Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Public Transit, Highways, and the 2012 Greater Vancouver Urban Futures Opinion Survey

If you read this blog regularly, you may have come to the conclusion that I’m not a big fan of auto-oriented urban development or freeways. While this would be true for the most part, I do understand that some businesses and Port Metro Vancouver rely on a good rail, water, and road network. These businesses and the trade from Port Metro Vancouver provide good jobs for people which is important for maintaining a livable region. Besides my health, social, and accessibility concerns, my main concerns with auto-oriented development and freeways in Metro Vancouver are twofold. First, I believe that we have overbuilt our road network at a great cost because unlike every other limited resource, we do not pay a direct user-fee to use it. Placing direct user-fees on certain congested roads in the region would reduce congestion, reduce GHG emissions, and help support businesses and trade that rely on predictable travel times; all without having to spend a large amount of money on endless expansion. User-fees have been proven effective in helping people make smart travel choices all over the world and even in Metro Vancouver (crossings are down at the Port Mann and have been lower than expected on the Golden Ears). Because various levels of government have spent large sums of money on roads, this has left less money available to invest in walking, cycling, and transit infrastructure.

I’ve always believed that most people in Metro Vancouver, given the choice, would want to optimize our existing road network and invest in walking, cycling, and transit infrastructure as opposed to building more freeway.

Yesterday, I received an email about the release of the 2012 Greater Vancouver Urban Futures Opinion Survey. This large scale survey (which uses a representative sampling of people in Metro Vancouver) started in 1973 and was previously updated in 1990. The point of the survey is to “gather important information on the attitudes and experiences of the population of the region [and] examine attitudes connected to sustainable land use, including protecting the environment and responding to climate change impacts, developing complete communities, supporting sustainable transportation choices, creating a compact urban area, and supporting a dynamic economy.”

Not surprising, the number one challenge for the region as identified by the survey participants was the provisioning of health care. The number 2 issue was around traffic congestion. Interestingly enough, traffic congestion was the number 4 issue for people who live in Vancouver and 3 issue for people who live in Burnaby, but the number 1 issue for people who live in places like Langley and Surrey. It seems that in places where there are not good alternatives to driving, congestion ranked as more of a concern.

Survey participant were asked what the top priority polices should be for the region. The response in order of importance was:
1. Expanding the public transit system
2. Making more efficient use of present transportation
3. Promoting comprehensive community planning
4. Preserving the natural environment
5. Stimulating economic development

The expansion of highway was ranked at number 9 of 11 priority policies. In Langley and Surrey, the top priority policies for survey participants were to expand public transit, making more efficient use of the present transportation network, and stimulating economic development. Preserving the natural environment was ranking higher than expanding highway, even in Surrey and Langley.

This survey confirms my gut feeling that people in the South of Fraser want more public transit, would be willing to pay a user-fees for a more efficient road network, and aren’t two crazy about building more highways.

I believe the Province should introduce road pricing/tolls on all major highways in Metro Vancouver and use these fees only to maintain the road network and expand transit. Gas taxes could then be lowered as a result. With proper alternatives to driving and road pricing, traffic congestion would reduce overnight. Sadly, the Province is still in the 1960’s when it comes to transportation planning and while the region wants more transportation options, the Province seems to only want to build more freeway.

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