July 11, 2012
Traffic congestion: Metro Vancouver second worst in North America for local travel
City stalled in livability lane, says columnist Jon Ferry
Jon Ferry, The Province, July 11, 2012
Vancouver may no longer be eligible for inclusion among the world's top 10 best places to live. But it can claim one distinction: It has the worst traffic congestion in Canada — and the second worst in North America, with only car-mad Los Angeles leaving it in its rear mirror.
Despite, or because of, the constant push for better transit and more biking, the roads in and around Vancouver are now more clogged than those of Miami, Seattle, Tampa, San Francisco, Washington, Houston, Toronto and Ottawa, the other top 10 contenders for the title of North America's most traffic-congested city.
At least that's according to a survey by auto global-positioning-system provider TomTom, which found the most bottlenecked road times in Vancouver were Tuesday evenings and Wednesdays mornings (perhaps, I'm thinking, because they follow our long, lazy weekends).
Amsterdam-headquartered TomTom claims its new index is the world's most accurate barometer of urban traffic overcrowding, because it's the only one based on real-time travel data along the whole road network of select cities, including their local and arterial roads and highways.
Its congestion index (tomtom.com/congestionindex) compares travel times during non-congested periods with those in peak hours.
Average trip times in Vancouver, for example, take 30 per cent longer than when traffic in the city is flowing freely — and 65 per cent longer during evening rush hour. Those in L.A. take 33 per cent longer overall and 77 per cent during the evening peak.
(The area that TomTom said it surveyed does not include the whole of Metro Vancouver. It covers a much smaller core area that includes the City of Vancouver, the University of B.C., Burnaby, Richmond, much of the North Shore, Belcarra and New Westminster and a small portion of Delta.)
Vancouver-area realtor Monique Rook, who drives more than 30,000 kilometres a year for her work, stressed Tuesday that the traffic system in our region is simply not efficient.
"It's kind of sad that a world-class city cannot get it together," she told me.
However, veteran Vancouver cabbie Reza Hashemi wasn't shocked by the survey's findings.
"It doesn't surprise me, because Vancouver is growing very fast."
Gordon Price, director of Simon Fraser University's city program, suggests that the geography of Vancouver may be a factor.
"But then, San Francisco has more or less the same conditions we do."
Price said the basic reason why North American cities such as Vancouver have become congested is because people still rely too heavily on cars.
"The thing is, they don't have a lot of choice," he added.
Price said the new Port Mann Bridge, which is to open next year, may cut congestion for a while. So may the South Fraser Perimeter Road and other road improvements in the area.
"But it just locks people into car dependence, and overall traffic congestion will just get worse again over time," he said.
In other words, we may well soon find ourselves playing congestion catch-up again.
The former Vancouver city councillor cited a city engineering report showing the amount of traffic coming in and out of downtown Vancouver hasn't changed much since 1965, despite a doubling of employment and population.
That was, he said, because the downtown now offered various transportation choices.
"And what I think the TomTom survey reflects is what's happening in the part of the region that doesn't [have those choices]."
U.S. public policy consultant Wendell Cox, however, said the push by Canadian authorities to get people out of cars and onto public transit will not reduce travel times because, for the average work trip, transit takes considerably longer.
Cox added that bicycles were not a feasible alternative.
"I mean the bicycle is fine. It's fine for college professors. It's fine for a very small niche, just like smoking a pipe is fine for a very small niche," he said. "It is not an answer for everyone."
Without proper arterial roads, he predicted in an interview Tuesday, the Vancouver-area traffic gridlock will only get worse.
Myself, I agree with Price that further transportation choice is needed.
But I also agree with Cox that, since the vast majority of daily trips in our region are made by car, we need to start focusing far more on improving our roads — before we all grind to a standstill.
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