A high-profile and complex project, the Arbutus Greenway is a rightfully-recurring topic on this blog and other forums. Sometimes too recurring, though. It frankly elicited some fatigue last year with endless sustained and robust debate over its temporary surface treatments.

The City must have learned something useful from its first consultation round for the temporary greenway design, because the outreach process to inform the permanent greenway’s conceptual design is only half as long and almost over. As noted in Ken Ohrn’s previous post from January, the City is hosting three meetings and extending an online survey to the 15th to petition the public for its thoughts, opinions, concerns, and desires for the permanent future of this 9-km stretch of former rail corridor.

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The corridor, with temporary treatments

The second meeting is tonight at the Marpole Community Centre. The last is this Saturday, February 11th from 2:30-5:30 at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown.

It is still early days for this project and the City is rightfully asking the big questions: What do you want? What should be preserved? What are the ‘must have’s? However, being impatient, other colleagues and I have preferred to consider the ‘next step’ logistical/engineering questions about how this space will actually work:

  • What exactly is going in the 20m right of way?
  • Is space being preserved for eventual 2-way light rail?
  • How will the design minimize conflicts between modes?
  • What surface treatments are you considering? How will you maintain them?
  • How are you going to manage the transitions across Broadway, W 16th, W 33rd, et. al?
  • What are you doing with buildings currently encroaching on the right of way? 
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still just a rendering for now

It was these and similar questions that, thanks to the Arbutus Communications Team, prompted an interview with Dale Bracewell, Vancouver’s Manager of Transportation Planning. We were originally going to meet on the greenway for a ride, but the weather had other ideas.

Over a half-hour chat, Dale walked me through the big picture and as much of the smaller picture as he could commit to at this stage. The City is still in the visioning stage but from previous consultation on the temporary greenway, known best practice, and feedback his team has received; there are already a number of lessons, known challenges, and likely themes the Arbutus Greenway will incorporate. Here are a few:

  • The Stanley Park Seawall is considered the local benchmark of greenway success. Elements that have traditionally ‘worked’ here will make their way onto Arbutus: accommodation of different mobility levels, integration with landscape and points of interest, separation of modes, etc.
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Benchmark for a successful greenway –  Seawall

  • Separation of modes will be a priority to reduce both actual and perceived risk of conflicts. This has been consistently communicated through all levels of project feedback. Depending on the area and availability of width, pedestrians and cyclists will be separated in some fashion.
  • Transitions across level streets will be a major factor in the design. Unlike other urban rails-to-trails greenways, Arbutus is neither sunken nor elevated, but level to the surrounding road network. Crossing minor roads will not be as problematic, but crossing major ones (Broadway, King Edward, W 41st) will likely require either some significant traffic network changes, expensive signalling, or level separation (bridges). This will drive some of the design’s biggest decisions and costs.
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Green bridge over Broadway?

  • Integration with public transit will be another critical item. This thing might be part of the public transit network some day, so this is sensible. Easy access to and extra capacity at Arbutus extension skytrain station, W 41st St B-Line, and other crossing bus services will make their way into the Conceptual designs.
  • Protecting space for 2-way light rail is still on the table. This would be 8m-9m of the total 20m right of way. I’m not yet convinced there’s a business case for a streetcar or light rail here, but this space can be flexibly programmed in the short term while the transit corridor is being assessed/developed.
  • Other cities’ models will be reviewed. Ideas for some of the finer engineering and design elements that don’t come from the visioning exercise may be borrowed from other cities (i.e., surface treatments, design elements, lighting, etc.). This essentially includes programming opportunities and partnerships. Some facilities that the City is looking at are below:
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Inspiration from Chicago – 606/Bloomingdale Line

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And Sydney – The Goods Line

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And Minneapolis – Midtown Greenway

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And Auckland – Lightpath

Ultimately the greenway will offer improved direct connectivity to points north and south and transfer connections east and west. Whether it forever remains an active mode corridor or eventually includes a streetcar connecting Granville Island and…The Arthur Laing Bridge? Steveston?…it will be a popular and iconic public amenity. We’ll have trouble imagining what Vancouver was ever like without it.

For those not interested in ever getting those 36 minutes back, the full interview can be heard here: