All posts by Sandy James

“Shark on the Roof” Becomes Heritage Site in Oxford England



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Jim Waterson


Bill Heine, the man who in 1986 stuck a giant shark on the roof of his terraced house in Oxford, has died. He fought planning officers all the way to the top for the right to keep it. The government’s final ruling is thing of beauty. 

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An American named Bill Heine moved  to Oxford Great Britain and ran two cinemas. This gentleman had studied law before turning to running movie houses.

But in 1986 Mr. Heine had a Big Idea and commissioned a fibreglass shark which he craned to the top of his house. The timing of his installation of a headless shark on the roof of his 1860 British townhouse was the  “41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.” The piece was created by artist John Buckley.

The shark weighs 400 pounds and is 25 feet from its headless body to its tail.  As this web page on the Hedlington Shark attests  the placing of such a large object on the roof of a pretty ordinary residence sprung the local Oxford city council to action.

First city council said the shark had to go because it was a dangerous hazard. But when the shark installation was inspected, it was carefully installed and was safe. Then Council used Section 22 of the Town and Country Planning Act that had no provision for the placement of large things like sharks on roofs within the municipality.

Mr. Heine went through the process of appealing the decision which in true civic fashion took years. The best part? The appeal was allowed, and the ruling in favour of the shark stated:

It is not in dispute that this is a large and prominent feature. That was the intention, but the intention of the appellant and the artist is not an issue as far as planning permission is concerned. The case should be decided on its planning merits, not by resorting to “utilitarianism”, in the sense of the greatest good to the greatest number. And it is necessary to consider the relationship between the shark and its setting…. In this case it is not in dispute that the shark is not in harmony with its surroundings, but then it is not intended to be in harmony with them…

And here is the best part. “The hearing decided that there would not be a proliferation of sharks on the roofs of Oxford houses.  “An incongruous object can become accepted as a landmark after a time, becoming well-known, even well-loved in the process. Something of this sort seems to have happened, for many people, to the so-called “Oxford shark”. The Council is understandably concerned about precedent here. The first concern is simple: proliferation with sharks (and Heaven knows what else) crashing through roofs all over the City. This fear is exaggerated. In the five years since the shark was erected, no other examples have occurred. Only very recently has there been a proposal for twin baby sharks in the Iffley Road.”

Mr. Heine subsequently wrote a book about the shark on its 25th anniversary of its installation. Today Mr. Heine’s son runs an Air Bnb at the “shark” house and you can stay there with twelve other guests. Mr. Heine has recently passed away, but his shark will remain and in fact is being listed as a significant monument.

You can take a look at the YouTube video below of the shark, local reaction, and  the planning permissions process that tried to deshark Mr. Heine’s installation.

London Lowers Vehicular Pollution For Health, Livability

ULEZ signage in Kennington ahead of the scheme starting in 2019

London leads in the intersection of  health and transportation planning for safer, healthier cities.  Asthma is a lung disease where the airways of the lungs are swollen and  inflamed, making it harder to breathe.  London, United Kingdom is the first city in the world  introducing ULEZ zones in the inner city. ULEZ stands for Ultra-Low Emission Zone and as reported in the Guardian implementation of this zone will “reduce the 36,000 deaths caused in the UK every year by outdoor pollution.”

London is wasting no time with the zone change happening on April 8. The World Health Organization has identified outdoor air pollution as  causing over 4.2 million premature deaths in low, middle and high income countries around the world. In cities particulates from diesel engines enters the bloodstream and damages heart and circulatory systems, impacting the most vulnerable and low-income. Since London estimates  50 percent of air pollution is from vehicles and 40 percent of that from diesel vehicles, charging more for diesel vehicles’ access to the centre city should be a deterrent and have healthy consequences.

The ULEZ zones operate on a 24 hour basis and vehicular charges are based on the type of vehicle and the emissions associated with the vehicle.

When Stockholm introduced its congestion tax to discourage driving in the downtown, pollution levels dropped by 5 to 10 percent and asthma attacks experienced by local children decreased by nearly 50 percent. While a recent Lancet reported study found that London’s low emission zone adopted in 2008 had improved air quality with lowering NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) levels, children were still exposed to particulates. With four hundred schools in London in areas with air quality below WHO recommended levels the new zone will lower diesel particulates. It is estimated that pollution generated by vehicles are half nitrogen oxides (NOx) which add to high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM).

