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An Agri-Cultural Perspective on the City of Vancouver’s Transportation Plan

Sep 30, 2011

By Graham McGarva, Founding Principal, VIA Architecture

The Vancouver Transportation Plan outlines an overall transportation strategy for the city

After Vancouver was knocked from its perch as the world’s most livable city by traffic tie ups on a Vancouver Island Highway, I began to think back to the fundamentals of the City of Vancouver Transportation Plan that was launched on May 12th this year. Especially since these traffic tie ups were 100km from the City, and involved an hour and a half ferry ride (plus waiting time) just to get to them.  For all anyone in Vancouver knew, these tie ups could well have been caused by agricultural tractors getting our 100 mile diet to market.

The good news story is that Vancouver is the only City in North America with increasing population, jobs and trips, coupled with a decrease in car trips – because urban development is focusing around the City’s growing non-vehicular transportation networks.

The future for Vancouver is not about taking the drivers of today and getting them out of their cars; there is no problem with them continuing as they are.  Vancouver’s success has been that thousands of new residents and workers are not choosing to use cars to get around town.

In response to the pretty pictures and video proposed for high level public consultation with a million people walking, wheeling, biking, busing and motoring in the sunshine, the stakeholder questions moved on from drinking our own kool-aid to emphasising the issues of our “rainy days in February” and “getting the goods in and out of town”.

Following up afterwards with Jerry Dobrovolny, City of Vancouver Director of Transportation, we discussed the importance of canvasing Vancouverites’ collective “culture of expectation” (or more likely cultures of expectations) with respect to the social contract around urban movement.  Thus, setting aside the question of absurdity of ‘measuring’ traffic impacts across 30km of ocean, there is a core livability question that needs be addressed, even if it cannot be answered. What does an amber light or a flashing do not walk sign mean to me, really –  not just when I am on my best behaviour taking my driver’s license test – but every day when I walk, drive or cycle and interact with others (or not)?

This issue of ‘expectation’ is a hot button with respect to Downtown Vancouver’s separated bike lanes.  We have the paradox that the Vancouver bike lanes were designed with wide lanes and broad buffers and no right turns signs for motorists, precisely in order to attract uncertain cyclists who were fearful of mingling with vehicles.  The design outcome then resembles a freeway for cyclists, some of whom are clocked at above the vehicular speed limit.  Such expectation of aggressive and unimpeded mobile velocity can intimidate pedestrians and potential fellow cyclists alike (and scare the heck out of motorists trying to disobey the no right-turn signs).

For the rest of this article and more of Graham’s musings, visit his page on City Slices, a blog dedicated to the “poetic imagery of an architect”