Sunday, 3 November 2019

Broadway Subway - Everything We Know

The Broadway Subway Project is one of 3 current Vancouver infrastructure projects that I personally love watching unfold and I think will be great for the city.

For those that are unaware, the core idea of this project is to continue the Millennium Skytrain line from VCC-Clark station to Arbutus street (mostly under Broadway). The hope is that by tripling the capacity of current bus systems, and cutting the transit time by 2/3, more people will leave their cars at home and congestion at street level will lighten ahead of the growth of the city.

As usual, there are the ignorant armchair engineers and uninformed citizens that Translink and City Engineers must suffer.  I cannot imagine being recruited from the other side of the globe for my expertise successfully building similar things in bigger cities than here and listening to some of the complete bullshit as if for over a decade no accountants or data analysis by experts hadn't been focused on this one.

That said, despite the LRT idiots whose solution would meet like 1/10 of the key requirements of this project (but be cheaper, right!), there is a history that does invite some of that:

  • Under-built station lengths on the Canada Line (no one ever mentions the massive resistance citing no one would ever ride the Canada Line which is over capacity now..)
  • Skytrains plagued with outages over the years.  Since we have only 3 lines this can and has crippled the city (but doesn't that also suggest that if we build fast infrastructure,.. people will use it? To me that supports this project)
There is also a compelling case to be made for going further.. to UBC and a major campaign to make that happen. I'm a bit torn on that one.  Yes I'd like people out there to leave their cars West of Burrard but there is a very long and costly stretch between the University and Alma with zero business or population density where the people will never leave their SUVs. My feeling is the end should be Alma/Highbury (with a station at MacDonald too) in anticipation of the major, major development project there and existing business and population density already in place.  For the cost of the end part to UBC (a very fast road and almost stop-less now on 99 B-line) you can run one hell of a lot of last leg shuttle buses around the clock. 

COV and Translink have released many notices about the plans and timelines, and even setup a project office (right near my place!). However, like the Granville Bridge Improvement project the graphics and posts seems to submarine and disappear from time to time so I'm compiling my own collection of  "what is known" about the stations.

In this city, subway station placement will radically change neighbourhoods.  The city, of course, is trying to ensure that the cost of these stations is not wasted by allowing more densification along the line.  I'm going to share their drawings, but highlight something I don't think they are drawing much attention to: what will be redeveloped just to allow the temporary project work yards, let alone the stations themselves.

For example, near my closest station a major building is removed for the station, and several more go down almost a block away for a construction yard.  I'm not saying all development is bad but there is a 28 storey building being shoved in on the edge of my 3 storey neighbourhood... so my guess is the nice row of businesses being bulldozed between Hemlock and Granville is not just so they can store some sacks of concrete, but it will go from 1 storey buildings, to something that could alter the neighbourhood as much as the station itself.

First, here are the key links to read if you are interested in the "maps" of this project:

Let's go station by station and check out all of the pics together to paint a more fleshed out picture of what is going on along with the implications for the area. 
Red lines show the yards and an X indicates a building that will be lost.  My bad blue scratches indicate what part will actually be the station and not just new condos or businesses.
In many cases I'm guessing based on the info provided.

Great Northern Way

This station is where the train goes underground.  This should be great for servicing the growth here too, currently it is quite a walk from VCC.  Currently this is just an open area but the line (not the station), looks like it might require tearing down the Equinox gallery.

Mount Pleasant

I'm not really going to miss the tanning place across from Chutney Village but I am surprised that the new building up Main will go (but I think Noodle Box is crap and being this is a recent horrible building, no heritage lost).  The Tim Horton's is in an older building (an old bank?), but at least it is not the Lee building.

Broadway-City Hall

I don't know a ton about the process or machinery involved with boring, but this render shows the depth at which they will go (the station on the surface apparently remains the same but now you can go left at end of ramp).

What is interesting is how much space on the surface they are dedicating to the yard.  I think the City might own all of that land so I guess that makes sense but really a whole block is wiped clean.
The old 40s buildings don't surprise me, that block may actually improve for niceness for the average citizen but I'm surprised at the use of the parking lot off of 10th.
That lot is one the biggest concentration of the following things in our city:
  • EV plugins
  • Car2Go, Evo, Modo and some other weird share vehicles
  • Mobi bike share docks
To not have that removes of one of the major success factors for this hub: a means for people to come and leave the station without use of a personal car that needs a parking space.  I sure hope they have a plan B and long terms this space comes back (and more!)


