Stephen Rees's blog

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

Arbutus Greenway Conversations continued

with 20 comments


The stencilled graffito has appeared on the Greenway at 29th Avenue at the north end of Quilchena Park

A man using one of those small wheeled Brompton style bicycles stopped, and got off his bike to lift the front wheel over the lip of the bitmac. He started the conversation and told us “A lot of people opposed the use of blacktop.”

“A lot of people?” I asked

“Well, five.”

He was unwilling to take his bike onto the gravel, and felt that the opposition was overstated. He doubted that there was much danger from the runoff from blacktop and concluded

“I know that there are some people opposed to this because they want to extend their gardens.”

Crushed rock surface

The crushed rock use starts south of 33rd and continues up the hill towards 37th. The top surface is loose: in some places very loose indeed.


This kind of loose surface is not acceptable – especially for bicycles.

I have come off my bike on loose gravel, and it was not a pleasant experience. There are some significant drop offs on the west side of the right of way here.

As we were walking up the hill, a cyclist drew alongside us and continued to ride as we walked. He thought that there had been some loss of character in the greenway, as it used to be kind of wild and rugged. Maybe not everywhere needs to be entirely smooth and safe, he suggested. I have read something similar from Patrick Condon.

“People have gotten quite used to the Arbutus Corridor as kind of a romantic landscape — the kind of unkempt quality of it,” Condon said, adding that “it’s level of decay has become something that people kind of like, that they’ve gotten used to.”

He said the path (“A little wide to be called a bike path and way too wide to be called a pedestrian path”) makes some sense from an engineering perspective. It would have been easy to plan and cheap to install — ideal for a temporary path, Condon said. Meanwhile, its foundation of crushed stone would offer drainage and stability.

“I think from a political perspective, they maybe today wish they had not acted so quick,” he said.


He might even be right in some places but the area between the two Boulevards in Kerrisdale is definitely not one of them.

Between the Boulevards

There is no reason at all why this could not be blacktopped. On each side is a road and a parking lot. In fact between the faces of the buildings this is the only bit not paved!

Towards 41st

and from Christopher Porter’s twitterScreen Shot 2016-08-14 at 10.35.10 AM


Postscript August 22

The section up from 33rd to 37th has now got a finer, better rolled surface.

Bikes and strollers

None of the people in this group seemed to have any problem with the rolled gravel surface, though one lady wearing open sandals was none too pleased. You will note that the single wheeled stroller to the right of the group seemed able to cope with the coarser base on the outside of the rolled section.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 13, 2016 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Arbutus Greenway

20 Responses

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  1. Today I saw signs along Cypress that read “The City is going pave our greenway WITHIN DAYS with NO COSULTATION” (or similar, should have taken a photo). They looked recent but perhaps they were put before the paving was stopped. Still, it’s erroneous information.

    As someone on Twitter half-joked, the City should build social housing on it.


    August 13, 2016 at 3:51 pm

  2. The “no consultation” theme was started by Mark Battersby – see the link to the Patrick Condon quote in the main post above. The City had announced that consultation on the final shape of the Greenway would take place in the fall. Nothing that the City has done so far is either out of the ordinary, or irreversible. I do not understand why Jerry Dobrovolny capitulated so quickly.

    Stephen Rees

    August 13, 2016 at 4:11 pm

  3. Now I’m wondering who started calling it the Arbutus GREENway. Was it the city? That might have been a tactical mistake. That gives people the expectation that the city is going to let it grow wild, or just let people extend their own private property/gardens onto it. Maybe it should have been called the Arbutus transportation corridor from the get go.

    I’ve said it before here but for the city to spend all this money just for the locals to be able to de facto extend their private property is unacceptable. [moderator: spelling of last word corrected]


    August 13, 2016 at 4:25 pm

  4. Spartikus: I noticed the posters last Saturday, 6th of Aug. I took a picture:


    August 13, 2016 at 7:32 pm

  5. There is really no reason why the paved path couldn’t be extended from 41st all the way south to Milton St. Wide enough all the way, and little chance of objections like those by the Creme de la Creme.

