Last week I attended the Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place conference in Downtown Vancouver, with approximately 1000 delegates from primarily North America, but also a few from around the world, it was interesting to learn about others experiences. Read on for some of my takeaway's.
The first thing that is becoming more apparent at conferences is that we are "preaching to the converted". Everybody it seems, is in favour of better walking, cycling and place making, higher densities and city living. It seems that what was once alternative or innovative just a few years back is becoming common place, which is of course a great thing! It's definitely useful to learn from others experiences and there are several ideas stuck in my head that hopefully stay there until I have a need for them. In a world that is only just starting to undo the car-centric development of the many decades, we still have a lot of work to do.
In my eight years in Vancouver, this is the first time I have ever "commuted" downtown for more than the odd day and the first since I moved to North Vancouver. Biking to the Seabus, and then Seabus to the conference location proved a relatively pain-free experience, and really, how else could I have chosen to get to the Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place conference. The only exception being the $4 fare for the fifteen minute ride across the Burrard Inlet. On the way back I chose to ride the Lions Gate Bridge a couple of times which saved the $4 and got a few more km's in the bank. Distance based fares would go a long way to making transit more attractive.
The week started with a morning session on designing protected bike lanes, this was a great session and one that provided a lot of history, information about the latest guidance and some examples of implementations. One thing that struck me later in the week, I remembered one of the bad examples being of bringing cyclists from a protected lane back into the roadway at intersections, something I've seen in the City of Burnaby (photo below). Fortunately the City of Burnaby provided a Pecha Kucha on their designs and addressed this on the basis its better for pedestrians and creates a plaza like feel at the intersections, place making of sorts. In their case, its not all about the cyclists and traditional hierarchy's put pedestrians at the top. I appreciated that they addressed this and it provides food for thought going forward. cyclists have done a great job advocating for safer facilities, but they are not the only ones we must consider when we design.
This week was also my first chance to use the Mobi bike share system in Vancouver. Although I had my own bike, I was able to escape for a short while to take a few trips on the Mobi bikes. The first trip was enjoyable enough, gearing is good with seven gears, brakes are poor in comparison to my disc equipped bikes, but a minor adjustment to get used to the force required to stop on a hill. The second trip involved a ride back to the venue eastbound along Comox, which if you don't know is a reasonably steep hill, while I found the saddle height fine for cruising around the gentler grades, there wasn't enough height to get proper leg extension for steeper climbs, resulting in some sore knee's for the duration of the climb. Regardless, it is a great thing for the city and appears well used. It will be interesting to see how usage varies over the winter months.
A number of presenters talked about things such as walking groups and school travel plans to get people out of their cars. These have proved very effective at a small scale in the communities that have implemented them, but again, I wonder how they can be implemented on a larger scale to have a wider effect. The North Shore Safe routes to School group implemented Drive to Five, which solved the congestion issues around the school and provided a small amount of time for parents to talk with the kids and interact with them without other distractions. For the majority though, the car has just become too convenient for most and without some serious disincentives, its difficult to give that up, changes need to be at government level rather than local level, these examples just show its possible!
There was a good presentation by Trevor Budge from Bendigo, Australia, presenting the lengths they went to, to avoid building more highways. I particularly like the 1 in 5 idea, where on a city wide basis, residents and employees are encouraged to choose another way one out of five days, with the goal of reducing traffic just enough to allow the existing road infrastructure to function more effectively...
Place making is not something I have focused on much throughout my career but in recent years I see it taking on a much more significant role in transportation planing and engineering. We can no longer plan or design a road and consider only the movement of cars, today we must consider the bigger picture and design a place. One afternoon I participated in the Place Game, a method developed by the Project for Public Spaces for evaluating public places based on the components that combine to make a good place.
The Place Game asks the reviewer to rate a few simple components about the place under review as follows:
My group was given the upper level of Robson Square... who knew there was even an upper level? I've walked past plenty of times and never felt the need to go up the steps, and that's probably a good thing as there isn't much of interest there. We talked about ways to make this more inviting, but on reflection maybe that's what the lower part is for, and this upper level provides a bit of an escape from the hustle and bustle of Robson Street, if only people knew it was there... so maybe better wayfinding... There must be lively places but there must also be places for peace and quiet.
There are many new guidelines of soon to be released guidlines coming out, below are some examples...
Going back to the comment about preaching to the converted, it seems like the city officials, and even the federal highway authority are fully onboard with providing walking and biking facilities, I think its time for government to get on board and really push home that message to the general public through
All of my photos taken during the conference are uploaded in the following flickr album...