Stephen Rees's blog

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

Let’s Pave Streets Green

with 14 comments

Nieuwbouw Sterrenburg III Dordrecht 1975 De Jong van Olphen Bax

The Tyee

[Editor’s note: This is the second of Steal This Idea!, an occasional series focusing on practical green solutions.]

Oh yes, I will happily steal this idea. It is basically the Dutch concept of woonerven (see illustration above) with an extra side of vegetables

So how much space is there, and what could we do with it? Google Maps shows my block is 850 feet long and a little quality time with a tape measure finds the distance between sidewalks is 41 feet, so in just one block we have 34,850 square feet to play with.

First, let’s make it a one-way street, one lane wide, with a couple of pullouts. This maintains access for emergency vehicles, taxis and mini-buses for wheelchairs. We could also throw four spots for visitors into each block. At one end we can put a half-court for basketball, street hockey, skateboarding or rollerblading so once again shouts of “Car!” will mean the players get a short break. For the rest of the block, I propose gardens. We have enough space left for 150 very nice garden plots, each about 3 by 4 metres, plus walkways.

But what I really like is that Ruben Anderson has done his homework

Land in urban centres is at such a premium that each street parking spot in front of my building is worth $25,000. Add to that the fact that each car actually has three to four parking spots scattered around the city, just waiting for it (otherwise you wouldn’t be able to find a spot at the end of your trip and would be forced to drive back home, spinning like a hamster in a wheel). The total subsidy to drivers is at least $100,000. If drivers had to mortgage their street parking, they would be paying $600 per month. And to think I can’t find bike racks.

In Tokyo you cannot own a car if you do not also own an offstreet parking space. What we need is to find a way to force the people who do have off street spaces to actually use them instead of parking at the side of the road. Because as a community we can no longer afford to provide people with “free” parking at public expense. And the way to start is to adopt the Copenhagen plan – an annual reduction in road and parking space across the region on the principle of “boiling a frog”. Do it in small increments every year and be relentless. It will take 40 years but it will be worth it.

And meanwhile at the back we might let you have a parallel parking spot in the lane if you convert your garage to a coach house

Written by Stephen Rees

March 26, 2008 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Urban Planning

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14 Responses

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  1. Totally brilliant.


    March 26, 2008 at 1:25 pm

  2. Yellow plate “light” cars (under 660cc engines) are exempt from that requirement I believe… I also think that requirement for regular cars is Japan-wide, not just Tokyo.


    March 26, 2008 at 4:28 pm

  3. Just playing devil’s advocate – it may have the unintended consquence of hastening the demise of 1940s-1960s rental apartment blocks in the West End and elsewhere that were built without much parking.

    Ron C.

    March 26, 2008 at 5:15 pm

  4. Or even better – lets move to the forests and live of the land…Lets abondon technology…let peasants and left wing “intelectuals” show us the way…let’s shoot all that opose us…sounds familiar? Pol Pot anybody?

    Only one problem with this concept – it does not involve drinking lates while casually posting stuff on the web…

    Dejan K

    March 26, 2008 at 10:16 pm

  5. Dejan – so why do you bother to read it let alone comment? What purpose does this serve?

    Nothing in my post rejects technology, or urbanism. I simply report that someone else seems to have come up with another variation on a well established idea. I would not say that the Dutch resemble Pol Pot’s regime – or a back to middle ages society. And they have been making heir residential streets safer and improved the quality of their neighbourhoods significantly for many years. It is a lesson we could learn to our advantage.

    Similarly the Japanese – who make lots of cars – still recognise that in a small crowded place parking is an issue. And maybe if we adopted their approach we would exempt low speed battery cars. That seems to me to worth talking about.

    Are you seriously suggesting that it is a good idea that we devote so much space to parked cars in this region? Do you actually believe that the ability to drive anywhere and park anywhere at no additional cost to yourself is actually good for you – or the place where you live?

    OR do we simply treat your posts like those of a troll?

    Stephen Rees

    March 27, 2008 at 8:01 am

  6. I was shocked when I moved to the West End and discovered I could get a street parking permit for $60 – for the YEAR. Why would I pay $30-60 a month to park in my building if I could pay $60 a YEAR? Clearly most people in my building thought the same way since the garage was only ever 1/3 full at most (in fact, the building manager used most of the spots to store his collection of antique VW cars). I think we could clear a lot of curbspace if we actually charged something for the permits. There are probably a lot of buildings with parking that people aren’t using because it’s so much cheaper to get a street permit…. so I bet we could easily remove some street parking.

    Anyway, I’m carfree now so parking costs me $0 and I’m just annoyed at how much space we give over to parking.


