:  no words are minced in these paragraphs.

Results:   Private cars cause significant health harm. The impacts include physical inactivity, obesity, death and injury from crashes, cardio-respiratory disease from air pollution, noise, community severance and climate change. The car lobby resists measures that would restrict car use, using tactics similar to the tobacco industry. Decisions about location and design of neighbourhoods have created environments that reinforce and reflect car dependence. Car ownership and use has greatly increased in recent decades and there is little public support for measures that would reduce this.

Conclusions:   Car dependence is a potent example of an issue that ecological public health should address. The public health community should advocate strongly for effective policies that reduce car use and increase active travel.

The Case for SkyTrain and Longer Weekend Hours


There are two things that make a great city public transit system exceptional-having an accessible, clean transit system (preferably with washrooms)  and having that easy to use system operate throughout the night. Chicago, New York City, Barcelona, London and Paris do offer some rapid transit 24 hours a day.

But not Vancouver, and that fact makes it very hard for people leaving the downtown late, especially with the shortage of available taxis. BCTV disclosed that after all the years that TransLink said that it could not run a system late, surprise! Now they say they can, suggesting that SkyTrain may be able to run longer, “at least on weekends…The surprising revelation came from Matt Doyle, director of railway infrastructure, who oversees the overnight track maintenance that ensures trains can operate on schedule come rush hour.”

The public is normally told that maintenance crews need access to rails and switches to perform inspections and repairs at night. But since trains start service later on Saturday and Sunday mornings, the opportunity exists to run SkyTrain longer into the previous evenings. “Obviously 24-hour service or late-night service is successful around the world, so it is feasible,” Doyle said. “We don’t know what that would look like; it’s something that would require a significant amount of time, effort, planning and investment.”

That is good news as TransLink has always been positional about not offering late night service using the track maintenance excuse. However there was no comment on how Detroit, which has the same trains as TransLink, maintains service until 2 in the morning with no detrimental impact to needed track maintenance. And TransLink keeps trains runing during snowstorms to keep the tracks clear  Of course offering longer transit service will increase costs, but it would also keep night-time workers and  partiers going home on a safe reliable service. And that is how longer rapid transit  hours shape a city by offering more sustainable transportation at times when people need and use it.

Courthouse Plaza: It’s finished – 2


The always-insightful Guest has a comment worth bringing forward:

(The plaza’s) success will depend on whether it is programmed with any frequency.
If there’s nothing going on, as others have noted, it’s just a big empty space.
The paving is rather busy – but is softens the vastness of the space.

The white pavilion looks better at night and provides a bright spot on the darkened plaza. The tynes on the roof provide an interesting play of light at night when walking on the other side of Howe (Nordstrom side), with the curvey side interweaving with the straight Howe side.

It’s certainly different than the North Plaza as it existed before the age of protestors.
I remember office workers lying on the grass during lunch breaks.




Daily Scot – Seattle Congestion Pricing

I came across this live traffic report on KIRO 7 Seattle the other morning.  What stuck out besides the brutal traffic congestion and commuting times was the traffic reporters advice to avoid it.  See if you can pick it out in the video below:


What she is referring to are the Interstate 405 express toll lanes between Bellevue and Lynnwood which bypass Seattle on the region’s suburban Eastside.  Hotlanes as they are sometimes referred to are designated HOV or Express lanes rate adjusted depending on traffic congestion, the worst the traffic the more the single occupancy driver is charged for the right to use them.  The charges are levied via a transponder in the drivers car.



Could we use these “Hot Lanes” on our roadways?   More on the 405 express lanes and others in the Puget Sound region from the Washington State Department of Transportation website here.

Public Transit & Washrooms~Why Can’t We Have Both?



People in Canada have become used to the fact that a lot of our public realm often does not include a washroom. Price Tags Vancouver is using the Canadian term for that room that includes a toilet and a sink. This room is called a “rest room” in the United States, but it serves the same purpose-it’s a place that all humans need to use, and use more frequently as humans get older.  So why have we not been installing these necessary facilities, especially near our rapid transit or heavily used bus corridors, especially for an aging population that relies on transit as a major mode of transportation?

Kudos to the City of Vancouver’s Seniors Advisory Committee who are pushing for TransLink to install accessible public washrooms in all new stations, and in the Millennium Line Broadway Extension. As Glenda Luymes outlined in the Vancouver Sun  the lack of washrooms even drew the ire of the Raging Grannies who were in town to protest something else a few years back, but developed a special song about the lack of rapid transit washroom services. They sang that song in front of  Waterfront Station.

