Cycling
September 18, 2019

The Worst Sidewalk- 7: Main and Union

From Ian W:

Any of the already mentioned parking entrances, designed decades ago when design guidelines did not prioritize the pedestrians, are all much safer than the intersection of Main and Union.

That intersection, the closure of the west block of Union, and addition of the bike lanes, dedicated and shared, alternately protected and not, islands lost in the middle of nowhere, two lanes turning onto the viaduct with one ending within a car’s length, non-orthogonal bike lane, unclear direction and movements and bizarre light sequencing, make the intersectio much more dangerous than probably all the ramps mentioned, combined! I’m sure ICBC’s and the ER reporting statistics will back than claim up in spades.

That bikeway and intersection was configured in the last decade with cyclists and pedestrians as a priority. It has also been showcased by CoV as a great example of “mobility improvements”.

OK, so it’s not downtown and it’s not a sidewalk but if you’re going to point out bad design, let’s start with the worst and most unsafe, not just the car-centric.

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From RLittlemore:

Turn south from (Dunsmuir at Pacific Centre) and you’ll find that it’s worse yet on the east side of Howe Street.

The entrance and exit to the same parkade dominates nearly the whole length of the block between West Georgia and Robson – a disruption that completes a pedestrian nightmare that begins as you try to get around the obnoxious driveway to the Four Seasons.

 

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From the ever-insightful Guest:

Two places that are worse:

– Robson Street (north side) just west of Richards outside the Jinya Ramen restaurant, where Jinya has a patio railing (and a line-up), there is a washroom kiosk, a new digital sign has been installed, and the Telus garden office building has a glass sidewalk which some people avoid walking on.

 

Granville Street (east side) just north of Robson where Cafe Crepe has a patio railing, there is a poorly placed bike rack , often a sidewalk vendor with a table and a metal Canada Line ventilation grill in the sidewalk that some people avoid walking on.

 

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Well, this post was a trigger: “Just possibly the worst sidewalk to navigate in downtown.”

PT readers think there are worse examples than Dunsmuir at Pacific Centre.  So we’ll take nominations, and then vote.

Here’s Ron van den Eerden’s nomination: Nelson and Cambie:

Several of these eyesores are set behind the sidewalk so you get the crossing *and* the ugly hole: Robson and Howe, Robson and Hornby, Howe and Smithe, Costco entrance off of Beatty and the ugliest of them all, Nelson and Smithe at Cambie at the SAP building. The worst of both worlds.

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A major entrance to Pacific Centre Mall off Dunsmuir Street:

Scaffolding clutters the space, but that’s temporary.  The real problem is permanent: the ramp to the underground parking:

It must have seemed like a small intervention when Pacific Centre was being designed in the sixties.  The project was three blocks long; underground parking spaces numbered in the thousands.  Taking up so much sidewalk space for a necessary exit wouldn’t have been a serious worry.

On the Dunsmuir Street of 2019, it looks like a scar.

 

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In the recent history of Vancouver, it’s unusual when the built-out parts of the city – places where people happily live and work – suddenly change scale and character, when a new urban form, usually larger and different in use, replaces the local urban landscape.

Sudden change was the way we used to do it: when a single rezoning swept away the architecture (and many of the people) in early streetcar neighbourhoods, and converted them into the concrete highrise versions. (See Kerrisdale Village, Ambleside, the West End).  It can also happen where obsolete uses and rising land values come together, when industrial lands convert to residential megaprojects.  (See Collingwood Village).

Or where new transportation infrastructure aligns with new land use. See the impact of the Canada Line on Cambie Street.

Here’s the northwest corner of Cambie and King Edward in May, 2015 – a half decade after the Canada Line opened:

And in September, 2019:

Along the Cambie boulevard, the shift in scale is dramatic.

