April 12, 2021

Cherry Blossom Time in Pandemic Vancouver

This year the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival has again shifted nimbly during the pandemic  to provide marvellous virtual offerings of dances, haiku, and virtual walks during their annual great springtime event.

Originally planted in Stanley Park as a gift from Japan after World War One,  cherry trees do remarkable well in the Vancouver microclimate. In the 1960’s  the use of smaller scale trees was popular  in the city. That included flowering crab apple and plum trees to augment existing and new cherry trees which provide a visual spectacle every March and April.

I have written before about the cherry blossom festival and also about the unnamed street in East Vancouver that gets inundated each year by dinosaurs, costumed admirers, weddings and others for the chance to get photographed under that street’s ceiling of blossoms.

This year here are some images from a westside walk in the Quesnel neighbourhood. The backlanes here are windy and hard to navigate through.  And in those backlanes a few surprises. Look at the image below.

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It’s true of how we use our cars: build another lane and it fills up.  People see the space meant to relieve existing congestion, and then either switch from other routes, drive at times they might otherwise avoid, or simply drive more to take advantage of the opportunity.  It’s called induced traffic.

And it’s true to a degree of how we move on foot.  People find uses to fill available space.

Here’s a recent example: the 800-block Robson, where the one block between Howe and Hornby just reopened.  Within a week it has become one of the best ‘people places’ in the city.  Here’s how it looked on Saturday afternoon:

Thanks to a busker who attracted a sizeable crowd that spread across the plaza, there was only a narrow path past his performance.  For bikes, no space at all.  And he was only one of several users of the block, not to mention the chairs and tables scattered across the space.

Essentially the congestion that characterized the right-of-way when it still looked like a street has returned, only now it’s more entertaining.  And just as a traffic engineer might argue that a newly congested lane is a sign of success – more drivers able to take advantage of a public good – so a crowded Robson Street is a sign of a successful urban space.  Maybe too successful.

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Post-Covid Mobility in B.C.’s Fastest Changing Urban-Region: Join us for MOBILITIES 2021.

Date: April 20th 2012.

Time: 7:00 to 9:00 pm.

You can register by clicking this link.

Kwantlen’s Department of Geography and the Environment invites you to this public geo-forum about mobility, universal accessibility, walkability and transit affordability South of the Fraser River. Confirmed panelists include two TEDx Talk speakers, Stan Leyenhorst (Universal Access Design, Lead Consultant) and Planner Sandy James (WalkMetroVan). Also joining us will be urban geography expert Dr. Victoria Fast (University of Calgary) and City of Surrey Transport Planning Manager, Douglas McLeod, who will preview the city’s new Transportation Plan. Our panel will be welcomed by Kwantlen First Nations Elder in Residence, Lekeyten.

The urban-region South of the Fraser River is recognized as B.C.’s fastest growing and changing areas. This prompts us to ask: ‘How will mobility (re)shape the urban fate of these communities?’

Our panel of passionate mobility makers will explore a range of practices for creating better and happier community places and spaces. Learn how to assess whether public spaces and transit are universally accessible. Find out about ‘fake commuting’ and how post-pandemic place-based and virtually based work make reshape urban form and mobilities. Learn about the City of Surrey’s Vision Zero and its long-term Transportation Planning process. Our panel will discuss these and other future challenges of placemaking in relation to mobility South of the Fraser River.

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PT: Bob Ransford, who has been working on the Southlands project in Tsawwassen for years, brings another observation on change in that area:

Gordon wrote a few weeks ago about the wave of the future that has suddenly hit the beach with the recent popularity of e-bikes – not just in downtown Vancouver, around False Creek or the Stanley Park seawall, but on the hills of the suburban North Shore. It seems the perfect confluence of factors: an aging demographic, the yearning for pandemic-safe recreation, small, powerful batteries and falling prices for e-bikes, is suddenly manifesting in the form of a new suburban mobility.

On a weekend last September, in the midst of the pandemic, I was participating in the launch of sales for the first phase of housing at Southlands developed by Century Group – a new beach community rooted in farming and food in Tsawwassen.  On the two days, more than 3,500 came from near and far to wander through Southlands’ Market Square.

I was pleasantly shocked by the number of people who arrived on bicycles.  The tally of cyclists exceeded 730 cyclists over the two days.

What really caught my eye was the number of people who rode e-bikes to the event. Many of them were like me – aging boomers. Two of them were Tsawwassen residents Murray Pratt and Gord Sarkissian (below) who, in May, will be opening a new e-bike shop called Pedego Delta in a store-front space in Southlands’ new Discovery Centre building.

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Imagine if some all-powerful researcher suggested that as a society we shut down a good part of the economy for a few months, close offices and work places, shutter restaurants, clubs and theatres, stop most sports and arts activity, make it possible to realistically work at home, and, just for extra impact, close the borders.  And then see what happens to traffic before and after, how it changes as we tweak the restrictions, and what new patterns emerge.

Which is exactly what we’re doing.

I’m surprised we’re not getting traffic updates like we do the weather, and what new patterns are emerging from week to week.  We actually do have that data, and the City of Vancouver has been good enough to provide some of it (and hope to add counts regularly on VanMap).

Here’s the data that shows the reductions in average monthly volumes of traffic year over year coming into the City, and then onto the Downtown Peninsula – from the start of the pandemic last year to just last month:

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Here’s a plausible scenario in which you’ll drive more – from Slate:

When the pandemic hit, Sheila worked at home. Seeking to minimize interactions with strangers, she avoided crowds and had groceries and essentials delivered to her house. But when the pandemic ends, finally, she’ll resume visiting stores and meeting other people, and her employer will blow the dust off the cubicles and reopen the office. For now, Sheila will return to work in person only three days per week, working from the ‘burbs during the other two. How might her teleworking travel differ from when she commutes in person?

Sheila obviously won’t be driving to or from work if she stays at home, but she’ll still take many other trips. Since she can’t exercise at her office, she instead drives to a gym four miles from her house. A lunch meeting is five miles away, and she combines it with a pharmacy run—generating a trip of 12 miles. At the end of the workday, she makes a final trip to a grocery store three miles away. If you do the math, she has now driven a total of 26 miles—more than when she went to the office.

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