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Sign of narrow mindfulness

January 29, 2015


As I’ve mentioned before, the parkade I generally sleep in looks out across a back alley and onto the red brick wall of a condo. Between the condo and the parkade the alley is squeezed to a bit less than half its normal width.

Since the condo was finished two years ago I’ve seen several large trucks squeak through the narrowing alley, including one huge motorhome and one ambulance. Often the passage has been accompanied by the sound of sheet metal scrapping on brick. Gouges along the condo’s brick wall visibly attest to how some large vehicles just barely squeeze by.

Some impacts with the wall of the condo actually broke and dislodged bricks and restoration work was required.

In an attempt to save wear and tear on the condo, a warning sign was added to the edge of the east-facing wall of the condo, to warn westbound drivers in the alley.

It features a big “Caution” but the important message that “Lane narrows” is in a type size that looks like contractual fine print from 20 feet away.

For a few weeks, two water-filled orange barricades were placed in the alley flush up against the brick wall of the condo; this reduced the width of the bottle neck by about another foot and the barricades were frequently dragged out of the way, presumably by drivers.

Dumb sign, dumber problem


Another sign has now been added under the first sign. This new sign features the word “Caution” above a diagrammatic image of a truck (or an occasional end table) tipping sideways against a wall.

Are narrowing alleys such a wide-spread problem that a sign like this can be purchased ready-made off-the-shelf, or is it a custom job?

Either way it is certainly one of the goofiest and most incomprehensible street signs that I have ever seen.

No amount of such signage will solve the real problem which was caused by the condo developers themselves.

The narrow self-interest of developers

A diagram of the alley where I sleep: too narrow by half.

Too narrow by half. A diagram of the alley where I sleep.

Originally drivers had ample room to maneuver around the jutting parkade apron because the property across the alley from the parkade was set well back on its lot. However the condo which replaced it was built right out to the absolute edge of its property line with the alley. In this way the existing parkade apron became a problem — a problem which I think the condo builders proceeded to make worse.

In the final stages of the condo’s construction, the builders needed to repave the length of alley that their building abutted. The owners of the parkade took the opportunity to have the same workers renovate and repave the apron part of the parkade, which already jutted into the alley eight or nine feet.

The edge of the parkade apron was reinforced with a line of large, Lego-like, concrete precast modular blocks (PMBs).

This extended the parkade’s apron at least an additional 20 inches into the alley.

I finally measured it last night: for the length of the parkade, the alley narrows dramatically like the off-centre neck of a wine bottle, from 20 feet, 6 inches, down to exactly 10 feet wide!

That’s narrower, a Vancouver Fire and Rescue crew told me today, than a Vancouver fire engine/ladder truck. It’s certainly narrower than a Toronto Fire Services fire engine, which, including mirrors, is 10.17 feet wide (3.1 metres).

It seems wrong that developers and property owners would be allowed to make a back alley narrower than city emergency vehicles but then a lot of what developers and property owners are allowed to do in Vancouver seems wrong to me. Click the images to enlarge them.

One Comment
  1. I really enjoyed this article. Thanks for writing it.


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