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“At a length of nearly 19 km, the Canada Line will be an automated rapid transit rail service connecting Downtown Vancouver with central Richmond and the Vancouver International Airport — linking growing residential, business, health care, educational and other centres in the region — and adding transit capacity equivalent to 10 major road lanes. The Canada Line will connect with existing rapid transit lines at Waterfront Station and major east-west transit services, creating an enhanced transit network to serve the region in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The line is expected to carry 100,000 passengers per day at launch and 142,000 passengers by 2021. Travel times southbound from downtown Vancouver will be 25 minutes to Richmond Centre and 26 minutes to the airport terminus. Northbound, trains will leave Richmond City Centre and YVR every six minutes heading to Vancouver. The departures will be coordinated to allow for a train every three minutes on the main line in Vancouver.”

If there is one city in North America that truly understands good urban planning, it would have to be Vancouver, British Columbia. This Southwestern Canadian city of nearly 590,000 has been utilizing smart growth principles for decades, helping make it one of the most livable cities on the continent.

A recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about the city really illustrates how Vancouver operates on a different plane than most U.S. cities. Below are several excerpts and quotes from the article, which I feel illustrate my point well:

  • For starters, Vancouver residents waged a 10-year battle to keep freeways from its urban core in the 1970s, eventually defeating a plan that would have placed a highway right through its Chinatown and adjacent its downtown waterfront.
    • “We are the only North American city of any significance without an interstate at its core,” said Gordon Price, an urban affairs professor at Simon Fraser University, who used to serve on Vancouver‘s City Council.
  • However, instead of the city drying up economically and becoming inaccessible and unlivable, Vancouver’s core has become one of the most thriving urban areas in North America.
  • Density has been a trademark of Vancouver’s success. “The greater the density, the better it is for transit. But density must be sensitively designed so it welcomes people at street level. ‘Once you get the street right — the first 30 feet of a building — how high you go is not important,’ Price said.”
    • “Density is good”, says Larry Beasley, former city planning director for Vancouver, who has been recognized worldwide as helping create a new urban model
  • City leaders readily admit that their Vancouver model is counter-intuitive.

Note: We are always mentioning on TransitMiami how many aspects of smart growth, like higher densities and less parking, are very counter-intuitive.

    • “We are building cities we don’t actually like,” Price said. “Everyone can drive everywhere for everything. But if it’s the only game in town, it doesn’t even work for the car.”
  • However, in building a wide pedestrian and bicycle path around downtown, it created an environment free from cars.
    • “There’s no better alternative to the car than walking,” Beasley said. “We have been doing everything in our power to make walking comfortable. We actually have fewer cars coming into the downtown area than we had 10 years ago.”
  • The city also has invested strongly in transit, including rapid rail, commuter rail, electric buses, streetcars and ferries.
    • “We like that it’s hard to get in and out of downtown (by automobiles)…We have a policy to not even expand one lane of roads coming in and out of our city.”
  • One agency in Greater Vancouver — TransLink — oversees all transportation, including roads. Transportation projects and operations are largely financed through gas taxes, which total nearly $1.60 a gallon compared to 25.9 cents in Georgia. And TransLink has total flexibility on how it can spend its money, meaning gas taxes subsidize transit and other modes of travel.
Wow. Let’s review some of these points. Vancouver is very much pro-transit and anti-expressway (especially through its core and by its waterfront). Even better, the city utilizes a hierarchy of rail, including streetcars, much to the chagrin of Miami NIBMYs. The city strongly embraces higher densities, viewing such as the key to livable, sustainable neighborhoods instead of an evil prospect. Furthermore, Vancouver’s urban policy is designed largely around the pedestrian opposed to the automobile, seeing walking as an efficient, legitimate, and comfortable way of getting around. Even bicycles are put on a pedestal.

Alas, what I find very exciting is that only one agency, TransLink, oversees all transportation including roads. This allows for transportation planning to be much smoother and cohesive, especially in comparison to our terribly fragmented system with several competing entities. This also makes it much easier for planners and administrators to enhance and maintain transit. And, what I really love is that TransLink isn’t afraid to rise gasoline prices even higher through gas taxes - something unfathomable for most U.S. cities.


photo courtesy of clashmaker’s flick account

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