Walking to Work~Where are those Public Washrooms?



Kudos to Pat Doherty and her blog The Walking Commuter, in which she describes her walking route to work, and her commuting practice, which she started during a Toronto Transit strike a few decades ago.
In her blog, Pat asks a question that can also be asked in Vancouver: “Have you ever really needed to get to a bathroom while walking in Toronto – and not been able to find one? It seems to be a near-universal experience. But does it need to be? I think that the lack of public washrooms in Toronto discourages people from longer trips on foot that are not tied to shopping or eating out. Can’t we do something about it?”

Ms. Doherty observes that public washrooms in Toronto and other cities used to be common, and were built for public health reasons. Safety concerns regarding other activities people conducted in the bathrooms meant that facilities were eventually closed. She notes that Portland has PHLUSH (Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human), a non-profit organization which provides a public toilet “advisory toolkit” and maintains the philosophy that “toilet availability is a human right”.
There are campaigns in Winnipeg, Montreal and Yellowknife to increase public washrooms, based on the idea that the lack of these facilities impacts the most vulnerable, particularly pregnant women, young children, and the elderly.

Ms. Doherty is requesting Torontonians to tweet the mayor requesting public washrooms via Twitter, using the hashtag #publicwashrooms and the phrase “#Pedestrians NeedPitStops!”
Meanwhile, back in Vancouver, TransLink is saying that the issues of publicly available washrooms will be discussed. Surprisingly, they see this as a “hot button” issue, instead of a basic need that needs to be rectified for comfortable transit commuting. According to Kevin Desmond, CEO of TransLink, public washrooms have been paired with having pets on transit as a difficult issue: “We’re taking a close look at both”.

It’s been written  about the fact that TransLink is lagging on the issues of public washrooms. Senior citizens, community boards and disability groups have demanded for accommodation of this basic human need. On the entire TransLink system, public washrooms can only be found at SeaBus and on West Coast Express; all other washrooms on the system are solely for staff use.
Like the provision of free internet on TransLink and Coast Mountain buses, washrooms remain something that should be built in, not added on, to make public transit seamless and comfortable for all users.



1,000 Crashes a Day in British Columbia~Time to Get Serious About Stopping Them


Two items from the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), the provincial Crown Corporation responsible for driver licensing, registration and primary insurance coverage, came out yesterday.

If you’ve felt that driving in BC was getting a bit more dangerous, you’re right. ICBC has confirmed that, in 2017, there were 350,000 crashes province-wide. Think of that number — that means there were almost 1,000 crashes every day last year. Statistically, this also suggests (conservatively, assuming single-car crashes) that about one in every ten drivers will be involved in a crash this year.

That figure of 350,000 crashes also works out to 40 crashes every hour in the province; overall, this costs ICBC $4.8 billion, or roughly $13 million per day.

This is also $1 billion more than the cost of the proposed 10-lane Massey Bridge (last estimated in the $3.7 billion range).

ICBC released a short statement acknowledging the sad reality — that vehicular crashes have increased by 25 per cent in the past four years. Walk Metro Vancouver has previously written about the ground breaking work of  recently retired Provincial Medical Health Officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, who identified car crashes as a major cause of death in his 2016 report “Where the Rubber Hits the Road”.

In 2011, nearly half of all serious crash injuries were not to people in cars, but to vulnerable road users — those without a steel frame for protection. In terms of fatalities, vulnerable road users were 32 per cent of all mortalities in 2011, increasing to 35 per cent in 2013.

Here’s the other bottom line. In our province, about 300 people are killed each year on the roads, give or take a few dozen. Three factors have been proven to contribute to fatal crashes: speed, driver distraction and impairment (drugs, alcohol), and the built environment (road design and construction).

Two of these factors can be dealt with immediately. Road speed can be addressed by increased enforcement and notification of enforcement, as has effectively been done by the Delta Police Department, within their jurisdiction. Speeds to and from the ferry in Tsawwassen along Highway 17 have been noticeably down since the police blitz. On Vancouver Island, the regional district is asking the Province to install point-to-point speed cameras on the Malahat Highway, a particularly dangerous road.

In the 21st century  speed enforcement by camera should be thought of  as a safety precaution assisting safe travel, instead of a governmental cash grab. That financial inference might be solved by having fines placed into a fund assisting victims of car crashes.

