I grabbed this shot with my phone last night, hoping to capture the look of the new cylindrical lights that line Granville Street:

This image doesn’t do the job – but what made me pause was the busker in the middle of the street beginning to build a crowd.  In the last few days I’ve seen street performers surrounded by audiences of hundreds, filling up what will be, after the Olympics, the roadway for the return of the trolleys.

On second thought, is that a good idea?  I mean, bringing transit back to Granville Street?

My first thought – when I was on City Council, deciding on a process for the redesign of the mall – was yup.  In fact, I moved a motion that insisted there could be no loss of transit efficiency, whatever the design.  Many downtown business-people wanted a return of car traffic; others suggested a pedestrian-only zone.  What you see now is the compromise.

There’s certainly a justifiable argument to keep an exclusive transit right-of-way on Granville, most importantly to separate the buses and trolleys from the other congested arterials in order to prevent delays that ripple though the entire transit network.  It’s also easier to transfer from one bus route to another, and from the Expo and Canada Line stations.

But we lose, in turn, the ambience of a pedestrian-only street – one filled with cafes running down the centre, like Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, or used as an outdoor gallery like the 700-block Granville at the moment, or as impromptu performance space, as we’ll see throughout the Olympics.

And, in truth, the transit system seems to be functioning fairly effectively on Seymour and Howe Streets – something I presume will continue when the 800-block is closed off on weekends in the entertainment district. 

So I’m ambivalent about the decision we made to return Granville Mall to the old pattern, neither one thing nor the other.  Especially since post-Motordom cities are increasingly creating ped-only streets, whether in New York (Times Square) or Geneva (where City Council just voted to close 200 streets to cars).

And I’m ambivalent too about the new light standards.  They’ll be stunning when coming over the Granville Bridge, creating a corridor of white.  Close-up?  I’m not so sure.  It would be so cool if they changed colour and ‘performed’ electronically, like the visual equivalent of dancing waters. 

Or would that just be tacky?

UPDATE: I’m off for a conference in the next few days – so I leave it to you readers to debate the future of Granville in the comments section.

Comments

  1. The key to making bus lanes work properly is to prevent buses from being delayed by cars turning right. One way to approach this is to make it illegal for cars to delay buses in the bus lane and enforce it by mounting cameras on the buses. The cameras can also be used to catch cars travelling in the bus lane.

  2. I used to think that keeping Granville for buses only was essential. But I no longer work for Translink, and my mind has been broadened by the SFU City Program! What would Jan Gehl do? I also administer a flickr group called “Places Without Cars” which has collected pictures of streets and squares all over the world where towns and cities keep the cars out. This idea is long overdue here.

  3. Whether or not the busses should return to Granville, I’m not sure. The street has certainly seen a boost in activity over the past couple years, so it’s not in the same state as when the decision was made, and it is quite nice to be able to stroll down the traffic-less sections….

    When they began installing the new light fixtures I was excited. Now that the install is nearly finished, I find the them a little overwhelming. If they were staggered or clustered, it might add to the eclectic atmosphere, where this way, the regular repetition partially obstructs the view of the facades/neon/signage further down the street.

    In the end, I still would rather have them than have none.

  4. I walk down Granville St. every day to and from the Canada Line station and am completely in love with the pedestrian street I now have and am quite agitated that I will lose it after the Olympics.

    It’s working beautifully as a pedestrian street without any active programming – imagine if it was programmed! If cafes were encouraged to spill out, vending stalls added, food trucks (ala Portland) added, buskers encouraged, etc.

    The main point for me is – if we go to the expense and hassle of putting the transit back on Granville it will be very very very difficult to ever move it off again. Maybe there is a chance to convince everyone to leave things as they are now (i.e. no-change is easier than change).

    Once the buses go back on, all this talk of a pedestrian street goes from being a real possibility to a remote philosophical discussion at best…. which makes me want to organize some kind of public uprising to claim this pedestrian space permanently!

  5. Keep Granville as a pedestrian street. What wouldn’t work in the past will work now with more than 100,000 residents within an easy walk, and a totally different mix of pedestrian oriented businesses lining the way. Take the bold step.

