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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Are Mid Block Crossings Safer and More Convenient for Pedestrians?


Let’s take a fresh look at that old fish tale about pedestrians not crossing a street midblock. Think about it~why are we insisting that pedestrians cross at corners? Is that not specifically to treat pedestrians and other vulnerable road users just like vehicular traffic and force them to behave as such, waiting their turn at an intersection?

There is a sad reality on  our fatality statistics in Metro Vancouver and basically anywhere on pedestrian crashes. You will find that the majority of fatalities are pedestrians over fifty years of age, mostly men, that are crossing at intersections WITH the  walk light. And how are pedestrians getting injured and  dying? It appears that the majority of crashes seem to occur with drivers  turning left through the intersection when the pedestrian has right of way.

This article by ggwash.org is worth revisiting~author Ben Ross who wrote Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism asks why we insist that pedestrians cross at intersections, suggesting that “careful jaywalking” saves lives. Ross observes that while there are “no definitive studies”,  statistical evidence collected from New York’s Vision Zero program can show the way.

That city, where residents routinely ignore signals when they cross streets, can be thought of as a natural experiment. The majority of pedestrian deaths, and a far larger majority of non-fatal crashes, occur while crossing the street legally in a crosswalk.”

The reason of course is that drivers hit pedestrians when they are turning their vehicles, and the constantly changing traffic lights “maximize” chances of crashes.

Other researchers, working in places with less foot traffic and fewer striped crosswalks than New York, got results that point in a similar direction. They found that pedestrians crossing big highways are more likely to be struck at marked crosswalks than at unmarked ones. On smaller roads, they found little advantage either way.”

The term “jaywalking” referring to mid-block pedestrian crossings was developed in the 1920’s to free up the street for rapidly moving vehicles. Pesky pedestrians were relegated to intersections that were controlled by engineering traffic standards, with the concept that traffic engineers were better judges of pedestrian safety than the pedestrians themselves.The American  Federal Highway Administration (FHA) striped highway pavements with the assumption that pedestrians are safer crossing at intersections with traffic lights and all kinds of turning movements versus mid block two-way vehicular traffic.

Almost a century has now passed, and our traffic laws are still not geared to safety. As this article by Nate Vander Broek points out a midblock crossing is safer, more visible and direct for pedestrians to cross without having to walk to an intersection.

In the early 1990’s the US Transportation Research Board estimated that nearly 27 percent of all pedestrian accidents were caused by the “midblock dash”. Installing correct midblock pedestrian crossings would mitigate that impact, and the FHA estimates that these crossings are workable at speeds of 30 mph (50 km/h). Mid-block crossings can also be hard to use for visually impaired people, and do require education for drivers to be alert for them.

Is it time to revisit the mid-block pedestrian crossing?


Images: Michigancompletestreets.com, NACTO.org

New Donor, New Updated Design for Vancouver Art Gallery


I have been writing about the new Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) sporadically as new information comes up about the project. Everyone has an opinion on the design, the location, and how this building would connect with pedestrians at the ground level.

Five years ago Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron were chosen to come up with a design for the new Vancouver Art Gallery to be located at 688 Cambie Street on land provided by the City on a 99 year lease.The original report to council in 2013 proposed a new art gallery that was double the size of the current gallery with 85,000 square feet of gallery space, with a cost of $350 million dollars in 2013. At that time the Federal and Provincial governments conditionally pledged 200 million dollars with the remaining 150 million dollars to be raised by private fundraising. That is a huge amount, and may be the largest sum raised privately in Canada.

The Chan family have graciously donated 40 million dollars to the project, and are the same family that provided 10 million dollars to the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at the University of British Columbia.

As the Vancouver Sun’s Kevin Griffin notes “If everything goes according to plan and the VAG can raise another $165 million from private and public sources, the new gallery could be ready to show art by about 2023. That would mean being able to see art for free in two lower-level galleries, visit a dedicated area for the work of Emily Carr, and have a glass of wine in the restaurant overlooking the city.”

The new Art Gallery would create a new public space and gathering place in the downtown area. At the same time of the announcement a new design of the proposed gallery was also presented showing more glass on the exterior and less wood. You can see the new design below.


And you can compare that new rendering with the previous design given to the public here.


While the building is still boxy, the use of glass breaks up some of the monotony of the design, but a fence  still scaffolds the public from around the building.



