Could Northfield be the next Vancouver?

I’ve never been to Vancouver, BC, although it’s been on my “to go” list for a long time.  Now, even more, I’d like to visit.  Why?  Their transportation policy (and the cross country skiing in BC is excellent).

Here in Northfield, we’ve struggled to make even small changes in policy to help Northfield grow in ways which encourage active transportation, productive land use, and a viable transit system.  Even so, every policy gets challenged (or simply ignored) when a new small decision needs to be made.  Complete Streets?  Great, until a street project must be approved.  GreenStep Cities and sustainability?  Wonderful, but seldom considered.  Smart Growth Comprehensive Plan?  Super, until we try to take steps to implement it.

Vancouver, however, thinks big and has since 1997 when it approved an influential Transportation Plan which prioritized – rank ordered – modes of transportation.  Vancouver has just approved Transportation 2040 which affirms the priorities for moving people (for moving goods, etc. there are separate rankings): Walking, Cycling, Transit, Taxi/Commercial Transit/Shared Vehicles, and Private Automobiles.

The hierarchy is intended to help ensure that the needs and safety of each group of road users are sequentially considered when decisions are made, that each group is given proper consideration, and that the changes will not make existing conditions worse for more vulnerable road users, such as people on foot, bicycle, and motorcycle. Each time a new roadway is designed or an existing one changed, opportunities for improving walking and cycling will be reviewed…This is a general approach and does not mean that users at the top of the list will always receive the most beneficial treatment on every street. In highly constrained urban environments, it is not always possible to provide the ideal facilities for all users’ needs.

Even better, Vancouver links transportation and land use (“Use land use to support shorter trips and sustainable transportation choices”), does not flinch from saying the goal is to reduce auto-dependence (“Manage the road network efficiently to improve safety and support a gradual reduction in car dependence. Make it easier to drive less”) and understands that the economic vitality and emergency response must also be part of the overall plan (“Support a thriving economy and Vancouver’s role as a major port and Asia-Pacific gateway while managing related environmental and neighbourhood impacts. Maintain effective emergency response times for police, fire, and ambulance”).

Here in Northfield, we need to try to be more Vancouverish (at a scale appropriate for a community of our size/location) for the long term health (financial, physical, environmental) of the city.  

How streets got this way

Or, how the auto industry made pedestrians unwelcome by a focused marketing campaign to change consumers’ perceptions about driving, streets, etc.

I’m not interested in demonizing the auto industry here, but rather I’d like to suggest that how our community has been built or will be built in the future is not just market demand, but government regulation and funding, as well as private sector promotion to steer the market.  If that’s right and we’d like to see some change in streets and walkability, then what are the policy pieces which need to change?  It’s not just requiring sidewalks or bike lanes, but considering the broader context of how our choices have been constrained and what we need to do to make different choices easier (and more affordable).

Another strategy for making cyclists more obvious to drivers

One example of the unequal relationship

I’ve been blogging about bicycle lanes and other bike/ped infrastructure (as well as funding for constructing it), but here’s another strategy for increasing cyclists’ relative importance in the transportation system: strict liability.  This means, when a motor vehicle and bicycle collide, the motorist is presumed to be at fault and the bike/ped victim entitled to compensation unless the motorist can prove the cyclist or pedestrian caused the crash.

In any contact between car and cyclist, the cyclist loses.  The bigger, heavier, faster motor vehicles will do more damage (and its driver is protected by the vehicle body, seatbelt, air bags, etc.) to the unprotected lighter, slower rider   And, since driving requires a license (hence drivers have to meet knowledge as well as skill standards) and insurance (thus drivers have some protection from the monetary impact), why not have the law recognize the already unequal status?