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The negotiations over who gets the next big transit project in the region is underway; North Shore gave itself a boost

October 4th, 2020 · No Comments

Greater Vancouver’s North Shore communities got a big boost to their pitch to be next in line for rapid transit in the region with the release of a provincial study outlining five feasible routes across Burrard Inlet for a light-rail line.

Now those three cities will need to prove they deserve to get billions of dollars for new transit by demonstrating the line can get the needed ridership, partly by supporting land-use plans that will add more population and jobs, acknowledged the B.C. MLA shepherding the transit-planning effort and the head of the TransLink mayors’ council.

“There’s a lot of competition for transportation all across the province and we’ve got to have our ducks in a line,” said North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma, who pulled together a group of stakeholders in 2018 to come up with a more coherent transportation plan for the car-clogged section of the region. “The North Shore is going to have to demonstrate we’re ready to receive a rapid-transit project like this and prepare their communities.”

The three North Shore municipalities – City of North Vancouver, District of North Vancouver and District of West Vancouver – have a mixed record on supporting new transit and housing.

While the city has added a significant amount of density and supported improved transit, transforming into an extension of downtown Vancouver, the District of North Vancouver council has quashed various development projects. West Vancouver, although adding multifamily housing for the first time in decades, saw a wave of public opposition to a rapid-bus line planned for the street near that housing. TransLink had to scale back its plans for the line in 2019 after the council voted against it.

TransLink, which approved the construction of two new SkyTrain extensions as part of a 10-year list of priorities developed by regional mayors in 2014, is now pondering what the next priorities are as it looks at refreshing that list and developing a new long-range plan to 2050.

Everyone in the region is jostling for more. A SkyTrain extension to Maple Ridge, another one down King George Boulevard in Surrey south toward White Rock, a gondola in Burnaby to take students to Simon Fraser University, a rapid bus to Squamish or Chilliwack – those are just some of the demands the Lower Mainland’s transit agency is facing.

What gets to the top of the list will depend increasingly on what those regions are prepared to do to add population around transit, said Jonathan Coté, the chair of the mayors’ council and mayor of New Westminster.

“A good transportation plan starts with a good land-use plan and communities that are willing to make changes,” he said.

Mr. Coté said it’s clear the North Shore has experienced a dramatic increase in traffic and congestion the past few years and it has been identified as a rising priority for TransLink. He said the provincial study adds invaluable planning information for TransLink, which will be needed as it goes through a long process to decide what the next priorities are and where the best cost-benefit scenarios exist.

The provincial committee studying the possibilities, after going through multiple others to connect the North Shore to the existing rapid-transit network in the rest of the region, came up with five options judged workable by engineering experts.

Two involve a new bridge alongside the current Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing. Three options have tunnels – one from Brockton Oval at Stanley Park to central Lonsdale; another one under the park to West Vancouver’s Park Royal and then to central Lonsdale; and a third essentially under the current SeaBus route from downtown Vancouver to Lonsdale Quay.

A rail bridge paralleling Lions Gate Bridge was eliminated because it would have required too much Stanley Park land for approaches, said Ms. Ma. Another idea, running the rail line underneath the Ironworkers bridge, was ruled out in the final round. Gondolas were also nixed, because the distance is so great that the towers would have needed to be as high as the Wall Centre hotel.

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Could Ugly Broadway become a beautiful swan? City says yes

July 7th, 2020 · No Comments

There are going to be many changes along Broadway in the coming years, as the subway goes in, 99 buses no long roar along both sides of the street, density of some description is added (once the new city plan or Broadway plan is decided on), and more residents and businesses are added to the area.

It’s been a utilitarian traffic corridor, except for one brief stretch through western Kitsilano, for a long time. But it doesn’t have to be like that forever, as city engineers told me for a recent story.

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Some of Canada’s transit systems crushed at getting riders. And that was their weakness in pandemic

April 27th, 2020 · No Comments

Some of you might not have seen my latest transit story because it ran in the Alberta pages of the Globe. But it’s relevant across the country.

I looked at the difference between Edmonton and Calgary and, it turned out, that explained some of the differences in other parts of the country. It explained by Vancouver’s TransLink, one of the most successful transit operations in the country, was the first to have to make massive layoffs. Toronto, even more successful, was second. Winnipeg, which has healthy ridership too, also had to lay off and Calgary is looking at it if things go on much longer.

