Archives for posts with tag: neighbourhoods

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.

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.

We were back in the UK over Christmas and I was casting my planning and transport eye over what I saw, looking for the differences between the UK and North America. For the purposes of this blog, today I will highlight just one of them.

One of the obvious differences between towns in the UK and North America (or the Metro Vancouver area anyway) is how the roads and blocks are laid out. In Metro Vancouver blocks and roads were laid out in advance of development with straight roads running north – south and east – west to produce roughly square or rectangular blocks. In the UK the road network is much more historical with the straightest roads ironically sometimes being some of the oldest (ancient ‘roman road’ alignments). Block sizes and shapes are far more random and in many areas are the result of incremental development over hundreds of years. Below are two maps, taken from Google, showing the road layout near where I live in Vancouver, BC and in Dover, UK, where my wife’s family live. They are both the same scale.

Vancouver, BC

Dover, UK

Although the density is obviously very different, I use these two examples as I live in one of them and recently visited the other. Dover’s topography is far more evident in the way the road system has developed.

The roads themselves also vary wildly. In the UK the historical nature of the road means typically narrower cross sections than you would plan for if constructing a new road today. In addition, most of the houses do not have off street parking and laneways are not typical. Therefore, these narrow roads also have to accommodate on-street parking. Finally, some of these narrow roads also serve a collector road function and therefore carry moderate volumes of traffic.

Below are two images taken from Google’s Streetview (sorry – for a blog that professes to be at least partially about photography I should really have taken the photos myself). They show street views from the two maps above. One is of Alberni Street in Vancouver and one is from Elms Vale Road, Dover. Although I don’t have the numbers to back this up, I would guess these roads carry similar volumes of traffic on a daily basis.

Dover, UK

Alberni Street, Vancouver BC

The differences are obvious! To North American’s the Dover street might appear a little scary. How do you navigate such a narrow road, especially when the bus approaches?! Well, narrow roads have advantages. People tend to drive slowly – the speed limit is self enforcing. Drivers often have to give way to oncoming traffic and have to ‘pull in’ between parked cars to let this happen. North America is still very standards driven but I am not saying that these narrower widths should be adopted or that they are better. (In fact, the resulting narrow sidewalks/ footpaths caused several problems for us and our stroller/ pushchair, while we were there.) What I am trying to say is that when you don’t have all the space you might like to have, people adapt and things keep moving. If a little slower – which is probably a good thing.

Finally, I would say that a lot of other things have had to fit in with this generally narrower street geometry. You will not usually find the huge trucks and full size SUVs traveling about on these roads. Plus, ALL vehicles in the UK are able to push their side mirrors/ wing mirrors in. I remember being shocked when I realized most side mirrors did NOT push in over here.

So, in conclusion, you make best use of what you have and it usually finds some way of working itself out, even if there are a few compromises along the way.

Here is an interesting idea from the City of Mission in Kansas, USA. The City wants to charge fees based on how much traffic a development generates. Developments that generate more traffic and thus more wear and tear on the roads will be charged more. The article, from the Kansas City Star states that:

Larger businesses that generate lots of traffic, such as Mission Bank, could pay $5,659 a year. A drive-thru fast food restaurant could pay $12,200 a year. Target could pay as much as $64,750 annually.

From the article it sounds like this is a set fee, based on looking up an ITE trip generation table (or similar) to tell you how much traffic a certain development type will generate per unit area (usually per 1,000 sq ft). This in itself is an outdated approach of course, as surrounding land use and density have a vital role to play in influencing the trip generation of a certain development type. However, it is a good idea in theory. I would suggest a couple of improvements to this approach, that would further promote smart growth principles. Firstly, it should include a factor which acknowledges that building a McDonalds (for example) in a higher density, pedestrian friendly area will generate less traffic than building one out in suburbia on a strip mall. This would financially encourage developers to locate in built up, walkable neighbourhoods, as it will cost them less in ‘traffic tax’. Even better, for larger developments, this should be done dynamically. With a permanent traffic counter (or temporary one used at regular intervals) on a site driveway, the number of trips the development generates can be regularly monitored. The more car trips, the more tax they pay. Therefore reducing these trips has a direct financial advantage for the owner. This would make developers think about the location that they build in, but also strive for continual improvements in the travel mode of their employees and visitors. A potential drawback of this approach is that municipalities receive less tax revenue if developments successfully implement vehicle reduction strategies.

Of course, the traffic counter approach only works if each development provides its own parking supply. In urban centres, it is good practice to have a pooled parking supply of on-street parking and municipal owned public parkades. In conclusion therefore, making developments that generate more traffic pay more for the upkeep of the roads makes sense, but the system needs to reward location and potentially other measures such as TDM strategies that an individual development may wish to implement.

When we travel, our experience of a place will be directly influenced by the type of place we choose to stay at. I just read an insightful article in National Geographic magazine where the author had stayed in three very different types of accommodation in Rome, while on vacation, and how his experience of the city changed dramatically as he moved from place to place (opulence to basic). He wasn’t focusing on geographical changes, but rather how each place made him feel about himself and how he subsequently related to the world around him as a result. Although there are of course differences, I think the points made in the article are relevant for urban planners when we consider how residents experience a place. The mix of accommodation a neighbourhood offers can have an effect on the vibe and character of that neighbourhood’s public places. Thoughtful lunchtime reading. Plus it has great photos. Read the article here.

As a little relief from the Olympics I went for a bike ride round some of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods on Saturday morning. Sometimes, living in downtown, you forget there’s a quieter, gentler but just as attractive Vancouver only a few minutes away. (I only mean relatively quieter by the way. If anyone’s from a small town or village they’d think these places were bustling cities.) Anyway, here’s a few photos from my travels.

This first photograph is at Cypress and First Avenue. I love the little independent stores in this area and with the blossom fully out it really does feel like a fantastic area. plus, Fourth Ave is only a couple of blocks south, and the beach is a couple of blocks north. I don’t know if this neighborhood has its own name. Anyone know?

This is at Broadway and Arbutus. I really like the new development at Arbutus Walk, just a block or two south from here. It has a different feel to it than the areas around it, but it fits in well with the original uses on the site (as far as aesthetics and massing goes), it was originally a brewery. It may be too new to call it a neighbourhood though. What do you think? This dry cleaning and laundry store, Fletchers, on the corner of Arbutus and Broadway though, is a throw back to a bygone era. The curved glass on the left is very 50s, complete with revolving sign.

This final photograph depicts everyday life in Chinatown. Now this neighbourhood IS as busy as downtown. It has a very different feel though. When we travel through on the bus we half feel we’ve been transported to China – a little further than we had intended to go!