Thursday, September 4, 2008

Read me on Metronauts

About Metronauts
Metronauts is an open community of people from across the greater Toronto region (and beyond) who care about the future of our cities and the role transportation has in our lives.
Who are they?
Metronauts participate in the creation of a future of sustainable transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). We are concerned citizens from every walk of life - passionate amateurs and professional experts - who have chosen to take an active role in shaping our cities.

I'm not a regular contributor. Read my posts on Thursdays.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

People living in older neighbourhoods are less likely to be overweight !!

"Older Neighbourhoods" are "Jane Jacob's" neighbourhoods - short blocks, mixed use, WALKABLE, promoting sociability and appealing to the eye, to the foot and the mind. Most developers and planners seem to have been blinded to the obvious multiple good effects.
-John O'Gorman

REBECCA DUBE Globe and Mail July 30, 2008

Want to lose weight? Move to an old house.

People living in older neighbourhoods are less likely to be overweight than new-home dwellers, according to a study to be published in the September issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

For every decade added to their neighbourhood's age, women's risk of obesity decreased 8 per cent and men's obesity risk fell 13 per cent. Researchers found that people with old homes are slimmer because old neighbourhoods are more walkable.

"The data show that how and where we live can greatly affect our health," Ken Smith, co-author of the study and a professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, said in a news release. His study examined height and weight data from the driver's licences of 453,927 residents in Salt Lake County and compared them with census data on median housing age.

The research doesn't mean all hope is lost for new neighbourhoods, Dr. Smith said, rather that developers should take their cues from the past to make it easy for people to walk around.
"We have the opportunity ... to create neighbourhoods that encourage less car driving, benefiting residents' health and wallets and shrinking our own carbon footprint," Dr. Smith said.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Highway Funding

Since 1956, federal, state and local governments have invested nine times more capital funding in highway subsidies than in transit. In 2004, state governments spent nearly 13 times more public funds on highways than on transit. On top of all that, the process for securing funding for new transit lines is far more onerous and less certain than for highway projects, with the federal government generally picking up a smaller share of the tab for new transit lines than for new highway projects."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Solar Roof Kit for Prius

This SEV solar module for the 2004 through 2006 Toyota Prius generates 215 watts of renewable energy and is the first compound convex solar module to be commercially produced
The SEV system provides up to 20 miles per day of electric mode driving range and increased fuel economy by up to 29%.
But more than that it looks schweet.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Chevy Volt Is (Really) A Go!

It's a milestone day. GM's CEO has announced that the Board of Directors has OK'd mass production of the Chevy Volt beginning in late 2010 -- moving that date from a goal to a commitment. That also sets the stage, we hope, for earlier preliminary rollouts of the vehicle in California and other receptive markets, which we think will become more likely as the presidential candidates weigh in with more details of their plans to promote plug-in cars.See for coverage and commentary. That website picks up a story from The Auto Channel:

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Bus Rapid Transit

Metrolinx has taken immediate steps to address our congestion and environmental problems. Called “Quick Wins” an early win was the approval of $57.6 million to cover the capital costs of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service along the Dundas Corridor (Highway #5) from Hamilton to Mississauga.

"This could be really good news, especially IF it is a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and not just a bt... bus transit. The BRTs have dedicated lanes so that they can actually be “rapid” and it would be a fantastic line, very well used. With the BRT people would go much faster than in a car and then there would be a real incentive to use it. People could link to it either through “feeder buses” or even walking or bicycling. When I was working for the City of Mississauga, it would have taken me 1:25 minutes each way using Oakville and Mississauga’s “transit systems” as opposed to 25 minutes by car; it would not make much sense to spend 2 additional hours per day of quality time on the bus, the equivalent of 15 working weeks per year!

People need the environmental incentives, but the minimum system has to be good enough to make sense."
-Gil Penalosa, Executive Director of Walk and Bike for Life

Thursday, May 29, 2008

High Speed Rail from Windsor to Quebec City

"The possibility of introducing high-speed passenger rail service in the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor has been investigated extensively on different occasions during the last two decades. However, a number of fundamental conditions have changed since the completion of these studies, including the following:

- Strong economic growth resulting in increased development along the corridor

- Increased congestion on highways and railways and in airports in the vicinity of the Corridor

- Increased implementation, reliability, and service performance of high-speed rail technology

- Increased interest in environmentally sustainable transportation

Consequently, the governments of Canada, Quebec, and Ontario have announced their intention to update several elements of the previous studies that may have changed substantially since 1995..."

The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, P.C., M.P.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Metrolinx has tough road ahead

Toronto Star
Monday, April 14, 2008

Road Map to Recovery
Byline: Tess Kalinowski and Daniel Girard

Every day, Rob MacIsaac gets a unique perspective on the monumental task of weaning the Toronto region off its automobile addiction.

