Published on June 1st, 2015 | by Cynthia Shahan4
Bicycling Doubles In Vancouver, North America’s Most Livable City
June 1st, 2015 by Cynthia Shahan
The city of Vancouver has set another standard for cities across the world. Vancouver recently hit another smart growth milestone or two with upward-spiraling numbers of citizens and visitors freely choosing to walk, cycle, and ride public transit.
Vancouver has numerous multimodal neighborhoods thanks to practical, smart growth policies. Automobile travel has dropped as a result, and an active transition to cycling, walking, and transit continues to take place. Bicycling changed from about 50,000 daily trips in 2008 up to 100,000 in 2014 — doubling! This North American city has made a valuable investment in cycling amenities, such as numerous protected bike lanes and colored bike lanes, and it is paying off. Furthermore, with other non-car trip growth, Vancouver just passed 50% of trips coming from non-car modes.
Todd Litman’s sentiment in Planetizen catches an active wave coming from Vancouver, one that will incite change in urban areas. “Much of my life’s work is based on the optimistic assumptions that people are basically intelligent and so will respond favorably to good planning and rational economic incentives such as smart growth and Transportation Demand Management (TDM).” Kudos to Todd for your example in optimism.
Litman continues, pointing to the success story that demonstrates the effectiveness of these policies. He also explains that Vancouver has gone far beyond its long-term target to cut vehicle trips at least 20% by 2040. The 2014 Transportation Monitoring Report shows cycling statistics put the “alternative modes of transit” in a neck-and-neck overtaking of automobile trips that hopefully will wash out the overuse of autos over time.
A key statistic from the 2014 Transportation Monitoring Report is that motor vehicle travel has fallen 16.5% since 2007. Per capita reductions are more substantial, with average annual vehicle-kilometers per resident dropping 26%, from 6,340 in 2004 to 4,680 in 2014, as visualized in the graph below.
Consider the pleasant effects of automobile transportation rates slowing to a quiet flow. Imagine how this benefits urban residents. Smooth traffic, safer neighborhoods, cleaner air, a quieter atmosphere. The Vancouver region has 3.9 traffic deaths per 100,000 residents. This is nearly the lowest among North American cities. Even with increasing urban bicyclists, crashes involving bicycles have not increased — this denotes an accident rate that is really dropping.
Litman points out more: “Vancouver region households devote just 12.4 percent of their household budgets to transportation, the least of any North American city for which data are available, and 3.4 percentage points less than the average of other cities.”
“This provides $2,623 average annual savings per household, totalling $1.7 billion annual savings for the region’s 633,460 households, which is greater than the region’s total public expenditures on walking, cycling, and public transit services.”
In 2013, Vancouver gained increasing stature and notice as the most livable city in North America ranked just below Melbourne, Australia, and Vienna, Austria, in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s liveability survey.
Even people who keep an auto often enjoy alternative modes of transportation, as in many cities of Europe. where a sense of being unencumbered by parking and the restraints of a car is found even among the wealthy, who conveniently enjoy public transit and bicycling for transportation. Cities such as Vienna, that came out a bit above Vancouver in the above ratings also strive to enable more car-free living. Quality urban planning as Vancouver has implemented shows the success that can result. Vancouver responds to ecological needs as well as citizen interests, providing efficient transit, affordable choices, and non-motorized comfort that makes autos less necessary and appealing in comparison. And it shows that residents will really choose to drive less and rely more on alternative modes.
Yes, Vancouver planners set a fine example, but there is still much work to be done, and many of them as well as many citizens know it. Litman mentions Vancouver’s nearing completion of a plebiscite about whether to increase taxes to finance added transportation improvements — especially much-needed expansion of public transit. Litman shares that the tax increases will easily be made up for by the benefits.
“My analysis indicates that the additional taxes would be cost-effective, their incremental costs are more than repaid by incremental savings and benefits, but the debate has been dominated by other issues.” Litman also comments on planners (in general) who hold outdated planning policies whereas progressive, creative ones escape their understanding — without enough exposure, perhaps.
However, Litman shares his belief that all is well in Vancouver, “Well done, City of Vancouver.” And we chime in: “Well done!”
Also note that Vancouver recently voted to go 100% renewables. “The Canadian city of Vancouver in British Columbia recently became the first city in the country to aim for 100% renewable energy in the electricity sector — following on a unanimous decision/vote by the City Council there.” The vote took place on Wednesday, March 26, leading up to the Renewable Cities forum in Vancouver, where CleanTechnica director Zachary Shahan and others helped to advise city staff on how to achieve its goal. Much luck to the city, and hopefully we can keep helping you along the way.