Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Places without cars

with 17 comments

All over the world cities have set aside places to be car free. Sometimes whole cities become car free for a day. In many urban places, reducing car penetration has been the key to regaining urbanity. Initially it was often thought that it would promote retail streets facing competition from suburban malls and big box stores. But after a while it was realised that successful places became destinations in themselves. And instead of being areas that people tried to get through as quickly as possible there was a reason to loiter and enjoy the place.

There is a desparate lack of such places in this region. There are even fewer places that are closed to traffic but allow transit – another popular variation on this theme.
NET 213 at Old Market Square 14Ap04
To get an idea of what the variety and attractiveness of car free places looks like I have started a flickr group “Places without Cars” . Take a look.

The more I think about the more I am convinced that with the exception of the seawall and similar places in Vancouver, some of the dykes in Richmond we do not actually have a car free space here – and, no, Robson Square doesn’t count. Is there anywhere in this region that has closed a street to cars?

Written by Stephen Rees

March 15, 2008 at 2:15 pm

17 Responses

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  1. Wow!

    A *section* of Granville St mall is closed to cars but not buses or taxis. Still, it isn’t anything like the first photo there where people are walking anywhere. People still stick to the sidewalk. Of course, now there’s a big gaping hole and fencing around part of it. Hopefully the planned Granville Mall rejuvenation will be car-free. I guess with buses, walking in the centre of the street isn’t really an option but at least you can cross anywhere (if only illegally). I think with proper high-volume transit, we could potentially see streets like Commercial and Main St become car-free at least in the commercial areas. Would you agree?

    Erika Rathje

    March 15, 2008 at 7:26 pm

  2. I’ll tell you one place that _should_ be car-free… Granville Island. There are so many pedestrians here (especially during weekends and times of good weather) it’s hard to understand why cars are tolerated at all here. It’s also hard to understand why people would want to try to drive there cars down there — only to mindlessly circle the place at a less-than-walking pace trying desperately to locate one of the few parking spots that might be available.

    Mike Cline

    March 15, 2008 at 8:27 pm

  3. Erika – oddly enough one of the strongest opponents of the Granville Mall was Blaine Culling. He is an entertainment promoter who operates on the southern section, which has cars. And in recent developments, the police have closed this section to traffic at weekends to help with crowds – and it works brilliantly! He once referred to the Mall as “a bowling alley for buses” and was a key spokesman for the DVBIA’s push to get cars onto the rebuilt Mall. The shop owners who remained after the opening of the Pacific Centre drained much of the pedestrian (shopping) traffic off the street said that adding cars would not help them. John Fluevog was their strongest advocate. I have not kept up with the latest developments, but given what has happened on Cambie (the City increased car capacity!) I would be very surprised if Granville was car free once the street reopens.

    Mike. You are absolutely right – and even CHMC is now acknowledging that – and thinking of diverting the heritage streetcar onto the Island. It won’t be car free but it could easily see car reductions on a large scale.

    Stephen Rees

    March 16, 2008 at 6:57 am

  4. From the uk point of view a well planned area with mass transit links does work, but with the buses, trams etc stops at the edge of the car free area. There have been a number of incidents where buses driving through the car free areas have led to accidents


    March 16, 2008 at 8:16 am

  5. “… North of Smithe Street, the existing curved bus mall is proposed to be straightened to provide a consistent sidewalk width of 8.5 metres for pedestrians. South of Nelson Street, traffic patterns would remain unchanged. Sidewalks would be widened by the width of the existing parking lane to provide a sidewalk that can be used to accommodate parked vehicles between street trees.

    Buses and authorized vehicles would continue to use the dedicated lanes north of Smithe Street. Greater transit priority and reduced conflicts will result by removing northbound general purpose traffic starting at Nelson, one block further south than at present.”


    March 16, 2008 at 9:01 am

  6. Well, Granville St *used* to be closed to automobiles until that all changed with Canada Line construction.

    Also, quite a few parts of UBC are closed to vehicles. And, many streets that are open for traffic are so hard to get to that there is a minimum of cars. It’s actually quite nice. But, this is a place for students and not the kind of town center destination that you are describing.

    Andrew E

    March 16, 2008 at 6:22 pm

  7. The cars on Granville Mall are only temporary during the Canada Line construction. It was a battle to keep the cars off Granville after the Canada Line construction. What is disappointing is that none of the sections south of Smithe will be car-free.

    The plans for the mall after the construction are quite uninspiring. 30 years after Granville Mall was created, all this city can manage to to is to change it from ugly brown to dull grey. This is symptomatic of the lack of forward thinking leadership in this city. We did all our great stuff back in the 70s.

    Richard C.

    March 17, 2008 at 8:18 am

  8. Last summer, since the buses were already routed off Granville onto Howe and Seymour due to Canada Line consyruction, the City has been closing Granville on Friday and Saturday nights to deal with the bar crowds – and it has worked very well from what the newspapers report.
    Depending on what happens with the buses after the Canada Line is completed and Granville restored, there is potentially, a move afoot to keep the buses on Howe and Seymour to allow closures on weekends.
    As I’ve mentioned before, I think the whole Granville revitalization project is a make work project for the City staff – as soon as the recommendation came back that cars should remain off Granville, the scope of the project should have been scaled back. Ultimately, all it will do is straighten the road, cut down the existing trees and replace them with a “designed” landscape of double street trees (saplings) plus snazzy light standards and furniture. Much of that can be done without uprooting trees and without straightening the roadway.

