Walking – the Talk-My First TEDx!


I was invited in 2016 to prepare a TEDx talk on Walking  in Carson City Nevada

Preparing for a TEDx talk is different from anything else you will ever do, as you speak for twenty minutes on a subject you are passionate about without notes to a live audience and seven roving cameras.

I personally feel that creating walkable environments is the right thing to do and is the best way to organize a healthy, sociable, interesting and sufficiently dense area for all to live in and thrive. While TEDx works best if you are talking directly about your personal experience, I wanted to talk about walkability, why it is important, and to highlight the stories of three extraordinary people who I have worked closely with in  undertaking amazing initiatives transforming walking in their neighbourhoods. And in Vancouver, those “neighbourhoods” have populations of about 45,000 people.

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We are in a time where there are planning “experts” that talk and tell us about how to live better in cities. I believe that the people living in those communities are the experts, and just as Jane Jacobs said, neighbourhoods lead the way.  I am so grateful to these citizens for everything they have taught me-and continue to coach me on. We truly live with community heroes in our midst.

I also wanted to express my thanks and gratitude to the Carson City TEDx committee for inviting me to speak in Carson City.  It was a tremendous experience.

Price Tags

Sandy James, planner, part-time Price Tags editor and author, speaks to TEDxCarsonCity.

The transformative power of walking:  why walking is good for your bottom line.

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1,000 Crashes a Day in British Columbia~Let’s 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. I have 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.


Images: CBC.ca

Don’t Play on the Street in this B.C. Suburb!

Even BBC News picked up the absolutely unbelievable story of this “no fun” suburban neighbourhood.

The community of Chemainus (part of the District Municipality of North Cowichan on Vancouver Island) is famous for their internationally acclaimed mural festival which brings art, tourists and income to a former logging town. You would think that a place that brands themselves as an artistic hotbed would translate this creativity to other local endeavours and activities.

But no — the strata council of “Artisan Gardens”, a housing development not far from parks and a golf course, voted 15-4 in favour of a bylaw which basically prohibits any activity a child would do outside of their front door.

The bylaw prohibits using the roadway “for play, including hockey, baseball, basketball, skateboarding, chalk artistry, bicycling or other sports and recreational activities.”

The actual bylaw reads as follows:

Any use of a roadway for any purpose other than access to and from strata lots and, where permitted, for parking is prohibited. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, a roadway may not be used for play, including hockey, baseball, basketball, skateboarding, chalk artistry, bicycling or other sports and recreational activities.”

If you think this was a direct affront for the 11 children residing in this suburban development, you’d be right.

And it is not, as the BBC suggests, about “declaring a war on fun”. It’s really about negating the very essence of what children need to do, which is to have at least one hour of active exercise a day, with three hours of intense activity a week.

The reason for the ban on children being children gets to the root of what’s wrong with the 20th century prioritization of motordom. Since the strata has control of the cul-de-sac which backstops Artisan Gardens, they’re making sure cars have priority, and kids…not so much.

Of course this story has been reported on nationally as well as internationally; you can view the video from CTV’s Your Morning below about “No Fun Town”.

The view from the New York Times on the $2.7 Million House in Lions Bay


The New York Times  and Lisa Prevost  takes a look at purchasing a four bedroom house on the “bluffs” of Vancouver~but in reality, the house is 32 kilometers north of Vancouver in Lions Bay. The price is 2.7 million Canadian dollars in our local market that has increased by 40 per cent in the last decade.

 The property is less than a mile from the Lions Bay Marina and Lions Bay Beach Park, “the most idyllic little beach. With a population of roughly 1,350, the village has just a few shops for necessities, he said; more shopping and dining can be found about 15 minutes south, in West Vancouver.

Phil Moore, the  president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver calls Vancouver the California of Canada” pointing out the 40,000 people annually coming to the metropolitan area. The article states that the  benchmark sale price for a detached house is $1.6 million in Vancouver, and in “more exclusive West Vancouver, that buys you nothing. That’s an area that’s $3 million and above.”

