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Archive for May 31st, 2011

On Broadway

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SFU City Programme “Designing Broadway” Monday, May 30, 7 – 9 pm, SFU at Harbour Centre

Broadway, extending across almost the entire city, is not only an important street for walking, living, shopping and work but is also one of Vancouver’s busiest transit corridors.  How can we make it better?

Allan Jacobs, former Director of City Planning for San Francisco and author of Great Streets, and Elizabeth Macdonald, Professor of Urban Design at the University of California, Berkeley, will speak to best practices in street design and provide advice on the design of Broadway and how it could be a ‘Really Good’ Street, if not a ‘Great Street.’

In his introduction Gordon Price mentioned that the evening was sponsored by the City of Vancouver, in the same way that they had sponsored the recent presentation on the viaducts

I have quoted the SFU blurb above since the two introductory speakers were not on the programme. The value of these contributions is, I think, debatable but the effect was that they both took up time that would normally have been available for discussion. By 9pm I had to leave – and a lot of people decided to go before that.  So I did not get all the discussion points

City Engineer Peter Judd
Spoke about the City’s Transportation plan update. The original targets of the last plan were said to be optimistic but they were exceeded early on. Both jobs and population in the City are trending up, but both automobile use and miles driven are trending down. These trends are due to land use changes. Transportation planning has to be done in the context of land use, transit and economic  development. We live in a time of change. “Today’s kids” have a different set of values fort hem transportation is not all about owning a car. The City is now consulting about what the vision of the future should be – talkvancouver.com

Broadway is the second highest concentration of jobs in the region. There is a distinct change in the nature of the street at Arbutus divide. East of Arbutus traffic flows are heavier – 30,000 at Cambie  (Knight is 40,000)  six lanes wide – and Broadway is also the only continuous truck route north of 41st. There is heavy transit use 100,000 passengers per day which is similar to the Canada Line and double the Millennium Line. He also noted that the  expectations of Canada Line use were quickly exceeded. There is a significant amount of demand for transit that cannot currently be expressed due to capacity constraints of the system. Eats of Arbutus it is a long way to cross the street and there are only limited opportunities for amenities such as public art or street seating.

West of Arbutus, Broadway is very different. There are awnings over the sidewalk  and it is seen to be a place to have your business. There are the same number of transit trips but only  20 to 25,000 vehicle trips per day.

In recent years the number of cars entering the city declined 5% (downtown 20%). In the past 15 years of growth has been accommodated on walk, bike and cycle, and New York is similar. We have been able to support a rate of economic growth that could not otherwise have been accommodated by automobile.

Heading West On Broadway In Vancouver

Heading West On Broadway In Vancouver by Arlene Gee on flickr

On Central Broadway the mode split is more similar to the rest of the region. 21% of trips are on transit but improvements to transit are the most essential as there are currently more than 2,000 pass-ups at peak hour. If we had the same mode split on Broadway as downtown the automobile volumes would fall. It would then be entirely doable to have parking on street, with bus bulges, sidewalk widening and all the rest. Rapid Transit would make that possible – and make it a better street.

Lance Berelowitz – is currently working for the City as a consultant to update policies for the Central Broadway area. He read from the City’s Terms of Reference for his work and it mentions Great Street, a vibrant public realm, and community consultation later this year. the study has a 30 year horizon and a policy decision is expected in 2012.

Broadway is both extraordinary and very vexing. It is unique: it is the only continuous east west route across the City and into Burnaby (where it is called Lougheed Highway) and is wider at 99′ than most arterials (not the 66′ typical of Vancouver). It is the  pre-eminent east west corridor, with significant buildings along it and its intersections with all the north south routes are important nodes. The opportunity of rapid transit of some kind is that it will “take the heat off an over-subscribed piece of real estate”. What Broadway might look like with rapid transit is currently what Translink is studying. “If you get rapid transit underground, you no longer need the B Line.” Therefore it is possible to re-engineer the street to attract more people, and better buildings. Public realm is underwhelming. Its lack of attraction stems from the absence of street trees. The linden trees in Kitsilano west of MacDonald, saved by public protest shows that substantial trees can survive on Broadway . The built form is spotty at best. The buildings are  old and tired and many are only 1 or 2 stories high. This is simply not high enough relative to the great width of the street.

