In late 2015, the Surgeon General of the United States issued a national call to action asking every person to walk 150 minutes a week, or roughly 20 minutes a day. We know the reasons why-walking every day decreases your likelihood of getting over 41 diseases, and every walk boosts your immune system for 24 hours. And you can get fit.

And here is the thing-our walkable cities, towns, places and spaces need help to make walking comfortable, convenient, interesting and fun. That is the reason that Walk Metro Vancouver  was formed following the Walk21 Vancouver 2011  conference.

The  free webinar  sponsored by the Centre for Disease Control is on the America Walks site on May 12. It features the stories of two people that received micro grants to make their places more walkable, as well as the story of one of the towns deemed the most walkable in the USA.  This could provide inspiration on what you can do in your neighbourhood to increase and enhance visual interest, comfort and walkability.

 

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The Globe and Mail reports on the scheduled demise of a truly iconic house located in Vancouver’s university neighbourhood, the  University Endowment Lands east of the University of British Columbia. The Friedman house was designed and built by Frederic Lasserre who was originally from Switzerland and  a University of Toronto graduate. Lasserre  worked in London for  the famous TECTON architecture group and taught at McGill before becoming the first head of the new Department of Architecture at the University of British Columbia in 1946.

 

 

The photo above is of Fred Lasserre in front of the Lasserre Building at the University of British Columbia. This is where the Architecture, Planning and Fine Arts Schools are located at the University. The UBC Architecture school was definitely modernist, and influenced by other emerging architects such as Ned Pratt and Bob Berwick, forerunners of the “West Coast Style”.

 

 

The house was built in 1953 for Dr. Sydney Friedman and his wife Constance, two of the early members of the Faculty of Medicine at UBC.  The garden of the house was planted by landscape architecture icon Cornelia Oberlander, in classic west coast style.  Dr. Friedman recently spent nearly $300,0000 on restorations to a house that he dearly loved, which still has its original furnishings from the 1950’s as can be seen in the photos. I have visited it and it is truly a unique and extraordinary house and setting.

 

 

Dr. Friedman passed away last year at the age of 94. He and his wife created a trust to provide for students attending the University of British Columbia. Because of the house’s location in the University Endowment Lands, Dr. Friedman could not get a heritage designation for the house because it is not located in the City of Vancouver. The members of the trust have deemed that the house needs to be for sale and it is on the market in the four million dollar range. Bids close very soon, and we will be losing an important classic modernist house, garden and furnishings that anywhere else would be cherished as a very important architectural gem. It is hoped that someone that understands the significance of the house steps forward to purchase it. Years from now we will mourn that this  modernist gem was not kept and instead becomes another residence destined for the landfill  in the relentless quest for new, larger single family homes. This residence has a remarkable tie to to our own architectural and planning history.

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On the retail front, work is going ahead on Tsawwassen Mills, the huge mall being built on First Nations lands near the Tsawwassen ferry terminal. And we are talking big-111,500 square meters or 1.2 million square feet of space with 16 anchor tenants and a food court seating 1,100 people.
The opening for this mall is planned for  late 2016, with acres of parking, and easy access from Highway 17 and 17a  for those customers.
I was at a seminar with a retired Chief Purser for BC Ferries and asked her the question-would people driving to the ferry terminal stop first at the mall to shop? She was emphatic at saying no, people going to the ferry are pretty focused on getting on the boat, not loading up on merchandise to take on the boat.
The developer of the mall, Ivanhoe Cambridge which is based in Quebec (part of the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec), also has announced a new Edmonton mall to be built at the Edmonton Airport. In January Ivanhoe Cambridge announced that their 350,000 square foot mall would be revised to 428,000 square feet, with an increase of stores from 85 to 100. No recessionary impact showing in that decision.
The philosophy of Ivanhoe Cambridge in the location of these malls  is expressed in this Globe and Mail article from 2014. The article states that the key to success of these malls is cheap land and distance from other retail locations, so that locations on major highway interchanges are easily accessible by car. There is psychology involved too-if you have driven a distance, you are going to make it worth your while by making a significant purchase.
The Tsawwassen Mills website is here, but there are no updates since December 2015 on the site.  Time will tell if this shopping mall will succeed, or  if it will eventually become the new campus for Delta University.
 

