Physical Distancing Shopping Style in Commercial Areas During Covid Times


Historian and author John Atkin posted this image he took last Fall of the new work on downtown  Granville Street that involved installing a whole bunch of bollards on the south end of the street right before the bridge. As John notes

“Sorting thru old photos, found this shot of the recently completed Granville St redo… In light of the ongoing sidewalk space discussion maybe its time to get rid of this waste of space given to bollards marking sidewalk parking for cars… hmmm.”

Covid spacing requirements mean we need to look at our downtown spaces and places a bit differently and ensure people are comfortable getting outdoors with appropriate physical distancing and patronizing local merchants who badly need the business.

I also found this blog on Downtown Vancouver Bollards by Reliance Foundry that enthusiastically sees bollards as “a form of communication”. There’s also been discussions about security bollards to be placed on the street at night  following the horrible attack on Toronto Streets.

Covid distancing requirements of that requisite two meters means there’s a need to be a bit more creative on the use of the street. And it’s clear we are not there yet in commercial areas, as these two images from Simon Fraser University’s City Program Director Andy Yan illustrates. Here’s a group of people waiting to get into a grocery store on Commercial Drive. There’s not enough distance on the sidewalk, and so the potential customers are  relegated to the street.

And surprise! The bus is trying to use the street too.  As Andy Yan states, “This is NOT the best way of making public sidewalk space with the #covid19 rules.”




Kristen Robinson of Global TV  has produced a film clip outlining some of the physical distancing challenges on Robson Street as merchants look forward to opening their businesses. At this point retailers are not asking for a full road closure but want to have enough space on sidewalks and in the parking lane to ensure that potential customers can line up with appropriate physical distancing. This has already been done using barricades in the parking lane at several businesses. You can take a look at Global TV’s video here.

Many cities around the world are using the Covid opportunity of the need for physical distancing as a way to reboot their economy by using streets in a different way.

I have been writing on Price Tags about the importance for the City of providing a street network for transportation by walking, rolling and cycling throughout the city.   A plan needs to be developed for Vancouver commercial areas too to give them a boost.

Data from Transport for London (TfL)    found that street improvements for walking and cycling increased time spent on retail streets by 216% . Retail space vacancies declined by 17%.

But the best news, and this is also in line with research conducted in Toronto and in New York City “people walking, cycling and using public transport spend the most money in their local shops, spending 40% more each month than car drivers”.

Covid concerns add another layer of worry for consumers who will want to support businesses and also keep themselves and their family safe and happy. Creating comfortable physical distancing opportunities in these commercial areas are not solely about taking over vehicular space. This conversation is about boosting consumer confidence and safety.  Local businesses  deserve a fair and equitable chance to survive and thrive during a biomedical pandemic, and they can only do that with confident customers who feel safe.


Image: CBC

Jan Gehl, the Covid Crisis, & the Future of Tomorrow


Toronto’s Janes Walk did a Covid required  shift from their usual fine walks and included an online experience which they could of course share across the country. They had some great virtual walks, some great panels, and they had a plenary opener that included Jan Gehl, who with his writing and his interest in people and places personifies much of what placemaking should be.

In these Covid times it was inspiring to have Jan talk about his perspective on the Covid crisis, and also hear  what the post-Covid city will look like. Jan married  psychologist Ingrid Mundt in 1961. It was her influence that completely changed his work as an architect and as a designer. Jan’s formal training had taught him the importance of modernity in design, with sweeping lawns, high rise buildings and public spaces, but he now sees that as “windy”. They are activated not by people but by weather and perception.

Ingrid’s influence taught him that public space needed to be personable, and in his practice he now sees public space as an important essential service. She also drew his attention to the gap between the built environment and how people FELT about being in places.

In 1965 Jan and Ingrid spent six months in public squares in Italy observing behaviour. An article in the local paper explained why people in Asconi might see a “beatnik” sitting in a corner of one of the town squares. This work became the basis for his books and for his philosophy behind Gehl Architects.

Jan  had a written correspondence with Jane Jacobs, and first met her in 2001. He said one of their central discussions had been about the “New Urbanism” movement, and in Jan’s words “Whether it had clothes or not” or was just a rehash of what was tried and true.

And that brings Jan to the Covid discussion. In Denmark the Covid motto translates to “All have to be close together to stay apart”.

His “doctor daughter” has told Jan that he will be in lock down and physically isolating until the end of the year. With this news Jan and Ingrid Gehl have been going to and exploring various parts of Copenhagen on their own, rediscovering city spaces and revisiting favourites. Jan has an unwavering faith in “Homo sapiens” and says we will have our lively places back. Jan sees the Covid crisis as a wakeup call, asking for redirecting resources to a greener, more sustainable way of living.

