Archive for the ‘walking’ Category
This is on Gordon Price’s blog this morning
Amazing, isn’t it, that people need to be told about this activity. Actually every trip is an interrupted walk. Just like avoiding sitting all the time is important to health, so extending the walk parts of every trip is key. Even if you just chose a more distant parking spot than the one closest to the door.
Gordon Price posts several times a day to his Price Tags blog. I impose a much less demanding schedule on myself. But I also use flickr for pictures – because I can put text with them there, so it can be a bit blog like, now and again. One of his posts this morning is about photographing cherry blossoms. And why – in his opinion – the results are not as gratifying as seeing them In Real Life. It is of course quite true that our eye sees things differently to the camera – but then that is what photographers (and painters before them) have always played around with. And also be it noted that we are looking at these pictures on some kind of illuminated screen. So I have much less control over things like size or what else appears in the vicinity on your screen. Lots of flickr posters instruct their viewers to switch to a black background. I also print some of my pictures to go on the wall, or as greeting cards and one off books, which look far better than any photo album ever did. But on paper, they are different to on the screen.
The first one was actually used by the Vancouver Observer on their facebook page – they rotate through their flickr group regularly, but you can see more than one by clicking on their cover picture to enlarge it and then using the right arrow on that image. And the reason I put it there was I had seen a tree in bloom in Quilchena Park on March 18 – a day when the mountains were covered in fresh snow. I liked the deep blue sky as a background so I shot looking upwards into the tree. I would have liked the mountains in there somehow – but that angle wasn’t available at the time. Someone using one of my pictures has always seemed to me to be an endorsement (that’s why I use Creative Commons licensing). And they used a much tighter crop than mine.
Over the Easter weekend many more trees had blossomed. And when we went to get some groceries I took my camera along to take some shots of them.
This last image is from a much smaller tree, newly planted, which still had a label attached to it which identifies the species. Hence my title. These are not actually cherry trees. They are, mostly, plums. This one is Night Purple Leaf Plum (Prunus Ceracifera Nigra) which is why when I now post the inevitable, irresistible blossom pictures to flckr, I use the Japanese word “sakura” to describe them. Because otherwise some tree expert will be sure to correct me.
Just enjoy the pictures. When the sun was shining you could have gone out and seen them yourself. Now the clouds have returned, I hope these images brighten your day.
The need for this post stems from the use of twitter. In 140 characters you can be witty, snappy, concise – though a lot of people aren’t. And the back and forth can look like a debate, or sometimes just a trading a fixed positions. This one started because Gordon Price tweets the posts on his blog – just as I do mine. But instead of there being a debate under the blog post, this one took – or rather – is taking place – on twitter. And it needs a bit more ventilation than that.
It started with A Radical Old Idea for the intersection of Burrard and Cornwall. “Essentially it would square up the intersection, making it much more like a typical part of the classic Vancouver grid, adding some green space while retaining the number of lanes and capacity.” I suggested that more could be achieved if it was given a more radical treatment. And Richard Campbell responded that shared space is less safe for cyclists and pedestrians – especially pedestrians with disabilities.
This has now cropped up again with the release of a new video about the reconstruction of a major intersection at Poynton in Cheshire, UK. While a lot of shared spaces treatments have been successful in residential areas (“Woonerfs” for instance) their use on urban arterials is still controversial
Exhibition Road in Kensington London is another example of shared space treatment of a very busy combined arterial road and urban shopping street. I am pointing to a discussion of that scheme as opposed to a diatribe – or even a peer reviewed learned journal article, because I think there is indeed need for an exchange of views. As opposed to trading blows between preconceived positions.
One thing does need to be stated at the outset, and that is that places are – and should be – different, and local people need to be consulted about what they want to see happen in the places where they live. Even a peer reviewed paper can be distracting when the “before” situation looks a lot more like shared space already (compared to typical Vancouver arterial intersections) – and the objectives seem to be a lot less clear than Poynton.
Obviously Burrard and Cornwall is not directly comparable to Poynton. There is much less retail activity in the immediate vicinity, for instance. And the only thing that the current City proposal seems to want to achieve is keep the intersection working as it does now, but get some more green space. Poynton’s objectives were much grander – lets try and rescue our village from economic oblivion. I also found it very encouraging that there are now more cyclists there than less- and that vulnerable pedestrians (a mum with a stroller and toddler, a lady in a wheel chair, blind people with and without guides) all find the new arrangements preferable. There is also a sort of chorus, from locals who were at least skeptical if not outrightly hostile but who now support the scheme.
It is indeed possible to find other examples that were less successful, but that does not damn the whole approach. It simply illustrates that these things need to be designed carefully, and you may well need to go back and redo some things in the light of experience. What is clear is that our present obsession with concentrating on keeping the cars moving quickly is not working from the perspective of other road users. Furthermore, the conventional road safety approach of adding barriers, signs, signals and hard landscaping not only proves unsatisfactory in terms of improving overall safety – but fails in terms of place making. Because what Poynton wanted to do was create a place where people would want to linger. If they spend more time there, they might well spend more money. They might actually enjoy visiting Poynton, and go there more often, instead of the out of town superstores and big box centres.
But what is also clear is that when humans are enclosed in steel safety cages, and look at the world through a screen, they miss all the signals that we are so good at sending each other – nonverbally. Which is why pedestrians tend not to collide with each other very much. Unlike motor vehicles. And when motor vehicles collide with pedestrians and cyclists it is not the driver of the vehicle that gets hurt. Taking cars out of the mix works – but only by creating more car only streets. Places where people who are not driving are forbidden – and speeds are increased. Collisions are fewer but of much more frightening intensity. Cities evolved long before motor vehicles were invented, and the experience of getting cars – and car drivers – to behave better within cities has always required them to slow down and pay attention to other road users.
Shared space does seem to me to more productive of overall urbanity than an all out war on the car, and one that is likely to be much more successful – on a whole range of measures, including collision numbers and severities.
