Stephen Rees's blog

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

Is Vancouver About to Become the Greenest City in the World?

with 7 comments

Allan Hunt Badiner, AlterNet

When you read any press story abut things you know about, you always realise how limited the view of the journalist is. I get two news alerts a day from Alternet, which promises a different view from the mainstream media. “Allan Hunt Badiner is a writer, activist, and editor of three books” who came for a visit and saw pretty much what he was programmed to see. As an American activist he was looking for an example of what US cities should be doing. And he did not, it seems, really dig very deep.

From the airport all along Granville Street, Vancouver’s longest artery, my eyes kept searching for urban blight, some garbage or a little graffiti — but there was none.

Oh well that’s all right then. Just as well he did not look at Hastings, isn’t it.

As I have often said, Vancouver seems to be doing pretty well by North American standards, but those are not very high. And there is also the way that the City gets confused by the much larger, and much less successful, metropolitan area. One bike lane on Burrard Bridge and some short term additional shelter beds do not actually do very much at to deal with our car dependence or homelessness.

This is not to say it’s a city without problems, or that it doesn’t have its own share of the poor and homeless.

But to not notice that the region’s transit system only carries 11% of trips – impressive compared to some US cities of similar size no doubt – and that despite one new rapid transit line to open next month, most the efforts in transportation are to expand the highway system and to increase car use in the suburbs seems like, at the every least, inadequate research. And what does it say about “greenest city in the world” rankings that could ignore completely almost everything outside the City in its functional urban region? OK he notices the Richmond Oval too. Whoopee.

“In the world” means we are up against places like Copenhagen and Zurich. They both do transit much better than we do. Copenhagen is also very much further ahead in closing streets to cars and encouraging cycling and walking, as well as renewable energy use, and recycling of waste.  Yes we have hydro – but our biggest source of greenhouse gases remains transport – and we are not dealing with that at all. Even more freight is being shipped around the region on trucks, thanks to the railways themselves do that, and will increase significantly due to the investment in more highways. Outside of the City of Vancouver, transit mode share to to 4% in the region’s second largest city and the one that is growing fastest. Does CoV deserve the prize because Surrey is not within its legal boundaries?

Written by Stephen Rees

July 30, 2009 at 10:25 am

7 Responses

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  1. Stephen you aren’t fair! you are so very right that I can’ even add one single word.

    Red frog

    July 30, 2009 at 10:47 am

  2. Since every site I read about transit, sustanaiblity, etc refers to Copenhagen as the God’s gift to everything on the subject I wonder whether they refer to Copenhagen the city or region itself?

    Dejan K

    July 30, 2009 at 11:32 am

  3. […] Posted by viewfromthe44 under Uncategorized Leave a Comment  Stephen Rees has a good post touching on something I’ve been think a lot about.  When we cast around looking for models […]

  4. To be fair many experts (in this case about public transit and towns livability) aren’t very objective as they tend to highlight the few places that are well known in their culture, glossing over the fact that they have no clues about many other towns that are likely to be just as good..not very scientific.
    Kevin Falcon always waxed lyrical about London’s turnstiles, ignoring those in Toronto, Montreal, Paris etc.

    According to Monocle Magazine ranking of the 25 most livable cities in the world (in the current issue) Copenhagen is #2 behind Zurich. Vancouver is #14. The magazine editor does know Vancouver as he is Canadian.

    To answer Dejan one would think that the region is involved too, as it is traditional in quite a few countries around the world for major towns (in some countries these major towns aren’t necessarily big ones) to have commuter trains linking a town to suburbs within a relatively large area.
    See and

    Red frog

    July 30, 2009 at 11:15 pm

  5. […] Rees raises the question of what kinds of cities Vancouver should take as models to try to emulate.  North American […]

  6. Well yes, Copenhagen is usually mentioned in the context of taking away road space and giving it to peds/cyclist but a breif research on the web shows that Copenhagen has well developed transportation system featuring commuter rail, subway system, trams, buses, highways and of course dedicated bike lanes. So a bit of everything.

    The problem is that unless you lived there or have very good understanding of the city, it is hard to tell whether this is happening in the city proper or on the regional level. So if you make a statement that for example Copenhagen is a walkable city does that mean that their suburbs are walkable or does this apply to just the city core (after all most old, well preserved European cities are walkable simply becuase the streets are narrow and there isn’t much space for cars as they have not been designed for car use)? You could say that downtown Vancouver is walkable and you would be correct, but that does not mean that south Vancouver, Burnaby or Surrey are walkable.

    Dejan K

    July 31, 2009 at 10:28 pm

  7. Dejean,
    I lived in both major European towns and small ones. The major towns have a mix of narrow and wide streets. The narrow ones are the oldest but the wide ones are old too, by Vancouver standards, as they were built either in the 18th or 19th century. The small towns, like the “new town” I lived just before moving to Canada (new town meant built in the 13th century) was nothing but narrow streets, at straight angle from one another mind you)
    Wide or narrow, these streets are extensively used by cars. In many of the narrow side streets the sidewalks are often only 2, 2 1/2 ft at most! not very walkable!

    The truly walkable bits are on the wide sidewalks of the big avenues and in the car-free areas.
    Same thing by the way in Asia, Japan for example.. where in many residential side streets there isn’t even a sidewalk!

    I think that “walkable” in older cities of Europe, Asia etc. and even here in North America, come to think of it, doesn’t necessarily means that the walk is always pleasant but that it is easier to walk from one home or place of work or stores, businesses, public buildings etc. than to drive.
    A pedestrian can zig-zag a network of narrow and wide streets, or even walk through buildings (as in Seattle during business hours, when one can use building elevators and escalators to avoid walking up/ down steep streets) but a driver must navigate a complicated maze of one way directions that force him/her to go the long way around. Finding a parking spot close to the destination is often not very easy either.

    Red frog

    August 6, 2009 at 9:32 am

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