Warm light for a cold winter night in Tartu

Walking to Tartu’s train station

Winter darkness is for real here. In December, the sun comes up after 9, and disappears between 3 and 3:30. If you are going or coming home from work or school, or doing any other kind of extra curricular activity, it will be dark.

It is also cold. Not as cold on average as it is at my home near Ottawa (Canada), but the routine is the same – you need warm boots, a heavy jacket, a hat, scarf and mitts every time you leave the house. Over the past winter the sidewalks and streets were usually covered in snow or slush, and the wind had that familiar bite.

But here in Tartu, during winter evenings the streets always have a distinct and very human feeling of coziness. While a number of features help to create this – the narrow streets, the  colourful wooden houses and the smell of woodsmoke from their chimneys –  undoubtedly an important contributor is the way the city is lit.

Kassitoome urban sledding

This is something more subtle than the kind of lighting that is installed to reduce car crashes or to make people feel safe from crime. Tartu’s lights help to draw you away from your couch and out into the neighbourhood. If you are already out, they coax you to stay.

As pointed out by experts like those at the National Association of City Transportation Officials  (NACTO),  lights can be deliberately employed to highlight the history or identify of an area, to create a sense of magic and drama, to help with wayfinding, or to calm traffic. This is where Tartu shines. Quite obviously, Tartu’s strong, human-scale lighting is also an important support for the city’s aggressive goal of increasing walk, bike, and transit trips to 75 per cent of all trips by 2040.

Good lighting obviously helps to keep people on their Tartu Smart Bike Share bikes all year.
Kuperjanovi street traffic circle

Digging into this a little, I discovered that the quality of Tartu’s lights is clearly not an accident; the city has been doing substantial work to improve lighting from both energy efficiency and artistic perspectives. With respect to energy efficiency – Tartu is in the midst of a multi-year project to systematically replace all of its older technology street lights with LEDs.

Furthermore, Tartu participates in numerous artistic and policy projects on lighting. The Tartu Architecturral Lighting and Light Art Festival has been held every second year for the last 7 years. This is an international festival of lighting design and art, consisting of international workshops, outdoor installations, a conference, as well as indoor and outdoor exhibitions.

The city is also a member of the EU-funded EnglightenMe project, that aims to develop methods to assess the impact of lighting on health and recommendations for best practices.

Downtown Tartu

Finally, Tartu is well known for its Christmas lights – particularly in the Town Hall Squre area – most assuredly contributing making Tartu such a friendly and inviting-feeling place during dark Nordic winters.

As you can tell by now, I am really impressed by what Tartu is doing with its lights. I am also convinced that most Canadian cities could draw on Tartu’s innovation and creativity in this area.

Tartu University’s main building

Smart bike share in Tartu, Estonia

Since December 2021, I have been living with my family in Tartu, Estonia where I am carrying out a unique research project on bike share. More specifically, the research will explore the public policies behind the planning, design, and implementation of the bike share systems of both Tartu (Smart Bike) and Helsinki, Finland (City Bikes).

Looking smart this winter in the Karlova neighbourhood

As the two cities both have very successful bike share systems but very different population sizes (Tartu 95, 000 and Helsinki 657,00), an explicit goal of the project is to explore whether population has important implications for bike share policy and performance. More generally, I want to find out what policies in both cities help to explain bike share success.

This project is funded via a postdoctoral research grant of the Estonian Research Council and I am being very warmly hosted by the very impressive Mobility Lab of the University of Tartu’s Geography (Human Geography Chair) Department.

I will do my best to report on both my research and more casual observations related to active and sustainable mobility while I am here. This time, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Tartu’s bike share system:


Tartu Smart Bike


Tartu rattaringlus

Date of launch

June, 2019

Brand of bikes

Bewegen Technologies (of Canada)

Number of bikes


Types of bikes

Electric-assist: 500

Standard: 250

Dock or Dockless?

Dock-based system, but the city creates virtual docks on an as-needed basis. For example, the last time Metallica was here. Bike share use in connection with the concert was even the subject of a data research project.

Number of stations


Seasonal availability

All year! Only standard bikes during the winter, but these get studded tires for the winter season:

If there is another bike share system in this world that uses winter tires, I would like to hear about it!

Daily availability

Between 1 am and 5 am, bikes can not be removed from stations. This protects drunken hooligans from themselves, and the bikes from the hooligans.


