On Pedestrian Malls: Look to Australia

Why are pedestrian streets in commercial areas so common and successful in Europe, but not in North America?

A while back, a reader emailed me to ask this.  He observed that even in Vancouver, it’s hard to get a pedestrian mall going:

And why does a downtown core as densely populated as Vancouver only have one temporary pedestrian area (part of Granville Street)? And could Vancouver make the main shopping street (Robson Street) a pedestrian corridor like many UK towns and cities do (such as Birmingham, Glasgow, Reading, Bournemouth, and many more)?

I note you commented on Price Tags about Granville Mall earlier this year, and Price Tags has a recent article on the removal of a pedestrian area in Raleigh, North Carolina. Have you any further thoughts on these issues?

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Amsterdam: The Flying Wheel


From the pinnacle of Amsterdam Central station, as seen from my hotel room last month.  I’m guessing it’s from the Deco era, early 20th century.  There’s an exuberant optimism about European rail architecture of that era that needs to find new expressions.

Note:  I’m back in Sydney, but detritus of the just-completed round the world will probably continue showing up here for a while.

Munich: The Station as Riot

My Munich transit notes will take a while to settle, but meanwhile, Munich’s U-bahn station Münchner Freiheit is a must-see for all visitors.


U-bahn lines have associated colors that are reflected in both mapping and signage.  (See U-bahn map here).  This station is an interchange between lines 3 (orange) and 6 (blue).  So the architects had a field day exploring all the ways that orange and blue can converse, or clash.   And as if orange weren’t garish enough, they invented a peculiar pea green to dance with it.



This is, by the way, a weaved station:  U3 and U6 northbound on one platform, and both southbound on the other, to maximize cross-platform transfers.  U6 is toward the center of the station in both directions.  To express that, you have the blue pillars down the center, with the curious orange+olive on both outside walls, where the (orange) U3 runs.

A mirrored ceiling festooned with semi-protruding panels of fluorescent light amplifies the dissonance.

Munich-Münchner Freiheit

This may well the the brightest underground station I’ve ever seen, bright not just with brute-force flourescents but with a mirror-intensive design that recycles light.  The photons can bounce around pretty much forever.

Munich has several recent U-bahn stations that show some real architectural panache, but this is the only one that’s truly fun.  Would it get old looking at this every day?  I don’t think so.

Singapore: A Walk with Paul Barter

One of this blog’s earliest fans was Paul Barter, a transport policy scholar based at the National University of Singapore.  Paul’s blog, Reinventing Urban Transport, is always worth a look.

Paul and I met for dinner in Singapore last week, a long rambling evening that ended in an outdoor Islamic (no alcohol) cafe, where we watched the Germany vs. England World Cup game amid a crowd who all seemed to have surprisingly strong feelings for one side of the other.  (Perhaps, given colonial history, this boiled down to strong feelings for or against the British.)  We started with a walking tour of a Singapore that most tourists won’t see, but that covers a huge percentage of the island: the regular, repetitive, but efficient world of the Housing Development Board, the single government agency that provides housing for a majority of Singaporeans. Continue Reading →

On the US Downtown Bus Plaza

Lately, Conor Friedersdorf of the Atlantic has been riding the bus.  We’re seeing more good press for buses lately, as more national commentators focus on urban mobility problems.  Friedersdorf’s figuring out most of what I’ve long advocated …

I’ve already argued for simplified routes, system maps, and route numbering schemes. Other innovations that you should lobby your local bus agency/municipal government to adopt: dedicated bus lanes, express routes, GPS on the bus, estimated time of arrival signs on bus stops that change in real time, clear signage, and easy methods of payment that don’t require exact change.

But it’s interesting that this struck him as new: Continue Reading →

On Standard Street Grids

Nw portland grid

Is it true that while everyone loves Portland’s regular 200-foot street grid, urbanists are turning away from it as something to emulate?

Daniel Nairn, who just wanted to make a nice nerdy poster about street grids, points me to a fascinating Planetizen article by Fanis Grammenos and Douglas Pollard.  It argues that the standard street grid, an easily repeated pattern where most intersections are four-way, is and should be history.  The future, they argue, lies in more complex grids where there are a lot of street connections but where 3-way “T” intersections are the rule.  It’s an excellent article.  Read the whole thing. Continue Reading →

Does Busway Architecture Matter?

As I suggested in the last post, the decision to replace the Ottawa busway with light rail may well make sense, but that it should not be an occasion for anti-busway triumphalism, as the busway was never complete; the crucial downtown segment was always missing.

But I also think that design and architecture matter, and I wonder if some aspects of the original busway’s design made it hard for people to appreciate.

When I toured the busway in 2006, I have to say I felt overwhelmed, and sometimes a little oppressed, by the design choices.  First of all, the whole thing is very, very, very red.
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Arrival by Train: How End-Stations Differ from Through-Stations

I’ve seen some great rail stations on my just-completed Europe trip, and some problematic ones.  It’s brought me back to an old point about station design that not everyone understands:  Through-stations and end-stations are completely different design and planning problems.  They generate completely different kinds of space and completely different sensations of arrival and departure.  It’s pointless, for example, to compare New York’s dreary Penn Station, a through-station, with magnificent Grand Central, an end-station.  They are apples and radishes.  Consider:

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The March of the Centipedes: Amsterdam’s Bus Rapid Transit Line

Throughout the Thredbo conference on transit competition in Delft, Netherlands last week, the various Dutch speakers and hosts managed to keep up a continuous theme of national self-reproach. The message was something like: “We know everyone thinks we’re the closest thing to an urban transport paradise on earth, so the best service we can offer is to show you all the ways that even we can screw up.”  The conference began with a plenary presentation by Hugo Priemus of the Delft University of Technology on collusion and price-fixing in the Dutch construction industry, and wrapped up with a study tour that included the Zuidtangent Bus Rapid Transit system, giving particular emphasis to its most embarrassing feature.

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