The media has had a field day with last week’s release of the Vancouver city staff final recommendations for the Point Grey-Cornwall Active Transportation Corridor. There has been a lot of hyperbole and pot-stirring, mainly over the proposed diversion of through-traffic from Pt Grey Road.
I’ll go over the recommendations section by section, starting from the west heading east.
Jericho Beach Park to Alma
The first section of improvements is the stretch of Pt Grey Road from Jericho Beach to Alma St. The improvements here will be a separated bike lane and widened sidewalks on the north side of the road. Sidewalks on the south side would be improved as well. Parking will be significantly affected on the north side, with the loss of about 60 parking spots. This will be offset somewhat by dedicated parking for Brock House Society Seniors Centre in a nearby parking lot.
I don’t have much to say about this section. The improvements will definitely improve pedestrian and cyclist safety, but the current traffic volumes on this section are pretty low now, and the road’s reasonably wide.
Pt Grey Road between Alma and Macdonald
The recommended changes are:
- Modify Pt Grey Road to be one-way eastbound to Waterloo St
- Extend Pt Grey Park between Blenheim and Trutch across the existing road, preventing through motor vehicle traffic
- Connect Volunteer Park to Tatlow Park between Bayswater and Macdonald
- Sidewalks on the north side of Pt Grey Road to be widened
- A counter-flow west-bound bike lane to be painted on the north side of Pt Grey Road between Alma and Waterloo
These changes effectively make Pt Grey Road west of Macdonald a local street: resident access is maintained while through motor-vehicle traffic is prevented. An estimated 7000 vehicles per day will be diverted to Macdonald St, bringing daily volumes to about 17,000. Traffic on Macdonald St will be about the same as traffic on other two-lane arterials in Vancouver such as Dunbar St, and E 33rd Ave. To accommodate this change, a number of improvements are to be made, including left-turn bays at W 4th Ave/Macdonald St, a signalized crossing at W 3rd/Macdonald, a traffic diverter at W 3rd/Bayswater to discourage rat-running, and ongoing (monitored) modifications to signal timings.
Note that other than the 3-block painted lane between Alma and Waterloo, there’s no dedicated bike infrastructure in this section: bikes will be required to ride on the street. The anticipation is that the reduced traffic volume will make this section appealing for cyclists. Certainly the improvements will significantly benefit pedestrians.
Pt Grey Road between Macdonald and Balsam
The recommendations are:
- A separated bike lane on the north side of Pt Grey Road between Macdonald and Trafalgar (2 blocks)
- Widened sidewalks
- A signalized crossing at Stephens St
Significantly missing from the recommendation are the separated bike lanes along Pt Grey Road between Trafalgar St and Balsam St. In fact, although the report notes that traffic calming might be required along that stretch, no improvements are currently recommended. Effectively the Seaside Greenway (ie the seawall) will end at the west end of Kitsilano Beach Park (at Balsalm). Cyclists will deal with the status quo: cyclists riding on the unimproved, cars parked on both sides, relatively low volume road.
York Ave between Stephens St and Chestnut St
The final recommendations for this section are:
- Between Chestnut and Maple St a separated bike lane on the south side of the street (2 blocks)
- Raised sidewalks crossing York at Cypress and Maple
- Alternating one-way motor-vehicle traffic between Vine and Maple
- One-way westbound motor-vehicle traffic between Chestnut and Maple
- Separated bike lane between Pt Grey Road and York on Stephens (less than a block)
- Changes to 2-way and 4-way stop intersection biased to through-traffic along York
And that’s it. York Ave effectively becomes a typical Vancouver on-street “bike route”. Parking is retained on both sides, no protected (or even painted) lanes for bicycles. This section fails to meet the city’s own “All Ages and Abilities” target by a huge margin.
The city touts these recommendations as finally completing the Seaside Greenway. While the recommendations go in the right direction, it does not complete the Greenway. Cyclists and pedestrians can walk and cycle from Canada Place to Kits Beach without being mixed with motor traffic right now. This plan does not extend that at all. West of Kits Beach, bikes get put back on the road (as they do right now), and pedestrians go on a typical residential sidewalk. If that’s a greenway, then the whole city is a greenway.
West of Trafalgar, things are better, with the short separated lanes and traffic calming, but again, claiming the route as a “greenway” is stretching it. Sections of the Central Valley Greenway are along roads, but those sections that are either have painted (or dedicated shared use) lanes or parkland on one side (the stretch along the North Grandview Highway).
You might notice that in the recommendations, there are no changes/improvements to Cornwall Ave at all. The report recommends requesting that the Parks Board improve routes through Kits Beach Park, but other than that, the existing bike/pedestrian/motor vehicle conflicts on Cornwall will continue.
