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The plan.intro
redefining neighbourhoods
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The history of urban planning and urban design represents a desire to improve the conditions that result from living in urban centres. This particular effort intends to continue that tradition. The purpose of urban planning has always been to recommend methods and policies that would improve the health, wealth and happiness of people who live in close proximity to each other.

If the purpose of living in a city is to improve the opportunities we have to interact with each other, we have to organise the city to ensure those opportunities are maximised and effective. In short, a transportation plan is required to encourage communication between all citizens of a city in the most efficient way possible.The result would make the city noticeably easier to live in.

This document is an individual effort designed to assist in the development of a transportation plan for your city.


This plan is intended to be as generic as possible so that it might be applied to most cities; however, it is very much influenced by my own experiences while living in my own city.

The primary thrust of this document is to encourage the provision of reasonable alternatives to driving a car. This is to wean a large part of the urban population away from a dependency on cars.

In my city about 85% of the population is car dependent (statistics provided by the city). Car dependency is the need to drive a car to do almost anything outside the home. One would have to use a car to gather all that is needed to live a complete life.

Car dependency is associated with a great deal of land devoted almost exclusively to cars as well as a very low ratio of residential density. My city has over 60% of its developed area devoted to the use of cars; including both roads and parking-lots. As well, the residential density is one of the lowest in North America. My city covers a land area of 91.3 square kilometres  and has a population of about 100,000 people, giving it a population density of 1,100 per square kilometre. This is low, even by North American standards. If we just measure the area of the city devoted to residential development (about 71k2) the density averages about 1,500 people per kilometre2. If we count the area beyond the city boundaries known as exurbs that density is lower still.

Car dependency is associated with air pollution, global warming, hearing damage and a myriad of stress related disorders, poor health, death or maiming by accidents as well as a significant negative impact on the local economy. If we can reduce the number of trips by cars, by improving the alternatives to driving or make the alternatives to driving more attractive we can significantly change our urban environment so that our cities are safer, healthier, and easier to live in.

If a transportation plan is to be successful it must first change the way we regard our cars. Cars are often sold to us as instruments of freedom. They are the means of gaining more control over our lives, allowing us to go wherever we want whenever we want. However, when we no longer have other mobility choices, car dependency commits us to a significant financial burden, health and safety risks that can lead to a loss of freedom. Also, the more time we spend in a car the less time we can spend doing other things that make us happy. As we develop a more balanced view of our need for cars we can change policies that affect our use of public space and then redesign public space so that it supports all kinds of human activities and not just driving.


Let’s acknowledge the fact that this effort is substantial as it is significant. Car dependency is the result of policies and design decisions that have taken place since cars were introduced to urban centres over a hundred years ago. To reverse these policies and change the way we design public space will require a great deal of time and effort. This effort was started by a group supporting the thoughts of Jane Jacobs in the late 1950’s, and we are just part of the latest generation preparing to take on this challenge.

The weakness of urban planning efforts to date stems from a misconception of what urban planning is and what it is supposed to do. To be blunt; urban planning is a discipline within the study of economics. I often recommend that if you want to put an economics degree to good use, continue with the study of urban planning. Economics is really an ongoing study of human behaviour and a very good understanding of how humans behave is an important prerequisite for creating planning documents that are useful and successful. Urban planning is an effort to optimise land use, but if you can’t accurately predict human behaviour as it responds to development of a particular piece of land, an optimal planning effort is unlikely to occur. As we understand the role of urban planners we can better incorporate their recommendations into a decision-making process. 

There are two main methods of doing planning: ‘Evidence based planning’ vs ‘Aspirational planning.’ 

Evidence based planning works by identifying issues and opportunities associated with a given site. We research the most effective ways to address those issues and opportunities and then we make recommendations based on those findings.

Aspirational planning establishes a goal, provides a reason for achieving that goal and recommends a method for achieving that goal. If you are a pharaoh in Egypt your goal might be to build a pyramid. The reason you might give is; “I am your king and god, if you don’t build this pyramid I will be not amused.” The methods you might recommend would be very specific to getting that task done. Sooner or later there is your pyramid. 

While both methods can look very similar and can be just as effective, aspirational planning works best in autocratic and corporate settings, while evidence based planning can be more transparent and works best in democratic settings where consensus is important. Using these methods in their appropriate context will lead to better results.

As well, we need to understand that planning is not urban design. Planning and design have very different skill sets, and when we can maintain these roles as distinct the better for both our urban planning and our urban design efforts. While planning would produce recommendations based on sound arguments, design would produce decisions based on the information provided. Planning influences the design by providing enough information to begin the design process. Almost all that information is economic in nature even with consideration given to public health and safety. The design will also be informed by other experts such as structural and civil engineers, landscape architects, builders and manufactures, but those experts would be part of the design processes after the process has begun.

We tend to associate decision making with management and elected officials while associating design with creativity. In fact, design involves making a myriad of decisions based on the circumstances, experience and values associated with an understanding of the human condition. Design is the effort to improve the way everybody interacts with their environment. This is a very specific skill set that planners, managers and elected officials seldom have. The best advice I can give here is involve qualified people and then respect the process.

Planning must precede design. A local elected body might initiate the planning process for a given area of the city. The planner would then begin a process of consultation with an interested public, stakeholders and experts with the hope of identifying relevant issues and opportunities associated with the given area. The planner would then research the most effective means of addressing those issues and opportunities. From the research the planner would then construct a brief to be presented to the relevant governing body. The governing body should then have enough information to determine the value of proceeding or not. If the decision is to proceed then the brief is turned over to the urban designer, who will eventually present a design to the governing body. If the design is given approval than the designer will oversee the construction to the point of realisation.

This might seem like obvious common sense to most people, but in most car dominated cities the planning and decision making process is often backwards to this. The traffic engineers dominate the planning and design of urban spaces, and planning usually begins with the question of how much space do we give the cars and where do we put them. Prime real estate will be given to parking space, infrastructure in public space is dedicated to the use of cars and whatever is left over is given to people. Planners and designers are often relegated to the role of consultants hired by engineers in public works to perform public relations exercises or decorate high profile projects. The results are seldom satisfying or effective.