This station services the huge medical building concentration and the hospital itself.  My sincere hope is that the simplicity of taking a faster service with less stops encourages the huge worker population to take transit more (apparently already high).  More importantly, maybe be the truck driving out of towners (presumably family of patients?) that drum up business for VGH daily by trying to wipe out the cyclists on 10th,.. will find taking a subway here easier from wherever they are staying.
The current B-line already has a special stop here bucking the trend of only stopping on the arteries but this makes sense.
Unfortunately there are some unique looking buildings that will becomes casualties of the station and needed construction yard. There goes more sunlight...

South Granville

This station services "my" neighbourhood so I'm particularly curious about how it all fits together.

Originally Daily Hive said the station entrance was going to be closer to Hemlock where DeSerres Art store is now. This would have been slightly nicer for me, but I digress.  Instead, it looks as if the building that holds the Royal Bank currently is going to be replaced.
As it stands now the building will not be much taller than it is now but that seems likely to change given 2 blocks away a 28 storey building on higher land was proposed.  In fact, this entire block except the newer building on Hemlock and Broadway will be gone.  The building across the alley from RBC (and the alley itself) will become part of the new building (not shown correctly with my red lines), as will the entire middle of the block.  For a local this sucks.

Supposedly just for the work yard (and not the station structure itself) we lose a great store for cards and art supplies, and other businesses have already moved out including some of the more useful ones in a desert of useful businesses for non-rich people.  Our only bike store,.. gone. Soon to go (along with sunlight): Memphis Blues, Breakfast Table, decent Chinese and Thai.  Why oh why couldn't we kill 2 birds with one stone and wipe out MacDonald's, Joey's and the cheesiest furniture store on earth out (Jordan's) instead?  Clearly, the reason to use certain spaces for the construction yards is also accelerating certain development agendas in the process, and usually trouncing the businesses I care for and the structures with history (unfortunately).


The final station (currently) is Arbutus. This is the one I hear most complaints about for 2 reasons:

  1. Presumably because it inches further into quiet residential streets.
  2. Because it is the emotional focus of the end of the line where people feel UBC, MacDonald, or Alma should be the end.
The first one is not unwarranted. None is going to miss the Fido building which looked temporary the day it was built as a video rental store.. (though there are probably memories in the tree lot) but here will now be a bus loop in that same space.  I used to commute (by car) down Arbutus and that intersection can be hairy.  The thought of buses turning within 200m of the corner.. I'm not sure the subway will offset THAT many cars and given this is the hop off spot for the remaining journey to UBC... I imagine will very, very noisy and congested indeed.

To me, the work yard is the other frustrating part (but this one shorter lived).  For the duration of this project and another great project, the Arbutus Greenway, there will be a broken detour for pedestrians and cyclists.  Granted, there will be some killer new "character zones" added in the coming years, but it seems like bike paths always take the hit and these were recently built!

 Further questions

I'm really a big fan of this line despite losing some buildings I like and the fear it might be the beginning of the end for sunlight in winter along Broadway due to densification.

That said, I have at least one big question for the concept of ALL of these stations (especially City Hall, and Granville): why do we only have one entrance for each station? 

Congestion is not only cars,.. but also pedestrians crossing at intersections with cell phones and headphones and slowing the flow of traffic due to their complete ignorance of the road rules.  In NYC,.. you can get to each station from at least 4 different corners and walk underground.  City Hall and Granville stations should both have entrances that allow travel underground to the opposite corner.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

The Granville Connector: "West+" all the way.

The City of Vancouver, after many years of alluding to it, have finally confirmed improvements to the Granville Street Bridge are most likely coming.  Specifically, some of the underused car lanes will be converted to make a safe crossing for pedestrians and cyclists.

I have been waiting for this for a very long time.  To me, this water crossing was the #1 glaring gap in the network of complete streets and I have been saying it for years.  To have a bridge so inhospitable to even walk across, and worse, deadly to ride,..ridiculous.  Add to that the fact that neither end of the bridge will ever be able to be anything but a bottleneck for all of those driving lanes... it was about time.