Seniors’ Advisory Committee Chair Colleen McGuiness stated “It’s beyond short-sighted not to put them in. Loneliness and isolation are a concern for seniors, and a lack of public washrooms on transit routes is a factor in that.” 

Oddly enough the renovated SkyTrain stations on the Expo line have space and are prepped with plumbing for washrooms, but TransLink won’t be  reporting  on  washroom availability until next year.  Issues will include the cost of maintenance, security, and sanitation. But if Edmonton, Toronto and Paris can provide washroom facilities at some stations, surely Vancouver can as well.  You can take a look at this older copy of The Buzzer that provides a chart of which transit systems have washrooms. This TransLink newsletter from 2011 also asks  “I’m curious what Buzzer readers think about the issue. Is adding more washrooms to the system important to you? If so, how do you think they should be implemented, and by whom?”




Dockless Bikeshare: Pitfalls and Promise

From Planetizen:

App-driven bikeshare, without the station, has been spreading rapidly, especially in China. But the system comes with its share of problems, including its own version of the tragedy of the commons.

With two Chinese companies leading the charge, dockless bikeshare is popping up in cities the world over. New York City, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. are all experimenting with the technology. But there are potential pitfalls. Dominic Rushe writes, “Unlike docking rental services, which require bikes to be returned to a fixed docking station, you can leave your ride wherever your journey ends, practically. And therein lies the problem.”

Large-scale dockless bikeshare is vulnerable to vandals and thieves, and legitimate riders have little reason to treat the ubiquitous bikes well. “In China, where there are some 16 million shared bikes on the street and MoBike alone now has over a million, the authorities have been forced to clear up ziggurats of discarded bikes.”

It’s another iteration of the tragedy of the commons. “With bikes literally littering the street, riders become less mindful of how they treat the bikes and where they leave them when there is always another to pick up.”

U.S. operators are keen to “maintain decorum.” Meanwhile, “DC’s dockless bike experiment is a beta test designed to run through April next year. It seems to be working beautifully. The city already has close to 4,000 docked bikes serving two million-plus riders a year with its Capital Bikeshare system.”

Loblaws Closes Stores, Announces Home Deliveries of Groceries

When Galen Weston took over the management of  Loblaw Companies Limited in 2007 many people wondered whether a younger person could put an innovative spin on an old established business-groceries. Weston refreshed the brand and emphasized corporate social responsibility and the environment bringing the grocery giant and affiliated stores including Superstore, T & T, Shoppers Drug mart,  No Frills, Joe Fresh and Super Valu into the 21st century.

As reported in the Vancouver Sun  the Loblaws brand is now taking another major shift by closing 22 stores and introducing home delivery to its markets. Calling the home delivery “new ways to make shopping easier” CEO Galen G. Weston is ramping up this service at the same time that Amazon has acquired thirteen Canadian locations through Whole Foods, suggesting that home grocery delivery could become commonplace as these two grocery giants jockey for market share.  Loblaws is  “partnering with California-based Instacart to deliver food and other pantry staples from Loblaws, Real Canadian Superstore, and T&T locations to customers in Toronto starting Dec. 6 and Vancouver starting in January.”

Grocery delivery has been rare in Canada, with limited locations offering the service. Locally Stongs on the west side provides grocery delivery, as well as Save-on-Foods.  Last March Walmart stated that it would offer limited delivery to some areas of  Toronto, while many grocers have focussed on online orders with in-store pick-up. Home delivery of groceries will eliminate one more reason to own a car, and could change how groceries are marketed, sold and delivered across Canada.


Courthouse Plaza: It’s finished


Years (arguably decades) in the making, Courthouse Plaza is finally finished.  And it looks like this:

Love the stonework, hate the wooden benches.  And then there’s that white pavilion – about which few will be neutral.

So what do you think? – as a design, as a public space, as the definitive gathering space for the city.  And as a name.  Can we do better than ‘Courthouse Plaza’?



New York City introduces the Dog Parker



Imagine that you are walking downtown with your dog and decide to go to a restaurant, or shop. It is clear that your dog should not be accompanying you. As the New York Times contributor Jonathan Wolfe writes someone has thought about this dilemma and has come up with a solution in the form of pink and white kennels on commercial streets that you can rent for your dog. Called the Dog Parker, these temperature controlled kennels have webcams inside, temperature controlled, and cost 20 cents a minute to use.

You register for the service, get a fob that allows you access to the kennels, and  you can use the 45 Dog Parker “houses” in Brooklyn,  or the new “houses” to be installed in other New York City locations in December. Dog Parker customer service maintains a 24 hour presence, and  can remotely unlock the kennel if the dog owner loses the fob. The intent of these kennels is to provide  “an alternative to leaving a dog at home or tying them up to a pole as one shops.” 