In order to achieve a more people oriented city, planning must be a relevant component of the decision making process within the city administration. Design must be considered a distinct set of skills dedicated to resolving numerous problems associated with human occupation of a given site, And we must respect a process that requires cooperation and coordination of so many people working towards a healthier, safer and stronger economy in which all people can be sustained.

For much of the last hundred years or so, urban planners have been fettered by the notion that travel by cars is an essential component of a quality urban life. This notion isn’t true. The unquestioning assumption that a car is an asset and not a liability, has led planning theorists down a very strange path; rupturing a connection between the role of the planners and their ability to address real human needs. Urban planning has drifted into irrelevance as regulations that promote uniform low density residential development and car dependency while issues related to public health, public safety and economic sustainability and resiliency have largely been ignored.


Jane Jacobs, Paulo Soleri and Christopher Alexander spent much of their careers casting a sceptical eye towards the economy of cities. With mostly anecdotal evidence available to them they observed the debilitating effects of car culture within the urban economy. Jane Jacobs was a powerful voice warning us of an unnatural and dehumanising effect of cars in the environment and Paulo Soleri and Christopher Alexander came up with solutions that they promoted. In my youth I spent some time studying urban planning with Paulo Soleri in Arizona. There I was introduced to the writings of Jane Jacobs; in particular The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Some of her later essays where she spoke of “organic economics” also impressed me. When I studied urban planning in a more formal setting back at the University of Calgary a colleague introduced me to the writings of Christopher Alexander. Alexander argued for a scale of urban design more appropriate to the way human’s would use public space. His book A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction is seminal and is the bases for my description of neighbourhoods, urban centres and city centres in this document.

Jan Geld, Jeff Speck and Charles Morohn Jr. represent another generation of designers and planners who have benefitted by the research into urban planning that was inspired primarily by Jane Jacobs. I did not complete my academic program. The bulk of my reading at the time focused more on the abstract composition or urban form with little expressed understanding of how those urban forms assisted in the performance of human behaviour. My education developed or evolved over the last forty or so years through careful observation and personal study. Geld, Speck and Morohn have had the benefit of a more a complete academic background and can usually back up their assertions with relevant references. Jan Geld continues where Christopher Alexander left off, with a sensitivity to the psychological effects of public space on urban culture. Starting in his hometown of Copenhagen, Geld has influenced the development of infrastructure for cycling in cities around the world. His planning group has even authored a transportation plan for the city of Red Deer, Alberta; not too far from where I grew up. Much of the formatting of this document and all of my comments related to cycling infrastructure were influenced by that particular document. Jeff Speck and his book Walkable City: How Downtown Saves America, One Step at a Time form the bases of my recommendations for creating walkable neighbourhoods. Charles Morohn Jr. and his web based “Strong Towns Movement,” has informed the areas of this document where I deal with city policy that improves economic resiliency, increases the tax base of urban areas in a way that is equatable, and directs public funds towards projects that are sustainable.

Todd Litman, Ray Spaxman and Larry Beasley are local heroes of mine. I rely on the excellent research done by Todd Litman from Victoria, British Columbia to support all my assertions with respect to the economics of urban transportation. Ray Spaxman and Larry Beasley where both heads of the Vancouver Planning Department while Vancouver was achieving, subsequently lauded, urban design successes. By their example, Spaxman and Beasley have taught me lot about the benefits of good planning; lessons I couldn’t learn from my own city.

Living in my city for the last 30 years has gained me a lot of insight into how not to do urban planning and urban design. My assertions that planning and design must be considered separately as both involve different skill sets was borne of observing that it is extremely rare to encounter individuals who can do both. Planning that doesn’t address real issues and real opportunities and doesn’t take into account the complexity and nuances of human behaviour will never properly inform the designer. Also, engineers make poor urban planners and even worse urban designers. Engineers can act as consultants once the design process has begun, but they should not make determinations that would ultimately influence the way humans interact with their environment. As it turns out most cities have organised themselves so that traffic engineers make most of the critical planning decisions. The traffic department would be well funded and deeply staffed, while planners and designers are hired as consultants for particular projects for a limited time and for the lowest price. Planners might be hired to do design work and designers might be hired to do planning work, but mostly they are hired to put some lipstick on some project that was determined without enough information. The current process enables error and encourages incompetence. From my own city I have learned that an organisation that allows planners to do planning work which properly informs a city council and then a designer (who hires engineers as consultants as needed) that there are enough checks and balances to promote the success of any urban development project.

Other influences worth mentioning are Carlos Moreno author of “The 15 Minute City,”Salvador Rueda prime advocate for Barcelona’s Super Blocks, and the City Prepare Project out of Portland, Oregon.

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The Plan



This plan reflects a change of priorities from a car centred planning effort to one that puts people foremost.  Based on what we have observed in other cities this change will improve public health and safety and improve the local economy by making the city more livable, attractive, and enjoyable.

We advocate for the transition of streets and roads from arteries for cars to designing them as public space available for everybody’s use and enjoyment no matter what form of locomotion is used.

The bulk of this effort is to reduce car dependency by providing alternatives that are more efficient. However, foremost is a consideration of destinations. After all what good is a transportation plan if there is nowhere to go.

This transportation plan prioritises a walkable network of paths, streets and roads. Secondly, we need to create a complete cycle-path network. Finally, we need to create a transit system that represents a reasonable alternative to taking the car, while noting that none of this can take place outside of a general discussion about improvements to land use. 


A neighbourhood can best be thought of as the smallest amount of space in which most people can live a full life for most of their lives. In the past a majority of people seldom strayed beyond the boundaries of their neighbourhood and that neighbourhood contained all they needed to be productive, feel safe and maintain their health and well-being.

If we think of life as part work, part play, part celebration and part rejuvenation amid a community, our neighbourhood needs to provide the things that allow us to do most of that. To be sure, the success of our lives is determined by the ease of which our needs our met; to the extent that a neighbourhood provides for those needs is a measure of how successful that neighbourhood is.

