Archive for the ‘urban planning’ Category

Open email on 10th Avenue bike improvements, and the Mount Pleasant transportation problem.

I received this when I got home today:




My response:



I received on my door today a notice from an organisation calling itself “The Neighbourhood Stratas” (alternatively “Kingsgate Stratas,” as suggested by their email address), advocating against the proposed improvements to Prince Edward Street, and spreading some misinformation (particularly regarding the number of parking spaces to be removed). I have attached a photo of their cover letter.

As a unit owner and resident at The Uptown, 2788 Prince Edward Street, I would like to make it very clear that this organisation does not speak on behalf of me, and I suspect many of my neighbours would also say the same.  I assume, by virtue of the fact that the notice was left on my door and not my mailbox, that the building’s strata council is participating in this organisation, though we have yet to receive any meeting minutes that suggest as much.  Regardless, residents of the building have absolutely not been consulted on this topic at all. The strata does not have a clear mandate from residents of the building to proceed with lobbying on this matter.

All this said, I’d like to address the concerns highlighted in their flyer, as some of them at least are valid and worth addressing. I apologise in advance for the great length of this message, but I think that there are some very important issues to be addressed, many of which are much, much, bigger than this single project. As such, I’ve copied the mayor-and-council email address on here because there are broader development, planning, and transportation concerns impacting this situation.

First and foremost, I am strongly in favour of the street closure, parking removal, and one-way adjustment proposals as written. As currently designed, this portion of 10th Avenue (and in particular the “jog” at Prince Edward) is dangerous for people travelling by any means – on foot, on bike, or by car. I’ve previously attended open houses at earlier stages of the 10th Avenue improvements consultations and after several discussions with staff I’m convinced that there is no other way to solve this issue other than to change the half-block-jog to bicycle-and-pedestrian-only. As someone who walks, cycles, and drives through this intersection multiple times a day, the current situation is unacceptable.

Specifically with respect to access to my building, we have two parkades. One is a virtually-unused permit-only commercial parkade with access on Prince Edward Street, which I admit will have slightly-more-difficult access, though access via Kingsway-11th-Prince Edward is, frankly, more obvious than via Broadway anyway.  The other is the one used by people who actually live here, and is accessed from the laneway between Prince Edward and Guelph.  This laneway is accessible from 12th Avenue directly, and from 11th Avenue via Kingsway/Prince Edward or via Broadway/Guelph.  The proposals will not affect this access, at all.  If anything, I’d like to suggest that improved access to the laneway from 12th Avenue (especially turning left Eastbound 12th to Northbound laneway) and/or via a full traffic light at Broadway and Guelph might help to alleviate any parking access issues for our building that may be caused by this change to 10th Avenue.

The flyer also raises concerns that residents may have to leave the area via 11th to Kingsway, which would be difficult if doing anything other than turning right (Northbound).  The Kingsway and 11th intersection is, indeed, a disaster. With no signal and no crosswalks, it’s completely impossible to navigate by bike or on foot (this is officially an unmarked crosswalk, but on a six-lane highway, drivers do not respect this), and even by car is still very difficult to navigate – even if only making a right turn onto or off of Kingsway. I’ve personally been in more than a few near-collisions at this intersection.

I’d like to suggest that, rather than backtrack on the proposed plans (which I think are mostly sound), the city consider improvements to the intersection of Kingsway and 11th alongside the changes to 10th Avenue. In previous correspondence with the city, I was informed that I am not the only one to have raised the problem of this intersection, so perhaps the city can take a “two birds with one stone” approach and improve access for everyone by signalising or otherwise better controlling this intersection. In fact, this might give people less reason to drive down Prince Edward in the first place (since it will improve access to major roads other than Broadway), lightening traffic loads across the board.

