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Cornelia Oberlander 1921-2021: Landscape Architect Icon & My Friend

There are some people that you never expect to pass, people that you know and see as the fabric of place and your existence in it. That is fundamentally what and who  Cornelia Oberlander is to me.

At her funeral she was called the Dean of Canadian Landscape Architecture, and more intimately known as the “Queen of Green”. To me she was much more than that, she was a constant in my life for over four decades, a teacher, an advisor, a mentor, and a great friend. She never backed away from what she believed in, and she was a believer in continually reminding municipalities, governments, city councils, architects and students of her fundamental principles. She championed ecology.

Cornelia’s daughter, Judy Oberlander, was the first of the Oberlander family I met when I was Director of Development for the Old Strathcona Foundation in Strathcona, Edmonton. It’s no surprise that Judy also was the founding Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University and has a quick intelligence as well as  innate knowledge and expertise in the field of heritage conservation. When I came to Vancouver to pursue a master’s degree in city planning, Judy took me to her home to meet her mom, Cornelia Oberlander.  Cornelia was sitting  on the living room floor doing physiotherapy exercises after a  painful fall skiing on the slopes, and  was of course, working at the same time.

That more or less describes all the Oberlanders, who are hardworking, practical, and welcoming. When daughter Judy spoke about her international design work at the University of British Columbia’s (UBC)  School of Architecture, Professor Abraham Rogatnick introduced her as a member of the Canadian ‘Fonda” family. The Fondas which included Henry and children Peter and Jane were famous American twentieth century actors. The Oberlander Family are our Canadian improved equivalent, with  Cornelia and husband Peter, and their three children, Tim, a physician scientist, Wendy, an internationally accomplished artist and filmmaker and Judy, who today works across Canada in her well recognized consulting practice.

I had come to the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning for graduate work, and was in Dr. Peter Oberlander’s policy class. It was a class that had a limited number of students, met at a round table in his office at the UBC Centre for Human Settlements, and had a proper break half way through where Peter served us tea from a silver tea service and let us talk generally about planning. Dr. Oberlander, or as we affectionately called him, “Dr. O” was a trained architect from McGill and the first Canadian to achieve a Master’s in Regional Planning and a Doctorate at Harvard University. Ken Cameron has written a book about Dr. Oberlander’s many remarkable achievements and firsts. He was the person that set up the first professional planning school in Canada, at UBC, worked tirelessly for United Nations causes, and was instrumental in the Habitat Conference held at Jericho Beach in 1976.

He was also the man that met Cornelia Oberlander at Harvard, where she was one of the first women admitted in the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Because of their Jewish faith Cornelia and Peter had both been uprooted from Europe by World War Two and had experienced great difficulties to come to North America and to be free.

But Cornelia was never phased by being the sole woman in many of her graduate classes, and when asked what it was like to take classes and then work in a field that was all men, simply replied “I never thought about it”.

Her mother upon arriving in America had bought a small farm in New Hampshire, and they sold fruits and vegetables from the farm with Cornelia and her sister. Prior to escaping Nazi Germany, her mother Beate Hahn who was a horticulturalist  had written children’s books and drawn little pictures of Cornelia watering the plants in the books. There is a story of Michael Levenson from City Farmer excitedly bringing Cornelia a book written in German that he thought should be translated and available for Canadian gardening children. Cornelia was so pleased to see the book, which of course was one of the volumes written by her mother, with the illustrations of Cornelia in it.

To be a student of Peter Oberlander’s meant that I was invited to the Oberlander gatherings to discuss planning and urban issues. It was there that I got to know the Oberlanders well, through their kindness and generosity to students and new graduates. When I defended my master’s thesis it was Peter and Cornelia Oberlander that took me for lunch at the Faculty Club to celebrate.

That mentorship over time turned into a friendship, and Cornelia was always available to be a guide on the side on planning, policy , and of course plants.

Cornelia had an organic approach to landscape design that makes even her early design work seem as modern as if she had just produced it, much the way that architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses seem completely fresh today. She had exposure to the Bauhaus School of thought  at Harvard and Walter Gropius had been teaching at Harvard’s School of Architecture since 1938. Mr. Gropius was a family friend of the Oberlanders, and visited them at their house in Vancouver.

