Last week, Daniel had the opportunity to visit Vancouver to represent Walk Bike Nashville at the Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place Conference. The conference, held every two years, hosts over 1,000 active transportation professionals, advocates and leaders to connect ideas and showcase examples of connecting walkability and bikeability to public places and community.
The conference sessions were full of case studies from cities across North America where better walking and biking infrastructure is being developed to make better places. The highlights of the conference, though, were the walking tours of Vancouver with planners and officials that connected the ideas of the conference with the real life decision making processes of development and places.
So What Makes Vancouver So Great?
In addition to a gorgeous spell of weather (70s and sunny every day!), the city of Vancouver boasts one of the highest quality of life rankings globally, a bragging right that is in no small part due to city design that encourages people to get out of their cars to walk, bike and experience the city.
The city’s goal has a firm goal to achieve 50% of all trips by walking, bicycle or transit by 2020. They achieved this in 2015, so they are moving the bar higher. So how are they doing it? It has a few things to do with the following:
1. Yearly implementation reports. These reports track specific infrastructure improvements like added protected bikeways, greenways and pedestrian improvements that are suggested in long-term planning. These reports are absolutely essential to keeping track of and achieving goals.
2. Data Tracking. When you bike around Vancouver, you will see places where counts are being taken for bike and foot traffic. I biked by one such “Eco Counter” that displayed over 3,500 bikes having past just for that day. They also survey residents annually and assess other data sources like census to add to annual reports.
3. Public Placemaking. One of the themes of the conference, “placemaking,” is the idea that public areas can be made vibrant and attractive destinations through specific planning, design and management of spaces to attract people to walk, bike and congregate in them. Vancouver has put a lot of investment into public art, landscaping and private partnerships.
4. Public Transit. Vancouver continues to support a very robust public transit system that includes buses, light rail and ferries. People who use public transit will naturally use active transportation to get to or from that transit and their destinations.
5. Bike Share. They just introduced Mobi, their public bike sharing program. Although it took a while to implement, they rolled out with 1,500 bikes and 150 stations. By comparison, Nashville has only 33 stations with a few hundred bikes to cover an area of about 10 times the size.
6. Vancouver recognizes that active transportation means better business, a more sustainable future and happier, healthier people. Vancouver certainly had and continue to have their conflicts over planning for active transportation, but the general understanding of the greater benefit pervades the public and private sectors.
While Nashville is structurally different than Vancouver in many ways, people in both cities want an economically vibrant, safe and healthy place to live. It is extraordinarily useful to get the opportunity to go to conferences like Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place and experience lessons from other cities like Vancouver who are leaders in creating cities where we not only live, but where want to live.