Last week Jill Bennett in this Global News video story talked about the state of disrepair of the public sidewalk outside of Canada Place. It’s worth looking at the video which shows how shocking the existing conditions are.
The attention to detail for walking is fundamentally important to all cities. No matter who you are or where you live, the Metro Vancouver sidewalk is an extension of your public space, and it is equitable that sidewalk users receive the same level of treatment afforded to users of bike lanes and of roads. Everyone no matter their age or ability or level of accessibility should be able to travel easily and comfortably on walkable smooth surfaces, with drop down curbs at intersections, clean and readable. It just makes sense to provide people using the most sustainable way of travel the easiest and most effortless experience. This is no budget trade off instead of housing affordability or density, it is an essential part of accessibility and movement at the most basic level to support a growing population.
One thing that has been an utter fail in the last decade in the City of Vancouver has been the management of the pedestrian environment, the sidewalks, and the standard of maintenance of the walking environment. Even well respected urbanist Larry Beasley has pointed out that Vancouver’s pedestrian public realm needed to be cleaned and polished up, and garbage off the streets. Right now several parts of the city have dangerously cracked sidewalks and supporting public realm infrastructure that looks like nobody cares. Repairing sidewalks was even offered as a voted on potential “contribution” to the Denman west end neighbourhood.
Sidewalks and sidewalk repair are never an extra~it is part of the infrastructure of a well functioning city to maintain accessible and safe walking facilities. Pedestrians are supposedly the first priority in the City’s transportation plans. It’s time to invest in that.
Every Mayor likes to have their own stamp on things, and despite the fact that Greenways came out of an Urban Landscape Task Force of members of the public led by renown Landscape Architect Moura Quayle, greenways (and its budget) were squelched in favour of other new programming identifiable with the Vision council majority in 2008.
The creative Doug Smith Greenways Engineer had left his post in 2005 to undertake important work in the City Works Yards and then the Sustainability Office. It was under his guidance that “greenways” became synonymous with great street design.
These were actually streets where walking was the first priority. There was a network of 140 kilometers of streets that joined important destinations like services, schools and shopping that were strengthened by pedestrian public realm improvements.
You can see some of the work along 37th Avenue in the city, and also take a look at the map of greenways. Greenways were really “green streets” in that Doug Smith’s team explored innovative ways of creating infiltration bulges, baffled daylighted storm water, public art, fountains, and of making walking the first priority, followed by cycling. Vehicular use of these greenway streets was blocked or slowed by different means. The intent was to trial new ways of creating sustainable infrastructure that then could translate to other pedestrian and public space areas.
In the Greenways staff were several individuals whose job was to visit and walk every sidewalk and every street in Vancouver to rank the sidewalks needing repair work, and identify where new sidewalks needed to be place. Having them embedded with Engineering Greenways staff meant everyone had a real sense of “ground truthing” in how to create the best walking environments.
In a densifying city where streets are the outdoor living room, sidewalks are an important piece of societal connectivity.
Since the City is self insuring, the City has a Risk and Emergency Management Office which assesses claims from people that are hurt in the City’s public realm~and that does include damage caused by tripping, falling or getting hurt on City sidewalks.
The walkable public realm is something available to everyone, should be equitable and should be universally accessible. The investment needed to support the most sustainable way of moving needs to be valued and needs to be utilised. You can tell a lot about a place by how it serves its most vulnerable and its most disenfranchised. Walking on smooth continuous sidewalks is a basic human right. Let’s get back to basics and make it so everyone can.