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Vancouver

Invest in transit now or suffer severe consequences

Same thing could be said about any city that has inferior transit (ahem Saskatoon)

Last week, the Premier of Ontario’s Transit Panel — comprising 13 citizens from across the region and the political spectrum — unanimously recommended a strategy to fund transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. The report’s title, Making the Move: Choices and Consequences, highlights the urgency of investing in transit expansion today, failing which there will be severe consequences tomorrow.

Road congestion and transit crowding in the GTHA have already reached a tipping point. With 2.5 million people and one million more cars expected to come into the GTHA in the next 18 years, the existing severe state of congestion will become intolerable.

We have come up with a revenue plan that works. Our recommendations call for a fair and balanced contribution from all stakeholders, without asking too much of any one group. Because new transit infrastructure benefits all of society, costs should be shared — by business, drivers, and transit users. Since riders contribute through fares that rise regularly with inflation, the panel chose not to ask more of them. We have asked the government to redeploy the HST revenue it earns on gas and fuel taxes.

As for the tools, our report outlines two variations on a new funding model. The first combines a phased increase of gasoline and fuel taxes starting with 3 cents per litre in year one, a modest increase of 0.5 per cent to the general corporate income tax, and a redeployment of the GTHA portion of the HST charged on gasoline and fuel taxes. The second option is almost the same, but proposes less from gas and fuel, and more from HST.

Taken together, the combined increases would raise between $1.7 billion and $1.8 billion annually for transit in the GTHA. This revenue stream would then lever the additional borrowing to build three-quarters of the Next Wave sooner than expected. People would see the benefits from this investment, thereby generating support for The Big Move in its entirety. This revenue strategy also provides enough money to pay for local transportation improvements and to retire the debt over time.

We researched the possible options rigorously. We favour the gas and fuel taxes because they match usage, affect travel behaviour, are simple to administer, raise a lot of money, and haven’t been raised in more than 20 years. Even with the increase, the GTHA would be below Montreal or consistent with Vancouver.

The impact on households is very tolerable — about $80 per household in year one, just $260 per household after eight years. Compare that to the cost of the gasoline wasted due to stop-and-start commuting for 32 minutes on a daily round trip if we don’t remedy the situation. This amounts to $16 every week or $700 per year. The choice is obvious.
The most common and forceful message that emerged from all of our public meetings and consultations is that the public has very little trust in how transit decisions are made, how money is managed, and how projects are delivered. When it comes to funding transit, the public told us: “Dedicate it or forget it.”

We address these concerns head-on. Our recommendations, when enacted, will ensure that new revenue will be held in a segregated Fund to be spent solely on transit expansion in the GTHA. And they will guarantee accountability and transparency for how funds are spent and reported on.

We emphasize the importance of comprehensive, publicly available business case analysis prior to project approvals. We cannot afford to waste billions of dollars on projects that result in low ridership and huge operating subsidies.

We also cannot afford more congestion and more gridlock. We cannot afford continued losses in productivity and missed opportunities to create more jobs. We cannot afford more pollution and commuting stress. Above all, we cannot afford to wait.

The struggle of people in Russia’s ‘Rust Belt’

Tension rises as the Kremlin tries to force thousands to leave their homes

A tide of discontent is sweeping across Russia’s “rust belt” as the Kremlin tries to convince tens of thousands to relocate from their homes.

Authorities are offering up to $25,000 in state support for people willing to leave 142 struggling so-called “monotowns,” communities depending on a single industry.

Many Russians are unhappy about being asked to leave places that several generations of their families have called home. Critics also allege the level of compensation isn’t enough and say it will create dozens of “ghost towns.”

“I honestly earned pennies, but still income,” he said. “I am struggling to sell my house for $2,000 — nobody wants it. If I move to a big town, I will have to spend at least $60,000 to buy myself a place.”

By Dec. 28, the final 800 mill workers will lose their jobs — another significant blow to the Siberian town of 14,000 people.

The fate of 700 other people still employed at a different part of the mill which provides heat to all of Baikalsk will be decided by the spring.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last year pledged $1 billion to transform the town on the edge of Lake Baikal into a tourist hotspot. Lake Baikal is a natural treasure that contains more water than all of the Great Lakes combined.

But there has been little sign of investment in the wake of Medvedev’s visit. The town’s central square remains unpaved, hotels and cafes struggle and local newspapers publish pages of advertisements placed by residents looking to sell their apartments in Baikalsk and move closer to Moscow or St. Petersburg.

