Cycling
January 18, 2017

Arbutus Greenway Consultation

The Arbutus Greenway is a 9-km long corridor, stretching across the city, with the opportunity to develop something magical out of a disused railway right-of-way. The next step is upon us, and another chance for us all to get involved.

The background is that the City of Vancouver wants to create a high-quality public space for walking, cycling and wheeling, with a streetcar line in the longer-term plan. Previous planning material is HERE (14-page PDF), including several reference designs from other places like Atlanta, Minneapolis and Chicago (with costs).
For those new to the idea, here’s a definition:  Transportation greenways are linear public corridors  for pedestrians and cyclists that connect parks, nature reserves, cultural features, historic sites, neighbourhoods  and retail areas.
You’ll get lots of chances to see what’s up, and to put your thoughts on the table.  Free hot chocolate, too.
Online survey HERE until Feb 15.
Open Houses

Pop-up Hot Chocolate Kiosk

  • Feb 1,  8:00am – 10:00am
    at Arbutus Street and Broadway Street by the Arbutus Greenway and eastbound B-line stop
  • Feb 1, 11:30am – 1:00pm
    at West 41st Avenue and West Boulevard
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From the Editors of Price Tags:
The Arbutus Greenway project is a small study in tactics.
The first tactic is the classic process argument over lack of consultation. Often equated with lack of veto power, this argument can go on forever: there are enough high-level concepts, choices and details to debate until all the participants (elected officials, engineers and opposition alike) have expired, retired or moved to Kelowna.
Secondly, and related, is the attempt to redefine the very meaning of the term “greenway” – not as a transportation corridor that favours people over motor vehicles (a rare commodity in North America) but as a nature walk, a forest trail, a haven for blackberry bushes and able-bodied walkers. And few others.
Despite decades during which greenways have been defined via major planning documents, the opposition hopes to spark a process of re-definition that will take months, years and (best case) decades, and achieve the opposition’s goals by default. Delay equals victory.
But there’s something else going on: an almost unspoken assumption about the intended users of this corridor. A few, or everyone?
Those opposing the temporary surface paving of the Arbutus Corridor were quick to identify (and hopefully defuse) a term that has been associated with the adjacent West Side neighbourhoods for over a decade now: the Crème de la Crème.
The term became popular as a short-hand for that west-side sense of entitlement over the Arbutus Corridor:
As reported in Vancouver Metro, the term was first used in a heated discussion in Council.

The millennium was still young when, during a debate over the future of CP Rail’s Arbutus Corridor, Kerrisdale resident Pamela Sauder stood up at a meeting and uttered the following breathtaking landmark of arrogance and entitlement.
“We are the people who live in your neighbourhood. We are dentists, doctors, lawyers, professionals, CEOs of companies. We are the crème de la crème in Vancouver. We live in a very expensive neighbourhood and we’re well educated and well informed. And that’s what we intend to be.”

 
If the Arbutus Corridor, purchased by all the citizens of Vancouver for $55 million, is to be limited in its access and designed primarily for the benefit of those in the adjacent neighbourhoods, then the use of the term Crème de la Crème is exactly correct.
The dilemma, on the other hand, for those who argue Arbutus should be developed according to the long-term vision for a network of greenways, and be truly accessible in the interim until that final plan is developed, is” What should that look like?” How can accessibility, safety and a respectful recognition of values be accommodated in the short term? How can the right of the many for access be respected as well as the rights of the few to delay?
But if there is a decision to keep the greenway in stasis until some indeterminate process is completed, then that become a decision of exclusion. And most likely, it will be the basis for all future fights to keep the status quo and prevent a rail/tram line from being constructed – the very reason the corridor was purchased in the first place.
Bottom line: will the City agree to allow all residents access to this important transportation and recreation corridor in the city so everyone can think about the final design. Or will the Crème de la Crème delay and win the day for exclusion and exclusivity.
We’ll find out as the Arbutus Consultation process on the temporary pathway rolls out over the next few weeks.

