The power of citizen placemaking was demonstrated on a blustery winter morning in Victoria when volunteers and City of Victoria staff got together to “remake” a street, intersection and adjacent public spaces. The weather didn’t deter the participants or the outdoors-oriented populace of Victoria, who came out to test a new 3 way intersection, new crosswalks to the city’s biggest park, a new ‘parking-protected’ bike lane and a temporary waterfront gathering space.
The November 1, 2015, a “pop-up” project on Victoria’s Cook St. at Dallas Road was organized by the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network (GVPN) in collaboration with The City of Victoria and the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition (GVCC).
The event had four goals:
- engage citizens and multiple organizations in a collaborative public space redesign project
- ‘pilot the process’ for creating nimble public space and street redesign pop-ups
- test placemaking elements for the Cook St / Dallas Road area, including new intersection patterns, new crosswalks and a public gathering space, and
- test a ‘parking protected’ bike lane for its potential on Victoria streets.
The project originated in placemaking workshops / meetings held by the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network. On February 24, 2015, the Network wrote to Mayor Lisa Helps inviting the City of Victoria to collaborate on a Complete Streets demonstration project on Cook Street.
In March, GVPN did further canvassing on Cook Street, stopping people in the area to talk about placemaking, park access and street design. From there, we held further internal meetings to flesh out design concepts that reflected citizen interests.
The draft design concepts were based on an integration of citizen input and international Complete Streets design standards. The intent was to re-examine the right-of-way with an eye to how well it serves the whole community: people out enjoying recreation, people walking, people on bikes, people on buses and in private vehicles. We also looked at the street in context: at this point on the southern tip of Victoria, what is the role of the street? While it is designed to traditional arterial standards, there are many other elements of place and community that aren’t reflected in the current layout.
On the day of the event, the set-up included the following elements:
- a row of plastic ‘bean pole’ bollards from Woodstock Ave to Dallas Road on Cook St, to define a curbside bike lane and relocated parking lane; the bike lane was one-way southbound
- a temporary crosswalk at Woodstock and Cook
- temporary crosswalks (temporary tape) for all three crossing directions at Cook and Dallas
- a temporary three-way stop at Cook St. and Dallas Road (including temporary signage)
- a temporary public gathering space on the park immediately south of Dallas Road at the Dallas / Cook intersection
The Placemaking Network, GVCC and City of Victoria each set up a tent in the gathering space. The #Biketoria consultants (working on a new City of Victoria Bike Plan) set up maps of bike routes and gathered feedback on the emerging bike plan. Placemaking volunteers offered cookies and coffee to passers-by and talked with them about ‘what works’ in the Cook St. / Dallas Road area, including but not limited to the day’s temporary changes. There were plans to provide games for children but that wasn’t feasible due to rain and wind.
Volunteers at the gathering space and also out walking on both sides of Cook St. interacted with people, provided a short FAQ information sheet, and asked them to complete a short Feedback sheet. 55 people took the time to complete the Feedback.
A broad cross-section of Greater Victoria citizens were engaged in planning and conducting the pop-up. People of all ages and backgrounds got involved as volunteers – including many from the Cook St neighbourhood who heard about the project through community conversations and the GVPN canvassing. 25 volunteers from GVPN and GVCC assisted with conducting the event.
Due to the season and the wet weather, the numbers of people in the area were lower than they would have been on a sunny summer day. However, Victorians love their parks and outdoors, so there was a steady stream of people walking dogs, jogging, biking, or driving past.
CTV and CHEK attended the event; here’s the CHEK News clip.
Placemaking for Cook St. / Dallas Road area
The addition of three-way stop signs and marked crosswalk all three directions at Dallas and Cook was a hit with pedestrians. It is a zone where more people are on foot than in vehicles or on bikes, so foot travel should be the #1 priority.
Due to the wet surfaces, City crews were not able to apply temporary crosswalk marking tape for the test crosswalk at Woodstock Ave. Instead, the crossing was marked by signs and pylons. Volunteers at that crossing and elsewhere advised people to use caution.
On November 1, at the south end of Cook, there weren’t any families heading to the playground further north on Cook. However, in the previous observations and canvassing sessions that GVPN held along the street, parents noted that it’s difficult to cross Cook near the playground, especially with a stroller and no curb ramps. A sidewalk on the west side of Cook (to complement the existing chip trail) would be welcomed by people on scooters and pushing strollers. It should be noted that the road allowance in this area includes a number of metres on the park’s edge, which could accommodate a sidewalk.
The event helped many people look at the role of Beacon Hill Park as Victoria’s major urban park with fresh eyes. The park’s border, in particular, received attention. On the east and west sides, Cook Street and Douglas Street create significant barriers between residential areas and the park – crossing is difficult. On the south end of the park, many people were surprised to learn that the park itself extends to the waterfront; Dallas Road cuts through its south end like a major arterial, rather than a slow ‘parkway.’
