the renewed city.

structural effects b/w built environment and travel GHG emissions in vancouver
December 8, 2009, 10:12 am
Filed under: ideas, presentation

follow this link to download a copy of my masters thesis defense presentation which was given 4 december 2009 at ubc’s institute for resources, environment and sustainability. the research’s abstract is as follows …

This thesis summarizes efforts to isolate and quantify fundamental relationships among built environment characteristics, activity patterns and vehicle use in order to assess their relative influences on vehicle GHG emissions in the Metro Vancouver region of British Columbia, Canada. Activity-based structural equation models were specified in a cross-sectional study design using local travel survey data and highly detailed urban form data. This approach yielded two benefits. First, structural equation analysis permitted explicit modeling of the indirect effects between built environment variables and vehicle emissions as mediated through activity patterns and vehicle use. Second, modeling travel at the activity-tour level allowed for a deeper understanding of the relative contributions of local and regional built environment variables is explaining tour complexity, vehicle use and emissions. Controlling for pertinent socio-economic and demographic variables, standardized parameter coefficients show the built environment to be a significantly strong predictor of vehicle-related GHG emissions across all models, although the strength and magnitude of these effects is demonstrated to vary by activity tour type. The local built environment is a stronger predictor of vehicle use and related emissions for non-work/school tours, while regional accessibility measures yielded larger effects on the carbon-intensity of work and school tours. Vehicle accessibility yielded consistently significant and large effects on vehicle use and emissions across all models. Findings suggest that policy directions beyond promoting more compact, walkable and regionally connected development to curb emissions are required. Additional strategies may include those that address vehicle use in a more direct manner, including higher taxation, insurance or parking fees. Future research would benefit by incorporating travel and residential preferences to control for self-selection, assessing the affect of the work and school built environment on activity patterns and undertaking a more holistic assessment of the links between the built environment and total household emissions and energy use (including building, transportation, etc).

vancouver’s view corridor review exercise missing the point.
December 7, 2009, 9:01 pm
Filed under: commentary

today’s globe and mail includes an article reporting on city of vancouver planning director brent toderian’s decision to allow four new extra-tall buildings on the city’s skyline, including one with a potential height of 700 feet.

the issue at stake is the city’s view corridor’s of the north shore mountains.

by allowing for only a handful of super-tall structures in the downtown core, the city is missing an opportunity to strengthen the existing view corridors with a sound and coherent policy direction. certainly, such a haphazard approach may lead to unintended precedences that could ultimately diminish this city’s extraordinary visual backdrop into the future.

vancouver is lagging behind when it comes to cycling.
May 14, 2009, 6:29 pm
Filed under: commentary

Recently, I was interviewed by The Tyee, BC’s leading online news publication, regarding cycling culture and infrastructure in Metro Vancouver. I’ve pasted the article below.


Cyclist demand could help improve infrastructure

“More people cycling creates a demand for systems to accommodate cycling,” said Tim McDaniels, a professor at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning.

Hundreds of riders have taken advantage of Bike to Work Week’s free food and bike maintenance offered by organizers, said program director Erin O’Melinn.

“Our numbers are at least equal to last year, if not better.”

In addition to benefits such as reduced fossil fuels and decreased noise, McDaniels said increased cycling could go a long way to reduce traffic congestion.

“It is quite possible for cycling to play a much larger role than it does in commuting.”

Events such as Bike to Work Week are important because they raise awareness about transit alternatives, said Andrew Devlin, a graduate student at the UBC Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability.

The daily commute is the most consistent cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Vancouver, he said.

“Substituting our cars with a bike for this trip then has big potential for helping reduce our daily travel emissions.”

Vancouver currently trails behind a number of similar-sized cities in terms of the number of people cycling to work.

Only two per cent of Metro Vancouver residents ride bicycles for their commute compared to 35 per cent in Copenhagen, Denmark, Devlin said, attributing at least some of this difference to government investment.