The other two “concerns” raised by the flyer are with respect to several new developments opening soon in this neighbourhood – concerns that traffic measurements were taken recently without considering the impact of three new buildings currently under construction (presumably The Independent, The Duke, and Vya Living).  First, none of these buildings require access to Prince Edward Street at all – they all face Kingsway. The Independent will have its parkade access via Watson Street, several blocks away, and on the other side of Kingsway, so I don’t think it’s worth considering – given how difficult it is to cross Kingsway, I don’t imagine there’s a lot of risk of people trying to park on the East side of Kingsway for this building. The other two have parkade access from the laneway behind Kingsway, which is unaffected by the plans – there are no changes proposed to the mini-block between Kingsway and the laneway, on either 10th or 11th Avenue, besides the narrowing of 10th for the protected bikeway, but if anything this just moves bikes out of the way of motor vehicles – this block is usually so busy with bikes (in the summer at least) that there isn’t a lot of free space for people to drive anyway.

The two specific concerns with these new buildings were increased traffic volumes and loss of parking in spite of increased residents.  With respect to traffic volumes, it’s clear that the proposals made by the city are to reduce the volume of non-local traffic, since people who actually need to go to these blocks will still drive there anyway, but people who don’t will be frustrated by the traffic-calming (and blocking) measures. If anything, this frees up space on the mini-block between Kingsway and the laneway, because in theory the only people still driving there will be local residents and people going to Buy-Low Foods, as opposed to the current situation where this block regularly attracts rat-runners between Kingsway or Main and Broadway. Paired with the conversion of 10th West of Kingsway to Westbound-only, this will help reduce the volume of people using 10th-> Prince Edward or Prince Edward-> 10th to get between Main Street and Broadway without having to navigate the various no-turn intersections.

With respect to the loss of street parking in combination with the gain of large quantities of new residents, I would normally dismiss such comments since residents generally have in-building parking and visitors can come by other means. Generally speaking, I believe it is the city’s responsibility to encourage active transportation and public transportation use, and not to be concerned about storage of private motor vehicles on public property.

However, in this case this concern does speak to a broader issue of the increase in the number of residents in the neighbourhood. I’m strongly in favour of development and of increased density, generally, but this neighbourhood is about to be hit by a perfect storm of transportation problems. The latest development selling in this neighbourhood (on Broadway at Prince Edward) is marketing itself to be near a “proposed” SkyTrain station which may never come.  Bus service has been decreased consistently in the three years I’ve lived here (particularly on the 19), and buses are only going to get more crowded with the several new developments in the area, plus all the new housing the city is building just North of Broadway on Main.  I realise this is well, well, beyond the scope of the 10th Avenue team (which is why council is copied), but I hope that you could communicate to whoever is capable of addressing this that this neighbourhood badly needs a broader transportation plan, and one that addresses the increased number of residents with real, concrete, improvements.  I must reiterate that I think a AAA bike route, in the form of 10th Avenue (and Broadway, if I’m being greedy), and more bike share stations need to be part of this plan. The plan should also include completing the Millennium Line extension, and improving the pedestrian realm through traffic calming and improved crossings.  In the meantime, I’m living in a neighbourhood that is rapidly being built to Transit-Oriented Development density, without the actual transit to support it.

So to bring this back around to the original point surrounding parking, I can sympathise with concerns about loss of street parking for visitors and for car-sharing vehicles (the latter, frankly, often occupy about 50% of the on-street parking in this area). I think a lot of this could be remedied, on a short-term basis anyway, by negotiating for some space with Kingsgate Mall – there are currently no Car2Go or Evo parking spots in any of their three lots, and of course non-customers are not allowed to park there. However, their lots (particularly the large Buy-Low lot at 10th and Kingsway) are frequently virtually empty.  If even just the Buy-Low lot were opened to paid parking and/or some Car2Go and Evo spots, this could completely offset the loss of 20 (not 30 as implied by the flyer) parking spaces on Prince Edward.  I also wonder if you could clarify for those concerned whether any visitor and/or public parking will be available in Vya Living or The Duke.

