East Van’s concrete traffic barriers are missing the point

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      The City of Vancouver has installed a series of bright yellow concrete traffic barriers throughout East Van. And while the purpose of them is to slow down cars, and to make neighborhood streets safer and calmer, they seem to be doing the opposite.

      These barriers morphed out of the Slow Streets program that was launched at the height of the pandemic. In 2020, plastic barriers were placed along highly-used pedestrian and cyclist routes to warn drivers of the newly shared pathways. The number of people out walking and cycling had grown suddenly (remember when there was nothing else to do?), so a friendly reminder for drivers seemed like a smart idea.

      It was good for a while. A survey was done in 2020 to see how people felt about the barriers: approximately 70 per cent of cyclists and pedestrians liked the new temporary measures; drivers and transit users did not.

      Fast forward to 2022. As part of phase three of the Slow Streets program, the City installed permanent bright yellow concrete barriers on many local streets, primarily throughout East Vancouver—including Charles Street at Victoria Drive, Glen Drive East at Broadway East, and MacLean Drive at Venables. These concrete barriers are very different than the previous Slow Streets ones. They are immovable, for one thing—and they reduce two-way traffic to one-way just before an intersection. But the intersection, notably, remains two-way.

      Despite its good intentions, this approach is creating a hazard. There is no longer adequate room for drivers and cyclists travelling in both directions. The road narrows to allow one car at a two-way intersection, which often means other cars have to wait to turn into a street until the car exiting has moved out of the way. As a driver, I am often left in a precarious situation, and as a cyclist I’m not always sure when it is safe for me to go.

      Following the installation of the concrete barriers, the City surveyed users of six sites that were under review. This 2022 survey was a lot less positive, with most of the interventions receiving a failing grade from pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers alike. The remaining 29 sites did not appear to be assessed.

      If the City is going to spend time and money in these lean fiscal times, I would hope there is data to support it—but there doesn’t seem to be any. 

      As the City staff I have been in contact with like to remind me, I have sent a lot of emails, all of them focused on the data. How much was spent? What were accidents like at these intersections before the intervention? What are they like after? As far as I can tell, due to a lack of information, no data has been used to justify the expenditure of putting these barriers in place.

      Along with the Slow Streets program, the City has a traffic calming division, which focuses on solutions that are proven to work (and that are significantly cheaper): speed bumps, signage, and reducing posted speeds. Nowhere on the webpage is there any information about concrete barriers.

      Still, there is an even bigger issue at play here.

      The City is taking an “equity” approach by putting in what it argues are traffic-slowing measures in parts of the city where residents are generally less vocal. Rich west side residents will let you know if they don’t like something; Eastsiders tend not to.

      That sounds nice, but coming in and doing something without a thoughtful analysis, without presenting information, and without consultation isn’t really helping. The City is deciding to speak for residents rather than creating a platform for residents to speak for ourselves.

      The Eastside does not have massive problems with cars speeding through our local streets. Residents here are more concerned about affordable housing, the lack of social services, the potential end of social housing options, the opioid overdose crisis, the rapid increase of food insecurity, and the privileging of the rich over the poor with the slowdown of the empty homes tax.

      So while I rage against the concrete barriers, I find I am actually raging more against a City Hall that seems to do nothing about the real issues facing our residents.