History & Heritage
December 21, 2020

The West End The Way it Was

A shot posted by West End Journal, I presume from the Vancouver Archives:

At a glance you’d think – San Francisco.  But no, that little hill is on Chilco Street, up from Alberni.  Cars are backed up on Robson at the top of the hill.  The traffic cop is on Georgia, and a trolley is pulling out from the bus loop at the end of Alberni.

That’s the way it looked in the 1960s, when downtown office workers were heading home to the North Shore, trying to avoid the back-ups on Georgia.  The traffic was probably worse then, given how relatively little transit there was – and remember, the West End was still in a building boom.  This is why the West End had such a bad reputation in that era.  Concrete jungle.

In response to community concern, the NPA Council at the time approved a West End planning process, and by 1970s, the idea of traffic calming was born – possibly the first of its kind in North America.  Diverters, barriers and miniparks went in West of Denman in the early 70s, followed by a similar intervention East of Denman in the early ’80s.  (The myth is that the traffic barriers and parks were put in to discourage street prostitution.  But no, it had always been intended, depending on community approval for a local area improvement charge.)

Of course there were objections.  This was a War on the Car!  Traffic calming and parking fees and restricted parking – and not enough of it to begin with.  Not to mention the NIMBYism of West Enders cutting off through traffic on streets paid for by everyone (sort of).

Stupid councils went ahead and did it anyway.  Plus bike lanes.  And look what they ended up with.

One of the best urban neighbourhoods in the world.


This is what Chilco looks like now. (It’s where I live).

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This is the view that inspires me.

I not only appreciate the privilege, I appreciate the irony.  I’m an urbanist and advocate of Vancouverism – for livable high density.  And I’m living on a cul-de-sac – symbol of suburbia.  But it’s one with a lot of through traffic – in the case above, for three different animals and their vehicles, just not the one with an engine. (Thursday, April 23 at Chilco and Robson.)

I also appreciate the history: this is where the first permanent traffic-calming strategy was installed in a major North America City.  There should be a plaque.

I tell the story here:

The Origins of Post-Motordom: West End Traffic Calming

Fifty years later, it’s in ruins. You can see the video here: Chilco cul de sac.

Once construction of the water-line replacement is finished, a rebuilt Chilco cul-de-sac will better reflect the world we live in now, one designed more for the variety of animals and vehicles you see above.   Which, if I remember, is close to the vision those urban pioneers of the Seventies had hoped for.

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