July 28, 2016

The Changing Arterials of Vancouver

It’s been a decades-old commitment to add density along the major arterials of the city. (Residents of low-density and single-family neighbourhoods tend to support the initiative because it keeps higher density along the edges and provides a buffer from the busier routes – though most people would prefer to live on the quieter inside streets.  See the West End and Kerrisdale on either side of 41st.)
Still, as examples emerge, the results are looking good.  For example, along 41st across from Oakridge:
Arterials (9) (Large) Arterials (8) (Large) Arterials (5) (Large)
Even better, the row housing lining up along Oak:
Arterials (1) (Large)

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  1. This way the noise and stench gets to affect the most people possible.
    It would be better to create a second and third row of higher density on parallel streets and make those streets car-restrained bike/pedestrian friendly routes with commercial frontages at ground level – especially where they cross other commercial arterials.
    This way you maintain a “streetcar city” network but also create stronger nodes that are people friendly. Currently there are no true people friendly commercial streets in this city and nothing in the works that are more than minor tinkering.

    1. What? You wrote it, so I can only assume this combination of words you’ve chosen makes some kind of coherent sense in your head. Because it doesn’t in the minds of others.

      1. Dan, Are you speaking for others?
        But for you I’ll elaborate.
        1. Arterials are noisy, smelly, dangerous places where kids can’t play on the street.
        2. The current philosophy is to put even more people in this inhospitable place,
        3. We can get more people close to transit but on humane streets if we develop the adjoining parallel streets with higher density.
        3. Increased density will require increased commercial space and there is opportunity for that – one street off the arterial.
        4. Where there is already a commercial lane facing the arterial it is a no-brainer to have deliveries to the backs of the new commercial frontages – keeping trucks off the parallel road.
        5. All parkade entrances should be from lanes so the parallel street on either side of the arterial can be car restrained and humanized for pedestrians and cyclists.
        6. The types of businesses that would gravitate to these new commercial frontages would be those that are conducive to human activity rather than traffic related activity: boutiques and small clothing stores, restaurants, pubs, cafes, small grocers, bike shops etc rather than gas stations and muffler shops. Which street would you rather hang out on? Which street will therefore have more pedestrian exposure?
        7. Where this configuration crosses another commercial arterial you get a strong commercial node consisting of 6 networked streets.
        8. This would create a situation where bike friendly streets have commercial activity rather than cyclists being banished to residential-only streets. It is a long term strategy that may be better than forcing cycle tracks onto commercial streets. I’m in favour of those cycle tracks, but ultimately I’d rather ride away from the noise stench and carnage.
        9. Part of our urban problem is the strictly defined commercial arterial and the strictly defined quiet residential street. It leaves no place to shop/dine/entertain in a peaceful human setting. This would solve that problem.

        1. All you’ve proposed is replacing the ground floor residential with ground floor retail. Oh, and magically banishing cars from these parallel, imaginary high-density side streets. Then replacing most of these cars from the arterials as well with streetcars. Because that’s the cartoon fantasy of your perfect urban realm.
          It’s good to use one’s imagination, but not constructive to criticize with such a broad stroke (“I think everything should be different!”) Might as well shake your fist at the universe over the injustice of your mortality. You’ll get further.

        2. Dan, You lose the debate the moment you attribute to me things I did not say.
          1. “All I’ve proposed…” is a massive change in current local planning.
          2. I didn’t say “banish” cars, I said “restrain” ie real effective traffic calming.
          3. I referred to the “streetcar city” because that is where we actually came from. GM et al. shook their fists at the universe and we have a poorer public realm as a result. I think we can aim back to what worked well in the past although it is probably unrealistic to think we’ll blanket the whole city with a streetcar grid.
          4. Yes, fewer cars. Period.

      2. You’re wrong Dan, I agree with RV. Jamming our Stroads with Residential infill just to appease the single family neighbourhoods is the wrong approach. The Entire Westside is preserved as low density, free of any affordable and social housing while we bring the wrecking ball to whats left of our old fine grain streetcar storefronts. The sidestreets need to be built like the units around 15th and Alberta in Mount Pleasant and like the newer Multi family infill in Kits. Either that or Road Diet the shit out of our many aertial/Stroads to make them more livable

      3. It makes sense.
        i.e. Georgia Street is not the main retail street in downtown Vancouver
        – Robson & Alberni streets are, which are quieter, parallel streets.
        At Brentwood Town Centre in Burnaby, Lougheed Highway is not the designated retail high street – Dawson Street (a parallel street) will serve that function.
        There seems to be a trend that roads should be all things to all people – i.e. stroads?
        Personally, I don’t think that works.

