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PJ Bell, Peter Lipscombe, Michael Meyer, and Tess Munro School of Community and Regional Planning, UBC 25 August 2016 1

Long underutilized, laneways have the potential to make Vancouver a more affordable, livable, and green city.


TABLE OF CONTENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 4 BACKGROUND 5 Why do a Neighbourhood Lane Infill Strategy? 5 Why the West End? 6

CASE STUDIES & IMPLEMENTATION 26 Site Selection Rationale: 26 Heart of Davie Village Laneway 27 Heart of Denman Laneway 30 FINANCIAL INCENTIVES & TOOLS 33

OBJECTIVES 10 CONCLUSION 34 Objective 1: Increase housing supply while considering affordability and housing choice, especially for families 10 Issues 10 Existing Policy Documents 12 NLIS Policy Guidelines 13


Objective 2: Make laneways livable by enhancing the public realm, encouraging novel uses of public space, and placemaking 14 Issues 14 Existing Policy Documents 15 NLIS Policy Guidelines 16 Objective 3: Advance Vancouver’s Greenest City objectives by “Greening the Lanescape” and making laneways environmentally friendly 18 Issues 18 Existing Policy Documents 19 NLIS Policy Guidelines 20 Objective 4: Change the hierarchy of modes while ensuring that emergency services, utility servicing, goods movement, waste collection, and parking continue to be accommodated as required 22 Issues 22 Existing Policy Documents 23 NLIS Policy Guidelines 24 3


The Regional Growth Strategy for Metro Vancouver lays out ambitious plans including adding 7,000 dwellings to Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood. How this new density is accommodated will be key to maintaining the lively atmosphere and livable qualities of this unique neighbourhood. One strategy to achieve these targets is to reimagine laneways and their place in the community in order to create vibrant public spaces and accommodate new residents. This Neighbourhood Laneway Infill Strategy (NLIS) addresses the specific context of the dense and mixed-use West End and is meant as a compliment to other documents that deal more specifically with laneways in neighbourhoods of single family homes. The NLIS offers a number of opportunities to address current and future needs of the community in terms of mix of dwelling types, affordable housing, housing for families, placemaking, environmental sustainability, and service delivery for a thriving commercial district. The NLIS is informed by many existing municipal and regional policies and guidelines, and it builds on the principles outlined in the West End Community Plan. The NLIS identifies four key objectives: • • • •

Increasing Family and Affordable Housing Options Enhancing Public Realm and Placemaking Greening the Lanescape Transportation and Service Delivery

Two case studies have been selected to demonstrate how the broad objectives might be achieved with specific interventions. The Heart of Denman was a thoroughfare that was recently closed to cars and has become a cause for concern for local residents. It offers an opportunity to build community, offer new placemaking, and provide infill homes for families. Jim Diva Plaza, on the other hand, offers the opportunity to animate the Heart of Davie laneway in order to enhance commercial activity and improve the pedestrian experience. The NLIS offers an incremental approach to these changes that seeks to assuage community concern over rapid change while achieving important city and region wide goals for a livable region.


BACKGROUND Why do a Neighbourhood Lane Infill Strategy? Laneways are perceived as unappealing, unsafe, and pavement-covered spaces reserved for vehicle-dominant services such as loading, garbage storage and collection, utilities, and parking. However, cities such as Chicago, Portland, and Vancouver are now realizing that laneways represent a massive and underutilized piece of public infrastructure with great potential for increasing urban density, enhancing livability, and contributing to many other social and environmental goals. Laneway housing in the form of coach houses, granny flats, accessory units, or infill housing has long existed in Vancouver, predominantly in older areas such as Mt Pleasant, Grandview-Woodland, and Kitsilano. In 2009, the City adopted a laneway housing program that opened up all

single family RS-1 and RS-5 zones to infill housing. Since then, over 800 permits have been issued and 500 laneway houses built in Vancouver. Whereas the 2009 program focused on the provision of laneway housing on single family lots, a Neighbourhood Lane Infill Strategy (NLIS) represents a more comprehensive approach to improving Vancouver’s laneways. Residential infill remains a core objective, with a focus on ground-oriented, family-friendly housing that would increase affordability and address the needs of Vancouver residents. However, a NLIS also considers the laneway as a whole, concentrating on creating an enjoyable “lanescape” where people can comfortably move, gather, and live. This is accomplished through urban design, landscaping, and policies that encourage urban agriculture and social interaction. A NLIS also refocuses the “hierarchy of modes,” prioritizing pedestrians and cyclists while still allowing vehicles to pass through and perform important services. Additionally, a NLIS addresses environmental performance by including strategies for stormwater management, heat reduction, and the use of recycled materials.


Why the West End? The City of Vancouver has identified the West End as an ideal location for laneway infill, making it well suited for a NLIS. The West End Community Plan (WECP) introduced “Laneways 2.0,” a set of policies for activating and enhancing laneways through infill and urban design. The “West End RM Design Guidelines for Infill Housing” and the forthcoming “Laneways 2.0 Toolkit” are meant to guide this process.

Laneways 2.0 moves beyond the traditional application of laneway housing in Vancouver by allowing the possibility of laneway infill townhouses and apartment buildings of up to 18.3 metres (60 feet) in height, depending on context. At least four infill buildings have already been approved since the WECP was released in 2013.

