A couple of things recently have brought my attention to the fact that pedestrians are perhaps becoming overlooked in the development of our cities. I know this sounds crazy, but bear with me. They are being overlooked, often, in favour of cyclists. At a recent Gaining Ground workshop that I attended there seemed to be a consensus that while bicycle advocacy was well advanced in some areas (and rightly so) and has achieved some notable victories (Vancouver’s downtown bike lanes for example) there is no one flying the flag for pedestrians.

The City of Vancouver has a Bicycle Advisory Committee which is consulted on major development proposals and capital projects to ensure that cyclists needs have been taken into account. In addition, there is the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition who are the leading cycling advocates in the area and then there is, of course, Critical Mass. All of these bodies do great work (although I sometimes have doubts about critical mass). The point is not that bicycle advocacy has gone too far, but that pedestrian advocacy has, erh… well, not really started yet. The best example in Vancouver of this imbalance  is pedestrian’s losing the eastern sidewalk on the Burrard Bridge to cyclists. Road space should have been taken away from cars, not pedestrians!

I am not the only one to think that pedestrians need a flag waver, and not just in Vancouver. I recently read  Dom Nozzi’s latest blog entry which is on this very subject and he’s located all the way down in Florida. In Vancouver specifically, an SFU professor agrees that a pedestrian advocate is needed. The best Vancouver has at the moment is probably the Vancouver Public Space Network. They do some great work. However, their interest is far larger than just pedestrians. Other cities that Vancouver likes to compare itself against, such as Portland OR have a Pedestrian Advisory Committee. And it was formed in 2000! In case you’re wondering what a body such as this would do, Portland’s Mission Statement reads:

The mission of the City of Portland Pedestrian Advisory Committee is to act as advocates for pedestrians by:

  • Reviewing new projects that effect pedestrians to ensure they meet City of Portland Pedestrian Design Guide standards;
  • Advocating for safe access for pedestrians;
  • Supporting education, outreach, and advocacy of pedestrian issues; and
  • Developing policy and plans to better meet the needs of pedestrians.

So, why isn’t there one in Vancouver? Perhaps it’s because we’re all pedestrians, so we all assume someone else is doing something about it. Or perhaps it’s because everyone assumes pedestrians are doing just fine – give them a sidewalk or a cross walk and that should do it! The example of the Burrard Bridge road space reallocation shows that it doesn’t just happen by itself.  It’s time Vancouver had its own Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

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