Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Smart Growth

Smart Growth Debate

Nathan Pachal has asked me to post a press release from South Fraser OnTrax. They have invited Todd Litman to debate Smart Growth  with Randal O’Toole. Even if I was in town on that day, I would not be going. I have the greatest of respect for Todd but I have nothing but contempt for Randal O’Toole and the Cato Institute. There is, in general, a desire to see “both sides of the question” – media are required to provide “balance” – but this has been exploited by the rabid right to present arguments on issues where there really isn’t any controversy. No-one with any understanding of the word “truth” doubts that smoking causes lung cancer – and a wide variety of other serious diseases. The methodology espoused by the tobacco industry to fight off legislation limiting its activity have been emulated by the corporations that exploit fossil fuels – and our willingness to believe comforting falsehoods.   The scientific consensus on the link between fossil fuel use and climate change is overwhelming and the need for action is desperate. Yet institutions and individuals have been paid handsomely by the vested interests who profit from peddling tobacco and oil to create the illusion that there is some doubt about these linkages.

In the case of the South Fraser, our provincial government has determined that there will be little or no Smart Growth there. The freeway is being widened, there is no prospect of any significant transit alternative – such as low cost light rail using the former BCER Interurban track. And where there is no adequate transit you simply cannot expect Transit Oriented Development. It did not matter that the arguments in favour of highway expansion were based on fallacies: nowhere, anywhere has ever built its way out of traffic congestion. Increasing the size of roadways in urban areas simply expands traffic demand. Where people can drive but have few options that work for them, they will drive. So it does not matter what has been promised – or even what low cost palliative is offered by Translink in its plans – we know the shape of things to come in Surrey and Langley, and that is more of the same.

So what is the point of a debate? The facts were ignored. Reality has been set aside. We will continue to do what we have always done and we expect a different outcome.

If there is any point in attending such an event I suppose it has to be its entertainment value. Todd Littman is a very good speaker and I expect he will have the best arguments, since anyone who looks at these issues objectively has to agree that Smart Growth is one of the few things that we can do that will make a difference in the suburbs. And, of course, we can equally predict what Randal O’Toole will say. If you haven’t heard of him I suggest you start with this wiki entry about him (and its footnotes of course) and the Cato Institute. Both are very careful to be fair and balanced.

 LANGLEY, With the Metro Vancouver region set to grow by another 1 million people over the next 20 years and with most of that growth set to occur in the South of Fraser, there has been a call by many academics and urban planners to change the way we build our communities. South Fraser OnTrax advocates for smart growth design principles such as making transit a priority and building neighbourhoods that provide a variety of housing options, from single-family homes to apartments. OnTrax believes these principles will protect the environment, human health, and our agricultural land, but not everyone shares this belief.

Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, whose research has been used by governments worldwide, will be debating Randal O’Toole who is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and who has also taught environmental economics at Yale, UC Berkeley, and Utah State University on the future of land-use and transportation planning in the South of Fraser. Litman is a strong proponent of smart growth principals and high-quality public transit while O’Toole has been an outspoken critic.

“For many years we have talked about building more sustainable community and better transit,” says Nathan Pachal of OnTrax, “but many in our communities are not sold on the ideas that this is the way to go. This debate will allow both perspectives to be expressed and let people decide what future they want for our region.”

OnTrax with the support of a City of Langley grant will be hosting this debate on Thursday, February 23rd from 7:00pm to 8:30pm at the Township of Langley Municipal Hall (20338 65 Avenue.) This free event is open to all members of the public, who will have the chance to hear both sides of the debate and have the opportunity to question Litman and O’Toole.

Seating is limited and reservations are recommended. Please visit or for more information and email southfraserblog (at) to reserve your seat.

Driving less, and raising parking fees

with 12 comments

I have been reluctant to simply pass along press releases. They have to pass my own stringent tests which include relevance to Greater Vancouver and also my sense of how much the main stream media might not cover the release. I also try always to only put things on this blog that I have an opinion about. I try to write something – not just pass things along. Two press releases came my way overnight that both seem to pass this test. One talks about growth – and how it can be smarter. The other talks more about how other places do things differently to us and have had better outcomes. So I think both are worthwhile – and both point to new studies which provide evidence to support sensible policy making.