To sum up this very long message (apologies again) – 1) the group claiming to represent the stratas in my neighbourhood does not represent me, 2) I encourage you to move forward with the improvements to 10th Avenue, 3) there are several other problem areas in and around the mega-block bounded by 12th, Kingsway, Broadway and Guelph that need to be addressed, the solutions to which I think should be expedited to address some of the concerns raised about the 10th Avenue changes (but these things need to be fixed, regardless), and 4) this neighbourhood badly needs a transportation plan; one that is actually funded and implemented as soon as possible. Further developments should, and I’m sure will, continue to come to this neighbourhood, but we can’t sustain any more until the transportation situation is addressed more broadly, including the completion of the SkyTrain to Main and Broadway.

Thank you for your time,

Neal Jennings


Vancouver’s real estate story is not about houses – it can’t be.

I promised I would start blogging again this year, so I’m finally doing it!

Vancouver has long been notorious for having expensive and unaffordable real estate.  I’m not going to try to convince anyone that’s not the case, since affordability here is demonstrably a very real problem.  We need to speak out more about the problems the city has with homelessness, underhousing, and the ability of younger generations to have access to the housing market.  These are all real problems, and some people are discussing them very sensibly and urgently.

But over the last year I’ve found myself throwing my arms up in frustration at an endless barrage of reports and infographics portraying a Vancouver that I don’t recognize at all as the one I live in.  Everything from the #DontHave1Million campaign, to this HuffPost infographic, to this $2.4 million teardown. All the reports from this crazy place portray Vancouver’s real estate story, its housing story, as one of million-dollar single-family homes that naturally no one can afford.  I find most tend to be dishonest (or silent) about one fact or another to yield more-sensational-than-reality results – frequently things like geography (how you define “Vancouver”), home type, calculation type, sales period, and others are misrepresented.

There has been some more nuanced coverage, for sure, but it seems like all anyone wants to talk about is houses and why young middle-class people can’t afford them. Most people would have you believe there is a crisis of epic proportions resulting from the fact that only a small minority of people can afford single-family homes in a dense urban area.

When I hear things like “Don’t have 1 million” (and its many variations – I don’t mean to single out any one campaign), what I hear is people insisting that the houses that are selling for a million dollars right now are the kinds of homes that should be affordable to middle-class people (however you define that).  That kind of thinking – that single-family houses are the crisis point – is distracting from the (very real) problems that we actually have.

Single-family houses are not where the crisis lies.  In fact, single-family houses are simply not a realistic urban dwelling – at least not in Vancouver.  This isn’t because I want to take away everyone’s suburban American dream, or because I think younger generations are less deserving of single-family home-ownership than our parents’ generations.  There are simply more of us – some basic math can show why it’s not practical to expect anyone to live in a single-family home in Vancouver. There’s simply not enough space.

I ran a search on of homes in the City of Vancouver listed around the $1 million mark, that magic number everyone likes to scream about.  I selected all homes (which by no small coincidence were all single-family houses, exclusively in East Vancouver) listed between $990,000 and $1,010,000 – there were six of them.  From the listing I summarised the street addresses, prices, and square footage of the land:


This yields an average lot size of 3,266.46 square feet (apologies for using imperial measures, but it seems to be standard in real estate). Dividing into Vancouver’s total surface area of 44.39 square miles (1,237,522,176 square feet), this means that if everyone lived in a million dollar home, and the city had no parkland, commercial or industrial space, or even streets or roads, we would have room for 378,857 single-family homes.  If we subtract only the 2,997 hectares [11.57 sq mi] of roads (this [page 17] is the best link I can find – the number is cited several places but the original source is a dead link), that leaves us with 32.82 sq. mi, or 914,969,088 sq. ft. Doing the math, we get space for 280,110 lots.

Even with the ludicrous assumption of turning the entire City of Vancouver into one huge jobless and parkless suburb (remember, those numbers above don’t account for any land use other than single-family homes and roads), that’s not a lot of homes for our 532K+ people, especially giving shrinking family sizes.  As of the last census, the City of Vancouver had 264,575 households, an increase of 4.4% from 2006. Assuming a similar increase to this census year (2016), that gives us 276,216 households today – just barely shy of the 280,110 number above.

