Tag Archives: vancouver

Cough cough

8 Jul

Cough cough, much like Vancouver and Western North America, this blog has gotten a bit too dusty and dry from neglect. Forest fires and droughts aside, a few notable political events have passed since I last posted something in cyberspace of meaningful value.

Most recently Greece went bankrupt and may now finally slip out of the Euro. It seems there is barely enough liquidity in Greece’s financial system to continue paying bills through to the end of the month. Even with banks closed, the government has probably run out of Euros and will need to start printing IOU’s or Drachmas in the next couple of days, unless it can convince the dreaded Troika to keep them afloat with less dreaded Deutsche style austerity. The Greeks are probably roasted, but for the rest of us, who knows what the fallout will be.

In national news, our oily neighbours to the east did the impossible, electing a social democratic government, turfing out 45 years of single party right wing rule. It appears Albertans had grown tired of being too oil dependent and having no savings to for it. It shall be most interesting to see what the Notley Crew will do to turn things around there, many are watching them closely, perhaps none more than our federal politicians, who will be going to election this October.

An interesting federal election it will be in October, as for the first time there is a serious possibility that Canadians, tired of 148 years of Liberal/Tory hegemony, may be ready to try a new flavour of ice cream. The chances look good for Notley’s federal NDP cousin, Tom Mulcair: a fatigued Tory government handcuffed by a stalled economy and falling oil prices, and a soft Liberal leader who is only there because of his name – all this adds up to an interesting mix of possibilities. Many would say this election is Tom Mulcair’s to lose.

Greece, oil, and federal politics aside, what has most perked my interest this spring and early summer has been the disastrous plebiscite imposed on all of us in Vancouver by our dear BC Premier Christy Clark. The plebiscite asked us whether we as taxpayers would be willing to cough up an extra 0.5% of PST to pay for metro lines, improved bus service, transit upgrades, and much more. The plebiscite result was a resounding No.

I was not surprised by the result. I mean, who in their right mind would vote to pay more taxes to big government for something they may never use (for the record I rarely use transit and live in the city centre, but I voted Yes)? The whole plebiscite exercise, much like many things done in this province, was poorly planned and executed. At $20 million it was also a waste of taxpayers’ time and money. Quite simply it should never have happened. Instead the premier should have assumed the role she was elected for: to govern and make the big decisions of how to invest taxpayer dollars.

By going the route of a plebiscite on transit investment, our premier abdicated her responsibility as leader and foisted upon us and junior levels of government to do the dirty work for her. Like the Greeks and the Albertans, we now have one big mess and no easy way out. Who knows what the fallout will be.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/bc-transit-plebiscite-a-failure-of-leadership/article25340987/

Greater Vancouver Mobility Fund – anything but the word tax

13 Mar

I am a strong advocate for voting yes. I’ve lived in Rio de Janeiro and have seen what poor long term choices lead to.

My only question is why we decided to call this .5% levy a tax? Tax is a considered negative word by the public, and easy for the lobby groups to rally against. I would have chosen Transit Levy, or Congestion Charge, or the Greater Vancouver Mobility Fund – anything but the word tax.

Ultimately there shouldn’t even be a referendum on this. Especially since the premier decided to unilaterally impose another 3 billion dollar bridge on the region, despite the fact the other 3 billion dollar bridge her party imposed on us is a total financial disaster.

It’s Raining in LA

10 Feb

After days of non stop rain in Vancouver, I cannot help but think of drier climes, images of figs, palm trees, and sunny beaches float through my mind. Ah yes, down with biking in yet another Pineapple Express, it’s time to move to Los Angeles!

Talking LA, this weekend an article in the Economist caught my attention. It was about the great lengths LA’s rich and famous go to to bypass the enormous traffic jams the “city” suffers from. For those who can afford it, the options include paying a chauffeur to drive you around in a built out GM suburban mega SUV, complete with office, TV room, and bathroom on board – a must if one is stuck and no loo is nearby. The vans include AC and curtains to block out the ever present pesky LA sunshine.

