Tree canopy on a Marpole residential street. The neighbourhood has a variety of commercial, industrial and residential land uses.

This year the City of Vancouver will be starting community plans for three neighbourhoods: Marpole, the West End and Grandview-Woodlands. In addition to the usual open houses and community meetings, the City has been using its new Public Engagement Division (within its Communications Department) in innovative outreach. This past weekend the City, local residents and designers coordinated walking tours of the three neighbourhoods as part of Jane’s Walk. The Marpole walk was hosted by Margot Long, landscape architect and urban designer, and local resident Jo-Anne Pringle. Lil Ronalds, the City planner working on the Marpole plan, and City Councillors Heather Deal and George Affleck also attended. For more info, check out my article “Get with the plan (Marpole edition!)” for Spacing Vancouver; others will be writing upcoming articles about the West End and Grandview-Woodlands walks, so stay tuned!

After a special council meeting that lasted all day, Toronto City Council voted yesterday to restore proposed LRT lines to Finch Avenue and part of Eglington, and convert the aging Scarborough line to an LRT. As Marcus Gee at The Globe and Mail writes, “City hall veterans are struggling to remember a time when a mayor of Toronto suffered such a humiliating and public setback.” Oft-maligned TTC chair Councillor Karen Stintz emerged with a major victory: she petitioned for the council vote, mobilized a group of supporters, and even proposed an option that would have allowed the mayor to save face (the Sheppard line could still be a subway if an outside panel of experts approves). She needed 22 votes: the motion passed 25-18. Council also voted 28:15 to strike an advisory panel to report back on the best solution for Sheppard.

Mayor Rob Ford, his brother Councillor Doug Ford, and other supporters like Councillor George Mammoliti have been saying for a year that “people want subways.” But consider the momentum on this issue in the past year, from shock and confusion when Ford cancelled Transit City on his first day in office, to hope this January 29th when Councillor Joe Mihevc produced a lawyers’ report saying Ford overstepped his legal rights and council would have to vote on the issue. Last Sunday 120 prominent academics, transportation planners and civic leaders sent a letter to city councillors urging them to overturn the Mayor’s transportation plan or risk impeding transit initiatives in Toronto for the next century. Cities Centre director Eric Miller, planning consultant Ken Greenberg, former Toronto chief planner Paul Bedford and former Mayor David Crombie, among others, called for an end to “the war on common sense.” The Pembina Institute weighed in on the issue, also in favour of LRT construction. And yesterday, while councillors debated and decided the issue, The Toronto Star conducted a [statistically questionable] public opinion poll asking what they thought council should do: 87 voted for “build more subways”, 332 for “build a Light Rapid Transit system”, 2 for “don’t do anything” and 15 had other ideas.

Just over a week ago, I intimated that most of us needed to learn more about municipal governance, and that without this ignorance Ford could never have cancelled transit city or signed an MOU with the province based on his own Sheppard subway strategy. I assumed that Ford knew exactly what his legal rights were, but was banking on councillors and the public being unsure that the Transit City issue had been approved by council and therefore had to be voted on. But last night at the end of the council meeting, Ford expressed his frustration with the results, saying, “Technically speaking, that whole meeting was irrelevant. The premier, I’m very confident, is going to continue building subways.” While it is true that the Transit City plan (like any major transit infrastructure in Canada) hinges upon provincial funding, the MOU that Ford and Premier McGuinty signed was only an agreement in principle until council voted on the issue. Indeed, the Premier confirmed this today: “I’ve also been very clear with the mayor from day one. At the time the memorandum of understanding was entered into, there was a specific provision that he’s got to seek the support of the council.” (“Premier Dalton McGuinty says he is obligated to consider council’s transit decision”, The Toronto Star, February 9, 2012). McGuinty said he reiterated this to Ford last week.

It is telling that it was the legal argument, not the transit experts’ advice or the cost projections, that allowed Transit City’s resurrection. Kudos to Stintz for putting her job on the line: she went public with her opposition to Ford’s transit plan two weeks ago and could easily be unseated a few months from now by the Mayor’s allies on the TTC board, along with TTC chief general manager Gary Webster. And to those who fought the legal battle, including Mihevc and the legal firm of Cavalluzzo, Hayes, Shilton, McIntyre & Cornish. That is one legal report that will go down in history.

“Rumours of the death of Transit City have been greatly exaggerated.” –Toronto Councillor Joe Mihevc, former vice-chair of the TTC

According to lawyer Freya Kristjanson, an expert in municipal governance, Mayor Rob Ford did not have the right to cancel the Transit City plan without council approval. In an article in today’s Toronto Star, Kristjanson says that generally, executive and legislative powers rest with full council, in a “weak mayor-strong council” system. The City of Toronto Act (2007) requires that any act approved by council must be rescinded or amended by a subsequent vote of council. That includes Transit City. The legal firm of Cavalluzzo, Hayes, Shilton, McIntyre & Cornish, who produced the report, says Transit City was approved by council in 2007 as part of the Climate Change, Clean Air and Sustainable Energy Action Plan. “After that, City Council considered and voted on the necessary elements of the program as they came before council.” So when Mayor Ford signed an MOU with the province pursuing his “subways only” alternative plan, he was acting without legal authority. The lawyers’ report says that council must vote on the MOU for it to be valid; until then, it is only an agreement in principle.

The legal ramifications of Ford’s decision, made on his first day of office in December 2010, are yet to be seen, as are the economic costs (the unofficial estimate is $65 million). When Ford announced his intention to cancel Transit City, city councillors asked the Mayor to put the matter before council, but he refused, denying that the plan ever had council approval. My Toronto readers surely remember that Ford rode a wave of local support to victory, and a provincial election was to be held a mere 10 months after the municipal election; there was significant momentum, legal issues notwithstanding, propelling Ford’s rash decision.

Transit advocates like myself are interested in any policy or procedure that might restore a more balanced transit plan to the City of Toronto (kudos to Marcus Gee at The Globe and Mail, whose frustration at the City of Toronto’s lack of transit infrastructure foresight was unmistakable in “Toronto’s transit planning: No way to run a railway”, Saturday, January 27, 2012).

“Transit planning in Toronto is a colossal, humiliating failure. It is hard to imagine how any city could make a better hash of it…A city cannot act like this and expect to build a decent transit system. Rapid transit requires long-term planning, firm, consistent leadership and huge amounts of money. Cities that do it properly come up with a plan looking decades into the future and stick to it. Toronto? Toronto plays politics, cancels projects in midstream, draws up plans only to rip them up and delays, delays, delays.”–Marcus Gee, The Globe and Mail

But at the heart of this procedural debate is how little most of us know about municipal governance in Canadian cities. All of us, whether we are city councillors, planners, electricians, teachers, service workers, or students, need to familiarize ourselves with municipal and regional governance as it concerns service provision, local by-laws, and local budgetary decisions. Without a certain level of ignorance of our most basic legal principles (or an unwilingness to defend them, take your pick) Ford would never have been able to sign the fated MOU. Yes, legal principles on governance seem dry and uninteresting, and to be fair, the City of Toronto Act is only a few years old, so residents might be forgiven for not knowing all the details. But almost every aspect of our lives, from whether we can get our children into day care centres to whether our snow gets plowed on schedule, depends upon the division of powers between municipalities, the provinces, and the federal government. While Ford’s supporters allege that the defense of weak policy is a reliance on legal procedure, the office of Mayor compels adherence to specific legal procedures. Ford knows that, which is why his decision to cancel the Transit City plan hinged on his denial of its approval by council. Presumably, provincial Premier Dalton McGuinty is also familiar with these procedures from his career as a lawyer; yet, the MOU remains.

Maybe we need a new CBC series on the soap opera that has ensued since Ford took office. “…after DaVinci’s City Hall, tune in for Ford Twinmayor: Riding the Gravy Train.”

Update: Toronto City Council will vote at a special meeting on Wednesday, February 8th on whether to tunnel the entire Eglington line or bring the eastern end to the surface, using the savings to introduce light rail on Finch and Sheppard Avenues.

Obviously, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford only has a cursory knowledge of economics. He was, after all, elected to “trim the fat” from a city budget that he considered overflowing with “gravy”. He said he could do this without cutting city services. And yet, while city services get hacked to the bone, high-profile citizens like Margaret Atwood campaign to save Toronto library branches from closure, and nearly 1200 City employees await pink slipsFord has personally wasted about $65 million.