So, the way I see it, we have a few options. We can continue to demand single-family houses for every single household, and use some combination of reducing the population of the city and converting parkland, commercial, and industrial lots to residential in order to achieve it. Or, we can start addressing the real issues, and tackle the issues of affordability at the other end of the spectrum, and give up the expectation of average people (or any people, for that matter) owning single-family houses in the City of Vancouver.

I choose the latter. I know I’m very privileged to own the modest condo I own. I know that many others are less fortunate, and I do believe they should be entitled to participate in home ownership.  Houses will become consistently more expensive as their supply goes down and demand (via population growth) goes up.  It will mean that houses become unaffordable for more and more people – this is an unavoidable reality.

So, let’s focus on the real issues. Let’s look at the price of family-sized apartments and question whether those are affordable for average families (generally, they’re not). Let’s look at the ability of young people to afford starter homes (not the average house, but the low-end condo). And let’s look at how renters are affected. Let’s look at near-zero vacancy rates for rental housing in Vancouver. Let’s look at the impact of how rental housing is structured (a complex mishmash of rented-condos, build-to-let buildings, partial-house rentals, co-ops, and social housing). Let’s look at the shortage of social housing across the city. Let’s look at the large numbers of homeless people in the city who can’t even afford to rent any home.

But please, let’s give up on the urban single-family house.

Email to Mayor and Council about Roundabouts

This evening, in an incident that has happened countless times before, I had a near-collision with a car while cycling on the 10th Avenue bike route.  I don’t recall the exact intersection (I believe it was Prince Albert), but I was headed Eastbound and approached a roundabout.  There was no traffic (bicycle or car) in the roundabout, and no one coming to my left.  I headed straight through – I would guess at around 20 or 25 km/h given that I was going downhill.  This is still well under the speed limit of 30km/h on this road.

As I was travelling through the roundabout, a Northbound car approached on my right.  Rather than a) recognising that one is required to yield to traffic in roundabouts (the BC government has a lovely little page on this) or b) looking up and realising that driving straight through would involve hitting a cyclist, this car just kept driving anyway.  I was able to brake and swerve to avoid hitting her car (or being sideswiped by her), but then she stopped in the roundabout and had to carefully manoeuvre around me to keep going.

In my frustration I yelled out “what are you doing?!” because I honestly had no idea – she seemed uncertain as to whether she was going to continue or stop and let me through.  She responded with “it’s not your turn!”  The fact that this was her response suggested to me she had no idea how roundabouts work.  They don’t involve “turns” – they always involve yielding to whomever is in the roundabout.  Period.  You wait until it’s clear, then you go.

While the complete incompetence of Vancouver drivers is pretty common, and to be expected, I have to think at least part of this is connected to the way the road communicates to them.  I took this photo shortly before moving to Vancouver:

Just so I'm clear- are these roundabouts or do you make left turns to the left of them?


If you click through to the Flickr page it’s on, you’ll see by the caption that I was just as confused when I first saw them.  These signs do not mean roundabout.  And yet the City of Vancouver uses them on virtually every single roundabout in the city.  I’ve heard somewhere that the difference is that these are “traffic calming circles” and not “roundabouts,” but frankly the wording is academic only – this has no meaning when it comes to how they are used.

So, I wrote the following email to Mayor and Council.  I sincerely hope something is done, because the way people behave around these things right now is incredibly dangerous.

Mayor and council,

After the most recent in a long string of near-collisions in this city’s roundabouts, I’ve had enough. I think roundabouts are an excellent traffic management tool and I don’t believe the city should get rid of them. I do, however, strongly believe city needs to do a heck of a lot more to tell people how they’re supposed to use them.

Besides a public education campaign, I think the number one thing the city needs to do is adopt standard signage. Vancouver is the only place in the world I’ve ever seen “bear right” signs to signify a roundabout. If we all bear right without yielding, we crash into one another – that’s kind of how it works. In case you aren’t familiar with what I’m saying, the BC government’s Graphic Sign Index that includes this sign (item number R-014-R) is here: It refers to this sign (in the index) as “Median symbol (keep) RIGHT ARROW.” This does NOT signify to anyone how they are actually supposed to behave at such an intersection, or who has the right of way.

