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Country lanes in urban Vancouver

When, years ago, Vancouverites paved over the dirt service lanes behind their homes to prevent their cars from getting muddy, they didn’t think about how that might affect stormwater runoff. Now, not only does rainwater- during heavy storms- mix with sewage and flow untreated directly into the Pacific, but the pavement prevents any natural filtering to take place.

Now, in an effort to correct this mistake and to create more urban green space, the city is giving some laneways the “Country Lane” treatment. “The “Country Lane” alternative provides the functionality of an improved surface for vehicles yet maintain the ambiance of country living through the use of pavers, grass and other landscaped features.”

Basically they rip up the wall-to-wall asphalt and put in thin strips of pavement for car tires surrounded by pavers and/or grass with structural support (Golpha plastic grids to prevent soil and grass compaction and rutting). It is not extremely high tech, but is innovative for an urban environment and the pilot project won the American Public Works Association’s 2003 Technical Innovation Award.

While the traditional completely paved roads prevent any absorption of rainwater runoff, the country lane design allows more than 90% of rainwater to be absorbed directly into the ground. This not only prevents runoff from entering the sewage system and causing overflows, but it also means more urban vegetation.

In this video, we visited one of Vancouver’s country lanes where Ken Nguyen from the city’s Streets Design Branch showed us the technical specs and one resident explained how the whole neighborhood had been cleaned up by this “thin park”.