The car might allow us to meet all of our needs and ensure all our wants are satisfied, but if we are depending on that car for every trip we make we are losing a considerable amount of control over our lives and making it harder for ourselves to achieve our daily goals. As well, we are exposing ourselves to health risks, possible consequential accidents. We are also contributing more to significant environmental degradation and the existential threat of global warming.

As well, all the harmful effects of driving are suffered by those who don’t drive. Plus they are forced to use second rate transit systems, poorly developed cycling infrastructure and narrow sidewalks or just the side of the road for walking. This document is not meant to be a declaration of a war on cars, but as an urban planner I am obliged to address issues related to the quality of life in a city and in most cities in North America there is no issue larger than car dependancy. Providing neighbourhoods that are planned so as to reduce car dependency is the most significant recommendation I can make.

To allow neighbourhoods to reduce car dependency will first require us to resize them. The reasonable alternative to driving in a neighbourhood is to make the neighbourhood walkable. This means that a fifteen minute walk by a healthy adult should get a person to almost every part of a neighbourhood. Typically, a healthy adult can walk about a kilometre in fifteen minutes. If a neighbourhood is roughly a square kilometre in area we can very generally describe it as walkable. 

In my city the area of residential development is about 71 square kilometres. Yet the city has defined only 18 neighbourhoods. The average neighbourhood is about 3.9 square kilometres. To start creating walkable neighbourhoods my city would have to subdivide most existing neighbourhoods to create another 53 neighbourhoods. This would be a very interesting planning exercise by itself, but better suited to the development of a larger master plan. However, a good transportation plan would have to include measures for walkability, and since creating walkable neighbourhoods is a critical first step defining smaller neighbourhoods would have to be part of a transportation plan, if that effort has not already been made. 

The boundaries of neighbourhoods are typically defined by natural features such as a river or shoreline, or a steep slope or cliff, or manmade features such as a road or a park.

However, just being small does not make a neighbourhood walkable. A neighbourhood must contain a number of features that support a complete lifestyle. In his book Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time, Jeff Speck described the walkable neighbourhood as having four characteristics:

  1.  Walking must have purpose. That is it must have a meaningful destination.

  2.  Walking must be safe and be perceived as safe, with adequate night lighting, and long view corridors.

  3.  Walking must be comfortable. The sidewalk must be well drained so that puddles don’t collect during and after rain. They   must be easy to clear of snow or refuse.

  4.  And the walk must be interesting. Trees, plantings, sculptures, fountains, gardens and playgrounds can add to the experience   of walking.

If we provide these four things chances are most people will choose to walk throughout their neighbourhood instead of driving. For this to happen a neighbourhood has to be “complete.” This means that a neighbourhood might not provide all the opportunities and amenities that one person would want, but it would provide most of the amenities an average person might need. Typically, a neighbourhood might take on the characteristics of a small town, where people shop, work, play, celebrate and rejuvenate in a space that provides for their daily needs, but if they want more, then they have to travel to another nearby centre. Todd Litman refers to these neighbourhoods as “Urban Villages.” His work as a consultant might take him all over North America but his neighbourhood in Victoria, British Columbia has his favourite pub, a grocery store,  liquor store, restaurants, laundromat and dry cleaners, several parks and it is within easy walking distance to a beautiful shoreline walk along the Juan de Fuca Strait. Victoria is a very old city by North American standards and almost all of its neighbourhoods were established before the introduction of cars, so almost all its neighbourhoods are both compact and complete and very walkable.


A complete neighbourhood usually includes four kinds of nodes to serve its residents.:

  1.  Commercial node,

  2.  Recreation node,

  3.  Health and Fitness node,

  4.  And an Education node.


These are areas of the neighbourhood that provide a distinct set of services. Generally, they do better when they are grouped together according to use. For example; a health and fitness node might include a medical clinic, a pharmacy and a gym. An education node might include a school, a daycare and a library. A recreation node might include a community hall, theatre and a park. It should be noted that these three nodes would be on public lands, and private enterprises that support the activities in these nodes such as cafeterias, coffee shops, and pharmacies would lease space from an entity representing the interests of the public. Also note that supportive housing might also be located on these lands as these lands are not taxed. That represents a savings to those organisations involved in supportive housing and it does not take away from the city’s inventory of taxable properties.

Of the four types, the commercial node is the only one where property is privately owned and developed. It is the city's obligation that this node be located in a place that is advantageous to those businesses that can live there and the neighbourhood is designed so that this node can expand as determined by demand. In general, it is advantageous that the commercial node be located at the edge of a neighbourhood, more advantageous if across the road is another neighbourhood commercial node, and even more advantageous if it shares a corner with four other commercial nodes from four other neighbourhoods. Businesses within a commercial node that share a road or a corner can effectively double, triple or quadruple traffic to their property so it’s in the interests of these businesses to group together. It's also an advantage to have the highest residential density in this part of the neighbourhood. 

The greater the population within easy walking distance of a node the greater the variety and size of the organisations the node can support. While the city should encourage business models that rely on the neighbourhood to sustain them, visitors must always feel welcomed.  However, a business that relies on a larger population to sustain itself might be encouraged to locate in an urban or city centre. 

There are many advantages to living in a walkable, compact and complete neighbourhood. People in these types of neighbourhoods tend to be healthier and happier. These parts of the city usually represent the most popular places to live in and to visit. As well, they tend to generate more tax revenue per capita and they cost less to service and maintain than car dependent neighbourhoods.


Over the years zoning and related regulations have become very complicated and highly restrictive. Efforts need to be made to limit the restrictions we place on private property development. While we need to provide an environment that protects individuals from the potential harm caused by disasters, disease, fire or accidents, and residential neighbourhoods need distance from sources of pollution, hazards activities and continuous loud noises; all of which zoning is supposed to do. However, regulations have evolved to control for such things as density, height, and setbacks might not be necessary. Every restriction we place on the ability of a property owner to develop a property as he or she sees fit must be accompanied by very convincing argument. In other words, it’s the onus of the city to argue for a restriction to developing on private land, it should not be the owners obligation to argue against a restriction. Arguments intending to protect the safety, health, and welfare of the neighbours would be given the greatest weight, while arguments to protect the ‘character’ of the neighbourhood or to protect a view would not be given much weight at all.