“Copenhagen injects millions of dollars annually into building a good network of cycling infrastructure to make it easier for people to use their bikes to get around,” he said.

“Vancouver has enough problems trying to get one cycling lane on the Burrard Bridge.”

Morgan J. Modjeski reports for The Tyee.

ubc alumni dialogue
May 7, 2009, 9:51 am
Filed under: presentation

Last night, I had the chance to speak at a ubc alumni event entitled “Is there a light at the end of the tunnel: solutions to Surrey’s transportation quagmire.” The event was a panel discussion where myself, along with Mr. Clark Lim, a former transportation planer with TransLink and current PhD student at UBC, fielded questions and comments about both surrey’s and the larger fraser valley’s transportation woes. We had a great turn out of around 60 people who were very engaged and excited to talk about the subject (always a great thing to see).

At the onset I was able to give a brief overview of some of the local transportation research coming out of UBC. I touched on the idea that many of our transportation problems are the product of our daily travel behaviour which, in turn, is directly influenced by the way we plan and built our town and cities.I highlighted some key findings of recent research coming out of UBC that has explored the link between land use and travel patterns, physical activity and travel-related emissions. Of note:

  • Adults living in the top 25% most walkable areas in Metro Vancouver were between 2 and 3 times more likely to walk or take transit for any home-based trip compared to those in the least walkable neighbourhoods;
  • Adults living in the top 25% most walkable neighbourhoods drive approximately 58% less than those in more auto-oriented areas;
  • Residents living in the top 25% most walkable areas in Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria were half as likely to be overweight than those in the least walkable neighbourhoods;
  • Persons who felt they had many shops within easy walking distance were more than twice as likely to meet recommended physical activity requirements compared with those who did not.

The first two points are from a study entitled “Active Transportation Benefits of Walkable Approaches to Community Design in Metro Vancouver” which was completed by myself and Dr. Lawrence Frank with funding from the BC Recreation and Parks Association. The last two findings are found in “Promoting Physical Activity through Healthy Community Design,” a study funded by the Vancouver Foundation and prepared by Dr. Frank, Megan Winters, Brian Patterson and Cora Craig.

This work and others like it are helping to shape a local evidence base that supports the notion that encouraging less driving and increasing alternative forms of travel starts with planning and building places that make walking attractive, convenient and appropriate. 

You can download a copy of my presentation here. The event was also recorded as a podcast that can be downloaded at the iTunes Canada store

where is vancouver headed?
May 2, 2009, 3:33 pm
Filed under: ideas

every year, vancouver is drenched in praise from around the world for it’s leadership in sustainability, urban design and quality of life. certainly, a key element helping contribute to many of these achievements is the city’s equally well-recognized built environment. the downtown core is one of the most walkable and livable neighbourhoods in all of north america. a lack of freeways and heavy investment in traffic calming has helped discourage car use and foster a culture of active transportation and public transit. the introduction and spread of citizen planning committees in the 1970s gave residents an outlet to be engaged in the growth and development of their own neighbourhoods and molded strong community pride and ownership.

vancouver’s reputation, and the means that have helped to shape it, did not happen by accident. they are the products of visionaries who were not afraid to challenge more dominant but by no means appropriate paradigms of the time. two big ones that come to mind are the urban renewal policies of the 1960s and the stifling, top-down, and unbureacratic planning approaches of the 1970s. surely, if vancouver followed the lead of cities like atlanta or buffalo, i would not be sitting here writing this today.

this acknowledgment, however, yields a very important observation. the foundations of vancouver’s success today is in large part due to the actions of the past. and so, it is logical to ask, then, where is vancouver and the greater vancouver region headed today? or, better yet, are we doing enough to maintain the understructure laid by those before us? does creativity and ingenuity continue to play a key role in the maturation of our city or the growth of the city’s outlying areas? or has the city or region as a whole fallen victim to a sort of apathetic mentality that in turn fosters a similar attitude in its people and development patterns?

