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.