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The Surgeon General of the US  has issued a call to action encouraging people to walk 150 minutes a week, or 20 minutes a day. Why? Because even such a moderate amount of activity can decrease the incidence of 41 diseases. Each walk boosts the immune system for 24 hours. One mile a day can reduce by 13 per cent your chance of a cognitive decline. 

And that is where those dogs come in. Rinus Jaasma did some interesting research on walking the dog in the Netherlands. On a national basis, walking the dog covers 40 per cent of all daily trips on foot as reported in the Dutch mobility research. This may actually be underreported, as most of these dog walks happen in the early morning or late night. Dog walkers stay a longer time in parks and outdoor spaces compared to the duration of trips with other motives. Because of their high numbers, Jaasma recommends that careful consideration be taken for planning pedestrian facilities in residential areas to allow for good walking for people and pooches on streets to and from park and dog areas.

study of dog owners in western Canada  from the University of Victoria concluded that dog owners walked an average of 300 minutes a week compared to non dog owners who walked 162 minutes a week. People who owned dogs participated in more physical activity. Acquiring a dog can make you more physically active, and give you  a real reason to get out walking in the rain.

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I wrote about this earlier on Price Tags-just where are those boomers that are cashing out of those houses moving to? Are they staying in Vancouver? That link is here.
This article from Bloomberg News says that they are moving out of the city at the rate of over 2,300 people annually  and causing increased housing prices in their new communities, including Qualicum Beach, Parksville and the Sunshine Coast. Prices jumped 42 per cent there. It is suggested that these boomers cannot find suitable accommodation in Vancouver after their house sells, indicating that there is housing affordability challenges not only for people entering the market, but those seniors attempting to  transition to a more compact space. More here
Most sadly the article features two people who have made a remarkable contribution to the City who are now leaving-former City Councillor Jonathan Baker and active Dunbar resident Linda MacAdam. Both of these people cared deeply for their community and were very involved in their neighbourhoods. Not only are we losing seniors, we are losing the neighbourly capacity and knowledge as this group moves elsewhere.
 
 

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There is an interesting article on laneway homes in the Huffington Post where a couple in Calgary have built a carbon neutral laneway house, the ultimate “Garage Mahal”.
I was working in the planning department when the public discussions brought up the idea of laneway houses through the CityPlan process.  As the idea developed, I remember Ted Sebastian ( a transportation and housing planner well respected for his temerity and analysis) going back to the original notes from those public meetings. The concept developed from folks that wished to age in place and wanted to have a smaller dwelling on their property to either move to or have their kids move in to.
It would be interesting to see an occupancy survey to see if it is indeed family members that are living in these laneway houses, or if they are mainly rented out to others. The  high construction costs of building these small units is surprising, and there is no economy of scale to keep costs down. This carbon neutral laneway house may not be too attractive, but I think it is on the right track in minimizing its ecological footprint.

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That question was asked in a post by Angie Schmitt on Streetsblog.
In this cogent article the author suggests if  traffic engineers  were held to the same standards as major car manufacturers are for defects and deaths, that thousands of deaths every year could be avoided by designing better streets that are also designed from a pedestrian and bicyclist perspective. The author discusses the fact that in the U.S. 33,000 people are annually killed on streets, noting that street design is a major factor. But no one sues the street designers, or the municipality.
In particular Schmitt references a high speed arterial street located in Tampa Florida in front of a secondary school. In a four year time period motorists struck and injured 21 walkers and bicyclists in an eight block stretch. Two people were also killed, and one seriously injured. It was the public response that garnered design changes, not the city street design department.
The Volkswagen brand suffered when it became public that some of their cars claimed to be emitting less into the environment apparently were emitting more. As a brand, they will face lawsuits, and have to build public trust.
Why does design change not happen more spontaneously in response to major accidents?
Jerry Dobrovolny Director of Engineering for the City of Vancouver has introduced a  new crossing beacon for pedestrians, and also described that it is half the price of a “normal” pedestrian crossing, at $50,000 instead of $100,000. But we know it is not just about lights enabling pedestrians to cross, it is about street design to make it safe. And that is where better street design standards reflective of ALL road users, and a true costing to society for pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths comes in.
As Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns says, “There is really no mechanism for holding designers of public roads responsible when their product kills people…as long as they are abiding by local design standards (or if no local standard has been established, national standards like the Manual of Traffic Control Devices) engineers generally don’t worry about being held responsible. In fact, may engineers worry that if they deviate from American standards and design streets in accordance with standards that have proven successful in other countries, that they will risk getting sued”.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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A few weeks ago I was interviewed by CBC Radio about the frequency of pedestrians being hit by vehicles in marked crosswalks in Surrey. One case involved an entire family of walkers being hospitalized in a horrible accident. At a marked crossing, no less.

