All posts by Sandy James

Want to Boost Retail Sales? Add in Walking and Cycling Facilities


Of course it makes intuitive sense that active transportation users and bus commuters would frequent retail businesses more often than those constrained by  vehicles. But it is always better to have the hard facts on this data, and researchers in the City of London England have done just that.

Transport for London (TfL)  in Great Britain has released a new study  with some staggering statistics about what happens when street improvements are made to facilitate walking and cycling. Time spent on retail streets increased by 216% between shopping, patronizing local cafes and sitting on street benches. Retail space vacancies declined by 17%.  London’s Business Improvement Districts are 90% in favour of more street improvements to facilitate pedestrians, and 85% in favour of better facilities for cyclists.

But the best news, and this is also in line with research conducted in Toronto and in New York City “people walking, cycling and using public transport spend the most in their local shops, spending 40% more each month than car drivers”.

The study for TfL was conducted by a researcher at University College London’s Bartlett School of Planning. Footfall and retail sales in unimproved areas were compared to shopping areas that had implemented improvements such as wider sidewalks, increased outdoor seating, public parks and pedestrian crossings.  Findings showed that retail rents  increased by 7% in improved areas, and office space rents increased by 4%, suggesting that the street improvements translated into much more desirable spaces. You can download the entire report, which also has some great business case references for retail areas  here.

Local business improvement districts in London are also understanding the benefits of increased pedestrian and cycling clientele, with 90% seeing the advantages of pedestrian improvements and 85% wanting more cycling facilities in their area.

Will Norman, London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner, said: ‘With businesses across London really struggling to survive, we have to do everything we can to support them.‘The evidence is clear – adapting our streets to enable more people to walk and cycle makes them cleaner, healthier and more welcoming, which encourages more people to shop locally.‘The benefits of designing streets around pedestrians and cyclists and reducing car use can be enjoyed by everyone and will help ensure the future of our high streets.’

And of course, more pedestrians and more cyclists on separated facilities, improved street design and slower speeds make roads safer and encourage travel to retail businesses by active transport, and make retailers more money.  This BBC video below talks about Vision Zero and how to make the streets of London safer for everyone.

Why SUVs are Pedestrian Killing Machines


You can forget about reducing vehicular emissions, a major source of climate change, if we can’t change our habits. As the International Energy Agency has stated while there are 350 plus of different electric models of vehicles planned in the next five years, only 7 percent of all automobiles will be electric by 2030.  Around the world sales of internal combustion engine vehicles (ICE) have fallen 2 percent, the first reduction in ten years. Surprisingly China and India have had substantial declines in the purchase of ICE vehicles, by 14 percent and 10 percent respectively.

The real challenge~and you see it in marketing everywhere~is the ICE motor vehicle manufacturers peddling of their darling, the SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle)  built on a truck frame that gets around car regulations due to its truck platform. These SUVs are killing machines, and along with trucks represent 60 percent of all vehicle purchases and directly responsible for a 46 percent increase of pedestrian deaths. As well, drivers of SUVs are 11 percent more likely to die in an accident.

Automakers advertise the SUV’s as safe rolling dens for drivers, and there are now globally 200 million SUVs, up from 35 million ten years ago. Sales of SUVs have also doubled in a decade.

The numbers are staggering~half of all vehicles sold in the United States are SUVs, and in gas conscious Europe, one-third of all purchases are for SUVs.

And they have an appeal. “In China, SUVs are considered symbols of wealth and status. In India, sales are currently lower, but consumer preferences are changing as more and more people can afford SUVs. Similarly, in Africa, the rapid pace of urbanisation and economic development means that demand for premium and luxury vehicles is relatively strong.”

Given that 25 percent of global oil goes to vehicular consumption, and the related CO2 emissions, “The global fleet of SUVs has seen its emissions growing by nearly 0.55 Gt CO2 during the last decade to roughly 0.7 Gt CO2. As a consequence, SUVs were the second-largest contributor to the increase in global CO2 emissions since 2010 after the power sector, but ahead of heavy industry (including iron & steel, cement, aluminium), as well as trucks and aviation.”

SUV’s slurp up 25 percent more energy than a mid-sized vehicle, and even with more efficient smaller vehicles being purchased SUVs are “responsible” for the 3.3 million barrels a day growth in global oil in the last eight years. As the IEA states

“If consumers’ appetite for SUVs continues to grow at a similar pace seen in the last decade, SUVs would add nearly 2 million barrels a day in global oil demand by 2040, offsetting the savings from nearly 150 million electric cars.”

