Responding to Homeless People’s Urgent Needs During the Pandemic.
People experiencing homelessness or inadequate housing, and the organizations that serve them, face special challenges from contagious diseases such as COVID-19. Everybody benefits if we can reduce infection disease risks to homeless residents. This column describes ways to reduce these risks, in the short term by improving homelessness services and emergency housing facilities, and over the long term by eliminating homelessness.
According to the Point in Time Homelessness Survey, on a typical night about 1,500 people in the CRD are homeless, and many lower-income households live in unhealthy, crowded or insecure housing.
People experiencing homelessness or inadequate housing, and the organizations that serve them, face special challenges from contagious diseases such as COVID-19. Homeless people tend to be vulnerable to infections due to a combination daily stress, poor nutrition and chronic diseases. They often lack resources for basic hygiene such as sinks, clean toilets, and opportunities to bath and clean clothes. They are often in crowded conditions. In addition, many homelessness services volunteers are vulnerable to diseases due to health conditions or age, and so cannot help during infectious disease outbreaks.
Many organizations are reducing their services. Our Place is closing down its drop-in space, computer lab, courtyard, hygiene, and clothing area. Cool Aid is closing its dental clinic and community centre. This reduces risks to clients, staff and volunteers, but leaves critical gaps.
Public health officials advise people exposed to or infected by contagious diseases to stay home and minimize contact with other people. Quarantines are difficult enough for people with stable homes and reliable incomes; they are virtually impossible for people who are homeless or living in crowded or unhealthy homes. If they do become infected, they will need to stay in hospitals, using scarce beds, adding stresses and costs to overburdened public health services.
Everybody benefits if we can reduce infection disease risks to homeless residents.
What Is Currently Being Done in This Region
Homeless service providers are acting to reduce infection risks, including more frequent cleaning of their facilities and equipment, and providing information and support to their clients. The City of Victoria is working to develop emergency housing and healthcare for the unhoused through the retrofitting of underutilized facilities to allow for social distancing, proper care, harm reduction and recovery.
Other communities are implementing specific actions. The Los Angeles Union Rescue Mission is installing sinks at homeless shelter entrances. It is also creating quarantine areas to care for potentially infected clients who don’t require hospitalization. King County, WA bought a former 85-bed motel to provide quarantine housing for homeless people.
What More is Needed
Homelessness service providers need more funding to maintain their services and purchase additional resources required to respond to this crisis. Below are some specific ways to help.
Donate money to organizations that provide services to homelessness people and families in need (see options below).
If you are low risk (healthy and relatively young), volunteer to help homeless service providers.
Join a community care network that helps people who require assistance, such as shopping for isolated seniors (e.g., COVID-19 Coming Together).
Too often, affordable housing advocates treat potential allies as adversaries. They accuse developers of being “greedy” and oppose policy reform that could significantly increase the moderate-priced infill development we desperately need.
For example, recently a very nice member of an advocacy group I work with argued that it is futile to raise allowable densities and reduce parking requirements because developers only build for “rich people,” with a sneer suggesting that “rich people” are undesirable vermin. Is that statement true? Let’s investigate.
Of 94 condominiums currently listed for sale in downtown Victoria, most (51) are priced under $600,000 and so can be considered affordable to moderate-income ($50,000-100,000 annual income) households.
Most of the higher priced units (over $600,000) are in new buildings, while most moderate-priced ($300,000-600,000) units are 5-15 years old. Almost all are in concrete high-rise buildings and include at least one parking space. Prices tend to be significantly lower in low-rise buildings located in residential neighborhoods. For example, in Vic West there are currently 125 condominiums priced under $600,000, starting at $235,000 for a 758 sf unit with underground parking.
Even if new homes are initially too expensive for low-income households, building moderate-priced housing tends to increase lower-income affordability through filtering, as some occupants of lower-priced units move into the new homes, and over time as the new units depreciate in value. According to recent research, building market-price apartments causes a kind of housing musical chairs, as households move into new units; for every 100 new market-rate units built, approximately 65 units are freed up in existing buildings, including 20-40 units affordable to lower-income households.
Below are income equivalencies, assuming that living in a walkable urban neighborhood allows a household to save $5,000 annually on transportation, that wood-frame multi-family with unbundled parking is $100,000 cheaper than a downtown highrise with underground parking, and prices decline 20% after a decade. This indicates that if a $500,000 new suburban house requires a $84,000 annual income, a downtown highrise is affordable for $68,000 income households, a condo in a wood-frame low-rise building with unbundled parking is affordable to $51,000 annual incomes, and after a decade these become affordable to 20% lower incomes.
Affordable Income Equivalencies for $500,000 Suburban Home
Downtown With Parking
Residential Neighborhood Unbundled Parking
After a decade
Policy reforms, such as those described in Our Affordable and Inclusive Neighborhood Plan would allow developers to build more affordable homes. Let me mention another relevant example which shows that, when development densities are restricted, the lowest priced units are the first to be eliminated. In 2003 a developer proposed the Bohemia and Castana, a pair of three- and four-story mixed-use buildings with 71 residential units, a third of which were to be moderate-price rentals, in the Cook Street Village. The city rejected the proposal due to local residents’ objections to what they considered the project’s excessive size, although the area already has several four-story apartment buildings. Instead, the developer constructed a three-story building with 51 condominiums but no rentals. In a city with nearly 50,000 houses, 20 fewer moderate-priced rental units is too small to notice, but if this is typical, it indicates that community resistance reduces affordable infill housing development by 40% compared with what the market demands.
