Transportation

In Vancouver, Driving is Declining while Population Increases

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 14, 2013

In early 2009, a proposed pedestrian scramble at York Boulevard and MacNab Street was unceremoniously removed from the York Boulevard Streetscape Master Plan. When I asked then-traffic engineering manager Hart Solomon (since retired) about it, he said it would be "inefficient" for automobile traffic and projected that during rush hour, traffic would back up to Queen Street at a red light based on then-current traffic volumes.

I challenged his use of current traffic volumes to project future impacts, pointing out that the city's goal is a significant reduction in automobile traffic. Solomon countered that his assumption was "likely conservative" because the base volume of automobile traffic would continue to climb and future rapid transit on Main/King would divert more traffic to York.

Solomon went on to argue that short-term changes should be evaluated based on short-term impacts, not on long-term goals (!), an approach that seems guaranteed to be self-fulfilling.

Solomon was simply not receptive to my argument that if we want to achieve long-term changes in how people get around, we need to do so through a variety of ongoing decisions to change the balance of priorities and incentives - and we need to start now to see changes in a few years.

I bring this up now because a new report out of Vancouver has indicated that traffic volumes have gone down on its thoroughfares even as the population has gone up.

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 rail, trolly buses, and rapid 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.

The trend has actually been downward over the past 15 years, as Vancouver has continually made both large and small transportation and land use decisions based around its goal of being denser, more walkable, and more liveable.

Meanwhile, over the same period Hamilton has continued to prioritize automobile flow-through over all other goals. Our transit spending and investment has declined, our streets have remained wide and fast, our land use policy has remained low-density and single-use zoned, and in an outcome that should surprise no one, our outcomes have remained stagnant.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted August 14, 2013 at 15:27:15

Not sure whether it's walkability's chicken or egg, but Downtown Vancouver's population almost doubled between 2001 and 2011.

http://www.vancitybuzz.com/2012/05/vancouver-neighbourhood-population-census-2011

The jump of 26,702 appears to represent almost half of the city's population growth during that period.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 14, 2013 at 15:50:46 in reply to Comment 90912

Contrast Hamilton, where population stagnated or fell in every lower city ward except ward 2 over the same period.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted August 14, 2013 at 16:34:58 in reply to Comment 90913

Population Growth, 2001-2011

Downtown Vancouver: 95.4%
Downtown Hamilton: 3.7%

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted August 14, 2013 at 22:06:01 in reply to Comment 90915

CORRECTION:

Population Growth, 2001-2011

Downtown Vancouver: 95.4%
Downtown Hamilton: *8.5%*

In my haste, I tallied all six tracts, but under the City's standard measure of "Downtown Hamilton" (Queen/Wellington/Cannon/Hunter), you would include only 0049, 0048, 0037 and 0036, for a combined population growth of 789 residents (or 8.5% growth) over the 2001-2011 period.

The only area of the Hamilton that comes close to matching Downtown Vancouver's growth surge was Glanbrook (Ward 11), which jumped by 16,501 residents (or 80.3%) between 2001 and 2011. (The City of Hamilton population increased by 30,492 during that decade.)


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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 15, 2013 at 05:55:15 in reply to Comment 90921

So Vancouver has been growing up while Hamilton has been growing out.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted August 15, 2013 at 08:45:23 in reply to Comment 90930

That's right..like a middle-schooler.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted August 14, 2013 at 16:25:54 in reply to Comment 90913

If you consider net movement over the same decade, Ward 2 population fell as well.

2001: 38,349
2011: 37,569

http://www.raisethehammer.org/blog/1159
http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/1541

The population picture improves ever so slightly when you look at the city's six core census tracts (contained between Queen, Wellington and the rail lines), which posted a net gain of 539 residents during that same decade.

CT 0064.00
2001: 1,849
2011: 1,658

CT 0063.00
2001: 3,440
2011: 3,182

CT 0049.00
2001: 2,471
2011: 2,473

CT 0048.00
2001: 1,658
2011: 1,858

CT 0037.00
2001: 2,503
2011: 2,464

CT 0036.00
2001: 2,617
2011: 3,242

That last tract is arguably responsible for the uptick in Ward 2 population between 2006 and 2011, and definitely colours the above sample.

0064 and 0063 fall to the north of Cannon, astride James. Population 2001-2011: 250 residents lost

0049 and 0048 fall to the south of Cannon, astride James. Population 2001-2011: 202 residents added

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By Today (anonymous) | Posted August 14, 2013 at 19:04:39

Ryan, while I appreciate the negative slant provide here to Hamilton, there are positives as others might suggest.

http://www.cbc.ca/hamilton/news/story/2013/08/07/hamilton-housing-prices-remain.html

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 14, 2013 at 21:02:11 in reply to Comment 90916

What's driving our housing market is demand from Toronto buyers. Hamilton's main selling feature is that our economy is relatively stagnantvand house prices ate much lower than Toronto. The flip side of thst stagnation is an underperforming economy that is not generating value and creating wealth. The essential economies of cities - agglomeration, density, scale, and so on - are relatively sidelined in Hamilton, thanks to our ongoing failures in land us and transportation policy. That is not something to celebrate.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-08-14 21:04:29

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