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Homeless Housing For Less

May 12, 2010

[caption id="attachment_8483" align="alignleft" width="290" caption="Container housing manufacturer MC Quarters offered to build this 43-suite supportive housing complex on a city-owned site at the corner of Princess Avenue and Powell Street."]thetyee_prefab[/caption] Proposals to build free or low-cost homeless housing said to be 'stalled' by the province. Last of three parts. By Monte Paulsen, The Tyee Last summer, Vancouver City Council invited several B.C.-based companies to submit ideas about how modular housing might be employed to house the homeless. Three container-based proposals were among the five submitted. One firm offered to build a 43-suite supportive housing complex at no cost to taxpayers. Another offered to lease dormitory-style rooms for only $350 a month. Yet another offered to build a similar project from scratch using local labour at its Coquitlam factory. But the Vancouver council's enthusiasm for the project was dampened by a distinct lack of interest from the province. Vancouver councilor Kerry Jang said, "This initiative just sort of stalled at the province." This installment of The Tyee's overview of container-based housing takes a look at the three proposals. MC Quarters offered free housing "Basically, we are asking the city to identify a site where we could do a pilot project. And we will provide the funding to develop that pilot project." That's the extraordinary offer MC Quarters president Frank Lo told The Tyee that he made to the city. MC Quarters is a new company that is building pre-fabricated worker housing in China for export worldwide. It was founded by Lo, a longtime Vancouver resident and former shipping container broker. Lo figures he sold more than a quarter of a million shipping containers before launching MC Quarters. Lo's concept involves adapting technology developed for refrigerated containers -- which are basically one steel box inside another, with foam insulation sandwiched between the walls -- for use as a structure in which super-insulated housing can be built. MC Quarters sells construction camps to mining and oil companies. His company claims its container-based work camps are both more durable and more easily transported than the wood-frame modular structures sold by competitors such as Atco, Britco or Williams Scotsman. The B.C. company's first order is for a mining camp in the Yukon. Lo's fledgling company also prepared by far the most detailed of all the container-based homeless housing plans submitted to the city. MC Quarters hired architect Gordon MacKenzie to plan 43 units of supportive housing in a three-storey structure to be erected on a city-owned parking lot at the southwest corner of Princess Avenue and Powell Street.  (See slide show at top of this page.) In addition to 43 very small but fully self-contained suites, the proposed 13,755-square-foot building would include offices as well as a kitchen, common area, and laundry room. MC Quarters' proposal pegged the construction cost at $3.1 million. That's $72,000 per suite. Lo said he can deliver those units six months from the date he receives an order. BC Housing recently started construction on six of 14 promised new homeless housing buildings in Vancouver. The suites planned for those mid-rise buildings are almost twice as large as the room-sized units in the MC Quarters proposal. But the BC Housing suites are expected to cost taxpayers more than $350,000 per unit. About $1.6 million of the projected construction costs for the MC Quarters building is for on-site construction by local trades, with the other half allotted for the purchase of 30 prefabricated container modules. Lo -- who has already hired and architect and built a prototype with his own money -- said he has offered to put up the cost of the containers, and help raise the cost of the local trade work. "This is basically a semi-commercial project as far as we're concerned," Lo said. "We want to do something for the community." C-Bourne offered to lease rooms for $350 a month Vancouver-based C-Bourne Structures is among MC Quarters' competitors. Though C-Bourne's container housing proposal was neither as elaborate nor ultimately as generous as MC Quarters', it did include one particularly intriguing element: C-Bourne offered to lease the city however many units its needs for $350 per month per unit. "We lease these units all over the world," said C-Bourne partner Grant Powell, who joked that mining juniors "never actually buy anything. C-Bourne is the Canadian distributor for Isopod modular housing. Isopod is a Canadian-owned company that has built thousands of units of container housing in places as far flung as Afghanistan, Dubai, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Isopod owns one-third interest in a proprietary factory near Shanghai. C-Bourne submitted a conceptual proposal for dormitory-style housing that could be quickly erected on any city-owned lot, and then just as quickly disassembled when the real estate was needed for some other purpose. "I basically said to the city, 'Tell us what type of units you want, how many you need, and where you want to put them. We'll engage engineers and architects and bring you a proposal,'" Powell told The Tyee. Powell offered to lease the city as many dormitory-style rooms  -- with a shared bathroom down the hall -- as the city wanted for $350 a month per room. That's $25 less than the $375-a-month housing allowance the province provides welfare recipients. After seven years, the city would be eligible to buy the rooms for $10 each. "These units are virtually indestructible. There's no drywall to mildew or wood to rot," Powell said. "If the city didn't want to keep them, we would happily take them back." C-Bourne is also working with developers in Saskatchewan who hope to erect pre-fabricated apartment buildings in communities near the tar sands. "It's nuts out there," Powell said. "Some of those towns are facing an even worse housing shortage than Vancouver." Plans for the prairie apartment buildings call for sprawling three-story walkups surrounded by parking lots. Most of the apartments would be 480-square-foot bachelor suites with full kitchens, bathrooms, Murphy beds and in-suite laundry facilities. Each 20- by 24-foot unit would feature a large glass wall overlooking a 20-foot-long balcony. (See a plan in the slide show at top of this page.) Powell said C-Bourne can deliver and construct these instant apartment buildings in six months or less at a cost of about $100 per square foot (excluding land). He said the developer aims to rent these apartments for between $550 and $700 a month. "We can do two-bedrooms, three-bedrooms, anything," Powell said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg." Mogil offered to build in Coquitlam While less detailed than either of its competitors, the third proposal offered the prospect of bolstering the B.C. economy by building its entire complex in Coquitlam. Mogil Modular Structures was founded by Phil Wang and is run by his son Nam Wang. The family is from Korea, where shipping containers are more frequently used as offices and small shops. "Japan manufactured shipping containers to start off. But the cost was just too high, so it shifted to Korea," the younger Wang noted. "Then the same cycle happened again, and the production shifted to China." Mogil builds 10-foot-wide containers that better lend themselves for use as construction components. Because Mogil is focused on the North American market, its super-sized containers do not have to fit on container ships. "That extra two feet makes a lot of difference," Wang said. "Shipping containers are nice. But the width is eight foot. It's just too narrow. By the time you do the walls, you put in a desk, and all you have is a little space as a corridor." Mogil invested in all the tooling to make shipping containers from scratch, including massive metal-bending machines, precision plasma-cutting tables and a giant painting booth. "We are pretty much self-contained," Wang said. "We bring in raw materials. We stamp, we bend, we produce our own components. We don't source out any work." Mogil's camp business has slowed down considerably during the past couple years. "We had a good deal with the oilfields," Wang said, "but when that slowed down there just weren't any more orders." So the family leapt at Vancouver's invitation to propose homeless housing. Mogil built a table-sized mockup intended to show off both its design and its local fabrication abilities. "We built this miniature model just to show that we were really into it 100 per cent," Wang said. "We think these structures are ideal for housing. We would very much like to find a way to build some housing." New vs. used containers All three firms told The Tyee that the benefits of purpose-build containers outweigh the advantages of reusing end-of-life shipping containers. "I am biased against used containers," said Lo. "I was in the shipping business. These containers go all over the world. You don't know what kind of freight they carry. And then you expect people to live in them?" Lo added that new containers come from the factory with certificates that civil engineers can use to assess the load-bearing ability of the steel frame. "You can't even tell them what kind of steel an old container was made of," Lo said. "If you have volume, your price difference on a per-unit basis is not large." Nam Wang agreed. He said that even without the volume discounts available to larger firms, the cost of cutting, re-flooring and repainting a used container can wind up costing as much a new container. "It's like you converting your hatchback into a pickup," Wang said. "A lot more effort is going to go into it to convert it, and it's not really made for that." Both the MC Quarters and C-Bourne units come fitted out with fixtures that would seem familiar to any North American. "Remember that nearly everything we install in our homes is already made in China," Powell observed. He said C-Bourne installs the same American Standard sinks and Bosch appliances available at the local Home Depot or Future Shop. Powell added that the next generation of urban apartment buildings could just as easily include larger windows LED lighting, bamboo floors, solar hot water heating or other green features. 'We are still doing this' Another thing all three firms agreed upon was a sense of confusion about whether or not either the city or province will ever follow up on their proposals. "Several months went by. We heard nothing. And then one day I got a call saying, 'You've got to come pick up your stuff.'" Powell said. In response to his questions, Powell said the city told him only that, "BC Housing was not going to give them any money for this." Wang recounted a similar experience. "The whole idea with this was that we were going to give them a sweet deal so that we could help promote our product, right?" Powell said. "But if they don't see it, they don't see it." Coun. Kerry Jang, whose Vision Vancouver party has promised to end street homelessness by 2015, acknowledged that the process was dropped. "We welcomed these proposals in order to raise awareness about this type of housing," Jang told The Tyee. "And then we referred them to BC Housing for consideration, because at the end of the day it's BC Housing that has to decide whether or not these units would fit their needs," Jang added. "Nothing came of it after that. It just sort of stalled in provincial hands," he said. On his own initiative, Lo recently met with Housing Minister Rich Coleman. "It's a chicken and egg situation," Lo said. The city won't grant a site without some signal that the province will help fund the support services. And the province won't commit to a project that doesn't have a site. Lo said he is neither discouraged nor dissuaded. "We are still doing this. I think the key is to have patience. Because the whole idea is for the community to benefit." Lo said. "I believe that it will work."? *** Editor’s Note: This is the third part of a three-part series that originally appeared in The Tyee. Click here to read part one. Click here to read part two.