Allan Jacobs and Elizabeth McDonald – Cityworks

On Broadway – a possible future Great Street

We can take more lessons from you than you can learn from us – you are doing so well.  “They talk about Great Streets but they never give any damn dimensions.” We measure streets: for instance  – how far is it between doorways? On Queen Street in Toronto they are 16′ apart. We also count people as well as cars.

Broadway is many streets over its length – but it is not a great walking street. Ultimately we believe it will be the main street of the city.

Central Broadway  [I need to point out here that he mainly showed many pictures, and it will take me some time to research and find illustrations. He relied heavily on people seeing what he was talking about rather than explaining it.]

There are some common physical and designable characteristics of great streets. The first is that they are places where people to walk with some leisure –  a street in Rome, Queen St TO, Robson St, Davie St were all given as examples. On Strøget in Copenhagen they counted a pedestrian flow of 16 people per metre per minute. The greatest flow is found on Avenida Florida in Buenos Aires at  24 – which is probably the maximum. They noted also that people were strolling back and forth – they were not necessarily travelling through the street, but enjoying it.

“Be cautious about standards – I challenge them all the time”

The best streets are comfortable: he showed a picture of a street in San Francisco where the wind [vortex] created by tall buildings blew people over. We need physical comfort – shade when its hot, sun when its cool – and that is the role of [deciduous] trees.

Autumn On Broadway, 2005

Autumn On Broadway, 2005 by Kurrs on flickr

The best streets are defined by a sense of place, they have boundaries. The ancients understood this and had a rule that the building height had to be at least half the width of the street. He showed Brooklyn brownstones at 4 storeys which do that. “If the buildings don’t do it, trees can.”

Transparency – the ability to see and know by sight what it is behind is what gives definition to the street, and creates a feeling of safety. You don’t get it with the Nieman Marcus store in San Francisco [picture of blank wall] whereas Macy’s on Union Square invites you in. Glass doesn’t always do it – black glass creates Darth Vader buildings:[you think] “nothing good can be happening in there!” But he also showed a narrow alley in Venice with high walls on both sides where trees and branches were visible over the top of the walls – this also creates a sense of comfort, knowing that there is a garden there

Buildings that are complementary – not all the same. Princes St Edinburgh

Quality and maintenance – a control on fly bill posters, clean windows,

Qualities that engage the eyes – cornices “ins and outs” – which creates shadow lines that attract the eyes – the eyes have to move

Trees give you the greatest bang for the buck. Ideally at  15 -35 ft spacing – and come to the corners – do not be deterred by the claimed need for clear sight lines for car drivers at corners

  • many buildings rather than few
  • marked beginnings and endings
  • places along the way – he illustrated this with a small square that the people took over – “mini parks” often no more than one or two parking spots taken over
  • density
  • special design features – fountains in Nuremberg

Elizabeth MacDonald spoke about Balanced Streets

Balance is needed between

  • different types of movement
  • movement and in place
  • hardscape and greenscape

There are many competing interests: success is when no-one gets everything but everyone gets a lot,  and the public realm serves all interests.

We can get balance between modes at either the street level or at a city-wide level. Not all streets need be the same but no streets should be sacrificed to fast movement. Some streets should be for transit, bikes or walking

She illustrated this by showing the various Amsterdam transport networks.  One example was the IJBurg “linear tramway district”. They chose not to give vehicles priority.

Portland OR is well balanced downtown because all the streets have a narrow right of way with short blocks that limit streets. they have also introduced curbless shared streets – Teachers Park

She showed a Paris shopping street with mixed traffic where pedestrians outnumber cars. There are movable bollards that only residents and local businesses can open – and they drive at walking pace.

Textures are used in Copenhagen to define car, pedestrian and bike areas. “Everybody young and old rides bikes because they feel so safe”
The new cycle track on Hornby Street achieves the dame thing with hardscape. There are a few aesthetic issues but it is a great idea and safer than an on- street bike lane.

