Business & Economy
April 14, 2021

How Three Simple Words Will Transform Wayfinding in Cities and Spaces


Veronica Reynolds is the sustainable travel advisor for Milton Park which is a one square kilometre office and industrial park with 7,500 employees and over 250 organizations near London. She’s been very successful at getting people to look at other options besides motor vehicles for commuting, and has installed new walking paths and connecting cycling bridges around highway infrastructure. I previously wrote about her implementation of the first autonomous public transit shuttles in Great Britain to service the park.

Veronica asked me if I knew “what3words”.  I did not.

What3words is a geolocation technology that looks at the world made up of squares of three meters by three meters. That makes a whole lot of squares, and each square is given an address with three words. The addresses are translated into 43 different languages, and yes the addresses are not the translations of the same words.

Vancouver’s City Hall’s three word geolocation is putty.averages.closets.

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When technology and economy come together, that’s usually called a revolution.

You can get one of these electric scooters for a few hundred bucks at Canadian Tire:


Joe Sulmona says you may soon be able to get one of these if you need  more carrying capacity.

Bigger battery too.  From Euractiv:

Advances in technology mean that battery-powered heavy trucks can go up against their fossil-fuel counterparts on price and – with better charging infrastructure – on range, according to the study, conducted by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), an independent research institute.

“A tipping point is in sight for electric trucks,” said Björn Nykvist, lead author and senior researcher at SEI. “Battery technology is very close to a threshold that makes electric trucks feasible and economically competitive. All that is missing is one companion component: fast charging.”

If you’d like to know more the evolution of one-person electric transportation and its impact on urban transit as a whole,  here’s a more definitive piece from Boundmotor:

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Spring is finally here and everyone wants to get outside. The next wave of the pandemic means that restaurants can no longer serve inside, which of course also shows one of the shortages that existed before the pandemic: there’s no public washrooms.

How do you get around the city, get outside by yourself or in your “people bubble” and spend any amount of time patronizing local businesses if there are no public washrooms?

In Vancouver public washrooms availability has fallen to large stores, coffee shops and restaurants to maintain and take care of as part of their private businesses. Providing  true publicly accessible washrooms in Metro Vancouver’s business areas and along the transit routes are pretty well non existent.

There are two ways that public washrooms are provided in the public realm: they can be publicly accessible and paid for by taxpayers, or they can be privately owned but available to customers. We do the latter, and that impacts families, homeless, disabled, seniors and pretty much everyone that needs to go.

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Seven years ago Charlotte Benjamin wrote a hand printed letter to the Lego company talking about her visit to the local toy store. Charlotte was seven years old at the time.

As reported by Kashmira Gander in the Independent, she wanted to know why the boy lego figures “went on adventures, worked, saved people and had jobs” while the girls “go to the beach, shop, and have no jobs.

Miss Charlotte also noted that the boys got to swim with sharks.

The toy maker have been criticised for  producing gender specific lego people that go and gender specific jobs. Miss Charlotte had ended her letter asking the Lego company to “make more Lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun ok? Thank you.”

But here is what is interesting~Lego was introduced in 1934 and was branded as a toy for boys and girls. “Lego” means  to “play well” in Danish and “I assemble’ in Latin.

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The mobility-pricing conversation has been mostly about technology and social engineering.  Mostly speculation, not specifics.

No matter how much sense it makes, few places have done it.  The first cities that implemented a cordon-pricing congestion charge between 1998 and 2013 are still the only ones that have.

Economists agree that pricing a scarce resource is better for pretty much everything*, so why is  there only a handful of green dots on the map?  What’s the impediment?

We all know what the problem is: the closer a proposal gets to a visible tax on the citizen/driver, the more politically toxic it becomes.  There’s not been a good enough return for the political capital that would have to be spent.

Watch what happens every time another report on mobility pricing is released – like, most recently, this one:

Report is released in the morning.  By nightly news, after the media have done the afternoon scare pieces with interviews of incredulous citizens, accountable leaders are in full assurance mode that nothing is going to happen anytime soon.  Or ever.  Next morning, report is toast.

There is unanimous agreement, however, that no matter how often a decision is deferred, we have to keep talking about mobility pricing.

Here is the latest from Moving in a Livable Region – a consortium of organizations in Metro concerned with improved mobility and land-use planning.  They have produced this very accessible graphic to find out what’s happening now – and what needs to happen. Plus an opportunity for feedback.


