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Budget cuts affect green transit push in post-Olympic Vancouver

When the City of Vancouver announced in 2009 its intent to reduce vehicle traffic in the downtown area by 30…

By Niamh Scallan , in Post-Games Report: Local politics after the Olympics , on March 12, 2010 Tags: , , , , ,

When the City of Vancouver announced in 2009 its intent to reduce vehicle traffic in the downtown area by 30 percent during the Olympic Games, skepticism amongst local Vancouverites abounded. The week before the Opening Ceremonies, the city experienced only a 4 percent decrease in traffic. It seemed that few people were willing to take up the TravelSmart 2010 Challenge and leave their cars at home.

Olympic-sized success for sustainable transit

The Games have come and gone and one of the major success stories was Vancouver’s sustainable transit system. Over the 17 days of the Games, vehicle traffic was reduced by an average of more than 35 percent. TransLink reported that on Feb. 14 – the first Sunday of the Winter Games – that its transit system moved an average of 1.5 million people around the city during the Games – an increase from 730,000 trips per day prior to the Olympics.

According to a Vancouver Observer report, cyclist volumes across the Cambie, Granville and Burrard bridges saw summertime levels – approximately 5,000 cyclists rode to and from the downtown area each day of the Olympics.

In a post-Games address at City Hall last Monday, mayor Gregor Robertson told reporters about his intent to “build on the Olympic momentum” in future city projects. He referred to the enormous success of sustainable transit over the course of the Games and expressed his hopes of maintaining the level of use of alternative forms of transit.

Vancouver cyclists face budgetary roadblocks

However, despite attempts to continue the use of sustainable transit in the Metro Vancouver area, Mr. Robertson’s plan to build on the Olympic momentum to promote the use of sustainable transit may be more difficult that he hoped. The Province of British Columbia slashed $7-million from its Bike BC program at the budget speech in Victoria last Tuesday. Reduced from last year’s $10-million to $3-million, the funding cuts are likely to impact Vancouver’s cycling infrastructure plans in the upcoming year.

Regardless of the cuts, Vancouver will continue to promote the use of sustainable transit. According to a City of Vancouver website, the city’s Bicycle Network has more than doubled in size, and cycling is the fastest-growing type of transportation in the city. Just last week, a new bike lane was opened on the Dunsmuir viaduct and other cycling-related projects are in the works.

So far, the impact of the budget cuts remains to be seen – but it may be a difficult year for city councilors and engineers who will see less provincial money devoted to cycling projects.