Integrated policy that includes land use and transportation planning can reduce car-dependency in cities. One of the best examples in North America can be found in the heart of the city of Vancouver that is part of the third largest metropolitan area in Canada. Interestingly enough, a growing number of its residents walk to reach their final destination around the downtown core, irrespective of other options available to them. This case study will explore the strategy taken by the City of Vancouver to allow that situation.
Metro Vancouver – The region
The greater Vancouver metropolitan area (also known as “Metro Vancouver”) is considered the third biggest metropolitan area in Canada after the ones of Toronto and Montreal, and it had a population of 2,313,328 as of 2011 (Statistics Canada, 2012a). Out of this number, the city of Vancouver had a population of 603,500. Due to its mild climate in comparison to other parts of Canada, and the city’s good reputation as the most livable city in North America, the metropolitan area is projected to have additional 1,000,000 dwellers by 2040 (Metro Vancouver, 2014; Slattery, 2015). The region’s main economic sectors are trade (due to its location near the country’s gateway to the Pacific Ocean, connecting Canada with East Asian markets), tourism, and the film industry.
The public transit modes offered to the Metro Vancouver’s residents are quite diverse. Translink is the operator of most public transit services in Metro Vancouver, and that includes buses, the Skytrain (see figure 1 – the oldest and one of the longest automated driverless light rapid transit systems in the world.), the SeaBus (a passengers-only ferry), and the West Coast Express which is a commuter rail service operating in peak hours between Vancouver and a few suburbs.
The City of Vancouver is also trying to improve cycling and walking by creating bike lanes and greenways to facilitate walking and cycling and make them safer, especially around the downtown core. The city of Vancouver had to integrate transportation and land use in order to optimize the transportation network and reduce the trips made by private cars originating in the city every day. These steps are part of the 2040 Transportation Plan created by the City of Vancouver, in order to alter the current situation in regards to transportation, and reduce the use of private cars even more by shifting to other transportation modes (City of Vancouver, 2012).
The main problem – Growing population across the region
The city of Vancouver needed to ensure that the car traffic flowing through the city is not growing in accordance with the rapid growth of some suburban areas and the city itself. Such growth would lower the quality of life for the city’s dwellers while lowering its economic attractiveness and the high reputation score for livability that the city has. Here are the main aspects this problem involves:
Analysis of the case
This section will analyze a few measures that have been taken by local infrastructure managers in the Metro Vancouver area in order to reduce the road traffic. First, it’s important to mention that as of 2014, 50% of the trips originating in the city of Vancouver were by either public transit, walking, or cycling. Table 1 summarizes the past and current trends in regards to transportation mode share in Vancouver.
|Walking, Cycling, Public Transit – Altogether||Motor Vehicle|
Table 1 – Transportation Mode Share in Vancouver (City of Vancouver, 2015b)
Moreover, it is important to look at each alternative transportation mode independently in order to understand which mode contributed most significantly to the reduction in motor vehicle use. Figure 3 is showing us that walking contributed the most out of all alternative modes to the reduction in motor vehicle use for trips originating in the city.
While the share of biking remained steady on a range of 3-5% and the use of transit went down from 23% to 18%, walking went up significantly between 2008 and 2014, from 15% to 26% of all trips originating in the city. Therefore, this case study will focus mainly on walking as means of transport in Vancouver, and the steps that were taken mainly by the City of Vancouver in the past few years in order to get more people to walk to work or to run errands instead of driving.
A growing transportation mode in Vancouver – Walking
The city of Vancouver sees walking as a top priority out of all transportation modes, followed by cycling, public transit, taxi/car share, and private vehicles. That being said, the city declared that whenever a new road is designed or an existing one is altered, opportunities for including walking and cycling will be reviewed wherever possible, since some streets are limited in terms of space. Figure 4, taken from the transportation 2040 plan created by the City of Vancouver, shows the hierarchy of transportation modes that guides the city’s official policy in regards to the priority the city gives to each transportation mode. Walking is the current top priority.
The 2013 pedestrian volume and opinion survey conducted by the City of Vancouver reveals a few trends in regards to walking in the city (City of Vancouver, 2015a):
It seems like the majority of people in these dense area used walking quite extensively, and in order to understand how this situation was possible, it is important to understand the physical structure and density of certain parts of Vancouver.
Vancouver is considered the most densely populated Canadian municipality (Statistics Canada, 2012b). However, there are differences in density levels among different parts of the city. As of 2011, the population density for the entire city was 5249 people per square km, but the downtown peninsula had a much higher population density of 17,138 people per square km, and as mentioned before, that’s the area where most trips on foot occur (Vancity Buzz, 2012). The area’s population almost doubled itself within a decade from 27,988 people in 2001 to 54,690 people in 2011, adding 26,702 people in that period. Another area that was repurposed for a more densely populated neighborhood is the Renfrew-Collingwood area that grew from 44,946 people in 2001 to 50,495 people in 2011 thanks to a change in land use, and the proximity of the area to a Skytrain station. Such population density creates ideal conditions for people to run errands walking, and to even walk to work, especially given the mild range of temperatures throughout the year in the area, and the active/outdoor culture of the West Coast. This YouTube video shows the downtown peninsula area and how densely populated it is.
Which steps did the City of Vancouver take in order to increase walkability?
Looking at the macro level, the City of Vancouver tried to provide an integrated mix of accessibility (mixed-use areas, giving access to all sort of need within walking distance) and mobility (using the population density to support transit and connectivity to the larger region). Using a common North American method to direct and guide land use called “Zoning”, the city determines what kind of developments are allowed, not allowed, and encouraged in each zone of the city (City of Vancouver, 2012; Tumlin, 2012). Mixed-use zones allow for people to live, work, and play at the same area, and walk or cycle to their destination. This is achieved by creating “complete communities”, where people can find shops, schools, and other services provided within walking distance based on a balanced planning of commercial, institutional, and residential buildings. Vancouver’s downtown core, and other neighborhood centers were designed around this idea, and the population density in these areas support other means of rapid public transit such as the Skytrain, and buses. The city’s guidelines to keep supporting the population growth while reducing the use of private cars mentions the prioritization of dense mixed-use areas that are served by frequent, high-capacity transit (City of Vancouver, 2015b).
Looking at the micro level, the City of Vancouver implemented a few elements of street design to increase walkability (City of Vancouver, 2012, 2015b):
Vancouver has become a major global population center that successfully implemented a strategy to integrate land use and transportation planning in order to reduce its residents’ car-dependency. By proper zoning that allowed the creation of mixed-use areas and complete communities, people could have access to most of their everyday needs without having to drive anywhere, and the densification of certain areas allowed further expansion of the public transit network to allow better mobility between different parts of the region.
In addition, proper street design made the streets more accessible to all kinds of population, and the experience of walking and cycling more pleasant for everyone. By taking those steps, Vancouver positioned itself as a world-leader in integrated land use and transportation policy.
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