Roughly one third of the city’s land base is dedicated to the network of roads, sidewalks and laneways. Combined, these provide several thousand kilometres of infrastructure dedicated to the movement of people, jogging, biking, walking dogs, delivering goods, collecting waste, and every now and then, engaging in a good parade or street party. As Vancouver grows and diversifies, basic service levels will need to be maintained, but the shift in personal transportation activities, away from cars and onto other modes, will need to be accelerated and made inclusive and inviting for residents and visitors alike.
A strong application of a “complete streets” philosophy, that supports all modes of transportation, and ensures an emphasis on the three pillars of sustainable mobility: (1) a pedestrian-first focus on improving the city’s pathways (streets, sidewalks, footpaths) to promote walkability and pedestrian safety for all ages and abilities; (2) a continued strengthening of the city’s bike lane network along with outreach and education; and, (3) a continued push for improvements to the city’s transit network – particularly in areas with high demand and strained capacity.
(1) Make Vancouver’s pedestrian environment even better. Where sidewalks are too narrow for pedestrian volumes, make them wider. Where the condition of sidewalks has deteriorated, fix them up – for safety’s sake. Where we can make streets more lively and interesting – with art, greenery and interpretive signage – let’s do it. We need to encourage more people to walk for health, wellness and to meet their everyday needs.
(2) Build on the positive aspects of the Dunsmuir, Hornby and Burrard Bridge separated bike lanes by further developing connections throughout the downtown (and into the larger Metro Core area – bounded by 16th, Clark and Burrard). Develop a suite of engagement options to allow for different opinions to be registered on routing considerations. Ensure that driver and cyclist education programs are tied to any new infrastructure development. Offer ongoing education to children and adults to foster generations of skilled, safe cyclists… regardless of infrastructure investments.
(3) Intensify municipal lobbying efforts with TransLink and the provincial government to ensure timely progress on the UBC rapid transit line planning. Resolving the huge demand on the Broadway corridor should be the transit priority for the next term of Council. This requires careful planning in collaboration with TransLink as well as advocacy and encouragement directed toward the Province and a range of other stakeholders. A range of options have been considered along this route. Given the intense strain on the current B-Line bus system, nothing less than high-capacity options are acceptable. Let’s make this happen with a planning and engagement process that works for everyone.
(4) Build on the tremendous popularity of the streetcar line during the Olympics by re-energizing plans for a stop-by-stop expansion of the line through to Science World, as the initial phase of a project to restore streetcar service to the downtown core. In order to ensure that the proposal is financially sound, the initial focus of this project has to involve research into the feasibility of alternative financing options (including debentures, development charges, partnerships, tolls. Vancouver grew up as a streetcar city before they were short-sightedly torn-up. With appropriate infrastructure like dedicated rights-of-way, streetcars remain one of the best ways of moving people through cities. They could be a viable part of Vancouver’s transportation future.
(5) Georgia & Dunsmir viaducts – The City has been investigating the possibility of revamping the viaducts almost since they were first constructed. More recently, efforts have been ramped up (no pun intended) with a staff report outlining various options for removing the viaducts… and a design ideas competition focused on generating concepts for the future of this area. With all this in mind, let’s carry on with this recent work. There are fantastic opportunities present to do a better job of improving linkages between Strathcona, the False Creek Flats and the downtown. The creation of stronger neighbourhood connections and the development of new public spaces and better sustainable transportation options could be part of this, but the options and their potential impacts need to be carefully considered. Carry on carefully – so we can be sure to get it right!
(6) Develop (or refine) plans to transform Georgia Street and Broadway from “okay” streets into Great Streets. Think of Georgia Street (from Stanley Park to False Creek) and Broadway as two of the city’s pre-eminent corridors. For over 100 years, Georgia has been conceived of as Vancouver’s ceremonial route – but its “wholeness” has been compromised by successive generations of development, each of which has produced a piecemeal response to the street. The result is a jumbled design that underperforms as a premier public space in the city. Meanwhile, Broadway functions as the key cross-town artery in the Central Core area and also supports an area known as Vancouver’s “second downtown.” However, it lacks inspiration even though there are many great opportunities to improve the streetscape. Both Georgia Street and Broadway deserve holistic urban design programs to transform them into magnificent corridors.
(7) Ensure the city’s pathways are amenity-rich and comfortable: Increase the distribution of street furniture, water foundation and public bathrooms – In order to promote walking, biking and other forms of sustainable transit for all ages and abilities, Vancouver’s pathways, particularly its high streets and gathering areas, need to see the increased presence of seats and perches (ideally dual purpose infrastructure used as bike racks and planters that provide something to sit on), water fountains, garbage cans, bike racks and access to public washrooms. Ensure that our public spaces are comfortable at all times of the year, any time of day or night and for all ages and abilities. Amenities and infrastructure components should be designed, constructed and maintained to last and be used – a lot. How much more do we need? There are standards used in other cities that can serve to provide guidance, assisting with the needs-assessment, rationale and roll-out.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Strategic Partnerships – Look to achieve transit improvements by partnering with infrastructure providers such as TransLink, in such a way that it doesn’t compromise the ‘publicness’ of the venture.
Commemorative fundraising – build on the Park Board’s successful commemorative program (wherein benches and other amenities are funded by community members) and solicit individual or community group contributions for amenities such as benches, bike parking and street trees, etc. Avoid corporate contributions, advertising and sponsorships that may inadvertently privatize or ‘brand’ the public realm.
Reprioritize capital investments in roads – Vancouver’s streets are in decent shape compared to other cities in the world. Consider reallocating a portion of street repair dollars into infrastructure specifically focused on active transportation and for improving the pedestrian realm.
Diversified financing for major transit investments – This is a tough one. Public transit requires significant investments, both for infrastructure development and on-going maintenance and operation. The absence of a more robust provincial funding program – and the complete absence of a federal transit strategy – disadvantage Canadian cities in this regard. Under the circumstances, one of the keys to moving forward will be to develop as diverse a means of funding transit investments as possible, including taxes, levies, partnerships and more. This will spread the impact of these costs over a number of areas and also ensure a more resilient and stable means of funding.
1> Good spaces to congregate: ensuring more and better places to gather
2> Good spaces for connection: facilitating better, more active and sustainable ways for people to move
3> Natural spaces: for habitat, heritage and recreation
4> Spaces that are healthy, safe and welcoming
5> Spaces for culture, economy, learning and play
6> Spaces for expression and engagement