The interview is available on the Walk Metro Vancouver site. Full disclosure-I am one of the Directors of this society, along with engineers and architects from major Metro Vancouver cities,  and folks from the local health authorities, and our own Metro Vancouver treasure to urbanism and transportation, Gordon Price.

If you read the material on the subject, it always states that “visibility” is the reason that pedestrians get hit, even when crossing in marked intersections. Of course most of the material on the subject is written by engineers, who are looking at how to design streets for vehicular traffic. It is their job.  I believe there are other very important aspects that need to be taken in consideration, including driver behaviour and vehicular speed.  Street design for all users is also critical,  and I hope we are in a place supportive of creating more separated bicycle lanes protected from vehicular traffic, and  intersections better designed for pedestrians too.  Pedestrians and cyclists have a right to the road surface.

My behaviour as a driver changed dramatically once I became a commuter cyclist.  And in terms of vehicular speed, the studies clearly indicate that the difference between a pedestrian being hit by a vehicle at 30 kmh versus 50 kmh is literally life and death.

As I said to the CBC producer, pedestrians must still think like the wild west-you must ensure you are visible and that cars see you. That is hard to do here where we have five months of not so great light, early darkness, and of course our fashion for dark coloured clothes.

Being visible whether you are a pedestrian or a bicyclist is so important, and can be so challenging. The most dangerous time for pedestrians is in the autumn and winter, with Ontario statistics showing that over 40 per cent of serious injuries and 42 per cent of pedestrian fatalities occur at that time. (2010, Ontario Road Safety Annual Report)

In Finland, every child going to school must wear three pieces of reflective items on their clothes and their backpack.  The safety reflector was developed in Finland in 1960, and it is the law that pedestrians wear reflective clothing and reflectors in the dark.   Indeed, wearing reflectors and reflective clothing is completely accepted as daily wear in Scandinavia. That part of the world also has the lowest incidence of pedestrian accidents.

A similar program in Great Britain reduced pedestrian deaths with children by 51 per cent. Studies show that wearing a reflector increases the visibility of pedestrians from 25-30 meters to 140 meters, increasing the reaction time from two seconds to ten seconds  for a car being driven at posted  municipal speeds of 50 kilometers an hour. That is eight seconds more for a  driver to react, and for a pedestrian to survive.

It always seemed to me so surprising that a universal, easily worn reflective piece of clothing was not invented  for the myriad of   North American walkers so they could stand out in the dark months of the year.

Through my work as the City of Vancouver’s Greenways Planner, I met Peter Robinson who at the time was CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op,  locally known as “MEC”.  I asked Peter whether MEC could design something that was reflective, universal, and could be worn by walkers in the cold damp winters.  Peter arranged for me and two transportation engineers to meet with the MEC design team. Several very creative designers talked with us about what was needed and what we wanted to achieve. We wanted something that was easy to wear, could be worn by people in wheelchairs, walkers or bicycles, was easy to put on and off, and was reflective. The designers took notes, and  in a few weeks invited us to view three prototypes.

The first was a safety belt, the kind of thing that school patrols use when you are guiding children on crosswalks. It was  bulky, and  hard to put on and off. The second item was a reflective poncho. It was a good piece of rain gear, but was not that practical with a lot of wind,

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