We have to understand neighbourhood density as providing support for local business and funding for publicly owned amenities as services. In complete neighbourhoods zoning needs to encourage multilevel and multipurpose development while discouraging single residential or single purpose development.

Over the years city’s have added multiple levels of zoning listing all the uses permitted in a particular zone. Instead a list of uses that would not be permitted in a neighbourhood would be better. Even better, regulations that limit contamination, pollution, noise and other harmful effects of production at an industrial scale to areas of the city far away from residential neighbourhoods would allow residential neighbourhoods to develop in a way that is suitable to their own particular economic conditions.


Regulation that would impose restrictions with respect to cars and parking need to be considered. Regulation that would divert the costs associated with driving and parking to the owner of the vehicle would be welcome. According to Tod Litman from a study concerning subsidising transportation, almost 92% of all monies used to subsidise transportation go towards cars, trucks and vans. This is a cost shared by people who don’t own a car, or don’t use a car regularly. As well, businesses that provide “free” parking, pass the expense of financing and maintaining parking lots on to their customers; even to those customers who don’t use the parking lot or otherwise are disadvantaged because they have to cross a vast parking lot to get to the businesses they need. This inequity should be addressed and it needs to be addressed so that the cost of driving and parking is shared equally by all drivers in all parts of the city and not by the general public. 

Policies that limit the amount of available parking, minimise the area devoted to parking, limit the visual impact of parking, limit private parking or reserved parking to completely enclosed structures on private property, and limit access to parking lots to alleyways accessed by side streets would help.

I would recommend that all surface parking be managed by the city. Off-street surface parking on private property would be leased by the city for the benefit of businesses and residences in the nearby area. The city would ensure the parking area is cleared of snow and otherwise maintained. The cost of leasing, building and maintaining this parking would be divided and paid for by those purchasing a vehicle licence renewal. All surface parking and public parking structures would be shared. No charge for parking would be required except to extend a time limit. Fines would be imposed only if the fee for extra time is not paid. Pay as you leave systems are highly recommended as they benefit the businesses that depend on repeat customers.

In order to accommodate visitors to a commercial node on-road parking might be requested by a petition of businesses and residents in the neighbourhood. This request may be granted during the development permit process or the application of a business license. The road would be widened to allow for a parking lane, and the swale, cycle lane and sidewalk would be moved back. Parallel parking on the road would require a front yard setback of  2.1 metres (7 ft.) to allow the road to be widened and the bio-swale, cycle path and the sidewalk to be moved accordingly. This might require the city place the sidewalk on some portion of private land. For this reason a front yard set back on properties fronting a road might be required. The setback might only be required for the ground level floor. Provided the upper structure is cantilevered over a perspective sidewalk the upper floors may be developed to the property line.

Parking behind a business, accessed from an alleyway could be regulated in a similar way except in an alleyway the parking would be angled. Backyard setbacks would be required to allow for parking and a walkway between parking and the building. Provided the upper floors can be cantilevered over this parking or building structure does not reduce the amount of parking available the upper floors can be developed to the back property line. Also, reasonable and convenient pedestrian access to the road from the parking area must be provided by the property owner..

For a fee, with approval from council, the upper floor development could be cantilevered beyond the property line. This fee would provide funds for the development of amenities in the neighbourhood. 


Recreation, Health and Fitness, and Education Nodes might be grouped together or they might be in distinct parts of the neighbourhood, they would be on city owned land that has been acquired through development permit fees or land donated by the developer. Private interests would lease space on these lands and those funds would be applied to programs in these areas. For example, a privately run daycare might lease space in the education node, a pharmacy might lease space in the health and fitness node or a coffee and snack provider might lease space in the recreation node. The activities in these areas, and the size of the facilities would be as varied and as large as the population of the neighbourhood would allow.

There are facilities that are so large that they wouldn't fit in a neighbourhood. A hospital, a university campus, or a large sports complex might dominate a neighbourhood such that there wouldn't be the room  to build nodes to complete the neighbourhood, These facilities might be located in a neighbourhood with a special designation as a community centre. These areas could still house supportive housing and temporary housing such as hotels, hostels, extended care facilities and campsites, but their main purpose is to house facilities too large to fit in the neighbourhood. 

These centres might be car free campuses with public parking in only one area. Preferably the parking would be below grade. Pedestrians and cyclists would find connections to the various facilities convenient and pleasant.

Community centres would be placed in the city so that access by bike is safe and easy while the surrounding neighbourhoods would be developed to provide safe and easy pedestrian access to these places.

Community centres would likely be built on public land; with this in mind social housing and supportive housing would likely built within community centres as well.


These might be considered supersized commercial nodes. Businesses that are supported by a market that is regional in size might be encouraged to develop here. These areas would not have much surface parking. This would be encouraged by allowing only parking that is completely enclosed on private land to be reserved for the exclusive use of the lease holder or owner of that property. As well,, only subsurface parking would be allowed in an urban centre. Streets would only support handicapped access, emergency vehicles and deliveries only otherwise they would mostly be reserved for pedestrians and cyclists. They might contain big box stores, and indoor shopping malls, but they would also contain high density residential development along with amenities associated with a neighbourhood appropriate to the density of the population.

An important feature of an urban centre might be a transit hub. A transit hub might be the nexus for local bus routes that serve the neighbourhoods in the vicinity of the urban centre. Plus they would serve a trunk route which connects a line of urban centres to the downtown. They would also accommodate intercity transit and special on demand transit such as transit to ferry terminals, airports or employment centres with a high volume of regular shift changes.


Downtowns are an important part of a cities identity and special consideration to the history and culture associated with these places must be given.

From an economist’s perspective they are regional centres, attracting economic development which influences as large an area as is feasible. 