    Ron Richings

    August 13, 2016 at 10:03 pm

  6. The City put down a finer screen of gravel from 10th to 16th on Friday August 12th. They advised that they plan to do the same from 33rd to 41st by Tuesday August 16th. There is still work to do on the road crossings with embedded rails, but pavement cuts are visible so maybe it’s coming soon.

    Great photos.

    Jeff Leigh

    August 15, 2016 at 6:28 pm

  7. I appreciate some consider a stroller walk between a parking lot and garbage bins as pleasant, but it didn’t strike me as if it was a lack of opportunities for such in Vancouver.

    at the right of the stroller is this path:

    It is the only access to the bus stop, and not only the surface is very poor, but it is way too narrow for a wheelchair or a stroller. It strikes me as the one which should be fixed first (the cdnVgie problem looks essentially a self centric one).

    PS: What is wrong with a public consultation?


    August 16, 2016 at 12:20 am

  8. Nothing is wrong with public consultation. The City had planned for public consultation in the fall: they do not usually try to consult when so many people are away on vacation, and would be harshly judged if they did. The speed of the rail removal took everyone by surprise.

    The statement by the opponents of paving “you did not consult us first” is true but without merit. The City does not consult before repairing a pothole that has suddenly appeared in a busy street either.

    Stephen Rees

    August 16, 2016 at 10:52 am

  9. I am not sure we can compare the on going maintenance of an existing road with the construction of a new one. I don’t understand why the rush to pave if not to impose a “fait accompli” (the corridor has been in its present state for 15 years, +/- 1 or 2 years could not have been a big deal). Finally I have to admit I am of the party which think that have removed the track in the first place was a great mistake.

    I like the things like it and it seems I am not the only one:

    and as the NY Highline designer has said: this is not fake, it is not disneyland…this has stories and history to telll…and it is what makes the new york high line standing apart…

    Something definitely gone for the Arbutus corridor: It is what I have argued here


    August 17, 2016 at 11:28 pm

  10. The removal of the track and ballast was the decision of its owner, CP. They arranged for the contractor to recover reusable materials. There are some tracks remaining at the north end of the line, and those embedded in roadways at crossings mostly need to be removed. Although, thankfully, Broadway has been dealt with and is a great improvement.

    On the High Line, all the old track was removed: the new track is cosmetic, and the ties (sleepers) contain no creosote. This is to protect the new vegetation – even though the old line had plenty of flora. On Arbutus, the track was actually unusable, as revealed during its removal.

    I do hope that one day we will see a light rail/tramway as I think it will be cheaper than trying to increase capacity on the Canada Line. However, I think that is as likely as the return of streetcars between Granville Island and Main Street.

    In Paris much of the Petite Ceinture remains in place, though some sections have been converted to trails. I thought it very significant the the new T3 tramway, which parallels the PC, was built on the boulevards not the old railway line, which is still mostly in place. There are no rails on the Passage Plantee.

    Stephen Rees

    August 18, 2016 at 3:34 pm

  11. The point of paving the route was to allow people of all ages and abilities to get outside and see it BEFORE the consultations started. There’s really no point consulting the public about a place they’ve never been to or can’t access.

    Stopping the paving was incredibly stupid. Gravel, regardless of size and compaction is completely inappropriate for wheelchairs and mobility scooters. It’s a huge Do Not Enter sign to those with mobility issues. Gravel also creates safety problems for cyclists and all the other users around them.

    The corridor is too important and valuable to let a few entitled NIMBYs give the rest of us the proverbial middle finger.


    August 21, 2016 at 5:52 pm

  12. This morning we walked from Locarno to West Spanish Banks and back. Some of that was on shared paths, some on separated. At no time did I see any cyclists experiencing any difficulty riding on rolled, compact, gravel.

    There was also someone in a very clever lightweight wheelchair which had an electric motor attached to the large wheel. It seemed to be able to cope with the gravel surface.

    This afternoon I watched a small girl on a scooter enjoying the new paved greenway between King Ed and 16th. She stopped at the point where the gravel started.

    I am not saying that any of this proves anything. I happen to like the new tarmac surfaced sections: I find it very comfortable to walk on. I dislike rough and dusty surfaces, but they don’t stop me.

    Stephen Rees

    August 21, 2016 at 7:29 pm

  13. David, I suggest that what is “a huge Do Not Enter sign to those with mobility issues” is this:

    That is the only mid block access to the “paved section between 16th and 33th, normally providing acess to the w 20 Ave bus stop

    If your concern about accessibility is sincere, I suggest you should focus on the real barriers, and not some “invented” ones for the purpose to advance an agenda on Arbutus.

    If you still think that “Gravel, regardless of size and compaction is completely inappropriate for wheelchairs and mobility scooters”, why are you waiting to lobby the VPB to have Stanley Park and others paved?

    But may be you would like read this post on my blog first.


    August 21, 2016 at 10:52 pm

  14. There are many unpaved crushed limestone paths around the world used by cyclists, walkers, joggers, strollers, wheelchairs etc without any issues. Only in Hub Vancouver land would cyclists complain. For instance, at Vanier Park and Jericho and Spanish Banks in Vancouver. These paths are much more aesthetically pleasing and force cyclists to go slower. I’ve never heard pedestrians or joggers here complain about a bit of dust on their shoes. And check out this accessible trail on the Sunshine Coast! The Inland Trail near Powell River — “The 12 kilometer wheelchair accessible circuit includes 8 picnic/rest areas, 4 overnight camping areas and 6 fishing piers. The trail is a crushed limestone covered pathway with minimal grades.” There is even a cyclists website that promotes gravel riding It seems that it’s actually the latest thing!

    As for public consultation, the City Transportation Dept never intended to consult on the temporary path. I was one of the protestors who stopped the paving and attended the meeting with Jerry Dubrovolny. At that meeting he said that it didn’t occur to him that he should consult on the temporary path. The consultation was set up for the permanent path and could take 2 or more years. I suggested a 2 stage consultation process, starting with the temporary path. In the end he agreed. There’s nothing wrong with consultation. What the city was doing here was building an ugly clearcut road/bike freeway, without any consideration of aesthetics or landscaping, or making it appealing as a destination rather than a commuter bike freeway. I live near Kits Beach. There’s nothing about the asphalt road section that they poured down that would make me go out of my way to use it.

    Utopia Pictures

    September 2, 2016 at 4:37 pm

  15. Photos of Vanier Park and Crescent Beach gravel paths.

    Utopia Pictures

    September 2, 2016 at 4:45 pm

  16. Hi, Stephen. I live right across from the intersection of the Greenway path and 37th Ave. I noticed today, that the city put crushed limestone over the soil they laid down yesterday; I’d assumed they were going to plant vegetation so that Greenway traffic would be channeled towards the nifty little diversions and the existing traffic lights/pedestrian crossings. Today, I noticed cyclists shooting straight across 37th and disregarding everything….so it remains to be seen how the city will prevent this from happening.

    Peter Nicholas Pallett

    September 2, 2016 at 4:49 pm

  17. As for accessibility and stability, here is an Interesting study by the US National Center on Accessibility, Indiana University-Bloomington . “The impetus for the National Trails Surface study was to investigate alternatives to the typical firm and stable surface materials of asphalt, concrete, or boardwalk. It is a common misconception that in order to make a trail surface firm and stable, it needs to be paved. Professionals have found that using soil stabilizers, or natural aggregates, can be effective alternatives to creating a trail surface that meets accessibility guidelines (Boone, 2008).

