September 8, 2016

Are you safer biking or walking? Data from London

This article in the Financial Times asks the question directly: is urban cycling worth the risk?
Sure we know about the extraordinary health benefits, getting to places efficiently, and living in a smart way. But in a 2014 survey “64 per cent of people surveyed by the UK’s Department of Transport said they believed it was too dangerous for them to cycle on the road. These decisions are often based on gut feelings or anecdote: a friend who has had a great experience commuting by bike can inspire us to follow suit, while seeing or hearing about a bad cycling accident may put us off for life.”
In London England nine cyclists died in 2015 as a result of crashes at intersections. In response to this, the new cycle superhighway just opened in London on Blackfriar’s Road phases the traffic lights so that cyclists go through intersections separately from motorized vehicles.

Surprisingly Transport for London’s analysis points the finger at the DESIGN of trucks being responsible for crashes, and is urging for a new truck design with improved visibility for drivers.
And are you safer biking or walking?
Mile by mile, people in the UK are actually more likely to die walking than cycling, according to figures from the Department for Transport. For every billion miles cycled last year, 30.9 cyclists were killed, while 35.8 pedestrians were killed for every billion miles walked. Both activities are significantly safer than riding a motorbike – 122 motorcyclists are killed for every billion miles driven.
While you are statistically more likely to succumb while walking, you are three times more likely to have an injury biking.  But back to how to make biking in cities safer- John Pucher and Ralph Buehler’s book City Cycling  notes the following: London, with an average of 1.1 deaths per 10,000 commuters, fared better than New York’s 3.8. But both lagged far behind the 0.3 annual average deaths in Copenhagen and 0.4 in Amsterdam.

And we know the reason: Copenhagen and Amsterdam have long standing policy and demonstrated implementation of separated bike lanes, not painted lines or share alls, but actual bike lanes with separate traffic signals. It is possible to do a complete commute on some of the bike lanes without crossing a vehicular interloper.
It’s great to see the Financial Times take an active interest in cycling and commuting, and they include additional information  in their article on health benefits, and pollution exposure. Bottom line-infrastructure is key to safe urban cycling, and retrofitting for separated bikeways is the 21st century way to increase ridership and enhance safety.

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There are several posts in Price Tags that have followed the inception and building of the Tsawwassen Mills mega mall located on Tsawwassen First Nations Land in Delta,nestled between the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and the Port lands, under the control of the Federal Government.  An article  written in 2013 by Daniel Wood in the Georgia Straight  outlines a conversation with City of Richmond City Councillor Harold Steves, who is also a founder of the Agricultural Land Reserve incepted in 1973. Full disclosure, Harold is a member of a very old farming family that not only tilled these lands, but started up the first seed companies in the province. And that place, Steveston? It’s named after his family.

In that Georgia Straight article, Harold noted that over 400 hectares (which is 988 acres) of Class 1 agricultural land in Delta would be lost to port expansion, and another 100 hectares lost to the residential units being built to the west of the megamall. This does not include the 80 hectares of Class 1 agricultural land sitting below the megamall site.

“That’s the best soil in Canada,” says Steves, incensed by the shortsightedness of corporate capitalism. “You’re looking at the Richmondization of Delta.”

We don’t often think of this, but the Fraser River delta which supports and nourishes Metro Vancouver is similar to the great deltas in the world that provide agriculture to surrounding populations. It is also because of its agricultural status and relatively low land values that it is the most vulnerable to use as industrial or commercial lands.  Somehow we don’t value food production and the protection of  farmland  with a high monetary price.

This area of Delta is also on the great Pacific Flyway used by millions of migratory birds on a route that extends from Alaska to Patagonia. Annually this route is used by birds travelling to food sources, breeding grounds or warmer climates. Boundary Bay and this part of Delta are used by birds for a rest stop on the journey, and has been federally recognized.

But  back to Tsawwassen Mills, now a 1.2 million square foot mall built by Ivanhoe Cambridge. With 6,000 parking spaces this will be on of the biggest malls in Canada, with a second 600,000 square foot “more local” shopping centre to the east of it. It is a “drive to” destination. And that is what the developer thinks we will do.

To the west of this development a total of 1,700 housing units are being built, again on Class 1 agricultural land. Half of the new housing will be single family homes; 35 per cent are townhomes, and 15 per cent are apartments. A new road is being constructed connecting this residential development directly with the mall for easy shopping access by car.

