Cycling down the Comox Greenway over the long weekend, and saw a group of guys seated around a small table on the corner bulge at Bute, obviously enjoying themselves.

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That’s all, really: just enjoying life as it passed by (and some cool vintage).   They’re typical West Enders: recently arrived (from North Van, from Calgary), loving the lifestyle (and the girls), making the friendships that will last a lifetime.

How many Vancouverites do you know who, on arrival, found a place in the West End – and though only here a few years, remember it as one of the best times of their lives?  Maybe it’s why I never left.

 

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For one, how approachable it is:

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The bar, tables and mobile chairs on the Comox Greenway make for an outdoor dining room and people-watching perch.  How can you not stop for a chat?

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Secondly, how generous and trusting it is:

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These telescopes (yes, they’re free) have been mounted at Jericho Park as part of the newly redesigned foreshore where the war-time deck was removed.  What a nice gesture.  And while no doubt they’re sturdily built, the Park Board must assume they won’t be vandalized.

I hope it’s right.

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Thirdly, how rich a place it is and how it chooses to spend its money.

A rich city can afford to do this kind of thing.  But only if its taxpaying citizens value the public realm and are prepared to pay for the common good will it actually do it.

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And then there’s its choice of art – how, in this case, it mixes sculpture and furniture.

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Michael Alexander was at Spanish Banks over the weekend:

Vancouver Biennale head Barrie Mowatt (pink shirt) and Brazilian sculptor Hugo França in front of two of the five art works França carved from driftwood brought from Squamish, as part of the Vancouver Biennale 2014-16 outdoor public art exhibit.

The exhibit will continue with many more public works by international artists, including China’s Wei Wei.

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Another piece of the Comox-Helmcken Greenway was added just before the new year: a public seating (and people-watching) area at the northwest corner of Denman and Comox:

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Sturdily built of (hopefully) vandal-resistant metal, it is nonetheless inviting and flexible, each seat able to revolve, with tables for intimate conversation and a bar designed to scope the passing parade of peds and bikes.

Note that the seats are big enough to cosily accommodate a couple.

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Though the cost was likely in the thousands, is this too extravagant a waste of taxpayers’ dollars (a criticism rarely if ever applied to road-widenings and left-hand-turn bays, priced in the millions)?

I suppose there’s an argument that such public improvements actually increase private value – here, a 7-11 – and that those increases will come back in the form of property taxes.  (Indeed, one wonders if the 7-11 will be replaced by a new structure that would take advantage of this amenity.)

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But what a futile argument.  Isn’t something that attractively adds to the community, encourages contact and interaction (and hence, as Charles Montgomery documents, to our happiness), and benefits both public and private sectors justification enough?

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Nothing like a bike lane to raise the temperature and the angst in the public conversation.  But sometimes small changes occur that, because they’re modest, win-win improvements, don’t get a lot of recognition.
Like the bike lane on Richards Street, from Robson to Davie, being progressively restriped as the street is repaved.
This is what is used to be like, with an obvious problem:

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The bike lane was positioned between the parking and the travel lanes, often compromised by the need for vehicles to turn right, by the danger of dooring and at best an uncomfortable experience for those unused to sharing the road in the midst of high-speed traffic on this one-way arterial.

Now it looks like this:

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The bike lane is between the curb and the goring, providing both separation from the traffic and some protection from an open car door.  Where’s the parking?

Here:

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And here’s how they handle right-hand turns:

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Plenty of capacity for vehicle traffic, no great loss of parking, a safer bike lane, clearer markings for all – what’s not to like?  Which is why you probably haven’t heard about it.

The adorable part?  Not on Richards, actually, but on the new Comox Greenway, where a volunteer gardener did this at the Jervis corner:

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Worthy, too, of quiet recognition.

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Four events, one afternoon.  Here’s the second.
The Jazz Festival happens all over town, in ticketed theatres and free public spaces.  (Thank you, Jazz Festival!)  I just wish we had better public spaces to host it in.
It’s not that our outdoor plazas are hopeless.  Indeed, three difference performances were happening simultaneously around Robson Square, each without intruding on the other, each with their own set of stairways for seating, all of them packed. 

