New Mobility
May 20, 2020

Free Webinar ~The Neuroscience of Walkability with America Walks

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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CNU – the Congress for the New Urbanism – has just provided an extensive list of cities that have transformed underutilzed streets with little traffic into temporary pedestrian and bicycle thoroughfares, shared streets, bikeways, expanded sidewalks, and outdoor eating.

“Although these projects are temporary, they may lead to permanent changes in cities, Mike Lydon (of Street Plans Collaborative) said in a recent Smart Growth America presentation.

There are seven types of projects.

Here’s one:

Temporary bikeways. There is a huge surge of bicycling worldwide because people are avoiding buses and trains … and many cities are adding temporary bikeways.

Examples include Berlin, Germany; New York City, Paris, France: Auckland, New Zealand; Mexico City; Budapest, Hungary; Brampton, Ontario.

The article lists cities from around the world, as well as extensive references to other ones in the U.S. and Canada.  Except one.  One city is notable by its absence.


When Brampton gets listed and we don’t, that is embarrassing.


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Commissioner of New York City Parks Mitchell Silver sends  this unique approach to maintain physical distancing while sunning in Brooklyn’s Domino Park. This park is located on an artificial turf field next to a former sugar factory that was located on the East River.

The six foot diameter circles were occupied on a sunny Saturday with people sitting on nearby benches hoping to scoop up a circle should one be vacated.

As the New York Post observes, the new painted circles are being called “human parking spots”  and despite the dystopia of lying in painted circles on the ground, everyone adjusted to the required physical circle distancing quite well.

The physical distancing circles were in place to limit park capacity as outlined by Mayor de Blasio for the weekend.

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America Walks is offering a free webinar entitled :Research in Action: Trends in How Municipalities Are Addressing Increased Demand for Safe Public Space.

Learn about the various strategies communities are implementing in response to increased demands for safe public space for walking and cycling during the COVID19 crisis.

Researchers at UNC’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center will present on their  effort to collect and analyze data on these strategies in order to identify community-based factors related to their adoption, impacts, long-term viability, and potential unintended consequence.

Tools for collecting pedestrian data in all communities will be presented and a range of possible indicators and creative indirect measures of pedestrian activity will be explored.

Attendees will be invited via instant polling to contribute to this ongoing research by sharing observations and opinions about the changing demands on public space in your community:

Are space considerations a significant issue in your community?
What is your experience in sharing public space and social distancing?
How safe are you feeling?
What feedback are you hearing from others in your community about what’s working (or not working for them)?

Presenters will also share suggestions for creative approaches attendees can use to estimate the impacts of COVID19 on walking conditions and pedestrian activity in their communities. Join us and become a citizen scientist for helping us all understand the many ways that COVID19-induced stay-at-home orders and social distancing are changing the way we use public space.

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We’re well-trained: Keep six feet of separation – or two meters, the length of a bicycle, two extended arms, three steps back.   The length may not be that specific, but the point is: keep your distance.

But unfortunately, mass transit doesn’t work well with that instruction. Buses and trains never contemplated such a parameter.  Like restaurants at half capacity, some things just aren’t viable. Without occasional crowding, mass transit doesn’t have the mass.

Daily Hive

Unfortunately, fear and failure of transit will likely lead to another form of crowding – traffic congestion.   How soon and how much is still not clear – too many variables. It’s even possible that car use may not come back to previous levels.

But if it becomes clear that we have no choice – get back on transit in serious numbers or the region can’t function – then the challenge isn’t so much a technical one; it’s to  overcome this message:


Yet another ask of Dr Henry: under what conditions can we ignore that sign?

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Gordon Price and I have been discussing how internationally cities are responding to the Covid-19 lock-downs by making it easier for residents to physically distance the required two meters or six feet while using city streets and spaces.  These cities have also strategized how best to support businesses in their staged and in some places staggered reopenings. Key to supporting local businesses is making citizens comfortable in walking or cycling to shops and services, and designing the areas where consumers have to wait for their physically distanced time in stores comfortable and convenient.

