Vancouver’s walkability — a sign of good health
(Dan Burden’s Great Pacific Northwest Tour on Town Making begins in Seattle on Aug. 28 and arrives in Vancouver Aug. 30 for a two-day amble.)
Dan Burden is senior urban designer with Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin and founder of Walkable Communities Inc.
In terms of walkability, the Vancouver region is strides ahead of other North American regions.
I am glad that is what he thinks. It is nice to know that we are doing something right. But I am surprised at his use of the word “region” as the only examples he quotes are in the City of Vancouver – False Creek and West Broadway. These two locations are hardly representative of the City let alone the region. They are the exceptions, not the rule.
So what creates a walkable place? Walkability is a composite of accessibility, health and place. It includes an abundance of sidewalks, trails and crossings. But it is much more than that. It is the presence of buildings, large and small, providing “eyes” for well-located retail, parks, schools, civic spaces.
All of which I endorse, but feel forced to point out that this does not describe most of this region. “Abundance of sidewalks” is hard when most residents refuse to pay for them outside their single family homes. Larger developments usually get the sidewalks squeezed out of them by the municipality, but they are hardly part of a connected up network of safe routes. Pedestrians always prefer straight lines – as any “informal trail” on flat land will testify. But most walking paths meander. Nice for recreation, not good for personal transportation – and downright dangerous in some cases. For example the bit of the BC Parkway through Central Park in Burnaby, which was designed as a rhododendron walk and is now used by speedy cyclists (the parallel Interurban right of way is broad and straight – and unpaved).
The suburbs are not designed for walking. They are designed to deter through car traffic. People do walk in them – mostly on the road. Sometimes there is a shortcut between the houses to enable one to get out of the subdivision to the arterial roads (all wide and fast and horrible to walk next to) where the buses run. When they have a service, which is by no means universal. But lots of luck getting a new direct path out of existing home owners, who can only see security and privacy issues that threaten their interests.
The great challenge we face in making our region sustainable is making the suburbs into walkable areas. That will not be easy or cheap. And we have hardly scratched the surface