Great Public Transit Urban and Rural

Written by Sebastian Sadja

March 8, 2022

A West Coast Climate Action Network discussion paper by Eric Doherty – March 8, 2022
Transportation is British Columbia’s largest single source of greenhouse gas pollution – about 40% of the total. Great public transit is essential for getting these emissions trending down, rapidly, in all parts of the province. The BC government supports this goal – its October 2021 CleanBC Roadmap to 2030 update calls for reducing “distances travelled in light-duty vehicles by 25% by 2030, compared to 2020.” CleanBC puts reducing distances traveled and increasing mode shift (from private automobiles to public transit, walking and cycling) at the top of its policy list, as shown in its graphic.
Meeting the CleanBC targets will require a shift in provincial transportation policy. The government has dozens of urban highway expansion projects planned, including the four-billion-dollar plan to replace the four-lane Massey Tunnel with a new eight-lane tunnel. More than 350 organizations, including many WE-CAN members, have signed an open letter including the demand that BC “invest in affordable, accessible, and convenient public transit within and between all communities [and] reallocate infrastructure funds from highway expansion to transit and active transportation (cycling, rolling, and walking).” Recently the Capital Regional District unanimously approved a policy calling on the provincial and federal governments to reallocate funding from highway expansion to public transit, walking and cycling in Greater Victoria. Whenever you expand a congested road or highway it quickly fills up with new traffic, and the congestion gets worse rather than better. This is called induced traffic. And GHG pollution increases, even if public transit and active transportation are improved at the same time.  If we leave existing highways, roads and parking lots as they are, traffic volumes will stay close to where they are whether or not transit is improved. That is one of the paradoxes of subways and elevated metros like SkyTrain – they provide great transit service without necessarily reducing driving. When you subtract road space for cars, traffic evaporates. Two decades ago, the accumulated evidence for traffic evaporation was summarized in the Municipal Engineer paper “Disappearing traffic? The story so far.” It says when “reallocating roadspace from general traffic, to improve conditions for pedestrians or cyclists or buses… significant reductions in overall traffic levels can occur.” In fact, large reductions in traffic levels are normal with well-planned projects. However, as Dario Hidalgo, a Bogotá based civil engineer, notes “most decision – and opinion – makers are still under the impression that reducing car lanes will make traffic worse.” Vancouver’s Climate Emergency Action Plan calls for reallocating at least 11 percent of road space to “walking, cycling and transit [to] greatly reduce dependence on fossil fuels through a reduction in vehicle ownership and kilometres travelled by vehicle.” Both BC Transit and TransLink have plans for RapidBus (bus rapid transit) networks in urban and suburban areas. To be rapid and reliable, RapidBus needs 24/7 bus lanes to be reallocated from existing travel or parking lanes, which would also trigger traffic evaporation.  Reallocating road space in cities can make life more affordable, pleasant and just. Car ownership is a huge expense, and walking, cycling and rolling options throughout urban and suburban areas would relieve a financial burden for many. Protected bike and roll lanes, pedestrian priority streets and bus lanes make our cities more pleasant and healthy. Reducing transit fares, and having free or deeply discounted transit passes for youth and low income people, is also very important.

Inter-community public transit

The lack of inter-community public transit disproportionately impacts Indigenous and other peoples in rural areas. As the Union of BC Indian Chiefs asserts in their letter calling for a BC-wide public transit network, “Safe, reliable, and accessible public transit to and from First Nations communities in B.C. is essential because transportation is necessary to many indispensable components of daily life.” Reallocating money away from highway expansion could fund public inter-community bus service province-wide. To meet B.C.’s ambitious traffic reduction target, this bus network would have to be much better and more affordable than Greyhound ever was. Expanding and improving BC Transit’s modest BC Bus North network, using electric buses, is an obvious option. Passenger train service on existing tracks is also needed in the longer term. A frequent and affordable bus service between communities would make life more affordable and safer for people across B.C. People in rural areas and small towns spend a lot of money on long drives, and crashes on snowy highways are a serious threat. Because many people in cities pay to buy and insure vehicles primarily for visiting rural areas of B.C., car use in cities could be reduced by improving transit to rural areas.

Proposed Actions

  • Challenge your elected municipal councillors, regional district directors, and candidates for office to set a local target that matches or exceeds the provincial target of reducing vehicle travel 25% by 2030. Ask them to advocate for reallocating provincial and federal infrastructure funds from highway expansion to transit and active transportation (cycling, rolling, and walking). See GVAT example.
  • Thank the BC government for their ambitious target for fewer cars and 25% less traffic, and demand transportation investments that respect human rights – Amnesty International has a helpful guide.
  • Endorse and become active in the grassroots Let’s Ride campaign for a public inter-community public transit system across British Columbia –
This discusssion paper was written to correspond with the first of a four part webinar series entitled “Transportation in a Time of Climate Crisis.” A video recording will be available once the event concludes and the video is processed. If you’d like this discussion paper as a PDF, you can download it here.

About the Author

Eric Doherty

Eric Doherty

Registered Professional Planner, MCIP - Ecopath Planning

Eric Doherty, the principal of Ecopath Planning, has completed a wide range of projects for non-profit, public and private sector clients. He is skilled in assessing needs and opportunities, and finding effective solutions. Eric is also an accomplished researcher, writer and editor for web and print publication.

You may also like…

Webinar: Complete Communities

Webinar: Complete Communities

This Webinar was Held Wednesday May 25th, 4:00 PM Complete communities, also known as urban villages or 15-walkable...