June 25, 2019

Good News and More Good News~British Columbia’s New Active Transportation Guide

This week the Province of British Columbia released their new Active Transportation Design Guide with the intent of creating consistent design for active transportation facilities across the Province. The Guide also provides expectations in  design guidance for any applications for grant programs to build active transportation infrastructure.

This Guide aims to double active transportation trips and also intends to adopt “Vision Zero” which has been implemented in Europe successfully to minimize death or serious injury related to vehicular crashes. The British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act is also going to be revamped to encompass ALL the different users of the roads, and also acknowledge the importance of active transportation. This will include a retooling of current driver education to include the legal rights of all road users.

The day to day use of “all human powered modes of transportation, focusing primarily on walking, cycling and rolling”  is finally going to be addressed.  This is an important step in that the new guide embraces novel ways of moving including segways, e-scooters, electric biycles and hoverboards. It is also looking at snow based activities like skiing and skating and water based like kayaking and canoeing as well as horseback riding.

The guide emphasizes holistic connections, so that people can walk or bike and easily change modes to bus, train or ferry transportation.

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I have previously been writing about  midblock crossings and raised crosswalks on this blog as well as on Walk Metro Vancouver’s website.

There is always lots of discussion about midblock crossings, and the term “jaywalking” was developed in the 1920’s to refer to those pedestrians who darted mid-block instead of freeing up that road space for rapidly moving vehicles. Pedestrians were moved to intersections controlled by engineering traffic standards, as the assumption was that traffic engineers were better judges of pedestrian safety than the pedestrians themselves.The American  Federal Highway Administration (FHA) striped highway pavements with the assumption that pedestrians are safer crossing at intersections with traffic lights and with all kinds of turning movements versus mid block two-way vehicular traffic.

I have also written about my involvement with the installation of the first permanent raised crosswalk in Vancouver located at East 22nd Avenue and Commercial Street north of Lord Selkirk Elementary School. The raised crosswalk is a walkable speed hump that is at the same grade as the sidewalk on either side of the street. The raised crosswalk serves to  elevate the pedestrian, and slows vehicular traffic which should be travelling the posted school speed limit anyway. You have probably driven over the  raised crosswalks located outside the Vancouver Airport.

So how effective are mid-block crossings and raised crosswalks at making pedestrians safer, more comfortable and secure on the street?Angie Schmitt of StreetsBlog has been collecting data on pedestrians and crossing safely, and the statistics she has found are quite shocking. In looking at how many drivers yield to pedestrians at a crosswalk without a traffic signal or signage, she found that only 16 to 32 percent of drivers will stop for those pedestrians.

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Take a look at Norway where the capital city Oslo has removed over 700 parking spaces in the downtown and replaced those spaces with benches, bike racks and public spaces.The City has 50 parking spaces left, mainly for disabled persons in vehicles and for deliveries to local businesses.

i have been writing about European cities going for slower streets, and finding that residents are happy with the slower vehicular speeds. The Economist observes that many European cities are going for outright vehicular reduction in their downtowns.  London and Stockholm have congestion charges, and I have written about London’s new ultra low emissions zone.

Paris has tried to limit vehicular use on certain days. But Oslo’s approach of closing off the downtown to private cars, and changing streets to limit traffic flow in one direction is the closest to a “downtown car ban” . While opponents to the ban have complained about limited access to the downtown, there are still vehicles in the downtown, just fewer places to park. Downtown Oslo business owners worried that “fewer cars could mean fewer customers”. While those statistics are not in yet, pedestrian traffic has increased in the downtown by 10%, and the experience in London showed that spending increased by 40% with people that walked, cycled or took public transit to downtown shopping areas.

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There is a perceptive cultural shift on how people in this province are viewing their residential streets and their ability to use those streets for more than just a vehicular driving conduit. I have been writing about how slower streets are now being adopted around the world and how slower speeds of 20 miles per hour or 30 kilometres per hour  reduces deaths and serious injury from vehicular crashes.

Slower street speeds also enhance livability, sociability, and the ability for neighbourhoods to use streets as public living rooms for street hockey and interaction. Lowering speed also reduces emissions and enhances sustainability.

In the City of Bristol which has universally adopted the slower speed, 95 percent of respondents want the slower speeds maintained in all residential and school zoned areas.

Mario Canseco has just released a new poll where he asked residents across British Columbia how they perceived the traffic on the street where they lived.  His online poll of a “representative provincial sample”  showed that  “58% of British Columbians say they would “definitely” or “probably” like to see the speed limit reduced to 30 km/h on all residential streets in their own municipality, while keeping the speed limit on arterial and collector roads at 50 km/h.”

When asked about Vancouver’s pilot project to have a demonstration project of slower residential speeds, two thirds (66%) of people in the Province thought it was a good idea, with only 22% saying it was a bad or very bad thing.

Here is where it gets interesting-Mario also found that people surveyed supportive of slower speeds were 74 and 72 percent voting for the BC New Democratic Party and the BC Green Party than the BC Liberals which were at 60 percent.

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While Vancouver City Council is creating a 30 kilometer an hour residential area “demonstration project” in Vancouver, Europe once again shows the way that slower streets are not only about increasing safety, but  are truly a facet of making neighbourhood streets much more neighbourly.

Slower streets means kids can play stickball in the street on a summer evening, and seniors can amble more comfortably around the area. It means making the residents and walkers, rollers and cyclists just as important as vehicular traffic, which ate up most of the road surface in the 20th century. That vehicular traffic has had a relatively free ride (bad pun) on city streets and infrastructure, and habits are hard to break. Vehicles and their drivers view speed and efficiency in their own journey as paramount, with residential streets necessary collateral needing to be used for drivers’ own interests.

