Vancouver judged Canada's most walkable city

Post by Mike Klassen in

28 comments


up! magazine rates Vancouver best for pedestrians

I didn't know there was any kind of contest for this, but I picked up this story on the web today. up! magazine, a publication of Westjet Airlines, has rated Vancouver as the number one most walkable city. They've produced a charming video hosted by local smart growth advocate Amanda Mitchell, who's clearly a big Vancouver booster.

The video takes a couple of liberties when doing cutaways at the Woodwards building, but it's otherwise a fun few minutes that makes this city look pretty cool. It points out a Vancouver planning principle set forth years ago – make pedestrians a priority, then cyclists, then drivers.

It seems that today's city council is altering that formula by pushing bikes to the top of the heap. A case in point is the Burrard Bridge bike lane trial, which forced folks on foot into a detour along the west side of the bridge. In spite of that restriction, I've often passed by to see folks walking on the east sidewalk.

While Vancouver might appreciate the big thumbs up from up! mag's panel of judges, I still think we can do a lot more to improve walking around the city. Something often spoken about but never implemented is requiring awnings and other sidewalk covering in front of buildings. We get a lot of rain here (in case you didn't notice) and "weather-proofing" sidewalks is always a welcome improvement.

Awnings if not properly maintained can also detract from walking. Some of them hang low enough that you have to duck, or they leak, or water pours off them in the middle of the sidewalk. Despite these quibbles, I agree that Vancouver is a great town to walk in.

Getting some national recognition is good, but what can we do to take "walkability" here to the next level? That's something I'm sure that will be on the agenda of the next year's Walk21 Conference, which has been staged in some of the world's great cities and is coming to Vancouver next in 2011.

- post by Mike

28 Comments

Walking is the greenest form of mobility.
Perhaps one thing could enhance the walking experience in Vancouver.... ask the cyclists to stay off the sidewalks!!

Good point Michael. The building awning issue has been around for a long time. I was on the Urban Design Panel in 1972 when the 2nd stage of Pacific Centre came through. The original proposal was a repeat of phase 1, another 50 times full size white bathtub. We insisted the design be changed to have real street windows & continuous awnings. That became an unwritten design objective but, it seems to have been forgotten, along with quite a lot of what has made Vancouver not only walkable but livable. These desirable features that do indeed make our City special need to be brought to the fore once more.

Another feature which makes for a more walker friendly environment are street benches, boulevard landscaping & street end mini-parks such as what we did in the West End, especially west of Denman due to the higher population of seniors.

A third walker friendly destructive tendency is the current Council & Planning Department fetish with spot rezoning massively overbearing buildings right to the sidewalk into previously cohesive, healthy neighbourhoods. An example is the +/-190 unit Comox & Broughton STIR application. These units are expensive, sub-standard units catering to singles in a family area of the West End & with 1 parking space per 2 units in an area of older buildings, many of which have little or no on-site parking.

@Mike. Couldn't agree more regarding the awnings. I think it should be almost a requirement that new buildings have awnings to reduce the impact of rain in the winter. There are some very cool awnings throughout the city that let in light, look stunning, and keep people dry all at the same time. This really helps to encourage more pedestrians - the only true form of green mobility.

So I hope this means that City Caucus will be supporting the continuing efforts of the cycling community to encourage council to reallocate a lane of traffic on the east side of the bridge so pedestrians can have the east sidewalk back.

The Burrard Bridge trial certainly provides further evidence that creating separate facilities for cyclists and pedestrians greatly improves the pedestrian and cycling environment and is the best way to get cyclists off sidewalks.

Fortunately Vision, COPE and NPA councilors unanimously supported the separated bike lanes on Dunsmuir which also improves the pedestrian environment by getting the cyclists off the sidewalks and creating separation between the sidewalks and traffic noise and pollution.

Richard, Most people I know, including myself, are supportive of bike lanes but, not by spending $25M in 2 years when the City is laying people with families off, cutting important programmes &, closing Bloedel & the Farmyard. In addition, unintended consequences such as the potentially very, very expensive to repair concrete spalling off the Burrard Bridge could be avoided.

There is no reason why this project could not have been done with real, comprehensive consultation planning & then a, say 5 year implementation programme. This would provide a better thought through, plan which would be broadly supported & as such would bring people together rather than pitting them against each other.

I sat on the task force that created a long list of recommendations for a walkable Vancouver. Sadly, that report was never adopted by the council of the day. Many of the recommendations have been picked up by staff as best practices - such as curb cuts that are appropriate for wheel chairs, the blind, and all forms of strollers, and the mobility impaired... or tree planting practices to avoid huge trip hazards from heaving sidewalks.

