Monday, July 26, 2010

Houses for people not cars

A new housing development proposed for Vancouver's downtown eastside will dispense with expensive parking spots (worth $30,000 to $40,000 per space), to reduce the cost of a new condo development, making it more accessible to lower income buyers.

In Victoria we have on a case by case basis allowed some developments to proceed with no or reduced parking requirements, to meet the idiosyncrasies of land use or to help reduce costs at housing developments.

Most parking formulas are geared towards the travel demand generated by land use in an average North American city.  We aren't and Vancouver isn't average.  We bike more and we walk more and in Vancouver, traffic volumes are dropping in downtown even as population goes up.  Why do we need all that extra parking?

With 30 to 40% of urban land dedicated to the movement and storage of private automobiles, finding ways to reduce their impacts and give lower income residents a break on housing is an idea whose time is now.

Here's the Globe and Mail story:

Monday, July 19, 2010

More housing ideas

Vancouver is looking at increasing their supply of affordable housing by embracing modular homes and using city properties for numbers of new projects.  With homelessness and a lack of housing options still plaguing Canada's cities, especially here on the west coast, new ideas are always worth exploring.  Click the title for the Vancouver Sun story.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Visualize the Gulf Spill at home

Here's a map of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  With one click you can visualize how far reaching the spill is expressed by superimposing the area covered in oil over any location you can type into the tool. 

Looking at it with Victoria as the epicentre is a startling sight, enveloping southern Vancouver Island, sailing into Puget Sound and washing up Georgia Strait and out of the mouth of Juan de Fuca.  You could imagine its shape here altered, with a further reach than the open space of the Gulf site.  Here it would make landfall and be pushed deeper into the Sound, further up the straits and along coastal Vancouver Island and Washington State.  Not a pretty picture.

Suddenly, the catastrophic external costs of the fossil fuel economy are again in the news, even if they are fading from the front pages.

Here's another example of the high cost of oil:

Friday, July 9, 2010

Housing Options Moving Forward

Council has been busy on a number of housing initiatives since we got elected in November of 2009. Hundreds of new units are being built, some are operational already, and new initiatives are moving forward to provide affordable housing, options for people with disabilities or supportive facilities for those with substance abuse problems.

Most recently the Mayor worked behind the scenes to help persuade the province to open up summer shelter beds while we wait for more permanent facilities and services to complete.  In the last couple of days we've also completed purchase of a couple of bankrupt Traveler's Inns that will be turned into housing for disadvantaged First Nation's families and another project for low income singles.

Tackling homelessness and growing our supply of diverse and affordable housing for Victorians was probably the biggest issue in the last election and our citizen surveys continue to identify it as a top priority.  We're delivering.

The Traveler's Inn purchase has been getting great reviews and we're seeking funding to help carry the mortgage and operate the facilities.  But we're not done yet.

Soon a new cottage or garden suite policy will come to council.  It's another of the  initiatives we've undertaken to grow the supply of affordable housing for a diverse community.  Watch the city's website for announcements that will signal the policy is coming to council. 

In the meantime, click on the title to read more about backyard cottage housing initiatives south of the border.   The USA Today story covers a lot of ground, focusing in particularly on programs in Seattle.  It's good background on how other jurisdictions are embracing the cottage house or garden suite concept in their own backyards.  It's an old idea whose time has come again.

Johnson St. Bridge by bike

Check out Raymond Parker's video taken from his bike while riding through the tangled octopus of roads and trails that take you on or off the Johnson St. Bridge.  It's not an ideal facility for cyclists, to say the least, and the video helps illustrate some of the challenges.

One of the key issues, and it was emphasized in the city's polling of citizens, is how to make the crossing more bike and pedestrian friendly.  It was at the top of the wish list for those surveyed.  While many cyclists already cross the bridge every day, encouraging more people to choose cycling means providing more supportive facilities.

Take the virtual ride at Ray's blog.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

2 Lane Fairy Tales

Last week Monday Magazine reported on the proposal by inviting the city to conduct a 2-lane bridge experiment to see if the Johnson Street Bridge would work with a lane reduction.

It's something I've written about before on the blog or posted on my website at and it has been evaluated extensively by city and consulting engineers.  The Monday article covered the proposal without any reference to alternate voices that might question the instant expertise of the bridge preservation campaign.  Certainly there is no evidence suggesting that campaign organizers have any experience or any record with respect to designing traffic systems or facilities to support cycling.  The proposal is a little more elaborate than the "can of paint and a bucket of cement" idea they had several months ago, but it is no less simplistic and so far, hasn't found any support among traffic engineers (structural engineers aren't the same thing).

