COVID Place making
July 7, 2020

Measuring Cycling to the Nearest Ten-thousandth

Let’s just repeat these numbers from the Daily Hive:

According to Green Party commissioner Dave Demers, Park Board staff estimate visitation within Stanley Park is up by 50% since May 1, and they have counted 350,000 cyclists over the last 67-day period.  …over the same period in 2019, there were about 60,000 vehicles in Stanley Park, which is a figure that includes high-occupancy cars and tour buses.

We are now measuring cycling counts in the hundreds of thousands, rounding off to the nearest ten-thousandth.  That, for anyone who remembers the early days of cycling infrastructure, when success would be measured in the hundreds, is boggling.  And not just in Stanley Park.  Here’s Point Grey Road this weekend:

Foreshortened shots can be deceptive, but anyone who was there would have realized that the traffic counts this weekend would also be measured in the closest thousandth – more, I expect, than anyone who opposed the transformation of PGR would have imagined.  Here’s a video from the same location on July 5:  Point Grey Road on a Sunday.

And yet, this quite astonishing growth really hasn’t changed the narrative for most of the media: it’s still a bikes-versus-cars dynamic, with a presumption that cars are in the majority and have right-of-way – another repeat of the same ol,’ same ol’ since the 1990s.  Except now we have horses to throw into the mix.

Stanley Park Horse Drawn Tours owner Gerry O’Neil has been operating in the park for decades — offering tourists a way to see the sites while riding in an open carriage.

His horses and carriages, with a top speed of five km/h, must now share the one lane dedicated to vehicle traffic, and that is causing problems….

“Ideally, scrap the trial and get all the stakeholders involved so we can all have our say and take into consideration everything that’s in the park,” he said.

Let’s see: several hundred carriage passengers, several thousand drivers, tens of thousands cyclists.  Should be an easy choice.

 

 

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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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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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*Mockup by Andrew Walsh

 

Peter Ladner knows how to help restaurants and businesses in Stanley Park thrive in these disrupted times.  He describes his idea in detail in this open letter to Nancy Stibbard, owner of the Prospect Point Café.

Dear Nancy:

You may recall our conversation a couple of weeks ago. You and your management team were surveying the financial wreckage at your Prospect Point Café; I and my fellow pensioner cycling friends were commiserating with you at the top of the Stanley Park Hill. I was recalling my son and daughter-in-law’s similar fate of owning restaurants forced to close but the bills keep coming and the future looks bleak. You looked shaken, uncertain, but with time and curiosity enough to chat with us.

You and your team’s three vehicles were parked outside, and I imagined how, for you and your team, access to your restaurant without a car would just not be possible or practical. The same at Capilano Suspension Bridge.

You said your restaurant would have no hope if the tour buses couldn’t get there, and if cars were backed up in gridlock, which you predicted. You since joined up with 13 other Stanley Park businesses and associations to persuade the Vancouver Park Board—unsuccessfully- to reopen the park to two lanes of motorized traffic.

Your organization’s spokesperson, Nigel Malkin, then told News1130: “Accessibility to Prospect Point for anyone will basically be near zero… You’d have to park across the road…” Malkin, in case you haven’t picked this up by now, has a disturbing aversion to facts and cyclists. It’s not a good look to have a spokesperson who describes the 350,000 cyclists over the first 67 days of the lockdown as “near zero”. That’s around six times the number of cars that used to drive by during the same two months last year.

He also predicted, like you, contrary to traffic engineers’ data, “It’s inevitable you end up with severe traffic issues.” I am reminded of the old quip attributed to Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

According to a CBC report, he foresees “a bicycle lane that’s a velodrome for beyond seasoned cyclists… It’s not being inclusive, this is not something where families and children are going to be able to ride around.”

 

Now that we’re stuck with the six-month bike lane trial and near zero foreign tourists, let me propose another approach: turn those fighting words into a warm embrace.

You have six months to seize an amazing opportunity that has just backed into you.

