Frances Bula header image 2

A long, hard struggle to make Olympics’ benefits permanent

March 3rd, 2010 · 20 Comments

I know a lot of people are already in the dumps, with the party gone and nothing but litter, fencing, and the return of bad weather around. Hate to add to it, but here’s my story on how it’s going to be a long haul to ensure that all those things we loved about the Olympics — extra shelter space for the homeless, streetcars, pedestrian party streets and more — get put into place permanently.

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  • Well this is really no surprise – but disappointing. I liked the hopeful idea that the powers that be might say: “Hey let’s keep it like this!” But alas… as you say, we have our work cut out for us if we want any of these things to be permanent.

  • jon

    Did I miss something? I thought we just finished converting a lot of Granville back to allowing traffic and parking as the 70’s ped. mall made Granville Moribund for the last 30ish years. The retailers wanted this. One great party and we are going the other way already?

  • Ian

    I agree with Jon. I don’t think we should let 17 days of extraordinary pedestrian activity determine the future use of Granville Street. It should definitely see the return of buses and cabs to the no-car blocks. ASAP. They help to animate that street. Not to mention the fact that the City just finished spending millions of dollars on a redesign as A STREET and not as a pedestrian mall. It’s great that they’ve designed for closures of the block between Georgia and Robson for special events, but the last 17 days was a fantasy on which no long-term civic space planning should be based. And I loved the Olympics.

  • Ian

    I’d also just like to note that “festive pedestrian-only streets” require a significant number of festive pedestrians to be successful. We just don’t have that on a regular basis. I spent alot of time roaming the streets downtown and enjoying the atmosphere during the Olympics, but I think it’s incredibly myopic to extrapolate that experience into the everyday Vancouver experience. Likewise, I don’t think the closure of the viaducts is all that worthy a goal. It may have facilitated safe pedestrian access and egress to Canada Hockey Place/BC Place and LiveCity Downtown throughout the Olympics, but walk around that area today and tell me the continued closure of the viaducts would be beneficial in any way. I could possibly be persuaded that there’s a case to be made for bringing down the viaducts to free up development opportunities at the False Creek level, but I’m not sure those outweigh the significant hampering of vehicular and bus access from the east to downtown.

  • Glissando Remmy

    The Thought of The Day

    “The Olly Games are over. I think, if one really wants to make the Olympics’ benefits permanent and visible in Vancouver, they’ll have to tattoo them on their foreheads… in the form of the letter L! How strange, I feel like volunteering for VANOC now!”

    I did all of you a favour and put together a frugal analysis based on existing data comparing the 2008 Summer Games with the 2010 Winter Games. The numbers don’t lie. In fact they tell the real story of this manufactured bullshit you call the Olympic Games.

    Read and digest the numbers. Total number of countries participating in both cases; find out where did most of the medals go, how many NOC’s were simply executing a very expensive type of national pride tourism, what countries were behind this ventures and judge for yourselves what this is all about. It’s only money, oh, sorry, numbers.
    For the clever ones!

    BEIJING 2008 Summer Olympic Games

    Total no of countries (NOC – National Olympic Committees): 204 (205)
    Total no. of countries WITH medals: 88
    Total no. of countries NO medals: 116 (117)!!!
    First THREE Countries with medals (282) = Last SEVENTY ONE!!! Countries with medals (282)
    No of events: 302
    No of sports: 28
    Podium: USA; CHINA; RUSSIA … CANADA – FIFTEEN PLACE

    VANCOUVER 2010 Winter Olympic Games

    Total no of countries (NOC – National Olympic Committees): 82 (95)
    Total no. of countries WITH medals: 26
    Total no of countries NO medals: 56 (69)!!!
    First THREE Countries with medals (93) = Last NINETEEN!!! Countries with medals (97)
    No of events: 86
    No of sports: 15
    Podium: USA; GERMANY; CANADA

    As for all those volunteers out there, that put their time and effort in this great “for the love of sport and fairness”, well, now when you start reading stories about the endorsed to the teeth, baby faced millionaires on ice or snow, whose only occupation is listed as “athletes” well, you’ll realize how badly you’ve been punk’ed! But hey, who am I to judge!