Some of the mega SUV’s even come with built in fitness bikes and baths, so you can get your ride in while being driven to the office. I mean, why bike to work in one of the world’s most perfect climates for cycling? That would be too simple…

SFU or UBC – The Gondola Solution

9 Feb

If the Broadway Line were built and extended as far as Alma Street, could a gondola system be implemented to get students the rest of the way to campus? It would certainly be cheaper than running buses or continuing the line to UBC.

What about SFU, why is NIMBYism still holding up the gondola line from Production Way up to the campus? Why can a few home owners force delays and unsafe commutes upon tens of thousands of people who live, work, and study up on Burnaby Mountain?

Barcelona and Medellin have it, why can’t we have it to?

Where is our Premier? What was she elected for?

2 Feb

The upcoming transit referendum is statement of our times. A provincial government too scared to take a stand on anything, has imposed on the recently elected mayors of Greater Vancouver a plebiscite on funding essential upgrades to transit in the region. The provincial government has said they will take no position on the plebiscite, this despite the fact that the region is by far the most important economic motor of the province.

Translink is the provincial corporation responsible for transit in the region, it operates in a similar fashion to another provincial corporation called BC Ferries. Both Translink and BC Ferries were divorced from the core Provincial Transport ministry, so as to get the hot potato of transit funding out of the provincial government’s hands, and into pseudo independent corporate bodies that can be blamed whenever fares rise or service is cut. While the issue here is not about BC Ferries, one need just pick up a local paper to see the state of that particular provincial “corporation”.

The result is the mayors are being forced to campaign for funding from the public to finance the expansion of transit and road and bridge infrastructure that is operated by a corporation that is kind of run by the province. Sounds crazy, but in fact it is worse than that, because if the funding is turned down by the public, the gridlock here will get worse, and the only ones who will take the blame will be the mayors and Translink. Christy Clark and the provincial government will be able to wash their hands of it.

English Bay Boathouse Area: Congestion Caused by the Cactus Club and too much Roadway

5 Jan
The area around the Cactus Club at English Bay is an accident waiting to happen, the result of placing the front door of a popular restaurant right onto the busiest bike way in the cityAnyone who bikes, walks, or rollerblades through this narrow section knows it is a shambles of a limited sidewalk, a narrow bike lane, bus shelters, and pylons; however, with a bit of creativity the problem can be easily rectified.
The solution – move the bike lane onto Beach Road and redirect Stanley Park in/out traffic onto Morton Ave to the north side of the “Laughing Men” statues – this will connect these statues to the beachfront, as the short section of Beach Road and Davie Street that lies between it and the seawall would become a bike path and pedestrian space.
The drop-off parking in front of Cactus Club is also part of the problem, but can be fixed by also relocating it to the north of the “laughing men” statues.
The impact of these changes to traffic will be minimal, as the area is a 30km/hr zone access road to and from the park, which means drivers should not be travelling in a hurry.

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.

http://mayorscouncil.ca/information-centre/

Mayors-Council-Transportation-and-Transit-Referendum-Ballot_Recommended_December-11

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.

Stanley Park Causeway

6 Dec

A section of my bike commute I often write about is finally getting some attention from the Ministry of Transportation and Highways. It appears the survey work conducted by the province is complete, and barring significant protests against tree removal, the project should hopefully move ahead in 2015. This will finally give cyclists, pedestrians, and motorized commuters a safer fixed link between downtown and the North Shore.

To learn more, visit: http://www.gov.bc.ca/stanleyparkcauseway. Click through the menu on the left to see pictures, maps, drawings, and pdf files. Very complete.

The Occupancy Tax – An Argument for Taxing Property based on Vacancy

1 Dec

Like many scientific bodies, StatsCan has suffered horridly at the hands of the Conservative government, and is left with limited resources to assess issues such as the impacts, real or false, of off shore investors on the affordability of real estate in Canadian cities.

Yet while Statscan data is limited, bodies such as the MLS have cobbled together data that demonstrates single family homes, duplexes, and large condos in the City of Vancouver, Richmond, and the North Shore have become detached from the rest of the real estate market and are no longer related to real incomes of people living in the GVRD. Furthermore, while no formal data exists, inhabitants of many of these neighbourhoods attest to quiet streets and empty unoccupied houses, while small local store owners complain of fewer clientele. This of course is not a phenomenon limited to the GVRD, it is also happening in the cities of other stable western democracies – Melbourne, Sydney, London, Paris, San Francisco. Some of these cities have reacted to the rise in vacant properties and prices by contemplating occupancy taxes to discourage owners from leaving homes empty.