Jan expects the following as new trends:

  1. there will be an  increase in home deliveries and “those bloody vans” as people stay behind the screens of their house.
  2. the increase in personal car usage post -Covid will be temporary. You cannot dismiss that every kilometer ridden by a bike gives 25 cents back to society, while every car kilometer takes away 17 cents.
  3. Bicycle usage will increase, and smart cities will provide dedicated road space for that increased usage.
  4. There will be a major shift in storefront and in shop use as businesses struggle to survive.  Storefronts need to be animated and occupied, and a fulsome discussion needs to occur about who will pay to ensure that storefronts remain operating in some type of business or use.
  5. There will be less “senseless travelling” with air fares increasing. People need to realize that previously air travel has been “unrealistically cheap“. “Mass tourism ruin places”.
  6. Cruise ships don’t give to the economy of places other than quick daytime retail transactions. They pollute and they need to stop.

Jan sees the link between public health and planning as self-evident and perceives that public space needs to be designed for good times and bad, as an experience individually, with small family groups, or in crowds. Resiliency is key in his messaging.

As Jan states:
“In a Society becoming steadily more privatized with private homes, cars, computers, offices and shopping centers, the public component of our lives is disappearing. It is more and more important to make the cities inviting, so we can meet our fellow citizens face to face and experience directly through our senses. Public life in good quality public spaces is an important part of a democratic life and a full life.”

You can check out the Jane’s Walk Festival in Toronto here.

And here is one of the snappy videos advertising Toronto’s Jane’s Walks from last year.

Lessons from the Three Waves of the 1918 Spanish Flu

When the Covid Crisis is over and we are in the After Times there are going to be some major changes in the societal landscape.  Changes also happened at the end of the Spanish Flu  one hundred years ago when it was realized that while mortalities were high with the poor population, infectious diseases need to be tackled on a community level. This led to public health strategies, disease surveillance, and the concept of universal health care.

I have written about the Spanish Flu of 1918  and how New York City had lower mortality rates than other cities by embarking upon a public health model. They  organized public health infrastructure, ensured the distancing of the healthy from the infected, held public health campaigns and undertook disease surveillance.

In New York City and in Vancouver there were three waves of the Spanish Flu. In New York City the flu started in September 1918 with the last wave in February 1919. In Vancouver the flu arrived probably by train with soldiers with the Siberian Expedition Forces in October 1918 and the last wave of flu came in March 1919. It was difficult to detect the flu  as the virus could not be isolated, and the bacillus causing infection did not show up in cultures. It was also not the flu itself that killed victims, it was secondary pneumonia resulting from the infection.

In New York and in Vancouver it was the young who were impacted by the flu, and being employed increased your likelihood to exposure and death.

While there was an overall Medical Health Officer for British Columbia there was also one for the City of Vancouver. In 1918 these two physicians were at odds.

The Medical Health Officer of Vancouver was Dr. Frederick Underhill who was loathe to close industry or business, and did not want to close schools. Dr. Underhill thought that children were more at risk roaming on the streets than being in school. As sickness started in October 1918 parents started to pull their children out of school, and Dr. Underhill was forced to close the schools after ten percent of the students did not show up. Unfortunately for the second and third waves of the flu in January and March 1919 schools, industries and offices remained open, and Vancouver had about 900 deaths in a population of 100,000, a mortality rate  four times that of most cities.

Other towns in British Columbia which had closed down because of the Spanish Flu also wanted Vancouver to close industries and offices. But Vancouver politicians debated the best approach, even questioning whether isolation from the sick and face masks were even  needed.Continue reading “Lessons from the Three Waves of the 1918 Spanish Flu”

See a Blocked Sidewalk in Vancouver? Call 311!

Writer and blogger Stanley Woodvine @sqwabb  has posted this photo of  a construction site in the 1400 block of Broadway that swallowed an entire sidewalk as its own. You can see in the photos that there is no guidance or safe way to get around  as a sidewalk user,  able bodied or disabled.

City sidewalks are never to be blocked, and if they are impeded there is supposed to be signage and an alternative route offered, which can include a coned area in the parking lane adjacent to the sidewalk.

The City offers guidance for the use of the street and sidewalk for business and other activities. You will note that there are guidelines to reserve parking spaces and parking meters, but none to block sidewalks. 

In the case of a construction area that has a sidewalk  blocked, there has to be signage and an alternative place to safely walk, with a clear Traffic Management Plan approved by the City that are set to the Province’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure standards. Such a plan also must comply with the Motor Vehicle Act.

If you encounter a blocked sidewalk, let the City know the block and street through the VanConnect app or call 311. If you have a contact in the Engineering Department, call them and ask them to follow up.