One forgotten objective was to have sidewalk on at least one side of every street in the city. Hard to believe that is still not the case. We advocated for larger sidewalk budgets to ensure sidewalks were in good repair - especially in our commercial districts.

based on some of the sidewalks I have seen lately, that money is probably going into bike lanes.

Time for a bigger pedestrian lobby.

Exactly...well said.

One thing that could improve walkability in the downtown core is timed street crossings. If pedestrians are indeed the first priority for the city, then crossing signals should be timed to the gait of an average walker. I'm not sure if this is the case anywhere right now, but I do notice that I frequently wait at intersections when walking in a straight line downtown.

Awnings are nice, but an absence doesn't bother me too much. Any Vancouverite should have a sturdy raincoat for winter ambulating!

Wow! I'm impressed with the positive dialogue & the depth of knowledgeable comments to this & other CC posts. As an NPA Director, I'm going to see if we can work out a monitoring procedure to gather, retain & organize the info on this & other sites so when we are back @ the helm @ 12 / Cambie in 2012 we can tap into these wonderful ideas.

If I remember correctly, this was one of the blogs predicting traffic chaos when it came to taking away a lane of traffic and giving it to pedestrians. Wasn't there a website this blog was involved with, something along the lines of Gregor's Gridlock, slamming the plan to remove traffic lanes for bikes? It's because of opposition like that that we have the imperfect solution we have now, as council then voted to remove only one lane of traffic instead of a possible two.

It also seems strange to see you espouse biking ahead of driving, considering those earlier blog posts.

While I agree that the bike lane situation is harmful to pedestrians, I'd say this is a cheap shot. It's too bad, because minus the cheap shots this site is an enjoyable read with a good perspective on urbanism.

The westbrook village that's going up at UBC might be worth a look. It seems to have been designed to be very walkable. One of my peeves about walking to the grocery store is that after leaving the sidewalk, you usually must walk through a large parking lot that is sometimes a bit of a traffic free-for-all since it's a large paved space with usually no curbs to form traffic into an orderly and predictable pattern. The Save-On there was designed a bit differently so that it's very friendly to walk to. Pedestrians are give the first class treatment there, but there's still plenty of parking for when you want to make a big haul.

The biggest issue I find walking in the Vancouver is the fact that the city allows so many side walks to be closed and for so long for construction. I've lived in Victoria, Ottawa and Vancouver and have spent a good deal of time in pretty much very major city in Canada and it seems to me that Vancouver is the worst.

I seem to recall Vancouver Sun doing a story on this a couple months ago.

If Pivot Legal has their way, sidewalks being closed would be a small issue compared to the homeless being allowed to pitch 'red tents' where ever they pleased - sidewalks and all.

Bill

The railing on Burrard Bridge have been in need of repairs for years. These repairs have been delayed due to the 18 years of indecision over Burrard Bridge. Now with the configuration of the bridge final decided, the city can move ahead with with these badly needed repairs.

Regarding the $25 million for cycling, this is all from the engineering budget for streets, greenways and bicycle routes approved by voters in the last election. It would not be appropriate to use it for other uses such as Bloedel & the Farmyard or other operational expenses as capital funding can't be used for such expenses.

Also, with regards to Bloedel, in one DAY, a similar amount of people in the city cycle as use the Bloedel in an entire year. Clearly investing in safe cycling facilities benefits far more people and thus, is a wise use of taxpayer dollars.

Richard,

You know better than to suggest that more people cycle daily than visit the Bloedel in a year.

Shame on you.

This assinine bullshit from the cycling lobby needs to stop.

It's no wonder why there is very much growing resentment in Vancouver against cyclists. You will doom your own cause if you continue this nonsense.

Keep it coming Richard, I can't wait for a new mayor and council to pull your funding and using it where is belongs, on services to support the majority of Vancouverites, and not fringe groups of people who don't even follow most basic traffic laws and refuse to advocate for license and insuring the vehicles they ride.

Richard,

You write: "...Now with the configuration of the bridge final decided..."

Really now...

Would you care to point us to the council report and vote on this to let us know this was decided in a democratic fashion?

Funny, I don't recall ever hearing in the news that this was a fait accompli. Talked about yes, formally decided no.

Sounds like you have some inside info from your cycling committee work that you and the mayor decided over some Happy Planet juice boxes.

Care to share?

Glen,

What do you have against cycling? You seem to attack it every chance you get. Do you not see the benefits it could provide to the city if more people rode bikes?

"You know better than to suggest that more people cycle daily than visit the Bloedel in a year.

Shame on you."

That's a misrepresentation of Richard's statement. He said a 'similar amount' not more.

