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2009 Archive

by Gordon Price, Director of City Program at Simon Fraser University [Pricetags blog]

My first impression? Crowds.

I gave up trying to start at Waterfront Station, and took a trolley to Yaletown. Crowded too, but pleasant:

Yaletown Station is a bit better than City Centre, but still has that affable blandness.

I confess, I liked the little folly that used to occupy this space in Curtis Plaza. Its only function was to house the elevator for the parking garage below, but it fit. Nonetheless, Yaletown Station may add a little life to this space if properly programmed.

It’s a three-minute ride to City Hall. Finally, Vancouver’s civic centre will be more practically connected to its central business district. [Side note: the Hall is where it is because of the civic politics of the 1930s, just after three municipalities amalgamated to create the Vancouver we know today. It wouldn’t do to have the new City Hall located downtown (they even rejected an offer to buy the bankrupt Marine Building), and so it was built in what was then a Mt. Pleasant park.]

Anyway … I didn’t get off. Decided to take the train to Bridgeport, where the action will be when TransLink funnels most of the southern buses into this station. That meant 20 minutes in a tunnel.

As the train emerged into the light, there was an audible gasp of relief. Vancouverites have gotten used to a SkyTrain perspective, and …

by Catherine Calvert, VIA’s Director of Practice + Director of Community Architecture

I recently had the opportunity to visit upstate New York and to learn about cycles of urban decline not only associated with our current economic downturn, but that are the result of decades of post-industrialization. The conference I attended, organized by the Association for Community Design, included presentations by representatives from Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Troy, Flint, Rochester and others – all cities that are trying to figure out what to do with a surplus of vacant urban land at a time when hope is scarce.

Here in Cascadia, our cities look very different. Not only are we relatively younger, but even in the most economically challenged areas, land values remain high and neighborhoods are for the most part occupied. Not so in these eastern and midwestern cities, where a downward spiral of job loss, population decline, property abandonment, repossession and eventual demolition of individual buildings erodes at the integrity of once-intact neighborhood fabric. Cities find themselves as owners of a sizeable land bank of empty lots, owners adjacent to vacant land watch as their own property values decline, and inner cities become less and less viable places to live.

Associated with the decay of neighborhoods comes a lack of choices about food supply. Many public markets once prominent in most major urban centers have been lost to private enterprise over time. When neighborhoods are no longer considered to provide adequate …

APTA review

Aug 10, 2009

by Kate Howe, VIA’s Urban Planner

I am just back from attending the APTA sustainability conference in Utah’s Salt Lake City. The sessions focus on tackling climate change – increasing transit accessibility to the pedestrian, land use integration and green design. This is the fifth in the sustainability workshop series, and reflects how transit agencies have moved forward to implementation of sustainability strategies – from Ben Franklin Transit’s ethanol/biodiesel fuel mix in Louisville, to the 25 iphone apps created by creative types for Portland Tri-met that help to blend transit use into the everyday life.

I thought that the star session was the first session, a panel discussion with the new Deputy Administrators appointed by the Obama Administration – three articulate progressives from the EPA – HUD- DOT that travel together to talk about how to create new efficiencies between the three agencies and link transportation funding to land use and environmental policy. Unimaginable only a year ago – these three have their work cut out for them.

Jim Lopez – a former Seattlite who went to Washington with Ron Sims, is now heading up HUD’s Sustainable Communities office. This office is beginning to pay attention and understands that to win the smart growth battle- many communities would benefit from Federal technical assistance to conduct long range planning. Lopez in particular discussed the need for a large scale audit of land use policies in order to make legal the mixed-urban environments that are the hallmark of low VMT, …

by David Hiller, Advocacy Director Cascade Bicycle Club

Across Europe, the 22nd of September is a day when town centers close to cars and trucks, and open up for people to enjoy walking, cycling, live music, dancing, public art and children’s play areas. The event, called In Town, Without My Car!, represents a turning point in how we view the public space normally devoted to the movement and storage of private motor vehicles.

In Town, Without My Car!, Ciclovia’s and events like them allow us to question what our streets are really for, and whether we’re striking the right balance between the differing and often competing needs of street users. Should these public spaces be designed to maximize throughput of motor traffic, or should the emphasis be on creating places where people can engage in life’s activities in relative peace and quiet and safety? However brief, street closures give us a tantalizing glimpse of what our downtowns could be like with fewer cars and more people.In Town, Without My Car! is a campaign that shares the streets-for-people philosophy of the London Mayor’s Transport Strategy – using the streets as social spaces and for public transport, walking and bicycling. It is about improving the quality of life, allowing people to come together and see how much better life can be when cars are simply withdrawn from the urban mix. The campaign’s objective is simple, to give priority to people over traffic.

