Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A 1928 Plan for the City of Vancouver & Others

The last month, and particularly the last few days, has seen a slew of reports and plans released. I thought it would be good to compile them all in once place for those interested and with lots of free time. And I mean a lot of free time. This probably adds up to more than 500 pages in total. Have fun!

There's the Cambie Corridor Plan in Vancouver, which lays out the future of Cambie street now that the Canada Line has strung it all together.

City of Vancouver Archives has released this digitized version of a 1928 plan for the City of Vancouver. The whole things can be downloaded as a 332-page PDF file that includes an exhaustive city plan along with maps, charts, and street cross-sections. BT Architects held an event surrounding the plan on April 26, 2011. Historical nerds, unite!

The Martin Prosperity Institute released their report, Who Cares About 15 Million Urban Voters, which quantifies Canada's urbanization and the place of cities in the federal election. This was also the subject of a panel discussion held a few weeks ago, which I covered for Torontoist.

For more electiony-type stuff, here's the election platform for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities [PDF], which among many other things calls for broader funding tools for cities as well as national strategies for transit and infrastructure.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released their Transportation Transformation document a few days ago, which looks to build "complete communities and a zero-emission transportation system in B.C."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Beers & Bikes, Street Food Hold the Red Tape, Mayor Ford vs. Graffiti Round One, and a 19th Century Online Newspaper

Beer, bikes, and parks. The three just go together like salt and pepper...and, um, a third kind of, but still complimentary seasoning. But how to transport your drinks to the park? And how, once you arrive and claim your space under a big shady tree, do you open said drinks? Fear no more, for now you can purchase a handy bicycle beer holder as well as a seat clamp with a built in bottle opener. Just don't park your bike on this crazy thing in Seoul, as it might be a bit hard to get down tipsy. And please don't drink and try to do this:

Toronto is looking to provide tastier, streets eats without the red tape, after the disastrous Toronto a la Carte program. Perhaps we should look towards Vancouver for help, as that city has implemented a successful and diverse street food program that has seen itself expanded. Personally, I'm still waiting for the cart that just sells jars of peanut butter and spoons.

See Mayor Rob Ford. See as he gets his hands dirty, power-washing graffiti. See as he scuttles reporters because, like a petulant child, he just wants to talk about what he wants to talk about and nah-nah-nah-boo-boo. Why do these pesky reporters keep bothering him about expense accounts, campaign funding, and the selling of TCHC houses? Can't they see that once we get the city clean, brick by brick, all those other problems will go away too? These people don't think so.

The Toronto online mediascape just got a bit more crowded with the addition of Toronto Standard. Be sure to check out two great articles by Ivor Tossell re: Transit City and Alex Bozikovic re: TCHC housing. Toronto Standard was originally established in 1848, back when the internet was candle-powered and servers were housed in barns.

And in other news, the sky apparently seems to be falling.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Toronto's Missed Transit Opportunity

The transportation talk the last week or so in Toronto has been mainly focussed on Rob Ford's deal with the Dalton McGuinty to reallocate the money set aside for Transit City to pay for an entirely underground Eglinton Crosstown LRT and an upgraded Scarborough line, with Ford's plans for a privately financed Sheppard subway extension still in the works. Thus, instead of multiple lines of LRT threading their way through Toronto's inner suburbs, Toronto will get one new line, an upgraded one, and one made mostly out of dreams.

In fact, Ford himself doesn't seem to fully understand what privately financing something actually means, leading to what would be a jaw-dropping exchange between Ford and reporters if this kind of exchange hadn't proved itself par for the course. When a reporter pressed Ford about the fact that the City would in fact be borrowing money to pay for the Sheppard extension, this exchange happened (read the full National Post article):

Mayor: I’m not quite sure where taxpayers money is coming in, when we’re using private money.

Q: Because you have to repay those private financiers with taxes and development charges that you would collect later. That’s called borrowing.


But it seems the debate has zoomed in even closer, focussing on the nixing of the Finch West LRT, which has angered a lot of residents along the busy corridor, currently served by over-crowded busses. When asked to comment on this, Ford said he could see a subway on Finch in ten years. And a thousand gold bricks for everyone!

Above is a video of The Star's Christopher Hume as he takes us on a quick tour of the Finch corridor, explaining why this is a missed opportunity for the city. What's difficult about Transit City fading away is that it has the whiff of one of those historic turning points, where Torontonians will look back in ten years with thoughts of "if only." LRT would have completely transformed not only the look of those avenues, but the feel of the entire city.