  6. I’m going to take an unpopular stance here and suggest that cars be allowed along the length of Granville st.
    Keep the buses on Howe and Seymour. The cars are to help the businesses during the day only. In the evenings and weekends Granville would be closed to all traffic and could be a pedestrian mall, it seems like an easy compromise that would keep everyone happy except maybe Translink. But they could save a fair amount of money by not having to rewire Granville St. Keeping the buses off Granville will also avoid alot of rerouting for closures due to events along the street.

  7. I like the new light columns, but agree with you on the colour – I was expecting them to change colour. Not a “show” necessarily, but the ability to change them by event, holiday, or just for fun would help soften the white, which I feel is a little harsh and almost antiseptic…too polished for what is still a relaxed/gritty street.

  8. Sorry, Joe. There only a handful of businesses along Granville that benefit from car traffic, even during the week. Most of the traffic that would take Granville would be just passing through.

    I vote for a pedestrian only street. The Strøget in Copenhagen is one of the busiest commercial streets and packed with people 7 days a week.

  9. Oh just to add… I’m in favour of the street remaining a pedestrian only one since it’s working suprisingly well. The entertainment district is working better as well now that the street is closed further south at night. Just about every world class city has a pedestrian mall … If Vancouver wants to join these ranks we should keep Granville car/transit free.

  10. The tops of the light pipes at the intersections WILL change colour – or so says the City’s information on the project.
    Apparently the longest light pipes – on the 800 block between Georgia & Robson won’t be installed until after the Olympics.

  11. If the question is “should Granville be a pedestrian street?” it’s easy to say yes.

    The other part of the question is “To what degree does the City value transit riders as deserving both (a) protection from car congestion and (b) a front-door welcome into the city and (c) convenient opportunities to connect between bus and rail in a place that feels civilised and humane?”

    Seymour and Howe are designed as one-way boulevards for flushing car traffic. Such couplets are ill-suited for transit because (a) the two directions of service are two blocks apart, so a place that’s close to one may not be close to the other and (b) the streets are optimised for cars, not buses.

    Coherent CBD planning looks at the entire spectrum of alternatives within a street grid and makes a choice that reflects how important transit is to the life of the city. My home town, Portland, did this in 1979. Minneapolis did it recently:

    http://www.humantransit.org/2009/11/minneapolis-unlocking-downtown-with-transit-malls.html

    What I see in downtown Vancouver is street designs that seem to say: “Yes, we should help the buses move, as long as we don’t disrupt car traffic too much.” Running some of Vancouver’s most important bus lines on the car-first boulevards of Seymour-Howe would continue to support that narrative.

  12. I am looking forward to seeing the buses back on Granville St where they belong. It will be much easier to transfer to SkyTrain at Vancouver City Centre, Granville, and Waterfront. Most of the buses will be clean, quiet electric trolleys that won’t impede the pedestrian flow much.

    Now if the city could only keep the sidewalks clean. Before it was even finished the sidewalks were coated in discarded gum. Gross!

  13. We already have a pedestrian-only mall: it’s called Pacific Centre. Do people really need more space in which to wander around aimlessly? And what’s all this programming that everyone is talking about? Trees with tacky lanterns and people riding unicycles? We want to close off a major artery for this? Please. Bring back the busses (even the cars) for people who have more important things to do with their time.

  14. I guess Jarret has well synthesized the problem:

    In some European city, they have mixed Transit/Pedestrian traffic, and this can work reasonably well: but most of the problem of the Granvillle Mall still lie in the lack of maintenance of he depressingly low quality of the pavement (as mentioned above)

    Also, the location of the street furniture enforce the transit/pedestrian separation (reducing the sense of space for the pedestrian once bus will “take possession” of the street) may be an opposite approach could have work better(see a picture example here
    http://voony.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/grenoble-tramway.jpg).

