October 28, 2013

Peter Ladner: The Need for a “Core (Belief) Review”

Peter’s column in Business in Vancouver:

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Core review needs to focus on core changes in urban car use

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Bill Bennett has been entrusted with the B.C. government’s core review, with a goal of “eliminating programs that could provide better service at less cost through alternative service delivery models.”

I have a modest proposal: change the word “programs” to “infrastructure spending.”

Then I’d like to suggest a “core belief review,” starting with proposed multibilliondollar infrastructure spending on improving car traffic flows without examining “alternative service delivery models.”

Consider, for example, that buses make up 1% of the traffic through the George Massey Tunnel and carry 26% of its passengers, yet the video for its 10-lane bridge replacement shows no dedicated transit lane and the budget for regional transit has been hung out for referendum approval.

What most needs to be reviewed is the mistaken core belief that car travel will increase as the province’s population and economy grow. I say “mistaken” because data both here and around the industrialized world shows car travel has peaked and is declining. Some people refuse to believe this. Their attitude reminds me of the response of an audience member when a City of Vancouver engineer told a public meeting that the number of vehicles entering the city is down by 5% since 1996, with vehicles entering downtown down by 20% over that time.

“BS,” he shouted. Yelling “BS” isn’t going to help TransLink meet the estimated $40 million a year shortfall on Golden Ears Bridge toll revenue because traffic volumes haven’t materialized as expected.

Traffic over the Port Mann bridge crossing has been declining since 2006 – even faster since the new bridge was built – and is now below 2001 levels, yet traffic planners are stubbornly projecting it is going to rapidly rise – even faster than their earlier projections.

This isn’t just happening here. Total vehicle miles travelled on state roads in Washington state in 2012 were lower than in 2002. An excellent examination of traffic data by Sightline Institute (www.sightline.org) shows that there are now fewer light-duty vehicles on all U.S. roads than in 2002, and they’re being driven less. In Canada, every age group from 16 to 54 now has fewer people with a drivers’ licence than 10 years ago.

Young people, especially, are driving less – for many reasons. Those who live in denser, compact communities can get around without owning a car. In some places (think of the Canada Line route) public transit is much improved. When they need a car, more are using on-demand cars (Modo, Zipcar, Car2Go) rather than owning one. With growing personal debt levels, plus rising gas prices, parking fees, fines and penalties, fewer people can afford car ownership at $9,000 a year. If they’re having kids later, or staying at home and borrowing their parents’ car, they can postpone buying their own car. And with mobile connections, anyone can access work, school, university courses, friends or entertainment without driving. Get a seat on a bus or SkyTrain, and you can work en route while drivers text and phone at their peril. Lots of young people simply don’t want to be contributors to the greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, accident risks and health dangers associated with driving.

All our municipal governments are specifically targeting less car travel: TransLink’s goal is 33% fewer vehicle miles by 2040. That depends on new mixed-use developments all over Metro Vancouver creating complete compact communities that free people from being trapped in their cars.

Why then are we building massive bridges that encourage more car travel?

The core review has a target of saving $50 million. Rethinking the core belief that the best answer to congestion is more capacity for diminishing car travel could save many times that much. •

Tags: economy, accident, Bill Bennett, travel, prices, TransLink, mining, public transit, Car2Go

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