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.

Photo by Zino Bang on Pexels.com





  1. How about some politician leading a campaign to ensure every street has a sidewalk.

    Repairing existing sidewalks is important- but making sidewalks exist on all streets is even more important.

    Who is tracking “missing sidewalks”? Does anyone in any Metro municipality have that map?

  2. One place that needs special attention is in front of The Landing where Water Street dies into Cordova. This place is usually busy with pedestrians, super touristy and a terrible and unwelcoming entry to Gastown. Cordova is super wide at this point and Water could be tweaked to give some more room to the sidewalk which is pathetically narrow. Actually Water just needs to be closed to MV traffic and the problem would largely be solved.

    Cordova is 5 or 6 lanes wide with only light MV traffic. This whole section of Cordova needs a serious rethink.

  3. A problem with sidewalk maintenance vs roads is that asphalt is a lot cheaper than concrete. Another problem is an unfortunate urban design taste for special pavers for plazas and sidewalks, which all must set perfectly to forestall inevitable seepage, erosion, and buckling. Most aren’t. Lastly, pedestrians travel at slower speeds so pavement failures are usually less catastrophic than road pavement failures at much higher speeds. At present it all adds up to high and expensive maintenance at lower city priority.

    NYC reduces these problems by placing liens on properties whose sidewalks aren’t up to snuff. Deadbeats who don’t sort out the sidewalks along their property frontage can’t sell until they do. This despite the fact that the city still owns the sidewalks. This might help to a degree. Get a lawyer on it.

    1. This raises an important point especially with regard to all the new buildings going up downtown and elsewhere. Just because the sidewalk is city owned land doesn’t mean the developer/building owner isn’t the cause of the damage. Underground structures are often built right to the property line and the back-filling on city property settles in the years after construction. This leaves an abrupt bump in the sidewalk where city property transitions to private and it is often a big hazard. Pay attention and you see it all over the place.

      All new buildings should be required to keep a deposit with the city for five years after construction to deal with this almost inevitable occurrence. You get your deposit back if the city deems the bump to be inconsequential. After five years it is unlikely to settle more.

  4. Almost as many people walk the laneway behind our house as do in front. It’s actually less buckled than the sidewalk; thanks to those crazy flowering cherry trees and their massive roots. There are asphalt patches all over. Amusing for kids on trikes to ride up and down.

    But, our laneway, like most, is littered with broken glass. Rubbish of any kind is offensive, but broken glass is the worst. I swept up our entire laneway block of glass just a few weeks ago and there is already more. How about a fine for property owners whose laneway is not cleaned of debris – just like snow removal.

    Now that laneway mini me’s are sprouting everywhere, there’s even more reason to respect this real estate. People walk and cycle these lanes. Thanks to recycling bins, glass is being broken more and more. Not good for this great city. What do other cities do in the lanes where street sweepers do not go? Let’s respect this space.

  5. Here is Jane Jacobs, speaking of the attitude of a Garden City planner: “the complete physical environment of a community and all the arrangements that comprise it must be in the total, absolute and unchallenged control of the project’s architects.” She remarks, “These were always primarily architectural design cults . . . trying to create a visual order in cities except by substituting the order of art for the very different order of life.”

    “Landmarks,” Jacobs says, “emphasize (and also dignify) the diversity of cities; they do this by calling attention to the fact that they are different from their neighbours, and important because they are different. . . . The distinctiveness of a landmark depends considerably on the reciprocity between the landmark and its neighbors. . . . Sometimes attempts are made to give a building landmark quality simply by making it bigger than its neighbours, or by turning it out with stylistic differences. . . . it tries to tell us that what is important in the order of cities are mere differences in size or outward dress.” She argues that one of the key functions of landmarks is to “state explicitly and visually that a place is important which is in truth functionally important. Centres of activity, where the paths of many people come together in concentrated fashion, are important places economically and socially.”

    Harbour Centre already has a landmark which signals the functional and significance of the station as a crossroads. This shard (which looks to me like the Dark Crystal dropped carelessly from space) overshadows the station. As comments suggesting that it will blend in imply, its design and function have nothing to do with why that location is important.

    It has another, more pedestrian flaw. The God’s eye sketches tell the story. Where is the ground-level experience of the man on the street? When it comes down to it, that’s what matters most – yet so often, that is what is considered last. Brendan Dawe is right to ask whether people will crane their necks upwards. But if they keep their gaze at street level, it appears to me that they will see a glass facade – a dead zone.

    Jacobs, remember, was not a professional. It took decades for her heretical ideas to become canon. As an lay person, her experience was of walking on the street, not the God’s eye view of the architects she criticizes as cultists. Greer’s is a more strident version of the same critique. What is most important for me is democracy: not whether this is or is not an attractive building or whether I personally like it, but the feelings and experiences of the citizens who will inhabit it and the city. John Michael Greer has a strident critique this week:


    “the unspoken but ironclad rule of modern architecture: ordinary people must not be allowed any say in the built environment in which they live and work. Only architects and certain other allegedly qualified experts are allowed to have a voice in those decisions. . . . the attitude, pervasive throughout the artistic mainstream these days, that deliberately rejects beauty and meaning, and instead glorifies ugliness and a flat refusal to communicate with anyone outside a narrow circle of cognoscenti defended by various modes of snobbery rooted in class privilege. . . . That’s been the basic attitude of the managerial class all along . . . if the people get the right to decide what kind of built environment they live in, will they demand a voice in other decisions too?”

  6. It’s peculiar how, when there are shared cycle/pedestrian lanes, when there are not a lot of bodies, walkers tend to hog the middle, but on a busy lane like the CVG between Rupert and Renfrew, they have learned that it’s prudent to keep to the right.
    Slower traffic, on foot, or on wheels, should keep to the right. I don’t want to ding the bell. It feels a bit rude. Leave that to the motorauders.

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