This area might be larger than a typical neighbourhood, but we should still divide it into square kilometre sections. However, we should still take care to not divide the high street or break up the primary retail area. I say this to emphasise the development of streets, and limit the number of roads within a city centre. Use roads to define a neighbourhood within a city centre and use streets to connect the properties within a city centre. City centres often develop as a convergence of roads so that in a car centric city all city centre streets become roads and then those roads are developed as ever widening connectors to parking lots. Instead we have to develop streets that allow people an easier connection to other people, so that those people can improve their economic wellbeing.

Typically, a city centre has a well developed “high street.” This is a continuous ribbon of retail on the ground level whose length is determined by the size of the economy available to sustain it. Care should be taken to keep public institutions away from high streets as institutions and public streets interfere with the retail experience. If a public institution or a public space is blocking the development of a commercial street than every effort must be made to move that institution or open space, then return that property to a productive taxable situation.

Like an urban centre the commercial and retail sector within a city centre needs to prevail, but the residential density also needs to be as high as it is possible. Buildings that do not have a mix of retail, office and residential components should be discouraged from building here or not be given permission to build here.

As well, surface parking needs to be phased out. If one must remove on-street parking to permit more pedestrian oriented retail and commercial activities then don’t hesitate. If eventually on-street parking remains only for the handicapped and delivery vehicles your city is doing something right. 

Over the years many cities, mine included, have spent considerable money trying to “revitalise” their downtown. In my city these efforts have not worked at all. This is because the prevailing thinking was that we must attract people who are driving to our downtown. Emphasis has been put on providing parking with some consideration given to marketing the area to tourists. While no thought has been given to the quality of the experience typically associated with being in a city centre.

The city’s contribution to revitalisation, aside from what has already been stated might be best placed in the design of the street network. Design the streets and roads as public space, and facilitate the development of empty properties with regulation that encourages mixed-use development with a rich variety of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. Avoid developing empty properties as parks or open space; instead find a mechanism to develop them for non-profit leasing and social housing. Ensure the largest part of the market for goods and services is within a comfortable walking distance, provide cycling infrastructure such as bike lockers, and change rooms, and make sure transit is a reasonable alternative to driving and parking.

It helps to have an urban park designed for large celebrations and summer festivals within a downtown neighbourhood. A promenade is also an important feature of city centre, as well as,  central cultural institutions such as a main library, public art gallery, museum and live performance venues. So long as these amenities are kept away from the retail streets and on properties that would be difficult to tax your city centre can be interesting and entertaining enough to attract people from the rest of the city and the region on a regular bases.


If we are to prioritise walking as our primary transportation mode, then we have to rethink how we build sidewalks so that they are accessible, safe and pleasant. The following is a generic list of recommendations:

Sidewalks need to be at least wide enough for two people walking abreast to pass one other person comfortably. In situations where pedestrian traffic is heavier than on a neighbourhood street than wider sidewalks are justified. A 2.44m (8 foot) wide sidewalk should be considered a minimum width and wider sidewalks where possible would be optimal.

Sidewalks and cycle paths need to be unobstructed by telephone, power poles, traffic control lights, street light standards, tree wells, planters electrical boxes etc. I my city these kinds of obstructions are commonplace and while every street corner has a minimal letdown ramp to provide mobility assisting devices access to the sidewalk the narrow sidewalk itself is made impassable by these kinds of obstructions.

Sidewalks need to be built so that water does not collect in puddles on the surface. As well, quick and easy snow removal needs to be considered.

Sidewalks need to be more or less flat from side to side. Let-downs to allow cars to ride over sidewalks should not be allowed to encroach on either sidewalks or cycle paths. While letdowns for vehicles should have a steep slope to discourage drivers from taking corners too fast. Letdowns for pedestrians should have a very gentle slope (no more than 10%) and they need to be wide and flat from side to side for the comfort and safety of those using mobility assist devises. In most cases a flat and protected space at the bottom of a pedestrian letdown can provide additional comfort and safety for pedestrians.

Sidewalks need to be as continuous as possible. Typically a sidewalk that crosses a street continues over the street without descending to the level of the street. The street rises up to the level of the sidewalk.  As well, the materials used to create sidewalks must be easy to distinguish from vehicle travel lanes as drivers must understand that while crossing a sidewalk pedestrians have priority and it is the obligation of the driver to keep the pedestrian safe. In any space that requires drivers to share space with pedestrians and cyclists the onus is on drivers to ensure the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

Crosswalks at the intersections of roads can be level with the road, however, where there is a crosswalk between intersections that crosswalk would be typically raised, lighting would make pedestrians highly visible and flashing signals would be activated by the movement of pedestrians before the pedestrian entered the crosswalk.

Sidewalk night lighting must illuminate peoples faces so that oncoming pedestrians can identify each other at night.


Until recently cycling was considered a form of recreation and the development of cycle paths was under the purview of the parks and recreation departments of most North American cities. Instead, cycling that replaces trips by car add resiliency to the local economy, reduces air and noise pollution, reduces chronic health issues and improves the general well being of everyone who cycles. The more people who cycle to a meaningful destination, replacing a trip by car with a trip by bike, the better off we all are. Cycling is a critical component of the economic life of a city provided it is made safe, and connects to relevant destinations. This would mean that cycle paths are a distinct element of every roadway. Within a neighbourhood it might not be necessary to make cycle paths a distinct; provided the streets are designed with wider sidewalks, and for speed limits of 30kph or lower (This assumes that traffic volumes on neighbourhood streets are lower than on roads that connect neighbourhoods).

Cycling must both be made safer, and it must be perceived as safe, to be a reasonable alternative to driving. The following is a list of recommendations  that would improve the safety and performance of cycle lanes:

The minimum width of a cycle lane would allow two cyclists going in the same direction to comfortably pass one another.

Cycle lanes need to be made of materials which are smooth and drain well. Permeable pavement with sawn break lines is an almost ideal material in most circumstances.

The colour of cycle lanes needs to be distinctive so that it is always understood these are areas where cyclists have priority.

