During the Winter Olympics, the city of Vancouver, BC, conducted an urban transportation experiment with remarkable results. Car travel in downtown dropped by 30 percent, while transit ridership rose to more than twice normal levels.

All it took was lane and bridge closures and new parking restrictions, combined with expanded transit service and public outreach to encourage transit use.

Inspired by this success, Vancouver City Councilor Geoff Meggs has proposed that two of the City's viaducts should be taken down and replaced with smaller surface streets. As quoted in the Vancouver Sun, Meggs said,

"If you said a few years we were going to close the viaducts, people would have said that would paralyse the city ... we've seen it, experienced it now, so people know what we're talking about."

Yes, "paralyse the city."  That's a phrase that should be familiar to anyone who's been following Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement debate and the proposed Surface/Transit/I-5 option (S/T/5). Even though the city's transportation consultant provided a detailed plan for how it would work, and even though the plan was signed off on by the city, county, and state departments of transportation, and even though there are multiple examples of how traffic patterns adjust and are accommodated when freeways are removed, the myth that S/T/5 would cause gridlock persists.

Vancouver---often cited as one the most sustainable and livable cities in North America—has been working on a long-term strategy to reduce car dependence, and they are making progress. As the graph below illustrates, the number of vehicle trips dropped by seven percent over ten years. During that same period, trips by all modes grew by 23 percent.

In recent years, the model of balanced transportation that Vancouver is embracing has begun to penetrate policy at the state level. For example, Gov. Chris Gregoire's Executive Order 09-05 directs the state transportation department to:

"...develop and adopt regional transportation plans that will, when implemented, provide people with additional transportation alternatives and choices, reduce greenhouse gases and achieve the statutory benchmarks to reduce annual per capita vehicle miles traveled..."

But on the biggest transportation decisions, our actions are not reflecting these goals. The state's current proposals for the deep-bore tunnel, the 520 bridge, and the Columbia River Crossing are all in direct conflict with making progress towards reducing vehicle miles traveled. What would Vancouver do?
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