This past Friday and Saturday I attended the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Quad Conference. The program looked very interesting leading up to the event and it was clear from the very first session that things are changing in the industry. Once considered to have a focus on traffic and providing road capacity for traffic, there was almost no presentations on such things this year. It was noted that it is now much more than just the Institute of Transportation Engineers and one speaker even suggested a name change to the Institute of Transportation for Everyone, makes sense when you think about it. Obviously I could not attend every session but read on for some key things I took from it.
The overall theme of the conference was very much on building cities for people rather than cars, acknowledging that previous goals of building endless capacity for vehicles was not working.
One excellent idea, although unlikely to every materialize came from Gordon Price, he asked the question of the panel, what if the cost to the health care system of not providing better transit had to be paid by the appropriate transportation agency. Its an interesting way to think about it. As transit provides significant health benefit over auto orientated communities, providing it saves the health care system money, although often both government organisations at some level, there is no real connection between the costs and benefits.
Health impacts of active transportation and transit are something that have been known for a long time but this conference was the first place I've really seen it discussed on many occasions. Adding in Health Impact Assessment techniques into overall project process was mentioned and I see this as an area of great potential. At least in the development of long term plans and prioritization of options. Health impacts may form one of the prioritizing factors.
The City of Redmond, in Washington, home to Microsoft, are currently preparing their long range transportation plan. One of the cool things from this presentation was the creation of a transit dependent neighbourhood, a neighbourhood that would not work successfully without transit. You could say many existing neighbourhoods are like this at present, some with transit some without which are not working well. As with many things, its a change in thinking and moving from thinking about auto dependency as a bad thing to transit dependency as a good thing. Anywhere there is multi-family housing, there should be transit, or put another way, multi-family housing should only be built where there is transit.
One presentation which we all acknowledge is that kids need to walk to school more, I've sat in so many presentations where the speaker asked how many of the attendees walked to school, then asked how many let their kids walk to school and there is always a massive reduction. Is it just personal safety? Is it traffic safety? Is it too far?
One presentation asked the question, should you build a condo with zero parking provision. I say why not! Not everyone needs a car, especially in the downtown core of a city. One of the biggest problems in allowing people to live where they work and thus reduce their need to drive and own a car is affordable housing downtown. If removing the need to build underground parking can provide more affordable housing and its in a location where a car is not necessary then this is a good thing. Each of those underground stalls can add in the region of $40k-80k to the price of a condo. Let's remember that not everyone especially downtown is auto dependent.
There was a presentation about transforming suburban malls into Transit Orientated Developments, citing two examples from Brentwood and Oakridge. While these changes are welcome compared with the existing malls, they still look to me like malls with some towers on the top, maybe a few extra streets punched through. From the examples given, they are still not building proper city centre's in these locations which I believe they should, build them out like a mini downtown. In addition both still include significant underground parking and required varying degree's of traffic analysis despite having SkyTrain access and a largely fixed and constrained arterial road network.
It seems in many cases we are embracing transit and active transportation, but letting go of our parking and car access is still a leap of faith, but times are changing.