The Metrolinx chair's ninth-floor office at the foot of Bay Street overlooks an exit ramp of the Gardiner Expressway where a seemingly endless flow of traffic inches into the city long after the traditional morning rush has ended.

Fewer than 8 per cent of regional commuters outside Toronto and 23 per cent in the city use public transit, according to the 2006 Transportation Tomorrow survey of the Toronto area. Add that to a rapidly growing regional population and it is clear nothing less than a massive cultural shift can save us from choking on our own congestion.

Smog days are now the norm in summer. Last year was the second-worst on record, with 29, contributing to an alarming incidence of respiratory illness and childhood asthma. Obesity has become the scourge of our drive-through lifestyle. Economically, road congestion costs $2 billion a year in lost productivity in the Toronto region.

And, without swift action, it's only going to get worse.

Metrolinx is planning based on a projected growth of 2.5 million in the region, pushing the population to 8.6 million by 2031. Most of that growth will occur in the municipalities outside the city of Toronto.

The job of Metrolinx as the province's transportation planning agency for the region spanning Oshawa and York Region to Hamilton, is to help us clean up our act. Its blueprint for an integrated infrastructure, the roads and rails, buses and bicycles that could help effect that shift, is due out this spring.

"We need to change the culture in transportation," said MacIsaac. "The car is going to play a role for the foreseeable future, but we can introduce a lot of elements in combination with the car to have a much more effective system than we have today."

That's especially true in the regions outside the city, where the convenience of a car almost always trumps an incomplete and inconsistent public transit system.

But for MacIsaac and the regional politicians on the Metrolinx board, at least the timing for change seems right. An Ipsos-Reid survey of 1,000 residents of the GTA and Hamilton last fall found two-thirds believe the best way to improve the region's traffic situation is by increasing public transit, compared with one-third calling for more roads.

The public is also clamouring for action on global climate change. And, earlier this month, Statistics Canada figures showed that between 2001 and 2005, the number of people walking or using public transit to get to work in Toronto was up 7.2 per cent, with those cycling rising by one-third in the Census Metropolitan Area.

Meanwhile, all three levels of government have pledged big money for public transit. Queen's Park, through Metrolinx, is spending $11.5 billion for 52 regional projects to expand subway, streetcar, light rail and bus services by 2020. Some of that money will help expand the TTC's Spadina and Yonge subway lines into York Region and build a network of light rail stretching to the farthest corners of the city's suburbs. Ottawa, which is being asked to pony up $6 billion for the provincial plan, hasn't committed to the Metrolinx plans but has earmarked some cash for its own transportation priorities.

So where do we go next?

Today and for the next five days, the Toronto Star will look at key transportation challenges facing the region and how other cities have tackled them. Ideas include road tolls, HOV lanes, parking and financial incentives to get people to share rides, take transit, walk, cycle and work a compressed week. Planners are trying to create communities easily accessible by public transit and other modes but also destinations in themselves, attracting workers, residents, shoppers and recreation seekers.

The series also examines some customer-service ideas, the high-tech and common-sense enhancements that could transform public transit's image.

MacIsaac does more than talk about being a model commuter. He takes a GO train from Burlington to downtown daily and uses a car-sharing firm or the subway if he needs to get around during the day.

His task now is to come up with a road map that will persuade others to get on board.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The built environment of suburbia is extremely hostile to children's most basic needs
Child Friendly Cities
Despite airs of child-friendliness, the actual built environment of suburbia is extremely hostile to children's most basic needs.
By Ryan McGreal Apr. 14, 2005

Our society makes a show of being child friendly, from playgrounds at fast food restaurants and furniture warehouses to the vast array of child-protection devices available to consumers. At the same time, our actual built environment is extremely hostile to children's most basic needs.
Richard Gilbert and Catherine O'Brien, writing for the Centre for Sustainable Transportation, have surveyed a huge body of research on how our built environment affects children, coming up with a list of 27 guidelines for creating safer, healthier communities.

According to Child- and Youth-Friendly Land-Use and Transport Planning Guidelines, children need fresh air, exercise, time to run and play, and a chance to move through neighbourhoods and interact with others. Instead, they are strapped into car seats and shuttled from destination to destination, missing exercise, breathing poisonous exhaust, and isolated from their communities. The low density development of "family friendly" subdivisions all but guarantees that parents must drive their children anywhere they need or want to go.

Children who do try to walk face automotive exhaust and the gauntlet of speeding cars if they want to get anywhere. The constant noise of traffic increases children's stress levels and the presence of cars forces children inside, where their opportunities to play and exercise are severely limited.

The results of sprawl development are clear: overweight children at higher lifetime risk of diabetes and heart disease, a significant increase in respiratory illness, even measurable effects on emotional development, concentration, and school performance.

