COVID Place making
May 26, 2020

Vancouver~Let’s Talk Public Washrooms First, Drinking Alcohol in Public After

At the City of Vancouver where Council meetings  are turning out to be more of a cave spelunking expedition through the finer points of  Robert’s  Rules of Order, there’s been   well meaning motions to consider alcohol in public places and parks. The point ably made is that in terms of equity, not everyone has their own back yard  or outside space to drink a beer in during the pandemic.  Of course lots of people are already ingeniously decanting and imbibing in parks and public spaces, it’s just not sanctioned. Yet.

Master of municipalities CBC’s Justin McElroy has a two minute video on the CBC twitter site mulling over the possibility of “you being able to crack open a cold one in a place like Dude Chilling Park”.

One main  point missing in this idea of allowing individuals to carry their own alcoholic beverages to beaches, parks and city spaces.  People drinking alcohol will need to use washroom facilities more frequently. Where are the washrooms?

I have written over several years about why we need to have accessible public washrooms because every member of the public needs to go. It seems odd that during the pandemic we should not  be considering the universal installation of drinking fountain/water bottle stations, hand washing facilities, and of course, public washrooms before any provision regarding alcohol.

Lloyd Alter in Tree Hugger is even blunter, saying that we have to stop building roads and start building bathrooms. He equates the lack of washrooms with that of the budget for highways: “Authorities say providing public washrooms can’t be done because it would cost “hundreds of millions” but never have a problem spending billions on the building of highways for the convenience of drivers who can drive from home to the mall where there are lots of washrooms. The comfort of people who walk, people who are old, people who are poor or sick — that doesn’t matter.”

Lloyd Alter points out that post pandemic  washrooms that are touchless and sterilized will be important, and private companies, Starbucks and shopping stores  are not responsible for providing them.

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There’s finally more information about Vancouver’s Slow Streets in a press release that came out Monday, but still no overall “route map” available on the City’s website.The intent is to have Slow Streets on roads that are wide enough to maintain resident parking, and also allow for local vehicle access. The new Director of Transportation, the well respected and capable  Paul Storer is leading this work.

Vehicles will be temporarily sharing the road with pedestrians, rollers and cyclists on fifty kilometers of “Slow Streets”.  The  first twelve kilometers have already been opened, as described in  this article   by Gordon Price.

Gordon talks about the  Lakewood, Ridgeway and Wall Street sections of Slow Streets. The streets have jersey barriers of different kinds either on the street or at the street’s side, indicating that it is a slower street, with  repurposing for walkers, rollers and cyclists to maintain physical distancing.

There are two reasons for doing this: one, to facilitate  destination oriented routes for people not in vehicles; and second, to provide a way for families and others to exercise in a safer environment with physical distancing that could not be met on the sidewalks.

This presentation on the Covid-19 Mobility and Public Life Response which was given to Council last week provides  more background and rationale for the City’s response. In a survey conducted in April, the City found that walking downtown had declined by 40 to 50 percent, commuter cycling had declined by 35 to 50 percent, and transit usage had declined by 80 percent.  And if you see less vehicles downtown, you are right~there’s 48 percent less vehicles coming in and out of the downtown, with a 39 percent decline of vehicles coming in and out of Vancouver as a whole compared to April 2019.

The City’s three pronged approach besides the “Room to Move” outlined above also includes “Room to Queue” which is  providing expanded street space for people to queue outside of businesses. This can mean taking over the parking lane if needed outside of businesses. And to facilitate deliveries, “Room to Load” will provide special priority loading zones for business deliveries. The City also intends to work with local businesses to provide expanded patio spaces on road surfaces, with that information promised for next week.

While there is a graduated approach to opening businesses and services, it is expected that the use of private vehicles in the post-Covid city  could dramatically increase in the short term. For some, automobiles are seen as “safe, secure” types of travel. The intent of these Slow Street measures to facilitate easier travel by walking, rolling and cycling is to provide potential alternatives towards a more “equitable and sustainable transportation system”. 

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There’s an absolute feast of great speakers on webinars right now.

