COVID Place making
May 28, 2020

Queue Space is New Space

As part of its covid response, the City is providing “Room to Queue” – the reallocation of curb lanes next to essential businesses like grocery stores that use adjacent sidewalks for line-ups.  As seen in this example, sent in by Dianna, the lane in front of Urban Fare in Yaletown allows pedestrians enough distance to bypass the otherwise crowded sidewalk.

Here’s a video of the queue lane in front of Urban Fare in Yaletown: UF queue (1)

The use of your basic traffic barriers allows a quick if not exactly aesthetic response in an emergency.  Here’s an opportunity for Jimmy Pattison’s chain, Urban Fare, to commission artists, as did the Downtown Vancouver BIA with those plywood window hoardings, to add some fun, colour and comment to the street.

Notice, as well, the signage on the parking meters, providing a self-evident notice that they aren’t going to be in use anytime soon.  Maybe never.

This is a space that’s not likely to return to its pre-March-2020 condition.  Urban Fare may expand their outdoor seating and display spaces more comfortably on the sidewalk now that there is breathing room.  Maybe an outdoor art gallery?  E-bike charging?   They, along with their customers and neighbours, may decide that this makes far better use of the asphalt than redundant car parking.  (There’s more than the store actually needs in the underground garage.)

A return of the taxi stand is in order, but now there’s room for many of the other increasing demands on curb space.  Indeed, that one parking lane, as lucrative as it is for the City in meter revenues, is far more valuable for current and coming uses* that will need curb access.

Put it on the list of ‘things that we need to do in a post-covid city’:  The curb lane is no longer for parking of vehicles by default – one use among many that may be of greater importance to the community.

 

* Here’s one that also comes to mind: If the current bus fleet loses capacity due to distancing requirements, buses could make up some of the difference with transit-only lanes that have in the past been resisted (West Vancouver R3 through Ambleside, Georgia Street in non rush-hours). 

 

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At the very moment when Vancouver Council was discussing and approving Lisa Dominato’s motion to move forward on a network of slow streets, I was cycling on the first ones – the streets from New Brighton to Queen Elizabeth Park.  It’s essentially the linking of the Gladstone Bikeway with the Ridgeway Greenway – hence fast and cheap to do ($2 a kilometre – not a misprint) and in place even before the motion was passed.

It was a nostalgic experience.  I was on Council when the Ridgeway Greenway was opened, so it’s wonderful to still be around as it, like me, tries to age well.  Indeed, not much has changed: still the same route through streets, parks and lanes, with still the same public art and amenities (like the wonderful Windsor Castle children’s sand box.)*

It’s only some of the signage that is showing wear and tear.

The greatest change: the turnover in housing – mainly just one (seemingly) single-family house for another.  But the quality and design of that housing clearly demonstrates the change in cost and class that has crossed over Cambie into the East Side.

From still-intact Vancouver Specials …

.. to the latest version of the McMansion:

What was possibly the most surprising discovery was tə cecəw (The Beach) at 137 East 37th – a social housing project of 46 studio units operated by Coast Mental Health and funded by BC Housing.  (Remember the controversy over this one?  I don’t either.)

It’s classed as “temporary modular housing” – but doesn’t look temporary.  (I’d recognize the designer, but don’t know who it is.  Please add below if you know.)

What was the use on the slow streets on a weekeday afternoon?  Modest, intermittent, but a good mix.  Lots of kids.  I especially liked the mother and daughter tackling one of the steepest hills.

On the way home, I headed down the Ontario Bikeway – joining a continual stream of cyclists on one of the heaviest used cycling arterials in the city.  But, with an almost total absence of cars, a quiet experience.  Here’s what I heard in order of their volume: human voices passing by, a lawn mower, the sound of bike tires on asphalt, birds.  (Oh wait, a car a block away.  Nope, it’s gone.)

 

*Thanks to the pioneers who made it possible – from Moura Quayle who chaired the Greenways Task Force to staff (like our own Sandy James) who implemented the vision.

 

 

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When I first saw the news report in early March, I was astonished: the City and Park Board, in conjunction with the Coastal Health Authority, would be using two community centres to temporarily house the otherwise homeless from the Downtown east Side.  What was jaw-dropping were the locations: in the centre of two of the most affluent communities in Vancouver, one less than a block from an elementary school – the Roundhouse in Yaletown and the other in Coal Harbour.

In normal circumstances, that decision would have been explosive. In non-covid times, it just would not have happened.  There would have been an immediate pushback from Yaletown and Coal Harbour residents and businesses – a call for more process, for community meetings, for public hearings and delegations.  And those would have been the polite responses.  Sides would be taken, the media coverage relentless, the politics divisive. A risk-adverse Council would have found a way, in the name of community consultation, to deep-six the proposal.

And yet, here it is, the consequence of a crisis most clearly not wasted.

The spaces at Roundhouse and Coal Harbour will be allotted by referral-only and staffed 24 hours a day. Vancouver Coastal Health will provide health guidance and B.C. Housing has appointed non-profit operators to manage the centres.  (The Sun)

But that wasn’t all. Those housed would also be provided with ‘safe supply’ – drugs and their substitutes to stabilize the addicted, in addition to distancing them from the virus in what would otherwise be a powder-keg in the Downtown East Side.  (That a covid outbreak has so far not occurred is another surprising non-event.)

Remarkably, this was all public knowledge:

(Mayor) Stewart said the federal government has allowed for a safe supply of drugs for residents of the Downtown Eastside.

Beyond the health consequences, the stakes were huge.  If this real-time, real-life exercise failed, it would set back any prospect of locating a similar facility anywhere else in the city, as well as negating the ongoing experiment of safe-supply.  And it wouldn’t take much: a single adverse incident, open needle use, an exchange of threats much less an actual incident.  On the other hand, if successful, it would deny precedent for an endlessly repeated bad example.

It’s only the end of May; the emergency continues, the community centres are still blacked out.  As an experiment that set out to do what it has so far accomplished, it succeeded – a word rarely associated with the DTES and homelessness.  Indeed, many activists are adverse to acknowledging that the actions they espouse, when implemented, achieve their goals.  Fearful that success might lead to complacency, a loss of commitment, a reduction in budgets, they might begrudgingly admit that an initiative, a new housing project, a raise in funding was a good first step, but there’s so much left to do, so many homeless still on the streets, and the filthy streets themselves an indictment of an uncaring society.

The Roundhouse and Coal Harbour experiment remain, so far, an unacknowledged success.  Friends in the neighbourhood report that until recently there was seemingly community acceptance of the circumstances – perhaps because the locations are only temporary.

But of course, that was unlikely to last.  Further uptown, things were changing.

(More to come.)

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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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CNU – the Congress for the New Urbanism – has just provided an extensive list of cities that have transformed underutilzed streets with little traffic into temporary pedestrian and bicycle thoroughfares, shared streets, bikeways, expanded sidewalks, and outdoor eating.

“Although these projects are temporary, they may lead to permanent changes in cities, Mike Lydon (of Street Plans Collaborative) said in a recent Smart Growth America presentation.

There are seven types of projects.

Here’s one:

Temporary bikeways. There is a huge surge of bicycling worldwide because people are avoiding buses and trains … and many cities are adding temporary bikeways.

Examples include Berlin, Germany; New York City, Paris, France: Auckland, New Zealand; Mexico City; Budapest, Hungary; Brampton, Ontario.

The article lists cities from around the world, as well as extensive references to other ones in the U.S. and Canada.  Except one.  One city is notable by its absence.

Us.

When Brampton gets listed and we don’t, that is embarrassing.

 

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