Brooklyn has been on my list of places to go for a few years now as I have been reading and hearing lots of interesting things about its renaissance.  

Link: Brooklyn 101

I was a bit jealous when I recently learned my friend Tom Tittemore (architect and public art advocate) was heading to Brooklyn so I told him to take lots of photos and perhaps think about doing guest blog.  

And he did....
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Postcards from Tom

I recently enjoyed my fifth visit to New York City, and planned a day visit to Brooklyn as part of my ambitious itinerary.  This Borough of NYC was a complete mystery to me, although walking across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time on New Year’s Day in 2015 provided some initial, fleeting glimpses.  Coney Island, Carol King and the Brooklyn Dodgers were some of the cultural references I had accumulated over the years relative to this renowned community.

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Joined by my wife Carol, and dear friends Terry and Denise from Kitchener, I embarked on the ‘F’ subway mid-morning from the Rockefeller Station in Midtown Manhattan. Upon leaving the underground section beneath the East River, the ‘F’ line continued on an elevated platform for the better part of an hour, offering wonderful vistas of Brooklyn until we reached the end terminal at Coney Island.

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The Atlantic Ocean, Brighton Beach, protruding wharves, the Boardwalk, embellished storefronts and rectangular designated ride ‘precincts’ define the ‘layered’ parti of this iconic midway.  I took a ride on the ‘Cyclone’, constructed in the late 1920s and a true Mecca for rollercoaster enthusiasts.  Enjoying the front seat solo, my smile changed quickly to a grimace once the G forces kicked in on the first vertical plunge.  Exhilarating!!

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My return destination on the ‘F’ Line took us through the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, where I discovered Atlantic Avenue, an older distant cousin of 9th Avenue in Inglewood.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to explore nearby Brooklyn Heights Brownstone residential neighborhoods, nor the famed Brooklyn Museum.  Next time …

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Atlantic Avenue’s western end merges gracefully into the promenade of the Brooklyn Bridge Park, an inspiring redevelopment of the former Brooklyn dockyards.  A number of the former piers have been repurposed into popular recreation zones. Pier 3 is a soccer pitch and Pier 5 accommodates a number of short basketball courts.  Along the entire Parkway, tremendous vistas of lower Manhattan are presented, ending, of course, at the Brooklyn Bridge.

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My second trek across the Bridge was every bit as memorable as the first.  Crowded, a bit dangerous with cyclist sharing the route – a complete New York experience.

The north-east ‘F’ Line concludes at the Jamaica Station in Queens.  Guess where I’m going next time I visit The Big Apple!

Lessons Learned

  1. The overall subway experience highlighted by the Rockefeller Centre station, the panoramic, above grade trip through Brooklyn itself, the middle / Coney Island Station, and the end / Grand Central Station made me think Calgary should aspire to having a light rail transit system with such iconic and memorable stations that invite people to simply travel the system for its own sake and explore the city.
  2. The development of Calgary’s Bow River promenade has the same basis as the Brooklyn Bridge Park, albeit on a significantly reduced scale: meandering beside a significant river, views to prominent and in most cases good architecture, places for rest and people watching, natural landscaping, higher density housing, complimentary pedestrian and cycling lanes, local history made it a very pleasant experience. 
  3. Brooklyn Bridge reminded me that sometimes, you need to invest in unique and iconic artifacts to celebrate the place where you live and make the basic needs of walking – memorable!

Tom Tittemore

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Now I'm really jealous...

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I'd love to flaneur DUMBO, short for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass” which has become Brooklyn's most expensive neighborhood, as well as New York City's fourth-richest community overall owing to its large concentration of technology startups, its close proximity to Manhattan and its large number of former industrial buildings that have been converted into spacious luxury residential lofts.

The neighborhood currently serves as the corporate headquarters for e-commerce retailer Etsy, home furnishing store West Elm and Bjarke Ingles Group (BIG) architects who just happen to be the architects of Calgary’s newest signature building Telus Sky. 

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The Brooklyn Bridge is not only an architectural/engineering gem, it is a popular commuter route with 10,000 pedestrians and 3,500 cyclists on weekdays and this total can swell to 30,000+ on weekends in the summer. It is often called the “Times Square In the Sky” because it is such a popular public space like Times Square. 

It is 1825m long or about 14 times the length of Calgary’s Peace Bridge.   This is on my "bucket list."

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I would also like to check out the Brooklyn Bridge Park to see how it compares to other river parks I have experienced in other cities from Hong Kong to Frankfurt, from Berlin to Calgary. 

And I love wandering residential urban streets, so Brooklyn Height's brownstones will be at the top of my list. 

Unlike Tom, when I go to Brooklyn it will be for at least a week, not a day. 

If you like this blog, you will like these links:

Chicago's Gold Coast: Stairways To Heaven

A FREE trip to NYC (Almost)

River Cruising in Chicago


On-It: Calgary Regional Partnership's Legacy

When I first heard (October 2016) that the Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP) had negotiated an agreement with SOUTHLAND Transportation Ltd and several communities south of Calgary to pilot a commuter transit service, I immediately thought, “wow this is forward thinking.” 

As a member of the advisory board for the Richard Parker Professorship in Metropolitan Growth and Change, I am keenly aware of the importance of regional transit as part of any long-term strategic tourism and economic development initiatives.  Colleen Shepherd, the CRP’s Executive Director also sits on the advisory board and we have had numerous discussions about CRP’s leadership role in managing the growth of the Calgary region from a  different perspectives.

With much fanfare Colleen Shepherd (brown jacket) and others launched On-It Regional Transit in October 2016. 

