COVID Place making
April 8, 2020

COVID 19 Response: How to provide safe and open streets – VPSN

A comprehensive, informed and doable strategy from the Vancouver Public Space Network.  PT especially likes No. 3.

Here in Vancouver there is a critical need for the City of Vancouver … to show leadership in the reallocation of street right-of-way for pedestrians and cyclists in order to keep residents and workers safe.

There are four distinct and inter-related areas activities … focused on providing safe routes for:

  1. Accessing Daily Needs in commercial areas by strategically widening sidewalks in key locations;
  2. Commuting to/from places of work via active transportation modes (i.e. for workers in essential services such as grocery stores, pharmacies, healthcare offices, other critical employment areas); (i.e. shops, healthcare offices, other critical employment areas);
  3. Maintaining Physical and Mental Health – By providing additional space on the Seawall, Greenways, bike routes, neighbourhood designated pedestrian routes, and other pathways – to enable residents across the city to walk and bike for well-being;
  4. Address Neighbourhood and Mobility-based Equity Considerations – by prioritizing areas where these interventions will support residents and workers that are most at risk.

To support the response to COVID-19, we put together a set of recommended approaches to Creating Safe and Open Streets for Walking and Biking in Vancouver.  Click here:


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Excerpts from Jarrett Walker’s perspective on the importance of transit in a time of pandemic.  Full essay here from Citylab. 

In response to this emergency, major agencies are doing their best not to cut service much. … Based on my informal discussions with many agencies, the service cuts seem to be in the range of 10% to 40% at this point, far less than the roughly 70% drop in ridership.

Why are agencies behaving this way? Because they are not businesses. And if there’s one thing we must learn from this moment, it’s that we have to stop talking about transit as though ridership is its only purpose, and its primary measure of success.

Right now, essential services have to keep going. It’s not just the hospital, the grocery store, and basic utilities.  It’s the entire supply chain that keeps those places stocked, running, and secure. Almost all of these jobs are low-wage. The people using transit now are working in hospitals that are saving lives. They are creating, shipping and selling urgently needed supplies. They are keeping grocery stores functioning, so we can eat.

In transit conversations we often talk about meeting the needs of people who depend on transit. This makes transit sound like something we’re doing for them. But in fact, those people are providing services that we all depend on, so by serving those lower income riders, we’re all serving ourselves.

The goal of transit, right now, is neither competing for riders nor providing a social service for those in need. It is helping prevent the collapse of civilization. …

… even for those with the fewest options, the term dependent has allowed us to imagine helpless people in need of our rescue, rather than people that we depend on to keep things running. Everyone who lives in a city, or invests in one, or lives by selling to urban populations is transit dependent in this sense.

Meanwhile, if we all drive cars out of a feeling of personal safety, we’ll quickly restore the congestion that strangles our cities, the emissions that poison us and our planet, and the appalling rates of traffic carnage that we are expected to tolerate. Once again, we’ll need incentives, such as market-based road pricing, to make transit attractive enough so that there’s room for everyone to move around the city. That will mean more ridership, but again, ridership isn’t exactly the point. The point is the functioning of the city, which again, all of us depend on.

Let’s look beyond ridership or “transit dependence” and instead measure all the ways that transit makes urban civilization possible. In big cities, transit is an essential service, like police and water, without which nothing else is possible. Maybe that’s how we should measure its results.

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The Park Board is going to make better and safer use of the space it owns in Stanley Park:

Here’s the consequence:

Closing Stanley Park’s roads will reduce the daily number of people in the park and open up space for cyclists and pedestrians from the neighbourhood.

It won’t be just from “the neighbourhood.”  Expect Vancouverites (and those from the North Shore) to use the bikeway and greenway network to access Stanley Park too.  Indeed, recreational athletes already do.

Next step: the City can likewise reallocate road space to take pressure off the most popular (and too crowded) greenway paths.

Here’s a list of opportunities as compiled from Jeff Leigh with HUB Cycling.

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The current cover of the New Yorker, titled “Lifeline.”

Here’s my version – an image taken on March 17, 8 pm, on Swanston Street in Melbourne:

This courier – equipped with bike (maybe electric), smart phone and custom backpack – was one of many on the main street of Melbourne’s CBD that night.  It’s easy to understand why they’ve become a vital link between restaurants that can provide only takeout and customers sequestered at home.  They too are front-line workers, and their bicycles declared essential.

I have a hunch that, like our use of online communication, their employment will expand, their vehicles will innovate, their uses proliferate, and afterwards they will become an expanded part of the local economies of our newly reconsidered cities.

