March 19, 2014

Dropping Traffic and Future Congestion at Oakridge

I mentioned in the post below on Brentwood that “it’s this type of development that actually may reduce car use. If your No. 1  priority is concern about traffic congestion or growth of cars in your neighbourhood, this may be the project to support in order to get some reduction in that. That’s not out of the question.”

Seems unlikely?

It already happened at Oakridge, as I noted in this BIV column:

After the Canada Line started to deliver customers to Oakridge, Ivanhoé was amazed to see a significant drop in car traffic even as retail sales stayed buoyant at one of the best-performing properties in Canada – a high-fashion mall whose customers, one might think, would not be choosing to come by transit. But one would be wrong.

The most convincing case for transit was empty asphalt without empty cash registers.

Now that’s only the shopping-centre component.  We’ll see what happens when thousands of apartments and condos are added, and the centre expands.  But I anticipate that the congestion won’t be as much on the roads as it will be on the rapid-transit platforms.


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  1. Ivanhoe may have been amazed at the drop in parking after the Canada Line began operation, but the last I heard the redevelopment plan still had a huge number of parking spaces. That may (or may not) have been reduced in Council’s approval. I’d like to know how many spaces are there now, how many will be in the new mall, and the number of spaces and ratio for new residential.

  2. Michael, just because it has a large number of parking spaces doesn’t mean they’ll get used, look downtown to the increasing vacancy for parking during the day.

    As a resident of the area (5 min walk from Oakridge, thank you lane houses…) and someone who grew up in the same place I’ve watched the neighbourhood change over the years, I still remember going to the old Woodwards there before it was a “mall” My one major criticism of the project isn’t with the density or traffic, its about the configuration.

    The retail component is at the back, it might not seem far, but if you measure it out, that’s a good 3-4 blocks from the Canada Line station, the orientation is backwards. The residential should be pushed off the main street and the commercial brought closer to the station.

    Why does it matter? It makes integrating retail and transit use harder, those transferring from one mode to another have to walk a significant distance to shop, then walk back. Those who might want to pop off and grab some groceries then pop back on the Canada Line are less likely to do so. We only need to look at New West station to see how to do it right, the retail is *right there* at the station, not a block or three away. Versus Richmond Centre where pedestrians have to cross a busy street, Landsdown where they have to cross a giant parking lot (hopefully that’ll be fixed with an eventual redevelopment), or Metrotown where things will be getting worse for transit riders wishing to access the mall after the station upgrades.

    It will mean more people walking through this new residential neighbourhood coming and going between the station and the mall. More pedestrian congestion.

    I like the redevelopment (I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t prefer the towers capped at around 30 storeys, self interest of course, but I can live with it) but I wish the city would force them to flip it around. I know why they’re doing it this way, its easier to build on the big empty land at the back and keep that commercial space continuity, it doesn’t mean we should let them take the easiest route. And having lived through the New West Station redevelopment during my few years there, when they get to rebuilding the front part, oh boy I can foresee the inconvenience for a few years for pedestrians trying to get around the area and to the new commercial section at the back…

  3. The argument for greater density at both Oakridge and Brentwood is an extremely valid one, and it’s good that it’s being made. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t design, cultural or quantity issues requiring resolution.

    Some neighbours in the vicinity of Oakridge are perhaps justifiably exercised that the density currently proposed is double and the towers 50% taller than what they were presented as late as 2007.

  4. @Matt. I didn’t realize they were moving the commercial space to the back of the property away from the buses and Canada Line. That’s really dumb. I commuted on Canada Line for two years and recall stopping at Oakridge a few times to grab something on my way to or from work. I did it because I could pop into the mall, get my shopping done and be back on the train a few minutes later. I would never have done that if the mall was 3 blocks away.

    What would I have done? I might have planned a trip to Oakridge in my car combining the mall shopping with getting groceries at Safeway, but Oakridge wasn’t my regular stop for groceries so it’s more likely I would have gone elsewhere for both.