Jeffrey Tumlin at SFU City Program
Eight simple, free transport solutions for healthier, wealthier cities
This talk was made possible financially by a contribution from Translink. The blog post was updated on February 15 to include two videos, one of the talk and one of the Q&A session.
It is worth stating out the outset that Tumlin sees Vancouver as the future for the rest of North America. The talk he gave was clearly one designed for the average American city. He stated that he felt he was “visiting the future” by what has been done in the City of Vancouver. The problem for most places is that they bought into the lie that having a car will bring you more and better sex. “Where have you been told lies?” And, how can we use their methods against them.
The first series of slides illustrated the startling growth of obesity by state in the last thirty years. The Centers for Disease Control have data that shows how this problem has grown
The animated map below shows the history of United States obesity prevalence from 1985 through 2010. Unfortunately the way WordPress has imported this graphic has lost the animation but it is well worth following the link above to see the trend.
Americans are no longer able to have a significant amount of walking in the daily lives. This is due to civic policies – the rules, metrics and performance standards – that make it illegal to build anything but auto oriented suburbs.The statistics for traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents show that sprawl = death.
“Road rage is a clinical condition”. When you observe a crowded sidewalk you notice that pedestrians do not run into each other. We learned a large number of essential social signals in order to hunt in packs. In cars these social signals are blocked and the brain chemistry shuts down social behaviour, because instead of co-operating the way pedestrians do, the fight or flight instincts have been triggered [by andrenaline]. Traffic is literally driving us crazy and leading to permanent changes in the brain. We are less able to think, to predict the consequences of aggression and therefore become more antisocial. Tea Party membership is positively correlated to the absence of sidewalks.
Policy ought to recognize the limitations of humanity and what makes us happy. That translates in urbanity to the sidewalk suburbs of two to three story buildings. The suburbs we built in the 1920s and ’30s were leafy, walkable and auto optional. We have to increase the number of walkers and cyclists, not just build things for the “hard core lifer crowd”. See D Appleyard “Liveable Streets” [the link goes to Amazon, but this book is very expensive - look in your local library first].
The speed and volume of traffic on residential streets determines who you know and how well you know them. If the traffic is fast and heavy, there will be far fewer people who you are likely to give your keys to, for use in emergencies. Social cohesion and participation in democracy increases when residential streets have less and slower traffic, making it safe and easy to cross the street.
There is a direct casual relationship between mental health and outdoor exercise. Oxytocin “the cuddle chemical” that is released during breast feeding and orgasm is also released by human eye contact and outdoor exercise. It is different to dopamine, endorphins and morphines as it lasts longer.
So now we have has established that driving makes us fat and angry, while walking and cycling makes us happy and sociable, what can we do?
1 Measure What Matters
We need to “measure transportation success in a less stupid way.” Transportation is not an end in itself but allows other things to happen – and it is those activities that we need to facilitate – the benefits come from accessibility not mobility. Movement of itself doesn’t serve a purpose. Instead of measuring Level of Service on shopping streets we should look at retail sales per square foot. We are obsessed by congestion, which means currently we aim to reduce vehicle delay when what we should be looking at is quality of service. A busy shopping street (he cited Market St in San Francisco but Robson Street would be our best case) looks “bad” from the point of view of the traffic engineer (LoS F) but successful to the economist – lots of people spending money.
Make walking a pleasure for all types of people at all times of day.
2 Make traffic analysis smart
[Four step transportation] “Models are no better than tarot cards at predicting the future.” Traffic forecasting is much better seen as a branch of economics than of engineering. What we see all around us are the unintended consequences of model based planning. Making it easier to drive makes it difficult to do anything else. The “solutions” (more road) create the problem they predicted.
We should fix the four step model as it fails to incorporate induced and latent demand. We also need to better understand how land use affects travel – not simply import data from observations of trip generation made in Florida in the 1970s.
Fortunately, only small changes in traffic demand are need to release it from congestion. You will frequently hear people saying “You can’t expect everyone to take transit” but you do not need to. All you need to do is persuade 10% to change mode – and you can persuade 10% of the people to do anything!
3 The best transportation plan is a good land use plan.
4 Adopt the right street design manual
Much of current traffic engineering practice comes from rural highways. Wider roads, better sight lines wider turns accommodate driver error – but this only improves safety in rural areas. In urban areas instead of speeding traffic, drivers must be made to slow down and pay attention. Do not give them a false sense of security. And there is now plenty of data that shows what people predict (“you’re gonna kill people”) doesn’t happen. see nacto.org
5 Plant trees
But note that the costs cannot accrue to the traffic department but the property owners along the street if the trees are to be cared for properly
6 Price it right
Congestion pricing in Stockholm
“Poor people place a high value on their time”. The price elasticity of demand means that it is actually very easy to get enough [vehicle] trips off the road to produce free flow. The right price is always the lowest price that equates demand with supply.
7 Manage parking
Read Donald Shoup ”The High Cost of Free Parking” (free pdf).
In urban centres, 30% of the traffic is looking for a parking spot.
The price for parking has to vary by location and time of day – popular places at peak times must cost more. The target price is that which produces enough free spaces to reduce driving. The reason for charging for parking is not to raise money. Invest the parking revenues in making the place better – give it to the Downtown Improvement Association!
Unbundle and share parking, and separate the cost of parking from the cost of other things. Don’t force people to buy more parking than they need and create “park once districts” – rearrange the land use to facilitate walking. So for a series of trips drivers can pay, park and leave the car but visit several different types of activity (work, school, play, shopping).
8 Create a better vision of the future
We are still trying to live in the future that GM displayed in Futurama. Disneyland is an orgy of transportation. The imagineers have yet to come up with a new vision of the city of the future. We are still stuck with the Jetsons.
The new vision has to be based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
1 Walking is a pleasure for everyone, everywhere, all the time
2 Cycling is comfortable for people of all ages – that means separated cycle facilities
3 The needs of daily life are a walk away
4 Transit is fast, frequent, reliable and – above all – dignified.
Everyone knows and loves their neighbourhood whereas the big region is impersonal. We need a sense of belonging. Food and energy are local and precious, and social networks are fostered.
