July 17, 2018

Park Board & Bikes: #wedontcare

This past weekend, I decided to take a quick ride over to Jericho from the West End, just to see what was happening with the Folk Festival.

Along the way, I found several long-standing examples of the City of Vancouver’s Park Board indifference to cycling.  (I know the commissioners would disagree, but the lack of action over so many years, regardless of all the plans, consultations and rhetoric, speak otherwise.)

For instance the path pictured above, just to the west of the Aquatic Centre, connecting Beach Avenue with the Seaside Greenway —narrow asphalt and worn grass — is ambiguous, inadequate and unsafe.  If it were under the jurisdiction of the City’s engineering department, it would likely have been rectified by now (it’s been this way for decades).

But it’s Park Board territory — and another example of their attitude: #wedontcare.

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By Jeff Leigh
The Vancouver Sun has posted an editorial about the controversy regarding the proposed Kits Beach Park bike route, “Don’t Wreck Kits Beach Park with Unnecessary Bike Lane
Leaving aside the quip about chanting anti-car slogans (the advocacy group I work with has as a guiding principle respect for all transportation stakeholders – there aren’t winners and losers), there are numerous fallacies presented in the op-ed piece.  Starting with the title.  The proposal is for a low-speed path, not a bike lane.

Cyclists, on the hand, cannot safely ride through the throngs of pedestrians on the existing path — although many try — and want a route that allows them to complete a seaside circuit without interruption or the inconvenience of vehicular traffic.

We agree that riding through a throng of people walking on the existing shared path isn’t safe.  But diverting people on bikes (especially families with children) to a busy street and through a parking lot, particularly in summer, isn’t about inconvenience.  It is about safety.  It is about respecting the principles established in our city for movement, with people walking at the top of the pyramid, and people on bikes next.  Not last. And certainly not behind preserving all of the space for cars that is being championed here.
This is about park planning.  Note the photo the Vancouver Park Board use on their web site:

The matter was supposed to be decided at a Vancouver Park Board meeting this past Monday, but the board voted to refer it back to the engineering department for further study.

The construction of a bike route wasn’t supposed to be decided by Park Board Commissioners.  The recommendation by Park Board staff was simply for staff to work with City transportation engineering staff to advance designs, and develop budget cost estimates, in preparation for a full public consultation.  The Park Board Commissioners did not refer it back to Engineering, as Engineering isn’t a Park Board department.  They failed to refer it back.  They left it in limbo.  References were made in the meeting to next year’s Park Board commissioners dealing with it.

Considering that a bike lane through this park has been debated for five years or so, one might have thought that all the study would be done. But the total cost, the number of trees to be lost and other details are still unknown.

All the study was not done as Park Board staff did not start work on it until late in 2017, in response to community pressure to deal with a worsening problem.  That pressure came from the cycling community.  But also at the table with Park Board staff were local residents and representatives of various park user groups.  The costs and potential tree impacts are unknown because that work hasn’t been done yet.  The staff recommendation was for that work to be done. Park Board staff will struggle to do it without hiring outside expertise, or working collaboratively with Engineering staff, who had offered to help.

The route from Balsam Street and Cornwall Avenue in the west to Ogden Avenue and Maple Street in the northeast would result in the loss of about 930 square meters of green space, roughly the size of two basketball courts. Demonstrators before the meeting carried signs reading: “Is concrete the new green?”

There are many options that reduce that impact, and offsets that result in no net increase in paving if that is desired.  Those options are open to the Park Board. Utilizing existing pavement would be the first way to answer the concern.  That means dealing with the question of retaining all existing parking, designing a safe route down the existing service lane to the restaurant, and so on.
But if the goal is to remove paving, fine.  Should we start with the tennis courts, the basketball courts, or one or more of the three parking lots?  Or should we instead simply find a way not to encroach further. A basketball player and a tennis player holding signs saying “No Paving in the Park” may be inclined to opt for the latter.
Lowering the tone of the debate doesn’t help. Why is a safe path through the park called a cycling speedway?  Why the references to the Tour de France by path opponents?

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On the surface the conflict on Kits Point is about a continuation of the Seaside Route through and around park space. The Park Board has punted that decision.

Delay and indecision is pretty much the Park Board strategy everywhere within their jurisdiction.  See Jericho:

But the way some of the Kits Point residents (the most successfully parochial community in the city) have framed the debate, it’s also about a larger policy issue.  Is cycling for all an activity to be accommodated and encouraged in parks?
Two Park Board commissioners (John Coupar and Sarah Kirby-Young, NPA) used concerns over lack of details – no route, no costing – to avoid a decision to proceed.  That no doubt surprised the staff who must have been instructed to prepare a report without those details in order not to inflame the community with the impression of a foregone decision.
So the Park Board failed to affirm or reject the position of the opponents, which (without quite saying it) is that cycling should be kept out of their park.  Quote: “ ‘I’m happy with that. It’s a reprieve for the moment,’ said Peter Labrie, a Kits Point resident who believes a bike lane through the park is unnecessary.”
If the Park Board refuses to make a decision on a properly designed bike route to connect and continue the Seaside, they would be affirming that position.  Their position by default would be that an activity which promotes healthy recreation, is necessary for active transportation and advances the city’s sustainability goals is not something to be encouraged in their parks.  (You can see why they don’t want to have to say that.)
This protest is also about an even larger agenda, as articulated by Howard Kelsey of the Kitsilano Beach Coalition.