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Bill Smolick

    I was at the Railway Club on Tuesday night to see Carolyn Mark, who normally plays to a pretty full room when she’s in town (on a weekend, at least.)

    There were 10 people there.

    Yeah. That lingering Olympic Spirit is great.

    It was a great show though.

  • Ian

    Here’s what generally happens during and after a winter games event: the people who can afford it come during the two weeks, then they leave. Everyone else stays home.

    After the two weeks is over everyone stays home, especially if there’s a recession going on, and let me tell you from my vantage point down south, there is.

    The games were a government program. Now they are over and so is the government program as the recent provincial budget showed and the new federal budget will show. There is no money from these governments to continue the love.

    The way to capture the best civic and provincial ideas (I note that almost everything mentioned on this website focused on the city of Vancouver although the people of BC paid between 6&8 billion for the party) generated by the event is to change the governments that control the purse strings because they’ve blown their wad and their ideas are over.

  • @Jon
    I suggest taking a wonder down Granville. Things have changed a lot in the past 30 years. The portions that are closed to cars are pretty lively. It is only the sections that are open to cars and have parking where the businesses don’t seem to be doing well. The Canada Line has brought more people onto the street. Granville hasn’t had buses for the last 4 years and this seems to be working fine for the buses and the businesses.

    In the section with all the bars, they close it to traffic on Friday and Saturday nights because they found that really cut down the number of fights.

    As Burrard Bridge proved, sometimes you have to try something and see how it works before people will come on board. The Olympics and the Canada Line construction have essentially been that trial of a pedestrian only Granville and it worked very well.

  • MB

    Cars do not ring the cash registers at Granville Street businesses, not do they bring joy and enlightenment to the street. People do.

    A huge number of people are sucked underground from Granville deep into the bowels of the Pacific Centre Mall every day. Perhaps part of the PCM should be daylighted.

    Closing Granville (and Robson too) to vehicles consumed an infinitesimal amount of the Olympics budget, but the effect was to highlight the stunning potential of a streetscape to draw people. Put exciting things and activities on the street year round, and line it with a plethora of shops people actually want to go to, and you’ve got a success story.

    Buses can be more than adequately accommodated at enhanced / expanded stops on Seymour and Howe. Cars have ruled for six decades now. Let’s now consider allowing pedestrians to take back a measly 0.02% of the acreage consumed by asphalt on the downtown penninsula.

  • Ian

    Granville Street is a perfect bus/taxi route. Not competing with cars allows them to be more reliable and efficient, and connections to the u/g lines is direct, which should be a priority. The new street redesign is fantastic and comfortably accommodates lots of pedestrians and patio seating on the wide sidewalks. I think we should look at extending south the bus/taxi only zone maybe to Davie, but I think that transit should definitely return to Granville. I have no dog in this fight, I just think that coexistence of pedestrians and transit is the best solution for Granville Street.

  • If the powers that be loosened up the street food rules and grants a ton of more food stall, vendor, and street performer licenses, a car-free Granville would be busy on the wekeends.

  • MB

    I, too, like the redesign of Granville. But nowhere in memory was it ever closed to all vehicular traffic and opened exclusively to pedestrians until now.

    This is a totally new experience worthy of considered study and debate on making it permanent, and I now see bringing back buses and taxis as a quick way to defeat it and make people forget.

    Transferring from one bus or train to another has to be analyzed. I suspect that the majority of transfers can be accommodated on the same street (Seymour or Howe). And just how many transfer are there compared to downtown being the primary transit destination in the Lower Mainland?

    And if buses are bogged down by the turning movements of cars, then I suggest bus stops be bumped out (like on Main Street) with the buses occupying the second lane from the curb, therein avoiding turning cars. Buses should also be given signal priority and their own exclusive lanes off Granville where possible. Buses do generate their own congestion on whatever chunk of road they occupy.

    These are the kind of questions & ideas that need to be answered with a study. I’d volunteer at cost to be part of the consultant team if they decided to tour Europe to see how they do it in several cities, like the 6 km pedestrian-only Stroget in downtown Copenhagen.