Covers all of the City of Tartu and connects to some neighbouring municipalities. Docking stations are planned to be no more than 500 m from all major areas of residence and amenities. Check out the station map here.

Statistical highlights

Total rides since June, 2019: 2.5 million

Total distance travelled since June, 2019: 6.6 million km

Ownership and operation

Public ownership and operation. The system is run by Tartu Linnatransport (the city’s public transport authority) and is considered part of the public transport system.

Fees and membership options

If you already have a bus pass: FREE

If you are already entitled to use public transit for free (e.g., seniors): FREE

1 month: 30 EUR

1 week: 10 EUR

1 day: 5 EUR

1 ride: 2 EUR

Access options

Mobile phone app or bus card

The SJAM Winter Trail: An academic analysis


Photo 4

Last winter, together with Dave Adams (SJAM Winter Trail Manager) and John Lewis ( Professor, McGilll University – retired) I wrote a paper about the SJAM (Sir John A. MacDonald Winter Trail) for the International Making Cities Livable conference in Ottawa. I wanted to present something at the conference because its theme – “Healthy, 10-Minute Neighbourhoods” was very much in line with my research interests. I couldn’t think of a better topic than the SJAM.

For those of you not from Ottawa, the SJAM is a multi-use winter trail network occupying parkland that stretches west from downtown Ottawa along the Ottawa River. I have previously written about it here.   It is mainly used for cross-country skiing, fat biking, walking, and snowshoeing. Effectively, the SJAM creates an urban park and active transportation corridor out of a spectacular and highly valuable natural area that was previously underused during winter.

The paper( Saidla, Lewis, Adams, SJAM) provides an overview of a survey conducted with SJAM users and relates the results to academic publications about the health and well-being benefits of accessible urban parks.

The main findings, i.e., all the ways that the SJAM creates benefit, are summarized in the following chart.

Main Findings: SJAM Benefits for Health, Happiness, and Sustainability

Photo 2

Much of the SJAM’s advantages relate to its provision of a beautiful natural and well-maintained space that is close and accessible to a large and diverse population base. Many people can get to it easily and they don’t have to be rich enough to own a car to do so.

This fact is illustrated really well by the map below – created by John Lewis. It uses the results of the survey and mapping software and shows the rough locations of residence for the survey participants in relation to the SJAM itself.

Photo 3


In fact, 289 of 403 survey participants live within 1.6 km of an obvious SJAM access point. Furthermore, the Trillium Line O-Train station is within a few hundred metres of the SJAM.

Finally, while not illustrated by the map, several neighbourhoods along the SJAM (e.g., Hintonburg-Mechanicsville and Centretown) have significant low-income populations, with many households not having access to cars. This makes the SJAM a particularly promising and valuable facility from a social equity perspective.

Based estimates of total operating costs and numbers of visits, maintaining the SJAM amounts to a $3 cost per visit. Given all health, happiness and sustainability benefits, there can be little doubt about the extremely strong value for the money that the SJAM represents.

Accordingly, the argument that public authorities (e.g.., NCC, City of Ottawa, Public Health Agency of Canada) should recognize this value and lend significant financial and program support to the SJAM and other similar projects is strong.

Photo 1




Why Should Canada’s Government Invest in Cycling? Vélo Canada Bikes Position Paper

vcb position paper image

Vélo Canada Bikes is a dynamic volunteer-driven non-profit organization that is working to increase rates of everyday cycling in Canada. One of the organization’s main objectives is to convince the federal government to establish a federal-level active transportation infrastructure fund. This would assist Canadian communities to invest in facilities that make bicycle riding a safe and appealing transportation choice for people of all ages and abilities: multi-use paths, protected bike lanes (cycle tracks), traffic calmed-streets, etc. Of course, I completely support this objective.

In 2018, I was very pleased to be hired by Vélo Canada Bikes to lead the development of a position paper on the federal role in building a bike-friendly Canada. With their permission, I am posting a copy of the paper here.

The paper’s main points are roughly as follows:

  1. Funding active transportation facilities is in the national interest- it stands to considerably assist in achieving a number of important objectives related to federal priorities including (but not limited to) climate change, health, and economic productivity.
  2. Overall, spending on active transportation is a wise investment. Numerous evaluations indicate strong returns when overall socioeconomic benefits are accounted for.
  3. International evidence from comparable jurisdictions indicates that Canadian challenges including weather and low-density cities are surmountable. Accordingly, substantially increasing rates of everyday cycling is a realistic objective.