    In terms of a roadway being closed to traffic – yes there is one that comes to mind plus a couple of examples that aren’t “reversals” more so than “not implemented” – all are on the Concord Pacific Lands.
    – Beatty Street between Pacific Boulevard and Nelson was closed and replaced with a pedestrian mews that runs through the Waterworks condo project. Prior to the various streets in the area becoming 2-way, that closure caused a cars to make a dangerous right turn immediate left turn movement across Nelson Street from Cambie to access Beatty northbound.
    – the not implemented versions are the various pedestrian mews that run between the Concord Pacific condos project – their driveway terminate at driveway courtyards rather than continuing through – i.e. along Marinaside Crescent and also at the foot of Seymour. Also, Beach Crescent under the Granville Bridge is a pedestrian/bike route eastbound, as the roadway is not wide enough for cars (I think westbound allows cars to exit).

    Ron C.

    March 17, 2008 at 4:00 pm

  9. And of course, there’s Bute Street in the West End just south of the Bread Garden – plus a few others in the West End that were aimed at preventing johns from circling the neighbourhood.

    Ron C.

    March 17, 2008 at 4:05 pm

  10. WRT Granville Island – remember that Ocean Cement has their plant there – so they would need access (and yes, I think it’s a compatible use – it harks back to the industrial past of the island, plus it means that concrete trucks do not have to travel (think exhaust) all the way in from the LaFarge Plant in Richmond (can’t recall if the LaFarge plant on Commissioner Street got the go ahead or if NIMBYs blocked it).

    There are probably other uses on the island that benefit from easy car access – i.e. Opus Framing – I have picked up large frames and canvasses from there and a car is required – likewise, there are some marine supply places there that probably sell large hardware items or kayaks, etc.. Deliveries for many of the restaurants and businesses on the island would also require car or truck access.
    Conceivably, you could have a streetcar or bus that constantly circles the island for visitors as long as it is frequent and connects to either rapid transit or a park & ride facility.

    Ron C.

    March 17, 2008 at 4:31 pm

  11. As of this weekend, when I stumbled across a little street fair on Granville, there was a booth about the Canada Line and the Granville Mall makeover, and they were definitely showing off vehicle-free renderings of the finished project along with the regular pamphleteering. I hope that isn’t false advertising, as I’d hate to see Granville Mall become just another street.

    Also, a big +1 for reducing traffic on Granville Island. It ruins the walk in and out every time, not for bad drivers, but I think because the way it’s laid out just doesn’t work with the mix of pedestrian and private vehicle traffic, or at least that much of it. I don’t know how I’d feel if I had a business there; I could well be worried about losing business if cars were reduced or diverted from the island altogether, but as a customer I know it’s my least favourite part of visiting there.

    Todd Sieling

    March 17, 2008 at 8:29 pm

  12. The latest plans for Granville Street are much better than the old mall — with the exception of the removal of the mature hornbeam trees.

    Keep in mind that every tree starts as saplings, even the largest available in the nureries are a lot smaller than mature trees. Trees are as varied as buildings and people. It could be that the double rows of street trees are meant to replicate the unique double rows of red maples planted around Robson Square — some of which have been recently removed, incidently. Double rows planted at 5m spacing will result in a fight with city staff as it has for every other similar project with close street tree spacing.

    Continuous 8+m sidewalks on both sides will be far better than the old curved design where the swooping sidewalks were anything but egalitarian for pedestrians and shop keepers. That design was also merely a copy of a mall in Minneapolis. Having generous and democratic sidewalk space will benefit stores equally and will go a long ways to energize the street with more pedestrian activity.

    The block between Robson and Georgia will also be designed to accommodate street concerts like the jazz festival, including a separate power supply. A great idea, that one.

    The design as proposed is indeed bland, but that I think that is a reflection of the bland budget. The introduction of public art and things like special sidewalk treatments at key locations will go a long ways to enliven the design.


    March 18, 2008 at 11:06 am

  13. Speaking as one who lived a block from Granville Island for a decade, we avoided the Island religiously between 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. days, especially weekends & holidays — even as pedestrians — because of the maddening crowds, 90+% of whom travelled there by car. I suggest a large number of them travel from other Metro cities.

    It’s great at any other time and reminds me of a quiet little German village. I would advise people to arrive after 5 p.m., and not expect to have a parking space magically open up in front of you at the door to your destination. The lineup of cars at the entrance will have disappeared, and the parking lots have lots of spaces at least at their margins. The market is open ’til 7.

    Since we moved away we use our car when we need to go there mostly because of poor transit connections from where we now live, and the need to load the car with groceries. If the proposed streetcar can lower the number of cars destinating there, and perhaps take away land currently devoted to cars, then bring it on.


    March 18, 2008 at 11:19 am

  14. At the Granville Street Revitalization open house a couple months back, the staffers inidcated that the Georgia to Robson block (the performance space) would have no trees at all.

    Ron C.

    March 19, 2008 at 12:04 am

  15. At the Granville Street Revitalization open house a couple months back, the staffers indicated that the Georgia to Robson block (the performance space) would have no trees at all.

    Ron C.

    March 19, 2008 at 12:05 am

  16. Welll they’re already there, I remember being rather shocked when the mature trees were chopped down for the construction of VCC station a couple years ago… I hope they keep the flowering trees in the 900 block.


    March 20, 2008 at 10:43 pm

  17. I am in full support of more car free areas, and think that objections towards them are from those just ‘stuck’ in their way of thinking. With good planning and orgnisation, more of these areas could benefit us all, even though most of us don’t realise it yet.

    The Taxi Driver

    May 7, 2008 at 4:18 am

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