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Jane’s Walk 2014: Walking Home from the Train

May 12, 2014
by Brendan Hurley, VIA Architecture
The VIA team kicked off the Walk at Burrard SkyTrain Station

The VIA team kicked off the Walk at Burrard SkyTrain Station

On Sunday May 4th, planners and architects from VIA kicked off the 2014 Jane’s Walk with a twist: our “walk” included transit, which is an integral part of the history and future of development in Vancouver. Our 2.5-hour-long urban exploration covered more than 44 km (27.5 mi) of Vancouver’s urban development context and history by including a ride on the SkyTrain.

The intent of the Jane’s Walk is to celebrate the life and works of urban thinker and activist Jane Jacobs by presenting free community tours that examine elements of what makes a city work. Our tour focused on building and enhancing walkable, connected communities by viewing transit as an extension of being a pedestrian. It revolved around the past, present, and future of transit-defined visions of the Vancouver region and its neighbourhoods.

An Ongoing Tradition of Rapid Transit

The tour covered a lot of ground AND track, but followed the historic path of transit in Vancouver. We started on the Expo Line, the oldest line of the SkyTrain rapid transit system, where portions of it followed the path of the Central Park Interurban Line that ran from 1890 until the 1950s, connecting downtown Vancouver with New Westminster. In some places, evidence of the system of 120 years ago is still exposed below the pillars of SkyTrain. The modern system is a dream of a region-connecting “people mover”—part of the legacy of the 1986 World Exposition.

As a group, we discussed that there was an intentional experiment in common sense when the Vancouver region developed a plan to intensify “town centres” around stations in the 1970s. With the construction of the Evergreen Line and the completion of the Canada Line, we are now reaching a vision of a fully connected network, however there are emerging challenges. Updating and maintaining the Expo Line as it approaches its 30-year mark while keeping it running is one of these challenges, currently addressed by projects including the VIA-led Main Street and Metrotown Station upgrades.

A Continuum of Transit Development

and Brentwood Town Centre platform for an in-depth discussion

and Brentwood Town Centre platform for an in-depth discussion

The impacts of thoughtful and integrated design have shaped neighbourhoods and the activity of the City as a whole. Our walk yielded a lot of conversation about the changing nature of transit-oriented development. Transit infrastructure has created new ways of experiencing and building the City, which planners and builders have adapted to. Developments are now doing their best to be incorporated into the station areas and the system itself—a tight integration of buildings, people, and activity. For example, at New Westminster Station, housing towers and retail spaces share the land and rights of way with the rail transit, allowing people to move, live, shop, eat, and play in the same place.  The mall at Brentwood Town Centre is undergoing renovation to re-orient its retail layout as urban fabric and development to focus on the station and place itself as a powerful core for its neighbourhood.

Walking Home

The expansion of transit in the Vancouver region has strong roots and aspirations. The network is a result of visions that were produced because of a change in ideas about how the City worked: a region that revolted against freeways and grasped a future that connected and moved people through an ever-improving and expanding network. It is a system where transit has been a tool to integrate the lives and reach of the pedestrian. It is a pump to inject characters onto the stage of what Jane Jacobs called the “sidewalk ballet.” A ballet where we hope to find ourselves and our future on the walk home from the train.