The lack of action has resulted in angry protests by fired workers in the regional center of Irkutsk.

“The Kremlin simply lied to us; they promised to first create jobs and then close the mill in 2015,” said Yuri Nabokov, the leader of the mill’s professional union. “The mill is closed and hundreds of workers have no chance to live their normal lives in their hometown with their families; authorities tell us to go to far north and work on shifts at oil fields – that makes us even angrier.”

The article also points out the Sochi are costing $50 billion.  How messed up is that?  Vancouver by comparison cost around $1.84 billion and generated about $2.5 billion in GDP.  What is Russia doing?

Vancouver, B.C., a relaxed getaway built for walking and cycling

This could be Saskatoon if we ever got serious about cycling infrastructure

And, of course, cyclists. More than any other North American city I’ve visited, Vancouver was filled with people young and old cruising around on two wheels. After several hours on foot exploring parks and gardens, I was sure of one thing: The bicyclists were seeing more and having the most fun.

The next day I returned to beaches with a bike of my own and before long was gliding, barely pedaling, around the Seaside Greenway. The greenway forms a large loop around much of downtown Vancouver and Stanley Park, the 1,000-plus-acre forest that from the air looks like a floppy cap at the tip of the city’s core. It’s a cyclist’s and walker’s paradise — with dedicated lanes for each — that is fast becoming a kind of futuristic riff on bike havens like Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

Two things make Vancouver an ideal cycling destination for travelers. First, since the late 1990s the city has invested heavily in “active transit,” mainly bike and pedestrian paths. The result is not just the scenic Seaside Greenway, but a network of connected bicycle paths that crisscross downtown. If you’ve never biked in a dense urban setting, Vancouver is the place to try. It’s safe, easy and a good way to get to places such as the historic Gastown neighborhood. Even the drivers seemed good-natured and accommodating about sharing the road.

The abundance of bike rental shops is another reason Vancouver is a biking destination. In most of the city I was never far from a rental bike and there were several shops within a two-minute walk of my hotel in the West End. A four-hour bike rental will cost less than $20.

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Saskatoon Afternoon’s 5:15 p.m. Roundtable

With David Kirton & Ian Goodwillie on the Saskatoon Afternoon‘s 5:15 roundtable today.  We talked about Lac Magantique and gourmet food in strip clubs.

Listen here

Traffic congestion on Mt. Everest is getting worse

Congestion on Mt. Everest has people looking for unique solutions

The world’s highest peak is so crowded with climbers that some are seriously considering installing a ladder on the famed Hillary Step to ease congestion. While the ladder is intended for use for those descending from the peak, the proposal still casts Mt. Everest’s long-running overcrowding issue into stark relief. 

Here is more on Mt. Everest’s traffic problems

Traffic jams, rush hour–yes these concerns not only apply to the upcoming holiday weekend, but also to the highest mountain in the world. The only difference being that on Mount Everest, those inconveniences could totally kill you. Four climbers have died on Everest in the past week, not because of the treacherous mountain, but because there were too many people on it at once creating a “traffic jam.”

That jam will only get worse this weekend as guides are once again expecting the peak to be overrun with around 120 climbers, reports The Associated Press’ Binaj Gurubacharya. “This is the last chance for climbers to attempt to reach the summit. If they can’t, then there is not going to be another opportunity this season,” an Everest official said.

No word on if Mayor Atchison thinks more bridges on Mount Everest will make the traffic congestion go away as he does in Saskatoon and Vancouver.

The future of urban life

More on Glaesar can be found here.

Density debates are full of false choices & lazy polarization

The most important urban design decision ever made

From Brent Toderian

When it came to my turn, my answer took a big picture and perhaps surprising approach, depending on your definition of urban design. In Vancouver, a city often referred to as “a city by design”, the most important urban design decision we ever made, the decision I loved most, is actually usually referred to as a transportation decision.

In 1997, the city approved its first influential Transportation Plan.

It was a game-changer for our city-making model in many ways, most notably in its decision to prioritize the ways we get around, rather than balance them. The active, healthy and green ways of getting around were ranked highest – first walking, our top priority, then biking, and then transit, in that order. The prioritization then went on to goods movement for the purposes of business support and economic development, and lastly, the private vehicle.