Why? The answer is in my story, here and text pasted after the turn. [Read more →]

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As vulnerable as people in care homes, but no plan to help protect them yet: The homeless, sheltered, living in SROs

March 16th, 2020 · No Comments

People who care for the homeless and those living in the worst conditions (shelters, SROs) are frantic about the lack of resources and preparation for the vulnerable group they serve. My story here and in text below.  [Read more →]

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Why so many vacancy signs on Vancouver shopping streets? Some are small businesses waiting weeks or months for permits

March 9th, 2020 · No Comments

People love their neighbourhood small businesses. Politicians say they’re the lifeblood of the community.

But one of the most perplexing parts of covering city hall is hearing the constant stories about how this or that small business went through hell to get a minor commercial-renovation permit. Some just give up; others grit their teeth and spend tens of thousands in rent on their empty spaces. It’s been a problem since I started covering cities 25 years ago and no one seems to know how to change it.

In the meantime, here’s my Globe story on the bizarre mazes some have to run and what the consequences are. As the economy gets battered heavily this year, cities’ ability to foster small businesses instead of hobbling them will be key to maintaining a healthy city.

Full text below

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Budget angst hitting cities across the land as taxes go up to pay for things other governments skipping

December 5th, 2019 · No Comments

Budget and property-tax-increase time is never a fun period in the year.

But it’s feeling especially fraught this year, as there are big debates and objections and announcements about big new hikes in various cities. It seems to me that it’s all a product of the secret burden cities have been carrying for years, where they are being left to absorb the financial cost of many social issues that the provinces and federal government used to be responsible for. Housing, especially, but all kinds of other issues, including mental health, drug addiction, immigrations, transit support and more.

Vancouverites are setting their hair on fire over a proposed 9.3-per-cent increase, which would come on top of 4.5 per cent last year. My story here and various takes here, here, and here. (The CBC story says it’s the biggest in a decade but City Hall Granny here, aka me, has been covering budgets for 25 years and I don’t recall one that high in all that time.)

You’ll notice that in the last of these, a former city employee, is about how the tax hikes are related to how much the city is now spending to try to create affordable housing. Yes, people, been saying this for years, that, as much as many support the construction of new affordable housing, it is putting a huge load on cities, which have nothing but property taxes to pay for it.

Opinionators everywhere are weighing in on whether Vancouver property taxes are higher than other cities, lower than other cities, or what.

Toronto is about to go through the same, as conservative-leaning Mayor John Tory, after resisting the idea for years, has now come out proposing big tax increases to pay for more housing and transit.

Calgary is having its own struggles over property-tax increases after giving a big chunk of money for a stadium and now having to deal with the predictable backlash as taxes rise for basic services.

And, in Surrey, it’s kind of a reverse problem, where longtime zero-tax-increase advocate Mayor Doug McCallum and his remaining band of supporting councillors have passed a very tight budget, with only a 2.9-per-cent increase, which means no new police or firefighters and a restricted menu of community-service improvements. That is producing its own community backlash.



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Plan by Squamish Nation for unique, super-dense development on False Creek sets off wave of praise

November 12th, 2019 · No Comments

So, we kicked off last week with the story that the Squamish Nation has updated its plans for the land it owns around the south end of the Burrard Bridge, with a project that would have 6,000 units in 11 towers, one of them 56 storeys.

My story in the Globe and the follow-up story are here and here. Text below.

There’s been a huge wave of interest and response to the story, with calls coming in to Squamish Nation councillor Khelsilem from across Canada and even Britain.

For some people exasperated with city rules, the plan is being welcomed almost vengefully, like a giant middle finger to the city’s planning department.

Others are simply fascinated by the architectural design, which has echoes of First Nations themes, and the unusual approach.

I should note that not everyone is thrilled, like Vancouver Councillor Colleen Hardwick. Apparently there are also a lot of exchanges on various Facebook pages that express a lot less enthusiasm for the project than what is being heard more publicly.

As I noted in a series of tweets later in the week, there are many questions still to be answered. But it’s going to be a fascinating ride.

BTW, for the many of you asking, the other big pieces of Vancouver land under First Nations control will not have the same freedom as this piece of Squamish land. I triple-checked with the city on this and they said:

Hi Frances, here’s the info on this.

The three projects you had asked about (Jericho lands, Heather lands, Liquor Distribution branch site at Broadway/Renfrew) which are being led by MST Development Corporation (“MST DC”) on behalf of the MST partnership, are owned by corporations and are not on federal or reserve lands.  As such, the development of those lands will be subject to all municipal laws and by-laws in respect of use and development of land.  For developments of this scale, the normal process would be a high level policy statement, rezoning and then the development permit and building permit process.  There will be extensive public engagement in this process and public hearings in front of Vancouver City Council for the rezonings.  This is unlike the proposed Senakw project which is on Squamish Nation reserve land and as such Squamish Nation’s land use planning jurisdiction applies and not the City of Vancouver’s.


