Transforming from an auto-oriented community to a walkable community doesn’t happen by chance. A municipality has to work hard to make it happen. This means that planning staff must have the know-how and desire to build a walkable community. Council also has to be fully on board.
On the flip side, a community can lose its walkability if a council is not vigilant about the projects it approves, and staff is not fully committed to advocating for walkability.
Willoughby in the Township of Langley is a community hopefully transitioning from an auto-oriented community to a walkable community. Willoughby’s new downtown is being built along Willoughby Towns Centre Drive near 208th Street and 80th Avenue. The Township also has planned for 86th Avenue around the Carvolth Park and Ride to be a walkable high street.
Some of the needed ingredients for a walkable community include having a sufficient density of people living within an easy 10 minute walk of where shops and services are to be located. Just one look around Willoughby Town Centre shows that the density is there. Another key ingredient is a pedestrian-focused public realm. The public realm must have wide, well-kept sidewalks with shops and services fronting them. A pedestrian should never need to walk through or by a parking lot to access the services needed.
One of the challenges transforming from an auto-oriented community to a walkable community is that people won’t instantly stop driving automobiles to shops and services. Parking must still be accommodated, just not prioritized.
Last week, Township of Langley Council looked at a new project that is being proposed in Willoughby Township Centre. The plan is for a two-storey commercial complex. The original plan was for a mixed-use complex, but the developer nixed that plan. The Township of Langley requires a certain amount of residential units in Willoughby Town Centre, and the developer has promised to add those units removed into a future phase. While I’m not pleased to see that the mixed-use component was removed, I wanted to focus on what was done right on this project.
|Site plan of proposed two-storey commercial building in Willoughby Town Centre. Select image to enlarge.|
The first thing done right is that the ground-level retail units all front Willoughby Town Centre Drive. Parking is at the rear of the building, and is accessed by a side street/lane. The other very important design element is that the ground-level retail units must be accessed from the street. No provisions have been made to access the ground-level retail units from the rear parking lot. I’ve seen some projects in Surrey that front the street, but as Surrey allows parking lot entrances, businesses sometimes keep the street-front door locked effectively turning their back to the pedestrian public realm.
|Rendering of proposed two-storey commercial building in Willoughby Town Centre, looking east. Select image to enlarge.|
For the Willoughby project, parking is accessed by a central breezeway that also serves as the pedestrian staircase to the second floor.
|Rendering of proposed two-storey commercial building in Willoughby Town Centre, looking north-east. Select image to enlarge.|
The parking is actually on two levels, but you wouldn’t notice it from Willoughby Town Centre Drive. The design actually reminds me of the first US shopping malls which were modelled on “Main Street USA” with hidden parking.
|Rendering of proposed two-storey commercial building in Willoughby Town Centre, looking west. Select image to enlarge.|
The cost of putting in underground parking is high, and this proposed two-storey commercial building project shows how it is possible to both accommodate the auto while building a high-quality, pedestrian-friendly public realm without breaking the bank.
The City of Langley has approved auto-oriented commercial buildings in Downtown Langley recently, this proposed project in the Township shows that it is possible to build a pedestrian-first building with parking that doesn’t destroy the pedestrian public realm.
Over time, parking will become less of an issue and future buildings will not require the same degree of parking. Vancouver has shown how you can transition from an auto-oriented community to a walkable community.