Better Environmentally Sound Transportation
In Metro Vancouver, many communities are bound by busy streets because of the overwhelming number of cars on the road. This usually stems from out-dated city planning that focuses on commuters and provides limited routes for cyclists and pedestrians. This is where Better Environmentally Sound Transportation (BEST) comes in. A leader in creating sustainable transportation solutions since its inception in 1991, BEST’s mission is to create healthy communities around walking, cycling and transit.
Though initially a small activist group, BEST is now a registered charity working with governments, educators, youth, companies, and community groups. Its work aims to bring about change that improves the lives of people in the Lower Mainland; and several previous campaigns have been major successes. Some of these include the award-winning Off-Ramp program; the province-wide Bike to Work Week; and the internationally celebrated “June is Bike Month” program.
BEST’s newest program, a partnership with DiverseCity, is called Living Streets. The focus is to educate and subsequently train community members to conduct “neighbourhood audits.” These audits highlight areas of opportunity for additional transportation patterns and corridors that are safe for slower-moving traffic, such as cyclists and pedestrians. They are a way for community members to have a say in the improvement of their neighbourhood, as local residents identify issues and offer suggestions directly to municipal planners and officers.
The first phase of the Living Streets program was held from spring 2010 to spring 2011 in Surrey, where one-day workshops were offered in the Newton, Surrey Central, and Whalley neighbourhoods. At these workshops, BEST assisted participants in evaluating their neighbourhoods and determining ways to improve them. Participants were also trained in how to productively work with the municipal government to implement changes. The initial workshops then lead to a neighbourhood charrette (an intensive design workshop) focused on brainstorming various ways safety and accessibility could be incorporated into community streets. These charrettes were attended by City personnel, so suggestions and concerns were addressed directly with those who have decision-making power.
“This project allowed BEST and the City of Surrey to discover how readily citizens – in particular new Canadians – can be motivated to participate meaningfully in improvements in their neighbourhoods,” says Margaret Mahan, Executive Director of BEST. “This kind of from-the-ground-up process has the dual benefits of providing useful info to municipalities and illuminating for participants how a productive relationship with the government can be built.”
BEST is developing a training tool kit for conducting workshops and charrettes so the model can be used in other communities as well.
Our grant to help BEST conduct Living Streets workshops and charrettes falls under our public education mandate as it supports knowledge and skill building among BC’s citizenry regarding more responsible and sustainable land use practices.