“On a bus I can use my smart phone. I can’t do that while driving”
“Young people move to cities to get laid.”
Flirtation is actually more valuable than the activity it is aimed at getting. Informal lingering and eye contact is what makes this possible. We should apply the same factors that retailers do in the shops to the pubic realm. Beauty is ubiquitous. The brain is hard wired to appreciate beauty [insert slide of Brockton Point view of downtown]
He also has a [very expensive] book Sustainable Transportation Planning
Q & A
Use of malls to encourage walking by seniors in poor weather? - fantastic
Use fruit trees in urban areas? – city concerns are fallen fruit mess and risk of slipping
Can’t we just use nostalgia instead of a powerful vision of the future? – no humans crave novelty, nostalgia is not enough
Buildings without Parking? – The cities fear that someone will park in front of someone else’s building, and impose minimum parking standards that are excessive. There is an over provision of space = huge subsidy to motordom. Abolish the minimum parking standards. Impose very low maximum parking standards but provide shared cars everywhere.
How do we address the concerns of the Fire Chief? – respectfully. Emergency response time matters but we need to focus on net public safety. There are more ways than one to cut response times, including more stations, smaller trucks, traffic signal priority, grid of streets to provide more routes to the fire. Over professionalism is a widespread issue and we all need to care more about what matters to other people
“I saw you” ads seem always to refer to transit. Can we capitalize on that? - Leave it to the French. look at Strasbourg trams – no wraps, low windows. In the US there is a prevailing attitude that transit is the mode of last resort. Transit is like the dole – you have to be made to suffer to use it.
“Dignify transit” How do you do that on a bus? – provide a comparable level of investment as you would for rail. Very hard for financially strapped transit agencies faced with the “Sophie’s choice” between better buses or more service. There is now a program of providing basic mobility for those who have no choice. To move beyond that we have to ensure that the benefits of better transit accrue to the system provider not the adjacent land owners. Benefit capture pays for more transit [and creates a beneficent spiral]
To make bus transit more comfortable you need more transit priority measures – bus stop bump outs, bus lanes, signal priority
Zurich – all surface transit since local funding requirements meant that subway building was not feasible. Streets are narrow – treasured ancient urban fabric – so very little road space allowed for cars despite extremely wealthy population 80% of whom use transit simply because it is more convenient than the car – no hassle of parking.
Orange Line BRT in LA exceeds all ridership forecasts because there are no forced transfers. And service quality offers “basic level of dignity”.
Boulder CO has very high rates of transit use – all bus service, all low density development – very high service standards
None of this should be of any surprise to readers of this blog. I have been saying the same things here – and for many years previously. I just have not had the fortune to be able to say it with such charm and charisma – and often with less supporting data.
For instance, when BC Transit (as it was then) was designing what became the 98 B-Line Glen Leicester (then head of planning) insisted on the forced transfer from local service (“It’s just like SkyTrain”) despite the very convincing data from the Ottawa transitway that this was the wrong thing to do. The service had to be redesigned three months after it started.
I have been banging on about Richmond’s use of private parking provision in the town centre for years. And only the “hard core lifer crowd” would think Richmond’s cycle network was adequate. The dyke is for recreation not transportation. Only No 3 Road has separation – and that is far from satisfactory.
I felt, when listening to him talk about parking, or pricing, as though I was hearing myself. The good news is that he does it so well that more people listen.
The talk was oversubscribed – and their was a wait list for seats. But even so there were plenty of empty seats when the talk started and no-one moved to the front. Please, if you reserve a seat, but realize you won’t be going, cancel your reservation so someone else can go.
I am now aware of some Car2Go issues – and for two of them, users can do something. Do not leave the car open but keep the key with you. Seems obvious, may just be absent mindedness, but is truly annoying. Just like the lady who takes the car2go to her gym, parks the car in a private locked underground garage (gym members have access, the public doesn’t) and ends the rental. This saves her money but makes the system show it as “available” when it isn’t. She also has her ride home guaranteed.
It was that thing about not unreserving your seat for a City Program talk that reminded me.
Don’t be thoughtless – or selfish.
And while we were waiting for the #16 on Granville St I used my smart phone to find the nearest Car2Go. By the time it had done that, the bus came. This may be more useful than real time next bus information.
I was alerted to this story by the Globe – which this morning is trumpeting going behind the paywall as “access for all” (Orwell would be proud: newspeak lives). I am not going to link there since they were in any event simply recycling something. Not – I hasten to add – plagiarism. Just what we all do – and in this case adequately cited, though without the necessary web links. Which of course Google gets quite quickly.
The Comparative Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Conventional and Electric Vehicles is available from the Wiley online library - and since it has yet to appear in the paper version of the Journal of Industrial Ecology you can get the whole thing as a pdf though that may not last for long. What the Globe was doing was reporting on an on line discussion on Leo Hickman’s blog – part of the Guardian’s web presence – and one that I freely admit I had missed.
The study looks at both the potential of increased emissions from the manufacturing process – especially for batteries – as well as the source of the electricity. The EV has often been criticized as an “elsewhere emission vehicle” (49 million google hits on the phrase) – it may have no tailpipe emissions but if the electricity comes from a coal fired power station …
Here are the key conclusions
The production phase of EVs proved substantially more environmentally intensive. Nonetheless, substantial overall improvements in regard to GWP [global warming potential], TAP [terrestrial acidification potential], and other impacts may be achieved by EVs powered with appropriate energy sources relative to comparable ICEVs [internal combustion engine vehicles]. However, it is counterproductive to promote EVs in regions where electricity is produced from oil, coal, and lignite combustion. The electrification of transportation should be accompanied by a sharpened policy focus with regard to life cycle management, and thus counter potential setbacks in terms of water pollution and toxicity. EVs are poised to link the personal transportation sector together with the electricity, the electronic, and the metal industry sectors in an unprecedented way. Therefore the developments of these sectors must be jointly and consistently addressed in order for EVs to contribute positively to pollution mitigation efforts.
