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In Our View: How do we get to a future with less driving?

Province needs a clearer road map for us to follow to meet lofty goals
Traffic along Lougheed Highway in Pitt Meadows. (THE NEWS/files)

Remember how quiet the roads were around April of 2020?

It wasn’t exactly a restful quiet, as it was due entirely to vast swaths of the population hunkering down at home, either working or learning from home offices, or laid off.

But the roads were certainly quiet, and the air was shockingly clear and clean for a few months – until we gradually re-emerged, and started driving again.

That sort of quiet could return, to a certain extent, if the B.C. government is successful in one of the key goals in its new climate road map.

The province wants to reduce vehicle trips by 25 per cent by the year 2030 – less than nine years away from today!

That sounds great. Fewer cars means lower emissions, cleaner skies, and fewer traffic tie-ups for the trips we have to take. It also means a safer environment on the roads for cyclists and pedestrians of all ages, which would be nice.

But the big question is, how do we actually reduce our daily driving by that much, that quickly?

Premier John Horgan and his team need to give us quite a few more details about how they’re planning to create such a massive shift in our transportation preferences in just a few years.

There are a few obvious levers they could pull. First, it would require a massive increase in public transit, especially buses in fast-growing areas. Transit needs to be cheap, reliable, and pleasant to use. That means not just keeping the inside of buses clean, but paying a lot more attention to creating good bus shelters, given our rainy climate.

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Second, the government could take over control of density, allowing more mid-rise redevelopment closer to Vancouver and its commercial and office core. The recently proposed changes to public hearing rules for municipalities are a small part of that. A contained urban boundary with more density and more shopping and entertainment close to home would give people options other than driving – but development takes time.

The third tool is less carrot, more stick. The government could make private vehicle ownership more expensive, via insurance, taxes, or congestion charges. Those measures are sure to be unpopular, especially in outer suburbs like Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Langley, and Surrey.

We’re trying to fix a full century of car-dependent suburban development. It was convenient, it was cheap, it allowed for mass home ownership, and it’s not viable anymore. But how do we fix it fast?

More than anything, we need to see the details of this plan, and soon. Fewer trips sounds great. But people need to see the road map from here to there.