And that is crucial. SUVs because of their bulk and weight are challenging to convert to electricity, and automakers are cranking these out, to the detriment of more efficient vehicular options.  The ICE age is not over. The  role of the SUV in increasing oil demand and contributing to CO2 emissions must be  taken seriously. Driving an ICE operated SUV should  be understood to be  a crime to the environment and to clean air futures.

What will it take to educate automakers and prospective SUV customers that the ICE age needs to be over?

You can take a look at the YouTube video below that sells a Chevy Blazer SUV as a “piece of candy” and a  “sexy mom” car.

Our Christmas Wish~Public Washrooms Near All Transit Stations


We have been wondering why Metro Vancouver’s TransLink does not have a system of continuous public internet along the system, and why there are no washrooms, because it is a human need and everyone needs access to washrooms. We have been exploring  those issues for some time.

TransLink has now announced that free access to internet service is coming, and will be offered on SkyTrain, the SeaBus and on transit.

As the Vancouver Sun noted there had been cut and paste internet service offered at SeaBus terminals and on the SeaBus, but service was not extended beyond these locations. Working with Shaw the idea is to provide uniform service across the transit network, with the proviso that such coverage will take six years to be completely implemented. And yes, you will be able to access the internet even if you are not a Shaw customer. Trials will start next year, and the complete internet coverage of the public transportation system is said to the first in Canada.

And to make matters even more comfortable and convenient, the TransLink Board of Directors has approved the development of a strategy to provide washrooms on the system “over the longer term”. As reported in the Daily Hive  “The preferred method is to provide washroom facilities in partnership with third-party parties to maximize customer experience and maximize safety and security while also minimizing costs and risks.”

It’s no surprise that  TransLink found  that 72% of those surveyed said washrooms would make the transit experience better, with 20% actually admitting that they limited their trips around the need to use washroom facilities. And fully 25 percent said they’d use transit service more and longer if washroom access was provided.

An implementation strategy for washrooms will provide the missing link of washroom comfort and convenience. Coupled with universal internet coverage, TransLink is now becoming a system that is truly  accessible and attractive for all users. It’s a pretty perfect Christmas wish fulfilment.

We just can’t wait.


The Walkable Block & the Legacy of Vancouver’s Davis Family

John Davis Jr. with Pat Davis

It seems only fitting in the month with “British Columbia Day” in this province that we celebrate the remarkable Davis family and Pat Davis who passed away last week.  This family made their street a walkable wonder.

Over a period of five decades the Davis Family stewarded a group of Edwardian and Victorian  houses on Mount Pleasant’s  100 block of West Tenth Avenue just east of city hall, restoring them. At the time in the late 70’s and early 80’s renovating old houses and fitting them with rental units was not the thing to do. The Davis family fought pressure to turn their houses into a cash crop of three-story walk-ups  on their street, and proudly display a plaque indicating that their restoration work was done with no governmental assistance of any kind.

But more than maintaining a group of heritage houses that described the rhythm and feel of an earlier Vancouver,  the Davis family extended their interest and stewardship to the street. In the summer a painted bicycle leans on a tree near the sidewalk with the bicycle basket full of flowers~in season there is a wheelbarrow to delight passersby full of  blooming plants. An adirondack chair perches near the sidewalk. And every morning, one of the Davis family was out sweeping the sidewalk and ensuring that no garbage was on the boulevards or the street.

As author and artist Michael Kluckner notes the Davis Family’s stewardship profoundly altered the way city planning was managed in Mount Pleasant. As one of the oldest areas of the city with existing Victorian houses, zoning was developed to maintain the exterior form and add rental units within the form. The first laneway houses in the city, called “carriage houses” were designed for laneway access and to increase density on the lots. And when it came time for a transportation management plan, residents threw out the City engineer’s recommendations and designed their own. That plan is still being used today.

John Davis Senior passed away in the 1980’s but his wife Pat and his sons John and Geoff maintained the houses and managed the rentals. Michael Kluckner in an earlier Price Tags post described the Davis Family as being strongly in the tradition of social and community common sense.

They championed street lighting for Tenth Avenue, with the street’s residents  choosing (and partially paying for) a heritage type of lighting standard. The City’s engineer at the time thought that the residents of Tenth Avenue would never pick a light standard that they would have to pay for . The City’s engineer was wrong.

Pat Davis also single handedly changed the way that street trees were trimmed by B.C. Hydro. When I was working in the planning department I received a call from B.C. Hydro indicating that trimming work on the Tenth Avenue large street trees had to be halted due an intervention from Mrs. Pat Davis. Pat was horrified that hydro crews were cutting back street trees down to their joins (called “crotch dropping”) to ensure that hydro wiring was not compromised. A spritely senior, Pat Davis had taken the car keys away from  B.C. Hydro personnel  and refused to give them back until the hydro crew agreed to leave.