Where the paths of pedestrians and cyclists cross the material in the cycle lane is changed to the material and colour of the sidewalk. This is to clearly indicate that the pedestrian has priority in these areas and the onus is on the cyclist to ensure that the pedestrian is safe.

Where vehicles are allowed to cross the path of a cycle lane the material of the cycle path might change to better support the weight of the vehicles but the colour of the cycle path is retained to indicate to drivers that the onus is on the driver to ensure that the cyclist or pedestrian is safe.

The cycle lane needs to be level across its width letdowns to accommodate vehicles should not protrude into the cycle lane. The exception to this is at road intersections where wheelchair accessibility is an issue.

It is better to have cycle lanes level with sidewalks than it is to have cycle lanes level with vehicle lanes.

It is better to have a distinct separation between vehicle lanes and cycle lanes. Where circumstances allow this separation might contain a bio-swale, lamp standards, signage, and trees.  


It’s important to change the mindset that has determined that transit is for poor people who haven’t proven worthy of owning a car. This has created a funding environment where individual vehicles are subsidised at a far greater rate than public transit. If we intend to make transit a reasonable alternative to driving then we must change this mindset. Transit is for everybody, and we need to make it as comfortable and accessible as we possibly can.

We might also want to reconsider the typical spoke pattern of arranging transit. This is where all the transit routes are slow ‘milk runs’ which converge on the city centre. Instead, it might be better to have neighbourhood loops which converge on the nearest transit hubs which happen to be at the urban centres. A typical neighbourhood loop might serve 12 to 18 neighbourhoods, deliver people to the nearest transit hub within an urban centre, and from there a person can proceed to their destination. In most cases the only transit that converges on the city centre transit hub are the trunk lines and the neighbourhood lines from the area nearest to  the downtown.

In this scheme it is much easier to “right-size” busses. Routes that serve less people could have smaller busses.  Often transit agencies argue against “right-sizing” busses because they don’t represent a significant savings, however, they are a single bus only cheaper to purchase and maintain, but a sizeable fleet of small busses the savings can be significant. If that savings can be translated into increased frequencies transit service can be notable improved.

Trunk lines with neighbourhood loops connecting at transit hubs might be a more efficient way to serve a transit going public. The establishment of transit hubs might also be the impetus needed to develop transit oriented urban centres.  Transit hubs can provide ticket sales, public washrooms, bicycle lockers, protection from the weather, comfortable seating, wi-fi, wait time signage along with readable transit maps, and perhaps a snack and coffee bar.

Busses and trains might also be made more comfortable with padded seating, softer suspension, and readable way-finding signage.

Bus stops might require shelters, seating and special lighting along with LED signage noting the wait time for the next bus. Another feature that might help is a button that activates a signal that informs the bus driver that someone is waiting at the next bus stop. This will allow someone to continue reading a magazine or attending a smart phone without worrying that the bus will pass them by.

Transit that represents a reasonable alternative to driving comes down to comfort, convenience and cost per trip. It’s usually much cheaper to take transit than it is to drive, and if you plan to spend a number of hours at a particular location taking transit saves the expense of driving and parking. The advantage of driving is usually flexibility and the ability to make multiple stops during a trip; however, if the basic payment is a relatively inexpensive day pass, and the transit service is built for it, a transit system can reasonably provide multiple trips in a day, that can be quite comfortable and convenient.


In a city with minimum lane widths and a limited amount of on-road parking, deliveries have to be regulated. Only properties accessed by a designated truck route and which have the space to park these vehicles can receive deliveries from vehicles with more than three axles. Vehicles with three axils can deliver goods to properties between 6 pm and 8 am. Vehicles with two axles can deliver to any property at anytime. For a fee specific exceptions can be granted by the city which requires a special sticker to be posted on the vehicle.

For the purposes of package management the city may require a special location for logistics that is in the industrial area and away from residential neighbourhoods.

To reduce pollution, ICE delivery vehicles are not allowed to idle while hauling goods to and from the vehicle.


In a good part of most North American cities requires roads to accommodate a certain volume of traffic. If our planning efforts are to be successful vehicle volumes should decrease or at least remain the same while population rises. Current efforts to increase road widths to move greater volumes of vehicles might be for naught.

Instead, we must design roads and streets according to the speed limit. It should be very hard for a driver to travel faster than the designated speed limit. A good road and street design would not even require that the speed limit be posted, the design itself would only allow the driver to drive the speed limit or slower. If there is a road where traffic consistently goes over the posted speed limit, that road is poorly designed.

Some consideration for “stroads” must be given. Car dependent retail is an issue as well. I will revisit the issue of stroads in the “Strategies” section.


First, let’s establish the distinctions between roads and streets:

A street is a public space intended to connect properties within a neighbourhood, while a road is a public space intended to connect neighbourhoods. Typically, the effective speed limit in a neighbourhood is 30 kph (20 mph) so streets would be designed for that speed. This would involve raised street crossings, raised intersections, intersections with no turning radiuses, very narrow travel lanes (no wider than 2.4 metres (8 feet)) and a canopy of leafy trees.

Some streets could be “shared streets” where pedestrians and cyclists have the right of way, but cars can work their way through at a speed of about 15 kph (10 mph). These types of streets would be typically placed next to playgrounds or schools.

A road would likely have a speed limit of 50 kph (30 mph). This would be maintained by narrow lane widths (3 metres - 3.1 meters (10 feet - 10.5 feet)), frequent stops or small traffic circles, an occasional raised crosswalk, on-road parking, a leafy tree canopy and very low turning radius on corners.

If streets are contained within neighbourhoods and neighbourhoods are roughly 750 metres to a kilometre squarish then the road network might be a squarish grid with roads spaced about 750 metres to a kilometre apart. Roads are an effective delineator of neighbourhoods. They do not work well when they go through neighbourhoods. A road that does go through a neighbourhood might need to be transformed into a street. The arguments for doing this might be; to improve safety, reduce traffic noise and improve the connectivity within the neighbourhood.

