It’s certainly important to address what needs to be fixed and struggle with the challenges faced by a rapidly developing neighbourhood in a suburban municipality. However, it’s equally important to recognize our successes in walkability. By using Jeff Speck’s ten steps to build a walkable city, I did my own measurement of walkability of various streets in both the Township of Langley and the City of Langley. These ten steps require a street to “put cars in their place”, to “mix the building uses”, to “get the parking right”, to “promote transit use”, to “protect the pedestrian”, to “encourage cycling”, to “shape the spaces”, to “foster urban trees”, to “create friendly building faces”, and, finally, to “pick the winners” in choosing whats the best fit for an individual community. To find out what streets in the Langleys do it best, come take a walk with me:
5. 202nd Street in Walnut Grove (88th Ave to 9100 block)
This one is a bit cringe-worthy to have on a list of “walkable” roads, which may be indicative of how difficult it was to find even 5 walkable streets in the Langleys.
PROS: While there are no resi-mercial mixed use buildings on this strip, the overall composition combines several 4 storey midrises, including a retirement residence, with adequate retail & office space in the Thunderbird area, with numerous restaurants and eateries. There are 3 nearby bus stops as well as the Carvolth Exchange directly to the south. The retail/office Thunderbird complex offers a decently attractive building interface with the sidewalk space… once you’re in the complex. A newer building at 8900 block broke up the originally much larger surface parking lot adding a more positive walking experience along an otherwise autocentric road. Urban trees provide adequate shade on the west side of the street, which is where most of the walking activity.
CONS: With the exception of the residential midrises, every development in this corridor has massive surface parking lots. There is no doubt that this is a destination retail strip. Every commercial development has parking loaded on the front, with the exception of the aforementioned newer 8912 202nd Street building. Additionally, upon your approach to Thunderbird, you are greeted with a giant boring brown wall, indicative of a typical suburban commercial strip. Pedestrians must navigate many street curbs on a high speed 4-5 lane arterial with a wicked curb with limited visibility. Speaking of which, there is no way anyone in their right mind would cycle on this road. The extremely wide lanes encourage racing cars (especially when the most recent Fast and the Furious film comes out and young drivers peel out of the Cineplex parking lot to the north) and there is no cycling lane, protected or otherwise.
CONCLUSION: 202nd is not a “pedestrian friendly” walk – it is definitely car-oriented. However, with density within close proximity to all necessary amenities, it certainly has enough positives to break into this list as the Langley Township’s 4th most walkable street… but mostly because there isn’t much competition.
4. Fraser Highway in Aldergrove’s Core (270th to 273rd Street)
Aldergrove’s downtown, represented by Fraser Highway, is probably the first street on this list that I would actually consider pedestrian-friendly, especially between 272nd and 273rd. Not surprising, the root of the downtown core is over one hundred years old, predating the use of automobiles.
PROS: With just two lanes in this segment of Fraser Highway and street parking on either side, the road automatically slows traffic down. Pedestrians feels protected by having parked cars as a barrier between them and the road, while the bulk of the parking for the retail are behind the buildings, where they belong. While most of the strip are dated single storey buildings, some of them are 2 or even 3 stories with retail on the ground floor and residential or office on the 2nd/3rd stories. Once redeveloped, the Aldergrove Core Plan pretty much designates new modern 3 storey buildings along this drive. The drive also offers large urban trees that are idea in the summer months for pedestrians, protecting them from some of the scorching heat, while also being pleasant to look at.
CONS: Due to economics, transit, especially connecting to anywhere else in the Township, is sparse. There was a grassroots attempt at a trolley system that would run throughout Aldergrove, to compliment the current Translink system, and up to the Gloucester Industrial Estates, but it failed in the end. As Aldergrove undergoes some transformation with some recent public and private investment, we could see an improvement here. There are no cycling lanes downtown, but with a road diet, it might be possible to sneak a cycling lane on one side of the road.
CONCLUSION: Aldergrove has one of the best community plans in the Township of Langley. If it can escalate private investment beyond just one developer and public funds, this district could truly become something spectacular. The spine of a great walkable downtown is here – now we just need to see more people on the street that will comes with the growth, supporting thriving local businesses.
3. Willoughby Town Centre Drive
Willoughby Town Centre Drive is considered to be the primary commercial node for the neighbourhood of Willoughby, especially for Yorkson. While leasing took awhile to fill up, it has become a bustling centre of activity as nearby condos completed.
PROS: Willoughby Town Centre is centrally located as close as possible to the majority of Willoughby’s density, allowing nearby residents a very short walk to an arrangement of services and shops. The footprint of WTC, including future phases, fronts the busy roads, place the parking behind the buildings, which is one of the first times a developer did this in Willoughby for a major node (72nd and 200th Street, with the exception of Jeske Corporate Centre, was one of the worse examples of this, along with Happy Face Village a number of blocks north).
The Kensington at WTC was also among the first of modern mixed used buildings in the Township of Langley, offering 3 stories of residential above the retail ground floor. While later phases would eliminate the originally planned resi-mercial mixed use, other buildings along WTC Drive mixed retail with office. Although it took some time, Willoughby Town Centre has one of the better transit accessibilities in the Township. It offers a connection to the Carvolth Exchange in the north and the Langley City Exchange to the south. This has made the 208th corridor one of the most increased ridership shares in the region.
