April 14, 2021

Pandemic Change: Global Recovery and Demand in Driving, Walking and Transit

Cubic, the company that provides TransLink with Compass technology, collects data on how mobility is changing in cities around the world, including Vancouver.

As cities are starting to re-open, road congestion is growing while transit continues to lag, signaling that congestion may become more severe than pre-pandemic levels.

Here’s the one for April:

Lots of room for interpretation here. (What’s up with Singapore?)  Clearly there’s a big difference in Motordom cities like Miami and transit-dependent ones like London.  Vancouver, as expected, falls in the mid-range of change – except when it comes to walking.  Guesses?

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This morning on the Comox Greenway side of Lord Roberts Elementary School, an experiment began.  “School Street” – a pilot program for four weeks at three schools is, according Jeff Leigh of HUB (below left), designed to allow easier access by those who walk, bike and roll to class (or drop off their kids to get there).

Comox has been closed to vehicles for a block during drop-off and pick-up times, but it needn’t be so permanently if safe access was provided (like separated bike lanes, as has been on done on other parts of the greenway.)  There are still places for those in cars to access the school, but ‘School Street’ is as much a message as a physical change.

Here’s Dale Bracewell, the City’s Manager of Transportation Planning, who was present at the creation of the Comox Greenway years ago.

The West End was home to (maybe the first) traffic calming in North America back in the early 70s, and it has weathered various controversies that inevitably occur when changes are made to vehicle access and parking.  School Street is another in the generation of changes to the post-Motordom city.


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Spring is finally here and everyone wants to get outside. The next wave of the pandemic means that restaurants can no longer serve inside, which of course also shows one of the shortages that existed before the pandemic: there’s no public washrooms.

How do you get around the city, get outside by yourself or in your “people bubble” and spend any amount of time patronizing local businesses if there are no public washrooms?

In Vancouver public washrooms availability has fallen to large stores, coffee shops and restaurants to maintain and take care of as part of their private businesses. Providing  true publicly accessible washrooms in Metro Vancouver’s business areas and along the transit routes are pretty well non existent.

There are two ways that public washrooms are provided in the public realm: they can be publicly accessible and paid for by taxpayers, or they can be privately owned but available to customers. We do the latter, and that impacts families, homeless, disabled, seniors and pretty much everyone that needs to go.

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It’s open!  The block in Robson Square from Hornby to Howe has been closed for about a year and a half for reconstruction (it’s complicated when you’re rebuilding a road on top of an underground building, I guess) – but now Arthur Erickson’s original vision for the square is complete.  Pedestrians (and bicycles) only.

And it’s a bigger space than I anticipated:

That means there will be lots of things happening simultaneously – demonstrations, performances, exhibitions, people hanging out, eating, ‘gramming, meeting, just trying to get someplace else.  And then being distracted by some of the best people-watching in the city.

Here’s a 360-degree video of literally my first minute in the square:

I love how the movement flows almost as if directed – the people walking and eating, the cyclists circumnavigating, the guy in the chair giving hand signals, the skateboarders performing almost on cue, the man on his laptop, and then back where we started.  Even the sirens and boarders providing the soundtrack.  None of it planned, all of it naturally choreographed.


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If you were on the planet in the 1970’s you will recognize the strange egg shaped fur hat  which instantly dates this photo to that time. This is Marion Leonard who lived above the beach at 3697 Cameron  with her dog  Lady.  You can see the pilings of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club’s docks at Jericho just behind.

This wonderful photo was posted by Garry Korhonen  on the Facebook page Sentimental Vancouver.  He captioned the photo from the Vancouver Express as:  “Protesting plans to convert private beach to  a public parking lot for Royal Vancouver Yacht Club are Mrs Leonard and her dog Lady. Club’s proposal calls for 179 vehicle lot to be constructed on beach below Pioneer Park north foot of Alma”.

This is the park where the pioneer Hastings Mill Store is located.

You can’t make this stuff up. And here is how it happened.

Tom “Terrific” Campbell was a mayor from the NPA party  and he had willingly posed on a demolition wrecking ball as a posted photo. This Mayor Campbell was a lawyer,outspoken, and unabashedly pro development. He championed the decimation of Strathcona and Chinatown for a new highway. He urged the building of the underground mall in downtown Vancouver, wanted to demolish the downtown Carnegie Library, and wanted to build a hotel on Stanley Park.He also turned out to be invested in some of the projects he was urging development for.

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When Tony Valente invited me over for a tour of recent cycling developments in the City of North Vancouver, he offered an irresistible inducement: an e-bike experience.

As someone who has never quite seen the need for one (or felt that it was a kind of cheating), I nonetheless anticipated that e-bikes were the wave of the future.  In fact, I was surprised they hadn’t washed ashore sooner in a tsunami from some massive factory in Taiwan.

Well, the future is showing up – that wave is coming in on the North Shore.  In particular, at Tony Sun’s Reckless outlet in The Shipyards.

Perhaps it’s is a confluence of factors: small powerful batteries, an aging demographic, falling prices, the need for pandemic-safe recreation, the cool factor.

Or even hormones.  Once Tony took a few minutes to explain the basic mechanics, I was pressing the button to kick in the e-assist.  It was like a hit of adrenaline, the bike felt almost alive, and out of my mouth came an unforced reaction.


And what better place to take a test run than the North Shore.  They have hills over there.  Long ones, like East Keith Road:

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Councillor Tony Valente has been advocating for ‘complete streets’ even before he ran for council in the City of North Vancouver – a city laid our before the dominance of the auto (check out its City-Beautiful aspirations on Keith Road or Grand Boulevard) but succumbed to Motordom as a post-war suburban city (check out Third Street west of Forbes or, worse, Esplanade).

Esplanade was a particular target for Tony (who now lives on the arterial) in his advocacy for streets that could serve a variety of modes safely and beautifully.  He’s now seeing it come to fulfilment.

The changes, complete with separated bike lane, are part of a greater transformation of Lower Lonsdale – with some big changes, small indicators, and one that’s quite surprising.

Here’s a delightful touch on Carrie Cates Court at Lonsdale Quay – a glass-enclosed canopy for bike racks on a newly widened and well-furnished sidewalk in front of a mixed-use tower.  Check, check, check.

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