I believe it is time for British Columbia to do the same thing, to add an occupancy tax to residential property tax bills. Each home would be charged this tax; however, all landlords and resident owners would be exempt from paying it if the property in question was occupied or tenanted for at least half of the year. Proving occupancy would be based on a trust system, similar to the homeowner grant; however, it would be enforced with steep fines and criminal charges for false claims. A small audit team would conduct random audits of properties in B.C. to ensure compliance. If faced with an audit, owners would prove compliance by showing a B.C. rental lease with a tenant, bank statements, utility bills, and correspondence from Revenue Canada proving someone was living there.

While I remain convinced the best way to bring affordability is through upzoning, there is much to be said about how an occupancy tax can reduce the amount of vacant properties, while also financing the construction of lower priced housing stock. If such a tax is implemented, it must be clearly explained it will not affect the wallets of renters, resident owners, and landlords, as they can all claim the full rebate on the tax.

Congestion Charging Based on Automobile Efficiency – A Means to Reshape the Greater Vancouver Regional District

24 Nov

This post on Pricetags reminded me of a post I penned back when I was blogging on LiveJournal through the 2000’s. In my opinion, it has become more relevant than in 2009, as none of these issues have been addressed, but will need to be tackled in the upcoming GVRD Transit Referendum.

Congestion charging, tolls, user pay, bike lanes, subways, trolleys, improving the downtown core, pedestrian malls, these are the infrastructure issues our urban region will need to address and make final decisions on in the referendum. The current model, where cars take up nearly half of our urban landscape and can drive almost anywhere, is not sustainable. The question is, “what do we as a region want, do we wish to remain conventionally North American and stay with status quo, even though much of North America is moving on, or do we want to be the leaders?”

Vancouver into and beyond the Olympics: An Initiative for a Global Hub City

Vancouver, 3 May 2006 (Original date of composition)

Congestion Charging: A Supply and Demand Instrument

A number of cities around the world have been implementing congestion charging zones in high-density areas for some time. The results of these initiatives speak for themselves; once over-crowded streets have been replaced with more liveable and workable spaces, allowing people to take back street space. Yet congestion charging has allowed for a host of other benefits, such as:

  1. Achieving Kyoto objectives;
  2. Reducing noise pollution;
  3. Improving air quality to the benefit of local human health;
  4. Increasing city revenue due to congestion charges, consequently allowing for subsidies for intensive mass public transit initiatives;
  5. Reducing city traffic;
  6. Creating opportunities for revitalizing zones once considered unworkable due to excessive automobile volume;
  7. Reducing the number of required road networks (due to less traffic), consequently creating opportunities for redevelopment of streets in the form of urban gathering points (public squares), parks, living spaces, and tax rich commercial ventures;
  8. Reducing the cost for maintaining and up-keeping overused road networks.

Congestion Charging in Vancouver

This document proposes Vancouver initiate a pilot congestion charging initiative in its CBD. This congestion charging zone would run along Main Street in the east, starting at Science World and continuing north along Main to Portside Park; in the west access would be controlled via Lion’s Gate Bridge, while to the south traffic control would be established on Cambie, Granville, and Burrard Street Bridges. [i]

As in cities that have already established congestion charging, all movement would be tracked using databases and CCTV’s at access points. Downtown Vancouver does have an advantageous topography for such an initiative, which due to limited access to its downtown area, does not need as many control points as say London, Helsinki, or Stockholm (all cities that have implemented congestion charging).

The Pillars of Congestion Charging

In establishing a congestion-charging zone, charging must be based on easily understandable criteria:

  1. The duration of the commute based on origin and destination;
  2. The fuel efficiency of the vehicle;
  3. The time of day of the commute.

