September 4, 2006

Price Tags 88 – Intersections

A new Price Tags has just been published.  PT 88 compares two downtown intersections in emerging neighbourhoods – Downtown South and Triangle West – and looks for the common elements that transform a street corner into a crossroads.
Here’s one of the corners: Davie and Richards, with an overhead view of Emery Barnes Park (by Paul Lafontaine.)
Emery Barnes Park
You can download the issue from my web site – – or do so directly by clicking here.
I welcome your responses – and responses to the responses.  Just click on Comments at the end of this post.
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  1. Blake Hudema:“A medium-sized supermarket of about 30-45,000 square feet needs a population of about ten thousand. But now we are seeing smaller supermarkets or combinations of green grocer, butcher and bakery in the 20,000-foot range.”
    Now I know I am getting old. As a regional planner in London, England in the seventies, we had to research the impact of what we called “superstores” on existing urban retailers, and our town centres. The Department of the Environment had a trigger size which usually resulted in resulted in appeals and public inquiries: 25,000 square feet was the size that people would drive 20 minutes to get to. Most were located on the fringes – green belt, or [later on] brown sites. We lost so many of these appeals that we compromised and started working with Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose to integrate these behemoths into our Victorian inner London centers, where many retailers had operated for years out of what was essentially the front room of a standard 1880 Public Health Act terraced house. 1000 square feet was a “large” store!
    What is missing from the piece is a look at the way the intersection itself works. By that I mean the interaction of pedestrians – who “ought” to cross here but probably don’t, most of the time – and cars. The turning traffic. The yellow and red light runners. How the cyclist copes with a bike lane on the left hand side of parked cars, with the hightened risk of getting “doored”. Where the bus stop should be. I think that is as important as a bit of grass – what one famous English landscape architect (whose name I cannot recall) referred to as “fitted carpet syndrome”.
    And how do you get a new “streetcar village” without a streecar?

    Thanks for leading the way.
    Lots of good comments here. The Urban Fare on Davie is in the 30,000-square-foot range, I believe, and seems a bit small even at that. The ‘taming of the box’ is critical for the future of urban centres, and they have to be somehow integrated into the existing fabric. Let’s see how the new Costco next to International Village performs.
    As for the bike lanes, I love ‘em. There’s sufficient room to avoid being doored, and the lines remind people to watch out when they’re getting out of their cars.
    A streetcar village without a streetcar? I’ll settle for trolleys – but there is a streetcar planned for Coal Harbour. We just need Council to push hard for it.

  2. Glad to see you’re right up to date with the photos of the building I live in at 1188 Richards (NE corner of Davie and Richards). My understanding is that this building was built with a rainscreen design but the design was inadeqaute and the construction sloppy, thus leading to the complete exterior renewal taking place under the scaffolding and netting. Expect to see a lot more of this type of work nearby shortly…
    I too lamented the loss of the grass in front of our building. Unfortunately, grass verges don’t seem compatible with high turnover metered parking and newer developments in the area have skipped the grass between sidewalk and curb, instead putting it between the sidewalk and building, where it stands a much better chance of survival. Our building’s position near the Choices supermarket, a busy yoga studio, and other active businesses no doubt put more pressure on the grass than is the case in many other nearby locations.
    Emery Barnes Park has indeed worked out quite well, with regular use by street people in its north-west corner generally co-existing with use by local residents. It’s not quite ideal, however, and at times it seems to have been named after the wrong “Emery”, as in “Marc Emery” rather than “Emery Barnes.” Vandalism of the water feature with high-sudsing detergents was also quite disruptive until the Park Board started using a chemical antidote, rather than draining the water for days on end.
    All in all, the intersection is working out very well. The addition of corner bulges (visible in the photos) has been a great help to narrow Richards Street, which has relatively wide pavement width. The key remaining improvement is for the City to retime the signals on Richards to reduce the “green wave” progression speed and make the traffic flow a bit more consistent and thus quieter.

    Always interesting to get reports from the front.
    Did the condo owners still have to bear the burden of repairs, even though it was the designer and contractor’s fault for the leakage?
    As for the boulevard, I still believe it’s imperative that there be some green on both sides of the sidewalk – and overhead, for that matter.  (A double row of trees.)  As for wear-and-tear in high-traffic areas, that’s nothing a few well-placed pavers or stepping stones couldn’t solve.

