Category Archives: Multimodal Connectivity

ON COMPLETE STREETS

The road is frequented by a variety of users – drivers, public transit vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. However, as each of these users, there are many obstacles, which typically involve the other users getting in the way. This is most common for drivers – since the typical North American road design is oriented towards easy mobility for cars, drivers have adjusted to a culture of innate entitlement for the road. This makes it more difficult for pedestrians and cyclists to get around, less likely for people to use transit, and increases the likelihood for a collision.

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It is no longer uncommon to hear about cyclist deaths in the City – and it’s not always one person’s fault. It’s the way our streets are designed. There are definitely careless drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, that cause accidents. However, if the road was designed to cater for everyone equally, in a way that prevented anyone from feeling like they ‘own the road’, then everyone would naturally look out for each other.

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A ‘ghost bike’ commemorates the death of a fallen cyclist in a roadside accident.

There is a fairly modern transportation policy and design approach called ‘Complete Streets‘ that advocates the ‘share the road‘ mentality. The goal for the Complete Streets approach is to achieve and maintain safe, convenient and comfortable travel and access for users of all ages and abilities regardless of their mode of transportation. In many cases where the Complete Streets approach has already been implemented, the designs have proven to improve safety, health, economic and environmental outcomes.

measuring-the-street Since automobile dependence has been engrained into American city designs from the start, many regions are interested in adopting Complete Streets policies into their own Official Plans, in order to move forward in a more sustainable and safe manner through design. This is part of the reason why roundabout, public transit and bike lane funding have become such hot topics, for example.

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This rendering illustrates a person’s idea of what Yonge street could look like if it was redesigned under Complete Streets standards. Notice a few things – wider sidewalks, bike lanes, interlock pavement for drivers (the more detail in the paving, the more likely people are to slow down, reducing the likelihood of a collision), and seating.

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Complete Streets means everyone shares the road. Complete Streets means everyone gets equal respect. Complete Streets means everyone gets to where they are going safely.

TO ERR IS HUMAN

“To err is human – in order to forgive we must design,” said Geni Bahar, President of Navigats Inc. Traffic Safety Consultants.

This morning I was listening to the radio and I heard a familiar sentence: “Every time I approach a cyclist I swear I am going to hit them. Cyclists think they own the road!!” I wonder what he would have thought if he saw this picture:

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about sustainability, sustainable and healthy methods of travel, multimodal travel and connectivity, cyclists, bike lanes, and rapid transit. But the talk always seems to be so negative and confrontational; We can’t afford this! We don’t want that! Get out of my way!…

The recurring theme is selfishness and disrespect. When it comes to transportation, most people are biased because their opinions originate from an unbalanced point of view – typically their own.

To solve a problem, there must first and foremost be awareness. I think that the negativity, the conflict, the selfishness, the disrespect, and consequently the case-by-case collisions and unfortunate deaths are hopefully not in vain. Rather, the world, and especially North America, is beginning to undergo a culture shift – a new status quo for how people get around and they are posing the following question: who owns the road? The answer is: no one. No one traveller “owns the road.” Because everyone must share the road. And the reason there is so much negativity right now is because change is uncomfortable, especially when we are trying to change the way everyone goes about their days in order to adopt new frameworks. Our cities are already the way that they are, and habits have historically followed infrastructure. Now, our mentality and point of view have been normalized into understanding that everyone needs a car to get around – that is simply the way it is around here. But car-oriented-development is not sustainable (by sustainable I mean every kind), and we must change our ways. This change is putting more pedestrians and cyclists on roads that are not yet designed for sharing, and that are filled with uneducated users. Drivers are beginning to get frustrated and are developing negative and incorrect views against cyclists. Not many people know this, but cyclists must legally take the lane. So the next time you’re driving down Bloor St. W in downtown Toronto (why are you driving there anyway?) and a cyclist is driving in the lane in front of you, don’t tell them to get out of the way, because believe it or not you are obliged to drive behind them until you each go your own ways. And to the cyclist – respect will only come to you if you are a respectful and educated cyclist. You’ve got to pull your weight too.

Now drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians – you are probably going to argue with me and tell me that you can’t follow the rules because no one else is going to, and if you’re the only one playing the safety game then you’re going to get hurt. I agree – until the culture shift has fully developed, every road user must take precautions by leaving room for forgiveness. By this I mean, don’t just take the lane without making sure the vehicles around you are going to let you. Of course they should let you, but drivers are still stubborn and sometimes even overly-aggressive, and you probably want to at least check and signal before making them feel like you’re trying to get in their way. And drivers – cyclists need to leave room for you too, especially since it’s a lot more difficult for you to check blindspots etc. But if they don’t, you need to check for them – the last thing you want is to be the reason another cyclist was hit, wether it was your fault or theirs. Pedestrians – I know you’re angry because no one has time to wait for you to cross the street, and so you cross the street without looking to prove a point. But what kind of point does that prove when you’re dead? Even when it can’t be more obvious that it’s your right-of-way, do me a favor and check anyway.

Drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians – follow the rules, but also learn to leave room for forgiveness.

We are currently undergoing a drastic culture shift. Changing the status quo. Taking everyone out of their comfort zone. Altering infrastructure. Updating goals and objectives in all of our plans. It’s going to be hard to become aware, to understand, and to accept any of this, and we are all going to have our differing opinions on the subject. But one day, we will learn to accept a new and more sustainable lifestyle. We will need to adopt education into our curriculum to inform future generations. Until then, don’t forget to share the road.

For more information about sharing the road, please check out this inspiring initiative founded by an inspiring woman: www.sharetheroad.ca

For more information about respect for cyclists, check out this service: http://www.respect.to/wp/

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FINDING A PLACE FOR ECHO BOOMERS

Up until graduating from post secondary education, finding a place to live has always been the same – a good spot that’s on the bus route, preferably close to amenities such as grocery and nightlife, and a short walking/bus trip from campus. But now that school is over and you are looking for work, has your preferred location of residence changed?

Everybody values different factors differently when they decide where to live, and it depends on who you are. By who you are I mean your demographics – your age, your relationship status, your income, where you work, how often you work, and what you like to do when you’re not working.

To quote a recent post by The Atlantic Cities:

“Do neighborhoods work like habitat for different kinds of households? City populations have rebounded in the past two decades as people who like city habitats have grown in numbers and in their share of population.

Mostly these are Millenials – adults roughly 20 to 34-years-old, also known as Generation Y or the Echo Boom – who have delayed childbearing, marriage, and even household formation because of a combination of changing culture and economic necessity. Urban living makes sense for these young people: compared with suburbs, cities often provide young adults more opportunities to switch jobs, meet friends and potential spouses, enjoy entertainment outside their homes, live without a car, and travel to other parts of the country and world.”

Being part of this generation, I can completely agree. I recently graduated from University and was lucky enough to find a job right out of school. When deciding where to live, I realized my values and needs shifted to include a variety of new prerequisites for where I want to live. The main shift I felt was temporary versus long-term locations – I wanted to feel more stable and at home, and less… “well, I’m only going to live here for a year anyway.” Here is how I figured it out.

Step 1: Identify location of work

Step 2: Identify needs and values (in order of importance)

Step 3: Identify ideal zones to optimize needs and values

Step 4: Select a unit within one of these zones, compromising needs and values with the lowest importance if necessary

This amazing restaurant is at the foot of my building, and has a great view of the lake.

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As you can see, if you value any of these needs differently then your choice may have been very different than mine. A 28 year old friend of mine once told me “you have a car, why do you care about how far away you are from this and that?” – some people depend on their cars and are okay with that. Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed that most of the 20-somethings people who work in my office live somewhere between Parklawn and Yonge, whereas 30-somethings live a little further out, and 40- to 50-somethings live as far as Georgetown.

At the end of the day, I made a small compromise with the 10 minute walking distance to amenities need, but all the other factors outweigh it, and the fact that many amenities are within a 10 minute streetcar or bus ride makes up for it. By living near Lakeshore Boulevard West and Parklawn, I have the best of 3 worlds: easy access to work, play, and rest.

THE THING ABOUT THE EMERALD CITY


Short visits to foreign places can often leave a percieved impression on travellers that may stray to a certain degree from what those places are really like. However, these short visits can sometimes be insightful to permanent residents who naturally disregard certain details of where they are from, simply because those things seem normal to them. What may be special to you may go unoticed to someone else: like the bicycle culture in Copenhagen to someone from Orlando, or the grand new-age architecture and car-oriented built-form in Dubai to someone from Bordeaux.

The following text outlines the city elements that embody the character of downtown Seattle (WA) to a short-term traveller:

 

Attention to detail

What stands out the most in Seattle are the little things. Seattle is a great city for its investment in all sorts of urban pockets – interesting car parks, miniature squares, miniature parks, resting spaces -, in public art, in informative signage, in facade and street materials, in facade details, in crosswalk and bike path clarity, in restaurant/cafe/bar density (even hidden and facing the back alleys like Bathtub Gin & Co), in street decor, and what it’s most famous for – trees and other greenery.








Independent Retail Competition

There may be a Starbucks on every corner (and if not, on every block), but that doesn’t seem to change the fact that independent restaurants, cafes and bars have the upper hand in downtown Seattle. There is a culture of visiting cool and unique places, and they make for a cool and unique sense of place. Having so many different and unique shops makes a street so much more unpredictable, vibrant, interesting, and desirable. It’s always about – let’s go to THE Unicorn. Let’s go to THE Poquitos. Let’s go to THE only place that can make you and your belly feel that way. Seattle most certainly does not allow people to feel like they have to settle for a Starbucks to ensure a decent cup of coffee, a Molly Blooms for a decent beer, or a Jack Astor’s for a decent dinner.




Traffic Flow and Patience

Seattle is nestled between mountain ranges and is overall extremely hilly and full of sharply sloped streets. So sloped in fact that if a car’s brakes stop functioning or if a child accidentally runs into the middle of the street, a collision of some sort is bound to occur. Due to the geography of the land that the tightly knit street network grid is placed upon, there is very little reaction time to avoid collisions.

This is why, even after a long red light and no cars, people do not jay-walk in Seattle and most drivers do not speed. This city must have some of the most patient, respectful and educated travellers anyone has ever witnessed. No one seems to be in a rush. It is no wonder their dangerous-seeming intersections still exist – it is because people know how to use them (not that I am crazy about roundabouts or anything, but take that roundabout complainers!!).



Urban Pockets

Space is very well used within the downtown urban core. No nooks or spaces go wasted, and are always used up by something to make a space or a journey more enjoyable or interesting. One of the most impressive aspects of Seattle’s public realm is how many urban pockets there are, and how many of them are used to illuminate the streetscape with a node, a feature, or an activity. These pockets bring the streetscape to a pedestrian level, add character, and make it easier to get around by using cognitive mapping – “meet me by the popsicle sculpture…”.











Punks and Street Kids

Yes, punks. They stand out. And not just any punks – Seattle punks. They have this thing about them that makes them distinctive. A distinctive grunge/streetkid culture. Sometimes it’s as if they are always the same group of them because they all kind of look the same and act the same and do the same things (all-black clothing, usually involving chains, tattoos, funky hair cuts and hair colors, smokey makeup, and random piercings, usually hanging out with 2 or more people and one or more dog, usually smoking, and can usually be seen like this hanging out in parks and public squares). But then again, this is just a generalization and an outsider impression from someone who was slightly intimidated! It had to be mentioned because it really does add to the character of the city.

So the thing about the Emerald City is – the little things. The little things, like public art details, resting spaces and overhead canopies, manicured and interactive little spaces and nooks, and interesting facades. The little things are what give short-term first-time travellers a good impression of this City.

PS: To any Grey’s Anatomy fans, no, Seattle isn’t what they make it look like on the show.

HUNTSVILLE

From an aerial point of view the town is located in what seems to be the middle of nowhere Ontario, the urban boundary is small and the built up area is even smaller.

Huntsville Urban Centre (Watson & Associates Economists Ltd., 2006)

From a pedestrian point of view, density is relatively sparse for the most part and very low-rise.

But something more is happening in Huntsville other than lacking the basics for a typical interesting destination city (like rows of skyscrapers and intricate subway systems). Huntsville is a place to get inspired because it has an incredibly distinct, strong and consistent small-town sense of place. This persona can be sensed immediately from the groups of teenagers walking around and hanging out together, to the representative outdoor Group of Seven paintings and murals plastered in every dull corner or wall in order to bring it to life.

It can also be noticed by taking even a quick glance at the main downtown commercial strip – every shop is a family-run or small business giving the whole space a down-to-earth feel, and most of the shops have heritage facades with detail and effort put into the looks of every sign, entrance and awning – a breeding ground for strolls and window shopping.

The best part about Huntsville is the layering of multimodal connectivity, and the efficient use of unused space within the built-up boundary (even though there is a lot of room available in the outskirts). Facing the river at the swing bridge at almost any given instant, one can observe the following movements all at once:

  • Cars [inconveniently trying to get through]
  • Buses
  • Active and passive Pedestrians almost everywhere including the sidewalks, the public space in front of the river, and on patios
  • Cyclists commuting or cycling for pleasure
  • People passing by on boats
  • Etc

This kind of movement makes people from all levels feel like they are part of something – a community. And where the layers cross, life is bursting!

Neighbourhing the downtown core are several cottage-style resorts such as Hidden Valley Resort (for a more simplistic, natural and low-key, yet still beautiful and relaxing getaway) and Deerhurst Resort (for a more upscale experience). There are cottages and resorts for everyone’s taste, and they are a great place to stay overnight in order to access Huntsville by day or by night. These touristic accomodations are popular summer long-weekend destinations.

This place is like a little world on its own – truly a place to be inspired from and to grow fond of.

STREETSVILLE – FIRST IMPRESSIONS

 

Originating in the 1800’s, the Village of Streetsville in Mississauga is advertised as the historic downtown of the area. The idea of a ‘historic downtown’ is popular in many cities throughout the GTA and North America because it acts as a tourist attraction or a view into the past that exists in the present. It is original, interesting and different because it contrasts with modern day North American city development which is highly influenced by auto mobility.

A historic downtown differs from a regular downtown in the sense that it is intended to include and emote the elements of history and preservation, whether they may be through architectural styles, materials, building footprints, streetscape style, or connectivity.

Many downtowns are situated where they always have been simply because development would have always grown out and spread out from there. But when it comes to rapid-growth cities like Mississauga that are custom-made for automobiles and purposely designed with inward-facing bubble spaces, historic downtowns don’t get the appropriate preservation and respect they need to survive over time.

Today, Streetsville seems caught in the middle of an auto web, and it is clear that most of the remaining historic downtown can only be found  in its name. Building facades are altered using cheap or unfamiliar materials, infill development has no overall design mindfulness for surroundings, and spaces are not well maintained. The effort to preserve the historical buildings is not evident enough to help them stand out in most cases. From a first impression, Streetsville does not appear to be interesting and different – rather, it just looks kind of… boring.

Even though Streetsville appears to have had a poor preservation treatment it still has its inner city gems, one of which is the Starbucks. It is located on the corner of Queen and Thomas in an older building. It clearly has an adaptive-reuse look, which is in line with general historic downtown principles. The front facade is no wider than 5m long (typical of a true downtown storefront width) and is glazed with a large window and divided into squares with wooden beams. The interior of the cafe reflects its past state – narrow and long, and it leads to a small and enclosed outdoor patio with umbrellas that interacts nicely with the sidewalk. As much as accepting a Starbucks into a historic downtown is not a good idea because local businesses should be promoted over international chains, this particular Starbucks fits in better with the intended historic image than most of the other family run businesses in the area.

Click here to view more heritage buildings in the area.

Streetsville could be saved if more consideration is put into its character before it is completely lost. As it is now, a faint wisp of a time when things were different can be sensed. It is only a matter of time before Streetsville gets swallowed up by its successor along with all of its roads and cars.

On account of the Business Improvement Association (BIA) of Streetsville there is some hope for a better and improved Streetsville. A strategy session was held by their council in 2007 which concluded in a 5 year vision with goals to work towards. The goals include: a vibrant gathering space, a show of civic pride, a green Streetsville, a commitment to Streetsville’s heritage, a way to celebrate the river, redeveloping the centre plaza, creating an improved destination location image, and improving access and movement in Streetsville. The vision states:

A five year vision of Streetsville promotes the Village as a desirable location for discerning patrons. Driven by a strong and dynamic BIA, the vision includes a greener Village focused on preserving it’s heritage and celebrating it’s origins in the Credit River Valley. Properties and gathering places will be developed to reflect Streetsville’s historic past, created a ‘Village in the City’ of Mississauga that will make all members proud!

This this vision sounds like the key to Streetsville’s future success, however, exactly 5 years later there are no clear signs of moving forward. Pat Donaldson, the General Manager of the Streetsville BIA says that it is a matter of money. The 5 year improvement plan could have been realized if adequate funding was available, however there are not enough funds to realize their goals. The process is therefore slowed down.

Streetsville acts as a meeting point for many celebrations involving the community such as Canada Day, the historically significant Bread & Honey Festival, and the Santa Claus Parade. There are also many community events that are held throughout the year. Because of these special occasions many residents in the Mississauga area know about Streetsville and have some amount of place attachement towards it. This means that the location has a base and a reputation to work and build on. Streetsville needs to give visitors more reasons to visit, shop and relax regularly – not just a few times a year when the entire community gets together to celebrate special events.

A good work-in-progress case study to consider is Uptown Waterloo, Ontario. Although this area is not labelled as a historic downtown, it does have many heritage designated buildings and a character that is maintained and followed through with the newer or renovated buildings. For a long time the City of Waterloo had a hard time figuring out how to get people to visit Uptown for more than large community gatherings. These are the main reasons why Uptown Waterloo is more successful now:

1. Business
Many people come in to Uptown to go to work. This gives the area more exposure and gives other types of businesses the chance to open up shop to cater for the workers. The force of agglomeration has caused the spot to flourish.

2. Shopping
This category is arguable, because it is still lacking. However, there is a good handful and a variety of great shops to visit such as Death Valley’s Little Brother, The Princess Cafe, The Princess Cinema, Barley Works, MyThai, Starlight, Skirt, Shoppers Drug Mart, Value-Mart, Starbucks, Eating Well, American Apparel, the LCBO, Thrive Juice Bar, and Vincenzo’s. Some of these are substantial or international chains, however they draw a variety of demographics to the area and give other shops the chance to be exposed. A german bakery opened up shop across from the Starbucks a few months ago and it is already a popular destination for office workers to buy breakfast and lunch even though world-renowned Subway is directly abutting.

3. Public Realm and Public Space
It is very important to create an outdoor space that fosters an environment for pedestrians and cyclists in order for the shops to be successful. There is a very small chance that a person in a car is going to stop in the middle of a busy place because  they saw a dress in a window that they liked. The only way businesses can be successful is if the pedestrians feel comfortable enough to be pedestrians in the first place – this means creating a sense of enclosure, safer street crossing, a lot of seating and overhead shelter, and an interesting streetscape, which is achieved by breaking up facades and making sure that they are not too long and by creating some form of repetition with planters or attractive light posts. It is also important to break up these progressive spaces with passive spaces such as squares. The Waterloo Town Square is a very inviting node and it is used by all demographics for a variety of reasons and activities all year round.

4. Multimodal Connectivity
Uptown Waterloo is connected with the rest of the city on a multitude of levels and is working towards advocating the theory of complete streets. In Streetsville, it is unclear as to how to find the park, river or arena, and it seems to be more convenient to drive from the heart towards that space. In Uptown Waterloo they have created a multimodal system called the Uptown Loop which advertises little informative signs throughout Uptown that helps new and returning visitors get around by foot with confidence, and also helps them become aware of what they can do and where they can go. The nodal Waterloo Town Square is also home of several bus stops including the iXpress which connects riders to the north or to Downtown Kitchener in about 10 minutes.

5. Sense of place
Again, Uptown Waterloo is not there yet, but regardless it does have a strong sense of place and a distinct character. A sense of place plays a critical role in creating a space that people will want to use night and day, summer or winter. A place needs to have a very recognizable and memorable feeling, look, and use. A clear sense of place is vital for the success of a place.

As a first step, the BIA council has done a great job at coming up with some very strong goals that are sure to improve Streetsville. However if their methodology is influenced by what the planners have done in Uptown Waterloo and by other successful historical downtowns in North America (such as the Distillery District in Toronto, the Historic Downtown Bowmanville in Bowmanville, and Pioneer Square in Seattle), then maybe they can achieve their goals successfully.

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