Trying stuff

I’m not writing much these days, mostly because I have been outside a lot. However, it is good to remind ourselves that summer days are getting shorter, and there is a lot going on New West right now. From Music on the River (which included finding new ways to program our public spaces) to our burgeoning Parklet and Public Art programs, the 7th Ave Greenway improvements and the New West Grand Prix – we have been receiving a lot of kudos for innovative new stuff in the City. We have also received some criticism for aspects of each of these, but my anecdotal evidence is that this has been the funnest summer in the New West in some time.

I can’t take credit for this, because it is almost all the result of creativity on part of our staff and efforts of many volunteers and other community members. However I am comfortable saying the volume of stuff going on is because Mayor and Council have opened to door to new things in a way that hasn’t happened often in the past. The feeling I get at Council is a willingness to try new things out before we dismiss them as unfeasible or risky or likely to create negative feedback.

My Urbanist geek friends will recognize a bit of Janette Sadik-Kahn in that. The former New York City Transportation Commissioner oversaw significant transformation of public spaces in New York under Mayor Bloomberg (including challenging congestion in Times Square – one of the busiest urban intersections in the US – by closing it to traffic and turning it into public space). In a talk she gave in Vancouver last year she emphasized one thing that struck several of us in the audience. Paraphrased a year later, she said spend more of your consultation money trying things instead of talking about trying things. In the long run, your City will save money and have more good things.

Me, acting total Fan-Boy with JS-K. That’s her book, you should read it.

I’ve already mentioned a few places where the City has taken this approach. The Uptown Parklet is cheap: a few painted jersey barriers, some fake grass, some plastic chairs, it isn’t an opulent public space. After a few initial adjustments to how it is operated, it is a popular public space that we put in for about the same cost as it would have taken for a full public consultation with open houses and on-line surveys, etc. to determine if we could convert three parking spots into a public space. We learned a lot from it, arguably more than we would have learned from the open houses and surveys, and we apply that learning elsewhere, and not just in other Parklets around the City, but in how we open up public spaces in general.

If we try things, they might work!

Another recent example is the new separated bike lanes on 7th Ave. You might not have noticed that we really did nothing here except put down paint. We did some local consultation with neighbours, and went through a discussion with the ACTBiPed and AAAC, as the design iterated a bit. What we didn’t do was install new pavement, put down extruded curbs, or install expensive planters and landscaping, or even do a lot of signage changes. Instead, we adopted modern engineering designs and installed them with paint to see how they work. This is not to say they are haphazardly installed – they meet the required engineering standards, based on similar designs in other places, and are demonstrably safer for most users than the old wide-road-with-sharrows design. I have already had some feedback on the lanes (both good and bad), and that is the purpose here. Those lanes, as the City’s first trial at turning car space into separate bike lanes, will give us more feedback on how the community will interact with the space than months with lines on drawings going to open houses will.

When the Q2Q bridge was put on the back burner for lack of funds, Mayor and Council decided to support a larger exploration of alternatives, including a ferry. I said at the time (and continue to feel) that a ferry is not a great alternative to a fixed link, for a bunch of reasons. However, if we make perfect the enemy of the good we will never get anywhere, so I was happy to support a pilot project to run a ferry. At least it could demonstrate if the connection would be appreciated by the residents and businesses of New West. In the spirit of Sadik-Kahn, it was a good idea to fast-track a trial, just to see what happens, and to learn what we don’t know about such a project.

The Front Street Mews was a longer-term plan, but the adjacent temporary public space with the porch swing and benches resulted from the application from Bosa to build a presentation centre on the north half of the Copps site. Council gave staff some free reign to make the space more comfortable and programmable, and the Downtown BIA put together the Fridays on Front programming to fit. One of the examples of the success of this project is running into staff from other Cities who are coming out see what New West was able to pull off. 

There are a few weeks of summer left! Fridays on Front is on until August 25, New West Pride Week launches next week including the Street Party on August 19th, and our biggest annual Arts event, the New West Cultural Crawl is happening this weekend! While you are at it, try out the Q2Q Ferry and provide your feedback to the City here. Enjoy the summer, it’ll be curling season soon enough.

3 comments on “Trying stuff

  1. I was very happy that you went ahead with this trial of the ferry for Q2Q but I was also very sad that it meant I could not try it. My hope is that you will learn how popular and beneficial it is and find a way to make it an inclusive, non-discriminatory, accessible service. I’m so tired of the bottom line taking precedence over what is right. I know, I know. that’s the way it is these days. But maybe some of this creativity will help to solve the problem.

  2. Thanks for the update. It’s great to see the city move more quickly on things like this. I’m totally with you that trials are generally going to be more informative than studies and consulting, and that the ones I’ve seen at least have generally been succesful. Is there any discussion (even at a back of napkin level) on how to implement this type of testing/experimentation at a policy level?

Leave a Reply