Vancouver still spends a considerable amount of energy trying to make driving a greener and healthier proposition, with examples from electric vehicle charging station pilot projects, to policies and zoning incentives that have contributed to our incredible growth of car-sharing. However the private vehicle remains the last priority. I always note that we are not anti-car, and we rarely ban the car, but prioritizing it last has a dramatic effect on the way we design our city.

If you’re a driver who is worried about a “war on the car”, remember this – our model of city building understands the “Law of Congestion” and proves that when you build a multimodal city, it makes getting around better and easier for every mode of transportation, including the car. It makes our city work better in every way.

This decision to prioritize rather than balance our ways of getting around has affected everything in how our city has been designed since then. It’s a huge part of the essential DNA that our city has grown from. It’s guided every decision, from thousands of physical design decisions, to our budget allocation. Has every decision followed it perfectly? No – there are many illustrations around the city where the prioritization hasn’t been perfectly reflected. However, enough decisions have reflected this prioritization to make our city design fundamentally different.

So my answer to Gordon’s question “what urban design decision do I love?” It’s our ahead-of-the-curve 1997 decision to prioritize active transport rather than trying to balance ways of getting around. A decision we reinforced and are taking further in the recent Transportation Plan Update I had the pleasure of working on.

For the record, Saskatoon has gone the opposite direction in emphasizing the car.

The world wants Vancouverism. Shouldn’t Canada?

Fantastic column on density by Doug Saunders

Yet we need it more than ever. The Vancouverist ideology solves a number of serious problems.

First is sprawl: According to a recent projection, the population of the Greater Toronto Area will rise from six million today to almost 10 million in the next 28 years. Vancouver will go from 2.2 million to 3.4 million in the same period. Most of those people intend to move downtown or into inner-ring suburbs. But if housing there is in short supply, they’ll push out into the outskirts.

Second is the housing shortage: If we cannot increase the supply of housing, and at least double the population density of our big cities, then our children will have little chance of becoming homeowners. If foreign investors buy the new condos, all the better. We even more seriously need an increase in rental stock, to push down rents and give people an urban entry point.

And third is quality of life: That doubling of density isn’t just needed – it’s highly desirable. With twice as many people per square kilometre, there will be sufficiently large markets (and tax bases) to justify subway lines, parks and cultural venues. At the moment, density-increasing development is being blocked in the neighbourhoods that most need these things.

It’s not just governments. Canadian city-dwellers need to adopt a Vancouverist mindset. I’ll never understand why downtown homeowners, who often rail against the horrors of farmland-destroying, carbon-speawing urban sprawl, then turn around and oppose midrise condominium projects in their own neighbourhoods. Not only do those developments add neighbours and thus demand for nice services and better schools and shops and transit routes, but they are the only solution to urban sprawl. You get one or you get the other. “Density,” writes the Vancouver developer Bob Ransford, who consulted on the Melbourne report, “is the antidote to sprawl.”

The Cost of Homelessness in Vancouver

While the content of this video is compelling and the data is sound, I was most impressed with how it was presented.  The video is worth a watch.  It’s a story of heartbreak and hope.

Five of the world’s most livable cities

Not a lot of these cities are designed around the automobile.  Here is what makes Vienna such a great place to live.

Austria’s most populous city – Vienna – has won the title of the world’s best city for quality of life since 2009. It is also one of eight European cities to make the top 10 list, showing the region’s dominance in the survey.

Vienna is the cultural, economic, and political center of the country. It has the highest per capita GDP among all Austrian cities at over $55,000. Vienna’s ability to transform old infrastructure into modern dwellings won the city the 2010 United Nations urban planning award for improving the living conditions of its residents. Under a multimillion-dollar program, the city refurbished more than 5,000 buildings with nearly 250,000 apartments. Vienna is also the world’s No. 1 destination for conferences, drawing five million tourists a year — equivalent to three tourists for every resident.

Transparency in the Mayor’s Office

The debate around Mayor Don Atchison’s journal has gotten a little weird.  It started with council asking about him releasing his schedule and quickly went to Darren Hill tweeting in council chambers and some allusions to conflict of interest.  It’s not city council at it’s finest.

Gerry Klein suggested that the mayor adopting a smartphone to keep his schedule could help fix the problem and then use it to post it online. 

It’s about time that the mayor catches up to the latter part of the 20th century and begins to use a digital device and mobile technology to help him manage his time. When he does that it would be a simple matter to post the information on the mayor’s website, which is remarkable now for being among the most static and uninformative Internet pages on the entire web.