The Castana Building was planned with 20 moderate-priced rental apartments, but these required a fourth story. The three-story limit eliminated these affordable units.
Of course, some households require subsidized homes. Thanks to the good efforts of housing advocates, community organizations and government agencies, we have increased social housing development from 100-200 up to 200-400 annual units, but even this higher rates only satisfies about 10% of our total housing need. The majority of moderate-priced housing must be built by commercial developers.
This analysis indicates that, given the opportunity, developers will build moderate-priced housing that increases both moderate- and lower-income affordability. We need lots more of of such housing.
Our region grows at 4,000-6,000 new residents annually, and so needs to add 2,000-4,000 new housing units to keep up with demand and drive down prices. According to our Regional Housing Affordability Strategy, by 2038 the region needs approximately 10,000 new units priced under $875 per month, about 7,500 priced at $875-1,375, plus more than 17,000 priced above $1,375.
This analysis indicates that it is inaccurate and unfair to assume that developers only build housing for the rich. Given the opportunity, developers will build lots of moderate-priced housing in walkable urban neighborhoods, which increases affordable for lower-income households by freeing up existing lower-priced units. If we consider developers allies, we will support policy reform that increase moderate-priced development. But, as long as affordability advocates see developers as adversaries, and fail to support policies that allow more moderate-priced infill, development will continue to lag behind our regional needs, and much of the new housing added will be in sprawled, automobile-dependent areas where transportation is costly.
Cities for Everyone is an independent community organization that advocates for more affordable and efficient housing and transportation options in the CRD. I am writing to support the Cook Street Plaza development proposed at the corner of Johnson and Cook streets because it can help achieve our community goals.
Many low- and moderate-income households in our region spend more than is affordable on housing and transportation. The CRD Regional Housing Affordability Strategy estimated that by 2038 the region needs approximately 10,000 new rental units priced under $875 per month, 7,419 priced at $875-1,375, plus 17,060 priced above $1,375. Social housing can serve a portion of unmet needs, particularly for the lowest-income households, but the rest must be met by building more moderate-priced market housing, which provides affordable housing for moderate-income households, and makes more lower-priced housing available through filtering, as some existing occupants of lower-priced homes move into the new units.
For affordability, health and environmental sake, it is important that most new housing be located in walkable urban neighborhoods where residents can minimize motor vehicle travel and rely on resource-efficient travel options. Residents of compact, multimodal communities:
The Cook Street Plaza has many features that help achieve these community goals. It includes 211 new homes, of which 104 will be affordable to moderate-income households earning $40,000-100,000 annual income, plus locally focused retail, a purpose-built childcare facility for up to 75 children, bicycle facilities, a new transit shelter, on-site carsharing, greenspace (including children’s play areas) replacing large parking lots, and energy efficient design features. The project is participating in BC Housing’s HousingHUB Affordable Homeownership Program, which results in below market prices with future value gains (predicted to total more than $5 million) returned to Victoria’s Housing Reserve fund. This project can provide an example and inspiration for the development of thousands of more moderate-priced housing units in walkable urban neighborhoods.
To achieve our community goals, Victoria must grow up! Our region needs a lot more moderate-priced housing to serve the unmet needs of moderate-income families, and free up existing homes for lower-income households. Much of this housing should be in mixed-use developments located in walkable neighborhoods, close to downtown, with minimum parking supply and useful community amenities. We therefore encourage City Council to approve the additional height and density, and reduced parking requirements needed for this project.
Cities for Everyone advocates for more affordable and inclusive housing and transportation options in our region. We are glad that Victoria is developing New Generation of House Conversion Regulations designed to allow more infill housing to be built in our residential neighborhoods. This is an important and timely initiative. Abundant research indicates that residents of compact urban neighborhoods drive less, save on transportation costs, are safer and healthier, produce less pollution, consume less land, and have better economic mobility (chance that a child born in poverty becomes economically successful as an adult) than they would living in automobile-oriented areas. As a result, residential infill helps achieve our community’s economic, social and environmental goals.
Cities for Everyone advocates the “1.5% Solution” which means that residential neighborhood housing supply should increase by approximately 1.5% annually to match regional population growth rates, in order to accommodate growing demand, increase affordability and achieve other community goals. According to analysis of Victoria’s building approvals, most neighborhoods are adding far fewer homes than needed to achieve this target, as shown below.
The proposed Next Generation House Conversion Regulations can help achieve neighborhood growth targets by reducing the costs and impediments to property owners of adding more housing units. We therefore support the proposal and encourage the city to adopt the “sprint” (strongest) option because it would allow:
Conversions in zones that currently restrict them.
Garden suites with conversions.
Additions that create new floor area.
Delegated authority for parking variations.
Below are some specific comments and suggestions about this proposal.
We see little justification to limit conversions to houses built before 1985, since some newer houses are suitable for expansion. Many newer houses are large and were designed for easy conversion, using adaptable housing guidelines such as CMHC’s FlexHousing standard, which allows houses to be upgraded, expanded, divided into extra units, and adapted to new uses.
