By: Douglas Race
In March 2016, the City of Vancouver purchased an expired railway corridor from the Canadian Pacific Railway to develop the Arbutus Greenway (the greenway). The railway was converted into a paved, multi-modal transportation and recreation pathway, which extends 9-km north to south from False Creek to the Fraser River [https://vancouver.ca/streets-transportation/arbutus-greenway]. The greenway passes through six diverse neighbourhoods, seven commercial districts and has 14 schools located within 1-km, thus connecting a large number of Vancouver youth to their schools and surrounding communities.
Greenways have the potential to facilitate active travel and recreational physical activity1 and social opportunities2-3 for proximate residents, and have gained wide support from urban planners.4 However, youth are often marginalized from municipal decision-making processes and as result, design is predominately dominated by the needs and desires of adults.5-6
The Active Aging Research Team partnered with the City of Vancouver to better understand why youth use the greenway.
Through October and November 2017 we conducted seven focus group interviews at three secondary schools with 42 youth (22 girls, 20 boys) enrolled in grades 8 through 10. We asked them why they did or did not use the greenway, what they liked or did not like about it and what could be done to entice more youth to use it.
Using Global Information System software and the students’ home and school addresses we determined the distance between students’ homes and schools to the greenway.
So Why Do They Use it?
1. It’s close
Unsurprisingly, youth who lived closer to the greenway used it more often before school, after school and on weekends, compared to those who lived further away. In regards to school proximity, the closer the school to the greenway the more it was used during lunch hour.
Youth used the greenway to get to and from places, such as walking or biking to and from school, sports practice, a friend’s house, a store or restaurant. They also used it for leisure activities such as running, cycling or skateboarding, walking the dog or walking with friends and family.
Youth who lived further away stated that they didn’t see a reason to travel out of their way to specifically use the greenway.
2. It’s time spent with friends and family.
Youth reported using the greenway with friends and family on many occasions. Specifically, when using the greenway at lunch hour, it was most often used to travel off school grounds to get food and drinks with friends.
Although some youth used the greenway specifically for leisurely walks/rides with friends and family, for most the primary purpose wasn’t to use the greenway to socialize. Socializing on the greenway was generally non-purposeful, and was secondary to traveling to another destination.
“It’s not necessarily like a place where you’d want to hang out, but when you look at it you more think of, like, a nice calm environment where it’s more welcoming and you can just get places.” (boy, grade 10)
3. It’s safe.
The greenway was perceived to be safer to walk and cycle on compared to a sidewalk or road, because it is separated from traffic and there are fewer intersections to cross.
“There’s less chance of you accidentally, like, if you’re biking along on the road, there’s less chance of a car hitting you. There’s less chance of you falling on your bike and having to quickly hop off.” (girl, grade 9)
However, a few students were still concerned about cyclists traveling too fast and other pedestrians straying from the designated walking and cycling lanes.
4. It’s nice out.
In spring, summer and fall when the weather is “good”, “nice”, “warm” and/or “sunny” youth reported using the greenway more often. In inclement weather they were more apt to get a ride from a family member or take the bus.
“I use it a lot in the summer. It’s just nice to walk on.” (girl, grade 10)
Youth suggestions for improvement.
Although the majority of youth were positive about the greenway, they still had a number of recommendations to city planners to entice further youth engagement. They recommended city planners to:
· install picnic tables to make it more of a hang-out spot, so that students can sit with a group of friends to eat, drink and talk face-to-face
· allow food trucks along the greenway, because youth enjoy seeking out good food with friends
· host community events such as community block parties, art displays, holiday-themed lighting and farmers markets to bring the community together and give youth a reason to travel to the greenway
· install drinking fountains, directional maps, distance markers, historical markers, phone charging stations and Wi-Fi hotspots, to improve user experiences
· plant more gardens, trees and flowers in areas deemed to look “industrial”
Similar to studies with adults, we found that youth engagement with an urban greenway was fostered by proximity7-8, weather9-10, safety7,11 and social connections2-3. Despite the fact that youth shared similar experiences and perspectives with adults, they were also able to contribute their own unique experiences, perspectives and suggestions. In order for youth to establish social and emotional connections with and find value in local greenways, it is necessary for city planners to engage them in municipal decision-making processes.
Reference of this paper:
Sims-Gould, J., Race, D., Vasaya, N., McKay, H. 2019. A new urban greenway in Vancouver, British Columbia: Adolescents’ perspectives, experiences and vision for the future. Journal of Transport and Health, 15.
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