Is this Canada’s Most Affordable Green Home?

May 6, 2010

[caption id="attachment_8445" align="alignleft" width="290" caption="Zigloo Domestique is a custom home in Victoria, B.C. Architect Keith Dewey reused eight 20-foot-long shipping containers to create its frame."]Zigloo Domestique is a custom home in Victoria, B.C. Architect Keith Dewey reused eight 20-foot-long shipping containers to create its frame. Photo courtesy of Keith Dewey.[/caption] How Victoria designer Keith Dewey transformed eight used shipping containers into an airy residence. Second of three parts. By Monte Paulsen, The Tyee Photos courtesy of Keith Dewey One of Canada's most affordable green homes stands not in the swaggering "Green Capital" of Vancouver, but in B.C.'s actual capital, Victoria. Designer Keith Dewey built his own home out of eight end-of-life shipping containers. In so doing, he saved five years worth of electricity and spared about 70 trees -- all while cutting the cost of his new home by roughly 28 per cent. "Initially, everyone's perception is that steel containers must be cold, cramped and uninviting," Dewey said of the reaction to his custom home, pictured in the slide show above. "That perception dissipates as soon as they step inside." Dewey, who will talk about his home this Thursday night at the Quick Homes Superchallenge, added, "I was trying to create a green house that was well within the realm of feasibility for an average builder. So I didn't get too extreme with anything." Victoria inspector supported the plan "The idea of using shipping containers came to my attention back in 2000, when I saw a magazine cover about a project called Future Shack, which was developed in Australia," Dewey told The Tyee. "That really captivated my imagination." The designer toyed with the concept over the next few years, and, "when the opportunity arose for us to design our own house, it was a natural development of the ideas that I'd conceptualized." Dewey built the home he calls Zigloo Domestique in 2006. The 1,920-square-foot home is nestled into a small L-shaped lot in the Fernwood neighbourhood. The open-plan home rests on a typical residential foundation. The City of Victoria's building inspector required Dewey to employ a structural engineer and a building envelope specialist, but otherwise treated the project like any other single-family residential home. "We found ways to harmonize what is already known about the residential building industry with things that are already known about the shipping container industry," Dewey said of his approach. For example, he framed two-inch interior walls at two-foot centres, and sprayed foam insulation into the void. "It ended up being closer to four inches of foam, because there's a little bit of an air gap between the two-by-two wall and the steel, and then there's the corrugated nature of the steel wall itself," Dewey said. "We got R-28, which is well above the minimum requirement." He topped the house with a conventional wood-framed roof, and dry walled much of the interior -- leaving strategically placed sections of corrugated steel as accents. The house carries a traditional mortgage. "I was able to convince the mortgage and insurance companies of the fact that this is a steel frame building, which just happens to have steel cladding. Once they were able to categorize it that way, then it was not problem," he said. 'A natural resource of consumer society' "The sustainability issue was important for me. In my mind, a sustainable concept is one that makes use of materials that have already served their purpose. So I went out looking for end-of-life containers... things that were between 12 and 26 years old," Dewey said. "These shipping containers, of course, we've got them all over the place. In a way they've become a natural resource of consumer society: everything comes to us in this box, but we have no use for the box now," he said. Dewey bought eight used shipping containers, each measuring 20 feet long by eight feet wide by 8.5 feet high. He paid between $2,000 and $2,400 per container. "A lot of them had dents and dings. One even had a breach on the side,” he said. "By itemizing our inventory, I was able to use those in areas where I would be cutting out portions of the wall." Thousands of old shipping containers like the ones Dewey bought are melted and recycled into new steel every year due to a variety of economic factors, including ocean-going insurance requirements, the high price paid for scrap metal, and North America's ongoing trade imbalance with Asia. By reusing -- rather than recycling -- most of the steel in those eight containers, Dewey saved something in the range of 50,000 kilowatt-hours of energy. That's enough hydro to light his home from the day he moved in through sometime next year. Dewey also saved a small forest. Though Zigloo Domestique makes extensive use of manufactured wood products such as paneling and cabinetry, it employs less raw framing timber than a wood-frame house. "I figured that I saved 70 trees worth of wood by reusing the containers," Dewey said. The house has a concrete floor on the main level, which was poured atop a grid of hot water lines that provide radiant heat. The hot water is supplied by an on-demand (tankless) hot water heater. "It's a very efficiently heated house... by heating the basement and the main floor, the residual heat rises up the stairwell and flows through the remainder of the house," Dewey said. "It's easy to cool, too. By strategically placing operable windows, we are able to get really nice summer breezes," he added. [caption id="attachment_8446" align="alignleft" width="320" caption="Zigloo Domestique bristles with suspended balconies. The heavy steel corner posts, a common element of every shipping container, easily support their weight."]Zigloo Domestique bristles with suspended balconies. The heavy steel corner posts, a common element of every shipping container, easily support their weight.[/caption] A custom home for a spec-house price "My idea was to design a custom home, using sustainable materials, and do it for the same price they were building spec quality houses out in the low-cost subdivisions," Dewey said. In Victoria, spec homes run about $150 per square foot, while custom homes average about double that. In addition to the engineer and envelope specialist, Dewey contracted professionals for all the trade work such as electrical, plumbing, drywall, painting, etc. The only cost he avoided was his own design fee. "I didn't cash in any favours on this one. I wanted to see what the costs really were," he said. "As it all turns out, we were able to do it for $180 per square foot," he said. "I would easily stack this house up against any house out there for $250 per square foot or more. So I'm assuming we saved in the realm of $70 per square foot, mostly as a result of the reuse of these containers." That works out to a 28 per cent savings, which is consistent with the 25 per cent estimate provided by Barry Naef of the Intermodal Steel Building Unit (ISBU) Association. Dewey acknowledged that he spent an inordinate amount of time and money working out solutions to specific design problems. The building envelope, for example, required considerable attention. "When you put two containers together, there is this inevitable quarter-inch gap. So we had to develop a library of little details that could prevent water and drainage," he said. "I'm sure I will be able to do these things much more efficiently next time." Public perception remains a challenge Dewey has several new container-based construction projects in the works. He said they all face the same challenges. Perception is the first. The most common container buildings are the thousands of workers' camps scattered across the booming Arab states, along with a small number of mining camps in remote locations. "They look a bit like concentration camps... That does not help overcome the perception problem," he said. "That's why I think the designer is a really important element. There are lots of engineers and fabricators who can fabricate something low cost, easy to maintain, and durable. But if it's not appealing, if it's not an attractive thing for people to walk by, then it's not going to work in an urban environment." Unrealistic expectations about cost are the second challenge. "Nine times out of ten people are wanting something cheaper... People call me and they say, 'Oh, it's a box, and it's cheap,'" he complained. "There is money to be saved using shipping containers," he said, "but the cost of the house is much more than the cost of the used container." Dewey does anticipate that once the form becomes more widely accepted, complete homes will be manufactured in low-wage regions and sold worldwide. "We're not quite there yet, but there is the potential for these homes to become extremely affordable in pre-fab manufacturing," he said. He designed a pre-fab workers housing complex called Modulute, which would have created 220 small, self-contained suites. Whistler approved the $3 million project a couple years before the recent Winter Games, but the American vendor contracted to prefabricate the containers was unable to secure financing during the 2008 recession. "It was an easily stackable configure that could have been removed and reinstalled somewhere else," Dewey said. "It's a bit of a shame. It would have been a real nice spotlight project during the Games." For the time being, he said, the container concept is catching on much more quickly in Europe. He cited Amsterdam's Keetwonen project and London's Container City developments as examples. (See yesterday's slide show for pictures of those projects.) "I guess there's sort of a conservative mindset in North American culture," Dewey chuckled. "We say, 'I've got to see it to believe it. And I'm not going to look too hard to try to find it.'" For a vitual tour of Zigloo Domestique, visit Dewey's web site. *** Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a three-part series that originally appeared in The Tyee. Click here to read part one. Check back next week for part three.

