Thursday, March 27, 2014

Embracing accessible design outside of Surrey’s core

While municipalities like Vancouver were built around the streetcar, municipalities like Surrey were built around the auto. Because Surrey was built around the auto, I find it much more interesting to see how the community is starting to become more accessible with new development projects becoming more walking, cycling, and transit-friendly. Of course there is a massive shift taking place in Whalley/Downtown Surrey, but there are also changes happening outside of the core.

While residential development has been compact for decades in Surrey, commercial development has mostly remained auto-oriented. The biggest factor that determines the accessibility of a development is parking. There are a few things you can do with parking to encourage a more accessibility development including reducing/removing on-site surface parking, putting parking underground, or moving parking from the front of a building to the back (so that actual buildings front the street).

Surrey seems to be incrementally pushing for improved accessibility in commercial development. For the last little while, I’ve noticed that new, small strip malls have buildings that front the street, with parking hidden behind. Recently, I’ve started to notice that larger commercial projects are starting to become more accessible as well.

The latest example is in South Surrey around King George Boulevard. The project will contain offices, retail, restaurants, and a banquet hall.

Proposed site plan of 3061 King George Boulevard. Click image to enlarge.

As parking is the largest factor in determining if a project is accessible, I'm happy that half of the required parking is underground while the remaining surface parking is hidden behind the buildings in this proposed project.

Cross section of proposed development fronting King George Boulevard. Click image to enlarge.

In most communities on-site parking is based on peak parking requirements for all uses. I’m encouraged that Surrey is starting to recognize that on-site parking can be reduced. This project will require 333 parking spots because “the applicant is proposing a banquet hall and offices, and because these two uses have different hours of peak demand (banquet hall in the evening and offices in the day), shared parking is permitted. This arrangement is acceptable because the total daytime parking requirements and total evening parking requirements are each being met.” King George Boulevard is a future transit corridor. As more transit service is provided, parking requirement can be further reduced.

Another interesting note is that Building A contains a proposed drive-thru restaurant. While I’m not a fan of drive-thrus, this project accommodates it without breaking up the street wall on King George Boulevard.

While more can be done to make projects even more accessible in Surrey, I’m happy to see that projects are starting becoming more accessible outside of the Whalley area. Because Surrey does not have adequate public transit, driving will still be the dominant mode of travel in most parts of the community. Surrey has to balance the requirement to encourage more accessible development projects that support walking, cycling, and transit while still accommodating the auto.

This is why winning the upcoming transit referendum will be key as building rapid transit throughout the community will push Surrey to fully embrace accessible design.

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