Archives for the month of: April, 2011

Being forced to push your baby out into traffic… feeling like the sidewalk has taken over control of your stroller and is determined to introduce your baby to the fast moving travel lane… having the impression I’m crossing a road when in fact its a lane way.

My wife and I have experienced all this and more in the past year or so as we adapt to life with a baby. We live in downtown Vancouver and use the car only rarely. Thus the stroller gets a LOT of use. Here are my top three annoyances that I’ve observed as we ‘stroll’ around town (although the last one is not stroller specific).

1. The lack of drop curbs where they need to be. This is downtown Vancouver in the 21st century, but even here there are significant minority of intersections (especially in the older West End) that have inadequate drop curbs. The usual problem is that there may be one drop curb on a corner, but it faces the wrong way. So with a stroller, you have to push out into the lane in which vehicles are now travelling. At a four way or two way stop it is unclear which way you’re actually crossing. This can be confusing for vehicle drivers as well as dangerous for pedestrians and their (precious) cargo. ACTION FOR THE CITY: Review and amend drop curbs where necessary.

2. Sloping curb let downs. Sometimes I wonder who truly has priority in this city when I see a curb letdown for a driveway that seems to have totally forgotten that pedestrians might actually use the sidewalk and don’t want to walk at a 45 degree angle to do so. An annoyance without a stroller – dangerous with one. Sometimes with a stroller you’re kind of struggling to keep the thing from veering into the road. The letdown should be within the boulevard zone if possible. Pedestrians are supposed to have priority but this doesn’t seem to be the case. A steeper transition for vehicles over a shorter distance would also act as a traffic calming device to slow their speed as they turn into a site, across a sidewalk. The Institute of Transportation Engineers and The Congress for The New Urbanism agree. Their book, Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares (2010) highlights this and recommends that pedestrians always be given a clear, level (apart from the 2% cross grade) path around the letdown – see diagram below, taken from the book, as well as a photo, from Alberni Street.

ACTION FOR THE CITY: Adopt a standard similar to the above to ensure pedestrians always have a flat path around any letdown.

3. Who has right of way when a lane way and sidewalk meet? The answer is obviously that pedestrians have priority. But you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the other way round. These ‘intersections’ should be designed so that the sidewalk continues uninterrupted with the boulevard again used to transition to street level. This would emphasize the fact that lane ways are not roads and that they’re for access, not through traffic. In slowing drivers down as they enter/ exit a lane way, it might also reduce instances of ‘rat running’ through them. ACTION FOR THE CITY: Alter your design standards to physically give pedestrians right of way, and reinforce the fact that laneways are not roads.

It goes without saying that wheelchair users face the same issues (perhaps even more so) than parents with strollers. However, my experience is with strollers, so  I write from that perspective.

So, that’s my observations and opinion. Do you agree? Am I making a fuss out of nothing? What have I missed? I’d be glad to hear your thoughts.

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Back in October, Ellen Dunham Jones came to Vancouver and presented a lecture on New Urbanism and also what she felt were the short comings of landscape or ecological urbanism, which was starting to become a competitor in the theory of place making. Jason King, on his Landscape and Urbanism blog linked back to my review of the Ellen Dunham Jones lecture. His post, entitled, ‘More on Ecological Urbanism‘ provides a view from the other side, a counter balance if you will and is actually quite refreshing for those of us who may have only ever heard ecological urbanism described by those who distrust it (e.g The Congress for New Urbanism). I’m still not convinced, due in part to the lack of actual examples they can point to, but I do appreciate that in the main, new urbanists and ecological/ landscape urbanists are after most of the main things, but they vary in their methodology for how to get there. Discuss…

I attended one of the SFU  City Program’s free lectures last night. The topic was ‘What’s Up With the Viaducts?’ in reference to the fact that the City is now considering what the future of these structures, and more importantly what the future of this area of the City, should be.

There seem to be two main aspects. Firstly, what happens to all the traffic that currently uses the viaducts? Does everything come to a grinding halt if they are removed? The consensus was – no. And to be fair, all the evidence now supports this, including the little experiment the City did in February last year when a small sporting event shut down the viaducts and a few other streets! There is now a fair body of evidence from all over the world which supports the notion of  ‘disappearing traffic’. One of the most notable examples is from Seoul and Gordon Price’s blog has a lot of info on it here. Basically, in this case, they removed 6km of a huge freeway through the city and replace d it with a park. And traffic in surrounding areas did not go up. It has even got the folks in New Westminster grappling with a planned expanded Front Street wandering whether its the right thing to do. Traffic is like a gas, it expands and contracts to fill the space available. Hence also, ‘induced traffic’ where new road capacity is used up quicker than expected. As an aside, the exception to this is if its tolled. I have heard of two examples recently of Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects where new bridges or tunnels have been constructed and tolls and financial models calculated based on a certain number of vehicles using the route (and paying the toll). And the traffic hasn’t come. One of the examples is the Golden Ears Bridge here in Metro Vancouver. I’m sure this wouldn’t have happend a few years ago. Times, they are a changing…

The other part of the debate was what should replace the space that the viaducts currently take. The skytrain weaves up and down around the viaducts at the moment so that’s one challenge, although I personally like the roller coaster feel to this part of the route and think its a feature in its own right. There was an interesting history lesson given as to what was there before the viaducts which acted as a reminder about how much we can loose in the name of ‘progress’. Hogan’s Alley was a thriving black community (Vancouver’s only one) which was wiped out. Someone suggested naming this project Hogan’s Alley Planning Initiative (HAPI) which got a cheer of approval.

This is only the beginning of the debate. So, what do YOU think? As Bing Thom said last night, the City Councillors want to hear from the people, otherwise they don’t really know what to do. So make your voice heard on this blog or elsewhere.