Profiles and Places: Kamloops Downtown Neighborhood

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Kamloop’s Thompson Rivers University – At the Forefront of Uptown’s New Walkability

Nestled atop uptown Kamloops lies one of BC’s best kept University secrets. Thompson Rivers University’s 13,000 students speak to its rank as one of BC’s largest universities, yet few in the populated areas of the South Coast know of it’s very existence. TRU is at the forefront of Kamloops’ second downtown, an area known as uptown which is quickly expanding in residents and walkability. The main campus and buildings of Thompson Rivers University are centred around a walkable grassy mall which makes it truly pedestrian friendly. The student population is composed of many international students which give the City of Kamloops a cosmopolitan feeling typical of most much larger major cities.

Thompson Rivers University

Thompson Rivers University

Many of the campus buildings are relatively new, they together with some older buildings form the nucleus of this sprawling campus. Renovations are currently under way to add extra floors to the Old Main building, once finished these new floors and exterior look will house the TRU Faculty of Law. Picture above are the International Building on the right and on the left is the Arts and Education building.

Clock Tower & Library - Thompson Rivers University

Clock Tower & Library – Thompson Rivers University

House of Learning - Thompson Rivers University

House of Learning – Thompson Rivers University

What to do with Broadway Skytrain Station?

If you’ve ridden Metro Vancouver’s Skytrain system then you have no doubt passed through the Broadway-Commercial Skytrain hub. This node along the transport network is at the meeting of the Expo and Millennium Skytrain lines as well as 99 UBC B-line rapid buses that whisk passengers away to the University of British Columbia. What should be the most prominent and well-designed of the network is instead of glaring eye sore. While the newer Commercial Drive station is much closer to the transit village ideals, the outdated and dilapidated Broadway Expo Line station is downright scary. What exists is also a real missed opportunity for density right beside one of the region’s largest transit nodes.

Recently while combing through Translink’s plan to re-design the station, I came across some very promising plans for the creation of a true transit village and added density. The complete re-design of Broadway Station figures very prominently in this plan, most strikingly is the call for a complete replacement of the roof on the aging structure. Added to this are additional density within close proximity to the station and a complete overhaul of the pedestrian space along the back of the station facing 10th Avenue.

While the Translink report was published in 2006 and the renovation of the stations was included in the Provincial Government’s Transport Plan, it seems that the renovation itself is on the back burner. Recent transit fights regarding priorities such as the Broadway-UBC Skytrain line and expansion of rapid transit for Surrey and the south fraser area have clearly overshadowed most other plans. Only time will tell if it takes another 6 years for the construction of this badly needed transit improvement to take place.

View the full Translink report on the station HERE

Balanced Communities : Commercial space makes a comeback in Vancouver


It appears as though Vancouver has gotten over its near anaemic growth in new office space.  4 new projects promise to add enough commercial space to at least attempt to keep pace with new demand in the downtown core. What is certain is that Vancouver will have to develop several more projects if it is to begin to try to re-establish a balance between residential and commercial space that has been made unbalanced by the condo boom of the 1990’s.

Past conversions of such well known commercial architectural gems as the Duke Energy building and the BC Hydro building should never again be allowed to happen. While government intervention to promote public transit and higher density are examples of good things, conversions of these buildings have shown us the government mistakes. Keeping taxes significantly higher on commercial space has already added the soft market; going ahead with the conversions was almost a death blow to downtown office space. What they need to now do is lower these taxes and further encourage offices to locate downtown Vancouver and not out in some suburban office park.

With downtown office vacancy currently hovering around 3.7% there is not a growing push on to build new commercial towers. Almost all of the newly planned AAA office space in the Vancouver area appears to be headed for downtown. A cluster of new developments are being proposed to meet the growing demand for space. One can only hope that these new developments signal a future where downtown development is more balanced between residential and commercial interests. Before these new projects, Vancouver was at real danger of becoming one of the few North American cities with a reverse-commute out of downtown.

It’s an encouraging sign to see most of the new office space is going in around existing skytrain stations. While perhaps not most of the new development will take place downtown Vancouver it does serve much of the same purpose to have this development occurring at high density rapid transit stations complementing high density residential in those areas. There is a hungry and talented pool of young urban professionals in these condo buildings downtown who are craving jobs which are close to home. The addition of these buildings has the potential to make such newer downtown neighbourhoods as Coal Harbour and Yaletown much more complete communities where people do not drive to work.