Green and Affordable Homes, Out of the Box

April 29, 2010

[caption id="attachment_8399" align="alignleft" width="290" caption="City Centre Lofts is slated to become the first mid-rise to be built out of shipping containers in North America. It will be constructed using 50 per cent recycled material. The Salt Lake City building was designed by architect Adam Kalkin."]City Centre Lofts is slated to become the first mid-rise to be built out of shipping containers in North America. It will be constructed using 50 per cent recycled material. The Salt Lake City building was designed by architect Adam Kalkin.[/caption] Shipping containers hold the potential to revolutionize urban housing. First of three parts. By Monte Paulsen, The Tyee Vancouver boasts both the "Greenest Neighbourhood in the World" --- the LEED certified Olympic Athlete's Village --- as well as the world's first LEED Platinum convention centre. But the city that calls itself the "Green Capital" has shown surprisingly little interest in a rapidly emerging building technology that promises to become not only far more environmentally friendly but also significantly less expensive than the heavy concrete construction that has reshaped the city's skyline. Indeed, Canada's first modern home built this way stands not in the Terminal City, but across the straight in Victoria. Over the next few days, The Tyee will report on how intermodal shipping containers --- those 40-foot steel boxes that flow through the region's ports at the rate of more than two million a year --- are being refashioned into affordable green buildings across Europe and Asia. And on Thursday evening, the Tyee Solutions Society will join with Architecture For Humanity Vancouver and the Design Foundation of British Columbia to kick-off the Quick Homes Superchallenge, a two-part charrette aimed at generating affordable housing concepts for public discussion. The box that changed the world The humble steel boxes in which goods are shipped, trained and trucked around the world touched off an economic "revolution," according to Mark Levinson, author of The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger. Levinson chronicles the 18 million big steel boxes that make globalization possible, flooding markets with low-cost consumer goods from China, filling cities with cut-rate department stores such as Wal-Mart, and felling wide swaths of the North American manufacturing sector and the high-paying jobs it provided. "In 1956, the world was full of small manufacturers selling locally," Levinson writes, "by the end of the twentieth century, purely local markets for goods of any sort were few and far between." One of the world's first purpose-built intermodal container ships set sail from North Vancouver in November of 1955. The Clifford J. Rodgers carried 600 containers to Skagway, Alaska, where they were loaded on to rail to be carried over the White Pass to the Yukon. Today, Port Metro Vancouver is Canada's busiest port. More than two million "twenty-foot equivalent units," or TEUs, flow through every year, according to port records. (Containers come in five basic sizes. A standard 20-foot-long by 8-foot-wide container equals one TEU. A 40-foot container is two TEUs.) The vast majority of containers arriving in Metro ports hail from China, followed by Japan and Korea. And most return to the nations that sent them. But almost 100,000 get left behind each year. In 2009, for example, records show that a total of 1,122,849 TEUs entered Port Metro Vancouver, while only while 1,029,613 TEUs were shipped outbound. That's a difference of 93,236 containers. Likewise, in 2008, Metro ports took in 96,509 more TEUs than they sent away. Those containers don't all pile up in the Lower Mainland. Most leave the region via truck or rail car, and many of those ultimately leave Canada via a border crossing or another seaport. But North America's longstanding imbalance of trade with China and other Asian exporters tends to create a backwash of surplus containers in places Vancouver and other port cities. Greener than concrete, stronger than wood Containers are built to stack nine high while carrying 60,000 pounds on a deck that's pitching on the open ocean. They are built to survive decades of service in a marine environment, and, if kept painted, will last indefinitely as part of a building. "These are just big steel boxes," said Barry Naef, who directs the GreenCube Network and the Intermodal Steel Building Unit (ISBU) Association. Naef noted that these boxes present the opportunity to not merely recycle but creatively reuse what is arguably the most durable waste product of the globalization era. Stranded containers that are not repurposed tend to be melted down. As fuel costs rise, containers on the wrong side of the ocean can become worth more as scrap metal than the cost of shipping them back to China empty. A typical 40-foot container represents about 8,000 pounds of steel, which can require about 8,000 kilowatt-hours of energy to melt and remanufacture. That's about half of what a typical home uses in a year. As a result, buildings created from used shipping containers function like carbon reduction and long-term storage devices. At the same time, containers tend to replace concrete in more urban settings, due to the metal boxes' strength and easy stackability. And cement is far from green. The manufacturing of cement is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions after fossil fuel consumption, according to U.S. government statistics. A report by the World Business Council found that every ten pounds of cement releases nine pounds of carbon dioxide emission. But according to Barry Naef, the biggest green advantage of shipping containers may be their strength. "Their strength allows the structure to provide green roofs, green walls, solar hot water roofs, all without additional supports," Naef said. "It's hard to do these things on a wood-frame structure. "Concrete is great. But when you have to go spend so much to do a green roof, I don't think it winds up getting built." Construction costs 25 per cent less In port regions such as Vancouver, end-of-life shipping containers are often sold for as little as $1,500 in the Lower Mainland, while pristine 40-foot "high cubes" -- which feature nine-and-a-half-foot ceilings -- can fetch $4,000. Either way, it's substantially less than the cost of building a similar box out of wood or concrete. The cost to convert that box to a home varies widely. Charities providing housing to Maquiladora workers in Mexico are able to convert used shipping containers into simple homes for about $15,000 (excluding land costs). Those homes are small, but they come complete with doors, windows, a full bathroom and kitchen appliances for less money than most Canadians spend on a car. Companies that provide container-based worker housing to the oil and mining industries sell heavily built pre-fab units for prices that start in the range of $35,000 per container unit. Some of these are heavily insulated for arctic conditions. Others include generators and water-processing plants. (More on these units on Wednesday.) Custom home builders report saving an average of about 25 per cent against what a comparable home would have cost to build, according to Naef. He said cost savings vary widely according to how many hurdles are thrown up by local zoning and building code officials. "Local building codes are a real hurdle for some builders," Naef said. "We need to do a much better job of educating zoning boards and building inspectors," he said. "Each building inspector seems to have a different reason why they wouldn't let someone build with shipping containers. Many objections are based on false assumptions." For example, he noted that many local building codes still require studding out all the walls in order to comply with outdated zoning ordinances. "This unnecessary duplication reduces --- but still does not eliminate --- the cost effectiveness of container-based construction," Naef said. New built form emerging in Europe and Asia In dense cities such as Vancouver, however, the greatest cost savings and the most significant green advantages generally come down to the same thing: The less land a home requires, the better. Containers are built to stack. And it has been through the creative assembly of stacks of containers -- coupled with the innovative ways of opening up the interiors -- that a new built form has begun to emerge in Europe and Asia. Here are a few examples: Container City is a collection of London-area developments drawing on container techniques perfected by a company called Urban Space Management. The first project was built in East London, in 2001. The Container City projects include offices, retail shops, artists studios, a nursery, a youth centre, and a school as well as housing. "This modular technology enables construction times and cost to be reduced by up to half that of traditional building techniques while remaining significantly more environmentally friendly," states Urban Space Management. Keetwonen is the world's largest container housing project, as well as one of the simplest. The project is a student village built from 1,050 containers near Amsterdam city center. Though only 320 square feet, each suite has separate sleeping and living rooms, a full kitchen and bath, large windows and a private balcony. The units are well insulated and served by a central heating system. The complex hosts cafes, shops, art studios and even mini-gyms. And while some container projects strive to conceal the container's industrial essence, a Korean project, Platoon Kunsthalle, takes the opposite approach. The Seoul artists centre was created from 28 containers. *** Editor's Note: This is the first part of a three-part series that originally appeared in The Tyee. Check back next week for part two.

