COVID Place making
May 11, 2020

Physical Distancing Shopping Style~Bollards On Granville Street, Cooped Up on Commercial Drive, & Rueing about Robson

Historian and author John Atkin posted this image he took last Fall of the new work on downtown  Granville Street that involved installing a whole bunch of bollards on the south end of the street right before the bridge. As John notes

“Sorting thru old photos, found this shot of the recently completed Granville St redo… In light of the ongoing sidewalk space discussion maybe its time to get rid of this waste of space given to bollards marking sidewalk parking for cars… hmmm.”

Covid spacing requirements mean we need to look at our downtown spaces and places a bit differently and ensure people are comfortable getting outdoors with appropriate physical distancing and patronizing local merchants who badly need the business.

I also found this blog on Downtown Vancouver Bollards by Reliance Foundry that enthusiastically sees bollards as “a form of communication”. There’s also been discussions about security bollards to be placed on the street at night  following the horrible attack on Toronto Streets.

Covid distancing requirements of that requisite two meters means there’s a need to be a bit more creative on the use of the street. And it’s clear we are not there yet in commercial areas, as these two images from Simon Fraser University’s City Program Director Andy Yan illustrates. Here’s a group of people waiting to get into a grocery store on Commercial Drive. There’s not enough distance on the sidewalk, and so the potential customers are  relegated to the street.

And surprise! The bus is trying to use the street too.  As Andy Yan states, “This is NOT the best way of making public sidewalk space with the #covid19 rules.”


Kristen Robinson of Global TV  has produced a film clip outlining some of the physical distancing challenges on Robson Street as merchants look forward to opening their businesses. At this point retailers are not asking for a full road closure but want to have enough space on sidewalks and in the parking lane to ensure that potential customers can line up with appropriate physical distancing. This has already been done using barricades in the parking lane at several businesses. You can take a look at Global TV’s video here.

Many cities around the world are using the Covid opportunity of the need for physical distancing as a way to reboot their economy by using streets in a different way.

I have been writing on Price Tags about the importance for the City of providing a street network for transportation by walking, rolling and cycling throughout the city.   A plan needs to be developed for Vancouver commercial areas too to give them a boost.

Data from Transport for London (TfL)    found that street improvements for walking and cycling increased time spent on retail streets by 216% . Retail space vacancies declined by 17%.

But the best news, and this is also in line with research conducted in Toronto and in New York City “people walking, cycling and using public transport spend the most money in their local shops, spending 40% more each month than car drivers”.

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Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery opened in 1886 and is administered by the City of Vancouver. It has a 110 acre site located west of Fraser Street between 31st and 43rd Avenues. The current manager is Glen Hodges who is well respected for his work and for his stewardship of the cemetery. There are over 92,000 grave sites and over 145,0000 interred remains.

One of the challenges over the last thirty years has been how to calibrate the balance of keeping the cemetery available to people who want visit family graves, and that of the public who may want to bike or stroll through the site.  Glen Hodges has worked to document the history of the cemetery and to respect the many cultures who come to visit graveside.

There are also 12,000 Canadian military graves in Mountain View. Right now that area has an astounding display of “Canadian Liberation” tulips that were planted to honour Canada’s contribution to Dutch freedom.

This is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands which was led by Canadians during the Second World War.  Over 7,600 Canadian soldiers died in the Netherlands during the war.

The tulips are breathtaking and symbolic. But  local community organizer Sharole Tylor sent these photos of what the tulips looked like at the end of April.

Sharole writes: “I could not believe it- I saw a car drive through from 37th Avenue, the passenger got out and moved the barricade, moved it back once the car drove through and did the same for the barricade near 33rd. Like was that so much of a time savings that you couldn’t have used a regular street.”

In the photos  below, someone removed the barricade and then tried to back a vehicle  through the tulips centimeters away from one of the military headstones.

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Finally – over a hundred days into the covid era – a city leader has articulated an initiative for “Reallocation of Road Space to Support Shared Use during Pandemic”.   Lisa Dominato but forward the following notice of motion, bumped to May 12 for discussion.


