The Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee asks: If the Romans knew that public toilets were an essential part of urban civilization, why don’t we?

If you have ventured out of your house or apartment to take transit or go anywhere in downtown Vancouver, you’ve been thinking about where you can use a public washroom and of course if that public washroom is safe to use. Of course the issue of the availability and accessibility of public washrooms are not top of mind these days and I have been writing relentlessly that everyone needs to go.

I wrote  last month about a walk on the south shore of False Creek planned because there was a council report from 2016 saying that a $400,000 accessible washroom was going to be built in Charleson Park. Sadly, for me, it’s not there. Yet. Maybe in the future. Maybe in another four years.

Mr. Gee observes that “Public washrooms have been around since the clever Romans designed a version with holes in a bench over a channel of running water. They put them in busy public places such as markets and theatres. In Victorian England, public washrooms were palatial affairs with grand entrances, stained-glass windows and marble counters. Paris had its pissoirs, simple urinals surrounded by a barrier to provide a minimum of privacy. Montreal had camilliennes. They were named after its Depression-era mayor, Camillien Houde, who joked that building them would give the city’s jobless residents “two kinds of relief.”

The truth is that when public facilities such as libraries and community centres close down there is no substitute, and the lack of public washrooms really does impede the mobility of the population. If you need people to come back and shop in commercial areas and feel comfortable spending extended amounts of time there, you need public washrooms.

Lezlie Lowe  wrote her  book No Place to Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs in 2018.  She argues for an international push to insist on clean accessible “environmentally responsible” public toilets. Somehow in the design of the North American city quick, clean access to public washrooms was seen as something to be provided by private corporations, with municipalities not taking on civic responsibilities.

Ms . Lowe is pretty blunt about it. “Planners and committee chairs sound off about the livable, walkable, healthy, age-friendly city. But, somehow, providing a comprehensive network of public bathrooms, in the way cities create spiderwebs of bus routes, parks, and playgrounds, isn’t part of that conversation.” 

There’s been an array of things tried in the public realm including the fancy Decaux  automated toilets which may be costly and challenging to maintain, and too tech forward for many users.

I have also written about Portland’s Loo which costs $90,000 USD to install and has been very popular, designed to be functional without being too comfortable.

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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.

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Walking as a Practice: What Does It Mean to You?

There are many reasons to walk that are not related to transportation. The practice of walking can impact our health, spirituality, and culture.

In this America Walks  webinar, we will expand on how walking is ingrained in our being (whether on foot or on wheels), focus on examples of walking as a practice, and discuss how walking can break down barriers in our communities. This webinar is intended for those just starting out on the walking path as well as those interested in learning more about the topic.

Presenters:

Marionette Audifferen is a volunteer Organizer and Adventure Squad Leader with GirlTrek. GirlTrek is a groundbreaking, public health nonprofit for African American women and girls in the United States, and abroad. Nearly 800,000 have pledged to utilize walking as a “practical first step” toward living a healthier lifestyle. Marionette has led women and girls on local walks and hiking adventures.

Antonia Malchik writes about a variety of subjects but specializes in walking, public lands/environment, and science writing. Her essays and articles have been published by Aeon, The Atlantic, Orion, GOOD, High Country News, and a variety of other publications. She lives in northwest Montana, where she volunteers with local bike and pedestrian management committees and advocates for public lands, community engagement, and education. She also wrote A Walking Life, about the past and future of walking’s role in our shared humanity, published by Hachette.

Date and Time

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Another Beacon Heights/East Hastings gem is Platform 7 in the 2300 block of East Hastings Street just a mere block away from the Roundel Cafe. Based upon a Victorian London train station, the business has clearly delineated where you can be/and where you cannot be during the Covid pandemic’s time of physical distancing with the required two meters. While you can enjoy the interior, it is the back exit of the cafe that provides the true hidden secret, absolutely perfect for conversations during Covid times.

 

There’s a plant oasis at the back of the cafe, enabling people to have coffee and talk  outside safely on what would normally be a couple of parking spaces. Those vehicular spaces have been gravelled over, with lattice and benches providing a form of enclosure for some superb west coast plantings.

And there is the opportunity~imagine the creative reuse of other similar back lane spaces behind commercial streets, extending the use of retail space or providing places where people can physically distance and socialize. There are still two parking spaces attached to the cafe for deliveries and for patrons, but the creative adaptation of the rest of the parking into a hidden garden is genius.

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Kudos to the Roundel Cafe located on the 2400 block of East Hastings street in the emerging “Beacon Heights” area.  During the first stage of the Covid Pandemic they have been working with theStaff Meal Initiative adding a two dollar donation to the Food Bank on every order that was placed online. They also have asked that should anyone need a “nourishing meal” that they DM the cafe on their Instagram account.

It is no wonder that that this locally owned breakfast and lunch venue also found a unique way to ensure physical distancing as they opened up the restaurant for sit down customers. Using full body and torso mannequins artfully arranged in “no go” zones they have found a playful way to indicate where you can sit~and where you better not.

And they are having fun with it. As the CBC reports ” Candy got her start in a lingerie store, but now she stretches out across three bar stools at the café, wearing a vintage frock from the 1950s and dangling a matching apricot purse made of ostrich leather.”