The New York Times describes market interventions of the foreign buyer’s tax  and the Empty Homes Tax as disincentives that have “slowed sales especially of high-end properties.” And demand has pushed “buyers into lower pricing ranges, driving up demand or condos,” with condo prices starting at $900 a square foot and going to $2,500 a square foot.

And no surprise when a banker from the Royal Bank says that more supply is needed, and cites that before the Foreign Buyers Tax 10 per cent of foreign buyers were Mainland Chinese “while Whistler resort attracts many American and Japanese buyers”.

In summation, with the Canadian dollar worth 76 cents American, and property taxes at a reasonable 3,500 American dollars annually, the Times says that a significant down payment might be needed to qualify for a Canadian mortgage. That is assuming that the house is bought at the asking price.

You can take a look at the real estate listings for Lions Bay here.




A Can of Paint and Instant Traffic Circles


There are more and more examples of cities and neighbourhood  groups that are just getting it done on streets with cans of good latex paint. There is absolutely no doubt that paint is an inexpensive way to change the nature of the street, expand pedestrian refuge areas, and make crosswalks more legible for pedestrians and vehicles alike.

In Janette Sadik-Khan’s groundbreaking book “Streetfight”” she points out that making infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists is just good economic sense, contributing to the street life in the city. She also argues that everything that New York City needed to create 60 pedestrian plazas, 180 acres of new public space and 400 miles of bike lanes was all in the city yards~paint, bollards, and cement planters.

That’s why it is wonderful to see the New York City examples of paint and planters replicated elsewhere. In Bukchon-Ro in Seoul a traffic circle was painted in the middle of the street separating this historic area from a commercial district. Simply painting the traffic circle caused vehicles to proceed more slowly and enabled the many pedestrians visiting galleries, tea houses and cafes to cross more safely. Paint established “pedestrian priority streets” and has had a marked success in making the streets more walkable and lively.DSCN0069

Now the town of Mandan North Dakota with a population of 22,000 is doing the same thing. Located across the Missouri river from the state capitol of Bismarck , city planner John van Dyke got it right by installing  three temporary painted traffic circles at intersections, calling it a “demonstration project” and inviting public response to the changes. The city also  added temporary bollarded curb extensions to make the crossing walk distance for pedestrians shorter, with a planned evaluation of the project at the end of August. You can see the reporting of the local news station on the temporary traffic circles here.


images-sandy james & pininterest.com


Summer Saturdays~Street Theatre in Steveston



Steveston is a wonderful old  fishing village and cannery that was featured as  Storybrooke in the hit television series Once Upon a Time.   Steveston has its own unique history and is offering   a unique dramatic experience in the historic village.  Run by the talented actors from Hugh McRoberts Secondary School, Alive! Walking Tour Vignettes was sold out last summer.  A guide in period costume takes guests back to 1917 in a one hour  walk around Steveston Village in Richmond, revealing the historical fabric of the place and  some of the stories and characters that lived in that period. During the walk there are five “pop-up mini-plays” featuring stories of early Steveston.

As Sarah Glen the executive director of the Steveston Historical Society observes
These fun and engaging characters reimagine what life and work was like here over a century ago…There’s an extremely colourful and vivid history here with its own quirks and shocking tidbits—and most people don’t realize it when they just stroll around.”

Steveston’s history tells a bigger Canadian story of multicultural communities persevering through hardship and pride in their accomplishments. The Vignettes reflect this but they also show that issues from a century ago are still relevant today. We hope our audiences are encouraged into a deeper understanding of our past—and also discover a new appreciation for what influenced the community we live in.”

The Steveston Alive! Walking Tour Vignettes runs every Saturday at 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. throughout June and July, departing from the Steveston Museum and Visitor Centre on Moncton Street.  Tickets are $10 and kids under 12 are free. You can book ahead at this link as this event is sure to sell out.



