Archives for posts with tag: transportation

Check out this quick sketch of a map I made of Toronto:

toronto depiction

It focuses on three dominant features of the city: Highways, Rivers and Trees.

Toronto’s 400 Series Highways, Ravines and River Valley landscapes define this city, and I celebrate them.

Let me know your thoughts about the map in the comments section below!

Toronto may be the city where the mayor has declared the end to the “war on cars“.

It may be the only city in the world to be removing bike lanes while letting the shoulders of major streets go painfully uncovered.

It may be the only “world class” city without a “world class” transportation system, permanently frozen by ego and politics.


I love that this city
Has inherited a streetcar system
That encourages
No — demands
That pedestrians spill into the street
Taking them over temporarily
To board a streetcar
& to get off them too.

For those non-Torontonians out there, the official boarding procedure for Toronto’s streetcars (when there is no traffic island), is to spill onto the street, blocking traffic until boarded. And in this way, there is a constant, intangible expansion of the territory of the sidewalks into the streets.

Sure, it’s probably not the safest, or most efficient way to run a transportation network. But every time I see pedestrians spill into the streets to board a street car, taking them over, “taking back the streets” my heart swells with Toronto love.


As some of my readers may know, I am traveling from Amsterdam to Rome, over land, with the special interest of seeing how the Netherlands turns into Italy.

The voyage is planned, and later this week I will be taking a shit-kicker 30 hour bus-trip beginning in Amsterdam, and traveling through Belgium, Luxembourg, France & Switzerland on its way to Italy.

Preparing for this very extreme journey, I have many questions about what the trip will be like. Here are some of the most pertinent:

  • Who will be the other passengers?
  • Will it be a double-decker bus?
  • How many towns will we be stopping in? For how long?
  • Will we be driving under, or over the Swiss Alps?
  • Will it be dark outside while we’re driving through the Alps?
  • Will Italy be hot?
  • Will i know when i’m in a different country?
  • How long does 30 hours feel like on a bus?

I can describe urban planning in the Netherlands with one term: Multiple Land Use.

Multiple Land Use in the Netherlands has a much deeper meaning than what I’ve come to know of the same concept in Canada.

In my understanding, Multiple Land Use in Canada is a fairly simple mixing of residential, commercial and industrial activities. Also known as Mixed-Use Zoning, this practice has come into vogue in the last 20 years, in direct response to the negative consequences of the Modernist practice of isolating functions which characterized urban planning in the mid to late 20th century.

In the Netherlands, Multiple Land Use means so much more than having commercial and residential beside each other, and refers to a deeper mixing of land use functions — indeed, Multiple Land Use refers to the literal stacking of functions on top of each other!

Some of my fave examples:

◈ Along the Prince Hendrikade, which lines Amsterdam’s historical Eastern harbour, there are bike, car, bus and pedestrian lanes. There is a boardwalk style green space lining the water. Where Valkenburgerstraat intersects Prince Hendrikade sits the NEMO – a  science museum with a very distinct, contemporary architectural style. On top of the NEMO is a cafe, and terrace with expansive view of the city. Under the NEMO runs the IJtunnel – a bus and car link that runs under the science museum, under the IJ and into Amsterdam Noord.

Green space beside an institution which is under leisure space and over transportation space: classic Netherlands Multiple Land Use.

Another example:

◈ Westerpark, in Amsterdam’s west. In a small strecth of land, you can find residential, commercial, leisure, agricultural, cemetarial, transportation and gardenal uses. Standing in the middle of Westerpark, you get a strange floating feeling. Runners and bikers whip by you. Inter-city trains passing mark the minutes. You get whiffs of  hearty compost and manure of gardens and farms. You hear the clattering of dishes in nearby restaurants and cafes. You smell coffee, burnt tires, marijuana. You see tall buildings in the distance, squat residential blocks nearby, smoke stacks in the horizon. You see it all, the multiple uses of land, from one vantage point.

And just one more:

◈ Along Leidsestraat and Utrechtsestraat, bi-directional tram lines run. The streets, however, are only wide enough at certain points for one set of tram-tracks. To resolve this, the Trams wait for each other to pass at the stops which are located on the canal bridges — wide enough to support both directions of the tram. The multiple-land use kicks in beautifully on Leidsestraat, a pedestrian-only street, where people freely walk along the tram tracks until one needs to pass by. The street is both a tram track and a pedestrian walk way. It works beautifully.

