Archive for the ‘walking’ Category
A Media Release from UBC with a link to the whole research paper – actually hosted by Translink – and dated August 20 last year
No surprises here – but useful back up to the argument that we ought to spend more on transit. Not that I expect that to influence people like Jon Ferry, [The Province, paywalled] who is pretending to be open minded!
A new report from the University of British Columbia shows that transportation and health are closely linked and recommends that health outcome be considered in transportation planning.
The report, funded by TransLink and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority as part of updates to Transport 2040, the regional transportation strategy, presents a range of opportunities for Translink to incorporate health into its planning.
“This report documents how prioritizing transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure will positively impact health,” says the study’s lead author Lawrence Frank, Professor and Director of the Health and Community Design Lab, part of UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. “It looks at encouraging active transportation, such as walking, cycling and transit, and reducing air pollution and traffic collision risk.”
Dr. Lawrence Frank. Photo: Amanda Skuse
Previous research by Frank has shown that every hour a person spends in a car each day makes them six per cent more likely to be obese, while each additional kilometre a person walks makes them five per cent less likely to be obese.
Sedentary lifestyle is a major cause of many chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease and some cancers. Many chronic diseases are preventable and active transportation and other sustainable transportation choices offer the possibility of prevention and even treatment through increased physical activity. The costs of these diseases are projected to increse by more than $1.5 billion in B.C. over the next 2 to 3 years.
“TransLink’s consideration of the health impacts of transportation systems could help offset the rising costs of health care in the Vancouver area and promote an active lifestyle that will benefit all Canadians,” Frank adds.
The full report is available at here.
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 there 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.