December 27, 2015

A City of Bikers but what about the walkers?

Why does walkability in a city get such short shrift when it is completely sustainable and carbon neutral, is highly recommended for mental and physical health, and is a key ingredient to enhanced sociability and city life? Walkability and spaces designed for those on foot also provide universal accessibility for the young and old, disabled, and those without financial  means of transportation.
The  City of Vancouver is doing a great job bringing on bike lanes and making plans to make bike riding safer, faster and more convenient…but there is barely a mention about public realm and sidewalk improvements for pedestrians. And does not every journey, no matter what transportation mode you are using begin and end with a walk?
The recent City of Vancouver Council committee on December 10 considered the  Active Transportation Update to the  2040 Transportation Plan.
The update will provide new bike lanes, and upgrade some of the existing bicycle routes and facilities. But little breath is given to walkers.  This gap was also noticed by the Vancouver Public Space Network who noted on their blog that the word “pedestrian” appears only twice in the report and the word “walking” appears 17 times compared to the words “cycling” (59 times) and the word “bike” (66 times). Here is their take below:
The City’s  2016 budget does provide for sidewalk maintenance, curb drop construction, and new pedestrian and cycling signals. But walking is more than this, it is the mindful connection of  complete streets, enhanced pedestrian plazas or spaces. This is all work that was championed from the City’s Urban Landscape Taskforce in the 1990’s in the creation of Greenways which were streets for walking and cycling before cars.
How does walking and walkability get back on the Civic Agenda?
Sandy James

Click to access ptec7.pdf

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  1. Great point, Sandy! Despite the long-held Council policy of putting the “pedestrian first”, in action – meh. The fact of the matter is that there is a powerful bike lobby that votes, while those of us who choose walking as our first choice aren’t organized and therefore can go suck eggs.
    At best, if a new non-vehiclarfacolity is created it is either for bikes only (oh, now with skaters) or we are expected to “share”, as in the new Lions Gate Bridge thingie. In practice that doesn’t usually work too well – for the walker.
    BIAs usually are great advocates for walkers (cf, Commercial Drive and South Granville, among others) and tend to be suspicious of new proposals for the limited road space in their domain. Yes, they do tend to also prefer curbside parking to bike lanes, but – as a pedestrian – so do I. Buffering the sidewalk and all that.

  2. Indeed it is under-emphasized. As an avid walker of course I can enjoy the seawall all the way from UBC via Jericho and Kits to Falsecreek then onto Stanley Park and around it. But go off a block or two inland and it becomes rather bleak indeed. Sidewalks are generally narrow and often barely allow two people side by side. Then usually 4, often 6-8 lanes of traffic ( counting both parked and driving cars ). Not one pedestrian zone anywhere. Why not ?
    The allegedly greenest city surely emphasizes cars by giving them so much free space. Parking on the curb is far too plentiful and far too cheap, not only in commercial areas but especially in residential areas. $120/year for a residential parking permit. Give me a break. That is green ? How about $120/month to start then up to $500 to reflect land values on the areas!
    No wonder we don’t have enough money for transit. Cars and properties are undertaxed and both is fully within councils’ control ! No need to blame the evil province for lack of funding. Cities need to do their bit, but do not today!
    Why ?

  3. I think it’s a matter of perspective and naming of things. Things that are beneficial to multiple modes tend to have the cycling part (because it has become click-bait) be mentioned more in the news. For example, the redoing of the small park at Hawks and Union. It was done primarily to benefit people walking but some only see it as a cyclist thing. The plans for the north end of the Burrard Bridge benefit drivers the most, pedestrians second and for cyclists it’ll be about the same but the headlines gave the (wrong) impression that cyclists are getting something more. The streets with bike lanes are the nicest ones to walk along but it’s rarely mentioned that the bike lane benefits pedestrians.
    Walking got a lot of things in the ’90s and cycling continued to be neglected until recently so there’s a lot of catching up to do to meet the level of walking. Having said that, wouldn’t it be a great idea to have a walking group that can tell the various levels of government what the needs of walking are?

