Why TOD is an incomplete idea in Metro Vancouver

New Examples of Transit Oriented Development (Source: Daily Hive)

Transit oriented development is a prolific planning method that has shaped Vancouver and its suburbs into pockets of high density near rapid transit stations.  With the goal of decreasing sprawling development and car use, TOD encourages more transit usage and compact communities. In Metro Vancouver, a major goal of TOD has been getting commuters to downtown Vancouver without driving, and with ridership close to 500,000 users per day the region of Vancouver has every right to claim success in that respect.

However, Transit oriented development in Metro Vancouver has largely missed a critical element of compact communities which is the promotion of place, where people can stop to chat with neighbours, to allow children to play, or to to stay and linger in their neighbourhoods. TOD is developed to be a means for commuters, and not as an ends for neighbourhoods. TOD has not proven to be an ends where populations can feel welcome in their neighbourhoods, to be social, and to express themselves where they live.

The planning strategy of TOD has been challenged more recently, where various researchers, planners, and residents have begun to see social problems occurring due to extremely high land values resulting in housing that is no longer affordable for existing residents, and unable to produce rental housing. (Resources Below) Secondly, the development form is characterized as being too dense, and not permitting families or cohorts to live together. The high density living in North America has been characterized as living in “a shoebox in the sky.”

The following will further analyse the current problems of TOD, as it is applied today in Metro Vancouver and begin to show why TOD is an incomplete idea:


  • Many transit corridors in Metro Vancouver have existing housing that was built in the 1970s or earlier. The older housing stock is often affordable to middle and lower income earners. The Land value is the key factor that makes replacement of the affordable housing stock impossible. The ability to develop purpose-built rental through incentives also becomes nearly impossible according to Metro Vancouver studies

A Dramatic Jump in Land Value = Result is Luxury Housing

  • Studies in many western cities show that a transit station and line can have a rapid effect of increasing private property values, as much as 30-50%, in a short period of time after a transit line has been proposed.  Afterwards, property values will jump again when a municipality makes a neighbourhood plan permitting high-density housing. In order to develop the properties towards full value, a developer will often acquire several properties, which can be the size of a city block. This is a costly process, that results in very large scale and phased developments, and are oriented towards luxury housing rather than modest housing.

A Small Group of Builders will qualify to build

  • In TOD areas in Metro Vancouver, an “oligarchy” or select group of housing developers have formed to develop around stations. Because of the lack of variety of housing developers, the price for housing (rental or ownership) can often be fixed because there is no modest scale developer who can afford to acquire the site and develop. A further barrier exists to modest scale builders when the high-rise form requires specialized trades, engineers, architects, and project managers to build.

The small group of developers who can build in TOD areas can:

    • Afford to consolidate multiple lots
    • Afford higher priced / specialized engineers, architects, tradesmen, and project managers
    • Finance concrete construction
    • Hire a comprehensive marketing group to pre-sell units
    • Hold large quantities of land for long periods of time
    • Able to take risks with development that has no guaranteed outcomes, and afford higher financing rates

Lack of quality Public Space


  • Through the use of very detailed design guidelines established by cities, Transit-oriented developments are designed to provide quality quiet “open space” or public space, but under a high density form. The result is often inadequate. The open space aspect is often an afterthought and pushed to the least desirable area of a site such as near a road, suffers from lack of daylight, is not inviting to the public, or just separated from the public realm because it is several floors above the public realm. (See above, Cambie and 41st)
  • As mentioned earlier, the large buildings are a result of lot consolidation which shows little variation in form. The streetlife is further harmed when pedestrians cannot go through the site (lack of permeability)
  • Often in TOD, public space is kept to the edge of the property, closest to a busy road where units are less marketable, or sometimes by city design. In the Cambie Corridor Phase 3- Open Space Guidelines (Above). The proposed plaza is along a busy street. Pedestrians will perhaps wait for a bus or connection here, but will not likely stay for extended periods. This plaza faces a lack of enclosure and protection from traffic.
  • Generic Looking Building Form

    In Montreal , CA new tenants or landlords will often renovate their own rowhomes. New colors, fixtures, plantings, or ornaments allow resident to add their own touch to their homes.
    • Glass Towers have been favoured by developers as a winning model, one thatpromotes a view. However, the form has become commonplace and generic in Vancouver to the point where other designs which are more attractive at the ground level are ignored such as different types of brick or those adorned with ornate sculptures, marble, or craftsmanship.
    • The ground level also suffers from another problem, in that the residents of the glass towers can not display their own creativity with new arrangements of flowers, art, different colors of window frames, or different painting. Other housing that is more common in Europe or eastern Canada (Montreal) adds significantly more character through personalization.

    No Variety at at ground level

    • In response to requirements by municipalities to place commercial units at ground level, or the private sectors desire for larger commercial units, there is a lack of variety at the ground level. Only businesses that can take on larger costs such as chains will take over ground floors facing the public realm. The businesses are often generic and similar.
    No. 3 Road, Richmond. Many of the retail spaces are dominated by banks which often blank out windows and take away from the public realm.

    TOD Does not fully acknowledge desire for lower density living

    • TOD does not acknowledge the important ideas of sprawl such as living away from inner cities, away from high density, and away from the noise and pollution that comes from higher density


    High Density development is a goal that been pursued strongly in Metro Vancouver. However, the region has missed an opportunity for more sensible development options that have been established for years such as low-to-medium density housing and public squares. Development where residents can tailor their neighbourhoods to their likes and as a direct response to their creativity.

    High density developments have been too sterile, too prescriptive, and do not activate the public realm.  A large problem is the requirement to consolidate many lots in order to shape one site, then create requirements for the public realm site by site, and not in a collective manner that has been done historically.

    How can Vancouver meet goals of densification and do so in a way that can encourage people to walk, to stay in their neighbourhoods, feel proud of their nearby public spaces? The answer may lie in the ideals of “Missing Middle Housing”, or may need to go back to the trend of compact neighbourhoods centred around public squares. The remainder of this summer series will attempt to draw these questions out.

    Related Studies

    1. TOD and the relation to gentrification https://spectrum.library.concordia.ca/977520/1/Grube-Cavers_MSc_F2013.pdf
    2. Affordable Housing in Transit-Oriented Developments
      1. https://ncst.ucdavis.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/NCST-TO-027-Boarnet-Bostic-Affordable-TOD-White-Paper_FINALv2.pdf
    3. Transit Stations and Increasing Land Value in Brisbane/Gold Coast: https://theconversation.com/why-gold-coast-light-rail-was-worth-it-its-about-more-than-patronage-78190
    4. Metro Vancouver Study on Transit Oriented Development: http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/regional-planning/housing-affordability/transit-oriented/Pages/default.aspx

Prompt Your City For Better Physical and Psychological Well Being

By Darren Proulx

The minute we walk out our front door we are influenced by a world that is too complex for our brains to handle. According to Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow, in order for our brains to simplify and transform this overly complex world into something more manageable, our brains simplifies what we experience with intuitive heuristics. Our brains have two parts, the first is intuitive and automatic, the second is more deliberate and requires focused attention. Most of the time we operate on the intuitive and automatic part of our brain in this complex world of senses. Our brains weed out what it deems as unimportant information, however this simplification comes at cost. In an attempt to simplify our world, our brains have stream-lined our experiences in such a way that our external environments affects our first, automatic and intuitive part of our brain.

According to Kahneman and the studies he has conducted something as simple as showing people images that are suggestive of older age causes people to walk slower. When people are ordering food at a menu, you always want to be the first to order as for most people following the first order will change our order to something we might not necessarily want just to make sure we are not seen to be copying someone else’s order. What all of this is trying to say is our behaviour is heavily influenced by our external environment whether we know it or not (most likely we don’t know it). We are prompted by things we see, feel, hear and touch in our environment.

This brings me to the question about urban design and how we can use this knowledge. Cities are full of aspirations to enact changes in transportation modal shares, access to park and green spaces and encourage people to uptake healthier and greener behaviours. To achieve these goals we need to prompt your city. The positive impacts from this include encouraging people to act towards being healthier psychologically and physically, we can encourage people to be happier, form more social connections, as well enable us to reduce crime and harassment.

According to Doug McKenzie-Mohr the best way to encourage behaviour changes are prompts. Often we are so caught up in our daily lives and the complex maze of bills, doctors appointments, friends and children recitals that we need a reminder to take a second each day for the activities that develop our psychological well being. Prompts can break our train of thought and nudge us to a different habitual behaviour. According to Doug McKenzie-Mohr prompts are the most effective at the location where you want to see the behaviour change. Prompts are also most effective when they are simple, direct and tell people what to do rather than explain why people should do it. It is also important to prompt for the behaviour that you want, not the behaviour that you don’t want. For example putting up a sign that says don’t feed the ducks will actually more likely prompt people to feed them.

