Advocacy, education and outreach in support of Vancouver's public spaces


May 11, 2020 at 10:27 PM

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Your support needed: COVID-Recovery & Public Space at City Council

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Maple Tree Square - patio seating - 1970s.

Maple Tree Square - patio seating - 1970s.

On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, City Council will be considering two motions related to the use of public space as part of COVID-19 response and recovery. These concern

We support both motions but have some suggestions which we think would strengthen them. We encourage you to support the motions too. Read on for our suggestions and how you can take action.

Flexible, Innovative and Expedited Patio Permitting

In a nutshell… if approved, this motion would direct City staff to prepare options to “support more flexible patio types … utilization of curb lane, street, sidewalk and laneway space… expedited permitting… as well as the number of patios allowed.” There is also a component that proposes consideration of microbreweries as part of the process.

The motion would further direct City staff to report back on “opportunities to create common style [outdoor] eating spaces with additional chairs, benches or tables on public plazas or public spaces… in various neighbourhoods and commercial districts.”


  • Broaden the array of uses being considered. There are a number of commercial sectors that are taking a hit – not just restaurants. A few others: shops, home-based businesses and people employed in the cultural sector. Let’s consider using spaces to support an array of local economy activities, such as local markets for goods and services, expanded retail/commercial displays, arts and performance venues.
  • Foreground accessibility considerations. Patios can often compress the available space on a sidewalk, forcing people to make unsafe detours onto the street. Ensure that any expedited design and review process properly accounts for pedestrian thru-traffic, as well as the needs of people who require mobility aids, use strollers, etc.
  • Ensure a balanced approach around new or expanded commercial activities. Good public spaces are often infused by economic activity, but it is possible to overly privatize public spaces. There are best practices that should be considered as part of this to ensure a balanced approach that maintains public access to public space.
  • Focus on creating “new” public spaces for COVID-response uses. For example, rather than putting extra tables on an already crowded sidewalk, or loading an existing plaza with too much restaurant seating, consider closing residential streets where they “T” into commercial streets. Voila – a new plaza where once there was (mostly) only cars.
Flanking Street - Converted to New Public Space (Image: Derek Lee, PWL Partnership)

Flanking Street – Converted to New Public Space (Image: Derek Lee, PWL Partnership)

Reallocation of Road Space to Support Shared Use During Pandemic

In a nutshell… if approved, this motion would direct City staff to “identify and implement appropriate reallocations of road space, such as high use greenways and streets adjacent to parks where space could be reallocated temporarily to enable safe shared use (pedestrians, cyclists, motor vehicles) and support safe physical distancing.”

It also asks staff to “communicate information regarding the suite of street measures available to the City for reallocating space to support access to local businesses, to support loading and curbside pick-up, and to support physical activity and distancing in neighbourhoods across the city.”

Finally, the motion directs staff to “report back to Council in fall 2020 on refined options for mobility and public realm use us as part of the post COVID-19 recovery.”


  • Vancouver has taken some good first steps – with closures in Stanley Park and Beach Avenue, and smaller queuing areas on some commercial streets – but more is needed in all neighbourhoods. There is a critical need for the City of Vancouver to show leadership in the reallocation of street right-of-way for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • There are various options available – including full reallocation and partial reallocation of street right-of-way and shared space approaches. Different options will be appropriate in different locations. A broad array of options should be considered – with a view to supporting different types of public space objectives in different areas.
  • Street reallocation is an important technique to support Vancouver’s residents and workers with four inter-related activities: (1) Accessing Daily Needs; (2) Commuting to/from places of work via active transportation modes; (3) Maintaining Physical and Mental Health; and (4) Addressing Neighbourhood and Mobility-based Equity Considerations – by prioritizing areas where these interventions will support residents and workers that are most at risk.
  • Street reallocation will support key COVID-response outcomes, including: safe physical distancing; safe public life activities during COVID-recovery; improved opportunities for mobility and spatial equity (particularly in areas with limited amounts of public space ); and improved support for local businesses.
  • The time to act is now: Various techniques to deliver street reallocation are already being used around the world. There’s lots of examples to drawn on that can enable the City to move quickly. Creating an improved public space and street network in response to COVID-19 will happen with open-mindedness, boldness and creativity.

For more information on the benefits of street reallocation, check out our COVID Response: Open and Safe Streets in Vancouver position paper – which we released in late March.


We think both of these motions warrant support. If you agree, please consider sending a quick message to Council (online form), or sign up to speak in person when public deputations are allowed on Wednesday. Be sure to specify the motion(s) you wish to support. If you want to support both, and if you have the time, we’d recommend a quick note on each.

One last thought…

Ideally, these two motions would be considered at the same time, as they both closely overlap. Alternatively, the Council agenda could be varied so that the motion on patios (a specific type of public space use) is considered after the motion around reallocating road space (a general discussion of public space uses). This may seem like a minor quibble – but it might make for a smoother discussion on these important topics.


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