Why keep the conversation going?  Because it’s just a matter of time before the time for mobility pricing in some form will arrive.

Is there any reason to think this it that time?  Well, possibly – and it’s because of another inescapable pain greater than the one incurred by the prospect of road pricing.  It’s not the imposition of a new tax; it’s the loss of an old one: the gas tax.

On that there is no choice – a decision must be made.  Electrification of the vehicle fleet is inevitable, as a technological reality and now a legislative one.  The fossil-fueled vehicle will be on its way out by the end of the decade.

This literally came in on my news feed as I was typing the previous sentence:

So ends a major source of revenue that funds infrastructure, maintenance and, in our case, transit.

Okay, what should we do now?  Answer in the next post.



*From the San Francisco County Transportation Authority:

  • Get traffic moving so people and goods get where they need to go
  • Increase safety for people walking, biking, and driving
  • Clean the air to support public health and fight climate change
  • Advance equity by improving health and transportation for disadvantaged communities
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During the start of the Covid pandemic, bus drivers had a particularly hard time finding places to use washrooms. When the shutdown commenced last March, there was still not a lot of information out about the Covid-19 virus, and many businesses were hesitant to allow the use of their washrooms by people other than their own customers.

Saramaya Jasaitis sends this article about the Wallflower Diner at 2420 Main Street who right from the start invited bus drivers and others that needed to go to use their facilities.

Owners  Heather Szilagyi and Eric Neilson opened up their washroom early in the pandemic, as Miranda Fatur reports in CityNews.

These are the kind of business people we all need to support, in that they directly realized the challenge of lack of washrooms for the most vulnerable of residents. “People are already marginalized, and we don’t want to contribute to marginalizing [people] even further.”

It’s not easy to open up your washroom facilities in a restaurant, and the Covid protocols require a lot of extra maintenance in those areas. I have over the last several years written about the fact that this city does not provide public washrooms anywhere in urban places where it would just make sense for people in the downtown who are seniors, who are vulnerable, who have children, or just plainly need to use the facilities.

As covered in the Vancouver Sun, five years ago  Vancouver councillor Elizabeth Ball put forward a motion, inspired by the  Vancouver’s Seniors Advisory Committee for public washrooms, which stated: “Access to public toilets is a basic human need and is a critical feature of any age-friendly city.”
As noted in the motion, public toilets help older adults and those with medical issues feel comfortable going out to run errands, exercise and socialize, “thus encouraging healthy, active aging”.  

Public washrooms also assist people to use transit if there are facilities at the transit stations. But somehow providing public washrooms as an amenity was something not valued by this city, and while there may be over 90 washrooms in public parks, those are NOT in downtown urban areas or places that people frequent for accessing shops and services.

It is certainly not helpful for a current City Council member to state to CityNews “The lack of washrooms, and defecation on streets, points to the biggest issues like housing. So washrooms are just band-aiding the issue.”

That is absolute nonsense.

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Great Britain’s “High” or main streets are seeing  purchases for things other than food drop by 24 percent in shopping areas, with an overall decline in sales being the worst since record keeping started in 1995.

As The Guardian’s Richard Partington writes closing down “non-essential” shops never recovered from the online spending takeovers.Total retail sales increased 1.8 percent from November to December and surprisingly food and drink sales were the highest recorded for holiday spending. Credit card company Barclaycard saw online retail spending increase over 50 percent in December.

Canada has not had as many strict pandemic closures as in Great Britain but this study undertaken by  Vancity, Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB), and the Canadian Urban Institute shows that from September to December visits to main street businesses decreased 35 to 70 percent compared to 2019, with nearly 60 percent of businesses making less money, some garnering half of the revenue made pre-pandemic.

Retail Insider’s  Mario Toneguzzi  reports that the interim President of Vancity says it clearly~

Local businesses form the backbone of the Canadian economy and they have shown determination and resilience during the pandemic. Given the extraordinary measures and investment they have made to continue operating, they are now counting on us to get behind them.”

Concentrating on main streets in communities in Ontario and British Columbia, research shows that small businesses directly attached to the local community performed better. Up to one quarter of all businesses were doing more business online. Sadly in Victoria and in Vancouver (the survey was conducted in Vancouver’s Strathcona) the majority of business owners reported increased safety issues in their location as keeping customers away.

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