… compared to what was there just five years before:

 

It won’t take too long to get comfortable with this scale of change.  In fact, the spectacularly treed boulevard will be so much more appreciated now with gallery walls of apartment buildings, all about the same height and setback.  The parkway becomes more an elongated arboretum, less a well-treed highway median.  The entire landscape shifts with your viewpoint on the elegant curves that so gently rise and descend over Queen Elizabeth Park.  On the Cambie Boulevard, the tradition of  Olmstedian landscape architecture lives on.

When Oakridge was laid out, this was the best of Motordom in the City Beautiful, designed for the aesthetic and practical experience of moving by car.   Now, underneath, real change has come but out of sight.

The consequences of planning done after the Canada Line corridor have accelerated; the transformation is apparent, and a little jarring.  But because what was best about the boulevard looks like its being respected, what could have been traumatic change looks like it will be just fine.

When you’re hoping that Vancouverites will come to accept more sudden change in scale and character of the city and its neighbourhoods, it’s helpful to have something done well to show them.

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Retired city planner Michael Gordon, featured in this recent PriceTalks, edited the summer issue of Sitelines, the journal of the BC Society of Landscape Architects. 

The theme – Pavement to Plaza – is about converting modest sections of streets to neighbourhood places.

The lead story by the designers Norm Hotson and Don Vaughan backgrounds the pioneer Pavement to Plaza vision in the early 1970’s with their concept for the West End mini-parks.  Unless I’m unaware of similar traffic-calming projects, the West of Denman maze of miniparks and diverters was the first traffic calming of its kind in North America.  Hey, let’s say the world!

Price Tags did a post on the origins of West End traffic calming back in 2013, but these authors were the actual designers.  Here are some excerpts:

In 1973 the City of Vancouver established the West End Planning Centre, the first of its kind in the city, staffed by Planning, Social Planning and Engineering Departments. … Norman Hotson Architects was retained by the City to prepare an Open Space Policy for the West End. …

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Chris Son and Patrick found it:

Almost everyone thought this little park with roundabout was on the West Side, the North Shore, UBC or False Creek: upscale Vancouverism-style  neighbourhoods all.    “One thing for sure it’s not on the East Side of Vancouver,” said one.

That’s exactly where it is:

It’s part of the greenway network that runs through Collingwood Village – the forgotten megaproject, one of the seven that were underway pretty much simultaneously, from Coal Harbour to Fraser Lands, in the late 1980s and 1990s.

The City, the community and Concert Properties undertook a consultation process that worked so well, residents were willing to entertain one of the largest growth spurts in the city between 1986 and 2011, in the form of Collingwood Village on an old industrial and warehousing site, immediately southeast of Joyce-Collingwood SkyTrain Station.  The result was “a highly successful transit-oriented mixed-use development,” in the City’s opinion, now reputed to be Vancouver’s densest residential area.

To repeat: Vancouver’s densest residential area.*

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As a consequence of the West End Community Plan of 2013, there is a massive rebuilding of the blocks on Davie Street from Jervis to Denman.  But the West End is used to that.  The district has already seen such transformations throughout its history.

It began with the ‘New Liverpool’ subdivision prior to the incorporation of the city, bringing with it an explosion of development: mansions of the elite and professional class, along with the ‘Vancouver Specials’ of the 1890s you can still see on Mole Hill. Inserted were the first apartment blocks with the arrival of the streetcar on Denman and Davie in 1900.

Then the crash of 1913, a war, a Depression, another war.  It wasn’t until the late 1940s when redevelopment again transformed a decaying and overcrowded district with dozens of those three-storey walkups.

A rezoning in 1956 brought the most significant change of all: over 200 concrete highrises.  That concrete jungle – the postcard shot – is the West End today: the scale and character of one of Canada’s densest neighbourhoods.

It turned out okay.

Now, the current and expected changes are happening on the border blocks, from Thurlow to Burrard, Alberni to Georgia – and very obviously on West Davie.  Faster than planners anticipated.  The most significant phase of West End development in the last half century.

Here’s an example on one side of one block from Cardero to Bidwell – three towers at the stage where the raw concrete makes a more powerful architectural statement than when the glass and spandrel panels get attached:

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