All of which is fair enough since all they are doing is comparing one sort of car to another sort of car. Which is why the big problem of electric cars gets completely missed. As I have often written on this blog the problem is the overuse of cars – far more than how those cars are powered or constructed. As a policy issue in urban areas – and after all most of us live in urban areas – what we need to confront – here and elsewhere – is that when most people use a single occupant vehicle for most of their trip making, the consequences are dire. Traffic congestion is the one that gets most noticed, as it is the most obvious, but add to that the horrendous toll on life and limb caused by collisions, the health impact of not using your own muscles enough and being sedentary for most of the time, and the sprawl of urban areas onto productive farm land and essential natural areas (loss of biodiversity and the greenhouse gas collection function of forests are merely examples).
I find it offensive that I am being accused of “a rapture of techno-narcissism” when I have long been advocating some very old fashioned ideas. Electric trains, trolleybuses, and trams as well as human powered bicycles were all widespread at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. Not to mention the somewhat obvious wisdom of building places where it was both possible, safe and pleasant to walk – something humans were able to do for millennia prior to gadarene rush to rebuild cities to accommodate the automobile. Or even something that seems revolutionary in Vancouver but has always been instinctive in older cities – places to sit down comfortably outside in public spaces without any payment being required.
Something similar seems to be going on with the debate about the pipeline. I really do not think that the main issue is the possible impact of spills on either land or sea. It is the problem of burning ever more fossil fuel that worries me. The oil sands are one of the worst offenders simply because of the amount of energy it takes to convert tarry sands into liquid fuels. If we had better ways of moving ourselves around – and we could have very easily and relatively cheaply – then the oil could stay in the ground. Possibly not forever – since there are so many other really clever things we can do with petro-chemicals, for which there often fewer readily available alternatives. Burning the stuff or making non-biodegradable plastic bags is simply profligacy, given the increasingly precarious future we face.
Or as Bill McKibben states
“We also figured out that we’re not going to win just fighting one pipeline at a time. We have to keep all those battles going, but we also have to play some offense, go at the heart of the problem.”
There was a proposal to build a path along a new seawall from Kits Beach to Jericho. This part of the shore is underwater at high tide, but there are several access points and it is possible to walk between the two beaches at low tide. I did that today in about an hour. A shoe salesman told me that my walking shoes have “aggressive soles” – which I think means a deep tread. This certainly seemed to be useful as the beach is often covered in sea weed, wet sand and loose mussel shells.
While I thought that the Parks Board had put off the idea, there are those who are concerned it might be revived and there is to be a meeting about that on Wednesday October 3, 2012 at 7:30pm at Kitsilano Sailing Club. It may be helpful to those who have not visited this part of Vancouver to see what it looks like. Hence the set on flickr.
The set covers the foreshore from Trafalgar Street (the end of the current pathway) to yacht club at the eastern end of Jericho Beach, and then back along Point Grey Road to show all the access points along the way.
No doubt if a seawall was constructed it would be wider and not have steps in it too allow for use by bikes, roller bladers and so on, as with the rest of the seawall. Actually, I am not sure that this is a virtue. At present, the area is not accessible unless you are willing to do a bit of clambering and rock hopping. I have seen people carrying their bikes along here, and wondered why they bothered. I have also been in a minor contretemps with a female cyclist on Point Grey Road outside Brock House. She was riding on the sidewalk – with a child on a bike trailer behind her, and simply rode “through” me – not stopping to apologize, if she was even aware of my existence, since she was talking over her shoulder to the child. Not that this is to characterize all cyclists, of course, but it is one of the things one remembers.
This plaque by the end of the path seems to sum it all up nicely. If there were a seawall along here to Jericho, it would become all about speed, as it would be treated in the same way as the seawall around Stanley Park which is a one way race track for those on wheels – and a bit of a hazard for the pedestrian flaneur. I told you at the top it took me about an hour – but that was not intended to be a challenge. After all I was stopping all the time to take the pictures. I was also on my own, but I think the walk would be much more fun with a small child or a marine biologist, and make the whole thing last even longer (keeping an eye on the tide, of course).
The seafloor is actually interesting even without the flora and fauna. Shelves of sandstone jut out interspersed with areas of gravel. There is, mercifully, not a lot of mud along here.
Some of the riparian owners have quite elaborate arrangements to give themselves access – and keep others off their own property.
Others have neglected upkeep. But all along is plenty of evidence that while the foreshore is indeed a natural and wild area the edge of land is anything but. In many places significant amounts of effort have been expended either to secure additional space or to prevent erosion – which I suppose amounts to the same thing.
Local street artists have done their best to reduce the dull greyness of the concrete used in these installations.
There are intermediate access points along the way if you want a shorter walk or if the tide takes you unawares. These steps are about halfway along at the foot of Balaclava Street.
There do seem to be places where the property owners have very little concern about the visual impact of their “improvements”. I suppose because these have been in place for so long that they would have grandfathered “rights” if the City did decide to impose some kind of code of practice here. Also bear in mind that Point Grey Road has some of the highest priced property in the region. It also seems to me to reduce the value of the “wilderness experience in the heart of a big city”.
When I first heard about the idea of “completing” the seawall, I must admit I was initially attracted to the idea. After all you can never have enough routes that are completely forbidden to motor vehicles and adjacent to the water. I also expected that the loudest protest would come from the property owners. But it now seems to come from “the Point Grey Natural Foreshore Protective Society”. Actually one or two of the property owners actually seem to welcome people to the beach.
I did provide a link at the top to the Parks Board meeting July 23 highlights, but just to be clear here’s what it says about the current position
The first motion: that the Park Board, as the organization that manages the seawall with City Engineering, direct Park Board staff to work with city staff as appropriate to develop options for connecting the seawall from Jericho to Kits Beach and provide a timeline and cost estimates for these options, as well as address any environmental and First Nations concerns with the proposals, was deferred.