San Francisco is  reducing lane widths, and removing parking and turning pavement into parks. They have created street parks in former parking places. Because they were deemed temporary they were easy to do:  then they become permanent as people show they like them and use them.
In The Castro there are curved streetcar tracks through a park taken from the street – the curve limits the speed of the streetcars in any event.
They have made a number of commercial streets better with the use of narrow medians with planting

Portland green streets – stormwater runoff issue – vegetative swales

Comprehensive rebalancing – SF Better Streets plan – common framework –

Rebalancing big streets

International Blvd Oakland CA 100′ row – 72′ roadway – but is also the neighbourhood shopping street
Fruitvale BART station – moved surface parking to create transit village – traffic calming – new plaza – centre median – pedestrian refuge and slows down traffic but appropriate for neighborhood

Octavia Blvd SF – removal of freeway at Market Street – Hayes Valley –
133′ wide – rebuild frontage – in some places lots less than 15′ deep – could be student housing or other temporary things. Narrow side access roads with a mountable curb to meet the demands of the fire department. A pedestrian realm created in the median
Park at end of street – Patricia’s Green – named after a local activist on freeway removal

Pacific Blvd Vancouver – a key policy in the city Transportation plan was to keep current capacity: that meant that on Pacific the City engineers identified excess roadway. There were to be three different lengths: two outer parts with “one-sided multiway boulevards” and a central area where 122′ of asphalt was replaced by two 25′ roadways, a parking lane “flex zone” and central median with trees. There was also to be a bus lane and 16′ side access roads to keep speeds down. [I was there recently and simply did not recognize any of these features – so I have changed the tense of what I wrote.She must have been talking about what they proposed not what was built.]

Broadway

busy broadway

Busy Broadway by Boris Mann on flickr

In its current state its is “snaggle tooth, haphazard, trees don’t add up to anything, too narrow sidewalks”. It is a bad pedestrian realm overall but some bus stops have been made better with wider sidewalks due to greater set backs of the buildings.

“It can’t be everything”

Discussion

[Question inaudible] Tomorrow there will be a design charette with city staff

Pedestrian realm should incorporate porous surfaces to deal better with surface water issues

Q: Viable street trees

A: There are lots of ways – importance of not letting the budget be cut

Q: Broadway bike route is on 10th – transit is the key – if we don’t have direction on [the type of] Rapid Transit [surface or underground] we can’t do design

A: Agreed – we will look at both alternatives – going underground frees up the right of way for other uses – and it gets people excited about the possibilities

Q:  Why don’t we build cheap housing for students at UBC to reduce need for travel?

[Celia Brauer hit the nail on the head with that one. It is the land use at UBC that’s screwed up – lots of housing but only at market prices and hardly any for students. There was, of course, no response]

Q:  Bikes – helmet rule – Copenhagen and Amsterdam don’t need them.

A – depends on speed of moving vehicles but at 25mph it becomes lethal – it depends on the degree of separation of bikes from cars

Q: very concerned about seniors in wheelchairs, scooters

A concerned about paving and curb cuts

————————

There was further discussion after 9pm – hopefully some of those who stayed might fill that in as comments. Gordon Price was asking about trucks as I left.

My reaction was that while we looked at a lot of places that have either been well designed or managed to develop as civilised places (i.e. they kept the cars under control and allowed people to use the pubic realm) there was not much that emerged about what could or should happen on Broadway, simply because the rapid transit question remains unresolved.

While writing this I learned that the Evergreen Line has been put off once again. And, of course, that is the first priority for rapid transit in this region. Vancouver is quite right to point out how bad things are on Broadway. The problem that I see is that it is much worse everywhere else in the region, and we are currently busy pointing fingers between levels of government. Having totally hobbled municipal government, the province has the chutzpah to blame them for every delay. And all the talk about new sources of revenue seems to be just that. Talk, not action.

The last time I heard talk of Great Streets here, the context was No 3 Road. There, the overhead ALRT guideway seems to guarantee failure. Though the height limit on buildings doesn’t help. It is still a place I avoid as much as possible. Something I learned when I came to Richmond, and has yet to be disproved. You certainly do not see anyone walking at some leisure there!

Broadway, Vancouver

Broadway, Vancouver by Sarah@Liverpool on flickr

Written by Stephen Rees

May 31, 2011 at 11:14 am