You can take a look at this very short  YouTube video from the Mayor of London’s office explaining the new emission zone which plans to reduce air pollution in the central city by 50 percent. The City also has a hashtag for its new plan, at #LetLondonBreathe. London hopes its example will be followed by other cities in the United Kingdom.  London’s emissions zone work provide a road map as congestion pricing is being discussed for potential implementation in Metro Vancouver.


Images: LondraItalia & TransportXtra

Portland Oregon Lowers Road Speed, Saves Lives


Speed kills in cities, and in Great Britain many cities are considering lowering speed limits within their jurisdictions to save lives and reduce injuries under the banner “20 (miles per hour) is plenty”. Portland Oregon as part of its commitment to eliminate all road deaths by 2025 has adopted theVision Zero approach, accepting no road deaths as acceptable on their street networks.

Last year the city of Portland Oregon lowered the speed limits on their municipal road system from a default speed of 25 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour, or 32 kilometers per hour. In one year, the results are starting to come in, with a death toll on the roads of 34 people in 2018, a reduction from the 45 lives lost in 2017 before the reduced speeds.

There is sea change in the United States regarding road safety. A University of Chicago  poll of 2,000 U.S. residents  showed that 60 percent were “were supportive of using speed and red-light cameras as an automated enforcement tool. Sixty-nine percent of those polled said they would support lowering a speed limit by 5 miles per hour if it was justified with crash data.”

Lowering road speeds in cities has a remarkable impact on crash survival rates for vulnerable road users~a pedestrian has a 20 percent survival rate being crashed into at 30 miles per hour. That increases to 70 percent at 25 miles per hour and to 90 percent at 20 miles per hour. In the United States municipal speed limits are set by each state or territory, with the default speed being 25 miles per hour or 40 kilometers per hour.

The cities of Portland and Eugene have been looking at the safety system and Vision Zero approach embraced by European countries like the Netherlands and Sweden in making their cities safer. A “context-sensitive approach that emphasizes safety for vulnerable road users will lead to safer outcomes on streets in urban areas” 

As Oregon Live reports  Portland’s “triaged” enforcement of the lower speed limit has been concentrated on residential streets near schools and in  corridors with a high incidence of accidents. Portland now has authority from the State to install speed cameras. Police are clear that speed enforcement is key in saving lives and identifying “whether a crash occurs and how severe the outcomes of a crash are.” observes that traffic fatalities have increased 14 per cent in the United States in just four years, with an estimated 40,000 a year dying in vehicular crashes. The World Resources Institute dispels myths about drivers and lower speeds. Lower speeds allow drivers to stop within a shorter distance, don’t make a trip longer (that’s a function of  intersection frequency) and foster safer communities that allow for vulnerable road user safety. Slower speeds also boosted retail areas. Slower streets with narrower lanes in San Francisco’s Mission District resulted in a 60 percent increase of local retail spending, with an overall 40 percent increase in sales.

“The research is now abundantly clear: Getting drivers to slow down can improve the quality of life for all city dwellers.”


Why the Idaho Stop Keeps Cyclists Safe


A few years back we wrote about the magic of the Idaho Stop.  In Idaho traffic laws were revised in 1982 with an innovative bicycle code that allowed  “bicyclists to do a “rolling stop” instead of a dead halt at stop signs~treating the “stop sign” like a “yield” sign. Some cyclists and police officers advocated for an amendment to this law which was passed in 2006. The amendment stated that cyclists must stop on red lights, and must yield before proceeding straight or making a left turn at an intersection. The benefits of the Idaho Stop according to two studies are that safety is improved, and cyclists can move to see around obstacles, lessening car collisions. “

You would think that this aptly named Idaho Stop would just be a good thing for cyclists to practice, keeping themselves safe and at the same time allowing them to review exactly what is happening in an intersection. They are not legal in British Columbia, as many a ticketed cyclist can attest. It is puzzling that the adoption of the Idaho Stop has been painfully slow, with even New York City’s Doug Gordon the co-host of “The War on Cars”podcast wondering why rolling stops are not allowed in T intersections.


Indeed Oregon is looking at adopting similar legislation to allow cyclists to have leeway approaching a stop sign or a “blinking” red light~ If there are no other vehicles with the right of way, cyclists could legally proceed without coming to a complete stop. Oregon has a champion in the state senate who has brought this concept forward several times.

Senator Floyd Prozanski who is also a cyclistintroduced legalizing Idaho Stops  on April 5 “amending a placeholder bill to serve as a vessel for his idea”. Turns out Senator Prozanski is also the committee chair of the group that will review the bill allowing Idaho Stops, and this means it just might be successful.  Meanwhile Arkansas has just passed laws allowing for Idaho Stops, and Utah is now pondering the same changes in legislation.