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I’m promoting a comment, left anonymously this morning by “robotboy44” on the post “Arbutus Greenway:  What’s Up?”.  The writer questions the definition of “Greenway”, and argues that Vancouver has a choice on the Arbutus Corridor between a “bike freeway” and a “nature based stroll”, sort of like Pacific Spirit Park, but nevertheless reminiscent of “. . . the way it was.”
Personally, I feel that we need to ensure that a broad cross-section of the public has the opportunity to visit, ride, stroll or wheel along the corridor before we set a specific concept in …  er… ah…  cement (as it were).

robotboy44 writes:
This is very clearly a partisan space in support of the “bike freeway” position on all things path related, so pardon me for sharing another view, but I will.
It’s a cheap and baseless dig to characterize opposition to the paving as the “creme de la creme”. That kind of comment speaks more to your prejudice than it does a desire for thoughtful discussion and appreciation for a point of view which is not your own, so how about we try here to avoid these kind of assertions and instead discuss the issues.
People were upset about the paving because it seemed wholly inconsistent with the promise to discuss and listen to the people about how to treat the “greenway”. It was called a greenway and references were made to the NY Highline, which is not paved and not a fast bike route, but a leisurely stroll with amazing views. The Arbutus Greenway will never be the Highline because it’s not in NY, it runs along Arbutus. Very different experience, although I should think that does not need to be said. The term “greenway” even implies a more rustic, nature based experience. At least to me.
The previous use of the AB was more rustic and characterful. The feeling from many was that some of that character would be retained in creating the new user experience. Perhaps a kind of Pacific Spirit Park approach with green and a natural feel. On the other hand, biking proponents feel that the logical approach is to make it as clean and efficient a bike path as possible, so that means asphalt. No time for dirt getting on tires or gears.
Other bikers, like myself, really enjoy the more leisurely pace of a path much like the one at Kits Point or Jericho Beach or Pacific Spirit Park. If your goal is to make an active transportation corridor to get from A to B, then clearly asphalt is the way to go, but it’s clear that there are many who did not see the “greenway” in those terms.
So why the upset about the asphalt, which was called “temporary”? Because it felt like a very surprising move given the plan to consult and listen. Also, given the cities spotty reputation with listening, it felt like a decision had been made. In my opinion, people were rightly offended by this move.
I have my views about how the greenway should look and feel, but honestly, If there is true, broad consultation and it is felt that it should be primarily a bike commuter path rather than a more nature based stroll more reminiscent of the way it was, then so be it, but it seems reasonable to hear from the public before paving it. And in the mean time, I hope we can avoid characterizing people with baseless insults about their interests, financial well being or proximity to Arbutus. Read more »

We’ll eventually finish the consultation over temporary surfaces to be applied to the temporary paths on the Arbutus Greenway. Hopefully, the result will be that all the public, all ages and all abilities, will have a chance to get onto the paths and check out all 9 km and all 42 acres of the old railroad corridor.  We’ll end up with much more design input.
And then we’ll get going on the major discussion over the final design. In anticipation, it has occurred to me that we are not starting from scratch here.
Aren’t there several places in metro Vancouver where people of all ages and abilities travel on foot, two wheels, three and four wheels along relatively narrow corridors?  Such as the seawalls in Vancouver, Railway Avenue in Richmond, North Shore’s Spirit Trail.  Aren’t these handy sources to mine for a decade or more experience?
So let’s think about these:   what do we like and don’t like; what has worked and not worked; what’s great, what’s lousy. Then let’s go on from there.
It seems to me that the biggest difference to these seawall designs (pix below)is that the Arbutus Greenway will cross several high-speed high-volume motor vehicle arterials.  Intersection designs, as always, will be a major consideration.  (Underpasses, anyone?)

[Ed:  we ask commenters on this post to please limit their comments to 3 per day]

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The pendulum swings, as we engage in fractious debate about how we change Vancouver’s Arbutus Corridor from an unused 9-km railroad into a multi-use treasure for future generations. So far, the “we love gravel, let’s not change much of anything” crowd has won the day.

Mark Battersby, a Kitsilano resident who protested the paving, said his group was mainly against the project because it was proceeding without consultation. He is concerned that plants like blackberry bushes were being cut back and the berries made inaccessible, and that cyclists would go too fast on the paved path. [Thanks to Metronews.ca for the quote]

But now come other voices, that start to represent more of the citizens of Vancouver. And it gives a glimpse of the difficulty faced by City staff and elected officials when planning things.  There are plenty of competing interests, and none of them has a veto.
Since the City fought for decades, all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, to make sure we got a 42-acre transportation corridor for all its citizens, how do we do this?  Does it make sense to simply rip out the rails and then leave things as they are, or should we find a way to let all potential users of this transportation corridor have a chance to see what it is, and envision how they’d like it to be?
Here’s a compelling voice:  SG Peters’ blog, in an open letter to Council called “The Public Part of Public Space”.  The author writes from the point of view of accessibility, with wit and precision. How, wonders the author, can the broad public assess the Arbutus Corridor’s potential unless everyone can actually use it. How can the design incorporate ideas and issues involved in getting to it, onto it and riding it for someone excluded due to accessibility challenges?  You could say the same about many other points of view, for that matter.