He’s right, we could probably scrounge up an old smartphone that will sync  up with Google Calendar pretty easily.  I have a Blackberry Curve that I can contribute to the cause.  While I am being flippant, this is a problem rooted in transparency and technology.

The real issue is that technology flattens any organization.  What used to need to pass through gate keepers, now can be easily assimilated.  Councillors have a right to expect this information to go to them while part of the problem is that historically the Mayor’s office (according to Atchison) used to decide who gets to go.  This problem is made worse by the fact that both council and the public assume that an invite to the Mayor means that you want the local councillor there as well (which is the Mayor’s defense, I never think that way).  The solution is not opening up Atchison’s journal but opening up the invitation process when you ask the Mayor to an event.

The mayor’s website is a static block of text and a contact form.  It could be much more than that, especially when you look at the sites for the Mayor of Calgary and the Mayor of Vancouver.  In some ways I am surprised that Atchison doesn’t have a better website.  He’s a good story teller and evangelist for the City of Saskatoon and it would be a great platform for him to expand his audience.

With Calgary and Vancouver, they use totally different domains from the city page and while I prefer mayor. saskatoon.ca or more personally mayor.saskatoon.ca/atchison/ (there is some method to that madness that I will get into later) but either way works.  If you want to invite the Mayor of Calgary to an event, they have a contact form that asks a variety of questions about the event, how to get there, and if you want the deputy mayor in case Nenshi can’t make it.  Pretty straight forward.

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It would take minutes to change the form to give you an option of inviting other city councillors (or making it clear you only wanted the mayor) to your event.  Not all mayor’s adopt this view.  To invite Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz to an event, you need to (snail) mail him an invite two months ahead of time and wait for a reply.  I am not sure how to invite the Mayor of Edmonton to your event.  I am sure there is a way but it’s not on his website.  What I am getting at is that there is a really easy way to deal with these kinds of issues, even if not all cities adopt them.

Of course it’s big news because Yahoo! has a new CEO but one could use their Upcoming service to announce which public events the mayor will be attending.  A blurb of selected events, contact information for others to attend, and even some follow up photos would extend the Mayor’s personal reach, help him politically, and promote the city.  He could also do what Nenshi does and that is tweet about it while he is there but one thing we learned this week is that the Mayor isn’t so fond of social media.

While we are the topic of Nenshi’s website, it is an example of how accountability and privacy can work.  Nenshi posts many of his meetings that he hosts.  He excludes meetings with City of Calgary employees, staff, media, and government but does include meetings with individuals or small groups.   According to the City of Calgary’s Mayoral Office

Publishing the Mayor’s meeting list was something we intended to do on a quarterly basis starting this spring. But while preparing the first list, we received legal advice that we could be contravening the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act by publishing people’s names without their consent. So, beginning May 1, 2011, the Mayor’s Office required that anyone meeting with Mayor Nenshi provide a signature approving to have their name published.

Quite a few colleagues have said, “It’s an incomplete list” and they are right.  Nenshi needs the privacy to conduct some City of Calgary, personal, and even political business in private yet when he is operating at the Mayor of Calgary, it needs to be made public (even if people like me want to see the complete list) 

Here is June’s public meeting list in it’s entirety.

  • Debbie Newman, Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre – June 8, 2012
  • James Murray – June 12, 2012
  • Carlos Salazan – June 12, 2012
  • Bhavini Pasel, Standard & Poors – June 26, 2012
  • Stepehn Ogilvie, Standard & Poors – June 26, 2012
  • Ian Merrit, Fraser Milner Casgrain – June 27, 2012
  • Joan Durshinim, Brookfield Properties – June 27, 2012
  • Ian Parker, Brookfield Properties – June 27, 2012
  • Martin Sparrow, Dialog – June 27, 2012
  • Earle Arney, Dialog – June 27, 2012
  • Sally Hodges, Project Ploughshares – June 28, 2012
  • Karen Huggin, Project Ploughshares – June 28, 2012
  • Douglas Roche, Project Ploughshares – June 28, 2012
  • Bev Delong, Project Ploughshares – June 28, 2012
  • Don Douglas, Calgary Airport Authority – June 28, 2012
  • Doug Mitchell, Calgary Airport Authority – June 28, 2012
  • Tony Kay, UK Counsel-General – June 28, 2012

The lists are both interesting and what you expect.  Dignitaries, politicians, business people, community groups… the kind of people that you expect the Mayor of Calgary to be meeting with.  A website like this for the Mayor could be easily powered by WordPress, easily updated and include future trips (like when he is going to Singapore) as well. 