TramA tram patiently wait for another to pass, in typically Amsterdam flexible use of space.
The diagram of this above, is an arrangement that can be found on Leidsestraat and Utrechtsetraat.

You can also see this along Rembrandtplein. It is a pedestrian only street, save for the trams that periodically pass. When the trams pass, they create a wake through the crowd, and their path leaves a temporarily empty corridor in the middle of the walkway. Slowly the corridor fades as pedestrians feel safe again to use the whole space, but soon another tram comes and the corridor reappears. A beautiful ebb and flow of multiple land use.

This post originally appeared on Volume

Filmmaker Kit Chung has created a series of fascinating and hypnotic GIFs that are intimate portraits of Beijing metro passengers.

Beijing metro commuter

Subway systems can be seen as the heart of a city: a visitor must ride the tube in London or the subway in New York to truly experience their essence. Chung’s GIFs give similar insight into the heart of Beijing with intimate “moving portraits” of passengers on Line 2, the city’s oldest metro line.

Beijing metro commuter

A city, especially a massive and sprawling Chinese city such as Beijing, can easily be conceptualized as an undifferentiated mass, a swarming and anonymous populous that moves pointlessly over its landscape. With Chung’s GIFs, we get access to individuals’ stories and glimpses into the lives that make up Beijing’s diverse social landscape. You can see more GIFs on his Tumblr.

This post originally appeared on the Pop-Up City

The urbanism blogosphere has been buzzing in anticipation of the release of SimCity 5. So we thought it would be a good opportunity to share with you another application that does a fun job of simulating urban design. is a digital mixing board for the urban environment. It invites its users to create, mix and mash a streetscape with a wide array of typical road elements, such as bike and vehicle lanes, medians, boulevards, sidewalks and trees.

Do you live along a busy four lane thoroughfare, and want to see what it would be like if you chopped off two lanes of traffic to add bike lanes? Give it a shot! StreetMix lets you experiment and envision possible configurations that would improve the liveability your city’s streets. You can also be a silly with it, and create streetscapes that may never see the light of day – like a five lane, unidirectional bike highway, surrounded by trees! (Okay, maybe this exists somewhere in the Netherlands…).


The application contributes to the conversation community designers are having about ‘rightsizing’ streets: re-purposing a street to fit the needs of its users best. The intuitive interface promotes a change in thinking about our streets from something that is permanent, to something that can be flexible and adaptable. Since we can easily change the configuration of a road on StreetMix, we can in turn, start to think of our real streets as similarly able to quickly adapt to meet the changing needs of its users.


Since StreetMix limits the amount of elements you can put on your street it is a realistic simulation: streets can’t accommodate the needs of every type of user, and some sacrifices need to be made in their design. Easy access to cross-section diagrams previously limited to professionals also means that citizens are empowered to become the civil engineers and architects of the city.

As StreetMix was developed in five hours at a Code for America hackathon, it is still a work in progress, but it already demonstrates its potential impact on community planning and design. In the spirit of open-sourcing, StreetMix invites people to comment on the application, and suggest elements that should be included in its next version — edible boulevards, anyone?


This is Halifax, today. The main geographical feature of Halifax is that it is a peninsula. Peninsular Halifax protrudes out from the Bedford Basin into the greater harbour. To the west, a thin strip of water known as the North West Arm separates it from Spryfield and the Purcell’s Cove Road area – the “mainland”.

There are no connections over the North West Arm between peninsular Halifax and the mainland – one must travel to where the land connects – at the Rotary – to get anywhere along the western shores of the Arm – a relatively far distance to travel to somewhere that is not too far away, as the crow flies, or the car drives.

Halifax cognitive-01

The consequences of this on the city’s collective cognitive geography is enormous. With no connections, the mainland seems incredibly far away, more like the map pictured above. The mainland is also fairly undeveloped — it remains largely forested, and, along Purcell’s Cove road you can access William’s Lake, and Tea Lake, some of Halifax-area’s most beloved swimming spots.

