Can we all just pause for a moment and give Vancouver a standing ovation?
Vancouver prioritized the movement of people over cars, and it got more people and fewer cars. Image: Project for Public Spaces
The perennial contender for the title of world’s most livable city has accomplished what Houston or Atlanta never even dream of: It has reduced traffic on its major thoroughfares even as its population has swelled. How did the city pull off this feat? The answer is intentionally, with smart policies.
In the 1970s, the people of Vancouver decided they wanted their city to be walkable and healthy. The city established a policy that it wouldn’t widen any roads to accommodate more single-occupancy vehicles.
Vancouver was in better shape than the average U.S. city to begin with, because it’s the only major city in North America with no freeways going through it. That meant the original street grid, constructed between 1880 and 1920, would have to suffice. To make that work, Vancouver worked hard to establish the kind of land use policies that would make living car-free a natural choice. The city prioritized walkable, mixed-use development and established a strong transit system with light rail, streetcars, and buses, as well as walking and biking connections.
And guess what? That strategy has worked exactly as planned. Vancouver officials recently trotted out traffic data to make the case for overhauling a traffic-heavy road by the waterfront into a street that prioritizes biking and walking while eliminating through traffic. The figures showed that on major streets, traffic has dropped 20 to 30 percent since 2006 — although the city has grown 4.5 percent percent over that time. Pretty neat trick.
Here’s the city chief transportation engineer, Jerry Dobrovolny, on the wider trend, as quoted in the terrific blog Price Tags:
We have seen a trend, a downward trend over the past 15 years – vehicles entering the city, vehicles entering the downtown, we have seen a downward trend on vehicles crossing the Burrard Bridge, we have seen a downward trend on vehicles entering and leaving [University of British Columbia].
So we’re seeing those continual drops city-wide.