News / Vancouver

These boots were made for walking: Vancouverites increasingly go on foot

More stores and entertainment in high-density areas like Cambie and Marine provide more options to travel by foot, says planner.

Pedestrians cross Commercial Drive in 2015.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

Pedestrians cross Commercial Drive in 2015.

Vancouver’s bike lane building boom is likely behind steadily increasing numbers of cyclists, but an untold story is how the percentage of people choosing to get around by foot has also been rising.

“What I see going on right now, walking in total numbers continues to grow really strongly in the city. The mode share hasn’t grown that much but it’s always had a really big piece of the pie,” said Lon LaClaire, director of transportation for the City of Vancouver. The city’s latest transportation survey showed that just over 50 per cent of residents now get around the city by foot, bike or transit. Walking is now 27 per cent of trips, up from 25.6 per cent in 2013.

“Not only that but the distribution of walk trips across the city is changing, and  places where we never saw a lot of pedestrians we’re now starting to see a lot.”

During a council meeting on May 16, Coun. Melissa De Genova expressed frustration that a proposed congestion management strategy didn’t focus enough on the role of pedestrians and cyclists in causing vehicle back-ups.

In fact, foot traffic has grown so much on some Vancouver intersections that it is causing traffic delays, LaClaire said. The problems are happening at intersections like Cambie and Broadway where drivers used to be able to turn right, but now don’t get that opportunity because of the sheer number of people walking through the crosswalk.

Transportation planners are looking at ways to relieve the pressure, like adding advance walk signs or turn signs to try to respond to the new traffic pattern. Cambie and Broadway has gotten so busy because of the combination of the Canada Line station and several big box stores on Cambie between Broadway and 6th. Other areas, like the new Emily Carr University on 2nd and Great Northern Way, could see the same pressures in the future.

So many pedestrians now cross Cambie and Broadway that drivers often aren't getting the opportunity to turn right. City transportation planners are looking at solutions at pedestrian-heavy intersections, like advance walk or turn signals.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

So many pedestrians now cross Cambie and Broadway that drivers often aren't getting the opportunity to turn right. City transportation planners are looking at solutions at pedestrian-heavy intersections, like advance walk or turn signals.

But the increase in walking is mostly good news, LaClaire emphasized. In some areas, like Marine and Cambie, people are walking more because new high rise developments have brought grocery stores and a movie theatre.

“There’s no doubt in my mind, the walk to restaurant, the walk to shopping, this is where we can leverage a whole bunch of walk trips — if their home is near everything they need,” said LaClaire.

Transit improvements also help bolster both walking and cycling because it gives people a backup if the weather changes or they have more to carry home than they thought. Transit mode share declined between 2014 and 2015, but increased slightly between 2015 and 2016. TransLink will be rolling out more service improvements this year.

When it comes to cycling, the community that saw the biggest increase was Kitsilano, rising from nine to 11 per cent. LaClaire believes the new Point Grey bike route was what pushed those numbers up. He’s looking to see an increase in the Westside communities of Kerrisdale and Marpole, which currently have the lowest bike share at 3 per cent, when the temporary Arbutus Greenway is opened this summer and connects to the Burrard Bridge.

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