Figure 4 from City of Vancouver clearly shows the Office building boom of the 70s and 80s followed by the Condo Boom that followed.

Pacific Northwest: Where Airport Rapid Transit is the rule, not the exception.

The new standard for world-class cities is for them to have efficient rapid transit to and from the airport. In North America especially, this has been so far difficult for most major cities to achieve. What were once top priority plans to expand rapid rail transit airports in cities across this continent, are now nothing more than long-term planning at best. What went wrong? Well a whole lot more than went right, from the financial collapse to cost overruns, bad planning and lack of funding. Let’s take a look at three cities in the Pacific North West where it has gone right instead.

Vancouver

The city built the $2 billion plus Canada Line to Vancouver International Airport to coincide with the 2010 Winter Olympics. At the time the rising cost of construction and ridership predictions which were considered way too generous caused a lot of backlash against this project. Usage has grown steadily from 83,000 in September 2009 to well over 110,000 in February 2011. The line carried a record of 228,190 people during the 2010 Olympics and is well on track to meet its 2021 ridership target of 142,000.

What went right here is that all levels of government came forward to recognize the true importance of connecting the Downtown Vancouver area with Canada’s second largest airport and Asian hub (YVR). People coming in and going out of the city now have a 25 minute ride into downtown that is reliable and efficient even in the worst rush-hour traffic. The rail line is even now sparking multitudes of pedestrian friendly and transit-orientated development along its route.

City Vancouver
Metro Population 2,659,623
Current Rapid Transit Network Skytrain – 3 lines, 47 stations, 69 km.
Daily Ridership 381,100
Airport Connection Since 2009
Future? 3 expansion lines by 2020

Expanded Skytrain Network 2020

 

Seattle

Years ago few would have predicted rapid transit in the Emerald city, let alone rapid transit connecting downtown and the airport. Expansions to Monorail and the building of light rail were shot down time and time again. Eventually cooler heads prevailed and today Seattle  is undergoing a light rail renaissance with 2 active lines and more than 5 other expansion projects in various stages of development. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is the regions largest, serving over 30 million passengers each year. With the ongoing traffic jams along Highway 5 it only made sense to give people an alternative to driving.

Ridership of 25,000 in a metropolitan area of over 4 million may seem like small potatoes. When you consider that Seattle was late to the game in building rail rapid transit and has only had it operational for a handful of years, it’s a good deal of progress. While the city may have a long way to go to catch transit friendly Vancouver in ridership numbers, Portland on the other hand may be within striking distance if the building of light rail continues at such a rate.

City Seattle
Metro Population 3,439,809
Current Rapid Transit Network Link Light Rail – 2 lines, 18 stations, 17miles (28km)
Daily Ridership 24,700
Airport Connection Since 2009
Future? 3 expansion lines by 2023

 

Portland

Out of the 3 biggest Northwest cities, Portland was the first to establish a direct link between downtown and its own airport (PDX). Portland has a light rail system called MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) which is similar to Seattle’s yet much more extensive and established.

City Portland
Metro Population 2,238,895
Current Rapid Transit Network MAX Light Rail – 4 lines, 85 stations, 52miles (84km)
Daily Ridership 121,300
Airport Connection Since 2001
Future? 3 expansion lines by 2023

Surrey breaks ground on new city hall building

The City of Surrey has just broken ground on its new $50 million dollar city hall building in the troubled Whalley area. The new landmark is located along 104th avenue and is adjacent to the nearly finished main branch of the Surrey Public Library. The new hall is part of a wider redevelopment of Whalley which is included within the city’s Build Surrey program. Mayor Watts is billing the area as the second downtown core of the Lower Mainland and with Surrey’s population closing in on 500,000 few can argue the potential.

For someone who grew up in the area and even went to school only blocks away from the current development site, I must say I am still in amazement. I once lived across the street in an apartment complex called Britsol Estates. The complex was so bad that kids under 15 had to be inside by 9pm and the locals boasted that the grouping of apartments had its own murder rate, which stood at 2 the year we lived there. I was in grade 3 at the time and the other local kids that I knew would spend their time breaking into cars instead of going to school.

A city the size of Surrey should have a vibrant and cosmopolitan downtown. The strategy of moving city hall and other civic buildings into the troubled Whalley area is a sound one. Renaming the streets and the area (Downtown Surrey) will go a long way to changing the areas feel and reputation. Get ready for the new Surrey.