West End Boundary Stanley Park Burrard Inlet

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Coal Harbour

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t Triangle West

English Bay

West End

Central Business District

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Chinatown Downtown South Northeast False Creek






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It is easy to see why the West End was chosen as the base neighbourhood for Laneways 2.0. Situated between West Georgia Street, Burrard Street, Stanley Park and English Bay, the West End is a denselypopulated, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood with a vibrant and diverse community. There are approximately 45,000 residents in the 204-hectare West End, making it Vancouver’s fourth most densely populated community. From the built-form perspective, the West End is ideal for laneway infill. All laneways in the West End are wider than average—whereas a typical Vancouver laneway is six meters (20 feet) wide, the laneways in the West End are 10 metres (33 feet) wide. This additional width provides significantly more room for design interventions that enhance the lanescape without compromising vehicular circulation. There is also a diverse built form in the West End, ranging from historic Victorian homes to low-rise wood frame apartments to high rises. This mix provides the opportunity for many different configurations of Population Density by Downtown Neighbourhood (2011)

Sources: West End Community Plan

laneway infill. Additionally, many of the apartment complexes have large, underutilized surface parking lots which are prime locations for infill development. The West End has a distinct character that makes it a very desirable place to live, with leafy, tree-lined streets and three urban villages containing shopping, food, entertainment, and other amenities. It is also surrounded by employment centres, beaches, and Stanley Park. All of this results in significant development pressure in the West End, which puts some of its cherished character elements at risk. The majority of the purpose-built rental buildings were constructed in the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s and provide relatively affordable housing. There are also 121 West End buildings on the Heritage Register. Therefore, finding a way to protect these buildings is very important. Creating a NLIS and opening laneways to development could help to alleviate some of this pressure while providing incentive to preserve existing buildings and character elements. Evolution of Built Form in the West End


There is precedent for this type of infill development in the West End in Mole Hill. The heritage homes of Mole Hill were saved through a concerted citizen led effort, and now contain 170 rental units. The


development provides a best practice for many objectives of the NLIS including laneway beautification, traffic calming, community amenities, and parking.

The demographics of the West End also suit a NLIS. The largest age group in the West End is the 20-39 year olds, who make up 48% of the community (as compared to only 34% citywide). The average household size in the West End is 1.5 persons (compared to 2.2 persons citywide), with almost 60% of the West End comprised of one-person households. Family housing has become an increasing concern in the West End, and the NLIS provides an opportunity to address this need. Finally, West End laneways provide the opportunity to connect pedestrians to the various parks and open spaces in the community. The West End already has the highest walk mode share in Vancouver (40% walk to work), and the WECP calls to activate laneways as secondary walking routes (see policy 9.1.9). Additionally, the lanes themselves could also act as destinations, giving the community additional places to connect with nature and each other in a neighbourhood where open space is at a premium. WECP policy 9.1.9 calls for an exploration of “improved lighting, seating, landscaping, traffic calming, and defined pedestrian areas.�

Source: West End Community Plan


OBJECTIVES Through community consultation and analysis of the West End, the City of Vancouver has outlined seven guiding principles for Laneway 2.0: • • • • • • •

Fostering Community Growth Enhancing Green and Leafy Laneways Building Shared Spaces Strengthening Laneway Livability Improving Walkability Strengthening Local Connectivity Activating Lanescapes

Based on these guiding principles, this NLIS has four primary objectives:

Increase housing supply while considering affordability and housing choice, especially for families.

Make laneways livable by enhancing the public realm, encouraging the novel use of public space, and placemaking.

Advance Vancouver’s Greenest City objectives by “Greening the Lanescape” and making laneways environmentally friendly.

Change the hierarchy of modes while ensuring that emergency services, utility servicing, goods movement, waste collection, and parking continue to be accommodated as required.



Increase housing supply while considering affordability and housing choice, especially for families Neighbourhood Laneway Infill in the West End offers an opportunity to increase and diversify the affordable housing stock, particularly homes for families.

Issues: Infill sites can increase the supply and type of housing The West End experienced phenomenal growth in housing stock and population up until the early 1970’s. Around that time residents began to grow weary of the rapid change and densification of the neighbourhood, and little development has happened since. The West End is one of the few neighbourhoods in the Metro Region that has experienced little growth in the last few years, with the population virtually stagnating between the 2006 and 2011 census. Although this relative stability has allowed the West End to retain much of its character and feel, there has been very little growth in the housing stock. This comes at a time when families are increasingly seeking to live in the West End but are struggling to find affordable and appropriate accommodations. As the number of families continues to grow, many of the current services such as libraries, childcare and schools are overburdened. Housing for Families Vancouver has been very successful in integrating and attracting families to live in denser downtown neighbourhoods. Although only 26% of West End families had children at home compared to a city-wide average of 56%, the West End has one of the highest ratios of children per hectare of any neighbourhood in the city (West End Community

Plan). The families that do live in the area tend to be vulnerable, resulting in greater need for neighbourhood services and a greater diversity of housing mix (West End Community Plan).

Local Area




Kensignton-Cedar Cottage


Eighty percent of the existing dwelling units are studios and one bedrooms, and the 2006 census identified 1,300 families living studios and one-bedroom apartments in the West End. This indicates an overcrowding problems and suggest a lack of affordable family housing in the West End.

West End Community Profile 2012 Downtown


West End




City of Vancouver

6.4 Source: West End Community Plan

Bedrooms by Building Type

Apartment 5 or more storeys











Nearly half (47%) of all occupied dwellings in the West End are one bedroom units in

Studio units in mid- or high-rise apartments are the next most common dwelling type (16% of total). Housing appropriate for families with children is considered to be units with two or more bedrooms. In the West End, 19% of all units have two or more bedrooms. However, only 2% of all units have three or more bedrooms.

Apartment under 5 storeys

Semi-detached, Duplex, Rowhome










Building Types

mid- or high-rise apartments.*



Most units (72%) with two or more bedrooms are in mid- or high-rise apartments.