These factors affect everyone's health, but children are especially susceptible, because their bodies are still developing and their lifestyle habits are still forming. Children also eat, drink, and breathe more by body weight than adults, increasing their rate of exposure to toxins.
Cars make low density development possible, and low density development requires cars. When buildings are spread out, distances between destinations are too far to walk and public transit systems can't operate efficiently. Further, the preponderance of cars on the road creates an unpleasant and unsafe environment for those people who do try to walk, further reinforcing car use.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Earth Hour 2008

photos: Woodbridge lantern walk

Hats off to Earth Hour

by Chris Winter Executive Director The Conservation Council of Ontario

It's fascinating reading all the griping and sniping about Earth Hour,mostly around whether or not it has any significant impact and why it didn'tchallenge us all to go deeper.

But hey, we just witnessed (and likely participated in) the biggestenvironmental event the world has ever seen. The initial estimates run up to100 million people worldwide. Yes, it was the eco equivalent of the world'slargest human wave, but by comparison the Live Earth concerts pegged only amere 1 million people as concert-goers. Both events were equally successfulin garnering media attention and raising public awareness around the globe,but Earth Hour just blew away all previous records for mass participation inan environmental event.

As one whose focus is on movement-based social marketing and eco campaigns,I truly have to say I am in awe of what Earth Hour accomplished.That said, let me offer my perception of the design weakness of Earth Hour:it is unconnected, save to the World Wildlife Fund.

To be effective, "simple action campaigns" must not only achieve widespreadparticipation, they must also support the development of deeper action,either through policy action or by building capacity.

Our Doors Closed <> campaign wasdesigned to promote a simple action - close your door when running an airconditioner. It also supported three retail conservation programs that couldhelp stores and restaurants make an even deeper commitment to conservation.

And it provided municipalities, retail associations and community groupswith material they could incorporate into their own activities. Awareness,simple action, deeper commitment and capacity building all rolled into asingle positive social marketing campaign.We have far too many simplistic public awareness campaigns at a time whenpublic awareness has never been greater.

If Earth Hour is to happen again next year, and I for one think it should,there are a few fine-tuning tweaks that would make it an even bettercampaign:

1. 9:00 o'clock, not 8:00 when the sun is still setting.

2. On or around April 22nd to link Earth Hour with Earth Day.

3. emphasize the symbolic celebration of our commitment to the planet(as opposed to the actual one-hour savings)

4. link the symbolic commitment to deeper commitments. This applies topolicy inititiatives as well as to voluntary measures by businesses,municipalities, and individuals.

5. Make it shareware, in particular to encourage donations to localgroups involved in promoting or delivering climate change solutionsEarth Hour was the right event at the right time this year.

It clearly struck a chord with governments, businesses and people the world over. Butlisten to the voices of the critics. and just about everyone I've talked tohad something critical to say (we are hard to please aren't we).My advice is simple, and yet difficult to heed: Think like a movement.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ontario Bike Plan

Cycle Ontario Alliance's Ontario Bike Plan is available to view on Toronto Bicycling Network's web site (one of the study's sponsors):
The Ontario Bike Plan presents a series of strategies for both recreational and utilitarian cycling to encourage cycling participation in Ontario, specifically focusing on the implementation of the Ontario Bicycling Route. The strategies take into account existing cycling conditions in Ontario, derived from data and research in various Ontario communities and elsewhere, as well as consultation with various stakeholders including provincial ministries, Cycle Ontario Alliance (COA) members and the general public through the COA’s web site.
The vision for cycling in Ontario is to create a bicycle-friendly Ontario that encourages people of all ages to cycle for recreation, fitness and transportation enhancing the overall health and quality of life of Ontarians.
This study was completed for Cycle Ontario Alliance/Ontario en vélo, a member-supported, non-profit corporation dedicated to non-competitive, on-road cycling activities and was funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Toronto Bicycling Network, North York Cycling Committee, Niagara Freewheelers and Sault Ste. Marie Velorution.
For further information about the Ontario Bike Plan or Cycle Ontario Alliance, please contact:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

This is really about making more room for cars

Subject: Let's all agree to the obvious: This is really about making more room for cars.
Road plan isn't about carpools or buses, it's just making room for more cars

JEFF GRAY Globe and Mail Mar. 10/08

Sixteenth Avenue, as I remember it, was in the late 1980s a charming two-lane county road, with mostly farmland - and real live cows - on one side, and on the other, the rapidly expanding world of two-car garages and front lawns, where my family lived.

While at least one of those farms is still there, 16th is now a wide-feeling four lanes - an ample buffer zone graces its middle in stretches - and a busy commuter artery, funnelling traffic to Highway 404.