Compare this design with that just released for the new Barbican Hall in London:

China Daily


The design for a multimillion-dollar concert hall to be housed in London’s Barbican Centre has been unveiled. http://bit.ly/2FUTAPl 

See China Daily’s other Tweets

The new Barbican Hall is a 373 million pound (approx 649 million Canadian dollars) building which will include a concert hall, bars and restaurants. This design is by the American firm of Diller, Sofidio + Renfro.  But the geometry and Jumanji massing appears to be a trend in new public buildings that form the heart of cities.

You can watch  a short video from the Vancouver Sun of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s announcement of the Chan Family donation as well as some of the new  images of the proposed gallery design below.

Driving to Work is Hazardous to Your Health


Trust the New York Times and Austin Frakt to tell it like it is~driving on your commute to work is hazardous for your health. If ever we needed more evidenced based rationale for why promoting walking, cycling and transit as the only ways to commute, they are right here.

The Texas A&M Transportation Institute estimates that in the United States the average commuter is stuck 42 hours a year in traffic.That figure doubles in Los Angeles, and traffic issues are identified as the top concern of citizens over personal safety and affordability.

The cost of lost time and idling fuel is estimated at over 100 billion US dollars a year, along with personal and environmental health impacts.

Another toll is to psychological well-being, stemming from the sense of helplessness we experience in traffic, and its unpredictability. This, too, can be quantified. One study found that to save a minute of time spent in traffic, people would trade away five minutes of any other leisure activity. Another study found that we deal better with the commuting delays that we can anticipate.”

Here is a troubling finding~an article in the Journal of Public Economics documented a link between congestion and domestic violence, finding the examination of one section of Los Angeles highway congestion was associated with  ” nighttime domestic violence” increasing about 9 percent.

“Those who can walk or bike to work tend to have a double advantage. Not only do they avoid the harmful consequences of traffic, but they can also improve their health through exercise. Younger people are more likely to prefer that style of commuting, and are driving less than previous generations.”

That is where road pricing comes in. Don’t listen to the boosters saying that autonomous vehicles will solve congestion, they are just part of it. But economics based congestion pricing will eliminate many single person vehicle trips, making commutes by walking, cycling and public transit easier and more comfortable. And you can point to these studies showing it keeps you healthier too.



images:latimes & achrnews

Necrotecture and Affordability in London


Via Andy Yan the Duke of Data is this interesting article that has a lot of relevance to the Vancouver situation, and also names that tendency of vacant houses and apartments to appear rather dead in neighbourhoods. That word is Necrotecture, and Rowland Atkinson describes it as “dead residential space” and the  “wasteful result of continuing rounds of international capital investment in the built environment and the overconsumption of housing and other resources by the super‐rich.”

As London become a pied a terre for the global elite, it is serving capital investment instead of housing and social values needed to run the city as a place. Laundered money, poor planning decisions and absentee owners do not help the region’s economy.  Necrotecture, a new type of “socially dead space” has been created where human habitation and social attachment are gone from every transaction.

Atkinson sees Necrotectural towers and massive homes as forming  “massive misdirection of development capacity, even as the city experiences a massive social crisis that continues to be played out in the wider housing market.” 

The  2012 Shard Tower is 72 storeys, and is the  tallest tower in the United Kingdom. It also signalled London becoming a vertical city with 510 high-rise developments being built or with building approvals.The push back of units being built at high prices for exclusive purchases sounds just the same as in Vancouver.

London’s massive social inequalities and housing problems emphasize the problematic position of these new residences as they bring into sharp relief the city’s social extremes and the inability of state or market to meet social need (Dorling, 2014). These contrasts have also been marked by a sense of social conflict generated by the inequity of empty homes worth many millions (Neate, 2018) in a city of massive waiting lists and competition for residential space.”

As Atkinson notes, the fallout is for local citizens.

“One of the most glaring injustices is that while essential workers and even those on higher incomes struggle to access decent housing, the city is producing tens of thousands of apartments annually for people who either never use them or significantly underuse them…Mounting evidence shows that developers and planning consultants work hard to circumvent their duty to offer either affordable housing or cash contributions to the local authority (Atkinson and Tait, 2017). Criticism of this system has been growing for some years now, but the rising intensity of anger is palpable.”

Here is  the Financial Times’ YouTube take on the London Housing crisis from 2015.

