Stephen Rees's blog

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

Shifting Gears II – Walking

with 7 comments

Rodney Tolley at UBC Robson Square, Monday June 8, 2009

Rodney Tolley is the Director of WALK 21 and Honorary Research Fellow, Staffordshire University, UK, who was at the end of a cross Canada program of workshops – “masterclasses” – looking at the benefits and barriers of walking, and the challenges of making Canadina cities more walkable. The workshops were organised in partnership with Green Communities Canada and Each was designed to stimulate local walking action planning and from all of the workshops it is intended to document both best practices and case studies.

The International Charter for Walking shows how to create a culture where people choose to walk it identifies the needs of people on foot and provides a common framework to help authorities refocus their existing policies, activities and relationships to create a culture where people choose to walk.

8 principles – “motherhood and apple pie” no-one can be against any of them

1. Increased inclusive mobility

2. Well designed and managed spaces and places for people

3. Improved integration of networks

4. Supportive land-use and spatial planning

5. Reduced road danger

6. Less crime and fear of crime

7. More supportive authorities

8. A culture of walking

The methodology is to benchmark communities against each of the the principles to determine where each needs to concentrate its efforts. This both informs practitioners and provides a structure for how to make things happen.

He said that his talk would be personal reflections on his recent experience in Canada since it was too early for the organisations involved to have reached formal conclusions. In every city traffic was seen as a problem – and the first step to tackling this is breaking perceived link between economic growth and traffic growth and for most places making downtown a destination again. While it is common to talk about “closing streets” he prefers the idea of “opening streets to people”. Many communities have tried to grow health by building facilities ignoring incidental benefit to health of walking as daily activity [this turns opportunity to exercise into a business which can make money rather than a civic responsibility]

In every place they build on the energy of the community. Much of this has to do with reallocating spacefrom vehicles – improving the legibility of walking (even if there are paths it is not usually made clear where they go) and the biggest challenge is making suburban communities walkable. Overall there is a universal desire to future proof communities from auto dependance.

Great Issues

  • climate change

  • peak oil

  • recession

Walking as an effective antidote especially by replacing short distance car trips – there is huge potential in most Canadian cities. The fuel price rise in 2008  had an immediate effect on reducing car trips: when prices fell there appeared to have been a one way shift in travel patterns. There is now a much greater commitment to strengthening local communities and improving local urban environments.

Walking is a key ingredient of new green policies. It is driven by concerns for health. This is the most important benefit and there is no need to buy anything or join anything. It provides cardio vascular disease protection at little cost.

The chart below is taken from another presentation by Harry Rutter called “Transport and Health” – but it is the table that Dr Tolley used

Health costs of transport interventions

But people will often say “walking is dangerous”. In Canada there are 375 pedestrian deaths per year – but 21,000 deaths due to a sedentary lifestyle 1:56 ratio. Walking

  • supports inclusive mobility

  • is not a special interest (unlike cycling – which is often strident and from a dedicated minority)

  • encourages community cohesion

  • increases personal security

  • freedom for children

  • underpins public transport – every trip starts and ends with a walk – quality of walking and waiting environment

In fact we can reduce danger by increasing walking and cycling

  • traffic arrangements will be made to accommodate the increase

  • car drivers do adapt their behaviour

Countries with higher levels of walking and cycling have lower collision rates.

Las Ramblas (Barca)

Walking is a precondition for an economically healthy city – “the slower we travel the more we spend” (this seems to be true but has yet to be demonstrated by empirical research). There is a demonstrable direct economic benefit from improving retail environments.

He then went on an entertaining excursion of illustrations which showed that current practice is based in the principle of “planning cities as if people don’t matter”. [In fact it is observable nearly everywhere that cities have been largely retrofitted or sometimes entirely designed solely for vehicles.]

Obesity and overweight are associated  with the environment: there is a positive disincentive to walk. This is because of the “invisibility of walking” – we do not have the governance or capacity to encourage walking because we don’t bother to collect the information.

