A Taste of Europe

This isn’t the first time I’ve been to Europe, and it probably won’t be the last. However, this trip is probably the longest period of time that I’ve spent here. Over that period of time, I’ve had the opportunity to explore some places while I’m simultaneously studying Urban Planning at Birmingham City University. I’d never really paid attention to ‘urbanism’ while travelling until I entered the program and it’s afforded me a pretty unique perspective on cities that I visit. Here’s what I noticed:


s/o to Kellen for making this amazing video of the trip. Copenhagen is undoubtedly the cycling city. Why is it the cycling city, and how did it get that way? While I was there, I found out a few of things:

  1. Tax on cars: 180% (yes, one hundred eighty percent)
  2. Copenhagen is surprisingly flat.
    • There are no steep hills
    • No sudden changes in elevation
  3. Cycling infrastructure is prioritized everywhere
  4. There’s no stigma with cycling because everyone does it (and looks really good doing it)
  5. There’s no mandatory helmet law
  6. It’s cold and snowy, but people know about jackets and snow is managed


A photo posted by Alex Gaio (@alex_gaio) on

Barcelona has a pretty small core, which isn’t unlike any of its European counterparts. One interesting thing I learned about Barcelona is that its bike share system only offers annual subscriptions. The reason why is there was massive opposition from local bike rental shops. Barcelona also has really cool right-of-ways and intersections. Here’s what a typical high street would look light. Quite grand and wide, but not dominated by auto traffic. A lot of the time, there would be seating in the middle chunk of pavement, sometimes with full-service tables from restaurants and bike markings on either edge of the centre pavement section. Here’s how one looked that I walked on:


Second point. Cool intersections. I’ve never seen this done before:

Barcelona’s octagonal intersections where there’s space for parking and dumpsters.

A typical intersection looks like a square where there are four corners. Barcelona would ‘trim’ those corners, per se, and then use the space that trimmed corners created to store dumpsters and parking. Not exactly pretty in this application, but interesting nonetheless. There’s lots of potential for what that space could be used for.

4544827697_6f73866999_b    octagon-512


I’ve wanted visit this city for a long time. I’ve been amazed by its transportation network and by it’s ultra cool mayor and her efforts to curb pollution and make sustainable living more accessible. Also, Vélib’. I spent lots of time on transit while I was there and really liked how much attention to detail was given to consistency and branding. This is becoming more common around the world, but Paris is pretty good at working across operators to ensure legibility.

Hashtag elegance.

Something else is Paris’ strange obsession with having mixed bike and bus lanes. While it’s better than nothing, I found myself spending more time shoulder checking and making sure there wasn’t a bus pushing me than enjoying the ride or paying closer attention to other road users. Maybe I’m a n00b, but it’s something that I didn’t get accustomed to biking in Paris.

Five Reasons Why You Need to Vote Yes

Unfortunately, things cost money and there’s been a long history of difficulty finding money to fund transit and transportation in Metro Vancouver. Finally, the mayors and the province have reached consensus on a plan to eliminate that difficulty and:

  • start improving our aging infrastructure
  • meet exponentially growing demand with new service and infrastructure
  • ease congestion by improving transportation choice and improving road infrastructure
  • lead the way in reducing transportation-related carbon emissions
  • improve public health
  • maintain our position as one of the most livable regions in the world with a world-class transit system

Reason 1: This is the kind of stuff that should just happen and shouldn’t be subject to a vote given all the benefits it will yield.

Sounds great, right? Normally we elect our politicians to make the important decisions in our best interest, right? Not this time. The current premier of British Columbia promised a referendum on new funding sources for transit and transportation and these urgently needed benefits are subject to a yes vote in a mail-in referendum. Crucial improvements like these should not be subject to a referendum. That being said, here’s the question:

Do you support a new 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, to be dedicated to the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan?

(I’m still waiting on my ballot so I can vote on that new Massey Bridge…)

Reason 2: If we don’t say yes to progressive taxation, there will be other, regressive, less-desirable ways to pay for transportation improvements we desire.

