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

Archive for June 2009

The Great Vancouver vs. Seattle Debate

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As regular readers here will know I get quite a bit of content for this blog out of attending the public lectures put on by the City program at SFU downtown. One event I missed was a debate between Gordon Price, director of that program, and Seattle’s Peter Steinbrueck over the virtues of the two cities – Price arguing for Seattle, Steinbrueck for Seattle. The debates took place twice – once there and once here – and on Crosscut (a Seattle blog) a report of the debate has now appeared.

Knute Berger says that there are reports of the debate on line – but does not provide links. Just the following “Twitter feeds, a webcast and the Seattle Channel” – which I suppose I will have to look up – unless one of the commenters beats me to it. So he does not provide the sort of report that I usually write, but a digest of the pros and cons. So I will leave it at that except for a couple of observations.

Price touted the wonders of Seattle’s hills and having a city that lives in three dimensions. But, as Steinbrueck points out, the flatter Vancouver core is better for walking and biking. It’s an easier city to get around in

It does not seem to me that this point is either important or relevant – or indeed even especially accurate. The Vancouver region has plenty of hills – we even put one of our major universities on top of a mountain, a decision which now looks nearly as bizarre as sticking the other one at the end of a peninsula. In the urban core, people do “live in three dimensions” – the elevators carry more traffic than the buses – and along Broadway (and increasingly other major arterials) people live over the shops and other urban facilities. Hills are an equal challenge for citizens of New Westminster and  North Vancouver. And yes these are part of the city since how else could we make that famous boast about being able to ski and swim in the sea on the same day?

Is Bellevue a suburb like Richmond – or is it part of the City of Seattle? Not that it matters very much either way. I suspect that all city advocates get a bit myopic when it suits them. Gordon Price once remarked to me that he thought the suburbs were anywhere south of 12th Avenue – which is actually truer the more you think about it. Most of Vancouver outside of the core is more like Burnaby or Richmond than Coal Harbour.

Vancouver’s great failure I would say is that it neglected to hang on to employment in the urban core. This is two sides of the same coin. A lot of the new development did not go into existing neighbourhoods but rather into conversions of industrial and commercial areas. That is actually easier for the planners – fewer existing residents to make a fuss – and more profitable for developers – since a big increment is earned from the change in land use. It also meant that some significant environmental clean up of polluted sites got done – False Creek for example.  But the mass transit system was – and still is – designed for the traditional many to few origin- destination pairs, and does not cope nearly as well with the many to many pattern that developed with the office parks and other suburban workplaces that were never part of any plan but emerged due to the Monday night decisions of most municipalities. No wonder it is so hard to get around – we did not plan land use and transportation together. Or rather we assumed that cars (and a bit of road expansion and traffic management) would sort the problems out. And obviously we were wrong.  Of course displaced businesses went to the cheap sites at the edge of town and not the regional town centres – there was no way to stop them – not that anyone was trying very hard.

This, it seems to me, is much more important to the debate than most of the other issues like “architectural risk taking”. But to comprehend the issue you have to expand the discussion to that of the functional urban region – not just the central city. Seattle’s big feature for me is the freeway – both the one on stilts through the centre – and the ring road, which sweeps you into the airport when you want to get out of town to the south. (I5 is actually an off-ramp, not the major route at the last intersection of the ring road.)  And whatever the features of Seattle’s downtown we may choose to praise, the suburban areas of both regions are identical – and indistinguishable from every other suburb/exurb/conurb in North America. Wake up in a hotel room just off the freeway in either and the only way to tell where you are is to check the area code on the room phone – looking out of the window will be no help at all.

And now we seem to be eagerly copying Seattle’s biggest mistake. Or rather the Province of BC has forced that on us. I do not think anyone who understands cities supports that decision.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 22, 2009 at 9:43 am

Posted in Urban Planning

Tagged with

Canada Line to appeal $600,000 in damages awarded maternity shop owner

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Vancouver Sun

Canada Line announced Friday it will appeal the B.C. Supreme Court ruling that awarded $600,000 in damages to maternity shop owner Susan Heyes after her Cambie Street shop suffered losses during construction of the rapid transit project

This is a dreadful waste of public money. And the excuse “Pitfield’s decision has potential ramifications for numerous public-sponsored infrastructure projects” is nonsense. The judgement made it plain that the defendants abused the process. They said they were going to build using bored tube, got consent, and then changed the plan to cut and cover. That is an old dodge known as “bait and switch”. They would never have got the consent of the city or the impacted community if they had known what was to come. And the other bidders should have called foul too, since they had presented their offers based on bored tube as requested.

