Monthly Archives: November 2014

Using Leaves to Show How Much Space Vehicles Actually Need

Snow Shows Where Cars Actually Travel

Potential Curb Bulge (Red indicates the existing sidewalk)

Potential Curb Bulge (Red indicates the existing sidewalk)

Inspired by Streetsfilms, I previously wrote a photo-journal showing how snow reveal how much space cars actually need.  Streetsfilms inspired me to do this again, but this time with fall leaves.  I branched out from the West End this time, but the conclusion is the same.  We sacrifice too much of our precious and valuable city public land for automobiles, but they don’t even use it.  It is incredible that we are misallocating space for vehicles, especially considering how expensive it is to build and maintain asphalt.  According to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute it costs $2,257,440/km for a 3 meter road lane but only $251,200/km for a 1.5 meter sidewalk.  We are spending 5X the cost on space that doesn’t serve any purpose or create any value.  It is time we start reclaiming valuable public land for a better return on investment of public expenses and your tax dollars.

Pedestrians Fear for their Lives Crossing the Street Source: (Jan Gehl, “Cities for People”)

Pedestrians Fear for their Lives Crossing the Street Source: (Jan Gehl, “Cities for People”)

According to this study of pedestrian-vehicular collisions in Vancouver, 75% occur at the intersection. We could reclaim valuable public land that is being dedicated but not used by automobiles, and install corner bulges to “pinch” the intersection.  Since bulges reduce the crossing distance and tighten up the turning radius forcing vehicles to slow down, this will help reduce collisions.  Reduced injuries and fatalities translates into in reduced healthcare and policing.  Providing safer streets would also encourage more people to walk which can reduce the billions in tax dollars spent on healthcare nationally due to increasingly sedentary lifestyles.

This intersection in Strathcona shows there is unused space that could be converted to a bulge out to reduce the crossing distances.

Leaves in Strathcona show the Potential for a Curb Bulge

Leaves in Strathcona show the Potential for a Curb Bulge

Example of the Potential Bulge Out

Example of the Potential Bulge Out

There was a nearby bulge out that provided a nice example.  Notice how there are fewer leaves by this intersection.  This space is being used more efficiently.

Example Curb Bulge

Example Curb Bulge

Example Intersection Curb Bulge

Example Intersection Curb Bulge

Here are some other examples, by city hall.

Potential for a Bulge Out Around City Hall

Potential for a Bulge Out Around City Hall

Example of Potential Curb Bulge

Example of Potential Curb Bulge

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There are plenty of examples in the industrial/office area near Broadway which is notorious for its lack of lighting and people driving through at dangerous speeds.

Examples by Broadway

Examples by Broadway

Potential Curb Out

Potential Curb Out

Example by Broadway

Example by Broadway

Another Bulb-Out

Another Bulb-Out

Potential in the West End

Potential in the West End

Example in the West End

Example in the West End

Wondering around Maple Tree Square in Gastown also reveals potential.

Potential for Road Diet

Potential for Road Diet

Inefficient Allocation of Public Right-of-Way

Inefficient Allocation of Public Right-of-Way

More in Maple Tree Square

More in Maple Tree Square

Inefficient Use of Roadway Space

Inefficient Use of Roadway Space

I would like to end with this photograph showing just how little space bicycles use.  Re-allocating space for bicycles can get more out of less tax-dollars as you don’t need as much space to more more people.

Desire Lines in the Leaves Show Bicycles Use Very Little Space

Desire Lines in the Leaves Show Bicycles Use Very Little Space

West End Lane-way Infill

If you walk around Vancouver’s West End you may stumble across a number of these development signs.

Development Sign

Development Sign

These are not for new high rises that the West End is ubiquitous for, but rather small scale 3-4 storey townhouses.  Last year the city of Vancouver approved a West End Community Plan, which permits these new infill developments.  The West End is already fully built out and ready-for-development properties such as abandoned gas stations have long been exhausted.  Therefore this is actually quite an interesting experiment, allowing the redevelopment of the lane-ways.

Vancouver's West End Laneway 2.0

Vancouver’s West End Laneway 2.0

These new infill developments could be an excellent way to increase the density of the West End with minimal impact.  Due to previous zoning guidelines that allowed the high-rises that exist today, concerns about maintaining open space led to the use of floor-area-ratios. Typically higher buildings were tolerated if the building footprint was reduced.  While this did have the effect of maintaining open space, it almost did too well of a job.  The lack of continuity for the West End street wall with large set-backs and can make it seem empty in certain places.

Large Setbacks can make the West End Feel Empty

Large Setbacks can make the West End Feel Empty

Minimum parking zoning requirements also had a large impact dictating West End development patterns. Building development was (and still is in some areas) guided by arbitrary minimum levels of off-street parking based on the number of units per building.  According to a TransLink 2012 study, a single structured parking stall averages $20,000-$45,000 construction costs per stall.  These costs get absorbed into the cost of the unit increasing the cost of housing. This increase of housing cost is actually not warranted, the TransLink study of apartment buildings also found that parking supply often exceeds demand by 18-35%.  This is especially pertinent when 40% of people in the West End walk to work and only 31% of people drive to work.

Most of the infill permitted under the West End plan will involve the surface parking lots tucked away next to lane-ways that were created as a result of high parking requirements.  Not only will the West End Community Plan eliminate the eye sore and underutilized surface parking lots. It will also introduce a small scale incremental development that both completes the street-wall but also reinvigorates life into the lanes and increases the return on investment from our public infrastructure.

To outline what this could potentially look like, the development sign above belongs to the property below.

Building Property with Proposed Infill

Building Property with Proposed Infill

This is the proposed infill site, a surface parking lot that does not create value and is an inefficient use of valuable land.

Building Laneway Parking Lot

Building Laneway Parking Lot

This is what the parking lot could be replaced with.

Rendering of the Proposed Infill

Rendering of the Proposed Infill

Potential Infill Typology

Potential Infill Typology

Potential Infill Typology

Potential Infill Typology