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.  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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Cities large and small are moving to create a network of streets for the same reason – as reported in the Seattle Times:

SDOT will evaluate streets based on whether they reach dense areas, allow people to stay close to home and keep parks from getting crowded, among other factors.

Seattle, some say, is following a movement of ‘open streets’ that started in Oakland.  Now it’s global.

But Vancouver, once a leader, is trailing. Council will have to decide on May 12 whether we will catch up

It may be the best pre-emptive move cities can take to shore up the barriers against another tide of Motordom – a return to vehicles, only more of them, being driven more often, to more places.   Confronted with congestion of their own making, many will want to have more road space to drive.

But if those same people experience the convenience and enjoyment of their own neighbourhood streets when they’re on foot and bike, they’ll fight to keep them.



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We’re going to need a list of descriptors for the different kind of lanes that are being improvised to respond to pandemic conditions.

PT has been reporting on the changes to Beach Avenue (right), where half the avenue is for bikes of various kinds and the other half for west-bound motor vehicles.  The former gives room for three different lanes, allowing cyclists to sort themselves by speed, with each having room to flow.  Hence the coinage: ‘flow street.’

Some residents have simply used their narrow residential rights-of-way for a variety of users in what would otherwise space devoted to motor vehicles.  Often, they’re designated as a ‘bikeway’ or ‘greenway’.

And now we have ‘queue lanes.’  Here’s the one spotted on the north side of the 1200-block Davie:

When I first saw it, I thought perhaps it was designed as a drive-through lane for grocery-story pick-ups.  And in a way it is, only for West Enders queuing as they wait their turns to enter the store.  Before. there just wasn’t room on the sidewalk even under normal conditions, much less a requirement for distancing.  This solves the problem.  Price: about a dozen on-street parking spaces.  (Imagine if proposed for West Van.)

I probably wasn’t the only one confused about its purpose when I first saw it without a queue.  Indeed, it was empty while the sidewalk remained crowded, even though space for walkers was available on the other side of the curb.  But a century of conditioning has ingrained in us that the space beyond the curb is only for vehicles to park or drive.  Pedestrians are initially reluctant to use it unless given permission and instructions.

That’s social engineering in action.  That’s Motordom.

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This is the view that inspires me.

I not only appreciate the privilege, I appreciate the irony.  I’m an urbanist and advocate of Vancouverism – for livable high density.  And I’m living on a cul-de-sac – symbol of suburbia.  But it’s one with a lot of through traffic – in the case above, for three different animals and their vehicles, just not the one with an engine. (Thursday, April 23 at Chilco and Robson.)

I also appreciate the history: this is where the first permanent traffic-calming strategy was installed in a major North America City.  There should be a plaque.

I tell the story here:

The Origins of Post-Motordom: West End Traffic Calming

Fifty years later, it’s in ruins. You can see the video here: Chilco cul de sac.

Once construction of the water-line replacement is finished, a rebuilt Chilco cul-de-sac will better reflect the world we live in now, one designed more for the variety of animals and vehicles you see above.   Which, if I remember, is close to the vision those urban pioneers of the Seventies had hoped for.

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Guess who has come out with a quick response on how to design for our changing street uses in the time of the virus.  It’s from a place you might not expect: the provincial transportation ministry.

Here’s what they recommend to those who make the decisions about how we’re going to allocate road space.

Since the days of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, urbanists are typically sceptical of large state or provincial transportation departments (mostly about the care and feeding of highways) very much removed from local conditions.

But this is helpful.  The people at the province basically get the idea.  The headline alone – “Reallocation of Roadway Space” – is pretty provocative for a culture like MoTI.

However, some of it is already contested.

  • Closures should be in the daytime only (7am-7pm, or similar hours). Closure devices should be set up and taken down daily.
  • Some modification of Traffic Management Manual layouts will be needed. Consider using C-030 series (lane closure ahead) or other custom signage.

Sorry, guys, there’s this:

Beach flow way showed what could be done overnight.  And it works – without meeting all the recommendations above.

We’re learning by doing, because we have to do this.  Virus.

Trying things out safely and monitoring the results is a great and necessary way to proceed. But trying to do it with a set of prescribed regulations presumes you know what your’re trying to prescribe for.

Not yet, I’d bet.

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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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Guest writes below:

… maybe that sign was placed instead of a “hazard” sign to make visible the massive dark log at night in an unlit parking lot.

Possible – given a lack of ‘Hazard’ signage at the Park Board or City.  Sure, that’s it.

However, a few hundred metres to the north along Arbutus Street, there is this: a closed gate for another parking lot next to the beach and basketball courts.  Note the signage.

More than that, note how the gate completely blocks the roadway, leaving no room for cyclists to get from the beach to Arbutus in order to avoid cycling through the most conflicted part of the park, where they are explicitly prohibited from riding.  So they have to go on the grass.

This is another small gesture of contempt.  But the Park Board simply doesn’t care.  They’ve effectively gaslighted the cycling community from getting resolution to the Kits/Hadden Park conflict, despite years of consultations and committees.  Some commissioners, like John Coupar, simply don’t want cyclists going through their parks for transportation, which might require upgrading the paths to City standards for space and separation.

Some activists fear a Kits flow way, as described below, would give the Board the precedent to remove or not build proper cycling paths. Then the City would be responsible for designing and paying for the infrastructure, and taking whatever political backlash that occurs (when, for instance, removing street parking).

What’s even more curious is that a majority of commissioners come from the left, especially the Green Party.  And they apparently have no desire or political will to resolve this.

So nothing happens.  Except the placement of barriers to discourage cycling.

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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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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:

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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In this case, good riddance:

You won’t see these naked ‘beg buttons’ in Sydney at the moment.  Nor in Brisbane nor Melbourne.  They’ve been covered with signs to inform pedestrians that they’ve been automated – like these on the North Shore:

As Brent Toderian notes: “They’re called ‘beg buttons’ as a pejorative because they put pedestrians in the position of having to beg for access to the other side of the street. It suggests the pedestrian is in a secondary, at best, position – an afterthought.”

The buttons also present practical problems. They can be difficult or impossible to access for people with mobility challenges. They can be easy to miss, and even after the button has been pushed, it often takes a full cycle of the light before the “walk” sign lights up, leaving the pedestrian to wait in the elements.

We have a few in Vancouver too, though a lot have been removed over the years as the growth in pedestrian traffic has made them an unnecessary irritant.  But they’re everywhere in Australia – notably in some of the highest ped-traffic areas in the country.  Hopefully many will be simply be removed.

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