  • MB: Seymour and Howe are both currently one-way.

  • @Ian

    From what I have heard from TL is that the buses work fine on Granville. Passengers say they are quicker on Howe and Seymour than on Granville. I suspect this is because pedestrians are allowed to and due cross Granville anywhere in the street so buses have to travel slow. I know when I used to take the bus on Granville it always seemed like it was faster walking.

    Anyway, the bus priority measures could be improved on Howe and Seymour to make the buses even faster.

  • @Ian

    And from a pedestrian point of view, I did not realize until the Olympics how much better the experience is when one can wonder down the middle of the road as opposed to being forced on the sidewalks. The views of the mountains are spectacular from the middle of the road. Unfortunately if there are buses on the street, only the bus driver can see the view but can’t really enjoy it while dodging pedestrians. As well, the middle of the street gets more sunlight.

    Here are some photos showing all this. As you will notice, I was not the only one taking some snaps.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    “And from a pedestrian point of view, I did not realize until the Olympics how much better the experience is when one can wonder down the middle of the road as opposed to being forced on the sidewalks. The views of the mountains are spectacular from the middle of the road.”

    The experience of place is central to understanding urbanism.

    I also took note of the view from the center of the road vs. the sidewalk. Granville Street is an 80-foot right-of-way. Redesigning it with four lanes of cars take up 50% of that space, relegating the pedestrians and the cafés to 20-feet on either side.

    I miss the old curving pavement with a 2-lane carriage way, and the trees that by now had reached mature scale.

    I noticed a couple of other things, too.

    First, the lack of “destinations” or “places to go”. I don’t mean establishments, bars, cafés, etc., but actual “places”: You could go to Yaletown; you could go to Robson Square or Robson Street. Some of us made the pilgrimage to see the “Olympic Cauldron”. But, there was nothing to experience there.

    The urban planners failed the test of stitching together for us a “meaningful sequence” of public open spaces. By closing the street to cars, the created public space, and the public showed up to use it. However, once you got there it became clear how much of an empty gesture that really was. There was nowhere to walk to.

    The second point has to do with solar penetration. There we were in the middle of February, in a city we should not recognize because the usual lush greenness had not yet sprouted, two full months past the shortest day of the year… Yet, by 3 p.m. Granville Street was engulfed in shadow.

    It was only when one approached Davie on Granville that the old buildings were low enough to let the sun reach sidewalk level.

    … And from a pedestrian point of view, this is a problem in urbanism of the first order.

  • “The urban planners failed the test of stitching together for us a “meaningful sequence” of public open spaces. By closing the street to cars, the created public space, and the public showed up to use it. However, once you got there it became clear how much of an empty gesture that really was. There was nowhere to walk to.”

    Well said Lewis . . it’s not just the place, its getting there too.

    Urbanism is art and should be taught and treated as such . . . a sort of big scale sculpture . . .

  • Bill Lee

    Angie: What do you wanna do tonight?
    Marty Pilletti: I dunno, Angie. What do you wanna do?

    This is a no-fun city unless you drink to excess. Rationing drink units, anyone?

    Legacy? Give us free entertainment on the streets, odd foods, and enough public washrooms.

  • Mike

    “Manufactured bullshit”.

    Ha! That’s perfect, Glissando!!

    Th olympics were overwhelmingly depressing – full-frontal evidence of the foolishness that is man. Why the ride on this planet is a doomed one.

    No, Frances, there was nothing that that many of us “loved about the olympics”.

    It was idiotic. Full-stop.

  • Richard W

    Unfortunately Translink was one of the major funders of the Granville redesign (paid for 1/3rd of it I believe) so the buses will be coming back. The street is looking great right now without the buses, it is vibrant and people are free to use the entire right of way just like in most European cities or Santa Monica’s promenade. But if you’re going to open it to buses it defeats the whole purpose. With a bus coming every 30 seconds pedestrians will not be able to stroll freely off the sidewalk. In which case you might as well open it up to cars too. A huge planning miss for the City of Vancouver that was dictated by Translink’s mandate to keep Granville as the “spine” of its bus system (their words). So sad.