Why a bridge to The Mainland would benefit Vancouver

August 31, 2011 at 9:00 am | In just_so, vancouver, vancouver_island, victoria | Comments Off on Why a bridge to The Mainland would benefit Vancouver

Sure, one might assume that a bridge from Victoria BC on Vancouver Island to Vancouver BC on The Mainland would wake up Victoria – which is exactly why NIMBYs everywhere in the Capital Regional District who want to keep Victoria “sleepy” resist the notion with objections galore – but maybe it’s actually the case that such a bridge would benefit Vancouver by making it more livable.

Why? Consider this item, just in: Vancouver loses top spot on most liveable city list.

One of the reasons cited (in all seriousness) by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s liveability survey  for Vancouver’s slip from first to third place (behind Melbourne Oz and Vienna Aus) is congestion on a stretch of Highway 1 known as the Malahat.

For those of you who are geographically challenged by these terms, get an atlas (or go to Google), or simply realize this: the City of Vancouver is on the continent (aka The Mainland) and the ‘Hat (aka The Malahat) is a stretch of Highway 1 that’s part of the Trans-Canada Highway which runs from Victoria to Nanaimo …on Vancouver Island.

Island, as in: not attached to The Mainland unless you can swim ridiculous distances or have a boat. There is no bridge, no fixed link. The ‘Hat is on Vancouver Island.

Why would problems on a highway on an island 60 kilometers away from Vancouver impact livability in a city that’s not even on that island?

Well, first, it seems that The Economist’s study took into account “increased traffic and congestion problems in Vancouver and [the] Malahat” [emphasis added] (although, if you ask me, that’s bogus reasoning by any measure). Second, the folks at The Economist only took the Malahat as an example of worsening traffic conditions. (And a screw up of an example it was: sorry, folks, you goofed big time here.)

But what intrigued me in the whole kerfuffle was this: integration of Victoria into Greater Vancouver could actually benefit Vancouver insofar as a fixed link (aka “bridge”) would alleviate traffic congestion on Highway 1 simply by eliminating it as a needed route. After all, if you had a bridge from the Greater Victoria peninsula, why would you bother driving all the way up to Nanaimo/ Departure Bay in the first place? I never thought of it in those terms before, having always pondered how a fixed link could benefit Victoria. A silly “most livable cities” list made me see that it could benefit the other guy city, too.

The other thing that became more salient for me: Canada, that huge-huge land so sparsely populated and so dependent on a massive system of mostly government-funded infrastructure – railway, highway, tele-, radio-, and television-communication, fiber-optic cables, etc. – is committed to that infrastructure because it represents national unity. The Malahat, now largely a commuter highway between Victoria and the bedroom communities of the Cowichan and Duncan, is not part of any necessary route to get from Victoria to Vancouver. But it is part of that near-mythic national-unity-creating infrastructure. It is part of the Trans-Canada Highway, impossible to shunt aside.

I would argue that the only reason The Malahat was included, even as a mistake, in the data crunched by The Economist folks is because this highway is part of that highly symbolic highway infrastructure system. I mean, I bet they literally had no idea where it’s actually located.

But The ‘Hat remains significant and symbolic even though most of the actual transportation that goes on between Victoria and Vancouver takes place not via The Malahat and its endpoint of Departure Bay (from whence ferries leave for Vancouver), but from Swartz Bay (from whence ferries leave for Tsawwassen near Vancouver). Or, more directly, the money-intensive business traffic happens via air- or floatplane, either from Victoria International Airport to Vancouver International Airport, or, even more expeditiously, downtown-to-downtown, from Victoria’s Inner Harbour floatplane airport to Vancouver’s Coal Harbour floatplane airport.

None of the preferred (or fast) options include the Malahat or Departure Bay, Diana Krall’s wonderful song notwithstanding.

Now, given Canada’s self-image, imagine the consequences of lopping off the Trans-Canada Highway as a branded (TCH1) link between Victoria and Vancouver…? Suddenly, all sorts of issues heave into view. A direct fixed link from Victoria to Vancouver would undermine the symbolic significance of the Trans-Canada Highway running from Victoria to Nanaimo. And, weirdly, a fixed link might do more to raise Vancouver’s livability than Victoria’s.

Another reason why it’ll never happen.