Autonomous Vehicles and Ethics~Who Lives, Who Dies?


It is the question to ask at the City Program’s Simon Fraser University seminar with Autonomous Vehicle expert Tim Papandreou and the question I did ask Ole Thorson of the International Federation of Pedestrians. 

When an autonomous vehicle is going to crash into a crowd of pedestrians, who does the car save? Does it save the vehicle occupants first? And who makes that decision?

Caroline Lester asks that question in The New Yorker. While a “level four” autonomous vehicle is independent on highways, it still needs a human to guide it. “Level five” vehicles will make their own judgements, including  the decision cited in what is called “The Trolley Problem”.

“If a car detects a sudden obstacle—say, a jackknifed truck—should it hit the truck and kill its own driver, or should it swerve onto a crowded sidewalk and kill pedestrians? A human driver might react randomly (if she has time to react at all), but the response of an autonomous vehicle would have to be programmed ahead of time. What should we tell the car to do?”

The American government has guidelines for autonomous weapons. They are not programmed to decide to kill independently from a human. There is no opinion on the ethics of driverless vehicles. Germany has created some guidelines, the most evident being “In the event of unavoidable accident situations, any distinction based on personal features (age, gender, physical or mental constitution) is strictly prohibited.”

This decision may have been made in part because Volkswagen sells more cars than any other global manufacturer and has a universal responsibility. The question becomes do other countries bring in different moral values in deciding how autonomous vehicles decide which lives are saved in the case of a potentially bad crash situation? Do local biases and customs count?

With driverless vehicles anticipated to flood the market  in the next twenty to fifty years, Lester points out that these machines will be programmed to make judgement calls. What will be crucial is regulation prohibiting companies enabling vehicle software to save vehicle occupants over pedestrians. Indeed if that does happen, separation of driverless vehicles from other road users will be necessary.  Lester states “In a future dominated by driverless cars, moral texture will erode away in favor of a rigid ethical framework. Let’s hope we’re on the right side of the algorithm.”

 Ole Thorson of the International Federation of Pedestrians observed “Every life is valuable and should be treated  equitably  in autonomous vehicle programming. The conversation of who lives and who dies should not be happening.”


Images: Horsepoweronline.com Automotiveworld.com

Why We Need Women and Children involved in Planning Streets


On Tuesday morning I was walking up my street when a commuting SUV honked loudly as a little girl going to school by bike crossed the unsidewalked road. She had been told by her mom to cross the street before the hill so that she could line up with the only sidewalk that is on the connecting  arterial road.  The honking SUV driver came up beside me, rolled down the window, and said that the little cyclist had crossed the road in front of her as if that was a bad thing. And you get the narrative~if there had not been a witness no one could have said what had truly happened, that a driver using the street as a commuting street  went around a corner at speed and could not see the child crossing from the height of her SUV. I told the driver to slow her vehicle down as she continued her tirade about children walking and biking to school.

This is why children don’t bike, and why moms are hesitant to allow their children to go to school by foot or by cycle. We have designed streets, we evaluate streets, and we fix streets so that the most vulnerable of our society are the most disadvantaged by them.

Miriam Moore of New Zealand’s Women in Urbanism nails it when she says ” Road and street networks are so often analysed and assessed regarding their automobile connectivity, that we forget about their function in supporting the street life that surrounds them… Unfortunately, those who suffer from these networks maintaining their predominance, are society’s most vulnerable.”

In the City of Auckland New Zealand  and in most other places more women walk than men.  In Auckland a person dies every week and 14 are injured on the streets.  But somehow these deaths and injuries are perceived as the cost of doing vehicular business, and “a mobility-based backlash only occurs when someone needs dental work after a Lime scooter incident. ” Children are taught how to adapt for vehicles using the street by waiting extra time in cities at intersections for “cars running red lights”, and crossing times for children are “far too short for little or fragile legs“.

Women in Urbanism  in New Zealand have banded together to insist on slower speeds for safer streets in Auckland. They have a survey and are proposing the following:

Lowering of traffic speeds in the city centre to 30km/h across the city centre.
A network of “car free” streets in the city centre.
A lower speed limit of 20km/h around schools
A speed limit of 30km/h in our town centres.