It is lined mostly with the backyards of houses that are hidden away in twisty-street subdivisions, and passes parking lots, plazas and gas stations. It is sprawl in a nutshell:

Great for cars, if you aren't expecting too many of them and don't mind mild ugliness, and lousy for pedestrians, cyclists and public transit.

Now, 16th Avenue is on a list of a staggering number of York Region's main roads that regional chairman Bill Fisch wants to widen, in this case, making my onetime sleepy country road six or seven lanes across.

Mr. Fisch says the plan is about creating high-occupancy vehicle lanes for carpoolers and buses. But let's not kid ourselves. Public transit up here is still a fringe affair, despite recent advances thanks to the region's shiny, new Viva bus system. And any HOV lanes along these roads are either going to be unenforceable or only meant to be enforced in rush hours.

Let's all agree to the obvious: This is really about making more room for cars.

Armed with his HOV-Iane fig leaf, Mr. Fisch even recently scolded Toronto Mayor David Miller for refusing to match York Region's road-widenings on Toronto's roads south of Steeles Avenue.

Mr. Miller and Toronto's traffic planners, however, have concluded that widening roads is a short-term fix, and so is no fix at all. In just a few years sometimes mere months - the new lanes simply clog with more cars.

Even York Regionites, mostly a car-loving people, are rising up against the widening plans. The resistance has admittedly been driven by people who live along 16th Avenue and are not keen to have what will amount to a highway right next to their back-yards. A petition has been circulating, crowds have been packing political meetings, and Markham town council voted recently to ask York Region to consider other options.

"It seems like it's time to draw a line in the sand with regard to urban sprawl," said local resident Peter Miasek, a semi-retired environmental adviser to Imperial Oil, who has been spearheading efforts to stop the widening.

He acknowledges that for an hour in the morning, traffic on 16th Avenue is quite busy, and that it maybe takes five more minutes than it once did to zip across. But four-lane main arteries, with better public transit in the mix, seem to serve big, busy Toronto well, he observes: "We know that four-lane roads plus transit works, because south of Steeles, that's pretty much all you've got down there."

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti said the town has asked York Region to look at whether the various planned future improvements to public transit the Yonge subway extension, improved GO service - will take the pressure off the need to widen roads as the area continues its massive population growth. But in an interview, he seemed unwilling to go to the barricades to fight a wider 16th Avenue: "At the end of the day, though, we do need to solve the traffic problem."

York Region has referred Markham's request to its transportation department for further study.

Stephen Collins, who manages the roads branch of York Region's engineering transportation services department, provided a chart that shows that if current trends continue, much of 16th would be at or above capacity by 2021.

He said the region's strategy, which used to call for nothing ,but road widenings, has matured into a plan to create a "transit priority network," with wider roads of HOV transit lanes to feed local bus passengers to its Viva bus rapid transit system.

Still, this is York Region. Many long-standing residents moved there years ago for the "open spaces," Mr. Collins says, and they are not going to give up their car keys.

"They are car users and they will always be car users, and despite our best efforts to encourage them to use transit, they never will. So we need to recognize that we have those people in our community, and we need to provide services for them."

Maybe there is no alternative.

Maybe there are so many cars, and so many malls. and so many low-rise office complexes dotting Markham and Richmond Hill that there is no use even bothering to fight against a wider 16th Avenue. Or maybe this considerable handicap means York Region needs to adopt a much more radical approach to transportation, well outside of its comfortable four-wheeled box.

Dr. Gridlock appears Mondays.

They are car users and they will always be car users, and despite our best efforts to encourage them to use transit, they never will.

Stephen Collins

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

ZENN gears up for jump to highway speed cars

Low-speed electric car maker ZENN Motor Co. released its first-quarter results last week and provided an update on plans to introduce a highway-speed vehicle based on EEStor's energy storage system. Here's what the company said: In anticipation of the EEStor technology being successfully commercialized, the Company is readying its plans to incorporate the technology in its ZENN product offerings. In addition, the Company has begun investigation of options for developing its future generation of longer-range, highway-capable vehicles. Two of the more promising opportunities being examined are retrofit kits and a small to mid-size automobile (curb weight less than 1400 Kg/3087 lbs) with highway capable speeds and range.
Newstex Blog, February 19, 2008

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Biking: My Life, My Love

"Ever bike? Now that's something that makes life worth living! I take exercise every afternoon that way. Oh, to just grip your handlebars and lay down to it, and go ripping and tearing through streets and road, over railroad tracks and bridges, threading crowds, avoiding collisions, at twenty miles or more an hour, and wondering all the time when you're going to smash up. Well now, that's something! And then go home again after three hours of it, into the tub, rub down well, then into a soft shirt and down to the dinner table, with the evening paper and a glass of wine in prospect - and then to think that tomorrow I can do it all over again!" -- Jack London

Student Bicycle Essay Contest:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

City's poor stranded in suburbs

Getting ready in the morning usually means grabbing your car keys or your bus pass. Which one of these you take says a lot less about who you are than about where you are. In Canada's big cities, only half of adults who live in the downtown core drive every day. Outside this core, four out of five adults drive every day, which is natural since fewer interesting places are within walking distance. In the newer suburban developments in the quickest-growing parts of the 905 region, walking to the nearest grocery store can seem like an epic trip. In Canada's suburbs, where you work, play, eat and sleep might well be in totally different areas of the community. This makes a car your ticket into a full suburban life.

