Q & A on Trailnet trip to Vancouver, BC
Trailnet staff recently traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, where they presented at Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place, an international conference put on by People for Public Spaces. Below is a Q&A about what Bicycle and Pedestrian Planner Grace Kyung, Director of Policy and Strategy Marielle Brown, and with Trailnet Walk Bike Ambassador Deidre Brown experienced abroad.
What was the best idea you saw in Vancouver, B.C.?
Marielle) Grace and I stayed in a neighborhood north of downtown that had installed a lot of street closures in the 1970s to address crime. As crime went down, they had kept the closures for vehicles, but opened the streets for people by creating Calm Streets, where people can walk and bike safely with very low traffic. On some streets, the closures had been turned into small parks with benches and plants where neighbors could gather. This kept the street grid open for people on foot and on bike and encouraged local walking and biking trips. It made me think of how we can turn our street closures into assets for creating more people-friendly neighborhoods.
Grace) During my visit, one of the best ideas that I saw was how well connected the bicycle transportation network was throughout the city. I was impressed that Vancouver, B.C. focused on creating a strong network throughout the whole city to help people reach their destinations by bike. The city took it a step further because they analyze how many of their facilities are designed for people of all ages and abilities. The below image captures how well the city is focused on this initiative.
Further, the city’s approach to build protected bicycle lanes also showed the positive benefits to increase the number of women on bikes. From 2010 to 2015, the number of women biking grew to 40% after a protected bike lane was built.
Deidre) What I like most about Vancouver, is how the city makes cyclists and pedestrians a priority. They performed “road diets” throughout the city in order to slow traffic and allow room for protected bike lanes. I love their use of bike traffic signals, which are like the ones we use for cars. These signals work in conjunction with the regular traffic signals and the pedestrian cross walk signals to protect pedestrians and cyclists. It was such a joy to see so many pedestrians and cyclists take advantage of what the city has provided them. Vancouver is a city that truly puts pedestrians and cyclists first, before cars.
Which community and which projects inspired you most?
M) The energy and ambition of Twin Cities Greenways in Minneapolis is amazing. They are a group of advocates and residents working together to create a car-free corridor for biking and walking in north Minneapolis, where there are no abandoned rails to convert to greenways. The project has been resident-driven from the start and right now they are doing demonstrations to test out different concepts. The greenway will not only improve the quality of life for residents, it will also change what we consider possible for street design in the U.S.
The City of Calgary’s year-long demonstration of a network of protected bikeways was very inspiring. The City decided to test out the idea of protected bikeways by creating a basic network of them downtown using paint, bollards, and other temporary changes. The test has been very successful and Calgary will be working on making the protected bikeways permanent. By demonstrating several connected routes at once, Calgary ensured that their protected bikeways would be useful and highly used.
G) The session that inspired me the most during the conference was “Overcoming Barriers to Bicycling in Communities of Color” by Charles Brown and Robert Schneider. One of the most important takeaways for me was that planners and other professions must acknowledge it is okay to not have all the answers, but important to ask the right questions without making assumptions. Also, we should be giving people of color the microphone and paying them for their time to participate rather than asking them to only volunteer.
D) While in Vancouver, I had an opportunity to take a walking tour of Olympic Village, which is where the athletes stayed during the 2010 Winter Olympics. When Olympic Village was designed, it was designed for everyone. There are a mixture of high-end condominiums and affordable housing, which was a requirement when developing the Village.
There were two things that really impressed me with Olympic Village: One was its mixed-use buildings and the other was how accessible it is for people with mobility challenges. A lot of buildings in Olympic Village were designed as mixed-use buildings with stores and other businesses on street level and apartments on higher levels. It is a self-contained community with everything you need within walking distance of where you live, except a school, which they are in the process of planning.
What is your biggest takeaway from the conference?
M) My biggest takeaway was that St. Louis needs robust public engagement in our land use and transportation decisions. When we allow decisions to be made behind closed doors, we can miss out on important considerations and fail to see new, transformative ideas that can improve the places we live and give us more transportation options. When we work together as a community to address problems and test out solutions, it helps build consensus around projects and get people excited for improving their neighborhoods, rather than being leery of any change.
G) The biggest takeaway from the conference for me was that Trailnet is doing great work, but can continue to improve as leaders in our community. In my role at Trailnet, I focus on creating more livable, vibrant, healthy communities. As a planner, and I would like to expand on this perspective by working with city and community stakeholders to build better cross-sector collaborations. In my role, I need to think about ways I can work to continue to build capacity throughout the city, and find better ways for Trailnet to partner with neighborhoods to form a collective vision.
D) My biggest takeaway was that if we are going to make St. Louis a more livable city, we have to have buy-in from everyone; from the elected officials to the residents. We must involve the people who live, work, play, attend schools; the people who make it a community. It has to be a collaboration. When you include the people of the community, it gives them a sense of ownership, a sense of pride in knowing that they are a part of what is going on in their community and in knowing that their voice matters.
Furthermore, we must change our way of thinking when it comes to planning and designing new communities as well as making changes to existing communities. We must make pedestrians and biyclists a priority over cars.