The proposed maximum heights (7.6 metre and 2.5 stories) are likely to prevent some potential house conversions. We recommend that this be increased, particularly for corner lots and larger lots where there are fewer impacts on neighbors.
The proposal only marginally reduces off-street parking minimums. For example, it still requires 0.7 spaces for a small 450 square foot unit 1.0 spaces for a 700 sf unit, although 20% of Victoria households are car-free, and the city wants to discourage car use and increase housing affordability. Many jurisdictions are eliminating parking requirements, or requiring unbundling(parking rented separately from apartments) so car-free households are no longer required to pay for parking spaces they don’t need. Note, eliminating parking requirements does not eliminate parking, it simply allows property owners to decide how many off-street parking spaces to provide based on their specific needs. In many situations, off-street parking requirements actually reduce the number of parking spaces available to residents because each driveway displaces one on-street space. Most residential driveways only serve one vehicle and are only occupied part-time. As a result, adding an off-street space reduces the number of parking spaces available to neighbors. Off-street parking significantly increases development costs, increases impervious surface area and stormwater management costs, and driveways create obstacles to pedestrian, particularly wheelchair users. We therefore recommend eliminating parking minimums altogether, or be significantly reduced, and eliminated where a new driveway would serve just one vehicle.
We would also like to ensure that residential garage spaces can be converted to living space, as many newer houses have ground-level garages that are not used to store motor vehicles and are well suited for suites with wheelchair/ disabled access.
The proposal emphasizes the importance of preserving heritage buildings. This is desirable but should be balanced with other community goals. As the proud owner of a 1905 designated heritage home I can report from personal experience that such housing is costly to maintain and operate, and can never be as energy efficient as new housing. Not every older house deserves preservation, and to achieve our affordability and environmental goals heritage preservation should be matched with higher allowable densities on other properties. For example, if 20% of houses in an area are preserved for their heritage value, this constraint on infill development should be offset by increasing allowable densities by 20% on other properties, for example, raising maximum building heights from 2.5 to 3.0 stories.
To reduce development costs and delays, particularly for smaller infill projects, we encourage the City to delegate project approval decisions, such as reduced parking requirements, to qualified staff.
On a related issue, we note that many areas designated for multi-family housing in Victoria’s Official Community Plan (OCP) have not be upzoned to allow the density and height required for such housing. We therefore ask the city to upzone all areas designated in the OCP for multi-family housing to accommodate those targets.
With smart policies we can achieve emission reduction targets and other community goals
21 November 2019
By Todd Litman, Cities for Everyone
For submission to the Times Colonist Comments
Enough protests! Enough talk! It’s time for action to reduce climate emissions.
Our region has ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, including a Provincial target to reduce emissions 40% by 2030, and a CRD target to reduce emissions 61% by 2038. With smart policies we can achieve these targets in ways that provide other important benefits.
Transportation and buildings are our region’s two largest household emission sources (see graph). There are effective ways to reduce these emissions that also achieve affordability, health, economic opportunity and local economic development goals.
As individuals we can choose cleaner vehicles, drive less, and make our homes more energy efficient, but to be successful we need local policies that support efficient transport and development. Below are ten polices recommended by Cities for Everyone, a local advocacy group, which we believe can achieve our emission reduction targets and provide other important benefits.
Accelerate public transit improvements. Our regional transit improvement plan, called Transit Futures, is terrific except for its 25-year timeline. Let’s implement it by 2025.
Improve interregional public transit. We need convenient, frequent and affordable transit services connecting Victoria with Nanaimo and Vancouver.
Improve active transport (walking and bicycling). Walking and bicycling are a critical component of an efficient transportation system. Most local jurisdictions have active transport plans, but their implementation is slow. Complete them by 2025.
Support Transit Oriented Development. Most new housing and jobs should be located in walkable neighborhoods along frequent transit routes where it is easy to get around without a car. Any household, including those with lower incomes, should be able to find suitable housing in a transit oriented development.
Allow more compact infill. Currently, most residential neighborhoods only allow low-density housing, which is more expensive and consumes more land and energy than townhouses and low-rise apartments. Upzone residential neighborhoods to allow more compact, affordable development.
Implement Transportation Demand Management. Governments can require large employers to have Commute Trip Reduction programs, and apply other strategies that encourage resource-efficient travel.
Significantly reduce parking minimums. Our current policies require developers to subsidize vehicle parking, which is costly, inefficient and unfair. Experts call this a “fertility drug for cars.” Many cities are reducing or eliminating parking minimums, so households no longer forced to pay for expensive parking facilities that they don’t need.
Encourage electric vehicles. Develop more public recharging stations to encourage electric vehicle use.
Make buildings more energy-efficient. Accelerate Step Code standards, so all new construction is state-of-art building efficiency, and support retrofits of existing homes and commercial buildings to increase energy efficiency.
Improve compact building design. Support professional development programs and contests to encourage better design of compact and efficient buildings.
This is a bold but feasible program that if fully implemented could achieve our goals and provide other benefits. The costs of these policies is small compared with what governments, businesses and families now spent on roads, parking, vehicles and fuel. Their costs can be repaid many times over with future savings and benefits, including infrastructure and transportation savings, improved safety and health, better mobility for non-drivers, local economic development, and environmental protection.
This is not a “war on cars.” A more efficient transport system benefits motorists by reducing congestion and crash costs, and chauffeuring burdens.
