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Ce Soir Merveilleuse

August 26, 2015
Yesterday evening, over on the decks of Canada Place – Dîner en Blanc.

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Just up harbour at CRAB Park – the first-ever Ce Soir Noir.

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Or as The Sun cleverly described the two: Black and White and Bread All Over.  But in my opinion, heh, CRAB took the cake:


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One of the biggest differences in the two events, in addition to colour and demographics, was how the respective crowds arrived:

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Something never seen before: a playground full of kids, all in black.

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Bravo to the creators and organizers.  Just the right amount of people, creativity and civility.

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Photo by Michael Alexander

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Easy prediction: Ce Soir Noir will become a global complement to Dîner en Blanc.

Danger:  It will become so popular, it too may have to limit capacity.

And then: La Fête Gris.

The Damage Being Done: Density in a Post-Referendum Region

August 25, 2015

 

It’s just a matter of time before those fighting the densification of their communities figure something out: When high-density neighbourhoods are being justified by planners because they are supportive of transit, what’s the justification when there won’t be any assurance of more transit?

From today’s Sun:

Townhouses replace trees in south Surrey neighbourhood

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In Sunnyside Heights … a parcel of land has been stripped clean and covered with townhouses baking in the sun. A grove of trees shades an old rancher next door, but a city sign suggests officials will punch a road through those trees to connect with the city grid on the other side.

“It’s extremely worrisome,” said Clinker’s neighbour, Sybil Rowe. “The total character of south Surrey is being erased. This is one of the last beautiful parts of the Lower Mainland left.”

Such cries are coming from all corners of south Surrey, following massive transformations in areas such as Morgan Creek, Elgin and Sunnyside. Many residents lament the loss of the mature trees, while others like Clinker worry the city doesn’t have the infrastructure, schools or transit to handle a flood of people to the area.

City officials, often criticized for the pro-development stance, argue they have little choice. With Surrey welcoming 1,000 new residents every month, planner Jean Lamontagne said the city must create higher density around its town centres, including south Surrey.

This has led to a shift in zoning in some areas from suburban to urban, or bylaw changes to allow more units on two- or five-acre lots that have had just one home on them. Nearby Clayton, for instance, once a farming community bordering Cloverdale, is now wall-to-wall development.

“The reality is that with the price of land and the price of housing, if we want to provide an affordable product, the type of development is much more dense,” Lamontagne said.

Lamontagne acknowledges south Surrey lacks in transit and other infrastructure, but attempts to address those issues by building transit hubs and collecting development cost charges to build utilities and widen roads. The rest is out of the city’s hands, he said, as it counts on the province to upgrade Peace Arch Hospital, transit and build new schools.

The situation has led to a grassroots movement among residents, such as those in Royal Heights and Crescent Beach Annex, who have convinced the city to preserve their neighbourhoods’ character with special zoning to keep small homes on residential lots. Such zoning requires 80 per cent support of neighbours in an area.

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What this seems to be saying is that Surrey will continue to zone for high-density transit hubs, but the only money on the table will be for widening roads – no doubt connecting to the widened freeways being funded by the Province.

How long before a Council, in the face of public protest, refuses to upzone – or more dramatically downzones – a neighbourhood plan because TransLink affirms that there will be no more service (unless it removes some from elsewhere in the region, leading to more protest)?

That would send a shockwave through the development community, which so far seems to think that it is business as usual; somehow money will be found to fund the transit on which their strategies are based.

In the event of a reversal, I wonder what they would then say to the Liberal Party fundraisers.

Car-Free Day all downhill on the North Shore

August 25, 2015

Paris has nothing on North Vancouver.

Dan Ross, the Transportation Work Group Manager at Opus International Consultants, reports on the recent Lonsdale Car Free Day and Slide the City.

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It was a beautiful day, and for those who pre-paid their tickets and didn’t mind waiting in about a kilometre-long queue, the 1,000-foot long waterslide down Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver (6th Street to 3rd Street) was worth it.