Barney Oldfield’s Spirit of Tomorrow

September 22, 2010 at 9:41 pm | In just_so, vancouver_island, victoria | 4 Comments

I saw the Spirit of Tomorrow sitting in a driveway today.

It was designed and built by Horace Basil (“Barney”) Oldfield between 1938 and 1942. (The Spirit of Tomorrow website notes that Johnny Norton and Barney’s brother Brian were co-builders.) I saw the car today at the home of Barney Oldfield’s relatives – and also learned about the house he built: a rotating house, with a central shaft that carries the utilities (in …and out). Apparently, the house still turns, provided the grass underneath is mowed.



Sitting in a driveway in Saanich just outside of Victoria, there it was, the Spirit of Tomorrow, fresh as anything.

Without a doubt the most amazing (and amazingly weird looking) automobile I’ve ever seen. Click through on the photo (or here) for more photos of the car.

For a more detailed overview, visit The Spirit of Tomorrow website.


PS/Edit: I’ve changed the photos link to go a set I created on Flickr – it seems some people were getting a log-in prompt when they hit Picasa. Hope this helps.

What makes me nervous

April 17, 2010 at 5:54 pm | In just_so, vancouver_island, victoria | 2 Comments


I’m walking with my dog at the Dallas Road off-leash park, and see two kids on a raft fashioned from beach logs, paddling (with sticks, not oars) in the Juan de Fuca Strait

Yes, the waters are calm today, there’s no storm. But there are currents…

Made me nervous…

I uploaded a little one-and-a-half-minute video I made of the boys to Youtube – click here to view. The video gives a better idea of where they’re paddling. (Sorry about the short zoom-in being out-of-focus, my camera isn’t the best.)

And here’s a still photo:

Oh, the island…

April 2, 2010 at 6:04 pm | In just_so, local_not_global, vancouver_island, victoria | 5 Comments

The theme of the day is choice, or lack of it. Choice(s) in traveling, choice(s) in getting from point A to point B. Turns out, our choices are getting more and more curtailed, and when bad weather strikes, they’re practically wiped out.

Let’s look at money-related choices… Now that BC Ferries has jacked up its fares once again, it’s becoming very dear to get on and off “the island” (Vancouver Island, that is).

The fare between the cities of Victoria (on “the island”) and Vancouver (on “the mainland”) for an adult walk-on or vehicle passenger ticket is now $14. And a regular passenger vehicle (without driver) is $46.75, which makes a car and driver ticket come to $60.75.

That’s one-way, of course. Return costs $121.50. And if you’ve got a couple of passengers, your fare just jumped to about $180.

Yikes – and this, for what was supposed to be our “highway” connection to the mainland: the ferry system seems practically designed for cars and drivers, but at those prices, it’s hardly affordable. The trip takes a long time, too, not because the crossing is long (only 90 minutes), but because BC Ferries wants you there long before the ferry departs, even if you have a reservation (which costs more money, incidentally).

The “choices” offered by BC Ferries are not satisfactory. The choices, such as they are, consist of being able to choose between a buffet or a cafeteria once you’re on board, and soon you’ll be able to enjoy a massage, pedicure, or manicure during the 90-minute crossing.

But that’s not the sort of consumer choice I had in mind. I’m looking for more choices in rates and in crossing options.

Right now, everything centers on very large car ferries. Not much choice for getting to the ferry terminals efficiently if you’re not driving, either. One private bus service has a monopoly, and the public bus service takes forever.

I didn’t really intend to bitch about BC Ferries, but it’s top of mind right now since that’s what the daughter ended up taking in the wake of flight cancellations. Since she only has a short weekend to visit us at home, we opted to get her over here on the downtown-harbor-to-downtown-harbor float plane service (considerably more expensive than the ferry, but also only 35 minutes travel time). But during the night, a significant windstorm moved into our area, and poof!, that grounded the float planes.

It also did a number on the ferries. Everything got delayed, and her trip from Vancouver to Victoria ended up taking seven hours, all told.

As a student, she does get a much better rate on the ferry-and-bus combination she opted for, so the money isn’t the point.

Rather, it’s the hassle of getting on and off “the rock” (that’s the other name we have for this place), and it’s the absence of choice(s).