Number of Bedrooms

Bedrooms by Building Type in the West End Studio





*Note: The chart shows total dwelling units by number of bedrooms and building type. Source: 2006 Statistics Canada census data

Source: West End Community Plan

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Rental Housing The West End contains 20,000 purpose built rental units, which makes up one third of the city’s total stock. This rental stock makes up 63% of West End dwellings compared to 23% in the City overall, and the area is also home to one of the highest proportion of renters in the city at 81% (West End Community Plan). This rental stock represents an important asset in Vancouver, and the retention of this stock has been identified as a priority. Homelessness The 2013 Homelessness count identified 46 street and sheltered homeless in the West End. With no permanent shelters in the neighbourhood, there is an unmet need in the West End with regards to the homeless population. In 2012 the City Council approved the Housing and Homelessness Strategy 2012–2021 which recommends addressing housing need across the broad spectrum of housing tenure. An integrated approach that tackles the many different forms and tenures of housing in the West End can help to address the issue. Affordability The West End’s median household income ($38,581) is almost 20% below the city’s overall average ($47,299), making it a high needs community with respect to affordable and supportive housing. Census data shows that 2,800 households pay more than 50% of their income on housing. Although this is likely partly offset by lower transportation costs from a high proportion of vehicle-less households, there is a clearly need for more affordable housing. Market Rental Units in the West End by Year of Construction

Source: West End Community Plan


Existing Policy Documents Metro 2040 - Shaping Vancouver The Regional Growth Strategy was developed to help manage the influx of 1 million people and 500,000 jobs over the next 30 years. The plan calls for densification of urban centres and complete communities in order to help achieve environmental and social aspirations of the region. The NLIS helps fulfill these goals by diversifying the housing mix, carefully managing increased density in the already compact West End neighbourhood and increasing the supply of family and affordable housing. Housing and Homelessness Strategy 2012-2021 and the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability The Housing strategy calls for an increase of 6,000 non-market rental units city-wide by 2021 and 7,000 total new households in the West End over the next 30 years. The new housing created in the West End will fulfill the mandate in both of these plans to increase the diversity of housing while retaining current market housing. Demand analysis shows that 40% of the new housing needs will be for market housing, and 15% of the new rental housing should be secured social housing (West End Community Plan, section 17.4). High Density Housing for Families with Children Guidelines The HDHFCG, adopted in 1992, provide best practices for housing families at high densities. The NLIS and the proposed housing forms meet many of the objectives of the strategy. Much of the neighbourhood is within walking distance of Lord Robert Annex Primary school, and the traffic calmed streets provide a reasonable environment for children to walk to school. The new infill typologies proposed do not by themselves achieve the suggested 20-100 dwelling conglomerations called for in the guidelines; however, when combined with the existing buildings on the site many of the infill proposals fall neatly into the guidelines. The majority of the infill being proposed is ground-oriented housing for families. The new private and semi-private courtyards that will be created can provide play areas for new as well as existing families that were underserved in the past.

NLIS Policy Guidelines 1.1

RETENTION OF MARKET HOUSING STOCK West End market rental housing plays an important role in the local as well as citywide housing continuum, and should be preserved in the face of development pressures.

Policies: 1.1.1 Protect existing rental stock through rate of change legislation 1.1.2 Enforce the rate of change policies that ensures that new developments replace at least as much rental housing as was demolished 1.1.3 Enforce policies that protect renters that are relocated due to renovations or demolitions 1.2

AFFORDABLE HOUSING Affordable housing contributes to complete communities and is a key priority for Vancouver City Council.

Policies: 1.2.1 Pursue strategies to increase non-market and social housing development


Identify sites for new social housing developments and use funds collected through development cost levies to leverage additional funding from senior levels of government


INCREASE HOUSING FOR FAMILIES The West End has an acute lack of family appropriate housing, and needs to be increased to accommodate current and future needs.

Policies: 1.3.1 Use development permitting process to encourage laneway infill typologies that adhere to Laneways 2.0 guidelines (8.2.4) 1.3.2 Require that a minimum of 50% of new social housing are two and three bedroom units for families, designed in accordance with High Density Housing for Families with Children Guidelines (West End Community Plan, Section 8.2.2) 1.3.3 Pursue ground-oriented multi-bedroom units and child-appropriate private and semi private courtyards to serve new and existing tenants



Make laneways livable by enhancing the public realm, encouraging novel uses of public space, and placemaking With the increasing density in the West End, the opportunity to take advantage of underutilized laneways as additions to the public realm will help improve the livability of the West End and enhance the local economy and community cohesion.

Issues: Laneways are not currently seen as “livable spaces” Garbage Much of the laneways are used for the storage of communal garbage bins for buildings or for the illegal dumping of furniture and equipment by local businesses and residents. Spaces that have not been dedicated to parking end up being used for the storage of bins, leading to a haphazard flow of pedestrian, cyclist, and vehicle traffic. These areas can begin to smell in the summer months. Vagrancy Due to a lack of “eyes on the street,” laneways often become spaces activities which may not be undertaken in more visible areas - such as drug dealing, drug use, drinking and sleeping. This often leads to laneways being perceived by the general community as unsafe, resulting in fewer residents using them for travel, which then exacerbates the problem. Lack of light / too much light Many of the laneways are shadowed by neighbouring buildings. Alternatively, some laneways have no shade whatsoever due to lack of Sources: (top); Paul Jeffers (bottom)


and looks to grow more food in the city. This includes working with the Park Board, neighbourhoods, and landowners to determine the location and process for implementation of these resources. Transportation 2040 Transportation 2040 has a clear mandate to support the development of a vibrant public realm in the City of Vancouver. This includes enabling and encouraging creative uses of the street, creating public plazas and gathering spaces throughout the city, and designing parking to be flexible and adaptable. By fostering a quality of life that retains and attracts businesses and employees while enhancing the city’s global image local economies are strengthened. Working to eliminate traffic-related fatalities, and address concerns of personal security enables people of all ages and abilities to get to where they need to go, comfortably and safely. Streets should fulfill transportation needs while supporting a vibrant public life that benefit both commerce and community. tree canopy. This can create an uninviting atmosphere that is either too hot or too cold. Lack of amenities Other than parking and garbage, there are few amenities to attract people to linger in these spaces. Insufficient lighting and a lack of public art, gardens, and green space makes laneways uninviting. Perceived to be unsafe spaces As a result of the above issues, many community members consider the laneways as unsafe and not desirable for travelling or lingering. This issue can be real or perceived in different areas.