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Man with generator laying streetcar tracks for reconstruction of Hastings and Main lines

Here’s another great photo from the Vancouver Archives found by Diane Sampson. The generator on the wagon has a sign that reads “Danger 600 Volts Do not Touch Do Not Watch Flame”. In the foreground a man is welding tracks. He is wearing button up spat boot coverings and has steel wool for soldering close by.

The man at the wagon with the generator looks exactly like former Vancouver School Board groundskeeper Chris Foxon.  The wagon is set up with a two horse hitch, and there are two workhorses complete with harness tied up in the right hand upper corner of the photo.  There is another horse harnessed up and standing in front of the Timothy Hay sign in the upper left corner of the photo.

From 1886 to 1914 Hastings Street between Granville Street and Cambie was Vancouver’s downtown, with most of the city’s banks located on Hastings. The streetcar was operated by the B.C. Electric Railway Company who had been in operation since 1897. Since 1900, the company had increased their rails from 21 kilometers in 1900 to 170 kilometers by 1912, allowing access to large areas of land that could be developed for single family housing.

Take a look at this YouTube video below that shows Victoria and Vancouver from a streetcar in 1907. You can see The Empress Hotel being built and the Legislative Buildings in Victoria, and in Vancouver you can see the old Hotel Vancouver and the streetcars serving Howe, Robson, Powell Streets  and Kitsilano.


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There will be lots of changes in the Post Covid world~one that can be predicted immediately is the change in how people will perceive Senior Citizen Care Homes. There’s been lots of  marketing for these facilities which have  multiple units with a shared dining room, group activities and excursions.

What the Covid Crisis revealed is that in a case of a pandemic, care home residents are locked in, away from families and trips out. If non-verbal these residents have no way to communicate with family.  There has been stories of couples married for a half century trying to communicate through an exterior glass window. There has also been video  of a daughter playing a trumpet  below her Dad’s closed care home window in Vancouver’s west end. Her father has sadly now  passed away from the Covid virus.

During this current Covid pandemic, the virus is in over 600 seniors’ care homes in Ontario. In that province there is advice for families to take their loved ones out of these care homes during this outbreak. 

More than 80 percent of deaths in Ontario have been at seniors’ care homes.

Senior Citizens’ residences have previously been  seen as a good financial investment. In a recent survey,19 percent of investors said they had  seniors’ care housing in their portfolio. It had been touted as a low risk investment with high returns as the baby boomers are  perceived as driving demand, with nearly 80 million seniors in the USA  by 2035.

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A meme for our time.

World: There’s no way we can shut everything down in order to lower emissions, slow climate change and protect the environment. Mother Nature: Here’s a virus. Practice.
PriceTags: We’re practicing for a lot more than preparation to climate change.  At the moment, everyone on the globe is just trying to cope with a deadly virus.  But there’s also some big thinking about where all this this practicing will lead.  For one thing, it will give a more complex meaning to the progressive phrase “safe space.” Here, for example, from New York Magazine: .

NY Mag: You have suggested that we need to consider a system of “green zones” — places where everyone has either tested positive for antibodies or has tested negative with a swab test. The idea being to create restricted-access safe areas where people know they won’t get infected.

Chamath Palihapitiya*: The only solution to get back to work, and get back to life as we know it, is to establish pockets of cities and towns where it’s safe.

You get a stamp in your passport, or you get a special ID card, or you get a special bracelet. Then you can go into the green zones inside of your city or town and get back to work. And everybody else stays in a red zone for a certain amount of time until you can clear that test.

You can’t get this, the last time I checked, from somebody who doesn’t have it or has had it. You can only get it from somebody who does have it. So you’ve got to test! What choice do we have other than that right now?

Essentially having your medical data as a required public document seems concerning. It sounds more like a policy designed for the People’s Republic of China than the United States.

Yeah, but we have these moments when huge cataclysmic things happen. The large overreaches against civil liberties happen in moments like this — and they’ll happen this time around. I think most of us will be okay with it.

I would want to know before I go into a movie theater that everybody there had to badge-in with a card that had updated antibody screens that showed they were legitimately not shedding something communicable. We would never have thought that before this, but now I think it’s quite reasonable. When you look at the economic damage that’s done by the rampant nature of these kinds of things, do you want that to happen again? So I think people will be very open to giving up an amount of personal freedom for those assurances about the people around them.

Whatever happens inside our borders, presumably systems like this are going to start popping up for international travel.

