Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Proposed Murrayville Shoppers misses the mark on pedestrian-friendly design

Neighbourhood commercial nodes play an important role in any community by providing convenient, close access to goods and services. In its ideal form a neighbourhood commercial node would contain a mix of retail, higher-density residential, and office space, but in the South of Fraser it has normally taken the form of the strip mall.

The traditional strip mall is auto-oriented with parking in the front and shops usually setback from the street. It creates an unwelcoming pedestrians and cycling environment, and a poor public realm. I fully realize the need for parking in the South of Fraser and that not every commercial site will be mixed-use, so how do we make the traditional strip mall better?

I think that Surrey has gotten it right with the introduction of the pedestrian-friendly strip mall. I posted about it on the blog Civic Surrey. In Surrey, newer neighbourhood strips malls front the street with pedestrian and cycling entrances while still including access to "hidden" parking in the back. It creates a more welcoming public realm that encourages walking and cycling while recognizing that the automobile is still the dominant form of transportation. So with the second largest municipality in Metro Vancouver embracing the walkable strip mall, you'd think that the Township of Langley would also follow.

I was a bit shocked when I looked at the plans for a new 18,650 sq. ft. Shopper Drug Mart in Murrayville. The store is moving from the central core of Murrayville to the northwest corner of Fraser Highway and 222nd Street. Interesting enough, the siting of the buildings for the proposed development are actually conducive to building a pedestrian-friendly strip mall, but instead of embracing the street, the development turns its back towards it.

Site plan for proposed Shoppers Drug Mart development. Click image to enlarge.

Proposed development turns its back towards the street creating a hostile pedestrian environment. Click image to enlarge.

The simple solution would be to include pedestrian entrances with welcoming pedestrian-friendly features like benches and windows facing the street. Bike parking would also help. The interesting thing is that a few tweaks to this plan could improve the perception of walkability in Murrayville. As it is, the new development is within easy walking distance of the Murrayville core and the hospital. It's really time that those on council demand a little better from developers to make our community more cycling and pedestrian-friendly especially with our aging popultation that will have increasing mobility challenges.

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