Tactical urbanism

Montreal commercial tactical urbanism

At Slow Streets it’s no secret we are a fan of the quicker, lighter and cost effective solutions, solutions that can be implemented quickly to garner immediate results today and formalized later when the effectiveness is gauged and additional funding is made available. We are fortunate that we have a low cost and quick way to trial changes to test and evaluate these prompts and maximize their positive benefits. Tactical urbanism is a new method that Mike Lydon has been cataloging for years. The idea is simple, take the concept you want to develop and design it using the most lightest and cost effective materials using the quickest construction methods. It is amazing what you can build and the results you can generate using tactical urbanism.

retail street parklet rue beaubien montreal

Cars spend 95% of their time parked. Parklets can transform a space for parking a car into a place for people. The great thing about Parklets is their small size which allows you to bring great public spaces closer to where people want to be, on our fine grain retail streets next to all of the interesting shops and restaurants. This again can prompt people to take a few minutes out of their day to stay in the place making it more inviting prompting even more people to fill the streets in a virtuous cycle.

Urban Design



To prompt people to reduce their carbon footprint, get more exercise and form better relationships with their neighbourhood and the people in them. We must bring grocery stores, hardware stores and other daily services and amenities closer to where people live so they don’t have to drive and can walk or bike. This means ending land use segregation and introducing mixed land uses, therefore the distance between home and the services is eliminated. This creates an environment based around convenience.

Montreal rue Laurier ave corner sized farmers market

Groceries can also be brought closer to where people live to prompt healthier eating and eliminate food deserts with smaller temporary sidewalk farmers markets right in the neighbourhoods. Temporary buildings can also be built to house grocery stores as shown from the photo in the tactical urbanism section.


We can introduce community gardens, mini libraries and give people opportunity to connect with their neighbourhood on a different level while also learning and improving their mental health. The presence of people out in the public also prompts people to feel safer as their are “eyes on the street.”

Montreal greenery

We can prompt improved satisfaction with neighbourhoods and improved mental health by introducing more accessible and high quality greenspace.


It can also be as simple as positioning visible, attractive stairs in front of the elevator to encourage more people to take the stairs. Simply having a sign that prompts people to take the stairs is also effective. Other cities have been experimenting with fun and creative visual designs such as piano key steps and race tracks to encourage people to take the stairs instead of the escalators. Another city incorporated a slide into the entrance of a train station.


If we move in a way that makes us feel strong and confident we can dramatically change our psychology. There are 43 muscles in our face, simply smiling and laughing can change our mood instantaneously. Better psychology has a direct link with better physiology. Sitting is the new smoking of our times, and it just takes 2 minutes of walking per hour to over come the harmful effects of sitting. Walking is shown to dramatically improve the performance of our brains, we can think more clearly and are more creative and happy when we are walking. According to Jan Gehl, humans have evolved for walking. We have a depth of vision and periphery that is best for appreciating the details of our environment at a walking speed. So we know that exercise can dramatically change our mental health. How can we encourage people to get more exercise?


We can prompt people to take other ways of travelling by making other modes easier and more readily available. This includes adding bike parking on the street.  Bikeshares are another low commitment way to prompt people that don’t own a bike or don’t have the space to store a bike into trying cycling. We can introduce bikeshare stations and provide thousands of bikes across the city for a minimal fee. The bikes themselves can serve as prompts getting the best of people’s curiosity.

According to Till Roenneberg in his book Internal Time, our modern life in cities with increased time spent indoors and less time spent to the light outdoors has substantial consequences for the internal clock timing of our physiology. “If we were to cycle to work and back instead of taking the subway, we might become one hour less sleep-deprived every night during the workweek and would therefore have less sleep loss to compensate for on our free days. And we would also boost our learning capacity, our immune system, our mood, and our social skills.”

The biggest barrier to cycling is the worry of mixing with fast moving traffic. Using a combination of protected cycling infrastructure & traffic calming to reduce the volume and speeds of vehicles can invite people to cycle. Cycling also benefits from safety in numbers, where the more people that are cycling the safer it becomes because drivers become used to interacting with them so they adjust their behaviour. I would argue that the sight of large volumes of people cycling has a secondary effect of attracting other people to try cycling. If you can’t fight them, join them right? Calgary is the leading example of building an entire network of safe, comfortable and convenient cycling lanes all at once, and it has had an impact attracting over 1 million trips over one year.