A 2006 worldwide survey showed that

  • we want to walk more

  • need to be  helped to walk more
  • scared to walk more
  • prevented from walking more

In general experience to date shows that the health message works but the economic message (save money by walking) didn’t work – or at least prior to the current recession it didn’t.  We need to examine the contextual environments for walking – it is not a bolt on extra to more traffic but walking as part of a new way.

Walk21 Conference Series – the next one is in New York on the theme of “more footprints, less carbon”

Applying 5Cs





c??? [sorry I did not type quickly enough to catch this one – any offers?]

Planners have to put pedestrians at the top of the trip hierarchy. And it is not just about hardware (paths, surfaces, removing fances)  but software too i.e. information. As many cities have found people do change, often you  just have to provide better advice (e.g. Travel$mart individualised marketing).

  • safe routes to school
  • dieting main roads
  • complete street solutions

Walkability = shared space – segregation doesn’t work: “naked streets” rebalance need for traffic and activity. He showed slides of Kensington High Street in West London where there was a 47% reduction in accidents when the city took away the railings that had penned in pedestrians and encouraged faster traffic speeds.

“Shared use is not shared space” shared use is about movement – shared space is about destination. For much of the hard design elements are shared surfaces – undefined area – remove the curb

He then went on to show some recent succesful interventions which have produced much better urban places where walkign is encouraged

Hans Monderman’s Zentralplatz Biel Switzerland

The Bendigo experiment – which first took over the space in front of town hall, on a major arterial wheer through traffic is still allowed but  speeds fell – the walk bendigo project is now expanding to cover the rest of the city

Gehl and Gemzoe’s typology (Gehl, J. and Gemzoe, L. (2001) New City Spaces. Copenhagen: Arkitektens Forlag.)

New York – where Broadway at Times Square and Herald Square have both been closed to traffic

Birmingham – Britain’s second largest city which in the sixties had built a huge inner ring road with multiple pedestrian subways that essentially killed the City centre as a shopping area: the area has now been almost completely overhauled with the removal of both ring road and subways. As a result it has moved from 13th to 3rd place in the national hierarchy of  retail destinations.

Birmingham City Centre

Birmingham City Centre by Steve Oliver


Placing pedestrians at the head of the transport hierarchy had had the following results

  • the stunning renaissance of city centres
  • positive impact on nearly every parameter
  • the creation of a new urban  environment

Sustainability is the key and will become the new paradigm for development – and we will create places where people can survive without cars


My reaction to this lecture was that I had heard nearly everything in it before. This is not a criticism of Dr Tolley but rather of Vancouver. We know all of this – we have heard it many times – but we seem not to be able to grasp the key principles. For instance, during the question and answer session – which was discursive and unfocussed, Ray Spaxman got up and praised Vancouver as a “walkable city” with “great places” – of which he thought the best example was Granville Island. I almost cheered when Dr Tolley politely demurred: “But it is full of cars.”

I rather wished that Charles Gauthier of the Downtown Vancouver Business Association had been required to attend and listen and then made to explain his implacable opposition to all that this lecture represents. There is in fact not a single space in the City of Vancouver that has been changed to put pedestrians first – even though the City Transportation Plan has long said that is supposed to be the priority. Equally there is almost nowhere in the whole of the region that qualifies. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the world: I even started a flickr group “Places without Cars” so I could collect images of places where putting people first has worked. The range and variety of places is stunning.

Cheung Chau Sunset

After the lecture, the organisers invited people who live in Vancouver and want to see a pedestrian transformation here to leave contact information.   This is because they are meeting with the Mayor (on Wednesday)  and hope to get a local action group set up. Here’s my very best wish for their success. And maybe those of us who live in the suburbs will start organising similar pressure groups in our municipalities.

Perhaps one of the opportunities might be Richmond’s review of parking in Steveston which at least acknowledges the issue of “safer access for pedestrians from parking lots to the waterfront”. They might even think about the recently much increased population’s need to walk to the shops, park and library!

