Price Tags has posted a video of a great lecture given at Simon Fraser University by Jeff Tumlin, a principal at Nelson\Nygaard. If you’re interested in making our cities and transportation systems more sustainable, able to accommodate more people, and just nicer places to be, you’ll want to take the time to watch this lecture in its entirely; Tumlin is an excellent speaker, wonky yet engaging.

I couldn’t agree more strongly with his main points: focus on pedestrians, make walking delightful; make bicycling safe and enjoyable for everyone; fix (or replace) the broken metrics the civil engineering field uses to evaluate and plan streets; active, mixed-use density is good for us, individually and collectively; and that the critical density to make cars optional does not have to be high-rise towers (although that’s great if we can make it happen, especially around rapid transit), it can be a continuous fabric of low- to mid-rise mixed-use density.

I only wish he had not taken some of the detours into pop-psychology; they are distracting, somewhat speculative, and seem unnecessary to motivate or explain his real message. That many people are willing to pay a considerable premium to live in walkable, car-optional neighborhoods with an active street life is reason enough to fix the broken regulatory systems that prevent us from building more of them.

27 Replies to ““Sex, Neuroscience and Walkable Urbanism””

  1. “Walkable urbanism”….

    As a Seattle resident. I would love to see one candidate come forward with a plan to at least provide a safe walking environment for every arterial in this town. This city doesn’t end at 85th in the north…

    1. “This city doesn’t end at 85th in the north…”

      … anymore. I’m pretty sure those streets were all built up before incorporation with basically no requirements or standards for sidewalks. Of course we should build them, and improve intersections, and a whole lot of other things. And we are, but we’re doing it opportunistically by bundling it with major street work because that’s cost-effective and proportional. 105th/Northgate Way will get better sidewalks soon, for example, along with repaving. Without new funding that’s probably as good as we’ll do.

    2. The reality is the city could spend hundreds of millions of dollars and still not fully complete the sidewalk network across the city. Asking for such is just being unrealistic. The city certainly needs to spend more on sidewalk construction but it has to be smart, prioritizing areas without sidewalks on arterials/collectors and where there is demand. In some places traffic calming probably is the most cost effective way of improving safety over large areas.

      1. It is arterials and near-arterials I am talking about. For instance, NE 95th Street runs between Lake City Way and Sand Point Way with maybe one block of real “sidewalk” the rest of it shoulder/grass mound that is used for parking. It is also one of the main E/W corridors in the NE. For people trying to get to the bus stops on Lake City in the winter, it is quite dangerous.

        In fact, if you look at the maps from the Pedestrian Master Plan ( you see a rather large hole in NE Seattle with only 35th Ave NE being the only corridor identified.

        I agree that residential sidewalk construction is near impossibility but it is grating when I see sharrows painted on cracked pavement. Sort of Seattle’s version of “put a bird on it”…

      2. That plan is a joke if you’re talking about NE Seattle. Sand Point Way is a disaster–no sidewalks, cars parked on the verge that require pedestrians–and there ARE pedestrians–to walk out into a quite busy road. NE 110th, which passes by a grade school, middle school and high school within 5 blocks, only has an asphalt walk on one side…or the other; it forces you to cross the arterial at an uncontrolled intersection a couple of blocks from the grade school (go for it, kiddies!) AND is not even continuous–it skips at least one block; NE 95th is as Groan mentions above, NE 115th, which also travels from Sand Point Way through Lake City to Northgate has no sidewalks; NE 125th has none E of 35th…it goes on and on and on. Something tells me that property taxes in those areas goes to help maintain the curb/gutter/sidewalk system the bulk of the city has, though. Those are all arterials with the exception on NE 115th, which should be as it is a major route for people in the area to get to Northgate.


        NE Seattle zip codes (98105, 98115 and 98125) all have higher population densities than any zip in West Seattle or north of the Ship Canal, save central Ballard. It’s not all single-family homes by any means.

  2. I’ve often spent time wondering how much we could reduce the burden on Metro’s budget just by making walking more pleasant. Many of the tons of people I see packed on the 8 every day aren’t going incredibly far; it’s just the terrible streetscape on Denny that makes them wait for the bus. Not to mention the benefit on our health, and on the air quality!

      1. BTW, the County Parcel Assessor’s iMAP site has those aerials (they’re from the county assessor’s survey, after all) without the annoying copyright marks, and with lots of other useful overlays (streets, parcels, hydrography, parks, etc). Just select 1936 in the Imagery menu on the bottom right.

    1. “it’s just the terrible streetscape on Denny that makes them wait for the bus”

      Except that you often times spend more time experiencing that terrible streetscape waiting for the bus than simply hoofing it to your destination.

    1. To be sure, the distinction between city and non-city reflected in this study is totally irrelevant to discussions of walkable urbanism. Unwalkable cities have as much distraction and noise as walkable ones, you just see it out the window of a car.

    2. I haven’t watched the video, but I suspect he was arguing for people who aren’t already transit supporters and need to be convinced using something more than strictly rational arguments.

  3. Fantastic stuff. I find it very, very interesting that he describes my own experience pretty well–a recovering (but still certified) traffic engineer with two civil engineering degrees who is interested in economics, and now works in transit planning and design. Excellent find, Bruce. (and icing on the cake: the historicaerials site from MikeP is one I could wander through for days.)

  4. Seriously, if Vancouver is the “world’s greatest modern city,” then why is it ranked tops for congestion in North America according to TomTom in 2012? The cost of living in Vancouver is insane with many living in…wait for it…the suburbs and exurbs. Look at the SPRAWLING Fraser Valley. Did TransCanada not just build a new Port Mann Bridge to increase capacity on Hwy 1?

    …and as a traffic engineer, who designs freeways and urban arterials for Level of Service A? If the bicycle lobby had their way, many streets would be void of cars and open to bikes and peds only. This was just another transportation planner versus engineer presentation.

    1. Is Charlotte a sockpuppet? Or an unusually well-concealed anti-transit troll-for-hire?

      I’m pretty sure this is the third of fourth profession she’s claimed to have. In addition, she has claimed to be based in the East Bay as well as a couple of places in the Seattle area.

      Anyway, “Charlotte”, if Vancouver proper is so desirable that the cost of living has gone “insane”, and those in neighboring communities have been able to get in and out of the city using transit and the diffused street grid — with none of your “Level of Service A” freeways anywhere in the city proper — have you not just acknowledged the extinction of your own kind?

      1. Sockpuppet? No. Anti-transit troll? Anti-transit is such a harsh term. I liken myself to a common sense transit advocate. [ot] Finally, I’ve always worked for the same employer. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t held varying jobs that I’ve been completely honest about. Is that a crime? A few that browse here know who I am. …and a couple of the issues brought up here have actually landed on my desk. Because of this, I’d rather not bring up with whom or for whom I work for.

        I never claimed I was based in the East Bay, but I go there frequently for motorcycling vacations. I shouldn’t have to tell you my life’s story, because I don’t have to prove anything to you.

        …but back to Vancouver… The National Post (Canada) recently (22 January 2013) posted an artical showing that Vancouver is the 2nd least affordable housing market in the World behind Hong Kong. The median house price is 9.5 times the average income! That’s crazy!

        Vancouver Ranked 2nd Least Affordable Housing Market

        Based on this next article, I don’t know how desirable Vancouver really is going to be if I cannot afford to live in town and have to commute The grid system is OK, but bus transit is stuck in the same traffic as the cars. (until you get onto Skytrain) With the Massey Tunnel reaching the end of its useful life, a major port expanding, BC is now facing a dilemma of a need to widen Highway 99. If you have driven Highway 99 during the morning or afternoon with their contraflow in progress, it’s the pits!

        DeltaPort Expansion and Massey Tunnel Age

        Alas, d.p., I don’t feel that I need to say any more. Just about every freeway in the country operates at Level of Service A at 2 a.m. …but that’s not what you design for, but you wouldn’t know that. Have a good night.

      2. Just about every freeway in the country operates at Level of Service A at 2 a.m…

        The fact that there’s not a single segment of limited-access urban freeway in any non-contracting city in the western world that operates at Level of Service A at rush hour more than demonstrates that the principles under which you operate have abjectly failed.

        Your kind couldn’t [ad hom]. [ad hom], and [ad hom].

      3. I apologize for sinking to your level.

        You, protesting “professional credibility”, are the one who arrogantly breezes in to any forum ideas and acts patronizing toward everyone else. “The grown-ups know,” you condescend, “that Level if Service A and giant parking facilities are the way things are done.” Never mind that your training reflects an outlier moment in human space management, one that has done almost unimaginable harm to the health and well-being of humankind, one with a massive body count.

        You show up on these blogs because you’re threatened. Your own peers, like Tumlin in the video, have begun to contradict you. Your ability to claim the “adult authority” against “those unserious children” who don’t share your worldview is beginning to erode.

        You’re a [ad hom], and you’re [ad hom]. [Ad hom], and [ad hom].

      4. [If anyone here works for Apple, defaulting “of”->”if” and “has”->”had” is driving me nuts. Who thought those were good ideas?]

      5. Oops, I forgot even to reiterate the most galling problem with [ad hom]: your [ad hom], your [ad hom]. Cars and their occupants, freight and buses, all invariably wind up choked and unable to escape at rush hour. Because you’ve limited access points, destroyed the grid, denied any alternate route and any alternate travel mode.

        You’re just like the Republicans whose policies of sowing iniquity and abdicating financial oversight nearly destroyed the world in 1929, 1987, and 2008, but who find themselves unable to escape their controlling dogma. How can anyone with such a track record of failure continue to claim any sort of “expertise”? [ad hom]

      6. I don’t know how desirable Vancouver really is going to be if I cannot afford to live in town…

        Shorter CharlotteRoyal: “It’s not working. No one wants to live there. The demand is too high!”

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