Slow Streets Public Life Observations and Design Consulting
Slow Streets offers public life behavioural observation research and street design consulting. Working with Slow Streets is a great investment because not only would you benefit from the expertise from an experienced city planning engineer but you would receive high quality and results-driven customer oriented service. Working with Slow Streets is critical for vibrant, economically sustainable cities because you will see an increase in the return on your investment such as increased rates of cycling, walking and transit, improved retail business success and improved public spaces.
Have you ever wondered if our city streets, mobility networks, and public spaces could be redesigned to enhance the wellbeing and safety of women and girls? We would like to share an important survey addressing this question. Prepared through a partnership of Slow Streets, Green Our Walls, UN Women-USNC LA with the support of Women in Cities International, this survey aims to evaluate the everyday experiences of women in public streets, public spaces and transit systems. The information you provide will help us design safer, more equitable cities for all.
The survey will be open until January 31th, 2018, and should take 5-10 minutes to complete. All answers will be kept strictly anonymous. If you share the survey link http://bit.ly/WomenMobilitySurvey with the hashtag #urbandesign4women on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, you will be entered for the chance to win a fabulous prize! Please share this survey freely. Please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you may have about the survey.
We launch our survey with a Twitter Chat on Thursday, January 11, 2018at 12pm @UNWomenLA with partners @SlowStreets and @GreenOurWalls and under the hashtag #UrbanDesign4Women. We look forward to your insights to the conversation.
Please feel free to help us get the word out about the survey and Twitter chat! Included below are tweet examples you could share with your followers.
We look forward to chatting with you!
Join @UNWomenLA @GreenOurWalls & @SlowStreet on Thursday January 11, 2018 for #urbandesign4women Twitter chat! Let’s discuss how we can make our communities safer for women and girls.
Exciting news today, Slow Streets has officially been incorporated! We look forward to proudly serving cities to develop communities, transportation networks and street designs that are focused on people and their everyday experience. For more information please do not hesitate to contact Slow Streets at email@example.com. We look forward to hearing about your dreams.
Darren Proulx P.Eng M.Urb – Managing Principal and Founder
Now that the Edmonton Election is underway, a critical conversation that should be discussed is how to make the city financially sustainable. Currently the city is approving large swathes of low density single family housing developments past the Anthony Henday. Is this a financially sustainable strategy for the city to be pursuing?
According to Strong Towns’ Charles Marohn, approving and building new green field developments is a ponzi scheme. Why? Often cities approve new greenfield developments to generate new revenue through property taxes and development levies. The revenue generated from these developments do not actually go towards funding the services needed for the developments being approved. These revenues often go towards funding necessary services in already developed or aging neighbourhoods elsewhere in the city. Eventually when the infrastructure serving these new neighbourhoods starts to deteriorate at the end of their lifecycle new greenfield neighbourhoods will have to be approved to fund the necessary maintenance and upkeep.
Is there a way to determine what is financially productive and sustainable for the city coffers? According to Joe Minicozzi cities need to change their city making math. Often cities look at the revenue potential for developments from a lump sum perspective. With this approach a Walmart big-box store style development often becomes more attractive for city councils. This approach completely neglects how efficiently these developments are using land, which is a city’s most valuable resource. When you look at the potential tax revenue generated from developments based on the land area being used the math changes.
Calculating the property tax generated per land area (tax density) demonstrates that those big box stores among single dwelling developments are producing some of the lower taxes densities for developments in Edmonton. When single dwelling households and the big box stores are producing some of the lowest tax returns on developments, should the City of Edmonton continue to approve them? Edmonton can ultimately change the tax burden on all Edmontonians by correcting the city building math and building the type of developments that produce the highest return on investment using the smallest foot print.
So what is producing the highest tax density? Zooming in on the tax density map reveals that the majority of properties generating the highest tax densities are in the city centre. To be more specific the highest tax density generating properties tend to follow the streets that follow Edmonton’s historic street car lines. These include streets like 124 Street, Whyte Avenue, Jasper Avenue, 107 Avenue, 97 Street and 118 Avenue.
What do these developments look like? Often they are 2-4 storey properties with a short frontage. These are also the buildings where you find most locally owned businesses operating from, due to the smaller square footage and therefore more affordable leases.
What about housing? What is producing the highest tax density for the city? On the lower end one unit dwellings like single dwelling housing are producing on average $4.3 per square meter. Meanwhile 4 story multi-unit walkups like in the photo above produce over double the property tax per square foot ($10.5/sqm). Almost any development type that has more than one unit per property would generate more taxes per square meter.