  1. The City of Vancouver declared a local state of emergency on March 19, 2020 in response to the global COVID19 pandemic;
  1. The Province has recommended physical distancing of 2 metres (6 feet) to prevent the spread of COVID19;
  1. The Province has also recommended the public continue to safely enjoy the outdoors, including local parks and public spaces;
  1. The Provincial health officer has commented publicly in recent weeks that partial street closures and one way travel/routing can be an effective way to enable physical exercise and safe distancing during the pandemic;
  1. Cities across Canada and around the world are undertaking measures to reallocate street space and roadways for pedestrians to safely exercise, access businesses and employment, while maintaining a safe distance due to the current pandemic;
  1. Vancouver City Council has previously endorsed motions to support slower residential streets and encourage safer shared use;
  1. The City of Vancouver and Park Board recently identified congestion in and around Stanley Park, and subsequently closed the Stanley Park roadway to cars and one lane along Beach Avenue to enable safe physical distancing during the COVID19 pandemic;
  1. The City of Vancouver has initiated a street reallocation initiative that focuses on Room to Queue, Room to Load, and Room to Move during the COVID19 pandemic;
  1. The ongoing pandemic necessitates that the City reallocate road space on an urgent basis now and develop plans for mobility and space use as part of our post-COVID-19 recovery and new economy.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council direct staff to expedite efforts to identify and implement appropriate reallocations of road space, such as high use greenways and streets adjacent to parks where space could be reallocated temporarily to enable safe shared use (pedestrians, cyclists, motor vehicles) and support safe physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic response, and

FURTHER THAT Council direct staff to communicate information to the public and businesses regarding the suite of street measures available to the City for reallocating space to support access to local businesses, to support loading and curbside pick-up, and to support physical activity and distancing in neighbourhoods across the city, and

FURTHER THAT Council direct staff to report back to Council in fall 2020 on refined options for mobility and public realm use us as part of the post COVID19 recovery and new economy.

Note No. 8 in the Whereas’s.  Had any readers heard of a City of Vancouver street reallocation initiative that focuses on “Room to Queue, Room to Load, and Room to Move”?  Nothing was sent to Price Tags (perhaps too low below the horizon) – nor has much been said of note from the City’s leaders, particularly the Mayor. 

What a lost opportunity to reinforce other initiatives promoted by the City: reallocation as a health response, a climate-emergency response, a local-neighbourhood planning response, an active-transportation response – all of the above at a time when the difficult-to-do has become the necessary-to-do.  (Speaking of which, one would hardly think it necessary to direct staff “to communicate information to the public and businesses regarding the suite of street measures available …”)

Lisa’s motion more importantly goes beyond the immediate pandemic: she sees reallocation as important to a recovery- and new-economy response.

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There’s lots of discussion on what impacts  Covid-19 will have on the way we will live in the coming months and years.

I have already written about  Dr. Snow who was a Victorian era London physician. In 1854 he traced  cholera, which was infecting and killing people in the Broad Street area of  Soho London to  a public water pump on the street.

By removing the handle of the pump, and asking patients to wash hands and practice good hygiene the infected water was not consumed and the cholera cases diminished.Dr. John Snow solidified the concept that health and planning were integrated, and this approach contributed to more sanitary housing conditions and safe water sources

 The 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic infected 27 percent of the world’s population, but had a lesser death toll in New York City. What made the difference there was a “robust” and organized public health infrastructure, distancing of the healthy from the infected, a public health campaign and  disease surveillance.

Today we are dealing with Covid-19, a virus which can be deadly and indiscriminately impacts the young, elderly and vulnerable. As we emerge from isolation there will be a new normal, and it will be markedly different. It is expected that some of the more vulnerable population will continue to self-isolate and  physically distance by staying  two meters apart. That population will use shops and services that offer the required distancing space, and spend more time at their home abode.

The pandemic has also shown that sidewalks for walkers and rollers are not built wide enough to offer the required two meter physical distancing space. In Canada, Winnipeg and Calgary have responded by closing off streets to allow people to exercise and get to shops and services by walking or rolling on city streets. Vancouver’s Park Board took the initiative to close the road in Stanley Park for walkers and cyclists. Besides a section of Beach Avenue, Vancouver has not dedicated  a connected series of streets for walking, rolling or biking  off the downtown peninsula.

