Navigating the Future: Metro Vancouver’s Blueprint for Sustainable Transportation and Housing

As Metro Vancouver braces for the projected arrival of over a million new residents in the coming decade, a reimagining of regional transportation becomes imperative.

An AI generated image of a city with a train running alongside a busy road. There are a mix of skyscrapers and hoising blocks covered in vegetation

Article by Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal

I recently sat down with Bridgitte Anderson, President and CEO of the Vancouver Board of Trade and Lee Haber, Director of Strategy and Partnerships, at Mountain Valley Express, at the CityAge Vancouver Summit, to explore strategies for fostering an affordable and sustainable transportation landscape.

The Pressing Need

The challenges of transportation and housing affordability loom large across Canada, particularly in cities like Vancouver and Toronto. Despite recent Federal transit funding, inadequate housing supply constrains the full potential of investments. Amid Vancouver’s explosive population growth, there lies a profound truth: with great change comes great opportunity.

Lee Haber’s comments from the discussion in Vancouver:

The status quo won’t work if we’re going to solve these pressing issues. In this case of transit investment, the current model of seeking funds from higher levels of government cannot keep up with the level of investment needed to serve a rapidly growing population. We should be using our housing crisis to fix our transit funding crisis by using development rights to help pay for new transit infrastructure as is done in cities around the world, particularly in Asia.

On the left there is a sign which reads "The Urban Zero Challenge". To the right, three people are seated in black armchairs with microphones. They are mid-discussion
TransLink isn’t just a network of buses, trains, and ferries; it’s a testament to urban innovation

The Path Forward Lays in our Past

TransLink isn’t just a network of buses, trains, and ferries; it’s a testament to urban innovation.

Much of TransLink traces its path along historic transportation routes, echoing the city’s evolution from humble beginnings, propelling ridership in Greater Vancouver to outpace the rest of the country.

Skytrain, the largest, fully automated rail system in North America, brings with it a level of efficiency that rivals the world’s greatest transit systems. To look ahead, the industry must leverage best practices, including providing service at 2–3-minute headways, and channeling new development where it will have the highest impact: alongside the investment in premium transit services.

Addressing Challenges

Despite the robust economy, transit agencies continue to grapple with pandemic-induced challenges.

Many regions in Canada and the United States are addressing these challenges by focusing on two key strategies: (1) fostering new development near transit hubs to improve accessibility to low-carbon transportation, and (2) facilitating the use of transit with fast, frequent, accessible services replete with an enhanced onboard experience. In this digital age, access and information are essential to maintaining satisfaction and loyalty among discerning consumers. Success hinges on a holistic approach that integrates transportation and housing policies.

Miro Cernetig, CEO of CityAge commented:

As our cities grow, attracting people to public transportation becomes increasingly important. To do that you need to make their ride safe and enjoyable, which means improving the user experience in every way possible. You can do that by adding digital connectivity through reliable internet access every rider can use.

Innovative Funding Models

Investments in rapid transit – regardless of the mode – present an opportunity to stimulate ridership, fare revenue, and economic activity, provided there’s concurrent development of housing near transit infrastructure. Given Canada’s relatively low residential density, transit agencies often rely heavily on public subsidies for operations.

It’s crucial to explore alternative revenue streams, such as land value capture (LVC) mechanisms like density bonuses, which have historical precedence in Canada. Capstan Station, an infill station nearing completion on the Canada Line in the City of Richmond, offers a contemporary glimpse of how the region can leverage private development to achieve public benefit.

The funding model raised private funding from the land value uplift for the transit infrastructure necessary to make the transit-oriented development successful. Public interest was maintained throughout the design and integration of the station into the surrounding community.

Three people are seated in black armchairs with microphones. They are mid-discussion
Transportation funding cannot solely rely on farebox recovery to sustain operations. And, once built, service levels and the passenger experience must be maintained to attract and retain riders

Bringing in Leading Partners

GO Transit’s ambitious plans to expand its regional rail network can serve as an inspiring example. By partnering with a private consortium, Onxpress, GO Transit aims to achieve significant service improvements while allowing it to maintain its focus on broader transportation and housing initiatives. Onxpress will be responsible for delivering an expansion of revenue services with the goal of ultimately achieving 15-minute headways – deriving maximum value from an underutilized public asset.

What’s innovative about Toronto’s Regional Rail ambitions was the way it was procured: as a solicitation to the private sector to bring creative ideas to the table, rather than the public sector prescribing a solution.

The Greater Toronto Area guarantees fast, frequent transit service, while the province can focus on maximizing the capacity of transit-oriented development to absorb the projected population growth.

Decarbonization and Growth Can Coexist

Metro Vancouver stands at a crucial juncture in shaping its transportation future amidst rapid population growth and housing challenges. Even though transportation accounts for 26% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, the reduction of emissions goal does include some growth in transportation modes.

By embracing innovative funding models, fostering public-private collaboration, and prioritizing sustainable development, Metro Vancouver can achieve a transformative transportation landscape that meets the needs of its residents while preserving the environment.

The challenge lies in navigating the complexities of urban planning policies, market demands, and community interests to create harmonious developments that serve both public interests and financial objectives.

It’s a delicate but necessary balance to strike, to ensure the long-term sustainability and effectiveness of our transportation systems and urban environments.

A man in a suit stands at a podium with a micophone. He is gesturing with his right hand and appears to be speaking
By leveraging development to fund construction costs and prioritizing cost-effectiveness, Metro Vancouver can envision a transformative transportation future capable of meeting the needs of its growing population

Where Ideas Meet Decisions

A common theme at CityAge Vancouver was the need for community stakeholders to come together to create a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable future for Metro Vancouver. Metro Vancouver must embrace a forward-thinking approach to transportation planning, transcending conventional paradigms. Collaboration between public and private entities, coupled with innovative funding models, is crucial for realizing ambitious transportation projects.

As Michael Buda, Executive Director of the TransLink Mayors’ Council Secretariat proclaimed:

Vancouver is a city where ideas meet decisions.

With governments earmarking substantial budgets for expansion, now is the time to dream big.

This article was originally published by Icomera.


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