Cornelia was always interested in the natural landscape, how it looked, how it behaved, how wind went through it, what plants were naturally there, and  how they reacted to the elements. She was an advocate of “Invisible Mending” using nature and plants that were indigenous to the area to plan her designs in a way that people would assume that the planted landscape was always there. And she was genius at it.

You can imagine how startling Cornelia’s approach was in the 1950’s and 1960’s which were the  scrubbed, trimmed and ‘weedbar’ days of gardening when nature was to be manicured at all costs. Postwar big green lawns represented status and roots. There was no place for undomesticated nature in landscape design.

For every project Cornelia would make a model or a maquette of the landscape to scale, and then think through the design principles that governed the site.  Even after the projects were built, you would still see Cornelia going back to revisit them, and ensure the landscapes worked. I like to  go to one of my favourite landscapes in Vancouver, Cornelia’s stone beach and outdoor museum at the Arthur Erickson designed Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. I often found Cornelia wearing boots standing  in the middle of the pond. She would tell me she was taking photos of the leaves in the water, but I knew she was really double checking the infiltration system.

The pond at the Museum of Anthropology was designed so  you could imagine  Haida paddlers just about to come around the bend in a canoe.  Cornelia worried when the Museum decided to install an agitation system in the pond to keep mosquitoes down. As she pointed out that was noisy, not too natural and maybe the picnickers did not need to be so close to the water when they had their lunch during mosquito season.

When the pond was drained to do repair work to the foundations of the museum, (which is still ongoing), Cornelia realized that she would probably not live to  see the landscape  again as she had designed it.

Susan Herrington’s book “Making the Modern Landscape” outlines the over six decade career that includes work Cornelia built in Berlin, New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, and across Canada. Cornelia worked with practically every well known architect, and her legacy in Vancouver includes the fine rooftop garden of the downtown Vancouver public library, the landscaping and allee (double row of street trees) for Robson Square and the Law Courts.

Besides huge and monumental works like the landscape of the National Gallery in Ottawa or the VanDusen Visitors Centre in Vancouver,  Cornelia also designed for  communities. She designed gardens for co-ops, and was one of the first landscape architects to make informal play areas for children based upon age and skills, now standard practice. She also developed national guidelines for playgrounds.

Cornelia was a stickler for accuracy and she did not like that some of the work done by  noted architect Arthur Erickson was now being reinterpreted in a way that was not true. She and  Arthur worked together for three decades.

Cornelia was ahead of her time in most everything. She had a deep understanding and knowledge of plants, and has been advocating green roofs for decades to anyone that would listen. She asked me to edit work she had completed on the importance of access to parks and green views for high density dwellers. She always involved students and young professionals, and learned as much from them as they would have from her.

We once counted up how many honorary doctorates she has received.  I believe it was eight or nine. She has received nearly every major international accolade for design, and has an international landscape architecture prize named after her.

I have so many stories and learnings from Cornelia that I will share over time. Here is a preface for a project that Cornelia had written about in the last years of her life.

It reads:

“Longing for the Garden of Paradise is built into our genes. Throughout history we have been influenced by the gardens of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome and Asia which continue to inspire our contemporary gardens around the world”.

It is that wonder about nature and our quest for wholeness in nature that is at the foundation of all of Cornelia’s work.  What a privilege to know this outstanding woman and her remarkable family.

I will miss Cornelia Oberlander greatly. But we are blessed with her incredible legacy of design, spirit and mentoring that is carried on by her family and the people she touched.

We wish her family and friends peace and comfort at this difficult time.

Thank you for sharing Cornelia with us all.

Photos by Sandy James; Photo at top of Cornelia Oberlander with Deanna Manzer
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Lessons from the Three Waves of the 1918 Spanish Flu

When the Covid Crisis is over and we are in the After Times there are going to be some major changes in the societal landscape.  Changes also happened at the end of the Spanish Flu  one hundred years ago when it was realized that while mortalities were high with the poor population, infectious diseases need to be tackled on a community level. This led to public health strategies, disease surveillance, and the concept of universal health care.