Some ideas of  how sidewalk traffic diversions can be handled are in the photos below. These photos were taken in Knightsbridge in London England. The first photo shows  a temporary covered walkway in place while the adjacent building is being constructed. The second photo is of a temporary barrier that is placed when a sidewalk needs to be closed for a construction truck, and sidewalk traffic is diverted around the vehicle.

While the London examples can be considered luxury treatments, there’s a lot that can be accomplished by the placement of simple traffic cones ensuring that sidewalk users have a safe, separated place to walk.




The Dawn of the E Scooter



Following up on the Province of British Columbia’s “Move Commute Connect’ strategy which intends to double the percentage of active transportation trips by 2020, the Province has just announced some new legislation. This legislation will allow the Province to enforce signalling and speed limits of vehicles. The legislation will also finally deal with the pesky challenge of what to do about things that are not pedestrians, bicycle riders or car drivers.

Think of it. In British Columbia segways, hoverboards, electric scooters, electric skateboards and electric motorcycles are really not supposed to be on roads. And they really are not supposed to be on sidewalks either. The idea is that you are using those technologies on private property, at your own risk. The Province is allowing for a three year pilot for municipalities to explore how these items could be used, either on roads, sidewalks or bikepaths, with an evaluation after the three year period.

The darling of these “micromobility” ways of moving is the E scooter. They are also cash cows, with the investment in installation in cities being paid back in just a matter of a few weeks. It is no surprise that horror stories of E scooters littering sidewalks in cities have emerged, as different scooter companies try to get their piece of the pie.

But what problem are E scooters solving? Kelowna has a fairly successful trial of them on the 12 km. trail system between UBC Okanagan, downtown Kelowna and Okanagan lake. But in a study done in Paris it was found that if scooters were not available 47 percent of people would have walked, 29 percent would have used public transit, and 9 percent would have biked, with only 9 percent saying they would have used a car.Should we be encouraging E scooter use if it is taking people away from walking and cycling and using transit?

And exactly who is using the E scooter? reports on a study that found that people in the $25,000 to $50,000 salary range were more likely to use E scooters, and surprisingly showed that 72 percent of women thought positively about using a scooter than men at 67 percent.This is interesting in that men still account for 75 percent of E scooter trips.

The City of Victoria is hoping to do a E scooter pilot as it aims to have 80 percent of all trips by walking, cycling or public transit by 2030. But the big question about whether the E scooter carves out walking and cycling, and whether it is more than just a fad will need to be tested out.

Below is a YouTube video from 2018 from PBS  discussing some of the E scooter issues in Santa Monica when  E scooters were allowed in the municipality on a test basis.



A Half Century of Working in Vancouver~The Life and Times of Vern Frick


It is not often that the working life of a person who has worked in Vancouver has a half century of documentation and film.  In 1964 Vern Frick was documented in this YouTube video which was produced for CBC and described his daily work as a postman. In the video he stops on Granville Street for his morning coffee. The original postal station D was on Broadway close to Fir Street, and you can see the Fir Street off ramp for the Granville Bridge in the video below.

Vern Frick later worked as a postal inspector and ended up in safety management with the Post Office. Although he retired over 20 years ago from the post office, he kept on with his second job which was as an usher with the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition). And what a life he experienced with that job. This  2018 article by Susan Lazarek with the Vancouver Sun describes Vern as the “longest-serving employee of the PNE, who has been on shift as a part-time usher for virtually all the shows at the annual exhibition venues since the summer of 1963, is working his last shift on Labour Day.”

He was at the Beatles concert as an usher in August 22, 1964 (which ended after twenty minutes when fans rushed the stage) and he ushered for the B.C. Lions football team.  He stopped ushering for the Lions when they transferred to B.C. Place because he couldn’t see the game. He has however at over 80 years of age continued to work  at the hockey games at Rogers Arena, saying he is ever hopeful for the team to win a Stanley Cup.


You can see both ends of Mr. Frick’s remarkable Vancouver career. Here is  the 1964 YouTube video describing his work and times as a postman. And you can follow this link for a 2016 Vancouver Sun video story of his work as a fifty plus year employee with the PNE



Australia Burning~Being Pregnant in a Suffocating City


Via Kris Olds and this story from Gemma Carey who lives in Canberra Australia and is an associate professor in the Centre for Social Impact at the University of South Wales.

Ms. Carey writes that the smoke that has enveloped Canberra has shown the need “for better health warning systems, especially around hazardous air pollution, and for equity considerations to be foremost.”  

In her city “the unprecedented fires which began on New Year’s eve brought a thick ‘fog’ of smoke across the ACT (Australia Capital Territory) and parts of New South Wales. Canberra, where I live, is perhaps worst hit with particle readings of up to 1800 2.5PM. The limit for hazardous levels is 200 2.5PM in the ACT, according to the ACT Government.”

