Places without cars

Zhongyang Pedestrian Street - Harbin

Turning Robson Street into a Pedestrian Mall was listed as No 5 of the things we could do. I think No 1 would be where I would put it.

Streets and squares have been pedestrianised all over the world. The image I chose for this piece happens to be Harbin in China. But there are many others I could have chosen – Monmouth (Wales), Lima (Peru), Las Ramblas in Barcelona Spain, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod – I could go on for pages like this but you get the idea.

But for some reason Vancouver doesn’t. We seem to be highly reluctant to close streets to traffic. Vancouver only had part of Granville St as a bus only mall, and I am pleased that when Canada Line construction finishes, it will be again. Wider sidewalks, and a straighter alignment for the buses, but also places for permitted vehicles to park out of the way. So it may work a bit better.

But I still do not see it as the equal of any of the huge variety of pedestrian streets around the world. I have started a flickr group just to collect images of such places. This was partly inspired by Jan Gehl’s recent lecture in Richmond. He is the Copenhagen based architect who early on in his career decided that it was the spaces between the buildings that made the difference between wanting to be there or to get through it as quickly as possible. I cannot imagine a better plan than one that reduced the amount of space in Richmond devoted to cars.

Many places use pedestrian streets to help established retailers compete against modern shopping malls. Perhaps one of the reasons we don’t have pedestrian streets is that developers and retailers here have been more successful in protecting their shopping centres. There is no doubt in my mind that for a long time Pacific Centre was winning their battle with Granville Street. But a good pedestrian street is about much more than shopping. It is about having a good reason to stop and look around. To enjoy the place and the people there. The place becomes a destination, not just a thoroughfare. And somewhere to sit and people watch turns out to be the common denominator of all the really good places without cars.

As as others have noted there are other places we have where removing cars would be a huge improvement: Granville Island for starters. CMHC may even put in an extension to the heritage streetcar to serve it.

1 Comment so far

  1. canadianveggie on March 17th, 2008 @ 3:24 pm

    Didn’t expect to see you posting on MetBlogs Stephen.

    A car-free Granville Island makes a lot of sense. When it’s busy, it’s a traffic nightmare – too many pedestrians and too many cars vying for the same space.

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