A subsequent report to Council led to B.C. Hydro agreeing to raise the electrical wires passing through the street trees, so that the trees could maintain their natural form. That is now city policy.

You can read more about the Davis family and the Tenth Avenue houses in this article by CBC’s Rafferty Baker. You can also read Pat Davis’ obituary here.  The Davis family demonstrates the “varied talent” of good community that Jane Jacobs passionately describes.  Pat Davis and her stewardship will be greatly missed.

The Importance of Tenji Tactile Blocks


Do you know who Seiichi Miyake is? With many thanks to City of North Vancouver councillor Tony Valente for passing this #Googledoodle along about Mr. Miyake and the incredible contribution he made for sight impaired people.

In 1965 Mr. Miyake who is an engineer developed “Tenji” or tactile blocks to warn vision impaired people where to stand when trying to board trains. His invention has been adopted globally and is part of the sidewalk and public realm in many countries. As well theTenji blocks are known as “truncated domes”, “tactile warning surfaces”, “detectable warning tiles”  and “tactile pavement.” 

They all describe the same invention which are a “signal to stop or go” writes Jessica McBride at The first installation was on this day in  Japan in 1967 on a street near the Okayama School for the Blind. Japan embraced the tactile blocks at all railway stations within a few years of the development of the blocks.

Since 80 percent of sight impaired people have some vision, the blocks can also guide as they are a different colour from the surrounding pavement surfaces.

The YouTube video below provides a brief history on Mr. Miyake’s invention and also explores its application globally.

Data Says Building Walkability Saves Lives


There’s more evidence about the importance of creating walkable communities in a new study that was reported in The British Medical Journal. While cities strive to have goals such as bus stops within a ten minute walk of every residence, research undertaken by Dr. Bo Xi, at Shandong University’s School of Public Health illustrates that walking to the stop may actually be extending transit passengers’ lives. writes that  researchers found that walking, dancing or even gardening for “10 minutes to an hour per week was associated with an 18-percent lower risk of death compared to people who did nothing.”

It is no surprise that people who did even more gentle exercise like walking half an hour a day or 150 minutes a week as a minimum had a 34 percent lower death risk. And there was good news for seniors aging in place in their communities~strokes and heart attack risk fell  by 12 percent with moderate exercise.

Sampling data came from the annual National Health Interview Surveys in the United States. Looking at figures for the years from 1997 to 2008, the amount of activity of over 80,000 people was estimated, and then linked to registered death data up to the end of 2011. The researchers used figures collected through the surveys between 1997 and 2008 to estimate the activity levels of 88,140 people aged 40 to 85, and linked that data with registered deaths  until the end of 2011.

Here is one more reason to reboot communities to have walkable shops and services to keep residents healthy and connected.


Toronto Mayor Pledges to Get Tough on Road Violence

Pedestrian Spadina

The Mayor of the  City of Toronto  is now talking about  instituting 30 kilometer per hour speed limits in the city.  I have written about the road carnage that is happening in Toronto where 46 pedestrians and cyclists were killed on city streets in 2018. That number increased by ten percent from 2017. Imagine~almost four people a month dying walking or cycling in the City of Toronto. The quickest way to alleviate this carnage is to slow vehicular speeds and enforce them~being crashed into by a vehicle at 50 km/h a pedestrian has a 10 percent chance of survival. Survival odds increase to 90 percent if a pedestrian is crashed into at 30 km/h.

In Oliver Moore’s article in the National Post, fingers have been pointing at Toronto Mayor John Tory who has been very conservative about addressing this road carnage. The City also instituted Vision Zero, a road safety program that should be focused on eliminating all traffic related deaths and serious injuries according to its creed. But no, in the City of Toronto they decided to only try to achieve a percentage lowering of deaths, not the complete elimination of carnage, and received much bad press about that.

The Toronto Mayor has become more proactive now looking at reducing speed limits on roads and adding more red-light cameras. He is even working on provincial acceptance of speed enforcement cameras. There is no surprise that data is showing that speeding is the culture on Toronto roads, with 20 percent of drivers travelling 10 kilometers or more over posted speeds, with some motorists driving five times faster than the limit.

With the unfortunate moniker of “Vision Zero 2.0” the mayor  has stated  “We simply have to do a better job of catching and penalizing those drivers who clearly disregard pedestrian safety and endanger others.”