To find out more and to learn about opportunities to contribute, I encourage you to check out Vélo Canada Bikes.


Beauty in the North. Active Transportation in Kuopio, Finland

My friend Ingrid Hagberg is living in Kuopio, Finland, where she has started work on a Master’s degree in toxicology. Ingrid enjoys getting around under her own power and like many students, is living without a car. She reported very good conditions for walking and cycling, so I asked if she could provide some pictures and comments on the types of active transportation infrastructure that she regularly sees in Kuopio.

Ingrid 11 Beauty in the snow

A statue being buried in Kuopio. “This is how much snow we have”.

Kuopio has a population of about 118, 000. It is located about 390 km northeast of Helsinki. Its urban population density (1800/square km) is similar that of Canadian cities such as Ottawa (1900/square km) and Red Deer (1600/square km)<1>. It is also cold and snowy, with a subarctic climate and average high temperatures staying below freezing from November to March. Kuopio is situated slightly farther North than Whitehorse, meaning that long hours of darkness in the winter are a given. Finally, its topography would be familiar to many in Canada – with a mix of flat terrain and hilly forested areas reminiscent of the Canadian Shield. A quick review shows the elevation close to Kuopio’s downtown area ranging from about 90 m to 230 m <2>. You can check out the view from Kuopio’s ski jumping tower here.

Ingrid 13 - town square

When the sun does come out in Kuopio, people obviously get out to enjoy it on their own two feet.

As in many Finnish towns, these characteristics have not dampened governmental commitment to infrastructure for active transportation.  Kuopio might be most famous for its downtown network of pedestrian priority streets (rannikadut). Essentially, in the grid-patterned centre of the city, every second street is a laneway prioritized for walking and cycling.

Ingrid 3 Rannikadu

The entrance to one of Kuopio’s many pedestrian streets (rannikadut)

The City of Kuopio’s website <3> indicates that there are over 160 km of walking /cycling routes (multi-use paths) – a lot for a city of less than 120 000. There are also over 50 separate underpasses/overpasses for walking and cycling.  Furthermore, speed limits in the downtown area are kept at 40 km/hr on main roads, and either 30 or 40 km/hr on residential streets. There is also a strong bus-based public transit network.

I think that characteristics like these – common to many Finnish cities – clearly help to explain relatively strong Finnish performance in active transportation. In Kuopio for example, cycling’s share of commuter transportation is about 10 per cent <4> – roughly four times the rate in Ottawa <5>. More broadly, Finland’s combined rate of walking, cycling and public transit use (about 40 per cent) is approximately double Canada’s (roughly 20 per cent) <6>. Finally,  during the spring and fall, over 80 per cent of Finnish children travel to school by walking or cycling <7>. Canada’s overall school active transportation rate is only 25 % <8>.

While the factors contributing to the disparity likely include ones beyond the category of the specific design of active transportation infrastructure (e.g., importantly, urban planning, socio-cultural attitudes) I think anyone who spent some time looking at Finnish cities, towns, and villages would reach the conclusion that overall, their superior infrastructure and maintenance explain an important portion of the difference.

Below are some of Ingrid’s pictures, together  with some brief comments. I have categorized them to draw attention to four things: 1.) physical separation; 2.) space; 3.) maintenance, and; 4) lighting. Each of these are advantageous for active transportation at any time of year, but hold particular advantages where winter weather (e.g., snow, ice, cold, and darkness) is a consideration.

1. Physical separation – Giving people walking and riding bikes their own space

Ingrid 6 separation

In the case above, a multi-use path along a divided four lane road benefits from a wide and green buffer zone. This makes it more comfortable to use at any time of year, and easier to maintain in the winter. Ingrid notes that this is actually just north of Kuopio, in Vuorela, and that you can get there from Kuopio using only multi-use paths.

Ingrid 4 separation

An example of a very scenic multi-use path in a picturesque setting that is clearly separated from the road – very appealing for non-motorized use.


Ingrid 16 pedestrian space

In one of Kuopio`s many pedestrianized streets, people on foot are in no conflict with motorists. Furthermore, the crosswalk is clearly delineated by its textured surface. I wouldn’t describe this particular arrangement as beautiful, but it is functional.