Not surprisingly reaction to this innovation has been mixed. As one dog owner observed “I think it’s the worst idea in the world. I would never take my dog anywhere where I would have to leave them in a box or tied up.” Other dog owner interviewed suggested that instead of a lock box for a dog outside a store, regulation needed to be updated to allow people to access shops and services with their animals.  Surprisingly the Dog Parker company has been in business since last year and is actively soliciting businesses to install the kennels outside their businesses to become a “dog-friendly” establishment, capturing customers with dogs, and minimizing liability by having the dogs inside their establishments. Only in New York City so far.


Daily Scot – Cambie Bridge Bike Lane

CTV News Vancouver had a feature last night on the City of Vancouver’s proposal to test a separated bike lane on the west side of the Cambie Bridge using a temporary barrier.  As well as a collection of Yea or Nay opinions from the street,  the report features NPA councillor George Affleck providing his two cents on the city’s bike lane proposal.

CTV Bike Lanes

Check out the video link here



Asim Waqif’s “Salvage” at the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Offsite Location



Price Tags Vancouver has previously written about the “Fight For Beauty” art exhibition hosted by Westbank  developments  at a downtown hotel. The theme of this free exhibition is the “fight” it takes to create and build cities and communities as interpreted by the art. There’s sculpture and film, and there are also models of some of the projects that Westbank developments have undertaken in their work in Vancouver.

In a direct juxtaposition to this exhibition Vancouver Art Gallery’s “Offsite” space on West Georgia has artist Asim Waqif installing a work he calls “Salvage” made up of the items that Dorothy Woodend of the Tyee calls  “the remains of obliterated houses and destroyed buildings, the refuse and discards of a city in the midst of wholesale change. The construction largely resembles a M.C. Escher drawing come to 3D life.”

The artist has created an intriguing and curious collection out of the ordinary stuff found at construction sites and the transfer station including “old doors, dead keyboards, the remains of a shingled bit of roofing, glass jars and bottles, a bicycle and what looks like a stuffed chicken. ” Somehow there is harmony out of the use of these objects that resemble interiors that are strangely familiar and somewhat comforting.

But the exhibit also talks to our trashing of materials in demolishing the old for the new,  and has a direct allegory to the loss of our urban fabric and our acceptance of new shiny replacements for that which was at one time familiar. As Mr. Waqif observes in the City of Vancouver “residents, businesses and institutions threw away approximately 351,000 tonnes of garbage“. His exhibition hints at what we have lost, and what could be recycled. It’s an interesting allegory, in the face of buffed new buildings defining Vancouver’s “modern times”.



City Approves Short-Term Rentals~but no Basements or Laneway housing



As reported in Metro News by Jen St. Denis, Vancouver’s city council  has been considering how to regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb. While it is clear that short-term rentals can assist with the high cost of home ownership in Vancouver, it also takes away housing stock from the local rental market.

Short-term rentals (called STR by the City) are defined as a home or a room that is rented for less than thirty days. Starting April 2018, short-term rentals will be allowed based upon this report from the October 2017 public hearing. Prior to April, only hotels and bed and breakfast places that are in the correct zone and properly licensed are allowed to be in short-term rental situations.

Residents can only rent their houses or apartments if it is their primary home, and laneway houses or basement suites cannot be rented short-term. In order to gain compliance residents must obtain a $49 dollar annual business  license, and that number must be disclosed in any advertising listing. Of course regulation of housing compliance will need to be in place with a budget of $256,000 expected for “enforcement, administration and a new communications hire to explain the new rules to Vancouverites.”

The City of Vancouver already has a page on their website where you report on “concerns” of alleged illegal short-term rentals that are not following the new rules, and you can also look up more information on the decision-making process that resulted in this new  regulation which will be enacted for April 2018.




Pedestrians and Vancouver’s Active Transportation Update




A report is going up to a City of Vancouver Committee this week developing a “spot” improvement program for pedestrian facilities, as well as information for an updated 5-year cycling network additions and upgrades to be completed. You can read the report here.

Only two pages of the report are devoted to walking improvements. The report basically says that there will be a review of current initiatives, and “ongoing spot improvement” to address issues identified for  walking as outlined in the Transportation 2040 plan. There are no statistics related to the pedestrian injury or fatality rate, or any analysis of where those crashes are occurring. The Coroners’ Report on pedestrian deaths has not yet been updated to include statistics for 2017 mortalities-that normally is out at the end of November.

