Interview with Sandra James on Vancouver’s Green Streets

Sandra James, International ASLA, City and Greenways Planner, discusses Vancouver’s innovative, multi-faceted green streets program, as well as growing community involvement in green street development. Vancouver was an early adopter of green street technologies. Vancouver has found that green streets not only improve community livability and access, but also provide environmental benefits and can play a role in limiting transportation-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Vancouver is tracking GHG emissions from neighborhoods and quantifying the GHG emission reductions that result from green streets. James argues that cities must continue to prioritize walking and biking over car use in transportation policy and planning, and invest in community-driven green street development.

James explains how Vancouver defines a green street: “For the city of Vancouver, a green street is really a street where walking and biking is prioritized ahead of cars. In 1992, we were a bit ahead of the curve — a group of landscape architects and people who were genuinely interested in the walking environment formed an Urban Landscape Taskforce and looked at designing a system of streets that went border to border, called “greenways.” These streets have sidewalks, pedestrian ramps at each corner of the sidewalk, pedestrian activated intersection controls where needed, infiltration bulges, way finding, public plantings, benches, water fountains and public art. But, functionally, they really are called green streets in any other part of the country or in North America.”

Vancouver has taken public participation and involvement in green street conceptualization, development, and maintenance seriously, believing that long-term sustainability depends on community buy-in. James says: “They’re really two components of public participation and community involvement  in our process. The first is the city-wide greenways of 16 routes, which are managed and taken care of by the city’s money, capital funding. For this program, we have a complete planning process that goes out to the public. The public is invited to open houses, are given newsletters, and are surveyed. There’s information on the Internet about the complete plan, the part we are working on now,  and how people can get involved. It’s run just like any other planning process in the city.

The second piece is the participatory piece, and that would be for people on what we call neighborhood greenways, or neighborhood green street connections, that are usually about 100 to 500 feet long and connect stores, commercial buildings, or places people want to go to. Those are maintained by neighborhood communities. A neighborhood has to agree to want to take care of that space before it’s built. It’s worked out very well.  Occasionally every second or third year we’ll go in to get a haircut, or to make the space look better. But in the 11 that we’ve done so far, they’ve become places of great pride, and the communities do take care of them.”

GHG emission reductions related to green street usage are being tracked by the city. “We’re now starting to qualify and quantify in terms of greenhouse gases (GHGs), and in terms of the amenity that’s provided both for the pedestrians and those who live along these locations. We’re also looking at neighborhood development in terms of GHGs. Our real hope is our model of a green street will be adopted by other cities, municipalities, and counties to help with their GHG emissions.”

Lastly, James argues that transportation networks for pedestrian and bicyclists have to be prioritized ahead of cars. “Allan Jacobs, who used to be the director of planning for San Francisco, always mentions that 25 to 30 percent of a city’s fabric is streets. The idea is that if you can take care of that street’s urban design, you’ve already handled a third of the problems. In the Vancouver model, the sustainable streets or green streets are a success. They became a place where the community wants to spend time. Car traffic is diminished. Bicyclists have access ahead of cars. Part of this has been to show by example and part of it is also been leading through policy. We have tremendous public support for the development of these green streets.”

Read the full interview

One thought on “Interview with Sandra James on Vancouver’s Green Streets

  1. Jonah Holland 10/07/2009 / 2:21 pm

    This looks like a great project. What a great thing for the community, putting pedestrian and bike traffic ahead of cars. And how great that they could involve the public. Hopefully, some other cities will soon follow suit!

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