these are important questions that need to be tackled if vancouver and it’s surrounding areas are to remain sustainable and livable well into the future. i’d like to explore this idea over the course of this year. while i don’t have a ‘game plan’ on how to tackle it just yet i am leaning towards breaking the question down into smaller, more workable parts like themes. of course, i would love to hear any feedback you might have on the topic of vancouver’s future as well.

stay tuned.

stricter tailpipe standards are on their way in the U.S.
January 25, 2009, 9:44 pm
Filed under: commentary

the globe and mail is reporting that the freshly-minted obama administration will soon push through policy allowing individual u.s. states to control their own tailpipe emissions. the announcement comes after years of lobbying by california and 13 other states that fell on deaf ears in the bush administration.

there’s no doubt that such an announcement will ruffle some feathers. i can already hear the arguments that  the policy will force vehicle manufacturers to spend billions of dollars and countless other resources to meet dozens of different emission standards from michigan to florida to oregon. but looking at the policy from a more rational and economic perspective what’s more likely to happen will be that the highest common denominator will become the de facto national standard and the one that car manufacturer’s will likely plan and design for (here’s looking at you california).

that being the case, though, i can see the real potential for a real bureaucratic nightmare. letting individual states essentially compete to push forward the ‘golden’ standard may be a huge waste of resources, research and taxpayer dollars. given that, the more appropriate course of action may have been for the obama administration to enact nation-wide standards comparable to those in california or washington.

either way, it’s pretty good news. once the new standards are in place the united states will hopefully start to see some big improvements in air quality and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. so too will canada as the regulations start to trickle north of the border. clean fuel technology should become cheaper and more accessible as it is used in all new cars.

of course, these benefits will only be incurred if we haven’t outgrown our affinity with motoring and already switch to far cleaner modes of transportation like walking, cycling and public transit. without more walkable cities and efficient and accessible mass transit systems, though, this may be a long way off, what with the increased spending in roads and highways in the name of economic recovery, and we’ll have to just settle for cleaner (but still noisy and obstructive) cars and trucks.

the environmental costs of a google search
January 18, 2009, 9:52 pm
Filed under: commentary

cbc, bbc, and the times (uk) are all reporting on a recent study by harvard physicist Alex Wissner-Gross demonstrating, albeit probably through very painstaking calculations, that running two google searches releases the same amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as boiling a kettle of tea, about 7g of CO2.

this is certainly interesting stuff, in a very nerdy, academic kind-of-way. but lets get real here. the fact that such minuscule pollution associated with ‘googling’ is making major headlines around the world represents a disheartening distraction from much more pressing emission-related issues that all too often go ignored in mainstream media. these are, of course, the fact that most of us drive too much, eat food from halfway around the world, live in bigger houses and consume way too much stuff.

if we want to make real headway in reducing emissions, we need to get people thinking about how they can change their behaviour and actions when it comes to these ‘big ticket items’, not whether or not they should open up google to peruse for a bootlegged copy of the new U2 single.

sleek new lights to help organize urban chaos.
November 27, 2008, 11:14 am
Filed under: bits n pieces

i’m a bit of a sucker for the small things, the fine detail. so i was mildly stoked when i came across a european design firm’s new concept for traffic and pedestrian signals.

the square design is supposed to help make the signals more easily noticeable and recognizable, with larger lit area for the same overall dimensions. i love the bright colour of the signal lighting and the sleek nature of the infrastructure itself. i could see these really fitting in with the urban fabric in downtown vancouver, especially were weather conditions (dark, rain and sleet) often make it difficult to see the existing traffic lights. what really strikes me, though, is the design attention devoted the pedestrian signals. i enjoy the clean and crisp crossing countdown.

more information and images at art lebedev studios.

thoughts on bailouts.
November 26, 2008, 12:00 pm
Filed under: commentary

does the north american auto industry deserve a bailout, a heaping lump sum of tax payer money delivered to their front door?

