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Cars aren’t making Vancouver traffic worse, transportation director says

here are more pedestrians, more bicycles, more buses, more of many other things besides cars on the road in Vancouver.

Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Traffic in Vancouver is getting worse even as the number of vehicles on the road stays the same, concludes a report from the city's transportation department as it prepares to measure and tackle congestion.

"As our streets become more active, the same amount of traffic will move more slowly," Lon LaClaire, the city's transportation director, told city council on Tuesday.

And the streets are definitely being used more, he said.

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The number of filming permits is up by 2,000 from the 3,000 it was at two years ago. Permits to dig for utility lines have also jumped. There are more pedestrians, more bicycles, more buses, more of many other things besides cars on the road.

City councillors listening to Mr. LaClaire's presentation Tuesday added their own stories of problems: garbage trucks blocking streets, couriers riding their bikes down sidewalks, stories of ride-hailing services in other cities creating even more congestion problems, complaints about large numbers of delivery trucks downtown.

The overall city-traffic slowdown is something city engineers are sure is happening, because of anecdotal information that percolates into city hall.

The problem is they don't know exactly how bad it is. Current engineering traffic counts measure how many vehicles travel on a road, not how much time it is taking to get anywhere.

Statistics the department provided previously showed there was no change in morning traffic volumes on Burrard Street, Granville Street and the Lions Gate Bridge between 2011 and 2014. Traffic on Cambie Street had gone up by 4,000, to 30,000 vehicles during morning rush hour, between 2012 and 2014.

"But we're absolutely certain it has slowed down," said Dale Bracewell, a transportation-planning manager.

One of the first tasks of the congestion-management initiative will be to figure out how much time it takes a motorist to travel from A to B on major arterial roads.

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While engineers are gathering that information, they'll also be tackling some of the known problems.

One issue is intersections that have a high volume of pedestrians, combined with a poor layout, producing major delays.

One example Mr. LaClaire cited was the major intersection closest to City Hall, Broadway and Cambie.

Ever since the Canada Line opened in 2009, the intersection has become increasingly crowded with pedestrians going to and from both the station on that line and the Broadway express bus that connects to it.

Because drivers have been allowed to park on the street almost up to the intersection, anyone waiting to turn right off Broadway ends up blocking traffic behind, including the street's many buses.

The solution? Remove a few parking spots close to the intersection so that drivers waiting for the pedestrians to clear the crosswalk have a separate lane to wait in.

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Mr. LaClaire said other fixes are in the works, from low-tech efforts, such as making sure that construction and film companies with special permits are following their traffic-management plans, to new high-tech solutions.

Winston Chou, the city's traffic and data-management specialist, said technology is developing that will make it possible for engineers to monitor how fast drivers are moving along a particular street based on the signals from their cellphones.

Ultimately, one of the solutions is to persuade more people to get out of their personal-use cars altogether.

"When there's too many vehicles on the road, you can't have a functioning city," Mr. LaClaire said. "We still need to get people out of vehicles."

The city has seen some success with that. Although the city population and number of city jobs have increased, car volume hasn't. And a panel survey of Vancouver residents indicates that half of all their trips are made by foot, bike or transit.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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