I would also question your assertion Glen that there's some amorphous backlash against cyclists in Vancouver. Every indicator beyond that of a few rabid anti-cycling individuals is that cycling is growing in popularity and acceptance from most people.

"fringe groups of people who don't even follow most basic traffic laws and refuse to advocate for license and insuring the vehicles they ride."

Over 300,000 bicycles were sold in independent bike shops in Canada in 2009

http://www.btac.org/members/annual_bikes_sales_report.html

Roughly a million more are sold through department and big box stores.

http://www.bike-eu.com/facts-figures/market-reports/3536/canada-2008-despite-crisis-imports-sales-continue-to-grow.html


The facts are clear. Cycling is a mainstream activity. Not everyone rides to work, nor is it realistic to replace every trip with a bike ride, but the idea that cycling facilities are there to cater to a small minority is easily discounted when we replace rhetoric with hard numbers and quantified data.

Point taken Glen, the final configuration still has to be decided but the city is much closer to making such a decision due to the success of the trial. Staff was directed to report back on options that don't include widening. With widening off the table and safety much improved on the bridge, this issue is obviously much closer to resolution than it was 2 years ago.


From:
http://vancouver.ca/engsvcs/transport/cycling/stats.htm
There are around 60,000 bicycle trips per DAY in Vancouver.

From:
http://www.theprovince.com/life/do-it-better/Parks+board+vote+beach+restaurant+plan+English/2703980/Call+sponsors+save+Bloedel+Conservatory+Stanley+Park+farmyard/2273296/story.html?id=2273296
There are around 73,000 visitors a YEAR to Bloedel.

While many people would make more than one bike trip in a day, I also expect that some number of the people who visit Bloedel visit more than once a year so it is reasonable to say that a similar number of people cycle as visit Bloedel in a year.

Now whether it is one, two or seven days before the total people is greater than the people visiting Bloedel in a year, who knows. The bottom line is far more people cycle than visit Bloedel.

In one month, 18% of Vancouver residents cycled over Burrard Bridge. That would amount to 108,000 people, more than visited Bloedel in a year on just one bridge.
http://vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20091103/documents/ttra1.pdf page 21 of the Residents Survey.

Around 50% of the people in Vancouver cycle at least once a year and then there are the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of visitors who cycle in Vancouver. It is clear cycling is very popular and fortunately, the separated bike lanes on the bridge and the other new facilities being planned are the safe kinds of facilities that the average person will feel comfortable using.

Lastly, I have nothing against keeping Bloedel open, but please don't suggest that the cycling budget be raided to keep it open. I suspect that the plans put forward to the Parks Board are much more creative and practical than that.


This conversation has gotten a bit loopy.

Richard, I wasn't talking about just the BB railings. If you check you'll see the Engineering has suspended nets right under the west side of the bridge. I can go into the technical aspects of this but, will refrain in this milieu.

Your comparison of ridership [divided by 2 incidentally & agin by+/-21 days / month] to Bloedel attendance is absurd & irrelevant. Now that you quote CoV cycling studies, one only wonders @ the methodology employed.

Let's be really clear. I'm all for cycling, I own a Rocky Mountain. I tried riding to work 15 years ago until I almost killed myself twice (my fault, not some driver). As a Park Commissioner in the 70s we built the Stanley Park Seawall bike lane & the 1st cycle path in the City from English Bay to Jericho Park. I think my commitment to cycling is as good as anyones.

What this discussion is about is governance. Good governance is about identifying priorities & balancing needs / wants / available revenues. This Council in that respect has proven itself incompetent.

Richard:

I am actually surprised you (or anyone for that matter) would quote the 'numbers' provided on the City of Vancouver website - because Lord only knows those haven't been the least bit manipulated to fit the cause.

According to the 'Survey' as per the link you provided - they spoke with 300 persons in random parts of the city.

Now correct me if I am wrong - but aren't we closer to 620,000 people in what is considered the 'City' of Vancouver....

300 'telephone' interviews in selected areas doesn't even begin to provide a true number.

300 is an extremely small sample size and is considered unstable.


Any statisticians around want to check my work?

At a 95% confidence level for a population of 600,000 with a sample size of 300 works out to a 5.6% confidence interval.

In other words, if you sampled all 600,000 people, you can be "sure" that the true opinion of the entire city would have been +/- 5.6% of the opinion of those 300 people sampled, 19 times out of 20.

"Around 50% of the people in Vancouver cycle at least once a year and then there are the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of visitors who cycle in Vancouver".

I don't know where you get these absurd numbers from. Maybe you meant to say "around 5% of the people in Vancouver cycle at least once a year". In addition it's highly unlikely that "tens of thousands of visitors" cycle in Vancouver - unless you mean the (maybe) few thousand that rent a bike to ride around Stanley Park on a nice summer day.