Courtesy of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto hear well known planner and author Ken Greenberg talk with Melinda Yogendran and Matti Siemiatycki  
“Towards a New Kind of City-A conversation on resilience and adaptation with Ken Greenberg”

Join new grad Melinda Yogendran and SofC’s Interim Director Matti Siemiatycki as they speak with Ken Greenberg about adopting new practices for building better, more equitable cities.

This Spring, Ken Greenberg was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Toronto. With convocations cancelled, he published his passionate convocation speech, illustrating a message of hope for new graduates to seize the baton and use this crisis to move us to a better place.

If you would like to submit a question for Ken Greenberg in advance, you can do that here.

Speakers:

Ken Greenberg, Principal, Greenberg Consultants Inc.

Melinda Yogendran, Recent Graduate of the Master’s of Planning program, University of Toronto

Matti Siemiatycki, Associate Professor and Interim Director, School of Cities, University of Toronto

Time
Thursday May 28, 2020 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time

To register, click on this link.

Image: TheStar

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Here are some of the first images of our first Slow Streets. (Click title for all images.)

Thanks to Anthony Floyd:

Went on a tour of the Slow Streets this evening. Not all the barricades and signs were in place yet, but we met the crew working their way West, so they might be all in by the end of the evening.

South of Kingsway, on Lakewood and along Ridgeway, they are fillable plastic jersey barriers with the signs attached to one side. They are only at the entrances at major intersections, and at the end of that block away from the intersection. There are few to no barriers between major streets. These barriers are mostly in the middle of the street.

North of Kingsway, along Lakewood and Wall St the barriers are A-Frame construction barriers with the signs. These too are only near major intersections. The placement of these barriers is much more variable. More often than not, they’re on the side of the road (whether placed there or moved there) and could be easily overlooked. In my opinion these are even less effective here.

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It’s taken a few months, but now we have some action.  This just out from the City of Vancouver – slowstreets@vancouver.ca

On May 22, we’ll start installing 12 km of Slow Streets signs and barriers. Other routes across the city will be added in the coming weeks.

Slow Streets – routes for walking, cycling, and rolling that make it easier to exercise and access businesses in your local neighbourhood.

  • Motor vehicle access is limited to local traffic only.
  • People walking may pass each other using the roadway.
  • Drive slowly and watch for people on the road.
  • On-street parking, access for emergency vehicles, and waste/recycling collection is maintained.

Have your say

In a few weeks, we’ll be asking the public for ideas and feedback on how to make these routes more comfortable for walking, cycling, and rolling. Using input from residents and businesses, we’ll make adjustments and improvements at key locations.

Questions? Email us at slowstreets@vancouver.ca

It appears that this choice of route – entirely through the east side and a diversity of neighbourhoods – was seen through an equity lens.  That’s council-speak to make sure the voices of their support are heard.

This Slow Street route builds on the already-established leg-and-wheel networks – notably 37th Avenue, the Ridgeway Greenway.  Not only did 37th Avenue get priority when greenways were first funded in the 1990s, it was given extra special treatment with a lot of small interventions – traffic calming, parklets, art, landscaping – with funding that might otherwise have gone to an extension of greenways through the West Side.  But some residents there were fearful of the idea – something bringing outsiders through their neighbourhood – and didn’t really see a need.  Most of their streets were already lush and green.

The City happily spent the money east of Granville.

But after the Beach Flow Way was done in the West End, the next one this time had to be east of Granville too.

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Why isn’t there a Kits Flow Way – an allocation of street space that both takes the pressure off the overcrowded mixed-use paths through Hadden and Kits Park, and provides a designated, separated space to accommodate the dramatically increased amount of bike traffic in these days of the pandemic?  In other other words, a Kits equivalent of the Beach Flow Way.  (More discussion here.)

The answer I heard from City Hall insiders is that there really isn’t a need to have a traffic-calmed reallocation on parts of the adjacent streets because, with the pandemic and the closure of the parking lots in Kits and Hadden, there isn’t much traffic anyway.

Well, guess what.

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Seaside Greenway: all the paths along the waterfront, from Coal Harbour to Spanish Banks.

One of the best continual waterfront pathways in the world. The result of a century and a half of political commitment and constant addition.

In the 1990s, separated routes were state-of-the-art design as the Seaside enveloped False Creek.  Vancouverism at its best.  (Examples in the video above.)

Certainly a new standard for active transportation.