Tsawwassen Mills has been having a challenge getting employees to staff the mega mall’s stores. At a recent job fair, 3,000 jobs were available but only 500 potential applicants showed up. The minimum wage jobs and poor transit connections will hinder hiring. The lack of a good separated sidewalk and protected bike lane from Tsawwassen to the mall will also thwart local residents who are active transportation users.

Tsawwassen Mills mall is now lit up at night. While there is shielded light in the parking lot ostensibly to minimize migratory bird disruption, no such regard has been made for the large illuminating signage visible for kilometers on the south side of the mall, as noted in this letter to the Vancouver Sun. Subsequent to that letter being published, another  illuminated sign has appeared.

For a mall that is slated to open on October 5 with 150 retail outlets, 90 businesses are concerned they will not have adequate staffing. There is the supposition that shoppers from across the region will drive here to spend a day shopping  instead of going to the United States or shopping online. While some light is shielded to minimize disruption of migratory birds, new commercial signage seems to be exempt from any concern.

We as a region have lost hundreds of acres of Class 1 agricultural land that will never be retrieved. A mega shopping mall perches on the sensitive delta which is also on the floodplain.

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It’s that time of the year again, where thousands of children nationwide go back to school. There are some interesting trends happening to ensure those children travel safely. In Edinburgh Scotland six schools have created exclusionary zones for blocks around the schools. The project called “School Streets” bans cars  from the streets an hour before school has commenced to an hour after school is over to encourage a safer environment and to encourage children to walk and cycle to school. An initiative of the City of Edinburgh’s City Council, the ban will also alleviate congestion and pollution levels at the school sites.

And for those who think that Sasquatch or Bigfoot is really a Canadian hanging out in beer commercials -Sasquatch has international work in Portland Oregon.

As reported here, a day after a 15-year-old student was hit by a car while walking home from school, the Portland Bureau of Transportation called in Bigfoot to walk children across school crosswalks. Interviewed  by Koin 6 News Bigfoot says:

“I’m just trying to send a message, I hope that if they’ll stop for me, they’ll stop for the little creatures on the road. Every intersection should be considered a crosswalk and that drivers shouldn’t go faster than 20 mph in school zones to ensure students’ safety.”
The messaging is clear-slow down if you are driving near school zones, or better still, walk  or bike with the kids to and from school. It’s a great way to start everyone’s morning.


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KPMG has published an interesting take on what policy changes need to be in place for the rise of autonomous or driverless vehicles. Given that so many enterprises are working on this technology, KPMG feels that this will be the car of choice within twenty years.

Realizing that such a dramatic and drastic change in driverless technology will mean a reboot in policy at all levels of government, KPMG has identified five areas where there are major policy ramifications. These are:

1.Transport Infrastructure Investment-Since decisions on public investment are based upon cost benefit analysis, driverless cars are a certainty in the future. Because of that, financial analysis of transportation projects today should be factoring in the use of driverless cars. It is suggested that with no need for crash barriers, lanes could also be closer together, with significant less cost for roads, and use of land.

2. If in a driverless world there is no need for driver’s licenses, there are implications for countries that have dual licenses, for example, British Columbia where the license is also the Medical Services Plan card.  Other countries use the driver’s license as a citizenship card. Time will be needed to separate the systems apart. Traffic regulations will need to change to reflect driverless technology standards. Vehicle registration may form a basis of raising revenue for the use of a driverless car.

3.Revenue-Driverless cars still need roads and there will be investment in digital technology for the vehicle’s bandwidth and for communication to other vehicles.Government may want to create the control centres for these vehicles and not leave it to the private sector, providing a usage tax to replace gasoline tax revenue.

4.Spatial Planning-Having access to a vehicle without owning it means more accessibility and universality in usage, with more vehicle miles being travelled and higher usage of vehicles.Street widths can be narrower and KPMG suggests that there is no need to use sidewalks and curbs to separate pedestrians from the technology.With no need for garages or parking lots or on street parking, this could mean a revamping of land use on a scale not seen since the introduction of the car.

5. Security-There will need to be a protocol to ensure that the systems cannot fail, nor can they be undermined by malicious intent.With falling accident rates and little fatalities, the insurance companies will need to refocus their businesses. Personal data associated with the use of these vehicles will also need to be secured in a way that can access the payment systems in the cars, but still be confidential.

KPMG sees this time as an opportunity for policy makers to commence the thinking of how best to maximize efficiency and revenues with a technology that will have great social and economic ramifications. It will be curious to see in a few decades whether their perceived policy direction forecasts were accurate.

