Council Reports and Front Street

Summer is over, and the council reports are coming fast and furious. Three this week are worthy of reporting: An update on the Electrical Utility budget, the official launch of the Master Transportation Plan, and a quiet little report on Train Whistle Cessation.

The third of these is of significant interest right now, as the Quayside Board is going to the Federal Court of Appeal on Tuesday to deal with rail emission issues (of which whistles are part of the story) and there is a guy running for Mayor at least partially on a wave of anti-rail sentiment. Additionally, this report provides the best insight so far into how the City’s Development Services and Engineering departments envision the evolution of the City’ waterfront, and I have to admit there is a lot to like here.

Right off the bat, I have to point out this great quote from the report:

“At the conclusion of the UBE public consultation process in May 2011, Translink…confirmed that they had no plans to proceed with the proposed NFPR. City Council has concurred with this conclusion and staff will now work towards ensuring Front Street becomes a more local serving commercial street”

Although I had heard this suggested by City staff in the past, this is the first time I have seen it written in a Staff Report, and the request at the end of the Report effectively asks Council to endorse a vision that reflects this new reality. If endorsed, this may be a watershed moment for the City, and ultimately for the region, as the NFPR joins the East Vancouver Freeway and the twinning of the First Narrows on the ash heap of bad transportation ideas that never saw the light of day.

From this starting point, the report also addresses the future of White Elephant Parking Inc the Front Street Parkade, by reinforcing a previous plan to remove the west half, and refurbish the other half to extend it’s lifespan by 30 years. The money quote here is from the analysis of the past approaches to refurbishing the Parkade. Apparently, previous plans to “beautify” the Parkade ran into some opposition in part because:

”…this area is a favorite [sic] site for filming as it is a good replica of a gritty section of New York and painting the columns would result in a reduction in film revenues”

I had to read that again. Apparently there is interest in keeping this aesthetic blight on our City’s waterfront as aesthetically blighty as possible to provide a more accurate replica of the urban decay of New York City!? (as an aside, New York City provides less suitable locations, as they have seen fit to remove such areas from their waterfront). If this is the model we are going for, perhaps we should start filling the Braid Industrial Area with rusting machinery and to create a more authentic “Rust Belt Pittsburgh” look, or even help with our housing affordability issues by building corrugated tin shanties in Glenbrook Ravine to visually evoke the favela of Rio de Janeiro. Or maybe not.

I much prefer the visualizations provided in the report of potential streetscapes with the parkade removed. As I blogged previously, those heritage businesses could be the face of our City.

Image from the Council Report- borrowed without premission, but I am a taxpayer…

As much as I support the removal of half the Parkade, I think that stops short of the true goal here. Any money spent renewing the other half of the Parkade is the result of very short-term thinking. Let’s find a better solution to distribute parking throughout the downtown (e.g. force new high-density developments to provide public pay parking in their undergrounds), or find a market solution to parking needs in the City in a location that doesn’t put a long-term speedbump in our City’s waterfront renewal.

Or course, the elephant in the room is indeed the Larco development. How much longer with it be an empty parking lot? The other side of the coin being how long until it potentially cuts off the stretch of Front Street from the waterfront for ever? How will the newly-envisioned face of front street fare when facing a 4-story parkade under the Larco highrises (a la Plaza 88 and Carnarvon).

Actually, come to think of it, isn’t removal of only the western half of the Parkade really just a necessary step to accommodate Larco? What is the point of that removal if Larco is going to put a close approximation of it right back, only a few metres south on the other side of the tracks?

I suspect these issues have been raised, and you can’t solve all problems in a single report to Council. First off the future vision has to be laid out, and I think this document does a good job at that. The report includes some of the strongest language I have yet seen about how traffic will be accommodated on Front Street, pending the City’s Master Transportation Plan. Essentially, the City would like to see fewer trucks on the Front street:

“It is recognized that any reduction away from the constant stream of trucks will immediately improve the pedestrian environment of Front Street and the Waterfront”

Except that it will do more than just improve the pedestrian environment, it will reduce noise for the residents and businesses along Front, it will reduce the particulate pollution Downtown, and it will increase the commercial land values along Front and open up significant opportunities for economic development that are not there now.

As always, click to zoom.

So with some caveats in mind, it is great to know the vision for Front Street is coming together… all the pieces of the puzzle are not there just yet, but for the first time I think we can safely say they are coming together. I think we can be more certain now than ever before that New Westminster’s waterfront will once again be human space, not space totally turned over to through-traffic. Or to quote the report:

“Front Street will be returned to a pedestrian-friendly retail street with historic waterfronts.”

That is a vision I can get behind.

2 comments on “Council Reports and Front Street

  1. What is the cost of this dream opps vision? Is it part of the pier park costs. This is the only city that fires, shoots and aims and how much do we pay the staff at city hall to come up with these ideas? Wow can you really believe this crap that you and couple of other people thought of a long time ago. Maybe we should sell the park to a developer and they can pay for the vision….

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