A few weeks ago, Stephen Rees Blog in Vancouver ran an interesting piece on the effect of the new Canada Line (the one connecting Vancouver Airport and Richmond to downtown) on local shopping neighbourhoods. Since bus service on the former surface routes has been cut, merchants are concerned that they get less walk-in trade from bus passengers.
The comment thread following the article requires some knowledge of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods and geography, but includes a variety of viewpoints on this phenomenon. One point comes right at the end of the thread in a comment about the reconstruction of Cambie Street, under which the Canada Line runs:
Cambie Street between 16th and King Ed was completely rebuilt at great tax payer expense. What an opportunity to create a “Great Street” and boost neighborhood identity!
Instead, the streetscape design is the worst possible for enhancing the Cambie Village experience. Six lanes of traffic without separating medians, with curb side parking taking up the outer two.
My favourite symbol of the lack of capacity shown in this area of design practice is the introduction of “park benches” on the sidewalks facing parked cars.
We hear a lot about urban design in Toronto and the improvements possible as an offshoot of the Transit City projects, and the Cambie experience should be a warning of what can happen.
Rees’ article talks about the problems of merchant pressure for parking taking precedence over transit, and this effect can be seen on St. Clair where parking was one of the car-oriented street functions that forced an uncomfortable design onto the street overall.
He makes an important point about transit, namely that it is part of a pedestrian experience:
Every transit trip is an interrupted walk. Transit stops and stations ought to be seen as key to retailing. Far too often in Greater Vancouver bus passengers are banished to remote, sterile areas like Phibbs Exchange, or the Ladner bus loop. Always this is forced by local merchants who have only contempt for what they see as the low income bus passenger, and who regard buses as noisy, smelly nuisances. Of course, transit’s selection of large diesel buses only confirms that view. We do have to learn from our experiences, and acknowledge our mistakes. Far too often, transit advocates are expected to be cheer leaders for a system which, sadly, often lets us down, and seems incapable of learning from its past mistakes. Let’s all learn from this when we design our next system change.
As one who is often expected to cheer for transit plans and hope that we will fix the design problems “later”, I can only say that the time for believing planners when they say “trust me” is long over.