The Vancouver Public Space Network has been participating as a stakeholder in the City of Vancouver’s Transportation 2040 Plan Update process. Since spring of 2011, City of Vancouver staff have been thinking hard about the goals set for transportation by the City in its 1997 Transportation Plan and considering how to set the bar even higher now that we’ve achieved many of our previous targets. The City is now last steps of the plan process, with the draft plan going before council for adoption.
One thing notable about the plan (which you can read in its entirety from the Talk Vancouver Transportation website) is that there’s a sizable section on public space. This strikes us as a very sophisticated approach — in many North American cities, a great amount of space is devoted to transportation uses via roads and parking, often to the detriment of a high quality public realm — yet many of our great public spaces often also serve many transportation functions, like transit interchanges or major destinations. Robson Square — a space we are very enthusiastic about — is designated within the plan as a special study area, and we are glad that Council is giving the area more consideration.
Check out our letter to Mayor and Council (included below), which highlights other noteworthy pedestrian, cycling, transit, and education/enforcement actions described in the plan.
Dear Mayor Robertson & Members of Council,
We are writing on behalf of the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN) to express our support for the draft Transportation 2040 Vancouver Transportation Plan Update. We feel that this plan, with its hierarchy of transportation modes, and related strategies and actions, adequately balances the needs of movement for a diverse array of travelers, alongside the everyday reality of residents living, working and thriving within the city’s limits and beyond.
In no particular order, we consider the following elements of the Plan particularly noteworthy for their contributions to improving Vancouver’s public realm:
Pedestrian space and public realm
- We wish to underscore the significance of the plan’s overall safety vision for eliminating all traffic fatalities. In the wake of several recent deaths of pedestrians interacting with other vehicles, no lower goal would be acceptable or in keeping with Vancouver’s reputation for livability. We hope the City will also consider the potential gains in pedestrian and cycling safety that could be made through greater use and enforcement of 30 km/h speed limits beyond neighbourhood greenways, such as on popular downtown streets and key routes, in addition to designs that promote slower vehicle speeds.
- The emphasis on providing strong pedestrian connections throughout Vancouver is very welcome. A vibrant pedestrian realm fosters a sense of place and provides an engaging urban experience.
- The city’s identification of potential public gathering areas (mini-plazas, etc) is to be commended. This shows an important recognition that public space isn’t just a place to move from A to B, but also a place to gather, meet friends, experience events, socialize and more.
- We support actions pertaining to the creation of (a) plazas and parks throughout the city; and (b) temporary street closures. We also offer further support for this via a one-day intercept survey we did this summer – administering a lunchtime survey at Robson Square. We asked participants whether they supported the Transportation 2040 directions pertaining plazas and temporary spaces. In both cases, support for these two directions was extremely high (98% in both cases).
Public Gathering Areas – in particular Robson Square
- As you know, the VPSN has been particularly supportive of the City’s work to create a pedestrian-only space at Robson Square. In 2008-9, the Vancouver Public Space Network held an international design competition to solicit ideas and spur excitement about the concept of a public square in Vancouver – and the 800-block of Robson featured prominently in many of the ideas that were submitted. In 2011, we initiated two petitions to gauge support for keeping this space closed to vehicles. Approximately 1800 people supported this initiative, while only three dozen were opposed.
- We note that there are issues (transit, access to the West End, etc.) that need to be addressed as part of any decisions that are made, but we also feel that these are manageable issues, ones that can be resolved via the application of some creative problem-solving. The benefits of creating an enhanced public gathering area in this space will be a legacy for present and future generations.
- We support the various actions related to improving cycling infrastructure as well as the directions on education and enforcement. Improved end-of-trip facilities, in particular, will make it easier for more people to choose cycling either for the entire length of their trip or as part of a multi-modal trip. We expect multi-modal trips to become more common with bike-sharing coming to Vancouver and we support the creation of infrastructure that benefits cyclists with varying degrees of experience, or cycling for recreational, utilitarian or commuting purposes.
- We are supportive of the City’s move to follow in the footsteps of many other cities, including our Canadian neighbours to the east, in creating a public bike share program, as we believe increasing the numbers of people using sustainable modes will result in higher quality of life in both neighbourhoods and public spaces.
- The emphasis on transit-oriented development complements the direction to make a transit-supportive public realm for people of all ages and abilities. Some of the city’s most vibrant and diverse public spaces serve important public transit functions, and we expect this to become only more important as Vancouver experiences a shift in demographics between now and 2040. Improving these spaces will be vital in achieving the growth in public transit mode share desired by the City.
- We support the City’s recognition of Broadway as Vancouverite’s top transit priority and forward-thinking in seeking to improve reliability and capacity in specifying an underground extension to the Millennium Line.
- The VPSN supports the city’s direction with parking policy on both the supply and demand sides. Reducing supply makes sense in the face of declining car use — a trend observed both regionally and across the continent — and means more space for the services and public areas that make cities livable and enjoyable places to be in. We particularly support the elimination of minimum parking requirements, which impose significant development and housing cost and can result in excess parking capacity — both of which can be detrimental to area residents (with regards to safety) and housing ownership. This frees up both space and resources which could potentially be used on public space amenities. We would, however, prefer that some mechanism be put in place to ensure that there is some oversight into whether these public space amenities are truly public in nature, rather than being publicly accessible private spaces, as the former promote a broader sense of connection and openness than the latter.
- We also support the unbundling of housing and parking, which recognizes that in Vancouver, housing affordability is often balanced with the ease of access to frequent transit enjoyed by residents. The action to approach parking as a shared district resource is also appreciated for this reason, by allowing prior developments with more parking to work in tandem with newer developments with less.
- We support an approach to enforcement of road rules that protects the road’s most vulnerable users. We would also support that enforcement approaches be developed in close collaboration with active transportation advocates as well knowledgeable users of other modes such as electric scooters or skateboards, as rule-breakers of all modes put other road users, regardless of mode, at risk as well.
We wish to draw Mayor and Council’s attention to two other items that we feel should also be considerations during the implementation of the Transportation Plan.
(1) Data-Gathering & Dissemination. We appreciate the City’s continued investment in evidence-based planning to guide City decision-making, and to support the positive choices that are being made. It can’t be emphasized enough that tracking and monitoring allows both the City and its partners to make decisions confidently for the future. Current data-gathering efforts (e.g. usage figures for separated bike lanes, pedestrian counts) have invited a wealth of perspectives based on insightful analysis — a conversation that can only happen when everyone is on a level playing field.
Related to this, we support the City’s work with TransLink to provide open data for real-time transit information infrastructure, and would encourage the City to go one step even further and to prompt other transportation service providers (public or private), such as taxis, on-demand sedan services, and water-based transportation providers, as well as regional transit partners such as BC Ferries, to follow the city’s lead. These tools make an enormous difference when it comes to helping people choose sustainable transportation modes confidently, and to get a positive experience from doing so.
(2) Continued Engagement of Stakeholders. We can’t emphasize enough that almost all transportation decisions the City is involved in will require working with partners of all stripes. We believe that the achievement of our 2040 goals will, even more than previously, require the active engagement and participation of individuals and community groups at multiple levels, be it provincial, regional or the neighbourhood. We hope that the City will continue to expand efforts towards proactively and meaningfully engaging the public, and to bring that spirit of openness to any process in which they have a say.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide input on this important policy document. If we can be of any further assistance, please contact Leonard Machler or Karen Quinn Fung by e-mail.
Vancouver Public Space Network
Karen Quinn Fung
Public Transit Project Lead
Vancouver Public Space Network