Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for March 6th, 2012

Walking and other small advantages

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Walking is the most important transportation mode – and therefore the one that we tend to think about least. Let us start with something that I found on the Guardian yesterday. Their story was about the idea that children need to know how to tie their own shoe laces – or rather, perhaps they don’t now that shoes have velcro straps. That led me to this talk – it only takes three minutes and it is well worth your time.

I had actually noticed that there was a problem some time ago. I had been in the habit of wearing slip on shoes – and while those are perfectly adequate for office life, they can become downright painful if you walk any distance. So I bought proper walking shoes with laces, and found I had to stop every so often to retie them.

For simple health reasons, you should walk at least half an hour every day. Without a doubt the most effective way to do that is to incorporate walking into your routine. Walking is part of your commute whatever mode you use – so making that walk a bit longer ought to be a no brainer. Yes, your commute may take a bit longer. But a longer commute is not necessarily a higher cost – it is actually a benefit under some circumstances and improving your health is certainly one them, of you a re like most people in “advanced” countries and have a generally sedentary lifestyle.

I doubt that transportation models based on generalized cost can actually get the true mode comparison right. After all, for many years we have known that people like riding the train because the time is actually useful – unlike driving – and in many places they chose a longer commute because there is a train.

Of course this is not addressed to those who already cycle everywhere – but they are still in a very small minority. Nor does it help those who do not commute.

We are actually quite good at making walking for exercise attractive. There are lots of places designed for walking – but not usually  for walking as part of a trip. In cities which has some of the best walking paths – the Vancouver seawall, the Richmond dyke – there are many streets that have no sidewalks or even sidewalks that are continuous.

Browngate Road at No 3 Road

Browngate Road at No 3 Road has no sidewalk on the north side even though it is a few yards from Aberdeen Station on the Canada Line. My photo on flickr

We are also adept at providing gyms where there are treadmills on which you can walk in complete safety while wearing a headset to listen to a book or music – or even watch tv. Driving to the gym to walk or cycle actually makes sense to a lot of people, who have been convinced of the dangers of being a pedestrian or a cyclist. Driving actually reduces their knowledge of the city: they know that “you can’t get through there” in a car and may not even think about getting from here to there as a walk that is shorter than the drive.

Google maps shows a short cut

Google maps shows a short cut for pedestrians in Kerrisdale

A people are reluctant to walk in unfamiliar places: research in Portland as part of their Travel$mart program persuaded them to produce way finding maps and better signage. Our current access to GPS ought to help, but not every system is adapted well to pedestrian routes – or maybe that’s just what I have noticed on Ovi maps that come with Nokia phones.

Yew St at W 11 Ave

Yew St is closed to cars at West 11 Ave but provides a direct route for pedestrians - my photo on flickr

These kinds of arrangements ought to be more prevalent than they are. In some locations, people just simply create their own path – there is a beaten track from the corner of W35th Ave and East Boulevard to the Arbutus CP right of way just visible in the Google streetsview image. Of course the CP r.o.w. itself is private property but has become a car free walking and cycling route simply by usage.

Now I chose the title deliberately  because I wanted to share some knowledge – but really it is off topic for this blog. I travel to New York every so often because my son is there. I have found that many travel search engines seem to ignore Cathay Pacific as a possible carrier on this route even though people like Doug Coupland have long recommended them in print. I used hipmunk to compare travel cost and convenience: Cathay came top. There is a direct overnight flight between YVR and JFK both ways – and that also saves two hotel nights. Hipmunk links to Orbitz for booking both flights and accommodation and also found us a cheap place to stay. The combination of AirTrain and subway is about as cheap and convenient a transfer to downtown as you can get – we were literally steps from our hotel to 7th Ave/49th St station. Certainly better than subway plus New Jersey Transit to EWR. Cathay has better leg room and on board service than Air Canada – and does not load to 100% capacity apparently. So your chance to stretch out across three seats isn’t bad either. And since the plane has come from Hong Kong you board through the international terminal, clearing US customs and immigration at JFK with the HK passengers. That means, if you check in on line and check no baggage, you really do not need to be at the airport 2 hours early. Not many people are going through security at that time of evening so the line up is minimal, and you cannot actually get access to the boarding area until the in-transit passengers have got back on the plane. The flight crew will do the document check at the gate. The only downside is that on the return, there is no Canada Line – and a long line up for cabs.  When in New York you can buy an unlimited MetroCard for a week. That may be cheaper than loading a card with money to be deducted for each ride since the opportunities for free transfers are very limited. But if you are staying in midtown, you will probably walk most places, just like we did. Soon after I returned I was asked to do a consumer survey: one question was how often I had exercised the previous week, and I could truthfully say that I had walked for more than two hours every day. I doubt I would have done that if we had bought unlimited ride Metrocards.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 6, 2012 at 11:10 am