August 12, 2014

Extraordinary Stats: Driving like it was the Sixties

This might be surprising but understandable:

The number of vehicles coming in and out of downtown Vancouver in 2010 is about the same as it was in 1965.

But this?

Calgary traffic flow: Some downtown streets less busy than in 1964.

From Calgary’s Metro:

Major entryways into the Beltline like 4th Street and 14th Street SW, for example, saw less traffic in 2012 than they did in 1964, when the city’s population was a quarter the size.

“It is a little bit surprising,” Ekke Kok, the city’s manager of transportation data, said of the historical vehicle counts he and his predecessors have collected since Grant MacEwan was mayor.

In Vancouver, the biggest difference – in addition to the sheer growth of the downtown population – was the improvement in transit.  Same in Calgary:

(Transit advocate William) Hamilton added that the drop in vehicle traffic on Macleod Trail can be connected to the expansion of the south leg of the C-Train line in the early 2000s.

“If you make mass transit such as the C-Train a viable option for more commuters, then absolutely more people are going to take it, and that’s going to take strain off the road infrastructure,” he said.

And this:

Kok said a number of factors are likely at play in the changing traffic patterns over the decades, including “a conscious decision” made by city planners “not to increase the capacity of some roads” in the downtown area while also constructing a variety of other major thoroughfares.

And this:

The number of people riding Calgary Transit buses increased by 136 per cent between 1995 and 2013, he noted, while car traffic grew by just 1.2 per cent over the same period, according to the city’s annual “cordon counts” of traffic flowing in and out of the city’s core.

Pedestrian numbers, meanwhile, grew by 102 per cent and bicycle traffic increased by 153 per cent, although they make up a much smaller proportion of the total traffic volume.

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  1. Statistics are funny things, hard to attribute causation. For example, I’m pretty sure Detroit’s and Cleveland’s downtown street traffic volumes would be lower than 5-6 decades ago as well. Hollowed out urban cores and all that.

  2. The challenge here is that while downtown and the well-connected inner areas benefit from this trend, housing supply (and to an extent supply of employment space) is limited (by zoning and land assembly challenges) and thus can be less and less affordable. For many people who live and work further out (whether due to their own tradeoff of a further location for more housing space or an employer’s decision to seek a big floor plate and cheaper lease rates), this kind of stuff doesn’t ring true, since the roads ‘out there’ are (often) getting busier and busier.

    So the question is, this is great news, but how do we enable more people to reasonably choose living and working in the areas where transit, walking, and biking are making the traffic disappear? And for the moment, we have a lot of minimum parking requirements, regulations that frustrate fee-simple rowhousing, and other obstacles (as well as some great counter examples like laneway housing, mall redevelopments, etc)…

  3. Desmond, Are you suggesting that centre city traffic decline is offset by Metro gains, for the reasons you note, among others? If so, I’m in agreement with this view, at least until somebody points out the facts of the matter!

  4. I’m suggesting that a few different things are happening:
    1- more people are living and working downtown and nearby
    2- more people are taking transit to get downtown, or walking/cycling from nearby
    3- more people are living and working out in the ‘burbs

    Groups 1 and 2 are seeing less congestion (there are fewer cars on their inner-city/downtown commute and/or they’re riding a bike or on transit so they notice the traffic less)
    Group 3 is seeing more congestion (they’re on suburban roads that are busier than ever before)

    So how do we enable more people to choose to be parts of groups 1 and 2?

  5. GP said: “In Vancouver, the biggest difference – in addition to the sheer growth of the downtown population – was the improvement in transit”

    Transit to…where? In the 1966 census Surrey had all of 81,828 people, Richmond 50,460 while Vancouver already had 410,375. There was little need for extensive transit outside of Vancouver proper. Certainly improved transit in the form of Skytrain helped many Vancouverites but the backbone of the bus system was already there.

    In 1964 the West End highrise boom was just taking off, and a huge amount of downtown workers were able to find lodging close to work once it did. Ditto the development of downtown south in 1990-2000s.

    Are there stats showing the amount of cars now flowing out of the City of Vancouver vs 1964?

    1. I think he’s saying that the improvements in transit helped get auto traffic down again, not that there was ample transit in the 60s.

      In other words, the assertion is that without the transit improvements, auto traffic would not have gone back down to the levels of the 60s.

  6. These data confirm that reported in the Downtown Transportation Plan – 11 years ago now. It’s good to know the trend continues even with increased employment and population in the downtown.