Roads would have three variations:

  1. A simple neighbourhood connector would have a reduced vehicle lane width, cycle lanes and sidewalks. They would also include a bio-swale at the same level at the vehicle travel lanes. This bio-swale would contain special mechanisms for drainage, perennials, wild flowers, a row of deciduous trees, street lighting and a creative means for pedestrians to cross it. Intersections that involve just roads would include corners with a minimal turning radius (about 1.5 metres to 2 metres), a large letdown from sidewalk to road for wheelchair accessibility. At flat well drained area at the bottom of the letdown to allow wheelchairs to rest while waiting for a gap in traffic, A bollard to protect pedestrians and cyclists waiting in this area with a beg button that changes the lights to allow pedestrians to safely cross. As well, this flat area would be outlined by a highly reflective textured surface. All corners would be connected by crosswalks which are painted on the vehicle lane surface. Where a road and a street meet the bio-swale would be interrupted to allow a letdown so that vehicles could go up to the cycle path and sidewalk level from the road or down to the road level from the street, there would be no turning radius provided. If a crosswalk is required then the road might be raised slightly while the sidewalk and cycle path lowered slightly and the difference made up by the slope over the bio-swale so that people in wheelchairs can comfortably cross the road.

  2. A bus route might require a larger turning radius at corners where transit must make a right hand turn. Also, a transit stop might require the bio-swale to be interrupted to accommodate passengers to get on and off.

  3. A truck route would also require a larger turning radius at corners where right turns are required, and they would also require a wider lane (3.6 metres (12 feet)). Where the road consists of more than two vehicle lanes the wider lane and therefore the truck route needs to be the outside lane. At intersections special traffic control lights activated by the weight of the truck allow trucks to make left hand turns while other traffic is stopped.


As well, a road that passes next to a playground or a school zone would transform into a street. The design of the road would be determined by the speed limit. The vehicle lanes would noticeably get narrower. Crosswalks at each end of the playground or school zone would be elevated and for the sake of visibility, no on-road parking would be allowed. I often say that the design of the road in these areas must achieve a standard where it is perfectly safe for children to play a game of street hockey.

Within a neighbourhood streets, side streets and alleyways can be arranged in a variety of creative ways; one neighbourhood street grid doesn’t have to resemble another neighbourhood’s street grid. While all streets would feature very narrow travel lanes and wide sidewalk with a canopy of deciduous trees, some streets could not allow vehicles. These streets might have a wider sidewalk combined with a cycle path and a long narrow playground. Other streets might be “shared streets” where vehicles must weave a way around playgrounds, gardens, pedestrians and cyclists. Alleyways might connect to off-street parking. Some important design principles might be considered:

  1. Private or reserved parking must be enclosed and this type of parking must be accessed from an alleyway. Off-street parking can only be accessed from alleyways and there would be no direct access to off-street parking from the street or road.

  2. Alleyways are best accessed from streets and should not be directly accessed from a road unless all other possibilities have been exhausted.

  3. All surface parking must be shared parking, however time limits can be placed on this parking. Parking must be recognised as a public service provided by the community to support business that attract visitors from other cities or neighbourhoods.

  4. Metered parking would require payment at the time of leaving. Fines would be levied only if payment hasn’t been made, or if the vehicle has been left beyond a set and posted limit.

  5. The public space between property must be used efficiently and minimised so that more taxable properties are available. A regular street from property line to property line might have a maximum width of 19.5 metres (64 feet), while a side street from property line to property line might need only be 9 metres (30 feet), and an alleyway wouldn’t be wider than 4.5 meters (15 feet) from property line to property line.










Trunks would be high volume routes that connect urban centres to each other and downtown.

Vehicles speeds might be greater than 50 kph (30 mph), there may be more than two lanes for vehicles, and traffic volumes might be high enough to justify greater separation between modes of transportation. Pedestrian walkways might be separated from cycle lanes and both would be separated from the vehicle lanes by a very wide swale.

Trunks are likely to include a rapid bus route, or a tram, or a train. Underneath is the most likely route for a subway. They might connect with the road grid on occasion or only at the urban centre or downtown.

Pedestrians and cyclists might be provided tunnels or overpasses so that they would seldom have to cross a trunk on the surface.

All intersections would be controlled.


  1. Delineate “right-sized” neighbourhoods. In my city this would involve at least three dedicated planners and would take about two years. It’s not a simple matter of drawing a grid on a map. If your city doesn’t have the resources to do this over two years, then start with defining a few neighbourhoods, perhaps identify potential candidates for pilot projects.

  2. Analyse each neighbourhood delineated to determine what would be needed to make them more walkable and complete. Identify nodes that exist, as well as areas of the neighbourhood that could be more productive. It helps to know at least some of the prevailing patterns of behaviour; for example, where do the neighbours tend to buy groceries, where do they tend to meet each other, how do they get to work. Note the deficiencies in transportation infrastructure.

  3. Look for opportunities for improvement. Pretty much every time public works does repairs to infrastructure, and every time a property is redeveloped, make sure the budget includes rebuilding to a design determined by your urban designer.

  4. Do as much as the budget will allow. Right now almost every North American city needs to prioritise issues related to homelessness and transportation. City budgets need to reflect this. Federal and provincial (state) funds need to be directed towards these two efforts so that whole neighbourhoods can benefit from housing and  transportation infrastructure upgrades.

  5. Sometimes it’s helpful to establish a crew dedicated to infrastructure upgrades. A planner would direct where there is the greatest need for upgrades, a designer would design those upgrades and a city employed crew would construct these upgrades. An experienced crew managed by a capable planner and directed by a designer can establish lines of communication, learn from experience and otherwise create efficiencies that couldn’t be done if each street, road and intersection was rebuilt on an ad hoc bases.

  6. Build on your strengths. Work to create complete neighbourhoods starting from those neighbourhoods which are easiest to complete. And celebrate the neighbourhoods which are high performing.

  7. Overcoming NIMBYism is a difficult process that involving negotiations that offer the residents clear benefits. For example: development fees that contribute to a neighbourhood fund that allow neighbours to determine the amenities that wish to have in their neighbourhood.

