Article, Social Justice, Community

A deep dive into the Trip Diary Podcast

August 30, 2022

A podcast that maps accessible, sustainable and equitable transportation in urban spaces

As long as the places where people live are kept separate from the commercial and public places where they want to go,  we need to think about how to equitably move through urban space. Depending on the distance of the commute, the method of travel, and the safety of the space, different people will commute in different ways. It is easy for disparities to compound into issues of public health and accessibility across different demographics. 

Moreover, our policy choices have far-reaching consequences, such as through climate change mitigation and the collective long-term public health expense on our communities. And then there are also the opportunity costs, where investments into policies like mandatory parking minimums are opportunities taken away from housing and public space improvements.

“If I wasn't worried about the future, I wouldn't be devoting my life right now to trying to make a better world. I think that without deliberate concerted efforts by people who care, we can end up in a place that is pretty grim. The climate emergency is upon us. And we know that inaction is not an option. We know that inequality is growing,[...]We cannot afford to sit idly by and allow these things to happen. We have to go out and try to make change.” – Bowinn Ma, The Trip Diary: B-Line to the Future

At the same time, I think transportation can be an incredibly positive subject. Under the right conditions, streets can be a public space for people at all levels of mobility, a place for public demonstration and exploration. For example, because I take the Seabus, I can predictably and cheaply travel across municipalities,  allowing me to access other areas of the city to work, socialize, and freely move. It is because of this range of regional movement accessible to me that I am able to find and reach new personal and professional opportunities.

Overall, these ideas all intersect on the concept of “choice architecture,” which focuses on how the design of cities influences the choices we make. I first learned about this term while in the SFU Urban Studies program, and it has stuck with me ever since, influencing the ways I think about Vancouver and other cities. Having the opportunity to produce and host The Trip Diary was fantastic because it allowed me to take this idea of choice architecture, along with my passion for transportation, and share it with a greater audience  – so hopefully you can feel as inspired and engaged by these ways of thinking as I am.

Creating the series

One of the ideas meant to bring a sense of uniqueness to the series was the theme of “listening to podcasts while commuting.” 

I’m someone who commutes while listening to shows like “99% Invisible,” “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” and “Third Wave Urbanism” – and I noticed that when these podcasts described an urban planning or design concept, as I listened on the SkyTrain or while switching buses, it changed how I experienced the act of travelling. It seemed to make my trips a bit more fascinating and a bit more beautiful. I wanted to capture that element of learning through the world around me, so early on, we decided to incorporate local transportation sounds. I think there is also something about these recognizable sounds that would pull people back into the series, and they were also useful for splitting up the interviews between topics and guests.

There was a bit of an additional underlying theme throughout the project. Since the Below the Radar podcast is sometimes used in classrooms, I wanted to focus on interesting research methods which students and researchers can apply to their own work. Essentially, it is not always about what you study, as much as it is about how you study it – and the method of how you study something will impact your relationship to the subject. I was hoping that by showing a variety of research methods, it could inspire people to explore imaginative ways of studying transportation.

Mapping out & discovering each episode

Then came the question of, in this whole wide world of transportation, what should the individual episodes be about? I began by creating a whole list of potential guests and grouped them by theme. Without a doubt, I knew that the first episode had to be about equity. It was designed to be the most critical of the episodes, because I wanted listeners to also be critical of the rest of the series. I always hate it when equity issues are tacked on at the end – almost like an afterthought – when in many ways, it should be viewed as the foundation.

I reached out to Lori Macdonald and Sadia Tabassum since their research topics focused on equity.  I feel that their research methods were imaginative, and their methods themselves promoted equity – as it  allowed their research participants to tell their own stories on their own terms.

“I feel like a qualitative approach is kind of an equity approach in general, that it seeks to understand somebody's lived experience.” – Lori Macdonald, The Trip Diary: Geographies of Identity

Our second episode is about actively trying to shift people's commute patterns to incorporate more transit. Dr. Peter V. Hall asked the basic question, “If you subsidize transit, who are the people who will switch to transit, who are the people who won’t, and why?” To balance the scales of the qualitative research explored in the prior episode, I decided to have Peter Hall discuss this quantitative research, and show another way in which numbers-based research can have a meaningful and positive impact on peoples’ day-to-day lives. For example, the research was done in order to answer union and management questions related to their negotiations in collective bargaining.

“But of course, the Compass Card data only tells you about the people who take transit, it doesn't tell you about the people who are not taking transit. And it's complicated to match that transit, Compass Card data up to the characteristics of individuals. So, one reason for doing the survey was to really get an understanding of the people who are giving us the answers. So, we could ask them, for instance, about whether they had obligations to drop kids off on the way to work, or, you know, whether they had access to a car, regardless of how they commuted, and so on.” – Dr. Peter V. Hall, The Trip Diary: A City in Transit

For Episode 3, I knew that I wanted to include Dr. Meghan Winters in the discussion, since her work on cycling and public health in Vancouver is incredibly diverse. However, I also wanted to start moving into the policy and practice of the issues, so I began asking more questions related to politics and advocacy. In the case of Councillor Tony Valente, I was interested in his transition from advocate to policy maker.

“So that linkage between your physical and your mental health is very clear. And both of those can be improved through cycling. And then there's a number of other sort of individual benefits that are not about health. And so, in general, cycling is very economical way to get around, it can have cost savings in terms of –  instead of driving a vehicle paying for parking and paying for upkeep. And those funds can be used for other things in someone's life. And I think the social benefits in terms of that access to extra opportunities, which might be available as well.” – Dr. Meghan Winters, The Trip Diary: Cycling in Numbers

For the fourth and final episode, the focus was more on public engagement and the many potential futures on our horizon. Time is weird  – there is one present, but many futures. Perhaps they all exist simultaneously, until they suddenly don’t. There is a future where temperatures rise, extreme weather events increase, and millions of people throughout the world are put at risk through an increasingly uninhabitable planet. Yet, there is also a future where we band together, reverse climate change, and live more sustainably. I wanted to draw in that idea of potential where, rather than waiting for the future to arrive, we actively shape what we want to see. 

“That's what I tell anybody that will listen about urban planning as a field, is that it's just one of those subjects that once you get into it, it just makes you look at your city differently. I describe it like a fish in an aquarium, a fishbowl, kind of gaining consciousness and realizing, ‘oh, this whole environment is made up, and somewhat artificial.’ And I have agency in changing that perhaps.” – Uytae Lee, The Trip Diary: B-Line to the Future

Final reflections

And now that we have reached the end of the road, what are my final reflections? Besides the individual bits and pieces of knowledge, I am left with a new sense of optimism about the future of transportation in the region. Knowing that there is an amazing group of people who care deeply about the subject makes me hopeful about the future of transportation in the region.

I am hopeful that new connections between people and ideas can be nurtured in our communities. This podcast is not the last word, but I hope that it becomes part of the wider public conversation.

Visit The Trip Diary webpage to learn more about individual episodes from the series, and access resources that relate to epsiode subject matter.


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