Toronto, especially in Scarborough has long wide super blocks of street network that facilitates vehicular speeding and impede pedestrians from making easy crossings. As Ward Vanlaar with the Traffic Injury Research Foundation in Ottawa observed road safety used to be thought of as a transportation issue, with deaths perceived as the price to pay for “mobility”. It has been the shift towards a public health approach and the alarm raised by reports like the B.C.’s Medical Health Officer’s Report “Where the Rubber Meets the Road”that have shown that vehicular crashes are a major cause of death. And those deaths are preventable by changing road design, controlling speed, and influencing driver behaviour.

Monica Campbell, a spokesperson for Toronto Public Health, said traffic safety falls within the realm of her department.“If you invest in safer roads, safer streets, better infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians – does that reduce the burden on the healthcare system? Absolutely it does.”



These Save Lives~Why Are They Not Everywhere?



I have written before aboutleading pedestrian crossing intervals  for pedestrian crossings.  Last summer I wrote about New York City’s successful implementation of themwhich has resulted in a 40 percent decrease in pedestrian and cyclist injuries, and a decline in deaths.

It’s a very simple concept. For a nominal cost of $1,200 per intersection, crossing lights are reprogrammed to give pedestrians a seven to ten second start (in New York City) to cross the street before vehicular traffic is allowed to proceed through a crosswalk. There are over 100 of these leading pedestrian crossing intervals installed in New York City where their transportation policies prioritize the safety of walkers over vehicular movement.

Carlito Pablo in the Georgia Straight has taken a look at the City of Vancouver’s Transportation Plan that notes that 75 percent of Vancouver’s vehicular collisions with pedestrians happen at intersections. In his article he wonders why the City is not looking at implementing more of these leading pedestrian intervals to stop injuries and save lives.

“Other major North American cities have adopted a timing option for traffic signals in a bid to reduce risks for people on foot…It reinforces a pedestrian’s right of way, and makes a walker more visible.”

Pablo points out that while Vancouver has four leading pedestrian intervals installed at crossings, these are all just in the testing phase. Compare that to Toronto who is  planning for 80 of these intervals. And then there is New York City that have a whopping 2,238 leading pedestrian intervals at intersections.

NACTO, the National Association of City Transportation Officials have deemed that using these pedestrian intervals can reduce crashes by sixty percent. That is a whole lot of injuries prevented and lives saved.

Now here is what is funny about Vancouver’s slow adoption of something that has been proven to be more effective everywhere else. Vancouver’s 2012 Pedestrian Safety Study identified that the majority of crashes involving pedestrians happened at signalized intersections, even though they are less than 4 percent of all Vancouver intersections. The most common driver crash error  was turning left, with most of those drivers not yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalk when they had the right of way.

Those injuries and deaths would be substantially mitigated with a leading pedestrian interval with walkers  being given a head start to cross the street with no vehicular interference. This would also be helpful to people with accessibility issues and mobility aids who are 35 percent more likely to be crashed into while crossing. That Vancouver Pedestrian Safety Study  recommended implementing leading pedestrian intervals at intersections. That recommendation was also echoed in the City’s 2040 Transportation Plan.

You can find the City’s “pilot’ leading pedestrian interval at Davie and Burrard Streets. Last year “test” leading pedestrian intervals were implemented at  Thurlow and Pacific Streets, Granville and Smithe Streets, and Great Northern Way and Carolina Street. That is all there is in the City of Vancouver.

Respected City of Vancouver transportation engineer Winston Chou estimates that these installations have reduced pedestrian vehicular crashes by 12 to 19 percent. If that is so, what push from the public is needed to implement these at signalized intersections across the city? Kudos to Carlos Pablito for following up on the need for the universal application of the leading pedestrian interval in the City of Vancouver. Every life should matter.

Here is a YouTube video showing how the leading pedestrian interval works on a New York City intersection.

Living Near A Vancouver Greenway Keeps You Fit


The City of Vancouver’s Greenway system comprises of a network of 140 kilometers of streets that are designed for walking and biking as a priority. This was an  innovative concept that was developed by the Urban Landscape Task Force chaired by Moura Quayle  in the early 1990’s under Mayor Gordon Campbell’s leadership. The original intent was to have a greenway a 20 minute walk or a ten minute bicycle ride from every residence in Vancouver. For some reason that has changed to a 25 minute walk on the city’s website in the last couple of years. You can read a bit more about greenways at the City’s link here.

Others have been writing about the two kilometer downtown  Comox-Helmcken Greenway that links Hornby Street to Stanley Park and you can see some images here,  posted by Gordon Price when the greenway first opened in 2016. Like many things, the City has built a lot of the network, but has not undertaken any analysis of  the greenways’ effectiveness and impact on city residents~until now.