Existing Policy Documents Greenest City 2020 As part of the Green Transportation Plan, the City of Vancouver calls for complete communities that provide the services we use such as grocery stores, coffee shops, and post offices all within a convenient distance from where we live. Additionally, the plan supports local food

West End Plan The West End Plan outlines the desire to protect and enhance public open spaces, parks and green linkages. Along the commercial streets, there is a need to better connect and improve local business areas as infrastructure ages, and as commercial lease rates rise. Residents and businesses alike have also noted the need for building façade improvements along Robson, Denman and Davie Streets. Overall, there is a need to maintain and enhance the character, viability and vibrancy of these commercial streets. This includes the provision of additional seating, lighting, street trees, and pedestrian priority measures; activating laneways as secondary walking routes; and exploring opportunities for greening, gathering spaces, consolidated garbage/recycling containers, and programming and/or place-making in unique areas. Improving the three Villages (Davie, Denman, Robson) as places for people to work, shop and play can be encouraged through identifying façade improvement grant sources and encouraging first and second floor patios that face the commercial street and help to animate the streetscape.


VIVA Vancouver The City’s VIVA Vancouver program, managed by Engineering Services, is about creatively transforming streets into vibrant public spaces for walking and gathering. This is achieved through seasonal road closures to vehicle traffic, or longer term road space reallocation. VIVA Vancouver enhances the city’s sense of community, encourages active forms of transportation, and benefits local businesses.

NLIS Policy Guidelines 2.1

PUBLIC PLAZAS AND GATHERING SPACES Public plazas and gathering spaces play a vital role in public life. They enable celebrations and protests, community events, and neighbourly interaction. When designed, located, and programmed appropriately, they are vibrant spaces that allow lingering and support local businesses while encouraging walking, cycling, and transit use.

Policies: 2.1.1 Create shared spaces that mix pedestrians with other forms of slow moving traffic (with priority given to pedestrians and design details that invite pedestrians to use the entire street) 2.1.2 Provide usable open space by maximizing the amenity value of unbuilt areas, providing usable open space when possible and make usable open space, not surface parking, the central focus of projects 2.1.3 Use strategies to improve the public realm through parks and plazas, improved pedestrian connectivity, cycling networks, public art and culture 2.1.4 Encourage the transformation of on-street parking spaces into mini plazas or community gardens 2.2


PATIOS Patios are good for businesses and for the public realm. They increase spaces for gathering and community interaction while also creating more “eyes on the street.” They also increase the seating capacity for businesses, which can increase profits by up to 30 percent, making them very appealing to businesses (Vancouver Sun, 2016).

Policies: 2.2.1 Encourage property owners to create active frontages with patios and gathering spaces 2.3

COMMUNITY GARDENS Community gardens are a community recreational activity that contributes to health and well-being, positive social interaction, community development, environmental education, connection to nature, protection and use of open space and economical, nutritious food production, and food security.

Policies: 2.3.1 Encourage the creation of community gardens on city property 2.3.2 Work with landlords to provide spaces for gardening through financial incentives and grant programs 2.3.3 Work with community centres and schools to create educational programs to teach about local food


COMMUNAL GARBAGES Properly maintained collection boxes have the potential to reduce a considerable amount of litter and keep nuisance wildlife out of residential garbage. Clustering garbages also leads to an increase in space in laneways, greater social interaction, and a more visually appealing public realm.

Policies: 2.4.1 Encourage the clustering of garbage facilities and the creation of garbage structures for pickup


PUBLIC ART AND BEAUTIFICATION A pleasant community appearance adds to home values, helps attract business investment, and just improves the neighborhood reputation.

Policies: 2.5.1 Encourage visual interest and a human-scaled level of detail, avoiding large areas of blank wall or garage doors in the design of buildings 2.5.2 Encourage property owners to use grant programs for the creation of murals on blank walls 2.5.3 Draw on the context of the surrounding area existing form in the urban design

Source: Healthy Harbor/Flickr



Advance Vancouver’s Greenest City objectives by “Greening the Lanescape” and making laneways environmentally friendly Laneway greening serves as both an aesthetic and experiential amenity for residents and visitors, as well as serves a practical role in reducing our impact on natural systems.


Issues: Laneways are largely impermeable and unattractive greyscapes Access to Nature Though the West End, and the rest of Vancouver is very green, much of that greenery is concentrated on streets. Many laneways in the West End are unattractive and uninviting, and at most have little more greenery than a few shade trees. These spaces are primarily intended for parking and service accessibility. Access to nature is linked to many health benefits; including mental and physical health. People with access to nature often have less stress, lower blood pressure, and generally live longer.