Toronto Star, P.AA8, February 13, 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Walkability Revival

Governing, Feb 01, 2008

Will more people who can afford suburban privacy be attracted to the noise and bustle of the urban street?

The late geographer John B. Jackson, in lectures he gave on life in cities around the world, would talk in vivid detail about where to find the best urban walking. He'd cite Naples, Barcelona, Istanbul — cities where on a warm summer evening, the entire population seemed to be out in the street: strolling, gossiping, indulging in the simple habits of old-fashioned pedestrian life.
And then he'd throw the audience a curve. "You know why those people are out there?" he would ask. "Because it's hot and crowded and uncomfortable inside. They go into the street for relief." Jackson believed that whenever housing conditions improve, almost anywhere in the world, with more family space and controllable temperatures inside — vibrant street life begins to decline.

Jackson wasn't happy to see people move indoors. He loved street life, and he loved walking. But he felt there was no way to escape a central truth: As much as people may romanticize the virtues of an urban life lived in the streets — even seek it out on vacations — they don't choose it when they have an option.

It's hard to argue with that as a description of life in this country in the last quarter of the 20th century. But is it an immutable principle or just a phase in the evolution of Western society? Is it possible that, in the current century, significant numbers of people who can afford suburban privacy will be attracted to the noise and bustle of the urban street?

Well, not in the old-fashioned way, no. Memphis is not going to morph into Old Istanbul anytime soon. People in this country will never go back to spending large portions of their leisure time rambling aimlessly outdoors.

But if you ask the question a slightly different way — Will many more of us be drawn toward a style of life that involves some form of walkable daily routine? — then I think you get a different answer. You begin to suspect that demographics and personal preferences are reshaping the American city toward street life and sociability in ways nobody would have expected even a short time ago.

Admittedly, there is room for skepticism. New Urbanist planners and theorists have spent the past decade preaching the virtues of pedestrian friendliness, neo-traditional development, and higher levels of urban density overall. In spite of their preaching, cul-de-sac suburbia has spread further into the countryside in every metropolitan area of the country. In most of them, it continues to do so.

But in the past year or two, it seems to me, something has changed. It's not just the New Urbanists who are talking the language of walkability now. It's developers, Realtors, chambers of commerce, transportation agencies. Market forces are sending signals that none of them can afford to ignore.

Where should we start? How about in lower Manhattan, around Wall Street and the territory near Ground Zero, on an ordinary Saturday morning. It's not the number of people on the sidewalk that's striking; this part of New York is bound to attract tourists. It's the number of children's strollers. The lower Manhattan streets are dense on weekends with families out for a walk, going to the park, going to the grocery store. It's not Istanbul, but you can't help noticing it. Watching it all, you'd almost think that lower Manhattan was becoming a residential neighborhood.

In fact, that's what it IS becoming. In the six years since September 11, 2001, this area of Manhattan has witnessed a massive increase in the number of new residential units, some of them from office-building conversion, some from the construction of brand-new glass towers. It has happened so fast that it's hard even to get a grip on the numbers. But one estimate is that the number of people living south of the World Trade Center was about 15,000 in 2001, and that it is close to 50,000 now. At the current pace, it's not unreasonable to predict that in 2015, the bottom of Manhattan will essentially be a condo and apartment district with a modest residual presence of financial corporations where some of the residents are employed.

That may not happen. Extrapolating is always dangerous. What really matters is that events like this are starting to transpire, in different ways, in many cities around the country. Atlanta is one of the most intriguing examples. It is not the place it was a few years ago, with a stagnant center surrounded by vibrant, auto-dependent suburban enclaves. Most of the suburbs are still doing all right, but it's the city itself, especially the area around Midtown, that is being transformed by residential construction. The trigger was Atlantic Station, a massive $2 billion mixed-use development on an old steel mill site surrounding a transit station that opened in 2005 and will eventually house more than 10,000 people.

In the Dallas area, one of the most interesting new residential projects is Legacy Town Center, an urbanist experiment whose promoters tell prospective residents that "the beat of the city surrounds you. You're in the know, everything is close at hand. You can walk, skate, or bike and find everything you need." The interesting thing about Legacy Center is that it's not in the city at all. It's in the suburb of Plano, 15 miles from downtown. The management has sold buyers on the notion of walkability in a place where hardly anyone has walked anywhere by choice for the past two decades.