    March 27, 2008 at 8:15 am

  7. I am reading and commenting because I have an interest in the subject. If I didn’t care I would not bother posting.

    I am troubled with an overall concept that advocates that we should not “subsidise” a form of transportation that is prevalent in today’s society and available to the majority of population and instead favouring fringe transportation or land use solutions that are appealing to a few. For example, if parking spots are a form of subsidy for cars, so are bike lanes, bike lockers, bike signals, etc. If we create green space in the middle of our streets who is going to pay for landscaping and maintenance? Is that free? There is no free lunch one way or another. The same goes for public transit that is heavily subsidized.

    Dejan K

    March 27, 2008 at 4:37 pm

  8. It would be interesting to know how much you have paid attention to earlier posts. For starters the prevalence of the automobile in our society is the source of many of its problems. Just recently we looked at how car orientation has lead to a decline in health due to inactivity: car use and obesity are directly correlated. The car oriented suburban subdivision wastes land, is unwalkable and leads to social isolation and loss of neighbourliness – because you never see your neighbours, only their cars.

    The planet is warming due to our profligate use of fossil fuels – and all you have to do is look at the growth of auto ownership and the amount of CO2 emissions to see the link. Automobiles are also one of the most significant sources of common air contaminants even after all the technological and regulatory progress in recent years. And finally road collisions are one of the largest single causes of premature mortality.

    In this region many years ago we agreed that we did not want to follow the example of so many other North American cities. We adopted a strategy to create a Livable Region. It was recognised that we would still need cars – you cannot turn a supertanker on a dime. But we would work towards a less car dependant society. And so far we have not succeeded. Transit mode share is still at 11% – exactly where it was ten years ago.

    Car drivers do not pay anything like their social costs – the subsidy to car use far exceeds that of any other mode.

    The original post that I was talking about made it clear that the new green spaces would be looked after by residents. In fact, in the City of Vancouver that already happens. Boulevards and traffic circles are home to gardens that are the pride of their community. And have much higher standards than any municipal flower bed. And looking after a garden is a source of healthy physical activity, social interaction and, sometimes, fresh produce.

    The automobile industry has had a free lunch for far too long. It is the recipient of direct subsidies from the Canadian and Ontario taxpayer – but even so the Mayor of Windsor is now looking at a program that will help unemployed autoworkers find jobs in the oil patch. It could not compete fairly with transit in the 1950s, so it formed an illegal cartel to shut down the rail transit business. For which it was found guilty but never punished. It was boosted by the Eisenhower administration, that failed to notice how the railways had always risen to the challenge of mobilisation and promoted a national interstate highway system that destroyed most US cities. On the spurious justification of national defence.

    And you are worried about bike lockers?

    Stephen Rees

    March 27, 2008 at 5:50 pm

  9. Stephen,

    I don’t think that trying to run social experiments by forcing people out of their cars using a stick is going to work. Majority of people gravitates to the most convenient solution that they can afford. If you put on a top of that the fact that owning a car in this society is a status symbol you will have a hard time convincing majority to go the route of bike riding, car pooling, or even transit. Incidentally, I don’t own a car and use SkyTrain every day which I find, cheap, convenient and fast, so therefore I use it.

    I think that with the latest post about the electric cars you have nailed it as to what I think a realistic solution for our problems is. The solution will not come from fringe technologies or changes of personal behaviour, but from the industry and technology that can be implemented on large scale. The solution won’t be turning us all back to gardeners, farmers, energy producers, composters, etc. Those are hippie dreams. And on a top of that they are a colossal waste of time and resources. The idea that each house should be equipped with a food producing garden, solar panels, composter, etc are incredibly wastefull, as those mini systems are way less efficient than large scale industrial food production, energy production, etc. On a top of that we as species have gone down the road of specialization, so I as a IT dude have very little time or for that matter interest in running a mini power plant/garden/composter at home. Went off topic here a bit I know – but this illustrates a point for transit as well. Electric Cars + Cadillac Mass Transit = Solution. In other words, we need to think big – very big.

    Dejan K

    March 28, 2008 at 7:45 pm

  10. No one to my knowledge has ever run a social experiment to force people out of their cars. Or even suggested that we should. You will not win any arguments by accusing others falsely about their intentions.

    What has happened is that in some places, people are offered other, realistic choices. And even in North America, these have been very popular. And you may not have noticed but nearly everywhere that transit has been improved transit ridership has grown. And in some places, urban designers have even been able to create places where car ownership is no longer seen as necessary – or even desirable.

    I have commented at length on the electric car thread and will not repeat myself here. I will merely say that a lot of people like to use their own muscles – they find it provides them with better health both physically and mentally. Growing things in soil seems to meet an ancient atavisitic desire experienced by more than hippies. Try telling that to the ladies at Van Dusen Gardens sometime – but not, I suggest, when they are holding a spade.