Stormwater Management Stormwater refers to water from rain or snow that is not absorbed into the ground. Many West End laneways are paved with asphalt and bounded by other impermeable surfaces. Paved areas negatively impact the West End’s hydrological systems in a number of ways. Stormwater runoff contains pollutants like motor oil, gasoline, and sediment, etc. Left untreated these pollutants represent a significant hazard to marine habitats. They increase instances of erosion and flooding, which inturn increases the need for increased spending on infrastructure maintenance. Heat Reduction The West End is a neighbourhood subject to the effects of urban heat island (UHI) effect. A UHI is a city or region that is significantly warmer than the surrounding suburban or rural areas. The primary cause of urban heat island effect is the modification of land surfaces (waste heat from energy use is considered a secondary cause). Urban heat island effect results in a number of adverse impacts. UHI contributes to increased energy use for air conditioning and refrigeration. It often results in increased rainfall downwind of the UHI, reduces air quality due to increased production of pollutants, and decreased water quality, among others.

West End Community Plan The first foundational plan principle of the West End Community Plan is to achieve a green, environmentally sustainable urban pattern. The pursuit of laneway greening contributes to this, and to protecting and enhancing public open spaces, parks and green linkages, as well as fostering resilient, sustainable, safe and healthy communities (the sixth and seventh principles respectively). Section 10.4 of the plan covers laneways from a greening perspective and as part of its policies suggests the activation of laneways at least in part through “… [exploring] opportunities for greening, gathering spaces, consolidated garbage/ recycling containers, and programming and/or place-making in unique areas.”

Rain Garden concept sketch

Existing Policy Documents Greenest City 2020 Action Plan Greening is an important component of the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan. A full section of the plan is dedicated to the importance of having access to nature. The plan states that, as a legacy of Vancouver’s development within a western red cedar and Douglas-fir forest, “the beauty of the natural world continues to influence Vancouver’s identity and contributes to [its] reputation as one of the world’s most livable cities.” Themes of greening permeate through other policy areas in the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan as well. The Plan covers other topics related to greening such as monitoring and protecting water quality, and reducing, reusing, and recycling more construction, renovation and demolition waste.

Source: R.M. Daley, CDOT


NLIS Policy Guidelines 3.1

TREES, PLANTERS, AND RAIN GARDENS Trees play a crucial role in green laneway environments. Trees provide more aesthetically pleasing environments through filtering and screening, and are often linked to less stress and improved emotional and psychological health. Trees are linked with decreases in vehicle speed and collisions with other vehicles and pedestrians. Trees also reduce urban heat island effect and improve air quality. Planted in or near laneways their shade reduces the amount of thermal energy emitted by pavement. Trees decrease impact on drainage systems, reduce travel time perceptions, and add value to adjacent properties. Smaller plants have similar benefits. They contribute to the aesthetic quality of laneway spaces. Plants filter silt, pollutants and debris, reduce rate and quantity of stormwater runoff, contribute to groundwater recharge, and can help reduce localized flooding. They provide habitat for birds and wildlife. Simple residential planters may be used to achieve these benefits. Planters include standing pots and wall baskets, green facades and living walls, in-ground beds and raised planting beds. More specific arrangements of perennials (often incorporating a swale), known as rain gardens, may also be included in laneways to increase the effectiveness of planters in seeking these benefits.

storm sewers. Properly pitched and graded laneways ensure that runoff moves in channels that lead directly into the stormwater sewer system. Ideally, those channels run through the centre of the lane. In green laneways, pitch and grading may be used in clever ways to direct stormwater to one side, out of the way of pedestrian pathways. Policies: 3.2.1 Ensure laneways are appropriately pitched and graded within the context of the overall alley strategy. 3.2.2 Ensure pitch and grading should consider that drainage does not interfere with the type of activity that is being emphasized in this space; be it pedestrian/cycling movement or recreational, etc. 3.3

PERMEABLE SURFACES Integrated stormwater management approaches aim to mitigate the effects of stormwater runoff through a number of different methods. Replacing impermeable surfaces with materials that allow more stormwater to naturally infiltrate into the ground help manage stormwater. These permeable surfaces come in a number of forms; from pavers, to permeable concrete and asphalt.

Chicago’s “Green Alleys” Program

Planting local species that are uniquely adapted to the local weather, water, and soil conditions is an important consideration. The use of local species reduces the amount of watering, fertilizing, and maintenance required. Policies: 3.1.1 Encourage or provide shade trees at strategic locations 3.1.2 Encourage the use of planters and rain gardens with local species 3.2


DRAINAGE Traditional forms of stormwater management dealt with stormwater by draining it as quickly as possible into nearby

Source: CDOT,

If appropriate these techniques may be used in combination with subsurface drainage systems such as pipe underdrains or stormwater infiltration trenches. These subsurface interventions further slow runoff and reduce stress on the integrated stormwater management system Policies: 3.3.1 Replace impermeable surface cover with permeable surfaces like pavers, 3.3.2 Replace impermeable surface cover with permeable concrete or asphalt where pavers are not appropriate 3.3.3 Make use of subsurface drainage where possible


RECYCLED CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS Where paving is necessary, recycled construction materials such as slag (a steel production bi-product) and recycled concrete aggregate can be used in the concrete mix. Ground tire rubber can be used in porous asphalt.

Policies: 3.4.1 Encourage the use of recycled construction materials such as slag and recycled concrete aggregate



Change the hierarchy of modes while ensuring that emergency services, utility servicing, goods movement, waste collection, and parking continue to be accommodated as required

A limited number of irregular development lots that do not conform to any of the above typical scen in the West End. In these instances, infill development will be considered on a site by site basis an expected to demonstrate a good contextual fit with adjacent development and an ability to provide the separation distance of 20 ft in the form of a shared courtyard between the existing development on th proposed infillprioritized, development important as well as minimum side yards and other accessing requirements. should be vehicular services still need access to These f be used as the performance criteria to establish an appropriate height and form for new developmen the laneway, unless the way these services function is altered.