Halifax with Harbour Drive-01

In the 1960s, an ambitious highway plan would have seen the extension of a highway-like Barrington Street through the downtown, around Point Pleasant Park, and over to the mainland, as roughly pictured in the map above.

The plan, known as Harbour Drive, was never realized, and the highway-zation of Barrington stopped at the Cogswell Interchange.

I often think that the consequences of a built Harbour Drive on our relationship with Halifax would have been profound. Instead of thinking about Halifax-proper as an isolated peninsula, it would form a larger whole, and my life would probably be more integrated into the paths and projects associated with the Spryfield and Purcell’s Cove area.

But while thinking this, I also correct myself because if Harbour Drive was built, it would have been a gross super-highway, leading to the development of Fairview-  & Dartmouth-style suburbs that I would never have any reason to go to – there would undoubtedly be a deficiency of a public realm and walkable, public space.

Since Harbour Drive was never built,  beautiful forests remain.

Halifax with pedestrian bridges-01

It is pity, though, that the mainland seems so far from my life, when it’s actually so close.

It would be so lovely, if pedestrian bridges stretched, across the North West Arm, as pictured above, connecting Halifax and the Mainland –  between the end of South Street and Dingle Park, Point Pleasant Park and Purcell’s Cove. It would bring the forest, the lakes, and the fine air of the mainland closer to our lives, in a lovely, healthy way.

This morning, in response to an article published yesterday on Spacing Atlantic, I had the opportunity to discuss the possibility of a third harbour bridge between Halifax and Dartmouth on Maritime Morning, on News 95.7 FM.

Yes, your Urban Geographer made his 2012 radio debut as an expert on the topics of transportation infrastructure, traffic engineering, active transportation and discouraging continued car culture in HRM.

Listen to the link to hear all about:

Where the bridge will be, and how much it will cost;

Approaches to transportation planning (building more roads means lest congestion?);

Not anti-car, pro-mobility;

Amsterdam — formerly an anti-bike city;

Multi-modal mobility.

Click here to listen,

&, Enjoy. 

cross-posted from Spacing Atlantic

HALIFAX – With the current studies exploring the potential of a third Halifax harbour crossing, and the recent announcement of the closure of pedestrian and bike lanes for a year and half during planned resurfacing of the Macdonald Bridge, I’ve been thinking about Halifax bridges a lot these days.

Urban planners and city officials have begun to explore the costs and logistics of creating a third bridge over, or under, the narrows between the South End CN Railyard in Halifax, and the Woodside area of Dartmouth. The price tag is an estimated $1.1 to $1.4 billion. According to the Harbour Bridges Commission, the need for a third harbour crossing is due to projected population growth, which, obviously, means more car traffic.

Steve Snider, general manager and CEO of the commission hopes that “more people will get out of their cars, but doubt[s] if all people are going to get out.”

The idea that increased population automatically means more cars is absurd, and the lack of any real attempt at trying to encourage active transportation is disheartening. HRM does not need another car-oriented connection into the peninsula. It represents a backward step in planning, while the rest of the world invests in pedestrian and transit oriented infrastructure at smaller, walkable scales. While the city investigates the possibility of a third crossing, they are also considering cutting funds to harbour ferry services and are continuing to let the Metro Transit system fallow and decay. Plans to widen Bayers road and build even more highway overpasses contribute to the trend of cars-first, people-never planning in HRM.

These issues have lead me to think about that old ramp to nowhere [pg. 6, PDF], up near the Mackay bridge, that extended out toward the water and into the sky, demolished in 2009. There’s surprisingly little written about it, but with a bit of research I learnt that this stumped-ramp was officially called Structure 9, and was originally built as part of the Cogswell Interchange series of planned highways but was never used.

I’m sad that Structure 9 was demolished in 2009, because it would have served as an apt symbol of the current guiding-philosophy of HRM planning. A ramp-to-nowhere, along with the Cogswell interchange, are pieces of highway infrastructure that spin users around and around, getting them nowhere fast.

This city must move away from car-oriented infrastructure. That billion dollars needed for a third harbour crossing could be directly reallocated to transit, alleviating the traffic on the existing bridges with more frequent and reliable bus service, and the funding of more ferry service. The planned closure of the pedestrian/bike lanes along the Macdonald bridge are further evidence of short-sited visions of mobility planning in the Municipality, and symbolic of the city’s official attitude toward active transportation.