As many of you know, Ford’s first order of business when he was sworn into office last December was to cancel Transit City. I leave aside the insanity of refusing to implement provincially-funded transit infrastructure in the largest city in the country. I won’t go into the fact that increases in TTC ridership actually resulted in a $60 million budget surplus in 2010 and the system even saw a 3% increase in 2011 (in what world is high transit ridership rewarded with intense cuts to transit services?) I won’t even dwell on the Scarborough LRT riders who will now be forced to ride buses for four years while their crumbling line is rebuilt. I will concentrate on just one fact: the man who said he could save taxpayers’ money already cost them millions of dollars in cancellation costs. In a single day: his first day in office.

Now, I’m no economist. But clearly, neither is Ford. The false duality between services or no services is a device often raised by the balance-the-budget crowd to enable cuts. Canada’s largest public-sector union recently slammed the federal government for forcing Canadians to make an “absurd choice” between a balanced budget and strong public services. Among the services provided by the Public Services Alliance of Canada are environmental protection, food inspection, infectious disease tracking and search-and-rescue. After years of fiscal restraint, PSAC is concerned that a government-wide austerity program will seriously disrupt services in communities across the country. Do we really want to risk increases in E. coli or Avian flu in our cities just to save a few bucks? As we enter the winter months, does decreasing search-and-rescue funding make sense? PSAC insists that balancing spending and services doesn’t require an either-or choice (check out their hilarious videos at ThirdChoice.ca).

As Jim Stanford writes in The Globe and Mail, running a government like a corporation cannot possibly work: while Canadian corporations have retained strong profit margins and benefitted from tax cuts, they’re too spooked by recent financial chaos to actually spend their growing cash hoard. Their reticence is deeply damaging to the system as a whole. Stanford argues that governments shouldn’t focus on decreasing their own spending and debt, but on getting people back to work. And for that, they need more spending, not less. Increased government spending during recessions has been a staple since the Great Depession. You would think Mayor Ford might have learned that over the course of multiple recessions in Ontario.

The City of Vancouver Housing and Homelessness Strategy, approved Thursday July 28th, is a bold move in the context of Canada’s increasingly unaffordable housing markets. The comprehensive, ten-year plan calls for the creation of 38,900 affordable homes in the city: 7,900 supportive and social housing units, 11,000 rental units, and 20,000 condos and “ownership” units. To help finance construction, the city intends to offer $42 million in land and capital grants to developers. 3650 of the supportive and social housing units will be built in the next three years. 1,700 of these were previously announced, but 1,950 are new developments which the city will build and run with BC Housing and non-profit associations, a model that has worked for decades in Vancouver. BC Housing will contribute 276 of the units, developers will build 205 (mostly due to density bonusing) and the city will seek funding for the remaining 319.

Until now, the city has remained in limbo in terms of building affordable housing, despite millions of dollars in contributions to its Affordable Housing Fund through density bonusing and a 20% social housing requirement for major rezonings of lands to multiunit residential use. Leaving construction of affordable homes to private developers hasn’t worked, so the city will partner with developers by providing grants and land in exchange for social and supportive units. The city will also lever its land resources and capital projects against funding from provincial and federal governments. The plan also calls for the city to approve more laneway housing and secondary suites. New affordable rental units have been achieved recently through the City’s Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing (STIR) initiative.

Like many municipalities tired of playing chicken with upper levels of government, Vancouver now has its foot firmly on the accelerator. The housing affordability crisis in Canada has reached ridiculous proportions, but we’re still working on the national affordable housing strategy (Bill-C-400), which replaced Bill C-304 from the previous session. Industry warnings of a housing market collapse have been circulated. And yet, the price of renting has increased much slower than the price of ownership over the past twenty years, as Canadian Business illustrated recently (“Rental Complex”, July 14, 2011). This article, the latest in a series of pieces in the popular press exploring the follies of ownership in today’s market, exposes the increasingly doomed love affair Canadians seem to have with homeownership:

“With widespread warnings that we’re approaching the peak of the housing boom, with Canadians more indebted than ever…why aren’t more of us re-examining the math? The reasons are cultural and emotional, backed by ill-conceived public policy. This Canadian Dream is an expensive delusion. There’s never been a better time to rent.” Joanna Pachner, Canadian Business

