The sound of cars driving by the window fills the room, as Jahmira Lovemore sits on her bed and describes what it’s like sleeping metres away from Vancouver’s busy First Avenue every night. She’s only lived in her house on Woodland Drive and 1st Avenue for six months now, but has become used to the noticeable noise level from cars speeding down the heavily-used street.
“The noise now?” Lovemore asks. “Oh, this is really quiet compared to other times.”
A community group that has been empowered by the city to make recommendations for the neighbourhood’s future is hoping to reduce the speed of drivers travelling down 1st Avenue by drafting a recommendation to implement off-hour parking on the busy street. The Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendation is one of many that will be part of their community plan that will be presented to the city in June. The goal of this specific recommendation is to change the dynamics of the street into a neighbourhood-first road rather than a main thoroughfare.
“The end goal is to slow it down and make people realize it’s a residential neighbourhood and not a freeway,” said Dorothy Barkley, one of the 49 assembly members and the chair of the transportation committee at the area’s permanent residents group, the Grandview-Woodland Area Council (GWAC). “So much of that traffic is coming from out of town, and it’s not sensitive to the fact that it’s a neighbourhood.”
Changes came with Expo 86
People used to be able to park on First Avenue during times outside the morning and afternoon commute times. In 1986, in preparation for Expo 86, the street parking was removed. Barkley said this was intended to be temporary, but parking was never reinstated.
First Avenue is a main arterial road that brings people from Highway 1 directly into downtown Vancouver. Limiting this flow of traffic into downtown Vancouver will impact other areas, but residents think it’s feasible. They say the city does too.
“We had Jerry Dobrovolny (director of transportation, City of Vancouver) come and speak to GWAC at the beginning, I think it was April or May of last year, and he didn’t think this was too foreign of a concept,” said Barkley.
The chair of the citizen’s assembly, Rachel Magnussonn, said the group had not had an official consultation with the city regarding their draft recommendations, but will eventually.
While the concept might not be foreign to the city, introducing off-hours parking could cause more problems than it solves. Steve Brown, manager of traffic and data management with the city, said that implementing parking on an arterial street, like First Avenue, during peak hours would push traffic to smaller, neighbourhood streets. Because of this, the only times parking could be reasonably implemented on 1st Avenue is from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. and this could prove dangerous.
“What happens with that is that you get very little amount of parking in there and you get points where vehicles are coming along and then all of a sudden there’s a parked car so they have to change lanes,” Brown said. “So you can end up actually increasing the number of vehicle collisions that happen in those locations.”
On arterial roads, the city tends to focus more on creating safer pedestrian crossings, rather than changing the nature of the street itself.
“It’s not something that we usually recommend, just putting in parking as a means of trying to slow down traffic, particularly in areas where we have quite high volume streets,” said Brown.
First Avenue is unique among arterials because it is only four lanes wide, whereas other arterials that do allow some parking have six, said Brown. One example of a four-lane arterial that does allow off-hours parking, however, is 12th Avenue, which has similar volume, according to the city’s traffic data.
Hazardous for children
A major concern of the assembly is that currently, 1st Avenue is a dangerous road for the many children who live in the area. Lovemore sees this on a day-to-day basis.
“There are a lot of schools around here, but I rarely see kids on East First” Lovemore said. “It feels like the volume of cars is a lot faster. People aren’t stopping here, they’re not getting off or parking, they’re just driving through. It’s used like a freeway.”
Brown claims that speed is not really an issue on First Avenue.
“During the peak times… there generally isn’t much of a speeding issue along there,” Brown said. “Some people may feel or think that there is, because as you’re walking along the roadway the proximity of the vehicles next to you might feel a little less comfortable. But as the volumes are higher in those areas, generally when we do speed checks, they tend to be within the speed limit range.”
‘Significant concern’ about recommendation
Magnussonn said that none of the draft recommendations are set in stone yet. She said that there was some “significant concern” about this specific recommendation, stemming from the citizens’ assembly public roundtable on March 5.
“[The recommendation] may be scrapped entirely, but the idea is, if there is a concern there that becomes a recommendation, to never leave a concern untouched,” Magnusson said. “There’s a real concern about East 1st.”
Only time will tell if this concern will be addressed by the city. The final community plan will be presented to the city in June, and while the plan will not be binding, the assembly has high expectations for a positive response from the city. And residents along First Avenue look forward to a change.
“The way it’s set up, it kind of ruins the street itself for people to use,” Lovemore said, peeking between her blinds onto the busy street. “It’d be nice to see parking on First, just to have something between you and the traffic.”
The map shows traffic volume data among Vancouver’s main arterial roads. Figures represent number of vehicles in a 24 hour period. Data is taken from the City of Vancouver Open Data Catalogue, using the most recent data from each street. All data is collected on a Thursday, to remain as consistent as possible. The discrepancy in the years reduces consistency, but cannot be avoided given the data provided.