COVID Place making
April 12, 2020

Why Sidewalks Aren’t Sufficient

Michael Alexander sends this post from the Riley Park Farmers Market:

The ancient ones have the first half hour of the Saturday market to themselves. But there were a lot of them. The entry line stretched from the market entrance back to Queen Elizabeth Park at 29th Street, around the corner and halfway down that block.

The line did move very quickly. And, unlike the first weekend after the markets were declared essential services, customers were socially distanced throughout.

Obviously, a sidewalk can’t accommodate a queue like this as well as walkers.  But in this time of physical distancing, it’s about width as well as length.  The ‘six feet separation’ we all know about – but when lined up we tend to think it’s the distance between those in front and behind.  We also need width, and no standard sidewalk is fully sufficient for even pedestrians passing each other.

While in this case, the boulevards and adjacent lawns are available, in many cases it’s only the roadway that provides the needed width.  The priority is clear.

 

 

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Here’s the latest advice, in The Sun:

 

But what does “stay home” mean?  Not go outside?  Not take discretionary walks or bikes?  Not ‘travel’ – which is unclear too.

Adrian Dix and Bonnie Henry clarify:

Henry and Dix reminded people that while all B.C. parks are closed, they can still go for walks or ride bikes with family in their own neighbourhoods, while keeping a safe physical distance of at least two metres from others.

Precision, when giving advice on a critical issue to everyone, is important, not just quibbling.  When does a walk or ride turn into travel?  Does it matter, if social distancing is practiced?  What about stopping, to find a bathroom, to get a drink of some kind, to talk briefly with a friend or give directions?

Is this kind of stopping acceptable:

A friend in Yaletown noted that yesterday there were few people on Davie, a typically busy shopping street, nor even in Emery Barnes Park.  Most people outside seemed to have gravitated to the seawall and adjacent parks, like Sunset above.  After all, there’s almost nothing else to do if you live in a downtown apartment.  No coffee bars, gyms, theatres, restaurants.  And no backyards.  This is for many what it means when told they can take “walks or ride bikes with family in their own neighbourhoods.”  But is this okay?

If the answer is yes, but only for people in the neighbourhood, does that mean only the forty thousand or so in the West End?  Should they not trespass into False Creek, or vice versa?

See how fast it can get silly.  And yet, we still need guidance.

A further question that isn’t a quibble: Is two metres separation the right length for cycling.  It probably isn’t.

From Anne C. M. Hyman, president of the Potomac Pedalers

…your respiratory signature is not just a stationary, six-foot sphere around you, but it turns into a comet-shaped trail while you’re at speed. The majority of your signature is still around you in your sphere, but you’re moving fast enough that your sphere starts trailing behind you, where you used to be.  (Full column here.)

After two weeks of quarantine in an apartment, I’m going outside on these first warm days of spring.  But I want to be safe and to respect others.  I’ll wear a mask.  But am I doing the right thing when I cycle the seawall, stop at David Lam, get a coffee at a food cart?  (And then try to find a bathroom!)

I need to know.  Precisely.

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Now is the time to adapt our existing streets, especially the greenways and relief roads, to accommodate a multitude of users who have to physically distance themselves.  It’s already happening, as Gavin Davidson, an active transportation consultant, illustrates on some neighbourhood streets near him.

He also provides some helpful parameters on etiquette and  good design.

As spring bursts on Vancouver streets, people are outside, enjoying the sunshine. Dogs, kids, cyclists and cars, everyone is in the street. And for the most part, it’s working.

 

Cars slow, kids part, we carry on. But on occasion its crowded and stressful with bikes lining up to pass a motor vehicle and parked cars stealing space that could otherwise be shared by people using the street. During this time of Covid it shouldn’t be too much to ask that cars be parked in garages and that streets be opened to people.

On neighbourhood bikeways throughout the City we need some new etiquette.

Motor vehicle traffic should be restricted to local traffic only, cars should look for options to park elsewhere, with the remaining motorized traffic limited to 10 km/h. Sidewalks and boulevards should be reserved for pedestrians, and joggers and cyclists should share the road, giving lateral space of 2 meters and at least 6 meters if you are following someone.

 

By comparison, Michael Alexander sends in a pic from the Ontario bikeway:

Does it make more sense for the faster-moving transportation and athletic cyclists, as well as e-bike users, to occupy the centre part of the roadway, while walkers, runners, dog walkers and children on bikes use the informal lanes next to the parked cars?

 

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A totally confident prediction: those opposed to increasing density (any multi-family development), using road space for bikeways and greenways (Granville Bridge changes will be a target), reducing priority for cars (expect another fight over viaduct removal) and priorizing transit (why build SkyTrain extensions) now have a sure-fire argument: density whether in buildings or transit is how disease spreads.

Sprawl is safer.  Cars are safer.  Single-family homes are safer. Anyway, new development, especially the remaining need for workplaces, will be in lower density suburbs if not actually in our homes, but certainly not in concentrated urban centres.

So the last half-century when Vancouver led in designing and building livable high-density, mixed-use, less-car-dependent and more sustainable communities was just a diversion.

Fight the virus by returning to the Sixties!

This is an important debate, not just an argument, especially when governments will be under fiscal stress.  Budget slashing is a great time to reverse the hard-fought progress of what the last three generations of designers, developers, planners and aligned political leaders have achieved in building more livable and higher-density cities, with a priority on transit and active transportation, especially when considering the consequences of climate change.  One need only watch how easily the Trump administration is reversing that progress.

To begin with, let’s first call bullshit on the notion that the Covid virus is less controllable in highrise high-density environments than suburban ones.  Just ask: which cities have been the most successful so far at not only bending the curve but keeping it from escalating in the first place?

