Over the holidays, workers completed one of the first steps in a major new landscape project: pedestrianizing four of the most travelled routes on campus. The first one to be tackled is Agricultural Road, an east-west corridor that runs from Place Vanier residence to Main Library and the SUB.

“The segment between Lower Mall and West Mall is complete,” says Dean Gregory, the university’s Landscape Architect tasked with planning the campus landscape. “New walkways were laid during the winter break and new lighting, paving and seating boulders have been installed. And now we’ve broken ground on the heart of the project, the long stretch from West Mall to East Mall.”

The university is working to improve the campus’s walkability because a vast majority of trips made on campus are by foot. In a recent survey conducted for Transportation Consultation 2010, 84.8 percent of respondents said that once they reached the campus, their primary mode of transportation was walking. Improving walkability on campus is one of the goals of both the Vancouver Campus Plan, adopted in June 2010, and UBC’s Public Realm Plan.

Agricultural Road is one of UBC’s historic pedestrian routes, one of four original rights of way left over from the original 1912 master plan for the campus. (The other three are Main Mall, University Boulevard and Memorial Road.) The facelift involves ripping out the existing roads, curbs and sidewalks and replacing them with decorative paving blocks and greenery.

“This will transform the aesthetic,” says Gregory, “from looking like a road to looking like a walkway through campus.”

The broad paved walkways will still be accessible to emergency and service vehicles, but some roadway is being removed, and a few intrusive parking spots are being pushed to the periphery.

“It’s about creating a landscape. People want to walk and live in a landscape, not a road. We’d like the campus to be a collection of buildings accessed by walkways through an attractive park-like setting rather than a series of buildings along streets. Pedestrians should feel like they’re the top priority.”

The planting, which will begin in spring, will match the beaux art aesthetic of the historic core of the campus. The lower segment goes through the arboretum, the campus’s historic “tree museum,” which includes some beautiful old specimens, notably a stately 75-year-old silver-leaf maple. A temporary hut has also been removed from the front of the Math Annex and a new public square will take its place. It will feature criss-crossing walkways, benches and a lawn area that will be perfect for Frisbee and sitting on sunny days.

The paved walkways have been designed to eliminate water pooling, a persistent complaint all over campus. A rain garden south of the Geography Building will also absorb runoff, and replace a small parking area.

New lighting will also be added, to complete the emphasis on safety, accessibility and sustainability. The whole project should be finished and growing in by April.

The transformation of Agricultural Road is a precedent for the creation of other pedestrian corridors on Main Mall, University Boulevard and Memorial Road. The paving pattern — a mix of various shades of grey concrete pavers — will be the same on all four routes.

recent study by researchers at the University of New Hampshire suggested that walking isn’t just good for your health; it also builds community and increases quality of life. People who live in more walkable neighbourhoods generally said that they were more involved in community life and were healthier and happier than people who live in non-walkable neighbourhoods.

All good reasons for UBC’s campus community to celebrate pedestrian improvements on campus.