David Lam Park Seaside Extension – 1998

Vancouver loved it.  A generation of cyclists, runners, walkers was raised on it, of every age and agility.

But the road-like design was not a standard some park board commissioners were comfortable with, reflecting the general anxiety Vancouverites feel when it  comes to paving paradise.  In Kitsilano Park, they stopped trying.

Nonetheless, Seaside was connecting up. More kilometres opened every year in the nineties, the region was building a network in the 2000s, the Bikeway Network was in full bloom. Add in downtown bike lanes, Burrard Bridge, Point Grey Road.  Growth was inevitable.

Like any attractive and free transportation option, it began to fill up.  But we weren’t anywhere near incoherent congestion.  Wheel and feet got along pretty well on Seaside – except in some of the parks.  And there was still room for tourists.

Then, March of 2020.  Overnight we found out what our very own latent demand was when Park Drive and Beach Avenue became Flow Ways*.

Vancouver immediately experienced the difference, and they liked it.

Best of all, it took the pressure off the seawall. If the Beach Flow Way didn’t exist, those bicycles would be back in places like this:

 

How could deliberately doing that be defended? It probably can’t.

Basically, there’s no status quo to return to.  Now we have to design successfully for the world we are believe we are in.

As the awareness of the future of Seaside is developing, the summer will progress. And it will be just us Vancouverites on Seaside  There are no tourists.

By fall, if we’re responsive and there’s a will for more change, we’ll have essentially designed the next stage of Seaside.

 

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I have been writing about Open Streets, and how they are being used Post-Covid to make accessing services more comfortable for walkers, rollers and cyclists going to shops and services. There’s also a positive impact of Open Streets for businesses. Open Streets allow for wider sidewalk areas,  making customers  feel better about standing in line to access a business with appropriate physical distancing.  This provides enough space to wait on the street without  getting too close to someone simply walking by on a sidewalk.

The term “Open Streets’ refers to temporarily closing streets to through traffic, but filtering necessary local traffic, emergency vehicles, public transit, pedestrians, rollers and cyclists. Open Streets also provide separate road space for traditional sidewalk users who are going at a different pace than cyclists. Creating Open Streets also allows commercial businesses to use more of the sidewalk or the road way to conduct their business given the new physical distancing requirements.

There has been a concern that while the concept of open streets to facilitate movement during Covid times was admirable, what would happen if open streets became permanent? And isn’t that bad for business?

This is the truth about Open Streets. If people are accessing services through a filtered network that allows for expanded space for only transit, walkers, rollers and cyclists, each of those individuals represent one less vehicle on the road. Vehicle drivers win because there is less congestion.

And the data shows that businesses win too. This study done by Transport for London  shows that people walking, rolling and cycling and using public transport spend 40 percent more each month than car drivers. These numbers have also been replicated  in studies in Toronto and in New York City.

In London time spent on retail streets increased by 216% between shopping, patronizing local cafes and sitting on street benches. Retail space vacancies also  declined by 17%.

There is also an interest in thinking through shops and services at a local neighbourhood scale too where sidewalks are less crowded. These areas could also benefit from Open Streets. As local historian John Atkin notes on twitter “Thinking city structure, sidewalk crowding, community & ‘bubbles’. Lose exclusionary zoning, allow local retail pockets so we don’t overload the arterials. I haven’t had to trek outside Strathcona because we have 2 great shops + coffee to walk to.”

Creating “bubbles” of  services within an easy walking or biking distance in each neighbourhood adds a level of local resiliency.  It’s something we have zoned out of areas, making existing non-conforming retail pockets~like the one at 33rd and Blenheim in Dunbar~such an asset. The ability to access these commercial areas safely with cycle, walking or transit a priority would be a neighbourhood asset.

While cities around the world are developing filtered streets to accommodate the post Covid recovery, that’s no plan from  Vancouver yet.

Here’s another example of great work in the City of Newcastle Great Britain as written by Carlton Reid with Forbes.com. Newcastle which is bisected by a highway system wanted to “reassert the supremacy of the city over its traffic.” They embraced the chance to make a downtown plan that was “not anti-car, but pro-city”, ensuring that residents could easily and comfortably use their downtown and related businesses. Here’s how they did it.

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