Some background first. When the display suite for now almost completed Vancouver House was erected, citizens heard the first noise about a park-like channel down the middle of the bridge being considered,.. but was it just a developer's pipe dream?  For years it was silent and even the CoV website had only a few of the artist's pictures reachable deep within their pages for this concept.  It seemed as if they had backed out. In 2017, however, when Westbank put on an event near Jack Poole plaza, the Vancouver House models resurfaced as part of a display and this time I had a camera.. sure enough, I had not just imagined it.  In January 2019 it resurfaced in earnest with City Council approving the start of consultations for the what is now called the Granville Connector.

I have a selfish stake in this project.  Years ago I calculated just how far people living in a number of dense residential areas need to go out of their way to cross False Creek and into the downtown core if they live between the Cambie and Burrard bridges.  The distances are not far in a car,... but what I now know from working for a transportation based service,.. for cyclists and pedestrians it is plenty far enough to influence people making a choice to drive or not.  I live in that area (near Granville and 13th) and for me, depending on the downtown destination,.. it can be up to a 4 km detour - that is why I care.  I drive, bus and walk that bridge weekly,.. but I want to bike it and I want many more people to consider not driving to work across it.

I feel it is our duty to get everyone where they need to go in the city with the minimum movement of single occupancy cars and though the Granville Street bridge is great for buses, it is like a firewall for anything else but cars despite being the most direct line for tens of thousands of Vancouverites to the core of our city.

I joined the CoV workshops offered by the city to solicit public suggestions and feedback. To be honest, I went with the agenda to ensure that some crazy requirement didn't derail the entire project,.. as far as I was concerned a utilitarian concrete barrier running up the bridge was all I cared about.

To my surprise, during those sessions most participants wanted far more for non-drivers and the drivers understood the capacity bonanza once it was explained to them.  The city has since provided their own map, like mine above, that demonstrates that  the other 2 crossings are not enough for people located in the middle if real change is the objective (that being commuter choices). They also have put forth 6 design options,.. all far exceeding my hopes.

Please provide your feedback and consider "West +"

Whether or not you support any of the proposed solutions,.. if the money is going to be spent, I would would hope everyone would want the maximum utility of that investment. In my opinion, that means getting the most people to convert to walking or cycling across that bridge, and to maximize the increase in making it a tourist draw.

What has been called the "West +" option is the one that is most likely to achieve that but to understand why, you need to know about 2 things:

  • self-propelled travel patterns where hills are involved
  • the gradients of the various parts of the bridge decks
I have the fortune to work for Vancouver's only bike share.  The majority of the effort for our redistribution crew is dealing with the preference of riders to ride bikes down hills, but not up them.  Ask any of my co-workers and this a daily reality.  Only West + utilizes the Fir Street off-ramp to the full potential.

Why does this matter? Imagine hiking North up the to the crest of the bridge only to drop all of that elevation to go back to the level of West 4th only to climb to Broadway to pick up transit (or whatever) there.  

All of the design options proposed include a safe way to cross the bridge for pedestrians, wheelchairs, and bikes, and all but 1 have a decent connection to the Arbutus Greenway.  However, only West + includes a wide enough passage along the Fir Street off-ramp which is the only part of the bridge that remains at an elevation somewhat level with Broadway.  For southbound traveling commuters starting south of Broadway (including the future Skytrain users),.. essentially a flat or downhill ride into the city core.  Northbound, no longer are you hoofing it from 4th to Broadway.. just take the more gradual gradient to the crest of the bridge, drop a bit and don't waste your effort doing it all again.

Don't believe me? Walk from the Yale downtown to the Royal Bank on Granville and Broadway... but stay on Granville.  People will ride that once and probably never do it again.  Put them on Fir.. they get unblocked sight lines, sunlight,... and realistic gradients for non-athletes to walk, roll and ride.

Some will balk at the cost (not the highest, but not the lowest of the 6 options). For whatever reason this option has an added (but IMO  opinion unneeded) widened sidewalk on the east side which I'm told increases the price-tag but there is an unlisted option to not include this... (I wonder if that is a tactic).  That would be the only way to improve on West +,.. lower the price and shrink the scope a bit.

