Show Me The Way To Go Home

Published: PriceTags.ca
October 6, 2019
300 words

Un-named Skytrain StationWhat is this — a café? A library? A corner store?

Unless you regularly travel by transit to Langara College or the Alliance  Française, you’re forgiven for not recognising this as the 49th and Langara Skytrain station. This photo was taken from the west side of Cambie Street looking east on 49th Avenue.

And unless you’re standing in front and looking directly at the entrance, there’s no way to identify this as an essential part of urban infrastructure.

Read more here.

Transportation in China

This month we were invited to visit friends living in China.  We spent three weeks in Chengdu and Beijing, and honestly had a wonderful trip.

On our return I wrote a series of three articles for Vancouver’s Price Tags blog about what I experienced while travelling in those cities.

Why We Should Look More Closely at Beijing Subways
August 14, 2019
755 Words

Surveillance and the police state excepted, the Chinese subway systems are in most ways superior to the Skytrain. This was demonstrated when I returned home and found a Chengdu mother and child at the YVR Skytrain station struggling to figure out how to get to Surrey and how much it would cost. Once I helped her get her tickets she rode with me to the Waterfront station, out one set of turnstiles, up an elevator and around a newspaper kiosk, into another set of turnstiles, then was pointed to the Expo line. After a fifteen hour flight that was far more complex than any traveller should have to deal with.

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How China Reduces Automobile Usage
August 21, 2019
500 words

The Chinese government is still building and maintaining an impressive network of multi-lane freeways, highways, and flyovers — with regular toll plazas — to move large volumes of automobiles relatively efficiently, but the Chinese government has also tried to move the country (or at least the major cities) away from internal combustion engines.

As well as making lots of safe space for transit users, bikes, electric motorbikes, and pedestrians, the Chinese have done one other thing to improve the traffic mix in Chengdu and Beijing: they’ve made it really hard to own a car. Much like the licences and charges in London and Singapore, rules in China pretty much limit car use in the city to the very wealthy.

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China: Bike Share, Electric Motorbikes and Pedestrians
August 22, 2019
875 Words

Admittedly, lots of things are easier in a one-party police state, but by the same token, that doesn’t necessarily make them bad ideas.

On many arterials in Chengdu, you’ll find a full traffic lane on each side of the road dedicated to bicycles and electric motorbikes. These lanes are protected by low barriers – good looking metal railings, not concrete Jersey barriers – that keep slower vehicles safe from automobile traffic.

Outside of the bike lanes are sidewalks that are wider still, encouraging pedestrian traffic, although they’re also used by bikes and e-motorbikes. Despite these interlopers (I don’t actually know what the local rules are) the sidewalks feel spacious and safe. Tactile paving is widely used as well.

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Notes from a Podcast: The North Shore’s Grand Bargain

Published: PriceTags.ca
July 9, 2019
658 words

(many thanks to the Price Tags crew for allowing space for this essay.)

During the Q&A that followed the Price Tags taping at the North Vancouver District Public Library moderator Gordon Price asked Holly Back, a member of the City of North Vancouver council, how she felt about the “bargain” that had been struck between the City and the District.

The bargain is straightforward: the City will build lots of new housing, more than a thousand new rental units, and low income and supportive housing, while the District will do nothing, in order to preserve a suburban community of single family detached homes.

As the City grows, the District will remain unwelcoming—to both outsiders and population growth.

The current District council is smug in its determination to block all new development, and openly hostile to developers, but I suspect they’re fooling themselves if they think this is a triumph. By refusing to approve any development, and asking staff for help in shaming council members who accepted developer contributions, the District is trying to preserve the type of community that was popular a half-century ago; one with suburban houses, big shopping malls, and a complete dependence on cars for transportation.

Meanwhile, the City is densifying, diversifying, and creating a twenty-first century municipality that acknowledges these changing demographics, as well as the looming threat of climate change.

While the District is chasing away projects that would offer services and housing to seniors, the disabled, and the low income workers that drive the retail sector, the City is welcoming them with open arms.

Already you can see and feel the difference. The lower half of Lonsdale Street—especially near the Shipyards and Seabus terminal—is alive with new development. A new Whole Foods store has opened, and a flurry of new businesses, restaurants, and services have appeared that are supported by the rising population. Equally noteworthy is the sense that it’s a young population moving in, with different priorities and different spending patterns. Compared to Lynn Valley where we live, it’s a community—alive and vibrant. There are even people on the streets after nine o-clock on a weeknight.

The feeling that the City is younger is in fact supported by the 2016 census; the City’s population is growing at a rate several times faster than the District, and much of that growth is in people in their prime earning years. That working age population represents a bigger percentage of the City’s residents, than the District, and it skews younger too. While the District’s population currently has more children and teens, by adulthood they’ll join the “missing middle” — younger working adults who can no longer afford to live in the District. Meanwhile, the District is left with a surplus of people at or approaching retirement age.

What hasn’t been discussed by the new District council is what all of this holds for the future. As the City adds housing, and population, and density, it will also grow its tax base and its economic activity.

Building housing will allow the City to grab the lion’s share of Federal and Provincial funding that has become available. More people will mean more spending, more jobs, and more vitality and resilience. A population that is younger and more diverse will create a city that can see new opportunities, and find new solutions to the problems faced by any municipality in the Lower Mainland. And of course, more density will encourage TransLink to improve transit services.

And the District? As the population ages into retirement ,the incomes that support local businesses will decline. As council insists that they only want two million dollar single family homes, they’ll see young people and young families choosing to live in the City. Those people will be looking south, towards the galleries, and shopping, and excitement of Lower Lonsdale and Vancouver, and eventually won’t even think about the District as a place to live or visit.

While the City thrives, the District will just fade away, becoming less relevant with every year.

Bicycles are not a North Shore Panacea, Transit Might Be

Published: Price Tags (link)
August 30, 2016
1135 words

For three years I’ve been part of the District of North  Vancouver’s Transportation Consultation Committee. Few things have enjoyed more discussion than cycling infrastructure.

The cycling community, including HUB, have done a tremendous job of lobbying local governments for better bike paths and lanes, and for the inclusion of bike specific amenities in major developments. When these discussions happen, bicycles are almost immediately proposed as the solution to traffic jams.

Good though that is, it isn’t about to solve the problems of the daily traffic jams on the Upper Levels highway. The problem is that our most avid cyclists don’t seem to understand the motivation of all of the thousands of people driving to and from their destinations. Continue reading “Bicycles are not a North Shore Panacea, Transit Might Be”