Montreal protected intersection

We can also prompt drivers to understand and respect the safety of other ways of travelling. One of the best things we can do is introduce protected cycling lanes. However most collisions happen at the intersection, therefore by reducing the size of intersections and introducing protected intersection designs would prompt people to respect the safety of people cycling.

montreal avenue l'esplenade raised intersection

Physical designs that consistently generate expected driving behaviours are needed. Physical designs include integrating raised intersections/crossings, leading walking intervals and protected cycling infrastructure. However some softer infrastructure can help such as artistic crosswalks.

Public Space

Montreal Pico park with logo

To prompt the benefits that placemaking can bring people such as improved socializing and happiness make the smaller spaces and bring them closer to where people live, work and play. The photos above of a sidewalk corner and a converted street slip lane in Montréal demonstrates how effectively our streets and sidewalks can be transformed to create places for people to stay, despite how infrequently we think something such as a sidewalk as a public space. This includes simple changes such as adding benches to a sidewalk and some murals to blank walls. All we need is some paint, some wood and voila we can transform our spaces.

People attract other people, therefore people are also a prompt. If we design spaces to attract people then it will generate a self-reinforcing cycle that attracts more people to them. Through attracting people public spaces prompt the benefits of increased social interactions and physical interactions.

However it is also important to clear our public spaces of snow in the winter, a time when they are needed the most due to low solar levels. We could even introduce some climate control to public space. These measures would make prompt people to get out of the house in the winter and mingle with other people.

Density: Where is the sweet spot?

We are currently facing several of the biggest challenges of our lifetime with climate change, over population, resource scarcities and rapid urbanization.   To embrace these challenges we need a change in our way of thinking, including a restructuring of the way we organize and operate our cities.  Many planners know that this includes rethinking urban density.  It is also known that this is a contentious issue.  The old guard status quo of endless cookie cutter suburban developments will exhaust our ability to face these challenges.  Moving the conversation forward requires restarting the conversation, starting with the question “Is there a right density?”

After reviewing numerous studies and urban planning sources, in almost all cases density is never cited as the sole important factor for successful, lively and vibrant cities. Density plays a role nonetheless and an important one in a larger comprehensive package of urban interventions.  Paying attention to the finer details for all aspects of the city built form and civic services will ultimately create a great place to live, work and play.  The question is not about how dense it should be but rather how density is done.

awesome rowhouse Montreal blue
Rowhouse developments like these have the same density as high rise towers but spread the density to cover more ground while avoiding awful downdraft winds and boring spaces.

The conclusion is inescapable; there should be much less focus on the numbers of density.  Not all density is equal, we can have a sea of high rises, but if the change is too drastic or you forget vital features like safe and inviting sidewalks or places to shop and eat, there may be little to no street life or sense of place.  Density needs to be grounded in its context. It will not succeed without the scale, form and details that create irresistibly interesting places.  These interesting places can be designed in such a way that it does not feel dense, but people still naturally want to be there.

Seville ped only

While we should always begin with the goal of creating interesting places where people will naturally gravitate to live, work and play, we can use density thresholds to inform and guide our decisions.


Montreal bidirectional protected bike lane with bus stop and bench with logo
A complete street design with a bidirectional protected bike lane with a floating bus stop.

How we get around is a big topic these days and it isn’t a surprise that many sources and studies offered density thresholds for successful public transportation and lower vehicle miles traveled.

Toronto historic streetcar
Toronto’s historic streetcars provide an example of the possible frequencies possible with denser built forms. It is however always recommended to provide dedicated right of way to ensure maximum reliability.

Sources like Paul Mees’ Transport for Suburbia question the validity of some well cited transit planning sources such as the 1955 Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS), or Peter Newman in their expression of the importance of density for transit.  Mees’, using Metro Zurich (4.5 dwelling units per acre/32 persons per hectare[1][2]) as an example, argues that while density does play a role in higher transit usage. However there are other important factors which include governments maintaining control of the right to design the transit network, long term strategic planning, and fare rates.  Also important is the inclusion of an integrated pulse timed, cross city network of multimodal, transfer based routes.


Toronto streetcars
A human scaled and surface level streetcar system along a low density commercial strip in Toronto.

Patrick Condon in his Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities conducted a case study of the Vancouver streetcar neighbourhoods, and advocates for linear commercial corridors supported by transit.  Condon found that frequent bus service (7 minute headways) could be accomplished with 10 dwelling units per gross acre[3], while a streetcar could be supported with a density of 17-25 dwelling units per acre[4].  Condon argues that our greatest opportunity for creating sustainable suburbs is to focus investments in densification and transit along suburban low density commercial strips. Just 10% of a commercial strip would have to be developed at 40 dwelling units per acre increasing the average area density to 10 dwelling units per acre[4].