Please do this survey (by this Friday) and make sure the city hears your voice.  It is pretty clear to me that if you took the city councilors for a walk or ride on all of these options (with no electric assist!) West + would be chosen hands down.

Walk it for yourself and remember we only get one shot at creating this unique space and making it as enticing as possible for commuters and tourists.

I know even reading this takes a ton of time and reading the CoV material more yet but spend the time, it is your city.  Help Vancouver see what New York now knows... (referring to the Highline)

Survey HERE.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

My 2018 in Review

I enjoy the process of looking back at year's end and using those learnings (or gaps) as part of the process how to approach the next year.  For example here is my post form 2017.

It is both a time to remember "oh ya! we did that THIS year?", and also a means to inspire ourselves to do more of the things we like, and better, and not become complacent. It also, in some years like this one, is a reminder of how short life can be and a chance to honour the passing of important people or institutions.

What Laura and I listed as important to us in 2017 has not changed this year.
  • seeing enough family
  • seeing enough friends
  • keeping work in proper context
  • ensuring we see/try enough new things: travel destinations, local activities, restaurants
  • health

2018 Overview

If 2017 was the year of travel and seeing family, then 2018 is marked (for me), by a cultural work shift. I switched sectors and specializations to become the HR and Office Manager for the city of Vancouver's bikeshare (mid-Febuary).  Laura also started in a different role (still within govt.), that was more positive in mid-April and was located downtown.

We traveled much less in 2018 but the non-travel part of our lives seemed to be less of a source of drain on our energy and came with a variety of learnings in their own right, much like travel does for us usually.

This year was also marked by the loss of a key member of our family: my uncle Jim.


I'm just following the same heading order as last year so by no means should this section coming first signify relative impact on the year.

After a year like 2017,.. I actually had very little travel bug and was happy to be BC based.  That said, I was fortunate enough to know I had a job lined up over a month in advance so took a solo trip in January to Palm Springs and L.A. 

I truly enjoyed this trip and those destinations, completely countering my previous experiences there.  I was still doing my photo project and managed to get some of my favourite shots of all time.  I think knowing that I wasn't coming back to a job hunt or just having some sort of plan was part of it.

I also, went to visit my in-laws in Windsor (I've met them but never gone there)! This was the first time and there was snow on the ground so I feel like it was the full experience.  My mother-in-law and brother-in-law took us to Toledo while there to visit one of the more amazing art galleries I've seen in North America. It was great to see where Laura grew up. 

The core of the year was spent in BC (aside from single day or overnight trips to Washington to hike, 2 with Wendie and Pete to HWY 20).  Somehow, I managed to end up doing 2 Sooke centred trips: the East Sooke Coast trail with out friends Peter and Olivia and and a cycle trip I went on over a mountain and the Sooke Hills with cycle buddies Paul and Ulrike.

Unfortunately, our well advance planned Garibaldi trip was a bust as the new booking system makes you commit so far in advance that weather is an unknown making me question trying again.  We did however still get a few good hikes in but this was not one of the better hike seasons for us for volume.

Our last and I suppose biggest trip together in 2018 was Los Angeles in November. We felt it was a gap in our travel experience given ease of access. I feel we gave it the full treatment this time and didn't leave many stones unturned.  


Windsor was a good start but unfortunately compared to a year where you are on the east coast and have months of free time, we just didn't quite feel great about the amount of time we spent with family in 2018.

My uncle Jim passed away in May and though this meant more time together, the reason was a hard one to take for all.  I really feel this was one of the things that marks this year for me.  He was an omnipresent person in my life despite us usually only seeing him a handful of times a year.  Like us, he lived in Metro Vancouver my entire life and in my own personal encyclopedia under the word "uncle" there would be a picture of him. He was the uncle I knew best, and knew first.  He was a highly principled man, and very caring.  The many stories I'd heard all of my life of him taking a stand for what is right were apparently only a fraction of what he really delivered in life on that front.  We should all take a page from his book and I know for a fact a part of him is not only in all of my cousins, but in me also.  I'm a better person for knowing him.  I feel very sad just typing this, and my thoughts go to my aunt Irene and how her life will change and how we need to make sure we see her more.