This summer belongs to the bike

June 18, 2009

[caption id="attachment_4529" align="alignleft" width="290" caption="Montreal-owned Bixi sets up a bike-sharing demonstration at Science World over the weekend."]apouchtine_bikeshare_la[/caption] Article and photos by Leszek Apouchtine, re:place magazine With city council recently approving a slew of bike-friendly initiatives, it would appear that cycling in Vancouver is about to get a whole lot easier. There is reason for optimism among the city's bicycle enthusaists that cycling is becoming a viable option for more Metro Vancouverites. This is hardly a war on cars, or a reason for tension between cyclists and motorists (although, of course, there are objections to many of the planned initiatives) and, if anything, new ideas are being approached with caution. At the June 2 meeting of the Council on Transportation and Traffic, an idea for a ciclovia from English Bay Beach Park to Jericho Beach Park was approved 'in principle' - under the premise that its cost not exceed $50,000 ($125,000 was requested). The ciclovia would see a 'car-free initiative' stretch along six kilometres of road in English Bay including Beach Avenue and Cornwall Avenue. But the reason for the caution and objections from three speakers at the council meeting included concerns over residents being able to access parking and what would happen to the displaced traffic. Although valid concerns, the proposed route would only occur on Sundays in July and/or August and definitely deserves to be given a chance. Started in the 1980s in major cities in Colombia, the idea of the ciclovia has sometimes taken on different names, but has been adopted to much praise in other North American cities including New York, Portland and Ottawa. Another possibility on the table is the idea to set up a network of bicycles that can be rented out from various stations across Vancouver. Over the past weekend, one station was set up at Science World by Bixi, which has recently launched this program in Montreal with more than 300 places to pick up or drop off a bike. The current system in Montreal charges $5 for a 24-hour period and $78 for unlimited uses for a year. It's an ideal system for short trips, in particular, since the first 30 minutes are free. A great idea in concept, there are some reasons why it may prove unsuccessful or unsustainable locally. Unlike Montreal, cyclists must wear helmets in Vancouver and odds are if you have a helmet, you have a bike. Tourists, who may find these short-rental bikes handy, would most likely not be packing a helmet. Also, as the BBC reports, a similar scheme in Paris is one of many in Europe that have been plagued with missing or damaged bikes. So, whether the ciclovia proves to be a success or Vancouver gets its own bike-sharing program, there are other reasons for cyclists to be optimistic about the direction that Vancouver is heading. Arno Schortinghuis, president of the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition (VACC), agrees. He sees the steps that council has taken to promote bike use as "very significant". "The City of Vancouver is in the lead in Canada, at least for a large city," he said. He is also impressed, however, at some of the steps he sees other major centres in Canada taking, including the plan in Toronto to change the busy five-lane Jarvis Street to four lanes, with a bicycle lane in either direction. "Here we're just talking about one lane on one bridge, about 1 kilometre, and it's like the sky is falling." Schortinghuis said, referring to the trial bike lane planned for Burrard Bridge. Of course, it wasn't smooth sailing in Toronto either when council voted on the proposal. Ultimately, Schortinghuis is impressed with the direction that Vancouver's council is heading and was very pleasantly surprised to see the approval of doubling the cycling budget to $3.4 million. He sees this as quite an improvement over the last council. "The previous council made a huge mistake in not putting in separate bike lanes on Cambie. They had a great opportunity there and they blew it. They totally blew it." [caption id="attachment_4531" align="alignright" width="290" caption="Cyclists and pedestrians fill Main Street at Sunday's Car-Free Day."]apouchtine_carfree3_la[/caption] Car-free events are also expanding across the city. The car-free days held this past weekend along Commercial Drive, Main Street, Denman and areas of Kitsilano were again a great success and are just the beginning of other similar events. Further car-free trials, called Summer Spaces, will take place in Collingwood, Gastown, Mount Pleasant and Commercial Drive. These trials could extend next summer to Marpole and Robson Street. A further improvement towards a more bike-friendly Metro Vancouver is the Central Valley Greenway, a 24km path for cyclists and pedestrians that stretches from New Westminster Quay to Science World. "It's huge," says Schortinghuis. "It's going to be a great cycling route." There is a large celebration planned for Saturday June 27, which will include free guided bicycle tours by the VACC. Unfortunately, these are all still baby steps, but let's remember that according to the City of Vancouver 2008/2009 Cycling Statistics Update, a mere 3.7% of total trips to work are made on a bike (up from 3.3% in 1996). And across Metro Vancouver, the number drops to 1.7% and has stayed constant since 1996. In order to take bolder moves towards a more bike-friendly city, these numbers will probably have to improve in step with improvements to the city's bike infrastructure. Of course, it would have been nice to see bolder moves coming from the city. If the mayor of New York can close chunks of Broadway in Manhattan to car traffic, then surely we could see a major stretch like Granville closed to all but cyclists and pedestrians. Of course, we are still living in a city where the car is king. Anyone looking to argue that these pro-cycling initiatives are actually anti-car or a war on cars, should only need to be reminded about the billions of dollars being spent on highways as part of the Gateway Project, whereas the amount being spent on improving bicycle infrastructure in the city this year (after already being doubled) is not even at the $4 million mark. We are still a car culture. According to the most recent statistics released by The Economist, Canada ranked number five in the world for highest car ownership (number of cars per 1,000 population). We sit under Luxembourg, Iceland, New Zealand and Italy, but we're a full 11 spots higher up the list than the US. With Montreal bike-sharing, plans for more bike lanes in Toronto and car-free days in Ottawa, perhaps the tide is changing across all our major city centres to make cycling a priority when considering transportation plans for the future. A big question that remains is if all these initiatives are being planned for cyclists, then what is being done for pedestrians? Even the Burrard Bridge bike lane trial will be good news for cyclists, but will take away space for those who choose their two feet over two wheels. So, while cyclists have much to be happy about, council also needs to remember their own statistics. While 3.7% of total trips to work in the City of Vancouver are by bike, 12.2% are walkers (up from 10.7% in 1996). If Vancouver truly wants to be the 'Greenest City in the World' by 2020, then the importance of encouraging walking as a viable option to get around should not be ignored. Their first report focuses heavily on cycling and transit, but only gives a couple vague mentions on ways to improve walking in the city. Council should definitely be applauded for their worthy, if not overly cautious, steps towards a greener city. They should also not forget that the greenest mode of transportation is still no wheels at all. *** Leszek Apouchtine is one of the founding editors at re:place.

