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.”


Images: CanadianArchitect&Wikipedia


  1. This is what you get when you combine wide streets with high density and mass transit.

  2. I don’t hold out much hope for Broadway after seeing what happened on Cambie and the dismal Main Street “showcase”. At a bare minimum, two lanes of MV road space needs to be reallocated to wider sidewalks. Ideally at least one more lane needs to be allocated as a protected bike lane. But they’ve been silent on those possibilities and I’m doubtful they’ll have the guts to stand up to motordom. Even with a subway that can move 10X the people they’ll make excuses why MV capacity must not be lost.

    I completely disagree with mandating larger setbacks for buildings fronting the street. The street ROW is more than wide enough as it is. Increasing the setback will only make an excuse for not removing MV lanes and erase any sense of intimate space that is necessary to define a successful street. It’s not a coincidence that the cited example of West Broadway west of Macdonald is the narrowest part of the entire corridor.

  3. Agreed! West Broadway has *incredible* potential! Now is the best opportunity we will EVER have to put the awful stroad on a road diet and turn it into a walkable urban showcase of a commercial corridor! I also completely agree with Ron that the buildings don’t need wider setbacks. Look at *any* great commercial corridor in Europe; there is no need to reinvent the wheel. 🙂

    With the subway’s incredible people-moving capacity below Broadway, there will never be a better time to create a wonderfully welcoming, safe corridor for ALL users at the surface level.

  4. A lot of drivers don’t use Broadway anyways because of the number of traffic lights.
    If your destination is on Broadway itself, you would use it, but if your origin or destination is in the West Side residential areas, you could take 6th Ave/4th Ave, 12th Ave, 16th Ave or King Ed instead. That’s the flexibility of having alternate routes on the grid.
    I could see one lane each way being removed, with some pull-out provisions for parking and drop-off, but those could also be on side streets or in the alley.
    With the Broadway Subway, there will be a lot of redevelopment, so retail and office premises would be increasingly more likely to have underground parking available, reducing the need for curbside parking (ie The Crossroads has no Broadway or Cambie frontage parking ).

    A couple of aspects to note is that Broadway is a truck route (the closest parallel truck route being 6th Ave/4th Ave below a steep Fairview Slopes hill) and in the Central Broadway area, access needs to be maintained for ambulances accessing VGH and the hospitals up on Oak St.

  5. Regarding “that wonderful leafy area on Broadway” that Frances Bula mentioned – I think she’s referring to Broadway at Alma in Kits. Broadway does not intersect Trimble.
    There is definitely a lot of potential for improvement on the entire Broadway corridor!

    1. Unclear how traffic east-west is being moved. Along 4th? Along 16th? Along 41st ?

      Broadway currently is indeed VERY ugly except a few blocks east or west of Blenheim. East of Arbutus truly ugly.

      Wider sidewalks and less parking would help once subway is in, indeed, with more benches, trees & street cafes. It could work. There is potential.

  6. Yes, Broadway must become a livable street showing how climate action can make life better! But electric surface transit should have a big place in that. I think attacking transit priority is a horrible starting point, it should be enhanced not eliminated.

    “With a new subway, there will be no reason for a wide street to accommodate bus lanes.”

    A center busway for electric buses could be a great part of a new and better Broadway. Good local ‘rapid’ transit is how you create continuous transit corridors, as opposed to a string of transit nodes on a traffic sewer. (Think NYC with 4-track metro lines with express and local service, or Curitiba’s dual parallel busways a block apart – local and express).

    1. “With a new subway, there will be no reason for a wide street to accommodate bus lanes.”

      yes, that is an unfortunate way to start the conversation (Should we be surprised ?).

      one has to recognize the subway will replace the 99B only, and only East of Arbutus.
      *West of it, it will be still needed.
      *All along Broadway a fine grained local transit, aka route 9, will be still needed too.
      * route 8, 16 and 17 will still need to use Broadway and may be more (such as a rerouting of the Dunbar bus thru Arbutus station)

      all those shouldn’t be ignored…and yes “mandating larger setbacks” is probably also a wrong proposition

  7. Crucial for Broadway is getting proper bike lanes. Ones raised a half step or at full sidewalk height. Getting rid of the on street parking is essential along much of this route too. It is ugly and a waste of valuable transport space. Finally a road diet limiting Broadway to five lanes, two in each direction and a centre left-turn lane. Maybe six lanes at Cambie and Main, but we really ought to try for five. The removal of most of the large buses and the elimination of on-street parking which periodically blocks a lane while someone tries to park ought to allow for this without too much motordom pushback.

    These items will make the street more useful as a neighbourhood shopping street and lunching street for the employees in the area, but they won’t make it a great street. For greatness we would need considerably improved architecture then the bog standard blandness currently served up. Narrower facades are more interesting for pedestrians so they ought to be implemented and if not, wider facades need to work harder to please.

    1. Your concept does not allow for sidewalk widening which is absolutely essential. This is especially important knowing that a subway is sure to ramp up development densities several times over and that station spacing will spur much more walking.

      A protected bike lane is critical too – but wider sidewalks are an even higher priority. I would suggest 3 MV lanes that would accommodate loading and passenger zones and turning lanes. I’d also take steps to limit through traffic to ensure bus speeds remain reliable. There are parallel arterials three blocks to either side. Experience has shown us that reducing MV traffic on Broadway would not overwhelm 6th and 12th.

