Snapshots of Integrated Transport and Land Use Planning in Canada

‘Today everyone who values cities is disturbed by automobiles’
Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961

At the World Planners Congress in Vancouver in June this year, conversations turned time and time again to the means of reducing car use and suburban sprawl. In the planning profession across the globe, the discussion is no longer about whether a reduction in car use and sprawl is necessary, but about the processes and mechanisms for making it happen. At the forefront of the discussion at the Congress was the potential for integrated transport and land use planning through, for example, smart growth, transit oriented development (TOD), mobility management, regional transport planning and investment in modes of mass transport.


This article outlines several Canadian case studies of integrated transport and land use planning. They illustrate systems and programs at regional and local levels that have some parallels in Australia, and also at institutional and development levels which are uncommon here. They also illustrate how Canadian urban planning emphasizes place over functional and disciplinary planning, and how more integrated governance and institutional arrangements can create more sustainable cities.

Translink – the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority

Sitting on a bus in Vancouver, you might see an advertisement for cycling carrying the headline ‘exercise your option’. The next time you catch a bus, you might also choose to load your bike on the bus for part of your journey. One of the reasons that transport operations are coordinated and promoted in this way in Vancouver is the multi-modal and integrated nature of physical and social structures. This coordination is rooted in the governance and organisational arrangements for transport.

TransLink (the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority, GVTA) was created by legislation in 1998 and began operating in 1999. A relatively new agency funded by petrol, parking and property taxes, TransLink is responsible for transportation demand management, planning and funding and is the guiding operational agency for public transport, roads and cycling. Thus it operates as the road, rail, bus, skytrain, ferry and bicycle agency for Vancouver region which includes 21 municipalities and has a population of 2.2 million people. Transit services in Vancouver are primarily operated by TransLink subsidiary companies.

In describing this arrangement I am not arguing that it should be copied in any Australian city. But by way of comparison it is hard to know just which of the three portfolios with transport responsibilities in the NSW State government have responsibility for increasing the share of walking and cycling trips or deciding when they will articulate a common commitment to reducing reliance on private motor vehicle use.

With the assistance of $9 million in Federal funding, TransLink is currently undertaking six showcase projects totalling $35million which all focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One of these projects involves four transit villages; the largest is the renewal of the area around Surrey Central SkyTrain (elevated light rail) Station.

Surrey Central — Transit Oriented Development (TOD)

Surrey, one of Vancouver’s outer municipalities (equivalent to Blacktown in Sydney) has an overall population of 350,000 people. The central SkyTrain station has a moderate use by passengers but is surrounded by auto-oriented retail with a large grid (400m block faces compared with 80m downtown). In partnership with the City of Surrey and local landowners, Translink are working to plan a higher density mixed use TOD with a large number of structural and urban design changes including the creation of a finer grid, a public square, the potential relocation of the adjacent bus loop, a new station entry, traffic calming, signage and lighting, and traffic signal prioritisation especially for pedestrian and cyclist crossings.

VIVA — rapid bus to light rail

On the other coast of Canada, the York Region Rapid Transit Corporation is also facilitating Transit Oriented Development. The York Region in south-central Ontario is the fastest growing region in Canada. It had a population of 750,000 in 2001 which is expected to grow to more than 1.3 million by 2026. In response to this dramatic growth the Regional Municipality of York and the York Region Rapid Transit Corporation are working in partnership on a Smart Growth policy and strategy to reduce sprawl and create compact, well-designed urban communities.

Central to this strategy is over 100km of new transit lines known as Viva. Currently these lines are served by 40ft articulated buses but from 2012 to 2022 the plan is to upgrade the entire system to light rail. The Viva system links four new Transit Villages – mixed use (residential, employment and commercial), walking/human scale TODs. The aim is to increase density and hence the potential for increased transit usage, making the transition to light rail more economically viable. According to Mary-Frances Turner, Vice-President of the York Region Rapid Transit Corporation, all development applications for the Transit Villages are assessed on basis of the question ‘is worthy of being here (an area planned for high quality public transport services)?’ Such an approach contrasts to the planning for the Liverpool-Parramatta T-way in Sydney where there has been no co-ordinated planning for densification around the T-way stops which may be one factor in its lower than predicted patronage.