Plus, HRM and provincial planners seem to be ignoring that Mi’kmaq legend: any attempt at a third harbour crossing will lead to its inevitable collapse (which can be read about in Paul Erikson’s book North End Halifax.) Let’s hope the city and province heed to the lessons of this prophesy, which in the 2012 context has taken on new meaning. May the plan of a third harbour crossing follow the predictions of the myth, and fall apart before it’s built. Let’s avoid the legend’s foretold disaster, and instead alleviate the capacity of the current bridges in a healthy, smart and people-oriented way.

Photo by  Paul Coffin

Karen Stintz announced the proposed OneCity transit plan today.


Using a language of unity rather than a false suburbs downtown divide. This is one system, one region, the efficiency of downtown routes directly effects the suburban.

Best of luck to the fine people of toronto, may they be protected from divisive politics and incompetent leadership

The other day, for some reason, on the subway travelling along the Bloor Danforth Line, the stops were not being announced as they usually are.

A typical day’s subway rhythm is punctuated by the steely voice of an anonymous female announcer:

“The next station is Christie, Christie Station”

“Arriving at Christie, Christie Station”.

Without the regular announcement, I had a wholly different experience of riding the subway.

The stops quietly presented themselves without being promtpted. The rhythm of the train was smooth and continuous, without being interrupted by the announcement of the stations.

Without the announcements, it was quite easy to fall into a trance of motion and non-motion, doors opening and closing in an endless and undifferentiated cycle.

It was also quite easy to lose track of my placement in the system, without the aural prompts used as a constant standard for reorientation.

I found I missed whole stops in the rhythmic, unpunctuated  trance I fell into — I was in Ossington, then Spadina, then Sherbourne.

Between Sherbourne and Castle Frank, I hadn’t a clue as to where I was, and felt a true sense of disorientation as I anticipated the Don Valley views between Castle Frank and Broadview that never came.

This experience gave me the opportunity to meditate on the complete lack of disorientation that accompanies modern forms of transit and telecommunications. With smart phones, and smart cities, we constantly know where we are, and it’s pretty hard to get lost.

The feeling of not knowing where I was between Sherbourne and Castle Frank stations — that was rare.

As someone often in a state of wanderlust, but with a strong sense of direction, it’s very difficult these days to be lost. I understand and support new apps like Drift that encourage, through a set of random directions, people to become lost in their own neighbourhoods.

I don’t yearn for disorientation, but this experience presented a different world to me, a less know-able world, where fun and mystery accompanied a healthy sense of not knowing where-the-hell I was. It was a welcome change to the routine of transit.

This post is a tribute to the metropass. It’s to the TTC metropass specifically, but I’m sure the same stands for metropasses worldwide.

The metropass has transformed my relationship to the city. No longer do I scrutinize over whether or not I should take the TTC, endlessly justifying a $3 journey. There are no more mischievous transfer extensions of  four or five hours, no more route planning minimizing transit use. I can no longer drop a day’s activity on some far flung end of the city because it’s too far, or because I’m not willing to dish out three more dollars to get there. It’s no more one off bus then done.

Instead, there’s me, the city and the TTC. It’s a network available to me at all times, beckoning me with it’s winding routes throughout the city, assuring me there’s enough time in the day to get out there and do it all.

The TTC may not be perfect, aggravating some to the point of public outrage due to delays or miscommunications or mutual disrespect between passengers and operators.

And the metropass is definitely not cheap — at $126, you need to take it forty times a month to justify its purchase (which is more than if you used it twice a day for a commute to work during the week).

But my emotional enjoyment of transit outweighs a simple cost-benefit analysis. I am no rational economic man, that’s for damn sure.

That’s right — I’ve been luxuriating in the metropass. Hopping on and off and on again; dropping my friends off at the subway platform; deciding to take a walk up Bathurst til I see the bus coming rather than waiting impatiently at the station. I’m vibing off the TTC and the Toronto it reveals to me (the 506 street car from High Park to Main Street Station — oh baby!)  — and the metropass — it’s my key to the city.