As for Atchison’s request that all of Saskatoon City Council do the same thing, he’s right.  They should. (and many are willing)

On not making some councillors aware of a trip to Singapore for the World Cities Summit two weeks ago: He said he told CKOM and CTV about the trip in his weekly appearances last month. Other councillor’s make international trips under the same protocol, he said. “By the same token I don’t know what my colleagues are doing either. Their budgets are wide open to use as they see fit. As long as their expenses come in as they’re supposed to, that’s it. They’re all reported at the end of the year.”

He said if he releases his schedule so should all of council, out of fairness. “It’s all or none, ” he said.

Instead of giving out the information for the World Cities Summit to CKOM and CTV, he could announce it the entire city on his website and post his monthly expenses along with the rest of council (also, it’s a pretty big expense not to send out a media advisory for).  As for the city, it needs to create mayor.saskatoon.ca/atchison/ for the mayor (and you leave it online when the mayor has retired or has been defeated as an archive of his time in office).  For councillors you give them a council website at council.saskatoon.ca/hill/ for Darren Hill, council.saskatoon.ca/lorje/ for Pat Lorje and so on and so on.  The U.S. Congress does the same thing.  It’s their space for official business on.  When the election comes (starting August 31st), they are locked out from the pages until they are re-elected.   Each councillor has a choice between a couple of City of Saskatoon templates and a set up install of WordPress.  You put the same requirements on them for reporting, expenses, and schedule as you do for the Mayor.  Atchison is right that if he has to do it, they all have to do it.

I’ll be honest.  I have been at every council meeting of 2012 and there have been some vote changes that have made me wonder what was going on.  Who met with who (or even what kind of money exchanged hands).  Some transparency is needed.  The technology is there, it’s free, it’s easy to use and it would mean a more coordinated council and a better informed electorate.  How hard could this be?  Everyone else is getting it, why can’t Saskatoon?

How to do density better

This is a fantastic video by former City of Vancouver city planner (2006-12), Brent Toderian.

Why don’t more people live in a most “livable city”?

The Financial Times asks why more people don’t live in places like Vancouver?

“Sure, Vancouver is beautiful,” says Kotkin, “but it’s also unaffordable unless you’re on an expense account and your company is paying your rent.” Burdett agrees: “Economically all these cities at the top of the polls are also in the top league.” In fact, it can often be exactly the juxtaposition of wealth and relative poverty that makes a city vibrant, the collision between the two worlds. Where parts of big cities have declined, through the collapse of industries or the fears about immigration that led to what urbanists have termed the “donut effect” (in which white populations flee to the suburbs, leaving minorities in the centres), there is space to be filled by artists and architects, by poorer immigrants arriving with a drive to make money and by the proliferation of food outlets, studios and galleries. These, in turn, attract the wealthy back to the centre, at first to consume, and then to gentrify. Whether in New York’s SoHo, Chelsea or Brooklyn, in Berlin’s Mitte or London’s Shoreditch, Hoxton and now Peckham, it is at these moments of radical change that cities begin to show potential for real transformation of lives, or for the creation of new ideas, culture, cuisine and wealth. Once gentrification has occurred, bohemians may whinge about being priced out, as they always have done but, in a big enough city they are able to move on and find the next spot.

I also learned that I need to stop complaining about the Study Stone Centre Building. It’s ugliness is good for Saskatoon.

There is one criterion which throws up shockingly counter-intuitive results – beauty. On this criterion alone, almost any Tuscan hill town, perhaps Venice, perhaps Paris, would come out on top, yet none of these are there. Most of the beauty in the cities which occupy the tops of the leagues seem to ghettoise their beauty outside the city. They have convenient escapes, though the most beautiful and enjoyable – Rio, San Francisco and others – are curiously absent from the lists. The problem is that beauty doesn’t do you any good at all. It’s not a factor for the efficient, mid-sized chart toppers – though places such as Zurich certainly have their lovely bits. But it also damages your chances of making it into the disaffected megacities mentioned at the start of this article. The most beautiful cities become monuments to their own elegance, immobile and unchangeable. They cannot accommodate the kind of dynamic change and churn that keeps cities alive. In London, New York and Berlin, it is their very ugliness which keeps them flexible.

Housing Prices vs. Median Income in Vancouver

Affordable Home Ownership Challenges

This comes from a report on affordable housing in Vancouver