You sit atop what could be the next new tourist sensation in Metro Vancouver: the Stanley Park Hill.

Just as you learned how to milk the natural splendour of the Capilano Suspension Bridge to attract and please tourists, you could do the same here.

Think about it: this is a hill that’s a 15-minute bike ride from downtown, within 10 km of hundreds of thousands of people. It is just steep enough to be a big sweaty challenge for a lot of people, but easy enough that my five-year-old grandson goes up it with me on his clunky bike, without a rest, past the people pushing their bikes, and is bursting with pride and excitement at the top. Not to mention anticipation of the heart-thumping big downhill ahead.

People in cars don’t notice hills like this, but for cyclists, trust me, it’s a big deal.

This hill could be turned into the cycling equivalent of the Grouse Grind, only way more accessible. It fits into a very manageable 10 km cycling loop of the park. It weaves through the heart of the towering forests of Stanley Park, breaking out into the clifftop vistas of mountains, the Lion’s Gate Bridge, the entrance to our working harbour, views you know so well from your restaurant. It already has a public washroom where many people stop. (I’m including cyclists and hikers when I say people.)

So I am going to offer some gratuitous marketing advice. Now is the time to embrace the hundreds of thousands of cyclists that will be riding past your site. Welcome them, encourage them, love them. They are your new customers who just might save your business.

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I have written often on the need for public washrooms, and why every city should have them close by transit stations, near public spaces, and along commercial streets. Every person needs to use them and it is what makes public space accessible for so many people.  Kids, seniors, everyone needs to use a washroom. And yet in North American culture public washrooms are often not thought of.  It’s been something that stores have been expected to provide as it’s  not even an afterthought in the public realm.

But what happens today in Covid times if you are using the sidewalk to move, cycling or using public transit? Where’s the closest washroom?

In walking the Seaside Greenway in south False Creek, I looked for a “new accessible washroom” that a 2016 Council report said was going to be built near or adjacent to that area’s Charleson Park. I couldn’t find it, even though that Council report had allocated $0.4 million dollars from City wide Development Cost Levies (DCLs) that was already assigned to Parks and Open Spaces.

When I asked a False Creek  strata council member where the new accessible washroom was, I heard all about the rustic fence for the dog park near the seawall, and the row of blue rental bikes installed in front of the School Green. The washroom was the “last straw”. And surprise! Apparently there was a “discussion” over location~”the engineers said one thing, the park board said something, the community said something else entirely and no, we don’t know where the $400,000 washroom is”.

An article in The Guardian by Libby Brooks discusses the impacts of lack of public toilet access. In the United Kingdom public toilet closure “is having a serious impact on wellbeing, limiting people’s capacity to exercise freely or visit loved ones, and creating a significant secondary public health risk as people have no option but to relieve themselves in the open, a Guardian survey and investigation has found.”

With many public buildings, bars and restaurants closed, the lack of public washrooms is curtailing where people can go by foot or cycle or public transit.

“For those with health conditions and disabilities that bring continence problems, the situation is even worse: some describe themselves as essentially housebound. Key workers and volunteers making lengthy round trips to deliver essentials are likewise affected.”

Opening public washrooms during Covid times in  Europe has resulted in two worries: the need to balance public safety with access to facilities and the lack of clear direction from government on how best to open and manage public washrooms.

In Canada, Paola Lorrigio in The Star discusses the fact that the lack of  public washrooms, once a barrier to the homeless, poor, racialized and disabled is now a barrier to everyone. In the first month of the pandemic truck drivers and transit drivers could no longer use washrooms in closed stores and businesses. And with the opening of economies, people will need to use public washrooms even though those in businesses may remain off-limits.

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It was just beautiful weather for a walk on the Seaside Greenway on the southside of False Creek between the Granville and Cambie Street bridges. The City of Vancouver has implemented improvements here to separate people using the walkway from the folks cycling through.  The city has used a strip of concrete to provide bifurcation guidance, and placed benches, lighting and signage to indicate which side is to be used based upon your mode of transportation. This section is north of Millbank Lane.

