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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

We need physical separation

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I have been on Twitter this morning and there is a picture of a mother and daughter riding their bikes on the sidewalk.

Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 1.44.24 PM

Seeing that reminded me of the pictures that I had taken outside the place we were staying at in Chicago’s Loop district (downtown). The bike lane is a bit better in Chicago than North Van but it is still just paint. And as the three pictures show a lot of green paint does no more to deter cars from entering the lane than that thin white line with the occasional bike logo. Anyone riding a bike down East Washington St would have to swerve around those parked cars putting them in line for a potential collision with moving vehicles.

If you look closely at the two left hand images you can see in the previous block a big bus shelter outside the bike lane providing excellent separation.  For the 60 feet length of a bus anyway.

For more see “Walkable City Rules” (see previous post) Part XII Build Your Bike Network especially Rules 58 and 59. Best practices are outlined in the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide. 


Written by Stephen Rees

November 8, 2018 at 2:11 pm

Posted in bicycles, Transportation

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Book Review: Walkable City Rules

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101 Steps to Making Better Places by Jeff Speck

Published by Island Press ISBN 978 1 61091 898 5 Paperback

Walkable City Rules

I was really delighted to get an actual book, as opposed to an ebook. And this one really ought to be on the desk of every city planner, urbanist and advocate. It was a genuine pleasure to open it, and get about halfway through and see so many things that this blog had been getting right for so long. Speck is writing for an American audience – and even cites Vancouver as a good example for transit provision. Which tells you much about how dreadful most US transit systems are, rather than how good ours is. As I am sure you are all tired of reading now, I do not think we ought to spend much time patting ourselves on the back, but rather taking a serious look at how other places – most of which are not on this continent – do things. And of course it is nice to see Rule 20 “Create a  twenty year land use and transportation plan …” illustrated with a graphic of the Translink 2040 Transit Network Vision for the North Shore. And of course Jarret Walker’s “Human Transit” gets much of the credit for best practices.

It was not until we got to the nitty gritty of street design and especially parking that I saw a parting of the ways, but that is, I think, because most of my experience of these issues was gained in London. And some time ago at that. So there are some departures here from what I have been writing about roundabouts, on street parking and four way stops  that need to be reconsidered. But that is because what Speck is writing about is how to make the urban areas of most of the USA better in the 21st century. Which is a different kettle of fish to what we did to improve parking enforcement in Central London in the 1980s.

What I did notice was that I kept looking up from what I was reading this afternoon and quoting it to my partner. Because a lot of it is highly quotable and some of it counterintuitive. Which is what you would expect.

I was also very impressed with the Press Release that accompanied the invitation to request a review copy. I went back to that to find out the price of the book as it is not on the cover: or on the release either! (Actually $30 cover $24 for a Kindle version and you could also pick up “Walkable City” if you haven’t got that – which you should – for $8.40 Kindle,  $16 cover for paperback. I got these prices from – I probably should have used but in any event I would much rather you bought a hard copy from a real Book Shop. Because.) But all this quote is simply lifted from the PR blurb, which I heartily endorse.

I’m sure you know planner and designer Jeff Speck, who has become a go-to resource on making cities more livable, sustainable, and walkable since the publication of Walkable City, but if you don’t, I wanted to put his his follow-up book, Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places, on your radar. It has just been published and answers the question: how do we actually make cities walkable?

With this book, Speck delivers an actionable guide on walkability that details the practical steps needed to usher in an era of renewed street life. Bolstered with examples from cities around the US, he lays out 101 rules for remaking cities. Some of his top ten rules include:

  1. Don’t Mistake Uber for Transit: Support public transportation in the face of ride-hailing.
  2. Cut the Extra Lanes: When lanes are not needed for traffic, all they do is cause speeding.
  3. Expand the Fire Chief ’s Mandate: Shift the focus from response time to public safety.
  4. Use Roundabouts with Discretion: They are extremely safe; they’re just not all that urban. — kind of feel like DC needs this one
  5. Remove Centerlines on Neighborhood Streets: When a street loses its centerline, speeds drop approximately 7 mph.
  6. Bag the Beg Buttons and Countdown Clocks: Pedestrians shouldn’t have to ask for a light.
  7. Don’t Let Terrorists Design Your City: The anti-terror landscape is a bad investment.
  8. Dream Big: Great cities still need great visions

Other rules relate to tactical urbanism, congestion pricing, parking, transit, street design, cycling, and others. Jeff has filled it with proven strategies for success and promises these rules can bring the most effective city-planning practices to bear in communities.