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But two of the staircases were at oblique angles from the stage, breaking the intimate relationship between performer and audience.

 

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The worst performance space, however, is on what should be our best: the square on the north side of the Art Gallery.  The problem is obvious: that big ugly fountain slap dab in the middle.

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It’s where the stage could go – or the audience.  But the fountain prevents any large gathering (maybe that was the idea) from using the space in a logical way.

(By the way, ever taken a close look at that fountain?  Click on the image, right, to check it out.  What is all that Arthurian symbolism about, anyway?  And what does it have to do with us?

(The City is currently commissioning a rethink of the square now that the surface has to be repaired to prevent leakage into the storage vaults of the Gallery.  So Job 1, presumably, will be to get rid of the fountain, assuming the Province, who still owns the site, will go along.  It was a Centennial gift to the City, so the story goes, from W.A.C. Bennett.  Might be touchy to junk it.)

But I’ve saved the worst for the last.  It is appalling how we do beer gardens (sic) in this town.  Clearly, the regulations call for caging those inside and preventing them from making a break for it. 

 

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Now there are two rows of railings, with a no-man’s land in between. 

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And of course the bark mulch, utilitarian chairs and tables, and minimal amenity add to the intended ambience.  But at least the drinkers have a direct sight line to the stage, even if the implication is that they shouldn’t really enjoy it.

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Last Saturday I dropped by four events all happening that afternoon.  And I got there by heading up the first phase of the new Comox-Helmcken Greenway (the green line) to the Hornby cycle track (the red line):

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I’ve documented the construction of the greenway here and here.  Yet I’ve still been surprised by some of the interventions, like this new connection (right) at the western end to Stanley Park and the tennis courts (so obvious, why didn’t we do it before!).

[It becomes all the more apparent, when one gets to the park road, how poorly the Park Board has responded to cycling demand.  The one-way road forces those who want to go south to either cycle against traffic or use a sidewalk.]

For most of the blocks west of Denman, the only real change has been some bulb-outs at the intersections, new sidewalks and street furniture.  Still, it seems sufficient to have made a difference as to how residents use and perceive the street.

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It was so easy just to stop and chat with those on the new benches, to engage in the conversation that we call ‘neighbourly.’  They were unanimous: the new greenway is a good thing.

Another indicator: residents are occupying the boulevard, and, Portland-like, doing their own landscaping as a continuation of their garden.

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Two blocks later, Denman Street – and a major intervention.

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It is no longer possible to drive further east on Comox (right-out only, same on the other side), while cyclists, once across Denman, are directed to a separated bikeway on the right.

When I first saw the proposal, I was sceptical: is this over-engineered?  Will people really go where the designers think they should?  And if the traffic has been reduced and calmed, why bother with separation for the cyclists at all?

But I was thinking of how I would feel.  I failed to grasp, until attending a briefing by Active Transportation Manager Dale Bracewell, that a greenway is not like a traditional bikeway: it is designed for all modes, walking as well as cycling, and for All Ages and Abilities (that triple-A is the new mantra).  In other words, would an eight-year-old feel comfortable on the route – or an eighty-year-old?  It may be that there will be more electric scooters in the future (see above) than pedal-powered two-wheelers.  The future has to be designed for that too.

Where the greenway crosses an arterial, therefore, there’s a need to create a discrete path that gives comfort to all, just not the more aggressive bikers who are used to traffic.  (Which is the reason they don’t obey all the laws designed for cars, like taking a full stop at every sign.  When you throw cyclists into such a car-dominant environment, the laws of physics are going to trump the laws of man.  The separated routes actually encourage more obedience since it’s clear there’s respected space for everyone, and it’s more likely to get the scooters off the sidewalk, not to mention the bikes.)

Each block is designed to respond to conditions as they change.  There’s a presumption that not everything can be signed for absolute clarity – but if the street responds to the intuitive needs of all users, including cars, it is possible for common sense and courtesy to prevail.

This is something new for Vancouver – and so it’s not yet clear that the greenway will work as designed.  And this one has a couple of significant impediments – but more on that in a subsequent post.

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