Thanks to Spacing Vancouver‘s mis-transcription of a headline I have come across some very important, Canadian, research. This shows that spending billions of dollars widening a freeway, including the widest bridge in the world, is going to be costing us huge amounts of public funds long into the future.
This is a screen shot of the day’s headlines – and it was that first story I noticed. Actually the story is titled
and I have left that as a headline and made it a clickable link. A new study out of Toronto just published online in the journal Diabetes Care shows that if you live in a place where walking is difficult – like most new subdivisions – you have a much higher risk of developing diabetes.
The study looked at just about everyone in Toronto aged 30-64 – the population experiencing the most rapid rise of diabetes incidence – and singled out those who did not have diabetes as of March 31, 2005. The study followed these people over the next five years: in all, 1,239,262 of them, including 214,882 who appeared to be recent immigrants based on registration in the province’s healthcare plan.
By March of 2010, 58,544 of these people had developed diabetes. And the walkability of the communities in which they lived turned out to be closely linked to that outcome (given the complex factors that affect health, the researchers acknowledge that they can’t definitively say this relationship is directly causal).
Maybe not definitively, but it is well known that the lack of physical activity is directly related to a range of conditions – heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Moreover, while you can live in a new suburb without sidewalks, drive everywhere and also exercise a lot (join a gym, run with your dog …) most people don’t. Although I do have to say that when you go to places like Buntzen Lake at the weekend and just see the numbers of people who do take exercise seriously, my hopes increase.
The point I am trying to make here is neatly captured at the end of the Atlantic article
The Toronto study highlights that within urbanized areas, the impact of neighborhoods on public health can vary significantly. And so there’s hope for applying this lesson in the parts of the world that have yet to urbanize, as well as within cities like Toronto as they continue to grow. It’s no coincidence that the least walkable neighborhoods identified in this research were often the most recently developed. Unlike their older counterparts, they had large blocks instead of smaller ones, sprawling development instead of density, separated land uses instead of mixed ones.
The doctors and public health researchers behind this paper noted all of these differences, sounding remarkably like urban planners themselves. Reaching across disciplines, they conclude: “the way we structure and build our cities will play an increasingly greater role in shaping the health of the world’s population.”
Now we know that among the challenges facing the current government is the ever increasing rise in public health care costs. They are always looking to find ways of passing that along – BC being one of the very few Canadian provinces that levy a Medical Services Premium. “Slashing costs” through privatizing jobs like cleaning and looking after people who don’t need hospitals but do need long term care has also been a favourite. Perhaps less well publicized has been a recent shift in the way the government treats its own pensioners. The Public Service Pension Plan used to pay members MSP and Blue Cross premiums. So did the Teachers. Both of those are now borne by members. So much nicer than having a story about pension cuts, don’t you think?
We know for a certainty that widening Highway #1 will both induce more traffic – and encourage the sort of development described in that last block quote - ”large blocks instead of smaller ones, sprawling development instead of density, separated land uses instead of mixed ones.” The people who live in such places will in future be less healthy than those who can walk, cycle or ride transit on a daily basis. I include transit quite deliberately – since every transit ride has some walking at each end (transit takes you from where you are not to not quite where you need to be). Indeed, Weight Watchers has long advocated a simple way to burn more calories – get off the bus a couple of stops too soon. Walk to the next station not the closest one.
I really doubt that Christy Clark or Kevin Falcon actually care very much at all about anyone’s health but their own. But their policies do depend on them being able to rattle on about lower taxes. That’s why they love stories about spending cuts – and why they much prefer that Translink be audited multiple times, rather than deal with the real issue – lack of funding for transit expansion. But what the Toronto health study shows is that their preference for the sort of suburbs that we have been building and occupying since 1945, the sort of places that their paymasters have been selling us and which have been so profitable, are actually one of the causes that public health care costs continue to rise. We have got very good at treating conditions, but we are not very good at all in creating a healthier society. Prevention is always much more efficient than cure – or treatment for the incurable. The greatest health care problem is that caused by a sedentary populace. One that sits all day – in front of a computer screen or in a car to travel any distance at all. We do not have a health system: we have a sickness system. And there is a huge lobby of corporate interests that wishes that system to continue, unchanged. Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome is a good definition of madness – but it is also an accurate description of conservatism. The obsession with resisting change, with refusing to admit that what we did was wrong and that we need to do things differently.
Transit is not a local problem. It is not something that municipalities can or should fund on their own. It is part of a much broader picture. The province cannot continue to pretend that it does not have an immediate and direct concern. Its highway policies – the construction of the wider Sea to Sky Highway, the South Fraser Perimeter Road, the Highway #1 expansion were all driven by property developers. All of them were directly contrary to the precepts of the Livable Region. The people of this region have repeatedly told the political leadership that they valued compact urban development, complete communities, with protection for the green zone and increased transportation choice. Oddly enough it was Gordon Campbell himself who came up with that formulation – when he was Mayor of Vancouver and Chair of the GVRD. And it was his government that chose – carefully and deliberately – to wreck that strategy, for short term political gain. There is no doubt that the widening of the Port Mann Bridge was – and is – very popular. But not only will it not solve the congestion problem (building roads has never cured congestion anywhere) it is also going to create a series of problems long into the future. Increasing public health care cost ought to be one that catches their attention – since all of the others they seem happy to ignore.
This is my second attempt at posting about the continued closure of Robson Street between Hornby and Howe. Originally the closure was supposed to be temporary, ending on Labour Day, but has now been extended. My first effort was to have been linked to my pictures of the Viva Vancouver “Pop Rocks” which are posted as a set on flickr. I must admit I got a bit frustrated with the WordPress layout, which did not seem to work the way I wanted it to. I also began to realize that the issues are more complex.
The closure applies to cyclists as well as motorized traffic – but enough cyclists seem to ignore that to create conflict.
