Stephen Rees's blog

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

Walking and other small advantages

with 14 comments

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

14 Responses

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  1. Thanks Stephen for the lesson about tying one shoes!

    I mentioned it before but it is worth repeating it: Transport for London has a page, with lots of links, about WALKING. Wonder if the brains behind TransLink ever heard of it…

    Walking benefits: Walking is a great way to get around London:
    It’s quick and reliable
    It’s good for your health
    It makes a greener planet
    It’s good for London’s economy

    One of the link is about ” Walking route improvements”
    “We’re working to make London a more appealing place to walk. One of our main efforts is developing ‘key walking routes’. Along these routes they have widened sidewalks by reducing the number of car lanes

    Red frog

    March 6, 2012 at 9:15 pm

  2. I though this post would walk or even run….don’t the regular posters ever walk? I do of course, everyday, as I chose long ago not to have a car.

    Red frog

    March 7, 2012 at 11:01 pm

  3. I have no idea why we charge for transit at all. We have seen this week the row that would erupt if we tried to put tolls on all roads; but what’s the difference here? Roads and transit are nothing but infrastructure. It seems to me that transit fares are just a tax on the poor and those who don’t buy into the car culture.

    Imagine the cost savings if we got rid of tickets, money counting, machines, gates and unpleasant ticket inspectors.


    March 10, 2012 at 12:14 pm

  4. jak – not nearly enough. Fares cover more than half the operating cost of transit here. The issue of why free transit does not work in larger communities has been covered on this blog – I got 17 hits when I did a search.

    Stephen Rees

    March 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm

  5. Stephen, I didn’t suggest that eliminating the costs of fare collection would reduce the cost of transit to zero. My point was that when considering free transit, these substantial savings need to be taken into account. I will look at the previous discussion with interest but, frankly, it is simply a question of political will.


    March 10, 2012 at 4:38 pm

  6. Okay, my transportation pals… First, on walking. In Montevideo we called it “Bus #11” (one for each one of our legs).

    I’ve settled on my definition for the quartier as a “walkable” neighbourhood. The planners argue, and bicker, about what truly constitutes a neighbourhood. For a quartier or a “walkable” neighbourhood, the answer is clear: how far you have to go to get stuff. If it’s too far to walk, then it is not a walkable neighbourhood.

    There are two patterns that overlap. All the destinations within easy walking distance of Stephen’s hotel in NYC would have been his neighbourhood for a week. Then, there are other neighbourhoods that have a well defined footprint, regardless of where we live in relationship to their boundaries. I find these two “meanings” are fluid in my experience of place.

    The more important point seems to be that “walkability” should be measured at the scale of the neighbourhood as a whole, not the individual building lot, or block. We could test that with some of the pictures here.

    Arbutus Walk is probably getting better by the season, there is enough to do on both Arbutus and Broadway. But, an LRT on the right-of-way would be a game changer.

    My question to you all regarding walking, and the experience I had last week walking along the Sears/Eatons building on Granville Street (boy, do I miss the trees that used to be there)…

    Would creating a free-zone around the Granville Mall—á la Portland—allow for the re-routing of buses in a significant enough amount to get some buses (all buses?) off the bus-crowded Granville Street and one or two areas adjacent? Can we end bus trips on the edge of the free zone, and encourage people to walk the rest of the way, or transfer to some kind of free-bus service?

    Not the whole system for free. But how about the “eye of the storm”?

    lewis n. villegas

    March 12, 2012 at 7:15 pm

  7. […] From Stephen Rees: […]

  8. Re bus free zone, TransLink will have a conniption…their goal is trying to make money, not giving a good experience to “consumers”, as they call us.
    Portland is apparently debating canceling the fare-free zone and so is Seattle, or is it one of these sea monsters stories coming up every so often?, usually shouted by car users that believe only transit is much too costly while it doesn’t cost anything to build and maintain roads. And of course using a car is a constitutional right.

    We used to have a free bus –before monthly passes came out I think. It looped along Granville, Davie, Denman, Robson, all the way to the Harbour centre I think. At the time Sears was still in the Harbour centre, if I remember well.
    I started working in Vancouver in 1981 so this could have been after 1985-6? funny how one forgets these things…

    As for how far one walks around one’s depends a lot of what stores and services there are to There are perhaps also traditional walking patterns that are imprinted in the local memory.
    For example in my native Bordeaux the main shopping street has long been divided in 2 sections in the mind of the locals.
    Making it a pedestrian street in the mid 1970s, bringing totally different stores etc. hasn’t changed that. Some people favor one half, others the other half.
    The most popular part used to be “within the fortified walls” but most locals aren’t even aware of that.

    Red frog

    March 13, 2012 at 10:53 am

  9. Seattle has indeed ended the fare free zone in its city centre in the last round of cuts

    Stephen Rees

    March 13, 2012 at 11:15 am

  10. Here’s how Nanaimo’s City Hall settles the conflict between the pedestrian and the need for staff parking spots…

    Frank Murphy

    March 13, 2012 at 11:30 am

  11. Monday after St. Patrick’s we are holding a community forum to discuss neighbourhood intensification without towers, and arterial revitalization thru traffic implementation. Details here:

    lewis n. villegas

    March 16, 2012 at 7:40 pm

  12. Personally I find most ‘normal’ shoes are uncomfortable to walk in for any more than about fifty metres, and disentegrate fast. It only occured to me recently that they’re probably designed to get people from car to office. Walking shoes are more comfortable but I’m told are a fashion fail…

    Andy in Germany

    March 21, 2012 at 8:43 am

  13. Wonderful to see a post about the benefits of walking! I’ve set my own personal goal of walking at least 45 minutes a day, and usually greatly exceed that amount. I try to go off into the countryside for my walks, which means driving unfortunately, but I fortunate in that there is a lot of rural area, and nature preserves surrounding my town. When I don’t have time for a quick ride out to the countryside, I just walk about town.

    I’m not sure what, if anything it’s doing for my physical health. I’ve lost no weight, gained no stanima or energy, and have more sore joints in my legs than I’ve ever had….even though most of my walking is on very soft, natural paths and grassy surfaces.

    However, the psychological, and even spiritual benefits have been legion. And my knowledge of the natural world has increased dramatically. Not to mention that it’s a fun opportunity to practice the art of photography.

    Ron Zack

    March 28, 2012 at 10:10 pm

  14. Any physical activity is better than no physical activity. Your legs have the largest muscles and repetitive motion will be burning calories – but they are all too easily replaced. I really notice sore joints if I stop taking glucosamine sulfate. I also sleep better after I have been walking.

    Stephen Rees

    March 29, 2012 at 6:51 am

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