If that doesn’t pique your interest, nothing I can write will move you, so you go back to your Hummer and read the Sun instead.


Written by Stephen Rees

November 3, 2018 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Transportation

Book Review: “Reimagining Our Tomorrows”

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Making Sure Your Future Doesn’t Suck

by Joe Tankersley

Published by Unique Visions Inc ISBN 978 1 7326281 2 0  US$10.99 paperback

“Futurist Joe Tankersley explores a world where technology is used for good and we have the resources to build communities that care.”


I have been doing quite a few book reviews lately but they have not really been particularly relevant to the purpose of this blog. So they have been appearing on my other blog which deals with anything outside of the scope of “Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves.” This blog reaches a wider audience that includes people interested in planning and urbanism, as well as the direction in which we are moving thanks to rapid technological change and the need to change where we get our energy from.

It is also necessary for all of us to take some time out from the terrible news we see every day. Terrible isn’t just the appalling toll of deaths and injuries on our transportation system and our seeming inability – or unwillingness – to take that seriously. Or the choices we still seem to be making at the ballot box that produce very little real change. Or the bleak prospects facing Ontario, the US and the UK thanks to their short sightedness. We need a source of hope. And hopefully some direction. This book is not really intended for me. I cannot claim to be “an experienced changemaker trying to keep up with the pace of disruption”. But I do hope that some of you reading this are “doers and dreamers anxious to ensure our best days are still ahead of us”. And I would not have started writing this blog in the first place if I did not think that we need to change direction and that there are already lots of examples of places that seem to be managing better than we are.

Tankersley used to work for Disney. And he learned a lot there about the value of storytelling and of how to think positively about the future. It doesn’t matter much if he is “right”. What matters is that he offers an alternative view to the “present trends will continue” narrative that seems to dominate our main stream media and professional planners. It is not inevitable that we will remain wedded to fossil fuels, and internal combustion engine cars. It is also not necessary that we keep on doing what we always have done and expecting a better outcome.

Reading this book was not effortful. That seems to me to be a Good Start. It also doesn’t stir in me the need to argue. (Unlike what happens whenever I post something to Twitter or Facebook  and get blow back from people I neither know or indeed want to.) Just one small quibble if I may, which I hope gets picked up in the next edition.

the village wasn’t self-reliant when it came to just seafood [the rest of the paragraph is about growing vegetables]

p131 ‘Reimagining sustainability’

What he meant was that the village wasn’t just self-reliant for seafood, it was also better than that for growing food in general and (by the way) energy production.

And the quibble is simply a matter of word sequence affecting meaning. It probably made sense to him when he said it – but on the page the sense is reversed.

I think that is about the only thing I felt the need to quote.

The book also has two pages of book references, and a page of online links – followed by the “Help Me Spread Optimistic Futures” page – from which I learned that the book is self published (linked above) and there is a Facebook page.

I hope that at least some of you will find something inspiring in these pages. The idea of finding new uses for McMansions and suburban malls is indeed not just encouraging but spot on, and something our planners need to embrace wholeheartedly. There is even a paean for a future design of cargobike which I know will appeal to some of you.


Written by Stephen Rees

November 3, 2018 at 3:02 pm

Chicago Cultural Centre

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This massive building on Michigan Avenue across from Millennium Park was formerly the central public library. In 1991 it became the Cultural Center. Over recent visits I must have been past it many times – and noticed swarms of people entering and leaving – but for the first time this trip we went inside, not really prepared for what was there. And it was amazing. “The People’s Palace”


Inside the south entrance the hall and staircase is covered in these mosaics

“Washington Street entrance, lobby, and grand staircase – Arched portal, bronze-framed doors, and a 3-story, vaulted lobby with walls of white Carrara marble and mosaics. The staircase is also of white Carrara marble, set with medallions of green marble from Connemara, Ireland, and intricate mosaics of Favrile glass, stone, and mother of pearl. ” (wiki)