Trying to get those two images side by side instead of on top of each other was where I got stuck last time. I also began to realize that this opens a whole new can of worms. Originally I just wanted to celebrate the closure of the street to cars – which happens a lot everywhere else around the world but hardly at all in Vancouver. Not only that but Charles Gauthier of the DVBIA was already pontificating – he is very predictable in his opposition to such ideas – and I felt that there needed to be some response.
This morning, I got a copy of a letter from Transport Action British Columbia that has been sent to the City Council. As I have said here before, I am a member of that organization. I am reproducing the letter here as I think it deserves a wider audience. It raises the issue of how this street closure impacts transit users – which is why I chose the Translink notice as the top picture on this post. Instead of using Granville Street – the main artery and linear exchange for transit in downtown – Route #5 now goes via Burrard Street.
Transport Action British Columbia is NOT against street closures to traffic (like the DVBIA seems to be, on principle) but rather how street closures need to be carefully examined when they impact transit users. Cities are also much better places when they give priority to pedestrians – as the City of Vancouver’s Transport Plan has long recognized but has not implemented very effectively. Some of our pedestrian places – Robson Square and Jack Poole Plaza ( Google doesn’t label it) do not work very well at all. So my initial enthusiasm for this particular closure is waning rapidly.
September 4, 2012
Vancouver City Council
Mayor Robertson and Councillors:
Re: Permanent Closure of Robson Street Between Hornby and Howe
Transport Action BC is concerned with the City’s decision to extend the Robson Street closure between Howe and Hornby Streets for an extended trial that is seems intended to become permanent. The closure has serious implications for transit users that must be considered.
The bus re-route around the closure is circuitous, particularly for those on Robson wishing to use the Canada Line or southbound buses on Granville Mall. TransLink schedules five to seven minutes travel time from Robson & Burrard to Pender & Granville. Transit users wishing to travel south then spend more time getting back to Robson Street. Thus, transit riders are penalised over ten minutes for every one-way trip compared to the direct route on Robson. Walking to Granville Street from Burrard & Robson is quicker for transit connections but this is unattractive for seniors or those with mobility aids, and even less attractive in the wetter, colder months. Additionally, the re-route forces an additional transfer on those who wish to board the Canada Line at City Centre Station.
The net effect of the closure from a transit customer’s perspective is highly unfavourable. Anyone with a choice between transit and driving will find driving relatively more direct and attractive while those without access to a car are taken needlessly out of their way and forced to make additional transfers.
Creating active, pedestrian plazas is laudable. However, it is ironic that in a city aiming to be “green”, the two streets chosen for long-term “activations” are major transit corridors. By routinely diverting transit from these streets the City is reducing the legibility, directness and overall attractiveness of transit. Meanwhile, no effort is spared in providing on-street parking on other streets where corner bulges and wider sidewalks could make permanent improvements in walking conditions throughout the city. Existing plazas, such as those at Robson Square, the Art Gallery and Main Library function far below their potential, presenting off-street opportunities for improving pedestrian amenities.
We suggest that the City take a more holistic view of its transportation priorities before making a final decision on permanently closing the 800 block of Robson to transit. Such considerations must also figure prominently in Viva Vancouver’s seasonal closures.
Buses will play a major role in Vancouver long into the future. It is time surface transit received more respect from City Hall.
CC: Councillor A. Carr; Charles Gauthier – Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association; TransLink Board of Directors
Secretary – Transport Action British Columbia
There is now a nice video by Spacing Magazine – they have it on their blog and so does Gordon Price. But I thought I should embed it here – just becuase I can. Worth seeing in HD and fullscreen if you can
I returned to Vancouver last Thursday: the jet lag has now relented, and my brain seems less fogged. We were there for nearly the whole month of May, which was probably not the best choice, since France has no less than four public holidays in May.
While we were there we did not drive at all. There was really no need for that. We bought a Navigo Decouverte card, and loaded it with a month’s unlimited travel in zones 1 and 2 – roughly the same as the 20 arrondissements of the city out to the peripherique. Now I am going to surprise my readers by telling you that our system is actually somewhat better than theirs in one respect. If you have a zone 1 ticket or pass here, and need to make an odd trip out to Surrey, you can buy an “addfare”. There is no such equivalent there. So for a trip out to La Defense (the major office centre, with lots of challenging architecture and lots of public art) which is in zone 3, we had to buy a whole new ticket. It was actually cheaper to buy an all day unlimited Mobilis ticket (€8.55) than a round trip ticket (€10) and we made the most of it by riding all three of the tram lines – most of which are outside the City.
The Navigo pass is a smart card with a photo – but you have to write your name on it too. They are very keen on that, though quite how it improves security I cannot say. We made a point of not carrying anything with us like passport or a driving licence which we did not actually need, simply because of the risk of loss to pickpockets. They are a plague of the system – and have been for many years. We saw a successful arrest of small gang, but the general view is one of cynicism that the legal process does little to deter what is a very profitable activity. Pickpockets can easily afford a ticket. Fare checks were apparent – we saw several in the time we were there both on buses and the metro, and each time there were people being given penalty notices. I also learned, from reading a notice in a bus shelter, that there is a free transfer from bus to bus or bus to tram provided that you did not pay a cash fare to the operator, but cancelled a pre-purchased ticket on board. There is no transfer to or from the metro. I suppose this encourages use of Navigo for people who need to get a bus to access the metro. It is a proximity card, which means its use is quicker than the magnetic stripe Mobilis – or any current Translink media (other than the “flash pass”) although I saw a lot of people getting frustrated when the faregate refused to open when an entire purse was dumped on a reader.
Navigo is also useful to facilitate use of Velib. There is a daily membership charge, and while the first half an hour of the rental is still “free” after that the Euros start clicking up, so you do have to allow the system access to your credit card. I think it is bit odd that you cannot charge the day membership to Navigo as it is not much different to a metro or bus ride, but of course Velib is a City thing and fares are a regional issue (STIF – the Ile de France agency). So far, and so familiar.