    So Ivanhoe when growth at the cash registers fails to meet projections you need look no further than the nearest mirror for the reason.

  5. Have to agree that the Oakridge proposal leaves something to be desired. The commercial ought to be against 41st and Cambie and not behind, and the tallest towers would be best placed in the centre of the lot away from the sfd areas. Not that the surrounding sfd areas couldn’t do with an upzone, but we ought to try to avoid zoning cliffs, especially 35 story zoning cliffs. The mall developer is still in mall developer mode wanting to create an isolated, set back, completely controlled retail area. Maybe worried that if faced 41st and Cambie, redevelopment at the other corners would compete, and that is probably true, but the city ought not to have protected the developer’s anti-competitive instincts.

    Warming to a theme here, it is decisions like this which put me off the Vision council. They seem to be easily outsmarted and outmanoeuvered by developers. We get spot rezonings that are driven by nothing more than developer whining: “We can’t provide this amenity unless we get this FSR, blub blub, sniffle sniffle”, and time and again the city falls for it. If such and such FSR is appropriate for that area, the whole area ought to be rezoned in a blanket rezoning. Not rezoned bit by bit based on how shameless the developers can be in their pantomime supplication. And then we get STIR crazy rental incentive schemes that provide more expensive rental housing that the private condo rental market and that ignore the fundamentals of affordable housing – mainly that affordable housing is old housing. There really is no such thing as new affordable housing unless it is subsidized housing, and there is no reason to be subsidizing middle class housing. Subsidizing middle class housing is just taking money from ourselves and giving to ourselves or giving it to people who are connected enough to get the special deal.

  6. yvr – a city without a middle class is not a very attractive proposition. Growing – actually, restoring – the middle class should be a central plank to all level of government policies. Does that mean subsidies? Post-WWII suburbanization was all about that, in many forms. Maybe it’s time for an urban agenda with similar thinking within cities, not just at the fringe with continuing bridge and highway building, etc. Job creation and taxation policies are included in all this, not just housing.

  7. I agree that a city without a middle class is not a very attractive proposition, but this type of subsidy isn’t the way to do it. First, it is mathematically very difficult to subsidize the bulk of the population because that money must be taxed from the bulk of the population. There isn’t going to be a net gain for anyone. And our taxation system is already quite progressive, so it would be difficult to shift more money from higher earners to lower earners. And we are not talking about subsidizing the working poor, we are talking solidly middle class folks. The STIR rental apartments all rent for more than I would pay and have ever paid, and I am not a low income person.

    Things like non-market requirements for major rezonings just raises the cost of housing for everyone else. And by making market housing more expensive, it pushes that product into a smaller market so that less housing is built over all. This type of policy might assist a portion of the population that has access to the non-market housing, but it makes the situation worse for everyone else. Completely counter-productive.

    Some sensible things that Vancouver could do:

    First, acknowledge that residential real estate is a highly emotional purchase for many people and is prone to booms and busts. There are things that can be done at a national level to control this, but very little the city can do. So we can’t base our policies based on housing affordability in the middle of a housing bubble. These things must be based on average housing costs over time.

    Recognize that because housing is so emotional, it won’t react to supply and demand in a conventional way over in the short term. During a housing bubble, the supply increases rapidly, but the effect of that supply takes a while to lower prices. And in a housing bust we see the obverse. But the increased supply does eventually take hold. In some parts of Vancouver we can actually see condominium prices that have been flat for some time now. Condos are clearly not scarce, and the buy now or buy never mentality has receded.

    Recognize that the City of Vancouver isn’t really the appropriate metric for measuring housing affordability. These things must be measured over the whole region and it is not realistic to expect that Vancouver’s housing cost to be the same as the other municipalities.

    Pursue Expo Line upzoning. This will meet with initial resistance, but one way to overcome this is to show accurate pictures of what the redevelopment will look like. Many people have trouble visualizing and just think the worst. And another thing to make people aware of is how much the rezoning increases the value of their land.