The choice(s) that do exist are getting dearer all the time: for convenient flights, it’s $149 per person for a one-way float plane ticket; some deals are possible if taking the fixed-wing aircraft from airport to airport, but generally, it’s a pricey proposition to fly, especially for a family. And as I wrote, the ferry rates keep going up, with more trivial choice(s) within the existing ferry system (buffet v. cafeteria; manicure or pedicure, etc.), but no choice(s) at all over the actual ferry mode – it’s all the same type and style of ferries. For what we pay, there should be more options.

As for the weather: well, there’s no choice about that. Storms are like atmospheric earthquakes that last for hours, and this one was at least an 8.0. But at least the ground held firm, even if the skies shook.

28 seconds of reasons why I live here

March 17, 2010 at 8:21 pm | In just_so, vancouver_island, victoria | Comments Off on 28 seconds of reasons why I live here

Walking my dog along Dallas Road’s dogs off-leash area along the cliffs, with a view to the pebble beach, I watched a kite-surfer hard at play in the Juan de Fuca Strait…

March 17 2010

Click on image for Youtube video

Inbetween places

March 8, 2010 at 8:46 am | In cities, land_use, transportation, urbanism, vancouver_island | 2 Comments

I spent all day Saturday at a discussion / conference event hosted at Royal Roads University. To get there, I drove. I could have bicycled if I’d gotten up early enough and if my bike were in good working order (it isn’t). I could even have taken the bus – except that instead of driving for 20 minutes, I probably would have been on the bus for over an hour.

And so I drove, which is kind of ironic in light of my earlier blog post about how cars kill cities.

At the conference / extended conversation, we talked a lot about alternative strategies for building community (and communities) and about problems with the old models (obviously also including the car-centric model).

But here’s what really struck me (again) as I drove home along the (Old) Island Highway: the worst parts of car-centric (mis-)planning are the inbetween places, in particular strip-mall-lined roads.

Royal Roads is on an idyllic campus. Parts of the surrounding municipality are densifying and trying to create “village” centers. Some of the municipalities you drive through on your way back to downtown are beautiful, or quirky, or interesting: Admirals Road Bridge (anglers lined it both this morning and this afternoon); the Gorge Waterway; Esquimalt, Vic West, and so on.

But the inbetween places, which are neither suburb nor “village” nor rural, and instead are really the pure product of automobiles – those places are going to be big losers in any kind of new urbanism shift.

Right now, you either can’t reach them without a car, and if you were intrepid enough to bike to them, you wouldn’t want to. This makes them uni-functional (is that a word?), and hard to fashion to adaptive re-use. Cars and strip malls are in a deadly embrace, not a thing of beauty to behold.

The screenshot, below, of the Island Highway as you drive back toward either View Royal or the Trans Canada Highway, doesn’t convey the true “stripping” of the place (see Gordon Price, Strip Search, for more on the topic). In British Columbia, lush vegetation and trees tend to soften some of the ugliness, but believe me: aside from the nice trees, this strip is ugly… And admittedly, this particular section also shows a sidewalk, but merely sticking a sidewalk alongside a road does not a good pedestrian experience make. This is a car strip all the way. It’s quite clear that anyone on foot is disadvantaged, and that those who drive are not.

Island Highway, trees decorating the strip


I don’t think we could tolerate strip malls if we didn’t rely on speed to “save” us from them. How so? Well, you take them in with peripheral vision and at speed (car speed), because of course you’re driving – no one in their right mind walks along these roads. Basically, if you were to look at them full on, slowly  (say, while walking or biking), you’d be astonished (turned to stone), just as the gorgons turned to stone those who looked on them. Strip malls are ugly – the only way they survive is by being ignored, by not being seen. (And yes, I’ve read my Learning from Las Vegas, but reserve the right to say “Death to Strip Malls” anyway.)

Drive by quickly, don’t look. If and when you do leave the road to enter one of them, leave the safety of your vehicle only to hasten into the store at which you aimed your car. When you leave, carry not a trace of place-memory with you. As in dealing with gorgons, strip malls can only be managed by being blind to them.

But fanciful references to gorgons (and Perseus on a bicycle?) aside, my main worry really is about adaptive re-use.

(Winged bike clips. Mercury, not Perseus)


As I drove home, I thought of all the great things I heard at the conference – about eco-living and alternative strategies and connections and… And then, risking accidents, I took my eyes off the road and really looked at the strip malls.

Where to start with re-making them?