What the judgement does is make project managers in future much more respectful of the public consultation process. It can no longer be the dog and pony show we have got used to in recent years, but actually has to listen to what people have to say and make sure that everyone understands what is actually going to happen. And then stick to the plan that was presented – not change it to suit some other interest.

What the proponents did on Cambie Street was wrong – and if they did not realize that at the time, they should have done. It is unfortunate that the burden on the penalty falls on the tax payer and the individuals who committed this wrong do not themselves have to pay any penalty. Yes this decision does set a precedent – and other merchants on Cambie Street should benefit from it. It will not impact other projects other than to ensure a proper process – which is what they should have had in the first place.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 19, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

Toronto’s plea for streetcar funds rejected

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Globe and Mail

New design for Toronto Streetcar

New design for Toronto Streetcar

There is a federal stimulus program available for city infrastructure programs. It was designed for “shovel ready” projects that would be ready to go straight way and could be spent in a couple of years. Obviously, the people who determined these conditions were thinking of the average Canadian city – not its biggest one.

Toronto is ready to replace it current streetcars – which are old, heavy and high floor, with this new design based on what Bombardier has been building for European cities. It would be built in Thunder Bay – which badly needs the work – using a combination of local, provincial and federal funding.

The problem is that there is no program specifically designed for this issue. So Toronto applied for the funds from the available program – and of course got turned down. Now if the federal government Minister had any sense at all he would not have made a  “a profanity-laced critique … for which he apologized the next day.”

He says that it is “not a technicality”. But what he really needs to do is give his head a shake and realise what happens when he turns down what he admits is “a fantastic project”. Obviously it cannot be made to fit the procrustean bed he has made. So he should have quietly gone behind the scenes and talked to his cabinet colleagues about how to make this thing happen.

There are no other cities in Canada that have a streetcar system that needs new cars. So obviously whatever Toronto did could not be made to fit any program. Of course the federal government should have been getting behind major urban transit investments – and somehow money has been found for projects like the Canada Line – which was also, at that time, unique. The current flap is simply political ineptitude. It is essential politically for any minority government of Canada to hold on to the centre – they desperately need to ensure that they get the votes of the people who live in Ontario and Quebec. For a government that is all the time hovering over the abyss of a potential confidence vote  to make this kind of mistake is incredibly silly.

Baird has come up with a “compromise”

Move up construction projects that can be completed in two years and use the savings to pay the federal share of the $1.2-billion streetcar contract.

So it is alright to use federal funds to build new roads but not replace streetcars? Is that any message to send when there is a critical international climate change conference coming up where Canada looks like one of the worst offenders already because of its tar sands?

Like most Canadians, I do not want a summer election – but I would also like to have a federal government that shows it is capable of rational thought.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 19, 2009 at 8:04 am

Posted in politics, transit

Tagged with

“Parking restrictions will fail in their aim” Harvey Enchin

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Harvey Enchin is one of those right wing ideologues that the Sun keeps on staff to turn out opinion pieces that try to make sure that nothing ruffles the feathers of the corporate culture. And a leftish City Council is doing that right now by reducing parking requirements in downtown. Now Harvey is not just spouting – he has done some research. Not a lot, and only in those areas that seem to support his preconceived notions. He found a study that suggests that the amount of parking is best left to the developers. After all, no-one knows better that a property developer what makes for a good city. And look it works in Los Angeles!

What he does not say is who paid for that study – and being a newspaper he does not provide a reference but I will – its a pdf version of the paper. It is not original research either but rather uses a small number of local studies to tease out some principles to be applied more widely. And actually it is a bit old (2005) also does not say who commissioned the research, but is clearly a lot more constrained in  its objectives than Harvey is. Not only that but its conclusions seem to be at odds with Harvey’s

Research results show that TOD parking supply and pricing policy seldom are structured to support transit ridership goals.

