Pedestrians First for Vancouver–Including Point Grey Road

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Although I don’t own a car, I’m against the recent closure of a large section of Vancouver’s Point Grey Road (in the Kitsilano area, near the waterfront) to all but local traffic, to make way for bike lanes that will run between Jericho Beach and Burrard Bridge.  In the design of our streets, it seems the needs of pedestrians should come first, and I don’t think the interests of pedestrians–particularly those who don’t own cars, who walk and use public transportation as their primary means of transportation–were adequately taken into consideration when decisions were made regarding the repurposing of the road.

In an article published last summer in the Globe & Mail newspaper, it was mentioned that the city of Chicago had recently formally adopted a “Pedestrians First” policy with respect to urban planning, and that Toronto was then closely watching related developments in Chicago to see if Toronto should follow suit.  In Chicago’s system of prioritization, pedestrians come first; public transit comes second; bicycles come third; and cars come last.  In the system of priorities of Vancouver’s current mayor, Gregor Robertson, and his Vision Vancouver party, it seems bicycles trump everything else, and this seems very wrongheaded–especially given some of the unique characteristics of this city.

I have some sympathy for Vancouver cyclists, since I used to regularly ride a bike in Vancouver, including in the Kitsilano and Point Grey areas–but that was quite some ago.  Because this city is extremely hilly, even mountainous in some areas, and because it rains so much here, sometimes day after day for months on end, cycling on a regular basis in Vancouver is mainly for athletic kids (of both sexes) and athletic young men who have jobs in which they are able to arrive at work drenched and discheveled.  (Very few women with jobs would choose to arrive at work in such a state even if their jobs permitted it.) In Vancouver, the supposed shortage of safe bicycle routes is not nearly as much of an obstacle to cycling as are the arduous uphill climbs and the rain. 

From my Vancouver bike riding days, I remember choosing routes that were optimally safe, where there wasn’t heavy traffic, and I never had a collision, or near-collision, with a car. Yet, today, there seems to be an unrealistic sense of entitlement among Vancouver cyclists, that is likely to get many of them–and sometimes also innocent bystanders–into serious trouble. For example, last week I had a verbal altercation with a young woman (a gender exception) who was riding her bike on the sidewalk on Granville Street near King Edward Boulevard while I was walking along that stretch of sidewalk, heading to my bus stop.  She rebutted my suggestion that she not ride on the sidewalk by screaming at me that she was riding on the sidewalk because she got knocked down by a car riding her bike in one of the traffic lanes of Granville.  Why oh why had she been riding a bike in a traffic lane on a busy thoroughfare like Granville?!  Furthermore, that accident was no justification for her riding her bike along the sidewalk. (There was no indication the incident had occurred immediately prior.) Riding a bicycle along Point Grey Road (before the road closure, of course) was an equally bad choice–yet ensuing accidents involving bikes and cars along that stretch of road has been used as one of the justifications for the repurposing of the road.

Prior to my visit last week to the section of Point Grey Road that has been closed (which was when I took the above photo), it had been several years since I had been along that stretch of the road. Although I hadn’t personally observed the high traffic volumes about which residents had complained, I concede that there probably was too much traffic for that road.  This section of Point Grey Road is narrow, with only two lanes, and was never meant to become the major artery that it is reported to have become.  But greater motor vehicle access is required than is currently permitted. Paradoxically, this is required largely to address the needs of those who don’t own cars, who walk and use public transportation as their primary means of transportation. These include both those who live along this stretch of Point Grey Road and those who live in other areas, who may need to, or just want to, visit this area.

As for the former group, there are hundreds of houses along this section of Point Grey Road–and they are by no means all lavish, waterfront, homes.  (In much of the recent commentary voicing opposition to the closure, it has been suggested that everyone living along Point Grey Road is fabulously rich. Not so.)  Along the south, non-waterfront, side of the road are densely-packed, mainly older, relatively modest houses (similar to the relatively modest house in which I now live in Dunbar).  Also on Point Grey Road, near Bayswater Street, there is a large apartment building with about sixty units.  Undoubtedly, living in many of these abodes–and quite likely also in some of the ritzier abodes on the north side–are seniors and others who don’t own cars and who, therefore, are likely to regularly require the services of those who do.  For example, I sometimes take cabs, and regularly have groceries delivered. How are these sorts of services to be handled for the residents of this area? And what about the seniors without cars who may require someone with a car to assist them to get to a medical appointment?  Or to provide assistance in a medical emergency?

In the other group (those who don’t own cars, who walk and use public transportation as their primary means of transportation, yet who may require vehicular access to this section of Point Grey Road from time to time), are people like me.  I mentioned earlier that, prior to my visit last week, it had been several years since I’d been on this stretch of Point Grey Road.  A key reason is that there is no public transportation along here–although there should be.  As I discovered in my walk last week, there are a couple of lovely little public parks along this stretch of the road, to which all Vancouverites, including those who don’t live in the immediate area, or who don’t ride bikes, or who aren’t up to walking long distances, should have access.  Both some access for cars, as well as, perhaps, some form of public transportation along this stretch (perhaps one of those small, local, buses, that accommodates about thirty people), would be required for this purpose–as well as just for visiting folks who live in the area.

Surely there are ways of reducing traffic along this section of Point Grey Road without cutting out all vehicles except cars owned by people living along the road.  As outlined in a 2012 blog post by the Vancouver Sun columnist, Frances Bula, attempts had been made several years prior to the closure to rectify the problem by reducing the speed limit along Point Grey Road to 30 KPH (which is only 18.64 MPH).  I would have thought that slowing traffic to that snail’s pace would have worked; however, as suggested at the end of Bula’s post, there seems not to have been adequate enforcement of the speed reduction initiative, and traffic density (and, presumably, average speed of cars travelling along Point Grey Road) did not decrease.

Before closing off all but local traffic to this part of Point Grey Road and turning it into bike lanes–that are likely to go virtually unused doing much of the year in Vancouver, and that will almost certainly be used only by a small proportion of the population during even our dry spells–I believe a more serious effort should have been made to reduce the traffic along Point Grey Road, without cutting it out entirely.  

Stronger enforcement of a lowered speed limit along Point Grey Road; the introduction of public transportation along this stretch of a road; and making Vancouver, in general, more hospitable to pedestrians, so that more Vancouverites will feel they don’t need to use cars in the city, are among the things that should have been tried before turning this stretch of Point Grey Road into the fiasco it’s sure to become.

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