Most people have an average 5 minutes walking threshold.  Therefore to reduce car trips significantly the number of people with their necessary shopping of everyday goods and services within a 5 minute walk should be maximized. Often transit planning tends to focus on nodes, however this does not maximize the 5 minute catchment area.  Instead transit should be focused at commercial corridors where pedestrians can link various trips as they walk to and from the transit on their way to work.

Otherwise there are numerous studies and sources showing density is tied to fewer Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) and supporting alternative transportation modes.  One study conducting a comprehensive literature review cites a study by Larry Frank, which states that a 33% reduction of vehicle miles driven per day can be achieved with twice the density of the typical low density sprawl in addition to a diversity of uses, interconnected streets[5].  This was also confirmed by other separate studies[6] where the VMT and car ownership could be reduced 29-37% and 16% respectively by doubling the density.  To produce significant reductions in automobile work related trips, 50-70 employees per acre and 12 dwellings per acre is needed, while non-work trips are reduced above 75 employees per acre and 20 dwellings per acre[7].

Sustainability, Health, and Utility Cost Performance


Typical 3 storey row house design in Montreal.

A recent study analyzing the 2003 U.S. Residential Energy Consumption survey, and 2001 U.S. National Household Travel Survey found that Household carbon footprints increase until 4.7 persons per acre[2][8], afterwards decreasing per ten-fold increase in population density leveling out at 78 persons per acre[2] [8].  Keeping this in mind, towers and single family houses have the most surfaces (walls and roofs) per household exposed to the elements, increasing the energy usage required per household.  Patrick Condon pegs 20-65 dwelling units per acre[9] as the optimal range, which includes combinations of duplex, quadplex, townhouses, row-houses, and apartments.  All of these can be shaded by trees from both the sun and wind, and require less elaborate heating and elevator systems.  It is not enough simply to build in this density range, a compact organization of households must be ensured to promote good shading, encourage walking and biking while minimizing the need for parking and paved surfaces.

Montreal corner store Rona example
With higher densities it is possible to service local amenities at a lower cost per person.

Cost analysis studies show that it is less expensive to construct and operate infrastructure and services for denser developments instead of single family housing.  A Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) study finds that alternative development principles with a finer mix of land uses, higher residential densities, a transit supportive street grid design, etc. would see approximately a 16% decrease in infrastructure construction cost per unit[10].

Montreal fine grain retail store.jpg
Smaller corner store sized produce or grocery stores help prevent food deserts.

Many cities are adopting strategies to become the healthiest city based on a wealth of studies providing evidence that 30 minutes of brisk physical activity is a free “super drug” that can help reduce the levels of obesity and diabetes which can be encouraged with compact, walkable environments[11].  One study found that for every 1% decrease of population living in dense areas would see 0.01-0.02% increased prevalence of obesity[12].  By creating compact, connected, safe and interesting places, people will naturally include walking or cycling in their everyday activities and errands.


Montreal fine grain retail
Fine grain mixed land use is the most efficient with retail uses typical occupying the first floor and residential uses occupying 1-2 floors above the ground floor.

Places to shop are crucial ingredients for creating interesting places.  Corner stores can act as community hubs, restaurants and bars are places to catch up with old friends and make new ones.  The corner store (1500 to 3000 sq ft)[13] is the smallest and most useful community oriented type of retail center.   Either stand alone or built into a mixed use building, a corner store can be economically sustainable with 5-6.25 dwelling units per acres[13][2] when sited on a primary street and located next to community buildings, parks, and schools.

Montreal supermarche neighbourhood centre
An example of a larger shopping center designed for an urban context with no surface parking. 

A neighbourhood center (50,000 to 70,000 sq ft) [14] offering the everyday goods and services required by households anchored with a supermarket, pharmacy and restaurant is often considered the core of the traditional neighbourhood.  To be economically sustainable a neighbourhood center needs 12-16 dwelling units per acre[14][2].


One can conclude that the density sweet spot ranges from 20-65 dwelling units per acre.  This can include combinations of duplex, quadplex, townhouses, row-houses, and apartments and is enough to support a cross-city multimodal network of high quality, reliable. frequent transit services, and the necessary neighbourhood retail goods and services while minimizing the Vehicle Miles Traveled, Household carbon footprint and energy usage.


Densification is a long term strategy, where the focus should be on increasing density incrementally targeting specific areas such as commercial corridors, or the densification of inner city neighbourhoods.

quaduplex edmonton
An example of an inner city neighbourhood quadplex in Edmonton, quadrupling the density on the same land and demonstrating the potential for densification.