By the way one thing that did come out of the Q & A was the recommendation that full pedestrianization of shopping streets may not be the best solution unless there is some other activity to keep the place lively after the shops close. After hours, when there are no shoppers about, some pedestrian streets become quite forbidding and unsafe. I think it is very instructive that the one section of Granville in downtown that is open to car traffic has to be closed on busy evenings as a safety measure, mainly due to the concentration of licensed drinking places along that section.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 10, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Urban Planning, walking

7 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Granville Mall failed, not because it was pedestrian oriented, but because it was bordered on the west by the then new, massive, inward looking Pacific Centre mall. Business embraced the mall as the future of shopping, abandoning the street. All the people who would otherwise have made it a lively street were sucked inside the mall, hidden away behind massive blank walls or buried underground. As foot traffic disappeared the remaining businesses were sucked into the mall as their only hope for survival, creating a huge vacuum at street level. No eyes on the street allowed crime to thrive which simply added fuel to the fire.

    Granville is coming alive again because business is rediscovering the power of a sidewalk presence and because Downtown South and Yaletown have doubled the number of people who live downtown and walk most everywhere. The imposing “castle” wall that Sears inherited from Eaton’s is still there, but other parts of the mall are opening themselves to the street, welcoming passers by in shops with sidewalk access and reminding shoppers that there is a world outside the mall.

    I think Robson Street made it fashionable to shop along the sidewalk again and that has had a ripple effect. No longer must you be hidden away in climate controlled ignorance to spend money.

    Other parts of the city never lost their sidewalk focus. Kitsilano, Kerrisdale, central Broadway, South Granville, the Marpole section of Granville, Cambie village before the construction, west 10th Avenue, large stretches of Main and Fraser and even parts of Hastings and Kingsway that are afflicted with huge amounts of through traffic have remained places where people walk from shop to shop.

    Going forward we need to look at ways to encourage these types of environments by reducing or eliminating the through traffic while maintaining road space for destination traffic. Trams are one way of calming through traffic while increasing the people carrying capacity of the road.

    I live near Knight Street, a roadway that repels pedestrians. Just crossing the street is a dangerous activity, even at signalized intersections. I often spot my neighbours many miles away at large grocery stores that offer copious parking. After all, once you’re in the car, going an extra mile to get a better selection or price is no big deal.

    I used to live in Kitsilano and I walked to buy groceries, even heavy things like 4L milk jugs. Some day I want to live in a place like that again, but I fear the BC Lottery Corporation will have to come to my rescue before that can happen.


    June 10, 2009 at 3:58 pm

  2. Actually, having pedestrian areas, much as I like them for having used them in Europe, Japan, China etc. isn’t the most important thing that make people walk. I found out recently that in Paris more people walk than take the Metro, buses etc. (of course numbers could be skewed by the sheer numbers of tourists, said to be around 30 millions plus a year). It can’t be because of the sidewalks as many Parisian sidewalks are narrow, and Paris’ pedestrian areas are only a very small part of the whole city, but simply because zig-zaging from this street to that one is, on relatively short distances under 2 km, just as fast as going down the subway and its long corridors then taking a crowded subway etc.

    Red frog

    June 11, 2009 at 11:15 am

  3. Of course the most significant reason that Paris is walkable is that the 20 arrondisments are densely populated and have myriad attractive destinations. Baron Hausmann’s reconstruction pushed through the boulevards but they have wide sidewalks – or had until many were taken for car parking, now slowly being reclaimed again. Almost all of the city is mixed use – with interesting stores, cafes and restaurants with apartments above. That is what happens when most of the city is a lot older than the automobile. Some of the worst features of the modern city are the Peripherique, the use of the Seine quais for a fast roadway – and even that last is being mitigated. If Paris can resist the current push for high rises, and start to civilize its suburbs it will continue to be “future proof”. The subway is only part of the story – the RER and the new tramways are significant, but the velib is without a doubt the best innovation anywhere. The bus system remains an anachronism but the introduction of bus lanes is more widespread than here. My personal preference would have been to see better fare integration with the metro for short term visitors, but the velib has greatly reduced my need to use the bus!