What do we want? More efficient and affordable communities! When do we want them? Now!
Cities for Everyone is an independent advocacy organization that supports more affordable housing and transportation options in the Capital Regional District. For more information visit www.citiesforeveryone.org.
The District 61 School Board is considering giving a 60 year lease to the Capital Region Housing Corporation for a parcel of currently unused land between Vic Highschool and Chambers Street, to build the Caldonia Project which will include 155 affordable housing units.
Cities for Everyone recently sent letters to the District 61 School Board and the Victoria City Council in support of this project.
This type of development provides significant benefits to residents and communities. Compared with living in suburban areas, residents of compact, walkable urban neighborhoods:
Some critics argue that the Caledonia Project will reduce greenspace, harm the community, and be unfair to Victoria High students. These arguments are incomplete.
Compact developments, such as the Caledonia project, minimize per capita land consumption, both directly, because townhouses and apartments use little land per household, and indirectly by reducing automobile ownership and travel, which reduces the amount of land that must be paved for roads and parking facilities. The figure below from our previous blog, Seeing the Urban Forest for the Trees, illustrates this effect: a typical household living car-free in a townhouse or apartment only uses about 680 square feet (sf) of land, compared with an estimated 6,200 sf if it occupies a suburban house and owns two cars, including land used for housing, roads and parking facilities. As a result, the Caledonia project displaces far less greenspace than if those households living in suburban, automobile-dependent areas.
It is also incomplete to argue, as critics do, that this project is unfair to students. Although, Victoria High has less greenspace per student than most other schools, it does have two large sports fields, plus gardens and lawns, and nearby parks. There is no evidence that students there are disadvantaged by inadequate greenspace. On the other hand, students, particularly those from lower-income households, are much better off if they can live in walkable urban neighborhoods within convenient walking distance of their schools. This increases their physical activity and fitness, their ability to participate in school activities, and their economic mobility (chance that a child born in a lower-income will become more economically successful as an adult).
During the last century, school site size requirements have increased, resulting in school sprawl, since only urban-fringe locations have sufficient land. Although students at urban-fringe schools may have larger sports facilities they are less likely to walk and bicycle to school. In recent years, transportation engineers and school planners have started to advocate for more flexible requirements and creative designs that result in smaller, more centrally-located schools within walking distances of students’ homes.
The Caledonia Project is a win-win opportunity. The School District will benefit from additional revenue, lower-income households will benefit from affordable housing in a walkable urban neighborhood, and students who live there will particularly benefit from their proximity to our excellent local schools.
The District will host an open house to consult on this project:
Now what? How can we achieve our emission reduction targets in ways that also support other economic, social and environmental goals?
Cities for Everyone has solutions! Our transportation and neighborhood development action plans can achieve our region’s emission reduction goals, and provide other economic, social and environmental co-benefits.
Accelerate regional transit plan implementation. Implement the regional Transit Future plan in ten rather than 25 years. Increase transit funding by 50-100% ($125-250 annual per capita).
Improve interregional transit connections. Provide frequent and affordable transit service from Victoria to Duncan/Nanaimo and Vancouver. Coordinate planning and services among provincial and regional agencies.
Improve active transport (walking and bicycling) conditions. The CRD has a Regional Pedestrian & Cycling Masterplan, and local governments are improving walking and bicycling conditions, but implementation is slow due to inadequate funds. Increase active transport program funding by $50-100 annual per capita.
Implement Transportation Demand Management (TDM) programs. Local and regional governments can Implement TDM strategies and require TDM programs by large employers, as proposed in the CRD’s TDM strategy.
Transit Oriented Development. Coordinate transit improvements and local policy reforms to create compact, walkable neighborhoods along frequent transit. Peer communities, including Edmonton, Hamilton and Saskatoon, have TOD guidelines and incentives.
Eliminate or reduce minimum parking requirements and develop programs to more efficiently manage parking. Many cities are eliminating or significantly reducing parking requirements, so residents are no longer required to pay for parking spaces they don’t need.
Encourage electric vehicles. Develop recharging stations. Encourage electric vehicle purchase.
Encourage efficient commercial transport. Develop freight transport management plans and programs.
Pre-zone areas designated for multi-family in the Official Community Plan (OCP). This will reduce infill development costs, increasing moderate-priced project feasibility.
Allow an additional story for corner lots, larger lots (at least 1,000 square meters), and on busier streets (arterials or subarterials). These are locations where taller buildings have less impact on neighbours.
Exempt moderate-priced housing from inclusivity mandates. This encourages developers to build more moderate-price units, which directly increases affordability for moderate-income households, and for lower-income households through filtering.
Reduce fees and approval requirements for smaller and moderate-priced infill developments, since these are the projects we most need.
Reduce or eliminate parking requirements and require or encourage unbundling (parking rented separately from housing units), so residents are not forced to pay for parking spaces they do not need. Many cities are doing this now to increase affordability, allow more compact development and reduce traffic problems. See: Progress on Parking Minimum Removals
Allow higher densities and building heights in exchange for more affordable units. Target densities can be applied in accessible locations, for example, at least three stories along minor arterials and four stories along major arterials.
Mandate or reward energy-efficient housing, and support efficiency retrofits of existing homes. Building energy is a major financial cost and source of emissions, so improving efficiency helps achieve affordability and environmental goals.