I wrote and overly long response, knowing that it would not be published of course, but the issue is a lot more complex than a few paragraphs are likely to cover, so here's my take on the issue (again), along with some illustrations that should help understand some of the challenges of the proposal and the comparisons made to other "road diet" projects.

The Johnson St. Bridge and the Burrard bridge are indeed, both bridges, but after that the similarities between the two are overstated. As a model for the wishful thinking of those who have convinced themselves that a 2 lane scheme is a simple and inexpensive solution in service of saving the Blue Bridge the comparisons just don't add up.

That "solution" has been studied for a decade and has been found wanting by most in the cycling community and every qualified engineer that has examined the structure of traffic carried by the bridge.

The Burrard St. bridge bike lane project took out 1 of 3 lanes, not 1 of 2, a pretty significant capacity differential that is key to the functionality of the transportation network supported by the Johnson St. Bridge. There are also 3 lanes running in the opposing direction on Burrard, though irrelevant to traffic flow, is still critical to the level of service provided to emergency vehicles, an important function of any bridge.

South of Burrard, traffic bottled up on the bridge by the lane reduction has several exiting lanes to relieve congestion and sustain flow. At the north end, there is generous "storage" capacity on Burrard and more on Pacific where queuing traffic can wait for the signal cycle that will channel them through the network. There's also additional capacity available at Granville for vehicles heading into a larger downtown and it too is absorbing some of the traffic diverting from Burrard.

At Johson St. the "goldilocks" point where capacity and demand meet is at Tyee and Esquimalt, not on the downtown side. Traffic volumes of around 25,000 vehicles a day (ADT) are destined to or from Tyee (8,000 ADT), and Esquimalt (18,000 ADT). On the downtown side there is no surplus storage that compares with Burrard. Queues will back up through Pandora at Store and across Yates on Wharf. Intersections further upstream may also experience gridlock, more certainly when the bridge is up (something that doesn't happen, of course, on the Burrard bridge).

Bay St. is not an alternative for Johnson St. Bridge traffic. It's maxed out now and can't provide more capacity. Ad nauseum calls for four laning are stillborn. Where is the road capacity on either side of the bridge to absorb additional traffic on the bridge (Ralmax, Westside Village?), and what would that downtown destined traffic do to gateway streets north of the city centre?

Gains for cyclists are also exaggerated. The physical separation afforded cyclists on the Burrard bridge eat up a lot of space that just isn't available on the Johnson St. bridge. The 1.5 meters that works on a road bike lane is too narrow on a bridge where lateral obstructions reach elbow or shoulder height and there is no room for physical barriers of any sort between the bike lane and traffic that includes frequent bus service and numbers of truck movements. Routing to and from the Goose would remain as convoluted as ever. The better signage proposed by some critics is truly "lipstick on a pig".

The 2 lane fairy tale is a loser for cyclists, as well as for pedestrians and people with mobility challenges. The levels of service can't compete with the purposeful designs that can be incorporated into a new bridge. Along with the real numbers on costs and the challenges posed by the staging of works - rehab means extended closures and serious economic impacts for downtown - citizens of Victoria have a lot to think about as they evaluate the options they would like council to consider.

The campaign to save the old bridge has always clamoured for more information and that's a welcome contribution to the discussion. Every fresh piece of information points to the new bridge as the right choice, and at every step critics clutch at new straws to advance an agenda, which is to preserve the old bridge, not matter how disfunctional or how costly.

For those that are willing to wade through my website or my personal blog, there is lots to read on the bridge from several angles.
Some of the specifics about the bridge and traffic patterns are at:

Bridge topics are also a frequent theme of my blog at

Illustrations of some of the issues can be found at my flickr pages, and a bunch of new pics are up on the page with this one that shows what the bridge is connected to:

While this may be too much for publication, the campaign to save the bridge started out more than a year ago clamouring for more information. I do my best to get it out there. People are free to poke holes in it or take it at face value as they choose, but the facts will be very stubborn.

Everything I've put out there seems to be backed up by engineers familiar with our roads and bridges and with traffic systems design. It's nice to hear from structural and heritage engineers, but they can't provide the comprehensive analysis we need to make sound choices on the future of the bridge.

John Luton, Councillor
City of Victoria