  3. I appreciate the layout of PriceTags – always visual, accessible, and interesting. Thanks for playing within your work Gordon Price!
    I like your concept of comparing intersections. I wonder what the opinions would be of the people on the street. It would be fun to do a “streeter” and ask them…
    I’m not such a fan of grass either – though some form of plant life is desirable. We could do much better than just grass – those alternative plantings are one solution. Too much land is devoted to automobiles and lawns!
    Great viewpoint from Robert Major. When I was a kid I ethought the “W” stood for my last name. We used to pick up our groceries on those conveyor belts at the bottom of the parking lot. I’m not nostalgic…

    Gosh, even urbanites like a little taste of the ‘burbs sometimes.  But please send in any pics of alternative treatments for boulevards.

  4. Following up on Gord’s question on the matter of whether the designers and contractors of 1188 Richards have paid for the repairs, the answer is… not yet. Legal action is being initiated, which involves restoring many of the entities involved to the provincial corporate registry as they were evidently dissolved to try to avoid liability. I wouldn’t anticipate a settlement until the $8 million job is pretty much complete. On the bright side, the appreciation of my unit exceeds the value of the assessment by a good margin.

  5. I strongly agree with the comments of the readers about the grass verges at the edge of sidewalks. Most high traffic places that I have seen in downtown have maintained only a hint of grass in them. I used to own a unit in The Spot, 933 Seymour Street. The grass areas on that block were in very poor shape. Also look at the median on Davie Street immediately in front of Urban Fare. The best example of grass verges that I have noted were in Shaunessy where there is very little foot traffic. For example, the grand boulevard on lower Angus Drive.
    The best aesthetic solution for high traffic areas in downtown that I can think of is the coloured brick pavers that Concord Pacific has used in the Yaletown.

  6. Gord: I appreciate the chance to think about why I fled from 1295 Richards, unit 2203, where I had a view of the very intersection that you sing. It is the most unpleasant place I have ever lived, and that includes some fairly grungy places from my student days.
    1. Sirens. I remember you commenting on this when you posted about Sam Sullivan’s home nearby. While planners are fighting the fire department over vehicle dimensions, they might as well also question whether, in a dense neighborhood, we need sirens calibrated to rouse a near-deaf SUV driver on a cellphone over 1 km away. I can see how you need these on freeways, where said driver could be upon you in an instant. But surely slower streets should correspond to quieter sirens, since they don’t need to be heard as far away. Even the highest-calibre earplugs couldn’t protect my sleep from Richards St. Here in Sydney, sirens are noticeably softer, and pitched a little more gently.
    2. Richards Speedway. Why is Richards still one-way after all the great work done on Homer? It doesn’t lead to a bridge. All it does is T you into Pacific, which doesn’t have the capacity to absorb that many lanes. I never saw Richards congested. But I did hear the roaring engines of cars and motorbikes eating up those wide fast lanes. And no number of street trees will make Richards a nice street to walk on. Once Homer was calmed, I went out of my way to walk there instead. It will be interesting to see if the largely unprosperous businesses on Richards (i.e. most of the street except for Choices right at Davie) continue to decline now that competing Homer is a much nicer place to be.
    3. The “transit route” that you cite in your post is a community shuttle that doesn’t run the full service day that this density demands.. It will become a little more major when (or ‘now that’?) it’s belatedly connected to SkyTrain. But I still think the main 6-Davie route should come this way, turning north on Cambie to connect to Stadium Station. While the worst “transit access gap” is further east around Aquarius Mews, even Davie/Richards is a hassle to get to from the east. Not impossible to reach on transit, but transit is nowhere near as convenient and comprehensive as this density deserves.
    4. Parking ratios. Oh yes, and I was unable to get an apartment without a dedicated parking space in the basement, which I used about once a month.
    Well, and my cats hated it, but I don’t blame the city for that. See, I have perspective!
    Re Emery Barnes Park, check it out again in the winter. Outside of a brief summer season, which you photograph, the fountains are off and it seemed to me the socio-economic spectrum of users narrowed quite a bit. Some thought needs to go into a winter-specific feature — perhaps some kind of intersting lighting? — that would attract people in the dark season.

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