Restaurant owner Dena Sananin selected the mannequins which are on loan from the Angels vintage store. She picked the ones the ones that she thought looked like they should be in a restaurant.

And the owner of Angels vintage store likes seeing the mannequins repurposed this way.

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Jeff Leigh of HUB reports:

My wife and I rode Stanley Park last Monday, and stopped in at the Prospect Point Café.  We spoke with the staff at the concession, who advised they had been very busy serving people on bikes through the weekend.

We typically do not stop at the top of the hill, but head right on down.  Now we have a reason to stop.

Jeff and his wife haven’t been alone.  Here’s the scene last Sunday:

Here’s the line-up just for ice cream:

Prospect Point Cafe was literally surrounded by bikes and riders – most of whom looked to be in the demographic that any restaurant would find rather attractive.  And since these were all Vancouver residents (no tourists, remember), they’re also the ones who, when out-of-town guests return, will be looking for a good place to take them, whether for ice cream or sit-down meals, whether by bike, car or bus.

Honestly, what it is going to take for businesses people to catch on?  Who can they turn to for advice?

Oh yeah, HUB.  Jeff again:

HUB Cycling is already working on promoting businesses in the park.

HUB has a program called Bike Friendly Business,  which has just the type of offerings that businesses new to dealing with people cycling can use, from Business Development services, to certification, to marketing to people who cycle.  If you have a business and want to talk, please reach out.

There are other HUB Cycling programs and events that can help businesses with marketing to people on bikes as well.  Bike to Shop comes up later in the summer.  Volunteers lead group rides to participating businesses, helping those new to transportation cycling learn how to bike to shops, restaurants, and so on.

It is important that businesses who believe their business is solely dependent on motor-vehicle traffic see that there is a whole community of people who cycle for transportation, and who spend money at local businesses.

 

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Metro Vancouver has updated their map of Regional and Municipal park washrooms: those available for public access (green) and those no longer accessible due to COVID-19 (red).

 

The map is very revealing of the absence of washrooms where they’re needed the most: downtown Vancouver.

Two recommendations: (1) a map showing washrooms in private spaces (hotels, malls, departments stores, etc). (2) More public washrooms everywhere – especially transit interchanges.

In fairness to TransLink, such washrooms are nightmares of maintenance, and very expensive propositions if they are to be supervised and continually cleaned. Perhaps time to change the law and allow for a small charge (common in Europe), payable through Compass, that would also allow free use for those eligible.

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Never say PT isn’t open to a range of points of view.  Here’s one by David* – who argues for #stanleyparkforall.  That is, keep the bikes on the seawall (crowding is only evidence of its popularity) and keep both lanes for cars (because of seniors, disabled, business, etc.).

Gotta say, it’s a well-done video.

So, what’s wrong with sharing the road with one lane for each?  David’s response: “we don’t know how it could impact traffic flow or emergency vehicle access”.  Reverse what you did, Parks Board, go back to the way it was – before March 2020 ever happened – and have a conversation.  A long conversation.

Well, David, now we will know how one lane each impacts traffic flow.  And my guess is, after seeing the results so far and by the end of summer, you’ll have to come up with another well-done video.

 

*Tell is more about yourself, and, while you’re at it, what you think those ‘improvements’ to the seawall would be to accommodate the (yes, literally) hundreds of thousands of bike trips being made on Park Drive as a result of the current configuration.

 

 

 

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During the Covid Crisis and the last three months of working from home, there’s been one surprising constant~traffic on roads has significantly lowered in volume but drivers are travelling much faster.

Last  May  Vancouver Island’s  Saanich Police impounded 16 vehicles for speeding in four weeks compared to 2 impounds in the same period last year. All were going more than 40 kilometres an hour over the posted speed limit. In April Coquitlam RCMP stopped 12 vehicle drivers for speeding in a two week period, including one driver that was travelling 50 kilometres an hour faster than the posted speed limit. The Province’s public safety minister Mike Farnsworth stated “It’s really quite shocking”.

I have been writing about my personal experience in Switzerland where speed is rigidly enforced by camera technology with some surprising results. Enforced slower speeds (the maximum travel speed is 120 km/h and that is rigidly enforced) has made Swiss motorways the safest according to the European Transport Safety Council.  In 2019 there were 187 road deaths in Switzerland with a population of 8.57 million. In 2018 in  British Columbia with a population of 5.071 million people there were 314 road fatalities.

Mario Canseco’s Research Co.  has been gauging attitudes to speed camera technology in  British Columbia and the results may surprise you. After following these trends for two years, Mario observes:

“In 2020, we continue to see a high level of support across the province for four different types of automated speed enforcement. Seven in 10 British Columbians (71%) approve of using fixed speed cameras. These devices stay in one location, measure speed as a vehicle passes and can be placed in school zones or on other roads. This year’s findings are remarkably consistent with what the province’s residents told us in the 2018 survey (71%) and in the 2019 poll (69%).”

And in terms of the reintroduction of intersection cameras which record high speeds through intersections 70% of  those surveyed supported them. The Province has has already issued over 20,000 tickets for this type of intersection speeding.

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