COVID Place making
May 26, 2020

Vancouver~Let’s Talk Public Washrooms First, Drinking Alcohol in Public After

At the City of Vancouver where Council meetings  are turning out to be more of a cave spelunking expedition through the finer points of  Robert’s  Rules of Order, there’s been   well meaning motions to consider alcohol in public places and parks. The point ably made is that in terms of equity, not everyone has their own back yard  or outside space to drink a beer in during the pandemic.  Of course lots of people are already ingeniously decanting and imbibing in parks and public spaces, it’s just not sanctioned. Yet.

Master of municipalities CBC’s Justin McElroy has a two minute video on the CBC twitter site mulling over the possibility of “you being able to crack open a cold one in a place like Dude Chilling Park”.

One main  point missing in this idea of allowing individuals to carry their own alcoholic beverages to beaches, parks and city spaces.  People drinking alcohol will need to use washroom facilities more frequently. Where are the washrooms?

I have written over several years about why we need to have accessible public washrooms because every member of the public needs to go. It seems odd that during the pandemic we should not  be considering the universal installation of drinking fountain/water bottle stations, hand washing facilities, and of course, public washrooms before any provision regarding alcohol.

Lloyd Alter in Tree Hugger is even blunter, saying that we have to stop building roads and start building bathrooms. He equates the lack of washrooms with that of the budget for highways: “Authorities say providing public washrooms can’t be done because it would cost “hundreds of millions” but never have a problem spending billions on the building of highways for the convenience of drivers who can drive from home to the mall where there are lots of washrooms. The comfort of people who walk, people who are old, people who are poor or sick — that doesn’t matter.”

Lloyd Alter points out that post pandemic  washrooms that are touchless and sterilized will be important, and private companies, Starbucks and shopping stores  are not responsible for providing them.

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There’s finally more information about Vancouver’s Slow Streets in a press release that came out Monday, but still no overall “route map” available on the City’s website.The intent is to have Slow Streets on roads that are wide enough to maintain resident parking, and also allow for local vehicle access. The new Director of Transportation, the well respected and capable  Paul Storer is leading this work.

Vehicles will be temporarily sharing the road with pedestrians, rollers and cyclists on fifty kilometers of “Slow Streets”.  The  first twelve kilometers have already been opened, as described in  this article   by Gordon Price.

Gordon talks about the  Lakewood, Ridgeway and Wall Street sections of Slow Streets. The streets have jersey barriers of different kinds either on the street or at the street’s side, indicating that it is a slower street, with  repurposing for walkers, rollers and cyclists to maintain physical distancing.

There are two reasons for doing this: one, to facilitate  destination oriented routes for people not in vehicles; and second, to provide a way for families and others to exercise in a safer environment with physical distancing that could not be met on the sidewalks.

This presentation on the Covid-19 Mobility and Public Life Response which was given to Council last week provides  more background and rationale for the City’s response. In a survey conducted in April, the City found that walking downtown had declined by 40 to 50 percent, commuter cycling had declined by 35 to 50 percent, and transit usage had declined by 80 percent.  And if you see less vehicles downtown, you are right~there’s 48 percent less vehicles coming in and out of the downtown, with a 39 percent decline of vehicles coming in and out of Vancouver as a whole compared to April 2019.

The City’s three pronged approach besides the “Room to Move” outlined above also includes “Room to Queue” which is  providing expanded street space for people to queue outside of businesses. This can mean taking over the parking lane if needed outside of businesses. And to facilitate deliveries, “Room to Load” will provide special priority loading zones for business deliveries. The City also intends to work with local businesses to provide expanded patio spaces on road surfaces, with that information promised for next week.

While there is a graduated approach to opening businesses and services, it is expected that the use of private vehicles in the post-Covid city  could dramatically increase in the short term. For some, automobiles are seen as “safe, secure” types of travel. The intent of these Slow Street measures to facilitate easier travel by walking, rolling and cycling is to provide potential alternatives towards a more “equitable and sustainable transportation system”. 

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CNU – the Congress for the New Urbanism – has just provided an extensive list of cities that have transformed underutilzed streets with little traffic into temporary pedestrian and bicycle thoroughfares, shared streets, bikeways, expanded sidewalks, and outdoor eating.

“Although these projects are temporary, they may lead to permanent changes in cities, Mike Lydon (of Street Plans Collaborative) said in a recent Smart Growth America presentation.

There are seven types of projects.

Here’s one:

Temporary bikeways. There is a huge surge of bicycling worldwide because people are avoiding buses and trains … and many cities are adding temporary bikeways.

Examples include Berlin, Germany; New York City, Paris, France: Auckland, New Zealand; Mexico City; Budapest, Hungary; Brampton, Ontario.

The article lists cities from around the world, as well as extensive references to other ones in the U.S. and Canada.  Except one.  One city is notable by its absence.

Us.

When Brampton gets listed and we don’t, that is embarrassing.

 

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America Walks is offering a free webinar entitled :Research in Action: Trends in How Municipalities Are Addressing Increased Demand for Safe Public Space.

Learn about the various strategies communities are implementing in response to increased demands for safe public space for walking and cycling during the COVID19 crisis.

