COVID Place making
October 8, 2020

English Bay: Another Transformative Moment

This is a big deal:

Kevin Griffin at The Sun reports on the Parks Board approval of a $2.56 million contract to develop a master plan for the parks and streets from Stanley Park to Burrard Bridge for the next thirty years. Kenneth Chan at The Daily Hive describes the area and issues:

The design firms chosen are impressive: PFS Studio is of Vancouver – known for many years as Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg – partnered with Snøhetta, based in Oslo, well known for their architecture (like Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre).  But unlike that Danish starchitect Bjorke Ingels, they’re also known for a better integration of building with public space.

This promises the production of a masterplan of international caliber, which given the location and opportunity, is to be expected.  Indeed, the challenge (for the Park Board in particular) is to imagine a rethinking of this city/waterfront interface beyond its aesthetic and recreational opportunities for the neighbourhood.  This is city-building, writ big and historic.

It will also be the third major transformation for this stretch of English Bay – first the summer grounds of the coastal peoples; then, from the 1890s on, houses and apartments (left) all along the beachfront, cutting off everything except the sands of English Bay.  For over most of the 20th century, the City purchased and demolished these buildings, even the Crystal Pool, until the by the 1990s there was unbroken green, sand and active-transportation asphalt from Stanley Park to False Creek.

But it was all on the other side of Beach Avenue, a busy arterial that served as the bypass for traffic around the West End – the legacy of the original West End survey in the service of motordom.  For some this will be seen as unchangable.  As the reaction to the Park Board changes this summer on Park Drive revealed, even a modest reallocation of road space diminishing ‘easy’ access for vehicles and the parking to serve them is upsetting to those who associate motordom design with their needs, special and otherwise.

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Dan Fumano at The Sun nails it:

Although polling — and election results — consistently show most Vancouverites generally support spending on biking and walking infrastructure, many fiscal conservatives are quick to point to those areas when it’s time for financial belt-tightening.

This week’s staff presentation proposes continuing with the planned rehabilitation work on the Granville Street Bridge, including seismic upgrading, at a cost of $24 million, but reducing infrastructure spending on the Granville Street Bridge, Drake Street and Gastown.

And it’s not just Council that will be enticed to cut cycling infrastructure out of current plans.  Park Board too.

It’s been the NPA Park Commissioners’ strategy (John Coupar’s in particular) to prevent any serious bikeways through parks (Kits especially) through delay and deferment.  This fits their agenda perfectly.  Now the question is whether Council will adopt the strategy for the city as a whole.

We are at this remarkable moment when cycling use has increased dramatically as a consequence of the pandemic.  Trips are measured in the tens of thousands, even the hundreds of thousands.  Users are more diverse – in age, ethnicity, style and location – beyond hope and expectation.

But even at a time of a declared climate emergency, the same ol’ stereotypes and politics seem to prevail.  When even the disabled advocates insist that two lanes of Stanley Park are needed for cars, and parking spaces are the highest priority, when golf-course improvements get green checkmarks over greenways, it’s apparent that the need for advocacy, for political champions on elected boards, and for community support are as important as ever.

Actually, more important than ever.



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No matter how many times the NPA lose elections when they include anti-cycling dog whistling, they just can’t stop themselves.  Here’s the latest from NPA Park Commissioner Tricia Barker:

It’s not hard to figure out the underlying assumptions:

  • Seniors don’t cycle.
  • Seniors are so effectively disabled, they are reliant on (and can afford) cars.
  • Seniors need to have Stanley Park returned to its car-dominant allocation of space – “For ALL TIME!”

The implications follow:

  • The interests of cyclists and seniors are opposed.
  • NPA Commissioners will justify their anti-cycling strategy as pro-senior.
  • Cyclists and walkers who reject a return to the status-quo are anti-senior.

The NPA have been successful at least in one respect: keeping any new cycling infrastructure built to the City standard out of parks. Other than those places (like the South Shore of False Creek) where the City shares jurisdiction and will design and pay for bikeway-standard improvements, there has been no other significant upgrades within parks.  As a result, the park experience has been worsening for everyone, particularly in the case of Kits and Jericho.

Here’s a Jericho Video which illustrates the lack of adequate space for walkers, cyclists and runners, squeezed together on an unpleasant surface, without separation or signage.

In the three months into the pandemic, the Park Board has done essentially one thing for cycling: limiting vehicle traffic in Stanley Park.  They have done nothing to address crowding in parks elsewhere, leaving it up to the City (thanks to NPA Councillor Lisa Dominato’s Open Streets motion) to do the heavy lifting.

But they have moved fast to open up the parking lots, and now seem determined to get Park Drive in Stanley Park returned to wide-open car use as soon as possible, presumably so that cars and bikes can fight it out for road space. Or even worse, try to squeeze the extraordinary increase in cycling back on to the seawall, making the experience worse for everyone.

But here’s the thing: no cycling advocate that I have heard has suggested that Park Drive not accommodate those with more limited mobility.  Indeed, it’s in the remarks from HUB Cycling member Jeff Leigh:

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Why isn’t there a Kits Flow Way – an allocation of street space that both takes the pressure off the overcrowded mixed-use paths through Hadden and Kits Park, and provides a designated, separated space to accommodate the dramatically increased amount of bike traffic in these days of the pandemic?  In other other words, a Kits equivalent of the Beach Flow Way.  (More discussion here.)