The second factor, driver distraction and impairment, can also be addressed by education, such as the courses delivered by ICBC, enforcement, and stricter penalties for driver distraction. Changes in road design are clearly in the Vision Zero mandate of moving towards a target of no deaths of any road users, and those changes need to be made to ensure that vehicles travel at the posted speed, and not above.

In a province that has universal health care and universal vehicular insurance, it just makes sense to ameliorate the high crash rate and to save road users from serious injuries and death.

It’s time to think of changing road design to drive to posted speeds, and emphasizing driving for safety, not for quick arrival.  The ICBC crash statistics call for a drastic new approach to road safety that begins now.


How do you protect the most vulnerable Street Users~Bollards or Reducing Speed?

In the spring Toronto experienced a horrifying event when a driver took a large vehicle up on the sidewalk in North York and deliberately killed ten people, wounding many others. It is an unspeakable tragedy and loss of life.

Out of that horror has come a renewed call for defending urban space, making it safer for pedestrians, hardening these potential “targets” to stop this from happening ever again. Price Tags has previously written about the 1,500 safety bollards being installed in New York City at a cost of 50 million dollars to protect pedestrians.

As the Globe and Mail’s Alex Bozikovic discusses  it may be impossible to barricade and place concrete planters on every major street and pedestrian gathering place, but “we can do something to honour the other innocents who die in Toronto at a rate of one a week: change our roads.” 

Mr. Bozikovic states: “We know exactly what to do. Very simply, fast-moving roads kill people; slowing down traffic saves lives. And we can accomplish that with design, if as a society we care enough.”

Last month I spoke on CBC Radio with Karen Reid Sidhu from Surrey Crime Prevention about the fact that car crashes are a major cause of death and injury in British Columbia. It has become such a concern that the former Provincial Medical Health Officer, Dr. Perry Kendall wrote a report about it: “Where the Rubber Meets the Road”.
Price Tags has written about  the fact that over 45 per cent of all injuries in road crashes occur to vulnerable road users (those not encased in a steel shell). In terms of deaths for vulnerable road users, that has increased from 31.7 per cent of road fatalities in 2009 to 34.9 per cent of road deaths in 2011.
The figure is going up, not down, and communities have to say they have had enough. In a place where the health system is burdened by the result of these crashes, why are we not looking at slower speeds, better road design to enforce those slower speeds, changing driver behaviour and having a zero tolerance for any alcohol/drug use or driver inattention? When will we be willing  make these cultural behavioural changes to save lives and prevent injuries?
Take a look at what is happening in Scotland where 20 mile per hour speed limits (32 kph) in every village, town or city are being considered at the Scottish government. It is expected to receive enough support to pass.
Lowering the speed limit to that speed on most roads in Edinburgh has already resulted in a 24 per cent drop in car crash fatalities in that city. Lowering speeds saves lives. It just makes sense.
As the editor of the Scottish Herald writes that despite the 5 million pound cost to install the new measures, “The price tag could be mitigated by the reduction in costs associated with casualties. And, indeed, we come back time and again to safety. A pedestrian is seven times more likely to survive being struck at 20 mph than 30 (48 kph). At 20, drivers have more time to react. Studies have shown 20mph zones reducing child pedestrian accidents by 70 per cent.” 
You cannot put a price on the safety of a child, nor should we be excusing road deaths as collateral damage caused by living with motordom.
From a horrible tragedy perhaps we can talk about the implementation of Vision Zero, of making streets and spaces that value every human life, and protect it as much as possible. Narrowing down Yonge and Finch from a six lane highway barreling beside a kilometre of unprotected sidewalk is something that Toronto urban space thinkers like Ken Greenberg and Gil Penalosa are already addressing.
As Ken Greenberg observes “We should look at “traffic calming” not as an exception but as a rule. In designing and debating roads, we should be counting not the minutes of drivers but the human lives we can protect. We can’t, for the most part, stop a determined attacker, but we can attend to the everyday deaths and misery that happen along our roads. And stop them.”

Graphic: Vision Zero Network

“People protected” Bike lane makes Biking Safer


You have to admire the good folks in Seattle for their approach to making the argument for safe, separated, protected bike lanes.

Last week, in order to encourage the development of a continuous separated bikeway, volunteers came out to create a “people protected bikeway”. And they did a very good job, as documented on Twitter.