Release: Flack Block celebrates its opening with City of Vancouver Heritage Award of Honour, and new innovative tenants

April 3, 2009

flackblock_image After two years of restoration by The Salient Group, and an intensive period of tenant space renovation by Renewal Partners, the 1898 Flack Block recently celebrated its official re-opening. The Flack Block is the new home to the Tides/Renewal Centre, a collection of socially progressive businesses including Renewal Partners, Tides Canada, Hollyhock Leadership Institute, Forest Ethics, Rainforest Solutions Project, Penner & Associates sustainable design, and Raised Eyebrow Communications, among others. Under the leadership and commitment of Renewal Partners, the Tides/Renewal centre office renovation in the Flack Block will achieve a LEED Gold for Commercial Interiors certification from the Canada Green Building Council. This designation is among the first in Canada in a heritage building that will be made available to lease. The Flack Block redevelopment is a prime example of what can be accomplished in a partnership with the Government of Canada, a strong incentive program from the City of Vancouver, and the tremendous commitment from private sector developer, The Salient Group, along with their partners and consultants. “Coupled with the addition of the modernist fifth floor, and highly progressive design by Acton Ostry Architects and the rigid historic discipline of heritage consultant Don Luxton, The Flack Block is one of Canada’s most important heritage restoration and rehabilitation projects,” says Robert Fung, project developer for The Salient Group. “In addition, it is a model for the way in which government and the private sector can combine forces to achieve levels of economic development, heritage rehabilitation, community growth, and investment that would otherwise be unattainable. We believe that new tenants the Tides Renewal Centre, with their dedication to social philanthropy, ideally suit the inspiring architecture and design of the Flack Block.” The Flack Block recently captured the City of Vancouver’s highest level of heritage recognition, the Award of Honour, for “structural, seismic and building systems upgrading, sustainable interiors, locally crafted stone façade components, reinstated areaways, extensive exterior restoration, and a compatible contemporary rooftop addition”. Ironically, the Flack Block opening celebration occurred while Vancouver’s heritage revitalization incentive program is under review. As well, the Government of Canada Commercial Heritage Properties Incentive Fund, under which the Flack Block was completed, has been cancelled. “The Flack Block is one of seven buildings that Salient has completed or under construction under the City of Vancouver’s Heritage Incentive Program in Vancouver’s historic downtown,” says The Salient Group’s Robert Fung. “These intensive restoration projects won’t happen without a working program of this nature.” The Flack Block, a heritage treasure fallen into disrepair, was built in 1898 by Thomas Flack, one of three partner prospectors who struck it rich panning for gold. News of their success launched the Klondike Gold Rush. Located at the commercial centre of the city and across from the first courthouse, the Flack Block was the original home to the Bank of Vancouver. In later years it hosted men’s clothier E.A. Lee, but as Hastings Street around Victory Square declined, it became home to a series of pawnshops and varied illegal activities until rescued by Salient in 2005. *** For more information, visit the website.

A vision for the UBC Farm

December 10, 2008

[caption id="attachment_2583" align="alignleft" width="290" caption="UBC Farm photo by Mark Bomford."]UBC Farm photo by Mark Bomford.[/caption] by Mark Pickersgill On Saturday November 29, 2008, the University of British Columbia's First Nation Longhouse was a hive of excitement with more than 100 organizers, volunteers, speakers, artists, professionals, public officials, students, UBC administration and staff, farmers and community participants gathered for a revelatory day-long design workshop focused on the future of the UBC Farm. The thrust behind such a momentous gathering of minds, talents, and interests was simple: to discuss and imagine a vision for the farm. The political and geographical history of the UBC Farm has been a long and tumultuous affair. In recent years UBC has made significant development forays into some of its endowment lands, both as a means to expand the university campus and facilities, but also to build and develop housing. As a result, the farm has come under increasing threat. The 24 ha parcel upon which the UBC Farm operates is designated as “Future Housing Reserve” in the current UBC Official Community Plan, a bylaw of the Greater Vancouver Regional District that was created in 1997. In simple terms, the land upon which the current incarnation of the farm is situated is extremely valuable for developing other non-farm related activities. This designation has led to rampant speculation over the years about the need to reconfigure, move, and restructure the UBC Farm, particularly as the South Campus community has started to take shape. The UBC Farm is presently home to a wide array of programs and activities ranging from traditional agricultural science field laboratory exercises and plot research to system-level explorations (integrating ecological, social, and economic considerations) and community events and markets. The farm is home to an astonishing array of projects, and a second home to a small army of students, faculty, and community members who work and utilize the farm regularly. A thriving ecosytem, and a vital educational centre, the farm is a beacon of light in a time when concerns over climate change, peak oil, and economic turmoil seem to be gathering more traction by the day. If anything, the farm sits as a proud and compelling reminder of the importance of locally based food systems and agricultural innovation. It was with primarily these interests and concerns in mind, that many sacrificed a beautiful, sunny fall day to be indoors participating in a grand visionary process. I participated in the event as a facilitator and note taker. Like a great many of those in attendance, I was there because I recognized the stakes and see a tremendous value to the farm as it currently exists. However the design workshop was not intended to be an advocacy event or in any way a forum to express discontent with the current processes concerning the UBC Farm. The event was more concerned with the expression of positive and meaningful of ideas. Participants were asked to think big and to bring anything they were able