Inner city neighbourhoods are a great place to focus densification strategies, as most of the 50-75 year old houses are nearing the end of their life.  These existing neighbourhoods can be incrementally densified without the drastic changes that drain existing community capital.  Authors like Dunham-Jones, Williamson, Campoli, and Von Hausen outline many changes for more compact inner suburbs such as legalizing infill, smaller lots, and secondary suites in the basement, garages, and laneway houses.  Cities can also allow the medium density housing options duplexes, townhouses, row-houses, quadplexes that conform to the existing scale and form, while also eliminating setbacks, replacing minimum with maximum parking requirements, allowing more creative shared parking solutions, and supporting a diversity of housing types, sizes, and occupancy types.

Similarly new suburbs should be designed more compactly using creative clusters, a mix of housing types, and thoughtful orientations to minimize the footprint, the need for parking and asphalt, and energy requirements.

David Sucher says that people will naturally want to live dense if you build interesting places.  Interesting places such as your bustling main street of your favourite trendy shops, restaurants, pubs or hang outs entice people naturally.  We need to turn our thinking on its head, focusing less on the hard numbers of density and more on the smaller details that collectively define great places.

rue Laurier Montreal retail street benches
Public seating in the form of benches give people the opportunity to take up public space and essentially extend their living room in denser environments.

These details start from the benches, streetlamps, and trees that reflect our pride and community spirit.  It also includes the great community buildings, public spaces and commercial retail spaces that offer community programming, the necessary shopping and services and places to gather.  It includes a comprehensive multi-modal transportation system that provides people with a more than a singular automobile choice.  Finally, it includes a mix of uses and housing options to meet the needs of a variety of families, ages, cultures and income levels.

Density by itself is not enough, it is one of many ingredients needed to make great communities. Density comes in many forms and should complement the existing neighbourhood character, using architecture and design to incrementally increase density while still matching the scale and context of the surroundings.  We have the tools and knowledge to make density beautiful, interesting and enjoyable, so that density does not seem dense.  It is not a question of how dense a neighbourhood should be but rather how the density is done.


  1. Mees 2010, p. 81.
  2. Converted using the 2011 Statistics Canada average household size
  3. Condon 2010, p. 72.
  4. Condon 2010, p. 75.
  5. Ewing et al. 2008, p.16.
  6. Holtzclaw
  7. Condon et al. 2001, p. 2.
  8. Jones et al. 2013, p. 901.
  9. Condon 2010, p. 98.
  10. CMHC
  11. Jeon et al. 2007, p. 750.
  12. Zhao et al. 2010, p. 786.
  13. Gibbs 2012, p. 5
  14. Gibbs 2012, p. 8

Consulting Services

Slow Streets Public Life Observations and Design Consulting

Slow Streets offers public life behavioural observation and street design consultation firm. 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.

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Building better cities for women – Women Mobility Survey results

By Darren Proulx

Research shows our behaviour is heavily influenced by our built environment. A neighbourhood with narrower streets, trees and smaller shops closer to home encourages us to walk more often. Adequate lighting, more street facing windows, more people around and fewer and slower cars make people feel safer.

women bike montreal


Jane Jacobs highlighted the need for allowing differing levels of privacy and social connections was vital to the wellbeing of a city and its people. Offering people the ability to balance their social contacts and privacy according to their own level of comfort is closely related to building a balanced urbanism that fosters improved safety for women. Building a complete neighbourhood ensures that their is a community that its residents can participate in. Because of the space required for car oriented urban development and street designs, they often only permit social interactions when you are outside of your car, which often tends to include the few steps between your car and your destination whether it be work, home or shopping. This means in cities that have been built around the car you often have to put in considerable effort to seek out those social interactions.

rue Laurier Montreal retail street benches

Designing our cities and streets around people permits the potential for social interactions along a walk in your local neighbourhood. Allowing men to get outside of their bubble and interact with more people in their own neighbourhood can help their mental health and reduce their insecurities, stress and anxieties. A city built around people invites more people out onto the streets at more times of the day, increased windows from more stores and increased visibility, all of which serves to enforce a self-regulating social framework and creates a more comforting environment for women.

retail street parklet rue beaubien montreal .jpg


This can be seen in communities like on Laurier Avenue in Montreal. With it’s combination of low vehicle volumes, many small retail stores, restaurant, services and public seating it creates an engaging, vibrant and inviting experience for everyone including women. Good urbanism that fosters safety for women starts where everyday life unfolds, at the street level with the street and walls. This can be influenced with its street and building designs and Slow Streets can help you get there. I was once told a story from an acquaintance that when she walked around Montreal with a group of females they were never harassed whereas in their extremely automobile oriented hometown the incidences increased dramatically.