  4. The improvements coming to the Burrard Bridge were advocated for by a range of active transportation proponents. Pedestrians are getting the sidewalk back, as they should, but the media just talked about a bike lane.
    Interesting that when the city held consultations on phase two of the Seaside Greenway from MacDonald to Alma, some residents complained about the sidewalks being widened and the driveway ramps improved for pedestrians. It will be a great improvement for walking.
    The Causeway improvements aren’t being done by the City, but they do result in a change from a narrow shared sidewalk to a wider multiuse path with a line separating pedestrians from cyclists on the east side.

    1. There are definitely some sidewalks that are too narrow, while a sprinkling of curbside parking benefits almost nobody. I’m thinking in particular of abbot st. Except for the part along Woodwards, the width of the sidewalk is pathetic! Get rid of the curbside parking and convert it to sidewalk and bike lanes; there are plenty of other parking options around there, including international village.

  5. Gulley – one short block east of Abbott Street is the Carrall Street Greenway, with separated bike lanes. Bike lanes aren’t also needed on Abbott Street. With this existing expensive facility there is no need to be simplistic or greedy, IMO.

    1. Carrall would be two blocks if you count Taylor. Depends on where you cross. Carroll works for recreational cyclists heading north/south, but there isn’t the same shopping or commercial district that Abbott has. The new bike route from fed from Union/Ontario/CVG and running from Quebec to Dunsmuir will be the busiest in the City. Why not encourage those who choose to do so to access the merchants on Abbott?

      1. Thanks for confirming this attitude Jeff. From Abbott Street to Carrall Street along Water Street is less than 100 meters!
        Now you want two complete systems of bike lanes, one for recreational cyclists and another for shopping cyclists.

        1. Well, discussing Abbott street is getting academic but it does suggest that there is a point of view that believes that cycling advocates are overly demanding. This is a different topic altogether but it’s one to explore and analyze.
          So, for example, why is it that suggesting cycle lanes on both Abbott and Carrall is asking for too much but having car parking on both Abbott and Carrall simply accepted as normal?

      2. I hadn’t taken you for one to be so anti-business, Eric. Don’t the merchants on Abbott deserve an opportunity to attract a customer base that studies have shown to have more disposable income?

          1. Eric why do both abbot and Carrol need cars? Downtown BIA said they are in favour of bike lanes. Lets make Abbot purely walking/cycling street.

            1. So true. At one time in the past the speeds and power of motor vehicles were low enough that cycling amongst them was doable. Now that has changed. Now motor vehicles can accelerate quickly, have powerful engines, are quiet so you can’t hear them coming, are bigger and there are many more of them. The call for cycling infrastructure is entirely a response to the new environment that motor vehicles have created.

    2. My point is that not only do cars get a lane, but also get on street parking, and both of those get precedence over bikes. Why shouldn’t there be a bike lane every street downtown, really?
      As a pedestrian, I certainly am not comforted by onstreet parking in any way, and can’t understand why that would be the case, especially compared to a bike lane.
      I’m sorry if people think I have some nefarious scheme for suggesting this. I chose Abbot for my example because i am very familiar with it, dropping my daughter off at daycare there every day. It’s not a great street for either walking or biking.

    3. I biked on Abbott a number of times. It is unpleasant and not for the faint of heart given traffic type and speeds.
      Why is the default for streets driving, walking and usually on-street parking but when it come to cycling putting in reasonably safe facilities is regarded as “greedy”? How are people supposed to get to and from the many destinations off the still relatively few safe bike routes?
      Vancouver could do much more for walking. But at least the city already has much better facilities for walking than for biking. The bike network is only rudimentary at this point, especially downtown but also in commercial centres across the city. The sidewalks in these centres may not be perfect, but at least they exist.

  6. Gulley’s comment explains exactly what Sandy is pointing out and what Frank notices. The powerful bike lobby have a dedicated bike lane on Carrall but they now want one a block away on Abbott, which is out of proportion.
    It’s time to get back to reason.

    1. The all powerful bike lobby indeed. They must be the ones that decided it was best to put a painted bike lane next to the trucks, buses, and 25,000 cars per day running along SW Marine Dr from Granville to Camosun.

