August 22, 2007

A Bridge for Burnaby

Ian Wasson reports in from the City of Burnaby, where he’s an urban design planner.  They too are building a ped/bike bridge – the Griffiths Overpass – in the Edmonds area sometime in October.  It’s designed by Busby and Asssociates, and Fast and Epp.
And Patkau Architects and Delcan are designing another beauty for the Central Valley Greenway.

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In Price Tags 93, you can find examples of the new kind of pedestrian and bike bridges being built in Australia.  Like this one in Brisbane:

Peter Berkeley, Queensland’s bike and ped planner, has been on an international tour to check out cycling facilities, and he made a special trip up to Newcastle in England to see the Gateshead Millennium Bridge:

In order to allow small craft to sail beneath, the bridge actually tilts, like this:

You can see why it has become a tourist attraction in its own right, nicknamed the “Blinking Eye Bridge.”
As the debate over the Burrard Bridge continues (whether to widen the sidewalks, take some traffic lanes, not spend the ever-escalating amount – maybe $15 million, maybe $30 million), perhaps it’s time to consider the alternative: build a special ped/bike bridge across False Creek.
Discussion never gets very far because the centre of the creek comes under federal control as a navigable waterway, and the height of sailboats at high tide requires a high-level bridge, or some kind of drawbridge.  But maybe it’s time to face up to the trade-off: why should a relative handful of recreation boaters be able to trump a necessary and safe crossing for the most sustainable form of transportation possible?
Or maybe we can do a drawbridge after all.
These kind of bridges, after all, are becoming popular all around the world – designed by the Fosters and Calatravas who merge engineering and architecture into art.  They become icons for their cities. 
Maybe it’s time for us.

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Below is a picture of what you first see at the border of the District of West Vancouver after coming across the Lions Gate Bridge by bicycle.   

What’s missing?
There’s no signage telling a cyclist where to go.  No bike lanes.  Nothing that says West Van encourages (or even tolerates) alternative transportation.  The result has been frustrating for everyone: the cyclists don’t know where they should be, and pedestrians are upset when they go where they shouldn’t, and there are always conflicts with cars.  It’s confusing, intimidating and unnecessary.
But that’s changing.  As Colette Parsons noted in a previous post, there will eventually be a bike route through Ambleside.

And that’s thanks in part to the Spirit Trail funding coming from the provincial Ministry of Transportation.  That’s right – Kevin Falcon!  And kudos to him for pushing for a bike trail across the North Shore, and providing the money to do it.
The lack of a bike route through Ambleside has been a curious omission, since it’s one of the few places in this hillside municipality that’s conducive to cycling.
Ambleside, in fact, has all the elements needed.  From Lions Gate to the community centre at 22nd Street, it’s well within the 5 kilometre radius of most practical cycling trips.  (The red line below shows a distance of only 3 K.)

Below Marine and up to 19th Street, the topography is flat, the population is dense and the mix of uses is superb – everything you’d need in a day.   There’s the appeal of the beaches and the parks, and there’s plenty of space to provide routes for all.
But in West Van itself, there’s a curious absence of cyclists.  Which means that, given the underlying conditions and the absence of action, the municipality has actually been discouraging healthy behaviour and encouraged more driving.
That was abundantly apparent this B.C. Day, when the Harmony Arts Festival was taking place along the waterfront.  In a series of tents and performance spaces, the event was one of those things that give West Van its small-town appeal.

But it seemed almost everyone drove there and tried to find a parking space.  The result:
Conflict for all. 
As Vancouver learned with the Fireworks festival, the West End had to be closed off to circulating traffic and people had to walk in, preferably after taking transit, in order to save the event from itself.  The walk became part of the experience.
West Van, given its aging population and topography, doesn’t really believe that’s an option.  So increasingly it finds itself in a bind: having never actively encouraged alternatives, even in places where it makes sense, it now suffers from the paradox of the automobile – when everyone uses cars, the car becomes useless (as a recent report from the Ministry of Transportation on Lions Gate Bridge congestion so brutally illustrates. ) 
West Vancouverites – drivers especially – have a self-interested rationale for encouraging other people to take alternatives.  Not to mention related goals: more fitness in the face of obesity, less carbon in the face of climate change.  But search for “sustainability” on the District’s website and the references will take you to the “Fiscal Sustainability Task Force.”
It’s time for a new direction.  All I’m waiting for is one sign that says, “Cyclists, go here.” 