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There is a lot of chat about driverless cars-but this article from the New York Times and this one in the Atlantic Monthly identify a fear that is being expressed by many-how will driverless cars interact with those pesky uncontrollable pedestrians who will want to cross streets and otherwise get in the way? How do you build trust and share the road from the perspective of the driverless car passenger and  those on foot or bicycle? a California start-up is figuring out how a driverless car would communicate with other cars, and those pedestrians. John Markoff notes in his article

The company is emphasizing what is known in the artificial intelligence field as “human-machine interaction” as a key to confusing road situations.How does a robot, for example, tell everyone what it plans to do in intersections when human drivers and people in crosswalks go through an informal ballet to decide who will go first and who will yield?

There are five situations discussed  where driverless technology is being challenged.You can control the behaviour of a driverless car, but what if it interacts with a car driven by a real human, subject to split second decisions and thought patterns? And what happens on snowy or icy roads when laser sensors may not compute where the road surface is. For a technology that is based on GPS, a temporary detour or a changed traffic pattern  on a road could be an obstacle. Couple that with potholes that sensors cannot read and may be  misinterpreted on the road surface. Lastly, and perhaps the most crucial in a life and death situation, does the car save its occupants, or does it sacrifice its occupants to avoid hitting a group of pedestrians? And who will make these ethical calls on autonomous car performance?

This year was licensed in California to road test driverless cars, and is relying on “deep learning” technology which is  “a machine-learning technique that has gained wide popularity among Silicon Valley firms. It is used for a variety of tasks, like understanding human speech and improving the ability to recognize objects in computer vision systems.” plans to revolutionize commercial vehicles for parcel delivery and taxi services.But in these investigations of new driverless cars (and there are over 20 initiatives with this technology in Silicon Valley alone) there is still no cogent discussion on street design or active transportation movement for bicyclists and pedestrians. It would seem to me that cities and citizens need to have an active say in how driverless technology will or will not impact city streets and the ability of people to randomly walk or cycle across streets. There is not much information on how this technology will interface with  community liveliness and street use. It’s an important subject and I’d like to see it addressed.

As stated in Markoff’s article quoting a roboticist

“A lot of the discussion around self-driving cars has no human component, which is really weird because this is the first time a robotic system is going out in the world and interacting with people.”

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Back in the early 1990’s, a forward thinking, mindful and driven group of young landscape architects, architects, planners and city lovers sat down for a coffee. They mourned the fact that the city was developing without thinking through the language and connection with the urban environment and nature. They also understood the interconnectedness of systems, circulatory for traffic and city services and the need for access to  punctuated green park space alleviating the increasing density of urban building.
At a time when “being green” and environmentally friendly were not watch words they insisted that there had to be a way to respect nature in the city, plan with it, and incorporate it in everyday life.
The seven members of the Urban Landscape Taskforce formed in 1991 are an early who’s who on placemaking:Moura QuayleSusan AbsJoost BakkerRobert Bauman, Claire Bennett, Cindy Chan Piper and Sarah Groves. Moura, who became Dean of Agriculture at University of British Columbia and is now a professor of the Sauder School of Business was the chair.

They were supported by an eager group of volunteers including Michael Dea, David Fushtey, Doug Paterson, Brian Perry and Jeannie Bates.

In 1992 this Taskforce created a final report titled greenways-public ways. For some reason this document has never been scanned and is not easy to access. This is a true shame as it lays out very clear principles for decision-making that not only guided the work in creating greenways, but is helpful in assessing placemaking decisions today. The principles also lay out a plan and approach to ecology in the city by :
1.Recognizing legacies;
2. Recognizing diversity and balance;
3. Caring for and respecting the environment;
4. Making connections to nature and places for all citizens;
5. Creating and promoting community definitions of landscapes;
6. Encouraging innovation;
7. Promoting fairness and equity;
8. Ensuring decision are informed.
From these strong principles, the Taskforce urged the establishment of a “Greenway Trust” to create “corridors linking open spaces” which would invite residents to experience “the outside inside” of a city. These “greenways” are actually what we would call sustainable “green streets” today. The linkages would include a completed waterfront walkway system, ecological reserves such as the Grandview Cut and pedestrian and bike paths through spaces to allow for direct connections. The greenways would also showcase the latest in sustainable practices in storm water management and street design, and be a backdrop to commissioned public art and landscaped plantings.Greenway streets also would have pedestrian and bicycle prioritized before cars.

