Vancouver plans for easy streets

City mulls road upgrades for safer walking and biking

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

For the most part, driving on the surface streets of Vancouver is easy but walking or biking around the city is often another matter entirely.

In an effort to make Vancouver’s roads safe, convenient and more comfortable to a broader array of users, the city is in the works of adopting a Complete Streets policy to guide future road development and upgrades.

Through the decades, road construction and suburban sprawl in Vancouver, and much of the rest of America, emphasized getting cars to and from their destinations quickly. However, it gave community members little choice but to drive.

But now, urban planners are starting to pay more attention to constructing roads designed with a Complete Streets philosophy, which gives equal consideration to cars, bicycles, pedestrians, wheelchairs and public transit.

In fact, Smart Growth America, a national organization focused on neighborhood livability, says more than 1,000 agencies at local, regional and state levels have adopted Complete Streets policies.

“The Complete Streets concept is the ability to look deeper to have conversations with stakeholder groups that emphasize cycling, pedestrian activity and transit, and get their feedback and see what are some of the things we need to be able to look at,” said Ryan Lopossa, streets and transportation division manager for the city of Vancouver.

The plan won’t be a one-size-fits-all prescription for the city’s roads, rather design choices will have to be made on a case-by-case basis, said Patrick Sweeney, principal transportation planner for the city of Vancouver.

“It’s going to be a nuanced approach to managing the needs to all the users,” Sweeney said. “Some streets might see some changes, some streets won’t. It depends on the needs trying to be met on the road.”

Adopting a Complete Streets policy will make the city eligible for additional grant funding for local street projects from the Washington Department of Transportation.

But on another level, officials believe creating a more walkable, bikeable and connected city will spur economic development by attracting people who don’t want to drive everywhere.

“Growing and developing in a way that serves more users, it creates a stronger sense of identity and place for the city, which attracts people to want to live and work here and grow their businesses here,” Sweeny said. “Those are the kinds of places a lot of companies want to be.”

In recent years, the city has worked to include a broader user group in its road projects — examples Sweeney gave are parts of Columbia Street downtown that include bike lanes and parts of Mill Plain in the Columbia Tech Center in east Vancouver where sidewalks, parking spaces, and bike and car lanes all have ample space and separation — but never before has the city had a policy to direct a Complete Streets network.

Currently, city staff is working on a final draft of a Complete Streets policy that will be presented to the Vancouver City Council for a first reading June 5. A public hearing will follow June 19.

If it’s approved, the policy will provide guidance and direction to the city’s planned update of its 20-year Transportation System Plan.