Those holidays – and a spell of warm weather also revealed the shortcomings of Velib – quite apart from the tendency of users to wreck bikes which remain available for rent even though unrideable. More than once planned trips had to change due to the complete absence of bikes – or the complete inability of the system to take back bikes we were finished with, but could not find an open post to lock them back into. I must also report in all fairness that many Parisians do wear bike helmets – though few of them seemed to be Velib users.
Followers of my flickr stream will also be familiar now with the progress being made to extend T3, the tramway that runs along the Boulevards des Marechaux. These are the broad streets that are named after generals that were built over former city defences on the south and east sides of the city. There is, in fact, a disused railway line that they could have used, but they preferred on street running using an exclusive right of way on the median, which is often grassed.
There has been a lot of progress in providing bike lanes and bus lanes. I like the bike lanes that run counterflow on one way streets, and also those that are protected from moving traffic by the line of parked cars. I am less happy with the painted bike lanes on sidewalks at major intersections – though there is no argument that these are much safer than fighting motor vehicles on rond points, where priority is simply to those who risk most. We were witness to a number of altercations between bus drivers and white vans at such locations. Bus lanes do not provide a universal panacea to congestion. My partner developed a strong preference for the bus over the metro (you see more of the city that way) but even her loyalty was challenged by some remarkably extended travel times in what looked to me like grid lock – even though Paris streets are not in a grid! We walked a lot too – and found that Paris is, in many senses, quite a small place. The Bois de Boulogne to the Trocadero is about 20 minutes, even at the flaneur’s pace I adopt.
Paris has lots of transit, and is building more. Metro extension is being planned for Line 14 and Line 1 is being converted to driverless operation. Some of the oldest rolling stock is also being replaced with trains that have interconnections between cars (like the Canada Line) which ought to do more to relieve overcrowding. People still seem to prefer to stand near the doors rather than between the seats, which makes them more vulnerable to pickpockets and leads to extended dwell times at stations as people try to get on and off. Much more emphasis seems to be placed on improving commuting to and within the suburbs – with trams, tram trains (line 4) RER and the Transilien services. We made a few excursions on SNCF, and were very impressed by speed, punctuality and reliability of these services. Of course, in this part of the world passenger rail is almost completely neglected by comparison.
Nowhere gets it right all the time, and there is no monopoly on truth. No one transit system answers every need. But the balance between cars and other modes is different there than here, and is closer to what is needed now, and will be even more important in future. Paris does need to get tougher on cars, I think. They have some experiments with street closures. For instance around the canal St Martin at weekends. But that is still exceptional. For much of the day traffic in Paris is slow moving: parked cars and deliveries are a huge unresolved issue. After hours, parking still seems to be a free for all. While car drivers do seem to respect the need to leave garage entrances clear, pedestrian crossings and street corners are seen as perfect opportunities to park, once the traffic wardens have ended their shift. There is also an extraordinary ability to get into spaces that no Canadian would even attempt.
Initially the title I have used was just a “working title”. I was going to paste in the title used in the material that promoted the lecture. But take one look at “Progress Lost, Progress Redefined, Progress Regained – How Location Efficiency Performance Measures Are Being Used to Achieve Economic Security” and I think you will agree that it is hardly a grabber.
This was the second of two talks by Scott Bernstein, President, Center for Neighborhood Technology, and the Visiting Fellow in Urban Sustainable Development in SFU’s Urban Studies Program. The most noticeable thing at the start was the nearly empty room. I got there fifteen minutes early so I could sit near an electrical outlet, but I need not have worried. There was a very late start, and a very long introduction: this included the information that “The Visiting Fellowship in Urban Sustainable Development is funded from an endowment by the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia and the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board.” Which makes me wonder why the room wasn’t populated by the development community. Michael Geller was there and sent a few tweets: there will be a video of the talks at the Urban Studies web page, in due course.
In fairness I think it will help if I insert the “blurb” that went on the ad for this talk
A new index of combined affordability of housing + transportation, which cost households at least half of their available income, are being tested by federal agencies, metropolitan organizations, states and local governments. The results are encouraging. Agencies taking combined affordability into account have shifted billions of dollars in long-term commitments from highways to transit; provided incentives for locational preference in subsidized housing; and awarded capital intended to demonstrate the efficacy of place-based integrated resource strategies.
Location-efficient neighborhood residents felt only one-quarter the economic “pain” felt due to gas prices by those in average neighborhoods, while those in the least-efficient places experienced their region’s highest foreclosure & bankruptcy rates.
Bernstein started by saying that he intended to take a “fresh look at the benefits of transportation and better cities” and why it’s worth paying attention to the efficiency of location. One of the advantages of confining the study to the US is the relatively open source data available everywhere. This is in stark contrast to Canada, of course, where StatsCan has been trying to make data sales a major source of revenue and has only recently begun to relent from that disastrous decision. Even so our Prime Minister, who clearly dislikes the way that facts and figures get int he way of his prejudices, cancelled the long form census which deprives us of about the only data on commuting behaviour across the country.
What is different is that he focuses on what to expect from our public investment, its benefits, not just the costs. He mentioned how gobsmacked Stephen Quinn of the CBC was at this notion, when he appeared on the Early Edition recently. All the prepared questions were simply about the amounts of money that would be spent – not the returns that would generate. This illustrates the ignorance of why infrastructure is important to cities. It “provides the stuff you need to make the buildings work” and includes municipal services. He estimated that in residential developments this amounts to US$50-100k per unit plus the land cost – which is roughly similar. Basically what he is advocating is how to get the infrastructure shared by more units, so that the cost gets lowered. Over the last 30 years we have seen better solutions emerge. For instance, we no longer see rain as a dangerous waste product once it hits the ground.
The development of green infrastructure has produced a new mind set. Previously the purpose of investment was to promote consumption: now it can be to increase productivity – e.g. streets to connect people rather than promote car use. It has even proved more efficient to pay people to consume less energy than build new power plants. Findings from recent polls show that people want better, more affordable transportation but are not wiling to raise gas tax to pay for it. They do not trust the system to deliver the promised benefits. 13 states allow voter initiatives ”tax elections” which show that people will vote for increased taxes provided that there are specific conditions in place to ensure delivery, and the ability for voters to sanction those that do not deliver. These programs are always local or regional in nature and not led by a state or federal government.
