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March 7, 2017 at 1:09 PM

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Commercial Drive “complete street”: VPSN response to City Council motion on transportation plan and design

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People walking on Commercial Drive. Credit: City of Vancouver

People walking on Commercial Drive. Credit: City of Vancouver

On March 7, the City of Vancouver will consider a motion addressing reported dissatisfaction over the process of consultation on the Commercial Drive “complete street,” particularly regarding installation of bike lanes. 

The motion requests that:

  1. City staff re-engage and meet with the Commercial Drive Business Society, stakeholders and residents to address concerns and issues arising from the proposed transportation design and plans on Commercial Drive;
  2. Council formally acknowledge receipt of correspondence “Public Petition” including 5053 signatures, submitted to Mayor and Council by the Commercial Drive Business Society, and direct staff to include this petition in any reports of public consultation related to local transportation plans in this area; and
  3. staff consider the negative economic impacts that any changes to transportation design may have on small businesses in the Commercial Drive neighbourhood.

This morning, the VPSN responded to the Mayor and Council with a letter that noted our concerns with the motion as written. It is excerpted below:

For a number of years, the VPSN supported robust citizen and stakeholder engagement throughout this important planning process. We will continue to do so. We also recognize the importance of Commercial Drive and the need to ensure that it remains accessible for all transportation modes. Finally, we support the use of this street as a public space.

Re-engage stakeholders?

In regards to Point 1 of the motion, we are confused by the meaning of “re-engage.” To our mind, consultation with businesses and residents on Commercial Drive has been ongoing for a number of years, with efforts including:

We would note that, after extensive engagement, both the Citizens’ Assembly and the final community plan recommended introducing separated bike lanes on Commercial Drive from East 14th Avenue to Graveley Street. The City, to its credit, has taken an approach that has involved further consultation with a wide array of stakeholders on a process that aims to explore the idea of a “complete street” on the Drive: a focus that acknowledges the street’s role in transportation planning and also as a vital public space.

This “complete street” process is an important one, and planning documents from autumn 2016 note that public consultation on potential design options for a Commercial Drive complete street will be ongoing through 2017. Notably, these documents state that residents, local businesses, civic advisory committees and the Grandview-Woodland Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) are to be consulted during this period. Further consultation with these groups is outlined to take place during the recommendation process, which is expected to occur during the spring and summer of 2017.

Our take on Part 1 of the motion: keep going with the important “complete street” work you are already doing. Moreover we would request that that the City’s approach continue to engage with a broad diversity of voices using sound public involvement practices.

Continued engagement is vital to the successful development of Commercial Drive as a complete street. It is also imperative to recognize the thousands of hours that Vancouver residents and business owners have already devoted to this process to date (both through the larger community planning exercises and through the specific complete street work). Ignoring this important work risks trivializing these exercises.

Commercial Drive BIA survey and petition

We are aware that the Commercial Drive Business Society has undertaken a survey of its members, as well as a petition on this topic. Having reviewed the available material, we wish to express our concern about the wording and methodology of both of these documents. In particular, both appear to have utilized an approach that frames substantial portions of the discussion through leading questions (e.g., support/non-support for a bike lane “commuter highway” with “fully implemented barricades”) and the presentation of unsubstantiated negative impacts (e.g., “local job loss,” “decreased customer traffic,” “unsafe pedestrian experience”) as de facto outcomes of this process.*

While we support the gathering of important baseline data for this process, we believe that it is critical to use sources that base their approach on academically sound, peer-reviewed methodologies. Regrettably, both the BIA survey and the related petition have substantial flaws in this regard, making it difficult to assess them as valid data-gathering instruments.

While it is fair to acknowledge the BIA documents as “submissions,” we would request that the City not unduly privilege either document given the concerns noted.

Small business impact of complete streets

We support the continued exploration of both the positive and the negative impacts associated with a complete street design on Commercial Drive.

According to a 2016 City of Vancouver Intercept Study, over 80% of people surveyed on Commercial Drive arrive by foot, bike or transit and 17% by motor vehicle. More than half of pedestrians and a quarter of cyclists visit the Drive five times a week or more, while only 16% of motorists do. Only 5.6% of all people visiting use on-street parking on Commercial Drive, while 11% currently cycle.

Supporting a range of transportation modes has repeatedly been shown to be good for business. By making conditions safer and more pleasant for 80% of Commercial Drive’s visitors, a complete street is a step towards improving the transportation options for all visitors and residents. This has been shown in several transportation mode studies across a number of jurisdictions, including Hornby Street here in Vancouver and, most recently, a study in Toronto’s Parkdale Village.**

In conclusion, we note that a full 70% of the Commercial Drive streetscape south of Graveley Street is designated for motor vehicle use (17.2 metres of a 24-metre-wide section). Redesigning Commercial Drive to be a complete street would seek to re-balance this, with additional consideration for the needs of users of the street who are most vulnerable to injury or fatality.

We support the completion of the ongoing complete street design process, as outlined in fall 2016. We also support further broad-based consultation throughout transportation planning and design projects. We support the freedom to access Commercial Drive safely through a range of safe, sustainable transportation modes. We are also keen supporters of local business and understand the BIA’s broad goals of ensuring that local businesses continue to flourish. That’s why we support a complete street on Commercial Drive.

*See Commercial Drive BIA Bike Lane Online Survey

**The following are two of several studies that have been completed:

Bike Lanes On-Street Parking and Business: A Study of Queen Street West in Toronto’s Parkdale Neighbourhood, Parkdale Village BIA

Vancouver Separated Bike Lane Business Impact Study, Stantec, 2011


UPDATE: At the conclusion of the discussion about the aforementioned motion, Council voted to refer the item to City staff for consideration as part of the ongoing Commercial Drive complete street process.

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