Instead of setting up a private “greenways trust” which was legally challenging for the City to do, Council created an interdisciplinary  Greenways team with planning, landscape architecture and engineering expertise. This interdisciplinary team would propose a greenways network connecting parks, schools, commercial areas and services.  An Urban Landscape Inventory would inform the best locations for greenways, which would go border to border across the city in all four compass directions.
By establishing a greenways system that recognized landscape legacies, a public realm plan was to be created that would be accessible for all residents. The team also recognized the importance of supporting a parks management plan, and the need  to reclaim local streets for pedestrians and cyclists. Public consultation and connection with residents in explaining the plan was also key. But imagine-a report from a quarter century ago stating “Examine the current street budget which is vehicle-based and use budget re-allocations to exponentially increase funds for streets designed to include cyclists.  A policy is needed to provide for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles on our streets, in ways which are safe and effective.”
The remaining strategies from the Taskforce are still relevant today: Developing a street strategy for all users, Prepare an Ecological Management Plan, Adopt ecological performance standards, Promote the urban forest and Ecological literacy. Community gardens were also  addressed, as well as the need to celebrate the  diversity and culture of the different neighbourhoods.

The Urban Landscape Taskforce was very concerned about making the pedestrian comfortable and at ease using a convenient system of greenways. They  also addressed the need for new street design such as the Dutch Woonerf, stating
The Dutch woonerf is an excellent example of the redesign of streets to enhance their social role in neighbourhoods.

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The Guardian released a preliminary report prepared by Britain’s Royal Town Planning Institute on the state of planning in Britain, and the need for planners. Sure, this sounds like one of those studies, of course a planning institute will say that planners are needed. But here’s the thing-The Guardian’s  Rowan Moore says a better Britain could be built if planners were given a chance.
“At one time or another, most people will have reason to be grateful to their profession – for mitigating the expansion of a neighbour’s house, for example, or stopping an open-all-hours club opening in their street. We take it for granted that noxious industries can’t pop up in residential areas and that historic buildings and green spaces have some protection. This is due to planning, an area of government that is nonetheless showered with exceptional levels of derision.”
Moore notes that the way planning systems are instituted in municipalities and regions is constantly changing to be speedier, deliver more service, and also to save money. Planning departments are being cut back in budgets, and developers and other governments want less red tape.
As reported by Moore “So it’s not surprising that the overwhelming majority of planners, according to a report to be published this week, believe that they cannot provide the benefits of planning due to the constraints and changes in their jobs. The report argues that reforms of the planning system often don’t work. It challenges the fantasy that, if only the bolts on the planning machine could be loosened enough, private enterprise would achieve the abundant flow of new housing that the country desires. It argues that there are economic costs to inadequate planning, such as uncertainty and the cost of poor decisions.”
Planning at a municipal and regional level can confirm livability and accessibility through planning that private developers cannot. The article cites Brindleyplace in Birmingham, where 12,000 jobs are now based, and Cranbrook in Devon, which may provide 7,500 homes.

“When building a kitchen, you don’t just plonk down a stove, sink and fridge and hope that they will end up in the right relationship to each other. You plan them. This gets more true as projects get larger and as space for building gets more scarce and precious, as is happening in Britain now.”

Both Britain and British Columbia are looking at how to provide affordable housing, create jobs, provide good accessibility and public transit, and create lively, sustainable communities. In British Columbia, there is pressure to cut red tape at municipalities so that buildings can be produced quicker, faster and cheaper. But is creating more buildings the answer to creating cohesive, connected communities? Can we really construct our way to housing affordability, enhanced public transportation, and better places to live without a consolidated comprehensive overview? Is it too late?

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When I visit a new city  I always inquire at a hotel or information booth for a walking route that will help me understand the place. I love walking in cities. It is a way to understand the rhythm of the place, to find out what is important and valued by the locals, and a chance to see how urban life fits in to the framework of a city’s grid.
Asking for directions for a walking route that best captures a city can create quizzical looks. In Cincinnati the walking route suggested to me crossed over the Ohio River into Covington Kentucky, went through cattle stockyards, and next to a stadium. I later found out that the Ohio River meant the difference between slavery and freedom for African-Americans, and how thousands of people escaped across the river, some to eventual freedom, some who were returned, and some that were killed. I found a piece of history that is just now being interpreted and accepted, and I had the honour of understanding that place by walking to and through it.


