May 3, 2021

Jaywalking in Canada: How Street Shaming Tamed Pedestrians

“If one lives in the Canadian Pacific port and has not heard the term “jaywalker” then he or she can claim a particular merit as a law abiding citizen” the 1918 Vancouver Sun proclaimed.

The word Jaywalker appears to have originated in Kansas around 1907 where a newspaper article talked about jay walkers and jay drivers, with the word jay meaning a “greenhorn or a rube’, someone who was unsophisticated, poor, or a simpleton”.  

A jaywalker described someone who was “stupid by crossing the street in an unsafe place or way, or some country person visiting the city who wasn’t used to the rules of the road”. You can take a look a this work by Peter Norton that outlines the history behind making vehicle drivers more important than pedestrians in the United States.

In Canada the term “jaywalker” first appears in the 1913 Ottawa Citizen and is described as being “invented for the pedestrian who steps out carelessly to cross the street without looking for approaching vehicles. It is jay-walker and is a fit companion for “joy-rider”. 

It is a disparaging definition, assigning guilt and lawlessness to the most vulnerable road user, the person without a vehicle.

In Canada it appears that  Vancouver is the place where jaywalking  is  first identified and scorned. The Montreal Gazette in August 1918  had an article entitled “The Jaywalker”, and identified that  a “peculiar expression that had arisen in Vancouver”.  The article then describes a jaywalker as someone who crosses the street but not at the intersection and that rules to make persons cross at intersections had fallen into “innocuous desuetude”. The article then points out that in the United States not crossing the street correctly proclaims “himself to be a foreigner”.

As most of these historic newspaper articles are behind a paywall, I have posted them on my twitter feed if you want to read them as they were written.

In doing a deep dive into jaywalking, there are over 40 references to jaywalking in Vancouver papers before 1920. When you think of that time, vehicles could be driven on streets without insurance and a licence, and were seen as an example of a new age of industrious progress.

Early Vancouver newspapers describe crashes with pedestrians as  “collided” incidents, and then usually listed all of the fractures resulting for the victim. Vehicles had long blind spots in front of them, could not brake well, and there was no conformity of all to travel, signal, or behave on the road.

It was truly the wild west, and thousands of people, many who were children were dying on city streets. In 1928 28 pedestrians died in Vancouver,  72 were injured, and there were 10,500 crashes.

In 1930  40 people died on Vancouver roads.

Car manufacturers needed to sell vehicles and conformity was needed to ensure that vehicles could be operated on the street without pedestrian interruption.

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(Click title for videos.)

Buskers are quickly discovering that the 800 Block is the best place to perform in the city – quiet, spacious, lots of seating and a receptive audience.

This performer perfectly captured the mood of the day (add his name, if anyone knows), using the square like a stage.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Art Gallery, a performance of another kind altogether:

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And it was only April 1:

From the New York Times:

The research, published online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that in cities where bike infrastructure was added, cycling had increased up to 48 percent more than in cities that did not add bike lanes. …

But in public transit research, the effect of adding bike lanes is a matter of debate.

“It’s like a chicken and egg problem,” said Mr. Kraus, a doctoral candidate in economics at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin. “There can be this reverse causality that, actually, if you have a lot of cyclists, they will demand better infrastructure, and it’s not really the infrastructure that creates more cycling.” …

Bicycles, unlike cars, do not emit greenhouse gases. Matthew Raifman, a doctoral student in environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health, found in a separate study that investments in infrastructure for cycling and walking more than paid for themselves once the health benefits were taken into account. …

“There’s indications from mobility behavior research that as soon as you find another way of getting around, then you might actually stick to it,” Mr. Kraus said. “So I’m confident that if you keep the infrastructure, that people will continue cycling.”

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Jack (Hans-Jurgen) Becker


Jack Becker was one of the generation that with vision and determination laid the foundations for the cycling city that Vancouver is today.   He was meticulous in his planning whether for cycling expeditions with his partner Jean or in the many submissions he would make for the planning of the projects and proposals that shaped this city and region – the Canada Line, the Gateway Project, the City of Vancouver Capital Plan.

He was a Director and Past President of the British Columbia Cycling Coalition, founding member of the Sustainable Transportation Coalition and Canada Bikes, and director of Bike to Work BC.  He was a director of the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition and member of the City of Vancouver Bicycle Advisory Committee (the HUB).  When he lived in Toronto, he was the co-chair of the Toronto Cycling Committee.  Cycling was his primary mode of transportation.

When you cycle in this city today, you are to no small extent cycling in Jack’s world.

Our sympathy and condolences to Jean and Jack’s many friends and colleagues.



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The Daily Hive has posted renderings of the proposed SkyTrain stations along the Broadway line.  What a disappointment for such highly public infrastructure that will be with us for generations – especially compared to its predecessors along the Millennium Line (right), whether exterior or interior.

Budgets?  Surely if there’s a place to spend money on bold design, it’s for such public places.  Especially when compared to other cities of similar size like Stockholm that aspire to high urban quality.

The stations on the whole aspire to nothing more than the mediocrity of the Canada Line – another disappointment that was rationalized by budgetary limitations and an urgent deadline.


Seriously?  This looks more like a rendering to illustrate the volume into which the actual building must fit.*

The Urinal School of Interior Design.  (At least there will be public restrooms in the stations.)

Not sure what the red boxes are for – but that is literally the only colour in any of the renderings other than the signage.

This is surely the greatest disappointment: the station that will serve one of the pre-eminent art and design schools in Canada.

We can only hope the students will rebel against the blandness and use the spaces for some guerilla artistic urbanism:

Yes, there is art to come in all the stations – but that is no excuse to treat the architecture itself as a blank palette.