    An individual’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being is positively affected by the action of hiking on trails. Factors such as being in nature, participating in a physical challenge, socializing with others in an inclusive recreational environment all contribute to an increased well-being. The desire to enjoy this type of outdoor recreational experience is equal amongst individuals with and without disabilities. Research shows that recreating is a necessary action when looking at increasing an individual’s overall well-being. The technical provisions of the Draft Final Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas (U.S. Access Board, 2009) for trails requires a trail surface that is firm and stable. The guidelines are currently being applied as a best practice set of guidelines for Federal, State, Local and Private entities. In an attempt to preserve the natural trail experience (i.e. not concrete, asphalt and boardwalk surface materials), recreation professionals have identified a need to find alternative firm and stable trail surfaces.”

    Utopia Pictures

    September 2, 2016 at 4:50 pm

  18. The studies on crushed gravel do not account for months of constant rain. I suggest the gravel should stay in place until May 2017 and users experience one average West Coast winter, then vote on the choice between gravel and asphalt. I would also encourage people with mobility aids to use the gravel surfaces all winter, if possible, and then comment publicly on their experience, and vote. And all the commenters taking photos and walking / riding the Corridor during the very accommodating comforts of summer, extrapolating their opinions to year round use, please continue and report back sometime in February or March on actual conditions.

    No scientific report published to date adequately addresses universal accessibility year round on outdoor trails specifically on the exceedingly rainy West Coast.

    I have worked in the public parks systems in two cities for 25 years and I can report that unpaved trail maintenance is very expensive and extensive compared to asphalted trails, and closures are routine to repair winter damage and regrade kilometres every spring and summer. Limestone? It turns into slurry on the surface. Rock dust (4mm minus)? Traffic ruts and rain washouts always appear without exception. A compactable clear crushed gravel base will take a fair amount of runoff, but the compacted surface with finer material is still classified a kind of paving that is fairly impermeable. And unless you have a metre or more of clear below the path, you can expect the underlying soils to become saturated and turn into mush after several November pounders. There is no substitute for a decent storm sewer system in urban areas, and Arbutus should be well connected to it no matter what the final design entails.

    Use the thing through the winter before dictating to others what its final form should be.


    September 9, 2016 at 10:49 pm

  19. in reply to MB, here’s a comment from Kits resident Diana Davidson who asked me to post this here on her behalf as she’s not on WordPress. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

    “The only dictators here are the City and the bike lobby. Everyone else is trying to envision. There are studies available from the US re permeable surfacing. If the cost of maintenance is the only consideration we would long ago have asphalted or cemented over all the parks and green spaces in the city. This Greenway if envisioned as something other than a racetrack for bikes is an opportunity for a kilometers long park winding through the City from the ocean to the river serving all users and a terrific tourist attraction which a strip of asphalt is not. This opportunity to envision a lovely long Green space suitable for handicapped, walkers, bikers, children and dogs is a rare gift which needs to be carefully considered before it becomes just another piece of pavement. Diana m Davidson.”

    As for me, I run regularly during the winter on the gravel path in Vanier Park, rain or shine. It’s not a big deal. If the Arbutus Corridor is only intended as a year round bike freeway then pave it. If not then find a gravel solution that works for our weather. Other communities have managed. Why can’t we?

    At the moment I’m in Toronto for TIFF and staying with family in Mississauga. I have run along the Etobicoke Creek Trail for years. It’s a gorgeous trail made of a very fine gravel mix which I’m going to find out about. If this works for Toronto’s winters then it surely can work for Vancouver’s. Here’s a photo I posted on Twitter yesterday:

    Utopia Pictures

    September 12, 2016 at 7:10 am

  20. Anyone can comment on this blog: they do not need to be “on WordPress”, whatever that means

    I will match your twitter comment with this one

    Stephen Rees

    September 12, 2016 at 10:12 am

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