Take a look at the City of Bristol, one of many cities in Great Britain that have embraced slower speeds of 20 miles per hour, equivalent to 32 kilometres per hour. Enacted between 2012 and 2015  a detailed review of the slower speeds found that only minor adjustments were identified, and most of those proposed improvements were to facilitate active travel by walking or bicycle.

And the numbers are astounding~of 3,500 responses,  95 percent of respondents wanted to maintain the lower speed limits in residential areas and school zones. The 20 mile per hour speed limit was an essential component of Bristol’s Vision Zero plan to eradicate serious injury and death  in vehicular crashes. You can read more about the survey and the background to the 20 mile per hour implementation at this website: 20 miles per hour~A little bit slower. A whole lot better.

Closer to home Seattle’s Dongho Chang  traffic engineer extraordinaire  has compared what happened in Seattle when sixty percent of streets were changed to 20 miles per hour in 2016, with arterials posted at 25 miles per hour.

Seattle has seen a 20 percent reduction in the number of total collisions for the years 2017 and 2018 when compared to the two years before the slower speeds were implemented. That works out to 1,000 less collisions  in the last two years, with 3,912 crashes compared to 4,907 crashes in the two years prior to slower speeds.

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Whoever put together the City of Vancouver tweet above did a nice job, but you can see by the wording that the tweeter does not know much about Jeff Speck. We’ve been relatively quiet about  the fact that renowned urbanist, author and city planner Jeff Speck is in town assuming that all the tickets for his speaking events were gone weeks ago. But we were wrong, and here’s your opportunity to hear the author of the classic book “Walkable City” who has just released “Walkable City Rules: 101 steps to Making Better Places”. This recent book is a practical handbook for practitioners, breaking down the steps and methods to make cities that are connected, sociable and thriving.

For people in urban design and new urbanism Jeff needs no introduction. He is a thoughtful seasoned urbanist that truly believes that downtowns are the heart of any city and making them vibrant is achievable and the right thing to do. And he’s not just a speaker. Jeff has rolled up his shirt sleeves and worked across North America and elsewhere in towns and cities providing the guide map to revitalize and recharge places by reinventing how downtowns are perceived and how they are accessed.

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Let’s just say it (because the Park Board doesn’t want to have to): Its de facto policy towards cycling is ‘To, Not Through’.  ‘We’ll accommodate bikes going to our facilities, but we don’t want to build cycling routes to enable them to cycle through our parks on the way to somewhere else or to reach key destinations in our parks.”

Hence: no separate cycling paths through Kits or Jericho parks.  Let the City build bikeways around them.

They don’t even want to accommodate cyclists going to their facilities if they can avoid it.

Like this one:

This is Kitsilano Pool.  It has about a half dozen asphalt paths leading to its entrance.  This is what they look like if you’re on a bike:

Or counting the little no-bike logos from space:

The paths all lead here:

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In a densifying city that is serious about being sustainable lowering vehicular speed limits within neighbourhoods is a good way to enhance livability for local residents, decrease automobile emissions, plus lower the likelihood of serious injury or death. You would think that in a country with universal health care that lowering vehicular speeds within neighbourhoods would be the right thing to do to foster walking, cycling and interaction among residents.

But we forget that the street fabric and the way that our communities are designed and indeed funded have been for vehicular movement, and that mode of transportation has (pardon the pun) had a free ride.  Auto infrastructure has been funded by the general tax base and not by the user. Cars have gobbled up the majority of shared road space, and our 20th century mindset does not know how to slow them down.

Until now.

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In the good news/bad news department, the City of Vancouver has announced a “Request for Expression of Interest (RFEOI) “on a proposed master plan for four iconic west end parks, their beaches, and the adjacent street networks. Noting that there is an expectation of 18,000 more residents in the West End by 2040 and the fact that this area is heavily frequented by tourists, the City is looking at a refreshing rethink of this place that is so loved by locals.

That heavily used parks that are older are being considered for a facelift is great, with enhancements being proposed for Morton Park, better connections for cyclists to the seawall, better readable open space, and an emphasis on biodiversity and festival space.

The Vancouver Aquatic Centre built in 1976 is over forty years old and is due for an overhaul. It would benefit from a redesign that tied it into Sunset Park. The RFEOI also wants to explore climate change and sea rise, and  do work differently. Noting that these lands are on the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, any proposal must include meaningful engagement with the Nations. This could be very exciting to have placemaking and marking from the indigenous perspective, and explore culturally and historically the use and importance of this site.

The bad news was it appeared that some City Councillors and Parks Commissioners were unaware of this city proposal and initiative, which follows city policy to improve and manage public amenities and improve active transportation connections.

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When I first saw these two mascots walking in a downtown rapid transit station I figured it must be for a chocolate dipped Dairy Queen cone and some new confection from Orange Julius. But no~these two mascots are actually representative of basic human excrement.

I was hopeful that our campaign on Price Tags to have washrooms  installed for the public at transit stations was about to be announced by these two mascots with the predictable names of “Pee and Poo”.

But no. As the CBC dryly reports Metro Vancouver  “has launched a video campaign introducing mascots Poo and Pee to drive home a message about improper flushing.The costumed mascots are part of Metro Vancouver’s annual Unflushables campaign to remind people about items that should not be flushed because they can clog city sewers and your pipes.”

I have written about the City of Victoria’s Mr. Floatie with his jaunty sailor’s cap and yellow rain boots. The creation of school teacher James Skwaro, Mr. Floatie had  a thirteen year career in Greater Victoria reminding citizens that 130 million litres of untreated sewage was being dumped daily into the Salish Sea.

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