Once on WTC Drive, pedestrians are prioritized and well protected: multiple modern traffic calming techniques prevent cars from racing through the parking lots, wide sidewalks sit behind angled parking, and you can walk through the entire complex ALMOST without any vehicle interface. It’s also an attractive walk. The builder choose attractive brick facades and interesting styling with no long boring walls that are typical in Langley. Urban trees are well situated on both sides of WTC Drive. While they have some growing up to do still, it won’t be long before they protect pedestrians from the hottest summer days – which is needed, since there still is a lot of hot black asphalt here (see below).
CONS: Although Willoughby Town Centre forced parking behind the buildings where we want it, there is still a plethora of surface parking, which was a huge missed opportunity for a project this sized. Underground parking was primarily reserved for residents, which forced two large surface parking lots, in addition to a handful of smaller ones. While not nearly as atrocious as earlier examples in the Willowbrook area, the residential and commercial density should have been upsized to help pay for appropriate underground or underbuilding commercial parking, reducing the surface parking to just the WTC Drive angled street parking.
This leads to the second (or third, depending if you see the two issues above) huge missed opportunity here, which is cycling infrastructure. Despite having a plan laid out in the late 90’s and the Yorkson NCP being approved in 2001, there was no cycling network really planned out. Cycling lanes, if they exist at all, have been an afterthought on almost every project (see the 216th Interchange project). It should be obvious to anyone that the people in charge of transportation in the Township haven’t yet made the connection between good cycling infrastructure and reducing road congestion. Even the politicians who promote the expansion of 208th Street don’t even both mentioned the need for this network. Willoughby Town Centre Drive, unfortunately, goes with the assumption that people in Langley will never cycle. While there may be some bicycle lockups, they are rarely ever used because getting here on a bicycle is taking your own life in your hands.
CONCLUSION: Overall, Willoughby Town Centre is a wonderful walkable commercial centre, with thousands of residents within a 5-10 minute walking distance – many of whom only need to cross one intersection, or even none at all. For this reason alone, I almost placed WTC Drive in the top spot for Langley Township. However, missed opportunities and neighbourhood drawbacks simply keep this one back, for now.
2. Glover Street (and Mavis) in Fort Langley
Taking the top spot, just barely, for the Township of Langley, may be a fairly obvious winner: Fort Langley’s Glover Street, along with its connectors of Mavis, Mary and other streets and lanes. Fort Langley has become a tourist destination in its own right and its walkability stems very much from its historic roots.
PROS: Due to an exclusion to Langley’s very suburban-esque parking minimums, Fort Langley was able to maintain its small village “main street” charm by not forcing businesses to have large parking lots. Glover offers street parking on both sides of the street, providing a barrier between vehicular traffic and pedestrians. Since most of the buildings in Fort Langley predate the 1970’s suburban boom, they were able to economically commit to single story buildings. Buildings developed after this time, such as the Wendels’s Bookstore in the 90’s increased to two stories and Coulter Berry & Reid Block in the last decade went to three stories while maintaining the walkability because they offered mixed uses with limited commitment to surface parking (Coulter Berry’s true three stories allowed for underground parking that is shared by residents, commercial tenants & visitors). Despite its small size, Fort Langley continues to have the most mixed used buildings than any other neighbourhood.
Because Fort Langley was able to preserve its pre-automobile street design, little details such the lack of “curb cuts” are manifested without the public even recognizing it, furthering the protection of the pedestrian.
Although Fort Langley is devoid of sidewalks throughout most of their 1/4 acre residential parcels, Glover and the nearby collectors offer sidewalks through where most pedestrians want to be. You likely won’t be able to park to a specific destination in Fort Langley because of its success, you generally won’t have a problem finding street parking within a comfortable walking distance on a sidewalk to your end destination (with the exception of some special event days). For the number of pedestrians that Fort Langley has, it has an extremely low pedestrian-related vehicle accident rate. Traffic simply is too slow to cause many accidents, which is the genius of the design. Subtle street calming elements such narrow lanes and a “traffic choker” at what is now a rainbow crosswalk add to the walkability of the Fort Langley village. People don’t notice that you don’t need speed bumps to slow traffic.
Leading up to Mary Street, coming from 88th Avenue, the streets are lined with mature urban trees that provide comfort from hot summer days as well as an attractive walk to downtown. Further into town, the trees get smaller, but still provide a pleasant walk without being too obstructive.
Unique spaces & facades also make Fort Langley walkable. Pedestrians are not faced with long boring walls. Although there has been some controversy in the past, the landlord which now owns most of the downtown commercial has been cognizant of what makes a more attractive walking core. The few large walls that are exposed are often covered with large murals, often featured on the instagrams of locals and visitors alike. One of the landlord’s original projects was updating the older tired facades of the commercial core to make the buildings more presentable.