Along with increased acceptance of renting, the fallout from the US mortgage crisis includes recognition that the suburban, single-family home is no longer in huge demand: households without kids will increase by 90% from 2010 to 2020, according to Arthur Nelson, professor of planning at the University of Utah. This means far fewer buyers than sellers for single-family housing and an increased demand for multi-family and rental housing. As demographics and attitudes towards housing shift, the City of Vancouver is once again on the leading edge of policy innovation, though the plan is not without its critics. Hopefully elements of the plan will be evaluated throughout implementation, and discussed in other municipalities, which could help accelerate Bill C-400–the absence of a national affordable housing strategy has been holding up programs and funding between all three levels of government.

Ah, the postwar era. So much blind optimism…so many planning mistakes. Back in the 1960s when highway building was de rigeur, the City of Vancouver considered an ambitious downtown highway proposal that would have destroyed many neighbourhoods in the central city, including Strathcona. The Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts, completed in 1971, were the only two sections of highway built, in part because they replaced an older viaduct that needed major repairs. Thanks to the mobilization of the Strathcona community, a series of successful protests prevented the rest of the proposed highways from being built. The decision was a defining moment in Vancouver’s history and left the city with a remarkably intact downtown, although the ethnically diverse Hogan’s Alley neighbourhood was lost to the Georgia Viaduct.

During last year’s Winter Olympics, city planners decided to close the viaducts, along with several major streets downtown, for safety reasons. TransLink and municipal governments actively promoted public transit use, increased service, and encouraged walking and cycling for the Olympics’ 22-day run in February 2010. The Olympics showed City Council and local residents that traffic on the viaducts could be completely replaced by increased bus and SkyTrain service; there is now a serious proposal underway to tear down the viaducts, which many consider a physical barrier to East Vancouver.

Georgia Viaduct: street view

Vancouver Director of Planning Brent Toderian and city engineer Jerry Dobrovolny recently released a report stating that the number of heavy trucks using the viaducts is now half of what it was in 1996. In the past decade, planners have also introduced key initiatives encouraging trips made downtown by cycling, walking and transit, and discouraging driving trips. The viaducts are now responsible for about 20 percent of trips into the downtown peninsula, but Toderian says this percentage will decrease even more as more people switch to the sustainable modes. Toderian and Dobrovolny are requesting that City Council continue analysis, beginning with public consultations in 2012, and including an Eastern Core Strategy with detailed land use and transportation options for the viaducts, recommendations on planning principles and policy directions. What a fantastic, and long-lasting, insight from the Olympics!

Many other cities have removed freeways in recent years, as I wrote in an earlier post. New York City agencies are currently considering tearing down the Sheridan Expressway, a 1.25-mile structure that is considered a barrier to the Bronx River. The Sheridan carries about 35,000 vehicles per day. It took 60 years, but post-war innovations to planning problems are finally giving way to new–or should I say, old–solutions.

New Toronto mayor Rob Ford has been making headlines: and not in a good way. Ford has long been a controversial figure, and this summer’s mayoralty race was no exception. Echoing Mel Lastman, a similarly polarizing figure, Ford seems an odd fit for such a multicultural, cosmopolitan, and diverse city. He’s at best a pompous blowhard with insights into the political process; at worst, depending on your information source, he’s a racist homophobe who doesn’t support affordable housing, public transit, or any of the other pressing needs of the burgeoning city. But like Lastman, who was in office for six years, Ford will likely have a lasting effect on the City of Toronto.