it depends.

this is stagnant, troubled industry, namely because of it’s seeming refusal over the last half century to want to change the way they do business. this is an industry that has made many north american’s believe that larger, gas guzzling cars and trucks are what every one of us needs. this is an industry that has spent millions of dollars lobbying against federal fuel-economy standards and are suing to overturn the emissions standards imposed by California and other states. this is an industry that let more progressive companies like honda and toyota walk all over them. if the industry maintains it’s present course, a bailout certainly won’t help fix this mess.

instead, what’s needed is a change from within, a shift in thinking about travel and transportation. at the most fundamental level, this change starts with the auto industry reorienting it’s operations to deliver transportation as a means, not as an end in and of itself. what might this entail? it could mean these companies partnering with other industries to help develop high speed inter-urban rail vehicles, energy and fuel efficient intra-city buses, and other systems that would improve travel options and alternatives for everyone, reduce global warming and our dependency on dirty fossil fuel, minimize accidents, and generally improve the way we could also mean a new lobbying role for automakers – i mean transportmakers – pushing for state/provincial and municipal officials to plan for better, more compact and walkable cities and towns that are required to support alternative transport modes.

this shift in thinking should not need to translate into job loss. in fact, i believe new opportunities for re-training of existing staff and personal and re-tooling of plant operations may emerge. so to would new marketing and sales opportunities.

a financial bailout could certainly help kick start such a paradigm shift. but before any money is given away, the auto industry – i mean transportmakers – need to be serious about becoming progressive. business plans need to be developed and presented to government showing timelines for the development of new transportion options, re-tooling operations, re-training staff, etc.

this is a daunting but also exciting opportunity for the re-invetion of the transportation industry. surprisingly, i think things are so bad that the auto industry is perhaps finally up for the challenge. however, whether these actions are too little too late to help our crumbling cities and environment is another post for another day.

weathering the storm: where are the safe havens in urban canada?
October 20, 2008, 11:56 am
Filed under: commentary, ideas

it is apparent that a canadian recession cometh or, at least, an economic tailspin. to be fair, although government and business leaders are working hard to avoid such a scenario, certain areas of the country are likely to feel deep and prolonged economic wounds. the question is which areas of the nation are better positioned to cope with a pending economical ‘shock and awe’ storm?

recent work in the united states, the epicenter of the current crisis, suggests the answer to this question lies in the make up of local economies. it’s the jobs, stupid! research by philadelphia’s reinvestmet fund in collaboration with has identified the best places to live during a recession. their criteria? places where large portions of the population worked in anticyclical industries such as government, health care, education, agriculture, and legal services. the so-called “safe industries.” indeed, medical care is in demand in good times and bad. people might feel the pinch and avoid eating out in dreary economic times, but people stilll need to eat and so farmers and grocery stores should remain afloat. dido government and education.

looking at this list, what’s interesting is that most, if not all, may be classified as those ‘creative’ industries as identified by richard florida. of course, other creative sectors may suffer, namely visual graphic design, entertainment, and computing, just to name a few.

the philadelphia’s reinvestmet fund positions cities like arlington virgina, boston, and seattle as stable and sufficiently “rotected” to weather a rececession, albeit not a prolonged one.

but what about canada? where are the safe havens north of 60? urban areas like toronto, ottawa, victoria, and montreal should be well-positioned considering high employment in education, health, law and government. those areas reliant on manufacturing or resource-based industries may suffer, places like oshawa, windsor and thunder bay in ontario. edmonton in alberta. not too mention all the smaller towns in between. these are, of course, only my personal observations and inclinations. a more thorough and accurate list could be revealed by exploring census numbers from statistics canada. perhaps a project for the coming rainy weekend?

canadian cities and uban regions, if they haven’t already done so, need to heed warmings about a pending ecnomic crisis and turn their attention towards strategies and actions to help protect local employment at risk of collapsing and attracting more stable, creative industries.