The Case for Density Transit and Walking



Five years ago an extraordinary team of people from the two universities, the two health authorities, the metro Vancouver municipalities and regional government and TransLink got together to run a conference with an innovative idea-that creating communities around walkability was the intersection between health, happy places, liveliness and aging in place.You can view some of the proceedings from the Walk21 Metro Vancouver conference here.

Now Co.exist and others accept as doctrine the innovative concept that the conference was trying to impart-that a walkable city  is a sustainable, sociable well designed city that puts the health and well-being of residents first. In fact while the relationship between walkability and health status has already been established, this study “published in the Lancet, looked at 14 cities in 10 countries, all of which had a similar design, in order to determine whether or not the cities’ layouts themselves were the reason for increased health, as opposed to different lifestyles in different countries. The physical activity of the 14,222 adult participants was measured over four to seven days using Fitbit-style accelerometers. The principal data point was the average number of minutes walked per day.”

Looking at cities in Australia, South America, Europe and three cities in the United States there were some surprising findings, specifically that  urban factors that meant people walked more included “residential density, park and public transport density, and intersection density. Parks are obvious in their effect—people take walks in parks. Residential density is important because if you live in a compact neighborhood, you can easily walk to do your errands. And public transit density is important because not only does it obviate car use, but people have to walk to their nearest station instead of their driveway”

Mixed use development, density, and convenient transit go hand in hand in making walkable places. We’ve now got the evidence to convince policy makers of the important interconnectedness of these three things to design for walkable sustainable communities that support happier, healthier residents of any age.




Pedestrians, Vehicles and Every Four Hours In Toronto


In the Fall of 2016  the City of Toronto went through a day where 22 reported crashes between vehicles and pedestrians were reported. The Toronto Star has written an editorial on what  it called  “a quiet epidemic of violence against pedestrians” noting  “it’s time for political leaders to take it much more seriously”.

How bad is it? By December 1st 42 people were killed on Toronto streets. Even though senior citizens are only 14 per cent of the Toronto population, they make up 60 per cent of the fatalities. And there are hundreds of pedestrians that are being seriously injured in crashes-in Toronto, the average is that one pedestrian is hit every four hours.

Now that sounds like something quite serious. Toronto responded by a public campaign about the crashes, which basically informed citizens to wear bright colours and be careful. Prominent politicians, planners and others extolled the idea of “Vision Zero”, which in Toronto’s case was “Vision 20 Per Cent”-having a reduction of fatalities and accidents of 20 per cent in ten years, which still meant that 400 pedestrians were expendable as well as another 3,000 subject to serious injury to meet the target. Somehow the right of cars to travel quickly and efficiently outweighs the right of pedestrians and cyclists to safe use of the Toronto streets.

The Mayor of Toronto supported the city’s first-ever road safety program with a plan to lower speed limits from 50 km/h to 40 km/h on twenty “high risk” streets. (Hardly a reduction, when you contemplate that  a 30 km/h speed can result in a 90 per cent survival rate for a pedestrian in a crash. Why not go for 30 km/h?). But Toronto Star reporter Ben Spurr and William Davis examined the pedestrian fatalities and found that “just six of the 42 pedestrians killed between Jan. 1 and Dec. 1 of this year were struck on streets where the speed limit will be reduced as part of the city’s safety plan. Six more were in areas scheduled for “safety audits.” But the great majority happened in other parts of the city”.

The Toronto Star also published a  heartbreaking list of  some of the people who died on Toronto Streets-who they were, what they were doing when they died.

Reducing speeds is only one facet of the work that needs to be done to create a safer walkable city. Driver behaviour, road design, and enhancing visibility is also key. The Premier of Ontario has enabled legislation for municipalities to lower speed limits in their communities. Hopefully that will be the first step in changing  Toronto’s dynamic that it is just not vehicles that have a right to the road.

Accessibility Audits Provide for Universal Walkability


The Rick Hansen Foundation has announced an Accessibility Certification Program providing accessibility audits to ensure barrier-free experiences for people with mobility, vision and hearing disabilities. These standards also make it as easy as possible for people with walkers and young families with strollers to use buildings, public streets, walkways and parks.

The Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) has developed RHF Accessibility Certification, an inclusive design and accessibility rating system. Similar to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), it measures and rates accessibility features. According to a recent survey conducted by Angus Reid Institute, 88% of Canadians consider a LEED-style rating program for universal accessibility to be worthwhile.

Trained RHF Access Assistants are currently conducting free beta accessibility reviews and rating buildings throughout Metro Vancouver and the greater Victoria-Colwood area. The first phase of pilot testing of the new RHF Accessibility Certification is underway until June 2017.

To learn more about this innovative pilot and how you can help make your communities accessible for everyone, contact Karen Marzocco, Project Manager at, or visit


Walking and Benches-Good for Everyone’s Bottom Line



In my TEDx Talk  on the Transformative Power of Walking I noted the importance of benches in making places for people to be sociable, feel accepted on the street, and to people watch, a very important human activity. I also cited a study completed by  New York City’s Department of Transportation that showed that placing benches outside retail stores increased sales volumes by 14 per cent at the adjacent storefronts.

BBC’s Katie Shepherd examines an encouraging trend in North America where municipalities are now encouraging the placement of benches as a welcoming gesture outside of stores. Such actions by individual shop keepers often is the first step (no pun intended) to how to create a more coherent and customer friendly commercial area.

“American cities have an excess of roadway space,” says Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, an urban planning professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. The street seats movement aims to reclaim some of that road for the pedestrian” by making public space active and vibrant.

“In Washington, DC, the annual Park(ing) Day celebration, in which businesses and community organisers build temporary parks in metered parking spots, inspired a program to allow permanent parklets to be installed in approved spots along the District’s streets. Inside these new parklets, businesses put out benches and chairs for their customers and the public to use whenever tired feet need a rest.” New York City has two established programs encouraging public seating for transit riders and pedestrians, especially the elderly. In a program called “CityBench” the Department of Transportation reimburses businesses for public bench installation. Over 1,500 benches have been added by storekeepers so far. And, as in the case of New York City, taking out a parking lane of City Street for benches improves businesses’ bottom line.


“Portland runs a “street seat” programme that has inspired eclectic designs – from benches that look like giant lawn chairs to seats that double as planters reminiscent of grassy hillsides. “Community engagement, that’s what made them really popular and really fun,” said Leah Treat, director for the Portland Bureau of Transportation.”

Where is Metro Vancouver’s program supportive of increased seating in commercial areas? Is this something that can be themed or provide a whimsical gesture to the street? Seniors say we don’t have enough benches for the elderly in the commercial areas.  Would this be a good place to start?