In Canada’s biggest city, where 22% of the population takes transit, Ford has decided that transit is the enemy. On December 1st, his first day in office, he managed to kill the city’s proposed vehicle registration tax, freeze property taxes, and get council’s approval to have the Toronto Transit Commission deemed an essential service. With this designation, the TTC will be unable to strike, and union leaders say they’ll fight the decision, which will be made by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

McGuinty and regional transit planning authority Metrolinx also have to deal with Ford’s tyrannical attack on Transit City, an initiative that was seven years in the making and is already being built. The province, after approving the construction of four LRT lines, announced this spring that they may not be able to fund the entire plan at this time. Ford wants to scrap Transit City entirely, arguing that streetcars cause traffic congestion, and everyone prefers subways anyway. He wants to extend the Sheppard subway line to meet up with the Scarborough RT instead, even if the high cost of this option means that no other transit infrastucture can be built in Toronto. Perhaps he isn’t aware that one of Transit City’s approved lines was a retrofit of the Scarborough RT, which is rapidly deteriorating, and another was a Sheppard LRT that would extend much farther than the subway will? In vain, Metrolinx tried to convince Ford that many other options were more suitable and affordable than subway extension, but surprisingly, the man who claims to be so concerned about taxpayers’ wallets wants the most expensive option. The main beneficiaries of Transit City were to be the inner suburbs: Etobicoke, Scarborough, North York. Neighbouring municipalities like Mississauga also strongly support Transit City. David Hulchanski, who just released an update to his popular “Three Cities within Toronto” study, says that building LRT is the answer to slowing or reversing the segregation of the city by income. Doesn’t Ford feel a responsibility to represent the suburban “working man” that elected him?

Electing Ford represents frustration: residents are frustrated with the way their city is run. Suburban residents see traffic congestion, unreliable public transit, job losses, and rising taxes, and they want things to change. What they don’t see is that municipalities are chronically underfunded by the provincial government in ways that matter: it is the provincial government that funds transit and road infrastructure, and a good proportion of job creation also comes from provincial initiatives. This underfunding leads the TTC to strike, since they rarely have the money for either their capital or operating costs, and also requires the city to raise money in other ways, usually new or increased taxes. Canadian cities have precious few mechanisms to generate money, and unfortunately taxes are among the few. The vehicle registration tax would have raised $64 million for the City of Toronto; Ford has not announced another way of raising the money. Opponents claim that it is “mathematically impossible” that these two tax losses won’t cause any service cuts for City residents. Cancelling Transit City could cost the province fees for broken contracts: $137 million has already been spent on Transit City and $1.3 billion is committed. In fact, for a pro-business, right-wing mayor, Ford doesn’t seem to be very good at managing money. Perhaps his 2011 budget review will inform him that transit actually makes money for the City of Toronto: former budget chief Shelley Carroll says that high transit ridership contributed to a year-end operating surplus.

Both Lastman and Ford came into office at a time of economic recession. Both came to power after a period of progress for the City of Toronto: Barbara Hall (1994-1997) preceded Lastman and David Miller (2003-2010) preceded Ford. Both Lastman and Ford claimed to appeal to suburban “ordinary people”: indeed, the voting maps of Toronto illustrate the pervasive divide the media loves to play up (the Globe and Mail included). We know from US elections that the maps don’t tell all: as Joshua Kertzer and Jonathan Naymark wrote in the National Post,

“This attempt to create a downtown versus suburb cleavage is at best a distraction, and at worst, sets a dangerous precedent.”

Toronto's 2010 Election Results

Toronto's 1997 Election Results

Perhaps most tellingly, both Ford and Lastman faced a slew of opponents for mayor: Lastman was one of over thirty candidates, while Ford was one of 40. According to the City of Toronto’s website, 383,501 voters elected Ford: 813,984 actually voted in the election. So, 47% of voters, who represented 35.3% of the City of Toronto’s population, elected him: that’s 16.7% of the city’s population. Lastman, the first mayor elected after Toronto announced its amalgamation with five suburban municipalities, won by a slim margin of about 41,000 votes. In times of discord and recession, the appeal of the right-wing, cost-saving, businessman is strongest.

The next three years will be momentous ones in Canada’s biggest city. Ford will have to make allies in the provincial government if he wants to keep taxes low. Let’s hope that Ford has a fight on his hands, at least as far as transit is concerned: it takes very little to kill programs and policies that have taken years to approve. As Councillor Janet Davis said, “For the first time [we’re] expanding transit across the city that we waited generations for — the mayor can’t walk in on Day 1 and say, ‘it’s gone.’ It doesn’t work like that.” If anything, Ford’s rising star only proves how little power cities have over the issues that really matter to them, and how limited their sources of funding really are. The problem is that Ford’s blustery, and logic-free, decision-making will have long-term consequences on the City of Toronto: Lastman managed to have the Sheppard subway built, against the TTC’s advice. The result was a white elephant, no funding for additional services that the system badly needed, and at one point the streetcars running at very low speeds to cope with deteriorating tracks. While Vancouver is no stranger to provincial wrangling over transit infrastructure, at least we have a mayor who cycles to work and strongly supports sustainable transportation.

