It was Allan Jacobs the former Director of Planning for San Francisco who reviewed commercial streets around the world and wrote a book called “Great Streets” outlining his analysis on what made these streets extraordinary. Allan reviewed street dimensions, the landscaping, the number of intersections, the facade articulation and many other factors. He beautifully illustrated this classic with his own scale drawings. And if you’ve ever worked with Allan Jacobs, some of the ways he measures the “kindliness” of a commercial street are just a bit unorthodox~Allan steps into traffic on a retail street and then measures how far he has to venture out from the curb before traffic stops. He had to venture pretty far into the middle of Vancouver’s Commercial Drive before traffic stopped.
That would not be a test you would want to do on any stretch of Broadway in Vancouver which is less of a shopping street, but functions pretty well as a vehicular corridor, providing efficiency for vehicular traffic, even conveniently having parking lanes stripped at rush hour to enable even more capacity.
Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail bluntly calls Broadway, Vancouver’s main road to and from UBC and to the Broadway commercial areas “simply ugly”.
Ms. Bula mentions that wonderful leafy area on Broadway near Trimble “that feels like the high street of a pleasant village – trees, a stretch of small local shops with canopies, a few sidewalk tables, interesting paving blocks at the intersections and drivers who suddenly slow to a meander.”
While Broadway east of Granville Street is characterized by rather monotonous building facades and minimal street treatment, that may be changing in the future as work and a city public process begins to reimagine the street now that the SkyTrain extension from Clark Drive to Arbutus will be built. Happily this work appears to still be scheduled despite the Covid Pandemic. This also makes sense as the 99 B-Line along Broadway is classified as the busiest bus route in Canada and the United States, with a 2018 daily ridership of nearly 56,000 passengers.
Last year the City embarked upon a Broadway Plan process for the section of street between Clark Drive and Vine Street with the intent to repurpose the street with new housing, amenities and jobs as part of the new Broadway subway.
With a new subway, there will be no reason for a wide street to accommodate bus lanes, and Broadway could morph into a well planted and landscaped streetscape of wide sidewalks, benches, leafy enclaves and public spaces. If there’s one thing a bio-medical emergency has taught us is the importance of amply wide sidewalks, long benches, and places to sit or stand on streets that are comfortable and convenient.
Redesigning the streetscape for people living, working and shopping on Broadway can make up for the shortage of parks in the area and redefine the street as a place to hang out in, instead of driving through to get to somewhere else.
That means in the near future Engineering and Planning departments must agree to wide setbacks between the street and the buildings that provide lots of room and open space, but also make generous allowances for below grade tree trenches and planting areas. Here’s the opportunity to co-operatively work with Park Board Arborists and leave appropriate space for green infrastructure so badly lacking and so necessary for people living along major city streets. If constructed correctly there will be no heaving sidewalks from tight tree planting, but there will be large tree canopies. It’s a win-win.
As Ms. Bula concludes: “If the street became a great place to hang out — with wide sidewalks, benches, trees, plants and café tables — it could be like a park that cuts through the city. Not a highway any more, as it is now.”