One example of a Mayor and Council that are adjusting to the new normal and getting it done is the City of London Great Britain. There Mayor Sadiq Khan recognizes that the post Covid-19 recovery, single vehicle use and the challenges of physical distancing is “the biggest challenge to London’s public transport network in Transport for London’s history”.

Matthew Taylor in the Guardian writes about London’s struggle to keep the numbers of people using public transport down  for physical distancing.  London also has to  insure that public transit journeys are not replaced with car usage which would create congestion and increase air pollution.

London’s answer is to repurpose roads for walking, cycling and transit only as the Covid-19 lockdown is lifted, with one of the biggest car-free initiatives in the world. Private vehicles and trucks are also being banned from several bridges. Work on the plan implementation has already begun, and will be completed in six weeks. As well, the congestion charge for any vehicle accessing central London will increase from 11.50 pounds (20 Canadian dollars) to 15 pounds(25 Canadian dollars)  per trip.

That is what a municipal  co-ordinated approach looks like addressing how cities can thrive in post pandemic times. But that verve, the ability for Council to  assist businesses and citizens in a time of crisis is lacking in Vancouver. Gordon Price wrote about Council’s lack of enthusiasm in this article. It was noted journalist Daphne Bramham who so cogently stated the following in the Vancouver Sun:

“Vancouver  was not designed with physical distancing in mind. “Even with most businesses shut down, pedestrians have been forced to dodge into traffic lanes to get around line-ups outside groceries, pharmacies and liquor stores.

There are also challenges for citizens using regular walking and cycling routes for accessing shops and services or getting exercise. “Sidewalks on even the major bridges are too narrow for pedestrians to comfortably keep their distance. The seawalls and Arbutus Greenway are also too narrow and have no barriers between cyclists and pedestrians.”

While we do have great staff at city hall that can flexibly meld a post pandemic city for physical distancing, policy to do so must come from Council. The current Council is nearly half way through their four year mandate. Each Councillor comes with closely held social values. But being on Council means teaming to represent what is needed for the city as a whole, not  individual personal value sets. That means working together to approve badly needed policy and to show unified respect, care and attention to provide the concerted recovery direction businesses and citizens  so badly need. It’s leadership.

While Council last week agreed to expand Covid related outdoor restaurant seating, there’s no urgent turnaround on that information for opening businesses that require that assistance now. In terms of expanding streets for walking and cycling, Daphne Bramham notes that this was not even voted on, “because three council members didn’t agree to continue meeting past 10 p.m. and extending the sitting hours requires a unanimous vote.”  

These are not normal times. Leadership is needed to nimbly  provide a post pandemic plan for  opening businesses to thrive, and for returning consumers to feel  safe and comfortable.

Kirk Lapointe in Business In Vancouver identifies post pandemic plans as starting right at the sidewalk. “The contemplation of cities like Vancouver about extending restaurants and some retailers into the streets to give them a fighting chance of generating a business amid social distancing is a no-brainer. Should have been approved weeks, months, years ago. They serve as staples of a neighbourhood’s identity, and in this crisis, they are a threatened breed that the species cannot afford to lose.”

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How Is Grandma Really Doing? Caring for Elders in Our Community
Join us and be part of a conversation about the ways we care for our elders.

The impact of COVID-19 on seniors and elders has revealed how our communities support them and, in some ways, have failed them. Indigenous, South Asian and other communities have prioritized their elders and have taken great strides to honour and protect them during COVID-19. At the same time, daily news briefings tell us of outbreaks in care facilities and gaps in the care our elders are receiving. What can we learn from different communities’ approaches and how can we all do better at bridging generation gaps?

The pandemic has shone a spotlight on where our mainstream gaps are, how we as a society care about and care for our older generations, and where we need to improve. What are we learning about our care systems right now, and how do we incorporate improvements going forward?

Special Guests:

Isobel Mackenzie, Provincial Seniors Advocate
Andrew Wister, Director, SFU Gerontology Research Centre
Tony Robinson, Executive Director, Nisga’a Ts’amiks Vancouver Society
Alison Silgardo, Chief Executive Officer, Seniors Services Society of BC
Anthony Kupferschmidt, West End Seniors’ Network
Nimrita Bains, Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society
The event will include breakout conversations where we will invite you to share your thoughts with fellow participants and guests.

When Thursday, May 21, 2020

12:00 – 1:15 PM


Online Event
A link and password to join the event will be sent to registrants via Eventbrite.

You can access free tickets here.


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Sandy James and I were both struck by Daphne Bramham’s recent column in The Sun.  She asked the question many have been wondering:

By the end of May, Seattle will have permanently banned cars from more than 30 kilometres of city streets, making permanent a temporary response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s imperative that people maintain physical distance.

In Vancouver? The city has closed a single street — Beach Avenue along English Bay — and parking lanes on 10 streets to allow space for people to wait to enter the few stores that are open. …

While other jurisdictions have acted boldly and swiftly, Vancouver council’s pandemic response has been slow and muddled.

It’s true, there’s not a lot of overt enthusiasm from Council on reallocating street space, even when it seems to be a win-win-win: good for local community, climate change, active transport and good health.  Council is supportive of all that, of course; they’re just not rah-rah.  Maybe it’s too Visiony, too associated with different politics and priorities. Urban design is not the Mayor’s forte.

It’s not that Council has failed to articulate its ambition.  With recognition of a climate emergency and the approval of Six Big Moves, Council committed to accelerating things we coincidentally need to do now to respond to the covid emergency.  Here’s what they moved just one year ago:

That Council accelerate the existing sustainable transportation target by 10 years, so that by 2030, two thirds of trips in Vancouver will be by active transportation and transit …

The pandemic response seemed the obvious time to compress that 10-year commitment into a month.  And it looked, briefly, that the City and Park Board were on their way.  In what seemed like a weekend (but must have involved a lot of preliminary planning), Park Drive in Stanley Park and Beach Avenue were turned into flow ways with cones, signs and not much consultation.

But in the weeks that followed, except for a few queuing lanes in commercial zones … not much.

As Daphne noted, that required ignoring a lot of what was happening in the rest of the world.

All through March and April, city after city announced a slow or open street strategy of some kind.  From Oakland to Milan, from Edmonton to Seattle, Vancouver was practically surrounded by ambitious plans and responses.  Yet in that time, no enthusiastic embrace from the Mayor of Vancouver, even when the mayors of Toronto and New York, after initial tepid responses, came back with more ambitious agendas for immediate action.  Not Vancouver.

Little response emerged from City Hall until late April when, surprisingly*, NPA councillor Lisa Dominato came forward with a call for action – and a motion to instruct staff to do two big things:

  • Expedite identifying and implementing reallocations of road space
  • Come back in the fall 2020 with options for mobility and public realm use.

The motion made it on to the agenda on Tuesday, May 12, with a briefing before the final vote expected on Wednesday.  CBC reported:

At Wednesday’s city council meeting, conducted via conference call, senior Vancouver staffers mapped out a vision for “short-term actions for long-term transformations” of city streets in response to the health crisis.

The coming weeks will see 50 kilometres of Vancouver roads designated as “slow streets” with traffic-calming measures to promote walking, rolling and cycling, while other side streets could be closed to car traffic altogether to make way for temporary plazas.

An easy vote, one would think – an opportunity for Council to reinforce the city’s leadership in sustainable transportation.  Vancouver has been a world leader in what are now called complete, open or slow streets – from the traffic calming in the 1970s, to the greenways and bikeways of the 1990s, to the reallocation of street space on bridges and arterials in the 2000s.  We had the experience, the staff and the political will – and here was a chance for the Mayor and Council to make their mark.

Instead, when the motion finally came up for debate, hours were taken up addressing the issue in the Downtown East Side, a neighbourhood that,

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Traffic went effectively overnight to nothing at all.   Didn’t expect that.

But what now?  Will it return to previous levels – maybe even drop a little, given that so much else has changed, from working at home to not working at all.

Or will a significant percent of people, fearful of transit, take their cars and compete for the remaining space.  Result: congestion city.

In this real-time experiment we now live in, we can watch from day to day to see what happens.  For instance, here’s the Causeway on Friday, May 15 in the afternoon.

Better yet, check the video.

Then take a guess as to which way it’s going to go.


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