On the flipside, Laura's cousins Johnny and his wife Danielle welcomed a cute baby girl to the world! I do feel really lucky that Laura also has relatives here in Vancouver (cousin Tracie's hospitality is always fun, relaxed and so well incorporated into our family experience in this city - may her house never sell!)

My dad and his wife Patti managed to get in their travel this year but also struggle on and off with health. They get around despite it but I'm reminded of how I need to do better at ensuring I spend time with all of my extended family in 2019.  Too busy and too tired is not an excuse.


Canada day eh?
I'm not sure how to rate 2018.  We have realized that we are sort of introverts and if we aren't conscious about getting out, we get isolated and it may cost us depth in friendships with others.  This is not our intention, we love traveling, laughing, and eating with friends.  Early in the year we had a few people over to build a puzzle and some friends hosted a games night (twice).  The amount of happiness these simple events give us make us feel sort of negligent... I mean, why don't we do it more?
We had some furniture refinished this year that should allow us to host at home better so let this be a declaration of that intention!
Outdoor trips remain one of our favourite ways to connect because they lack city distractions and every step is a new shared experience.  We had some good ones with Andy and Maria, my sister and brother in law, and Peter and Olivia plus many more.  As always, we plan quite a few of these as the anchor to any satisfying year plan.


No big diets were conducted this year or gym plans but for the most part a relatively healthy run for 2018.  Sure I have a bum shoulder and got the flu but for the most part I'm just a bit "older" feeling.

Why? I think cycling to work 5 days a week possibly helps quite a bit.  I definitely didn't lose the mythical 16-20 lbs people do when they start to commute by bike daily, nor was I in the best shape of the last 5 years but I was never in bad shape.  By cycling daily, as opposed to a pattern of big hikes or bike rides less frequently, I seem to have more of a base at all times and be ready to go. It has cemented my belief that I want to always have this as part of my working life. I wrote about that journey HERE <link pending>.


The biggest game changer for sure this year.

I never felt particularly connected with the objectives of the places I have worked historically and maybe only moderately connected to the culture.  By joining the team the runs Vancouver's bikeshare, my hobbies and work life sort of merged.  Though I have taken a bit of a right turn in my career path and my earnings (I'm no longer a manager of people, projects, or IT related services), I have learned alot about myself by actually seeking out where I want to work and getting it. 

Historically I've been the odd person out with an interest in the outdoors or even having non-work interests at all! The people I now work with seem a bit more like the folks that otherwise might be a part of the kind of communities I've only circulated in on my free time (like Wanderung or the cycling community as a whole).  The people I work with now tend to gravitate towards important ideas as much as they do paycheques.  I think as a group we've made the city  a better place to live.

It isn't perfect, elsewhere I've felt I typically can contribute way more and apply my experience more effectively, but I'm happier here, and interested in the outcomes (it may be a function of my HR role or just the people dynamics and leadership in general).  I do feel I might live longer working in a place like this because I no longer dread going to work.  On many subtle levels I think I know more what I want to be doing during that 1/3 of my life regardless of where I am and enjoy that there is less unneeded stress here.  As a happier person I oddly feel less like spending money... except on things that matter (like experiences).

I embarked on zero extra "special projects" this year (so I've removed that section) which I think is symbolic. I think it may be a sign of more balance in my life as work initiatives seems a bit more like what I would have volunteered for in the past. The one possible exception this year was that I got really into the municipal election. Though not super pleased with the outcome, it could have been worse and I like to think that the hundreds of people that seemed to find my blog maybe helped?! (how they found this I do not know). I enjoyed being more aware of what is going on locally and aim to keep that up.

2019 Goals summarized:

Looking back has helped me think about how to approach this year differently.
  • see more extended family - make this a priority
  • find a way to get better pictures of Laura and I together - we suck at this
  • continue to spend less on 'stuff', but when I spend, maximize the utility or experience
  • see more friends with no specific activity at the core,.. just have people over
  • continue the trend towards going predominantly car-less and environment conscious
  • continue to find the things in my work life that satisfy me and I don't feel the need to compartmentalize into the smallest box possible
  • see where I can help the place I work on more levels, dig deeper into my experience and develop some new skills too
  • weave better mental and physical health into daily routine - like biking for groceries