I have written about the Spanish Flu of 1918  and how New York City had lower mortality rates than other cities by embarking upon a public health model. They  organized public health infrastructure, ensured the distancing of the healthy from the infected, held public health campaigns and undertook disease surveillance.

In New York City and in Vancouver there were three waves of the Spanish Flu. In New York City the flu started in September 1918 with the last wave in February 1919. In Vancouver the flu arrived probably by train with soldiers with the Siberian Expedition Forces in October 1918 and the last wave of flu came in March 1919. It was difficult to detect the flu  as the virus could not be isolated, and the bacillus causing infection did not show up in cultures. It was also not the flu itself that killed victims, it was secondary pneumonia resulting from the infection.

In New York and in Vancouver it was the young who were impacted by the flu, and being employed increased your likelihood to exposure and death.

While there was an overall Medical Health Officer for British Columbia there was also one for the City of Vancouver. In 1918 these two physicians were at odds.

The Medical Health Officer of Vancouver was Dr. Frederick Underhill who was loathe to close industry or business, and did not want to close schools. Dr. Underhill thought that children were more at risk roaming on the streets than being in school. As sickness started in October 1918 parents started to pull their children out of school, and Dr. Underhill was forced to close the schools after ten percent of the students did not show up. Unfortunately for the second and third waves of the flu in January and March 1919 schools, industries and offices remained open, and Vancouver had about 900 deaths in a population of 100,000, a mortality rate  four times that of most cities.

Other towns in British Columbia which had closed down because of the Spanish Flu also wanted Vancouver to close industries and offices. But Vancouver politicians debated the best approach, even questioning whether isolation from the sick and face masks were even  needed.Continue reading “Lessons from the Three Waves of the 1918 Spanish Flu”

Vancouver as Canada’s Jaywalking Capital, 1918

I had the honour of speaking with CBC Radio’s Margaret Gallagher during the “On The Coast” radio program about how Jaywalking developed in Canada, and the sad “premiere” Vancouver had, as the first city where “jaywalking” was identified in 1918.

Here’s the interview conducted in May, 2021.

Thank you Margaret, for being such a gracious host.

How Did Driver Speed/Efficiency Become More Important than Pedestrian Safety?

I have been writing about Vancouver’s ominous placing as the first city in Canada to use the term “jaywalker”. It was the Montreal Gazette in 1918 that describes “jaywalker” as the “peculiar expression” that has “arisen” in Vancouver, describing unintelligent people not crossing at intersections, the same way heavy metal vehicles do.

This was of course an expression that was devised and advertised by motor vehicle companies to keep soft tissue beings (pedestrians) off the roads, reinforcing the right of vehicles to quickness and efficiency, which was deemed the modern approach to technological advancement. Pedestrians, cyclists and other sidewalk users were mandated to stay out of the way.

Peter Norton has written about how this term became common in the United States. It is a way to make two classes of people, those that drive and have rights to the road, and those who are not driving but still are responsible for not being hit by moving vehicles.

Early pedestrian or cyclist crashes written in local papers refer to people “running out” in the road or “colliding” with a vehicle. Vehicles had long blind spots in front of them, could not brake well, and there was no conformity at all to travel, signal, or behaviour on the road. Silent policemen bollards were installed at sidewalk intersections to keep vehicles from not mounting sidewalks. In 1918 “jaywalking” lines were approved to be painted at major intersections to get pedestrians to cross within markings at intersections.  Traffic policemen stood in the middle of the street with “stop and go” activated paddles in 1923. The first “pillar ” traffic electric traffic light was installed in 1937.

But even then, pedestrians were made to feel personally responsible for making streets safer for vehicle travel,  as this article from the September 3 1937 Vancouver Sun states:

“Pedestrians can stop more quickly than autos. Motorists are bound by law to exercise caution on the city’s streets but the wise pedestrian recognizes only one law-the law of caution. The fact that a motorist was to blame doesn’t lessen the pain of the victim in the hospital bed. A pedestrian may be sacrificing his rights sometimes in allowing a motorist to go by without slackening speed, but the price is small compared to the saving”.

