NEWS: Making Streets into Home Zones

By Think City Staff

Residential streets matter. After all, they are where most people live. The streets, sidewalks and lanes take up a large part of a city’s land, usually 20 to 25 per cent of residential areas.

Despite the importance of residential streets, most discussion of sustainable transportation is focused on the movement of people and freight. Proposed solutions include shifting from the use of personal vehicles to public transport, walking and bicycles, making land-use changes so people don’t have to travel so far. As well, others advocate for changing patterns of production and consumption to reduce the need for long-distance shipping. However, discussion about what happens on and around residential streets has often been neglected when considering sustainable cities.

Local streets, lanes and sidewalks are shared spaces used by pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders, and children playing (although much less than in the past), and service, delivery and emergency vehicles. However, it is the cars that dominate our residential streets. When side streets are busy with car traffic there is a greater risk of accidents, children and adults retreat from the streets, and people are less likely to socialize with their neighbours.

One of the worrying trends of the last few years is the decline in children playing outside: riding their bikes and walking to school. As a result they get less exercise and fresh air, have decreased knowledge of their neighbourhood and neighbours; and a loss of independence and self-confidence. The domination of local streets by cars is a major factor in the decline of children playing outside.

Speed humps are the main tool of traffic engineers to slow down traffic and make residential streets safer for other users. Speed humps have the advantage of being fairly cheap to install and they do slow down traffic. However, they are not popular with drivers or cyclists. And they often only succeed in diverting traffic to nearby streets. Many residents do not like them, as cars accelerate and brake, causing unnecessary noise.

There are more imaginative and socially beneficial ways to create liveable streets. When street space is genuinely shared, cars and service vehicles are able gain access but pedestrians and cyclists can also use the space and children can play. The aim is to reduce vehicle use to local traffic only, slowing it down close to walking speed.

The key idea, which at first seems counter-intuitive to standard road safety, is to remove the separation between the sidewalk and the roadway – it is all a shared space. These spaces have been developed in European cities and are called ‘home zones’ or ‘woonerf’ in the Netherlands where it was pioneered.

Planting can be used to expand the boulevard area and thus reduce the width of the street. The roadway can be designed to zig-zag around the planting. Intersections can be narrowed with curb extensions and by expanding planting at intersections (this also helps stop stormwater runoff into street sewers). These ideas would make Vancouver’s streets greener and could be used to grow flowers and vegetables rather than just grass.

Think City, working with members of the Grandview Woodland Area Council, is examining the level of public acceptance of these ideas as part of our ‘Share the Road’ project. We will be working with the community to develop these ideas about the use of road space. We will then present options to the Grandview Woodland Area Council and the City for consideration, and hopefully, implementation.

An advantage of these proposals is the city can implement them directly, as it owns the road space. This is in contrast to many transportation projects, which depend on the support of other levels of government. Making the side streets greener, safer and more liveable will result in benefits right now for people in Vancouver. In addition, these actions will put pressure on the provincial and federal governments to do their part to support sustainable transport policies.

As part of Vancouver’s aim to be the “Greenest City," it would be exciting to see the city move towards home zones – streets which are more friendly to people and where children can once again play.

On November 18 city council took a step in the right direction when they passed a motion directing staff to work on identifying locations and priority measures for improving pedestrian safety and accessibility in Vancouver.

Think City sees this process as an opportunity for public engagement and outreach. Our Share the Road project has helped to identify pedestrian priorities in the Grandview Woodlands neighbourhood. It's now time to take this idea city-wide.

Streets in Burnaby north 2010.

Editor, Rural commuters use Burnaby north as a quick way to enter/leave Vancouver 5 days a week. There is absolutely no benefit to anyone in this City. We need a receptive Burnaby Council to wake up and begin listening to the owners and residents of North Burnaby,now ! We want the rat racers to stop using our side streets to "save" 2-3 minutes commute, we want Council to ensure our streets are for residents only. For our use and enjoyment all week.

Car Free but for Whom?

Many current Vancouver won't be able to keep their homes let worry about the streetscape! I'm not particularly interested in spending my tax dollars to promote lovely neighbourhoods for future Vancouverites whose incomes are such that they alone can afford to live here! More than 53% of Vancouver's seniors are predicted to have to vacate this City over the next 17 years, according to Oct/09 study funded by Lower mainland United Way! Who wants a City where only well heeled seniors can afford to live? Is this focus on street use a diversion from the more pressing issue of secure, affordable housing for modest income Vancouverites..eg single seniors tenants with less than $30,000/yr incomes? When is this Council going to wake up to the fact that moving workers in from the burbs to walk or bike to work is at the cost of diversity? (modest and low income tenants already living and working here) ..eg.. 1401 Comox St..S.T.I.R. project where 'affordability' is too expensive for the existing residents in the West End where over 50% of the current renters would have to pay more than 30% of their gross income to live in a small apt with no guarantee beyond the first 5 years that they will be able to remain as renters in tax supported developer profit making 22 story phallic edifice! Stevenson and Louie argue that increase in product will reduce market pressure and stabilize rents. When I relayed that message to seniors in the West End, they were unconvinced. Development means increase in property values and as the Woodwards debacle has proven, the indigenous residents find neighbouring housing costs rise exponentially and they find themselves squeezed out!

Generally, I'm all for

Generally, I'm all for suggestions coming from city hall but when it comes to green streets ideas, it appears to lean to be one sided or should I say that other aspects are not considered. For example, the garden at Burrard and Davie was an error in my view and among others as well. It seems to be wasted valuable space and is only used by a handful of people - often no one at all. It is also seasonal and not pretty with it's fencing around it - it's out of place. It's like having a gas station in the centre of a residential block. Since it's been decided to use as a public space, at least use it as a unique park so shoppers and others of all ages can stop for a rest or enjoy the greenery and uniqueness just as the one at Davie and Homer. Since the Burrard and Davie project was a mistake, in my view, I hesitate on another venture that appears equally if not more questionable. Planting greenery to divide the city streets for pedestrians sounds great but again, you'd need quite a bit of space to separate those walking with vehicles beside and frankly, I feel safer on a concrete sidewalk. The bumps and curves on the street would only slow traffic which cause congestion. Aren't we trying to get vehicles to move more quickly out of the downtown core. Further, pedestrians are different from vehicles and should be compared as equal. It's not regarding same rights but common sense in a busy area of Vancouver. In such a congested area as downtown, most vehicles relate to the generating of business which must have some priority - our leisure time is in this instance, secondary. Possibly showing examples of a successful street in a congested and busy city as Vancouver would help.

Coal Harbour Residential Streets

In Coal Harbour most of the streets are entirely residential. The Coal Harbour Residents Association has pleaded with the City to treat our streets as residential neighbourhood streets. But the City Engineering Department is more concerned in moving commuters towards the Loins Gate Bridge. Our through streets are like freeways.

Sharing the road?

The devil is in the details. What's missing from this picture? Governance. At present vehicle traffic doesn't just inhibit desirable activities like cycling and children walking to school. It also inhibits garden-and-window-damaging ball games, and noisy street gatherings. Without a culture of public rectitude, which we certainly don't have, 'home zones' will also need a structure of effective neighbourhood-level governance. Different patterns of traffic will indeed lead to different patterns of social interaction, but there will be needs and costs as well as opportunities, and advocates have to acknowledge and plan for them.

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