While the City has lately delivered 35 kilometres of new and upgraded cycling infrastructure and in eight pages outlines their plans for new route improvements and initiatives, walking does not receive the same comprehensive attention. This report is also written solely by the Engineering Department with no partnership from the Planning Department or linkage to any community process or residential association. Acknowledging that Engineering does most of the work by itself, the report identifies “Vancouver Police Department, the Vancouver School Board, ICBC, and TransLink” as partners. There is not one advocacy group of seniors, disabled, or others mentioned.

The work the City has done with building and addressing the needs for  cycling facilities is laudable and needed. But active transportation is also about walking, and an aging population needs walkable accessible networks of streets to services and shops that are connected, easy to cross, and universally usable for people of all abilities. Instead of identifying  nuts and bolts items like left turn bays and arrows as “pedestrian improvements” could a more comprehensive approach be taken  in the context of community plans and new developments, to improve the  amenities along popular walking routes  and shorten the crossing distances most used by school children and seniors? Can those walking routes favoured by seniors and those with impairments be seen as important enough for a comprehensive review too?



Delta or Richmond~ New Mega Port Facilities for Mega Cruise Ships?



In the “everything bigger is better” category, the president of Port Vancouver has announced new plans to deal with the growing trend of longer, heftier cruise ships that won’t be able to get under the Lions Gate Bridge  and would have taken up the lion’s share of ship parking at the Canada Place cruise ship terminal downtown. The Port’s answer? Propose building  new bigger and better mega boat  terminals in Richmond or Delta to accommodate those gargantuan large cruise ships.

There is already a proposal for a two billion dollar  container terminal expansion at the existing terminal at Roberts Bank in  Delta. This is planned despite the environmental impact on  “hundreds of thousands”  of western sandpipers that are migrating to spring Arctic breeding grounds. These migratory birds feed solely on an algae found only on the Roberts Bank mudflats, nowhere else. And it appear that this algae cannot be moved or replaced, which would mean that this bird migration  could become extinct if port expansion proceeds.  Delta is also  proudly talking about their new parking facility for Port destined container hauling trucks located along Highway 17, also taking out even more of the Agricultural Land Reserve, which also happens to be the most arable soil in Canada.

But back to the Port. Port President and CEO Robin Silvester states in the Richmond News “We’re very early in the process. Cruise ships are getting bigger. When Canada Place was being built, it used to handle five cruise ships, but now it can’t even handle three of the bigger ones that come in at the same time. In fact, if you look at the size of Canada Place, if you were building a cruise terminal from scratch you’d build it the size of Canada Place just to handle one vessel… so it’s a challenge and we’re very good at dealing with challenges.”

In the Caribbean several ports have paid over $100 million to expand their port terminals to accommodate the new cruise mega ships.  Building the facilities creates jobs, with jobs also continuing to serve mega port passengers. They are also  labour intensive, with heavy demands on transportation and supply networks while the ships are in port. Unfortunately these megaships also cause urban air pollution although they are “smartly marketed as green ships”. They have “emission peaks” and burn massive amounts of fuel oil even when docked. But as the Port Cities Newsletter observes  “Cities should not be powerless victims: they could actively shape the future of global maritime trade. Mayors of the major port-cities should discuss if their interests are served with ever larger ships. If the conclusion is negative, they could collectively decide to stop accommodating them.”





An App to rat on your neighbours


Many Sydneysiders appear to be using a phone app, Outware’s Snap-Send-Solve, to “dob in” their neighbours, mainly about parking infractions.

“Gone are the days when parking officers would simply walk the streets chalking cars,” said the story in the cheesy Daily Telegraph tabloid. “Now they are actively investigating leads using this new app, which has more than 100,000 users across the country.”

The Inner West is Hipsterville in Sydney.

Sculpture by the Sea

A reason to be in Sydney in October…

2017indonesia 504

The cliff walk from Bondi Beach to Tamarama, the first bay to the south, is dotted with sculpture each spring.

21st Anniversary Bondi Exhibition  |   19 October – 5 November 2017

Sculpture by the Sea returns to the Bondi Beach to Tamarama Beach coastal walk as the world’s largest free to the public sculpture exhibition. See the spectacular coastal walk transformed into a 2km long sculpture park over three weeks featuring 
100 sculptures by artists from Australia and across the world.

The website has gems from past shows. Having seen several of them, I thought that this year’s set made less use of the spectactular venue – was less site-specific – than previous ones.  My favourites this year:

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“Transporter” by Dale Miles

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“Are We There Yet?” by Jane Gillings.

After spending 10 days in Sydney, I promise not to complain about Vancouver traffic congestion for at least a year ….