to contribute to the table. Respected and revered organic farmer, author, photographer, and philosopher Michael Ableman [photographed left, by Lisa Moffat] was the first to speak on the importance of farm education and the success of local food systems. A seasoned and charismatic speaker, Mr. Ableman managed to get the room abuzz, stressing the idea that those communities and organizations that make farming a core part of their operations and existence, will ultimately be the ones to thrive. Seen as part of a world in transition, he underscored the need for a move beyond the notion of land as commodity, and to view it foremost as a supportive pillar of life and well being. Michael Ableman's speech was followed with a virtual tour of the farm by UBC Farm Program Coordinator, Mark Bomford. Mark was greeted with rapturous applause (and a standing ovation!) and it was doubtless his efforts over the past few years, leading the UBC Farm through some difficult, albiet very successful, years, were well appreciated by those in attendance. His modest demeanor, and obvious enthusiasm shone through as he led the audience in an enlightening survey of the features of the farm, and some of the prevailing challenges. Stanley King and his Co-design Group then led the room through a participatory design exercise intended to get the creativity flowing. With what can simply be described as a "day in the life" of the UBC Farm, Mr. King asked us all to participate. The crowd was asked to suggest the types of activities expected and desired on the UBC Farm throughout each hour of the day, starting at 6 am right through the day (and night). Each of the ideas was documented and placed on a giant timeline located at the front of the room. The ideas and activities suggested ranged from the pragmatic to the fantastical. It was entertaining, but I for one also found it enriching just to get a sense of the breadth of interests and ideas in the room. The audience was not asked to hold back. And for the most part, almost any conceivable or plausible activity found its way on the board. The exercise was a decisive, if not overwhelming success. I asked Mark Bomford if the activities being mentioned were in any way reflective of the actual activities on the farm. He was clear to say that as silly as some of the suggestions sounded, as a whole, they represented a very accurate, if not condensed, account of what already happens on the farm. It was after the "day in the life" exercise where the real work began. Initial interviews with farm stakeholders had revealed a number of major themes. The themes included: 1) Teaching, Research, and Learning; 2) Habitat / Biodiversity; 3) Community Connections; 4) Green Infrastructure; 5) Food Precinct: From Field to Work The participants were asked to select a theme that they were most interested in and were subsequently slotted to partake in smaller break out-sessions. A total of 10 groups formed themselves in a surprisingly amicable fashion. Groups typically consisted of 8-12 people. The participants worked with artists and facilitators to brainstorm ideas for the farm based on their respective theme. Renderings, drawings, maps and absolutely wonderful visual pieces were produced that ran the gamut from half completed sketches to fully imagined scenes. Every idea and thought was treated as a valuable piece of information. After a rather intense period of two hours, each of the groups were then asked to prepare their work for display. [caption id="attachment_2585" align="alignleft" width="290" caption="The facilitated design process. Photo by Lisa Moffat."]The facilitated design process. Photo by Lisa Moffat.[/caption] The number of displays set up in the foyer and hallway of the First Nations Longhouse was a site to behold. I did count the number of different pieces, but if I had to guess I would assume that somewhere between 30-40 unique drawings stretched almost the entire length of the building. The intent was to share what each other had done. Everything from grand markets and entryways (into the farm) to green technologies and innovative educational programs made an appearance. Not all of the ideas worked, but that was the point. Each display contained a descriptive list of features of which the participants were asked to evaluate. All of the ideas, drawings, pictures, maps, and words generated over the course of the day are presently being recorded and synthesized into a workshop summary document. This document will be sent out to participants and made available to the public. Furthermore, once complete, the vision document is to be presented to the UBC Board of Governors and campus administration. As a public process, the design workshop was an unmitigated success. The turn-out was overwhelming, and while there were some difficult and trying discussions throughout the day, it nonetheless resulted in a colourful and diverse palate of ideas on which to build. And the success of the event apparently did not go unnoticed. After a number of undisclosed meetings, a press release was issued on December 1st, 2008 (a mere two days later) more or less stating that the UBC Board of Governors has conceded to protect the full 24 hectares of the UBC Farm. In effect the University of British Columbia Board of Governors has directed UBC administration to develop academic plans for a 24 ha parcel of South Campus land for teaching and research purposes that are “academically rigorous and globally significant” around issues of sustainability. The Board stipulated that no market housing will be pursued on the 24 ha parcel, which contains the UBC Farm, as long as the university’s housing, community development and endowment goals can be met through transferring density to other parts of campus. The Board also committed to the continuation of current land uses until academic plans are completed and a decision has been reached on density transfer. While this promise is far from clear as to what this means specifically for the UBC Farm (or the rest of campus for that matter), it appears that this decision was a direct result of tireless efforts by students, faculty, and community members. While there is still some level of uncertainty surrounding what exactly could happen with the UBC Farm, it is now at least abundantly clear that there is a strong level of support and at least an official acknoledgement of this important piece of land. And the results and outcome of this day-long workshop will only help strengthen the position of the UBC Farm as it leads the way into what will hopefully be a more sustainable future. *** Mark Pickersgill is a Vancouver-based city planner and writer. He is music obsessive and an appreciator of fine cheese.