July 13th, 2009 was a long-awaited day for cycling advocates in Vancouver. The Burrard Bridge, one of three bridges connecting the Lower Mainland to downtown Vancouver, officially began its six-month lane re-allocation trial.

Pedestrians on the sidewalk and cyclists in their own lane on the southbound side

Pedestrians on the sidewalk and cyclists in their own lane on the southbound side

One of the three southbound lanes was divided off by a concrete median for exclusive use of cyclists. Pedestrians finally get exclusive use of the narrow sidewalk on the south side, while the northbound sidewalk functions as a bike lane. You can see by the pavement markings above that each sidewalk used to be shared between pedestrians and cyclists. While the trial is far from ideal (pedestrians have to cross to the west side at busy intersections at each end), it is the culmination of more than a decade of efforts by sustainable transportation advocates. 

About half of the 8,000-9,000 cars that drive over the bridge each day are single-occupant vehicles, a number that the City of Vancouver wants to decrease. Safety has also been a major issue: because of the narrow sidewalks, shared between commuting cyclists and walkers, and the lack of protective elements between the sidewalk and roadway, there have been many accidents in which cyclists have narrowly escaped death. As you can see in the pictures, the sidewalks comfortably fit three people across, which is why cyclists had to move fairly slowly (15km/h) to avoid injuring pedestrians. 

The last time the Burrard Bridge closed off a lane for cyclists, back in 1996, the trial lasted only a week before angry motorists forced it to close. However, the number of cyclists using the bridge during the short trial increased by 39% while drivers decreased by 9%. Traffic delays of 20 minutes the first day decreased to only a few minutes by the end of the week. City Council admitted that it hadn’t done enough to prepare people for the trial, including advertising and new signage. This time around, the long delay in getting the trial approved meant that there was plenty of publicity, new signage and traffic police on hand at each end of the bridge to help direct people to the correct side of the bridge. Of the $1.45 million budget for the project, $250,000 was spent on public education.

Banner advertising the Burrard Bridge Lane Re-allocation

Banner advertising the Burrard Bridge Lane Re-allocation

Council has been considering closing two lanes of the bridge (one northbound and one southbound) for many years. Four consecutive councils have considered over 30 different proposals for the Burrard Bridge, and Vision Vancouver’s discussion of the bike lane trial in 2005 was thought to be a deciding factor in that year’s municipal election, in which Sam Sullivan (Non-Partisan Association) defeated Larry Campbell (Vision Vancouver). During Sullivan’s term in office  (2005-2008), Council members decided against the proposal.

This time around, Mayor Gregor Robertson and Council debated three options: 

  • Closing two lanes for bike travel (one northbound and one southbound), leaving both sidewalks for pedestrians
  • Closing one lane for bike travel (southbound), leaving the southbound sidewalk for pedestrians and the northbound sidewalk as shared between cyclists and pedestrians
  • Closing one lane for bike travel (southbound), leaving the southbound sidewalk for pedestrians and the northbound sidewalk for cyclists only

Gil Penalosa, Executive Director of Walk and Bike for Life, was one of the speakers at the May 5, 2009 meeting that decided the fate of the bridge. Penalosa is the former Commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation for the City of Bogata, Columbia, where he helped introduce 91 km of car-free roads on Sundays (Ciclovia). 1.5 million people use the Ciclovia weekly.

The usual opponent in this storyline, the business community (such as the Downtown Business Improvement Association), opposed the lane closure. They apparently still believe the 1950s fallacy that only cars can bring people into business districts. Try telling that to Vancouverites, who successfully fought a series of highway projects that would have destroyed downtown neighbourhoods back in the 1970s. At that time, businesses supported highways that they saw as bringing suburban residents into the city, a strategy that failed miserably in many cities across North America.

