During the council hearings on the Seaside Completion, traffic counts were repeatedly referenced – and disputed.
No wonder.  Maps that showed various counts on roads throughout the corridor were cluttered with numbers that seemed to contradict each other.  Here are two of the most contentious.
The first comes from a document for “Transportation 2040” – the city’s transportation strategy – dated June of 2012.
Point Grey - June 2012

One big difference: dates have been added on individual roads.  That’s not what a reader would have seen in the original.


The second map, with work from September and October of 2012, covers roughly the same area:

Point Grey - Sep 2012


Notice the difference on two of the most critical streets:

  • Point Grey Road (June): 13,000 vehicles per day
  • Point Grey Road (Sep): 10,000 vehicles per day – a drop of 30 percent
  • Macdonald (June): 12,000 vehicles per day
  • Macdonald (Sep): 10,000 vehicles per day – a drop of 20 percent


One can understand why people were confused, confounded and open to conspiratorial explanations.  Were staff fudging the figures?  The drops of 20 to 30 percent seemed too convenient for some who felt the difference was being used to justify removing through traffic from Point Grey Road by diverting it to Macdonald.

So the two maps became evidence for incredulity – and a condemnation of the whole process.  Why not stop, address the inconsistences and come up with credible figures everyone could agree on?

Eventually, on Saturday, July 27 at 2:59 pm,  Jerry Dobrovolny, the City’s transportation engineer, undertook an explanation – which you can see on the streaming video here.

Here’s the explanation.

In 2012, the City staff, in preparing for a meeting in Point Grey/Kits in 2012, took the data they had available – largely from counts done in 2006 – and created the first map above.

When it became apparent that the Broadway/Cornwall area would be a high priority, the engineers went out and took fresh counts, taken in September and October of 2012.  So although the maps are from 2012, the data is actually six years apart – and the drops in traffic reflect that difference in time.

And that data is amazing.

Jerry Drobrovolny verbatim:

We have seen a trend, a downward trend over the past 15 years – vehicles entering the city, vehicles entering the downtown, we have seen a downward trend on vehicles crossing the Burrard Bridge, we have seen a downward trend on vehicles entering and leaving UBC and the UEL.  And the difference between the data is a continuation of the downward trend. …

So we’re seeing those continual drops city-wide, and we’re seeing a similar drop here in these neighbourhoods between the data that we had (in) 2006 and the data we’re showing now.

[The data with dates is all available on VanMap.]

Even on Burrard Street, traffic volumes have been 15,000 cars-per-day higher in the last decade than they were in 2012.  When the Burrard/Cornwall intersection is redesigned and resignalized as part of this project, the traffic volume may well go up on Burrard in order to move it away from the Cornwall/Macdonald route – but it may still be an easier drive than it was in more congested times.

Very few delegations accepted the view that traffic has been declining in Vancouver.  It goes too much against common sense.  Most of us assume there can only be an increase in traffic as the city grows, and the city can only get more congested – and it’s already said to be the second most congested in North America!

It was therefore a given that transferring traffic from Point Grey Road to Macdonald and 4th Avenue could only worsen an intolerable situation.

And yet, if the trend continues, it won’t.  Subtract the amount of traffic that will avoid Cornwall and Macdonald, as well as those using alternative routes to get to western destinations, and the new traffic on Macdonald could well be offset by the general decline.  Most likely, once Burrard/Cornwall is rebuilt, the diversion may not even be noticeable.

Oh, there’s this: more people will be cycling.  The percentage difference it makes may be small – but it’s all part of the trend.  It’s the benefit we get from shaping a city that, from the 1970s on, said it would not widen streets or accommodate more single-occupancy vehicles.  It’s the reality that comes when practical alternatives are offered, especially transit.  It’s the kind of city you get when land-use matches up with transportation priorities.  And it’s the kind of city that’s healthier and, despite the rancor on issues like this, maybe even happier.

It’s the city we said we wanted – and the city we are getting.

Why would we stop now?


  1. Interestingly, many of those trips are vanishing as well showing some type of structural issue going on. Total vehicle commuter trips were down 18,000 trips/day between 2006-2011 in Vancouver. This was offset by an increase of 8000 walking and cycling trips but 9000 commuter trips have vanished in Vancouver. Is this the result of Vancouver losing employment to other Metro cities? Is telecommuting really eating into commuter transport demand?
    Any insights?

    1. I would speculate that:
      – Canada Line has significant impact
      – Telecommuting is getting to have significant impact particularly among high-tech workers (my office has been reduced from 4 to 2 floors while increasing number of employees. I would say that only about 25% of employees work in the office on regular basis. Most of the remaining office space is empty – we could probably go down to a single floor and we likely will). This is not an isolated case either – big companies like Telus are actively encouraging workers to telecommute. Most of the Telus Burnaby “boot” building has been sublet. It boggles the mind as to why they are building new HQ downtown (see http://www.shiftcentral.com/blog/hop-skip-and-jump-complex-world-telecommuting-and-mutual-satisfaction)

    2. I would guess that these are a couple of the reasons:
      1. There has been a trend of people moving donwtown, to all those new condo towers built in the the last 25 years. If they work downtown, they are hardly counted as “commuters”; they often walk to work. Others who live in downtown buildings reverse commute.
      2. There was a big trend of suburban office park construction 10-20 years ago, and a lot of office relocation out of the downtown. This leads to both reverse commuting, and office workers moving out to the suburbs to have shorter commutes.
      3. The advent of the WestCoast Express, the Millenium Line and the Canada Line must have made a diffenrence in the number of people commuting by car.
      4. There has been a general aging of the population out of the workforce.

    3. An aging demographic means a lot of older folk, not driving to work, shopping locally, away for some months of the year. And many owners of homes in Vancouver are absentee , and lots of people commute to work to avoid traffic snarls, and high gas prices. a number which could even increase if our public transportation was better!

  2. Could it also be the result of an increasingly older population on the westside (less of the active workforce residing there, perhaps due to higher housing costs)?

  3. I am still trying to figure out how 43,000(Burrard St.) and 30,000(low estimate for Cornwall) equals 59,000(Burrard Bridge)

    1. Did you even read the article? The entire point is that the traffic counts were based on different years, and that traffic has been declining over that time period.
      Look at it this way:
      Cornwall 2012: 27000
      Burrard 2012: 31000
      Burrard 2012 + Cornwall 2012: 58000
      Burrard Bridge 2011: 59000
      With only a one year difference, the numbers are fairly similar. Of course, there is some traffic going between Cornwall and Burrard that isn’t using the bridge, not to mention seasonal fluctuations etc., but you get the idea.

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