COVID Place making
June 3, 2020

English Bay Ballet – from ‘Virus Pastorale’

I’ve been posting the occasional video vignettes of city life in the time of covid – especially along the Slow Streets and the Beach Flow Way.

Video captures the cyclists and walkers intersecting among each other – appearing like dancers on an asphalt stage.  The setting is ideal: the beauty of a particularly lush spring, according to gardening friends.  A big drop in the number and noise of vehicles.  Busy roadways notched down.  All that’s needed is music.

Here’s the latest such vignette: 32 seconds set to Bach, at the corner of Beach and Davie, where the blocks on all sides are completely closed to cars.

The volume of cyclists is so high that the crosswalk demands even more attention and respect from high-speed two-wheelers and alert walkers, who want to cross the flow way wherever they want.  So they should – so long as there’s mutual respect.

The result can seem almost choreographed, right up to the birds overhead.

Here is ‘English Bay Ballet’ from the Virus Pastorale Suite*.

* Thanks to Andrew Walsh for music, production and support.

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North Van City Councillor Tony Valente was apparently very pleased with his Council’s last meeting, according to his hashtag:  #bestcouncilmeetingever. Two reports, especially, drew his praise: the first  on Open Streets, the second on public drinking.

By dealing with the reports immediately, Council sped past every muni in the region. On May 25, 2020, Council had directed staff to develop “an action plan for advancing the reallocation of road space …”   Two day’s later an action plan was on their agenda – with this proposal for an Open-Street Network.

 “Open Streets” (nothing ‘closed’ here) is made up of Green Trails, Neighbourhood (or slow streets) and Destination Streets (closer to flow streets.)  For $150,000, the 12 kilometres in the system will by priorized for action:

Clearly staff were ready to go, meaning they were confident of council approval. When things happen this seamlessly and this fast, it’s a sign of well-coordinated relationship among Council and Staff.

Assuming the same efficiency, with cities across Metro laying out their own open streets and patios, by the end of the summer the region will have gone through the fastest, biggest and furthest experiment of street reallocation in its history.

And that wasn’t all.

On May 11, Council had directed staff to come back with a process to expand temporary patios into public spaces, and report back on the feasibility of “the consumption of liquor in certain public spaces for safe, informal public dining.”  Given the abuse of alcohol in the rough-and-tumble North Van of the past, this is quite an evolution. Of course “it relies on people adopting, using and managing the public place with regard to physical distancing and respectful consumption of liquor.”  A challenge when the last word overcomes the first.

So, a qualified thank you, virus, for giving us the rationale to do what we’ve only talked about before.  Now we have crises, collapses and uncertainties for justification.  Here’s the one CNV staff used:

Just as the coronavirus fallout threatens to cause economic uncertainty, it also may cause a collapse in social contact among our residents. Utilizing public places is a central part of moving forward and getting people out of their residence, which in turn will support local businesses.

In the next few weeks, in North Vancouver City and elsewhere in the region, we may see the emergence of a street culture we haven’t seen before: places of domestic conviviality for people who live nearby.  Few visitors, no tourists, just the people who live here and aren’t on vacation.

We’re going to find out who we really are.

 

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“Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge: Transportation Infrastructure as Public Space”.

We’ve invited leaders in urban design, transportation, and public policy to share their ideas, and offer insight into how cities can redesign existing bridges, parks, plazas, and streets to be better well into the future.

On a typical day, over 10,000 pedestrians and 2,600 bicyclists traverse the Brooklyn Bridge using a pathway as narrow as 10 feet in some places. In normal times, these conditions could be described as uncomfortable. In the context of a pandemic, they are dangerous.

As sheltering orders ease, we know the Brooklyn Bridge and the City at large cannot return to business as usual. How can we welcome people back to our streets and public spaces, while observing immediate needs for social distancing? How can we make people comfortable and safe, ensuring our infrastructure serves pedestrians and cyclists now and for the long term?

Panelists include:
– Allison Arieff, Editorial Director, SPUR
– Laura Bliss, West Coast Bureau Chief, CityLab (moderator)
– Jennifer Bradley, Director, Center for Urban Innovation, Aspen Institute
– Tamika Butler, Director of Planning, California and Director of Equity and Inclusion,         Toole Design
– Shin-Pei Tsay, Director, Policy, Cities and Transportation, Uber

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Here are some of the first images of our first Slow Streets. (Click title for all images.)

Thanks to Anthony Floyd:

Went on a tour of the Slow Streets this evening. Not all the barricades and signs were in place yet, but we met the crew working their way West, so they might be all in by the end of the evening.

South of Kingsway, on Lakewood and along Ridgeway, they are fillable plastic jersey barriers with the signs attached to one side. They are only at the entrances at major intersections, and at the end of that block away from the intersection. There are few to no barriers between major streets. These barriers are mostly in the middle of the street.