The ideas of smart growth are not new but there is a great fear here that somehow even talking about growth is going to encourage it. I think in this region growth is inevitable. The people who are already here are smart and dynamic and are going to be active in creating new activities. Vancouver has been a magnet for people for many years and the things that bring people here are unlikely to change. These increasing numbers of people will be accommodated somehow. Simply allowing a grey market to develop, as happened with secondary suites, is not a sensible response. We also need to become more critical – in the sense of not simply having the knee jerk response to any and all change. One particular example this morning is annoying me. In just the same way that the endorsement of a regional growth strategy suddenly seemed to push all sorts of panic buttons – it has been under discussion for years and no-one seemed to be very excited about it at the time – now proposals for taller buildings downtown are eliciting a predictable emotional response.  There is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t like tall buildings” but there is quite a lot wrong with statements such as

the surprisingly high eco-footprint of tall condo buildings, which rank a distant last in energy efficiency to all other dwelling options (some 10 times less efficient than many houses, town homes, and small apartment buildings).

As yesterday’s blog post pointed out just looking at the building, without considering its location can be very misleading. You can have a very highly efficient building but if it is in the wrong place, where everybody has to drive to get to it, then it won’t be very energy efficient. You could put up with a less than optimal building – in terms of its heating/cooling requirement – if it was more efficient in terms of servicing and the travel patterns and choices of its users. You must always consider transportation and land use together. They are the same issue – not two separate ones.   I cannot say I like concrete canyons very much either, and I do think we need to get better at growing our own food. But not everyone wants to be a gardener, and there are all sorts of ways – green roofs, green walls – that we can better utilize space that have multiple benefits. I recognize that Damien Gills and Rafe Mair are both very effective campaigners, but they both seem to embrace a style that puts passion before reflection, and likes to see everything in black and white. Most policy debates require a more nuanced approach, and politics is still what it has always been – the art of the possible.

There are also two things that everybody hates. One is sprawl, the other is density. We can accommodate a lot more people in the City of Vancouver at densities which are currently permitted. But we would have to start building a different kind of transit system to accommodate that kind of growth. And neighbourhoods need to have a reason to embrace change, which means they need to be involved in determining what is going to done to the place they live in. We can accommodate more people in downtown, but we need the present transit system to have expansion capabilities: we forgot that with the Canada Line, and we are only just now starting to expand the Expo Line, which had long been suffering from lack of trains. We can get people to use transit, as UPass showed, but we did not have anything like enough buses for them, and when universities are located at the end of a peninsula, or on top of a mountain, more buses may not even be the most effective solution. Those failings show a lack of “joined up thinking”. We have two levels of government who cannot agree on what should be done and who should do it. It is not that considering taller buildings is wrong. It is that we do not have the ability to adapt our urban form to growth – of any kind. And then we are surprised – over and over again – when this same approach produces results we did not anticipate.

Afterthought – there is a very relevant post on “free” parking at Grist today


New Report Finds Urban Growth Strategies Provide Economic Benefits and Improve Quality of Life

“Growing Wealthier” Report Examines How Smart Growth Can Enhance Prosperity

Washington, D.C. –January 19, 2011—Efficient urban planning – known as smart growth development – enhances community prosperity and generates economic benefits for local businesses, households and governments, according to a new report published today by the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP). The study, Growing Wealthier: Smart Growth, Climate Change and Prosperity, reveals how reduced driving and efficient land use planning are strongly interconnected with economic growth and better quality of life.

Growing Wealthier reports that pent-up demand for walkable communities is reshaping the real estate market. Cities investing in public transportation and downtown development are experiencing cost savings, growing tax revenues, increased property values and booming retail sales. The authors of the report, CCAP Transportation Analyst Chuck Kooshian and CCAP Director of Transportation Programs Steve Winkelman, encourage policy makers and practitioners to promote economic well-being by mixing land uses and providing a diversity of transportation and housing choices to enhance accessibility and promote travel efficiency.
“In our transforming economy, more and more exchanges of goods and services take place in channels unimaginable a quarter of a century ago,” said Kooshian.  “While transportation is still vital to economic activity, people and goods in motion are only a part of a much greater whole.”

