I have decided to merge my photography and urban design blogs into one and call it simply ‘Tim Barton’. Sounds simple enough eh? What this means is that this will be the last post on Planning Picture in the foreseeable future. If you subscribe to this post either via RSS or email, please head over to Tim Barton (www.timbarton.org) and sign up to follow the new blog instead. Sorry for the slight inconvenience.

I am hopeful that this change will lead to more regular and more personal posts. And, if I wish, I can write about other stuff as well because this new blog only has my name at the top!

So, see you over at timbarton.org and thanks for supporting Planning Picture.

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Here’s something I’ve been asked to promote, and I’m happy to do so. Consultation is always a tricky thing to get right. Hopefully, using Facebook, the City can reach those who would not normally participate in this type of thing. Lets hope its a success.

Want a better commute? So do we.

Join Vancouver drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians and transit riders in a Facebook event where you will give advice to the City of Vancouver, learn and help shape the future of transportation in our city.

Apps.Facebook.com/VanTransportFuture

Starting May 31, residents and commuters will discuss key issues – like health, affordability, economy, and the environment – in small Facebook groups. Each group will work together to evaluate strategies and propose directions for the City’s Transportation Plan, followed by a chance to promote your ideas through Facebook sharing and commenting. The conversation is drawing from public input received during previous public consultations, such as the Greenest City planning process.

The main event is a two-week Facebook discussion (May 31-June 14) followed by public ideas sharing. Sign up closes May 31 so that the discussion groups can start as a team.

Results of the online discussion and other (online and offline) transportation conversations this spring will be integrated into a draft Transportation Plan by the City of Vancouver. For other opportunities to be involved, see http://www.talkvancouver.com/transportation

This Facebook event is a partnership of the City of Vancouver and Greenest City Conversations, a University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University research group. http://www.gcc.ubc.ca

Sign up by May 31 to help create the transportation future you want for Vancouver.

Apps.Facebook.com/VanTransportFuture

Vancouver Blossom 2 by timbarton
Vancouver Blossom 2 a photo by timbarton on Flickr.

Vancouver blossom. You can’t beat it.

Being forced to push your baby out into traffic… feeling like the sidewalk has taken over control of your stroller and is determined to introduce your baby to the fast moving travel lane… having the impression I’m crossing a road when in fact its a lane way.

My wife and I have experienced all this and more in the past year or so as we adapt to life with a baby. We live in downtown Vancouver and use the car only rarely. Thus the stroller gets a LOT of use. Here are my top three annoyances that I’ve observed as we ‘stroll’ around town (although the last one is not stroller specific).

1. The lack of drop curbs where they need to be. This is downtown Vancouver in the 21st century, but even here there are significant minority of intersections (especially in the older West End) that have inadequate drop curbs. The usual problem is that there may be one drop curb on a corner, but it faces the wrong way. So with a stroller, you have to push out into the lane in which vehicles are now travelling. At a four way or two way stop it is unclear which way you’re actually crossing. This can be confusing for vehicle drivers as well as dangerous for pedestrians and their (precious) cargo. ACTION FOR THE CITY: Review and amend drop curbs where necessary.

2. Sloping curb let downs. Sometimes I wonder who truly has priority in this city when I see a curb letdown for a driveway that seems to have totally forgotten that pedestrians might actually use the sidewalk and don’t want to walk at a 45 degree angle to do so. An annoyance without a stroller – dangerous with one. Sometimes with a stroller you’re kind of struggling to keep the thing from veering into the road. The letdown should be within the boulevard zone if possible. Pedestrians are supposed to have priority but this doesn’t seem to be the case. A steeper transition for vehicles over a shorter distance would also act as a traffic calming device to slow their speed as they turn into a site, across a sidewalk. The Institute of Transportation Engineers and The Congress for The New Urbanism agree. Their book, Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares (2010) highlights this and recommends that pedestrians always be given a clear, level (apart from the 2% cross grade) path around the letdown – see diagram below, taken from the book, as well as a photo, from Alberni Street.

ACTION FOR THE CITY: Adopt a standard similar to the above to ensure pedestrians always have a flat path around any letdown.

3. Who has right of way when a lane way and sidewalk meet? The answer is obviously that pedestrians have priority. But you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the other way round. These ‘intersections’ should be designed so that the sidewalk continues uninterrupted with the boulevard again used to transition to street level. This would emphasize the fact that lane ways are not roads and that they’re for access, not through traffic. In slowing drivers down as they enter/ exit a lane way, it might also reduce instances of ‘rat running’ through them. ACTION FOR THE CITY: Alter your design standards to physically give pedestrians right of way, and reinforce the fact that laneways are not roads.

It goes without saying that wheelchair users face the same issues (perhaps even more so) than parents with strollers. However, my experience is with strollers, so  I write from that perspective.

So, that’s my observations and opinion. Do you agree? Am I making a fuss out of nothing? What have I missed? I’d be glad to hear your thoughts.

Back in October, Ellen Dunham Jones came to Vancouver and presented a lecture on New Urbanism and also what she felt were the short comings of landscape or ecological urbanism, which was starting to become a competitor in the theory of place making. Jason King, on his Landscape and Urbanism blog linked back to my review of the Ellen Dunham Jones lecture. His post, entitled, ‘More on Ecological Urbanism‘ provides a view from the other side, a counter balance if you will and is actually quite refreshing for those of us who may have only ever heard ecological urbanism described by those who distrust it (e.g The Congress for New Urbanism). I’m still not convinced, due in part to the lack of actual examples they can point to, but I do appreciate that in the main, new urbanists and ecological/ landscape urbanists are after most of the main things, but they vary in their methodology for how to get there. Discuss…

I attended one of the SFU  City Program’s free lectures last night. The topic was ‘What’s Up With the Viaducts?’ in reference to the fact that the City is now considering what the future of these structures, and more importantly what the future of this area of the City, should be.