The creation of the York Ave Bike Route fills a bit of a gap in the City’s cycling network — despite misinformation being spread, there is no “3rd Ave Bike Route”. The Seaside Bike Route does go along 3rd Ave for much of its route through Kits, but it does not extend east of Trafalgar. Currently, the only “safe” bike option from Trafalgar to Chestnut is the Seaside route along the north bit of Pt Grey Road, though Kits Beach, and snaking along the roads in Kits Point. This is part of the reason why cyclists ride along Cornwall right now.
The creation of a York Ave Bike Route, however, will not remove bikes from Cornwall. Why do cyclists currently use Cornwall?
- Direct route from Burrard Bridge to points west (and vice-versa)
- Reasonablly flat
- No convenient alternative
Where are cyclists who use Cornwall going?
- Kits Beach
- Cornwall businesses
- Jericho Beach and other points west along the shoreline
- Burrard Bridge
The existence of a bike route on York will not change most cyclists’ decision to use Cornwall. Just like motorists, cyclists make route decisions based on the easiest way to get to where they want to go. There will be no good reasons to divert off of Cornwall and use York instead because:
- York doesn’t take cyclists where they want to go. Instead, in many cases, it takes them *away* from those destinations
- York is hillier than Cornwall. Why go up a hill and then down a hill, when a flatter route exists?
- Cyclists, pedestrians, and yes, even motorists, much prefer direct routes over indirect routes. That’s why dirt paths get worn through parks where people have avoided using the paved paths and instead chose to go a direct route. Why divert up to a bike route, then back down (adding at least 2 blocks to your ride) when a perfectly legal direct route already exists?
- Little safety incentive to use York. York will be essentially unimproved. There will be no painted lanes, and only separated lanes near Henry Hudson school. There are *many* 4-way intersections on York, and many fewer on Cornwall. Intersections are conflict locations, and minimizing the number of intersections improves both comfort and safety
- Reduced motor-vehicle traffic on Cornwall will make it safer than it currently is
In fact, I expect that we’ll see an *increase* in bike traffic on Cornwall. This seems like a good thing, but whether it plays out to be a safe thing is a different story. It will be interesting to see the ICBC crash statistics after the changes go through to see if, by not improving Cornwall Ave at all, the number of collisions and other accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians increases.
The City bills these changes as a compromise, but one that advances the Transportation 2040 and Greenest City initiatives. I agree with that, however I think — particularly east of Trafalgar — it’s an opportunity lost. This is the city’s one shot for the next several decades to actually do something to truly complete the seawall path, and to truly improve pedestrian and cyclist safety in the Cornwall/Kits Beach area, and I think it fails at both.
The extremely vocal resistance to these changes overstate the effects, particularly when it comes to traffic volumes. An extra 7000 vehicles per day (as estimated for the 3 blocks of Macdonald between Pt Grey Road and 4th Ave) is roughly an extra 5 vehicles per minute (7000 vehicles per day, over, say 12 hours, 60 minutes per hour, 2 directions). 5 vehicles per minute. Hardly a huge traffic flow. The anticipated increase to W 4th Ave east of Macdonald (1000 vehicles/day) works out to less than 1 vehicle per minute. And that’s if all the traffic increases occur over a 12 hour period (which might be the case if the traffic’s due to commuters rather than locals).
The “creating a park for the rich” meme concerning Point Grey Road west of Macdonald just seems petty. I’d love to know how many people, whizzing along Pt Grey Road at almost twice the speed limit (average speeds along there are 55-60 kph, the posted speed limit is 30 kph) actually stop at the two parks that will be made bigger by these changes. Those non-locals who are stopping at those parks still will be able to, they will just have to divert off of an arterial one block to do that. What? People don’t like diverting off arterials? Yeah, no kidding, the same thing applies to cyclists too (see Cornwall vs York). The difference is one of numbers: the number of cyclists using Cornwall/Pt Grey (and potential numbers, given the increasing mode share of cyclists and the efforts of the city to further increase the cyclist numbers) vs the number of non-locals stopping at those parks.
What You Can Do
These recommendations are going before Vancouver City Council on July 23rd (this coming Tuesday), at the 9:30am meeting. You can sign up to speak at this meeting, see the information here. If you can’t make the meeting, you can email email@example.com. You can also contact the mayor or councillors directly (see here for contact information).
Last modified: July 21, 2013
Well written piece of advocacy (I wonder if this blog will also let the counter-argument be presented…although given the against side is not its own special interest group, not sure they have the organization to pull it off).