There are approximately 5000 people living in my (1 square km.) neighbourhood. There are two bicycle routes within 100 meters of my home. Yet I could count on one hand the number of cyclists commuting from my neighbourhood. Why? Because we are surrounded by steep hills, and few people can walk up the hills, let alone cycle up them. The cycling lobby seems to forget that Vancouver is not just the relatively flat downtown peninsula and False Creek areas.

In addition, here are some other facts that should be considered: 1 in 12 people grows up with a disability acquired at birth or during early childhood (Premier's Advisory Council, 1992); and approximately 1 in every 6 people acquires permanent disability at some point in life (Office for Disability Issues (ODI), 2000). Given Vancouver's aging demographics, approximately 15% of Vancouver's current residents have a permanent disability, AND MOST OF THESE PEOPLE COULD NOT CYCLE IF THEY WANTED TO. This is clearly more than the 10% of residents that all this bicycle infrastructure is intended to entice to commute by bike.

Furthermore, the City's new bicycle routes are making it even more difficult for most people, including people with disabilities, to get around in downtown Vancouver. This is increasing, not reducing, Vancouver's carbon footprint.

While accommodating cyclists may be a laudable goal, it should not be done at the expense of other residents who need to be accommodated - i.e., especially the elderly and the disabled.

This one track Vision of Vancouver as a cycling City may be applauded by the bicycle lobby, but the many older and disabled people who are being inconvenienced instead of accommodated are apparently not considered or included in this new Vision of Vancouver.

in reponse to the post by "gasp".

Your comments are right on. As one of those people with a disability who cannot ride a bike, I'm made to feel like I'm the "bad guy" for driving in this city.

Also, people should keep in mind that a lot of the cyclists they see in the mornings are not residents of Vancouver but commuting from other municipalities. Burnaby, Richmond, etc.

Online calculator for determining appropriate sample size for an accurate survey

https://www.custominsight.net/articles/random-sample-calculator.asp

The statistic that 50% of Canadians cycle at least once a year is from a StatsCan survey. Sorry. I don't have a link, but I have heard it mentioned by many sources. To support that contention, note that more than 1.3 million bikes are sold in Canada every year. Factor in all the other bikes already sold and it appears to me that the 50% number is entirely reasonable.

I don't believe bike lanes are truly inconveniencing anyone, able-bodied or otherwise. The real causes of traffic congestion are clearly too many single occupant vehicles and poor driving resulting in crashes. In fact, driving creates so many disabled people that if we truly want to do something about this issue, better enforcement of speed, cel phone, and other laws would be the best possible approach. It would make for safer streets and much more money available to fund enhanced HandyDART, transit, bike lanes, and similar services rather than paying for emergency personnel, acute care, and rehabilitation. Further, the safe operation of a motor vehicle requires many, many metres of road space per capita (esp. if you observe the 'two second' rule) than the operation of other vehicles. Sad to say, the real 'road hogs' are the able-bodied who are making a conscious choice to drive despite there being other options such as transit, walking, car-pooling, and cycling. Yes, yes, I know, you need your car. Yet, for every example one provides, there's almost always another example of someone doing the exact same thing with a bike (with the obvious exception of those individuals with physical limitations).

It comes down to choices and voluntary activities. Nobody is expecting disabled people, or senior citizens, or Moms with three kids to ride bikes everywhere, nor is there a mission afoot to force them. Too often these non-examples are trotted out as evidence of some kind of cycling fanaticism, but frankly, I don't know any cyclists who are incapable of understanding that there are individuals and situations that mandate car use in our society. Generally this all or nothing approach to bikes is a perspective attributed to those who cycle by opponents, but I haven't ever seen it in real life.

We need to be objective about where we are and where we want to be as a city and realize how cycling infrastructure is a good investment. For starters, the enhancement of bike facilities is not a localized phenomenon. Cities the world over are embarking on similar programs and sad to say Canada isn't half as ambitious as many other places. In fact, some countries are embarking on ambitious multi-billion dollar strategies to create more bike lanes, separated paths and the like.

This (more bikes) is our future and while we are undergoing growing pains as we get there, our city and the lives of future generations will be better for it.

cheers,
CK

I don't know where Gail gets her facts from. A lot of the cycling commuters are from other municipalities? What did you do, go out and ask them all where they live? The discourse is not served well arguing with unsubstantiated claims. I commute daily to my office downtown from my Vancouver home. I can only speak for myself. I will say this though, as someone who follow all the rules, I'd love to see enforcement of cycling laws such as helmets, lights at night, riding on the sidewalk and running stop signs and lights, and riding side-by-side. It's really pathetic the level of cycling laws that are broken.

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