December 21, 2020

The West End The Way it Was

A shot posted by West End Journal, I presume from the Vancouver Archives:

At a glance you’d think – San Francisco.  But no, that little hill is on Chilco Street, up from Alberni.  Cars are backed up on Robson at the top of the hill.  The traffic cop is on Georgia, and a trolley is pulling out from the bus loop at the end of Alberni.

That’s the way it looked in the 1960s, when downtown office workers were heading home to the North Shore, trying to avoid the back-ups on Georgia.  The traffic was probably worse then, given how relatively little transit there was – and remember, the West End was still in a building boom.  This is why the West End had such a bad reputation in that era.  Concrete jungle.

In response to community concern, the NPA Council at the time approved a West End planning process, and by 1970s, the idea of traffic calming was born – possibly the first of its kind in North America.  Diverters, barriers and miniparks went in West of Denman in the early 70s, followed by a similar intervention East of Denman in the early ’80s.  (The myth is that the traffic barriers and parks were put in to discourage street prostitution.  But no, it had always been intended, depending on community approval for a local area improvement charge.)

Of course there were objections.  This was a War on the Car!  Traffic calming and parking fees and restricted parking – and not enough of it to begin with.  Not to mention the NIMBYism of West Enders cutting off through traffic on streets paid for by everyone (sort of).

Stupid councils went ahead and did it anyway.  Plus bike lanes.  And look what they ended up with.

One of the best urban neighbourhoods in the world.


This is what Chilco looks like now. (It’s where I live).

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  1. Even if the traffic calming was planned, there’s no doubt that there was a lot of prositution and crime in the West End in the 1980s. I recall that that’s one of the reasons why the installation in the West End of the Expo 86 monorail (which had compartmentalized cars (ie 1 exit per car)) was rejected (due to safety).

    This article mentions a 1982 City bylaw and a 1984 injunction.

  2. Improved transit is what the West End lack. With the highest density in BC/Canada TransLink refuses to improve service, many people just gave up on transit and walk/roll from the West End to Downtown.
    A NEW bus route along NELSON St. could improve transit accessibility, connecting Stanley Park to the middle of the West End to the City HUB at Granville and Georgia.

    1. Everyone in the west end is with a 3 block walk of the bus routes on Davie and Robson, which is better access than much of the city. Of course those buses are tied up in traffic, which is heavy on those streets due to the traffic calming on most of the other streets. I think the only way a Nelson route would help would be if Nelson was turned into a dedicated bus right of way. I’m not sure what the chances of that happening would be, though…

      1. The difference between a bus-only lane on Nelson St. vs mixed traffic is less than 2 mins saving between Denman and Thurlow St. There are not too many parking spots along Nelson St. This bus route was proposed in late 1960s when we got the “Beach” bus. A full report was written by the GVRD in 1971.

    2. I don’t think it really matters how many bus routes you put through the west end. It’s always going to be almost as slow as walking and much slower than cycling. The distances just aren’t that far.

      As it is, the west end is already much better served than other areas. We’d be better off putting that money into expanding the frequent transit network to other existing routes rather than creating a whole new route in the west end, where there already is frequent transit.

      1. I assume you are not aware of the approx. 25% cutback to routes 5/6 in Sept. 2020. There are new bus routes being introduced in many other cities even during COVID. TransLink has announced no additional service till Sept. 2022. Do you know that Vancouver accounts for over 50% of regional ridership with only 25% of the population? We need to fill in the GRID transit system in Vancouver, which mean bus service on NelsonSt., Renfrew North of Hastings, Victoria Dr. North of Broadway, Clark Dr. North of Venables, Arbutus St. North of Broadway; E.1st/Terminal, E.12th/Grandview, E.29th, E..54/57th, W.33rd, W.57th
        Over 400 cities in Canada/US offer Transit On-Demand or Demand Response Transport. Here TransLink is wasting money on 80 Community Shuttle bus routes that cost between $10 to $25 per trip. Many of the bus routes in Vancouver pay for their operating cost. TransLink cutback many bus routes in Vancouver over the last 12 years. No more bus service around Stanley Park in the busy summer months? Yes other cities in the core of Metro Vancouver need better bus service. We have an unfair FARE system since 1984.

