from the bike to the car, and getting back

We in North America are not far away in time from all being poor and rural.

In that world, people used to walk (or sometime run) everywhere.  Even having a bike was rare.

In such a world, a car is a revelation.  A car really is freedom.  Hours of walking turned into minutes of driving.  And even in the most extensively train-connected environment, for example even in France, a car is still hugely convenient for getting around rural areas.  We’re never going to run train tracks to everyone’s doorstep.  The car is a fantastic rural technology.  It wipes out distance constraints that are incredibly painful in time and effort.

Read any story or history of Europe or North America anywhere outside a city, from 1800 up to the end of WWII.  Circa 1850 people used to walk across the entire United States to get to California.  We’re only 160 years away from that.

People in Africa walking miles to school or days to a hospital is not some weird alien world.  It’s just us, before we could afford cars and mostly moved into cities.  Which is very very recent.  Say 60 years ago.

So you can see how hard it is to make the argument to go slower.  If you said to someone who has to walk two hours to their fields or to school, if you said “the car sucks, isn’t it great being a pedestrian?” they would think you were out of your mind.

What happened was that for the rural people, for whom the car was both an incredible status symbol but much more importantly a huge convenience, and for the people living downtown who could finally go and see the surrounding countryside upon a Sunday, for them the car was amazing.

We didn’t understand that it was a completely inappropriate technology for cities.

All of this to say, watch Gapminder’s Don’t Panic about population and wealth, and remember we’re looking down from the top of a very recent, very high income and very high urbanisation peak, down on people who live on a dollar a day in rural villages.  It’s for us with the information and wealth we have now to use appropriate technologies (like walking, cycling and transit in cities).  It’s not for us to tell everyone they should deny themselves a step up in life.  Watch the guy buy his first bike.  Think how much better his life would be with a car.  It’s not that the car was a mistake.  It’s the car in the city that’s the mistake.  See his excitement and understand how we got from North American rural poverty to a North American obsession with the car.  The car really was wealth and freedom.  For a time.

The good news: we’re already rich.  Now we just have to be rich and smart.

Ontario Land Use Planning

[Ontario wants] to hear your suggestions on:

  • how we can improve the province’s land use planning systems, including what can be appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB)
  • the Development Charges Act
  • parkland dedication
  • section 37 of the Planning Act, which enables a municipality to negotiate with a developer for items such as affordable housing in exchange for permission for the developer to build in excess of zoning limits

You are invited to share your comments and ideas by January 10, 2014. You can:

Submit your comments through an online version of this guide at (specifically )

Environmental Bill of Rights Registry Number: 012-0241

Email a submission to

You can read the guide PDF at

November 8, 2013  Ontario Land Use Planning – Nov 21, 2013

redeveloping the Domtar lands – Dec 11, 2013

Windmill Developments is planning an information session on its Chaudiere Island development ideas on Dec. 11 at the Museum of Civilization, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. … presentations are at 6 and then repeated at 7:30

from Windmill Developments wants to talk Domtar land plans

UPDATE 2013-12-01 – slide deck Domtar Lands Redevelopment Ottawa/Gatineau: A Vision For A World Class EcoDistrict Community from New Approaches to Developing Sustainable Neighbourhoods session on August 19 at the Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) 2013 conference in Ottawa.

Link to conference deck via @kerfluffer on Twitter.

What has prevented Walkable Urbanism, and how to fix our cities

Our streets don’t just happen.

They are designed.

For decades, the manuals for street design have been based on American highway engineering, in part based on really poor data and bad models.  And that’s even when well-intentioned, things get even worse when you add in ideological agendas.  Thanks to John Forester, the manual for road design excluded separated cycling facilities.  So no one could build them.

Jeff Tumlin (@jeffreytumlin) does a fantastic job of explaining how all these pieces fit together to give us the system we have today.  Highly recommend watching this video, it’s one of the single most influential things that has shaped my understanding of urban planning.  How we’ve failed at design.  How humans actually behave.  It’s the whole package of how motordom created the current reality, and how we can work to make better cities.

from blog post “Sex, Neuroscience and Walkable Urbanism” – The Video, with Jeff Tumlin

The video is from a January 10, 2013 public lecture (web page gone) at SFU.   You can see other videos at

Jeff Tumlin presented in Ottawa, in April 2012.  David Reevely enjoyed it (Internet Archive).

