The Arbutus Greenway: What people wanted and what’s up next
by Naomi Wittes Reichstein, VPSN communications coordinator and Arbutus Greenway project lead
If you’ve walked the Arbutus Greenway lately, you’ve probably noticed that the temporary pathway is all paved now. Every time I go on it, I’m encouraged to see it well used by pedestrians and cyclists alike.
Time for an update.
From January 18 to February 15, the City ran an extensive public consultation gathering feedback on what people wanted from the greenway in its final form. The results are now in, and a comprehensive summary and short video are posted online.
The City also issued an RFP for consultants bidding on engineering, landscaping and other work associated with the permanent path. The RFP, which incorporated the results of the public consultation, closed on April 4.
So what’s the upshot?
What Vancouverites want
In the January–February consultation, the City asked residents for input on what would most entice them to use the greenway. Stakeholders, members of the public and City advisory committees were all involved in this process of articulating values.
The City held online Talk Vancouver and paper questionnaires, three stakeholder meetings, three public open houses, three “Pop-Up City Hall” events, a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” and meetings with four of the City’s advisory committees: children, youth and families; persons with disabilities; urban Aboriginal; and active transportation. The City reports more than 4,000 interactions with participants through these activities, including almost 3,000 responses to questionnaires.
Having participated in the second of the three stakeholder meetings (“Transportation and urban design”), I’m encouraged that the values informing the VPSN’s own advocacy for the greenway going back many months are highly consistent with the main objectives articulated by the public in the recent consultation. As reported by the City, the public wants the greenway to:
- be “a high-quality, accessible public space for walking and cycling”;
- be “a safe, comfortable, and welcoming destination with places for gathering, socializing and relaxing” that would be “not just a corridor, but a destination or series of linked places,” with coffee shops, park space and “perhaps outdoor exhibits”;
- connect “to neighbourhoods, parks and other points of interest … as well as the broader transportation network”; and
- offer green spaces: places for finding tranquility, reconnecting with nature, growing food and nurturing ecosystems and biodiversity.
Residents expressed appreciation that the Arbutus Greenway gives access to green space and community gardens. Shown: gate to the Vancouver Compost Demonstration Garden from the greenway. Photo: Naomi Reichstein
Consensus was strong, evidently, on the points above. The overwhelming majority of participants expressed interest in using the greenway for walking, cycling and/or enjoying nature. Such being the case, it’s unsurprising that reactions toward a future streetcar were somewhat divergent. While some responded favourably, others questioned the necessity or expressed concern that having a streetcar could detract from non-motorized uses. This ambivalence toward streetcar use – and indeed to the corridor’s overall designation as a transportation corridor rather than a green trail – was consistent with the ambivalence on this point that the VPSN has observed in past meetings as well.
Construction right now
Though fully paved, the temporary path is still under construction. In a newsletter, the City has announced that the following improvements will be made in the coming months:
- pavement marked with separations for pedestrians and cyclists;
- “minor improvements to street crossings”;
- pollinator seeding; and
Since the first two of these points have serious safety implications, the VPSN urges that they be treated as pressing. With regard to separations, I’ve had feedback from pedestrians who feel threatened by the speed of bikes and have expressed apprehension that the final design could privilege cyclists over pedestrians by giving them more room. Clearly, the sooner the separations are indicated, the better.
As the VPSN has also argued, the confusion at street crossings is an accident waiting to happen, and I’m not sure what scope is intended under “minor improvements.” We reiterate our keen hope that the City will hasten to provide obvious priority for greenway users. Many times, drivers either disregard the greenway or simply seem unaware that it’s even there. At the intersection with 6th, for instance, I snapped this photo of cars parked across the greenway:
Photo: Naomi Reichstein
Toward a permanent design
Meanwhile, the City is moving ahead with developing a permanent design.
Throughout the RFP, there’s a strong emphasis on transportation as a fundamental component of the greenway’s identity. Beyond that, I’m pleased to see that the values expressed at the consultation – and in the VPSN’s own advocacy – figure explicitly in the RFP’s emphasis on accessible use and safety, community connectivity, amenities, focus on ecology, placemaking opportunities and integration of cultural and heritage elements.
For example, I’m pleased that the RFP places explicit value on attending to neighbourhood variety: “Early discussions with stakeholders and the public have indicated a desire to reflect the distinct character of each neighbourhood along the greenway. With such a long and linear site, one of the design challenges will be the development of features and elements that can maintain a coherent experience within the physical confines of the entire greenway while allowing for uniqueness within distinct sections of the corridor” (p B-9).
I’m also happy to read that the “City’s expectation is that public art [will become] an integral component within public landscapes throughout the City, including the Arbutus Greenway” and that “the City’s Public Art Program will oversee the preparation of the ‘Arbutus Greenway Public Art Plan’ in conjunction with the Arbutus Greenway’s Project Manager” (p B-23).
Paved now, the Arbutus Greenway retains echoes of its railway past with its track-like quality, running behind the little park at 6th. Photo: Naomi Reichstein
According to the City, various design options will be developed over the summer, and the public will receive further communications in the fall. After seeking public review and evaluation of these options, the City will provide a detailed update on the one preferred.
Do you have any feedback on the greenway? The VPSN will continue to advocate with the City for its design, so please feel free to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.