Subsidize housing for people with special needs, including those with disabilities and low incomes.
The figure below shows how location affects resident’s vehicle travel and carbon emissions. Households located in suburban, single-family houses drive about three times more and produce about three times the transportation emissions as comparable households located in walkable urban neighborhoods. In addition to reducing emissions, these automobile travel reductions and fuel savings increase affordability, as well as reducing other traffic problems.
Household Vehicle Travel and Emissions by Location (Salon 2014)
These development policies can significantly reduce energy consumption and pollution emissions, while also increasing affordability, public health and economic opportunity. We can create more affordable, inclusive and successful communities!
Some people complain that new transportation planning practices, such as bike- and bus-lanes, complete streets, traffic speed reductions, and new parking fees, are a “war on cars.” Driving instructor Steven Wallace recently made such a claim, and his readers piled on.
Framing this as a “war” implies that motorists are victims of violent threats. Should drivers really fear ferocious pedestrians and armed bicyclists? Of course not. Such claims are particularly cruel because pedestrians and bicyclists really do face violence from motor vehicle traffic. Much of what critics call a “war on cars” consists of efforts to improve other modes’ safety and convenience.
A War on Cars? Let There be Peace!
Let’s be clear: there is no war on cars. During the last century, transportation planning was automobile-oriented: the majority of planning resources (money, road space, and design priorities) were devoted to improving automobile travel, often to the detriment of other travel modes. Wider roads and higher traffic speeds create barriers and risks to pedestrians and bicyclists, and minimum parking requirements subsidize car travel and encourage sprawled development, creating sprawled communities where it is difficult to reach destinations without a car. The result is automobile dependency and sprawl (see figure), which increases economic, social and environmental costs.
Cycle of Automobile Dependence
In response, many communities are starting to implement more multi-modal transportation planning that improves travel options, encourages more efficient travel, and creates more compact communities. However, this is no more a “war on cars” than a healthy diet is a “war on food.” Multi-modal planning allows travellers to choose the most efficient mode for each trip: walking and bicycling for local trips, public transit on busy urban corridors, and driving when it is truly optimal, considering all impacts. Motorists benefit from reduced traffic and parking congestion, reduced risk of being the victim of other drivers’ errors, and reduced chauffeuring burdens.
Multi-modal transportation planning neither requires nor prohibits driving. This offers something for everybody, including people who cannot, should not or prefer not to drive, and benefits motorists by reducing their traffic and parking congestion, accident risk and chauffeuring burdens.
Auto-Dependent, Multi-Modal and Car-Free Planning
Some motorists argue that driving is more important than other travel modes. They say things like, “You can’t deliver furniture by bicycle” or “I shouldn’t be forced to walk ten kilometres to work.” This misses the point: each mode has a role to play in an efficient and equitable transport system. It would be inefficient to deliver heavy freight by bicycle or walk ten kilometres to work, but it is also inefficient if parents must drive children to school due to a lack of sidewalks or crosswalks, or if people who want to bicycle commute cannot do so due to unsafe riding conditions.
Multi-modal planning requires motorists to share roads with other modes, drive slower and pay for parking in some areas, but seldom prevents people from driving when and where they want. Even ambitious goals, such as CRD targets to double walking, bicycling and transit travel, cars will continue to be the most common travel option.
Why Here? Why Now?
Current demographic and economic trends justify more multi-modal planning:
Aging population is increasing the number of adults who cannot or should not drive, and so require other travel options.
Changing consumer preferences. Surveys indicate that many people want to drive less and living in a walkable urban neighbourhood. Multi-modal planning responds to these preferences.
Affordability and social justice. Housing and transportation are most household’s two largest household spending categories; multi-modal planning increases affordable travel options and reduces parking costs that must be incorporated into rents and mortgages. It also ensures that people who cannot, should not, or prefer not to drive for some trips receive a fair share of public resources.
Increasing urbanization. Urban land is scarce and valuable, and expanding urban roads and parking facilities is costly. As a result, Improving and encouraging use of space-efficient modes is often the most cost effective and beneficial solution to urban traffic problems.
Increasing health and environmental Multi-modal planning allows people to walk and bicycle for fitness and health, and reduces per capita pollution emissions and pavement area.
Local economic development. Multi-modal transportation helps support economic development by increasing affordability and community livability and supporting local industries.
Do Motorists Pay for Roads? Is it Unfair to Spend Tax Dollars on Pedestrians and Bicyclists?
Many people assume that by paying fuel taxes motorists finance roads, making pedestrians and bicyclists freeloaders. This is not true. Although fuel taxes approximately cover provincial highway spending, they contribute little to the local roads where most walking and bicycling occurs. For example, in British Columbia, provincial and regional fuel taxes generate $1.9 billion, which is similar to the $1.9 billion spent on provincial highways, but do not support municipal roads, which have similar costs to provincial highways but are funded by local taxes that residents pay regardless of how they travel.
Walking and bicycling have much lower facility costs, probably about 1¢ per kilometre, plus $50-300 per year for bicycle parking. Because motor vehicles require more costly infrastructure than other modes, and motorists travel more than other mode users, motorists impose far greater road and parking facility costs. Much of these costs are borne by general taxes, and incorporated into mortgages, rents and prices of other goods that people pay regardless of how they travel. As a result, people who drive less than average tend to overpay their share of infrastructure costs, subsidizing road and parking costs for their neighbours who drive a lot.