In North America the first item is relatively well understood. It is for the most part already applied on many freeway tolls in the United States and parts of Canada. Many Vancouver motorists have at some point utilized a toll highway, and understand charges are based on how long they are on a road, and how far they travel on it. Applied to a congestion-charging zone, those with digital vehicle plates registered from farther away (up to a set limit) will pay more than those with plates from inside or near the congestion zone.

Charging based on automobile fuel efficiency is still a relatively novel idea in North America. The concept implies charging rates according to the fuel efficiency of a vehicle, as well as whether the vehicle is registered as part of a car pool or cooperative network programme. Based on this system, commuters driving large inefficient cars pay more, whilst those carpooling or using coop cars, driving electric cars (this is up for debate, as electric cars are not as efficient as one is led to believe), or riding public transit pay the least. An effective database can tie these variables into a calculation.

The last item, charging based on time of day, means that congestion-charging simply applies to the private automobile what mass transit companies around the world are already using to mitigate overcrowding on transit at certain times of the day. Essentially drivers using road networks during rush hour pay more than those using roads at off peak times. The idea is based on the premise that the user pays, but also works to encourage commuters to find innovative ways to avoid utilising the road network during these times, unless absolutely necessary.

These three pillars of congestion-charging, backed by digital licence plates (already in implementation), CCTV, and a flexible database, will provide for reduced urban congestion, greater security, and improved human health in Metro Vancouver.

The benefits of implementing congestion charging in Vancouver will not only make the city more liveable, thus ensuring its lead as the most desirable place to live in, according to The Economist and the UN, it will also provide much needed revenue to help finance future public transit initiatives that will in turn get more people out of their cars and encourage further private sector investment in the city.

A prospective long-term benefit, yet to be explored, is the potential to reduce the number of automobile access streets in the city – something only possible with reduced traffic due to congestion charging coupled with viable public transit alternatives. With a reduction in the number of streets the city could redevelop urban thoroughfares into mixed commercial and green spaces, thus providing additional revenue for the city through new property taxes and new land to sell for development.

Out of Congestion, Landmarks and Legacies

Vancouver has, since Expo in 1986, experienced a spectacular real estate boom bringing thousands of people into live-work environments in the city core. This has helped revitalize the city core; however, the city centre, when compared to other major centres, lacks diversity in the form and function of its work and living spaces.

With the upcoming Olympics, and the economic conjunction of booming real estate, low interest rates, high energy prices, and a high dollar (affording discounts on quality imports), the city has the opportunity to encourage the development of world class statement buildings that will stamp its image as the cultural and economic intersection of European, American, and Asian cultures.

Using congestion charging to increase city revenues, improve urban liveability, and ultimate reduce the amount of space dedicated to automobiles will not only provide immediate revenue to the city, but it will also provide new space to initiate legacy and landmark developments. These developments, once completed, will further add to city revenues in the form of property taxes, tourism revenues, and unforeseen spin-offs.

The types of development the city could consider to replace urban thoroughfares:

  • The development of an integrated entertainment and theatre district to consolidate Vancouver theatre in a central area, as is the case in cities such as Buenos Aires, London, New York, and Montreal;
  • The development of a museum and design corridor dedicated to experimental design in architecture, as was successfully achieved in Bilbao, Spain;
  • The development of a north-south pedestrian, trolley, and non-motorized corridor incorporating commercial space and city piazzas;
  • The development of a statement boulevard space incorporating natural space with new urban developments;
  • The construction of urban spaces dedicated to knowledge industries in design, media, IT, and biotechnology.

Regardless of what themes are assembled, all efforts must ensure that this long term initiative give priority to experimental design that breaks away from the form of architecture that has dominated Vancouver’s skyline since the end of Expo in 1986.

Conclusion

Apart from increasing city revenues as well as reducing automobile traffic, congestion charging also provides the financial and logistical means for reshaping any urban space, thus affording cities the manoeuvrability to turn once unusable spaces into opportunities for the development of landmark legacy developments.

Vancouver, due to the factors outlined in this document, has the unique opportunity to be the first city in North America to use congestion charging to achieve greater liveability and sustainability, whilst also establishing itself as the epicentre for urban legacies.

[i] http://maps.google.ca/?hl=fr&q=vancouver&f=q&ll=49.285332,-123.109961&spn=0.027881,0.107803&om=1