This efficiency and speed  argument in favour of the automobile driver can also be seen in this advertisement in the Vancouver Sun in 1937, for “Super Shell gas” that quotes futurist Norman Bel Geddes, “an authority” on future trends.

” Over half the space in the city of 1960 will be used for parks and playgrounds. Pedestrians will move safely on elevated sidewalks above the traffic level. Streets will be made wider by removing sidewalks…parking and truck unloading will be done inside the building”.

 

And here’s the kicker:

“traffic going ten blocks or more will use high-speed express streets. No stop lights…no intersections…no stop and go!”

Why is that important? Because “stop and go “  “driving wastes fuel, and “one stop “can use up as much gasoline as five blocks of steady running. And wherever you live, you average 30 stops a day!”

We take for granted what this over eighty year old admonishment has meant for pedestrians: cross at the intersections, even though they are unsafe with four directions of travel,  and don’t cross midblock with only two directions of travel which is not good for vehicles who don’t want to “stop”.

Fifty years later research in the 1990’s  conducted by the US Transportation Research Board showed that  26 percent of all pedestrian accidents occurred by the “midblock dash” at informal “midblock crossings”.  But 25 percent of accidents happen at  so called “safer” marked crosswalked  intersections, and 50 percent by random vehicles mounting curbs and  other random crash sites. What we have been “told” about crossing at intersections has been for the vehicle drivers’ convenience, not the pedestrians.

Today, how much has changed?

Seoul Hosts 2021 Walk21 Conference And it’s Absolutely Free Online!

Featured image for “Meet You May 26-28 for Annual Walk21 Conference in Seoul Korea!  Online & Absolutely Free”

That’s a pre-pandemic photo of Fabrizio Prati with NACTO (the National Association of City Transpo Officials) and Dr. Sunhoon Oh with AURI (Architectural Urban Research Institute)  in Seoul Korea. Sunghoon managed to nab an onstreet table at one of the famous fish market eateries for an epic seafood dinner. And yes, it was fresh and very very good.

I was invited to Korea as a plenary speaker for a well-run think tank on enhancing pedestrian safety and environments. We all really looked forward to coming back to Seoul for the Walk 21 Conference which is being held next week.

Seoul itself has done some remarkable public space work, including the Cheongyyecheon Stream daylighting, pedestrian priority streets and the repurposing of an old highway overpass into a publicly accessible arboretum.

The pandemic put a big kibosh on attending the conference. But with great ingenuity, the Seoul Walk21 sponsored by the Seoul Metropolitan Government is offering this three day conference online absolutely free.

Very happily the conference agenda also dovetails nicely in the Pacific Time Zone, starting Wednesday May 26 during the day, with sessions on Thursday May 27 and Friday May 28 commencing at 5:00 p.m.

The presentations for this conference are juried, and represent the latest in projects, design and thought around the globe. You can take a look at the varied speakers list here.

This is part of an international conference series that has literally been around the world in the last two decades, and was in Vancouver ten years ago.

I had the honour of being the Conference Chair when the conference was in Vancouver, and the Walk Metro Vancouver Society is a legacy of that conference.

Dr. Sunhoon Oh is one of the Seoul Walk21 Conference Committee members and this promises to be a great conference for learning and discussion.

You can register by clicking on this link. See you next week in Seoul!

Part One: The Millachip Family, 1913: Finding an Antique Postcard in Prince Edward Island, Finding A Lost Family

Have you ever been somewhere else and found an antique postcard from your hometown?

Several years ago when I was visiting my family on Prince Edward Island I saw an old Vancouver postcard in a rummage sale. It seemed completely out of context, and it was encased in a plastic sleeve and it was expensive.

I bought it and held onto it, without doing any research.

The postcard had a surprising subject~there is a house with a craftsman styled front door, ionic columns, stained glass upper windows and a family posed in front of it.

The family is dressed in Edwardian dress, with the mother holding a hand muffler and wearing a scarf. The father has a hat and wears a long suit with a stiff starched shirt collar. The child is in a sailor suit, the type that was very popular in the 1910 to 1920 period. At the family’s feet is a dog that looks like a brittany spaniel.