2. Space – Making sure there is lots of space makes for more comfortable travel and easier maintenance in the winter

Ingrid 8 space

This picture gives a sense of the generous widths of many of the multi-use paths near Kuopio. Again, we see that the path has significant separation from the roadway. This one is in Sorsasalo, and is also connected directly with the multi-use paths in Kuopio.

Ingrid 15 separation

Here we see a wide multi-use path in a forested setting in the winter. It looks cold and blustery, but the usable width of the path remains generous even as the snow that is removed by the maintenance crews piles up on the side.

3. Lighting – Makes it appealing

Ingrid 2 lighting

Generally speaking, Finnish municipalities do a very good job with lighting their facilities for walking and cycling. There is motivation to do so given the very limited amount of daylight during the darkest winter months. Kuopio is clearly no exception. Ingrid points out that this is a pedestrian/cycling only bridge going over a highway, while the bridge for cars is 1 km away. She says that shortcuts of this type (specifically for non-motorized traffic) are common, appreciated, and popular!

Ingrid 10 lighting

Just to prove that the first picture was no fluke, here is a second example of excellent lighting for active transportation in Kuopio.

4. Maintenance – Standards as high (or higher!) than for driving

Ingrid 15 maintenance

Finnish towns don’t generally use much salt for either car or active transportation infrastructure. They are diligent in their snow removal efforts and use of gravel/sand. Generally,  they insist on a very high standard of maintenance for their sidewalks and multi-use paths.

Ingrid 14 maintenance

In this example, we see it all: Dedicated and ample space, complete separation from the roadway, a high level of maintenance, and very good lighting.

You can be sure that Ingrid has been really enjoying all that Kuopio has to offer for someone without a car. In fact, she says that her exclusive use of bicycle, pedestrian and even cross-country skiing facilities for transportation has meant that she has trouble giving people directions to her apartment if they are coming by car. 

It is clear that there are things we can learn by looking at examples like Kuopio. At one level, they show us that it is possible to provide very good conditions for walking and cycling in very challenging climates and circumstances similar to what we experience in Canada. At another, given the strength and long-term nature of the commitment, it is clear that governmental authorities have decided that the investment is worth it.

Ingrid ski to sauna

Here we see Ingrid using a somewhat less common (but at least equally worthy) form of active transportation to travel directly 8 km from her apartment to an authentic Finnish sauna, complete with a hole in the ice for swimming.











Active transportation facilities: What works and what doesn’t when the snow comes

As someone who likes winter, I am obviously hoping for an April snowstorm. At the same time, I will concede that the winter cycling season is starting to wind down. Bearing that in mind, I decided to write about some of my observations from this winter concerning how well different types of active transportation facilities work for making practical trips once the snow has arrived.

My family and I are not religiously committed to winter cycling, and there is no question that we use our car considerably more between December and March than between April and November. At the same time, with some planning, the right equipment and the right clothing we’ve found that there are a considerable number of trips that are still well within reason to make by bike in the winter. Walking remains a reasonable option much of the time for short trips, and sometimes even skiing or snowshoeing can be useful and fun ways to travel.


We do, for example, continue to make a number of local journeys where we live here in Chelsea, Quebec such as to local shops, to cross-country ski trailheads, to bus stops (where, conveniently we can load our bikes onto local Transcollines buses), and to our daughter Leena’s daycare. Another fairly common practice is to put our bikes on our car, drive to somewhere reasonably convenient in the city, and then take our bikes from there to get to work and other destinations.

Over the winter, I made a point of considering the conditions provided by different types of infrastructure and took some pictures. I also spoke with people directly involved with winter maintenance of these types of facilities. It became clear that no matter how hard the dedicated maintenance crews work (and they do work very hard in challenging conditions), if the infrastructure it not designed with winter in mind it often makes the provision of good conditions almost impossible.

Overall, the main conclusions from my admittedly small exercise are as follows:

  1. Physical separation from the roadway provides more comfort for AT

Whether you are walking or cycling, facilities that physically separate you from traffic (by virtue of a curb or other grade separation, a physical barrier, adequate space, or some combination) have a much higher probability of providing comfortable conditions once snow is a factor. Furthermore, physical separation often means that there is some room for snow to be stored between the roadway and the active transportation facility. This makes the job of snow removal easier for maintenance, and sometimes provides an additional buffer between pedestrians or cyclists and the roadway.


On Old Chelsea Road the wide permanently protected multi-use path provided very good conditions for cycling (front of our cargo bike visible here on a trip to daycare) and walking this winter. My daughter’s daycare group (2-3 year olds) at Maison Montessori de Chelsea regularly walked along here to go to the library.



On Scott Road in Chelsea, the combination of a wide and well-maintained  permanently protected multi-use path with a concrete divider (left side of picture, mostly covered in snow) provided good conditions for either walking or cycling, virtually all the time.



On Kingsmere Road in Chelsea, a painted bike lane (protected by removable plastic delineators – often called bollards in the summer) begins to disappear as winter arrives.



Meech Lake Road between Kingsmere Road and Gatineau Park parking lot #8. Buried under this snow is a bike lane that is separated from the vehicle lane by a double white line.


  1. Putting cycling lanes and walking areas at the same level facilitates snow removal

Facilities that put cycling lanes and walking areas at the same grade as each other (while keeping both separate from traffic) are evidently easier for maintenance crews to clear and are therefore more likely to provide good conditions after a snowfall. Examples of these types of facilities are permanently protected multi-use paths (already described) and  cycle tracks with adjacent sidewalks.

If pedestrian and cycling surfaces are at the same height, one pass with the right equipment does the job for both. Well-maintained multi-use recreational paths also work very well for the same reason. In my experience so far, well-maintained separated better conditions for either walking or cycling than any other kind of facility during the winter months. In addition to simplicity in maintenance, the overall greater width helps when snow inevitably narrows whatever corridor is available.


A cycle track with adjacent sidewalk on Laurier Avenue in Ottawa before snow has arrived.



The new cycle track with adjacent sidewalk on the brand new Main Street “Complete Street” in Ottawa provides good conditions after an early snowfall.



By contrast, this traditional bike lane next to a sidewalk on Old Chelsea Road disappeared for most of the winter. These are much harder to maintain, and in consequence, rarely are.


  1. Pedestrian-scale lighting makes winter active transportation more appealing

 One additional challenge to winter active transportation beyond snow, ice, and cold weather is darkness. Where we live here in the Ottawa region, it gets dark between about 4 and 5:00 during the winter months, meaning that a large number of people who use active transportation for commuting will necessarily be out in the darkness. You can certainly light yourself up like a Christmas tree and simultaneously improve your own view with the wide variety of powerful lighting systems on the market today. At the same time,  there is no question that active transportation is generally more appealing when the facilities are well-lit and provide a welcoming and safe-feeling environment.


A multi-use pathway in Hull, Quebec with pedestrian-scale lighting that makes for pleasant walking on a winter evening.


Personally, I am convinced that it makes sense to design active transportation infrastructure with winter in mind. Whether for walking or cycling, taking the time to think about how a given design will work when snow is a consideration and planning accordingly will provide better and safer conditions. This is better for the people who walk and bike already, and also in terms of attracting the considerable number of people who will inevitably walk and bike more if better conditions exist. Furthermore, facilities designed to work well in the winter (with their extra space and permanent physical separation) have clear advantages during the rest of the year as well.

Particularly during the winter months, I think drivers also prefer to have walkers and cyclists given their own separate space so that they don’t have to worry about things like whether or not it is safe to pass.

One final note, this time on winter cycling specifically. People will frequently state categorically that nobody bikes in the winter, and then suggest that investing in appropriate infrastructure isn’t worth it. I would argue that the fact that few people ride bikes in the winter is importantly the result of the generally poor winter riding conditions found in most North American jurisdictions, and not of winter cycling being inherently unappealing. Oulu, Finland, for example, has winter weather that Canadians would be proud of, with more days of snow cover than Winnipeg. It also has about 4 times as many cyclists out in the winter as Ottawa has in the summer. Not surprisingly, Oulu’s success can be considerably attributed to very good infrastructure and very high standards for winter maintenance. If you are interested, a good overview of  winter cycling in Oulu from a Canadian perspective is provided here by Anders Swanson:


The SJAM Winter Trail: About health, happiness, and sustainability

You can read about the SJAM here and here. The project involves the winter maintenance of a long stretch of the multi-use recreational path (with several additional loops) along the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway (which runs west from the edge of downtown Ottawa) for winter activity. Most people will likely think of it as a cross-country ski trail (and there is no doubt that it will be great for that) but the grooming will create both normal ski tracks and a wide compact surface that can be used for snowshoeing, walking, and winter cycling.

The SJAM is unique and exciting in several ways. It is completely free of charge, highly accessible to large numbers of people, and provides an opportunity for winter physical activity in a scenic recreational corridor that is underused in winter. Finally, it can also be used for practical and healthy transportation.


The fact that Canada has a major physical inactivity problem that contributes to huge losses in terms of both quality of life and money does not receive a lot of attention. The number of children and youth who meet our nationally endorsed physical activity targets is 7 per cent. They spend twice as much time in front of screens as they do running around having fun. The number of adults who meet these targets is not much better, at about 15 per cent. In addition to the obvious and important associated quality of life concerns, the economic cost of this problem for Canada has been calculated to be $6.8 billion per year.


One good way to make help increase physical activity levels is to make appealing opportunities for activity more easily available. The SJAM clearly accomplishes this. It is very close to important residential and business areas and will be accessible by both the Trillium and Confederation light rail lines.  Importantly, it doesn’t cost any money and people can use it whenever and (more or less) however they want. This clearly represents efficient use of a highly valuable and beautiful public asset that would otherwise see very little human traffic during winter months.

Finally, the SJAM provides unique potential to promote practical, active and sustainable transportation in winter. The route follows what is a major cycle commuter route in the summer, and links neighbourhoods west of downtown to each other and the city’s core. Furthermore, the Trillium line connection adds a large number of people from further neighbourhoods who could potentially take advantage. Skiing and cycling to work or other amenities downtown and along the route are real possibilities with the SJAM. At the moment, about 70 per cent of commuting in Ottawa happens by car. When you consider the associated pollution, inactivity, isolation and congestion, it’s fairly obvious that creating more opportunities for people to leave their cars at home makes sense.

The fact that the SJAM runs on a practical and scenic route that is completely separate from traffic means that it is exactly the kind of facility that appears most favourable to increasing winter active transportation. Oulu, Finland, for example, has what is arguably the highest rate of winter cycling in the world. In fact, Oulu has about 3 times more cyclists in the winter (which is very cold and snowy like ours) than Ottawa has in the summer. While Oulu’s success is the result of a variety of factors, part of the explanation is that its extensive cycling network is generally separate from traffic and maintained during the winter months. Evidently Ottawa has a large number of multi-use pathways that would be ideal for winter commuting that so far are mostly not maintained.

For all of the above reasons, while the SJAM project is highly worthwhile as a standalone project, it also represents a very useful model for additional efforts of this type both in Ottawa and beyond. I am looking forward to witnessing what is bound to be a very successful winter for the SJAM.

Congestion charging: It makes sense


I was recently invited to contribute an opinion-based article to Public Sector Digest magazine. .

The original article is available with a subscription at Public Sector Digest:


With their permission, I am also posting it here:


Encouraging Sustainable Transportation: The Promise of Congestion Charging

Emphasizing walking, cycling and public transit over individual automobile
use represents an intelligent policy choice for cities, with obvious
benefits including those related to quality of life and health for
citizens, environmental protection, and importantly, economic efficiency.

At the most basic level, cities that are less dominated by cars are more attractive and enjoyable places to be, making them more likely to draw the talented and motivated people and organizations that help to drive a city’s economic and cultural growth. More specifically, getting people out of cars and improving conditions for alternative modes can contribute significantly to efforts aimed at mitigating traffic congestion, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other types of damaging air pollution, improving traffic safety, and encouraging health-enhancing physical activity.

Furthermore, encouraging sustainable transportation carries significant potential for economic benefits. According to the C.D. Howe institute, for example, traffic congestion alone may cost the Greater Toronto Area more than $11 billion dollars per year <1>.  Meanwhile, investment in high quality public transit services generally supports economic development <2> and the building of walking and cycling infrastructure has been repeatedly demonstrated to be well worth the investment <3>.

Making the shift away from automobile-focused city design and planning in a North American context will require cities to overcome some very important obstacles. One of these is the lack of revenue sources that reliably and predictably provide funds for investment in sustainable transportation. Given the structure of the Canadian tax system (with its heavy reliance on property tax at the municipal level), municipalities have limited means to generate revenue relative to their overall responsibilities, including local transportation.The challenge of funding major public transit projects illustrates this problem. Generally,these require financial contributions from several levels of government, the securing of which therefore necessitates the resolution of a number of important political challenges.It is not surprising then, that public transit projects in Canada are often implemented on the basis of particular one-time agreements that make it difficult to appropriately plan and consistently develop public transit networks over time. Meanwhile, given that individual road projects such as widenings and extensions are generally cheaper and therefore easier to justify, automobile-focused road networks have a tendency to consistently expand.

One potentially promising method to create revenue that could be used for sustainable
transportation investment is congestion pricing. Briefly, this entails automatically charging drivers when they enter or leave designated zones (typically downtown) within a city. In addition to revenue generation, congestion pricing provides economic incentive for citizens to both reduce their automobile use and to choose sustainable alternatives.

Congestion pricing has demonstrated considerable success in cities such as Stockholm,
Sweden <4>. Upon permanent implementation in 2007 (following an earlier six-month trial in 2006) the total volume of traffic crossing the congestion pricing boundary decreased by more than 20 per cent relative to the original level. Traffic volumes have not increased since then, which is particularly impressive when one considers that the city’s population,economy and number of cars have all grown during the same period. Additional benefits in Stockholm include shortened travel times, reduced vehicle emissions, and (in combination with enhanced service), increased use of public transit. Furthermore, a study carried out based on the trial period indicated that the congestion pricing system resulted in a yearly net social surplus (social benefits calculated in economic terms) that would pay for the initial investment costs in roughly four years <5>.

While well-designed congestion pricing systems clearly have strong advantages for cities,
gaining public support appears to represent a considerable challenge, particularly in jurisdictions where car driving is dominant. The Stockholm example, however, should be considered encouraging. Before the implementation of the initial congestion pricing trial, only about one third of residents favored the idea. Support increased to over 50 per cent shortly after the trial began, and has since grown to more than 70 per cent <6>.

As cities strive to reduce the negative effects of automobile traffic, congestion pricing represents a unique opportunity to not only generate revenue, but to provide an effective incentive to drive less. While the implementation of congestion pricing is subject to important political challenges, the example of Stockholm indicates that residents who have experienced it may well grow to be supportive.


1 Dachis, Benjamin. Cars, Congestion and Costs: A New Approach to Evaluating Government Infrastructure Investment.
C.D. Howe Institute Commentary No. 385. July 2013. Economic Growth and Innovation. Available at:
2 Litman, Todd. Rail Transit in America. A Comprehensive Evaluation of Benefits. Victoria Transport Policy Institute,
2015. Available at: http://www.vtpi.org/railben.pdf.
3 For example see: Martens, Sarah. Costs and Benefits of Cycling in Helsinki. Website: Eltis. The Urban Mobility
Observatory: http://www.eltis.org/discover/news/costs-and-benefits-cycling-helsinki-finland-0. Link to actual
study (Finnish only): http://www.hel.fi/hel2/ksv/julkaisut/los_2014-5.pdf. For a further example see Litman,
Todd. Economic Value of Walkability. Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 2015. Available at:
4 For more details concerning the overall effects of congestion pricing in Stockholm, see: Eliasson, Jonas. The
Stockholm congestion charges: an overview. Centre for Transport Studies, Stockholm. 2014. Available at:
5 Eliasson, Jonas. Cost-benefit analysis of the Stockholm congestion charging system. Available at:

Click to access stockholmcongestioncbaeliassonn0_8.pdf

6 The Stockholm congestion charges: an overview. Centre for Transport Studies, Stockholm. 2014. Available at:

Sharing the road


Sign on Notch Road

Over the past 2 years I have been regularly taking my daughter Leena to her daycare by bike. The route I use includes stretches of both Notch Road and Mine Road where I live here in Chelsea, Quebec. These roads represent the only reasonably direct way to get from where I live to the Hautes Plaines area where Leena’s daycare is.

If I think about it critically, most drivers seem to behave reasonably when they have to pass us. Almost every day, however, there is at least one person who chooses to make a dangerous, disrespectful, and ill-considered move. The actions of these drivers put numerous people at totally unnecessary risk, including themselves. The most typical of these is to pass us when there is either oncoming traffic clearly visible, or when they are rounding a blind corner that makes it impossible to see if there is oncoming traffic (both of which are also clearly illegal according to the Quebec Highway Safety Code). The widths of the roads in question, combined with the lack of paved shoulders, mean that there is simply not enough room for cars to be passing cyclists safely when there is oncoming traffic. It goes more or less without saying that they are also driving well over the posted speed limit of 50 km/hr.

Typically, the result is that oncoming cars are forced to swerve onto the shoulder or hit the brakes with force, while we are passed far too closely to feel remotely safe. The following video is an attempt at capturing some relevant examples from my family’s daily travels.

Overall, this kind of driving results in an environment that is generally hostile for anyone not driving a car. That is a shame when you consider that everyone (think about kids and other people that don’t even have the option of driving, for example)  should have the basic right to safety on the road, and that more cycling and walking mean a whole number of good things for communities, with improved mobility, better health, less pollution and less traffic congestion being among the most obvious.

An important question is what to do about it. Fortunately, there are fairly well-established methods for improving these types of situations. The most obvious is to re-design roadways to encourage safer driving and to create safer conditions for cyclists and other non-motorized users. Features of roadways that improve safety include traffic calming, reduced speed limits, as well as dedicated and well maintained infrastructure for walking and cycling. Driver education (for all road users, cyclists included) and enforcement help too.

At another level, anything that can be done at a social level to create a higher level of mutual respect for all users of roadways also make sense. We can for example write letters, talk to our neighbours, start marketing campaigns, and report our concerns to relevant authorities like the police and municipal government.

To the credit of the Municipality of Chelsea, a number of important projects to improve safety have been implemented recently, and several more are in development. In fact, the Municipality is currently planning important upgrades to Mine, Notch and Kingsmere Roads over the next two years.  Yes, some of these measures require financial commitments that are not always easy to secure, especially in the short term. On the other hand, they have been demonstrated to save people’s lives, prevent injury, improve health, and reduce environmental damage.

Overall, unsafe conditions for people who walk and bike are not givens that have to be accepted. There are clear and well-established ways of improving safety and ultimately saving people’s lives. There also do not seem to be  any clear and logically defensible reasons not to implement them.

Copenhagen Road


I spent most of last week in Copenhagen at a thought provoking academic conference called Sport in the City: Urbanity, Mobility, and Social Change, which was the 13th conference of the European Association for Sociology of Sport.

Among the most interesting topics from my point of view was the idea of the “active city”. While I am sure the definition of an active city is the subject of much debate, I took it to mean a city in which it is easy and motivating for everyone to be physically active, whether this activity be organized sport, informal play, or just getting from one place to another without an engine to help you.


Outdoor climbing facility at the University of Copenhagen


3 minutes after walking past the climbing wall I found a skate park

My overall impression from the research I learned about was that the most promising types of facilities in terms of actually helping people to be physically active are ones that are not particularly specialized. A public park that might  include walking/jogging trails, an outdoor gym, a skateboard park, soccer fields, and a playground would constitute an example of the kind of public space that is most effective for physical activity. It can be used for all kinds of people for all kinds of activities at all times of day completely free of charge. It doesn’t take much to realize that parks like this, especially ones that you can get to by walking, bike riding or public transit, are likely to do more for general well-being in a city than, for example, a hockey rink in a far flung suburb surrounded by an enormous parking lot.


This walking/cycling path runs through a long narrow urban park referred to as “the wedge”

It was fitting that the conference was in Copenhagen. My exploration indicated that there was an incredibly impressive amount of high quality public space, much of it of a kind that could be used in active ways by so many different types of people. Of course, it goes more or less without saying that the preferred mode of getting around is cycling, which inevitably contributes pretty substantially to overall physical activity levels. For the record, roughly 63% of commuting trips to work/school originating from within City of Copenhagen are made by bike.


Bike lanes are supposed to be wide enough to ride side by side


It is not really that surprising that people like riding bikes when they get this much curb-protected space and their own turn lanes and traffic signals

While there are inevitably a variety of reasons for this success, the simple explanation is that Copenhagen has made a long term commitment to treating cycling as serious mode of transportation and has been willing to invest in facilities that make people of all ages and abilities feel safe.  From my point of view, there is ultimately not much preventing us from making a similar commitment here other than a current lack of public and political will. If more people could experience places like Copenhagen, even if just for a day, we might be able to improve our odds a bit.


Average bike traffic




Nothing of interest here…just normal bike parking.


Typical of walking through the apartments of Osterbro


A good way to do some important bike counting research


Another nice place to rest, maybe with an open-faced herring sandwich


Family fun (and fitness)


It’s hard to take a picture without bikes getting in the way


It’s like a religion or something


Time to wind it down with some ice cream