In Barcelona I met a reporter for Radio Spain while walking through the neighbourhoods surrounding La Rambla, a tree-lined pedestrian mall full of families, public art and artists. We discussed how walking positively impacts health and sociability, and how public spaces feel somehow more adequate and fulfilled if there are people overlooking and walking through them. We visited a magnificent square tucked behind a cathedral, with soaring walls, defined boundaries, and an active collection of families hosting picnics. A few laneways in another direction was another square, also with a church on it, and an olive tree in the middle.

This was a place where school children had been killed during the time of Franco-the space still held that grief, despite the fact that there was no marker depicting what had happened. There was a collective hurriedness in the place, where people walked quickly through, the memory of the past still in the present.

To really understand Manhattan, I walked from New York City’s City Hall in the south all the way northbound past Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum. I was able to walk through neighbourhoods I had studied, read and heard about, and marvel at the texture and complexity of this extraordinary urban place. The walk enabled me to mentally link together the string of pearls that made up neighbourhoods, streets, and places, engage with people on the street, discover some great places for bagels, and experience the brash and direct kindness and curiosity that New Yorkers are known for.
Urban walking is not only about the discovery of place. Walking allows me a deeper understanding of myself. As a city planner I realize that if we could organize our cities and places around walking and walkability, places where citizens can age in place can be created, with a delightful denseness and complexity that is sociable and engaging. Not everyone knows what a multi-use neighbourhood is-but to talk about communities and cities as urban and walkable describes an inviting social texture that everyone understands.
Easy  effortless urban walking is the primary building block of a successful community. Great urban walking environments are also accessible for people pushing strollers or wheeling in wheelchairs.
By exploring cities by foot I now understand the importance of the connection to the sidewalk, the street, shops and services, and how we as humans crave that connection and liveliness. Quite simply, exploring cities by walking them has changed the way I think and how I work, by realizing the connection between planning, urban walking, and sociable spaces. I truly believe that the 21st century city will be about reclaiming cities and spaces for urban walking and vitality. My urban walks in cities around the world have shown me the richness of places that embrace walking, and why encouraging walkable environments in cities is quite simply the right thing to do. Read more »

This article from McMansionhell outlines those proportions and massings we see on some new large single family housing that somehow doesn’t look right even when being built. The author’s four design principles are to be applied to classical or traditional architecture, which, the author notes, most new housing is modeled after.
The author states:

“Sometimes people ask, why is xyz house bad? Asking this question does not imply that the asker has bad taste or no taste whatsoever – it means that they are simply not educated in basic architectural concepts. In this post, I will introduce basic architectural concepts and explain why not all suburban/exurban/residential houses are McMansions, as well as what makes a McMansion especially hideous.”

Posing the question “what makes McMansion bad architecture” a review of four design principles provides a primer for analysis. Included are Masses and Voids, (by the way, McMansions have too many voids, but you already knew that) Balance, Proportion and Rhythm.

The article offers a good introduction to identifying the difference between a house with proportions-and those sadly lacking. You will also learn how to know when a house is a mansion as opposed to a  McMansion, and the importance of symmetry. It’s a thoughtful read, well illustrated for a good primer and discussion on architectural form.

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There is not much that can deviate the Trans-Canada highway, but this 300 year old Douglas Fir located beside the east bound lanes between the 176th and 200th Street exits did.
It was not much to look at these days and you probably saw it, a tree stump covered in English Ivy with a white cross, a wreath, and the moniker “Charlie’s Tree”.
Five life long friends  as children  used to swim and fish near this Port Kells location in the early 20th century. Five of them went to World War One in Europe. Only one, Charlie Perkins, a Royal Flying Corps flight instructor returned. To honour the memory of the four friends who had died in war Charlie Perkins memorialized a grand Douglas Fir with ivy, wreaths and flags.
The memorial was accepted by the community and was never questioned until the Surrey leg of Highway 1 wanted to locate the road through the field-and the tree. Charlie was incensed. As reported by True Surrey

“Charlie was a senior but that didn’t stop him protesting. In fact, he hauled a chair out into the middle of the road, placed a gun across his knees and didn’t budge. It wasn’t long before he was joined by friends, neighbours – true Surrey citizens. Folks who valued this living epitaph enough to make a stand. And amazingly, they won! Highway 1 weaves around Charlie’s tree to this day.”

More information about Charlie Perkins is available here.

The tree had been torched by vandals in the past and had been topped.  But the Whalley Legion still places a wreath at the base of this old Douglas fir every year. On the weekend the stump of the tree split, and crashed on the highway. While there was a car crash, no one was hurt. Let’s hope the memory of Charlie’s Tree continues on this British Columbia Day.

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