Prozanski believes that once  cyclists are legally allowed to do Idaho Stops, the initiative will take off. As the senator bluntly says”“I just think it will do well if we move it forward.” 

You can take a look at this YouTube video below that talks about California turning down the Idaho Stop in 2017. The video also illustrates the history and why the Idaho Stop is effective in keeping cyclists moving and connected. The author also points out that bicycles are not cars, and should not be seen as vehicles from a legislative regulation sense. Is it a  compelling argument?

Slower Streets in Neighbourhoods and Why This is a 21st Century Idea

We have been advocating for slower vehicular speeds in neighbourhoods to make communities safer, more comfortable and convenient for vulnerable road users. I also have been writing about  the impact on communities elsewhere that have adopted 30 kilometer per hour as the default speed in municipalities.

The Scottish Parliament is considering a bill to  lower speed limits to 20 miles per hour (equivalent to 30 km/h) in all cities, towns and villages. That is a reduction from the currently accepted 30 miles per hour (50 km/h). London and several counties in the United Kingdom that have adopted the slower speeds within their city limits have seen vehicular deaths decline by 20 percent, and serious  injury also substantially decline.

City of Vancouver Councillor Pete Fry has introduced a motion asking that Council support a resolution to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to lobby the Province to amend the Motor Vehicle Act “to a default speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour for local streets with municipalities enabled to increase speed limits on local streets in a case-by-case basis by by-laws and posted signage.” Councillor Fry has also requested that staff identify an area of Vancouver to pilot a 30 km/h speed limit, report back on the strategy, and implement the slower speed in that neighbourhood area to ascertain the effectiveness of the policy.

This is not the first 30 kilometers per hour rodeo going to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. The City of New Westminster and Councillor Patrick Johnstone headed up such a request a few years back.  What really needs to happen is for this initiative to leave the purview of the municipalities and be seriously considered by Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena who can give authorization for the change to the Motor Vehicle Act.

The beauty of a blanket implementation of the residential neighbourhoods is that there will not be a huge capital cost to create signage everywhere indicating how fast you can move on which street. While arterial roads would remain at 50 km/h, the local serving streets  within Vancouver  neighbourhoods could  all be 30 km/h.

This is also City of Vancouver City Council’s opportunity to correct the term “Vision Zero”. During the Vision Party’s majority they did not want the term “Vision Zero” in Vancouver’s reports  (which refers to the Swedish approach adopted in 1997 to achieve zero road deaths) to be used for political reasons.

Instead the strategy was called  “Zero Deaths”. Since Vision Zero is the international program that has achieved so much success,it is time to do the right thing and rename Vancouver’s program correctly.

Great Britain’s Rod King has outlined the compelling rationale for slower streets in his presentation to the Scottish parliament:

  1. From an emissions standpoint, a vehicle going 50 km/h requires 2.25 times the energy to sustain a speed 50 km per hour, compared to 30 km/h. A speed reduction to 30 km/h reduces diesel NOxand PM10 pollution by 8 per cent.

  2. The stopping distance required for a vehicle at 50 km/h is nearly double that of a vehicle at 30 km/h. A speed reduction to 30 km/h doubles the available reaction time for everyone involved, increasing the likelihood of avoiding a crash.

  3. The force of a collisioninvolving a vehicle driving 50 km/h is 2.25 times that of a collision at 30 km/h; 80 per cent of pedestrians will die in a 50 km/h impact. At 30 km/h, 85 per cent of pedestrians will survive an impact


Of course there will be lots of pushback from the vehicular lobby which has for a century valued speed and convenience, viewing pedestrian and cyclist fatalities and injuries as unavoidable outcomes of a car first policy. Vancouver has embraced walking,biking and public transit as the transportation policy supported way to get around,

It just makes sense to ensure that residents can walk and cycle within their own neighbourhood without being subject to vehicular crashes at speeds that are in many cases not survivable. As the baby boom becomes one-quarter of the national population, we also need a way to ensure that seniors are fit, have good walking environments and are close to shops and services. Reinforcing the walking environment by slowing vehicular speeds will do that, and will also create a better quality of life.

In the words of Rod King: “If we want consideration for the amenity and safety of residents and communities to be a national norm, then at some stage we have to enter a national debate about the quality of our streets and whether we have rules built around optimising the speed of vehicles, or about the liveability of people. We need to end our thinking about 30mph from our warm, protected, comfortable windscreen view of the street, and consider it from the height of an 8-year-old on the pavement, or with the mobility of an 80-year-old trying to cross the high street to a shop”.

