Friday, June 29, 2012

Welcome to Car-Friendly Downtown Langley: Where pedestrians are an afterthought

Last year the City of Langley revealed a proposed design for McBurney Lane and I was excited to see that the City was embracing walkability by creating a great people-friendly space that would tie the one-way section of Fraser Highway into Douglas Park.

The current McBurnay Lane has a square in its North and an ugly parking lot its South. The parking lot breaks up the public space, separates Fraser Highway from Douglas Park, and creates a hostile pedestrian environment.

McBurney Lane Today

With this in mind, I was happy to see McBurney Lane become an extension of Douglas Park. At the same time the City planned to maintain the same number of parking spots in the area by converting Douglas Crescent from parallel parking to angle parking.

Original Proposal for McBurney Lane

The merchants didn’t see the benefit of creating great public space as originally planned and insisted that the parking lot remain in McBurney Lane. They got their wish. The new plan for McBurney Lane is disappointing and and shows that Downtown Langley is going down the wrong path.

New Proposal for McBurney Lane

The merchants in Downtown Langley are still under the impression that they are competing with the Langley Bypass and Willowbrook Mall for regional shopper in cars. Sadly, they haven’t realized that this war is already over and Downtown Langley has lost.

The reality is that Downtown Langley needs to differentiate itself from all the strip malls that surround it and embrace the fact that it is a local shopping area in one of the highest density areas of the region. Over 50% of the population of the City is within a 10 minute walk of Downtown; many of them seniors without cars. Downtown Langley should create a pedestrian and cyclist-friendly space to draw people from the local area and create a safe space for seniors. If Downtown Langley embraced walkability not only would it attract more people from the local area, but it would create a regional destination where people would go to just to walk around. There are many examples of this including White Rock, Fort Langley, and Steveston. Many strip malls are even trying to create "Main Streets" like Grandview Corners in South Surrey. Parking lots have been proven to actively discourage pedestrian trips. The tragedy is that Downtown Langley’s obsession with more parking will be its demise.

Downtown Langley’s parking policies don't actually benefit customers. Based on the recommendations of the merchants, there is 3 hour and 2 hour free parking Downtown. This includes the one-way section of Fraser Highway. These spots usually serve as parking for employees, business owners, and non-customers. Even after saying that, it is a rare day when all the parking spaces are full in Downtown Langley. A rational parking policy would see the creation some free on-street 30 minute, high-turnover parking spots in key area where finding parking is a preceived issue. It would also see creation of 2 hour paid on-street parking in other sections of Downtown Langley. Paid long-term parking would be available in the many off-street parking lots and the Downtown merchants would provide validated (free) parking for customers that choose to use the long-term lots. This does three things: makes non-customers pay for precious parking spaces, encourages higher turnover of on-street parking, and provides a perceived value for shopping in Downtown Langley. These policies would allow the City to build a pedestrian-friendly, successful Downtown. Today there are many empty storefronts in Downtown Langley, so clearly the parking extravaganza that is Downtown Langley isn’t working.

I don’t think that the merchants will see the value in creating a pedestrian-friendly Downtown or a rational parking policy, and I don't think Council will either. I still remember a conversation around Douglas Park where one of the councillors wanted to turn half the park into a parking lot.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Totally agree how dissapointing this is. The entire Lane should be that...a walkable lane. Walking it the other day that parking portion is a total eyesore and chops up the downtown area from Douglas Park. It should be a true green walkable lane that "connects" the Downtown core to the Park. Walkable corridors would get me downtown more. Parking spaces wont.