Seattle Greenways@SNGreenways

Seattle’s first ever people protected bike lane was a huge success! Thank you volunteers and supporters! Together we demonstrated the joy and safety that protected bike lanes can bring to our streets. It’s time to build the .

This kind of urban ingenuity typically attracts a lot of attention and comment. Price Tags previously reported on the rogue bike lane that appeared on Saskatchewan Drive in Edmonton, as well as the human traffic cones stopping traffic in London.
And what, exactly, did that look like? The police report documents the fact that there were, “males dressed as traffic cones, blocking the road like traffic cones”.Well okay then.


Simply put, when all else fails, enlist your own ingenuity to get your point across. Safer separated bike lanes make cycling easier and more comfortable, and as always, a novel approach to illustrating this simple fact is sure to generate a response.

Free Range Kids Legal in Utah~Should Free Range be Legal Here Too?



You may remember the story, covered by Price Tags — and many other news outlets, some international — of a Vancouver dad who who was reported to provincial authorities for allowing his kids to use transit to get to school by themselves.

(The story stuck, by the way, well before that dad — business owner and affordable housing advocate Adrian Crook — decided to seek NPA nomination for Vancouver city council.)

Well, it happened again. But this time, the kerfuffle about childhood independence has led to the state of Utah bringing into effect the first “free-range” kids law in the U.S. 
As reported in the BBC News, this came about when a parent dropped his two kids off at a local park with the expectation that the kids would walk home on their own. A witness called 911 and the parent received a visit from Child Protective Services and was threatened with losing his children.

The new law provides Utah parents with children of “sufficient age and maturity” lawful means to grant their kids the freedom to perform such independent activities as walking to the library or to school by themselves.
The bill’s sponsor State Senator Lincoln Fillmore said the measure was inspired in part by a hope his own children, “would grow up learning how to be responsible for themselves…My law is not an attempt to say that this method of parenting is better than another method; we’re not making that judgement in law. We’re simply saying that for parents who do choose to give their kids some independence, there’s protection in the law for you doing so.”
While parents aren’t allowed to neglect their children, the state’s law never defined what ‘neglect’ actually meant. By adding some definitions to what is meant by neglect, parents are now allowed to afford their children the right to do some of the things that they themselves were allowed to do at the same age.

Allowing children to be unsupervised at times, it is believed, may allow children to become more effective adults. So why is this ‘free range’ concept with children so challenging?
Gail Saltz, American professor of psychology and author, says the reasons are two-fold — there’s a 25 hour news cycle of negative violent events, and, “present-day parenting is less communal than it used to be and has turned into a ‘competitive sport’ for many. 
Saltz says this results in parents’ tendency to ‘helicopter’ their children more often, “to appear as though they’re ‘winning’ against their peers.”
Regardless of the rationale, it’s undeniable that increased independence for children can increase their confidence and sense of place. This may be a first step back to allowing children connectivity with and desire to explore their own neighbourhoods, much like their parents did.



Why Canadian Municipalities Should Reduce Vehicular Speeds NOW


Recently, Walk Metro Vancouver  participated in a CBC Radio “On The Coast” dialogue with CBC’s Michelle Eliot. Karen Reid Sidhu, Executive Director of the Surrey Crime Prevention Society, joined me in addressing motor vehicle speeds, and the question of why convenience is sometimes viewed as more important than reducing crashes, injury and death on our roads.
There are some organizations promoting the idea that vehicular speed has no impact on safe road use. For example, Sense BC ran a campaign against photo radar in British Columbia, which was implemented on highways in the 1990s to save lives. The program was disbanded, and as we reported in late 2016 deaths and injuries of vulnerable road users have increased in this province over much of the past decade.

Dr. Perry Kendall, recently retired as BC’s Provincial Medical Health Officer, has detailed the 280 annual deaths and injuries from vehicular crashes in his report Where the Rubber Meets the Road. Meanwhile, Sense BC is running a campaign today odiously entitled, “Speed Kills…Your Pocketbook.”

It’s people like Rod King MBE (that’s Member of the British Empire) who are focusing on saving lives by advocating for speed reduction in municipalities in the United Kingdom. King recently spoke to the Scottish Parliament in support of a bill proposed to lower speed limits to 20 miles per hour (equivalent to 30 km/h) in cities, towns and villages. That’s down from the current 30 miles per hour (50 km/h). It is being considered seriously.
In London and several counties across the UK, slowing speeds has resulted in twenty per cent fewer people dying, and many more avoiding serious injury. As King observes:

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.

