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February 18, 2018 at 12:56 PM

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Improving walkability: curb cuts are key, but how about a broader Pedestrian Strategy?

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wider sidewalks

This story has been updated. 

In January, a Council motion was introduced by Councillors Elizabeth Ball and Melissa DeGenova which called for focussed attention on the City’s pedestrian curb ramp program. This is the portion of the City’s budget that funds curb cuts and related improvements for older or sub-standard sidewalks and intersections. The motion, in particular, calls on staff to figure out ways to fund and complete needed improvements to the “approximately 6,000 locations throughout the City where they are still required.”

On one hand, it’s a commendable request, because making our walking infrastructure safer and more accessible for all residents is key to supporting a range of the City’s goals around health, sustainability and transportation.

Of course, the motion also implies some decisions around funding priorities – because 6,000 intersections (assuming they are of equal necessity) will cost a fair bit. So this means some significant funding will be required (in this case the motion points to the City’s 2019 capital budget… along – it is suggested – with “additional funding that could be leveraged from the Federal and Provincial governments, non-profit foundations, and corporate and community partners.”)

Setting the question of dollars aside, we feel the motion, with its call for a greater focus on pedestrian infrastructure, has merit. We also feel that it could be strengthened by being broader in its application. Yes, curb cuts are needed… but there’s actually an array of other pedestrian-focused improvements that are also equally important – so let’s not focus on just one. In fact, we think the motion could be expanded so that it directs staff to develop a Pedestrian Strategy similar to the sort that has guided civic policy and infrastructure investment in a number of cities.

Mount Pleasant Sidewalk

We wrote a letter to Council on the matter back in January. The motion is being considered this coming February 21. Here’s an excerpt of what we said.

… Vancouver is overdue for the sort of comprehensive Pedestrian Strategy and investment plan that has successfully guided similar important investments in the cycling network. Currently, the City has a Pedestrian Safety Study that has focused on some critical hotspots in pedestrian areas; however, more is needed.

To that end, this motion suggests the potential identification of the nature and costs associated with one type of important pedestrian improvement (namely, curb cuts). This could also be an important way to advance city-wide discussion, policy framing, and investment in an array of pedestrian infrastructure improvements, including:

  • Installation of missing sidewalks
  • Key areas for curb bulges and raised crosswalks
  • Sidewalk repair/edge grinding
  • Clearer separation of shared pedestrian and bike paths
  • Pedestrian safety improvements
  • Other key types of pedestrian infrastructure (including seating, water fountains, etc.)

These and other pedestrian-focused considerations could then be rolled into the sort of Pedestrian or Walking Strategy that you find in cities such as Copenhagen, Berlin, Bristol, Calgary and Toronto. In each of these examples, a higher-level Transportation Policy has resulted in a more detailed policy document and action plan that aims to promote the overall walkability of the city. We feel that the City is part way there with Transportation 2040, and that its now time to take things to this next level.

We therefore offer our support for the recommendations of the motion that seek to daylight the overall situation and costs associated with curb cuts; however, we feel the motion should be broadened to encourage a more comprehensive identification of issues and opportunities for the pedestrian environment.

UPDATE: On February 21, 2018, Council deliberated on this motion. It passed unanimously, with no amendments. So, for the moment, no Pedestrian or Walking strategy. Whole the motion is a step ahead, we will continue to advocate for a more comprehensive approach that responds to the full array of pedestrian issues that require attention.

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