Typological Differences 3.1.3 Scale & Height

Different laneway typologies, as identified in the figure below, come

The West End Community Plan envisages laneways as smaller and more intimately scaled pedestrian with different space and service requirements. laneways this end, infill development is expected to be within the rangeResidential of 3.5 to 4-storeys, with limited heig typically require parking, parkade access, garbage storage and on the ho this up to 6-storeys depending on lot size and contextual fit with both existing development collection, utilities. potential infill and development on Commercial adjacent lots. laneways are very important for

business andscale provide parking, loading, garbage storage To reinforce operations the more intimate and character of the laneways,and where taller infill development is ap and collection. In “commercial flanking” and “commercial adjacent” it should step-back at upper levels to present a consistent street wall height to new dwelling frontages lanes, both residential and commercial needs must be considered. lane.

Heights will be considered as per the table below. Applicants are directed also to the West End Laneway Emergency Vehicle Access map included in these guidelines (see Figure 5).

Laneways serve as important thoroughfares for moving goods, services, and people throughout the West End. Laneway design interventions should work to accommodate this movement without compromising the previous objectives.

Laneways are sometimes used by police, fire, ambulance, and other Commercial Commercial Site Frontage Residential Lane emergency vehicles in Adjacent order Lane to reach their destinations. With more Flanking Lane laneway infill occurring, their destination will increasing become the 10.0 – 19.8 m (33 – 65 ft) 18.3 m (60 ft) 12.2m (40 ft) 12.2m (40 ft) 20.1 – 29.9 m (66 – 98 ft) 18.3 m (60 ft) 12.2m (40 ft) 12.2m (40 ft) laneway itself. Therefore, it is important to consider emergency access 30.2 – 60.4 m (99 – 198 ft) m (60 ft) 18.3 m (60 ft) 12.2m (40 ft) when planning laneway18.3 interventions.

Issues: Vehicles need access to laneways

West End Laneway Typologies Figure 5: West End Laneway Typology Map

Strategy Conflict Many of the NLIS policies involve significantly altering laneways in order to alter the “hierarchy of modes,” which prioritizes pedestrians, followed by cyclists, transit, shared use vehicles, and finally, private automobiles. The interventions required to make this happen include adding greenery, seating, and plaza space in the laneway right-of-way, thus reducing the space available for vehicle traffic. While pedestrians 22

18.3 m (60 ft)

18.3 m (60 ft)

18.3 m (60 ft)



Area Boundary

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Vehicle-dominant Spaces Currently, Vancouver’s laneways are vehicle-dominated spaces. They are used primarily as shortcuts to avoid busy street traffic, residential and commercial parking, emergency and utility access routes, and service corridors for goods movement, utilities, and waste storage and collection. These vehicular uses often compete with one another; for example, large garbage trucks may have to maneuver around parked cars. This varied vehicular use makes laneways a dangerous place for pedestrians.

60.7+ m (199+ ft)

Streets Commercial Streets

W Georgia St


Alberni St Robson St


Haro St Barclay St



Nelson St Comox St


Pendrell St Davie St

C A English Bay

Burnaby St Harwood St Pacific St

Beach Ave

Source: West End RM Design Guidelines for Infill Housing


Residential Lane


Commercial Flanking Lane


Commercial Adjacent Lane

narios exist nd will be e expected he lot and factors will Loss of Parking nt. Currently, it can be difficult to park in the West End; during busy

periods, residents routinely require five minutes and over one kilometre of extra driving to find a spot, while visitors take ten routes. To minutes and almost three kilometres of extra driving. Many laneways ghts above in the West End are used as surface parking, mostly for residents ost lot and with permits. Parking is often perceived as a problem when infill is introduced, and in the West End, this will be a heightened concern.

ppropriate, s along the

y Typology

Existing Policy Documents West End Community Plan The West End Community Plan pushes for pedestrian-friendly laneway interventions, but it also recognizes the importance of existing vehicular uses. The document states: “Implement laneway improvements along with infill housing or other development, while maintaining access for efficient servicing, goods movement, and parking.” Transportation 2040 Vancouver’s Transportation 2040 plan contains policies to ensure that efficient loading and unloading is provided across the city. At the same time, the plan supports “low-impact” goods and services movement and delivery. This includes shifting from large delivery trucks to rightsized and eco-friendly vehicles, including cargo bicycles and electric or low-emission trucks. Additionally, policy G 2.3.3. calls to “Explore opportunities to optimize services that occur in laneways, to reduce the footprint for waste and recycling collection.” Transportation 2040 calls for the consideration of emergency vehicle access in street designs and traffic calming measures, but also states that “efforts to minimize response times should not be at the expense of traffic calming and other measures intended to reduce crashes and improve safety.” Policy W 1.1.5. states: “Consider ways to improve lane environments for people on foot while maintaining essential functions such as loading, parking, fire access, and services, particularly in locations where: a) the lane is the shortest path between key walking destinations; and b) the lane serves as a primary residential and/or business access point.”

The plan also indicates that vehicle use in downtown Vancouver is declining. While the City acknowledges that private automobile use will continue to be an important part of travelling in Vancouver, there are fewer cars entering the downtown core even though both population and jobs are increasing. Vancouver’s transportation policies include establishing a hierarchy of modes where walking, cycling, transit, and shared vehicles are all prioritized ahead of private vehicles. The plan also includes policies that address parking, including the encouragement of demand management and the treatment of parking as a shared district resource, limiting the need for more stalls. Laneway Housing How-To Guide (City of Vancouver) Access to laneway infill is required from the street: “a fire access path must be provided from the street along one of the sideyards to the entrance of the LWH. This path should be at least 900mm (3ft) in width and must be clear of any projections.”


