Shifting Gears II – Walking « Stephen Rees’s blog

Shifting Gears II – Walking >> Stephen Rees’s Blog

[I am totally behind in everything these days.  I’ll conveniently blame it on summer 🙂 ]

It looks like our good friend Stephen was at one of those great free public lectures that are held downtown.  This one was at UBC Robson Square.

I especially like this graph about the health costs of different transport interventions.  Note that anything involving the status quo with personal vehicle numbers has a huge swath of red.  Reducing travel demand and improving public transit, walking, and cycling interventions make the biggest difference.

Stephen takes the example of the changes in Birmingham to point out the real life effects of less travel demand and more non-automobile infrastructure.

Birmingham, England
Birmingham, England - photo from Stephen Rees

Birmingham – Britain’s second largest city which in the sixties had built a huge inner ring road with multiple pedestrian subways that essentially killed the City centre as a shopping area: the area has now been almost completely overhauled with the removal of both ring road and subways. As a result it has moved from 13th to 3rd place in the national hierarchy of  retail destinations.

What really surprises me is that they removed the subways.  Now, subways could mean pedestrian underpasses like they do in Hong Kong.  Hong Kong was a British colony, so I have a suspicion that subway here means an underpass, not a transit system.  However, according to the talk, Birmingham’s city centre has become a bustling core with less cars.  Vancouver’s downtown has definitely seen a pedestrian rennaissance with more people living downtown and no huge changes in road access.  Our downtown is more active than it’s ever been with a smaller percentage of cars going downtown.

My reaction to this lecture was that I had heard nearly everything in it before. This is not a criticism of Dr Tolley but rather of Vancouver. We know all of this – we have heard it many times – but we seem not to be able to grasp the key principles. For instance, during the question and answer session – which was discursive and unfocussed, Ray Spaxman got up and praised Vancouver as a “walkable city” with “great places” – of which he thought the best example was Granville Island. I almost cheered when Dr Tolley politely demurred: “But it is full of cars.”

I rather wished that Charles Gauthier of the Downtown Vancouver Business Association had been required to attend and listen and then made to explain his implacable opposition to all that this lecture represents. There is in fact not a single space in the City of Vancouver that has been changed to put pedestrians first – even though the City Transportation Plan has long said that is supposed to be the priority. Equally there is almost nowhere in the whole of the region that qualifies. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the world

I really likes Stephen’s summary of his reaction to his talk.  Particularly, I like how Stephen muses about when former City of Vancouver Director of Planning, Ray Spaxman, gets a gentle rebuttle from Dr. Tolley.  Granville Island may be a more walkable place than most, but Dr. Tolley is absolutely right, it is full of cars.

Also, Charles Gauthier of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvment Association has had some recent media time.  He keeps saying that the bike lane trial will be disastrous.  This comment is made even before the trial has started.  The last trial was not successful; that is true.  But at least let this bike lane trial finish before passing judgement.  Too bad he wasn’t at the talk, though.  He would have figured that Downtown Vancouver really is about walking.  I hate driving downtown, but I love walking downtown.  I suspect Mr. Gauthier does not actually live downtown and probably drives to his job everyday.

In terms of walkability in Vancouver, we do have a downtown that works for walking.  I have a friend that routinely walks from her place near Stanley Park all the way to the library.  I have heard one person at a public workshop say that he walks from Clark Drive to downtown, but wants to know what the city will do to make walking a better option.  The planner flatly said that “no body walks those sort of long distances.”  I don’t think the planner heard that this gentleman just said he walks from Clark Drive to Downtown.  Now, I would never walk that distance unless I had loads of time, but if there people who do, then all the power to them.  To walk from Clark Drive along Hastings or anywhere on the Northeast side of the city is a pretty awful walk.  Not much to see or do.  Probably because our city is designed that way.  “Nobody walks those sort of long distances.”

2 thoughts on “Shifting Gears II – Walking « Stephen Rees’s blog

  1. I was using “subway” in the British sense – a pedestrian underpass. And I had another go at Gauthier’s opposition to the bike lane trial on Burrard Bridge in a later post, as well as his silence on the disastrous parking pricing strategy adopted in Vancouver which actually favours commuters who drive.

  2. Even without a downtown freeway Vancouver is still mostly designed for cars. Walking from Clark Drive to downtown would be very long, but Strathcona has some nice side streets that can be used to get away from all the traffic.

    The big problem with the planner’s comment is that a long walk is simply a combination of several short walks that most people would be willing to take. If you build a city so all short walks are easy, then longer walks automatically are too.

    When the weather, clock and parent duties all permit I walk the 2.5km between my home and SkyTrain. It’s a nice way to get the blood pumping in the morning or wind down at the end of a stressful day at work.

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