These ones:

Taipei:

 

Hong Kong:

 

Seoul:

 

Singapore:

 

Notice anything in common?

 

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Stephen Quinn tweet:

Can I get on a BC Ferry?
No, stay home.
But the cabin on the Sunshine Coast is okay, right?
No, stay home.
So my sister in Abbotsford is making Easter dinne…
Stay home.
What about the Seawall?
Stay home.
Tennis?
Home.
So wait, you’re saying I should just stay home ?

Stephen, what do you mean by ‘home’?  Are you by any chance living in a place with a backyard, and you’re including that?  Or are you saying everyone should live all the time behind a door, in a room at a time, and not come out.

And go mad, slowly or quickly, but mad nonetheless.

Okay, time out for exercise, even just walking – but don’t go far.  Don’t travel to do so.

Okay, but what does ‘travel’ mean?  Obviously not using a boat or plane.  But maybe in a car within Metro Van?   Should someone from the West End go to Langley?  Tsawwassen?  Even Metrotown?

Perhaps you mean not beyond your part of the city – like Kits, Joyce, Dunbar.

Maybe just your neighbourhood – a few kilometers in radius, anchored by a grocery store.

Or only a few blocks on your street.

Or just your backyard.

 

 

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PT readers are responding eloquently. John Graham:

I have experienced that too although I am encouraged to find that if I am the person moving out of the way to create the social distance, I am often greeted with a smile or thanks. So I have chosen to be the distancer just to create this response.

It also reminds me of when I would run in the mornings on the West Van seawall: before 8 or so in the morning, everyone would say hello as I passed, as if by being out there in smaller numbers in the early hours created a sense of community. By 9 am it was back to normal; just a glance at best as I ran by.

Perhaps what this all means is that we will find new normals where the initial fear will have given way to respect for proper distancing.

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From Dianna:

I’ve given A World Redesigned some thought, and here’s what comes to mind: social distancing and fear of others. I hope this doesn’t become part of our world as we come out of this insanity.

A couple of years ago as a grey-haired lady friend and I slipped and slid along icy Portland sidewalks, almost every person we passed in four or five blocks smiled and said something kind. That’s when I realized that I’m at a point in my life that people acknowledge my presence on the street. Whether it’s because I’m harmless or look like your beloved grandmother, whether it’s compassionate or demeaning, is a topic for another conversation, but there it is … people greeted me.

These days, not so much. Too many times it’s a furtive look before dodging away, very few smiles, and, underlying it all, a sense of fear. I hope this goes away with the lifting of restrictions.

 

Price Tags welcomes other insights and comments on “A World Redesigned”.

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It’s near the height of cherry blossom season, there are only so many beautiful springs in one’s life, and we really need this one now.

To safely use the glorious green spaces of Vancouver (this weekend with pink!) Vancouverites want to know how to space themselves.  Greenways are ideal – those streets where vehicle traffic is so minimal that runners with watches, parents with baby carriages, skateboarders with small electric motors, grandparents with walkers, kids with their first bikes, dogs with leashes, and everyone with a camera, i.e. everyone, can all sort themselves out with sufficient distance and politeness that everyone feels they are getting the most out of a beautiful spring day without endangering themselves or others.

It would be nice to have a poster which shows the appropriate distances and etiquette.  But I don’t think the City or health authorities quite know what that is.  They’re waiting to see what people actually do before they make decisions about how they should do it.  When it comes to designating road space, with a few exceptions, the City seems a bit paralyzed.  At least they’re not indicating so far they that they have any intentions.

So it looks like we will just do it:


C
hilco Greenway, April 9, 4:10 pm

Five different users: cyclist, runner, observer, dog walker, kid with bike, daddy.  All spaced and sorted in a 66-foot right-of way, a standard West End Street.  There’s not a psychological no-go barrier at the curb for those not in cars.  But there is room for a car if it moves slowly and yields to other users.

My guess: This weekend and on, Vancouverites are going to pour out of their sequestered spaces.  They will take the space they need, as they should, to enjoy the city and maintain their health.  And not spread a virus.

Then the City can respond.

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Ian Young, Vancouver columnist with the South China Morning Post, wrote a widely circulated piece which credited some of B.C.’s success at flattening the Covid curve to the early actions of the Chinese community.

Virologist Dr Jason Kindrachuk, Canada research chair in new and re-emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba, attributed BC’s “phenomenal” results to … the early behaviour of BC’s sizeable Chinese community …

“What you have in BC is a Chinese community that was seeing the impacts across Asia [and] had been through Sars … and there may have been a grass roots movement in that community to start with the physical distancing,” said Kindrachuk.  …

The local Chinese community was also an early adopter of face masks, which Canada’s chief medical officer Dr Theresa Tam only this week acknowledged as a way for the general public to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. “In Asian communities there is more comfort and a relationship with these things [masks] in public …

Ah, the mask.

Kindrachuk: (The BC Chinese community’s reaction to the outbreak at its early stages) “needs to be examined as we try to work out what things helped in different communities that we can all think about whether to adopt as time goes on.”

Will the mask now be another indicator of ‘West Pacific’ – a culture that combines habits and traditions in a blend of the new normal?

Until recently, whenever I saw someone wearing a mask over their mouth, I assumed they had been brought up in Asia.  An indicator of the immigrant, still wearing local dress, taking a precaution from a more-crowded culture.  I don’t see it that way anymore.

Of course, it will be appropriately redesigned:

Billie Eilish at the Grammy Awards, in January, wearing a Gucci face mask. Photo: AFP

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