Granville Island has been studied world over as a successful model for harmonious vehicle-pedestrian shared space.
But Vancouver’s former chief planner says he’s seen that harmony breaking down recently, and is floating a radical idea: keep the cars out.
How would it work?
Listen: Brent Toderian discusses a car-free Granville Island
Granville Island, which is managed by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is currently in the middle of a long-term review of the property, and Brent Toderian says it’s a good time to look at some changes.
He says since the beginning, the island has been envisioned with a pedestrian priority model. Some areas are pedestrian only, while others are shared spaces in which cars are meant to defer to walkers.
However, he says recently, he’s seen a difference.
“I’ve noticed over the last number of years two things. One, that the jamming of cars on the island seems to, at least in my observation, gotten worse. It’s amazing to me just watching cars crawl inch by inch. … [And two,] because of this inch by inch crawling, I’ve observed that the cars on the island have gotten more aggressive lately.”
He says while pedestrians used to be able to walk comfortably down the middle of the street, now he sees cars forcing people out of the way, and parents increasingly afraid to let their kids walk freely.
Time for a change?
While it seems that keeping cars away might hurt commerce on the island, Toderian says businesses are actually one of the main groups pushing for a change.
He says any tweaks would have to be done carefully, so as not to ruin what is generally a successful model.
To that end, he says pilot projects could be tested, like banning cars on weekends or during the summer. Or keeping all cars except taxis out.
The experiment would have to include new options to get people on and off the island, like shuttle busses to peripheral parking.
“It would be great if we could get the streetcar back from the Olympic Village station which is on the books as a transit idea if only there were funding.”
Of course, any trials would have to take into account people with disabilities.
“Obviously that’s a huge issue, and I think whatever the solution is has to have some dispensation or solution for that kind of universal accessibility. Whether that’s vehicles of folks who are specially identified still having access to the roads, or whether that’s a shuttle service… obviously any solution has to include that.”
But he says while accessibility is often offered as a reason why a car-free island can’t work, he says there are ways around it as other jurisdictions in the world have proven.
And he says the question is about making the island accessible and comfortable to all, a vision he sees slipping as Granville Island becomes more car-centric.