Art & Culture
July 30, 2020

The Vancouver Bikennale – 1

Every two years, Vancouver has been blessed with the sculpture Biennale – a celebration of art in public space.  And Price Tags has been documenting the Biennale since 2006, when we were still producing a magazine-style documentation of urbanism in the city.

Credit goes primarily to entrepreneur and philanthropist Barrie Mowatt, who has a long and accomplished history supporting the visual arts in this city, beginning with the establishment of the Buschlen Mowatt fine art gallery in 1979, and then the Biennale in 1998.  The latter would just be a good idea or a one-off without Mowatt’s ability to deal with the astounding logistics required to organize an international exhibition of this quality – especially one that takes place in some of our most prized public spaces, the waterfront parks of Vancouver, cautiously protected by layers of discretionary approvals.

But Mowatt has been aiming to do something more than just plop down big chunks of art on goose-strewn grass (or more politely, “transforming the urban landscape into an Open Air Museum.”)  He has expanded the scope of the exhibition to transform some of our leftover urban spaces into true gathering places for community – most notably “A-Mazing Laughter” (right) at English Bay.  The art truly does change how people see and use our public spaces.

He has also found a way to unite scattered pieces into something cohesive (that ‘outdoor museum’) by sponsoring the ‘Bikennale’ – so that numerous pieces can be viewed, appreciated and comprehended in a day.  With the pandemic making a single crowded event impossible, he has adapted the Bikennale (and Walkennale) into a month-long sequence of experiences – “SIX SUNDAYS THIS SUMMER” – that take cyclists not only along a route that connects the art but also brings in past pieces, the history of particular neighbourhoods and anecdotes about us as a people.

If you like to cycle or walk, sign up for the 2020 BIKEnnale/WALKennale Six Sundays (July 26 through August 30), check out www.vbbike.ca to learn more – a great chance to get outdoors (with appropriate physical distancing) and explore the history, architecture, and culture of a neighbourhood or two.

 

 

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Dan Fumano at The Sun nails it:

Although polling — and election results — consistently show most Vancouverites generally support spending on biking and walking infrastructure, many fiscal conservatives are quick to point to those areas when it’s time for financial belt-tightening.

This week’s staff presentation proposes continuing with the planned rehabilitation work on the Granville Street Bridge, including seismic upgrading, at a cost of $24 million, but reducing infrastructure spending on the Granville Street Bridge, Drake Street and Gastown.

And it’s not just Council that will be enticed to cut cycling infrastructure out of current plans.  Park Board too.

It’s been the NPA Park Commissioners’ strategy (John Coupar’s in particular) to prevent any serious bikeways through parks (Kits especially) through delay and deferment.  This fits their agenda perfectly.  Now the question is whether Council will adopt the strategy for the city as a whole.

We are at this remarkable moment when cycling use has increased dramatically as a consequence of the pandemic.  Trips are measured in the tens of thousands, even the hundreds of thousands.  Users are more diverse – in age, ethnicity, style and location – beyond hope and expectation.

But even at a time of a declared climate emergency, the same ol’ stereotypes and politics seem to prevail.  When even the disabled advocates insist that two lanes of Stanley Park are needed for cars, and parking spaces are the highest priority, when golf-course improvements get green checkmarks over greenways, it’s apparent that the need for advocacy, for political champions on elected boards, and for community support are as important as ever.

Actually, more important than ever.

 

 

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We seem obsessed with bigger is better in vehicle purchases, with over 1.4 million sport utility vehicles (SUVs)  and crossovers sold in the first three months of 2018 in the United States. The SUV is a vehicle built on a truck platform, while a crossover is a unibody construction on a car platform, and is supposed to be more maneuverable and parkable. Both of these are large vehicles and are outselling sedans.

Trucks and SUVs comprise 60 percent of new vehicle purchases in the United States.  From 2009 to 2016 pedestrian deaths have risen 46 percent and are directly linked to the increase of these larger vehicles on the road.

Statistics show that SUVs with the high front end grille are twice as likely to kill pedestrians because of the high engine profile, but this information has not been well publicized. In the United States a federal initiative to include pedestrian crash survival rates into the vehicle ranking system was halted by opposing automakers.

