On Wednesday, when Dale Bracewell, Vancouver’s manager of Active Transportation, comes to speak at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, he will have some impressive numbers to share.
In May, Bracewell and his colleagues had the pleasure of reporting to their city council that the share of trips taken by sustainable modes in Vancouver had hit 50 per cent. That means on any given day, about half the trips people take involve walking, cycling, or transit.
It’s an impressive number, even more so because they achieved it five years ahead of schedule. Vancouver’s Transportation 2040 plan calls for walking, cycling, and transit to make up half of all trips by 2020. It’s fair to say they’ve got a pretty good head start on their next target: two-thirds sustainable modes by 2040.
So let’s compare those numbers to Halifax… Believe me, I’d like to, but I can’t. From the Halifax perspective, one of the most impressive things about Vancouver’s modal share numbers is that they exist at all.
In Halifax, we rely on Statistics Canada for our “modal share” data. Even before the Conservatives rendered the 2011 census nearly useless (the Trudeau government has since restored it), Statistics Canada journey to work data was a bit of a blunt instrument.
First of all, the question measures only one mode per person per year. So those of us who use multiple modes to get to work or change our modes seasonally are not accurately represented, but instead have to choose our allegiance to a single mode.
Secondly, Statistics Canada only measures how we get to work, leaving all other trips out of the equation.
But in Vancouver, says Bracewell, commuting only accounts for about one-third of all trips. So in addition to Statistics Canada journey to work data collected every four years or so, Vancouver benefits from trip diary data collected by its regional transportation authority, Translink. This kind of data gives a snapshot of travel habits over a 24-hour period, not only how people get to work, but how they get their groceries, how they get themselves to the movies, and how they make their way to a house party or a church social.
And recently the city of Vancouver has started collecting its own trip diary data, speaking to about 2,500 Vancouverites every year. With the new annual data, “there’s a more real time ability to measure and track our journeys and the progress toward the 2040 goals,” says Bracewell.
Halifax may finally be joining the ranks of cities with upgraded transportation data. According to chief planner Bob Bjerke, the city will take on a household travel survey this fall to get a better sense of actual travel patterns of citizens. “We’re doing some work now to see if it will work to partner with Dalhousie,” says Bjerke. “We’re trying to work to get a team together to do this in the best way possible.”
Of course, there’s more to Vancouver’s recent modal shift than good data collection. The city has had an integrated mobility plan in place since 1997, with a hierarchy of modes that put pedestrians at the top and single-occupancy vehicles at the bottom. Their most recent plan, passed in 2012, introduced Vision Zero — the goal of reaching zero fatalities from street collisions.
The focus on safety has led to things like protected intersections, completely separating pedestrians and cyclists from car traffic right where most collisions occur. It’s no wonder they’ve seen such significant growth in walking and cycling.
For those who think Halifax can’t learn from the likes of Vancouver (it is, after all, a radically different place in geography, politics, and population), Bracewell points out that Vancouver didn’t start with blank slate. “We didn’t invent a lot of the things that make up Transportation 2040,” says Bracewell.
“Looking at some of the things that they do in Europe or New York City or Boston or Portland, that’s absolutely important for us to know what we want to and should do in Vancouver.”
“Halifax has a lot to learn from Vancouver and other cities,” says Bracewell, “but you still depend on your local staff, local stakeholders, local council to make the decisions and choices in relation to the challenges and context that you have.”
Dale Bracewell will be speaking at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic on Wednesday at 6:30pm, followed by a panel discussion featuring Brendan Maguire, Bob Bjerke, and Gaynor Watson-Creed. The event is hosted by the Halifax Cycling Coalition, Planning and Design Centre, Walk and Roll Halifax and the city of Halifax.