Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

“The Economist” on Vancouver

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A piece by Miro Certenig in today’s Vancouver Sun quotes The Economist on Vancouver, quite extensively.

That drove me to The Economist website – fortunately today is one of those days where, if you watch an advert you can access the “premium content” for free. It turns out that Certenig’s article is longer than the original. Since he manages to quote most of it I will give you the full paragraph on transport.

Critics claim the authorities have been slow to respond to the city’s growth. Only now are suburban railways being built. Opponents worry that a C$3 billion road-building plan by the provincial government threatens to reverse Vancouver’s relative success in containing sprawl, and funnel thousands more cars into the city.

Read the whole article.

A couple of things strike me about this. The magazine is right about what opponents worry about, and the emphasis should be not the flood of traffic into the City of Vancouver but the inevitable increase in car oriented growth in the outer suburbs. Surrey and Coquitlam already show us what that will look like, and with the rest of the Gateway program, and the Golden Ears bridge, Langley and Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows will go the same way. It’s actually quite hard to give credit to Vancouver for containing sprawl. The density of the City as a whole is actually quite low by North American standards, and outside of downtown, attempts at increasing density are rare. The opposition to the use of the Arbutus corridor for light rail was mostly about fears of the residential density that would follow – and, of course, that it would be occupied by the great unwashed.

“Suburban railways” seems to refer to the Canada line – since the Evergreen Line has now been put off, due to lack of funds. But of course we all know that there are in fact suburban railways, because that’s how we got suburbs in the first place. One in Richmond is being ripped up right now to be converted into a road. The line out through the Fraser Valley still carries freight, and plans to put interurbans back on those tracks never seem to get very far.

The province has set aside $3bn for the road expansion but will not pony up for its share of the Evergreen Line. I wonder if one of the reasons is that if it opened as the same time as the Canada Line we would have a really good case study to compare the effects of grade separated ALRT versus conventional LRT. While Translink trumpets about its growth in ridership they very carefully avoid mentioning anything about mode share, which has hardly changed. Translink also states that its support for Gateway is conditional upon the use of congestion charging – but if there is no reasonable alternative to driving in the suburbs, don’t expect much mode shift from that either.

The lesson that the London congestion charge success teaches is that most of the car (and truck) traffic did not need to be in Central London in the first place. The decline in road traffic in central London is due to people diverting to other routes for their through journeys: the routes through the centre may look shorter on a map, but were usually longer in terms of trip time. Most people who need to get to central London get there by train – and, thanks to Ken Livingstone’s emphasis on improving the bus system – get around by transit while they are there.

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Written by Stephen Rees

July 17, 2006 at 7:13 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Stephen,

    Welcome to the blogosphere. It looks like I have another blog to put on my Favourites list.

    Ironically, I’ve just started my own blog too – – and I’ll be sure to add you to my blogroll.

    Gordon Price

    July 17, 2006 at 7:50 pm

  2. […] first post appeared in July of 2006 and was about the “C$3 billion road-building plan by the provincial […]

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