For example, a typical motorist who drives 20,000 annual kilometres and consumes 2,000 litres, receives $2,000 in parking subsidies (parking costs not paid directly by users), and imposes at least $1,400 in total roadway costs, but pays only about $600 annually road user taxes; their remaining facility costs are paid through general taxes and the prices of other goods. Somebody who walks and bikes 10 kilometres a day imposes about $150 annually in facility costs.
Costs Versus Payments
Do We Spend Too Much on Non-Auto Modes?
Critics sometimes claim that few people walk, bicycle or use public transit, so investing in these modes is wasteful and unfair. Let’s look at the numbers. In our region, a quarter of total trips are made by non-auto modes, and this increases during peak periods and in central areas, when and where traffic problems are most severe. More than half of downtown trips are made by non-auto modes.
This suggests that it would be efficient and fair to devote 25-50% of transport investments to walking, bicycling and public transit. Even more could be justified for the following reasons:
To make up for past underinvestment. During the last century most communities invested little in non-auto modes, so additional investments are justified for several years to catch up.
To serve latent demand. Consumer surveys indicate that many people want to drive less, rely more on other travel options, and live in more compact, walkable neighborhoods, provided they are convenient and affordable. Additional investments are justified to satisfy these demands.
To efficiently solve traffic problems. Expanding roads and parking facilities is very costly. Improving alternative modes is often the most cost-efficient way to reduce traffic problems. Even people who always drive benefit from improvements to other modes that reduce their traffic and parking congestion, accident risk and chauffeuring burdens.
To achieve planning goals. The CRD and Victoria have targets to approximately double walking, bicycling and public transit travel by 2030.
Currently, most road funding and space is dedicated to motor vehicle traffic, leaving other modes with less than their fair share. Victoria has 278 kilometres of roadway and 48 kilometres of bike lanes, which means that just 12% of Victoria roadways have bike lanes, and since most streets have four or more lanes (including parking lanes), for every kilometre of bike-lane there are about twenty lane-kilometres devoted to general traffic or parking.
In 2019, Victoria will spend $5.8 million on walking and bicycling facilities, approximately $65 annually per resident, and $9.2 million on roads and bridges, approximately $100 per resident. The Provincial Government spends $526 million on highway operations, about $100 per capita, plus approximately $200 million on regional highway projects (McKenzie Interchange expansion, Highway 14 improvements, etc.), about $500 per capita. This indicates that in our region walking and bicycling receive less than 10% of transportation infrastructure spending. This is higher than normal, with much more bicycle spending and less roadway spending than in most times and jurisdictions.
The Provincial government spends less on walking and bicycling than their mode shares. The 2016 Census indicates that 11% of commuters walk or bike to work, but the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s BikeBC program only spends about $8 million annually, about 0.5% of the Ministry’s total budget. Walking and bicycling facilities are included in many highway projects, such as Galloping Goose Trail improvements incorporated into the McKenzie Interchange project, but even including these expenditures, the Ministry spends much less on active modes than their share of total trips.
Victoria is spending about $20 million over five years to improve downtown bicycling conditions, which averages about $4,700 for each of the 4,240 commuters (CRD, p. 90, AM Peak bike trips). Although this project helps achieve strategic planning objectives to support efficient transport and compact development, it has been heavily criticized. The provincial government is spending $85 million to improve Highway 14 driving conditions, which averages about $54,000 for each of the 1,580 car commuters (CRD p. 120, AM Peak auto trips). Although this project contradicts strategic goals to reduce sprawl, it has not been criticized. This illustrates a double standard: roadway projects receive more funding and less criticism than bike projects.
It’s Only Fair, Motorists Should Pay Their Share
Most parking is subsidized, so plans to expand when and where parking is prices are often criticized as unfair to motorists and part of “war on cars.” But there are good reasons to charge for parking: it is fairer than subsidizing parking facilities and helps reduce traffic problems.
There is a specific reason that municipal governments should charge for parking: that helps ensure that out-of-town motorists pay their share of local roadway costs. In most central cities, a major portion of motorists are not residents and so do not pay property taxes that fund local infrastructure. You could argue that out-of-town visitors pay these costs indirectly by supporting local businesses, but a major portion of central city customers and workers travel without a car and so have much lower infrastructure costs. Charging for parking collects extra money from motorists to help offset the extra roadway costs they impose. It’s only fair.
Do Bicycle Improvements Increase Bicycling and Traffic Safety?
Some people, including some experienced bicyclists, question whether protected bike paths increase ridership and safety. Protected bike lanes are intended to attract less experienced bicyclists. They are not ideal for all cyclists, particularly experienced bicyclists who want to ride fast. Numerous academic studies indicate that they generally do increase bicycle travel, and safety for all road users. One major study found that segregated bike paths are both safer and tend to increase cycling by travellers who want to bicycle but feel unsafe riding on roadways. A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health, “Safer Cycling through Improved Infrastructure,” found that cities that invest most in protected bikeways achieve the largest increases in ridership and safety.