Legacy Center isn't working out by coincidence: It's working out because it's located a few steps from the Plano rail station near the end of the Red Line on the Dallas transit system. And that brings up an interesting point about the whole resurgence of walkability. It's closely intertwined with transit, even in places where transit has never been a popular mode of transportation. Urban transit systems in this country face so many problems, both financial and political, that it's easy to lose sight of just how many new ones are being built, especially in areas of the South and West, such as Dallas, Phoenix and Denver.

Since 2000, Christopher Leinberger notes in his new book, "The Option of Urbanism," more than $100 billion has been invested around the country in transit systems of many different sorts. When major transit projects have gone to the voters for approval, more than two-thirds of them have passed. Leinberger, a developer who teaches real estate at the University of Michigan, may be the boldest prophet of walkability anywhere. "The United States," he writes, "is on the verge of a new phase in constructing its built environment."

One may be forgiven for considering him a trifle hyperbolic. But he offers numbers, not just stories, to back up his point of view. He compares prices for comparable residential units in what he calls "walkable urban places" and "drivable suburbs" in the same metropolitan area. According to his figures, townhouses in the Lodo section of downtown Denver were recently selling for $487 per square foot. A conventional detached suburban house in Highland Ranch, a few miles outside of town, was costing $195 per square foot. The same ratio, more or less, existed wherever he looked.

The problem for walkable urbanism in the next few years, Leinberger says, won't be an absence of demand. It will be a shortage of supply. "The demand is so great," he insists, "that we are going to have a difficult time keeping up with it."

Leinberger believes that supply will be slowed down by two fundamental factors. One is zoning: Most urban zoning codes, even in cities where there is a demonstrated demand for walkability, still do not allow the degree of density that the most enticing forms of sidewalk sociability would require. Some of this has been addressed through "overlays" — smaller pedestrian-oriented enclaves within larger conventionally zoned districts — but there's little doubt that zoning has to be addressed in a more fundamental way if the walkability revival is to reach its full potential.
The other obstacle, Leinberger believes, is lending. In his view, Wall Street banks and other major institutional investors remain wary of walkable projects. These developments lack the uniformity lenders like, and they take longer to earn back the investment. This attitude may prevail, but I don't think it will prevail for long. Even banks are smart enough to respond to demand.

Just last year, as Leinberger notes, Toll Brothers, the country's largest developer of suburban luxury housing, formally created a "Walkable Urban Housing" division. Less conspicuous, but just as interesting, was the launch a few months ago of, a Web site that allows anyone to type in any address in the U.S. and come out with a number assessing just how walkable that location is, based on the proximity of stores, restaurants, parks and other urban amenities. What's intriguing about isn't just the hits it's getting — it's the audience it's aimed at. Walkscore is a tool for Realtors to use in persuading potential buyers that a house has the financial advantages of a walkable location.

One could write millions of words offering reasons why urban walkability is finally close to the tipping point: high energy costs, reduced crime, aging baby boomers, the evolving preferences of Generations Y and Z. All of these contain a measure of truth. What matters in the end, though, isn't so much the sociological explanation. It's the fact that tens of millions of Americans are being given choices about where and how to live that they haven't possessed in the past generation. I can't imagine anyone arguing that isn't a welcome thing.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Monday, February 4, 2008

Spreading Sprawl

Canadians are becoming more and more dependent on the automobile, Stats-Can told us last week, citing figures showing that 74% of Canadians are full-time drivers, up from 70% in 1998 and 68% in 1992. This trend, a natural consequence of suburban sprawl, is only to be expected. Our governments spend billions to promote the use of suburbs. Take the most recent shot in the arm for sprawl, British Columbia's $14-billion plan to enable longer, faster commutes; to develop the low-density areas outside Vancouver; to enable the dispersion of Vancouverites to the outlying areas; and to counter the natural incentive we all have to live close to our places of work, study, and play.
National Post, P.FP15, February 2, 2008

Monday, January 28, 2008

In the News...