You actually can’t really fight congestion, Tumlin argued. Or you can, but you’ll lose…. It’s well-established to the point of orthodoxy that once a road fills up, yes, you can widen it, but whatever improvements you see won’t last: you’ll just get more people driving on that fancy new widened road, and before long they’ll be moving at the same slow speed they were before.

The presentation deck was available but has now as usual disappeared.  It was Greener-Ottawa.pdf Greener Ottawa: Seven Free and Low-Cost Steps Ottawa Can Take to Leverage Rail Investments and Grow Healthier and Wiser – from Nelson Nygaard presentations (Internet Archive).

He recommended:

  1. Measure what matters
  2. Make traffic analysis work
  3. Fix the models
  4. Adopt good street design manuals
  5. Plant trees
  6. Bikes = economic development
  7. Manage & price parking

You could find an incredibly high-level summary of the planning summit ottawa·ca/planningsummit but no video or presentations were posted online and now there is no site at all.

It continues to baffle me that Ottawa brings very good people like Jeff Tumlin and Jan Gehl to speak, but even when video is taken (as it was in both cases) the video is never permanently posted online.  It’s hard to build much of an evidence chain if presentations, videos, and entire web subsites just disappear after a few years, if they’re ever captured at all.

Tunney’s Pasture preferred option

It’s not too bad.  Residential with interior courtyard grass over parking.  Probably more parking than needed, but at least much better than surface parking.  Massing a bit too high, particularly the odd Ottawa love of towers shading a playing field.  Green space is really just one park and some connecting glue (no one will use the Boulevard space).  If they do the bike lanes right it could be ok to get around.  No indication of what speed limits they’re proposing.  I think that Major (around the edge) should be 30 km/h and Local (the interior) should be 10 km/h, enforced in design, not by signs.  Not enough retail, particularly towards the back (north) of the lot.  Unless very very carefully done, “urban plaza” will end up being empty windswept concrete, as with plazas around Ottawa and the world.

See it all at a typically governmenty URL:

Feedback to deadline December 20, 2013

Full context at and scattered around from

No one settled on a hashtag.

Queen Street renewal – public open house

Wednesday, December 11, 2013
5:30 pm to 8:00 pm
Ottawa City Hall, 110 Laurier Avenue West, Jean Pigott Hall

The City of Ottawa is undertaking an Environmental Assessment and detailed design study for the proposed Queen Street Renewal project. The project involves a comprehensive streetscape renewal of the Queen Street surface infrastructure from Bronson Avenue to Elgin Street.


also see the main Queen Street renewal page.  Don’t ask me why the main page isn’t linked directly to the public open house page.

This is a follow-on to the Downtown Moves project.

January 8, 2013  Downtown Moves final presentations – Jan 17, 2013

The Human Scale filled the Mayfair Theatre

The Ottawa premiere of The Human Scale documentary co-presented by the Royal Danish Embassy and Urban Forum filled the Mayfair Theatre (capacity 325) with people still left in the lineup outside.

Tweets from the event can be seen at

Following the premiere, the film is showing three times at the Bytowne.

Rediscover Ottawa and its surroundings – Dec 5, 2013

National Gallery of Canada


Ticket required: $ 8 (adults), $7 (seniors and students), $6 (members)

Thursday 5 December [2013] at 6 pm
In the Auditorium
Rediscover Ottawa and its surroundings with urban planning specialist and historian David Gordon.

Thursday 12 December [2013] at 6 pm
In the Lecture Hall
Kathleen M. Fenwick Annual Memorial Lecture
Guest speaker: Rosalind Pepall

– From (scrolling way down)

David [Gordon] has written widely on urban planning including the books Planning Twentieth Century Capital Cities (Routledge 2006) and Planning Canadian Communities (Nelson 2008 with Gerald Hodge). His latest research includes a book on the history of Canada’s capital city and exploration of Canadian suburbs.



energy efficiency in Germany – Nov 12, 2013

For more than a decade now, Germany has been engaged in the most ambitious sustainability shift of any major industrial nation – a move to renewable energy and hyper-efficiency now known in Germany as the Energiewende (“Energy Transition”). Germany’s pursuit of a low-carbon future is a case study for any community following the same path.

Bestselling author and renowned sustainability expert Chris Turner has been studying the Energiewende almost since it began

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Carleton University
Room 720A, Loeb Building

Click here to view the event poster [pdf, 468.71k]

Supported by the Embassy and Consulates General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Canada.

above from