A chance to shape the future of UBC Farm

November 20, 2008

By Mark Pickersgill On Saturday November 22, The Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm will be hosting a design workshop looking at the future of the UBC Farm. Agriculture has played a major role in academic and land-use activities at the University of British Columbia since the school's inception. Since 1915, the Faculty of Land and Food Systems (formerly Agricultural Sciences) has conducted agricultural field research, teaching, and community service projects on campus, and established UBC’s first farm along what is now known as West Mall. As it stands today, the UBC Farm is the last "working" farm in the Vancouver area. The farm is currently home to a wide array of programs ranging from traditional agricultural science field laboratory exercises and plot research to system-level explorations integrating ecological, social, and economic considerations. UBC farm is unique in that it is situated within a major university and surrounded by a large urban population. In this regard it is an excellent position to advance and disseminate the knowledge and understanding needed to determine the best path to take (as individuals and as a society) towards a sustainable food system. Unfortunately the idyllic aims of the UBC farm are far from a complete picture. A central concern is that the land upon which the current incarnation of the farm is situated is extremely valuable for other non-farm related activities. As the UBC campus expands and as new projects emerge, the future of the UBC farm is uncertain at best. UBC's Board of Governors (BoG) will be meeting as early as January 2009 to discuss and deliberate the farm's future. One hope is that the university's BoG will be presented with a vision for the farm that is well organized, creative, diverse, and well presented. The farm’s development during the last eight years in particular has been the product of the collective vision of students, faculty, staff and the broader community. The design workshop is intended to create to advance this shared vision. The design team hosting this workshop will consist of a group of professionals in city planning, landscape architecture and architecture, most of them UBC alumni, all volunteering their time to support UBC’s current visioning and academic planning for the UBC Farm. Speakers, idea generation exercises, videos, virtual tours and a full-scaled design exercise will be conducted, focusing on food production, green infrastructure, habitat, community connections, and education as they relate to the UBC farm. Students, faculty members, professionals, and anyone interested in links between food, nutrition, the environment, community design, and health have been strongly encouraged to attend. The design workshop is about the opportunity to create a vision for the future, at a particularly pivotal moment for the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm. It is also a unique chance to work collectively, think creatively, and build something inspirational. The UBC Farm Design Workshop will be held on Nov 22, 2008, 10:30am - 5:30pm at the First Nations House of Learning, 1985 West Mall, UBC For more details or to register: ubcfarmvision@gmail.com *** Mark Pickersgill is a Vancouver-based city planner and writer. He is music obsessive and an appreciator of fine cheese.

