A few years back, Vancouver made an ambitious projection: by 2021, the city hoped, 18 percent of all trips in the city would be on foot or bicycle.

But as this Vancouver Sunarticle shows (subscription may be required), city residents have already left that projection in the dust. Based on figures for 2004 and 2005, between 27 and 32 percent of all trips in the city are taken courtesy of shoe leather or bike tires—more than any other North American city, with the exception of the Big Apple. Apparently, Vancouver’s approach to transportation and land use—promoting compact neighborhoods close to downtown, and treating walking, biking and transit as worthy transportation options—is having its intended effects.

But the news gets better.

  • Not only are walking and biking up, but car traffic actually seems to be on the decline. Taking all modes (walking, transit, cars, etc.) into acccount, trips across city limits increased by 23 percent over the past decade. But vehicle traffic across the city limits declined by 10 percent. That is, there are more people getting into and out of Vancouver than ever before—but a declining share of those trips is being taken by car.

    That’s not to say there aren’t transportation problems looming. The biggest one: transit ridership on some routes is outgrowing capacity. On some routes, even running one bus a minute leaves some potential riders standing in the rain, waiting for a bus that isn’t already overcrowded. Which may be one reason that walking and biking have gotten such a big boost—some people are undoubtedly finding that walking is the most convenient transportation option.

    It’s worth remembering in all of this good news that it applies only to the city of Vancouver itself, not to the surrounding region. The rest of greater Vancouver may be doing ok (especially compared with suburban Seattle and Portland). But while I don’t have comparable figures outside the city proper, I imagine the car remains the dominant commuting choice in the Vancouver region overall.

    Despite that quibble, this is genuinely good news, and an example the kinds of changes that enlightened planning (and tough choices) can make possible over the long term.