Cycling
May 21, 2020

Seaside Redesigned: Why Seaside won’t go back to the way it was

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 – expansion of bikeways throughout the city.  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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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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PT: Originally published in April.  The video is one of the best so far, from the initial use of the Beach Flow Way (so-called since it allows cyclists to sort themselves out by speed and comfort) to the self-sorting that Vancouverites did on Sunset Beach, making it more than ever a Great Lawn. 

And more than ever it’s clear: Open Streets are a Thing – one of the lasting changes to come out of the pandemic.

Click here to download video: Beach reallocation

Whether cities like Oakland calls them ‘Flow Streets’ or ‘Slow Streets’, they’re part of a larger movement to reallocate street space for the priorities of a pandemic.

Initial reporting suggested Oakland was going to call these calmed avenues ‘Flow Streets’ – a nice name, but apparently not what was intended:

Oakland will slow down a whopping 74 miles of streets to vehicular traffic starting this weekend to give pedestrians, joggers, and cyclists more room for social distancing.

It’s part of an emergency measure called “Oakland Slow Streets,” an effort to give residents more space to walk, run, and cycle safely through neighborhoods as shelter-in-place orders remain in effect. …

Note: This won’t be a total closure to cars, according to East Bay Times, but instead a way to “publicize roads to be especially alert of cyclists and pedestrians.” Local traffic and emergency vehicles will still be allowed on the roads.

It really is important to emphasize that these streets are not ‘closed,’ and never were intended to stop all vehicle traffic.  But even in Vancouver, the Beach Avenue reallocation is being termed by some as ‘closed’ – as though any restriction on cars is all that matters.  It’s a bias we’ll see a lot more in the fight to defund and eliminate any City progress for bikeways, greenways, safe streets, traffic calming, road diets – call it what you will.  For opponents, It comes down to the same thing: streets are for cars, and the rest are dispensable frills.

In the meantime, the move to flow or slow streets is, ahem, picking up speed.  From the New York Times:

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This is what Beach Avenue looked like at 3 pm on Friday afternoon – May 1:

Here’s the video: Beach Flow May 1

The vehicles and the bikes pass by each other on either side of the cones, about the in same number.  They both pass by in informal pelatons – clustering in groups that go about the same speed.  Each member feels comfortable, the speed seems right, there’s enough space.  That’s flow.

 

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Thank you, Streetfilms, for a close-up look at what Oakland, California’s ‘Open Streets’ look like.  The lessons for Vancouver are immediately obvious, given the similarities.  (Click title above for video.)

Exclusive Streetfilms look at the open streets program in Oakland which is currently 10 miles but being expanded to 74 miles to allow pedestrians, cyclists and other alternative modes to be able to maintain social distancing during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Now they’re being called ‘Open Streets’.  Previously they were Slow Streets.  And sometimes Flow Streets.  But by any name, they’re now more complete streets.

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Maybe pretty well.

From The Cityfix:

Reviving Bike Sharing as a Reliable, Low-Carbon Mobility Mode

Unlike public transport, the pandemic actually reignited interest in dockless bike sharing, an industry that had been experiencing a notable contraction in China. During the 50-day public transport lockdown in Wuhan, Meituan Bike (formerly Mobike) provided a remarkable 2.3 million trips in the city. As China’s economy re-opens, bike sharing appears to be back on the rise.  … ride volume in Beijing has increased 120-187%, compared to before the pandemic. …

It seems increasingly likely that this surge in biking is more than a temporary phenomenon. Evidence suggests that cyclists are riding longer distances directly to their final destinations, not just for first- and last-mile connections. …

Feeling safe is also important for riders, suggesting cities may need to invest in safe cycling infrastructure to protect riders as motor vehicle traffic returns.

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Cllr Lisa Dominato was interviewed on ‘NW’s Simi Sara show this morning, touching all the points on why slow streets made sense – health, safety, open space for higher density neighbourhoods, social distancing.

Simi: “Needs to get done.  Needs to get done fast.”

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A second city councillor weighs in:

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Jeff Leigh sends in a pic from a HUB Cycling member  – “Parks Board responded to the concerns about the blocked entrance at Kits Beach Park.  ”


 

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Likewise in Stanley Park, Dianna reports in:

It’s a work in progress, and this is the Parks Department’s latest effort to clarify which direction to ride. It’s a good change. In two loops, I saw only three cyclists riding the wrong way, two were nervously creeping down from Prospect Point, and the other looked defiant so maybe he was out for the scenery. Also, intersected with one bus and two landscaping trucks. No expensive SUVs today.

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