Some of the technical and social details of how the Viva system works are worth noting. The name Viva was extensively researched, noting that a name needs to offer people a way to verbalise emotional attachment to public transport, as they do with the Max system in Portland, for example. All fares are paid before boarding, loading is by all three doors, vehicles are equipped with wireless internet and at the rear of each vehicle are tables with facing seats to enable socialising and business conversations to be undertaken on board.

University of British Columbia (UBC)’s TREK program

Travel demand management (TDM, or mobility management) is common practice among Universities and some other major institutions (trip generators) in Canada. One of the earliest and most successful programs is the TREK (Trip Reduction, Research, Education, and Knowledge) Program at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver.

Since 1997 the TREK Program has achieved a 35% decrease in single occupancy vehicle (SOV) trips per capita. In the same period they have increased transit (public transport) trips by 90% and decreased high occupancy vehicle trips per person by 53%. UBC’s approach has been implemented through physical changes and social programs in partnership with government agencies, public transport providers and the private sector — in other words, a comprehensive TDM approach. The central initiative of the program has been the creation of the mandatory U-Pass program for all students. The U-Pass program was initially approved by a student referendum in February 2003 and re-approved in February 2005. U-Pass provides unlimited access to bus, community shuttle, Skytrain, and SeaBus Services at $CAN22/month (approx. $AUS28/month).

The other measures of TREK are wide ranging in scope and style. Since 1997 TREK has eliminated 7,000 commuter-parking spaces (a 44% reduction) and raised the price of parking. At the same time TREK has increased the number of bicycle racks on campus to more than 500, provided bicycle lockers and free, secure bike parking in parking buildings. In September 2001 class start times were staggered in order to spread the morning peak period for public transport users and operators. Subsequent analysis showed that as a result, 12% more bus trips per day were accommodated on the same number of buses. UBC’s TREK Program has also supported the creation of the Bike Kitchen, a non-profit bike shop run by the AMS Bike Co-op where you can buy a recycled bicycle or repair your own at low cost. The UBC program illustrates what can be accomplished by large institutions that recognise their role as a major trip generator. Few comparable programs with fulltime staff employed to plan physical changes and social programs to reduce motor vehicle trips exist in Australia. A notable exception is the University of New South Wales Transport Program established in 1998 as an early greenhouse gas reduction initiative.

Image thanks to Gabrielle Kuiper

Dockside Green

Situated in the heart of the City of Victoria, BC Dockside Green is a five hectare, mixed use brownfields development (urban renewal). Dockside Green is a $380 million project currently under construction as a joint venture between Windmill Developments, VanCity enterprises and the City of Victoria (as landowner). Its sustainable transport provisions are particularly noteworthy.

The development includes a ferry terminal, a regional greenway path (for walking and cycling) and is designed to minimise car use. Windmill have committed to providing at least eight car-sharing vehicles (more than one for every 150 residential units) and more if the program is successful. None of these vehicles will use fossil fuels. They will be a mixture of neighbourhood electric vehicles (using 100% electricity with speeds around 50 to 60 km/h) and smart cars (100 mpg) that run on bio-diesel. Furthermore, Windmill are investigating the possibility of using electric bicycles as part of the program. Some of these initiatives have been at the requirement or suggestion of the municipality. What is surprising about this case study from an Australian perspective is the way in which the opportunity for transport has automatically been included among the range of sustainability measures for a large property development.

It should be noted that Canada is not perfect when it comes to integrated transport and land use planning. The Provincial Government of British Columbia has developed a proposal for the expansion of Highway 1 including the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge. Despite facing considerable public opposition and a petition signed by hundreds of planners at the World Planning Congress, it seems that the road will nonetheless be built. The challenges that disturbed Jane Jacobs in the 1960s still exist, but these snapshots from Canada show that integrated transport and land use planning to reduce car use can occur when mobility is recognised as a social policy with significant technical support and investment potential. Thoughtful and innovative institutional arrangements at all levels can enable change.

An earlier version of this article was published in the September edition of Australian Planner.

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