The problem with Harvey’s analysis is that it assumes that the only things that are worth valuing are expressed in terms of dollars – and that nothing else matters. Those who study cities more objectively long ago concluded that life is much more complex than that, and that cities resemble a living being – or perhaps an ecosystem. Certainly not as simple as say a corporation that manages based on its balance sheet. Furthermore, we have also come to understand that the very narrow business based model does not work very well for corporations either – which is one reason why so many are currently getting bailed out by the taxpayers.

City bureaucrats are working under the misapprehension that making it more difficult to park will force people to use transit.

That is simply not true. The use of the word “force” is, of course, pejorative. What the staff are aiming for is a centre that is less dominated by the people who insist on bring a couple of tonnes of machinery with them everywhere they go. This is simply the old notion that a streetful of cars carries about the same number of people as one bus. Obviously, public transport is a more efficient user of space than automobiles. Street life in a city improves dramatically when pedestrians get priority and cars are restricted. And the sort of city that has successfully demonstrated how to do that is far to be preferred than Los Angeles. Yes that is a value judgement. And it is one that I suspect many people share. Would you like Vancouver to be more like Los Angeles – or Seattle? Certainly our city seems to score much higher than either of those in those “quality of life” comparisons: those are the ones where Vancouver comes near the top and Baghdad or Port au Prince near the bottom. In cities space is at a premium – and there are much better uses for it than storing idle cars.

That does not mean that people in cities should not have access to cars. Just that personal car ownership is not a very efficient model for achieving high levels of mobility and accessibility.  Car co-ops and other mechanisms (for example just increasing the number of taxis) can do that by reducing the amount of time that vehicles spend idle. Indeed, it seems to have escaped Harvey’s attention that savvy developers have long been pushing the City to reduce its onerous parking requirements in order to make their buildings cheaper and more profitable, and some include membership of a car co-op in the price of the condo.

That council should dictate how much parking a builder of a residential or mixed-use development should provide is an exercise of malfeasant social engineering.

Now there’s a word you don’t often see in a family newspaper “malfeasant”. But it is equally “social engineering” to build suburbs like Surrey where transit mode share is still around 4% of all trips simply because car driving was designed into the very fabric of the city and getting around any other way is difficult if not impossible. Robert Moses was as much a social engineer in his attempts to make Manhattan accommodate more cars as any other city planner with loftier intentions – and his malfeasance was stark and a matter of record – and it failed dismally to achieve any of its stated aims.

The hottest market for condos recently has been in the centre of Richmond, where prices have continues to rise in a falling market because of the numbers of people who want to live within walking distance of the Canada Line. One of the most successful efforts at urban regeneration in Vancouver took place in Joyce/Collingwood, where developers built high rises with few parking spots – and again they had to fight City Hall to get that concession –  as they knew the proximity to SkyTrain was a good selling proposition.

I think it is quite reasonable for residents of Vancouver to want better than the average North American city. There is, at present, plenty of parking space in Detroit – it does not seem to have attracted much economic activity. Copenhagen, on the other hand, has steadily reduced the amount of space reserved for cars – both moving and stationary – and it has become a model of an attractive, successful city that many other places are now trying to emulate. Especially places that value things like being able to move safely, to be able to breathe clean air, to have the ability to get some healthy exercise as part of a daily activity – walking to work for instance – that is both free and socially beneficial. Social engineering is not a crime. Forcing people to spend much of their time seated in their cars, getting fat, increasing the rate of heart disease and adult onset diabetes – and at the same time squandering the earth’s resources and heating up the planet in order to fatten the bottom line of car builders and oil refiners seems a much worse malfeasance to me.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 16, 2009 at 7:32 am

Posted in parking, Urban Planning

Metro Vancouver’s growth strategy hits interference

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Charlie Smith in the Georgia Straight covers the regional strategy but gets misled. The fact that a Vancouver Councillor says their staff are “too busy” is not the real story. The fact is that the regional strategy has drifted off course since 1995 – and Metro is now trying to get it back on track. But nothing is really likely to change very much – because “The regional growth strategy requires unanimous approval from all 21 Metro Vancouver municipalities.” Up to now the municipal level of government has almost carte blanche to do as it wishes without oversight when it comes to land use – with the exception of federal lands (of course) and the ALR. It is therefore not at all surprising that the region’s Mayors do not like the idea of Metro having some oversight

Vancouver councillor David Cadman worked for the regional government for almost 20 years and conducted public consultation on the Livable Region Strategic Plan, which was approved in 1996. In a phone interview with the Straight, he said his biggest concern about the new draft plan is that it puts parts of the “green zone” at risk. That’s because the provincial government changed the legislation to permit a two-thirds majority vote by the Metro Vancouver board to remove land from the green zone—which includes watersheds, farmland, conservation areas, and major parks.