    2. Protected bike lanes are required so that multi modal commuters can get to the subway stations safely to access the bike parkades located at each station.

      Something to keep in mind is that construction will take years, and people will adapt to that, with greatly reduced vehicle traffic along Broadway. When subway construction is complete, it would be a shame to simply revert to 2019 vehicle traffic levels, we can do so much better.

      1. Bike lanes not good enough on the current “off Broadway” corridor one block north ?

        I think it is far more critical to widen sidewalks and have cafes or restaurants there than bike lanes. There’s enough E-W bike lanes from beach to 41st ! We do NOT need another one on very expensive Broadway real estate !!

        1. You sure are against supporting businesses along Broadway. Why shuttle customers off to side streets away from the businesses? Bikes bring customers. Yes to wider sidewalks, but also protected bike lanes. As noted above, those buke lanes will allow people on bikes to access the bike parkades at the subway stations as well.

        2. The future bike lanes on Broadway will be for shopping on Broadway.
          7th Avenue (Off Broadway) is good for commuting and getting to Cambie to shop but not useful for shopping on Broadway.
          Currently if you shop by bike on Broadway you go to one store, then either go up a hill to 10th or down a hill to 7th (or 8th) then over to where you want to go (and you have to know where it is too) then uphill or downhill to that section of Broadway, do your shopping at that store then continue the method.

          There are not enough east west bike routes as it is to provide for the populace. Dutch guidelines say that everyone should have access to a bike facility no more than 400 Metres away. This means Vancouver has too few bike routes. We have a good start to a network now and some of it is quite usable and of high design quality but the majority of the city is lacking in anything. Meanwhile cars keep getting deadlier and deadlier with every new model.

          1. Thomas, you are a sick sick man if you think posting under a fake woman’s name is going to fool anybody. Just how desperate do you have to get? What is your point?

            Aren’t you thoroughly embarrassed by now?

            You should be.

          2. I didn’t see what Thomas B wrote before it was deleted so don’t know what it was but something I wrote obviously touched a nerve. I invite him to rephrase his comment. I’m curious about other perspectives.

            Back on to the topic I brought up, what do you all think of this? Are there not enough bike routes? Too many? Just enough? Are there enough but need upgrading? Are bike routes a civic amenity that should be available throughout the city?

          3. My point was to question that “many” people go shopping by bike along Broadway, such that they must stop numerous times and that going a block from the Off-Broadway route is too cumbersome.

            That comment is apparently far too sensitive for the “biking uber alles” crowd here.

            Also see cancel culture at universities.

            Liberal means illiberal apparently. No debate allowed. No nuances. Diktat. Why is that? Enlighten me kindly.

          4. I don’t know. It’s not the other commenters on this blog that have any deleting power. There’s a policy. You just wrote what you wrote earlier and didn’t get deleted so it might not have been the topic itself that caused the deletion.

            People who cycle are under attack right now and anyone who is will of course be defensive. As we transition from a mono-modal transportation system to a multi-modal on there’s going to be some friction sometimes adjusting to the future.

          5. I think it’s fine to question things like this but be prepared for people with a different experience to reply to you.
            You just have to look at the crammed full bike rack in front of No Frills to see how many people bike to shop there. The same with the old MEC when it was on Broadway. Racks used all the time.

            There is no “biking uber alles” crowd anywhere. I have never heard from any cycling advocate that they would like to see only one mode dominate to the exclusion of any other. If you look at the suggestions from Broadway they all include other modes as well as biking. There is nothing to worry about.

        3. The multiplicity of east-west routes also applies to vehicles. Why have vehicle lanes on Broadway when there are so many other parallel routes?

          The bikes want to be on Broadway for the same reason as the cars. The parallel bike routes were not designed to be arterials and don’t function as such. I use them all the time, but I would much prefer to be on Broadway. It has the destinations that I’m going to and it is the most convenient way to get to them.

      2. Do you mean “Protected bike lanes” as contradistinct from ones at sidewalk height? I mentioned sidewalk height bike lanes because I think that they can be made more decorous than barrier separated lanes. And if the goal is to make Broadway into a great street, it seems to me that decorous is the way to go.

        Certainly an overall reduction in traffic is desirable, but switching for a 6-7 lane road to a 3 lane road is unrealistic. Five lanes is about right. Crushing vehicle capacity below that just shifts traffic to the parallel routes which are also striving to be good pedestrian environments. And Broadway at least has the ROW to handle more traffic. We certainly don’t want to add more to 12th Avenue which just wasn’t built for it.

        1. Restraining (not crushing) vehicle capacity will *NOT* shift traffic to parallel streets as we saw with the closing of Point Grey Road to through traffic. Traffic disappears when you take away road space. Besides, as Jeff has noted, the road will be constrained for years during construction and traffic will adjust to that. When the subway opens it will carry 10X the people so it is not at all unrealistic to squeeze Broadway down to three lanes. That is the only way to get the wider sidewalks and bike lanes that are required for a great street.

          If you don’t use physical barriers fro the protected bike lane, cabs and trucks will mount the curb and block the bike lane. The physical barriers can be decorative using planters.

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