Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Improving walkability along the Langley Bypass. Taking a page from Nanaimo’s OCP

Over the BC Day long weekend, I passed through Nanaimo, heading north towards Campbell River and Quadra Island. Back in the late 1980’s, my family lived in Gold River, so it was interesting to see what has changed in the last quarter-century. This was the first time I’ve been back since that time.

While I don’t remember the absence of big box retail from my childhood memories of these areas, one of the big things I did notice on this trip was the number of strip malls and power centres on Vancouver Island. Based on the location and architecture of these retail locations, many of them looked like they were built at the beginning of the 21st century.

The Langley Bypass area is big-box central, and is not a pleasant environment for walking or cycling. Even with this, I see people walking and cycling in this part of town. Nanaimo’s "Langley Bypass" is Highway 19A. This corridor runs for about 10 kilometres, and it makes the Langley Bypass look quaint.

The Highway 19A corridor does have a trail that runs parallel, but connectivity between the trail and services along the corridor is limited. Highway 19A is owned by the provincial government, and just like the Langley Bypass, the provincial government has the ability to dictate zoning within 800 metres of these highways.

The Highway 19A corridor through Nanaimo

A modern, efficient transportation system is one where people can feel comfortable walking or cycling, where quality transit is available, and driving is a choice. Back in 2008, Nanaimo city council adopted a new Official Community Plan (OCP). The vision in this plan is to transform the Highway 19A corridor into multi-modal, mixed-use corridor over time.

While the plan talks about building mixed-use projects with retail on the ground-level, and residential above, it also talks about large-format retail. How does Nanaimo plan on making large-format retail accessible to people no matter the mode of travel chosen? According to their OCP:

The redevelopment of any Corridors to improve automobile travel shall also consider improvements that add to the human scale of the corridor, increase the proportion of landscaping and green space, and improve safety for non-motorized travelers. Sidewalk and landscaping design will enhance pedestrian and vehicle separation.
The development of primary parking areas between the front face of the buildings and the street in Corridors is not permitted.

In some locations, the OCP requires that “any large format retailing will be required to implement street oriented design formats that create vibrant and accessible streetscapes for pedestrians.”

Some of the requirements in Nanaimo’s OCP, as it relates to large-format retail, could also be applied in Langley. The Langley Bypass could be improved, and with a rapid transit stop planned near Fraser Highway and the Langley Bypass, now is a good time to think about the future of that corridor. If Nanaimo’s vision is to transform a strip mall and big box corridor into a more accessible place, certainly we can do the same in Langley.

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