When a SUV hits a pedestrian the vehicle hits a person’s internal organs; in a lower profile vehicle or sedan the vehicle is striking at the knees. SUVs also have more  powerful engines and SUV drivers exhibit riskier higher speed behaviours which researcher Kelcie Ralph says is an ongoing trend in North American culture.

We’ve seen cities like Berlin actively discuss banning SUVS after  a SUV driver in Berlin lost control of his vehicle and killed four people on a sidewalk, a grandmother and grandson and two twenty year old men.

Think about how radical even suggesting a municipal  ban on  SUVs  is~car manufacturers design vehicles for the safety of the occupants, not for the safety of a vulnerable road user  that might be crashed into  and killed by the vehicle. Talking about banning these killing machines is a  new way at looking at the problem and a 180 degree shift from what vehicle manufacturers have been saying for over 100 years.

The auto industry has historically maintained that vehicle drivers are not the problem, but  pedestrians are.

Look at the creation of the class laden word “jaywalker” first used in 1917 to describe  “an idiot, dull, rube, unsophisticated, poor, or simpleton”. A jaywalker described someone who was “stupid by crossing the street in an unsafe place or way, or some country person visiting the city who wasn’t used to the rules of the road”.

Today the jaywalker myth is perpetuated in “educational” campaigns that say  pedestrian distraction is a function in pedestrian deaths. Studies prove that it is not, although the focus on saying pedestrian distraction is a problem takes the onus off the real culprit~the automobile manufacturers and the vehicle drivers.

This compendium report by the New York City Department of Transportation shows that while pedestrians using a mobile device walk slower and increase their crossing time, they are still faster crossing than those walking in group or senior citizens. Instead New York City is targeting drivers’ unsafe speed or behaviours by expanding their speed camera program, undertaking street safety redesign, and installing leading pedestrian intervals.

And this research review just published in Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives shows that one-third of transportation planners erroneously think distracted walking is a problem and want to support pedestrian education campaigns instead of slowing speeds. The report authored by  Dr. Kelcie Ralph and  Dr. Ian Girardeau show that headphones do not impact walking and that distracted people are actually more likely to stay in the crosswalk.

Talking on the phone or texting while walking has the same impact as the perceptions of  a person over 65 crossing the street. In their review, Dr.  Ralph and Dr. Girardeau found that the people  most likely to be hit crossing the street were people that could not change their crossing speed.  There is no correlation between distracted use of the phone and deaths in studies in campus towns where cell phone use is rampant. As  Dr. Ralph states “Beware of publication bias and hype” that prefers to victim blame.

As the researchers  point out:  “Concern about distracted walking detracts attention from more deadly risk factors, more effective policy approaches, and, most importantly, is inconsistent with the ethos of making streets safe for all users,

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Gerry O’Neil is the well regarded horseman that has been offering horse drawn tours of Stanley Park for several decades. For $50.00 for an adult or $20.00 for a child you can take a one hour  tour around the park in a horse powered tram that can accommodate 26 people.

Of course Mr. O’Neil is also dealing with the current Covid Stanley Park provisions that have meant that only one lane of Park Drive is open for vehicular traffic, with the other lane dedicated for cyclists, separated by the traditional orange traffic cones.

While vehicular traffic in Stanley Park is supposed to go along Park Drive at  30 km/h per hour, it rarely is that slow as any park visitor can attest. And Mr. O’Neil’s carriage rides were for some reason dedicated to the vehicular lane as opposed to the  temporary cycling lane.  The average horse moves about 6 kilometers an hour at a walk, meaning that vehicular traffic stacked up behind Mr. O’Neil’s horse drawn trolley.

As Ben Miljure with CTV news reported Mr. ONeil is frustrated. ” As you can imagine, when you’ve got 30 0r 40 cars behind you waiting, there’s a level of stress that you’re hoping to get out of their way,”

While the one lane closure for cycling on Park Drive is temporary to alleviate overcrowding on the seawall during the pandemic, it is a surprise that the horse drawn trolleys were classified as vehicles as they have no motors. That is often the litmus test for whether a use belongs in the bike lane or not in many municipalities.

 

Take a look at Hyde Park in London where there is a generous walking lane beside a surprisingly wide bicycle lane. There the bike lane is shared with the Queen’s horses on their way to and from Buckingham Palace. Perhaps moving the horse drawn tram to the cycling lane  might be a temporary consideration during this unusual summer of short-term pandemic park modifications.

