Who Are Metro Vancouver’s Bill Cunninghams?



Bill Cunningham who wrote for the New York Times died at 87 in 2016.  You may have seen his column-Bill went around New York City by bike and by foot and photographed fashion trends. But he was doing more than that-as The New York Times stated  he “ turned fashion photography into his own branch of cultural anthropology on the streets of New York, chronicling an era’s ever-changing social scene for The New York Times by training his busily observant lens on what people wore — stylishly, flamboyantly or just plain sensibly”. 




In 2009 he was designated by the New York City Conservancy a  living landmark. There is also an excellent documentary on him called “Bill Cunningham New York.” He lived in a tiny apartment in the Carnegie Hall building. And if you saw him in his peasant jacket on a bicycle, you knew it was Bill.




I think Foncie Pulice who took photos of Vancouverites from the 1930’s to 1979 was also a bit like Bill Cunningham, someone who was at ease with talking to people on the street and leaving a cultural gift of all those photographic memories. And until 2006 there was David Cohen, a music lover that went to every symphony concert he could and would always talk to anyone on Granville Mall about music, bus routes, life and living in Vancouver. David always carried books with him and was passionate about music. Bramwell Tovey the conductor of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra played the piano for David at his hospice when he was dying. David Cohen was for me the epitome of a Vancouverite, approachable, kind and just plain friendly.




Do we still have those characters in Vancouver that connect people through photography, music, or conversation on downtown city streets? If you know of one, please let us know in the comments below.


New York responsible for Road Violence Injuries in Landmark Decision


As reported in Streetsblog the State of New York’s Court of Appeals has made a landmark ruling that may have implications across the U.S.-“New York City and other municipalities can be held liable for failing to redesign streets with a history of traffic injuries and reckless driving.”

The ruling  arises from the consideration of a crash where a vehicle being driven over 50 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone crashed into a 12-year-old boy on a bicycle and the boy has been awarded 20 million dollars in damages. Here’s the interesting part –The court held that departments of transportation (DOT) can be held liable for harm caused by speeding drivers, where the DOT fails to install traffic-calming measures even though it is aware of dangerous speeding, unless the DOT has specifically undertaken a study and determined that traffic calming is not required.”

It turns out that residents had asked the City several times to provide traffic calming measures on Gerritsen Street, which was locally known for speeding vehicles. DOT subsequently conducted studies at three intersections, according to court documents, and “notified police of the speeding problem after each study.” But DOT didn’t look at the incidence of speeding along Gerritsen Avenue as a whole, and failed to look at traffic calming measures to slow down vehicles.

The judge commented: It is  known among traffic engineers that straight, wide roads with little interference from pedestrians and other vehicles, such as Gerritsen Avenue, encourage speeding because drivers feel more comfortable on roadways with those characteristics…traffic calming measures deter speeding because they cause drivers to be more cautious, and that such measures are known to reduce the overall speed on roadways.” The upshot? The jury could conclude that “negligence was a proximate cause of the accident”.

Such a ruling will mean that city budgets will include funding for street safety redesigns, and  will mean that traffic safety improvements are no longer “subject to debate and contingent on unanimous local opinion.” It also means that in New York State  when traffic calming is recommended in studies  to reduce road violence,that the municipality is encumbered to install the infrastructure. This is truly a game changer.


Making New York City’s Fifth Avenue into a Pedestrian Mall


Dna info reports that the New York City Police Department is finding it challenging to have a President-elect living in New York City. “The massive NYPD presence around Trump Tower is costing the city millions of dollars, which has yet to be reimbursed by the federal government, to the alarm of Mayor Bill de Blasio and local elected officials.”

But Janette Sadik-Khan has an elegant solution which she shared with the New York Times. Donald Trump lives at Trump Tower at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, the same five lane Fifth Avenue “that joins the New York Public Library, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, as well as numerous cathedrals of commerce, tourism and high-end retail. Because the avenue is such a popular destination, retail floor space there rents for $3,000 per square foot a year, the highest price in the world, more than double the cost of similar space along the Champs Élysées. It seems appropriate that gold is a popular color for building facades on Fifth.”


As people flow through this area of Fifth Avenue in their day-to-day activities, the street and sidewalk movement has been challenging due to the required police officers and secret service agents near the Trump Tower. And New Yorkers are  unhappy “The motorcades and security restrictions that will result will permanently paralyze the city’s streets. The swearing-in hasn’t even happened, but the swearing has already started: New Yorkers want their Fifth Avenue back.”

Ms. Sadik-Khan sees this as an opportunity to not close Fifth Avenue but to “reclaim” Fifth as a  “pedestrian street, free of private vehicular traffic but shared with mass transit. The change, which should span the stretch of the avenue from Central Park to the Empire State Building at 34th Street, would create a truly American public space: an entirely new civic platform at the nation’s new center of political gravity.” Since commercial vehicles are already banned from Fifth Avenue, two lanes would be reserved for buses, and the other three lanes could be dedicated for pedestrians. New York has already proven that streets that accommodate more people are great for business bottom lines.