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1 - Keith Road queue

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6 - First StreetThe rest of the Car Free Day events were south of 3rd Street down past Esplanade Avenue and to the shipyards at Carrie Cates Ct. There weren’t the mob-deep crowds who attended Car Free days in Vancouver in July; the Lonsdale event was also a little more family friendly and genteel by comparison (this is still the North Shore), but there was a good, critical mass of attendees and it was a lot of fun.

Kudos to the City of North Vancouver for organizing and hope to see many more of these next summer.

Twinning Tweets: Blind spots and enlightenment on health care, helmets and bike lanes

August 25, 2015
Ken Ohrn writes:

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Health-care dollars are in the news – this time, with twinning of one sickening and one wonderful twist.  And a strong sense that while people can change, accountability for public attacks is really all too rare (all is fair in politics and war, and memories are short, we seem to think).

First: By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver.

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A local study has shown the enormous cost of injuries to people in BC — some 456,000 injuries and $2.29 billion per year in 2010. But the article focuses on 5 percent of injuries that are recreational and, in theory, preventable (22,000 out of 456,000), and makes the absurd claim that bicycle helmet use saves health care dollars.

My opinion, and I’m not alone, is that helmet use discourages people from riding bikes (by roughly around 50 percent), and the health benefits (and ensuing lower costs of health care) exceed the risks of riding by a margin of 20:1. (See Klassen article below.)

Meanwhile, the other bogus nastiness in the article is the apparent opinion that the other 434,000 injuries are not preventable — and we all know that the largest part of these 434,000 injuries are most likely related to motor vehicle crashes.  It’s another example of the cultural blind spot we all have to the appalling death and injury toll from motor vehicle crashes. First — we just don’t “see” them; second — they’re not preventable.

So buckle up those helmets, people. And let’s just forget about road deaths and injuries altogether.

Second:  Mike Klassen writes in the Courier wanting more bike lanes, and increasing the active lifestyle, because of its large contribution to overall health, and thus to reduction of the huge medical care costs attributable to a sedentary lifestyle.

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It marks, for me, a Wonderland-level change from the days when Mr. Klassen ran a scurrilous attack blog called City Caucus on behalf of the civic NPA.  In this now-defunct blog during the run-up to the bike-lane-heavy 2011 civic election, he published a vicious hatchet job on HUB, the non-profit advocacy organization for people who ride bikes. Because, ya know, the NPA was fundamentally against bike lanes and by extension, against people who ride bikes. HUB’s position, including the health benefits of an active life, were just a bunch of hooey. This position did not work in 2011 and in 2014, as the NPA lost both elections badly.

Now, it seems, Mr. Klassen understands that an active lifestyle is of huge importance to society as a whole, and as a result he advocates in favour of bike lanes, along with improvements for pedestrians.

He writes:  “While Vancouver abounds with runners, cyclists, paddlers and those taking a stroll on our cherished seawall pathways, we can do more. We could establish new jogging and walking routes, and combine them with safer traffic crossings right across the city. And notwithstanding the headaches they cause with opponents, the city should build more bike lanes, too.”

Paris arrête tout trafic

August 25, 2015
Doug Clarke envoie cet article de Forbes:

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Paris Will Stop All Traffic, Literally, For One Day in September

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Imagine any big city anywhere in the world without traffic just for a day. Now, if that city were Paris, imagine further the photographic possibilities, not to mention the visual, auditory and olfactory potential.

Imagine no more because on September 27th, that’s just what Paris is going to do: “Une Journée Sans Voiture” – A Day Without Car, for the first time in the city’s history.

City Hall calls it “a crazy gamble, but achievable.” No motorized vehicle, with a few exceptions like ambulances, will be allowed to drive the streets. As Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced in March: “Paris will be completely transformed for a day. This is an opportunity for Parisians and tourists to enjoy the city without noise, pollution and therefore without stress.”

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Paris Without Cars

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Other cities including Montreal, Bogota, Mexico City, Ho Chi Minh City and Brussels have instituted Day Without Car programs, some of them permanently and some partially, closing certain streets and encouraging bike riding.