New York City has just announced  that 40 miles (64 km)  of connected street would be available for walking, rolling and cycling, and wider sidewalks and wider bike lanes built on other streets. Mayor de Blasio intends to open 100 miles (160 km) of city streets during the epidemic. This is a huge change in the Mayor’s thinking but as he stated “social distancing on the city’s narrow sidewalks and in its parks will only become more difficult as New Yorkers flee their cramped apartments during the warmer months seeking fresh air and sunshine.”

Lloyd Alter in Tree Hugger sums up the fact that we need a rethink of how we do domicile density and what amount of the public realm we give to walkers, rollers and cyclists. He challenges the concept of “density done well” from a physical design perspective, suggesting a more holistic approach in “Density Done Right”.

As Lloyd remarks, it has “become clear is that being in lockdown in high-density towers is a pretty awful experience, whether it is the lack of space or the shared elevators or the crowded sidewalks.”

“Density done right” or “distributed density” is a term used in the  Ryerson City Building Institute’s study  which found that high rise development put demands on “transit, water, wastewater, parks, childcare and schools”.

Density does not appear to make housing cheaper, forcing  citizens to choose between crammed condos or commutes from outside the city. In high rises, elevator virus protocols need to be transparent about how many occupants can ride at the same time, and halls need to be designed to allow for physical distancing. Exterior corridors could mitigate some of these issues.

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Boston University’s Centre for Public Health has an interesting panel speaking Thursday on how cities will respond to the Covid-19 virus and the need to address health in city planning and design.

Surprisingly, and this shift is also seen in the Medical Health Officer expertise across Canada, most of the  speakers are women, and include Jennifer Keesmaat the former Director of Planning for Toronto. Sandro Galea the Dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health leads the discussion.

Here’s the format of the panel discussion below. You can register for this webinar at this link.

After COVID-19: (Re)Building Resilient Cities

Thursday, April 30, 2020

4:00 to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time; 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Pacific Time

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From News1130:

She’s the first to say anything.  Testing the waters.  And “a little bit more” is one step up from nothing.

She definitely sees where this could go:

Other cities are already testing out road closures, Dominato says, including London in the United Kingdom and Calgary, Alberta.

She says she hopes improvements can be made soon because restrictions linked to the pandemic will likely continue well into the summer. …

She adds many trying to, respectfully, spend more time outside are already experiencing high-stress levels.

“Are there some areas where it’s higher density? Could we open up some shared space for motorists, but also for people who are cycling, walking pedestrians or just simply in some cases, maybe on weekends like they’re doing in Calgary, they’re trialling closing down some streets.”

Dominato tells NEWS 1130 she’s already asked city staff to look into how some temporary improvements can be made quickly because half the people living in Vancouver are renters and many don’t have their own backyard or access to private green spaces.

She also says this experiment could be a lesson on how to re-think urban planning to ensure space is better shared as the city continues to densify.

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From Ian Robertson:

My neighbours have done their part to making walking fun again. Fun to see grownups doing hopscotch as they pass!

But, as Ian acknowledges, “kinda precludes social distancing whilst playing :-)”

There should be an easy solution.  Use the street.  It needn’t be closed to traffic if, as a flow street, it was properly designed and designated, whether temporarily or permanently, for uses such as socially distanced hopscotch.

What’s proper design, you ask.  Conveniently, urban planner Mike Lydon provides a quick primer in Streetsblog on how to do it.



When it comes to barriers, don’t overthink it. This is not a time to be overly concerned with maintenance or aesthetics or take on time-intensive activities, like filling barricades with sand or water, transporting cement blocks, or moving and filling planters. Instead you’ll want barriers that are easily transportable but substantial enough to be legible by all street users. Any form of orange/reflective traffic barricade is a good option and may provide scaffolding for associated signage.

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Guest writes below:

… maybe that sign was placed instead of a “hazard” sign to make visible the massive dark log at night in an unlit parking lot.

Possible – given a lack of ‘Hazard’ signage at the Park Board or City.  Sure, that’s it.

However, a few hundred metres to the north along Arbutus Street, there is this: a closed gate for another parking lot next to the beach and basketball courts.  Note the signage.

More than that, note how the gate completely blocks the roadway, leaving no room for cyclists to get from the beach to Arbutus in order to avoid cycling through the most conflicted part of the park, where they are explicitly prohibited from riding.  So they have to go on the grass.

