How to Make a Bad Sidewalk

If you have been reading the blog for awhile you will know that I like a messy sidewalk and that I know to look out for some of those sidewalk traps, but one thing I truly can’t stand is when we purposely put in bad sidewalks and yet it seems like we are continually doing it.

I was surprised to read about a freshly laid sidewalk on Vibrant Victoria. A brand new development in one of the highest density parts of the city and for some reason the sidewalk is barely over a metre wide and the city saw fit to have the developer put in a massive grass boulevard. The development is the 989 on Johnson and Vancouver Street that is getting pretty close to being done. I highly encourage reading through some of the comments on VV and looking at some of the pictures on there. I have said before that I have concerns about the amount green space we put into areas that are meant for pedestrians. It is nice to look at and sure having boulevards with a little bit of grass can be fine. But if you use grass in a hostile way to cramp the pedestrian it is likely to result in two things: the destruction of the boulevard with desire paths; and in winter a lot of grumpy people with muddy shoes and really there is just no reason for it.

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In this specific example, it also just doesn’t make any sense. Looking south along Vancouver Street you see a broad spacious, and in my opinion, perfect sidewalk next to Atlas which then for some reason as you go north is taken away and the pedestrian is funnelled into this tiny little path and there is no reason for it. Why?

Well one reason why you see this sort of thing done is that the city plans its space out through the Official Community Planning process joined with the local or neighbourhood plans. Sidewalks are laid out in the plans based on the best case scenario for the entire neighbourhood and then the plan is implemented by the city as a sidewalk requires replacement or a development occurs. Problem with this is that it is rare for an entire block, let alone a whole neighbourhood to get redeveloped at the same time so that means that only pieces of the plan are implemented.

There are of course exceptions, with large projects like the Douglas Street and Yates Street boulevard and sidewalk projects of early in the century, but as the folly of the Yates Street implementation shows, even when a whole street is put into place at once there are issues if you think about form over function.

Getting back to this specific instance, it is funny that the city planners never looked across the street as to what happens when you do a bad job of putting in a new sidewalk. The eastern side of the 1300 block of Vancouver Street has been problematic for years and even with a recent new sidewalk pour, because it doesn’t line up with the sidewalk there is a very defined desire path that allows you to continue to walk in a straight line (this is what pedestrians want to do).

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The city really needs to sometimes get outside of its long term planning box and instead focus on the individual stretch of sidewalk. One more example that is truly atrocious is in the 900 block of Caledonia Street. Again the city has some notion that eventually there will be boulevards up and down the northern side of this street. Here the city actually has the ability to implement this boulevard all the way to Vancouver Street as they own the lot east of the one that they forced a developer to put in but even when they have the full control to implement it they haven’t and instead thought it would be fun to inconvenience pedestrians.

I truly hope that the city looks at the new space outside of the 989 on Johnson as it is brand new and the work on the building is ongoing so the walking traffic is still somewhat light.

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