An extensive body of research indicates that total traffic casualty rates, including risk to motorists, tend to decline as walking and bicycling mode share increases, an effect called “safety in numbers.” Canadian research also found that cycling injury rates tend to increase as bicycle mode share increases. Several factors probably contribute to these benefits: many strategies for improving pedestrian and bicycle safety, such as lower traffic speeds, also increase motor vehicle safety, and as walking and bicycling increase, driving declines, particularly by higher risk groups such as youths, seniors and people impairments, reducing motorists’ risk of being the victim of other drivers’ errors.
“Ice cream and the ‘War’ on Cars” I am delighted with the city’s determination to create viable transportation alternatives, including the network of separated bike lanes that make it safe to ride downtown. Recent letter writers creaming Victoria city council for just that, might want to chew on this:
When new flavours of ice cream were introduced, it wasn’t deemed to be a “war” on chocolate. It was simply about providing new and exciting alternatives to those inclined to venture beyond familiar tastes and habits. As alternative flavours became increasingly popular, smart vendors added the new items to their confectionary menus. It was good for business and the bottom line to add a variety of choices.
Chocolate hasn’t disappeared. It remains popular and is still widely available for committed chocolate lovers. Who knows — as word spreads about how yummy some of the new flavours are, even some of the chocolaters may be tempted to try a taste of something new. It seems like a win-win-win situation to me. Those who insist that because they love driving so much, everyone else must drive too, may want to check out the local ice cream shop!
Do Complete Streets Harm Businesses?
Critics sometimes argue that Complete Streets policies, such as bike lanes, wider sidewalks and traffic speed reductions, harm local business by making driving and parking less convenient, but in most situations their impacts are mixed, reducing some business activities but increasing others. Businesses that depend primarily on automobile traffic may be worse off, but these losses are generally more than offset by increased business by customers who walk, bike and use public transit, particularly if streetscaping creates nicer urban environments that attract more customers, visitors, businesses, and residents. Motorists too may benefit overall if other visitors shift from driving to other modes, freeing up downtown parking for their use.
For example, in 2016, a new bike lane on Bloor Street displaced 136 parking spaces. A detailed before-and-after study found that customer volumes and spending both increased subsequently. Similarly, a study found that New York City streets with protected bike lanes experienced significant increases in retail sales (up to 24%) compared to otherwise similar streets that lack those facilities.
This makes sense, since non-auto modes are affordable, which leaves consumers with more disposable income to spend on local goods and services. Vancouver Island produces no motor vehicles or petroleum, so most of the money spent on automobile travel leaves our region, but we have many productive farms, good restaurants and breweries that provide locally produced fuel for walking and bicycling, and generate lots of local jobs.
Aren’t Bicycles Zero Emission Vehicles?
Vehicle fuels have large external costs, so many jurisdictions offer thousands of dollars in subsidies to purchase “zero emission” electric vehicles. However, this is a misnomer: because electricity generation produces pollution they should be called “elsewhere emitting vehicles.” Electric vehicles avoid most road user taxes, providing hundreds of dollars in additional annual subsidies. Walking and bicycling are true zero emission modes but receive no comparable subsidy. Because shoes and bikes are inexpensive, they don’t need subsidies, instead, we just want walking and bicycling facility improvements.
Should Governments Mandate Housing for Cars But Not People?
No law mandates that communities provide housing for people, but most jurisdictions governments require property owners to provide abundant, expensive, and generally free housing for cars, typically totaling 2-8 parking spaces with thousands of dollars in total annualized value per motor vehicle. Parking is never really free, the choice is really between paying parking costs directly, through user fees, or indirectly, through mortgages, rents and taxes which people pay regardless of how they travel. This significantly reduces affordability.
For example, one study of 23 recently completed Seattle-area multifamily housing developments revealed that parking regulations increase rents approximately $250 per month, or 15% total although that approximately 20% of occupants own no motor vehicles, and during peak periods 37% of parking spaces are unoccupied. Every time somebody purchases a car they expect governments to require other people to pay their parking costs. This is perverse: this forces poorer car-free households to subsidize the parking costs of affluent motorists, and increases and traffic problems. Parking mandates are a fertility drug for cars. Why do they exist? Because motorists demand these subsidies and efforts to change these practices are criticized as a “war on cars.”
Is Multi-modal Planning “Social Engineering”? Does it Reduce Freedom?
Some critics claim that regulations, such as fuel economy standards, and transportation management programs that encourage efficient travel, reduce people’s personal freedom and opportunity. These are distorted and incomplete claims. According to Washington State Transportation Center director Mark Hallenbeck, “All transportation planning is social engineering. We’ve spent 100 years making it easy to drive. We’ve spent 100 years making it really hard to [walk, bicycle or] take a bus. So people drive, because it makes sense.”
Automobile-oriented transport planning increases some freedoms but reduces others: it reduces urban motorists’ ability to drive fast and park for free, but increases freedom to travel by other modes, which tends to increase financial freedom, and increases freedom from traffic risks and pollution impacts, and from government-mandated parking subsidies.
Multi-modal Planning Impacts on Personal Freedom
Reduces Freedom and Opportunity
Increases Freedom and Opportunity
Less freedom to drive fast.
Less freedom to park for free.
More freedom to walk, bicycle, and use public transit.
More affordable transport options increases financial freedom.
More freedom from traffic risk and pollution.
Freedom for parking subsidy costs.
Multi-modal planning reduces some freedoms but increases others.