NLIS Policy Guidelines 4.1

VEHICLE ACCESS Vehicular access to laneways continues to be necessary in a number of circumstances. The NLIS ensures that where required, vehicles are able to enter and travel through the laneways. However, this does not mean that the laneway must be designed primarily for vehicles; vehicles should be accommodated, not prioritized.

Policies: 4.1.1 Ensure—but do not prioritize—access for emergency services, utility servicing, goods movement, waste collection, and parking, as required on a site by site basis. 4.1.2 Encourage the creation of a shared-use right-of-way, where no one mode is prioritized over another. The Dutch “Woonerf” design is an example of this concept.


4.1.3 Design flexible, multi-use spaces that are primarily pedestrian oriented but that allow vehicular access when required. 4.1.4 Restrict vehicular access to only those vehicles that are performing crucial services for the laneway. The use of collapsible/removable vehicle barriers could prevent regular vehicle traffic from entering the lane while still allowing emergency vehicles to enter when necessary. 4.2

SERVICE OPTIMIZATION If laneway servicing was more efficient, vehicles would need to spend less time in laneways and could potentially avoid entering the laneway altogether. For example, waste collection service optimization could include the creation of a single garbage collection area at one end of the laneway, meaning that garbage trucks would no longer be required to travel through the entire laneway. Additionally, many emergency and service vehicles are quite large, which requires a larger amount of space set

Source: Huffington Post via CBC

aside for their access. The right-sizing of these vehicles—i.e., using smaller trucks for smaller jobs—would increase their maneuverability and allow for more interesting and pedestrianfriendly laneway designs. Policies: 4.2.1 Explore opportunities for service and utility optimization in laneways throughout the West End. 4.2.2 Explore the feasibility of “right-sizing” vehicles that require access to laneways, including fire trucks, garbage trucks, and utility vehicles. Additionally, explore vehicle upgrades that could allow more services to be performed from the street rather than the laneway. 4.3

PARKING STRATEGY Studies have shown that there is in fact a surplus of parking in the West End. The reason that on-street parking is hard to find is that on-street permits cost $6/month, whereas off-street parking typically costs over $50/month. As a result, many residents choose to purchase on-street permits rather than use the off-street parking spaces that are provided exclusively

for their use. According to a study by Neal Abbott, occupancy rates in off-street West End parking lots are consistently below 50%, with some buildings containing over 100 empty stalls. The City of Vancouver is currently working to produce a parking strategy for the West End that will more efficiently utilize existing parking infrastructure. Policies: 4.3.1 Encourage the repurposing of existing surface parking in the laneway right-of-way and on property directly adjacent to laneways. Adapt this strategy based on the forthcoming City of Vancouver West End parking strategy. 4.3.2 Reduce parking requirements for infill development while encouraging demand management strategies, such as the inclusion of car sharing spaces, bicycle parking, and pedestrian-friendly design. 4.3.3 Where surface parking is required, encourage the development of flexible, multi-use spaces that can be used for parking at peak demand but which can be repurposed during non-peak times.


There are two laneways in the West End that are ideal for interventions that would increase the urban density, enhance livability, and contribute to many other social and environmental goals. These are the Heart of Davie Village and the Heart of Denman laneways. These sites are used as case studies for the ideal application of policies for laneway improvements.

Burrard St.

Thurlow St.

Bute St.

Jervis St.

Broughton St.

Nicola St.

Cardero St.

Bidwell St.

Denman St.

Gilford St.

Chilco St.


W. Georgia St. Alberni St. Robson St.


Haro St. Barclay St.

Nelson St. Comox St.

Heart of Davie Village provides a good example of a commercial laneway. It involves significant improvements to the public realm and economic viability of Davie Street. Heart of Denman represents a good opportunity to expand housing and build on community cohesion. Principles of NLIS Implementation:

Pendrell St. Davie St. Burnaby St. HEART OF DAVIE VILLAGE

Harwood St. Pacific St.


Beach Ave.

• Act Incrementally • Monitor & Evaluate the Effectiveness of each Intervention • React, Respond, & Repeat in an Iterative Fashion

English Bay

Case Study Locations

Site Selection Rationale: HEART OF DAVIE VILLAGE • Expanding the Davie Village as the heart of the LGBTQ2+ community • Connection to the Jim Deva Plaza and Pavement-to-Plaza program • Addressing the challenges of a commercial lane • Wide selection of businesses on the laneway including a laundromat, restaurants and coffee shops • Lots of surface parking that can be repurposed to other uses • Opportunity for beautification • Some spaces for infill


HEART OF DENMAN • Identified as a “Potential Laneway Improvements Pilot Project” in the WE Community Plan • Expanding off of a Denman Village • Creation of a continuous pedestrian corridor - laneway behind community centre recently closed to vehicle traffic • Opportunity to activate the space - issues with loitering and litter increasing after closure • School in proximity • Public housing site bordering much of the laneway • Opportunity for residential infill here

Heart of Davie Village Laneway


Heart of Davie Village Implementation Plan

Phase 1

Work with property owners in the creation of a communal garbage structure for the storage of commercial bins and recycling through seed funding from the city as a pilot project Work with the West End Parking Strategy to move parking spaces off the laneway and encourage residents to utilize building parking spaces 28

Allow for the creation of patios behind businesses on Davie Street through patio permits Encourage property owner to replace the parking lot behind Melriches with a patio and public plaza or garden

Encourage property owners, businesses, and residents to install simple planters of no more complexity than raised planting beds in specific locations

Heart of Davie Village Implementation Plan

Phase 2

Encourage entrepreneurs to open pop-up patios Encourage property owners to beautify the backs of their buildings through mural grants and property upgrading incentives. Work with the West End BIA in the creation of laneway wayfinding and signage such as banners or electrical wraps

