Duncan Wilcock


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Why I am Passionate About Micromobility

Climate Impact is a Huge Motivator

I am strongly motivated by climate change. My day job is with British Columbia's leading sustainability focused engineering firm, and I am passionate about working to reduce the scale of climate change.  Here in BC, 40% of our provincial emissions are transportation related, and 1/2 of that is private car/truck use. Many find it surprising that about 70% of of all private car trips are 15km or less (see the chart below).  Distances of 15km or less are the the sweet spot of micromoblity, meaning personal electric vehicles, weighing 30 to 60lbs - very commonly electric bikes (ebikes) and scooters.

Most Trips are Short - log-normal distribution


My passion for reducing my carbon footprint has led me to the electric bike pictured above. There are many types - including cargo ebikes, and that is part of the magic of micromoblity; what I like best is that micromobility is a rare win-win-win-win - in that I believe greater use of micromoblity will result in:

  1. reduce our individual and collective climate impact
  2. improve health outcomes for individuals and collectively by re-embedding light exercise in our day-to-day activities
  3. improve our societal cohesion and interpersonal trust - by promoting quieter, calmer streets with fewer cars by reducing car dependence - resulting in greater connectivity within neighbourhoods
  4. Access to more equitable transportation options (in terms of the poverty/wealth divide) than the current car-dependent culture so dominant in North America and much of the western world.  In a nut:  A car is a  financial barrier to freedom and access to opportunity, and for practical purposes, to fully participate in modern life in the western world - most people feel they need to own a car.
  5. result in cleaner local air quality and quieter cities - places that people will enjoy lingering more of the time
  6. result in safer streets by right-sizing a vehicle (30lb to 200lb) to transport 150lb to 300lb humans - instead of the status quo of using a 5000lb+ metal box to move 1.25 humans. (Most cars move 1 person almost all the time - the average over time is ~1.25)
  7. improve outcomes for our kids - key outcomes such as autonomy and independence. By making it possible to use fewer cars in our lives, our streets will be safer, and we will be able to permit our kids more freedom of movement - rather than being effectively imprisoned in suburban homes - dependent on  someone to drive them to most activities and friends.
  8. increase the number of smiles-per-mile for many - honestly - it's just way more fun getting around this way! 🙃

An Exciting Future

A lot of my enthusiasm for micromobility starts with the person who coined the word in 2017 - Horace Dediu. He is an outstanding thinker, shared through podcasts and writing. He describes micromobility as a disruptive innovation - in the business sense - meaning "a worse car," that will eventually supplant and obsolete cars/trucks for most short distance journeys. He speaks about "what is fast is slow" meaning that cars typically take 5 years+ to design and produce a new model at volume - where a new version of an electric bike can be designed and built at scale in 6 months. 

 This faster pace of innovation is likely to result in vehicle that solves the "jobs-to-be-done" better and better than the one-size fits all choice of travelling in a (ie car/truck). Fast iterations allow products (and biology) to evolve much more quickly.   This is exciting! I can't wait to see what we will come up with next!

I truly believe the innovation of micromobility is a wave of technological change, that on balance is going to make our cities a LOT better.   It will add mobility choices, increase equity, and I hope help rebalance a century of car-dependence. In doing so we will move forward into a better future together.

So let's get on our ebikes! Let's re-make our cities for the 21st century and beyond to be more walkable, bikeable, and friendlier for all of us.  

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Rain Gear for Biking in Vancouver

I didn't think I would ride in the rain.  

Four years ago, when I got my ebike, I was excited by the potential for avoiding bridge traffic, reducing my climate impact, and helping my son and I move around North Vancouver by bike.  I didn't think I would ride in the rain much, and I certainly didn't expect to find myself riding in almost all weather. 

Gradually - after trying to drive home from work in the pouring rain, having cars whizzing past with poor visibility, spray, and feeling less safe on Highway 1, or at busy car intersections - than when I'm on my bike and able to position myself with agility in safer places - I found I kept wanting to be on my bike - and gradually I began to experiment with biking in the rain.  

These days I ride in some serious deluges, all winter long - and as you can see - my little guy enjoys coming along too (3 yo in that photo).  I'm not intimidated by almost any rain storm.   Mostly it's just frost and ice that I avoid riding in, and I might take the bus to work once or twice per winter for that reason.

It rains less than you think it does.

I live in Lynn Valley, North Vancouver.  We are one of THE rainiest places in Metro-Vancouver.   Not infrequently, it's cloudy here, while sunny in Richmond or Point Grey.  However, I found that when I rode less than perfect weather it's often - "a bit grey," or "light mist," or "marine rain" - that doesn't get me that wet.  Moreover, on "a rainy day" - it's often only raining for an hour or two - a lot of the rest of the day it's perhaps misty, or just grey.  In short - it rains less than you think.

On eBikes, you don't sweat

You'll notice I wear rubber boots and non-breathable stuff.  I find this is a-ok because I'm not sweating under my clothing from exertion.  This is why ebike rain gear is different -  and less fancy - than fanatical cyclist rain gear. I tried those rain galoshes many bikers wear - yuck & what a pain.  Half-height rubber boots for the win!

On to the Gear:

You're reading this for the photo and the gear list, here it is:

I wrote more about my rain pants and boots in this blog post about Rain pants

You don't have to buy all this stuff to get started. This is what I found myself working up to over time.  I didn't expect to be a rainy rider - and you can see my son (3 yo in that photo) loves it too.  (We have adventures. 🙃)

I would start with waterproof:  rain pants, rain coat, rubber boots, gloves, and at least the glasses to start.   See how it goes for you, and if you find yourself liking it more - those are some more options of things we have found work well.

It's Kinda like Skiing

I love skiing.  We love skiing as a family.  I love #stormdays on the mountain.  The fun part of biking in the rain, is it has started to feel like that for me.   I have my swishy pants on, my warm dry helmet and googles.  I move at a similar speed biking and skiing.  The cool air on my face.  It feels not unlike skiing.


Wet leaves.  In fall, when the leaves are wet - watch out for wet leaves, and even for a few hundred meters after riding over a patch of wet leaves.  I think there are oils or debris that can stick to your tires for a bit and make them slippy.  I did have a scare on my own once, and am now very mindful of wet leaves.

Final thoughts 

1. There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.

2. You're not made of sugar

I hope this inspires you to explore what your comfort level is.  Enjoy!  🚲🙃

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Who to Vote for in North Van & Rest of BC - 15-Oct-2022

Why Vote on 15-Oct-2022

 BC municipal politics matter to me because they can have a big impact on decisions that affect:

  • More Housing Options
    • Land-use Policy and zoning, which are huge drivers of the housing crisis
    • Think "six floors and a corner store" 
  • Active Transportation Networks (Walkable Cities, Transit, Bike Lanes)
    • Have you tried an electric bike yet?  Game changing.  Ask me sometime.

These are two big issues that can have a direct impact on my quality of life.  Even more important, my north-star is climate change, and these are also key building blocks for making a difference to climate change.

I live in North Vancouver, and I'm going to focus this article on our candidates.  I'll also include some links at the bottom for help identifying who to vote for in your municipality.   In my day job I'm lucky enough to do work having a positive impact on climate change. Being focused on climate change a long time, I know politics has an outsize role to play, and local governments can lead faster and better than other governments on these key issues.


  1.  Please vote on 15-Oct-2022 in your local government elections.
  2. I'm hoping to make this easy for you - here is who I plan to vote for & why.

Who to Vote For: DNV

In the DNV (District of North Van) staff have been bound by a split council this past 4 years. Three councillors fairly in favour of active transport (Mathew Bond, Jordan Back, Megan Curren), Two mostly opposed = Mayor Mike Little, Betty (Pigeon) Forbes, and also not reliably in favour = Lisa Muri and Jim Hanson.