Ms. Carey wrote in December that being pregnant in a climate emergency meant she was stuck indoors, and had not seen the sky for a month. “At that time, dangerous particles of 2.5 micrometres or smaller (‘2.5PM’) were at 100-300 – ranging from serious to hazardous.”

The air in Canberra is ten times over the hazardous level and is the poorest air quality of any city in the world. Air with this type of particulate creates complications for people with lung and breathing issues, and can impact heart disease and cancer rates. Research shows that the longer the exposure to these particulates, the higher the incidence of disease. Couple this with research showing that pregnant women exposed to these particulates appear to have babies that are premature, weigh less, and are miscarried.  What is not calculated is that families in Canberra are also experiencing direct stress due to the fire disasters as well as the long term implications of particulate exposure.

Poorer areas in the city have worse air. Ms Carey states “We have no precedent in the scientific literature for the health implications of what is currently happening in Australia.”

Clean air is costly~“Since New Year’s, nowhere indoors is safe. Shopping malls, libraries and national monuments – where many were seeking refuge – are filled with smoke. Air conditioning systems are simply not designed for this level of pollution.”

Even air purifiers which cost 500 to 800 dollars are not affordable to many people and there are none left in Canberra or its suburbs. Indoors people wear high grade pollution masks. “ I take it off only to shower and eat.”

The mask is only good for 100 hours and costs 50 dollars. Again as in the air purifiers, there is an equity issue of who can afford and access them. The hardware masks are not designed for the particulates that are raining down on Canberra.

Continue reading “Australia Burning~Being Pregnant in a Suffocating City”

Women More at Risk in Car Crashes Because Cars Aren’t Designed for Them


Last Fall Consumer Reports revealed that although most Americans killed in car crashes are male, data shows that it is fact women that are at a greater risk of death or serious injury in a car crash. Even a female driver or front row passenger with a seatbelt is 17 percent more likely to die, and 73 percent more likely to have a serious injury.

Even though crash researchers have known for forty years that the bodies of male and female react differently in crashes,  automotive research still stubbornly clings to the “50th percentile male” which is understood to be a 171 pound 5 foot 9 inch dummy that was first developed in the 1970’s. And that crash test dummy has not substantially changed, despite the fact that the average American man weighs 26 pounds more.

It was not until 2003 that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) used a scaled down male dummy to represent a woman. This dummy was so scaled down that also could double as a 13 year old child. It is a 5th percentile crash dummy as even in the 1970’s standards it represented only 5 percent of women.

Even though women are half the drivers in the United States, the 5th percentile female crash dummy rides a passenger, not a driver. As Consumer Reports writer Keith Barry states “Because automotive design is directly influenced by the results of safety testing, any bias in the way cars are crash-tested translates into the way cars are manufactured. So if safety tests don’t prioritize female occupants, carmakers won’t necessarily make changes to better protect them.”

Automotive safety relies on regulation to do the right thing. Using crash dummies that are not smaller models of male dummies is the first step, along with recognizing that their structures are different than men’s. Today’s average female is five inches shorter and 27 pounds lighter than the average male, and wear seatbelts differently and sit closer to the steering console.

While there is a new generation of dummies coming, there is still no plan to build an average female for crash tests. Called THOR (Test Device for Human Occupant Restraint) they are due to be used in Europe this year for testing and will collect more data than previous dummies.

Continue reading “Women More at Risk in Car Crashes Because Cars Aren’t Designed for Them”

A Swamp, Walt Disney & An Experimental Community


Andy Yan, our very own Duke of Data and Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University shared his discovery of this dated gem from 1966. Filmed just two months before Walt Disney’s death, the YouTube video below describes Mr. Disney’s next big project.

Walt Disney of Disneyland fame had read a few of the old classic books on planning and had decided to make EPCOT~the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow~ as a way to get industry working on innovation technology that would support the people living in the experimental community. You will see Mr. Disney holding up plans that look more like amoeba swimming around, with a bit of Buck Rogers streamlined arty design.

Of course you just can’t go and repurpose a town to create an experimental community, so Disney bought 47 square miles of swamp in the middle of Florida, got permission to create his own municipality, and made plans for 20,000 residents to live there. Just like Apple’s headquarters everything was circular with plans showing businesses in the centre of the proposed town and residences on the suburban perimeter.

The video below is cringe worthy for several reasons,  with the drawings looking strangely similar to  Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities and the Radburn Plan. Walt Disney was basically building a new town where he planned that workers and industry would live in harmony and commute by monorail and “PeopleMovers”.

With Walt Disney’s death in 1966, the more conservative Disney board morphed EPCOT into a series of international pavilions and steered away from the creation of a new community.

Continue reading “A Swamp, Walt Disney & An Experimental Community”