Monday, October 3, 2011

The road back from Vancouver

Back now in Victoria, and rested from a busy Union of BC Municipalities Convention in Vancouver, where some of the issues we have in common with other municipalities have been covered in last week's blogs already.  I've got more to report out on from the conference itself, but sometimes the experience is the journey as much as the destination.

I had a chance, as always, to explore again some of the waystations along the route, where Vancouver's version of rapid transit is transforming another neighbourhood and the journey allowed me some time and some real world models to reflect upon as we work through our own transportation challenges in the Capital Region.

As often as I can, I'll ride to and from events and conferences, easy enough between Victoria and Vancouver where the trip can be shortened using our transit and ferry systems on both sides of the water.  (Lucked out traveling on the Spirit of Vancouver Island where two of "my" bike racks sit on the car deck, but that's another story:   It's often a great way to get in a good, refreshing ride, add some training miles to my itinerary, and delivers a variety of other personal and community benefits along the way.

It's so much cheaper to travel by bike and transit, a positive on the expense ledger that conference travel adds to a councillor's public accounts.  I probably eat a bit more (chocolate benefits), but it's still far below the cost of traveling by car or by floatplane.  The plane might be quicker, a car not much more so, but for a week long conference and the opportunity to explore, there's so much added value to traveling by bicycle.

The most current of those values showed up soon after I left the hotel downtown (I've got a favourite that let's my bike into the room), as I meandered along to Cambie St. after the requisite visit to see how Hornby and Burrard bike lanes are performing (and they are showing good signs of growing bicycle traffic and comfortable enough adaptation for everyone else). 

Cambie was turned upside downtown for several years while the Canada Line was constructed and the Olympics came to town.  Use of the new rapid transit connection ramped up pretty quickly and has been enthusiastically embraced by residents and visitors alike.  A good service creates its own successes and Vancouver's model proves the point so well.

It's not the first time I've taken time to watch the neighbourhood reinvent itself, but this time, instead of heading straight for the ferry, I took more time out to circle around. perhaps the pivotal station along the line, a few blocks west of the southeast False Creek Olympic Village, a few blocks north of city hall and now an anchor for much new and positive development that is adding value to the landscape and opening up the neighbourhood for a more diverse mix of land uses and transportation choices.

Business and commercial space is going up, and not just low value, single story developments, but even some of the bigger retailers that might have fled to the suburbs are there taking advantage of access to rapid transit, and as well the pattern of settlement density better transit is clearly a catalyst for.   Residential is piling up on top of some of the commercial developments and nearby, more townhouse and neighbourhood residential scales down from the transit hub.  Bike lanes and path connections, bicycle priority treatments and everywhere more space for pedestrians all provide for a more diverse and sustainable menu of transportation options.  Still, there is a lot at the transit station for park and ride commuters and on-street parking, though not everywhere on every street, seems adequate to support driver demand.

There's a vibrancy back in this part of the city, no doubt less in evidence while transit was blazing its path through the corridor.  Still, over the sequence of trips I've made back and forth, the trasnformation of the hub appears to have been quick and dramatic.  It's useful understanding that the introduction of rapid transit, in whatever form, may be disruptive and needs to be well managed during construction, but also that the recovery can be dramatic and immensely positive.

Also worth noting is our own city history here in Victoria, where we have been shaped as much by the streetcar systems of the early 20th century.  The neighbourhood villages, not to mention our well to do neighbours in Oak Bay, owe their existince to the LRT of the day.  It's a hot topic on some of the chat forums, as it should be.  We need so much to be looking at not just the speed and flow of our circulatory systems, but also at the health of the community around it.  Current models of transportation and community design that are so thoroughly focused on auto transport are showing signs of ill-health - nobody is coming downtown because we have the best dollar store, the tastiest single slice pizza or the fastest slurpee.  What we most need is a better transportation and development model, and it's one where LRT is increasingly, clearly, the right choice. 

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