Two weeks ago, while in Vancouver BC for a Institute of Transportation Engineers conference, I was lucky enough to go on a technical tour of the Carrall Street Greenway. Carrall Street is located in East Downtown (which is the only land connection between Downtown and the rest of Vancouver) and has the Northwest’s first cycletrack. The project’s main goal is to complete downtown Vancouver’s seawall loop path, which is a shared use path that rings downtown. Another goal is economic development. East Downtown is Vancouver’s (and BC’s?) poorest district and has significant drug problems (while on the tour, I saw people on the street shooting up; no joke). Needless to say, the city is hoping that by developing this path, thousands of cyclists will pass through the neighborhood, improving conditions. Go here for detailed drawings and plans.
I was happily surprised by the quality of the street, bar a few glaring issues. The design emphasizes flexibility of use. The city wanted to be able to easily close down the street and use it for community events and celebrations. Each side has full sidewalks as well as a 6 ft (I believe) smoothly paved grey cycletrack. Parking is provided on the west side of the street on pervious brick which is separated from one 10 ft travel lane in each direction by a 3 in rollable curb. This narrows the vehicular zone of the street significantly and makes it feel closer to a shared space than a normal two lane street.
I had three major issues with the project. First were the absolute twigs that they called “trees”, used on the first few blocks. Second, the cycletrack on the east side of the road was not protected. As you can see in the pictures, multiple people were parking or waiting on the cycle track, forcing bicyclists into the road. This problem might go away when construction is finished and the greenway is complete, but if it doesn’t, the city is going to need to do something. Third, there was no consistent way of alerting drivers and cyclists about points of conflict. They painted one whole area next to parking because they said that band RVs will park there, yet a few feet away, they did not mark an entrance to a surface parking lot with 15 or so parking spots. The scariest thing for an engineer is not to know what to expect, and I think that played out here.
Overall, it was great to see this development, and it will be a good learning experience for engineers and planners in the region. Portland will be building its first cycletrack near PSU over the summer. Check out Bike Portland for details. As for us, I don’t see a cycletrack in the cards for a while, although I hope I’m wrong.