And here’s why:

  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 NOx and 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 collision involving 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.

The World Health Organization and the European Union Transport & Tourism Committee both state that 30 km/h is best practice for road speed unless there are separated cycling and pedestrian facilitiesOther organizations, like the International Road Assessment Program, and the Global Network for Road Safety Legislators, also recommend 30 km/h speed limits.
The International Transport Forum of the OECD (Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development) states: “Where motorised vehicles and vulnerable road users share the same space, such as in residential areas, 30 km/h is the recommended maximum.”
In the Netherlands 70 per cent of urban roads have a 30 km/h speed limit or lower. In Scandanavia, 30 km/h is the usual posted speed in towns and villages. In fact, throughout Europe, 30 km/h is increasingly being set as the standard, with the exception of arterial roads with segregated cycling facilities.

Slowing vehicles in municipalities not only about saves lives; it also allows the reimagining of schools, shops and services as places to walk or bike to, or simply to feel safer to congregate and recreate in, as eloquently expressed in an opinion piece in the Edmonton Journal last year by Anna Ho of Paths for People.  Earlier this year this Globe and Mail editorial simply stated that Toronto vehicular traffic needs to slow, and that in order to reduce road deaths a huge cultural change must occur regarding ‘the need for speed’.
Slower speed limits challenges us to rethink our municipal fabric, and how it can serve people, and isolate the motor vehicle as an adjunct to, not a replacement for, social space.
It is a concept that is finally coming to fruition elsewhere in the world, and it’s time Canadian municipalities responded.

Image CBC.ca

How An Autonomous Vehicle’s “perception module” killed a Pedestrian


Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary crash report related to the pedestrian fatality caused by the autonomous vehicle (AV) in Tempe, Arizona this past March.

Trust The Economist to wade right into the muddy waters; since this report has not received much coverage in the rest of the media, we’ll join the fray.

The NTSB confirmed what has been previously reported — the AV’s braking system had been disabled. But why?

There are three computer systems that run the autonomous vehicle.

The first is the “perception” system that identifies objects that are nearby. The second is the “prediction” module which games through how those identified objects might behave relative to the autonomous vehicle.

The last module implements the predictions of object movement suggested by the second module. Also called the “driving policy”, this third computer system controls the speed of the car, or turns the vehicle as required.

It’s no surprise that the perception module is the most challenging to program, but also the one that is required to ensure that all users can safely use the road surface. Sebastian Thrun from Stanford University describes that in the Google AV project’s infancy, “our perception module could not distinguish a plastic bag from a flying child.”

And that may be what happened to the pedestrian killed while walking the bicycle across the street in Arizona. Although her movement was detected by the perception module, a full six seconds before the fatal crash, it “classified her as an unknown object, then as a vehicle and finally as a bicycle, whose path it could not predict.

And here is the sad — and scary — part: “Just 1.3 seconds before impact, the self-driving system realised that emergency braking was needed. But the car’s built-in emergency braking system had been disabled, to prevent conflict with the self-driving system; instead a human safety operator in the vehicle is expected to brake when needed.”

“But the safety operator, who had been looking down at the self-driving system’s display screen, failed to brake in time. Ms Herzberg was hit by the vehicle and subsequently died of her injuries.”

Because random braking can cause challenges like being rear-ended by others, the perception system on AV’s does not slow down when it gets confused — that’s why there are human safety drivers to “trouble shoot” the system when the car can’t make the right choice.

The problem is that humans are fallible, and do not pay attention all the time. While AV’s will be safer than today’s vehicles which have 94 per cent of “accidents” (really crashes) caused by human error, it will be the fine tuning of the prediction module that will increase consumer confidence on the ability to keep other road users safe too.

As the senior vice president of Intel Corporation Amnon Shashua states “Society expects autonomous vehicles to be held to a higher standard than human drivers.” 

That means zero road deaths and zero deaths of vulnerable road users. This accident needs to be carefully examined to ensure it never happens again.