Metrolinx to release Active Transportation Green Paper
A draft version of the Metrolinx (formerly the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority) Green Paper on Active Transportation is up for approval by its board this Friday, January 25th, and will then be released for public comment.
You can read the report by clicking here
Viva sets wheels in motion for rapid transit on Yonge
The wheels are in motion for officials to move forward with rapid transit on Yonge Street. The question is, will it be bus lanes or subway line? In 2005, Viva launched its 20-year transportation plan. Its second phase is a $1.8 billion project to install bus-only lanes on Yonge Street, between Steeles Avenue and Highway 7, then north to Bernard Street in Richmond Hill.
Thornhill Post, P. 9, January 31, 2008
StatsCan: Our car addiction is growing
Don't you just love statistics that challenge conventions and puncture presumptions? Until recently, my favourite batch were those suggesting that U.S. states that permit citizens to carry concealed handguns have lower rates of violent crime. Citing those statistics is like sticking a mischievous finger in the eye of anyone who wants to ban handguns in Canada. My latest favourite, though, is a new Statistics Canada report showing that despite all the gum-beating we do about protecting the environment, Canadians are actually more dependent on their cars with each passing year, even in big cities with good public transit.
Hamilton Spectator, P. 19, January 25, 2008
News Release: Consultation begin for Canada's first motor vehicle fuel consumption regulation
OTTAWA - Transport Canada is reminding Canadians that consultations for the country's first motor vehicle fuel consumption regulations have begun, as announced on January 17, 2008 by the Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. The Government of Canada recognizes that the transportation sector is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and for the first time the government will regulate the fuel consumption of cars and light trucks, beginning with the 2011 model year.
Transport Canada, January 23, 2008

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Parkway Bike Path, Queen's, NY

Transit in Canada

Western urban dwellers love their cars
REBECCA DUBE Globe and Mail January 23, 2008
City living doesn't mean a car-free existence - in fact, 69 per cent of people living in Canada's largest cities travel everywhere by car, according to a Statistics Canada survey released yesterday that details urban driving habits.

Most likely to buckle up are baby-boomer men in Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg, while Montreal women aged 18 to 24 are least likely to drive downtown.

But the biggest predictor of your driving habits is not who you are, but in what kind of neighbourhood you live.

"The way our cities are built has a huge impact on our dependency on cars," says Martin Turcotte, the study's author and a social-science researcher with Statscan.
Canadians increasingly depend on cars, despite growing concerns about pollution from auto emissions and even though we're steadily congregating in cities with public transit.

The proportion of adults who travel exclusively by car increased from 68 per cent in 1992 to 74 per cent in 2005, according to Statscan. Meanwhile, the proportion of Canadians who cycled or walked at least one trip a day fell to 19 per cent from 26 per cent during the same period.

The aging of the population may be partly to blame, Mr. Turcotte says, but the type of neighbourhood influences driving and walking decisions even more strongly than creaky knees. More people want to live in cities, but most new houses are built in low-density neighbourhoods far from the city centre, where people live a more suburban and car-dependent lifestyle.

"Many neighbourhoods are designed in such a way there's no other possibility than travelling with your car," Mr. Turcotte says.

Car culture influences everything from zoning rulings to the decision many cities make to plow snow off streets before they clear the sidewalks, says Preston Schiller, a professor with Queen's University's school of urban and regional planning.

"If we want to take this issue seriously, we need to start with feet first; we need to make communities more walkable," Dr. Schiller says. "You can't just plop down a high-rise condo out in the middle of nowhere and expect miracles to happen."

Mr. Turcotte found a huge difference in the composition of urban neighbourhoods across Canada. In Montreal, for instance, 93 per cent of inner-city neighbourhoods are high-density, defined as mostly multifamily homes and apartment buildings rather than detached single-family houses. By contrast, only 30 per cent of Calgary's downtown housing is high-density.

The different types of housing translate directly into different ways of travelling, Mr. Turcotte says. Only 29 per cent of downtown Montreal residents made all their trips by car, compared with 66 per cent of Calgary's inner-city dwellers.

Statscan looked at driving patterns gleaned from the 2005 general social survey, which asked Canadians about the trips they made on one particular day. Trips were defined as travel with a practical purpose - cycling or walking for exercise or pleasure did not count.

Car culture
The percentage of people in major Canadian cities (18 and over) who made all their trips (on the reference day) using a car compared with those who used public transit for at least one trip.
Toronto 66% 16%
Montreal 65% 18%
Vancouver 69% 12%
Ottawa 71% 15%
Calgary 75% 12%
Edmonton 77% 9%
Quebec 74% 9%
Winnipeg 72% 10%
Medium cities 75% 7%
Smaller cities 81% 3%

Transit in Canada. It's a joke
JOHN BARBER Jan. 23/08

I remember talking to an Edmonton friend about the Kyoto Protocol back when sophisticated opinion in Alberta held the thing to be little better than a Communist plot.

"What's the alternative?" he asked sarcastically, after a long, detailed denunciation of naive environmentalism. "Public transit?"

He was so scathing he shut me right up. But at the time we were riding a minivan through suburban Calgary, which is to say Calgary, so what could I say? Public transit was not an alternative. To suggest it was would have been blindly Toronto-centric.

A Montrealer might have made the same mistake, but the fact remains: The only Canadians for whom public transit is a welcome alternative to car travel generally live within a few kilometres of two, maybe three, widely separated city centres.