    2. Some good thoughts there, RV, but some need tempering. It would help to see them illustrated one day. I suspect building out the parallel streets to the height and density you imply would impact a lot of people who do not live in single-family homes. The streets near arterials in older neighourhoods are often lined with tiny lots that were subdivided over a century ago to twice the density of standard single-family lots and filled with houses containing basement suites, or with tall houses carved up into suites decades ago. Obviously, your comments more appropriately refer to the subdivisions surrounding, say, Oakridge which are chock full of 50-footers.
      I can see where Dan is coming from too. If one promotes ideal Eurocentric urban design precepts, then one must realize the extent of change that will be imposed on our own urban fabric, a place already filled with people, homes, schools and businesses that didn’t evolve from 1,000 years of car-free, naturally human-scaled city building. Further, we don’t have the luxury to start from scratch in the Metro. There is now pushback even on the gentler increases in density, like lane houses. It’s all in the execution, and blanket change off arterials will probably generate a massive outcry, especially if done too quickly. That would lead to even more political paralysis and weak leadership on the zoning file. Incrementalism may be the best antidote.
      Increases in density also require increases in support amenities, like transit, which under the current situation necessitates reliance on the province which, given recent evidence, doesn’t believe in cities. Higher densities (even if beautifully designed) need more ventilation; providing more parks and public open space will require more land now occupied by houses, and therein greater new density on a further constrained land supply will be a challenge.
      In some respects, it’s not easy to implement sustainable urbanism.

      1. That last comment was by moi (lost the formatting).
        I’d like to suggest that those of us who have design experience should, if possible, be prepared to post illustrations of our ideas some day. A picture says a thousand words, and all that.

      2. Obviously this wouldn’t be applied as a blanket approach to the whole city – at least not until it had proven itself and/or worked out some kinks. But it could be applied where change is due anyway. 10th Bike route where it crosses Granville or the Off-Broadway where it crosses both Granville and Burrard come to mind as places with potential. We’ve seen snippets of it at Union and Main and at 1st and Burrard already.
        We did evolve from the “streetcar city”. We can evolve to where we might have been if it weren’t for 6 decades of automobile distraction.

  2. Kerrisdale has almost all the housing on quiet side streets while the original streetcar arterials have retail. Kits has a similar layout atop the hill: apartments and condos on 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, etc. with retail on 4th.
    The retail streets are lively, but the high traffic levels are a nuisance and a deterrent to outdoor restaurant seating. Putting the retail streets on a diet might improve the pedestrian experience, but would discourage a lot of regional shopping by making it more difficult to get there by car or bus.
    Retail could be added to the south side of 3rd and north side of 5th to fulfill RV’s concept. I don’t think there’s enough local population to support doubling the amount of commercial space, but there could be in the future. I think discoverability could be a problem in the short term, but in the future everyone will get their information electronically so it won’t really matter if your business can’t be seen from a passing vehicle.

    1. Discoverability seems to be a North American problem. Charming hidden nooks and crannies in Europe are always popular. In any case, those who argue in favour of subways would make even the arterials undiscoverable by a growing cohort.
      As for demand – the concept would take a long time to build out and it is unlikely it would be much ahead of population growth. But even if it were it would tend to create lower lease rates that might attract funkier start-up establishments. Eventually those lease rates would catch up and, I suspect, surpass those on the noisy arterials.

        1. As long as it’s nearby! As I’ve already said, Cambie Village has seen no boost from a subway running underneath. Subway stations are generally too far apart.
          I also suspect that most of those people did not arrive by subway and many in the subway are not aware of its existence.

    2. I would caution that residents have to buy in to having continuous retail / commercial across their presently quiet residential street. If someone transplanted the Amsterdam Pub replete with pounding music and drunken outdoor patrons from The Stroll in Whistler to my street, I’d be signing the first petition to be rid of it.
      One could hope for a block of bookstores, though. Oh, wait a minute, they’re disappearing with Amazon. Retail changes all the time, so one must be careful what one wishes for when allowing such a zoning change.

      1. That’s pretty incoherent!
        First, it wouldn’t be a continuous retail commercial strip any more than our arterial are. The commercial sections would align with commercial on the arterial and especially where they cross other commercial strips.
        Obviously it’s not the place for a loud bar. You love those red herrings! Case in point. What does any of this have to do with the viability of book stores?

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