Researchers at UNC’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center will present on their  effort to collect and analyze data on these strategies in order to identify community-based factors related to their adoption, impacts, long-term viability, and potential unintended consequence.

Tools for collecting pedestrian data in all communities will be presented and a range of possible indicators and creative indirect measures of pedestrian activity will be explored.

Attendees will be invited via instant polling to contribute to this ongoing research by sharing observations and opinions about the changing demands on public space in your community:

Are space considerations a significant issue in your community?
What is your experience in sharing public space and social distancing?
How safe are you feeling?
What feedback are you hearing from others in your community about what’s working (or not working for them)?

Presenters will also share suggestions for creative approaches attendees can use to estimate the impacts of COVID19 on walking conditions and pedestrian activity in their communities. Join us and become a citizen scientist for helping us all understand the many ways that COVID19-induced stay-at-home orders and social distancing are changing the way we use public space.

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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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Reopening Vancouver: People, Streets, Food & Cars

How do we maintain safe physical distancing practices when enjoying the city?

On a typical commercial street’s 3.5-metre-wide sidewalk, two pedestrians can safely pass each other with two metres between them. However, couples must go single file when passing to maintain a safe distance.

Some suggest that this space can be found beyond the curb, in the parking lane. Perhaps we could create more curbside parklets, now seen in front of a few restaurants and coffee houses. Parking spaces could become umbrella-sheltered restaurant patios – think of a trattoria in Italy.

One of the earliest examples of space reallocation and pedestrian use of a parking lane: the hundred-block Lonsdale in the City of North Vancouver

Perhaps we could create more curbside parklets, now seen in front of a few restaurants and coffee houses. Parking spaces could become umbrella-sheltered restaurant patios – think of a trattoria in Italy.

Cities from Oakland to Paris are turning hundreds of kilometres of these streets into “slow streets,” with signs limiting cars, letting pedestrians, cyclists and people who use mobility aids use the street to move and get physical activity safely. Could we do the same with Vancouver’s greenway network?

 

Presenters include

 

Wednesday, May 20

12:00 pm

Hosted online.  Registration required  (currently full),  

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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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Finally – over a hundred days into the covid era – a city leader has articulated an initiative for “Reallocation of Road Space to Support Shared Use during Pandemic”.   Lisa Dominato but forward the following notice of motion, bumped to May 12 for discussion.

WHEREAS

  1. The City of Vancouver declared a local state of emergency on March 19, 2020 in response to the global COVID19 pandemic;
  1. The Province has recommended physical distancing of 2 metres (6 feet) to prevent the spread of COVID19;
  1. The Province has also recommended the public continue to safely enjoy the outdoors, including local parks and public spaces;
  1. The Provincial health officer has commented publicly in recent weeks that partial street closures and one way travel/routing can be an effective way to enable physical exercise and safe distancing during the pandemic;
  1. Cities across Canada and around the world are undertaking measures to reallocate street space and roadways for pedestrians to safely exercise, access businesses and employment, while maintaining a safe distance due to the current pandemic;
  1. Vancouver City Council has previously endorsed motions to support slower residential streets and encourage safer shared use;
  1. The City of Vancouver and Park Board recently identified congestion in and around Stanley Park, and subsequently closed the Stanley Park roadway to cars and one lane along Beach Avenue to enable safe physical distancing during the COVID19 pandemic;
  1. The City of Vancouver has initiated a street reallocation initiative that focuses on Room to Queue, Room to Load, and Room to Move during the COVID19 pandemic;
  1. The ongoing pandemic necessitates that the City reallocate road space on an urgent basis now and develop plans for mobility and space use as part of our post-COVID-19 recovery and new economy.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council direct staff to expedite efforts to identify and implement appropriate reallocations of road space, such as high use greenways and streets adjacent to parks where space could be reallocated temporarily to enable safe shared use (pedestrians, cyclists, motor vehicles) and support safe physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic response, and

FURTHER THAT Council direct staff to communicate information to the public and businesses regarding the suite of street measures available to the City for reallocating space to support access to local businesses, to support loading and curbside pick-up, and to support physical activity and distancing in neighbourhoods across the city, and

FURTHER THAT Council direct staff to report back to Council in fall 2020 on refined options for mobility and public realm use us as part of the post COVID19 recovery and new economy.

Note No. 8 in the Whereas’s.  Had any readers heard of a City of Vancouver street reallocation initiative that focuses on “Room to Queue, Room to Load, and Room to Move”?  Nothing was sent to Price Tags (perhaps too low below the horizon) – nor has much been said of note from the City’s leaders, particularly the Mayor. 

What a lost opportunity to reinforce other initiatives promoted by the City: reallocation as a health response, a climate-emergency response, a local-neighbourhood planning response, an active-transportation response – all of the above at a time when the difficult-to-do has become the necessary-to-do.  (Speaking of which, one would hardly think it necessary to direct staff “to communicate information to the public and businesses regarding the suite of street measures available …”)

Lisa’s motion more importantly goes beyond the immediate pandemic: she sees reallocation as important to a recovery- and new-economy response.

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