Why Are We So Resistant to Slower Safer Streets?

We’ve written about City of Vancouver Councillor Pete Fry’s motion asking that Council support a resolution to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to lobby the Province to amend the Motor Vehicle Act “to a default speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour for local streets with municipalities enabled to increase speed limits on local streets in a case-by-case basis by by-laws and posted signage.” Local streets refer to streets within a neighbourhood and not to streets that are arterials or residential collector streets with a yellow line down the center.

Councillor Fry has also requested that staff identify an area of Vancouver to pilot a 30 km/h speed limit, report back on the strategy, and implement the slower speed in that neighbourhood area to ascertain the effectiveness of the policy. That demonstration project within a neighbourhood would give citizens a litmus test of what changes when streets slow, and how pedestrians, seniors, rollers and cyclists might use the street space differently.

This is all well and good, and certainly follows practice internationally where the adoption of slower speeds on streets not only contributes to reduced fatalities and serious injuries. but also creates a new sense of livability, where stick hockey games can happen in the street, neighbours can stroll, and community conversations can occur. In Canada one-quarter of all Canadians will be seniors by 2030, and keeping seniors fit, engaged and active fits into slower streets that encourage walkability. In a place like Vancouver where there is pressure to create more rental housing and forgo some of the amenities that developers are normally asked for, slowing neighbourhood streets provides a low-cost way to enhance public environments. It is simply the right thing to do, and adds an element of safety on dark wintry rainy months.

So it was a surprise when Councillor Fry’s motion was being discussed at Council that a few NPA councillors clearly did not understand that slower neighbourhood streets are not just about fatalities and serious injuries, but  are about making a commitment to a quality of neighbourhood street life in a densifying city.

Given the fact that Council had just heard a presentation on resilient cities and had a motion to have 2/3 of all trips in Vancouver by active transportation or transit by 2030 it just made sense to slow neighbourhood streets. Instead these councillors positionally stated that serious accidents and fatalities did not happen on neighbourhood streets, the kind of conditioned protective response to motordom that has shaped the 20th century.

As Wanyee Li in The Star noted both Edmonton and Calgary are reviewing lowering speed to 30 km/h. Toronto reduced speed in downtown neighbourhood streets to 30 km/h in 2015. Councillor Fry’s motion is elegant in that by  asking the Province to grant municipalities “the power to establish speed limits for a certain category of streets or entire neighbourhoods” it does away with the need to sign each street.

This change to 30 km/h has been proposed before by the City of New Westminster and Councillor Patrick Johnstone a few years back to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. But perhaps the time has come to be more serious about creating slower streets and more cohesive neighbourhoods.

Adrienne Tanner in the Globe and Mail writes: “Vancouver should follow the lead of other cities and embrace the slow-driving movement. In fact, why not take Mr. Fry’s motion a step further? Let’s dispense with the pilot project and drop the speeds on all residential streets. Even better, the province could take the initiative and save everyone the trouble of pushing for something that so obviously should be done.”

Looking Back at Expo 67 Montreal~”Man and His World” and all that Walking




Fifty-two years ago this May Expo 67 opened on two man-made islands in Montreal. The 20th century was about World’s Fairs, and this fair with the theme “Man and His World” attracted fifty million visits in its six month run. At the time Canada’s population was only 20 million people.

Several notable buildings were constructed including Buckminster Fuller and Shoji Sadao’s geodesic dome for the United States pavilion, and Moshe Safdie’s iconic “Habitat” as an example of prefabricated concrete dwelling construction.


Visitors had “passports” and obtained stamps at various pavilions. People walked from pavilion to pavilion and used the “minirail” an elevated automated system that connected the various areas. In many ways this event put Canada on the international map.

The legacies of the Fair were classic 20th century achievements that included transportation infrastructure:  Montreal’s Decarie autoroute was built, as well as the Hippolyte-Lafontaine bridge and tunnel. But people also got used to walking to a train station that connected them to the two islands and the exhibits, and then used the elevated minirail service for shorter connections.

In many ways it was a fifty year old precursor to how to transport large populations of people in and out of cities in North America. And get those people to walk.

The Montreal Expo baseball team derived their name from the fair, and the former world’s fair site is now Jean-Drapeau Park, named after the mayor of Montreal at the time of the fair.

This YouTube video below highlights the opening of the fair. You may recognize a few of the faces in the video, and enjoy the classic 1960’s camp. There is also  attached a video from British Pathe that shows the built form and design of the buildings and the transportation (the mini-rail)  on the two islands.