The most upsetting thing about this whole situation is the lack of a thorough consultation process (sorry, 10 days doesn’t cut it). The special interest cyclist lobby should rejoice because this matter is a done deal and the city council meeting is just for show.
One last thing, I don’t think you explained why the park for the rich theme is a petty argument? It has nothing to do with stopping at parks, it has to do with how much more a $5+million house will sell for when you remove the 10,000 cars that drive by each day and the cynicism with which most observers feel when residents talk about safety being their primary goal.
Like so much of the City’s agenda, the Point Grey – Cornwall Active Transportation Project claims to be “green”, but ends up yielding an illogical and counterproductive outcome as a result of ulterior political motivations. The current post makes a great case for this point of view.
What’s likely is that the author of the post is a well-intentioned member of Vancouver’s activist cycling community that is represented by HUB and other cycling advocacy groups. Frankly, I support the growth of cycling and the efforts of well-meaning groups like HUB and people like Anthony to promote cycling and infrastructure improvements that advance it. The problem is that these groups inevitably become a special interest that is dependent on the City both for support and, more importantly, for progress. Regrettably, this dependence translates into what is surely at times (like this one) a frustrating need to accept and promote whatever form of progress the City decides is appropriate, or politically advantageous (i.e. “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”).
In the present case, despite expressing grave concerns about the alarming frequency of cycling-related accidents and associated risks, the City has retreated from the original plan to introduce separated bike lanes at the east end of Cornwall Avenue, precisely where these risks are highest. And, for the reasons Anthony points out, the City should be well aware that the majority of cyclists currently braving the traffic on Cornwall will continue to do so, despite the risk.
Although the $6 million the City plans to spend on reconfiguration of the Burrard-Cornwall intersection (in addition to the $6 million budgeted for Point Grey – Cornwall cycling improvements) is in large part intended to restrict motor vehicle traffic currently flowing to Cornwall from Burrard Bridge and would surely yield some reduction in congestion, my personal view is that money would be better invested in separated bikes lanes on Cornwall. Not only would the latter approach be a better outcome for cyclists, but would also avoid a predictable increase in motor vehicle accidents on Burrard. Of course, the failure to take the better approach on Cornwall is largely about another special interest.. local business (that would ultimately benefit from bike lanes, but they don’t see it).
But, the worst of politically motivated logic plays out at the other end of the corridor where, despite relatively little statistical evidence for significant safety risks, the City is determined to close a key arterial road and divert at least 10,000 cars (please check your numbers Anthony) to MacDonald street and other arterial corridors where traffic impacts and accident rates are already much higher and where there is considerably more pedestrian traffic. This simply doesn’t make sense when there are attractive and common sense alternatives available (and that cyclists would embrace).. for example, see http://everyonewinsvancouver.blogspot.ca/2013/02/point-grey-cornwall-corridor.html
From my perspective, the real tragedy here is the City’s willingness to pit cycling advocacy groups and their well-meaning members against the public at large, many of whom (like myself) have been making the best of the Seaside cycling route for decades while taking a balanced and multimodal view of transportation. But, of course, there is another special interest group involved in the present issue and the appearance is that the City is devoting disproportionate attention to it.
See further perspective here:
Thank you for referring to it accurately as an active transportation corridor. (The regular media keeps repeating the false idea Point Grey Road will be closed to make a bike lane.)
I think the main worry being too much motor traffic elsewhere will be discovered as soon as the barriers would go up to prepare for construction. At that point we would find out just how motor traffic readjusts and see if there are any problems. If it is too much then we can halt the project at that point as there would then be proof.
I don’t think there will be any real problem myself. The mode of driving has so many more options. This single little street taken out of the grid will be forgotten in 6 months.
Thanks for the well-written, comprehensive analysis.
While the traffic volumes between Alma and Jericho Beach Park may be low, it’s inexplicably the case that the motorists in that section tend to be aggressive and nasty, so separation is a welcome feature.
My picture of things is that the speed limit on most of Point Grey Road is actually 50- the 30 limit applies only adjacent to the school. The way the corridor is signed, though, implies that the limit is 30 everywhere, an apparent attempt to get people to slow down that, as you point out, fails.
Overall, I agree that this represents a lost opportunity. Greenway, schgreenway- this ain’t one, and we ain’t gonna get one in our lifetimes. As you observe, this comes nowhere close to the stated goal of creating a corridor for everybody- it’s yet for the 8% fearless and confident categories. This is no way to increase a mode share.
And this is the administration that is painted as bicycle advocacy extremists? Where are the testicles?