the debate is framed like it: to be against a blacktop path  is to be against accessibility.

Accessibility for all activities or all abilities?

universal_access

It is no secret that the debate is mainly  geared by the Vancouver cycling community, and the main local organization, HUB, has made clear its vision; a cycling highway -where one can “bike from the Fraser River to False Creek in  30mn” (that makes an average speed of 20km/h+) [1]. From there,  the conversation regarding accessibility is mainly reduced to wheelchair accessibility concerns, while at the same time accessibility is understood as skate board and roller skate users inclusion.

However, if we understand accessibility as “universal access” for people with impairment of various nature, the conversation take another turn: A trail where a cyclist can  zip at 25km/h  becomes quickly unfriendly to people with a visual impairment [2]. The accessibility problem is multidimensional and can’t be reduced by how comfortable it is for the small wheels.

A cycling corridor or a  greenway Promenade/trail

Emphasis on cycling speed, as  Hub is advocating for, is in full contradiction with the concept of Promenade as inferred by a Greenway designation  [3].  We can consider 2 main family of promenades:

  • Scenic promenades; and
  • Experential promenades

The Vancouver Seawall is a great example of scenic promenade: the emphasis and the purpose of the promenade are the views it can offer. The west Richmond dykes falls also in this category. other trails could not offer too much of a view but  a more experiential aspect: the Stanley park  inner trails fall in this category, as well as the Richmond Shell road trail or the Lynn valley trails (including its suspended bridge).

If the focus of a trail is a  viewpoint, one would like then provide the easiest access to it, if the focus of a trail is experiential, then one would like provide the best compromise comfort/experience. That is the trail itself, and noticeably its surface shouldn’t distract of the experience, which sensorial aspect must not be neglected. A universal accessibility  trail exists in Stanley park, it is Beaver lake trail [6]:

beaverLake

Stanley park: Beaver lake trail entrance

Similar trails exist elsewhere in the region, Fitzsimmons trail in Whistler, the Panorama trail at the top of the Squamish SeatoSky Gondola or the Spirea nature trail in the Golden Ears park are among them. However some other trails, though not designed universally accessible  could in fact be much more wheelchair friendly that the Stanley park’s Beaver trail (which has not keep up with the up to date standards): it is at least the case of most of the Burnaby Central park trails:

The wide and flat enough trails of the Burnaby central park offer good rolling condition, and stay in good condition during raining periods as illustrated in this Google view.

The Stanley park trails accessibility could not be up to the current standards:
What about the state of the art?

In BC, the very recently opened Great West Life trail in Prince George is pretty much the state of art:

GWL_trail_PrinceGeorge

The Great West Life Trail of Prince George

A hard packed surface, soft enough for the knees of the elder, and still presenting good rolling capability, as well as other surface treatments, such has woodboards, provide a rich experience [4]. It features wheel-guard where required and slope not greater than 3%. Such a trail design is the result of a cooperation with the Spinal Cord Injury-BC society.

Trail head accessibility?

It is another aspect where the Burnaby central park is hard to beat: it is directly serviced by the Skytrain (Patterson station) as well as 2 frequent transit bus routes (19 and 49). Something Stanley park can’t compete with.

What about the bikes on an universally accessible trail?

The state of the art doesn’t seem to have found a compromise much better than this:

GWL-Trail-restriction

The all ability accessible GWL trail in Prince George is not allowed to bike

The banning of bike from Universal accessible trail, seems to be common [5] for reasons previously touched. Cycling is in theory also not allowed on the “universal accessiblity” trails of Stanley park , but the rule is not well respected.

A preliminary conclusion

Our region is surrounded by trails often offering first class experience, but when time comes to find an accessible trail, the region becomes  a laggard. When it is time to find an “universally accessible trail” reachable by public transit: pretty much nothing exists.

it is where the Arbutus corridor becomes a golden opportunity: it presents many characteristic required for  an “universally accessible trail”, first of them, being the gentle grade, second being the experiential aspect- including the sensorial aspect capitalizing on the meandering among community gardens. third it is easily reachable by many frequent transit routes, allowing to experience it in many different ways.

It is also clear that an  “universally accessible trail” vision capitalizing on the experiential aspect of a greenway is not compatible with the cycle track vision as exposed by Hub, and a compromise will need to be found.


[1] Arbutus Greenway Announced, Hub news, March 14, 2016

[2] Similarly, Accomodating visual impaired people is also the main challenge the designer of shared space has to address

[3] A reason why a cycle track on the Paris Petite Ceinture (a disused rail corridor) has been dismissed, as we have seen in a previous post

.