The walking section  of the greenway next to the water was extremely busy and at times physical distancing was a challenge. Cycling traffic was fast and light in terms of volume.

A report to Council in 2016  identifies this section of seawall as being highly used, but at that time quite narrow. In this approved plan walkers and cyclists were separated, uneven surfaces removed, and the area revamped to make access easier with an All-Ages-and-Abilities target for cycling.

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Friday, June 9th – just up from the Rowing Club on Park Drive.  Mid-afternoon.

This was what it was like, and won’t be anymore.  That’s okay, everything is changing in these times.

No matter how it turns out, the Spring of the Virus will be remembered as a mix of bliss and dread.  Understandably there’s a desire to return to normality – but at what price and how much of the bliss?

Like this:

 

On the afternoon of June 19th, the cars return, blinkers flashing, as they start to mix with cyclists who variously occupy the asphalt from curb to curb. The parking lots are not yet open.

Here’s a video a moment in the transition: Park Drive at Lumberman’s Arch – June 19th

The signs are up:

Cars rarely drive at 15 km.  Nor do a lot of cyclists when they’re pacing themselves around Park Drive.  Both want to go faster.  Cars like driving at 30 K or more.  Cyclists like a comfortable speed from 15 to 20 K, and more when racing.

Will the expected speed for cars stay at 15, when it probably won’t be for cyclists?   Will the Park Board have to enforce a differential speed limit for users on either side of the barrier?

By the end of June, there will be a new sensibility on Park Drive as the bikes all move over into one lane and the vehicles another – each with less space than they’re used to.  Meanwhile, down on the seawall, the same questions arise: accessibility for whom, and how?

I hope we’ll still see moments like this – a short video of Park Drive at Lumberman’s Arch, as a diverse group of road users wheel by.  Diverse not in ethnicity but in the various ways they wheel.

Diversity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How many times will we go through this?

Hornby Bike Lane.  Burrard Bridge Bike Lanes (three times).  Point Grey Road.

Same arguments – Carmageddon and business catastrophe confidently predicted – and the same results: no serious negative consequences and a better, healthier city.  And once the temporary bike lanes are in, as Commissioner John Coupar noted, we don’t go back.

There’s an obvious reason for that which, oddly, he didn’t articulate: they worked.  They helped build the city we said we wanted.   (Which, if John has his way, will stop at the borders of our parks.)

Last night before the Board of Parks and Recreation Board, it was the same old debate with a twist.  For those who want to return to the way it was, it’s a fight now on the side of the marginalized, the people who, they say, need most of the asphalt in the park to provide access and parking – meaning by default full Motordom for all, forever.  Definitely what Lord Stanley had in mind.

But here’s the one piece of new information that came out that really is important, by way of Park Commissioner Dave Demers: Park Board staff estimate visitation within Stanley Park is up by 50 percent since May 1.  They have counted 350,000 cyclists over the last 67-day period, compared to about 60,000 vehicle trips in the same period last year, a quarter of which were thought to be using Park Drive as a shortcut to bypass the Causeway. Motor vehicles, in other words, were 17 percent of all trips with something involving wheels.

That increase is extraordinary.  And that’s without tourists in the mix.

But what those opposed to providing a separate lane on the drive seem to ignore is this, at least if they presume much of that increase can be accommodated on the seawall:

A shot from the late 1990s prior to the construction of the Seaside Greenway’s separated lanes and still the condition of some parts of the seawall around Stanley Park.

Inducing congestion on the seawall by trying to avoid vehicle congestion on the drive is going to have some unpleasant consequences.

I was wondering whether the NPA commissioners would have anything positive to say about the need to accommodate this desired growth in walking and cycling in a harmonious way.  But no.  The NPA has made a calculated decision to appeal for the support of people who work up a lather in condemnation of taking space from vehicles – people like Nigel Malkin, quoted here in a CBC story:

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