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Metro Vancouverites on the move: Walking more, taking more car trips to shop, car-pooling more

October 10th, 2019 · No Comments

Like many reporters, I just love census data and census-like data. So it was Christmas Day when TransLink released its big set of data from its 2017 “trip diary,” a massive study the agency does every five years to monitor how people are getting around in the region.

Lots of great info to ponder. Their data is here if you want to check out your own municipality. My story is linked here and text is pasted below.

One thing I was curious about was how this data matched the data that Vancouver, the city, collects. Vancouver also does a trip diary but uses a different methodology. While TransLink has 28,000 different households doing one day each, Vancouver tries to follow the same 2,000 households year after year to see how their patterns are changing. (Because Vancouverites are so mobile, they lose quite a few every year.)

The two sets of numbers showed a lot of similarities: the lowered share of the pie for solo car-driving is about the same, as is the increase in walking. But Vancouver data has noticeably higher numbers for walking and biking (Vancouver has 28.5 per cent of the share is walking; 7.3 per cent for biking. TransLink’s diary has 23.4 for walking, 3.8 for biking) and lower numbers for car passengers, i.e. car-pooling. TransLink has it as 12.4 per cent of total trips; Vancouver data is only at 4.9.

Transportation planner Winston Chou says that may be because Vancouver is still relying on people responding by landline, which skews their numbers older. They try to compensate by weighting their results, but he said they likely need to move to a different contact methods to get more young people in their sample.

In the meantime, story below.

Raphael Titsworth-Morin walks everywhere from his Fairview apartment: To work downtown, to shopping nearby, to movies or restaurants, to business meetings as far away as the University of B.C. – a 90-minute walk even at his brisk pace.

“Some of my friends find it comical the extent to which I’m willing to walk around the city,” says Mr. Titsworth-Morin, a 29-year-old web developer who moved to Vancouver four years ago from Halifax.

But he has found he prefers walking over crowded buses and rapid-transit car lines or biking. He used to commute a lot that way in Nova Scotia, but found he didn’t enjoy it so much in Vancouver when the rain is pouring and his workplace has no bike facilities. And, he mentions, his girlfriend has started walking more, too, in spite of bad knees, also because of the crowds on transit.

Mr. Titsworth-Morin is a living illustration of one of a number of trends emerging in Metro Vancouver, when it comes to how people get around the region, that were underscored when the region’s transportation agency, TransLink, released preliminary results recently of its massive “trip diary” count.

That census-like diary got people in 28,000 households over three months in the fall of 2017 to record for a day every trip they made, for what purpose and how. It was the first “trip diary” conducted in the region since 2011. The results showed the number of people walking for work, shopping, entertainment and school is up by an amount that surprised even veteran transportation planners.

“We saw very significant gains that we did not anticipate,” said Geoff Cross, TransLink’s vice-president of planning.

Walking trips went from an average of about 650,000 a day in 2011 to 1.1 million in the region. The propensity for walking is particularly high among 25- to 34-year-olds, at 100,000 trips a day, with the 35-44 group just a hair behind.

They include people such as Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, 52, who walks many days from his condo near the Granville Bridge to city hall in Mount Pleasant, graphic designer James Gemmill, 50 (South False Creek to everywhere), non-profit founder Heather Piwowar (Fairview to the West End and back), downtown office worker Karen Ho (walks home to Mount Pleasant regularly) and former city councillor Andrea Reimer (Mount Pleasant to all over the city), who said she now walks more than she used to. Like Mr. Titsworth-Morin and his girlfriend, it’s partly because the transit lines are so crowded.

“It’s gotten pretty crazy and pretty much all the major lines,” she observes ruefully.

And, while the increase in Vancouver was notable (283,000 walks a day in 2011 to 484,000 in 2017), the numbers also more than doubled in West Vancouver (7,000 to 16,000), Coquitlam (20,000 to 48,000), and Richmond (40,000 to 80,000). Even sprawling and suburban Surrey, often seen as the place of unavoidable car travel, saw walking increasing from 89,000 trips to 158,000 trips a day.

Mr. Cross said some of those gains reflect the changes many suburbs are seeing as they work to create new walkable neighbourhoods.

“There’s a lot to be said for their land-use policies and the growth around transit.”

The TransLink trip-diary study acts as a kind of vascular ultrasound done every five years on the region’s transportation veins and arteries. It allows planners to see what is working and what is not in terms of getting people out of single-occupancy cars, and showed a wealth of other trends that planners are just starting to interpret.

The share of people making trips by car went down from 59 per cent to a previously unheard-of 55 per cent – a change that prompted many initial interpretations that traffic had declined in the region.

But the absolute number of car trips and kilometres travelled soared as the region’s population increased by about 200,000 to 2.5 million. The number of people driving solo around the region jumped 14 per cent from 2011. In 2017, solo drivers made 4.4 million trips a day out of a total 7.9-million daily average in the region.

However, the number of people riding as passengers in cars increased by about 30 per cent, another surprising finding. For years before that, there had been a steady decline in car-pooling since 1994, when it accounted for a fifth of all trips. The drop led planners to discount it as a long-term factor. Current TransLink plans don’t even mention car-pooling as a strategy for reducing congestion.

The share of transit trips remained about the same, which meant about 130,000 more transit trips than in 2011, but the increase barely kept up with population growth. (Mr. Cross said the results from 2017 don’t show the huge increase in ridership TransLink has experienced the past two years as service has improved significantly.)

Biking was also flat.

The numbers reflect changes in Vancouver’s economy, as the region went from mid-recession in 2011 to booming in 2017, said Mr. Cross.

Online shopping, it appears, has not killed off anyone’s propensity for going to stores. Shopping trips increased by almost 50 per cent over those years, going from about 950,000 a day to 1.4-million. So did having-fun trips. They went up 30 per cent, to just more than a million a day.

And people are travelling more in general, for more kilometres.

Jasmine Garcha is a typical example.

Ms. Garcha, 29, is a Simon Fraser University grad and nutritionist with her own business. So she travels all over the place from where she lives in Cloverdale to meet clients or teach, including faraway Kitsilano.

Her family also owns a construction business and is doing a lot of work in North Vancouver, so she goes there sometimes to help out her father and brother. And she schedules some medical appointments there.

She can walk to one grocery store and one drugstore near her home, but, for anything more, has to go to Langley.

All of that means many trips and a lot of driving.

Ms. Garcha lived in Brisbane, Australia, recently and took transit everywhere there, because even the suburban transit lines were so numerous and so fast. But it’s nearly impossible for her to even consider transit where she is, she says.

“When I did trips into Vancouver, I used to take SkyTrain, but if I was coming back late, I didn’t want to get off and have to wait for the 502 [bus] at night.”

She – and transit planners everywhere – are hopeful that an eventual SkyTrain link to Langley might help commuters such as her and create a big jump in transit ridership. But that’s many years away.

For now, she drives everywhere, mostly by herself – as more than half of people in the region still do.

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