There have been some very significant demographic and price trends. Since the beginning of the twentieth century household size has been steadily declining. At the same time developers have increased home sizes. They have found that they cannot sell that product any more. Gasoline prices were $1.13 a gallon in 2002 and $4.33 now – with the clear expectation that they will rise further. People who live in new exurban developments, where there are no services find that they have to spend a gallon of gas to buy a gallon of milk. The increase in gas price has been 8x faster than income. There has been ten years of foreclosures in the suburbs – not just since the 2008 market crash.
Currently the most attractive investment is high density Transit Oriented Development (TOD). He noted that it is harder than it should be to do TOD here! He showed a graphic which contrasted the “Nourishing economy” where connectedness = prosperity, compared to the conventional model of residential cul de sacs, and limited access highways, which is where economic distress is note widespread. His advice was that we should tear down the viaducts – just as other cities are doing.
A good example of what he advocates is the Pearl district in Portland OR where affordable housing is mandated at 25% on all development. It is not concentrated in one place, and there is no displacement due to development. The idea is to build things worth keeping up.
He eulogized Ellen Swallow Richards – inventor of the calorie counter, and the standardized home budget. She thought it important to teach people financial literacy and persuaded high schools to have mandatory home economic courses. “Somehow we got through the Depression” – mainly because people understood how to economize. Her structures included “Don’t go into debt for an automobile”. Eventually home ec was squeezed out by drivers ed. This was because federal funding of freeways required that there be a road safety component.
The revolution between 1885 and 1902 was the introduction of streetcars – which was equivalent in its day as the internet has been tom our era. There was one system in 1885 and 1 in every city of 10,000 by 1902. He did, in my view, somewhat confuse the issue by talking of streetcars and interurbans as though they were the same thing. He said that the streetcar was an illustration of a network economy. The first telephone was a curiosity: it was not until there was another one that it had any use, and the use grew exponentially as more telephones were added to the system.
He showed an illustration of Vancouver in the 1890s, which showed the city was designed to have a grid of streets, connected to the port and the railway. It was said to be a developer’s design since it had more corners! This is simply because land value peaks at intersections. There were freely available maps of land value surveys to demonstrate that then but ”Nobody is doing that now!’
Location efficiency = you don’t need to drive as much. A combination of density and transit access (proximity, frequency, connectedness) lowers the cost of living. Good transit access equals one car less per household , the equivalent of an increase of 10 to 20% in income tax free, or around $5k to $8k pa.
Location Efficient Mortgages way outperformed the market. In 30,000 transactions there was only one default and not one repossession Fanny MAE only committed to one experiment – it did not fail! This is in strong contrast to the “drive until you qualify” approach, traditionally used by lenders. There is in economists language “severe information asymmetry”. A British popular song ended with the tag “a week’s wage for a month’s rent”. This was the extent of the support for the notion that a household can support a mortgage at 30% of salary. In many years of searching he has found no research backing for 30% affordability. And, of course, no reckoning of transportation cost.
The Housing + Transportation Cost Index has been published in two books – “A Heavy Load” and “Penny Wise, Pound Fuelish” but there are now two new online tools using US data. He also pointed out that other researchers have found very similar results in London and Tokyo.
“Who cares? You should!”
While I am quoting him I feel I must mention that no-one had corrected him talking about “the Frasier valley”! He said that HUD (Housing and Development) and DOT (Department of Transportation) both US federal government departments are using it to screen grant applications, MPOs (Metropolitan Planning Organizations mandated by federal transport funding requirements) are using it to rescreen transportation plans.
At this point I feel I need to explain that he was using slides with two columns and five paragraphs in each. There was too much information presented in a very short time and some of it was impossible to absorb. All I can do here is give some highlights that stuck in my mind or I was able to type.
El Paso TX is now directing affordable housing to areas of low transportation costs. Washington DC which was looking at one or two streetcar lines has now decide to build 20.
He said that there is now a 200% net return on public investment (I assume he was either talking about streetcars or TOD) .
Do you want to succeed for the long term?
The Q&A was not recorded by me but will be on the SFU video.
If you do a search of this blog on the term “Location Efficient Mortgages” you will see that what he is talking about is not exactly news. He has been at this for thirty three and a third years (he said). The questions that come to my mind revolve around why it is taking so long for these ideas to get adopted. In this region, of course, we have gone in completely the reverse direction. The BC Liberal government decided to expand the freeway and to hobble public transport. Christy Clark is simply following in the footsteps of Gordon Campbell – and Ujjal Dosanjh.
There is indeed a task force on affordable housing - and a fat headed approach to transit funding, which prevents any real progress towards sustainability in this region. There was a criticism of the Livable Region Strategic Plan in that it did not address affordable housing. That seems to be to miss the point completely. If we had done what the LRSP aimed to do – build a compact urban region, with complete communities that protected the Green Zone and increased transportation choice – then we would not have the crisis we now face.
There is some transportation choice in Vancouver and Burnaby – but it rapidly declines away from these municipalities. Everywhere else – and to some extent in those cities too – we have seen workplaces decentralize (something the LRSP did not anticipate) and steadily increasing suburban sprawl. Most of Vancouver south of 12th Avenue is suburban, and all of it unaffordable by any measure.
One thing that cropped up more than once in his lecture – usually as unscripted asides – was the potential for our region to see the same real estate crash that has affected the US. We certainly do not have what he termed funky mortgages like theirs. But most people here have very little financial room to manoeuvre and are just as vulnerable to rising gas prices, with often no realistic alternative to driving. Not just for work, but for everything. And the real estate sponsors of this talk are ensuring that we will see low density, single family subdivisions endlessly extending up the valley for the foreseeable future – with Squamish now added for good measure. This is a recipe for financial disaster, and is nothing like a sustainable region.