A new protected intersection completely separates vehicles from pedestrians and cyclists, at Cornwall and Burrard in Vancouver
A new protected intersection completely separates vehicles from pedestrians and cyclists, at Cornwall and Burrard in Vancouver

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.

Dale Bracewell, manager of Active Transportation for the City of Vancouver.
Dale Bracewell, manager of Active Transportation for the City of Vancouver.

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.

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  1. John – have you used the lInk buses? The 159 is a commuter’s dream – 20 to 25 minutes from Portland Hills to Scotia Square with three stops in between. You could probably drive it that fast, but then you’d have to find parking and pay for it. We need more of that.

    1. This is exactly the issue. Lots of talk and surveys and civic planner navel gazing meanwhile stupidity prevails in development decisions.

    2. You have detailed one bus, but urban HRM has sprawled in an ungainly manner. One needs to adequately service the majority of high density locations and provide better options for shift workers and late night operations. I live 27 minutes from Scotia Square, but if I Park and Ride at Halifax Exhibition Park, it would take me over an hour to get to the same location and the service is not 7/24. Not much good for the Prospect Road commuters, eh? For example, to attend a 2 hour meeting at City Hall, one would have to give up more than a half of a day instead of 3 hours, and even longer if it were a night time Council session.

  2. All cities with high rates of active transportation usage have one thing in common; on or more methods of fast transit. Without fast transit, there is little incentive for vehicle drivers to park their vehicles and ride public transit services. We have a wonderful system of “milk run” bus services that have way too many stops when getting to the downtown core. Without a subway system Halifax and the greater urban area cannot get the job of efficiently moving the the public quickly because the existing road network is too narrow in bandwidth with too many choke points and too few fast routes into the downtown core. At some point HRM will have to stop nibbling at the problem and commit to spending some real cash on a truly effective solution. One can change the routes of the buses all one wants, but they are limited by the speeds they must travel and the number of stops they must make along the way.

  3. Finally, dragged kicking and screaming, HRM mavens will be told how they’ve missed the boat and deliberately damaged some of the region’s best hopes for effective Public Transportation by allowing money-grab «development» to CHOKE virtually every important route and intersection and saddling us with totally-ridiculous jack-knifing running-empty, monster busses and rider-antagonistic tropical-style, walk-through-ankle-deep- slush terminals cf. the «new and improved» Lacewood Terminal WRONG place; STUPID design.

  4. Changes towards more active transportation models and use of transit come from a much more progressive civic infrastructure plan than we see here in Halifax. The approach here still is to give dominance to cars and everything else is based on minor accommodations. There is no need to do more surveys. We know what the issue is: too many cars carrying two few people. You get more people using transit by discouraging use of cars. It is not rocket science.