Photo: TheInternetofBusiness

Delta Police Department ASKS Public Where Speed Needs to Be Enforced



In one of the most genius ideas, the Delta Police Department has lined up social media, safety and vehicular speed to deal with crashes in their municipality. As reported in the Delta Optimist the department has adopted a unique approach, giving the public a “heads up” about potential  enforcement areas via twitter @DPDTraffic .

The result, if you are walking, biking or in a vehicle in Delta have been dramatic. Vehicular speeds have slowed to close to posted levels on Highway 17, and on the commercial streets in the community.

The latest initiative has involve the police department directly the public  asking via twitter where speed enforcement is required. And the result has been brilliant, with enforcement at stop signs at busy intersections, enforcing the  no right turn restriction  on a red light in a commercial area, and even monitoring marked crosswalks to ensure that drivers were stopping for pedestrians.

As Delta Police Staff Sargeant Ryan Hall states “Although Delta police and other forces occasionally publicize enforcement efforts, we don’t think any other police force in B.C. has committed to giving the public a heads up on a regular basis.” 

The two-way communication, seemingly a simple protocol is resulting in safer slower highway, commercial and residential streets.



New York City’s Tom Bob Repurposes Street Utilities into Whimsical Wonders


street-art-tom-bob-new-yorkPhoto: Mindcircle.com

From Catherine Clement comes this New York City story about Tom Bob who has turned the ordinary into the extraordinary with every day street amenities.  Taking ordinary items like  manhole covers, bike racks and exposed wall piping Tom Bob transforms them into articles of delight and whimsy. It’s no surprise that his work has also been seen in Boston and has even extended to street signs.

You can see more of Tom Bob on his twitter account and follow his exploration of design and delight bringing a different perspective to the public realm.


Distraction~A Driver’s Problem, Not a Pedestrian’s


The title said it all in this tweet from a New Jersey company-“City narrows roads because you won’t stop texting while walking”. But um, no, the correct reframe is “city narrows crossing distance at intersection to make pedestrians safer”.

And this whole thing about pedestrians being hit by vehicles because they are looking at their cell phones is just a bit odd. It is drivers of vehicles  that hit, maim and kill pedestrians. And what are the three main reasons that pedestrians are killed by drivers? Speed, drugs/alcohol, and distraction.

Finally Alissa Walker has tackled this pedestrian distraction fable head on.

In the United States pedestrian mortalities have increased over the last thirty years and there has not been a major campaign to change driver behaviour or awareness of the vulnerability of active transportation users. As Ms. Walker observes ” compelling new research reveals that pedestrians probably aren’t texting themselves to death. While the term “distracted walking” has become a way to pin the blame on pedestrians for supposedly looking at their devices instead of the sidewalk, there hasn’t been much evidence provided to prove smartphone-using walkers are at fault when collisions occur. In fact, most states don’t even include pedestrian behavior as a factor in crash reports.”

By examining the use of crosswalks in New York City and Flagstaff Arizona, engineering professors at Northern Arizona University looked at 3,038 individuals crossing. And of those in the study, 86.5 per cent did not show any distracted type of behaviour. The study also found that most pedestrians walk within the demarcated pedestrian crossing lines, with ony 16 per cent walking outside them.

Among all demographic groups, men were most likely to commit violations while walking. People using phones were slightly more likely to travel outside the crosswalk, but not more likely to cross against the “Walk” signal.”

And what about driver distraction? The Centre for Disease Control has a study showing that 31 per cent of American drivers said they had texted while driving in the last 30 days. Texting while driving has been compared to driving while impaired because of the distraction.

Educating pedestrians or in the case of Honolulu fining a pedestrian for even looking at a cell phone while crossing a street is not what is necessary to make streets safer. Driver distraction needs to be criminalized, not pedestrian use of crosswalks.

Price Tags Vancouver has already written about leading  pedestrian intervals

being successfully  used in New York City. For a nominal cost per intersection (about $1,200) crossing lights are reprogrammed to give pedestrians a seven to ten second start to crossing the road before car traffic is allowed to proceed through the crosswalk. The use of 104 of these “leading pedestrian intervals” in New York City resulted in a 40 per cent decline in pedestrian and cyclist  injuries and a decline in deaths. To be serious about encouraging walkability and pedestrian safety it is time to seriously consider  “policies that prioritize walkers over cars.” 

Here is the YouTube video of  how the Leading Pedestrian Interval works.


Creating Walkable Accessible Places for Everyone