The card was a custom one, created for this family, showing off their prized asset, their house. And on the back of the card, there was a handwritten inscription:

“2825 Clark Drive E. Vancouver B.C. A glimpse of us and our new home with units. Kind love and best wishes for a very happy Xmas and New Year to you all. Edie, Arthur, Willie”

When I started to research the house I feared that it would be demolished. But it wasn’t. It is still there, near 13th Avenue on the west side of Clark Drive.

Continue reading “Part One: The Millachip Family, 1913: Finding an Antique Postcard in Prince Edward Island, Finding A Lost Family”

Part Two: Finding the Millachip Family in the 1913 Postcard!

I wrote about finding a Vancouver treasure 5,700 kilometres away in Prince Edward Island. It was a post card size photo taken around 1914 of a couple with their son and dog in front of a very handsome craftsman cottage on Clark Drive.

The one clue to the identity of this family was in the inscription on the back of the card which read

“2825 Clark Drive E. Vancouver B.C. A glimpse of us and our new home with units. Kind love and best wishes for a very happy Xmas and New Year to you all. Edie, Arthur, Willie”.

The house is still standing, hidden by a bushy tree, with pink stucco covering the formerly handsome exterior.

I asked readers whether anyone could help identify who Edie, Arthur and Willie were, and whether I could return the image to their family.

What a response I received. Within 24 hours  I knew all about this family and their story, and had found another story of this family’s World War One sacrifice  that should be retold.

Meet the Millachip Family. The family  came to Vancouver in 1912 from England, and had their son’s christening in London.

Arthur Herriot Millachip  and Edith Eliza Moore had one son, William who was born in  1904 in London United Kingdom. Arthur was a house decorator, a trade he also had in London.  They moved into 2025 Clark Drive in 1913 and lived the rest of their lives in Vancouver. Edith passed away in 1935. Arthur died in North Vancouver in 1959.

Sadly, their son William died in Tranquille British Columbia at the time the facility was a tuberculosis hospital. Arthur did have a brother John who also came to Canada. His story is tragic as well. John signed up with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in 1914 and died in France at the battle of Somme in 1916. I will be writing up the remarkable story of John, and how the men in this  extended family were decimated in war.

The house at 2825 Clark Drive was built around 1909 to 1910, and Frank D. Gore who was a butcher was the first home owner. This information came from @VanalogueYVR who also established that Arthur Millachip was the owner by 1914.

Continue reading “Part Two: Finding the Millachip Family in the 1913 Postcard!”

Part Three: Vancouver’s Millachip Family and their Great War Loss

I wrote about the house at 2825 Clark Drive and the family, Edith, Arthur and Willie Millachip who proudly stand in front of that house in 1913. I had purchased the card with this remarkable family scene  in Prince Edward Island. After finding that the house was still standing (although now devoid of its handsome shingle style wood exterior ) readers helped me piece together their Vancouver story and find the Arlington Virginia branch of the Millachip family.

Sadly the Millachip name has died out with the demise of Arthur’s son Willie who died of tuberculosis at Tranquille B.C. at the age of 39, and with the death of Arthur’s brother John in World War One. Called “The Great War”, this conflict wiped out four members of this extended family~John Millachip and his brothers in law, George, Edmund and James Spencer.

We stand in the 21st century with not a lot of first hand stories of what happened in the First and Second World Wars. Those conflicts resulted in over 103,000 Canadian soldiers being killed with  wounded soldiers numbering over 227,000. That’s the equivalent of the entire population of the city of Kingston Ontario being wiped out, and a population the size of Abbotsford B.C. being wounded. It was a devastating loss to the economy and to the social fabric of the country.

Richard Zeutenhorst in Arlington Virginia sent me the story of Arthur’s brother John Millachip. John  had settled in  Canada along with  his brother Arthur. John was born in Britain in 1883 and immigrated to Canada  in 1911. He had married Sylvia Frederick Webb in Winnipeg in 1911. John joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force for the Great War and was in France in 1915. In 1916 He was reported missing at the Battle of the Somme and his body was never found. His widow Sylvia was an active volunteer in Vancouver and remarried in 1924.