With much fanfare Colleen Shepherd (brown jacket) and others launched On-It Regional Transit in October 2016. 

Love Pilot Projects

I am a big fan of pilot projects vs. the “paralysis of analysis” that often happens in the public sector.  You can do numerous market studies, look at “best practices” in other cities and survey the public about what they want (or rather what they think they want) but eventually you have to test your vision in the real world. 

To me, On-It’s two-year pilot was an appropriate timeframe to understand the demand, make adjustments, re-test the market and then make a decision regarding the current demand for a niche transit service for our region’s southern communities.

I was also pleased Southland Transportation was part of the On-It partnership, as they would bring a different “value for money” perspective to the pilot from the municipalities.  

I also thought the CPR was wise to launch On-It with a comprehensive website, an on-line ticketing reservation system and luxury coaches giving the pilot every opportunity to succeed. 

But wait, the CRP wasn’t done yet.

Their entrepreneurial and opportunistic spirit resulted in them teaming up with Parks Canada, and the towns of Banff, Canmore and Cochrane to offer a Calgary/Banff weekend transit service last summer.   

The Calgary/Banff service turned out to be wildly successful (in part due to Canada 150’s free park admission) with sold out buses starting in the second week of operation and by the end of the summer several buses were sold out each day.

Ettore Iannacito, Regional Transit Program Manager, Calgary Regional Partnership was the master-mind behind On-It.

Ettore Iannacito, Regional Transit Program Manager, Calgary Regional Partnership was the master-mind behind On-It.

Private Sector now in the driver’s seat

I was not surprised to learn the voluntary Calgary Regional Partnership made up of 11 municipalities in the Calgary region is winding down its operations, as it has been known for a while, that the Provincial Government was creating something called the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB). What we didn’t know was what its mandate would be. 

Turns out the CMRB will take on most - but not all - of the CRP’s roles and responsibilities for growth management in the Calgary region.

One of the responsibilities the new CMRB isn’t mandated to take on is regional transit.  Rather than let the On-It pilot and all of taxpayers investments just disappear, Shepherd worked with her Board and the SOUTHLAND Transportation executives, to transition ownership of the On-It brand, operations, research and collateral materials to SOUTHLAND Transportation Ltd.

SOUTHLAND has agreed to:

  • Merge the On-It south leg pilot into its own commuter service which will lead to some minor modifications.
  • Negotiate with Parks Canada, Banff and Canmore to operate a Calgary/Banff service again this summer and perhaps even expand it to other months. (If I were a betting man, my money would be on YES there will be Calgary/Banff weekend bus this summer.)
  • Evaluate with Strathmore and Chestermere Council's the option to pilot a commuter service for those two communities.

In addition, SOUTHLAND will also be rebranding its direct to downtown Calgary service from Cochrane and Okotoks with the On-It brand and look for ways to merge all of its commuter services into a bigger and better integrated transit system for the Calgary Region.

People all ages and backgrounds used On-It to get to Banff in the summer of 2017.  

People all ages and backgrounds used On-It to get to Banff in the summer of 2017.  

Does Calgary need regional transit?

Calgary is unique in that it doesn’t have large satellite cities. In Calgary, 89% of the region’s 1.4 million people live within the City of Calgary.  The City of Vancouver represents only 26% of its regional population, City of Toronto 51% and the cities of Edmonton and Ottawa come in at 71% each.

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The Calgary region has been the fastest growing metropolitan area in Canada for many years.

However, since 2011 Cochrane has had a population increased of 47% since 2011, Airdrie, 42% and Chestermere 34% means some of our satellite cities are growing significantly faster than the City of Calgary’s 13%.

The need for regional growth management is increasing every year, so now is the perfect time to be developing innovative projects like On-It.

In some way Calgary’s LRT system functions like a regional transit system bringing people into the city from suburban communities which would be independent cities in many metropolitan areas. 

It should be noted that both of the On-It pilot programs were integrated with Calgary Transit. The south pilot’s terminus in Calgary was the Somerset-Bridlewood LRT station so passengers could access both the LRT and connecting buses. Similarly the Calgary/Banff service linked into Calgary’s LRT system at both the Crowfoot and Somerset-Bridlewood stations.

Having a regional transit system is critical to the recruitment of major corporation to locate in Calgary.  Amazon’s HQ2 bid document specifically requested detailed information on the applicant’s regional transit system as they recognized their employees would want a diversity of living options from urban to suburban, from small town to rural.

Creating a regional transit system is about enhancing the quality of life for everyone living in the Calgary region.  At 626,000 people Calgary was an early adopter of LRT, why not regional transit at 1.4 million.   

Mike was just one of the thousands of happy users who tweet out about how great it was to have weekend transit service to Banff and Canmore from Calgary.  

Mike was just one of the thousands of happy users who tweet out about how great it was to have weekend transit service to Banff and Canmore from Calgary.  

Last Word

While I am sad to learn the Calgary Regional Partnership will be no more, I can’t think of a more appropriate legacy for the 13-year voluntary partnership than the continuation of the “0n-It” brand as a memory of their forward thinking.

It will also be interesting to see how SOUTHLAND Transportation capitalizes on this opportunity to expand its role as a transportation leader in the Calgary Region.

It would be amazing if the private sector, rather than government were to successfully manage the next phase in development of a regional transit system for Calgary. 

If you like this blog, these links will interest you: 

Calgary/Banff Transit: It is about time!

Calgary Regional Transit: On-It Love In!

On-It Canada 150 Calgary/Banff Weekend Transit