Slow Streets recently conducted a Women Mobility Survey asking women directly how they typically got around, where and how often they were harassed and what design features made them feel safer. We will dive into some of the initial results here. We received over 600 responses from 6 continents, 31 countries and 195 cities. Most of the responses are concentrated in North America, South America and Europe.

The majority of responses were from those aged between 21 and 40 years old.

age brackets

The majority of responses were from white females.

race responses

The responses by income bracket are more evenly distributed with more responses at the high and low income brackets.

income bracket chart

The most common primary way of getting around were by personal automobile, public transportation, walking and cycling respectively.

Modal Chart

Walking was used a primary way of getting around the most frequently, followed by transit. Cycling was the mode that was the least frequently used, with the most responses stating never. Clearly more work needs to be done to improve conditions for cycling.

Walk, bike, transit mode share chart

Only 15.36% of respondents reported that they absolutely felt safe in their cities. Only 40.63% stated they absolutely felt safe to walk alone in the daytime. this reduces by half in the nighttime (22.91%). Only 24.06% stated they absolutely feel safe enough to cycle in their city. Clearly there is some work that needs to be done.

We asked where and and how often people experienced harassment.Verbal harassment is the most frequent on public streets.

verbal harrassment by location chart

We also asked whether people experienced physical harassment as well. Physical harassment is the most frequent on public transit. This highlights the need to improve safety on public transportation, perhaps by increasing frequency as described later.

physical harassment by location chart

We also asked what would make the respondents feel safer for three categories.

Top 5 ways to improve public streets:

  1. A lack of lighting
  2. Speed of cars
  3. Specific types of people
  4. A lack of people
  5. Lack of protected cycling lanes
  6. Interactions with cars

From this it becomes clear that slowing down the speeds and interactions with vehicles is important to improving the safety for women on our public streets. Creating safe, comfortable and inviting street environments will also assist in attracting more people. Having adequate lighting would be a part of the solution to create an inviting environment.

Top 5 ways to improve public spaces:

  1. A lack of lighting
  2. Specific types of people
  3. A lack of people
  4. Lack of businesses nearby
  5. Cleanliness
  6. State of repair

From this list it becomes clear that adopting the power of 10+ activities would assist in inviting people into spaces. Building a complete community to surround the public space is important to bring mixed uses at all times and introduce “eyes on the streets” at all times. Finally having a good maintenance and upkeep program is vital for making women feel safe to stay in public spaces. Having adequate lighting would be a part of the solution to create an inviting environment.

Top 5 ways to improve public transportation:

  1. Low service frequency
  2. A lack of lighting
  3. Specific types of people at stations and stops
  4. A lack of people
  5. Long walking distanaces
  6. Overcrowding

What’s really interesting to note is that women are saying that more frequent service is something they would prefer to improve their safety. This is over shorter walking distances. This reinforces the new wave style of connective transit network designs being promoted by the likes of Jarrett Walker. Therefore improving frequency at the expense of a slightly increased walking distance would not only improve safety for women but also improve the overall reliability and usefulness of the transit network.  Higher frequency would also mitigate overcrowding. Transit stations are often designed with hostile architecture with bare bones feature and elements, this would have to be changed to create a more welcoming environment for women. Having adequate lighting would be a part of the solution to create an inviting environment.

Slow Streets has the ability to draw more in-depth insights from these results and offer consultation services to improve cities specifically for the safety and wellbeing of women.

Montréal Urbanism – Why it works

By Darren Proulx

After having traveled around the world, I have been repeatedly saying that Montreal exhibits the best combination of urban elements I have seen anywhere. There are only a few cities that compare and Amsterdam is one of them. What makes it this way?

awesome rowhouse Montreal blue

For starters buildings in the residential neigbourhoods are at most 5 storeys tall. In addition to this the buildings are built in a rowhouse fashion (a series of taller, narrower houses built right next to each other along a block with no space or gaps between buildings. These are famous in Brooklyn or Amsterdam as other examples.) These rowhouses actually make these blocks quite dense, it is the equivalent of taking the height from a 30 storey tower and spreading the density over more surface area. In the photo example above, the building is actually split into three units one each floor, and knowing this neighbouhood most likely there are 2-3 room mates per floor. The result is you get a rich palette of details for your senses while you go along your daily tasks.

Can you spot the gnome? There is an overwhelming abundance of beauty and detail when you build neighbourhoods around this hidden density.