  8. Remove Stroads. Stroads are roads that try to function as streets by allowing cars direct access to every property. The result involves an unhealthy amount of conflict between pedestrian and cyclists and cars. Policies that would eventually return stroads to roads or turn them into trunks would be highly recommended. As redevelopment occurs limit vehicle access to properties from the road. Permit parking in the rear of the building only with access from an alleyway that connects to streets.

  9. Continue until done. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and we did not get to car dependent cities overnight and we won’t repair the damage that has been done over the last 100 years or so quickly or easily. However, there is a strong argument suggesting that if we haven’t started making the necessary changes by now we maybe too late.

While increasing density to a neighbourhood has value if that neighbourhood is well served. It’s important that policy that would increase density to all parts of the city needs to be studiously avoided. In areas of the city that are very car dependent adding density exacerbates the problem, increasing the number of people who are car dependent. If anything car dependent neighbourhoods need to reduce the density.

Neighbourhoods that are more complete and where transportation systems allow for more choices density can be increased. As well, in these denser neighbourhoods amenities can be added to make these places even more attractive places to live.

A neighbourhood density that can support a suitable array of local businesses and services would range between 2000 and 6000 people. An urban centre or a city centre might support a larger density and a car dependent neighbourhood would probably have a density of less than 2000 people.


A comparison of taxable land (privately owned) and non-taxable land (public land) would be very helpful measure determining the long term viability of a neighbourhood. Neighbourhoods that are not “complete” neighbourhoods, are car dependent and do not generate enough revenue to maintain their infrastructure tend to have more than 60% of their land area dedicated to nontaxable public space. On the other end of the spectrum, neighbourhoods that are not complete and still require a lot of trips by car can be built with as little as 25% or less public space. These neighbourhoods can generate a lot of taxes, but those taxes would be spent in other parts of the city simply because there is no room to add public facilities. A Goldilocks neighbourhood happens between these two extremes. A reasonable target would be have roughly 40% of a neighbourhood devoted to public lands which contains all the roads, streets, trunks, parking and publicly owned facilities.

Another helpful measure is density or the number of people living in a neighbourhood. A high density would go beyond 6000 people per kilometre squared. A low density would happen when less than 2000 people occupy a square kilometre. A Goldilocks community would have a density around 4000 to 5000 people per squared kilometre. This would be enough of a population to support a variety of local business, and a number of public facilities.

As an interesting thought exercise I imagined the residential component of my city to have a density of 4000 people per square kilometre in complete and compact neighbourhoods. That would mean that instead of having the population of my city living on a little less than 71 square kilometres the same population would occupy about 25 square kilometres. How would that change the character of my city?

First, let us consider how that diminished amount of land use would effect tax revenue. In our present arrangement well over 60% of the residential portion of our city is public land most of which is devoted to car use, so let’s say that of the 71 square kilometres 60% is not taxable. This leaves us with a little less than 29 square kilometres that is taxable. Now if we have a 25 square kilometres that is 40% public land we are left with about 15 square kilometres that is taxable.

Those taxable properties would generally have about 2.8 more people living on them, but the cost to service these properties would be about a third of current costs. The mill rate could be adjusted accordingly.

Even with reduced tax revenue, the transit system could provide a much  much higher level of service, providing less wait times and faster service, with more comfortable transit exchanges and bus shelters. Snow removal from every street, sidewalk, cycle path and parking lot could be accomplished within a couple of days instead of waiting for the bulk of the snow to melt. We could afford to pay for subsidised housing, more recreation infrastructure, more support for the arts and festivals and more support for advanced athletics programs, simply by sifting subsidies for private vehicles to other programs.

On top of this we could easily make a case for higher productivity, less consumption of resources and less waste because less trips are taken by car and more people can do without a car altogether. This means residences would have more wealth to spend within their community and with that wealth we are afforded greater range of personal freedoms. I once calculated that 3 - 5% of our Gross Domestic Product is swallowed up by driving, but this did not take into account the amount our local economy is improved when we don’t drive. When we design neighbourhoods to reduce the use of cars we create efficiencies that make the economy more sustainable, more resilient and we make the city easier to live in. This is a laudable goal for any planner, and one I recommend for anyone influencing the shape of a future city.

Finally, throughout this document I have tried to frame the problem of car dependency as a matter of giving car owners a reasonable alternative to driving, expanding the choices available them. However, the truth is lots of people don’t have access to a car. The cumulative effects of global warming, with increasing number of climate related crisis, degrading public health conditions, and expensive petro-wars will shrink the economy for the majority of people. The trends are clear and well beyond the tipping point. A growing number of people can’t afford a car, a growing number of people are driving their last car, a growing number of families will have to give up owning more than one vehicle, a growing number of people won’t be able to afford a new car when they need replace their old car, a growing number of people will never be able to afford replacing an ICE vehicle with an electric vehicle. In short the market for cars is shrinking within the majority of demographics. Cities that continue to expand road infrastructure for vehicles and don’t respond to this new reality will lose an increasing number of their productive population. The money we use now to subsidise vehicle infrastructure needs to be steadily diverted to increase subsidies for all other modes of transportation. Sooner rather than later we will have to stop treating people who use other modes of transportation as second a third class citizens if only because they will be the majority of the population. Right now we can afford to frame this problem as a matter of choice, but in a very short period of time most of us won’t have a choice. Now, is the time to plan accordingly.

Recommended Reading

The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1776)

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs (1961)

The Economy of Cities by Jane Jacobs (1969)

Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principals of Economic Life by Jane Jacobs (1984)

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander (1977)

The Oregon Experiment by Christopher Alexander (1987)

Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck (2012)

Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places by Jeff Speck (2018)


“The 15-minute City” article by Carlos Moreno (2021)

“The 20-minute City” TED talk by Kent Larson (2012)

“Not Just Bikes” videos by Jason Slaughter (you tube)

“Strong Towns” webpage

neighbourhood nodes
community centres
urban centres
city centres
cycle paths
personal vehicles
roads and streets
strategies for change
final thoughts
recommented reading
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