Bamberton, Public Participation, Design Thinking

February 20, 2010 at 11:59 pm | In ideas, innovation, land_use, leadership, local_not_global, politics, real_estate, vancouver_island | Comments Off on Bamberton, Public Participation, Design Thinking

This afternoon I attended a forum on land use and public participation, Competing Values: Land Use and Public Consultation. The forum was sparked by an installation, Bamberton: Contested Landscape by Cedric and Nathan Bomford, at Open Space. That installation is itself informed by the redevelopment of Bamberton.

Situated to the north of Victoria, Bamberton lies on the shores of Saanich Inlet, across from Butchart Gardens. It used to be a cement manufacturing plant, founded in 1912. Operations ceased in 1980, and in 1982 the property was sold. Various redevelopment plans have come (and gone); the most recent is described here. Oh, and here.

This afternoon’s forum dealt with development and land use issues outside Victoria, many of which I’m not familiar with, especially as they relate to forest lands (including Crown lands – I confess that I have a lot of difficulty wrapping my head around the idea of “Crown” land) and greenfield development / sprawl. (Bamberton is a brownfield development)

I came away with the sense that development outside the city of Victoria tilts heavily toward benefiting developers, who don’t appear to be legally obligated to consult with the community before crafting proposals that are generally not publicly presented until it’s time for a public hearing (which only happens if the project requires rezoning or variances).

The question, then, is how do you get public participation that’s timely, and how do you structure a collaborative process – versus a stand-off (which is what seems to happen too often presently).

Guy Dauncey was one of the participants this afternoon and as usual his comments struck me as the most incisive and progressive. While most of the other participants and audience members seemed willing not only to embrace but also to propagate an adversarial narrative (that it’s impossible to work with the current BC government, that developers are all just greedy SOBs out to make a killing, that all developers are liars who can’t be trusted, that the human footprint is in all instances bad, that development must stop, that we already have “too many people” on Vancouver Island, and so on and so forth), Dauncey chose to think about how development can actually be beneficial and – by extension – how the process for public participation might actually be made to work.

Which brings me to design thinking. In The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking Is The Next Competitive Advantage, Roger Martin distinguishes two approaches or mind-sets to solving problems: one favors validity, the other reliability. Today’s forum allowed me to think about how Martin’s concepts apply to real life situations, such as NIMBYism and public participation, which too often seem downright intractable.

Martin posits “design thinking” (based on abductive reasoning) as the basis for moving forward productively when caught between the contradictions of validity and reliability. At the risk of bowdlerizing Martin’s concepts, here’s some what I took away from his book and how it might apply to public participation around community planning and land use issues.

People who operate from the principle of reliability use the past to predict what the future will bring. This means that they will reject “vision”-based and “unproven” value-based ideas (unproven because they can’t “prove” their validity through past successes). Obviously, a truly new vision (for the future) isn’t based on a past success (otherwise it wouldn’t be a vision, it would be hindsight). Reliability-oriented thinkers want quantifiable values, they want good odds, they want to meet budgets and face bean-counters with confidence.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who want valid outcomes. Reliability doesn’t figure too strongly because what’s most important is that a project or an outcome is valid. That means it has to feel right, it has to ring true, and it has to meet needs that might not even be fully identified yet. While reliability predicts the future based on the past and has a strong quantitative bias, validity can’t base itself on the past and has a strong qualitative bias.

In a corporate business that’s traditionally reliability-based, it’s very difficult to let validity get anything resembling an equal footing. In land use decisions and development, there’s clearly a very strong bias toward reliability, which makes all attempts at introducing validity seem airy-fairy and touchy-feely.

This is where the community-based activists and others who are striving to create a climate of positive public participation face an uphill battle. The people who live in a given community want validity – they want validation of their way of life, of the place where they live, of the dreams they have for the future. Their vision can seem creepily backward to reliability-driven business people, while the business people’s focus on reliability appears short-sighted and at best unimaginative, at worst greedy (hence the notion that developers have horns, a tail, and cloven hooves) to “the community,” however it’s defined.

The “reliable” model of development for the most part has assumed that the past is the best guarantor of future successes, and if in the past we developed land in a certain way, then in the present we must do the same. After all, there are bottom lines to be met and accountants and shareholders to face.