North of Kingsway, along Lakewood and Wall St the barriers are A-Frame construction barriers with the signs. These too are only near major intersections. The placement of these barriers is much more variable. More often than not, they’re on the side of the road (whether placed there or moved there) and could be easily overlooked. In my opinion these are even less effective here.

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Why isn’t there a Kits Flow Way – an allocation of street space that both takes the pressure off the overcrowded mixed-use paths through Hadden and Kits Park, and provides a designated, separated space to accommodate the dramatically increased amount of bike traffic in these days of the pandemic?  In other other words, a Kits equivalent of the Beach Flow Way.  (More discussion here.)

The answer I heard from City Hall insiders is that there really isn’t a need to have a traffic-calmed reallocation on parts of the adjacent streets because, with the pandemic and the closure of the parking lots in Kits and Hadden, there isn’t much traffic anyway.

Well, guess what.

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Seaside Greenway: all the paths along the waterfront, from Coal Harbour to Spanish Banks.

One of the best continual waterfront pathways in the world. The result of a century and a half of political commitment and constant addition.

In the 1990s, separated routes were state-of-the-art design as the Seaside enveloped False Creek.  Vancouverism at its best.  (Examples in the video above.)

Certainly a new standard for active transportation.

David Lam Park Seaside Extension – 1998

Vancouver loved it.  A generation of cyclists, runners, walkers was raised on it, of every age and agility.

But the road-like design was not a standard some park board commissioners were comfortable with, reflecting the general anxiety Vancouverites feel when it  comes to paving paradise.  In Kitsilano Park, they stopped trying.

Nonetheless, Seaside was connecting up. More kilometres opened every year in the nineties, the region was building a network in the 2000s, the Bikeway Network was in full bloom. Add in downtown bike lanes, Burrard Bridge, Point Grey Road.  Growth was inevitable.

Like any attractive and free transportation option, it began to fill up.  But we weren’t anywhere near incoherent congestion.  Wheel and feet got along pretty well on Seaside – except in some of the parks.  And there was still room for tourists.

Then, March of 2020.  Overnight we found out what our very own latent demand was when Park Drive and Beach Avenue became Flow Ways*.

Vancouver immediately experienced the difference, and they liked it.

Best of all, it took the pressure off the seawall. If the Beach Flow Way didn’t exist, those bicycles would be back in places like this:

 

How could deliberately doing that be defended? It probably can’t.

Basically, there’s no status quo to return to.  Now we have to design successfully for the world we are believe we are in.

As the awareness of the future of Seaside is developing, the summer will progress. And it will be just us Vancouverites on Seaside  There are no tourists.

By fall, if we’re responsive and there’s a will for more change, we’ll have essentially designed the next stage of Seaside.

 

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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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On the weekend of the sixth week of the pandemic shutdown, the weather was warm, the caseloads were dropping, and Dr. Henry gave permission for us to sit around outside in small numbers.

Maybe the man with the voice and guitar is a professional musician, now gig-less, taking his talent and equipment to the grass in front of his building, where the neighbours and passers-by make up his concert.  That’s what it looks like.

At the end of the video, ornithological accompaniment.

 

 

 

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This is what we planted in the 1990s: a landscape design from the post-Expo era that has come to be known as ‘Vancouverism.”

Downtown South was in a post-rezoning boom, and Hong Kong investment, families and sensibilities were arriving – evident on the 800-block of Hamilton Street where the major tower, completed in 1995, is named ‘Jardine’s Lookout’ (a mountain and residential area on Hong Kong Island).

Now, a generation later, it is surrounded by a maturing urban forest.

The 1991 Downtown South rezoning was accompanied by a neighbourhood-specific streetscape manual in 1994, meant to provide a greener, quieter identity on what would otherwise be traffic-heavy arterials.  Influenced by Erickson and Oberlander’s landscaping of Robson Square, the sidewalks would all have a double row of trees, with increased setbacks and, in this case, a heritage garden (all paid for by the developers, from building to curb.)

Note how there are four levels of landscaping, from bushes and hedges at grade, to the rows of trees, to the gardens on decks and roofs.  Foliage surrounds the pedestrian on every side, and above, proving that high-density urban environments can be greener and more lush than any grass-dominant suburb.

Regrettably, the curb-adjacent planting strips (inspired by West-End boulevards) could not handle the foot traffic along the metered streets, and so the grass has been replaced over time with asphalt, brick, concrete and astroturf.  Having been the councillor who pushed for grass curbing in the original urban design, I regret my over-optimism on its survival, but do wish we had gone for something both permeable and able to withstand the wear-and-tear.

This is an urban forest in its adolescence.  And it’s not the only block.  Throughout Downtown South, from Robson to Pacific, Granville to Yaletown, the streets are becoming so lush and thick with foliage, we’ll already have to consider how we’re going to thin them out.

 

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