Sunday, March 8, 2009

An Island of local foods, thriving theatre … and dirty, dirty exhaust fumes

This past Saturday, I took advantage of the clear, crisp, sunny day and a few free hours to ride my bike down to Granville Island. As I whizzed along (well, maybe ambled is a more accurate term …), the fresh air did wonders for my spirit, leaving behind thoughts of impending biostatistics midterms and laundry piles at home. As I made my way past the tennis courts and Kids’ market, a slightly (OK, very), ridiculous perma-smile on my face and a saunter in my bicy-stride, I saw before me an illogical and incoherent sight: vehicles. Dirty, polluting, resource-depleting vehicles. And not just a few. They were everywhere. Is this some kind of Emily Carr inspired performance art piece, I asked myself? Surely this must be a group of forward-thinking, sustainability-minded students making a statement. Sadly, this was not the case. There really were an abundance of vehicles stuck in a horrific traffic snarl around the Island. The Island was replete not with the smell of local fare and the sound of street musicians, but with the smell of exhaust and the nerve-grinding sounds of honking cars and revved engines.

As of late, there has been increased hype around making Vancouver’s built environment more conducive to biking and walking. The benefits are evidence-based and success stories can be seen in many European countries (Denmark and Holland, to name a few). Active Transportation (i.e., walking, biking or rolling) has numerous environmental and health benefits, as well as economic and social ones. Cities that are more pedestrian friendly have been linked to increased local shopping and retail sales, and a more vibrant sense of community. Tourists find pedestrian-friendly cities more welcoming, and tend to spend more time and money in places where walking and cycling is more accessible.

I understand that, well, Vancouver ain’t no Copenhagen. We’re simply not at a place, be that politically or logistically, where a large-scale infrastructural overhaul can take place to make Vancouver’s streets just as accessible to bikes and pedestrians as it is to vehicles. But baby steps can be made. And I propose that making Granville Island car-free be one of those baby steps. There are plenty of public transit options around the Island for individuals to get to the entrance. We might consider creating more opportunities for street car linkage and increased bus service to the island. For those individuals who simply must take a vehicle, limited paid parking stalls can be kept available, with revenues going towards more sustainable transportation options.

As it stands, the beauty and distinctiveness that is Granville Island is being sullied and tarnished. And what kind of statement do we want to make in the world when they visit our beautiful province in 2010? I suggest we take this small step, make a statement about what we, as Vancouverites, stand for, and save this little Gem of an island from the tarnish of exhaust.


Kurt Heinrich said...

Michelle, This is a great suggestion. I think it would be a great idea to expand this idea (maybe to the Granville St. Corridor) or even (gasp) Robson St.

My only question is do you think the Granville Island business community would be adversely affected in the short term by the rapid decline in car traffic in the area? Thoughts on this?

Stewart Burgess said...

you know one day people will look back and say "i cant believe this place was once snarled with traffic"

Rather than an outright ban, you could apply the UBC strategy: greatly increase parking costs to a nearly outrageous level well simultaneously promoting and offering alternative transportation choices. The result is a annual descrease in SOV trips to the campus.

Anyone? Maybe just on the weekends? Remember that Granville island still has one of Vancouver's only downtown concrete plant, and that is good for us architects...!

Theodora Lamb said...

I worked on Granville Island for four years and honestly, I love the idea of making the area a "car-free" one. Well, almost car free. Venders would still need to receive their fresh produce and goods (the primary reason so many locals visit the island) every day. And Stew's right, there are a lot of cement trucks that travel through the island every day. And I think the plan is to charge for parking everywhere on Granville Island, eventually. Until then, I will continue to strut down the middle of the lane with a little attitude and think to myself "these boots were made for walking" . . . . and cars will just have to wait until I cross the street, from the Lobster Man to the French Bakery!

John Horn said...

What can I say when it's all been said by better minds than mine?

Just this. I would've liked to see the word "choke" used a little more. Because that's what cars do - in every way - to Granville Island.

There definitely needs to be a testing phase very, very soon. Shut down an area (apparently, just putting out some orange cones to block off lanes/roads is something that Canadians respond to and obey) for a month and see what response is generated. Also, yes to the price-hike on parking. Do it. And do it while buses and other forms of "team-transport" are offered to the thousands of people who visit the market.

Car free all the time is where the future is going, man.

Well said, Michelle.