Tag Archives: transit

Half a percent is a little for a lot

11 Dec

Half a percent is a little for a lot.

The next couple of months will be critical to ensure the message is put out as to why this plan needs a yes, and how simple the funding strategy is.



For those that argue against, saying they’re not getting enough, or they’re paying more than those free riders, the reality is that for the public good, someone is always paying less than you, just as there is always someone else paying more than you. Ultimately all of Vancouver wins if the referendum succeeds. If it fails, then our region will continue to fall behind cities around the world where public infrastructure is viewed as a funding necessity, and not a pain in the ass.

Zoning: it’s killing Vancouver

5 Aug

Vancouver has a complex set of zoning measures, a legacy of zoning rules that shaped the cities of North America during the time of the industrial revolution, a period of rapid growth and social instability.

Zoning was originally implemented to keep crowds, noise, and industry separate from single family homes; to ensure the continuity of urban spaces by obliging developers to follow the guidelines of an established community plan. These plans were a crucial step forward during the industrial 19th and 20th centuries, a period of rapid growth, disease, and conflict (1).

Nowadays we live in a world of declining employment and stagnant wages, land is expensive, automobiles are pricey, and public transit is costly. The risk of pandemics and global conflict is reduced – no one of sound mind wants to send the civilized world back to 1917. So why then is the largest chunk of land in Vancouver reserved for the automobile and large single family homes? Between parking lots, boulevards, streets, and avenues, it is estimated that some 40% percent of the city if dedicated to cars, and this does not include the actually roadway, just the curbside parking (2). Even more astounding is this number also does not include the single family homes themselves!

A study of the zoning map of the City of Vancouver is a visual statement of the presence of the automobile and the single family home (3). Apart from the CBD there is no other high density housing in the city. Medium density and mixed use is limited to a few yellow blobs on the map. So why is it that the city of Vancouver has so much of its urban space zoned for single family homes?

Vancouver Zoning Map

The answer to this is pushback. Many of those who are already fortunate enough to live and own in Vancouver constantly push against any effort to modify zoning across the city – think NIMBY or BANANA. The attitude of homeowners is to “keep it the same”, totally nonsensical given the demographic wave the city is experiencing. It is ludicrous that 30 and 40 year old professionals cannot afford to buy anything anywhere near where they work or where their baby boomer parents live. It is absurd that the average Vancouverite is forced to drive to a supermarket for their groceries, rather than be able to walk to a corner store. It is just as ridiculous that because of existing zoning the only place one can drink a coffee, eat a croissant, or sip a glass of wine is on a noisy thoroughfare, and not at a quite street side café near one’s home. Yet as long as pushback continues, it will be business as usual.

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoning_in_the_United_States

(2) http://daily.sightline.org/2013/08/08/park-place/

(3) http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/Zoning-Map-Vancouver.pdf

On a road to nowhere: regional comprehensive transit stuck in traffic.

4 Aug

“Bike to Work Week”, how about just calling it “Bike to Work”? It borders on the absurd the amount of public awareness pushed during bike week, asking motorists to share the road with bicycles. What about the other 51 weeks? Does this mean next week motorists can stop sharing the road again? Indeed how is it even possible for a stressed out motorist looking at their phone to ever be able to share the road with anyone else?

Gripes aside, “Bike to Work Week” is a path in the right direction; however, the real battle is for a “third way” of entirely separated independent cycling infrastructure, integrated into a comprehensive regional transit initiative. Forgetting the fluff, this requires serious political leadership from senior levels of government, and not small cobbled together networks assembled by budget strapped city level governments.

Unfortunately there is little evidence of any initiatives from senior government. The premier of British Columbia is in perpetual campaign mode, having grinded long term transit work to a halt in the Lower Mainland, with the uncertainty of a transit referendum she has imposed, but which she refuses to take a stand on. Why is it that comprehensive transit has to go through a regional referendum, but a 3 billion dollar bridge over the Fraser River can pass without a single public consultation. If one is to be consistent, should the bridge not be part of this regional transit referendum? If there is no need for a referendum on the bridge, then why is there a need for a referendum on regional transit? In fact why is there a need for a referendum at all? After all, the Liberals won a clear mandate in the last election, so why not get on with the business of governing? Unfortunately the Premier and the BC Liberal Government seem to have lost the meaning of government. To govern is to lead, which means taking a stand that may not always win votes or assure reelection. Yet the blame does not entirely rest on the shoulders of the BC Liberals, it also falls on the opposition who fail to offer a viable alternative to the current governing party.

The federal government is not much better. Despite governing in a time with the lowest interests rates in history, the Federal Government has illogically taken to cutting taxes and spending, and consequently miss out on an opportunity to finance the modernization of the country’s urban infrastructure at near zero interest rates. The federal government should be taking the initiative to push more funding to local governments to pay for comprehensive transit infrastructure. Infrastructure to get people off highways and out of cars, and onto transit and bicycles. It seems not a day goes by without yet another story of a traffic jam, a cyclist or pedestrian hit by a motorist, a delayed overcrowded bus or trolley car service. Canadians spend too much time sitting in traffic and this is only going to get worse before it gets better. Canada is failing in a global economy where the difference between winners and losers is increasingly dependent on high quality infrastructure. The time is now for leadership from senior government, leadership willing to take risks to build a new society that breaks with the old.

In Vancouver, hats of to the city government for getting  “Bike to Work Week” moving, but sadly the effort is futile without getting the Provincial and the Federal levels of government on board. Vancouver and other cities in Canada will remain stuck in traffic on a road to nowhere, as long as there is no comprehensive transit plan with real dollars. An intolerable situation for a country where over 80% of the population lives in cities.

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Cape Town

31 Dec

I was born in South Africa, and while Vancouver is definitely home for me, there is no doubt Cape Town is still the most visually stunning city in the world. I’ve lived in Rio, studied in Barcelona, travelled to Hong Kong, and visited San Francisco, but all of them are just not as beautiful as the Cape.

Here is neat video of how Cape Town’s transit system operates. It has no LRT or subway, rather they use a system of separated bus ways. The bus ways enter into enclosed stations with boarding platforms. To enter the stations, one has to tap in with a MiCiti smart card. When leaving the station one has to tap out. The stations are secure and monitored by CCTV. Out on the road, passengers board at designated bus stops and must tap in on a tap in pad, and tap out on a tap out pad. Riders pay according to distance travelled – travel farther, pay more; travel less, pay less.

How simple it is! And oh yes, Cape Town is also working on a bike share program. So why so much hassle here in Vancouver?