New Yorkers get their street back, the federal government gets a zone that would make the job of protecting the president easier, and President Trump gets a public space he can call his own.

It would be a win-win all around.

Montreal’s Innovative Neighbourhood Inspired Pedestrian Projects


Sometimes its easier just to get out of the box, build something, call it a demonstration project-and if it is successful, make it permanent. As CBC reports that is exactly what the City of Montreal is doing on Atwater, Roy and  Wellington Streets.

The City of Montreal will spend $1.7 million dollars over three years to transform one block lengths of Roy Street East and Wellington Street, and several parts of St. Ambroise and Atwater Street. Grants will be given  to neighbourhoods to create and animate pedestrian oriented pilot projects. Depending on the effectiveness of the closures, the streets will remain fully pedestrianized year round or for part of the year.

This is the third year this program has been operating, with approval ratings as high as 90 per cent from participating neighbourhoods.


Walking “Sheds” and Why They Matter



From the brilliant minds of  Public Square, Robert Steuteville writes about the return to compact walking friendly neighbourhoods, with shops and services in close walking distance. When the City of Vancouver developed Greenways, we said that these streets which favour walking and biking ahead of vehicular traffic should be a twenty-minute walk or a ten minute bicycle ride from every residence in Vancouver.  New urbanism architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and city planner and author Jeff Speck take this concept one step (no pun intended) further. They are using the  terminology of  “pedestrian shed,” a distance that can be covered in five minutes at a normal walking pace—typically shown on a plan as a circle with a quarter-mile radius.

Work undertaken by  Victoria Walks in Australia  shows that seniors and young people will go about the same distance by foot to access services-one kilometer. At a speed of 6 km/h that normally takes a person about ten minutes. The five-minute radius suggested  by Plater-Zyberk and Speck is about 400 meters.

“If the built environment is appealing and human scale, the theory is that most people will walk at least five minutes rather than get in a car. The idea is embedded in a thousand new urban plans and incorporated into zoning codes now. Although the quality of the built environment can expand or shrink the distance people will walk, the quarter-mile pedestrian shed remains an influential and useful idea for designing neighborhoods and building complete communities. “

Speck sees the walking shed as a primary way to organize develop that emphasizes walkability and connection, and reinforce the concept of walkability in neighbourhoods. The article goes through the theoretical discussion of early planning form which incorporated walkability before being usurped by  the car and by suburban developers.  There is also discussion of  how retailing and mixed use is returning to walkable locations reminiscent of the  accessible corner store from the last century.


Rediscovering Walkability-Lose a Highway Gain a Walking Place


There is a renaissance occurring in many American towns that are reclaiming their downtowns when bisecting highways are rerouted from town centres. Mayor Bob Crowell is the Mayor of  Carson City Nevada. This is the capital of Nevada and has a population of about 55,000 people, located fifty kilometers or 31 miles from Reno Nevada. Since the last mid-century, Carson City hosted a highway right through their main downtown area, with the highway effectively bisecting both sides of the street and minimizing pedestrian and cycling movement. Traffic was through traffic, and  there were metal fences on the side of the sidewalks to keep pedestrians further separated away from the travelled portion of the road.

The 21st century brought two changes-a plan for the new Interstate 580 to go around the downtown area, and a 1/8th  cent sales tax devoted to community improvements, including a downtown revitalization project to bring the city’s heart back into a walkable, bikeable sociable place. The total cost of the new downtown streetscape revitalization plan was 11.4 million dollars.


“A big part of what we’re doing down here is to create not just a sense of place, but a sense of community,” says Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell. “Some will say, you know, you are just doing this for downtown businesses but we are doing it for the entire city so that we all share in what is happening with the diversification of northern Nevada.

There are wider sidewalks and a bicycle lane, shorter pedestrian crossing distances on streets and new trees and light poles similar to those installed in this historic town in the 1800’s. Even the benches located on the main street echo the sandstone brick used to build the capital building in 1869, also situated on the main street. One side street has been closed and made into a public plaza and water park. This new McFadden Plaza is located directly across the street from the state capitol building.


There was a lot of discussion about the changes in the streetscape, but as the Director of the Downtown Business Association noted “Downtown Carson City has always been a gathering place for our locals to get together on a Friday night or Saturday. This should expand that to make it a fun, easy-to-get-to place to shop, have a bite to eat or visit local pubs any time of the day or day of the week.”

The  proof is in the use, with the area fast becoming an arts and entertainment centre as more businesses open up along the Main Street. Carson City has its downtown back.