The center has a full program of music, films, lectures and visual arts: there are also tours of the building


There is an old phone box which contains a sort of free electronic juke box


Here is Jelly Roll Morton: Hesitation Blues and the 19263 Black Bottom Stomp (Morton recorded “Black Bottom Stomp” with his Red Hot Peppers in Chicago on September, 15, 1926) both on YouTube


Passage SO-IL (New York City) consisting of a series of portals that envelop a ramp. The installation is made from standard steel studs usually hidden behind a layer of sheetrock and insulation.


Grand Army of the Republic Memorial


The central atrium is not accessible but contains an installation of ladders and swings called “Piranesi Circus” by Atelier Bow-Wow (Tokyo). “This void space recalls the allegory of G B Piranesi’s Imaginary Prisons a series of 18th century etchings depicting foreboding architectural scenes.”


The Preston Bradley Hall


The world’s largest stained glass Tiffany Dome (38 foot diameter)


Google translate fail – only gets two words out of four

ministered faithfully 



I didn’t make a recording of this rehearsal – which was making the best of the acoustics under the dome.



Written by Stephen Rees

October 28, 2018 at 5:02 pm

Posted in architecture, Culture

Chicago: River Cruise

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The Chicago Architecture Foundation Centre (now known as the Chicago Architecture Center) offers a guided tour by boat along the Chicago River. The guide was a retired architect – and a volunteer – who talked throughout the tour about 90 minutes. “More than 450 Chicagoans volunteer to be CAC docents, extensively trained guides who are certified to lead architecture tours.” There are other tours offered by other companies but the general consensus seems to be that these are the best on offer. Of course I wasn’t taking notes but I did keep the pamphlet from which most of the quotes in this post are taken. You can also take the tour by using Streetsview on Google Maps.

Chicago Architects' Boat Tour

River Point (2017: 52 storeys) at the confluence

Chicago Architects' Boat Tour

The second photo taken closer to the building to show the lower levels. “The building sits back from rail tracks concealed in a tunnel on top of which is a public park.”

Chicago Architects' Boat Tour

The Merchandise Mart (1930) “designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, was originally conceived as a distribution center for Marshall Field & Company” Art Deco

Chicago Architects' Boat Tour

600 West (1908) Warehouse for Montgomery Ward designed by Schmidt, Garden and Martin

Chicago Architects' Boat Tour

The Civic Opera Building (designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White) turns its back to the river: when constructed in the 1920s the river was for transportation and not regarded as an amenity. This is now changing with a variety of treatments to the waterfront to improve pedestrian access.

Chicago Architects' Boat Tour

Another Bertrand Holberg building – designer of Marina City – at the far end of the tour.

Chicago Architects' Boat Tour

Willis Tower 1974 (formerly Sears Tower) Skidmore, Owens & Merrill for 24 years the world’s tallest building “Bundled tube” construction

Chicago Architects' Boat Tour

This building did not get a mention on the tour: it is the Reid-Murdoch Building.

Chicago Architects' Boat Tour

Marina City 1967 Bertrand Holberg – a multi-use complex with residential condos over parking, a marina, restaurant, theatre, shops and a hotel.

Chicago Architects' Boat Tour

Lake Point Tower 1968

Designed by Schipporeit and Heinrich. The City has now decreed that no more high towers will be permitted east of Lake Shore Drive.

The boat turned back here in front of the locks which are designed to prevent too much lake water being drained to the Mississippi.


Written by Stephen Rees

October 26, 2018 at 10:51 am

Posted in architecture

Chicago: Frank Lloyd Wright 4

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The last stop on our FLW pilgrimage was his groundbreaking Unity Temple. Wright came from a Unitarian family “which faith then had many beliefs in common with Universalism.”

Unity Temple: architect Frank Lloyd Wright

Wright used the corner lot to good advantage: the front of the building is on a busy street. The entrance is on a side street, to a lobby (or loggia) which separates the two functions of the building. The sanctuary, for worship, on the front and a meeting room with offices above at the back for social events.