And that is a big deal because there is always pressure to release more land – not least from people who think that will somehow help cure Vancouver’s housing affordability problem.

In most other places, it is recognised that there is a regional interest – and that sometimes municipal councillors may well need reminding that there is a legitimate broader public interest outside of their boundaries. Because the GVRD is NOT a megacity but a collective of municipal governments there is no regional voice at all. Just some staff who try point out that there does need to be a way to ensure an agreed strategy is actually followed – and bunch of Mayors busy scratching each other’s backs.  Just changing the name from GVRD to Metro changes nothing.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 11, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Bike-share program rides into Vancouver this weekend

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Georgia Straight

Starting tomorrow (June 12), Vancouverites will have the chance to test-run a bike-share program, which has recently gained popularity in Montreal as a cheap, environmentally-friendly, and around-the-clock transit system.

From Friday to Monday (June 15), the City of Vancouver will be hosting a public bike-system demonstration along the seawall area of Science World.

I won’t go, since I have already had a chance to sample the Paris velib program, so I am already a convert! But one thing we will need to sort out is how is this program going to deal with the requirements of the helmet law? They are not needed in Paris – and thanks to the chain cover you do not even need bicycle clips on your trousers. Just get on and go.  I also suspect that the costs of vandalism will be high here too.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 11, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Posted in bicycles

Tagged with

Electrification evaluation expands

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Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railway "Little Joe"

Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railway "Little Joe"

The Railway Age has an interesting examination of negotiations between the US railroads and power companies. The idea is the the railway right of way would be used for transmission lines in return for electrification and low cost power for trains.  This is tied to the idea that if there is to be a high speed passenger network then it would have to be electrified. The new power lines will be needed to connect new power sources such as wind farms to the grid. But freight trains could also be hauled by electric locomotives. Indeed the story is illustrated by the image of a Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railway electric loco hauling a coal train (“Little Joe”). BC also had it own electric freight railway to haul coal to the coast from Tumbler Ridge – and one of the most inexplicable decisions surrounding the sale of BC Rail was the scrapped that system and its locos (except one pictured below preserved at Prince George).

North American freight trains are mostly hauled by diesel electric locomotives – and one of the ideas floated in this story is that  of dual power locos: the same electric motors could be powered by the on board diesel or the overhead wire. This would also, by the way, capture the energy used to brake trains – currently dissipated as heat – by using the same motors as generators with power being fed back into the system. SkyTrain and the trolleybuses already do this.

New Dual Mode Locomotive

New Dual Mode Locomotive

“A version of the latter, the ALP-45DP, is currently being built for New Jersey Transit and Montreal’s AMT by Bombardier. Such a locomotive would give a Class I the flexibility of operating trains in electrified and non-electrified territory without changing power.”

The railways identified as most interested are BNSF (who have a line into Vancouver) and Norfolk Southern. Notable by their absence – CN and CP.

BC Rail Electric Loco

BC Rail Electric Loco

Post updated from comment June 12, 2009

Written by Stephen Rees

June 11, 2009 at 9:29 am

Posted in Transportation

U.S. ports take aim at B.C. rivals

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Globe and Mail

All entirely predictable – in fact I am pretty sure I have predicted this in the past.

U.S. port officials yesterday brought their complaints against Canada to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, making the case that government help for ports such as Vancouver is partly to blame for a decline in business at American terminals.

Perhaps the most revealing statement from the Port of Vancouver’s spokesperson is “the fact that almost all imports arriving in Vancouver are bound for Canadian destinations”. Which is not at all what has been admitted by the proponents of the Gateway. Which of course includes the Port of Vancouver. The whole case for port expansion at Deltaport is that shippers will save time and money coming through the new facilities as opposed to using US ports further south. The whole ethos of the Gateway is based on how we are better placed to compete for trans-Pacific trade than they are.