Why does this matter? When cities are looking balancing budgets to pay for necessary services, amenities and create vibrant neighbourhoods, any business owner would look to accomplish this in the most efficient way as possible. Building more units per development site translates into the city generating more property taxes per square meter. The more property taxes the city generates from the same area translates into reducing the amount of property taxes everyone collectively has to pay. In addition to this it means that the city can service more people with the same infrastructure which lowers the cost for everyone. If the city of Edmonton builds more strategic and denser developments, the tax burden is reduced for everyone.
Often there are protests about the appearance of the developments being built as people feel that they do not fit in with the existing neighbourhood characteristics. The westmount development in the photo above has 3 units however it maintains the appearance of the surrounding neighbourhood. It looks like a larger house, however it houses three separate units.
The difficulty of meeting friendly people in a city is a subject that often surfaces in news headlines. Why is this such an important topic? Depression and loneliness are becoming more prevalent issues each year. What can be done to counteract this? One of the key factors attributed to your happiness is the quantity and quality of social interactions you experience. So we know one of the ways to improve your happiness is to have more social connections. What, then is preventing us from forming more social connections, especially in cities with higher rates of loneliness and depression?
While there are numerous factors, car oriented developments are certainly one factor. One study by Donald Appleyard evaluating different streets in San Francisco with varying levels of vehicle volumes found that people were more connected with their neighbours when the vehicle volumes were lower. Why would this be? Vehicles generally bring with them noise and pollution, which makes it uninviting to be outside. In these sort of environments you simply want to travel along the sidewalk and get into your home as quickly as possible. Furthermore when the only the affordable housing option being built are houses where it is easy to drive into your garage without ever needing to interact with your neighbours, it is easy to see why it is hard to make social connections in these cities. On the other hand inner city neighbourhoods that offer the most potential for meeting more people are more expensive and overrun with cars due to wayward transportation engineering since the 1950’s. Bringing down the cost of housing requires building more housing supply and policy changes, both of which are crucial but longer term courses of action.
Is there a way to balance out the higher cost of inner city living while increasing the opportunities of social interactions quicker? Cycling should be part of the answer. Cycling is an efficient and quick way for travelling around the city when it is convenient, safe and comfortable. Most trips are under 5 kilometers, which is at most 20 minutes by bicycle. Bicycles emit no noise and no toxic fumes. With cycling cities can be built at a human speed and scale. With a city built around cycling people are offered a chance to mingle with their neighbours again since their street is comfortable enough to let them.
What exactly do social interactions look like in a city that is built around cycling and not the car? Places like Amsterdam and Utrecht paint a pretty good picture with 60% of trips in the city centre by bicycle.
Imagine the intimate moments you could have with your child with them sitting right in front you. Your child has a front seat to life instead of the back seat of a car. Imagine not having to buy a car seat and worry about your child’s safety. Imagine the excitement and giggles as your child gets to experience the wind, the smells, colours and people. You get to be right there for all of that.
Building a city at the human speed makes it easier to take your best friend for a ride.
Can you remember the last time you sat on a patio on a main street in your city. Do you remember how loud it was? Could you have a conversation with the person you were with? Without yelling? A city built around cycling can also help build a social city by reducing the noise levels produced by cars and letting you have a conversation with your friends on a patio without shouting.
Cycling also builds a more social city because it is easier to view, watch and interact with other people because you can actually see them. A city built around cycling means that people are not encased in a metal box. It is also easier to stop for spontaneous chats or shopping since you do not have to find parking for your car.
Creating a city prioritizing cycling, walking and transit allows our children to reclaim our city streets for play. This makes it easier for parents as they don’t have to drive them to the nearby park. Rather in a city that prioritizes cycling often a child’s imagination and their local street is enough to keep them entertained. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for cars but rather that you lower the speed and volume of cars to a humane experience.
Cars are also space hogs, it takes up alot of space to move and store them. In a city prioritizing cycling, the extra space freed up can be transformed into public spaces or patios which can provide more free opportunities to gather and meet your friends.
Imagine a city so safe for cycling that your child can get to their sports practice on their own steam. Imagine the time you would save not chauffeuring your children around everywhere. A city built around cycling makes it easier for children to see their friends without needing to wait for a ride from mom or dad. For parents, a cycling city means more free time for to relax or spend quality time with friends and family.
You shouldn’t have to put your life in danger the moment you take a foot off the sidewalk. Slowing a city down to a human cycling or walking speed allows us to bring out our sociability and happiness and create a more equitable and dignified city for everyone regardless of how they get around.
