Adpated from SFU City, July 2006:

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For years, commuter traffic had been shortcutting through the narrow streets of the West End to get to the Stanley Park Causeway. The City would even post a traffic cop at Chilco and Georgia to handle the merging traffic. But in 1973, the new TEAM Council headed by Mayor Art Phillips adopted an idea put forward by the West End Planning Team that had started work under the NPA: barricade the streets and convert asphalt to green space.
The next year, West of Denman saw the first traffic calming of its kind in North America:

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Notice how the greenery of Stanley Park seems to flow down the streets of the West End. A street system originally designed for the horse and carriage, with lanes at the rear, today functions well for one of the highest density communities in Canada.

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There had been a temporary traffic-calming experiment in Berkeley, California, in 1969. But when construction started on a complete system of diverters and miniparks to replace barricades on the lanes of the West End, Vancouver was leading the way.

There may have been some people surprisedWETC 6 when the City started to put in those ‘stupid barricades,’ but West Enders on the whole were happy – including the Mayor’s mother who, coincidentally, lived on Chilco Street.

When this diverter went in on Chilco (left), traffic volumes dropped from 10,000 cars per day to 1,000. Traffic flows also improved on Georgia since commuters weren’t delayed at Chilco.

Thanks to planner Lyn Ubell and traffic engineer Jack Lisman, the residential streets were restored to the people who lived on them.WETC 5 Lisman was influenced by “Traffic in Towns” – a 1963 British report by Colin Buchanan, who argued for a hierarchy of streets to serve many users, not just cars.  N.D. Lea President Brian Wallace also credits Gerald Sutton Brown, the pro-freeway City Manager, who in support said: “It’s time for new thinking.”

A change in Council delayed the next stage of traffic calming for a decade. But after a controversial referendum, miniparks and diverters were approved for East of Denman in 1981. (Many think it was done to deter street prostitution, but in fact Council had simply authorized some temporary installations to discourage cruising before the final project was to start.)

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Today, despite the fears and the close vote, the system has maintained the West End as a highly livable neighbourhood.  In one of the densest communities in Canada, there are roughly ten times as many pedestrians as moving vehicles on the residential streets. The car has become the alternative form of transportation.

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Comments

  1. Still far too many cars in the west end. Only if the vision is not cars first, but third after pedestrians and cyclists, will we achieve a desirable community. Parking fees are still far too low and road too car oriented. 50% of roads with zero cars ought to be the goal, in the west end! Kits or other densely populated areas.

  2. Thanks for mentioning Gerald Sutton Brown. He had wanted to reduce traffic that was using the West End as a thruway to the North Shore via Stanley Park by creating a Third Crossing that would be funded by federal grants for a freeway that would draw traffic away from the West End. He thought it would also get commuters off Vancouver arterials avoiding what we have today where all of our arterials are freeways. When the freeway died in 1969(not 1973) by the provincial and federal government withdrawing funds and a unanimous vote of Council(NPA, COPE and TEAM, yes TEAM voted for a freeway) in favour of the most expensive freeway option a tunnel under the downtown and a commitment not to pay anything toward it, Sutton Brown looked for alternatives. He commissioned a Report just months after the freeway vote on how to improve quality of life in the West End, a neighbourhood he had created. A 1970 study showing that 50% of West End residents did not own a car and the number one concern was noise was followed by a City 1971 Program for the West End Study recommending there be ‘green spots and breathing spaces’ throughout the neighbourhood. Another Sutton Brown commissioned Report in late 1971 recommended ‘projects to reduce automobiles’, ‘local streets closed off using cul-de-sacs’ and ‘within 18 months one local street in the West End be closed’. This was followed by two more Reports in 1972, Spaces into Places and especially the West End Policy Guidelines approved by Mayor Tom Campbell’s Council which chose to close Chilco Street as the first of many projects to ‘divert local traffic from residential streets to collector streets’. A few months later TEAM was elected, Sutton Brown was fired but the Chilco closure and the other projects that were already planned were implemented.

  3. Additional comment. TEAM reduced the Sutton Brown plan from 8 projects to 5 and only west of Denman. They were very sensitive to public opinion and because of resident protests in May 1975 TEAM voted to ‘not proceed with traffic barriers east of Denman Street’. TEAM implemented only a portion of the Campbell/Sutton Brown plan and chose not to implement any of their own projects. The traffic calming projects that most of us think of east of Denman would have to wait till the 1980s when an active citizen named Gordon Price founded the Concerned Residents of the West End CROWE and mobilized political support to finally make them happen.

  4. Of course it wasn’t ’til 2003 that Council agreed that the road-ends and diverters need not apply to cyclists. Curb cuts allowed cyclists to circulate as if the old grid still existed. The Chilco green/cycle way was approved as well. Hopefully this was a good decision, and little harm was caused pedestrians – haven’t heard otherwise.

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