Climate Change
September 25, 2020

Does more WAH mean less VMT

Translation: Will the increase in people working at home mean we’ll drive less?

Answer: Apparently not.

Here’s a summary from the terrifically named Center for Advanced Hindsight:

While there may be less commuting, there will be more local trips for shopping and, no doubt, Zoom breaks.

There’s another big implication that’s not mentioned: possibly less congestion during the traditional drive times, but heavier traffic throughout the day.  More accidents too, I’d bet.  And more conflict in how we allocate or reapportion road space.  (In other words, bike lane wars.)

The real-time experiment as a consequence of the pandemic in how we manage our transportation network shouldn’t be wasted.  Minimally we should be measuring and reporting on the day-to-day changes that are occurring out there (as discussed here in “How do we start limiting congestion NOW?“)  and then trying out different options so we don’t lose the gains we’ve made even as we respond to the ‘climate emergency’.

(Of course, ‘climate emergency’ is not a concern of the Park Board apparently, which showed how easy it is to succumb to the desire to go back to ‘just the way it was.’   Even though we never can and never should.)



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The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) presents a two day on-line event that is free with registration.

The 2020 AARP Livable Communities Transportation Workshop is a virtual gathering of AARP staff, volunteers, community partners and livability practitioners.

This national workshop will explore transportation options that improve health; support vibrant neighborhoods; and connect people to economic, social and civic opportunities in their communities.

Through three core transportation themes — Safety, Accessibility and Resilience — the workshop will share best practices, insights and inspiring next steps for delivering a more effective transportation network for older adults and people of all ages.”

The keynote address is by Toks Omishakin the Director of  California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

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Here’s the ugly secret in North America and we all know it is true~the number one priority in transportation policy is to let vehicles go fast.  As Beth Osborne, Director of Transportation for America observes “It has filtered into every level of implementation, down to the way we set speed limits. We raise the speed limit to suit the speeders, as long as there are enough of them and it doesn’t take that many”.

This is where the now antiquated 85th percentile system came from, which is defined as  “the speed at or below which 85 percent of all vehicles are observed to travel under free-flowing conditions past a monitored point.”  Think of that~instead of setting speed limits to what is safe,  decision makers based decisions on how fast drivers travelled  dependent on the visual “feel” of the road.  That’s exactly what we got in the 20th century, roads made for vehicle drivers with an increasing curve of road deaths despite enhanced vehicular safety systems.

Research conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway  clearly shows that alarming increases in pedestrian fatalities needed to be arrested.  And their research suggests a direct, very simple, cost effective approach: “IIHS research demonstrates that lowering city speed limits curbs the most dangerous speeding and can make the roads safer for everyone who drives, walks, or bikes.”

When the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended a “complete overhaul” of how speed is managed in municipalities, NACTO (the National Association of City Transportation Officials) responded. Municipalities base much of their road standards on the NACTO manual. NACTO  threw  out the 85th percentile system and is now embracing  the “safe systems approach” which like Vision Zero is based upon  no road deaths by any type of road user.

NACTO  recognized that their policies  often hindered setting road speeds that promoted  universally safe mobility, and they have issued a new framework to set safer speed limits on municipal streets.

Their document City Limits has a three pronged approach to safe streets. Firstly default speed limits for every street  with the suggestion of 25 mph (35 km/h) for major roads, and 20 mph (30 km/h) for minor streets; Secondly designating “slow zones” in areas that require slower road speeds; and thirdly setting corridor speed limits on higher volume streets using a “safe speed study” which looks at “conflict density and activity level” to set contextually acceptable speeds.

You can download NACTO’s handbook “City Limits” here.

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Last winter the International Road Safety Symposium was held in Vancouver. That event discussed how to enhance road safety for all users as well as why the Safe Systems approach is the only way to evaluate and assess road design and use. I wrote about some of the innovative work discussed at the conference here.

Several countries in Europe have embraced the Vision Zero concept which is to aim for no road deaths by any users on road systems. Key to the Vision Zero or Safe Systems approach is to design for all road users (vehicular, transit, bike and pedestrian) , adopting lower speeds and emphasizing safety for all.

One of the conveners of that conference was Dr. Tarek Sayed who teaches civil engineering at the University of British Columbia and has been at the forefront on research to mitigate road crashes. Denise Ryan in the Vancouver Sun reports on one of Dr. Sayed’s latest research findings that show a very simple way to decrease crashes~just make highway lane markings bigger.

In a recently published study Dr. Sayed found that overall crashes could be reduced by over 12 percent and vehicles leaving the road could be reduced by 19 percent simply by widening the “longitudinal pavement markings (LPMS)” on the road. If highway markings are widened from 4 to 6 inches and in some strategic areas widened from 4 to 8 inches, crashes are reduced.

Eight years of data  was collected on crashes in specific areas in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec. After road markings were significantly widened, crashes were dramatically reduced. In British Columbia, widened road markings reduced collisions by over 27 percent.

The study was conducted in three Canadian jurisdictions, B.C., Alberta and Quebec, in partnership with government authorities over a period of eight years, comparing before-and-after data. According to the study, the widths of the LPMs were increased between 2012 and 2013, and showed a dramatic reduction in accidents.  Total collisions in B.C. were reduced by 27.5 per cent.

As Dr. Sayed observes “Road safety is extremely important. We talk about COVID-19 all the time, but we have 1.35 million (people) getting killed on the roads every year worldwide…We want to design highways that are forgiving and will minimize the chance of error by the road-user. In this case we want to help the road-user to stay in his own lane by making the road markings more visible.”

It’s extraordinary that something as simple as wider markings can so significantly reduce vehicular crashes. Denise Ryan’s article also offers the sobering statistics which show how far behind Canada is in managing traffic crashes.

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Last week I wrote  about Britain’s government prescribing biking   outlining the new British federal policy to increase fitness through diet and by  encouraging cycling use. Lloyd Alter in Tree Hugger also wrote about this new initiative and went a step further, outlining “In countries like Britain or Canada with nationalized medicine, there is much more of an incentive to keep people healthy and out of the hospital in the first place, since the costs are paid through taxes”.

But where is Canada?

As Christopher Guly in the Tyee writes Member of Parliament (and a member of the New Democratic (NDP) party Gordon Johns has twice brought forward a bill to adopt a national cycling plan. You’d think with the impact of the Covid pandemic that such a bill would be especially helpful as people want to keep moving as gyms and community centres remain closed down. Separated safe cycling lanes have demonstrated over and over again to be what is holding back a universal adoption of cycling as a more accepted municipal mode of transportation.

Mr. Johns who represents the  Courtenay-Alberni riding has already received support from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, along with such major cities as Toronto, Ottawa and Victoria”. 

The day last March that Mr. Johns reintroduced his private members bill asking for Federal support for cycling, it was also announced that Canada’s first national active transportation strategy would be developed. This plan will develop “a national active transportation strategy that promotes bicycle and walking-friendly communities and school travel, including identifying and harnessing current investments that fall within the strategy.”

An integrated national strategy on active transportation is helpful during the Covid pandemic where being outdoors and being able to physically move safely is more important than ever.

I have written about the initiatives of Winnipeg and Edmonton who were early adapters to the creation of active transportation streets in their municipalities. Vancouver eventually joined  the party a few months later in adopting “Slow Streets”.

But here’s the  exciting thing about this national initiative~eight organizations related to health including the Alzheimer Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation have been supporting a national active transportation strategy. Finally some thinking on the intersection between  providing good infrastructure and impetus for active walking, cycling, and getting outside  which would reduce costs on the national health care system.

Member of Parliament  Andy Filmore who is leading the federal initiative has 20 members of parliament willing to work on the strategy~sadly there are no members from the Official Opposition party , the Conservatives.

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The City of North Vancouver’s Council  unanimously approved their new Safe Mobility Strategy, joining the City of Surrey who approved their Safe Mobility Plan last year.

In North Vancouver there are about ten vehicular collisions a year that result in serious injury or fatality. The intent of the adoption of the plan is to embrace a safe systems approach to achieve Vision Zero where no lives are lost in using the City’s road system.

Guidance is already provided in the City of North Vancouver’s Community Plan that measures ease of mobility as a factor in a liveable city.

The City’s document in nine concise pages summarizes an overall approach to move to Vision Zero. They intend to accomplish this by a four pronged approach which will also impact work in all transportation and planning endeavours in the city.

The four factors are:

 1. Design safe streets
This means changing the design and features of City streets, intersections, and curb space to reduce the risk of conflict; and providing more space, separation and protection for the growing variety of ways people choose to travel.

2. Encourage safe speeds
We do this by promoting speeds that are appropriate for specific street or pathway types. This is achieved through lower speed limits and street design changes – like narrower streets, speed bumps, landscaping, and other treatments.

3. Promote safe behaviour
We will support the development of a range of community outreach and education campaigns, targeted enforcement, and new regulations to foster a culture of safe mobility.

4. Be evidence-based and accountable
This means prioritizing actions and interventions in the right areas by collecting more data; this will increase our understanding of safety issues on our streets. We will report back to the community regularly on our progress as we work to achieve our vision and goal for safe mobility.

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America Walks is hosting a new webinar,  In Praise of Walking: A New Scientific Exploration – a conversation with author and neuroscientist Shane O’Mara.

Author Shane O’Mara has just released  ‘In Praise of Walking: A New Scientific Exploration’. As a neuroscientist and walking advocate, O’Mara takes us on an evolutionary journey through how we started walking, the magical mechanics of it, and how we find our way around the world. It also explores walking in relation to repairing our mental and social health, sparking creativity, and how walking in concert can be coupled with critical policy change.

This one-on-one webinar is sure to inform your walking and walkability work and ethos, and we have built in ample time for questions and answers. This webinar is intended for those just starting out on the walking path as well as those interested in learning more about the topic.

Shane O’Mara is Professor of Experimental Brain Research (Personal Chair) at Trinity College, Dublin – the University of Dublin. He is a Principal Investigator in the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and is also a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator. His research explores the brain systems supporting learning, memory, and cognition, and also the brain systems affected by stress and depression, and he has published more than 140 peer-reviewed papers in these areas.
He is a graduate of the National University of Ireland – Galway, and of the University of Oxford (DPhil). Heis an elected Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science (USA), and an elected Member of the Royal Irish Academy.

Webinar Date/Time: June 3rd, 2020

Time: 10 a.m. Pacific Time

REGISTER HERE at this link.

You can learn more about America Walks and this webinar here.





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As a consequence of flattening the covid curve:

… we’ll also have to flatten these curves:

The hand-drawn chart above reveals the obvious: the morning and evening rush-hour peaks coming in and out of the CBD. Even though the chart was done in the late-1970s, the TV helicopters tell us it’s still true twice a day.  At least they did until March 16.

Of course there has been one big change: there are less cars coming into the CBD than a half century ago:

Why is that green line below the blue one?  Transit mainly.  No SkyTrain or Frequent Transit Network back before Expo 86 – and since then, the region has largely accommodated growth in transportation demand by expanding transit supply.  That allowed the existing road network to serve a larger population, increased jobs and more demands without having to build a lot more road space.

Simply put: without transit, the road system doesn’t work.  Transit was our way of both serving population growth and taming motordom without having to build and expand the freeway and arterial network.  It didn’t reduce congestion very much (as any commuter will attest) since drivers took advantage of a free good – road space – and pretty much filled it to the maximum anyway.

So what happens post-covid? Here’s a simple thought experiment, based on nothing but speculation.  (That’s why PT asked for someone to model this.)

Transit has seen a drop in ridership of 80 percent.  Past experience, even today in China, tells us that it will take some time for ridership to recover.  And even if it does, there will be a lot less capacity to accommodate transit users, given the need for physical distancing.

Let’s be generous and say half the riders in that 80 percent drop return to transit.  The other half decide to drive.  They’ll certainly have the rationale: transit can be crowded and contagious, cars are clean and spacious, gas is cheap and roads are free.

There are also pluses and minuses to consider: how many will work from home, or not have any work to commute to?  How much road space, particularly curb lanes, will be repurposed, especially to allow more distancing for pedestrians, cyclists and restaurant patios?  How many job locations will disperse from the centre (and will that alleviate or worsen congestion)?

But here’s the critical question: what will be the impact on the roads and bridges of those additional numbers that do begin to commute by car, who will be competing for the modest amount of free road space available, especially if they all want it at roughly the same time?

Well, we should soon find out.

For that matter, it won’t be just commuters in vehicles.  Commuters in trains too.

Top state and city officials (in New York) are already contemplating the need for radically different routines, including transit systems with limits on occupancy for trains and buses. That could require staggered shifts for millions of workers.

I don’t know that it’s going to be possible to have rush hours,” said Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates commuter trains to and from Manhattan.*

There really is only one practical way to address the resulting congestion, whether on trains, buses, roads or sidewalks.

Don’t have rush hour.  Flatten that traffic curve.

If in the short term, there’s going to be a net increase in driving, the best case would be a redistribution of traffic across the day and across the network.  Yes, it could in theory be done by road and transit pricing connected to apps that allow people to make informed decisions, adjusted as needed to flatten whatever peaks emerge (somewhat like flattening the covid curve to make sure hospitals are not overwhelmed).

But that assumes a social and political consensus (and the technology) to intervene, to rethink our priorities, make radical changes in how we live our lives, manage our transportation systems and respond to the previously unimaginable. A very unlikely scenario.

Except we just did.


*Why the Path to Reopening New York City Will Be So Difficult


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Finally – over a hundred days into the covid era – a city leader has articulated an initiative for “Reallocation of Road Space to Support Shared Use during Pandemic”.   Lisa Dominato but forward the following notice of motion, bumped to May 12 for discussion.


  1. The City of Vancouver declared a local state of emergency on March 19, 2020 in response to the global COVID19 pandemic;
  1. The Province has recommended physical distancing of 2 metres (6 feet) to prevent the spread of COVID19;
  1. The Province has also recommended the public continue to safely enjoy the outdoors, including local parks and public spaces;
  1. The Provincial health officer has commented publicly in recent weeks that partial street closures and one way travel/routing can be an effective way to enable physical exercise and safe distancing during the pandemic;
  1. Cities across Canada and around the world are undertaking measures to reallocate street space and roadways for pedestrians to safely exercise, access businesses and employment, while maintaining a safe distance due to the current pandemic;
  1. Vancouver City Council has previously endorsed motions to support slower residential streets and encourage safer shared use;
  1. The City of Vancouver and Park Board recently identified congestion in and around Stanley Park, and subsequently closed the Stanley Park roadway to cars and one lane along Beach Avenue to enable safe physical distancing during the COVID19 pandemic;
  1. The City of Vancouver has initiated a street reallocation initiative that focuses on Room to Queue, Room to Load, and Room to Move during the COVID19 pandemic;
  1. The ongoing pandemic necessitates that the City reallocate road space on an urgent basis now and develop plans for mobility and space use as part of our post-COVID-19 recovery and new economy.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council direct staff to expedite efforts to identify and implement appropriate reallocations of road space, such as high use greenways and streets adjacent to parks where space could be reallocated temporarily to enable safe shared use (pedestrians, cyclists, motor vehicles) and support safe physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic response, and

FURTHER THAT Council direct staff to communicate information to the public and businesses regarding the suite of street measures available to the City for reallocating space to support access to local businesses, to support loading and curbside pick-up, and to support physical activity and distancing in neighbourhoods across the city, and

FURTHER THAT Council direct staff to report back to Council in fall 2020 on refined options for mobility and public realm use us as part of the post COVID19 recovery and new economy.

Note No. 8 in the Whereas’s.  Had any readers heard of a City of Vancouver street reallocation initiative that focuses on “Room to Queue, Room to Load, and Room to Move”?  Nothing was sent to Price Tags (perhaps too low below the horizon) – nor has much been said of note from the City’s leaders, particularly the Mayor. 

What a lost opportunity to reinforce other initiatives promoted by the City: reallocation as a health response, a climate-emergency response, a local-neighbourhood planning response, an active-transportation response – all of the above at a time when the difficult-to-do has become the necessary-to-do.  (Speaking of which, one would hardly think it necessary to direct staff “to communicate information to the public and businesses regarding the suite of street measures available …”)

Lisa’s motion more importantly goes beyond the immediate pandemic: she sees reallocation as important to a recovery- and new-economy response.

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This is what Beach Avenue looked like at 3 pm on Friday afternoon – May 1:

Here’s the video: Beach Flow May 1

The vehicles and the bikes pass by each other on either side of the cones, about the in same number.  They both pass by in informal pelatons – clustering in groups that go about the same speed.  Each member feels comfortable, the speed seems right, there’s enough space.  That’s flow.


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