  15. All of Granville should be a pedestrian street.

    While I thought the cars parked on the sidewalks was a good idea, the just seem really out of place. They are higher up on the sidewalks than they would have been on the road and really seem to dominate the streetscape. I’ve heard them call elephants. They seem to be kind of on stage or placed on a pedestal. While this arrangement works in Europe quite well where cars are smaller. Large North American cars are just too large.

    One solution for the buses on Howe and Seymour would be to have the bus lane in the second lane over from the curb then have the stops bulged out just past the intersections. The curb lane would then become a right turn only lane and the buses would not get stuck behind right turning vehicles.

  16. Granville Street should be kept as a pedestrian zone and programmed to encourage a sense of community. Granville has been getting increasingly grubby. Fixing the pavement, introducing some cafes with outdoor seating so forth would be a boon for a street that is heading the wrong way.

  17. Council has finally decided to get serious about cycling downtown. Bikes are far less disruptive to pedestrian street life if properly integrated, and their use increases downtown, they will only add more customers to businesses, far more than cars, so lets make Granville a bike/pedestrian street. One of the continuing connundrums about Vancouver urbanism is centrifugal forces of recreational energy to the seawall. If in addition to re-imagining Granville as a pedestrian/bike street, we connected it to the seawall at both ends, we would have the possibility of channeling that energy back through the centre. This involves a waterfront hub at the north end of Granville that not only incorporates the Seabus, two Skytrain lines and the WestCoast Express, but makes a bike/pedestrian link from Coal Harbour to Crab Park, and Granville Street. At the south end, consider tearing up part or all of the central ramp of the Granville Bridge (they are already planning on removing the loops), provide a narrower (6m-8m) bike/pedestrian bridge that connects to a bike/pedestrian route on the centre of the Granville Bridge to 7th Avenue and the future Arbutus Corridor. Removing this centre section returns the possibility of the Cecil and Continental hotels getting front door access off Granville Street, while connecting down to Pacific Boulevard, Beach Avenue and the Seawall. It also daylights a large amount of City owned property both to the north and south of Pacific Boulevard. Development of this property pays for a lot including creating a sorely needed anchor at this end of Granville (how about locating a new Vancouver Art Gallery here- better connections to Emily Carr and South Granville galleries). As for transit, the reduced bus fleet in the aftermath of the Canada line could be reimagined as a loop that includes Seymour, Cordova and Howe.

  18. As a long-time backer of having the buses on the mall, and the cars not, I’m now not as convinced. The pedestrian only phase that the 600, 700 and 800 blocks are in is really informative as it’s demonstrating that such a solution might just work, despite having been nay-sayed over and over again. But it would have to be no cars, no buses and no bicycles. Unfortunately bicycles are among the most unpredictable vehicles out there and they just don’t fit within a relaxed pedestrian environment. Of course the City (and Police) would have to get serious about making the parallel streets work for buses by marking the lanes well, getting the right-turners out of the way, limiting construction disruptions (a plague on Seymour), and enforcing the rules. That said, having the buses return is hardly a disastrous outcome and it certainly works a lot better for the transit rider as Jarrett eloquently points out.

    What has been a classic Vancouver missed opportunity is the design and quality (lack thereof) of the redesign materials. Do we really need more grey sidewalks highlighted with more grey (dark basalt strips)? And ice-cold sidewalk furniture? It’s interesting that most public processes give the public a choice of options but for Granville this cold modernism was all that was offered.

    The (literal) bright spot is the lighting, especially the street lights, as it is clear and white, in stark contrast to the high-pressure sodium gloom and glare of old. The decorative tubes are okay, but already seem to have maintenance issues.

  19. Bikes work fine on pedestrian streets in Europe. It will just take a bit of time for peds and bikes to get used to it. Access to VCC and Granville Stations is already quite easy from Seymour Street. It is possible from Howe through Pacific Centre Mall. This could be improved through a redesign and some signage. Another possibility is to create an entrance to the mall and Vancouver City station from Robson Square. Robson Square was actually designed to be a rapid transit station entrance.