I am going to assume Mr. Battersby did not mean to suggest otherwise but, just to be certain we are all clear – my rights as a human being should supersede those of a berry bush. . . .

. . .  But this isn’t really a plant problem; it is a people problem, presented under the guise of being a nature problem.

It comes down to how you imagine public space, which in turn comes down to who you include in the word public.

If you do not see me as having the same right to access public space as anyone else then you can come up with any number of reasonable-sounding excuses for excluding me. If you believe I have the same rights as you do, then you may get creative about how to improve a space but you will not suggest sacrificing accessibility to do so. . . .

. . .  And while I think railway lines can be quite beautiful, I don’t think they qualify as a nature preserve, particularly when running through the centre of one of Canada’s largest cities . . .
. . .  Sentimentality aside, we are talking about making an area already developed by humans of a previous era more useful and accessible to people in this era.
Of course aesthetics and berry bushes are important concerns, the question is where they sit in the hierarchy of considerations.

The same can be said for many potential corridor users from the broad public.  Those who walk, run or ride; those who move quickly, those who don’t; those who want to sit and enjoy the views and the passing parade; those who want rails, those who don’t; those who have places to be and errands to run; and yes, those who want to pick berries or garden.
And I’m sure I’ve missed some group or another — but let’s not presume a veto-toting hierarchy based on organized yelling and exclusionary thinking.  Let’s let everyone try out the Corridor, and then let’s design something wonderful for future generations through many decades to come.

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We may have the chance to use the Arbutus Greenway sooner than I had thought.  Watch out, though, for crews along the way.

Mayor Robertson says, in an e-mail newsletter:

Arbutus Greenway
Construction work to remove the rail tracks on the Arbutus corridor has begun and will work from the north to the south end of the corridor over the next several months at the rate of about one kilometer per week. The City will be following behind the removal crew with asphalt paving to create a temporary pathway, allowing people to walk, cycle and experience the corridor throughout construction.

From Facebook:

The first spike was removed today as construction started on the North end of the Arbutus Corridor. CP will remove a total of 809 tons/53,962 feet of rail and the City will remove rail at 39 street & 5 lane crossings along the corridor

https://www.facebook.com/VancouverMayorsOffice/videos/1125921544132404/

And CoV’s website says:

Please avoid construction zones

The first important step toward building a new green transportation corridor for the future is getting under way with the start of the removal of train rails and ties.

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. (CP) is responsible for all rail removal along the corridor, with the exception of street crossings, as part of our land purchase agreement announced in March 2016. We are responsible for removing the rails at street crossings.

Canadian Pacific estimates their rail removal work, which is starting at the north end during the week of June 6, 2016, will proceed at the rate of about one kilometer per week.

Rail removal will be completed using heavy equipment. Work will take place during permitted construction hours. Temporary fencing and construction signage will define the areas under construction.

The removal of the rails and ties must be completed before any of our construction work can begin on the greenway. It is expected that all rail removal work will be complete by the end of 2016.

Here’s a video of the existing Arbutus Greenway:

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1) Bikeshare system area

On February 24th, the City of Vancouver announced the Summer 2016 launch of our first bikesharing program.
They explained that the initial geographical area where bikeshare bikes can be picked up/dropped off would roughly be Arbutus to Main Street and 16th Ave north to, and including, the downtown peninsula. I thought this was odd. Why Arbutus? It’s not bike friendly. Why didn’t they start at Cypress? Improvements on Cypress Street should be completed before May. It would be much safer to ride along.

2) Arbutus Corridor announcement

On March 7th the City announced a major deal to purchase the CP railway along the Arbutus Corridor and, once the old tracks are ripped out, it will become a stellar active transportation corridor of green space.
A-ha! Oh-ho! Arbutus as a western boundary within the new bikeshare system area makes more sense now. It felt like some puzzle pieces in my head were coming together. Hadn’t a City Councillor recently talked about trail connectivity?

3) What does the map say?