Dr. Lawrence Frank with the Health and Community Design Lab at the University of British Columbia, was commissioned to examine what health impacts urban greenways have for citizens. Asreported by the CBC  people who lived in a three hundred meter proximity to the greenway “doubled their odds of completing 20 minutes of physical activity a day, and almost halved the odds of being sedentary for nine hours a day.”

Dr. Frank’s report shows that the greenway benefits adjacent residents the most, who have a quick, safe and convenient way to travel along the greenway. Of course this also is good for public health’s bottom line, with the initial 5.5 million dollar price tag of the greenway coming back in “anticipated health cost savings“.  An earlier report by Victor Ngo from the Health and Community Design Lab also showed that there was a 21 percent GHG reduction directly attributable to the greenway.

As Dr. Frank observed “This is what’s so exciting about it…Comox cost $5.5 million, yet the anticipated health care cost savings from reduced chronic disease is likely many times greater.”

You can take a look at this YouTube video of a CBC interview on the results of the study  featuring Victor Ngo. You can find a link to the study here.

Why We Need to Start Sharing the Road Now

Design editor Lloyd Alter of Tree Hugger sums up what is truly happening in the “sharing the road” adage that is so popular these days. As Lloyd recalls in this article in  “Everyone hates everyone”. That is a pretty true statement and we have to do a better job and get that done now.

 Lloyd Alter states “Unless we start planning now and figuring out how to share the space we have equitably, in 10 years it won’t be drivers hating pedestrians hating cyclists, It will be everybody hating old people. Because we will be everywhere.”

It really is not about a demographic time bomb of old people showing up on adult tricycles scooting along bike lanes. It is really about our discussion on why when talking about sharing space, we still pit pedestrians against cyclists, giving vehicular users a relatively free pass to the rest of the street without much discussion.

I wrote about the unfortunate bicycle crashthat happened with City of Vancouver’s Transportation manager (and all around nice guy) Dale Bracewell who suffered a shattered elbow when a vehicle literally debiked him.  Both Lloyd Alter and Dale quoted the just released study from Australia which suggests that many motorists don’t see cyclists as real people and vulnerable road users with as much right to the road space as they do. You can take a look at that study here.

If you have been a cyclist or a pedestrian in Australian cities you will know it is still a bit like the wild west, with vehicles having priority on streets, and state government at odds with the big cities who want to traffic calm on state run road networks and give pedestrians priority at signalized intersections.

Of course there are issues between cyclists and pedestrians as well.

Cyclists will often hop their bikes on a sidewalk for safety or convenience reasons. But the work done by Jan Garrard for Victoria Walks in Australiashows that seniors use walking as their major mode of transport, and require a higher standard of design and street maintenance to stay mobile and safe. Bikes, dogs and distractions  on sidewalks can result in seniors falling.  As Garrard notes:

 “Just as older adults can be more vulnerable to environmental hazards while walking,they also express high levels of concern about the behaviours of other road/path users. These concerns may be heightened for older adults because of their reduced ability to avoid a collision in the event of the sudden, unexpected movement of another road/path user,and increased likelihood that a collision (or the avoidance manoeuvre) will result in a fall and/or injury”.

Garrard’s work also shows that for older seniors there is a high likelihood  that senior to be deceased within several months after a traumatic fall on a city sidewalk or street. There is a reason seniors fear falling.

As Lloyd Alter surmises  talking about seniors in the United States “In 10 years, when the oldest of 70 million boomers are in their 80s, the drivers are going to have a lot more to complain about — millions of old people who take too long to cross the street, many more crosswalks and traffic islands taking up space, wider sidewalks and wider bike lanes to handle an explosion in the numbers of e-bikes and mobility devices.”

The time to have the serious conversation on how we share the city street and road surface needs to happen now. It’s time to humanize the pedestrian and cyclist by applying the Safe  Road System~Vision Zero approach and nix the 85 percentile way of building road space solely for vehicular traffic. Better design, lower speeds and changing driver behaviour on city streets are mandatory.  We need good street infrastructure, delight, visual interest, benches and public washrooms for vulnerable road users. And we also need a new way of looking at road share.

As this article by the Brookings Institute observes its no longer good enough to measure street use by a level of service. New standards measuring “broader community goals around accessibility, economic development, sustainability and livability” need to be immediately instituted.
We are all going to be using those streets in the future, and moving sustainably by cycle and foot will not only be a necessity, but a way to keep an older population agile, connected and fit, making communities more cohesive. The health of the  population, our spaces and our streets depend upon that.


Images: Tasmaniagov & Pond5