As Hume says, "Transit's not just about moving people from A to B, but about building the city." And Transit City, with its ability to stitch Toronto together, would have excellent city building.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

NFB Documentary: Radiant City

Radiant City is a strange documentary, but I can't tell you why because it would ruin it. It picks up on one family in Calgary's outer suburbs and follows them as they attempt to adjust to their new life in the still under-construction "community" of Evergreen. I put community in quotation marks because the idea of this type of development being a community in anything other than the most basic way is challenged again and again in this film.

We hear from such thinkers as Mark Kingwell and Joseph Heath, both authors as well as professors at the University of Toronto; James Howard Kunstler, author of The Geography of Nowhere; as well as many urban planners, designers, and architects on what exactly makes the suburbs tick and why.

The film is interesting, but the critique of the suburbs is one we have heard and is hammered home over and over again by the different interviewees. James Howard Kunstler is particularly poetic in his anti-suburban diatribe, calling the suburban wasteland tragic and cartoonish. We're told the suburbs are dehumanizing, isolating, fat-inducing, energy-hungry, and far too big. We're told we need our cities to have walkability, main streets, mixed-use, mixed-income and dense, neighbourhoods. But we don't really get anywhere deeper than that.

Still, anyone that grew up in the suburbs will likely have some flashbacks as we watch the family attempt to coordinate their lives around their two cars--necessary for their new life in the far-flung 'burbs.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Tale of Two Transit Companies: TTC vs. TransLink

TransLink is an entirely different beast from the TTC.

The TTC is run by a board of nine Toronto city councillors, while TransLink is a regional transportation authority of Metro Vancouver, encompassing several municipalities in the region (much like pre-amalgamated Toronto's regional governance structure). TransLink is constructed of a mayors council (made up of twenty-two mayors of communities around and including Vancouver), an appointed board of directors, and a regional transportation commissioner that is supposed to oversee the process.

Also, unlike the TTC, TransLink is responsible for much more than busses and SkyTrain, and has its hand in bikes and roads as well, meaning that it is well-suited for more comprehensive planning strategies that encompass different forms of travel.

While Toronto gets jerked around by politicians who enjoy sticking their finger in the transportation pot and stirring it around, Metro Vancouver's regional structure means there is less opportunity for a single mayor's whim to vastly derail plans. TransLink is far from perfect, however, and there is always concern about funding and delays in project timing (the Evergreen Line has been on the books for quite some time and still seems hazy), but the regional structure means that decisions are negotiated between many mayors. However, that same regional structure leaves some municipalities feeling as though they're not getting an equal piece of the transit pie, causing squabbles to break out about what transit lines should have priority and which municipalities they serve.

But it's not just the structure, scope and governance of the two transit companies that makes them so different, it's the approach to public consultation. My impression with the TTC and transit planning in Toronto, is that Torontonians are told what kind of transit they are getting instead of being involved in the conversation. David Miller says Toronto is getting a light-rail network, so Toronto is getting a light-rail network. Then Rob Ford says everything has to be underground, so everything has to be underground. Presto, change-o.

This week, TransLink released their UBC-Broadway corridor alternatives study, which is the second phase in a public consultation and planning process that seeks to find the best solution to rapid transit for the busy Broadway corridor. The website, which includes seven alternatives complete with easily understood graphics and comparisons, seeks public input on which one speaks to Vancouverite's needs the most. After the disastrous public relations fiasco that was the Canada Line, which saw law-suits as construction ripped up Cambie for far longer than TransLink originally said, it seems TransLink has learned that the way to a more successful project is to get people on board early and make them feel they have a say it the outcome.

It's a stark difference from the way transit planning takes place within the TTC, where public consultation seems to be more about disseminating information on already made decisions. Small concessions over station entrances/exits might be made, but all the major planning decisions have already been carved in stone--that is, until a new mayor says never mind.

It's been frustrating the last few weeks watching Rob Ford sweep away years of transit planning in Toronto with seemingly little official opposition, and then propose a privately-financed scheme that is shockingly fiscally irresponsible for a politician so focussed on fiscal responsibility. Transit planning and construction usually takes more than one political term in office, so if each successive mayor decided to rejig the transportation system to his or her personal preferences, Toronto would end up with an abundance of transit dreams and little else.

I like drawing transit lines on paper too, but eventually someone needs to actually build them.