Unity Temple: architect Frank Lloyd Wright

The high blank wall reduces the amount of noise that penetrates into the sanctuary. The building is mainly built of concrete poured on site, which was cheap. The moulds were used multiple times for repeating walls with similar dimensions.

Unity Temple: architect Frank Lloyd Wright

Unity Temple: architect Frank Lloyd Wright

Unity Temple: architect Frank Lloyd Wright

Wright also designed all the fixtures and fittings, using the same theme.

Unity Temple: architect Frank Lloyd Wright

Natural light comes from the ceiling and a clerestory.

Unity Temple: architect Frank Lloyd Wright

Unity Temple: architect Frank Lloyd Wright

Unity Temple: architect Frank Lloyd Wright

Unity Temple: architect Frank Lloyd Wright

Unity Temple: architect Frank Lloyd Wright

Unity Temple: architect Frank Lloyd Wright

Unity Temple: architect Frank Lloyd Wright

I am not going to just stick in more quotes from the wiki article – though I do recommend you read it.

My first impression of the building was, I confess, unfavourable. But having walked around it and listened to the recorded guide I think I understand it better. The “compression and release” concept is on display here. You can’t just walk in the front door, you are sent around to the side and then fed through a lower level before you emerge into the sanctuary for your “wow” moment. Very cleverly, the congregation can leave through swing doors (that are not apparent in the loggia) either for a speedy exit or for some socializing in the smaller space behind. I liked the democratic layout of the seating: no-one is more than 40 feet from the pulpit. There are several levels of seating but all have an equal prominence. It is very quiet inside the sanctuary, despite all the tourists. By the way the cost of three self guided tours for us came to CAN $37.28. If we had waited for an actual guide it would have been more, but I think this might be a better way to do it.

It is also fair to say that cheap construction meant that the congregation has had to find funds for some considerable renovations to the structure – walls and roof. I don’t know much about Unitarian Universalism and I am not really fussed about finding out. But it is worth noting that the congregation really liked what Wright achieved here.

OK here is the kicker quote from wiki

Unity Temple is considered to be one of Wright’s most important structures dating from the first decade of the twentieth century. Because of its consolidation of aesthetic intent and structure through use of a single material, reinforced concrete, Unity Temple is considered by many architects to be the first modern building in the world.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 22, 2018 at 9:42 am

Posted in architecture

Chicago: Frank Lloyd Wright 3

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We now turn to the studio that Wright constructed in front of his house in Oak Park. The original house dates to 1889: the studio and connecting corridor were built in 1898.

Frank Lloyd Wright House & Studio


Frank Lloyd Wright House & Studio

“Most of the sculptures on the exterior of the Home and studio were designed by Wright’s friend and collaborator, Richard Bock. These include the two boulder figures flanking the entrance of the studio, which features a man crouching and breaking free from the ground beneath him. Bock also designed the stork capitals on the exterior loggia of the studio. The capitals signifies the tree of life, the book of knowledge, an architectural scroll, and two storks full of wisdom and fertility.” (wikipedia)

Frank Lloyd Wright House & Studio


Frank Lloyd Wright House & Studio

The studio has lots of natural light thanks to the skylight with its characteristic pattern of coloured glass. The gift shop has, of course, lots of things with patterns like this on them.

Frank Lloyd Wright House & Studio

I was a bit surprised that the drawings were all laid out on flat tables – which could be adjusted for height. Most of the popular images for architects drawing boards show them tilted at an angle.

Frank Lloyd Wright House & Studio

The guide did a bit of audience involvement here. He got four people to hold hands as they stood around him, and then move back until their arms were extended: then he told them to lean out further. The roof of the octagonal studio is supported by the metal frame and chains, and the four people could all testify to how that works.

Frank Lloyd Wright House & Studio

Frank Lloyd Wright

Robie House model: arch Frank Lloyd Wright

Model of the Robie House

Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright

I imagine that the secretary who had to sit in this chair as she did Wright’s typing has some thoughts about his lack of understanding of human anatomy and ergonomics.

The next post in this series will deal with Wright’s first commission for a public building.


Written by Stephen Rees

October 21, 2018 at 2:48 pm

Posted in architecture