The reason why Metro Vancouver is being asked to support an increase in the sales tax is because, after exploring many other funding options, a modest increase to the Provincial Sales tax that only applies within the Metro Vancouver Region was found to be the most fair. The region’s mayors have already dismissed increases in property tax, and the provincial government has dismissed the idea of redirecting the revenue-neutral carbon tax.

alex_gaio_2015-Apr-16If the referendum fails, speculation is that because Metro Vancouver residents continually demand better transportation, the additional investment will come from an increase in property tax. Property taxes are only paid for by property owners instead of  sales tax which evenly distributes the cost over tourists, residents, and businesses. Critics say that an increase in the sales tax hurts low-income families, however, it will still be subject to the same exceptions as the Provincial Sales Tax.

Reason 3: Transit and Active Transportation improvements allow people to make more practical, healthier choices in their everyday lives, which lowers healthcare costs in the long-term and improves public health.

One number may determine how healthy you are and how long you will live. It’s not your weight, cholesterol count, or any of those numbers doctors track in patients. It’s your address distance to transit..

This is probably the biggest benefit of improving transportation options. Today, healthcare costs are “escalating at alarming and unsustainable rates” and, in a recent study released by UBC, Vancouver Coastal HealthMHMC Transportation and Obesity Infographic, and the Fraser Health Authority, found that people who regularly commute by walking biking and transit fare better than those who commute by car.

The issue of unhealthy communities is magnified in suburban municipalities. Places that do not have safe places to walk or bike see increased car dependance, and if they are not adequately served by transit, those people who invest in a car do not see it wBbfcz4uCAAAmDjC.png-largeorthwhile to choose transit as a practical option.

My personal favourite argument in investing in safer walking, biking, and transit infrastructure is giving kids more autonomy.

Reason 4: We all rely on transit now, or will in the future.

streetcar-gif-torontoTransit is space efficient. If everyone who takes transit on a daily basis drove to work, we’d be in big trouble. With Metro Vancouver forecasted to grow by a million more people, we’re going to need to move people in more efficient ways. Either we plan for growth now, or we let it slap us in the face later and scramble to do a shoddy, patch work job later.

Not everyone has the option of taking transit, and they will continually need to have a car for their work. By building better transit for those who can make the choice, we make it easier for those who don’t have anothchart17er choice.

Not everyone can drive. People are getting older. There is a big chunk of people that are aging and have the potential to be unfit to drive. These people will rely on transit and if we don’t plan for it, we will immobilize a large portion of our population. We’re all going to end up in this situation one day, and it’s probably a smart move to be thinking about our future so that we can continue to live the same quality of life that we are living now.

PS; fewer and few people are getting driver’s licenses and you need to be 16 to get one. About 30% of BC’s population doesn’t have a driver’s license1.

Reason 5: There’s a really good chance you’ll save a ton of money.

Cost of Owning a CarIf there’s better transit, there’s a good chance you’ll choose it more often. If households choose transit because of improved service, they might be able to sell a car or two and forgo the expense of car ownership. Others might avoid the need to purchase a car altogether and could join a car share if they need access to a car.

What do we do with Urban Waterfront Motorways?

Urban waterfront motorways aren’t worth our time or investment anymore.

Studies have shown that they’re an unnecessary, inefficient piece of infrastructure and the successful removal of San Fransisco’s Embarcadero, New York’s West Side Elevated Highway, and Seoul’s Cheonggye Elevated Highway show that, with adequate planning, it’s no big deal.1

From 1950, for about 35 years, cities were building motorways that disconnected downtowns from their waterfronts. Today, there are few arguments to keep waterfront motorways in their current form because of the high cost of car ownership and even fewer arguments when walking, biking, and transit is factored in.

One of the first things I take note of in places I visit is the waterfront. In Brisbane the feature that lines its waterfront is a motorway. I’m careful not to call them freeways or expressways because, in most cases, neither term accurately describes the glacial pace that motorists move at during rush hour. So, what do we do with waterfront motorways given that we know there are significantly more efficient and healthier ways of moving people and that the space they occupy could be used in better ways?

