Let me say right away that I think the new Cactus Club at English Bay, opening this weekend, is pretty darn good. Architects Acton Ostry have taken a sensitive, difficult site, respected the slope to the north, views to the east, bathhouse to the south, seawall to the west, and inserted a colourful building of attractive proportions.

Though it does block the view down Denman Street (click thumbnail to enlarge), the trade-off was probably worth it: the restaurant will add vitality to the beach, offer a range of food options and add some dollars to the Park Board’s coffers.

If it wasn’t already branded, I’d call it “Three Trees.”

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But what happens on the street side, where the sidewalk, bike path and restaurant entrance all had to be accommodated:

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Here’s the problem with good design: it’s way too subtle for the various users to understand immediately and intuitively what to watch out for.   In these tight spaces, signage or even bollards aren’t sufficient to warn people with their own intent and destination in view .

Pedestrians wanting to enter the restaurant, particularly those dropped off at the curb, will beeline their way across the bikepath, oblivious to the cyclists until it’s too late, who in turn will assume they have the right-of-way given the seamlessness of the design with the rest of the path. Those coming from the south will have already picked up some speed.  Cyclists wanting to avoid the peds will veer off into the sidewalk, as evident above.

A more dangerous conflict, though, will be when pedestrians come up from the beach, taking the stairs on the south side of the pavillion:

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Their view will be blocked by the sign wall and a louvred fence; they’ll be in the bike path before they’re aware of any conflict.

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Some bollards need to be installed, curved out into the path in order to both warn the cyclists and to give pedestrians a chance to check out the traffic before proceeding.

On the other hand, this might be a place where the ‘naked street’ concept will work – a congested multi-modal right-of-way that can’t be signed or structured to handle every contigency – and which relies on the common sense of all the users to work.  That’s already happening to a great extent along the path to the north, where the bike path, sidewalk, beach access and food vendors all overlap.

It’s a fascinating case study for public-space afficionados.