COVID Place making
June 18, 2020

The NPA on Cycling: Weaponizing Wokiness

 

“He is not anti-bike, he said.”

That’s NPA Park Commissioner John Coupar in today’s Sun. 

Problem is, he’s not pro-bike either.  And as a commissioner for the Board of Parks and Recreation, he’s been an effective opponent, now along with the other NPA park commissioner and the NPA board, of any change to the status quo, circa 1990, when the City (under an NPA Council) began to make this a more cycling-friendly city by building separated bikeways.  (Best example: the Seaside Bikeway).

For John, perhaps angling for another mayoral run, he’s leading a fight of his own manufacture: “the logical thing to do is to open up (Park Drive) just the way it was. If you are going to make changes in the future take your time, talk to everybody, make it public.” (Emphasis added, if ‘just the way it was’ was Stanley Park circa 1990.)

Consultation and process have served John and the Parks Board well in ensuring that no significant improvement in cycling in any of the parks has occurred since, well, 1990.  PT has documented that extensively.

For the NPA as a whole, an anti-bike-lane agenda, whether explicitly stated or dog-whistled, has not actually served them well; they haven’t won a mayoral election since 2008.  But even today, as they redrink their bathwater, the NPA board itself, not just the NPA park commissioners, has clearly decided the Park Drive closure to vehicles is the issue they want to brand themselves with.

This letter was circulated to their presumed supporters from the board president:

Dear Supporter,

We know Vancouverites are extremely proud of Stanley Park. However, access to the park for all is under attack! We are emerging from this pandemic and it is time to re-open Stanley Park for everyone.

That’s why the NPA has called for an emergency meeting on Thursday, June 18th at 6:30 pm to re-open the park in time for this Father’s Day weekend and for the first weekend of summer.

This is where we need you to come in. If you believe that Stanley Park must be reopened to vehicle traffic immediately please sign up to speak at the meeting here. The meeting is online via the Zoom video conference. We know that the Greens and COPE will have their vocal activists show up, so please consider joining us in fighting for access and inclusiveness for all in the park.

Sincerely,

David Mawhinney, President, Non-Partisan Association

I do have to admire their strategy to use the language of wokiness – ableism, ageism – to frame the fight as one on behalf of the disabled and seniors against the activists and Lycra-clad.  (Or people like me, for whom Stanley Park is our front yard.  Talk about privileged!)

It’s evident that this a political strategy – and a rather tacky one: proclaim your opponents in favour of something they are not (closure of the park to cars) and then double down on the exaggeration by not correcting the mis-statement when called on it.

Here’s Jeff Leigh, a spokesperson for HUB Cycling:

I have been talking to the media for several weeks now, telling them that I am happy to have a lane allocated for cycling in the park, and for automobiles and delivery vehicles to have a lane, and for people walking to have space to move on the seawall in these times of physical distancing. It is about space for all. Nothing selfish about it.

And their response is typically to post a headline that says something like “cyclists want vehicles banned from Stanley Park permanently” even when the article or interview that follows doesn’t call for that at all. It is tiring.

I’m sure the NPA know their motion won’t pass; it isn’t intended to.  It’s positioning, and it allows them, when staff report back with the modified reallocation (likely opening the park to cars in one lane) to proclaim victory, implying that the inevitable occurred only because of their opposition to something that wasn’t going to happen anyway.

They will appear relevant to their base, but only at the price of reaffirming their backward-looking commitment to a status quo that disappeared utterly when Vancouverites found that cycling was a perfect response to the pandemic: outdoors,

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I’m trying to figure out what NPA Parks Commissioners Barker and Coupar have in mind.

They want to “take immediate steps to reopen Stanley Park to its pre COVID19 transportation and access plan…”  And do it now, before next week.

Who knew there was a plan to keep Stanley Park in 1960s-style traffic design?  You know, Motordom.

I’m trying to figure out whether they actually intend the cyclists to go back to the seawall and the shared paths.  Since, not wanting to fight it out with the cars and buses on a shared Park Drive, many will be back on the seawall, sharing what had been used only for walking and running while all the bikes were up on the road.

So, is all the return to “sharing” really the outcome the NPA Commissioners want?  Given the likelihood of immediate conflict.

 

There have been months and months of flow-way style cycling in the park.   The peoples of Vancouver found a collective play space.  And this video is what it looked like last week:

Park Drive

 

Imagine a portion of those cyclists back on what have been walk-only paths.   Isn’t this a set-up for immediate conflict?

I doubt that’s really what the NPA commissioners want.

So what is?

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As someone who has been doing presentations on the physical form of Vancouver and how it has changed, I’ll admit I’m guilty of misrepresentation.  A statistical sample of my images would show the city as seen on its sunny days, which, I think we might all agree, would not reflect its meteorological reality.

So here’s some balance: two views of the Beach Flow Way, one from June 5, the other from June 13, from the same view over Sunset Beach, with appropriate soundtracks from Bach.

A lot less bikes on rainy days (duh).  But the same may be true here for cars.

Thanks to PT music director, Andrew Walsh. 

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Until a few years ago, space beyond the curb was for parking, picking stuff up, getting on a bus and dropping stuff off.

Curb space was for accessibility by vehicle.   Very valuable space.

So logically, there was no place for uses that reduced accessibility – especially when the intent was just the opposite, to get people to linger.

Photo by Cal

Because of the pandemic, we’ve quickly made space for Non-Motordom users who need more space.   But now there is less parking and vehicle accessibility.

Is that a fair trade-off?  Only if there’s no alternative for those with no alternative.

And there is: the space beyond the patio.  As part of a slow street, double-parking and double-sitting is the expected way.  If on slow streets, pedestrians can walk down the middle of the street, cars can stop and linger for a bit too.

This way of thinking about a street violates the understanding we have had of Motordom, where the vehicle retains dominance.  Those who wish to maintain Motordom are using marginalization – ableism, ageism – as a defense, assuming that the needs of seniors and the disabled can only be respected with the full apparatus of a 20th-century road system.

Where the space beyond the curb is for cars.  And that’s so not so.

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As the debate heats up and polarizes on how Stanley Park should allocate road space while accommodating everyone in a time of pandemic, here’s the bigger question:

Does access for the disabled and seniors require ‘Full Motordom’ – the default 20th-century road-and-parking design that gave us auto-dependence?

Here are several examples of Motordom design from the park, including this one:

The roads are designed almost exclusively for driving – banked and angled curves, no stop signs, unaligned crosswalks, limited sidewalks.  Of course, no bike lanes.

Some park commissioners and supporters have a new line of defense to prevent change: Motordom is necessary to provide access for the disabled and seniors (who are presumed to be car-dependent), while at the same time implying or accusing those who desire a more balanced approach of demanding a car-fee Stanley Park.  They’re not and it isn’t.

 

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Imagine you’re a Park Commissioner in Vancouver.  You want to make sure seniors have a voice in any decision that affects car traffic in Stanley Park.  For many, that’s their access.

But you have a choice to make: Will you at the same time encourage seniors to cycle more?  And do something to make that happen.

More like this:

This is Michael Alexander a few days before his eighth decade, on the Arbutus Greenway.  A pause, a nod to the metaphorical flowers along the way.  This is a senior blissfully engaged in the life of Vancouver, loving the city we’ve become.  You know, because of that bike stuff.

And then he gives back more.  He’s a healthy citizen in every respect.

 

So how as Commissioner do you do both: open parks to traffic and get more seniors on bikes?

You’ll be deciding in the next few weeks.  What would you tell us?

 

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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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