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West Van’s ‘stroad’ could be destroying businesses: traffic engineer
This is a newly coined term that could describe Marine Drive in West Vancouver.
It’s neither a street nor a road, and deadly to local businesses, says Minnesota-based traffic engineer Chuck Marohn.
He made up the term for four- and six-lane thoroughfares that are designed for speed but also lined with retail and residential developments.
“The stroad design — a street-road hybrid — is the futon of transportation alternatives,” explains Marohn, who was in Vancouver in October to make a presentation at SFU. While a futon is a piece of furniture that serves as both an uncomfortable couch and an uncomfortable bed, a stroad moves cars too slowly to get around efficiently but too fast to support businesses, he adds.
The result: A declining tax base.
Although he hasn’t visited West Vancouver, he says the description of Marine Drive sounds like a stroad, particularly in Ambleside.
As the main alternative to the Upper Levels Highway, the route is made to move cars swiftly from one end of the district to the other, while also supporting businesses that line the street.
And, according to Marohn, who is the founder of the nonprofit Strong Towns, this sort of “nasty stroad environment” is devastating to local shops and may be seen in certain areas of Ambleside where businesses are struggling to remain open.
“The thing about a stroad is it caters to cars over anything else, and tends to not function well over the long term,” he says, adding it’s been the most common design in North America for the last 50 years.
With revitalization of Ambleside a key priority for West Vancouver’s mayor and council, the streetscape is being carefully examined.
Raymond Fung, West Van’s director of engineering and transportation, says Marine Drive doesn’t exactly match Marohn’s description of a stroad.
“I would argue that Marine Drive in Ambleside and Dundarave is not [a stroad]. There are no real strip malls, there are limited driveway crossings,” he explains.
“Our planning department strives to have buildings that face the street and to minimize the amount of parking lots that front onto the road.”
As one of the only viable alternatives, Marine Drive is essential to moving traffic across the district, Fung says, but at the same time the district makes efforts to support local businesses.
“The key is balance,” he emphasizes.
A major new residential/commercial development on the 1300-block that was approved late last year is expected to draw residents to the Ambleside Village business district. And the area will be more walkable once the Ambleside Village Centre Strategy is complete, which includes the addition of “festival streets” that can be easily closed to traffic.
Any changes to the flow of traffic, says Fung, are done in consideration of local businesses.
“In an effort to balance the needs we consulted with the chamber of commerce and decided to restrict left turns only in the westerly direction in the p.m. peak, as a way to balance the different needs,” he gives as an example.
Marohn is optimistic that stroads are slowly becoming a design feature of the past.
Some municipalities have gone on “road diets” by reducing multiple-lane streets, he says.
“We’re probably still building many more stroads, but road diets are a trend and we’re seeing it happen in a trickle across North America right now.”