How bikes can build a better a city

August 27, 2008

Critical Mass (Gil Penalosa)By John Calimente Cycling photo by Su-Lin, Gil Peñalosa photo by jmv When was the last time an overflow crowd turned out to hear the ideas of a former Parks Commissioner? It was probably whenever Guillermo ‘Gil’ Peñalosa last paid Vancouver a visit. Currently the Executive Director of the Mississauga-based non-profit Walk & Bike for Life, Peñalosa is a passionate advocate on the benefits of walking, cycling, parks, and trails. Peñalosa came to SFU Harbour Centre on Wednesday to speak on the subject Walking, bicycling, and public spaces: Lessons from Bogotá and beyond. He was introduced by Andrew Pask of the Vancouver Public Space Network as “A man who likes to talk about action.” Peñalosa began by noting how his interest in city issues had originally been sparked by his first visit to Vancouver in 1976 for the UN Habitat Conference. He made the trip with his father, Enrique Peñalosa Carmago, who was the Undersecretary General for the conference. Peñalosa is a man impatient for change. He brought up the point frequently in his talk that change can come quickly if the will is there. He believes that the time has come to go beyond baby steps in creating better cities; it’s time for major leaps in action. Peñalosa first gained widespread attention as the Commissioner of Parks, Sport, and Recreation for the city of Bogotá, Colombia from 1995 to 1997. He was appointed by the mayor, his brother Enrique Peñalosa Londoño. During his tenure, Gil Peñalosa oversaw the construction of 200 parks in the city and expanded the Ciclovia program of car-free city roads on Sundays and holidays from 8 km to 91 km. The number of participants increased from an average of 100,000 to 1.5 million people. Bike share increased from 0.4% to 5% and the Transmilenio Bus Rapid Transit system was also created at this time. By increasing public space and public transit for all citizens to enjoy, the atmosphere in the city has become much more relaxed. Peñalosa quoted Charles Montgomery from EnRoute magazine: “The more we meet outside of cars, the kinder and gentler we’re likely to become”. This seems to have been borne out in Bogotá, where the murder rate dropped 71% between the mid-1990s and 2005. The best cities in the world are the most bikeable and walkable, according to Peñalosa. Providing examples from New York, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam, Peñalosa refuted the constant refrain: “Cycling will never be popular in our city because of _____ (climate, culture, high incomes etc)”. With a climate similar to Vancouver’s, Copenhagen has successfully become a cycling-friendly city over the last 40 years, even with a per capita income higher than the United States. A video showed both the very young and very old cycling around the city, in both rain and snow. Copenhagen’s goal is to become the ‘best bicycle city in the world’, aiming to increase the percentage of cyclists biking to work to 50%, and for 80% to feel safe while cycling by 2015. Peñalosa has his own acid test for a bicycle-friendly city: Would you send either an 8-year-old or an 80-year-old to bike around your city? Gil Penalosa at SFUNew York City was given as an example of a North American city that is fast becoming a model for cycling. He noted that the recently created 9th Avenue bikeway in New York City was created in only 30 days with a budget of under $1 million dollars. As well, the Summer Streets program, which closed down 11 km of Manhattan streets on three consecutive Saturdays, has been garnering rave reviews. Peñalosa noted that a prominent New York City official had come up to him at the event and said it was “the most fun activity to take place in New York in 40 years”. At this point Peñalosa gave a mock-incredulous reaction and pondered this: “So it’s the Department of Transportation that is responsible for creating the most fun activity to take place in New York City in 40 years? What’s going on here?” Canada’s population is forecast to increase by 6.5 million in the next 25 years. Greater Vancouver will increase by 41% and BC by 39%. Peñalosa sees this as both a challenge and an opportunity. In the 19th century, the most important factor in economic competitiveness was land. In the 20th century, it was capital, and in the 21st century, people. Peñalosa believes that the greatest challenge of this century is to attract and retain highly creative and educated people. The key question we as Canadians need to ask ourselves is: What kind of cities are we going to build? Peñalosa feels that a city is only a means to a way of life. He argues that “When you define your cities around cars, you get more cars. When you define your city around people, you get more people”, with a healthier population and a better quality of life for all. He made the excellent point that “What makes a city memorable and gives it character are its walking and cycling places” and joked that one doesn’t “go to Paris and say ‘wow, what great highways they had’”. Peñalosa ended his talk by confronting the issue of how to move from talking to doing. He believes that vision is important, but that vision without work is “simply daydreaming”. His five elements for success are: 1. Leadership that will nurture the changes 2. Political will, or 'guts' 3. Doers in the public sector who will craft solutions to the problems at hand 4. Community engagement; and 5. Sense of urgency, or action The prolonged applause at the end confirmed that most in the audience already shared in Peñalosa’s belief in taking major leaps in order to achieve change. Canada needs more leaders who have a strong vision of a better future for our cities and are not worried about opinion polls. With a civic election coming up soon, perhaps Gil Peñalosa would consider running for mayor of Vancouver? *** John Calimente is enrolled in the Master of Urban Studies Program at Simon Fraser University.

Critical Mass gets massive

July 2, 2008

pask_cm_burrard1.jpg By ASP, Vancouver Public Space Network Photos courtesy of ASP As June’s Bike Month celebrations rolled to a close, several thousand cyclists rolled out one of the largest Critical Mass rides in the City’s history. It was an exciting way to start the summer – and a good complement to the mid-Month Car Free Day. Street-reclamation writ large: not a blocking of traffic but rather the celebration of what is, quite literally, a collective movement. So big was the ride that there were several points when path became – dare I say it, gridlocked! (Note to self: cyclists in a traffic jam generally seem far less stressed than their auto-driving counterparts). (Second note to self: this first point was only partially true that day – because on during the ride we passed dozens of friendly motorists who had made the best of the delay caused by the Mass - stopping their cars, pulling over, waving, playing music and high-fiving the pedal-pushers as they rode by). As always, the roving parade snaked in an unpredictable and spontaneous fashion. It crossed the Granville Bridge, headed south to Broadway before coming back over the Burrard Bridge. For me, this was a particular treat– because the City’s bylaws have, for the last few years, disallowed riders on the main roadway - shunting them off to the narrow, shared sidewalks and creating one of the worse crossing points in the city. While the debate around widening the Burrard Bridge continues to churn, the opportunity to experience it like this won’t soon be forgotten. I was hoping there were some City engineers on the ride with us. Joining in the festivities were several members of Vancouver’s finest – the first time I’ve seen them on the ‘inside’ of the ride. I’m assuming this means their tacit supporters now – which is cool. They seemed to divide their time between chatting with the riders, encouraging the more celebratory cyclists to dispense with their cans of beer (more than a few microbrews were poured out along the route) and occasionally chastising drivers who attempted to cut into the ride (a very nice change indeed!). pask_cm_lions1.jpgAfter crossing the Burrard, wheels turned towards the waterfront, along Beach Avenue and through the West End. Mayoral candidate Gregor Robertson was there, taking the opportunity to “cork” (block) a residential street and striking an oddly superhero-esque pose. (Interesting how more than a few articles have been comparing Robertson and Peter Ladner, the NPA mayoral counter-contender, on the basis of their shared enthusiasm for cycling – anyone feel like organizing a mayoral cycling contest?) From there, it was a turn through Stanley Park and onto the Lions Gate Bridge, where riders jammed all but one lane of roadway. It was a beautiful scene – a solid wall of bicycles framed by the bridge towers, and against the backdrop of the Northshore mountains. The essence of the ride seemed to sit right there at that moment, as cyclists stopped, got off their bikes and let out a collective cheer. This was indeed a fine start to start summer. Come see more images here.

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