Stopping vehicles going both directions on Dallas Road at Cook had the effect of slowing vehicles through the area. Further narrowing and/or special pavement treatments could be considered for the portion of Dallas Road that cuts through the park’s south end.
The weather wasn’t conducive to lingering on this day, but people liked the idea of some sort of gathering space south of Dallas Road – a meeting place where friends and neighbours could sit, lock up bikes, visit or just wait for others to join them. Many suggestions were received for specific design elements.
Parking-protected bike lane
In the section of Cook St. used for the pop-up, the centre line is 7.6 m from the curb. Using road design guidelines, it would be ideal to have 7.75 m available. With slight adjustments, however, we were able to allow 1.5 m for the bike lane, .75 m for a “loading” or car door zone, 2.5 m for a parking lane and 3.0 m for a driving lane. The bike lane itself and the loading zone were, in total, 1.05 m less than transportation standards. For the purposes of the pop-up, these allowances worked effectively.
If a similar lane were added on the east side of Cook for northbound cyclists, the same design could be used. In a permanent installation, consideration would have be given to whether the allowances for biking, doors, parking and driving could be adjusted satisfactorily. Bikes seemed to move smoothly through the lane. The parking area, being on the edge of Beacon Hill Park, does not involve very frequent come-and-go activity (as would be present in a retail area), so passenger door activity did not seem to affect bike safety.
In this pop-up, the only physical barriers between parked cars and the bike lane were a few small planters at the start and end of the bike lane, and 1 m high orange bean pole bollards. In a longer term pilot, some sort of immovable planters would be recommended, to prevent the line of parked vehicles from encroaching on the bike lane. In a permanent installation, curbing would be installed.
The addition of the southbound bike lane narrowed the driving lane considerably, which had the desired effect of significantly slowing traffic. Although the street is posted as a 30 km/h zone, it appeared most vehicles exceeded that. Vehicles appeared to slow significantly when they came to the narrower pop-up section. Of course, some of that slowing could be attributed to the ‘special event’ nature of the pop-up, with orange pylons alerting drivers to the changed configuration and creating greater caution. A longer term pilot (of a few months to a year) would allow the concepts to be more thoroughly tested, including data about vehicle speeds before and after the narrowing of lanes.
On a slightly wider arterial roadway, especially one that doesn’t have corner curb bulb-outs, the parking-protected bike lane could be implemented quickly and economically.
Based on public feedback and our experiences in organizing and conducting this event, the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network recommended that:
- The involved organizations continue to seek opportunities for collaborative, proactive community engagement projects.
Pilot the Process
- The City of Victoria, GVPN, GVCC and Victoria Community Associations Network (VCAN) collaborate on creating a set of guidelines and resources to facilitate ongoing street and public space ‘pop-ups’ that speed up urban innovation in the city.
- The City of Victoria create a Streets & Places Pilots Program using the guidelines (recommendation 2 above) and allocating an annual budget for projects.
Placemaking for Cook St. / Dallas Road area
- The City of Victoria collaborate with GVPN, GVCC and the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association on more detailed study of design enhancements for the area, including:
- a three-way stop or similar traffic calming at Cook and Dallas
- additional Cook St. crosswalk
- a public gathering space (potentially benches, bike racks, gazebo) south of Dallas Road
- time limits on parking along the west side of Cook St. to serve park users rather than employees parking to walk to nearby employment.
Protected Bike Lanes
- The City of Victoria incorporate the use of long term pilot projects to test #Biketoria bike routes and designs in a cost-effective manner.
- The City of Victoria integrate parking-protected bike lanes and accompanying narrow vehicle travel lanes as a long term (6 month to 1 year) pilot project on one or more city arterials.
Acknowledgements and Thanks
The Greater Victoria Placemaking Network would like to thank its many volunteers, as well as the following individuals and organizations:
- Ray Straatsma, consultant / volunteer
- Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition – volunteers, publicity, event insurance
- The City of Victoria: Mayor, Council, senior staff and day of event staff – planning, street design input, temporary signage and street markings, pylons and ‘bean pole’ bollards, publicity
- #Biketoria consulting team – planning, bike plan consultation, publicity
- Fairfield Gonzales Community Association – loan of tent, tables and chairs
- Starbucks Coffee in Cook St. Village – coffee and supplies
- photos courtesy Ray Straatsma, Heather Mallabone, Lorne Daniel
This project was a first for Victoria – but hopefully will lead to many more on-street and public space pop-ups and pilots.
The network will be working on a guide to neighbourhood and community groups wanting to lead similar placemaking / street innovation projects – get in touch if you’re interested.