Notes from Brent Toderian on sustainable mobility

These are my notes from watching the following video by Brent Toderian, former Vancouver chief planner. He leads a city planning consultancy firm. Notes are not intended to be verbatim, and they are my interpretation of what he says. My thoughts on this are at the end.


By designing cities for people in their cars, it works out to not cater for people in their cars.

Counter-intuitively, by actively prioritising making other modes of movement delightful, you actually increase the life quality of those in their cars. It’s not a war on cars. It works out better for everybody.

Walkable subarbs

The most important thing we can at least stop doing is building the [North American] subarb.

The cities that are getting better results are those that are insisting on it.

Cost of public transport

Ticket prices should not be a disincentive to using it.

Every time we walk or cycle a kilometer, it actually saves the public money, as opposed to costing the public money every time you drive.

Use true cost accounting to better calculate how driving is currently subsidised.

Encouraging less car driving

Formulate the systems according to true cost accounting. Have financial mechanisms that get rid of that unfair advantage of car driving.

But on top of that you have to make walking, biking and transit Delightful. Do people in suits use your public transit?

Changing culture is a mixture between perception and reality. You have to make reality good, so that people rationally choose it.

You have to change the perception of it, rather than the unhelpful message from car companies [editor’s note: hello, RSA]. We have to work on the branding part, and why it’s important.

But you can’t just try to sell a bad product with great branding.

Car as a status symbol

There’s an increasing sense of privilege to walk (and bike) to work, because you see you’re not stuck in traffic like everyone else.

There’s a changing mindset about what “success” looks like.

The narrative for a long time was “car equals freedom”, and then the default city is perpetuating that idea.

There’s a changing perception by younger people, they’re no longer buying the message of “car equals freedom”. They know that “connection equals freedom”, and they do that through technology.

If you combine infrastructure (contextual) changes with demographic changes (millenials), there are big changes. Millenials are the biggest demographic on Earth. Cities and suburbs are vying for them.

[Note, the people designing our public spaces are probably not millennials, so these people have an inherent bias in “car equals freedom”].

Social interaction of walkability

Walking and cycling are fairly social activities. You’re mixing with others.

Myth of balance

It’s a bit of a myth that you can have a balance between cars, and walking-cycling-transit.

Driving has had a 40-year headstart, so for balance you’d need to gives walking and cycling a headstart for another 40 years.

The only real approach is to Prioritise.

Everything Vancouver has succeeded with is based on their rejection on urban freeways. The 1997 transportation plan prioritised walking first, then cycling, transit, goods, and finally the car. This is not an anti-car message. They prioritise them last for spacial decisions, and that works better for everyone, including drivers.

Transportation of goods

Vital for the economy of a city. But they must adjust. They can’t just deliver when they want.

The truth is in the budget. Looks at your city’s budget to see the truth of the city’s real priority of multi-modal thinking.

Eoin’s thoughts

How might this apply to Limerick?

There are councillors and roads engineers who certainly come from the generation that was fed, and bought, the idea of “car equals freedom”.

I don’t know actual budget figures of Limerick, but we can be crystal clear that car dependency is being perpetuated by on-going decisions. Every single decision, down to the timing of a pedestrian “beg button” shows that Driver Is King.

We need to make a ruckus. We need to put our hands up, consistently, and say “there is an alternative future which I would prefer to how you are currently managing our public space”.

We need to be the change we want to see.

Go buy an upright bike 😉