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Protected bike lane on Commercial Drive would improve Vancouver’s bike network

September 19, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Vancouver has a pretty impressive bike network, by North American standards. As I rode around the downtown/False Creek areas yesterday I remarked on the (previously-noted) protected bike lanes downtown. They are some of the widest lanes I’ve seen in North America and take up a third (or more?) of the street width.

It’s a bit of anomaly, but even the short protected lane leading from Kent Ave in Marpole up Cambie St to the Marine Drive Canada Line station is wide.

That said, Vancouver’s “AAA” bike network (“All Ages and Abilities”) is limited to the downtown and the Seaside greenway leading to Spanish Banks along English Bay. AAA bike infrastructure is not all in the form of barrier-separated lanes, but may also be on traffic-calmed streets, and is thoroughly connected – there are few broken links.

There is plenty of room for improvement and expansion to other neighbourhoods. Currently, most of Vancouver’s bike network relies on “Local Street Bikeways,” traffic-calmed streets that are well-signed and discourage thru traffic through the use of traffic diverters. However, they still have car traffic and are therefore not AAA.

45th St Local Street Bikeway.

45th St Local Street Bikeway – nothing spectacular, except traffic-calmed and well-signed.

How I feel about Local Street Bikeways is a subject for an entire post, or perhaps even further study. In a nutshell, they provide safety and refuge from pollution, but by pushing the pedal-powered to side streets, out of sight and mind to many, and away from neighbourhood attractions, businesses, and events. The trade-offs still bother me; on one hand, being away from pollution and noise is nice. On the other hand, the great part of riding a bike is discovering new places – you’re going slower but still able to cover long distances, it’s easier to stop if you see an event to check out or a store to patronize, etc. Mostly, we’re human, and we like watching other humans and being seen by them, too. By excluding bikes from most commercial streets throughout Vancouver, we’re at a bit of a disadvantage.

So I was quite happy to see this tweet this morning:

Commercial Drive is a neighbourhood in East Vancouver; it is bordered on all sides by Local Street Bikeways but none of them pass through the quirky principal street. There is plenty of bike parking and quite a few bicyclists out on street regardless of the lack of bike infrastructure. Chicago readers would find the area similar to Andersonville.

Commercial Drive (near the centre of the map) is surrounded by local street bikeways.

Commercial Drive (near the centre of the map) is surrounded by local street bikeways.

Streets for Everyone proposes a “complete street” down the Drive, complete with protected bike lanes and Dutch-style intersections that make it easier to turn, as well as additions such as covered bike parking and more outdoor seating.

Busy sidewalks are a sign of a healthy, walkable community, but there is always room for improvement. Image: Streets for Everyone.

The renderings (not perfectly to scale) show what could be done with the street:

One issue I foresee is right turns. In the above rendering, cars’ right turns would either have to be banned or subjected to their own signal cycle – which is difficult, because there is only one thru lane for car traffic.

With AAA upgrades to Grandview Highway, Great Northern Way, and Ontario St, the bike lanes could also link to False Creek, downtown, and Gastown, filling in a gap in the bicycle network.

The existing AAA network (yellow highlight) could be expanded (red outline) to Commercial Drive (solid red).

The existing AAA network (yellow highlight) could be expanded (red outline) to Commercial Drive (solid red).

It would be nice to see the proposal realized. It would expand bicycle options into East Vancouver, make it easier for people on foot and bike to frequent Commercial Drive businesses while retaining access for transit and driving, and put Vancouver closer to its transportation and “greenest city” goals. Equally important, it would also increase the visibility of people on bicycles and allow them to experience the neighbourhood just as everyone else is.

Funding plan for $2.6 billion IL-53 highway extension project pleases no one

September 18, 2014 at 11:37 pm

The US Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) released a report today outlining several new highway projects throughout the US that are most likely no longer needed due to a change in the number of miles Americans are driving. With that number falling and plateauing, it seems we just don’t need new road capacity in the form of massive highways any longer.

One of these projects, double-decking Interstate 94 in Milwaukee, WI, is included in the report and was part of a report released by Wisconsin’s PIRG last week, which I covered at Streetsblog USA.

Smaller but expensive projects like a bypass in my hometown, Burlington, WI, were constructed and remain underused, falling far below original traffic expectations. Photo: Casey Jacobsen.

With VMT continuing to fall it makes little sense to expand highway capacity by laying down new roads or expanding existing ones. In the case of IL-53, which I’ve covered here, here, here, and here, is an expensive highway expansion that we probably don’t need, nobody wants to pay for, and will likely be underused.

The current portion of IL-53 as a highway ends at the Lake County, Illinois border. The entirely untolled highway portion is essentially built to interstate standards – high speed limits, medians, shoulders, and large on-/off-ramps. The extension of the road through Lake County and up to Interstate 94 will be a slower-speed (45 mph/70 km/h) “boulevard,” and will also be tolled at a rate much higher than any other toll road in the state.