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It may be coincidental, but the Park Board chose to construct an expanded bike-and-blade route through the park at a time when people are expecting change – and the presence of heavy machinery – as a result of the December windstorm.
Still, it’s a shock to see the scale of the new right-of-way:

I confess: this is a project I’ve been pushing for since the late 1990s. I remember taking two groups of Park Board Commissioners on cycle trips through the park, explaining the inadequacies of the existing pathways, most of which were never designed to handle the load, as evident by the wear and tear on the popular routes :

Worse still was the confusion. On some paths, the yellow lines were meant to keep those on wheels to one side:

And on other paths, the markings served as the centre lines:

And they would change suddenly without clear signage – an unpleasant and dangerous experience for everyone.
The Park Commissioners were persuaded of the need for change, and passed the appropriate motions. But these things take money – and time. The City went through a public process that took two years before rebuilding the Seaside Bike Route along English Bay. That too involved laying asphalt across the greensward at certain places, like here at the Kensington Curves (my name, based on the historic apartment building across Beach Avenue):

Still, I have to say, the width of the new lanes by Lost Lagoon are awfully wide:

I’ll wait until they’re finished before final judgment. But it’s generally true that transportation engineers tend to prefer the widest right-of-way they can get, and to design the routes for the fastest user, whether cars or bikes or blades.
Still, after all these years, to have a safe and pleasant route to wheel through the park is a major achievement for the Park Board. And I have no doubt that it will be well used.

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Colette Parsons is the Urban Design Planner in West Vancouver.  First of all, isn’t it great that West Van has an urban design planner?  And secondly, she keeps track of Price Tags.
In fact, she just sent me a page from Issue 36 with this reminder:

At the end of your July, 2004 Issue on West Vancouver you pointed out the lack of cycling alternatives and signage from the Lions Gate Bridge to Ambleside.
We wanted to let you know that we have been working on a cycling network and greenway plan which was adopted by Council last Monday. We have secured some funding from the provincial government under the “Spirit Trail” funding to implement a portion of the plan in and around Ambleside and more than likely up to the bridgehead.
I have provided a short cut to our web site if you want to look at some of the details. Its not a perfect document but it is finally moving in the right direction. 
Cycling Network and Greenway Plan and Ambleside Town Centre Strategy 

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Every year during Bike Month, the city opens more bike routes.  Another reason why, as the number of people living and coming to downtown increases, the number of vehicles drops.

Last week, the Dunsmuir/Melville lanes were inaugurated.  The Engineers have done a great job in slipping these lanes into a very tight street grid and linking them up with the cross routes – all part of the fast-growing city network.

Next up: the 4th Avenue bike lane, with the traditional cake-cutting at Jericho Park on June 27th after 4 pm.  And don’t forget the Pancake Breakfast at Granville Square that morning after 7:30 am.  Join in.

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David Byrne, lead singer of Talking Heads, has been riding a bike in New York City for thirty years.  Quote: Even if freedom is an illusion the physical sensation of riding does a pretty good job of making it seem attainable for a moment.
Thanks to Paul Kreuger for this link to his blog, and the New York cycling experience.

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Hendonics is  the economics of happiness.  Bogota is in Colombia, the Mayor used to be Enrique Peñalosa, and Charles Montgomery has written a story in the Globe and Mail about him and it.

So what makes societies happy? The past decade has seen an explosion in research aiming to answer that question, and there’s good news for people in places like Bogota: Feelings of well-being are determined as much by status and social connectedness as by income. Richer people are happier than poor people, but societies with wider income gaps are less happy on the whole. People who interact more with friends, family and neighbours are happier than those who don’t.
And what makes people most unhappy? Not work, but commuting to work.

People who read this blog are probably familiar with Penalosa’s reputation and work.

“I realized that we in the Third World are not going to catch up to the developed countries for two or three hundred years,” he recalls. “If we defined our success just in terms of income per capita, we would have to accept ourselves as second- or third-rate societies – as a bunch of losers – which is not exactly enticing for our young people. So we are forced to find another measure of success. I think the only real obvious measure of success is happiness.”

Montgomery explains in fascinating detail how Bogota was saved from freeways, what they did instead, and how it all relates to Vancouver and Canadian cities.
Check it out.

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“City of Bikes”?  Well, more than usual: It’s Bike to Work Week.

Bike to Work Week starts tomorrow! The forecast is for sunshine for the week – a fabulous time to start biking to work, if you haven’t tried it yet. The Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition (with the help of our many sponsors, supporters, and volunteers) are setting up “commuter stations” at various locations throughout the Lower Mainland this week to support, appreciate, and encourage those who choose to bike to work. Stations provide free food and drinks, bike mechanics and the opportunity to win prizes (and maybe be on TV).
You can find the map with the stations and times of operation by clicking here

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