    The words in the LRSP are “increase transportation choice”. Nothing wrong with that is there? So why have we not done it?

    Stephen Rees

    March 29, 2008 at 8:38 am

  11. Well nobody has run those experiments, but based on what you and others on this site are saying it seems to me that you guys would love to do just that. Making people walk and bike by making driving prohibitively expensive or inconvenient in order to improve their health sounds like a social experiment to me.

    Dejan K

    March 29, 2008 at 6:31 pm

  12. “Making people walk and bike” is twaddle. People WANT to walk and bike – and for years in North America planners and engineers have tried to make that as hard as possible by designing as though everyone was going to drive. Since the 1950’s, nearly everywhere has had to be built to codes and guidlelines determined by car use as the sole means of transport. And in Canada and the United States the cost of driving has been kept as low as possible (see that graphic on gas tax). Support for the US automobile makers has been continuous and relentless. The “social experiment” was Levittown – the car oriented suburb. And it has been one that is universally acknowledged to have been a dismal failure.

    Nowhere in the Charter of Rights is there a right to drive a car. Babies are not born clutching a steering wheel. For several millennia human beings developed urban places. Only in the 20th century did we try to dismantle them – by driving freeways through them. Again, that is now recognised as a major cause of social problems of all kinds.

    It is actually not necessary to encourage walking and cycling. Just build places for people – not their cars – and that is what they will do. And do do nearly everywhere outside of North America. It is we who are out of step – not the rest of the world. And the problems of human civilisation now are largely due to mindless adoption of a North American lifestyle. And as life form on the only planet we know we can occupy that is not a tenable long term proposition and never has been. Indeed it is looking now as if it is not even a short term proposition.

    Stephen Rees

    March 30, 2008 at 9:25 am

  13. Having lived in Communism for the first 19 years of my life, I am somewhat skeptical at grand declarations as to what people want. And declaring that people WANT to walk and bike as opposed to drive made me chuckle as it sounds like something a communist party’s central committee would declare in face of oil/car/parts shortages (caused by their own incompetence or corruption – take your pick) in the 1950s or 1960s.

    SOME people want and CAN walk. I walked to work when I lived downtown and when I was within 20 minute walking distance from work. If you are a construction worker working a 9-10 hour shift I sincerely doubt that you WANT to walk or bike 10km or more to where you live. Same goes for majority of jobs in private sector. Now, if you are a government or para-government employee or in academia where majority of your working time is spent on figuring out what to do with your time and where taxpayers pay for shower facilities and of course your time showering, changing and tending to your bike then yes, I can see that you MAY want to bike or walk.

    Now that is not to say that I am against biking, I think we should have bike lanes that are fully separated from traffic and pedestrians (as they are in most of Europe). But that’s a minor issue.

    The first argument that I am trying to present here is that I am for giving people choice as opposed to making them do one thing or another. The second argument is that if we as society want to address climate change, congestion, and so on then we better use our resources smartly and get the biggest bang for our $$$. That to me is the following:

    1) Support for large scale – industrial sized renewable power generation (wind, solar, tide, and nuclear where no other options exist). By industrial I mean non-personal power generation plants. Subsidized personal solar panels are giant waste of money.

    2) Power conservation ranging from industrial to home applications.

    3) Electric propulsion (cars,buses, trucks, etc). I don’t see why Canada would not be able to do what Israel is already doing.

    4) Mass public transport – subways, busses and trains

    5) Favoring high density residential zoning. 4 and 5 go hand in hand.

    Dejan K

    March 30, 2008 at 3:11 pm

  14. Exactly – and the more we make it possible for people to make healthy choices the better – better for them as individuals and better for us as a society.

    Your energy economics are sadly out of date – but I am not going to argue about that. If people want a solar panel why are you entitled to tell them they cannot have one?

    People did not chose of their own free will to live in suburbs, drive big cars and eat McDonalds supersize meals. They were pushed and shoved into it by a corporate agenda, and the “hidden persuaders”. They were lied to just as people living in communist regimes were lied to. Neither system believed in freedom or democracy through both claimed to. If your inner city community has been bulldozed to build a freeway, your local shops put out of business by WalMart, all your choices limited to what the franchisees are pushing, you really have very little choice. And Americans are some of the least healthy people on the planet – especially poor Americans.

    Fortunately there has always been a third way – and it is no coincidence that the Euro has now begun to supplant the dollar and former Warsaw Pact nations want to join the EU. Indeed I would go so far as to venture that we could be witnessing the end of the mad right wing shift of the US and UK and a swing back to more humane ideas. Hayek has proved to be as misguided as Karl and Friedrich.

    Stephen Rees

    March 30, 2008 at 4:51 pm

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