July 8, 2018

Vancouver’s Arbutus Greenway – Health Study

Vancouver’s Arbutus Greenway is already a well-used and beloved part of the city.  Despite its evolving state, and even as the main design is heading for city council approval and funding at the July 11 meeting (starting at 0930), people are using it for lots of reasons.

A research team called INTERACT (@TeamInteractCA), 44 people strong, is turning its attention to the Greenway —among other places in other cities — from the health point of view.

The question they’re asking: what is the health impact of real world urban forms?  The team hopes to provide big-data research to advance the science of building healthy cities.

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Who likes Vancouver’s plans for the Arbutus Greenway? A lot of people, it seems.  Including me, it must be said.

The City of Vancouver released this 40-page Consultation Summary Report on public responses to their spring 2018 proposed design concept.

I count 2,015 people who commented via the usual methods: online survey, Open House events (4), Advisory Committee meetings (5), and Stakeholder meetings (ongoing).

You can review my thoughts on the Greenway’s proposed design concept here; a snapshot of the results follows.

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Herb Auerbach, real-estate development consultant and author of “Placemakers” responded to this piece in the Sun on the Arbutus Greenway by Cheryl Chan:
For over 10 years I have urged the City of Vancouver to recapture the Arbutus Right of Way from
CP Rail who I believed then, and believe now, that once they ceased running trains on it they were obliged under the Transportation Act to cede the rail right of way to the Crown.
So I was pleased to learn  the City had finally acquired the right of way but was disappointed to learn that they had to pay for it.  I was also glad to hear that the current installation of a pathway and bike lanes is temporary and plans are afoot to permanently enhance what is now dubbed the “Arbutus Greenway”
So I went by Point Gray School to view the results of the “Design Jam” and speak with a number of the City representatives there.
I found little inspiration, and was further disappointed to learn that the project is in the hands of the City’s Engineering Department and not the City Planning Department.  When I asked, “why not the Planning Department?”  I was told this is just a narrow strip and has little effect on the abutting property. Of course it has effect on the abuttifng proiperties, and the Planning Department should be taking the lead on a project of this magnitude and import.
I was also disappointed to learn that the City has not given up on the idea of developing a portion of the Greenway to generate income , and I was further disappointed  to learn that the City deal only transferred the CP right of way to the Fraser River and not all the way to Steveston. The whole approach to dealing with this extraordinary opportunity to create something unique and grand,  seems lacking innovation, inspiration, vision and imagination.
Imagine a vintage  trolley car (not rapid transit) running from Science World to Steveston (and not just Granville Island as it does now or to the Fraser River as planned) and the positive impact it would have on  points along the way and the attraction it would have for tourists, and like the street cars in San Francisco would pick up and transport commuters along the way.
Imagine this right of way planted with 10,000 cherry trees and walking or riding along it and under them when they are in bloom.
Imagine the Greenway having special illumination, walkable and rideable by day and night, with points along the way for cafes where folks can rest, meet and converse.
Imagine a design which is the product of more imagination. …

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Recent development that was designed to face the Arbutus corridor, even when it was unused, decrepit, weed-strewn and rusting, was the right decision. Offices and suites facing the greenway will be the most valuable.

The temporary path is not complete. Jersey barriers block the way at the cross-streets; signs say pedestrians and cyclists should not do the obvious thing and cross the arterials at mid-block.  Instead, jog down to the signaled intersections.  Which they don’t.

They do the obvious thing.

Arbutus has been transformed once already.

And there’s lots more to come.


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The new paved pathway of the Arbutus Greenway pushes beyond Burrard, into the near-nameless neighbourhood north of Broadway. (Burrard Slopes, I think, but so bland.)

You can already see how the greenway is becoming the organizing open space for this neighbourhood, particularly with the new kid’s park on the curve, just before the Fir Street off-ramp of the Granville Bridge.

At this point, the pavement ends at Fir:

Beyond is the critical link that extends the greenway to Granville Island and Seaside (see dotted line on map above).  When completed, the AB then becomes the Kitsilano and west-side active-transportation connector to False Creek – and the network effect will balloon the use of the corridor.  Like any manifestation of induced demand, this is not to be under-estimated.

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On October 15, the City of Vancouver will release consultation results and the design for a temporary surface (or surfaces) on the Arbutus Greenway.
      October 15, 10:00 to 2:00
      Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (info boards also to be online)
      2305 w 7th Ave., Vancouver
Meanwhile, the grand design of the final Arbutus Greenway is still awaits the beginning of broad public consultations.
But how broad will they be?  Who will be able to get onto the Greenway, explore it and experience it for themselves, see and feel how they might use it and imagine what it could become? This is what’s at stake in the design of this temporary surface. Inclusion vs. exclusion.  Personally, I vote for inclusion. I’d prefer that we hear from a broad bunch of everyone in forming the final design.
Who will sway the day on the temporary surface design?  The “accessible to all ages and abilities” group?  Or the “bucolic park, blackberry bushes and able-bodied walkers only” group? Or some combination, or middle ground? Or something surprisingly different?
My personal prediction is that, at a minimum, we will see an asphalt pathway the full length (9 km), with possibly a few new (or improved) local access paths here and there, so that people with mobility challenges can get to the Greenway’s temporary surface.  My secondary prediction is perhaps a bit elaborate for a temporary surface design, but I would not be surprised to see some dual pathway areas: one side asphalt, the other “gravel” (apparently a slippery word that lay persons like me use to refer quite a large variety of materials).
I’m guessing that the (surprisingly few) intersections of the Arbutus Greenway with motor-vehicle roadways will remain much the same as they currently are.  And I guess that these will change significantly in the final Arbutus Greenway.
And speaking of final designs, here’s a look at a section of one of Vancouver’s oldest and longest Greenways:  the 25-km Central Valley Greenway (large PDF). There are a few things to note in the design of this section of the CVG.  (See photos).  Location is at North Grandview Hwy and E. 11th Ave.
Separated ped / bike areas, with treed boulevard between them and winding sidewalk around mature planted areas.  Seating area (middle right of frame). Motor vehicle bollard, large rocks (car scofflaw discouragers). Sidewalk ramp for those using mobility aids, like the stroller at mid-frame right (top photo). Lamp posts (or is that a sculpture support for a sheet metal crow?)
(Click image for a larger version)

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September 26, 2016

Took a ride along the temporary version of the Arbutus Greenway from 10th Ave to 37th Ave on Saturday, Sept 24.  This Greenway will be, when completed, a treasure for the citizens of Vancouver for generations to come. I am delighted that this land will become a Greenway, hopefully for everyone, and not condos or a private park.
I did see that some likeable, if rudimentary, elements of design are already in place, and have been for ages.  And these provide some small measure of connectivity.  There are several informal pathways, of limited degrees of accessibility, that connect people to the Greenway from the surrounding ‘hood.  Just as in Richmond, along the Railway Greenway. Mostly, though, these pathways limit Greenway accessibility through them to able-bodied walkers. I’d much rather see accessibility for all ages and abilities.
Also, the City has given some hints as to how the (surprisingly few) intersections of Greenway with motor-vehicle arterials may be handled.  Today, people on the Greenway are directed a few metres (usually west) to the existing pedestrian crossings by bends and curves in the Greenway.

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