Now the big question, does it take much to reorient and rebuild your city around cycling? While cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Utrecht have high rates of cycling, it also took them 40 years to make the transformation. However, cities like Calgary and Edmonton have shown that entire networks of protected cycling lanes can be implemented relatively inexpensively and extremely quickly. The turn around for Edmonton’s 6 km downtown bike lane grid (which I was involved with) took less than a year from September 2016 to July 2017. The return on investment is almost immediate. Cycling in Edmonton nearly doubled after the first month after the bike lane network was opened, meanwhile cycling grew by 39% in Calgary.
Slow Streets principal and co-founder Darren Proulx will be venturing across the ocean to the cycling capital of the world once again in 2017. Previously Darren visited Amsterdam in 2015, you can read a summary of his observations here. The itinerary this time includes:
Utrecht – April 1-3
Rotterdam – April 3-5
Amsterdam – April 5-10
Utrecht is quickly becoming know as a leader in implementing the latest best practice cycling designs, and given its smaller size this would provide a good case study for mid-size cities. Rotterdam was selected because of its similarities to a North American context with large road right-of-ways and modern buildings and a lower cycling rate (25% is lower relative to the rest of Netherlands) which would provide a good case study for North American design and how people cycling interact with cars. Finally Amsterdam will provide good insight into both good dense mid-rise built form, protected intersections and large city all ages and abilities cycling network design. This visit will be focusing on identifying protected cycling lane best practice and next generation designs including but not limited to:
protected intersections & protected intersections
cycling network design
cycling lanes on retail streets
economic performance of fine grain retail complete streets
If you are around in any of these cities please reach out as we would love to meet you!
As part of the City of Vancouver’s process to consult with the public about the possibility of converting Commercial Drive into a Complete Street, the city hired a consultant to conduct an intercept survey of visitors to Commercial Drive. This survey asked visitors questions concerning how they arrived, how often then visit, where they came from, where they park if they drive and how they found the experience. The results were recently released and can be found here. I have attached one of the open house boards below.
The information from the Commercial Drive intercept survey is significant for a number of reasons. Most importantly is that it shows that 80% of the respondents arrived at Commercial Drive by walking, cycling or using transit. Secondly it also demonstrates that people walking, cycling and using transit visit more often than people who drive. Back in 2015 Slow Streets carried out an observation study of Commercial Drive to get a sense of how people are arriving and behaving. The results are similar. Our observations found that the majority of people at the observation sites were not arriving by car.
The conclusion to draw from this is that observations are great for contextualizing people’s behaviours in response to a street design. Our findings show primarily that regardless how people got around they spend most of their time experiencing the street while walking. However we at Slow Streets would never recommend solely relying on observations for transportation modal data. Intercept surveys are a great way to fill in the gaps for observations and flush out the data as was the case with the Slow Streets Burnaby Heights report. The Burnaby Heights intercept survey found that the majority of people were not arriving by car and that 69% of respondents said they walked, cycled or used transit to visit that day. What makes this even more significant is that the Burnaby Heights is a suburban community with a lower density and a high speed highway running through it, yet only 31% of the visitors drive.
This is hearsay if you were to talk to any small business owner. Most businesses will tell you that people that drive are critical for the success of their business, and will demand that you keep on street parking at all costs. This is clearly not the case on Commercial Drive, only 17% of respondents said they drove. In fact this scenario is often the case with older streets that were built with many small businesses along former street car corridors.
Businesses are often overestimating how many of their customers drive. Two separate studies from Auckland and Bristol found that businesses were over estimating how many of their customers were arriving by car. Why is this? Is it perhaps because people that drive are the most vocal about parking which is a critical part of their visit. People that walk, cycle and use transit often won’t feel like complaining about the quality of their commute since it rarely reflects on the businesses.
This is good news for businesses because cars are actually quite inefficient with space and you can actually move more people walking, cycling and using transit with the same space. The vehicle travel lanes on Commercial Drive are primarily only used for vehicles because they are designed for moving cars through quickly and are unsafe for cycling or walking. This means that if you were to reallocate two travel lanes for cycling lanes or wider sidewalks this opens up the street for more potential customers.
Similarly on-street parking is usually such a small portion of the overall parking in the area. Slow Streets research found that Commercial Drive’s on street parking only made up 13% of the total area’s parking. This means that businesses would be better off trading those parking stalls to create better places for people to sit and stay to enjoy their spoils. The more people you have on your street, the more interesting, exciting and vibrant it is for other people passing by. This will further attract more people to the street and higher revenue potential for the businesses. Still not convinced? This article put together a complete and comprehensive source of studies from around the world demonstrating that removing on-street parking for more cycling lanes has little negative economic impact for businesses.