Denman Street

April 25, 2011

Gordon Price, has an interesting picture of Denman street to illustrate an article posted on citytank:

Nothing much to say about the architecture quality in the Westend...but still it is a well searched after neighborhood. credit photo (1)

Interesting picture since it highlights how “dull” can be the architecture standard in Vancouver, but Denman street is still a great street (by Vancouver Standard) in a well desired neighborhood

Denman street can be much more inviting from the ground. credit photo (2)


That illustrates more than perfectly the thesis that what is important is not how high or architecturally interesting is a building, but how it meets the people where they are-on the ground…Thesis defended by architect Jack Diamond at a city of Vancouver sponsored event last Tuesday night [3]…and a reason explaining the success of Vancouver urbanism (somewhat termed vancouverism) , in despite of somewhat bland architecture to speak the least.

Denman has all the ingredients to be a great street:

  • It is properly oriented to benefit of sunlight most of the day, while still offering interesting lighting condition changes during the day
  • It Connects the south and north shore of the peninsula, with great vantage viewpoint at both end, and inviting perspective on English bay
  • Stanley park, the beaches, the seawall, all provide a great deal of pedestrian traffic to capitalize on
  • It is a human scale short stretch street making a consistent beautification project of it very doable

That said, Denman suffers of some flaws to become a “great” street: it doesn’t capitalize on its natural strengths but tends to ignore it.

After touring the Stanley park, riding the seawall, or lazying on the beaches, the natural prolongation of those hedonist moments is to enjoy some more urban time at a sidewalk cafe…

Sure, Denman, doesn’t lack of cheap food joint, and also has some patio restaurants, but does it offer what we are expecting in such location?

This patio offer a great view on English Bay, but the formal privacy involved by grade separation, prevent the desired contribution to the street-life. Notice that the tortured cherry trees are not necessarily the right essence choice for this specific location

A canopy providing unwanted shade in this April sun, a poor pavement, accomodating a cramped single table is usually the only other options on is to take-away..

On Denman, there is no sidewalk cafe allowing you to enjoy, while still contributing to, the street-life (what could epitomize the “european style sidewalk cafe” experience). Since Denman street is a very short street which is experienced by virtually 100% of Vancouver tourists the lack of proper treatment of it by a city so pride of its image is for the least, curious.

Why there is no European style sidewalk cafe here ? Is it due to a cultural difference or a poor treatment of the street, which call for lack of inviting experience? is it a fatality Denman street has to resign to ?

Montreal has nice streetwalk cafes, and people flock at he venetian hotel in Las vegas to enjoy the "streetwalk" cafe experience. credit phot left (4), right (5)

Since sidewalk cafe experience can be found in numerous place in North america, and in less extend in Yaletown, Cultural differences fail to explain why Denman shouldn’t be able to offer such an experience.

Vehicular Traffic is certainly heavy on Denman, but it is more due to "organized" congestion. "cruising" cars are a recognition of it and the natural attractivenesses of Denman street to have a stroll: Sidewalks are overcrowded and don't allow for a rest!

  • There is no lack of people, and potential customers, but the street is not designed for enjoyment…sidewalk are too narrow and crowded, and clearly not sized to allow sidewalk cafes.
  • In despite of lack of bike lanes, cyclists are numerous, but bike rack are at a premium,
  • vehicular traffic is heavy on Denman, but in fact of the 4 lanes dedicated to vehicular traffic, one is used for parking most of the time, and erratic movement on traffic lanes, like left turns, cyclists, bus stops, jaywalkers, directional lane at Robson….make the street not having much more throughput capacity that a reasonably designed 2 traffic lanes street.

Reduction of Denman to 2 traffic lanes + a median lane is a necessary step to a greater street.

  • The median lane can be used to avoid slower traffic like cyclists, bus stopping, right turning vehicle or as “storage” lane for left turning
  • the median lane can also encourage “responsible” jay walking what is good in heavy traffic area, since it relieve congestion at designated sidewalk crossing, and contribute to make the street a more “shared space”
  • The sidewalk should be the main beneficiary of the space reallocation. benches should be installed and sidewalk patio should be encouraged.

The inspiring model could be “cappucino strip” (south terrace) in Fremantle, Australia:

South terrace street in Fremantle, Australia, could accomodate 4 lanes of traffic, but here a different choice has been done...2 lanes of traffic with a median to keep traffic flowing in presence of "obstacle" allow ample sidewalk colonized by streetwalk cafe


Denman is on the notoriously slow number 5 route. There is little reason to think that the alteration of the street as suggested above should affect this route. That said this route has considerable flaw as illustrated below:

A family with a stroller At Davie and Denman asked to a driver on a layover:
-How to get to Stanley Park?
The bus driver:
-Take 6 to Downtown, and transfer to 19 at Granville#Pender

The problem, is not that much the driver giving an insanely circuitous route, the problem is that the transit system is designed in such a way that the driver answer is a correct one!

The Translink route map extract below shows why:

Transit is very Vancouver centric: thought numerous bus route to North shore run on Georgia, there is no direct connection of them with the Westend. furthermore bus 5/6 make a time point at Davie and Denman making the Northshore<-> Davie area transit option less than appealing (map credit; Translink

The Vancouver centric view of the transit network, make the transit option from North-Shore to the Westend not necessarily appealing. Thought that the Georgia bus stop is a mere 350 meters away of Robson, it can be a pain to have to walk that distance either under the rain or in the cold. To add to the frustration, people using the route 6, will have to spend extra time at the time point at Davie and Denman.
All that can be corrected easily:

  • Extend both routes 5 and 6 to Denman North to provide direct seamless connection at Georgia street with the countless bus routes using this later corridor.

That extension adding less than 1km to each bus trip, could have limited effect on operating cost, but could make the system much more comprehensive in the area.

That is: there are lot of reasons to revisit the street space allocation and transit in the Denman area

[1] Gordon Price

[2] Exploring Denman street- From English bay to Cola Harbour Dana Lynch, Inside Vancouver, June 16, 2009

[3] Achieving new height in archiecture excellence, April 19, 2011

[4] New urban Architect

2 Responses to “Denman Street”

  1. Rico Says:

    Some good thoughts.

  2. […] denman […]

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