The choices on Oct 15 really matter in terms of how fast housing policy and bike infrastructure can move. Do get out to vote, and encourage your friends and neighbours to do so too. Both for CNV and DNV. 
The younger (50 & under - especially 18-35 vote) are especially important to try to get out to vote.

For what it's worth,  my voting dance card for DNV so far looks like this:

  • Mayor: Matthew Bond


  • Jordan Back
  • Greg Robins
  • Elison Mallin
  • Catherine Pope
You need 1 mayor vote, and up to 6 council votes. People tell me better to only vote for 4 if you're not sure about the other 2

 This is my current list. I may add to this list as we get closer to 15-Oct. 

Here is the full list of DNV candidates in 2022

Don't just trust me. In prior years I've used the HUB cycling advocacy candidate list, and found that the people that are in favour of their policies, are progressive and usually in favour of more housing options as well.

Last note: Incumbent mayor Mike Little says "thoughtful growth and some transport options" - but his record that I've observed is of minutia, status quo, and not rapid improvements.

Who to Vote For: CNV

If I lived in CNV (City of North Van) my dance card would be:
  • Mayor: Linda Buchanan
  • Tony Valente
  • Jessica McIlroy
  • Angela Girard
  • Holly Back
  • Don Bell
  • Kathy McGrenera

There may be another candidate or two aligned fairly directly with Linda Buchanan. I'm sure she's not perfect, but I definitely want more of the "walkable city" and bike priority work that has been happening for the past 4 years.
Our family goes to the CNV by bike routinely. The destinations are great (Shipyards, Moodyville Park, Grand Boulevard), and the routes are palpably better when we cross the DNV/CNV border.  I want more like them in the DNV too!

Here is the list of CNV candidates in 2022

Who to vote for - other Municipalities in BC

If you live in the Lower Mainland, HUB Cycling has put together lists of candidates who have endorsed their platform. (Same link shared above) As I said above, I have found that the people that are in favour of their policies, are progressive and usually in favour of more housing options as well.

Outside the Lower Mainland of BC, I haven't yet found as good a resource. Please send it along do duncan@wilcock.ca if you find one. I've asked the BC Cycling Coalition if they have a similar list, but they have not responded after a few days. Feel free to ask them on twitter at @bccycle :) 

Ride on!  🙃🚲

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Cars Dehumanize Us

I don't love cars. I drive one fairly often, and have since I was 16. So I'm a driver too, and not always an angel behind the wheel.

With a long time passion for sustainability, that was a key reason I bought an eBike 4 years ago.  I quickly started to notice however how much more engaged I can be with the people I see biking or walking when I'm on my eBike.  Also how much more engaged my 4 year old son is with the world around him.  Not to mention healthier, more fun, and in most cases faster - yes, faster door-to-door than driving!    

A quite complete vision of "more livable" cities is outlined in this book I highly recommend: Curbing Traffic. Here I'll focus on one aspect of a more livable city life: communication, and how we treat each other on our streets.  As both person riding a bike, and a person driving a car -  I've observed how hard it can be to communicate - both for conflict, and even for pleasant/friendly interaction - through the walls of the metal-boxes we use to cart ourselves around our cities.

Communication is our Super Power

The complex and nuanced communication we have evolved is one of the most defining features of being a human, and therefore surrendering our ability to communicate effectively - makes us something less than we are - it dehumanizes us.

Some specific examples, of typical (ineffective) communication in a car:

  1. Communication is reduced to honking, or gesticulating - rudely or otherwise.   Consider the attempt to "beep" vs. HOONNNK - it's absurd!
  2. Eye contact is hard at best, often impossible due to glare and speed
  3. You are reduced to "body language" of "inching forward," or moving the vehicle aggressively (or if you are kind - perhaps allowing someone to pass)
  4. You often only have fleeting moments for that communication because:

a. You are likely travelling at some speed so only are close enough for audible or visual communication very briefly

b. The press of the queue behind you, including the large amount of space your vehicle blocks in the road way, and the willingness (as well as cultural acceptedness) of blaring horns behind you, doesn't permit you to stop and communicate more clearly.

