The origins of traffic calming in Vancouver's West End

Author/s: Adrienne Kinzel

Creation date: 2014-04-09

Contact info: n/a

Senior supervisor: Anthony Perl

Keywords: Traffic Calming, Mini-parks, Livability, Prostitution

Geographic focus: West End; Vancouver, BC; British Columbia; Canada

Research question/s:
What are the origins of traffic calming in Vancouver’s West End?
When and why was traffic calming implemented at this time and place?

Traffic calming is an ongoing and often contentious response to the pervasiveness of the automobile in cities. The West End was the first neighbourhood in Vancouver where traffic calming was implemented. Accordingly, this case can be seen as a paradigmatic turning point in the city’s planning history. Vancouver was also one of the first North American cities to complete a neighbourhood traffic calming plan. Although many aspects of this case study are locally specific, this thesis addresses broader policy lessons of interest to cities that are considering or renewing traffic calming measures. This research documents the evidence connecting certain traffic calming decisions to the history of the sex trade, which was displaced from the West End in the mid-1980s. This side of the story connects to urban studies literatures on the social “power/space” aspects of planning and municipal authority especially as they relate to efforts to control or displace those considered socially undesirable. A major contribution of this thesis is its critical evaluation of conflicting theories on the reasons for introducing traffic calming to the West End, as advanced by Punter (2003), Price (2012), Macdonald (2008), Lowman (1992) and Ross (2012).

Completely closing streets to cars is a fairly radical alteration from the status quo, and the West End experience shows that conflict, resistance and opposition are almost inevitable in achieving this transition. One lesson is that it helps to have engineers on board with the process. Also, while discourses of “livability” were integral to supporting and justifying all stages of the planning and implementation of traffic calming in the West End, the specific meanings of livability shifted over time, from “downtown living” in the 1960s, to “livable streets” in the early the 1970s, to an exclusionary and neoliberal invocation of livability based on the eradication of “undesirables” in the early 1980s. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, traffic diversion also became a key policy in a civic drive to remove street prostitution from the West End.