And to complete my trip chronicle here, I give you...Vancouver.
And wow, what a town! The sheer concentration of such high densities is astounding, especially when you realize Vancouver's population is less than 600,000 (the metro area is over 2,000,000, but the density is still pretty crazy). I guess what's astounding is how Vancouver maintains a pretty consistent level of really high density over a fairly large area - even New York City and San Francisco, though overall denser, tend to concentrate their highest densities in certain neighborhoods.
Vancouver's place as a multi-cultural city shouldn't be underestimated. As demonstrated by the large number of cargo ships in the bay, Vancouver's port is a bustling place, which makes sense: if you're shipping stuff from Asia to Canada, where else would you have a more ideal port? This probably also has something to do with the large number of Asians (and those of Asian decent) I saw in Vancouver, just as it did in San Francisco and Seattle.
The sheer number of parks on the Downtown peninsula is pretty crazy as well. In addition to the huge Stanley Park (which you likely saw in those aerial shots of Vancouver if you were watching the Olympics), the entire waterfront on both sides of downtown is essentially one large park, punctuated by the occasional very attractive park reaching in from the waterfront. Then there was the occasional park or square within the urbanized area...and that's just Downtown. I'm not even counting all those big parks in south Vancouver.
And while I'm on the subject of open space, can I just mention how awesome it is that the waterfront path is broken down between pedestrians and cyclists? And it's marked very clearly, so there's little confusion where people belong. This was particularly helpful around the tip of the peninsula within Stanley Park, where there's narrow space to work with and a lot of people, so keeping such a rigid framework really allowed the traffic to flow well. Bicyclists can try to share the road with cars, but anyone who's walked around UNM knows they don't mix well with pedestrians. What isn't this model more frequently adopted? Are we afraid that delegating sidewalk space breeds resentment?
Now when it comes to mass transit, Vancouver's big player is SkyTrain, their subway/elevated rapid transit system. Jarrett at Human Transit has often raved around SkyTrain - it's an automated (meaning driverless) rapid transit system, which Jarrett describes as like those "that shuttle between airport terminals. SkyTrain is the same principle, at a citywide scale." In that post I just linked to, Jarrett goes into detail about the benefits of driverless transit systems, so what I'll add here is that the lack of a human being driving the vehicle went completely unnoticed. The operation was so smooth that the question of who's in control never crossed my mind. SkyTrain is really a terrific system, though beyond it's age, the fact that it's driverless, and the city it's set in, there didn't seem to be anything particularly extraordinary about it compared to other metro systems. I feel like the truly extraordinary elements about it are those behind the scenes; those we don't necessarily notice just by riding it.
Then there's the bus network, which is lovely. Although I only got on one bus line - the 99, which connects the SkyTrain system to the University of British Columbia campus. This is a limited bus line which uses articulated buses, much like our Rapid Ride system. Though the 99 didn't run on electricity, many Vancouver buses do.
Now, something I noticed about the 99 line was their interesting boarding system. This sign explains it well:
This is a very popular line, and a LOT of people get on these buses. What this boarding system does for the time is nothing short of a god-send - it combines quick boarding without investing too much money into infrastructure, by which I mean the fare machines, of which I saw none - tickets could be acquired from SkyTrain or any other bus, so anyone transferring is already set. It's an honor system, which means once in a blue moon someone will come by to check if you paid your fare. It's so efficient, I think ABQ Ride should seriously consider it for Rapid Ride. Currently, there are two things that really hold up the speed for Rapid Ride buses - one is getting stuck in traffic, which would require dedicated lanes to get around, which are a major infrastructural investment in this town. The second is loading. This could go a long way towards solving that second issue...
I hope you enjoyed these last few posts - I know I did!