Some suggest that there the Burrard Bridge lane re-allocation trial is not as politically risky as it might have been in the 1990s. There has been a considerable shift in sustainable transportation policy and programming since 1996. In the Greater Vancouver Regional District, TransLink was created in 1997 and ridership has increased substantially. In the City of Vancouver, cycling trips have tripled while driving trips decreased substantially. The City has decided to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 30%. Experts like Penalosa, UBC’s Larry Frank, and SFU’s Gordon Price, a former Vancouver City Councillor, support alternative transportation options and argue that increased cycling, walking, and transit infrastructure discourages driving. The final nail in this coffin might have been the vocal support of Gregor Robertson, a regular bike commuter; his opponent in the 2008 election was Peter Ladner, who also regularly commutes by bike.

Both sides are waiting to see how the trial lane allocation goes; it has been approved for six months but will probably be re-evaluated in September when traffic volumes resume. If you live in Vancouver, check out Vancouver Public Space, which has a list of ways, including old-school phone numbers and email addresses, plus blogs, Facebook and Twitter sites where you can voice your support of the trial. And go to the fun cycling-oriented events that have been planned along with the trial run (see below).

 

Bike-in movie at Vanier Park on the opening day of the Burrard Bridge trial

Bike-in movie at Vanier Park on the opening day of the Burrard Bridge trial

Housing and transportation infrastructure have made major impacts on the social and spatial geography of our towns and cities. While there are many examples of the two being planned together, researchers tend to work in separate silos. The recent trend towards planning for more sustainable cities has produced a number of policy initiatives to join the two areas. In the US, the Departments of Transportation (DOT) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are establishing a Sustainable Communities Initiative that will offer grants to metropolitan areas to coordinate land use and transportation planning, promote livability and transit-oriented development. In Canada, the Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) just launched EQuilibrium, will provide financial, technical and promotional assistance to neighbourhood development projects across the country chosen through a national competition. Community projects will be evaluated on energy; land use and housing; water, waste water and stormwater; transportation; natural environment; and financial viability. A brief look at planning documents at the City of Toronto, City of Brampton, Peel Region, and the Province of Ontario, highlights housing and transportation policies and the attempt to integrate these areas.

Housing

Housing has long been a major issue for the City of Toronto. The City’s Perspectives on Housing Tenure (2006) notes the need for more rental housing, particularly considering its role as the major immigrant reception area in Canada: 45% of Toronto’s immigrants live in rental housing, and 74% of recent immigrants who arrived less than two years ago. Younger households also place a strong demand on rental housing. Yet rent has become increasingly unaffordable since few new rental buildings have been built since the passing of the Condominium Act in 1976: from 1996-2006, only 5% of new housing built was rental. Rental conversion to condos is also a major issue: like other municipalities in Canada, the City of Toronto has placed strong controls on rental conversion.

In 2003, the City of Brampton endorsed a Municipal Housing Capital Facilities By-law, one of the prerequisites for the Region of Peel to receive its share of $680 million in federal affordable housing grants. The by-law would allow the Region of Peel to access both federal and provincial funds and enter into other incentive agreements with housing providers to develop affordable housing. Brampton’s Official Plan (2008) asserts the goal to provide for a range of housing opportunities (types, densities, tenure, and cost) to meet the diverse needs of people from various social, cultural, and economic backgrounds. They prescribe residential density (ranging from 30 units/acre to 200 units/acre) and mix (upscale executive and single detached to apartments and maisonettes) (Policy 4.1.1.2). They may require developers to provide affordable housing and prioritize applications for affordable housing (4.1.6.1).

Transportation

Transportation has also been a major issue in the City of Toronto, with its plethora of subway, streetcar, and bus routes. Toronto’s Transit City Plan (2006), with plans to build seven new LRT lines, is approved and funded by the Province of Ontario and linked to the Big Move, a larger plan being developed by Metrolinx, the regional transit authority. Under this plan, the region plans to construct to more than 1200 km of rapid transit lines, enabling 80% of people living in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Region (GTHA) to be within 2km of rapid transit.

The City of Brampton’s Strategic Plan outlines its commitment to new roads, trails, better transit service and seamless connections to popular destinations in the Greater Toronto Area. Peel Region has an Official Plan objective to achieve a sustainable land use and transportation system, and Brampton’s Official Plan designates Bus Rapid Transit, Primary and Secondary Transit Corridors (4.4.4.2).