But it was not just Arthur’s brother that died in the First World War. Arthur’s younger  sister Grace Emily Millachip had married Lieutenant George Spencer during the war, in 1915. George survived being torpedoed on a ship in February 1918 only to be fatally wounded on His Majesty’s Ship Iris in the raid on Zeebrugge. He died that day. A month later, his widow Grace had a daughter named Iris, after the ship’s name.

Continue reading “Part Three: Vancouver’s Millachip Family and their Great War Loss”

Way Ahead of its Time: Vancouver’s First Truly Sustainable Street

Did you know that there is still one natural salmon bearing stream left in the City of Vancouver? That is on Crown Street south of Southwest Marine Drive, and you can see it as it goes through Musqueam Park. Fish that have used this creek are Chum, Coho and Cutthroat trout.

This stream and its location is also important, as it is next to the Musqueam First Nation, and Crown Street is also a major entrance to the Nation.

Even two decades ago the City of Vancouver had a surprising percolating font of innovation in the most unexpected place, the Engineering Department. There visionaries like Doug Smith of Greenways (who now heads up the Sustainability Department) and David Desrochers who was manager of Sewer Design stewarded new approaches to managing streets and stormwater. They believed that work could be done in a different, more ecologically sensitive way, and looked for opportunities to test new materials and work in their projects. One grumpy conservative engineer at the city  said that both of these individuals should lose their engineering accreditations for their innovative approaches. But that most certainly  did not happen, instead both Mr. Smith and Mr. Desrochers created work that garnered international attention and awards.

David Desrochers along with  Wally Konowalchuk and Jonathan Helmus had been looking for a place to experiment with a more ecologically responsible way to innovate on  the standard street curb and gutter.  Crown Street with its proximity to this important  salmon stream  and  to the  gateway of the  Musqueam First Nations lands was chosen.

The work on Crown Street between Southwest Marine Drive and 48th Avenue was approved in 2002 . In 2004 funding of 1.18 million was approved with $545,000 being the city share of the cost. Other funding came from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities,($593,350) with the remainder from the Musqueam First Nation and through a Local Improvement Program initiative cost shared with residents.

Crown Street became a traffic calmed street with many of the elements of Seattle’s SEA streets, with minimal impermeable surfaces, and a natural storm water management system. Ditches and infiltration bulges are filled with appropriate plants. Those plants naturally filtrate storm water contaminants before reaching the streams, which enhances fish habitat. Granite curb sets, pavers and markers, many recycled, were used to delineate the street instead of cement and concrete.

Fifteen years later Crown Street with its narrowed road surfaces and gravelled separated sidewalks has been a success. This street shows how to move away from the standard curb and gutter treatment and maximize green space, squelch heat-island impacts of larger asphalt surfaces, and infiltrate and clean storm water in verges and ditches.

There are two other fish bearing streams in Vancouver: one in Stanley Park that is a fish habitat  exhibit, and a restored creek at Spanish Banks, where Coho and Chum salmon return. But none of those are natural.

This map produced by the Vancouver Park Board shows a walk around Musqueam Park and points of interest.

Is it Time to Rethink the Mid-Block Crossing?

The insistence that pedestrians cross at intersections  treats pedestrians and other vulnerable road users just like vehicular traffic and force them to behave as such, waiting their turn at an intersection. That seems a bit inequitable.

After a research in Vancouver archival papers, I found out that “jaywalking lines” were painted to get pedestrians to conform to walking between painted white lines at intersections in 1918. There’s also a history of shaming walkers that would have tried to cross the street mid-block, which is actually safer as there are only two traffic directions, not four as at an intersection.

The term  “jaywalking” referring to walkers crossing midblock was embraced by the automotive industry  in the 1920’s to free up the street for rapidly moving vehicles. Pesky pedestrians were relegated to intersections that were controlled by engineering traffic standards, with the concept that traffic engineers were better judges of pedestrian safety than the pedestrians themselves.

There is a sad reality on our fatality statistics in Metro Vancouver and in most places. The majority of fatalities are pedestrians over fifty years of age, mostly men, who are crossing at intersections WITH the walk light. And how are pedestrians getting injured and dying? It appears that the majority of crashes seem to occur with drivers turning left through the intersection when the pedestrian has the right of way.

