I grabbed this shot with my phone last night, hoping to capture the look of the new cylindrical lights that line Granville Street:

This image doesn’t do the job – but what made me pause was the busker in the middle of the street beginning to build a crowd.  In the last few days I’ve seen street performers surrounded by audiences of hundreds, filling up what will be, after the Olympics, the roadway for the return of the trolleys.

On second thought, is that a good idea?  I mean, bringing transit back to Granville Street?

My first thought – when I was on City Council, deciding on a process for the redesign of the mall – was yup.  In fact, I moved a motion that insisted there could be no loss of transit efficiency, whatever the design.  Many downtown business-people wanted a return of car traffic; others suggested a pedestrian-only zone.  What you see now is the compromise.

There’s certainly a justifiable argument to keep an exclusive transit right-of-way on Granville, most importantly to separate the buses and trolleys from the other congested arterials in order to prevent delays that ripple though the entire transit network.  It’s also easier to transfer from one bus route to another, and from the Expo and Canada Line stations.

But we lose, in turn, the ambience of a pedestrian-only street – one filled with cafes running down the centre, like Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, or used as an outdoor gallery like the 700-block Granville at the moment, or as impromptu performance space, as we’ll see throughout the Olympics.

And, in truth, the transit system seems to be functioning fairly effectively on Seymour and Howe Streets – something I presume will continue when the 800-block is closed off on weekends in the entertainment district. 

So I’m ambivalent about the decision we made to return Granville Mall to the old pattern, neither one thing nor the other.  Especially since post-Motordom cities are increasingly creating ped-only streets, whether in New York (Times Square) or Geneva (where City Council just voted to close 200 streets to cars).

And I’m ambivalent too about the new light standards.  They’ll be stunning when coming over the Granville Bridge, creating a corridor of white.  Close-up?  I’m not so sure.  It would be so cool if they changed colour and ‘performed’ electronically, like the visual equivalent of dancing waters. 

Or would that just be tacky?

UPDATE: I’m off for a conference in the next few days – so I leave it to you readers to debate the future of Granville in the comments section.