During laneway maintenance or new construction require the use of permeable concrete or asphalt Plant shade trees, especially near patios and infill sites. Leverage developers to provide trees as part of the development permitting process for infill development in the laneway

Encourage the use of the rainbow crosswalk paving into the laneway, that matches paving in Jim Diva Plaza


Heart of Denman Laneway


Heart of Denman Implementation Plan

Phase 1

Encourage community groups to create community gardens through financial incentives and partnerships Involve King George Secondary School and/or West End Community Centre in gardening programs to educate about local food

Encourage property owners, businesses, and residents to install simple planters of no more complexity than raised planting beds in specific locations Create a rain garden at the northwest corner of the laneway

Create gathering spaces through the use of seating, lighting and landscaping Create a public plaza on the west side of the laneway beside the West End Community Centre Work with school board to explore options for controlled access to the field beside the laneway for active play spaces

Encourage infill on 3-4 sites with priority placed on ground-oriented multi-family units


Heart of Denman Implementation Plan

Phase 2

Through the Vancouver VIVA program, work with the West End Community Centre to encourage active programming in the laneway Encourage public art through grant programs and a local call to artists


During plaza maintenance or new construction require the use of permeable concrete or asphalt During laneway maintenance or new construction require the use of permeable pavers. Grade the laneway so that a channel of water runs along the north edge, towards the rain garden at the northwest corner of the laneway

FINANCIAL INCENTIVES & TOOLS Neighbourhood Matching Fund The Neighbourhood Matching Fund administered by the City of Vancouver supports neighbourhood-based groups that want to make creative improvements to local public lands. Eligible projects must actively involve the community and build neighbourhood connections. The Neighbourhood Matching Fund is not a grant; community groups are reimbursed for project expenses based on equivalent contributions from volunteer labour, other funding sources, and in-kind donations.

Development Permitting Residential infill and back patio permit approvals would be contingent on joining the communal garbage areas. Encourage developers to provide community gathering spaces or public art such as murals through the community amenity and development permit processes.

Parking Reduce the requirements for parking spaces in the development of infill sites.

Friends of the Environment Foundation (TD) TD ran a program that provided partial funding to registered charities, educational institutions, municipalities and aboriginal groups. This funding went towards projects like community gardens, park revitalization and restoration, and tree plantings, among others.

Community Partnership Program (Vancity) Vancity Credit Union provides funding for a variety of sustainability oriented projects through their Community Partnership Program. Grants of up to $10,000 are given to local not-for-profit organizations, social enterprises, co-operatives, labour unions and indigenous organizations. Funding is provided for organizations, projects or events that support or drive environmental performance improvements, promote ‘alternative transportation’, increase eco-efficiency, build the green economy, etc.


CONCLUSION The West End’s laneways are an untapped resource that is waiting to achieve its full potential. In a city and neighbourhood that is mostly built out and scrambling for developable parcels, laneways have so far gone untouched. However, with proper planning and the right set of tools, these laneways can become so much more than mere service corridors and shortcuts. However, all planning projects face their fair share of adversity, and laneway infill is no exception. After the West End Community Plan was released, there were some concerns from citizens regarding the application of the Laneways 2.0 strategy. The “West End Neighbours (WEN),” a citizen group that speaks out about planning in the West End, listed a number of issues regarding proposed laneway infill projects. This included tree removal, loss of parking, straining amenities, construction impacts, and shadowing.


The group also mentioned concerns over the housing mix provided as well as the size of family units, indicating that they appear to be too small for families. Finally, WEN questioned whether the building character of the proposed infill developments matches what residents envisioned during the West End Community Plan consultation events. This Neighbourhood Laneway Infill Strategy seeks to address these concerns through thoughtful design and the incremental application of policies. Careful thought has gone into addressing parking, housing scale and mix, and environmental impact. As the strategies are applied, monitoring and evaluation will help to gauge the success of each intervention, thus dictating the next move. In this way, citizen concerns can be understood and responded to before the next phase begins. Vancouver’s laneways are not merely the next logical area to be developed: they represent a chance to truly improve the lives of residents and visitors alike, in the West End and beyond.



City of Chicago. (2010). The Chicago Green Alley Handbook.

City of Vancouver. (2013). Laneway Houses. Retrieved from: http://

City of Portland. (2008). The Infill Design Toolkit: Medium-Density Residential Development. City of Vancouver. (2011). Greenest City: 2020 Action Plan. City of Vancouver. (2012). Transportation 2040. City of Vancouver. (2013). Laneway Housing How-To Guide. City of Vancouver. (2013). West End Community Plan. City of Vancouver. (2013). West End Community Plan Design Guidelines: Appendix J - West End RM Design Guidelines for Infill Housing. City of Vancouver. (2013). Laneways 2.0: Laneway Opportunities in the West End. City of Vancouver. (2016). Blood Alley Square/Trounce Alley Redesign.

City of Vancouver. (2016). West End Parking Strategy. Retrieved from: aspx Frances Bula. (2015). Vancouver’s laneway housing expanding with apartment buildings. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from: http:// Mole Hill Community Housing. (2013). Retrieved from: http://www. Susan Lazaruk. (2016). Heading out for a bite. The Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from:



Life Behind the Scenes: Neighbourhood Laneway Infill Strategy for the West End  

This policy document was a collaboration with Michael Meyer, Tess Munro, and Peter Lipscombe. It describes strategies for activating and gre...

Life Behind the Scenes: Neighbourhood Laneway Infill Strategy for the West End  

This policy document was a collaboration with Michael Meyer, Tess Munro, and Peter Lipscombe. It describes strategies for activating and gre...