This is a smart approach~no one knows the challenges of using streets more than the most vulnerable~ moms with strollers, people relying on mobility aids, children and seniors. By comprehensively demanding change to these four items Women in Urbanism have highlighted the issue and offered a way to remediate it.
“The inequity in the way Auckland builds its streets is blaringly obvious to those who choose not to drive. Car dependence is a choice, however for some reason, in 2018, Auckland’s road network still chooses to accept it as the default position. Our city’s intensification and social well-being demands that this stance is changed… Women in Urbanism would like to fix their current approach and make sure that staying alive is a priority.”

“As our urbanista hero Jane Jacob’s once said, “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because and when they are created by everybody”.

Kudos to this group and their initiative to save lives and injuries by making Auckland more walkable and livable. You can take a look at their survey here.

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Port Metro Vancouver’s Dirty Little Secret~Coal


Intrepid Price Tags editor Ken Ohrn has reported on Port Metro Vancouver’s cancellation of  the permit to expand the Fraser Surrey Docks to ship coal to Asian markets. Thermal coal used to produce electricity represents 75 percent of all coal shipped globally, and the fact that Port Metro Vancouver has not fulfilled the conditions for the Fraser Surrey Docks expansion permit is a good sign. But is  Port Metro Vancouver’s cancelling the Fraser Surrey Docks expansion  part of the plan to  consolidate a push forward for the controversial  terminal two (P2) in Delta’s Roberts Bank? Who is overseeing the Port’s expansion plans and do they take in consideration market trends and sustainability?

I have  written before about Vancouver’s  dirty little secret~since American environmentalists blocked a new export terminal in Oregon, massive coal train shipments come to Vancouver docks, now known as  North America’s largest coal port. In fact in 2017 the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority exported 36.8 million tons of coal, compared to 31.5 million tons shipped from its next rival, Norfolk Virginia.

As the National Post’s Tristin Hopper observes  “Much of Vancouver’s coal is handled by a single facility that ranks as the largest of its kind on the continent.Westshore Terminals (at Roberts Bank superport) loaded 29 million tonnes of coal in 2017, nearly triple the combined coal exports of the entire U.S. West Coast.”

Coal  “is the province’s number one export commodity” worth $3.32 billion in 2016. While the coal mined in British Columbia is mostly metallurgical, Vancouver’s ports ship thermal coal mined in Wyoming and Montana, as Washington and Oregon ports refuse to handle thermal coal because of environmental concerns.  The previous Liberal provincial  government called for a ban on American thermal coal during a Canadian softwood lumber dispute with the United States, but nothing became of that. From 2008 to 2017, Vancouver’s thermal coal exports doubled to 11.3 million tons, and move tariff free. In fact, Westshore Terminals has produced a little guide suggesting that levies or tariffs on thermal coal would have a bad impact on the province, and that this dirty coal would just be shipped from somewhere else in the world.

Meanwhile  Port Metro Vancouver is pushing for Terminal 2  expansion at  Roberts Bank which would be a three berth container terminal that threatens the particular biofilm found in these waters that feeds migrating western sandpipers. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has deemed this impact as irreversible and continuous.The port is insisting that container traffic will increase, and this terminal is needed now.  This seems to be opposite the thoughts of some industry experts and critics that note that larger more efficient ships will actually decrease traffic, and automation and better documentation will make loading and unloading more seamless.

Both the Tsleil-Waututh and the Lummi First Nations have spoken out against the port expansion, worried that more coal would be coming to the port to be shipped. CBC’s Stephen Quinn interviewed Rueben George, manager of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation’s Sacred Trust who stated that international borders are not important when protecting the environment and the waters that sustain us.

The idea that additional capacity is needed at Roberts Bank is also being questioned locally. In this commentary in the Delta Optimist Roger Emsley states that Vancouver “likes to forget that there are two major container terminals on the West Coast. Prince Rupert has capacity potential to grow to a super port handling four to five million containers per year. Add that to the expansions at Vancouver area ports and Canada will have container terminal capacity in the 10 to 11 million range when it is needed versus a best case scenario of about 8.2 million containers being handled by 2040.” 

Mr. Emsley’s credentials? He  is a member of Port Metro Vancouver’s Community Liaison Committee . He also  points out that there has not been a business case study by the Port for Terminal Two expansion.

You can take a look at the Port of Vancouver’s promotional video for the Roberts Bank  Terminal Two below.