Let’s prioritize a safer, more complete Commercial Drive – for everyone!
Commercial Drive is one of the city’s most eclectic high streets, and a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. The shopping street component serves as a central public space, over 20 blocks in length, for the larger neighbourhood, and is regularly accessed by large numbers of people who arrive on foot, bike or by transit.
In 2016, after a four-year engagement process, the City approved a community plan for the area – which included specific directions that aimed to “keep the vibe of the Drive.” Central among these was a policy to develop a “complete street” that would better serve – more safely, more equitably – the needs of all modes of travel. Following the adoption of the Plan, the City started to undertake work to implement it – though the process was put on pause.
This coming week, a motion on the floor of Council seeks to roll-back this important policy and replace it with something crafted by the local Business Improvement Association.
While there is merit in some of the ideas contained in the motion, much of what’s being asked for is already accounted for in the approved policies. So what is the difference? Without explicitly saying as much, the BIA concept erases the proposed north-south protected bike lane contained in the approved community plan.
This isn’t the first time the BIA has tried to challenge city policy on this item. However, where their previous efforts were tied to a questionable survey, the latest effort reflects a subtler attempt at erasure – one that is branded in aspirations for a “pedestrian first” experience on a “European style street.”
We think the motion, as it currently stands, is problematic. Last week, the VPSN Board of Directors wrote to Mayor and Council to suggest key ways that the motion could be strengthened – by prioritizing the implementation of existing policy, sharing City work to date… and, yes, drawing on relevant ‘complete street’ precedents from Europe and elsewhere.
An excerpt of the letter, outlining the VPSN’s recommended amendments is found below. You can also find the Council motion here.
Recommended Amendment #1:
Prioritize the implementation of the approved Complete Street policies for Commercial Drive
There is no need to reinvent the wheel on Commercial Drive. After 4 ½ years of engagement and deliberation, the City produced a solid and defensible policy for the street as part of the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan. Included were a series of directions related to reimagining Commercial Drive as a “Complete Street.” These policies sought to balance objectives related to local and destination shopping, city-wide and neighbourhood transportation needs, safety for vulnerable road users, and the importance of public space and public life.
Notwithstanding its focus on pedestrian life, the current motion would effectively dial back the approved policy and replace it with something less safe for cyclists, and potentially less viable from a transit perspective. The accompanying cross-section in the BIA proposal specifically erases opportunities for protected cycling facilities – ironically, in a neighbourhood that has one of the highest proportions of cyclists in the city.
Of course, improving pedestrian infrastructure, and ‘re-scaling’ the south half of the street are important objectives, but they are also accounted for in the approved policy. Improvements to the Drive need to support all modes of transportation, while prioritizing north-south connections for walking/rolling and biking and transit along the length of the street.
In summary: The BIA vision should not supersede the City’s own work in this regard. Sections A and B of the current motion should be amended in order to prioritize the implementation of the City’s policy – including reactivating work that was paused in recent years.
Recommended Amendment #2:
Provide an overview of the work completed to date – including options for Complete Street designs
As noted by the previous General Manager of Engineering Services, engagement was paused so that “City staff could undertake further technical analysis and technical design development of a Complete Street” (Link). This additional work was intended to respond to goods movement considerations, questions about parking, and other concerns raised by the BIA.
The present motion provides a clear opportunity to showcase the work that has been undertaken. While early engagement presented some general ideas and principles around the implementation of a Complete Street, it is clear from the City’s communications that initial work to develop design concepts has been started. A report-back that shares these materials would help Council – and the public – to understand the various considerations and trade-offs that exist, and allow a fulsome discussion to take place. This report back could also provide a means to showcase some of the more recent interventions that have been delivered as part of the City’s COVID response – including temporary patios, Room to Queue, and other initiatives.
In summary: Council should add an additional section to the current motion requesting a report back on the work undertaken by staff – including technical analysis and concept designs – related to the Commercial Drive Complete Street policies.
Recommended Amendment #3:
Seek opportunities to celebrate Italian culture and/or “create a European-style street”…by looking to actual multimodal European streets
Commercial Drive is an eclectic, multicultural neighbourhood, but we understand that one of the intentions of the motion is to further support earlier work around both the Little Italy designation, the “Italian piazza” motion (which we supported), and the opportunity for “a European-style street.”
We feel that one merit of this aspect of the motion lies in its the opportunity to explore European precedents that support slow streets, improved public life, and a safer experience for visitors and locals alike. (We note, though, that there are other national and non-European international complete streets precedents that could also be investigated).
Both prior to, and now in response to the pandemic, numerous cities in Europe have focused efforts on the creation of safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists. The effort here is to create greater mobility equity for residents, while providing improved opportunities for mental and physical health, access to daily needs, and safe commuting.
While cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen are already well-known in this regard, other cities like Paris, Berlin, and Barcelona have come to the fore for their efforts to improve conditions for people walking, rolling and biking. There is also important work being undertaken in Italian cities. Rome and Turin are two examples that are now making their ‘temporary’ walk/bike improvements permanent, and Milan has, via its Strade Aperte initiative, has initiated one of the most ambitious road reallocation projects in Europe – with a proposed network of over 35km of bike lanes, expanded sidewalks, and gathering areas. The initiative is being implemented in a number of areas across the city, including key shopping streets like Corso Buenos Aires and Corso Venzia.
Our point? If the City wants to support an Italian or European-style “corso” then let’s at least make it one that follows contemporary approaches to transportation and public space planning in Italian and other European cities. (Side note: as someone of Italian heritage, and who has spent a lot of time in Italy, I can tell you that cycling is a deep and meaningful part of Italian culture – and this cultural connection to la bicicletta could – and should – be a major selling point of a street redesign that includes infrastructure for walking, biking, and public gathering). How about the Commercial Drive Strada Completa?
In summary: Council should amend the motion to direct staff to explore Italian (and European) precedents for complete streets as part of overall project design and implementation.
Recommended Amendment #4:
Include other public space and mobility organizations in future information sharing and consultation
Component “C” of the current motion calls for staff to support the BIA proposal with a variety of partners. We feel that staff should, instead, use this opportunity to affirm support for the priority implementation of approved City policy with these partners.
As further stakeholder and community engagement on this will be required, we support outreach to the organizations named in the motion, but request that the list be amended to include our organization, as well as other organizations that have important perspectives on sustainable transportation, and the opportunities presented by the Commercial Drive Complete Street Project.
In summary: Council should (a) amend part C of the motion to reference support for the approved Commercial Drive Complete Street policies, and (b) where additional outreach and engagement is required, also include the following organizations:
- Vancouver Public Space Network
- Car Free Vancouver
- HUB Cycling
- Better Environmentally Sound Transportation (BEST)
- Commercial Drive Streets for Everyone