The $2,600,000,000.00 project will likely be paid for by various methods. From the Lake County News-Sun:

What the components share in common is that everyone will hate at least one of the ideas. And lots of people will hate the entire idea, starting with spending $2.6 billion on a road that only begets bad funding ideas.

If shared pain is a compromise, then this one is a beauty. Every driver on every road across Lake County will pay more, perhaps forever, for Route 53.

New tolls will be added at several places along I-94 where no tolls exist now (on-/off-ramps to the roads serving Six Flags and Gurnee Mills mall, for example), and an increase in the county’s gas tax by 4c/gal.

What I still cannot understand is that, after months of back-and-forth debates about how to pay for the new road, there was no proposal to toll the existing road. Would tolling the existing road push the cost of driving high enough that some people decide trips could be combined, carpooled, shifted to transit, or just not made at all? Would tolling the road now impact future development decisions in Lake county that might influence some to live closer to the places they need to go, avoiding the frequent need to drive dozens of miles across counties?

There are political reasons why the existing IL-53 highway cannot be tolled, but if the extension is really necessary – or, rather, the need to reduce the amount of traffic congestion is necessary – they would find a way to make it work.

The presumption is that Route 53 travelers would pay, too. Will they? How much? Seems a pertinent detail to have glossed over.

The originally-proposed toll, $0.20 per mile, would cover somewhere around 15% of the project’s cost. And yet that amount still seems too high for drivers.

It’s 2014 and we’ve got to come to grips with the fact that highways are expensive. If the road is really needed, the people using it will need to pay something closer to what it costs to build and maintain. While it wasn’t cited in the USPIRG report, the 53 extension is a boondoggle and should not be built.

Meet the 5,679 square foot LEED Gold-certified home

September 16, 2014 at 4:16 pm

As if you didn’t need more proof that LEED is a fairly weak method of energy-efficiency:

rather than slavishly re-create an architectural classic, the two have produced a house that crisply articulates mid-century ideals, while anchoring it firmly in the 21st century. (It’s the first single-family LEED Gold–certified residence in San Diego.)

via dwell

The home in the Mission Hills neighbourhood of San Diego. Image via Dwell.

Years ago I wrote that I distrusted LEED certifications in part due to my alma mater reaching LEED status for its new dormitory buildings despite the fact that their location required the use of diesel buses to shuttle students to campus and back on a frequent basis. Of course, LEED certification in this case is for buildings and building sites.

But that hasn’t prevented parking garages from receiving LEED green-building certification. (Apparently this practice is being disallowed for new buildings?)

On the home’s location:

Capture d’écran 2014-09-16 à 15.06.34

Remember that Walk Score usually miscategorizes many types of stores people go to for errands: in this case, a juice bar, English specialty grocery shop, and a marketing firm were categorized as “grocery.”

Capture d’écran 2014-09-16 à 15.09.44

Another form of environmentally-friendly transport is the bicycle, and a lack of infrastructure (and probably hills) makes otherwise-sunny San Diego relatively bike-unfriendly. Whoever resides in this home is probably making multiple trips in an automobile every day (and I wouldn’t be writing this if it weren’t for a paragraph focusing on the all-important driveway).

I respect the will of anyone to build a bigger home if they can afford it and they want to live in it. But to call this home environmentally-friendly based on its location only reinforces my opinion that LEED is just a feel-good marketing scheme; at the least, it’s an organization who focuses solely on site design without consideration for how a building influences decisions on how its users get around.

Life Between Buildings: Giddings (Kempf) Plaza as a model

September 3, 2014 at 10:57 am

My latest post at Streetsblog Chicago is up:

The most important outcome to remember is that Kempf Plaza was once a simple residential street, moving a few cars and storing several private vehicles. Initially, there was opposition from merchants and residents alike. In retrospect, the opposition was hyperbolic. Today, the space is popular, and acts as the center of the neighborhood. To remove it today would cause an uproar — yet the result would be what some neighbors in the late 1970s wished for. This hindsight is important to remember whenever projects that reshape streets, and remove some room for cars (whether moving or parked) face opposition. With proper planning and care, they, too, can become the great neighborhood spaces that everyone in Chicago deserves.

Read it all here.

I’ve written before that Giddings (formally Kempf) Plaza is probably one of the most successful public spaces in Chicago and its popularity, tranquility, and history make it an excellent example that other neighborhoods should follow.


Giddings/Kempf Plaza. © 2013 Andrew Seaman via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Public spaces like this are important, but it’s perhaps even more important to ensure that they are planned well — too many other public plazas in Chicago have flopped without proper planning, and I’ve got the feeling that at least one I’ve seen planned will likely be unsuccessful (more on that later). We know car-free places like this can be successful, but it’s the unsuccessful ones that give rise to resistance of future ones.