Too often, town centers have been sacrificed to busy roads: …

by Peg MacDonald, Architect @ VIA’s Vancouver OfficeBefore seeing the Velo-City exhibit, I took the opportunity of a singularly spectacular sunny summer Saturday to join a bike tour. The ‘Vancouverism by Bicycle’ tours are being offered in conjunction to the Velo-City exhibition, on Saturdays until August 22 at 10am. (So the $45 admission fee is a little steep, but it does include the regular admission fee ($11), and includes two hours on the Seawall talking about architecture…)

John, our guide (and a Planner), led us from the Museum of Vancouver across the newly bike-dedicated northbound sidewalk of the Burrard Street bridge and along the Seawall. From the west end, we traced the rise of ‘Vancouverism’ from its roots in the 60s (Beach Towers) through Concord Pacific and around False Creek to the budding development of Southeast False Creek. Tim, our Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition rep (carrying such necessities as first aid and flat tire kits) brought up the tail.

It’s not a chronological ride, but seeing the exchange of influence between the early (Beach Towers and Granville Island) and the more recent (Concord Pacific, the Roundhouse, and SEFC) made the dialogue all the clearer for the historical alternation.

The ride and discussion was like a tour of VIA influences and work. I wasn’t undercover, since I’d already confessed my profession and office before the ride began – so whether or not John meant all those nice things he said about the Roundhouse being …

Here is the third clip from the Seattle debate that talks about the layout of the two cities, and where it’s easier to bike. Although it seems like there is an obvious winner here, watch this clip and let us know your opinion.

The opening of the Sound Transit Central Link Light Rail last week has caused me to both reflect and to look ahead.

Link Light Rail was the project that brought me to Seattle. That was ten years ago. VIA was retained by Sound Transit to develop the design concepts for Capitol and First Hill Stations and to develop the system wide architectural standards for Link.

When we joined the project the engineering team had already been working on the project for a year and a half. In those early days of the project the sense amongst the design team was that Link Light Rail was going to be a catalyst for Seattle to become a more sustainable, more livable, less car dominated city. I remember thinking at the time that we would be riding Link from the University to the Airport sometime in 2006. That was before everything that possibly could go wrong went wrong.

It is hard to fathom how a transit system could take so long to conceive, build and make operational; eleven and a half years from design start to opening day of Central Link; and that’s opening day for only a part of the system that had been envisioned — the Capitol Hill Station we were designing back in 1999 won’t be finished for another seven years.

The technical parts of transit systems don’t take this long to design and construct. It’s the …

As a slight interruption to our transit posts, I wanted to link to this article that came out in the Vancouver Sun by Michael Geller last Friday.

When asked to speak to Urban Land Institute individuals from Portland to Seattle, Geller had this to say:

“Over a day-and-a-half, the Vancouver/Seattle debate continued, with the Portland delegates making the case for their wonderful city.

I talked about the mayor of Vancouver’s desire to be the greenest city in the world, and while the American delegates did not laugh, they did smile, since both Seattle and Portland are considered the two most sustainable cities in the United States.

But there are similarities. As Vancouver gets ready to start its rapid transit line from the airport to the downtown, today Seattle is opening its long awaited 23-km, $2.3 billion light-rail line that will connect its downtown to Tukwila. An extension to SeaTac airport will begin later this year.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Alan Hart, one of VIA’s principals, recently found this newspaper clipping that he had saved from a 1982 British Columbia paper, that talks about the new SkyTrain system coming to Vancouver and why the government should “scrap” the system now and go back to more conventional methods — a great read.


The case to abort ALRT

Is system unproven and too expensive…

Or far-thinking step to meet area needs?

from The Province, by Andrew Ross

Bob Bose, chairman of the rapid transit committee of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, calls the Advanced Light Rapid Transit system a billion-dollar gamble.

“The wisest and most prudent thing to do,” says the Surrey aldermen, “would be to abandon this unproven technology and begin converting immediately to a conventional system.”

At, he says, only one-third of the cost.He sounded this alarm to the GVRD last week, sparking a new round of debate on the costs and merits of the ALRT system, and calls from the GVRD’s transit committee for a full accounting from the provincial government.

Education Minister Bill Vander Zalm, Victoria’s minister in charge of transit, notes Bose is seeking re-election to Surrey council Nov. 20, and declares: “Mr. Bose obviously is running a campaign.” But it is finally becoming clear to the members of Bose’s committee that the ALRT system is a highly expensive technological experiement that will cost Greater Vancouver taxpayers enormous amounts. …

At least we got one rapid transit project built!

Congratulations to Sound Transit on the opening of the Link Light Rail, July 18, 2009.