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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We’re well-trained: Keep six feet of separation – or two meters, the length of a bicycle, two extended arms, three steps back.   The length may not be that specific, but the point is: keep your distance.

But unfortunately, mass transit doesn’t work well with that instruction. Buses and trains never contemplated such a parameter.  Like restaurants at half capacity, some things just aren’t viable. Without occasional crowding, mass transit doesn’t have the mass.

Daily Hive

Unfortunately, fear and failure of transit will likely lead to another form of crowding – traffic congestion.   How soon and how much is still not clear – too many variables. It’s even possible that car use may not come back to previous levels.

But if it becomes clear that we have no choice – get back on transit in serious numbers or the region can’t function – then the challenge isn’t so much a technical one; it’s to  overcome this message:

 

Yet another ask of Dr Henry: under what conditions can we ignore that sign?

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Sandy James and I were both struck by Daphne Bramham’s recent column in The Sun.  She asked the question many have been wondering:

By the end of May, Seattle will have permanently banned cars from more than 30 kilometres of city streets, making permanent a temporary response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s imperative that people maintain physical distance.

In Vancouver? The city has closed a single street — Beach Avenue along English Bay — and parking lanes on 10 streets to allow space for people to wait to enter the few stores that are open. …

While other jurisdictions have acted boldly and swiftly, Vancouver council’s pandemic response has been slow and muddled.

It’s true, there’s not a lot of overt enthusiasm from Council on reallocating street space, even when it seems to be a win-win-win: good for local community, climate change, active transport and good health.  Council is supportive of all that, of course; they’re just not rah-rah.  Maybe it’s too Visiony, too associated with different politics and priorities. Urban design is not the Mayor’s forte.

It’s not that Council has failed to articulate its ambition.  With recognition of a climate emergency and the approval of Six Big Moves, Council committed to accelerating things we coincidentally need to do now to respond to the covid emergency.  Here’s what they moved just one year ago:

That Council accelerate the existing sustainable transportation target by 10 years, so that by 2030, two thirds of trips in Vancouver will be by active transportation and transit …

The pandemic response seemed the obvious time to compress that 10-year commitment into a month.  And it looked, briefly, that the City and Park Board were on their way.  In what seemed like a weekend (but must have involved a lot of preliminary planning), Park Drive in Stanley Park and Beach Avenue were turned into flow ways with cones, signs and not much consultation.

But in the weeks that followed, except for a few queuing lanes in commercial zones … not much.

As Daphne noted, that required ignoring a lot of what was happening in the rest of the world.

All through March and April, city after city announced a slow or open street strategy of some kind.  From Oakland to Milan, from Edmonton to Seattle, Vancouver was practically surrounded by ambitious plans and responses.  Yet in that time, no enthusiastic embrace from the Mayor of Vancouver, even when the mayors of Toronto and New York, after initial tepid responses, came back with more ambitious agendas for immediate action.  Not Vancouver.

Little response emerged from City Hall until late April when, surprisingly*, NPA councillor Lisa Dominato came forward with a call for action – and a motion to instruct staff to do two big things:

  • Expedite identifying and implementing reallocations of road space
  • Come back in the fall 2020 with options for mobility and public realm use.

The motion made it on to the agenda on Tuesday, May 12, with a briefing before the final vote expected on Wednesday.  CBC reported:

At Wednesday’s city council meeting, conducted via conference call, senior Vancouver staffers mapped out a vision for “short-term actions for long-term transformations” of city streets in response to the health crisis.

The coming weeks will see 50 kilometres of Vancouver roads designated as “slow streets” with traffic-calming measures to promote walking, rolling and cycling, while other side streets could be closed to car traffic altogether to make way for temporary plazas.

An easy vote, one would think – an opportunity for Council to reinforce the city’s leadership in sustainable transportation.  Vancouver has been a world leader in what are now called complete, open or slow streets – from the traffic calming in the 1970s, to the greenways and bikeways of the 1990s, to the reallocation of street space on bridges and arterials in the 2000s.  We had the experience, the staff and the political will – and here was a chance for the Mayor and Council to make their mark.

Instead, when the motion finally came up for debate, hours were taken up addressing the issue in the Downtown East Side, a neighbourhood that,

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Traffic went effectively overnight to nothing at all.   Didn’t expect that.

But what now?  Will it return to previous levels – maybe even drop a little, given that so much else has changed, from working at home to not working at all.

Or will a significant percent of people, fearful of transit, take their cars and compete for the remaining space.  Result: congestion city.

In this real-time experiment we now live in, we can watch from day to day to see what happens.  For instance, here’s the Causeway on Friday, May 15 in the afternoon.

Better yet, check the video.

Then take a guess as to which way it’s going to go.

 

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