Our Stories

Learning from Seville: Complete Streets Course a Success

For many brand new moms, maternity leave is a time to settle down at home, nest in and tune the outside world out. But not so for Urban Systems employees Stephanie McNeely and Kate Berniaz. Both new moms thought mat leave seemed like a great time to take a sabbatical, and both headed to Seville, Spain for a few months with a goal to deepen their practice by learning from this unique city.

Though they did their trips independently of one another and months apart, Kate and Stephanie were each so impressed with the public life and transportation systems in Seville that together they designed a Complete Streets webinar that discusses Seville’s strengths and how we can apply lessons learned there here in Canada. Kate and Stephanie recently presented the webinar internally and had great attendance from Urban Systems offices in Vancouver, Surrey, Calgary, Nelson, Whitehorse and more.

Seville has a large and well-preserved historical centre, which provides a whole new definition of densification compared to how it is considered in cities like Vancouver and North America in general. The city is filled with narrow winding streets originally designed for pedestrian and horse-drawn traffic, as well as hidden plazas and a plethora of diverse architecture. In just six years, from 2006 to 2011, Seville has increased its cycling tenfold with the number of daily journeys up from under 5,000 a day in 2006 to a staggering 72,000 per day in 2011. Today it is often looked to as a model of a livable city.

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What is a Complete Street?

So what is a “Complete Street”? It’s a street that:

  • Works for everyone (all ages and abilities)
  • Is cost effective, in terms of making the most of infrastructure
  • Accommodates the right modes of travel, and
  • Incorporates best practices in planning, design and operations

The Complete streets webinar looks at the well-loved plazas, small streets and big roads in Seville as well as who is using them and what they are using them for. Using Seville as a model, the presentation examines what is and isn’t working here at home, using some local examples such as Edgemont Village in North Vancouver, Government Street in Victoria and Robson Street and Granville Island in Vancouver.

It takes a village to build a Complete Street

It’s interesting to note that many disciplines are involved in creating a complete street. From buildings to landscape architecture to drainage and finance, it’s a team effort from a very broad group of people.

“A complete street comes from a mix of engineering, planning, people and culture. There are so many ingredients involved in what makes it so comfortable to sit in a plaza or get from place to place by bike. There are so many ways engineering can make spaces more inviting,” says Kate. “We wanted to put ourselves in the client’s shoes when looking at the best way to design these kinds of streets and get the feeling of Seville at home,” says Kate. “We looked at who was using spaces, how they were built and what their real functions were.”

When asked if they would recommend a sabbatical like the one they took to others, Kate and Stephanie don’t miss a beat. “Oh, go,” says Kate. “We completely recommend it.” “We learned a lot”, says Stephanie, adding with a laugh: “And the great weather and cheap delicious food didn’t hurt either!”

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