Work with Vision Zero in New York City refers to every life using the road as being important, and strives to have no deaths or serious injuries due to road crashes. New York City is revisiting the mid-block pedestrian crossing and finding that it is safer.

Even in the 1990’s research conducted by the US Transportation Research Board found that  26 percent of all pedestrian accidents occurred by the “midblock dash”, 25 percent at intersections, and 50 percent by random vehicles mounting curbs and  other random crash sites. This shows that those marked crossings at  intersections are not as safe as assumed.

The American Federal Highway Administration (FHA) striped intersection pavements with the assumption that pedestrians are safer crossing at intersections with traffic lights and all kinds of turning movements versus mid block two-way vehicular traffic. That has proven not to be the case.

Installing correct, visible  midblock pedestrian crossings would mitigate crashes and the FHA estimates that these crossings are workable at speeds of 30 mph (50 km/h). Mid-block crossings can  be hard to use for visually impaired people, and do require education for drivers to be alert for them.

Quebec had implemented no right turns at intersections on red lights, but that has been repealed and now Montreal alone has that legislation.  In terms of making pedestrian crossings safer, well lit intersections, slower mandated road speed and “leading pedestrian intervals” (LPIs) can save lives.

Leading pedestrian intervals refer to crossing lights being reprogrammed to give pedestrians a three to ten second start to cross the street before vehicular traffic is allowed to proceed through the crosswalk. New York City has over 2,200 of these leading pedestrian intervals where their policies prioritize safety of walkers over vehicular movement. New York City has a 56 percent decrease in collisions where the LPIs were installed.

NACTO, the National Organization of City and Transportation Officials estimates that LPIs can reduce pedestrian crashes by 60 percent. Costs to install leading pedestrian intervals are nominal, about $1,200 USD per intersection.

The cities of Vancouver and Surrey have implemented LPIs and should be installing more.  There are currently 19 Leading Pedestrian Interval signals in Vancouver with plans for an additional 10 in 2021. The City of Surrey has installed LPIs at 88 of their intersections.

If we are serious about encouraging sidewalk users to walk and roll to schools, shops and services, we need to look at how to get them across roads safely. It’s well worth revisiting the midblock crossing, and investing in LPIs which are cheap to install at existing intersection crossings, and which are demonstrated to save lives.

Here’s Shabnem Afzal, the Manager of the Vision Zero program with the City of Surrey describing how Leading Pedestrian Intervals work.

Is the Vancouver Park Board Staying in its Lane?

Vancouver is the only city in Canada that still has a separate park board. That means that there is a separately funded staff that exclusively  manages parks and recreational centres, and reports directly to Vancouver City Council on their budget. The mandate of the Park Board is to “provide, preserve, and advocate for parks and recreation services to benefit all people, communities, and the environment.”

Part 23 of the Vancouver Charter sets out what the Park Board does, and allows for seven Park commissioners to be elected at the same time as the City of Vancouver’s council is elected. This section is pretty clear that the mandate of the Park Commissioners is for parks, things that happen in parks and recreational activities/buildings that are associated with parks operations.

For 2020 the Vancouver Park Board had an operating budget of 136 million dollars, with 63 million dollars coming from revenue and 73 million dollars coming from taxes.  The Commissioners themselves receive $17,600 a year with the chair of the Park Commissioners receiving $22,000 a year.  The Park Commissioners meet once or twice a month and you can view their schedule here. The meetings can be a bit surprising to listen to, and it appears that sometimes the Commissioners forget that the public are listening in to their chat on Zoom.

The Park Board has been a bit of a training ground for the politically minded that then go on to try for a Councillor position at the City of Vancouver. The highly regarded Mayor Philip Owen was first a park commissioner. He went on to serve on City Council and then was elected for three terms as Mayor, in 1993, 1996, and 1999.

There are two more years before the next Civic election and that may explain some of the posturing that is being seen as Park Commissioners publicly comment on things that are clearly outside their jurisdiction.

One Park Commissioner has been making unfortunate remarks on how the City of Vancouver manages its own Slow Streets and other initiatives outside of Stanley Park, specifically on Beach Avenue.

Continue reading “Is the Vancouver Park Board Staying in its Lane?”