The city that first got me to pay attention to the issue of waterfront motorways was Brisbane, Australia. In 2014, Brisbane City Council published an updated Master Plan where they outline “embracing the river” as one of their priorities.2 It’s very difficult to expand their popular Riverwalk pathway with a motorway in the way— a decision will need to be made around what Brisbane wants to prioritize in the future.

The “Riverside Expressway” in Brisbane, Australia lining the Brisbane River’s north bank. Here, it’s stacked on top of the Riverwalk. Photo source: Alex Gaio.

Toronto can learn from Brisbane. We’re a city that is desperately trying to reconnect with its waterfront and a big thing that’s standing in our way is the Gardiner Expressway. We have a choice to make that will help determine the future livability of Toronto and I think it’s why the Gardiner can join the long list of #freewayswithoutfutures.

As more people gravitate to urban environments, it will increasingly demand more efficient uses of space, like finding alternatives to waterfront motorways, which includes urgent improvements to walking, biking, and transit infrastructure.

  1. SDOT: Urban Mobility Plan – Briefing Book. (2008). Retrieved May 11, 2015, from http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/briefingbook.htm
  2. Brisbane City Centre Master Plan: A Vision for our Open City. (2014). Brisbane, QLD: Brisbane City Council.

Three Improvements for the King Streetcar

There’s one thing that we can all agree on– the King streetcar is slow and needs some optimization. Why is it important to optimize the King Streetcar? It’s the busiest streetcar in Toronto’s network, and it often gets bunched up. There are a number of reasons why, but I’ll focus on just a couple.

  • Single door boarding
  • Sharing the road with other users, more troublesome at peak travel times
  • Close proximity of stops

As of late, the King Streetcar has been given some TLC and will see the introduction of all-door boarding in the new year. It’s the first step to improving service but I think more can be done.

Three things that will make the King Streetcar better:

  1. All-door boarding.
    • Happening in the new year.
  2. Make the downtown portion of King St exclusive to transit and taxis.
    • A similar tactic is used on Calgary’s 7th Avenue.
    • An old idea that has already been proposed a little differently.
  3. Ensure that stops are 250-350 metres apart.
Conceptualised streetscape for an exclusively transit and taxi King St

Transit Funding Options in Metro Vancouver

I recently wrote a paper that took a look at a variety of transit funding options for Metro Vancouver as proposed by several different sources. The funding sources that I’ve taken a look at are:

  • Vehicle levy
  • Re-directed carbon tax
  • Road network mobility pricing
  • Absentee homeowner surtax
  • Land value capture
  • Half-percent regional sales tax
  • Contributions from other levels of government
  • A combination of the above revenue sources

You can download the paper here.

Gallery of #sneckdowns in Ladner

Given that it rarely snows where I live, I had to take the opportunity to see what kind of road optimizations the snow made while it was on the ground and what we can learn before it all melts away.

Ladner’s Opportunity to be a Street Design Leader

Let me introduce you to my hometown, Delta, BC. More specifically, the suburb of Ladner. Ladner is a flat, highly walkable place and has missed, what I think, is a golden opportunity.

The greatest change in elevation that I can observe is 11m. Which is hardly a change when you consider it’s across an entire suburb. With the flatness that is Ladner, it’s disappointing to see that Ladner hasn’t evolved into a bike-fiendly place. With a little support from the corporation, we could be a regional leader in multi-modal infrastructure and active transportation.

Delta has been recently undertaking lots of infrastructure improvements and it’s really pleased me to see how they’ve incorporated the walking aspect into their improvements but they have completely forgotten the bicycle. Might I point out the recent “improvements” at


Arthur Drive & Ladner Trunk. While the intersection was widened and dedicated turning lanes were added to increase the flow of cars, pedestrian safety was jeopardized and the wider layout just encourages speeding. Might I note that this intersection is frequented by students who attend Delta Secondary (student body of about 1300). It’s too bad Delta has ignored that fact that most students can’t drive and are driven to school.