 

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It was Allan Jacobs the former Director of Planning for San Francisco  who reviewed commercial streets around the world and wrote a book called “Great Streets” outlining his analysis on what made these streets extraordinary.  Allan reviewed street dimensions, the landscaping, the number of intersections, the facade articulation and many other factors. He beautifully illustrated this classic with his own scale drawings. And if you’ve ever worked with Allan Jacobs, some of the ways he measures the “kindliness” of a commercial street are just a bit unorthodox~Allan steps into traffic on a retail street and then measures how far he has to venture out from the curb before traffic stops.  He had to venture pretty far into the middle of Vancouver’s Commercial Drive before traffic stopped.

That would not be a test you would want to do on any stretch of Broadway in Vancouver which is less of a shopping street, but functions pretty well as a vehicular corridor, providing efficiency for vehicular traffic, even conveniently having parking lanes stripped at rush hour to enable even more capacity.

Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail bluntly calls Broadway, Vancouver’s main road to and from UBC and to the Broadway commercial areas “simply ugly”. 

Ms. Bula mentions that wonderful leafy area on Broadway near Trimble “that feels like the high street of a pleasant village – trees, a stretch of small local shops with canopies, a few sidewalk tables, interesting paving blocks at the intersections and drivers who suddenly slow to a meander.”

While Broadway east of Granville Street is characterized by rather monotonous building facades and minimal street treatment, that may be changing in the future as work and a city public process begins to reimagine the street now that the SkyTrain extension from Clark Drive to Arbutus will be built. Happily this work appears to still be scheduled despite the Covid Pandemic.  This also makes sense as the 99 B-Line along Broadway is classified as the busiest bus route in Canada and the United States, with a 2018 daily  ridership of nearly 56,000 passengers.

Last year the City embarked upon a Broadway Plan process for the section of street between Clark Drive and Vine Street with the intent to repurpose the street with new housing, amenities and jobs as part of the new Broadway subway.

With a new subway, there will be no reason for a wide street to accommodate bus lanes, and Broadway could morph into a well planted and landscaped streetscape of wide sidewalks, benches, leafy enclaves and public spaces. If there’s one thing a bio-medical emergency has taught us is the importance of  amply wide sidewalks, long benches, and places to sit or stand on streets that are comfortable and convenient.

Redesigning the streetscape for people living, working and shopping on Broadway can make up  for the shortage of parks  in the area and redefine the street as a place to hang out in, instead of driving through to get to somewhere else.

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Walking as a Practice: What Does It Mean to You?

There are many reasons to walk that are not related to transportation. The practice of walking can impact our health, spirituality, and culture.

In this America Walks  webinar, we will expand on how walking is ingrained in our being (whether on foot or on wheels), focus on examples of walking as a practice, and discuss how walking can break down barriers in our communities. This webinar is intended for those just starting out on the walking path as well as those interested in learning more about the topic.

Presenters:

Marionette Audifferen is a volunteer Organizer and Adventure Squad Leader with GirlTrek. GirlTrek is a groundbreaking, public health nonprofit for African American women and girls in the United States, and abroad. Nearly 800,000 have pledged to utilize walking as a “practical first step” toward living a healthier lifestyle. Marionette has led women and girls on local walks and hiking adventures.

Antonia Malchik writes about a variety of subjects but specializes in walking, public lands/environment, and science writing. Her essays and articles have been published by Aeon, The Atlantic, Orion, GOOD, High Country News, and a variety of other publications. She lives in northwest Montana, where she volunteers with local bike and pedestrian management committees and advocates for public lands, community engagement, and education. She also wrote A Walking Life, about the past and future of walking’s role in our shared humanity, published by Hachette.

Date and Time

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Never say PT isn’t open to a range of points of view.  Here’s one by David* – who argues for #stanleyparkforall.  That is, keep the bikes on the seawall (crowding is only evidence of its popularity) and keep both lanes for cars (because of seniors, disabled, business, etc.).

Gotta say, it’s a well-done video.

So, what’s wrong with sharing the road with one lane for each?  David’s response: “we don’t know how it could impact traffic flow or emergency vehicle access”.  Reverse what you did, Parks Board, go back to the way it was – before March 2020 ever happened – and have a conversation.  A long conversation.