No wonder many drivers seem frustrated and inconsiderate!  Compare that to walking on the sidewalk, or biking at lower speeds (10km/h to 20km/h):

  1. You can speak to someone - in a friendly voice, or urgently, sharply, etc - the full-range of human vocal communication & nuance
  2. You can clearly make eye-contact, and any body language you want to communciate - the full range of human gestures & body language.  Perhaps a bit less if your hands are steering a bike.
  3. You can stop, and engage in a fuller communication - either friendly or to express your discontent.  Assert yourself.  Even if the person walks away - you have a much more innate sense of whether you were heard.

More effective communication potential

I'm writing this from a place of self-reflection. I drive a lot at times, and do try to ride my bike a lot, as well as transit, but I'm very much pointing the finger at myself too. I'm not always a friendly driver.

Cars are great at times.  They are useful for medium to longer trips. However the more people populate a given city, the bigger problem they become.   Cities get less pleasant to be in.  More space, bollards, sidewalks, and infrastructure needs to be built to keep the rest of us safe from the cars & trucks.   If you think about it - bollards, sidewalks, "pedestrian overpasses" are all car infrastructure.  We wouldn't need them if we didn't have the cars & trucks there!

The reason we have that infrastructure is to protect the people who aren't in cars, from people who are in cars -  behaving badly.  

Why are the people drive cars & trucks behaving badly?  Because we have become less human.

So walk more. Take transit more. Get a bike, or an eBike, and be the change you want to see in the world.

I'm trying. ✌️

Thursday, July 07, 2022

Rapidly Digitize 35mm Slides: My Workflow

I've recently taken on digitizing 35mm slides taken by my prolific-photographer of a father - Ross Wilcock.   It's a quite a job, I estimate about 25,000 photographs. I'll share a photo of the storage drawers later in the post.

I've worked out a process that is proving much faster than I initially imagined, and I'm now optimistic it's a job I could complete in the next 12 months.   It might be 100 hours of work, or perhaps a lot less, as I've been getting faster.

This post is to document the tools and a few tips I've learned so far.    The short version is to buy A & B below & off you go!

A.  Capture Device: Wolverine Titan 8-in-1 High Resolution Film to Digital Converter 

Quick Review and Disclaimer:

This Wolverine product is, I would say:  so-so.  

  1. The resolution is high at close to 6000 pixels on the longest side (quoted as 20 megapixels...)
  2. The workflow is relatively quick (although my slides don't slide through the feeder properly, so I'm putting them into it one by one.)  In all, it's still quite a fast workflow.  
  3. Seeing them on the screen immediately allows some adjustment and framing.  It also means that the device is stand alone, so I can work without a laptop.  Combined these two things are nice for my mom and my 4 year old son, so we can also set up and do it in different places, and they get to see the slides as we scan them.   It's also useful for a quick close up, if I can't see details from the light table. (see next major heading)

Cons: Criticisms are mostly about photo quality.  
  1. The digital photos have "digital noise" in them.   This is a technical way of saying that the scan quality could be better.  Lots of pixels, but unfortunately close-up the images aren't as good as I think they could be.   Alternative #1 below might do better, but would add time & expense - so much that I wouldn't actually get the job done.   I'm setting aside the best of the photos, and at a future time I may find a way to do them at even higher quality, but  - we'll see.  I'm choosing to decide this process is good enough.   They are very much better than not being scanned at all.
  2. The above mentioned slide feeding not working for me is disappointing.  It might work better with thinner slides, perhaps if they were mounted in paper, rather than the plastic mounts my father used.

