Transportation Planning Challenges

Image: Traffic in Vancouver

While traditionally our transportation challenges have been to primarily address congestion, which does of course impact peoples day to day lives, it is a somewhat small and personal inconvenience in the grand scheme of things. Focusing efforts on reducing congestion invariably seems to result in creating space for more cars and in a short space of time, the congestion returns, it is not sustainable. A different approach is required. Our transportation plans must adapt to address the societal impacts of our transportation systems. The good news is that addressing these societal challenges also helps reduce the direct challenges of congestion but in a longer term way. Read on for my top six challenges we must address in part through better transportation planning.

1. Reducing our Impact on Climate Change

Source: BC ClimateLeadershipPlanDiscussionPaper.pdf

In BC, average temperature has increased, precipitation has increased, glaciers are retreating and sea level has risen. In 2013 we produced 64 Million tonnes of CO2e, 37% of which was from transportation. Cleaner fuels, electric vehicle technology and carbon capture may ultimately solve the emissions problems from our transportation sector in the long term. However, climate change needs addressed urgently! In the short to medium term, we must plan the growth of our town’s and cities better, and we must adapt existing infrastructure to make it easier to choose less polluting methods of transportation.

2. Reducing Obesity caused by Inactivity

“Obesity-waist circumference” by Victovoi — Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons —

One in four adult Canadians are obese. Since 2003, obesity has increased 17.5%. This is in part due to auto-orientated urban design making it difficult to get anywhere without a car. For example, consolidation of services, lack of sidewalks, wide roads, big box stores. By planning our transportation networks to be inclusive of all modes we can do our part to combat this problem by making it easier for more people to choose actives modes of travel and giving them amenities within acceptable walking or cycling distance from their home or place of work.

3. Reducing Poor Air Quality

“Air Pollution-Causes&Effects” by chris 論 — This file was derived from: Luftverschmutzung-Ursachen&Auswirkungen.svg. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons —

An August 2008 study on air pollution by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), entitled No Breathing Room: National Illness Costs of Pollution, said that in 2008 alone, up to 21,000 Canadians would die from air pollution — specifically, from ground-level ozone and particulate matter. While vehicle technology will improve this in the longer term, planning our communities in a manner that requires less automobile use must continue to factor air quality into our decision making process.

4. Increasing Equitable Mobility

Equitable street with space for pedestrians, cyclists, transit and cars in Amsterdam

Our transportation system has evolved to favour those with an automobile. Infrastructure improvements continue to focus priority and spending on road improvements. To redress the balance and provide a more equitable transportation system we must re-prioritize spending towards projects that support walking, cycling and transit and better meet the community’s goals.

5. Managing Population Growth


The population in BC is set to increase by approximately 1.4 Million people from around 4.7 Million now, to 6.1 Million by 2041, or about 30% over the next 26 years. Adding people to your community whilst also reducing our transportation impacts is a challenge. Growth must be focused in locations accessible by transit or in a form that makes new transit service viable, it must be mixed use, focused around neighbourhood, town and city centres with walkable amenities. Building sprawling neighbourhoods of single-family homes on the edge of town with poor transit services is a recipe for only one thing, more car trips, more emission and poor air quality.

6. Addressing Housing Expectations

“Mtlvdbhomes” by Alexcaban at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons —

​The lack of affordable housing is pushing employees further away from their places of work resulting in longer commutes. Desire to have a single family home on its own lot is also part of this problem. This form of development is car-centric and does not support sustainable modes, thus everyone drives. These homes also represent an inefficient use of space, they create far less income for the municipality per area of land than denser forms of development. To accommodate population growth in sustainable way, it must be in higher density environments that can best support transit and be sufficiently compact to enable walking and cycling. People must understand the benefits of smaller homes, being closer to work, for both themselves and the municipality. It is not for everyone of course, but to keep our cities will move more efficiently if the majority of growth is multi-family close to transit.

The Solution

It is somewhat well understood that building additional capacity for vehicles only serves to induce demand for more vehicle trips. It may provide some additional capacity for growth, but at some point, a year or two down the line, the wider road is back to congested conditions and we’re back to square one. Continual widening is not sustainable, and it does nothing to address the challenges discussed above, in many cases it only serves to exacerbate them:

  1. Reducing Impact on Climate Change — More car use doesn’t help that.
  2. Reducing Obesity Caused by Inactivity — Making it easier to drive doesn’t help that, wider roads also are less attractive to pedestrians and generally not conducive to a pleasant walkable urban environment.
  3. Reducing Poor Air Quality — More cars doesn’t help that either, with stop/start technology becoming common place there is also little argument against solving congestion to address idling. As vehicle emission technology improves, the only argument against congestion will be lost time, and if there are better alternatives then there is no argument.
  4. Increasing Equitable Mobility — Unless road improvements come with guaranteed provision for walking, cycling and transit we are not being equitable.
  5. Managing Population Growth — More capacity doesn’t really harm population growth but is an unsustainable solution to mange the transportation demands of the new population.
  6. Addressing Housing Expectations — Again, not directly related but the expectation of living in a single family home and working in the city can not be sustainable maintained.

​So obviously, part of the solution to every one of these challenges is reducing the reliance on the automobile, and that means more people walking, cycling and using transit. To create real change we need to seriously adjust our spending priorities at the municipal and provincial level. Prioritizing everything from land use planning decisions to infrastructure spending based on the ability to positively contribute to addressing the above challenges. Every decision on spending or project prioritization must be vetted through a framework that ranks projects or plans against these bigger picture challenges.

For example, creating a land use plan, population growth must be higher density multi-family housing close to existing transit, continuing sprawl will only serve to create more car trips, more GHG emissions, more driving and less walking and cycling. Developing a Transportation Plan, we should be prioritizing walking, cycling and transit improvements above road improvements to enable more car trips. If your City transportation plan focuses its budget on road improvements, it is contributing to the problem, it will maintain the status quo or worse.

Originally published at

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