A Motion on Notice called Prioritizing Commercial Drive as a Pedestrian-First High Street is being brought forward to Council on May 18th, 2021. The motion seeks to reduce the number of vehicle travel lanes on Commercial Drive south of East 1st Avenue and to introduce a number of improvements for pedestrians.
This motion is being brought forward by Councillor Fry as the mover and Councillor DeGenova as the seconder. Specific improvements would include widened sidewalks, improved access for cyclists and for the implementation of further traffic calming measures. One of the goals is to create a “slow street” with enhanced pedestrian crossings. The motion seeks to direct staff to report back on the steps outlined.
However, are City of Vancouver staff actually the best choice to do this work? City staff, are after all, responsible for the way Commercial Drive right of way is currently allocated. The world has some amazing examples of high streets that have undergone transformations in recent years, from Vienna to Copenhagen to Helsinki. This could be a great opportunity to bring in world-renowned experts in the field to help solve this difficult design issue.
There are a number of challenges for a redesign of the Drive. It’s worth noting that Commercial Drive narrows north of East 1st Avenue, as the street right of way decreases (that’s the distance from the property line on one side of the street to the property line on the other side). This leaves little room to increase the sidewalk width, to support transit stops and to potentially add dedicated bike lanes. Another tricky aspect of Commercial Drive is that some of the blocks don’t have corresponding laneways at the back of buildings. Thus, deliveries to retailers must be done through the front doors along Commercial. There’s also the issue that the transportation department may demand “5 lanes” for cars (two lanes in both directions plus a turning lane) at East 1st Avenue. Something is going to have to give if wider sidewalks are on the agenda, and the turning lanes may need to be removed or included in fewer lanes of traffic. South of East 1st Avenue, the street right of way for Commercial Drive is about 24.3 meters (80 feet), which is still narrower than the 99-foot right of way for several other arterial streets in Vancouver.
There are other items that need to be addressed regarding smartly allocating the pedestrian space, dealing with sandwich boards, placing other street furniture and detailing in order to maximize space for pedestrians. It’s important to note for TransLink, that Commercial Drive is the third most popular bus route in the region. However, there is no short turn downtown or at East Hastings, and buses can bunch up (and also not come for a while). Working out dependable trolley bus service is another item for consideration. There have been rumblings about removing the frequency of bus stops along the Drive; however, such a move would adversely affect seniors.
Between Graveley Street and East 1st Avenue, Commercial Drive expands to 5 lanes in width to make room for a turning lane:
Council agenda: https://council.vancouver.ca/20210518/regu20210518ag.htm
4. Prioritizing Commercial Drive as a Pedestrian-First High Street