Everywhere else I’ve travelled, including virtually every other municipality in the Lower Mainland, uses a sign similar to Rb-R-502-T in the BC Roundabout Signs Index ( This clearly signifies to all road users that they are to yield to traffic in the roundabout. I have often seen such signs in combination with something like Rb-W-500 to show the direction of traffic flow (many road users, especially cyclists, turn left against traffic through these, suggesting they don’t realise how they should navigate these intersections at all).

I would like to see council adopt a motion that mandates the usage of these signs universally throughout the City of Vancouver to signify roundabouts or traffic circles. A limited number of roundabouts in the city use these signs (though often in combination with the bear right one, which is even more confusing); I see no reason they can’t all be used this way.

Before I get a response that these are “traffic calming circles” and not “roundabouts,” the distinction is completely meaningless when one is travelling around one of these things and someone decides to drive or cycle directly in front of you (or side-swipe you). If the rules are the same, the size of island in the middle of the circle should not change the signage or communication made by the city. These are universally (outside of Vancouver) used and perceived as roundabouts, and it should be communicated to road users that this is what they are. The next time I’m cut off in one of these might be my last, and that’s not a result anyone wants.

Thank you,

Neal Jennings



How to cycle straight across Hornby on Helmcken going Westbound, in 7 easy steps.

How to cycle straight across Hornby on Helmcken going Westbound, in 7 easy steps.

5 months ago, I emailed the City of Vancouver to ask about how I was supposed to cross Hornby Street Westbound on a bicycle when riding on Helmcken. At that corner, Helmcken is right-turn-only, and there is a protected bike lane on the left side of Helmcken on the other side of Hornby. The city, just now, replied with the following instructions.

1. Turn right on Hornby into the bile lane, reposition your bicycle and wait for the light
2. Proceed into the bike box in the intersection of Hornby & Helmcken
3. Wait for the light then proceed into the separated bike lane on Helmcken st.

By my count, this is actually 7 steps (and three full cycles of the traffic light)! 7 steps to continue in the same direction on a road!! None of which is marked in any way at the intersection.

On cycling infrastructure (an update)

A couple years ago, in a series of entries I wrote about my time in Australia, I wrote an entry about cycling infrastructure in Australia and Canada.  At the time, it had been ages since I’d actually owned and used a bike as a regular mode of transit – many observations were based on what I saw, and not necessarily what I actually made use of. That’s changed a lot in the last year and a bit that I’ve been in Vancouver.  In the last year, I’ve cycled quite a bit more in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Sydney, and Melbourne.  I figured it would be appropriate to update my thoughts.

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Pavement colours

Depending on your tastes, you might find this to be the most boring blog I’ve ever written. If you’re like me, you might find it really exciting.

I have a tendency to find patterns in things… sometimes I find patterns when they’re not there.  But anyway, on my last trip to Australia (I visited in December 2012), I started to notice some consistent pavement colouring that I found to be helpful in navigation and a great communications tool.

Something as simple as a colour scheme can be quite an effective way of showing road users who gets to go where, how, and when without requiring a lot of words or fancy explanations.  Between Sydney and Melbourne I noticed some consistent colouring that may or may not have been intentional, but could in my view be expanded to a global standard. Continue reading

Privatised city workers, or why tow truck drivers are extortionists.

Sometimes I go hunting for explanations of why a problem exists, and often end up at a realisation that it has something to do with privatisation. In this case, I didn’t even have to try.

The Back Story: The HMV on Robson Street is going out of business. Today is their last day.  I went in back in December and they had signs up saying they were selling off their furniture, and to enquire about it.  I did, and bought and paid for a CD/DVD “end cap” shelf that was originally used back when this store was a Virgin Megastore.  It was still in use at the time so, long story short, I went to pick it up today.

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