There seem to be two main aspects. Firstly, what happens to all the traffic that currently uses the viaducts? Does everything come to a grinding halt if they are removed? The consensus was – no. And to be fair, all the evidence now supports this, including the little experiment the City did in February last year when a small sporting event shut down the viaducts and a few other streets! There is now a fair body of evidence from all over the world which supports the notion of  ‘disappearing traffic’. One of the most notable examples is from Seoul and Gordon Price’s blog has a lot of info on it here. Basically, in this case, they removed 6km of a huge freeway through the city and replace d it with a park. And traffic in surrounding areas did not go up. It has even got the folks in New Westminster grappling with a planned expanded Front Street wandering whether its the right thing to do. Traffic is like a gas, it expands and contracts to fill the space available. Hence also, ‘induced traffic’ where new road capacity is used up quicker than expected. As an aside, the exception to this is if its tolled. I have heard of two examples recently of Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects where new bridges or tunnels have been constructed and tolls and financial models calculated based on a certain number of vehicles using the route (and paying the toll). And the traffic hasn’t come. One of the examples is the Golden Ears Bridge here in Metro Vancouver. I’m sure this wouldn’t have happend a few years ago. Times, they are a changing…

The other part of the debate was what should replace the space that the viaducts currently take. The skytrain weaves up and down around the viaducts at the moment so that’s one challenge, although I personally like the roller coaster feel to this part of the route and think its a feature in its own right. There was an interesting history lesson given as to what was there before the viaducts which acted as a reminder about how much we can loose in the name of ‘progress’. Hogan’s Alley was a thriving black community (Vancouver’s only one) which was wiped out. Someone suggested naming this project Hogan’s Alley Planning Initiative (HAPI) which got a cheer of approval.

This is only the beginning of the debate. So, what do YOU think? As Bing Thom said last night, the City Councillors want to hear from the people, otherwise they don’t really know what to do. So make your voice heard on this blog or elsewhere.

Harbour Air Sea Plane - Instagram by timbarton
Harbour Air Sea Plane – Instagram a photo by timbarton on Flickr.

Based on the premise that the best camera is the one you have with you, here’s a photo I took with my iphone this lunchtime. Its the float plane terminal at Coal Harbour, in Vancouver. The app is called Instagram and it tries to replicate an old style instant camera. What do you think?

A newly installed bicycle stand is left empty in Vancouver. The rider obviously prefers the tried and tested parking meter.

Here is an interesting, short article from CityWire regarding the reasons for declining strips malls. It summarises the points well, linking many different factors such as transportation, technology and the recession.

We were back in the UK over Christmas and I was casting my planning and transport eye over what I saw, looking for the differences between the UK and North America. For the purposes of this blog, today I will highlight just one of them.

One of the obvious differences between towns in the UK and North America (or the Metro Vancouver area anyway) is how the roads and blocks are laid out. In Metro Vancouver blocks and roads were laid out in advance of development with straight roads running north – south and east – west to produce roughly square or rectangular blocks. In the UK the road network is much more historical with the straightest roads ironically sometimes being some of the oldest (ancient ‘roman road’ alignments). Block sizes and shapes are far more random and in many areas are the result of incremental development over hundreds of years. Below are two maps, taken from Google, showing the road layout near where I live in Vancouver, BC and in Dover, UK, where my wife’s family live. They are both the same scale.

Vancouver, BC

Dover, UK

Although the density is obviously very different, I use these two examples as I live in one of them and recently visited the other. Dover’s topography is far more evident in the way the road system has developed.

The roads themselves also vary wildly. In the UK the historical nature of the road means typically narrower cross sections than you would plan for if constructing a new road today. In addition, most of the houses do not have off street parking and laneways are not typical. Therefore, these narrow roads also have to accommodate on-street parking. Finally, some of these narrow roads also serve a collector road function and therefore carry moderate volumes of traffic.

Below are two images taken from Google’s Streetview (sorry – for a blog that professes to be at least partially about photography I should really have taken the photos myself). They show street views from the two maps above. One is of Alberni Street in Vancouver and one is from Elms Vale Road, Dover. Although I don’t have the numbers to back this up, I would guess these roads carry similar volumes of traffic on a daily basis.

Dover, UK

Alberni Street, Vancouver BC

The differences are obvious! To North American’s the Dover street might appear a little scary. How do you navigate such a narrow road, especially when the bus approaches?! Well, narrow roads have advantages. People tend to drive slowly – the speed limit is self enforcing. Drivers often have to give way to oncoming traffic and have to ‘pull in’ between parked cars to let this happen. North America is still very standards driven but I am not saying that these narrower widths should be adopted or that they are better. (In fact, the resulting narrow sidewalks/ footpaths caused several problems for us and our stroller/ pushchair, while we were there.) What I am trying to say is that when you don’t have all the space you might like to have, people adapt and things keep moving. If a little slower – which is probably a good thing.

Finally, I would say that a lot of other things have had to fit in with this generally narrower street geometry. You will not usually find the huge trucks and full size SUVs traveling about on these roads. Plus, ALL vehicles in the UK are able to push their side mirrors/ wing mirrors in. I remember being shocked when I realized most side mirrors did NOT push in over here.

So, in conclusion, you make best use of what you have and it usually finds some way of working itself out, even if there are a few compromises along the way.