What communities in the path of reliability-driven development are instead saying is “our concerns are valid, we have needs and visions of our own, and we want to be heard.” This is not to say that the community is always right. As Guy Dauncey pointed out, every single railroad in Great Britain was opposed by community members who wanted no part of a railroad, and preferred the horse and buggy instead. Today, we (rightly) laugh at the backwardness of opposing rail, given that cars not only swept the railway aside, but contributed to bad land use and sprawl. (We should be so lucky as to have a great rail system…) So, while the community wants validation, it cannot expect to be validated in all aspects …because, frankly, it might be wrong on some points. (This is important to point out, because “community” has become a sacred cow in many ways, and it’s almost sacrilegious to suggest that community might actually be wrong. But indeed it can be.)

When reliability and validity go head to head, we too often seem to get either a stalemate (a protracted fight that gets progressively nastier), or nothing happens (the developer gives up, which can leave the community with a Pyrrhic victory if the result is loss of economic growth), or “reliability” wins (cookie-cutter / sprawl development, lost farmland/ greenfield, etc.).

In turn, public participation itself becomes more self-selective: seeing validity thinking trumped or sharpened into an anti-development sword, people who actually want good development or who prefer to avoid confrontation opt out of public participation entirely. Why bother, they reason, if it’s only for extremists?

That’s where design thinking can help – to bridge the gap between reliability and validity, and to design a process for public participation. It seemed to me that this was the point Dauncey was making in one of his comments. While many of the other speakers suggested that it’s already too late to parlay with developers, Dauncey’s idea of involving the reliability-driven developer much earlier in a conversation with the validity-driven community made a lot more sense (unfortunately, he was in a distinct minority at the forum, and his idea was not pursued by any of the other speakers). But as Roger Martin noted in his book, design thinkers need to understand and speak the language of reliability and validity if there’s to be any hope of having a positive conversation to resolve the problems we face.

Judging by today’s discussion, it’s a challenge that clearly applies to land use, development, and public participation. I’d prefer any day to work with Dauncey and those like him who can meet the challenge of design thinking than to limit myself to a validity that remains only a vision …or devolves into a stalemate.

Power outage: No island is an appendix, entire of itself…

October 13, 2008 at 5:17 pm | In power_grid, vancouver_island | 4 Comments

Yesterday afternoon’s power outage on southern Vancouver Island reminded me of an entry of mine from June 2005: Wanted: small solutions.

Some of the links to a blog that Sea Breeze Power Corporation had at the time have rotted away, but I still have a relevant quote up (and therefore preserved!):

On another business front, also with positive implications for Vancouver Island, Sea Breeze Pacific Juan de Fuca Cable, LP (“Sea Breeze Pacific” – a 49.75 % owned subsidiary of Sea Breeze Power Corp.), is moving into the Vancouver Island public consultation phase for its Juan de Fuca Transmission Cable.

The cable, a submarine 40 kilometre, 540-megawatt “High Voltage Direct Current” (“HVDC Light™”) line between Victoria, British Columbia and Port Angeles, Washington State, is designed to deliver power from “south to north” as well as “north to south”, providing critical reliability for Vancouver Island and strengthening the grids on both sides of the border.

Technical studies for the Juan de Fuca Cable, being conducted by utilities on both sides of the border, are expected to be completed Fall, 2005. The line is scheduled to be operational by Fall, 2007. [More…]

Alas, it’s the “more” link at the end of the quote that has rotted away.

Wow, my entry was from June 2005 — and at the time, Sea Breeze projected a Fall 2007 completion date.  Instead, their latest update is from Oct.3/08, reporting that

Sea Breeze Power Corp. is pleased to announce that the United States Army Corps of Engineers has issued a Permit authorizing the installation of the Juan de Fuca Cable Project (“JdF Cable”) on United States soil and seabed. The Permit represents the conclusion of US Federal and State Permitting requirements for the JdF Cable and is a milestone achievement in the development of the 50 kilometer, 550 MW High Voltage Direct Current Light® (“HVDC Light”) international submarine transmission cable.

I’m glad the project is still underway, but how sad is it that red tape and who knows what else have tied things up to the point that we’re still waiting?  Right now, Vancouver Island is like an appendix.  There’s one line going in, nothing going out, no circle, no loop.  That has to change.

No man is an island, and no island should be a mere appendix.

(I think I may have found my defining slogan… )

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