"Residents of Calgary and Edmonton are more dependent on their cars than those living in other large census metropolitan areas," Statistics Canada reported yesterday, summarizing the findings of a new study. But why single them out? With respect to car dependency, they are identical to Canadians in medium cities and small towns, indeed everywhere else except those few constrained centres.

Transit-dependent, pedestrian-friendly Canada - urban Canada, in effect - is vanishingly small in size.

Only 29 per cent of Montrealers living in the very centre of town travel everywhere by car, according to the study, compared with 43 per cent of equivalent Torontonians. But a majority of people living farther than five kilo metres from the centre of each city travel everywhere by car. A majority of all Vancouverites, no matter where in town they live, still go everywhere by car.

No wonder successive national governments in this country, alone in the developed world, have pretended they aren't responsible for ' public transit: Seen clearly, the challenge seems hopeless.

It isn't getting any easier, according to Statistics Canada, despite demographic trends that are piling more of the country's population into urban centres.

Depressingly, the share of adult Canadians "who went everywhere by car" has risen from two-thirds to three-quarters since 1992, according to the study. Over the same period, the share of Canadians who occasionally walked or rode bikes has dropped from one-quarter to less than one-fifth.

Transit in Canada? A joke. "How can we explain why Canadians, most of whom live in large metropolitan regions, now need their cars more than ever to go about their daily business?" the study asks.

There are lots of potential answers, beginning with the fact that there is still nothing remotely urban about so-called urban development in Canada today. But attitudes always show up. Age and sex are just as likely as location to create driving dependence, according to the study.

Male baby boomers, no matter where they live, are the worst offenders. They are also the ones, according to my own experience, who complain most trenchantly about the lack of alternatives. But if every car trip is so necessary, why do older people take more than twice as many of them as younger people? The answer is that they can afford to. Even given a reasonable alternative, Canadians who own cars overwhelmingly choose to use them, more and more, for every conceivable trip - including millions of unnecessary ones. They rationalize by saying there is no alternative, which is often true but just as often not.

Look to the future and what do you see? Suburban Calgary from sea to sea.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Report recommends new road tolls, gas tax

A study released today suggests you pay even more for your daily commute. Financing Public Transit and Transportation in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton (GTAH) was commissioned by the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario and authored by Trent University economics professor Harry Kitchen. In his report, Mr. Kitchen said the time has come for governments to act boldly to rein in the infrastructure spending deficit as property taxes and user fees just aren't cutting it.
York Region Era Banner, January 21, 2008

Lukewarm response to road tolls; New study proposes tolls for highways, but don't expect to see them anytime soon
Ontario should follow the example set by some European countries and charge drivers road tolls, congestion fees and gas levies to pay for necessary highway upgrades and improved public transit, a study recommended yesterday. Although the province's former finance minister is already putting the brakes on the proposal, the study's author said the extra charges on 400-series highways and major thoroughfares around the Greater Toronto Area would help reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and traffic jams by getting people off the roads.
Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo Record, P.A3, January 22, 2008

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Who Killed the Electric Car? - Documentary

It's mind-boggling to know that from 1996 to 2001, GM produced the EV1, an electric car so good that people who had one said they'd never go back to gas. Despite being a waiting list to get an EV1, GM took back all the cars, destroyed them, and claimed there was no demand.

Who killed the electric car
:? oil companies, car companies, the US government, California Air Resources Board, and the hydrogen fuel cell.

It's a no brainer. We need electric cars and plug-in hybrids. The technology exists today.
See the documentary, and sign the Canadian National Campaign for Electric Vehicles:
And also at Plug-in America

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Clear-cutting our forests

Some of the current forestry practices, even here in Ontario, are very short-sighted. In 2005 I witnessed first-hand the clear-cutting of our Northern Ontario boreal forest while driving on a logging road north of the Agoki River (see photos below).

"A forest is far more than trees. It includes the soil, with all its interdependent bugs, fungi, burrowing mammals, grownd-covers and undergrowth, the trees themselves, the birds and animals living in or moving through it, the natural water systems and the air. A forest is a balanced ecosystem. If you destroy that balance, you are going to be in trouble." -Merv Wilkinson
"By selective logging at or below the growth rate of the trees in a forest, trees can be profitably harvested indefinitely instead of once every hundred years or more. Nor is the diversity that is the key to resilience and regeneration sacrificed when trees are selectively removed." -David Suzuki

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Paved paradise

GO Transit abandons pedestrian-friendly station to build jumbo parking lot for car-happy commuters.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

ITDP Sustainable Transport Awards

Please come and join us celebrate these cities that are

transforming their streets and fighting climate change

to create high-quality public spaces

Being held at the
Washington Hilton
International Ballroom West
1919 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20008
Doors open at 6:00
With hors d’ouevres and beverages
Award ceremony begins at 6:30
All are welcome!

For more information about our award and previous winners, visit: