Arguably the City of Vancouver has had pretty good success with transportation planning over the past 20-30 years. Decisions made in the 1970’s by City officials to reject high volume traffic freeways penetrating into Vancouver have undoubtedly influenced the long term land use and transportation patterns of the City and to some extent the whole of the Metro Vancouver Region. Even with significant growth in population and employment over the past two decades, vehicle traffic volumes on major routes in the City and in and out of the downtown have generally decreased, even while overall person trips have increased.
Public response to new transportation initiatives, whether improvements to the public transit system, introduction of dedicated pedestrian and bicycle routes, and the introduction of public car share programs, has generally been favourable. The quality of the overall transportation experience within the City is one part of the measure contributing to Vancouver being consistently recognized as among the very most liveable cities on the planet.
The challenge at this point is to not become complacent and lose focus on how best to not only maintain this relative good standing, but further improve on it. The Metro Vancouver Region is expected to grow significantly over the next 30 years, and the City of Vancouver will need to accommodate a good portion of this change. We can be fairly certain that expansion of road capacity for automobile trips will not be an option. Our success in managing this growth is instead going to rest largely on two things: (i) our ability to further change our future travel behaviours and patterns, and (ii) achieving increased capacity for alternative travel modes, most notably public transit.
Aside from the instant “home run” appeal of the Canada Line, buoyed on by it’s versatility during the 2010 Winter Olympics, and even more recent effect of influencing land use change along the Cambie Street corridor, it may seem to many that much of the recent transportation discussion in the City of Vancouver has been concentrated on “lower hanging fruit” including the expansion of dedicated bicycle routes, adjustments to City mandated parking requirements, expansion of the different car share options, and the introduction of a public bike share program.
This is all well and good and no doubt each should continue to be pursued. The challenge here is not to become too preoccupied with these items so as to lose focus and energy on the pursuit of the bigger fish, the “game changers”. Rapid transit along the Broadway corridor extending out to UBC, the reintroduction of streetcar service to the downtown and in particular the Northeast False Creek area (where a good deal of the new development in the downtown area will situate) certainly come to mind. Imagine the prospect of streetcar service along the Granville, Main Street, and Hastings Street corridors to name a few. The improved public transit aspect of this service is intriguing. The effect it could have at shaping future land use considerations in the City of Vancouver over the next several decades is tremendous.
The temptation is to view this all from our present of reference. Of course this would be too simple. Among the many factors that will influence our travel behaviours over the next 30 years will be that a large cohort of the population will be entering their senior years. Simplicity and ease of use may well become as important to us in the future as is today’s quicker and slicker mantra. Economic factors will also likely become more dominant in the future in influencing travel behaviour. The full effect of peak oil on transportation pricing is difficult to assess but the signs do seem to point toward much higher transportation costs in the future which can be offset by good planning today to manage our future transportation system requirements.
The relationship between transportation and land use is profoundly important. More densification within the City of Vancouver with a diverse array of land uses should continue to be among the top planning priorities. Bringing together places of residence, employment, commerce, and recreation/entertainment has proven both here and abroad to lead to lower rates of trip making, particularly by private automobile. Persons and businesses choosing to locate to this type of environment deserve to be rewarded with neighbourhoods that deliver rich and rewarding experiences on many different levels. A wide array of shops and services are essential for these areas to prosper together with interesting and inviting spaces for public gathering and interaction. The range and quality of transportation options in these areas must similarly aspire to this higher standard. Good transportation options make possible the further urban densification of the City which in turn reinforces the success of the transportation system.
A comprehensive, city wide planning effort makes a lot of sense. While the City of Vancouver Transportation Plan and the companion Downtown Transportation Plan have indeed been useful in clearly setting out transportation policy objectives and recommended implementation measures, the integration of these transportation plans with the broader planning agenda of the City is missing. The Community Plan planning process that the City has embarked on over the past several years will still have its place in this mix. The real opportunity ahead is to stitch together these more localized community planning efforts with multiple threads of good urban planning – of which transportation is but one component – to make a fabric that is irresistibly a better Vancouver.
Peter Joyce is the President of Bunt & Associates, one of the largest specialist transportation planning and engineering consulting firms in Western Canada with offices in Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, and Edmonton. He received a BSc in Civil Engineering from the University of Calgary in 1983, and a MASc in Civil Engineering from the University of Waterloo in 1989. Peter has extensive project experience with transportation planning and engineering studies including master plan development, corridor and network traffic operations, parking systems, sustainable transportation and transportation demand management strategies, and design of pedestrian, bicycle, and transit facilities.
Peter has represented clients through numerous project approval processes with a balanced blend of technical expertise and presentation/ communication skills. Under his direction, Bunt & Associates has been involved with significant urban transportation planning and engineering assignments shaping land use and transportation patterns within the City of Vancouver, the Metro Vancouver Region, and across Western Canada.