This density is not only for looks,  it also serves a very functional purpose as well. It provides convenience, by bringing your daily services and amenities closer to home or work. Whether this be a place to play with your children, a park to take a relaxing stroll through, bumping into known colleagues and having a sidewalk chat, or purchasing your everyday groceries, services or needs.

The density of people provided from this hidden density rowhousing makes all of this possible, right at your finger tips. In Little Italy there are hundreds of retail, restaurant, cafe and service stores within a 10 minute walk on 4 different retail streets and an indoor/outdoor market.

rue Laurier Montreal retail street benches


Little Italy Retail Streets

These services not only include “nice to haves” such as cafes or restaurants or bars but also include all the necessary services such as day cares, dry cleaning, phone stores, pharmacies, churches, societies, printing, repair supplies (such as the corner store sized Rona pictured below).

Montreal corner store Rona example

Montreal is also one of the first cities I have seen that readily adopts measures to temporarily transform parking or underutilized spaces into public spaces using LQC (light, quick and cost effective) materials. Further, to have this level of public investment in providing public spaces in the winters is unprecedented. The results are spectacular.

Finally the way that Montreal embraces its street art means that places that often do not “deserve” any attractions end up having some color and vibrancy splashed even in the oddest of places adding a bit of whimsy.

alley graffiti Montreal little italy

Let’s turn this rat race into a relaxed stroll

By Darren Proulx

Ratrace video screenshot

A few weeks ago I woke up to a video in my social media feed about the rat race we are living in. If you haven’t seen the video yet, here it is. In fact the before night I was at an event listening to the story of a start-up’s story of their rise. It included a lot of the classic Hollywood elements like him sleeping in his office and him being in debt by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While the story was certainly inspiring. The underlying premise was terrifying, here was a guy that was trying to start a company to actually bring some good in the world and this is how we were treating him.

Are you tired of living in this rat race? This rat race video and the entrepreneur’s story really brought me back to the question about how we invest our resources and whether there is anything we could do to end this rat race and transform it into a relaxed stroll.


Amsterdam is consistently considered one of the happiest places. Yet it is built predominantly around the bicycle. What gives?


Back in the 70’s when they started to transition to the automobile like everyone else they said no and over the last 40 years they transformed themselves back into a city for people. Cornelia Dinca and Thomas Schlijper from Amsterdam have put together a great documentation of Amsterdam’s transformation from its car oriented past here.


Building a car oriented city increases the amount you have to earn in order to live comfortably, contributing to the rat race and this is whether or not you drive or not. A car is an expensive and depreciating investment (over $10,000 per year). Building a city around the automobile makes it more difficult for local businesses to thrive. Roads built primarily around moving the most vehicles through as quickly as possible are also expensive, putting a strain on city budgets. The cost for maintaining this system is passed onto all of us with higher taxes with a diminishing return with a less livable city and fewer great destinations.

parking lot photo

If you choose to opt of this rat race, even slightly less, you still pay for it. We all pay for it through the parking, through the piping and roads in the far edge suburbs. And what has all of this infrastructure solved, nothing it seems as our roads are still bumper to bumper in rush hour despite adding more and more lanes.




I like that this video addresses that we are stuck in a rat race, but it doesn’t address what the alternative looks like. So what does real happiness look like.

Amsterdam park

This is getting enough rest and having time to enjoy even just sitting still without anxiety. This is about enjoying your city without worrying about your phone or the need to buy something.


This is about connecting with your neighbours and acquaintances. This is spending time your loved ones.


This is about chatting with friends on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Montreal cafe people chillaxing

This is the laughter or a smile from your child.

piano Montreal tactical urbanism

This is a mobility system safe enough that you don’t have a second job acting as your child’s chauffeur.

doubling up utrecht

For women this means you can comfortably navigate your own city safely without the need for a $10,000 a year accessory (a car).

women bike montreal

This is about not worrying about the safety of your children being run over or killed in a vehicle collision (vehicles are one of the top causes of child fatalities.)


All of this starts at the street level. We can change our streets to create a more enjoyable experience while you go about your daily business: work, live, play.


How about instead of designing our streets and neighbourhoods around speed to support this rat race we slow things down so that we can enjoy and connect with our own neighbourhoods and those living in them? It is time to transform this rat race into a relaxed stroll. Not only will our wallets thank us for it but we will get to enjoy our city more instead of having to go on vacation to find those experiences. If you want to improve your bottom line and create a more enjoyable city Slow Streets would be more than willing to help you achieve that.