(Kelsey) suggested the decision represented a broader win against cycling advocates he believes had held sway over the city’s agenda.”
“The cycling agenda was just put on hold,” he told supporters. “They are not driving the agenda anymore.

Conclusion: Many Kits Point residents and allies want to discourage cycling in the city by preventing the funding and construction of safe cycling routes for all.  And they have come very close to saying that.
The question now is whether those running for office will also support or reject that de facto position.  Or will they pursue the NPA strategy of never saying no but never articulating a positive alternative, and where possible never voting for anything decisive.  Cycling will simply be suffocated.

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It happened again today: someone mentioned that if only we hadn’t spent so much on bike lanes, we could afford to fund … (fill in blank).  In this case, repairing the Lost Lagoon fountain.
Bikeways, greenways, any way but roadways, have become for some a rhetorical measurement of waste, kind of like the fast ferries.  Such examples are typically fodder for the Right.  (Try googling “Bateman poodle.”)  These days, Trump has given the Left equal opportunity: (Google “Mar-a-Lago cost-per-trip, Meals-on-Wheels.”)
Here’s a local example:

City councillor Melissa DeGenova said Saturday that at a rally earlier in the week she heard from many residents along that stretch who don’t want to pay the money (to bury utility lines on Point Grey Road) , and are upset the sidewalk expansion is happening at all. They believe the money could be better spent elsewhere, such as affordable housing for homeless or improvements to the Downtown Eastside …

Too much to ask residents of some of the most expensive property in Canada to spend $80,000 per house – but really they were objecting to the cost of the PGR sidewalk rebuild in the first place.
By the way, how much was that?

Up to $6.4 million.

Sound like a lot?  Let’s compare:

Dollars spent to maintain the bridges this winter
This winter had more snow and storms than most, with 22 days of snowfall on the Port Mann Bridge. TI Corp, which maintains and operates the bridge, spent about $5 million to operate the cable collar system on the Port Mann Bridge. Last winter, the cost to operate the system was $300,000.

To repeat: TCI “spent about $5 million to operate the cable collar system on the Port Mann Bridge.”
Note that that was only a one-time operating cost, not a permanent capital improvement like Point Grey Road.  But it does make for a handy new unit of measurement: The Port Mann Ice Removal Parameter.
For instance: Phase 2 of the Point Grey greenway cost one and a quarter PMIRs.
And this counter-lament: ‘If only the Port Mann Bridge had been designed properly, we could have spent the money filling in the gaps in the regional bike network.’
Or we could continue to use poodles:

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Don’t you love a city where people care so passionately about public improvements.

That’s the polite way of putting it.  Once again the culture/political war is being waged on Point Grey Road – as demonstrated over at The Tyee, where the comments to Patrick Condon’s column on a “Lighter Shade of Green” for PGR are closing in on 200.  Mostly unpleasant.
But has Ken Ohrn noted in previous posts, there is a charming little construction that says something nicer about this neighbourhood.  If you’re not careful, you might cycle by it without noticing:

It’s the ‘bricks and mortar’ version of an online ‘gifting, sharing and trading’ platform –

Leave a gift, take a gift – just nothing broken, dangerous or illegal.
The book titles alone tell you that you’re in Kitsilano:

So do the sticky-post sentiments:

Once the PGR is completed, people will, as usual, wonder what all the yelling was about, and why a few in this spoiled place could be so short-sighted about something that makes it so much better.
We can only hope as that as we deal with the problems of our own success, and the inequity that has resulted, we won’t lose the qualities that made a community free store possible.