    Stephen Rees

    June 11, 2009 at 11:31 am

  4. All year long on Sundays, for 9 to 6 (longer in summer) a dozen areas in Paris are closed to cars. See ocars.
    Tourists in Paris can use the same weekly smart card as locals for stays of one week (Navigo Decouverte) Euros 16.80 for the week for zones 1-2 plus Euros 5 for the card plus a photo. For shorter stays there is a daily Mobilis at Euros 5.80 for zones 1-2 (Paris within the ring road). Fares change on July 1. Gauthier may change is mind during the Olympics when Robson and other streets will be closed to cars (no doubt to show to foreign visitors that we too have pedestrian streets).

    Red frog

    June 12, 2009 at 9:56 am

  5. “the slower we travel the more we spend”

    My conjecture on this (seeing as you say there’s nothing empirical, so mine is equally anecdotal) is that one’s sense of scale is different when you travel slow. I remember learning the phrase “velocitization” in driving class – when your perception of how fast you are going, and hence how much brake you will need to apply to slow down, is skewed (AFAIK) because of the speed at which the landscape is passing by.

    The only destinations that could justify these kinds of trips are those sold to us as being larger than life, worth the cost of the gas, the time and the sunk cost of the car without the endorphins of doing something physically pleasant. The only destinations are large and garish, with the capital to have the machineries of mass advertising do its bidding in nurturing consumerist materialism. And then the profits accrue to those large stores to continue doing more of the same.

    An exception exists, however. The other night I found myself biking to the nearby cluster of big-box stores that have essentially pedestrian-sized themselves as best they can to fit the city’s decrees on neighbourhood-scale presence — I refer to the new Home Depot, Canadian Tire, Best Buy, and Save-On-Foods stores at Cambie and 5th. I often find myself having the odd experience of buying something at the Whole Foods, then walking north a few blocks to go to the Asian-owned small grocer on the southeast side of Cambie and Broadway.

    I was going to add something too about the very likely ties about local economic circulation and robustness and walkability, but I’ll leave that for another time.


    June 15, 2009 at 11:49 pm

  6. not quite about walking but the Globe and Mail has an article in its Wedn. June 17 edition (page A3-couldn’t find link in internet edition) about a nasty war between Prince Charles and modern architects..Richard Rogers want a parliament inquiry to pretty much shut up Charles. The globe has a sketch showing “contemporary suburban model” rejected by Prince C. This model separates housing from schools, themselves separated from big box stores, separated in turn from a business park itself separated from a mall etc. etc.
    What that old fuddy duddy of Charles prefers is a “sustainable urban model” that integrate schools, shops and offices into residential areas with public transportation! the horror!
    Now it is true that, especially in North America but even in some parts of Europe, there are already 2 generations of people that find “normal” to have to drive all over the place..and must have big useless lawns! but do they REALLY prefer that lifestyle or was it forced on them?
    I am not enamored with Charles’ love of new but traditional looking domestic architecture that often become a fairy tale pastiche, but neither am I in love with houses that look like a box that lost its roof, the kind that is found all over the world, without any understanding of local history, culture and climatic conditions. In many areas of Europe, including the Dordogne region of France where I worked designing houses for a builder, there are modern homes with big windows, skylights etc yet an overall shape, a roof line, walls and roofing materials that are similar to those of much older local buildings. People concerned by energy waste have finally understood that in each region older buildings got their shape, roof slope, windows size and location etc. because these were the best way to protect inhabitants from local rain and sun, winds etc.

    Let world famous designers build their iconic vanity towers, but let us get houses that may not win a prize but are liveable, cheap to maintain, and close enough to amenities that we can walk there…

    Red frog

    June 17, 2009 at 7:56 pm

  7. […] Shifting Gears II – Walking « Stephen Rees’s blog Shifting Gears II – Walking >> Stephen Rees’s Blog […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: