August 7, 2007

Paradox in West Vancouver

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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Globe architecture critic Lisa Rochon profiles Vancouver developer Ian Gillespie here.   
(You’d think that by now the hometown Sun would be embarrassed that Toronto’s newspaper is doing a better job of covering the built environment of Vancouver than they are.)
Rochon’s column profiles Gillespie’s projects from Shangri-La to Woodward’s, and makes this fascinating observation about the latter:

The vision is monumental, but I admit to being a little fixated on one clever design detail: the bike rack that (architect Gregory) Henriquez has squeezed into the front hall of the tiny units for people on social assistance. “For these people, the bike is really an important part of their lives and their livelihood. They’re not going to park it out on the street.
“They’re going to bring it inside their apartment, so we designed a rack for that purpose.” That insight speaks to the years that Henriquez has poured into the project, meeting with squatters and housing activists for countless consultations, and pushing his practice into the vanguard of architecture with a conscience.

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From the Washington Post

On July 15, the day after Bastille Day, Parisians will wake up to discover thousands of low-cost rental bikes at hundreds of high-tech bicycle stations scattered throughout the city, an ambitious program to cut traffic, reduce pollution, improve parking and enhance the city’s image as a greener, quieter, more relaxed place.
By the end of the year, organizers and city officials say, there should be 20,600 bikes at 1,450 stations — or about one station every 250 yards across the entire city. Based on experience elsewhere — particularly in Lyon, France’s third-largest city, which launched a similar system two years ago — regular users of the bikes will ride them almost for free.

For more, click here.

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