        1. I wonder how much of an effect the new 5/6 route has had on ridership. Closing Robson Street to all traffic was hailed by many as a victory, but I think it had a strong negative effect on the bus.
          TransLink attempted to extend the 16 northward along Renfrew a few years ago, but users of the 16 cried bloody murder and TransLink backed down.
          East 1st has been proposed as a bus route several times because it would fill a gap in transit accessibility. I seem to recall, however, that there’s a geotechnical reason why it’s not a truck route so maybe that’s why it hasn’t had transit service since the Burnaby Lake interurban was discontinued.
          A bus from the Metrotown area to the Oakridge/Langara area via East 54th/57th would fill another gap. I consider it a good idea that would be popular with people in the service area. Done right it might even get some of the crazy kinks out of the 26 bus route.
          West 33rd and 57th would fill in the final gaps in preferred walking distance to transit, but current zoning doesn’t support it. Large RS-1 lots with multiple BMWs or Telsas in every garage don’t generate many bus passengers.

          1. Virtually every street downtown has a bus route on it. The more commercially vibrant the more likely it is. So if we want car free streets to enliven and refresh our best commercial strips then we’re going to have to move some bus routes around. And that’s more than okay – we can do better than the meandering mess that exists now with many routes making many unnecessary turns.

            Turns are a big factors in bus speeds, often adding an entire light cycle for each one – particularly where pedestrian volumes are high. Success in walking should not lead to negative impacts on transit. (I understand the irony in favouring a MV free Robson Square.)

            I think more community shuttles should operate on streets like Nelson and focus only on the downtown peninsula, treating it as a community in its own right. The bigger routes should have bus priority measures to fix their dismal speed performance and focus on connections to mass transit and access to commercial development outside of the peninsula. Buses in the west end should directly serve central Broadway for example.

            I’d move the Robson bus to Alberni and close Robson to MV traffic altogether. A Nelson bus would fill the larger gap.

          2. The main idea is to have access to both N/S and E/W bus routes with a maximum walking distance of 400m. Yes, bus routes on the south/west part of Vancouver carry fewer passengers because the density is half of the other parts of Vancouver. However, the city is slowly allowing more density so there will be more transit passengers. UBC should develop into a city of 50000 people. Many suburbs have similar density and have bus service. Need an overall plan as proposed in the 1997 Transportation plan.
            Over 400 cities in Canada/US have Transit on-Demand to serve low-density areas It is much better than a fixed bus route.

        2. There have been cuts throughout the system, and that’s a shame and shortsighted. And yes, I was overlooking the change many years back in the #5 route, which was also shortsighted and wrong and I believe ought to be reversed.

          But Nelson is already within an easy walking distsance of transit and it makes much more sense to strengthen the existing #5 and #6 bus than to add a new service which will be much more expensive and a much less efficient use of money. Building brand new bus routes will always be a pretty low bang for your buck in comparison to increasing the frequency of the existing grid.

          That said, I will get behind the need for transit on 1st Avenue and 57th Avenue, both being large gaps in our existing CoV network. But those will probably have to wait a bit.

  3. It doesn’t look like it is an Archives image – but they do have one – CVA 480-276 – that shows the police directing traffic on Chilco in 1967, so it was presumably a regular occurrence.

  4. “Was” one of the best urban neighbourhoods in the world.

    The distinctive mix of demographics that made it unque: seniors, young immigrant families, the gay community, all are being driven out by the gentrification unleashed during Vision Vancouver’s and the BC Liberal’s tenure. The removal of St.Pauls to the False Creek Flats will be yet another body blow to the community.

    1. Post

      Data, please. I learned early on in my exploration of the West End (late 70s) that what the West End was versus what people thought it was varied greatly. No. 1 myth: densest city in Canada. (Not even close, not even in Vancouver).

      Then, a half-century ago: lower-middle-income neighbourhood with above-average rents, over 80 per cent rental, ‘arrival city’ for newcomers, younger and older than the average, and, yes, gayer than everywhere else.

      Now: probably the same. But I need the data.

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