I don’t know what the answers are, but I suspect that I’m going to need an additional form of identification for me to cross borders. Why would China ever let me in if I didn’t take a PCR test and couldn’t prove I didn’t have coronavirus after the shit that they went through?

And why would the United States ever let anybody in without knowing? Why take the risk? Why? You take the test. You wait the five, 15, 20 minutes. You sit there at the airport. Boom! You get a stamp. You’re clear. Go. Enjoy yourself.

And what if you’re a governor of a state that has an elderly, aging population versus you’re a governor of a state that has an extremely young population? The governor of Florida just said that people who fly in from New York and New Jersey will be ordered to quarantine themselves. If that continues, we’re now locking state-level borders in the United States.

These are big implications.

Palihapitiya came to prominence in Silicon Valley as an early executive at Facebook. He made headlines a decade later when he said that he didn’t let his own kids use screens, and that he felt “tremendous guilt” about his role in building a social-media platform that was “destroying how society works.” He is now, as CEO of his own venture firm Social Capital, Read more »

Another wonderful image from Diane Sampson of a  British cars cargo from the SS “Mostun” Vancouver January 24, 1959 . This is from the Vancouver Archives Collection.

The Mostun was from Belfast and travelled a route from Belfast to Chemainus on Vancouver Island. In the photo  a Morris Oxford Estate is beside a Riley One Point Five , with a  Hillman Husky and Hillman Minx sedans behind.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s British cars were the first to market a small car that was economical as well as reliable. That market was eventually replaced by Japanese cars in the late 1960’s.

The vehicles often had their wheels removed and stored inside the car, and then packed in wooden crates. This method allowed for more cars to be packed into the boat’s hold. There is a story of a ship fire in Vancouver harbour on the ship Dongeday in 1952 that was fuelled by the wooden crates. The City’s fireboat responded and got the fire out, but unfortunately also doused the cars with a whole lot of saltwater.



Surprisingly 22  of these waterlogged and damaged Austin automobiles were dumped into Burrard Inlet near Howe Sound. A customs officer oversaw the operation of these vehicles being loaded on a barge minus batteries and tires and then winched into the water.

Of course Vancouverites saw the opportunity, and a tugboat crew was found dragging the seafloor trying to find the vehicles. A story in The Sun admonished “The legal situation is ticklish. The cars have paid no duty…and ownership is still vested with the company that had them dunked.”

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Gordon Price and I have been posting on the need to rethink open streets in the times of the Covid pandemic. We need to keep six feet or two meters apart from other people when walking and Vancouver’s sidewalks are just not wide enough. We simply need to be able to get outside for physical and mental health, and if you can exercise or do a shopping trip at the same time, all the better.

Both of us have been talking about the Greenways Plan which has  over decades reprioritized, repurposed and rebuilt urban space for pedestrian and cycling priority, from Seaside to Central Valley, from Hornby to Arbutus.  And it has a long-standing plan to do more. I have been on CBC  Radio and CTV News talking about the concept, and the Vancouver Sun carried my guest editorial on the need for greenways as open streets.

The thinking behind prioritizing walking on connected streets throughout the city has already been done in Vancouver, where 25 years ago the Urban Landscape Taskforce, which included several landscape architects, came up with the ambitious Greenways Plan. What they termed “greenways” are actually a network of linked, traffic-calmed “green streets.” There are 140 kilometres of greenways, with a network of 14 city greenways that go boundary to boundary.

That Urban Landscape Taskforce that came with the concept of a green street plan to link streets, parks and rights of way for pedestrians and cyclists was headed by the remarkable Moura Quayle.

Moura Quayle was the founding Director of UBC’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs and is a professor in the Sauder School of Business. Her book “Designed Leadership” was published by the Columbia Business School Press. Moura has also been the Dean of UBC’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems as well as the Deputy Minister of Advanced Education. That’s just a few of the things that Moura has done, and as anyone knows that has met her, she is thoughtful and very engaged in applying strategic design into innovation in many different fields.

It’s no surprise that Moura had a copy of the Urban Landscape Taskforce’s plan close at hand and wrote to us to say:

“Thanks for promoting this great idea. It makes so much sense to build on the existing system and network and think about not just using it now for our need for “more space” but also for how we are going to emerge into the “new city” with “new transportation priorities” that result from the probable continuing need for space between us.

Thanks for your continuing promotion of walkability and the greenways system. I was compelled to go back to the Urban Landscape Task Force report of 1992 and the “Principles for Decision-Making” that we wanted Council to embed into their governance practice. Many of the principles are relevant today to your idea of expanding the greenway system to meet our current needs.

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