  1. A fancier rig I've seen, but I've decided I don't currently have the patience or time for is linked here.
  2. I had London Drugs scan some for me a few years ago, and the quality was also not good. Much lower resolution, and I don't recall being impressed by how they turned out. It was also relatively expensive, and the lack of control in the process I found frustrating.

B. Inexpensive Light Table

Here is a link to buy this on amazon.ca

I've only had it a few days, but so far it's been cheap & cheerful.  I bought the A4 size and it was $30, delivered the next day.   Amazon is amazing (and also crazy.)

Some of the Results

My father, my mother and brothers, beside the Bow River in BC, Canada - in summer 1976.   New Canadians at the time!

Us with our "yellow submarine" - a VW camper my parents were thrilled to be able to drive off the lot in Vernon, BC (8 month waitlist in England at the time!).  All five of us lived in it, our first few months living in Canada.

Overall Slide Capture Commentary

I promised a photo of the job ahead, and here it is:  32 drawers, I think about 800 photos in each, for a total of 25,000 photos.   One thing that is speeding it up, is that so far about 90% of the photos I'm finding are not worth scanning.   They're still fun to look at, and see what drew his attention at the time (he passed in 2008, so I can't ask him).  It's a fun way to connect with him and what was in his mind at these ages.   My 4 year old is enjoying the process, and including my mother is really nice for her too.

The job:  About 25,000 slides.  I'm hoping to complete this in 100 hours or less.  Ask me in about it in 2023......!!  (Note: this photo taken with iPhone - not with the slide converter, much less digital noise.)

Friday, April 15, 2022

Get Rain Pants

In recent years, I've embraced rain pants.  🌧🙃

Nearing 50 years old, I'm not sure why I resisted them. Mostly a mix of these reasons:

  • Too much hassle to put on
  • Kind of ugly/not fashionable
  • Makes swishing sound

Now that I have a 4 year old, and life goes much more smoothly outside, I've taught myself that wearing them is so much more easy, freeing, and in fact - fun.  I wish I'd gotten over myself earlier in life and worn them more often.  Here are some reasons it's great to have them on.  In summary, FREEDOM:

  • Sitting on wet benches or anything wet is not longer a barrier
  • It rains here.  A LOT.  My legs stay dry. (Wow - who woulda thunk it).  "There is no bad weather, just bad clothing"
  • Overall I'm just more free to be out in whatever weather.
  • A wet bicycle seat isn't a barrier.  No need to wrap it in an ugly pastic bag.
Simple enough, and admittedly I sometimes hesitate whether to put them on or not. I've taught myself to just put them on most of the time whenever there is dew on the grass, or anytime it isn't summer (so Oct to Apr pretty much)

Throw in a pair of more comfortable rubber boots, (and of course a rain coat) and rain is no longer a barrier. I'm more free to be out in it & simple as that sounds - it's wonderful.

Below are some recommendations for rainpants, and a bonus link to the low-cut rubber boots I have found fantastic for almost all weather, and for biking long distances on my ebike.

In summary:  Get Rain Pants!  🌧🙃

Note: I live in North Vancouver, BC - and so am used to a LOT of rain each year.  Even places where it snows more than rains, I think rainpants will still deliver a lot of freedom in the shoulder seasons - Oct to Dec, and Mar to May (for the northern hemisphere)

Also - these are not affiliate links.  (Maybe I should work on that...!)


Helly Hansen - Moss Rain Pants$50 CAD.  
Solid, effective, fully waterproof. 
Not always flattering.

MEC Drencher Rain-PantsMEC Drencher Rain-Pants 
($50 to $90 CAD)
The ones I use for everyday wear & ebiking in serious rain.

($80 to $160 CAD)
A $30 version is available at Mark's Work wearhouse, but I prefer the look & grip on these.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Combine Hundreds of Video Clips into One Long Video using Apple Photos and iMovie

This post is to help others who want to combine a whole lot of short video clips into one long video, with all the clips in time-order, with a bare minimum of editing and fuss.  It's to document a workflow to do specific thing I want to do, which is to export my videos from Apple Photos and then put them in time order in a multi-hour video.

Here is my job-to-be-done:

I have a little guy, who is super adorable.  He's a bit more than 3 years old, and I have been capturing videos on my iPhone and collecting a lot of video in my Apple Photos library over the years so far. I  want to enjoy those clips on my AppleTV in the living room, in a big long video - of his first year, his second year, and so on - rather than having to keep picking individual clips.  

I will watch this in the evenings with my wife "in the background" as we read our iPads or chat, or perhaps with friends or family, and with my little guy - as at times he finds it engaging to see himself when he was younger.

Also - I'm a busy guy, I don't want to spend hours editing and curating, because that drastically decreases the chance it will get done.   Instead, I want to take advantage of the computer - let it do all the exporting work, keeping them in date order, and building a long video - with a minimum amount of direct editing time by me.   

If I don't like the end result, and if the computer is doing most of the work, I can restart the process without feeling like it's a lot of work for me to do - just the computer, which can do the work while I sleep.

Why I'm Writing this Up

These instructions are relatively quick and easy, which is what I wanted.  It took me quite a long time to get here, which is why I'm writing them up.   I didn't find good guidance on the internet when I searched for it in the last few months, and I hope this helps some others who want to do the same thing.  I found quite a few others on Apple's help forums and elsewhere.  I even had a question answered on a popular Tech Podcast ATP - which unfortunately didn't help, but I had already found the below workflow before they responded.  The whole key was the image below, and finding that from Apple Photos export, there is an option to set the Filename: to "Sequential"

The Workflow:

  1. Make an album in photos and fill it with the videos.  (copying from Smart Albums can be helpful.) 
  2. Organize the videos in the order I want (ie use "sort by date")
  3. Use Menu Command: File->Export. (Shift + Cmd + E)
    • Chose Sequential as shown below. This was the key trick.
  4. Drag into iMovie event Library, and then into the timeline there, then export as 4k, 60fps etc.
  5. Iterate 1 or 2 times:  
    • When watching, if there is a clip I don't want in the big video, I just skip over it while watching it on the TV.  I may delete it from the Apple Photos album and re-export a couple times before I decide these long videos are "done enough."   I used Airplay from Quicktime on the Mac to the AppleTV to start, and these are working well enough I am now using Plex on the AppleTV, which is a worthy improvement.

Things I Tried That Didn't Work:

1. Exporting as unmodified originals from Apple Photos

  •  Date stamps were preserved, but key edits like rotations weren't perserved, and other edits I had done that improved the videos, like trimming boring parts in the library.  Where I had corrected dates & times in the Apple Photos Library, those were lost too.

2. Exporting as "filename" from Apple Photos

  • Videos don't have built in EXIF data that stores date formats, so programs often have to use the Date Stamp or the filename to sort.  This was leading to videos imported into iMovie in random, non-sequential order - which was the whole problem.  

3. Apple Photos Slideshow

  • Max resolution is 1080p and 30fps. It also was really choppy - worse than you'd expect from 30fps.  For a while I was considering tolerating it, but it was just terrible - it didn't work for me.

4. I had ffmpeg and Permute recommended to me, but didn't try them. 
  • I didn't try either of these, and ffmpeg seems very fiddly to me.  I'm sure I could get it to work, but once I figured out that sequencing the files solved the problem, then iMovie was the natural choice.  I realized I had not been stating the problem well - but don't think I could have stated it clearly until I figured out the solution.  The problem turned out to be: "Exporting from Apple Photos in a way that preserves edits and date order."   Once I had that solved, iMovie worked well for me, and gives me capability I can apply quickly like cross-fades, and I could later add music underlay if I felt so inclined.

Something else I learned:

Video files apparently don't really have integrated EXIF data the way photos do. Similar functionality to EXIF is usually accomplished with an external file often called an .XMP that has that same data in it, but because it's a separate file, it's not as good as jpegs with EXIF data embedded. Often the file date created is the only thing a program can use to guess when the video was created. 

From Apple Photos exporting unmodified originals preserves those date stamps, but if you simply "Export..." - the videos, then for many files with edits - new files are created with date stamp of the date they were exported, which wasn't working - see #1 & #2 above.  The key was exporting as "Filename: Sequential."

Last Tip

I also found that 4 to 8 hour movies were a bit too long in practice.  We didn't get to the end of them often, so I  wound up dividing the Apple Photos albums into multiple parts, and going with 2 to 3 hours of video in each part.  The workflow still applies, just a practical learning item worth sharing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Parenting: Podcasts are Great for Learning

Long time readers will know I'm a huge fan of podcasts.  I devour them, especially when washing dishes, doing laundry, or any of the things in life I don't enjoy, but by "temptation bundling" I make getting them done more tolerable - sometimes even pleasurable.

But I digress - I am writing this post to strongly endorse a specific parenting podcast:  

I 110% love this podcast, and find that the format is so helpful. She models the words and intonation she would use, and I find I can reproduce those same sounds myself- and even better - they often work!

I've been finding some amazing learning for myself through this podcast by switching my perspective to a "coaching mindset" - which is seeing that my kid wants to do the right thing and needs my help to get there. (ie, coaching)

Coaching is often talking and guiding him to "good behaviour" - but a good coach also configures the environment such that my little guy is "setup for success." So it is my responsibility to be attuned to his needs and his state of mind such that when we need to exit a situation, or better yet not get into it in the first place. A good coach decides where the playing field is, how often practice will happen, and what we practice - it's the same with a good parent.

I've found searching through the Unruffled back catalog is great for individual challenges we find ourselves facing (defiance, setting limits, and so much more). She mostly uses listener questions and works through them. Initially I found her sounding "a bit lacking-in-confidence" - but later grew to appreciate that none of us really know what we're doing - and her humility is a strength.

Anyway - as you can tell, I am a huge fan of Janet Lansbury and her podcast:

A few of my favourite episodes to get you started:

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Bail out Transit, Not Airlines

Transit - including buses & subways - is an essential service.

Translink (Vancouver), TTC (Toronto), and STM (Montreal) - are all getting nurses and grocery store clerks to work day in & day out.  They have always been doing this, but COVID-19 reminded us of just how important (foundational!) front line workers are to our lives.  That means boring old city-buses as well as subways and the like here in Canada.

Air Canada and Westjet are more top of mind to the white collar workers who make bail out decisions, but transit serves more people day in day out.

Transit is not just a business that takes fare revenue.  It also serves the public good - enabling transportation of people who don't drive (perhaps they are very young, very old, or otherwise don't have a car).  On some level we keep bus routes with not-so-full buses, because we want to ensure coverage to less busy areas of the urban and suburban landscape.

We are being shown they must serve the public good when governments ask transit agencies to have buses ride mostly empty - to both maintain coverage for essential workers, and so that physical distancing can be maintained.  It was never just about riders and fare collection - transit has always had a public-service role that was part of it's mandate.

I'm not fully opposed to bailouts for airlines.  Such precise decisions are mercifully above my pay-grade. I do think we don't see in-plain-sight the key role transit plays in our lives, and so want to help draw attention to that story.  I would also keep in mind that Airlines do pollute a lot, so let's make sure their fares are priced to capture all negative-externalities, like greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution.  The important thing is that we prioritize.   A more accurate headline for this post might be:  "Bail out Transit first, and then Maybe Airlines"

Let's make sure that thanks to COVID-19 that we prioritize any bail-out funding according to our values, to doing the greatest good - that helps the most people,  because it is now crystal clear how critical transit is as a public service, and as public infrastructure.


More resources if you want to dive deeper:

  1. Great interview with a leading transit practitioner
    Jarrett Walker - on youtube so watch, or just listen like a podcast.
  2. Bus drivers - frontline workers providing essential service - are dying around the world
    from COVID-19.  This article highlights two recent deaths in New York.
  3. Great, delightful article in Wired on Cities prioritizing Walking, Bikes, then Cars - in that order.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

My Favourite Books in 2019

Inspired a bit by Barack Obama's annual lists, here is a list of my favourite books I have read in 2019, with a  little summary of what I found most compelling about them:

The Wealthy Renter

by Alex Avery
Link to more info about the book

I live in Vancouver, Canada's most expensive housing market, and a city that ranks high on the global list of expensive cities to live in.  My wife and I have a young son, and we rent.  We are both masters educated professionals, earning pretty solid incomes, decent savings, and no debt.   I have felt a lot of pressure to buy a house, and until I read this book had felt a lot like:  "well it's too bad we rent, but we missed the boat and it's ok."     This has shifted my thinking to being quite thrilled that we rent, and that in itself is a huge burden lifted.

I was thrilled to find this a solid book with an analytical approach to home-ownership, and written about the Canadian housing market. At the end it has analyses for the major cities in Canada, including Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, and more.   It didn't take a lot of extra analysis to make it apply directly to me.

Some key points I took away from it:

  • A clear framework for understanding that real-estate values is about the land appreciating, while all aspects of the building depreciate. 
  • Spending on the building is consumption, and some wealthy people rent to help keep that boundary clear.
  • Over-housing - a new term to me, that is well explained here - is incentivized under the ownership model.
  • About 70% of Canadians own houses, so no wonder the rental stock is woefully undersupplied, and of inadequate quality in a lot of cases.
  • Between about 1992 and 2017 - an unprecedented run-up in house prices in Canada - the same amount of money invested in index funds would have still outperformed the housing market in most housing markets in Canada.
  • Approaches for making upgrades to my rental unit that are creative, potentially appealing to the landlord, and freeing from the feeling of "well, no point in making it nicer - we rent"

Human Transit

Human Transit: How clearer thinking about public transit can enrich our communities and our lives
by Jarret Walker
Link to more info about the book

Jarret Walker is a Transit planner.  This book is written in clear, simple, human language and is intended for the lay-person who is interested in how transit networks are built and operated within their city.

Transit networks are the most effective way to move people around cities.  Like most systems, there are some fundamental tensions in their design.

Coverage vs. Ridership:  A system optimize so that everyone has an opportunity to get on it, but this results in a network spread thin, and service that is not as frequent than if the system is optimized to move the most people - which means frequent service on the most ridden corridors.

 Many of us in North America, brought up in a car-culture that assumes that to move is to use a car,

My interest in this book evolved from my interest in Micromobility over the last few years, and learning more about how with a limited amount of street-space, we can choose the travel modes (car, bike, bus) that move the most number of people per hour.  You guessed it, the car moves the least people in any given lane, bikes more, walking more, and the bus the  most for any given street).

Fundamentally - cities, streets, and moving people within the city is a problem of geometry.  Cars occupy a lot of physical space.  If we shift the focus to moving people rather than cars, we see that there are ways to move people that occupy less physical space.  Simple Geometry. :)

The following graphic sums up some of the key points very well.  The Human Transit blog is a wealth of even deeper information.

The Thinking Ladder

by Tim Urban, Wait but Why?
Link to the series of posts

This is not yet a book, but I think it should be soon.  It's certainly book length, and includes some great thinking about thinking.

I found it at the recommendation of a business leader I'm currently quite a fan of - Tobi Lutke - CEO of Shopify - an important Canadian tech company based in Ottawa.

In part it "is a new language we can use to think and talk about our societies and the people inside of them."  (Tim Urban)

Go read it, and then let's talk!