How I moved across the country with Amtrak

August 20, 2014 at 5:13 pm

The drive from Chicago to Vancouver, BC is 2,190 miles (3,524 km) through six states of plains and mountains. It took me about 40 hours to complete the drive in a rented SUV packed full of personal belongings. I knew everything wouldn’t fit in the car, though, so I had to search for another way to move everything. Having just left behind a steady income, the costlier options like renting a U-Haul (approximately $1,800) or using a PODS service (over $2,500) were out of the question. This is where Amtrak Express Shipping came in handy.

It turns out Amtrak can ship a lot of your stuff (500 or 250 pounds per shipment, depending on the origin/destination stations) for very little money. The initial 100 pounds is just over $60, and then each subsequent pound is around $0.57. Most of the boxes I obtained from a friend were able to fit my books, clothing (in vacuum bags), and non-fragile kitchen items within the weight limit (50 pounds per box) and size limit (3 feet square).

There are several restrictions on what can be shipped. No electronics, fragile items, furniture, and so on – it’s basically just for books, clothes, office supplies, and the like. For some of us, though, that can be the bulk of the items we end up having to move. Other items like furniture and electronics can be moved another way, or sold and re-purchased (personally, my new apartment is furnished, and I moved some electronics in the car).

You can also ship bicycles via Amtrak. I’ve never taken my bike on Amtrak before because the route I used – Hiawatha between Milwaukee and Chicago – did not allow roll-on bike service. From what I understand the process for shipping the bike is similar to how passengers have to box up their bikes: Buy a bike box ($15), take off the pedals and remove the handlebar (and any accessories that won’t fit, like a basket), and roll the bike into the box for shipment. If this is what passengers on most Amtrak routes must do to take their bikes with them, I will never do this again; it is a complete pain. Finally, shipping bikes is expensive; each bike was considered 100 lbs and treated as its own shipment, so always cost a little over $50.

The experience of bringing the items to Amtrak for shipment is a bit like using a US postal office. It’s slow, everything seems to be written on paper and never entered in a computer, and you leave feeling a little disoriented. I used Chicago’s Union Station, where I had to drive down to the station’s basement (from Clinton St) and place my boxes on a pallet. Amtrak individually weighs each package, and if it’s over 50 lbs, they will not take it. I had three boxes that were over 50 lbs and so I had to take them back, which I was not expecting. In the future, I would weigh the boxes at home before I go.

After about an hour I had paid for all 450 lbs of my belongings – except three boxes – destined for Bellingham, Washington (the closest Amtrak station to Vancouver). I had to make an emergency run down the next day after splitting up the remaining three boxes.

Driving through Montana.

While I was in Montana just three days later, I received a call from Amtrak in Bellingham that my shipment had arrived and was ready to be picked up. I had to pick up the boxes within 48 hours or each box would be subject to a $4 fee per day.

There was one problem when I arrived in Bellingham, though – only one of my shipments (with the bicycles) had made it to Bellingham. The other boxes were sitting in Seattle. The staff at Bellingham station told me that they were an Amtrak Express Shipping Lite station, and could only handle shipments up to 250 lbs due to the size of the station. All of my other boxes were sitting hours away in Seattle, and I had rented a Zipvan for the day in Vancouver to get the boxes. I couldn’t drive all the way down to Seattle (due to Zipvan’s distance restrictions), and Bellingham couldn’t store them.

The staff at Chicago never informed me that they could only ship 250 lbs to Bellingham, while shipments up to 500 lbs would have to be picked up in Seattle. I never received a call from Amtrak in Seattle, either, to let me know that the boxes weren’t going to continue to Bellingham. I ended up renting another van for another day and had to pick up the remaining boxes in Bellingham as the train arrived around 9:40 PM last night (it was supposed to arrive at 9 PM).

Picking up the boxes at the station.

Amtrak waived the fees for holding the boxes in Seattle, but I still had to pay for another van to get down to Bellingham a second time to get the rest of the boxes, and had to be at the station exactly when the train arrived so I could take the boxes directly from the cargo car and put them in my van. If I wasn’t there, I was told Canadian border police would “destroy” the boxes when they got to Vancouver. (Another note: make sure the boxes are labeled with your name, address, and phone, because they are not separated from other cargo).

All told, the experience was fairly easy and all of my items arrived damage-free (I still wrapped books in plastic bags just in case), and I saved a lot of money given the amount of items I shipped (about 20 boxes and 2 bikes in total) and the total distance they traveled. Despite the issues with the weight and station pairs (of which I’m now aware to ask about), I would use Amtrak Express Shipping again to move my clothes and books on a long-distance move.


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