CONS: Although Fort Langley benefits from many mixed used buildings, the services provided for residents are limited, forcing many people who live in the neighbourhood to travel by car to nearby Walnut Grove. Even internally, because Fort Langley is comprised overwhelmingly of 1/4 acre single family homes, many residents are too spread out to regularly walk to town. This means that the large proportion of pedestrians in Fort Langley are actually driving to Fort Langley for “local tourism” as opposed to residents walking from their nearby homes for services.
This critique leads to two other disadvantages of Glover: the lack of transit and lack of cycling infrastructure. Similar to what I mentioned about Fraser Highway in Aldergrove, getting to Fort Langley is largely done by car. It is almost impossible to efficiently travel to or within Fort Langley without a passenger vehicle. Yes, there is limited transit service, but due to the highly gentrified nature of Fort Langley, among other reasons, it is not a highly used service. Likewise, there is no cycling lane on Glover, due largely to the already narrow lanes and generous sidewalks in some areas. Could there be one, at least in some fashion? Possibly. Cyclists love Fort Langley and will often chance their life throughout the greater Fort Langley and Glen Valley areas, which are notorious due to the truck routes. If Langley was to ever take its cycling infrastructure more seriously, Fort Langley would be an obvious start (the 2015 Cycling Plan is a great dream… with no funding).
CONCLUSION: When it comes to the Township of Langley, Fort Langley is the poster child for walkability. However, the problem with posters is they are just there to be looked at, and that’s the largest critique of Fort Langley that I really have. The neighbourhood is not attainable for many and it is sort of a museum of great urban design instead of a practical implementation. For this reason, perhaps controversially, it fails to take the top spot on this list.
1. Fraser Highway in Langley City (204th to 206th Street)
The most walkable street in the Langleys really is, I believe, the City’s Fraser Highway, primarily between 204th Street and 206th Street. I didn’t include Douglas Crescent on this list because it run parallel and complimentary to the downtown’s Fraser Highway.
PROS: There is little doubt that the one way street segment of Fraser Highway slows down traffic – so much so that unless you’re actually going to conduct business on the street, you’re probably going to avoid driving down it. With angled parking on both sides of the one way street, pedestrians are more than adequately protected and, with the exception of Salt Lane and a few parking lot entrances to its east, there are no cars turning into where pedestrians are walking. Even Salt Lane itself is designed in a way that makes it more attractive for pedestrians than vehicles. Since drivers can easily navigate away from this section of Fraser, either via 56th Avenue or Douglas Crescent, there is little complaint about the inconveniences this walkable street might cause for drivers.
The majority is Langley City’s downtown core is transit friendly, with frequent riders able to get to where they need to go. The Langley City exchange is just a few minutes walk away from the downtown core and there are accessible bus stops surrounding the perimeter of the street. This is a key feature of Fraser Highway’s success: if you don’t have a car in Langley City, it’s probably still accessible through another mode of transportation: transit works here.
As mentioned, pedestrians are protected. Very few traffic calming techniques are required because of the constant backing out of cars from their angled parking, forcing very slow traffic. Yet, even with this, wherever there is a pedestrian-to-vehicle interface, Fraser Highway unleashes a traffic choker, similar to what we saw in Fort Langley.
Spaces between buildings are ideally shaped, and I would point to not just how the narrow one way street provides for a nice intimate feels between the north and south sidewalks, but also how Salt Lane and McBurney’s Plaza have been utilized to create the ultimate pedestrian-friendly connections between parallel streets, especially with the latter being completely closed off to vehicles. These pedestrian-oriented spaces connect community, which is really the major difference a car-oriented street and a pedestrian one.
The buildings of Langley City’s Fraser Highway are older, but unique, each presenting different textures and facades in an eclectic way. While there has been no single owner that has come along to singlehandedly rejuvenate facades, the downtown BIA has worked with individual businesses in beautifying common spaces without breaking the bank. Eventually, I would suspect that you’ll start seeing a more conventional approach to gentrifying the downtown as Langley City has seen significant private investment throughout.
Although there is no cycling lane right on Fraser Highway here, there is a strong network of bicycle lanes within Langley City TO Fraser, which is what we want to see on a street that is so heavily pedestrian-friendly. If you walk through Salt Lane to 56th Avenue, you’ll be greeted with cycling lanes on BOTH sides of the street.
CONS: I can really only think of one detriment to Langley City’s Fraser Highway when it comes to walkability and that is the lack of urban trees. I think there is one tree – at the entrance to McBurney Plaza. To me, it’s noticeable. If there is one thing that makes Langley City feel older and less inviting than, say, Fort Langley, it’s the lack of trees. This has been perhaps the biggest miss of the downtown core for Langley City. However, we do see this miss corrected on Douglas Crescent, and I feel it makes a huge difference.
CONCLUSION: I’ll reiterate that the primary reason that Fraser Highway takes the top spot is its functional walkability within Langley City as a whole. One street should not be walkable in a vacuum. Fraser is supported by additional shops and services on 56th Avenue and Douglas Crescent, along with Douglas Park just a block to the south. There are literally thousands of homes all within just a few minute walk – and for many of them, the walk will take you through the many urban trails and parks of the City.