The City plans to upgrade active transportation on all 3 False Creek bridges within the next 5 years, G-d willing. Remember that rendering of 2-way walking paths and 2-way bicycle lanes down the centre of the bridge? Some of us want that type of improvement sooner rather than later, of course. Ask anyone who wants to walk or ride a bike to work downtown and lives in Fairview or Shaughnessy.
I always urge pedestrians and bicyclists to avoid Granville Bridge entirely for now as it’s very unsafe and unpleasant to use. There’s a narrow space for the 2 modes to share that to get to it, in some parts you have to cross traffic going quickly around a curve. Worse, I understand 2 people in wheelchairs cannot easily pass each other in that narrow space. They have to maneuver to get around each other over the deafening traffic going 80kph. I’m embarrassed by that.
One person who shall remain nameless whispered, “follow the train tracks”.
I opened maps.google.com, which took me to google.ca/maps, and followed the faint train tracks along Arbutus north from 16th, doo doo doo, to 6th Ave where I had seen bunnies many times, doo doo doo, I hadn’t really thought about where the train goes after that, doot da da doo, east to Fir Street. I froze. Ooo. Fir & 6th. That’s very close to the Granville Street Bridge!
I visualized the possibilities. My first thought: Lord’s. Oh Lord, that place has beautiful shoes! Imagine taking a stroll or riding bikes on the middle of the Granville Street Bridge surrounded by trees and gentle people to check out the store’s fascinators, stop for a nosh somewhere, smell the flowers at GIF, and get some more nail & cuticle butter at Rocky Mountain Soap Company.
Going to South Granville by booking a car, taking a bus, or riding over Burrard Street (and then what?) just doesn’t seem appealing. But the Arbutus Corridor land purchase is looking more appealing every day.

 

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The illustration, above, is from a Courier article by Mike Howell yesterday on the Arbutus Corridor. I posted earlier in the week about potential conflicting visions of the corridor’s use. Howell’s story reflected the same concern:

It’s fairly narrow and I can’t picture a streetcar running through the same swath of land proposed for pedestrians, joggers and cyclists. I guess that’s why I’m a reporter and Jerry Dobrovolny is the city’s general manager of engineering. I spoke to Dobrovolny Monday near the section of existing rail track at Sixth and Burrard.
“You’re actually pointing to the two sections that are the biggest challenge,” he said of the stretch. “From Sixth Avenue here and then going north from here are the narrowest sections. They’re might be some places there where we do things off-street.”
Off-street?
“We’ll look at all of our city holdings, not just the rail right-of-way that we purchased,” he continued. “So it may be that the streetcar runs in the street on Sixth Avenue in that section. That’s the thing about streetcars – in downtown Toronto or San Francisco – is you can run in and out of traffic. If you’re able to keep it separate from traffic, obviously you can move more quickly with less interruptions. But there’s no reason you can’t operate in traffic when you need to.”

Speed has been a major argument for running Skytrain technology eventually to UBC rather than surface rail. In this case, speed appears to be negotiable vis-à-vis other wishes, like a linear park.

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Is anyone else having a “here we go again” moment about the Arbutus Corridor? Not about the value of having it as a city asset, but about the aspirational language that was built into the Mayor’s announcement and subsequent statements on the radio, when he talked about it being Vancouver’s High-line, about it having public art along it, about it being wonderful for family outings etc. etc.
All the images, both verbal and graphic, are recreational. I know this city image below is just a sketch, but it is an inspirational one of mixed uses happily coexisting. It creates expectations….

Take the city scene off the left-hand side and what do you have:

White Rock Beach, with the BNSF line running through it. Anybody who knows White Rock knows how poorly the train and the unseparated walking/cycling area work together; trains amble along the beach at little more than a walking pace, occasionally wiping out pedestrians wearing earbuds – hardly the recipe for a transit line. Even the Arbutus bus goes faster than that. (BNSF has been lobbied heavily to move its tracks inland, but has shown little interest due to the reported cost of a half-billion.)
Is this a tacit admission by the city that the west side will never be densified to the extent that a rapid-transit line will be feasible? Is it another nod to Resort City?

This graphic from the Transportation 2040 report makes no mention at all of the corridor, but the text suggests that both transit and recreation scenarios are possible.

From my point of view, although I’m perfectly happy with bikeways such as Cypress two blocks away from the corridor, I would enjoy a narrow paved path through the brambles so I could get to the Kerrisdale area; however, I would hate to see anything done on that expensive corridor that will make it politically impossible to run fast rail. Of course, it could always become what the Millennium Line is through East Van – a Skytrain guideway providing some rain shelter for cyclists and pedestrians below. Not likely!
If the gorilla of public opinion is given this banana by city council, it’s going to be awfully difficult to take it away. Anybody agree?
 
 
 

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