Stephen Rees's blog

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

Reclaiming Pioneer Square Alleyways for Community Gatherings

with 3 comments

Northwest Hub

The Sightline Institute sends out a daily summary of interesting stories which I get by email. I thought this idea was worth discussing here. There are people who comment on this blog who know a lot more about the legal issues of what we call “lanes” than I do.

I find the back alleys of Vancouver’s downtown dark and depressing places. The huge festoons of hydro wires don’t help, but the combination of dumpsters – and the people who conduct their own recycling initiatives from their contents – so seem to be a large part of the problem. Putting all that wire underground costs a fortune – but of course if you want a decent looking city that is what you have to do. In both Washington and London the streetcars (trams) had to have sub surface power collection, as those cities would not tolerate overhead wires.  The only time I find myself in a lane or alley is because that is where the access to many underground parking lots are located. Otherwise I avoid them.

I am also not sure that frequent collection of bagged garbage is a great idea either. First there is the whole issue of non degradable plastic bags. Then the issue of these bags being torn open – and not just by humans – while they are awaiting collection. And then there is the frequency of the arrival of the garbage truck, which increases noise and emissions.

But on the other hand we could do a great deal better in terms of new building design – and retrofitting – to make better use of lane ways. And outside of downtown Vancouver, lane ways will become more like streets as more lane way housing is built. But even there the common attitude seems to be “out of sight, out of mind”.

Vancouver Alley

Vancouver Alley

Written by Stephen Rees

October 8, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Transportation

3 Responses

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  1. I walk through alleys everyday. They are beautiful reminders of the transience of the urban environment; difficult beauty.

    sean orr

    October 9, 2009 at 1:26 am

  2. A visitor to Vancouver once commented to me that he thought our downtown lanes were right out of a third world country. I agree. I find them unsightly and very uncomfortable to walk along. In Vancouver’s ‘mature ring’ they tend to feel safer, but can be equally ugly. One of the reasons I promoted laneway housing was the hope that they would lead to a gradual improvement in the look and feel of the city’s lanes.

    Michael Geller

    October 9, 2009 at 1:07 pm

  3. Many people consider the wooden hydro poles in the alleys to be a defining characteristic of Vancouver’s downtown.

    WRT the alleys, much of the problem stems from small scale buildings that line the alleys. Consolidated parcels with large mixed use developments can consolidate waste collection functions in one place – but that not easily done with a number of smaller buildings and owners.

    I’m not sure if the garbage actually causes the grunginess problem (as opposed to the neighbourhood). Consider the same problem in Yaletown – it’s not a grungy environment, but it has the same issue is the presence and collection of waste from a large number of sources with no one wanting dumpsters. Last I heard, with the repaving and painting of lines on Hamilton and Mainland Streets, the dumpsters are no longer on the angled parking/loading bay side of the street, but on the sidewalk side of the street – 6 ft away from restaurant entrances and open windows.

    Ron C.

    October 9, 2009 at 1:29 pm


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