Actually US ports get a lot more subsidy than Canadian ports – but do not expect that to get in the way of this fight. In tough times, the US turns protectionist – as we have already seen with the restriction of the use of federal stimulus funding to “buy American”. In fact when the same policies have been applied to the transportation business, US business has not done well. For instance, the protection provided by various Transportation Acts to reserve federal capital spending for US built buses did not help preserve bus building companies – rather the opposite. Big, heavy inefficient buses with much dirtier engines than their European counterparts have been the result – and more foreign ownership with final assembly and other dodges to try and get around requirements of percentage of US content.

We have also seen how these fights go – just look at softwood lumber and how Canada caved. The facts and realities have nothing to do with who wins these fights. But US protectionism is also going to hurt their own ports too. The economic recovery  is going to have to be based in large part on import replacement – if only because no-one is going to be willing to finance US trade deficits as they have in the past. Imports are way down – and well never recover to pre-recession levels, especially if the US gets serious abut living within its means and  finding employment for its huge skilled and currently idle workforce.

More and more it looks like the Gateway is going to be a white elephant. I wonder how long it will take for this realization to dawn in Victoria? Think they will back down?

Written by Stephen Rees

June 10, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Posted in Gateway, port expansion

Victoria blocks path to improved TransLink: CEO

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Jeff Nagel in the Surrey Leader paints an interesting picture that pits Tom Prendergast head to head with the Minister of Transport. In today’s Cabinet announcement that is now Shirley Bond – with Colin Hansen still Minister of Finance.

Basically he claims that there is consensus that expansion of transit is needed (he’s right about that – and it is not something that’s recent either) but this will need an extra $450 million a year in operating funds. That is not possible in the current legislation which both specifies all available funding sources and also caps them at $275 million a year in total.

Brian Lewis in the Province thinks it’s easy – just use the carbon tax. That would require a a major volte-face from the position the Premier has taken to date which is that the carbon tax is “revenue neutral” – that the increased revenue collected is offset by tax cuts elsewhere, so the overall tax take is not supposed to change. This is actually one of the hardest things to convince skeptical voters about: in fact the current position is that the first year the carbon tax returned more than is collected.

I have a hard time believing that just changing portfolios is going to have much impact on government policy overall. Even though Prendergast is right – transit is underfunded and the province is in a much better position to fund it than the municipalities.  But the province also has a really tough time pumping more money into  Metro Vancouver, especially during a recession when resource based communities in the interior – especially those based on forestry – are hurting much worse economically. They might be able to get away with a one off splashy capital project (which is always their favourite way of new spending) but not a commitment to a large annual payment not made to other communities. For the rest of BC the mantra has always been one of matching funding for transit operations – which of course also neatly limits the province’s exposure, given the very limited taxing ability of municipalities.

But just because we have always done something one way does not mean it is right for the future. The province is already in a clear bind: it wants to be seen to be reducing greenhouse gas emissions (and isn’t) but it also wants to expand the freeway (one of the biggest sources of GHG in the region). The province also claims it has a transit “plan” worth $14bn of capital spending (even through that includes the Canada Line, and needs matching funds from both federal and municipal governments) but has never given a convincing explanation (or indeed any explanation) of how we are supposed to pay for all this new transit service.

It seems to me that Prendergast would do better not to confront his paymaster (or paymistress) in public – after all Translink is now effectively a provincial agency – but rather come up with a face saving strategy that allows the provincial government to come to the table with a realistic set of proposals. Of course the carbon tax seems an easy one for the Mayors – but they aren’t inclined to be conciliatory either since they are still smarting about being pushed out of the Translink driving seat.

The current process of Translink’s public consultation may well be part of the Prendergast approach: he seems to be lining up popular opinion in the region for both transit expansion – and one that others will be paying for, not all of the burden falling on the region. And of course that will be the popular choice. But it cannot be one that a new Minister of Transport is going to embrace – there are no points at all for seeming to give in to local pressure. And the BC Liberals have had a shot of confidence boosting electoral success – they do not see the need to appeal to the transit proponents of the region – or indeed anyone at all at present.

And yes all of this does have a very familiar ring to it to anyone who has been around transit in Vancouver for a few years. It would be nice if someone can cut this Gordian knot. I just don’t see that as Tom or Brian on present evidence.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 10, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Posted in politics, transit

Shifting Gears II – Walking

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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 canadawalks.ca. 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

comfortable

convenient

conspicuous

convivial

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

Conclusions

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

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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