*Update: Andy Coupland in the Comments below notes that, indeed, that is pretty much just a volume rendering, representing the building that will rise above.  The station, however, seems fittingly mediocre.

Update: A friend noted that this is not just about aesthetics.

Are all the stations going to be the same design with an identical colour/material palette? Not only will that be banal but it will also make for an orientation challenge with six identical-looking stations in sequence, and possibly 10 to 12 when it gets to UBC.

A commenter mentioned Toronto’s original stations as a negative example but at least they varied the tile colours to assist in station recognition and orientation. Are we going to start off not having even learned the importance of that? Canada Line is repetitive but at least it has a variety of side, centre and stacked-platform stations, so that helps orientation, even subconsciously, despite the bland materials and poor signage.


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A few weeks ago, BC Cycling Coalition board member Peter Ladner got an op-ed in The Sun on that perennial bike-path irritant – Kitsilano Park.

What is it about cycling through Kits Park that triggers neighbourhood “uprisings,” talk-show vitriol, and a bully mob that scared the Park Board from making a decision in 2018? …

This westside flashpoint has somehow become a blinking red light slowing down cyclist safety in other parks. Fearful trepidation about creating a permanent bike lane through Stanley Park is just one echo of the Kits Park blockade, even as the evidence is screaming “these changes work.”

To be fair, the Vancouver Park Board is promising to build a safe cycling route through Kits Park a year from now, amid election jitters. That’s almost 10 years after earlier plans were shouted down by a group best described as the Hadden Park Defence Militia (officially the Kits Point Residents Association). Yet park board staff and elected park board officials — including the green-professing majority — are still terrified of this group, continuing to hold the city’s exploding numbers of pandemic-driven cyclists hostage to its anti-cycling demands. …

That provocative reference to the Kits Point Residents Association was guaranteed to provoke a response – and so it did.  But maybe not what was expected from a group with a notorious NIMBY reputation from years ago. They want to be on the record as ready to help ‘close the gap’:

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If you are on Southwest Marine Drive near Balaclava, you may have seen Anne Bruinn  doing wonderful things to transform space and also give a giggle to anyone passing by in a bike lane,  on transit, or a vehicle.

Ms. Bruinn scoured Craigslist and looked to recreate the Central Perk studio set from the television show Friends.

As written by Lasia Kretzel and Monika Gul for News 1130 there’s an outside living room set up on the boulevard, and of course there is the “Central Perk” coffee sign.

And she’s invited other people to come and sit down on the replica couches from that famous show, realizing that with pandemic restrictions people are not going into other people’s houses. Ms. Bruinn wins the coveted Price Tags STAR Award for “Seeing Trouble and Responding”.

“Friends gives me good feelings, and I wanted a set that made people happy, and makes you smile.And as long as I’m out there, I’m available. So just come at your convenience, stop in have a coffee. Need anything, I’m here. lf you would just went for a jog down by the river and you’re dying of thirst here I’ve got a bubbly for you. Or, have a seat and have a chat or whatever you need.”

Ms. Bruinn is a published author and writes in a popular blog called “Contests”.

She has been performing on the boulevard for a while, dressing as American Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders with the famous crossed mittens and as a dinosaur.

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It’s been a while since the Massey Tunnel replacement debate surfaced again and kudos to Sandor Gyarmati with the Delta Optimist for keeping up on this slowly evolving story.

During the pandemic there’s been changes in commuting patterns. A survey done by pollster Mario Canseco suggests that up to 73 percent of people expect to do some work from home even after the pandemic is over.

A recent survey undertaken by McKinsey in the United Kingdom reported in The Economist estimates that 20 to 25 percent  of workers in full time traditional  “at the office” positions will work three to five days a week at home. This will impact commuting traffic patterns, for transit and for single occupant vehicles.

With the existing tunnel there are short term congestion remediation measures that could be undertaken, like keeping trucks out of the tunnel during peak commuting times, advertising and implementing rapid bus service during those peak times, and offering incentives to people who commute by transit.

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I have the pleasure of moderating what is, for me, an unusual panel.  It focuses on the fast-growing suburban municipalities in Metro Vancouver who will shape our future more than, perhaps, the City of Vancouver, and it also includes planners from Seattle – our southern neighbour with whom we rarely talk over our border fence.

Join an expert panel consisting of planning experts from Surrey, Delta, Maple Ridge and Seattle to get the inside scoop on how land-use plans, development and growth will occur around transit nodes in local municipalities and abroad.

No one knows what the future of the post-pandemic city will be like but we do know where we’re headed.  Transit decisions have been made to help inform land-use, municipalities and investment interests have their plans, and there’s enough consensus to proceed. Come to learn where the growth will take place and how things will unfold.

Featured Panel:

May 6, 2021

12:00 PM – 1:15 PM PDT

Register Now

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Ah yes, the Miami Beach of English Bay: Ocean Towers.


From Changing Vancouver:

The design – seen in the 1960s on the left – represented a dramatic break from the early 1950s zoning of the West End, which allowed eight-storey buildings, many of which (like the Sylvia) were built to meet that limit. Buildings could theoretically go higher if they were thinner, and this tower is very skinny from north to south, but almost a full block east to west.

While the ‘Miami modernist’ look was admired by some, the scale of the building and its effect on the buildings behind made it few friends. It was opposed by the Town Planning Commission, the city’s Technical Planning Board, the Vancouver Housing Authority and the Community Arts Council. Council approved it anyway, but the perceived negative impact of this building and a few others built in the same era ensured they would be the last.

Design guidelines required narrower buildings with space between them when later residential areas were planned, and new towers added to the West End. That’s still true today, as the experience of this tower continues to determine tower design not just in the city of Vancouver, but throughout Metro Vancouver. 

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