The Daily Scot: Gentle Density in Portland

August 25, 2015

Another missive from Scot’s trip to Portland:

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Colourful and well-scaled residential infill along Division Street in Portland:

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It’s quite an intimate streetscape with the building elevations +/- 50 feet apart with street neckdowns of 24 feet at either end of the block, reducing traffic speed and book-ending the small commercial strip.  Unlike Vancouver’s main arterials which are largely stroads with high traffic volume and speeds, Portland’s main Eastside routes (Burnside, Hawthorne, Division, etc.) are narrow in cross-section and, subsequently, with lower speeds and volume, making living above them more pleasant.

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Intersection is SE Division Street & SE 32nd Avenue looking east. (Map here.)

Can Our Transit System Get Any Worse?

August 25, 2015
Not Vancouver’s (ours is good, we just enjoy trashing it.)  But this anaylsis by Thomas K. Wright, the president of the Regional Plan Association in New York, reveals how the U.S. went so wrong – and how we could too, now that we have cornered ourselves.  Of course, we need to invest in transit to handle and shape growth.  But no, we can’t decide, agree or legislate new revenues so long as the referendum system (only for transit, only for Metro) stays in place while the Province freely spends to build massive new bridges and extends the freeway system without such constraints.
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From the New York Times:
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Can Our Transit System Get Any Worse?

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Why are our transit systems faltering just as more people than ever want to use them? Part of the answer lies with the way our government institutions are structured, and New York offers a case in point. …

Private companies built many of our subways, commuter lines and intercity railroads in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Mass transit, like long-distance rail, was profitable then, especially when combined with speculation in land made accessible by new, fast rail connections.

Then came the automobile, and publicly funded highways. …

The demand was insatiable, and authorities were granted extraordinary powers. They could borrow money without having it count toward a city or state’s general debt. They were exempt from taxes on payments made to bondholders and on real property that reduced their costs by producing income. They could ignore local politicians and zoning and land-use laws as they seized private property — as long as they paid fair market value.

And at their best, they were governed by appointed professionals who reported to independent directors and served staggered terms, which diminished political influences. If a governor tried to interfere, they could point to covenants with their bondholders and argue that they could only invest in projects that would generate a reasonable return on investment.

For a while, the politicians were held at bay. Then, in the 1950s, the federal government started building the interstate highway system, offering big subsidies to states to connect to it. The combined might of the public authorities and federal outlays was astounding. From 1950 to 1975, the tristate region built more than 1,300 miles of limited-access highways.

Unsurprisingly, mass-transit operators struggled to compete with these roads and started going bankrupt. Against the operators’ will, the authorities merged the workings of mass transit and toll roads to provide cross subsidies …

And that was a problem. The addition of money-losing transit operations left the authorities more vulnerable to political intrusion in decisions. For example, tolls and fares were kept too low to raise money for capital investment. And governors started pushing investment in pet projects, rather than broad regional goals.

Which brings us to today.

The leadership of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs New York’s subways and buses, has asked Albany for $26.8 billion over five years, to help replace its 50-year-old signal system and outdated subway cars, start the next phase of the Second Avenue subway and finish linking the Long Island Rail Road with Grand Central Terminal.

Of course, we must find money to repair and expand our subway systems, and we must sort out the interstate political rivalries at the Port Authority. But it’s our crisis-driven approach to infrastructure that most needs to change.

We can learn from others. London and Stockholm have “congestion pricing” that generates revenue for mass transit while limiting the flow of cars in their central business districts. Hong Kong’s transit agency, the MTR, is a for-profit company in which the government holds a majority stake. Because it is publicly traded, it can avoid patronage hiring. By purchasing real estate and leasing property, it acquires revenue while keeping fares low.

Those examples — superior to any American model — recognize that it is appropriate for a transit system to have diverse sources for funds. Their decision-making structures are responsive to constituents, yet insulated from politicians. They allow long-term planning.

Crumbling Hudson River tunnels have become a national symbol of aging infrastructure and political shortsightedness. They represent nothing less than our failure to keep up with the rest of the world.

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