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Vancouver needs a pedestrian advocate: SFU's Perl

I recently had lunch with SFU urban-studies program director Anthony Perl, who was beyond dismayed with council’s decision to opt for a one-lane bike trial Thursday. Perl says he’s now come to believe the city needs an advocate for pedestrians, as exists on Portland’s city planning staff, since they are the group that now has to take the hit to provide space for bikes.

Perl points out that it’s not cyclists but, in fact, walkers who are the fastest-growing share of transportation modes in the city. That’s thanks to the city’s overall move to create a residential-heavy downtown. But, other than that and the seawall, the city has done little to improve their lives.

Perl, a transportation expert, says cities improve when its leaders make decisive moves, not when they tinker with things and hope that the results will give them evidence that they can be a little bolder.

He notes that, in New York, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided to make the city more pedestrian friendly, he simply shut down Park Avenue from the bridge to the park every Sunday last summer. He didn’t fool around by shutting down one lane and seeing whether that went over okay. Perl also points to Ken Livingstone in London as a key figure in, as he phrases it, “putting an an end to road socialism by launching the congestion charge.”

Perl says that many studies have shown that when road space is reduced, what happens — against all intuition — is that traffic flow improves because drivers make more of an effort to search for other options, whether it’s a different driving route, a different way of transporting themselves, or different choices about where they really need to go.

Interestingly, Perl and I were sitting next to the main advocate for no bike-lane trial (or at least not an immediate one): Charles Gauthier, of the Downtown Business Vancouver Improvement Association. This is such a tiny town. No hostilities ensued and the lunch showed that we all had one thing in common: an appreciation for Italian food.

Frances Bula reports for Vancouver magazine and The Globe and Mail.

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