    2. Okay, well I’ve never heard of any “lobby” wanting bike lanes on Abbott Street before so I suspect this is just Gulley’s suggestion on a website forum and not part of any suggested plan.
      But then again, why does the most highly subsidized mode get to dominate every street but the mere suggestion of a smattering of cycling stuff too close to another one asking for too much?

  7. There’s something different about walking vs. cycling. We learn to walk before we talk, thus it is a preliterate activity, requiring little conscious thought. Also walking is done mostly in a ‘sanctuary’ from drivers, something that many cyclists are now demanding to get parity with pedestrians. It makes cyclists the ‘dogs’ of green-transportation advocacy, while pedestrians are the ‘cats.’
    But, yes, walkers should get organized. Here in Ottawa, we formed Ottawalk in 1988, folding it in 2000 with the rationale that we had accomplished as much as possible. One of those things was creating a list of ‘position papers’ [] and through our newsletter and the old annual pedestrian conferences sponsored by the City of Boulder (CO), spread the consciousness to other cities. Eventually America Walks was formed, and they recognized, with their “Golden Footprints” award, Ottawalk’s leadership, in 2001.
    Vancouver is in the position to take leadership in Canada. Yes, there is an international group, the International Pedestrian Federation ( And, of course, Walk21, its annual international conference will be ‘visiting’ Vancouver this year.

      1. The Burrard Street Bridge was designed for two modes of transportation (well, 3 if you include the never-built railway option): Motorists and Pedestrians. So neither of those two groups can be blamed for anything required to try and retrofit cyclists onto the bridge.

        1. What I meant was using the East sidewalk for cycling instead of repurposing a general travel lane was that at the time it was too politically difficult to do that because of the motoring lobby so this compromise had to happen.
          The removal of walking access on the East side was for the benefit of motorists.

        2. The city handled the Burrard Bridge issue flawlessly. I recall that the upgrading of the southbound curb lane into a separated bike lane in 2009 was super controversial with the press and opposition party predicting the end of civilization as we know it. Business community was incensed and press was all over it. Roll forward to 2015 and the announcement that the northbound curb lane was to be upgraded into a separated bike lane and the sidewalk was to be given back to pedestrians. This proposal was praised by the business community and by the press. The Vancouver Sun asked how could anybody be opposed to such a great initiative! Much more controversial was Premier Clark’s “Om the Bridge” proposal. We have come a long way in 6 years.

  8. Post

    Hi all
    Just a note to my friend Chris Bradshaw in Ottawa-the Walk21 Conference was held in Vancouver in 2011-I was the conference Chair. We brought together TransLink, the two health authorities, the two universities and the lower mainland municipalities and the conference was a tremendous success. I think we still have some of the speaker sessions on the backpages of
    Walk21 is in Hong Kong in October 2016.
    We do have the Walk Metro Van society which is focused on Lower Mainland walkability.
    You can look at our website above, and also look for an event we are having in the spring.
    Part of promoting walkability is talking about it. It is more than sidewalks and curbcuts, it is about complete streets and thinking through how to make places and spaces for walkers.
    I personally think we need more of this in our cities.
    The fact walkers had to give up the sidewalk on the east side of the Burrard bridge for the bike lane and the fact that the City says giving back that sidewalk is a pedestrian “improvement” speaks volumes. We need to passionately state the obvious about promoting walkability.

  9. I expect we hear so little about pedestrians because the city has done so little for them under Gregor’s watch. Why is it city crews clear snow off the Burrard Bike lanes for a literal handful of winter riders and yet pedestrians are left at the mercy of every home and business owner to provide snow (and leaf) free right of ways? I’m always impressed in London how the boroughs have those nifty single operator zamboni type vehicles to clear sidewalks.
    And if you want to encourage walking you have to think of neighbourhoods, not just commercial streets. I guess Vision’s “Let Ten Thousand Trees Bloom” mantra takes precedence over safe and level sidewalks. So many well travelled sidewalks in Fairview, Kits, Mt Pleasant are buckled beyond belief by tree roots and poor patching. Then in summer add in street lights placed high up and lost in the tree canopy and it’s a recipe for a bad spill. Bring back the old style pillar lights that cast useful lights for walkers!