I would have expected Delta to get onboard and maybe treat students with dignity not only at this intersection, but also with the planned widening of Ladner Trunk East of Highway 17A and other projects.

Delta has an awesome opportunity to become a multi-modal city where all modes are treated fairly. In the future, I hope to see Delta taking the lead and building safer streets where everyone is welcome.

Ladner Transit Hub Concept

Sorry, mobile users, only Android has an app for Google Maps Engine so you can view the map above.

A friend of mine started this brilliant concept of Ladner being a transit hub that I previously hinted at. What he conceptualized was an extensive makeover for the network in South Delta and adding a (much needed) FTN link to the Tsawwassen Ferries. In the map above, you can see the tweaks that I made to his idea.

Conceptualized Routes:


Opinion: Transit is the Ultimate New Year’s Resolution

It’s that time of year when lots of people start sharing their New Year’s resolutions and getting feedback on them. Here’s my feedback on a couple of my favourites.

“I’m going to get more active.”

Why not take transit? By walking from your origin to the transit stop, doing that walk-jog combo to catch a connection or two, and walking from the terminus to your destination, you’re moving. Multiply all that activity by two for the round trip and, hey, odds are you just got in that 30 minutes of recommended activity for the day without even thinking about it.

“I’m going to be more fiscally responsible.”

Why not take transit? (Actually, you could walk or bike for this one too). Most people spend a good chunk of their income on a car. My radical suggestion: ditch your car. Sign up for a car share (e.g. CAR2GO or modo), get a bike, walk more, or take transit; maybe even some, or all, of the above. Try running a calculation on how much you’d save without a car after you factor in:

  • initial purchase cost;
  • fuel;
  • deprecation;
  • licensing;
  • registering;
  • financing charges;
  • insurance;
  • maintenance;
  • cleaning, and;
  • parking.

“I’m going to give myself time to read and do other stuff I care about.”

Why not take transit? Instead of worrying about performing that domestic task of driving yourself places, let someone else do it. After all, you could be reading, sleeping, getting work done, among other things. And hey, if there’s a traffic jam, there’s nothing to stress about.

All the best in 2014. Here’s to another year or making smart travel choices!

What if TransLink Executives were Volunteers?

There is always a lot of drama surrounding the fact that TransLink Executives make a lot of money– I’m not here to say that they don’t– but I just want to put some things into perspective about how people say that if we stop paying the executives so much, we’d have no problem funding transit. I’m sorry if this comes as a shock, but, we’d still have a problem.

Allow me to crunch some numbers and compare with something we can identify with:

Total amount of executive compensation for 2012 at TransLink:
Average cost per kilometre of SkyTrain projects built to date:

$2.5 M

$78.7 M

Length of SkyTrain network that could have been built if TransLink Executives were volunteers in 2012:



What this leads me to conclude is: for all those who think that cutting TransLink Executive salaries, even to those in comparable positions in the industry, we’re still going to need more transit funding.

When I say “comparable position” I mean the Chief Executive of a transit agency. What most people don’t realize is our transit agency does a whole lot more than just transit. TransLink operates passenger commuter rail, public bus, a ferry service, automated rapid transit, a police force, motor coach, four bridges, and most of a city’s major roadways– among other things. Personally, I can almost justify their salaries.

If you don’t take the Bus, SeaBus, SkyTrain, Westcoast Express, or Canada Line, TransLink owns and maintains the Knight Street Bridge, the Pattullo Bridge, the Westham Island Bridge, and the Golden Ears Bridge as well as the “Major Road Network” which encompasses most major arteries in Metro Vancouver that the BC Government doesn’t maintain.

The upcoming referendum is a huge deal and it affects virtually everyone. Judging the wide scope of TransLink’s mandate, I’d call the upcoming referendum a “mobility referendum” rather than a “transit referendum”.

Update: SkyTrain cost per kilometre not adjusted for inflation.