This is another small gesture of contempt.  But the Park Board simply doesn’t care.  They’ve effectively gaslighted the cycling community from getting resolution to the Kits/Hadden Park conflict, despite years of consultations and committees.  Some commissioners, like John Coupar, simply don’t want cyclists going through their parks for transportation, which might require upgrading the paths to City standards for space and separation.

Some activists fear a Kits flow way, as described below, would give the Board the precedent to remove or not build proper cycling paths. Then the City would be responsible for designing and paying for the infrastructure, and taking whatever political backlash that occurs (when, for instance, removing street parking).

What’s even more curious is that a majority of commissioners come from the left, especially the Green Party.  And they apparently have no desire or political will to resolve this.

So nothing happens.  Except the placement of barriers to discourage cycling.

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A totally confident prediction: those opposed to increasing density (any multi-family development), using road space for bikeways and greenways (Granville Bridge changes will be a target), reducing priority for cars (expect another fight over viaduct removal) and priorizing transit (why build SkyTrain extensions) now have a sure-fire argument: density whether in buildings or transit is how disease spreads.

Sprawl is safer.  Cars are safer.  Single-family homes are safer. Anyway, new development, especially the remaining need for workplaces, will be in lower density suburbs if not actually in our homes, but certainly not in concentrated urban centres.

So the last half-century when Vancouver led in designing and building livable high-density, mixed-use, less-car-dependent and more sustainable communities was just a diversion.

Fight the virus by returning to the Sixties!

This is an important debate, not just an argument, especially when governments will be under fiscal stress.  Budget slashing is a great time to reverse the hard-fought progress of what the last three generations of designers, developers, planners and aligned political leaders have achieved in building more livable and higher-density cities, with a priority on transit and active transportation, especially when considering the consequences of climate change.  One need only watch how easily the Trump administration is reversing that progress.

To begin with, let’s first call bullshit on the notion that the Covid virus is less controllable in highrise high-density environments than suburban ones.  Just ask: which cities have been the most successful so far at not only bending the curve but keeping it from escalating in the first place?

These ones:



Hong Kong:






Notice anything in common?


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In the “you just can’t make this stuff up” department,  AirBnB actually is approaching the Canadian government  for “tax breaks”. As you can well imagine, there’s a lot of cancelled reservations for short term accommodation because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

I have previously written about AirBnB which rents furnished units in places all around the world. Four years ago Iain Majoribanks was studying the impact of AirBnB on the Vancouver rental market while at the University of British Columbia.

He found that  Airbnb has a centralized control of all listings and charges a 9 to 15 per cent service fee on all bookings. The company conceals the location and identity of the hosts offering rooms, making enforcement challenging for municipalities. He surmises that 99.3 per cent of all Airbnb Vancouver stays are less than 30 days.

Now the City of Vancouver has new regulations for short-term rentals but it still appears that some “hosts” are renting out different units, despite the fact that Vancouver by-laws allow short-term renting of only your main house.

 Jen St. Denis reports for CTV News   that  Airbnb Canada has “asked the federal government for a series of tax breaks to help short-term rental hosts make up lost income from cancelled bookings during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Of course one of the things these rental hosts could do immediately is rent long-term to local residents. As The Guardian’s Rupert Neate writes, in Great Britain “landlords have flooded the rental market with their Airbnb flats…The number of new rentals Property portal Rightmove has on the market in the week the UK lockdown started increased by 45% in London, up 55% in Brighton, 62% in Edinburgh and 78% in Bath. It’s a similar story the world over with a 61% increase in Dublin and 41% in Prague.”

Meanwhile back in Canada hoping to keep AirBnB hosts mastering the short stay instead of providing month to month rentals,  AirBnB trotted a four page letter to the federal government. That letter asked for GST/HST business expense credits for hosts, income tax reductions, short-term loans or mortgage deferrals, requested that hosts  get Employment Insurance benefits  and  federal tax deferral. If that was not enough of an ask, AirBnB asked for a government paid tourist initiative to reboot the short-term stay business.

It seems a little odd when all these AirBnB owners need to do is rent their extra space out to longer term tenants. And the Duke of Data, Simon Fraser University’s City Program Director Andy Yan said it best:

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