Approving Transit and Transportation Plan is Crucial to Quality of Life

Posted January 14, 2015 1:57 pm by Bob Ransford

Rarely are citizens in an entire metropolitan region given an opportunity to directly approve an initiative that will enhance  housing affordability and ensure better quality of life. Metro Vancouver voters have such an opportunity with the referendum this spring to approve a comprehensive plan to expand transit and transportation infrastructure in the region, relieving congestion and ensuring we maintain our enviable quality of life.

Urban growth management, housing affordability, regional transportation and public transit are inseparable issues. Metropolitan areas are not livable places without integrated settlement patterns that consist of diverse housing types, work places and sites with services and amenities that are built on a sophisticated transportation network that makes it easy for people to move about and between places to meet their daily lifestyle needs.

Transportation networks need to be multi-modal, serving both the movement of people and goods on roads and highways, across bridges, in tunnels, along rail lines, cycling lanes and sidewalks, using bikes, cars, trucks, buses, ferries, all forms of rapid rail transit and accommodating walking trips.

Livability in a metropolitan regions is largely impacted by housing and transportation. Livable regions provide housing choices for all income and age cohorts. If you can’t find suitable and affordable housing, your life isn’t a happy one. If you are able to find relatively affordable and somewhat suitable housing, but you spend far too much of your day in the car getting to and from that housing, your life isn’t a happy one.

The price of housing is a function of supply and demand. One factor in supplying affordable housing is accessibility. If residential development sites are located too far from work places and sites with services and amenities, and dispersed at low density across a wide area, the cost of transportation becomes a factor in your shelter costs. If people must commute between widely dispersed uses and for long distances with inadequate mass transit, that means many will do so by single occupant vehicles requiring massive road and highway networks that inevitably become congested. Congestions costs time. Time costs money. Your quality of life suffers when you spend more time in your car commuting than you spend with your family or you spend enjoying other activities.

These are the simple realities that tie regional transportation and public transit to housing and urban growth management. I suspect most Metro Vancouver residents understand these realities.

A recent study headed up by Dr. Larry Frank at UBC’s Healthy and Community Design Lab surveyed 1,223 Metro Vancouver residents and asked them to choose between two scenarios — one more walkable and one more auto-oriented — in a series of illustrated neighbourhood trade-offs that defined their preferences. No surprise, two-thirds of urban residents and 40 per cent of suburban residents said they would rather live in a walkable neighbourhood, where they are able to walk to shops, food stores and restaurants– in other words, a transit-oriented neighbourhood. Less than 10 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively, indicated a strong desire to live in an auto-oriented neighbourhood, where they require a vehicle trip to access these everyday amenities.

So, answering “Yes” to the referendum should be easy for voters. The question is a simple one.

Voters will be asked whether or not they support a new 0.5 per cent Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax on all sales to be dedicated to fund a transportation and transit plan crafted by the region’s Mayors–a plan aimed at alleviating traffic congestion and maintaining that quality of life that is a function of a well-planned region that integrates transportation and human settlement.

The deliverables in the Mayors’ plan make it even more attractive to say “Yes” as they include something for everyone– meeting that multi-modal imperative. The plan will add more frequent bus service and new B-Line rapid bus routes across the region. It will increase service on SkyTrain, the Canada Line, SeaBus and the West Coast Express. For drivers, the plan is to build a new Pattullo Bridge  and upgrade the region’s major roads. South of the Fraser River new rapid transit lines will connect Surrey Centre with Guilford, Newton and Langley. Vancouver will get the new Broadway rapid transit line. Cyclists and pedestrians will also see the region’s cycling and walkway networks expanded.

Those opposing the referendum are attacking a whole bunch of straw men that have nothing to do with the big issue of improving housing affordability and ensuring better quality of life in the region. The question is not about the salaries of TransLink executives, the effectiveness of managing the transit authority nor the wisdom of the current transit authority governance model.

None of these issues have any material impact on the real pressing need to catch up with and continue to make long-term public investments in a sophisticated transportation network that makes it easy for people to move between the places they live, work, play and learn.

When you sit down and consider the question in the mail-in ballot that will be issued March 16th,  think about the future, consider how urbanism is evolving globally, and how we have established our economies internationally, nationally and locally. Think about your daily quality of life.

There is no doubt you will conclude that a robust, properly planned and well functioning urban transportation system is crucial to our individual and collective wellbeing and quality of life.







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