  10. Let’s see, which streets attract the most walkers? You’ve got Main St., Commercial Dr., W. 4th, and so on. Pedestrian friendly because there is a great retail strip that draws people out onto the sidewalks. This in turn creates traffic calming which further enhances the pedestrian experience. Walk-able cities revolve around colourful and diverse retail streets.
    The City has these examples to follow, so why aren’t they doing it? They say all the right things in community plans…
    “Pedestrian experience should be considered in designing frontages. Facade treatments that create a perception of continuous walls are discouraged; open and individual entrances when viewed from the sidewalk are encouraged.”
    “Canopies and individual shop awnings can contribute to the desired scale and vibrancy
    of the street.”
    “Frontages should respond to the rhythm of existing buildings and reflect the fabric of the neighbourhood”.
    “Articulation of facades, with few blank walls, are
    In reality the exact opposite happens.
    Frustrating to see a street like Pacific left relatively lifeless when there are thousands of people mere steps away. And it’s not like Pacific is brand new. I see the same mistake happening along W 2nd. Frustrating.

  11. Look up Bridj (Boston), Chariot Transit (San Fran), RidewithVia (New York and Chicago) and UberHop (Toronto, etc., etc.) to see how TransLink can save money and Vancouver transit can move into the 21st Century.

  12. There is no point in debating which group is worse off – those walking or those cycling – since it is clear that the motorist lobby is still very strong. I do note that there are separated travel lanes for pedestrians along almost all city streets (we call them sidewalks) while there are separated cycling lanes on less than 1% of city streets. We need improved infrastructure for all modes of active travel. We could start with car free zones on Water Street and then on Robson and Davie. It is also high time we had Steveston Scramble style intersections at intersections that have high volumes of pedestrians like Granville/Georgia and Cambie/Broadway. Also a faster roll-out for safe and convenient cycling infrastructure.

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    I think it is very important to not bulk the biking and walking agendas together. This is what the City of Vancouver is doing on their “Active Transportation” committee. Walking and biking are two separate modes, with different levels of detail and thought required. I have spent the last fifteen years working on walking in Canada and internationally. I have great respect for the biking lobby and the walking constituency can learn a lot from them. Motordom wins if this becomes an ” us and them” scrabble. However I still think it is time for a more prudent and thoughtful approach to enhanced walkability and demonstration projects that are about walking places and spaces. Despite the supposed City green agenda, walking is still getting short shrift. The lack of a Council committee just looking at biking issues and a committee looking at pedestrian issues is telling. They are both different.

    1. I find it interesting how much “bike lobby” is mentioned in the comments. Much of Vancouver is still quite bike-unfriendly, in particular all major retail streets. The pace of creating safer streets for biking (and walking, often at the same time) is slow compared to US cities. The bike lobby looks hardly powerful, especially when considering changes for safer biking benefit the entire community and city.

      1. I totally predict that if there was a walking advocacy group formed and they were successful in having changes made that happen to in the slightest way detract from the automobile industry or oil industry’s profits they would suddenly no longer be considered valid citizens and there would be the creation of suspicion towards them.

  14. Many “cycling” projects and initiatives also provide improvements that benefit pedestrians. For example:
    – Dunsmuir bike lane – more pleasant ped experience and reduction of sidewalk riding.
    – Hornby bike lanes – more pleasant pedestrian experince
    – Planned South False Creek upgrades – separation of pedestrians and cyclists
    – Burrard Bridge – the former narrow shared sidewalks were very dangerous for both pedestrians and cyclists. Planned upgrades will enhance both pedestrian and cycling experience.
    – Burrard/Cornwall interchange – Huge safety improvements for all road users.
    – Union upgrade – Improved pedestrian experience.
    – All residential bike routes – improved pedestrian experience since push button crossings help all active users.
    – Iron Workers Bridge – wider sidewalks also improve the pedestrian experience
    – Stanley Park Causeway upgrades – wider east sidewalk has separated pedestrian area.
    – Point Grey Road – vast improvement for all active travelers.
    The press and others focus a lot on the cycling component of these projects since they are more controversial, but there are lots of improvements for pedestrians at the same time.

  15. Post

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