Walking Plan for Surrey misses the mark
The Engineering Department recently released their long awaited Walking Plan, intended to be a detailed strategy to improve walking in the city. While the Plan is comprehensive, its focus appears to be on establishing a new philosophy at City Hall, rather than concrete actions that would actually improve the pedestrian experience.
The Plan is filled with recognition of the importance of walking to health, safety, and vibrancy in the City. The introduction, for example, recognizes that “everyone is a pedestrian” as all trips began and end with walking. The Plan also notes a social justice theme because “for many in Surrey, walking is the only choice they have.” It even acknowledges the troubles of our 800m grid: “Block sizes of about 100 by 200 metres are generally considered pedestrian-friendly.”
Here’s another great quote, considering the strip malls we build:
“Surrey’s streets are defined by the buildings along them, the design of these buildings and the ways in which they connect and relate to the street is critical.”
Three main themes were highlighted that confirm that this document is primarily about instilling new values in the City:
- The details matter
- Distance matters
- The walking environment matters
One of the main purported goals of the strategy is to make walking the first choice for all in the City Centre and Town Centres, although there are no clear actions that support the achievement of this objective. Some of the actions outlined in the Plan are noted below, although none seem particularly revolutionary to me:
- Conduct pedestrian audits of road design projects
- Promote a finer grid network with new development
- Prioritise the upgrading of pedestrian infrastructure around schools
- Where possible, utilise on-street parking as a buffer between vehicular traffic and pedestrians
- Use two letdowns per corner at intersections where appropriate
- Increase the budget of the annual sidewalk program
- Explore the use of tactile paving at letdowns in a pilot project
- Ensure that utility equipment is located outside of the sidewalk corridor
- Identify a program of lighting improvements on key walking connections
- Develop and implement some shared streets
- Use street furniture that is universally accessible and of high quality
While it is important to instill new values among staff and citizens, this Plan does little in the way of tangible actions to improve the walking experience. Filling in gaps and upgrading standards are important measures, while initiatives like “high quality street furniture” or “parking buffers” or “keeping utility equipment off sidewalks” are just no brainers.
To achieve a significant increase in the number of people walking around Surrey, there needs to be a much bolder approach to creating that fine grid, not just in Grandview or Clayton, but in the Town Centres we already have. Unless we have a strong plan in place to create that grid, new developments will simply reinforce our mega block design, as is already occurring in the City Centre.
The new Walking Plan is a good first step for City Hall, but we need to be taking stronger action much quicker if we actually have any genuine intention of building a City where walking is the first choice for citizens.