The answer I heard from City Hall insiders is that there really isn’t a need to have a traffic-calmed reallocation on parts of the adjacent streets because, with the pandemic and the closure of the parking lots in Kits and Hadden, there isn’t much traffic anyway.

Well, guess what.

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On Wednesday afternoon, I had a fun and enjoyable conversation with John Irwin, the COPE member of the Park Board.  I’ve known John since I was an NPA councillor and he was, sometimes, a sparring partner (though we agreed on cycling).  The fun when debating with John is, between him and me, who gets to finish their thoughts before being overtaken by the other.

John is on the ever-well-meaning Left – a COPE guy of long standing.  In elected office, his is the politics of conversation, consultation and collaboration – a strategy of re-action, always hoping for togetherness.  Great when it works.  Puts action off when it doesn’t.

Exhibit A: Providing for mobility in Kitsilano and Hadden Parks.

But this is the time of the virus – a moment when the previously un-doable gets done very quickly.  Exhibit B: the Beach Avenue flow way.

The necessity for change in Kits and Hadden Parks is inarguable: It’s unsafe because different users don’t have space to share, and they can’t social distance without it.  So each pisses the other off.

What, John, I asked, can be done this month to provide enough space for all the different users to walk, run and cycle while respecting each other?   While the Park Board has placed ‘champions for social distancing’ along the seawall and in parks, it hasn’t provided the space to do it properly.

Except along on Park Drive and Beach Avenue.  The Park Board, I’m told, took the initiative to both close Stanley Park to most vehicles and to provide connected space on Beach.  When I got a ‘process’ answer on the problem in Kitsilano (“We need to work with the City …” blah, blah), I pressed him on Beach: Will you turn it all back to the way it was before the virus?  Will the Beach flow way disappear and cyclists return to the seawall, in some cases jammed together like they are in Kits Park?

Finally, John was unequivocal:

“I will oppose, I will fight to prevent the removal of the lanes on Beach Avenue.”

After a summer or more of use, I doubt John will be alone in a fight to retain the flow way in some form.  My guess is that most Vancouverites, having accustomed themselves to a pleasant walking and cycling experience along Seaside (and hopefully other greenways in the city), will be supportive, even demanding, of this street-use reallocation.  Even on Kits Point.


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Cllr Lisa Dominato was interviewed on ‘NW’s Simi Sara show this morning, touching all the points on why slow streets made sense – health, safety, open space for higher density neighbourhoods, social distancing.

Simi: “Needs to get done.  Needs to get done fast.”

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A second city councillor weighs in:

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Jeff Leigh sends in a pic from a HUB Cycling member  – “Parks Board responded to the concerns about the blocked entrance at Kits Beach Park.  ”


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Likewise in Stanley Park, Dianna reports in:

It’s a work in progress, and this is the Parks Department’s latest effort to clarify which direction to ride. It’s a good change. In two loops, I saw only three cyclists riding the wrong way, two were nervously creeping down from Prospect Point, and the other looked defiant so maybe he was out for the scenery. Also, intersected with one bus and two landscaping trucks. No expensive SUVs today.

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Presumably, that they are obedient idiots.

The Board placed a log to prevent access to the Kits Beach parking lot off Arbutus Street – and then put up an unmissable sign to require cyclists to dismount and walk across a few hundred metres of empty asphalt.

Which no cyclist will do.  Ever.  Thereby reinforcing the meme that cyclists won’t obey laws.

So the Park Board thinks they’re idiots, no matter what they do.

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After a cycle from the West End to Jericho, the contrast between those parts of Seaside that allow for sufficient separation and distancing with those that don’t became more obvious than ever.  More than that, it’s evident that the status quo is unacceptable.

The City and Park Board cannot on one hand tell us to keep two to ten metres apart and then, on the other, not provide sufficient space and proper instructions.  It has led to mutual irritation among users. And, bottom line, in a pandemic it’s just not safe.

Some examples.  (Click title to get all images.)

Pandemic approved:

Seaside at Coal Harbour, April 11


Not pandemic approved:

Seaside near Second Beach, August 2018

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The Park Board is going to make better and safer use of the space it owns in Stanley Park:

Here’s the consequence:

Closing Stanley Park’s roads will reduce the daily number of people in the park and open up space for cyclists and pedestrians from the neighbourhood.

It won’t be just from “the neighbourhood.”  Expect Vancouverites (and those from the North Shore) to use the bikeway and greenway network to access Stanley Park too.  Indeed, recreational athletes already do.

Next step: the City can likewise reallocate road space to take pressure off the most popular (and too crowded) greenway paths.

Here’s a list of opportunities as compiled from Jeff Leigh with HUB Cycling.

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A new brewpub in the old Fish House has opened in Stanley Park, next to the main tennis courts:

Isn’t the bike on the logo, front and centre, a nice touch?  It’s what you’d expect for a destination away from any major road, in a park, for an active, outdoorsy culture.

So how do you cycle to Stanley Park Brewing?

Officially, you don’t.  Go to the website for the brewpub, and here’s what you find:

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