Well, David, now we will know how one lane each impacts traffic flow.  And my guess is, after seeing the results so far and by the end of summer, you’ll have to come up with another well-done video.

 

*Tell is more about yourself, and, while you’re at it, what you think those ‘improvements’ to the seawall would be to accommodate the (yes, literally) hundreds of thousands of bike trips being made on Park Drive as a result of the current configuration.

 

 

 

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Want to live long and prosper? Here’s a new study from Washington State University showing that walkability has a strong correlation with the likelihood of reaching centenarian age by area.

If you live in a place that has good walking and provides the ability to walk to schools, shops and services, and  has lots of young people working, the correlation is high for a healthy long life.

In a study of close to 150,000 seniors in Washington state, researchers looked at individuals who had lived longer than 75 years up to 100 years and looked for the factors that helped them lead long and healthy lives.

And surprise! As reported in Marketwatch.com

 “Walkable and bikeable streets and clean, accessible parks are linked to increasing physical activity of the surrounding population by 30%. Walkable neighborhoods are especially important for older adults who may have decreased mobility and no longer drive, as they are likely to benefit from easier access to their community afforded by walkable neighborhoods.”

Despite suggestions that the Covid pandemic is providing a short-term shift away from public transport and city living, the study shows that streets that are walkable and cyclable along with park proximity raise physical activity levels by 30 percent. Neighbourhoods planned with good walkability are vital to older adults with mobility issues and who must often walk or take transit to complete basic shopping.

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The North Vancouver City News Facebook group exploded on Sunday with duelling petitions, one for and one against maintaining the City’s street closures for COVID generated bike and pedestrian traffic.

First came “Take our streets back. Remove the roadway barricades in North Vancouver.”  Currently at 157 signatures.

Then came “Keep the traffic calming signs up!” Which currently has… uh… one signature.

I’ll keep you posted as the battle continues!

 

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I have written often on the need for public washrooms, and why every city should have them close by transit stations, near public spaces, and along commercial streets. Every person needs to use them and it is what makes public space accessible for so many people.  Kids, seniors, everyone needs to use a washroom. And yet in North American culture public washrooms are often not thought of.  It’s been something that stores have been expected to provide as it’s  not even an afterthought in the public realm.

But what happens today in Covid times if you are using the sidewalk to move, cycling or using public transit? Where’s the closest washroom?

In walking the Seaside Greenway in south False Creek, I looked for a “new accessible washroom” that a 2016 Council report said was going to be built near or adjacent to that area’s Charleson Park. I couldn’t find it, even though that Council report had allocated $0.4 million dollars from City wide Development Cost Levies (DCLs) that was already assigned to Parks and Open Spaces.

When I asked a False Creek  strata council member where the new accessible washroom was, I heard all about the rustic fence for the dog park near the seawall, and the row of blue rental bikes installed in front of the School Green. The washroom was the “last straw”. And surprise! Apparently there was a “discussion” over location~”the engineers said one thing, the park board said something, the community said something else entirely and no, we don’t know where the $400,000 washroom is”.

An article in The Guardian by Libby Brooks discusses the impacts of lack of public toilet access. In the United Kingdom public toilet closure “is having a serious impact on wellbeing, limiting people’s capacity to exercise freely or visit loved ones, and creating a significant secondary public health risk as people have no option but to relieve themselves in the open, a Guardian survey and investigation has found.”

With many public buildings, bars and restaurants closed, the lack of public washrooms is curtailing where people can go by foot or cycle or public transit.

“For those with health conditions and disabilities that bring continence problems, the situation is even worse: some describe themselves as essentially housebound. Key workers and volunteers making lengthy round trips to deliver essentials are likewise affected.”

Opening public washrooms during Covid times in  Europe has resulted in two worries: the need to balance public safety with access to facilities and the lack of clear direction from government on how best to open and manage public washrooms.

In Canada, Paola Lorrigio in The Star discusses the fact that the lack of  public washrooms, once a barrier to the homeless, poor, racialized and disabled is now a barrier to everyone. In the first month of the pandemic truck drivers and transit drivers could no longer use washrooms in closed stores and businesses. And with the opening of economies, people will need to use public washrooms even though those in businesses may remain off-limits.

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