South Vancouver’s few slow streets to become permanent
City approves $350,000 to upgrade current barriers from plastic to concrete across Vancouver
By Kenneth Wong
This story has been updated to include comments from Claire Lee and Sandy James.
With just under three kilometres of slow streets, South Vancouver lacks the walkability and transit of the rest of the city.
Lack of active transportation in South Van
Angie Weddell, a transportation design engineer for the City of Vancouver, said the city is aware that South Vancouver doesn’t have as much walking and cycling infrastructure as other areas of the city.
“There’s definitely an awareness that we could use more [walking and cycling] in the south of the city,” Weddell said.
Encouraging residents to walk, roll and cycle, known as active transportation, is intended to create a more comfortable commuting experience, getting people out of their cars and making it easier to exercise. According to a 2017 study by Canada’s chief public health officer, a lack of active transportation is a factor in over-reliance on driving and can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle.
Slow streets, introduced in 2020 as a social distancing measure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, use plastic barriers to restrict non-local traffic and limit the speeds to 30 kilometres per hour. However, the unweighted barriers are easily moved, so city council approved $350,000 to make the infrastructure permanent.
Vancouver has at least 40 kilometres of slow streets.
If you build it, they will come
Claire Lee, who wrote a master’s thesis on Vancouver’s slow streets program, thinks that active transportation will increase once the infrastructure is put in place.
“There’s just a lack of infrastructure, like lack of investment,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing, having separated cycle tracks, wider sidewalks, and more access to bicycle parking, secure places to lock your bike. All these things can encourage more uptake of active transportation.”
South Vancouver’s two slow streets — one that runs along 51st Avenue from Inverness Street to Ontario Street, and the other on Inverness Street from 41st Avenue to 51st Avenue — were the least used, according to a 2020 city survey. More popular slow streets included Lakewood Drive in Grandview-Woodland and Wall Street in Hastings-Sunrise. More than 70 per cent of those surveyed liked or really liked the slow streets program.
Sandy James is the managing director at Walk Metro Vancouver, a non-profit organization promoting walkability in the region. James thinks that South Vancouver gets overlooked in terms of urban planning.
“South Vancouver’s kind of the cradle of civilization. It’s where families are still forming the rest of it in the rest of Vancouver, it’s gotten too expensive. But there’s a lot of families in that area … there needs to be connections that need to be tied to get into commercial areas.”
Slow streets flip the script
Weddell thinks slow streets infrastructure is important to the city, providing connections between destinations.
“Changing the script in terms of how we talked about moving around neighbourhoods … And again, kind of pulling that focus towards more sustainable modes of travel.”
Independent (former NPA) city councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung said it’s important to fund permanent infrastructure for slow streets.
“There were temporary orange barriers that were used, and they were really easy for people to move,” she said. “And so you saw a lot of them sort of simply pushed to the side, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
South Vancouver resident Janice Edgar thinks the city is doing a good job with its initiative to encourage active transportation.
“We find the walking just delightful; you can come across some old houses that are still standing, heritage houses,” Edgar said. “We just love it. And we love the fact you can walk up and down the streets.”
Watch the video above to hear urban planning researcher Claire Lee and managing director of Walk Metro Vancouver Sandy James discuss Vancouver’s slow streets program.