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A plea for a lighter, greener, cheaper, more collaborative approach to building the “Greenest City”

The sad case of Point Grey Road.
by Patrick Condon
You would think the City of Vancouver was out to make us all raging nature haters. How is it that the provision of a simple thing like bike lanes has made city voters so apoplectic that it ranks at the top of the pile of election wedge issues. Its like getting upset about crosswalks. You have to try really hard to make folks mad about, or even notice, public infrastructure. But somehow the city seems to accomplish this feat again and again.
The newest catalyst for resident apoplexy is, yet again, Point Grey Road. Residents there are furious about a six meter wide sidewalk and tree boulevard strip currently under construction on the north side of this street – in most cases on land being taken back from lavishly planted front gardens that had gradually forested over unused city land.
Point Grey Road is, of course the street that the City closed to through car traffic to complete the City’s “sea wall” along the Kitsilano district’s shore. This original effort was understandably applauded by homeowners along this “golden mile”, but dismayed residents of other parts of the city and region who had become accustomed to going there for a Sunday drive to enjoy the attractive ocean views and, to some extent, gape at the homes and gardens of the well heeled.
In this more recent case the homeowners garner little sympathy from the broader populace, given that the street closure seems to have been a factor in the fantastic increase in property values there. Spurious safety concerns raised by golden mile residents ring hollow when the 10,000 daily trips which once passed their drives now inflict residents living along nearby 4th avenue.
This is all the more sad because none of this really had to be this way. The City lately seems incapable of anything approaching a light touch when it comes to their Greenest City agenda. The current approach to Point Grey Road is emblematic of this failure of imagination. Truly sustainable cities emerge with a much lighter hand. The City’s ham handed approach unnecessarily disrupts existing cultural and urban ecosystems, and, in the process, racks up unnecessary political and capital debts. Its sad. A much lighter approach to Point Grey Road was always available. But a lighter approach would have required a more holistic sensibility which, i would argue, the City lacks. A more truly sustainable approach would be accepting of “both and” solutions rather than the current “one way my way or the highway” approach.
The City’s approach to designing and building green infrastructure seems similar to the much maligned approaches taken by highway engineers of the 1960’s. Those folks happily ripped up city blocks for flyovers and cloverleafs, and leveled every neighbourhood in the freeway’s path. There is thus not a small measure of irony in using these same design approaches for green infrastructure in the only city that stopped a highway from gutting its downtown.
What would a lighter approach have looked like on Point Grey Road? Well i suppose the City could have started off by at least trying the one way street proposed by citizens prior to the City’s controversial and precipitous complete street closure. That plan could have been implemented with a can of yellow paint to mark the bike way and a few signs. If that proved inadequate after a few years then some new signs and some more paint to divert the one way traffic to 4th ave could have worked. This is the kind of “tactical urbanism” strategy famously used by Jannette Saduk-Khan, New York City’s transportation commissioner, who first used a can of paint and some movable chairs to close off Times Square in New York City, a move that both proved what was possible and allowed for low cost real time experimentation to get it right.
But instead we got a very over-engineered grey street, with green functions (walking, biking) rigidly, unnecessarily and expensively separated. We could have had a “complete” street instead, one with wheeled circulation functions more mixed and existing trees preserved. We could have had a street that enhanced rather than degraded ecological functions, a street that added habitat rather than removed it, a street where storm water was cleaned and infiltrated into the water table rather than discharged unmitigated into English Bay waters.

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Adam Gopnick in the New Yojrker does a reflection on Jane Jacobs’s life and ideas in her centenary year, with so many astute observations that PT will pull out a selection and run one every hour today.

Two core principles emerge from the book’s delightful and free-flowing observational surface. First, cities are their streets. Streets are not a city’s veins but its neurology, its accumulated intelligence. Second, urban diversity and density reinforce each other in a virtuous circle. The more people there are on the block, the more kinds of shops and social organizations—clubs, broadly put—they demand; and, the more kinds of shops and clubs there are, the more people come to seek them.
You can’t have density without producing diversity, and if you have diversity things get dense. The two principles make it plain that any move away from the street—to an encastled arts center or to plaza-and-park housing—is destructive to a city’s health. Jacobs’s idea can be summed up simply: If you don’t build it, they will come. (A third is less a principle than an exasperated allergy: she hates cars, and what driving them and parking them does to towns.)
There is an oddity, though. As in the scene of the little girl and her potential molester, the surprising virtues of the street in fighting crime are essential to Jacobs’s vision. Her work, written in the late fifties and the early sixties, seems obsessed with crime, and with insisting that crowded streets don’t make crime happen. Writing at the start of the crime wave that warped and reshaped so much for the next two decades or so, she is fiercely determined to prove that cities are not friends to criminality. One of her most emphatic arguments is that street play is actually safer than playground play, and that wider sidewalks are necessary to keep cities safe.

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The second phase of this project on Point Grey Road gets underway this week as city crews prepare to expand sidewalks, install benches and public fountains. Plus sewer and water upgrades.
Presumably, there will be some opposition to this.

Local news coverage HERE.  City overview on Seaside Greenway Phase II HERE. Broader overview of the Seaside Greenway HERE.

Excerpt of City overview: 

Phase 2:

  • Improvements to walking conditions, public realm, expanded green space and connections to waterfront parks along Point Grey Road
  • Construction to be coordinated with sewer replacement
  • Seaside Greenway Completion:  Completes a critical 2 km gap in the Seaside Greenway, running from the Vancouver Convention Centre to Spanish Banks.
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