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Cities say they’re making big changes by allowing duplexes, triplexes in former single-detached-only homes. But how is that working out?

November 5th, 2019 · No Comments

Cities like Minneapolis and Portland are getting huge coverage in the U.S. for saying that they are ending the restriction of single-detached-only homes in large areas of their cities. Vancouver is part of that movement in Canada.

But, as I discovered when I went to do a follow-up story on how this is all working out, the duplex “revolution” is still very constrained by the fact that planners and politicians don’t want too much change to be visible to existing neighbours. So these new forms of housing are being restricted in size, which means the units are significantly smaller than what most people say is needed for real family-sized housing.

My story from the Globe is here and in text below.

As I mentioned also in my tweets, one of my small side discoveries in doing this story was how accessible land records were for Minneapolis.

While I was there a couple of weeks ago, I asked for an example of a triplex that’s been built. I was pointed to 3450 Grand (although it’s technically not legal yet, since the council there is only just finalizing all the motions/bylaws needed to change the zoning.)

While I was walking down the street to get pictures, I noticed that there was actually a small apartment building just two doors down.

Here are a couple of pictures, one of the triplex under construction, one of the apartment down the street, courtesy of Google.


It took me about three minutes to get all kinds of details on both of them, so I could include sizes in my story. If only we had that here in B.C., where it costs $10 per search if you are looking electronically. (Yes, it is free if you go down to a B.C. Assessment Authority office and look on one of their three computers, as long as you are retired and have all the time in the world.)

Here are some shots of what I found for the Minneapolis properties, the triplex and the apartment building down the street.

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In honour of the Internet’s birthday: The time I discovered the Internet in 1993

October 30th, 2019 · No Comments

Way back when, I was a social-issues reporter at The Vancouver Sun. No one really knew what that meant. It wasn’t supposed to be traditional social issues, but more like trends and social-science research.

I can’t remember how I got started on this talking through computers network thing. I believe it might have been Larry Kuehn of the B.C. Teachers Federation who got me interested in it.

At any rate, I worked for a couple of weeks on a feature in the fall/winter of 1992 that was hundreds of words long. My editors clearly thought I was embroiled in one of my kooky obsessions with the obscure. They cut it down considerably and finally ran it in January 1993, just to humour me, I think.

That was my first dip into the world of the internet. Interesting now to see how it seemed like such a force for good back then. I thought of it again when I heard the radio interviews and read the stories yesterday about the Internet’s “birthday.”

THE INVISIBLE CITY OF COMPUTER NETWORKING: Social activists discover networks offer a sense of power, solidarity: [1* Edition]


Bula, Frances.The Vancouver Sun; Vancouver, B.C. [Vancouver, B.C]02 Jan 1993: B3.

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Vancouver’s big suburb to the east makes plans to create a downtown

October 29th, 2019 · No Comments

Apparently Google loved my story about Burnaby, Vancouver’s beloved neighbour that has served as its bedroom community for decades, is going to create a downtown at the mega-fortress-mall of Metrotown. (Full text attached below)

Burnaby did originally have a kind of town centre at Edmonds, but that sort of disappeared in the 1970s, as the city moved to a “four town centres” approach to planning as part of the big strategy to develop a set of interlinked regional town centres so that everyone wouldn’t have to jam into downtown.

As I discovered when I wrote the story, there were dreams back then, though, that Metrotown would be more than just a sprawling mall when it was redeveloped from what it had been, an industrial area of grocery warehouse and distribution buildings like those of Kelly Douglas. See this lovely report from Norm Hotson, back in the day.

It’s going to take 40 years or more for this re-make of Metrotown to be completed, so not holding my breath for an instant transformation, but it will be a pleasant difference to see more effort go into making an attractive public area in and around there over the years.

It was always puzzling to me and others how Burnaby seemed to require nothing from developers, who put up towers next to Lougheed or around Metrotown with apparently zero requirement to try to make the immediate precinct attractive or walkable. Gilmore Station, gah. Former mayor Derek Corrigan, who could be so assertive (ahem) on other issues, didn’t appear to want to push them on it. And, of course, developers loved it, talking about how easy it was to do business in Burnaby.

But, as this report approved Monday by council demonstrates, it looks as though there’s going to be a different approach now.

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