Growing Wealthier demonstrates that the rate of increase in driving and income in the U.S. has been unequal. From 1967 to 2008, household driving increased by 60 percent while average household income increased by 52 percent, but median household income increased by only 25 percent. Thus, the experience for most Americans over the last 40 years was one of driving substantially more but not sharing proportionately in income growth. The report also examines how reducing “empty miles,” driving that contributes little or nothing to the economy, will help meet climate protection goals while also yielding positive economic impacts.
Communities that are realizing the economic benefits of smart growth include:

  • Dallas, Texas – downtown retail sales grew 33 percent a year after the light rail system began operation.
  • Sarasota, Fla. – downtown development costs were half that of suburban development while generating four times the tax revenue.
  • Portland, Ore. – a $100 million investment in streetcars helped attract $3.5 billion in private investments.
  • Denver, Colo. – home values within a half-mile of stations on the Southeast light rail line rose by 18 percent, while home values in the rest of Denver declined by 8 percent from 2006-2008.

Growing Wealthier documents how efficient land use planning can improve household resilience to rising oil prices by enhancing travel choices.Allowing more people to live closer to job centers can boost employment rates and income levels for low-wage workers while reducing exposure to congestion for all. Smart growth policies are also shown to cut government infrastructure costs, enhance public health and conserve natural resources.

The report provides recommendations for the federal government to “equip and empower” state and local experts to implement smart growth policies and realize their economic and livability benefits. The federal government should increase funding for research on the economic impacts of transportation and land use policies and provide technical assistance to help communities implement and evaluate smart growth and travel efficiency policies. “Do. Measure. Learn.” policy programs centered on action, measurement and analysis will give practitioners room to experiment and build upon their successes. Incentive-based programs that reward economic and environmental sustainability will encourage more communities to follow suit.

“There are many steps we must take to ensure that our children inherit a planet and an economy with a bright future,” said Winkelman. “Investing the time and money to grow our communities to be more resilient, more efficient and more satisfying to their residents will offer a tremendous payoff.”

The executive summary and full report are available at and at For more information on CCAP’s transportation program, please visit



European cities lead the way in influencing travel behavior through parking reforms

January 19, 2011, NYC:  European cities are reaping the rewards of innovative parking policies, including revitalized town centers; big reductions in car use; drops in air pollution and rising quality of urban life, according to Europe’s Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation, published today (January 19th) by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

Visit for a copy of the report.

The report examines European parking over the last half century, through the prism of ten European cities. It found:

•       Parking is increasingly linked to public transport. Amsterdam, Paris, Zurich and Strasbourg limit how much parking is allowed in new developments based on how far it is to walk to a bus, tram or metro stop. Zurich has made significant investments in new tram and bus lines while making parking more expensive and less convenient. As a result, between 2000 and 2005, the share of public transit use went up by 7%, while the share of cars in traffic declined by 6%.

•       European cities are ahead of the rest of the world in charging rational prices for on-street parking. In Paris, the on-street parking supply has been reduced by more than 9% since 2003, and of the remaining stock, 95% is paid parking. The result, along with other transport infrastructure improvements, has been a 13% decrease in driving.

•       Parking reforms are becoming more popular than congestion charging. While London, Stockholm, and a few other European cities have managed to implement congestion charging, more are turning to parking. Parking caps have been set in Zurich and Hamburg’s business districts to freeze the existing supply, where access to public transport is easiest.

•       Revenue gathered from parking tariffs is being invested to support other mobility needs. In Barcelona, 100% of revenue goes to operate Bicing—the city’s public bike system. Several boroughs in London use parking revenue to subsidize transit passes for seniors and the disabled, who ride public transit for free.

Walter Hook, Executive Director of ITDP, commented: “This report shows that European cities lead the world in using parking as a tool to revitalize their cities.”

The ten cities featured are Amsterdam, Antwerp, Barcelona, Copenhagen, London, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Strasbourg and Zurich.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 19, 2011 at 8:33 am