  20. If bikes are segregated within a designated area, say a central boulevard, and with physical elements that make pedestrian and cyclist alike aware of the boundaries I think the two can get along fine. What disturbs me about all the work and money that has gone into the Granville Street redesign, there is this undercurrent that we have to make this street more sophisticated than the obviously outmoded ’70s Minneapolis-like design that was there, something more like New York- a really sophisticated city. However, as we have seen in New York, with a lot less money and lot more imagination, they are doing something on Broadway that is closer to what I think we should be doing to Granville.

    Also, we need to look at Granville in a multivalent way. It is an entertainment and retail district that good benefit from the better accessibilty that being on a bike route would confer. The lightheatedness of cycling would also temper the aggressive character that car access contribute to now. It can also be be a bike commuter street especially if we keep the buses where they are now. Compared to the north end of the Burrard Bridge where a cyclist is faced with going up a fairly steep hill shared with traffic and buses, or detour over to Hornby. The north end of the Granville Bridge at Drake is fairly level and I think as a pedestrian/cycling street would attract a wider range of potential cyclists. The reason the Granville Bridge hasn’t been used by cyclists is partly because of inferior desire lines on the south side, which can eventually be overcome with good connections to 7th Avenue and a future Arbutus Corridor bikeway. Also, the on and off ramps of the Granville Bridge are very treacherous for both pedestrians and cyclists, also something that can be overcome by designating the centre lanes of this underused bridge for them.

    What concerns me most is the fact that the Granville Street Loops study is due to be approved by Council in March. While this initiative has many positve aspects, it really doesn’t seriously address the connection of Granville Street to Pacific, Beach Avenue and the Seawall, and that would be a lost opportunity.

  21. I think the trolleys should return to Granville, and the Canada Line contractor should be required to replace the boulevard trees with new ones of similar size. We paid them enough billions that they can afford to go a bit larger than some $25 sapling from Art Knapps.

  22. Pacific Centre is not a pedestrian street. It’s a mall. Let’s be serious.

    Pedestrian streets: http://www.flickr.com/photos/klausnahr/1499712263/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/musaeum/367079098/in/pool-design_of_cities
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevincappis/2759369720/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/28549294@N05/3173667898/

    A transit mall is also a very different beast. With buses running down the road it means two things:
    1) as a pedestrian you stay confined to the sidewalk since you don’t want to have to pay attention to avoiding buses,
    2) because the roadway is required by vehicles occassionally, you can’t put anything there (seating, cafe, art, fountains, vendors). So it essentially operates as just a less busy street – from a space allocation point of view pedestrians don’t see any benefit, This is a mediocre compromise.

    State St. in Madison, WI is a great example – it’s desperately trying to be a pedestrian place but it’s got transit and cabs on it. So it’s actually just a less-busy normal street. Sitting in a cafe patio on the sidewalk while buses roar by is not the experience I’m looking for. (Trolley buses are better but still not part of a pedestrian experience.) http://www.flickr.com/photos/85625337@N00/330745323/

    I think the City should delay putting transit back on Granville while we all give it a good second thought (and email Council our thoughts).

  23. How about just trying it?
    Do an experiment.
    Establish criteria beforehand so that a considered judgment is possible.

    Yes there is disruption in several respects but it seems to me that so many aspects of walkable urbanism benefit from trying stuff which are fairly debatable; and if doesn’t work, reverse course.

  24. What am I missing here? Trolley buses usually use one lane (the one that has wire over it). Surely Granville was formerly at least four lanes with sidewalks. You’re saying giving each sidewalk another whole lane isn’t enough?

    The whole trend here is pretty well illustrated by the idea that bicycles are just as disruptive to pedestrians as buses. Further down this road we find bans on skateboards, rollerskates, and possibly even baby carriages.

    In reality, of course, buses are driven by professional drivers and seldom wander far from their wires, making them a lot more pedestrian friendly than cars, and bicyclists, excepting the unpleasant minority, are closer to pedestrians than buses.

    After all, it’s not like anyone is talking about running diesel buses down the road, are they?

  25. I’ll tell you, you are still lucky to have such a good system in place. I’ve been to devoping countries and their transit systems are unbearable and dangerous. Some busses never make a stop for the passengers, so you have to run and jump on and off!

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