Surveys indicate that many people want to drive less and rely more on other mode, provided they are convenient, comfortable and affordable. For example, the National Association of Realtor’s National Community Preference Survey found that most respondents like walking (80%), about half like bicycling, more than a third (38%) like public transit, and nearly 60% report being forced to drive due to inadequate alternatives. Younger people are much more likely to prefer walkable neighbourhoods, bicycling, and transit, suggesting that demand for these modes will increase. To the degree that multi-modal planning responds to these demands it is not “social engineering.”
Much of the opposition to multi-modal planning reflects a general reluctance to change. Some people are so accustomed to driving that they cannot imagine taking the bus when travelling downtown, or walking and bicycling for local errands. However, after people try new transport options they often find them appropriate and useful, and their opposition declines.
Should Governments Continue to Encourage Drunk Driving and Sprawl?
A guy walks into a bar and buys a drink. Another guy drives to the bar and also buys a drink. About 50¢ of the cost of each drink goes to finance the bar’s parking. As a result, the guy who walks subsidizes the drivers’ parking of the guy who drives, thanks to local zoning laws.
This is foolish! We tell people not to drink and drive, but at the same time governments mandate that restaurants, pubs and bars provide abundant parking that encourages driving. This is particularly harmful because those parking requirements often prevent the development of neighbourhood restaurants and bars that customers could reach by walking: an old storefront or house might make a terrific restaurant or pub, but cannot meet parking requirements. Why do these foolish laws exist? Because motorists insist! Whenever reduced and more flexible parking requirements are proposed, motorists complain that they will be inconvenienced, and criticize reforms as part of the “war on cars.”
Are Signal Controls Really Set to Delay Traffic?
Wallace claims, without evidence, that Victoria’s traffic engineers intentionally adjust signals set to delay traffic. He should have talked with a traffic engineer first. Although it is sometimes possible to give traffic a continuous “green wave” on one road in one direction, this is impossible to achieve on all urban roads. For example, signals can be optimized into downtown during the morning and out of downtown during the afternoon, on north-south streets, such as Blanshard and Douglas, but that will conflict with traffic optimization on east-west streets such as Bay, Pandora and Fort. In addition, signals must accommodate Johnson Street bridge closures, bus priority, pedestrians, and emergency vehicles.
Stop blaming traffic engineers for congestion problems! If you want to know the real culprit, look in the mirror. Every time you drive during rush hour, you contribute to congestion. Shifting just 10-20% of peak-period car trips to other times, modes or destinations would significantly reduce traffic problems.
Are Most Bicyclists Irresponsible Scofflaws?
Some critics argue that bicyclists do not deserve facilities or safety programs because of their irresponsible behaviors, citing examples of bicyclists who violate traffic law or ride without proper lighting or helmets. “They must earn their right to use public roads,” they argue.
But all types of road users violate traffic laws. Field surveys find that bicyclists and motorists violate traffic laws at similar rates, but in different ways. Motorists frequently exceed posted speed limits, avoid paying required parking fees, fail to wear seatbelts, and text while driving. Researcher Wesley Marshall found that many bicyclists violated traffic laws in ways intended to increase their safety, such as riding on sidewalks, passing on the right while vehicles are stopped at a traffic signal, and failing to make a full stop at stop signs and red lights in order to maintain momentum and balance. A Florida study found 88% law compliance rates by bicyclists, slightly higher than the 85% compliance rate for drivers.
Most communities are automobile dependent, making it difficult to get around without a car. This is no accident; for the last century, transportation planning emphasized automobile-oriented infrastructure design and investments to the detriment of other modes. This ultimately harms everyone, including motorists who face increased congestion, crash risk and chauffeuring burdens.
As a result, smart communities are starting to implement more multi-modal planning, with more investments in walking, bicycling and public transit, more complete streets, and reduced parking subsidies. That creates a more efficient and equitable transportation system in which travellers can choose the most appropriate mode for each trip, and people who cannot, should not, or prefer not to drive receive their fair share of public resources.
Some people only see problems and overlook the benefits of these changes. They claim there is a “war on cars,” which is inaccurate, unfair and dangerous. Many of their complaints are wrong or exaggerated, and by claiming to be victims of a “war,” they contribute to conflict and violence.
1. Pre-zone areas designated for multi-family in the Official Community Plan (OCP). This will reduce infill development costs, increasing moderate-priced project feasibility.
2. Allow an additional story for corner lots, larger lots (at least 1,000 square meters), and on busier streets (arterials or subarterials). These are locations where taller buildings have less impact on neighbours.
3. Exempt moderate-priced housing from inclusivity mandates. This encourages developers to build more moderate-price units, which directly increases affordability for moderate-income households, and for lower-income households through filtering.
4. Reduce fees and approval requirements for smaller and moderate-priced infill developments, since these are the projects we most need.
5. Reduce or eliminate parking requirements and require or encourage unbundling (parking rented separately from housing units), so residents are not forced to pay for parking spaces they do not need. Many cities are doing this now to increase affordability, allow more compact development and reduce traffic problems.
6. Allow higher densities and building heights in exchange for more affordable units. Target densities can be applied in accessible locations, for example, at least three stories along minor arterials and four stories along major arterials.
7. Mandate or reward energy-efficient housing, and support efficiency retrofits of existing homes. Building energy is a major financial cost and source of emissions, so improving efficiency helps achieve affordability and environmental goals.