The Origins of Post-Motordom: West End Traffic Calming
Adpated from SFU City, July 2006:
For years, commuter traffic had been shortcutting through the narrow streets of the West End to get to the Stanley Park Causeway. The City would even post a traffic cop at Chilco and Georgia to handle the merging traffic. But in 1973, the new TEAM Council headed by Mayor Art Phillips adopted an idea put forward by the West End Planning Team that had started work under the NPA: barricade the streets and convert asphalt to green space.
The next year, West of Denman saw the first traffic calming of its kind in North America:
Notice how the greenery of Stanley Park seems to flow down the streets of the West End. A street system originally designed for the horse and carriage, with lanes at the rear, today functions well for one of the highest density communities in Canada.
There had been a temporary traffic-calming experiment in Berkeley, California, in 1969. But when construction started on a complete system of diverters and miniparks to replace barricades on the lanes of the West End, Vancouver was leading the way.
There may have been some people surprised when the City started to put in those ‘stupid barricades,’ but West Enders on the whole were happy – including the Mayor’s mother who, coincidentally, lived on Chilco Street.
When this diverter went in on Chilco (left), traffic volumes dropped from 10,000 cars per day to 1,000. Traffic flows also improved on Georgia since commuters weren’t delayed at Chilco.
Thanks to planner Lyn Ubell and traffic engineer Jack Lisman, the residential streets were restored to the people who lived on them. Lisman was influenced by “Traffic in Towns” – a 1963 British report by Colin Buchanan, who argued for a hierarchy of streets to serve many users, not just cars. N.D. Lea President Brian Wallace also credits Gerald Sutton Brown, the pro-freeway City Manager, who in support said: “It’s time for new thinking.”
A change in Council delayed the next stage of traffic calming for a decade. But after a controversial referendum, miniparks and diverters were approved for East of Denman in 1981. (Many think it was done to deter street prostitution, but in fact Council had simply authorized some temporary installations to discourage cruising before the final project was to start.)
Today, despite the fears and the close vote, the system has maintained the West End as a highly livable neighbourhood. In one of the densest communities in Canada, there are roughly ten times as many pedestrians as moving vehicles on the residential streets. The car has become the alternative form of transportation.