Big Bang Fireworks, Forest Fires, and the Emergence of the Drone

2017-coachella-intel-drone-light-show_6Image: iq.intel.com


Why in a “green” city do we still insist on big bang fireworks, that accoustically are challenging for wildlife, and detrimental for pets and for people with noise sensitivities? Why do we hold onto this remnant of the 19th century, and not go to no noise pyrotechnic displays, as featured in many rock concerts?

This article from Citylab  explores one more reason to move away from traditional big bang fireworks~the prospect of grass and forest fires. As Linda Poon notes ” just in Colorado, at least 11 communities and organizations have canceled fireworks as firefighters battle as many as a dozen wildfires across the state. In Arizona, six towns are also canceling the spectacle—though one town, Cave Creek, is also swapping in a drone show. And in California, where fires have not only been ravaging entire cities but also choking the air, officials are opting not to put on a show for the sake of safety. As in Cave Creek and Aspen, some Bay Area residents will get to enjoy a drone display thanks to a partnership between Travis Air Force Base and Intel. That’s the same company that helped South Korea wow the world with over 1,200 drones during the closing ceremony of this year’s Winter Olympics.”

As the spokesperson for the  Aspen Chamber Resort Association, Melissa Wisenbaker observed that drones are “a very new-age thing, but you have to evolve.” Cities in Colorado, Arizona and California are using dazzling drone light shows that are choreographed. The cost is in the $15,000 to $25,000 range, comparable to big bang fireworks, and loud music is played to establish the ambiance. The tradeoff, beside less disturbance to wildlife, is proactively preventing what could be the next grass or forest fire.

 “If we are having these increased fire dangers and risks every year,” Wisenbaker said, “then we would like to have alternatives so people can end the night on a good note.”

You can view an example of a drone LED light show here.

Rising Housing Costs, Less Migration in British Columbia


Jock Finlayson and Ken Peacock in Business in Vancouver have reported on another startling casualty of rising housing prices.  Late last year British Columbia started to experience a surprising drop in people moving here from other provinces.  While historically migration across Canada has  risen and fallen with economic swings and employment potential,  this falling influx of new residents may be due to the increasing cost of housing in British Columbia. This province has Canada’s lowest unemployment rate  and “by mid-2014, interprovincial migration was adding more than 5,000 people to B.C.’s population every quarter – upwards of 20,000 annually. Over the subsequent three years, net interprovincial migration ranged between 4,000 and 6,000 per quarter. But in the third quarter of 2017, the net inflow plummeted to 500, and it stayed low (at 800) in Q4.”

In examining the reasons why there is less migration to British Columbia Finlayson and Peacock feel that good labour markets in other provinces are available as baby boomers retire. In Alberta which has just gone through an economic crisis  the unemployment rate dropped from 8.7 per cent to 6.3 per cent in one year, suggesting that potential interprovincial migrants were able to find work in their own home province.

Migration of workers  from British Columbia who leave to live in other provinces has also increased. While a good job market could be a reason, “push” factors were also identified, “notably the high cost of housing in B.C.’s urban centres, are probably more important. The combination of unusually steep local housing costs and brighter job prospects in other regions may be prompting more British Columbians to pick up sticks. High housing costs are also discouraging some potential migrants from other provinces from relocating to B.C.”

This brings up two issues for British Columbia~if good labour markets exist in other provinces, labour mobility from across Canada  to B.C. may continue to be low. The Provincial government has assumed a net migration of 10,000 to 15,000 annually over the next ten years. If this does not happen, “B.C. is poised to become even more reliant on international immigration to meet its future labour needs.” In a future scenario where workers will be “in short supply across the country” affordable housing stock will be needed. Christopher Cheung in The Tyee noted that high housing prices are already making it challenging to attract recruits to the Vancouver Police Department which reports that 83 per cent of officers don’t live in the city. The Hospital Employees Union and the Secondary Teachers Association report similar challenges. Once more access to affordable housing is key to addressing labour shortages and keeping people in British Columbia.