Housing + Transportation

The City of Toronto has a strong tradition of integrating housing with transportation, including aggressive marketing of air rights and available excess land parcels by the TTC, density bonus around subway stations, and city zoning classification changes around transit stations to permit higher density development. Recent efforts to plan more sustainable cities have continued to link housing and transportation infrastructure. The City’s Official Plan (2006) identifies “the Avenues”, underused lands along Toronto’s arterial roads in commercial and mixed-use areas, for future growth. These “offer the opportunity to increase the number of people living along major transit routes and to make use of underutilized infrastructure.”

The City of Brampton’s Official Plan includes an objective to “promote the development of an efficient transportation system and land use patterns that foster strong live-work relationships and encourage an enhanced public transit modal share.” It encourages “higher density mixed use of development along major streets to make transit a more practical choice for commuters” and “an integrated land use and transportation plan that provides a balanced transportation system giving priority to public transit and pedestrians and creating complete communities (compact, transit-oriented, and pedestrian-friendly with a mix of uses and a variety of housing choices, employment, and supporting services and facilities)”. They have a policy supporting transit-supportive nodes (3.2.2, 4.4.4.20), mixed-use, higher-density areas with good road and transit facilities), transit-oriented infill (3.2.5) along corridors, and higher density development at GO Transit stations (4.4.4.28).

The Province of Ontario introduced the Places to Grow Act in 2005; the act identifies 25 downtown areas as urban growth centres, setting minimum density targets to encourage revitalization. However, without planning for rental and affordable housing, this initiative will only encourage high-priced condo development in these areas.

While there is undoubtedly still work to be done, as policy does not always translate into practice, this short examination of planning documents shows that there is some effort to link housing and transportation in planning more sustainable cities.

Vancouver City Council recently directed staff to develop policy guidelines to let city dwellers keep chickens in their backyards, which is probably a thrill for local food aficionados and urban agriculture advocates. The Globe and Mail article tallies up the cost of keeping the birds, including food, scratch, shell and grit, hay, shavings, and startup costs. Their cost comparison between home-grown and store-bought eggs is as follows:

  • 18 cents/egg for a backyard chicken (assuming 270 eggs per year and an annual upkeep of $49.80)
  • 45 cents/egg for SPCA-certified, cage-free and vegetarian fed eggs at Capers
  • 20 cents/egg for medium eggs at Safeway

Victoria and several other municipalities in the Lower Mainland already allow urban chickens. Seattle and Portland also allow the birds, and Seattle even allows miniature goats. The Vancouver policy will be developed with the City’s Food Policy Council, whose other initiatives include encouraging more food-producing gardens, allowing urban beekeeping (apiculture), and the Grow a Row Share a Row program, which encourages households to grow an extra row of vegetables for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society and Neighbourhood Houses. Other contributors to policy development will be the SPCA, the Humane Society, other municipalities and local health authorities.  

The SPCA and the BC Poultry Association have already raised concerns, arguing that people might not know how to care for the chickens, or that they could spread diseases like avian flu. Of course, the SPCA certifies farms that take good care of their chickens, and the BC Poultry Association obviously advocates the ownership of chickens…just not by Jane Q. Public. Wouldn’t want to disturb the consumption cycle.

The backyard chickens policy, and other urban agriculture policies, have risen to the forefront of the media in the past two years, particularly as food shortages have affected countries like Italy and Mexico. Increased land devoted to growing corn for ethanol, political instability, international trade agreements, and climate change are some of the factors behind food scarcity. In the midst of this revelation, the Vancouver Food Policy Council adopted its Food Charter, which has five principles:

  • Community Economic Development 
  • Ecological Health 
  • Social Justice
  • Collaboration and participation
  • Celebration

Its goal is to get consumers to purchase more locally produced food, regional farmers to direct more of their production to local markets, restaurateurs to feature more local, sustainable food on menus, food retailers to shift more of their inventory to local and sustainably produced food, increased levels of “edible gardening” in the City of Vancouver, and enhanced backyard and neighbourhood level composting and recovery of edible food. Provided that human and bird health concerns are addressed, the backyard chickens policy seems like a good way to ensure residents have access to fresh, affordable food.