In Support of Bike Lanes & Public Squares

Two related issues that have caught my attention this morning are the Vancouver Public Space Network’s petition to permanently pedestrianize the 800-block of Robson Street , and David Suzuki’s article in support of bike lanes.  Beginning from the end, Suzuki’s article in the Georgia Straight sums up our current reality with the following statement:

As oil becomes scarce and pollution and climate change increase, people are finally realizing that transporting a 90-kilogram person in two tonnes of metal just isn’t sustainable, especially in urban areas.

It’s important to note this is not a crusade against the car, and Suzuki points out that reducing traffic and gridlock makes it easier for those who are unable to use alternative modes of transportation to get around, while creating many benefits for cyclists, pedestrians and transit users.  With examples from Zurich, Switzerland and Amherst, Massachusetts, Suzuki outlines some of the economic and social benefits of creating mixed-use transportation infrastructure.  He also references  the results of a recent study by Stantec Consulting, published here in the Globe and Mail, which shows that in reality, businesses suffer little and traffic congestion and travel delays are mitigated when bike lanes are present. 

‎Back in November I wrote a letter in support of the permanent closure and expansion of Vancouver’s Robson Square.  The issue is making headlines again, as the Vancouver Public Space Network collects signatures in support of this initiative.  Unfortunately, according to this article in the Straight, this isn’t something that is going to happen immediately, with full transit service set to resume through the square after Labour Day.  However, several City councillors and TransLink support the idea of a long-term study to create a transportation plan that would enable the permanent closure of the 800-block of Robson St. and expansion of a public square, while meeting the east-west transportation requirements of transit users in the downtown core.  As of today, 75% of respondents support the permanent expansion of Robson Square. Cast your vote now!

A Real Public Square

Dear City Council and Mayor Robertson:

Councillor Suzanne Anton is doing this city a great service by introducing a motion to expand Robson Square with the permanent closure of Robson Street between Howe and Hornby. Doing so would give Vancouver something it sorely lacks: a truly pedestrianized public space; a place to stay rather than merely pass through.

Shifting the focus inward, from Vancouver’s picturesque natural surroundings and urban beautification efforts that have been concentrated along the water, to improving the pedestrian realm in the busy downtown core is a crucial step in achieving a truly livable, greener city.

A public square would provide citizens and visitors with an inviting downtown destination designed for play, leisure and informal meetings and gatherings, free from the pressures of consumerism. A large and safe public square in the heart of the city is something many people feel is missing. From an infrastructural perspective, this is a vital step in integrating a vibrant and functional pedestrian and bike-friendly network throughout the downtown core.

Councillor Anton’s timing is perfect because current construction around Robson Square has allowed for months of traffic pattern adjustments. Also, if the Olympics were any indication, Vancouverites are willing to adapt to changes in their commuting patterns and support new public spaces, provided they are designed to attract and accommodate a wide variety of users.

Furthermore, with Vancouver set to host Walk21 in 2011 and aiming to be the greenest city by 2020, now is the time to take bold actions to improve the pedestrian realm. While bike lanes have rightfully received a lot of attention and investment, it’s time for pedestrian issues to become a prominent focus.

Functional and attractive public spaces combined with improvements to the pedestrian realm are crucial in achieving and supporting sustainable modes of transportation, as each and every person is a pedestrian, regardless of which mode they use to traverse the city. People need places to stay, not just spaces to pass through.

Sincerely, Natalie Ethier

STEPS Interview

STEPS: Sustainable Thinking and Expression on Public Space is a collective of artists, activists, architects, and academics, promoting sustainable and community-centred public spaces. They use art to challenge and change the ways that public spaces are perceived and used in urban environments.  They are developing a series of resources to facilitate knowledge exchange and collaboration between individuals and collectives using art to engage citizens in transforming their local environments, which they call Public Space ARTivism.   Over the last few months they have been conducting interviews with community artists/activists to collect information on the successes, challenges and lessons learned in grassroots Public Space ARTivism across Canada.

In July they interviewed me about Pedestrian City.  This was a great opportunity for me to reflect on what I’ve done, why Pedestrian City is important to me, and what I want to accomplish with it.

Here’s the  Q& A…

Psychogeography in Public Space

When was the last time you went for a walk with no particular destination? What did you notice? What made it memorable? Would you be interested in sharing a story about your favourite neighbourhood or street?

REDISCOVER YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD!

You are encouraged to explore a neighbourhood, whether familiar or new, make a map, take some photos and share a walking experience. Visit Pedestrian City and submit your story to info@pedestriancity.ca