[4] It is also  good at maintaining the motor skills  and enhance  the mental health, a reason why such surfacing are often preferred.

[5] It is also  the case for the promenade built on the Paris Petite Ceinture, among others.

[6] The ravine trail is also presented as “universal accessible” by the Vancouver park board, thought it has some questionable access impediment.

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This Vancouver rail corridor used to be double tracked, and saw passenger service from 1902 to 1954. The last commercial train has been seen in 2001. The asset has been considered very early for a North South rail transit line: A more direct alignment via Cambie, has been preferred for the Canada line circa 2006. That was closing a chapter…However the track was still there, and the hope of a local tram has always stay alive in some circles: the 2010 Olympic line demonstration was giving reason for hope…and CP rail was wanting to bank on its precious real estate. After a bit of bullying by CP rail, in order to get a fair price, the city agreed to purchase the corridor for $55M in March 2016, openinga ew chapter:

The Arbutus corridor was a defacto Greenway:

The Arbutus corridor circa 2014  (credit photo CityHallWatch)

Like many disused railway corridors, a greenway was a logical option for a corridor presenting some natural qualities. However where usually the authorities capitalize on the specificity of such assets, the city of Vancouver has decided to destroy it: A destruction in 2 steps [3]:

Destroying the memory of the place

The Arbutus corridor circa 2009 (credit photo Stephen Waddell)

It has been vague promises of reusing the corridor for a rail transit by the City, but this quickly vansihed, and instead to see a  preservation of what make this corridor apart and a reminder of its potential alternative uses, it quickly appeared that the city had negociated the removal of  all things related to the railway. That is certainly one of the safest mean to kill any prospect of reactivation of this  corridor as a future rail transit corridor (1), it is also a a first blunt to the soul of the place.

Destroying the feel of the place

Many disused urban railway corridors exhale a specific  atmosphere found nowhere else in a city, which people growth to appreciate and like it. It was also the case  for the Arbutus corridor, something Patrick Condon has worded as “People have gotten quite used to the Arbutus Corridor as kind of a romantic landscape — the kind of unkempt quality of it. it’s level of decay has become something that people kind of like…” [4], what reflects pretty much the position of the current Paris city council, especially as expressed   by Christophe Najdovski, the councilor in charge of transportation and public space of Paris, who want to preserve “the mystery and magic” of  the Petite ceinture, a disused railway in Paris [6].

Beyond Paris, many other cities capitalize on the experiental side of their assets, that is the case for the Shell road trail in Richmond as stated by the city website:


“The Shell Road Trail is long interior trail that runs north/south along the Shell Road corridor from Alderbridge Way to Williams Road. This interior trail has a distinctly rural feel to it with tall trees and shrubs lining both sides of it, making it a unique trail experience in an urban City Centre.”

The Richmond Shell road trail, and the Colombes “voie verte” (greenway) illustrated below:

The Vancouver official development plan for Arbutus was also not far of this vision, since it was designating it as a greenways, including without limitation [2]:

 

  • (i) pedestrian paths, including without limitation urban walks, environmental demonstration
    trails, heritage walks and nature trails; and
  • (ii) cyclist paths.

 

 

The challenge for the designer of such  places is to preserve their specificities and feels, while making them accessible to people of all ages and abilities… In the name of the later, Vancouver has simply destroyed the former:

A 4 meter wide bike path under construction? – credit photo [5]

Under public outrage, the city has potentially recognized the insentivity of its position and halted work…temporarily…

Does other solutions were possible?

Yes and it is not even too late to apply them, but what is almost sure is that the corridor has already lost its cachet: whatever final design will be – and it could be a nice one – it is poised to be more bland and artificial since it will be build of a blank state. The soul of the place is lost and, and it is not something designers are armed to restore. The end result is that the whole city will be poorer in diveristy of experience

The main issue now is the treatment of the surface path: it is the object of another post


[1] It is one of the reason why Paris took the complete opposite step for the Petite Ceinture, as we have seen in a previous post

[2] Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan (Adopted by By-law No. 8249, July 25, 2000), city of Vancouver

[3] The destruction of the greenway is documented on the Stephen Rees blog, here and there

[4] Arbutus’ asphalt greenway not paved with good intentions, critics say, Matt Robinson, VancouverSUn, August 3 2016, Vancouver

[5] City paves way for Arbutus Greenway, Naoibh O’Connor, Vancourier, August 2, 2016, Vancouver

[6] Petite ceinture : faire le tour de Paris à vélo et autres fantasmes, rue89, September 25th, 2013