BC Priorities Project:  Reimagining Roadways - Promising Practices for Open Street Events

The BC Priorities Project is a research and educational partnership between SFU’s School of Public Policy and provincial government, agency and not for profit partners, which began in 2010. The goals of the project are to enhance the learning outcomes of our students by giving them the opportunity to work on issues of concern to government and community agencies, and to enhance research capacity across various sectors.

Each year, the first-year cohort of Masters students receives topics from different BCP partner organizations that are of medium to long-term interest to them. Students, in teams of four to five members, investigate the problems over the two semesters (September to April) of their Introduction to Policy Analysis I and II courses (MPP 800 and 807). The program is structured to match students’ interests with organizational needs in evidence-based research and policy analysis.

Partner Organization: City of Vancouver
MPP team members: Elise Buckley, Miranda Gariepy, Wendy Ma, and Alex Patey

Here is an excerpt from the team’s BCP report which was presented to City of Vancouver in Spring 2021.

Many cities, in particular those with city and traffic plans that have historically prioritized vehicular travel, are starting to seek out ways to increase the accessibility of active transport, especially as health indicators show residents becoming less active and less healthy. The implementation of active transportation strategies has resulted in many new Open Streets programs in cities across North America, South America, Asia, and Europe.

Open Streets refers to the large-scale, temporary opening up of streets for walking, cycling, and rolling without the presence of cars. Their goals include encouraging the re-thinking and reimagining of what streets can be: infusing public spaces with local arts and culture, and encouraging citizens to use active transport. Common alternative terms for Open Streets include: Sunday Streets, slow streets, and ciclovia events.

Other types of street events and parties have been hosted in Vancouver in the past, however, these events were one-day events with a particular celebration as a focal point (examples include Car Free Day and Bike the Night). None have had the explicit objective of changing travel habits and behaviour in the way that the City of Vancouver hopes an Open Streets event would. An Open Streets event further differs from these events because it allows residents to choose how they want to use the streets, be it for walking, biking, running, or rolling. 

The policy objective of the BCP report is to conduct a comprehensive analysis of promising practices to provide a recommendation to the City of Vancouver on how they might implement an Open Streets program that is equitable, financially sustainable, community-supported, and culture-changing.

This report includes a jurisdictional scan of Open Streets events and a description of four selected case studies. However, each program varies depending on the unique circumstances of the city it is being implemented in. Therefore, while it is conducive to draw from the experiences of other cities, it is crucial that Vancouver’s Open Streets program is tailored to its own demographic, environment, city structure, and future plans.

To assist the City of Vancouver with delivering successful Open Streets events, drawing on the literature as well as expert interviews, we developed a framework of four guiding principles.

These are central and foundational components to any Open Streets event in terms of accomplishing sustainable, long-term change in the community and an overall successful event. Our four principles are socio-cultural outcomes, financial sustainability, equity and fairness, and stakeholder buy-in, which was agreed upon based on information and guidance from the literature review, interviews, and jurisdictional scan.

We applied our Guiding Principles framework in order to identify seventeen promising practices, which is a program or strategy with potential to become a best practice but is still in the early stages of implementation and is without sufficient evidence (Public Health Agency of Canada, n.d.), which the City of Vancouver can implement in order to deliver a well-received and equitable event that promotes the usage of active transportation.

The 17 practices are grouped into the following four components:

  • Event Programming & Logistics: Practices 1 to 6,
  • Route Considerations: Practices 7 to 10,
  • Outreach: Practices 11 to 13, and
  • Event Sustainability: Practices 14 to 17.

In terms of the policy context for Vancouver’s Open Street, the City of Vancouver’s policy supporting Open Streets dates back to the 1997 Transportation Plan. Since then, a variety of policy changes have occurred related to Open Streets. Open Streets were a part of the City’s definition of Social Sustainability, adopted in 2005. In October 2009, the Mayor’s Greenest City Action Team’s strategy encouraged the City to re-imagine public spaces.

From 2009 to 2011, the City conducted three car-free pilots: Summer Spaces 2009, which opened streets in four commercial areas on Sundays; the 2010 Olympic Pedestrian Corridors, which opened specific downtown streets to walkers during the Olympics; and Rediscover Granville in 2010, which created temporary seasonal pedestrian streets downtown. All three of these pilots received strong public support based on the monitoring and evaluations done. For instance, a survey done for the Summer Spaces program found that 81% of respondents supported further development of the program. They also left positive comments, and it was observed that there was an overall increase in pedestrian and bicycle volumes. For the 2010 Olympic Pedestrian Corridors, it was found that there was double the amount of walking and cycling to downtown. Finally, a survey done for Rediscover Granville discovered that local businesses, residents, and participants were in favour of the event returning. Specifically, it was found that “51% prefer[red] that the initiative return every day [the] next summer; while 33% preferred the initiative return on a weekend-only basis” (City of Vancouver, 2011, p. 8).

The City of Vancouver’s current investigation of the potential to launch an Open Streets event stems from an action in the Transportation 2040 Plan to “develop recurring cyclovia-style event(s) that celebrate active transport” (City of Vancouver, 2012). The Transportation Plan, which was adopted by City Council in 2012, outlines actions to be taken in the short and long terms aimed at improving transportation in Vancouver by the year 2040. It makes note of rising levels of physical inactivity among residents, and identifies the regular use of active transport as a means of improving health indicators in the population.

The City of Vancouver’s Climate Emergency Action Plan, adopted in November 2020, includes a goal to ensure two-thirds of trips in Vancouver will be by active transportation and public transit. A subset of the goal is to encourage more walking, biking, and transit use. The Open Streets program will also help serve this goal as part of the Transportation Demand Management Action Plan (City of Vancouver, 2012).

Comments and Impact
This project was a great opportunity to engage on an emerging topic and way of event planning within our local municipal government. As students we were able to put into practice a lot of the skills we were learning through the curriculum on a topic that many of us were new to.
– Miranda Gariepy