    Pursue townhouse zoning. This is suitable for vast areas of the city and basically doubles the density while maintaining a fee simple house on the ground model.

    Allow more innovative structures to preserve industrial and commercial space. The city would like to preserve industrial and commercial space in the city which is quite laudable. But there are ways that high housing costs could be used to encourage commercial and light industrial space. The area north of Broadway between Cambie and Main is currently underutilized. If the city were to rezone this to allow residential over light industrial and commercial, the city could provide more housing while also expanding the space available for commercial activities. There are places along Clark and Marine Drive that would also benefit from that type of zoning.

    Allow some office conversions to residential. The office building at Georgia and Cardero is a prime example. It would make a good residential tower, and it really is too far west to form part of the downtown office core.

  8. There is a bubble in real estate in Vancouver ? really ? I heard this 25 years ago when I moved here and then lived in Burnaby: “imagine, a bungalow costs $250,000. real estate is overvalued.” .. and for the last 25 years ever since .. This same bungalow is now $1M .. and will be $2M in 15-20 years I can guarantee you that.

    Condo prices are quite affordable, and quite low, say $300-$400 a sq ft in places like New Westminster, Surrey or Burnaby. Of course, houses or condos with an oceanview, or in W-Van or Point Grey are – AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN – expensive. Even 2 blocks from English Bay or False Creek, without a water view, you can get condos for $500-600 a sq ft, or $500,000 to $600,000 for a 1000 sq ft condo. With 10% down that is less than $2000/month. Not cheap, but not all that expensive either compared to Calgary, Toronto .. or world cities like HongKong, London, Paris, Munich, Vienna, Singapore, Sydney .. cities that are attractive, like Vancouver, are expensive. Always have, always will be.

    What the city should do is build a subway along Broadway, and upzone to 10-12 stories along the way .. and 5-8 stories 2 blocks N or S of it .. and 4-5 stories within 6 blocks of stations .. all N facing condos would have a view and we would create tens of thousands of new homes, a more viable corridor and huge tax revenue. 10% of those should be legislated below market rent, rather than concentrating all the marginalized and homeless in downtown east side. That makes no sense, especially for the proposed $1B (the province already said no to it last week). Maybe I should run for council.

    Green means dense along public transit, and the latter is surely lacking in Vancouver. Car is still king. A rapid bus that doesn’t stop at red lights along Broadway is a good start in the meantime.

    1. Vancouver and those other cities that you listed, although Vancouver really ought not to be put in that same category, have always been expensive, the but the point is that Vancouver is expensive even by Vancouver standards. Before 2003 the house price to rent ratio cycled around a mean, but since 2003, the house price to rent ratio has gone completely out of whack. And these ratios take into account that Vancouver has always been expensive and that there has always been a large ownership premium versus renting. But now that ratio has grown beyond all historical norms. Even taking into account low interest rates does not make this make sense. You cite some condo examples that seem more affordable, although my math indicates that they would be more than $2,000 per month with strata fees and taxes, but that is in part due to the fact that there has been a noticeable hissing sound coming from the condo market in the last few years. Some areas have gone up, plenty have not, and some areas have fallen quite a bit.

  9. The ratio of “average” house price in Vancouver is NOT the right metric to use. If you exclude a certain segment, say Point Grey, W-Van, Shawnessy or north of 4th Ave house average prices are not that bad. $1M to $1.5M for a house on a 40 x 125 ft lot in Vancouver, compared to the cities mentioned is NOT too high. It is a function of being landlocked, low interest rates worldwide, scenic beauty, flight of capital from places with non-democratic corrupt states (like Iran, China, Russia, India ..) and you get the effects of higher RATIONAL home prices.

    Houses in good locations are replacing gold as a store of value, and is actually better than gold: they are real assets, they go up with inflation too and have a useful purpose actually, rather than storing it in your vault.