The Province reported this morning on a follow up analysis of ICBC’s 1998 Gradated Licensing Program. The authors’ determination, after selectively gerrymandering some original data, was that fewer “young people” were getting their drivers licenses. This fits with a friendly narrative of ‘the impending end of motordom’, but neither the data they present nor the story they tell back this up.
The article relies almost exclusively on personal testimonials of a few of them who’ve decided to forego – or forestall – getting their licenses.

I can appreciate having to personalize a story, but this is clearly just fill. It isn’t proof in support of anything. You could just as effectively claim that “more and more” Metro Vancouver teens are worshiping the devil, then interview some goth kids at the mall. Boom. Proof.
It is not merely my cantankerousness. Lazy puff-piece articles such as this are so easily picked apart and dismissed that they cast illegitimacy on the very notion of societal change. It’s not difficult to see why the right casts the entire narrative of ‘fewer cars’ and ‘sustainability’ into suspicion when this stuff is part of a reputable paper’s drumbeat of truth.
It comes across as propaganda. It’s not; at least intentionally. It’s just very lazy journalism: a few selectively-framed half-facts packaged to tell a little story that we want to be true. Fabricating a trend, and then over-implying its significance, does more harm than good.
And there is some truth in there. Some portions of teens – the 16-18 year olds – really are getting fewer licenses, according to the data. However, this is quickly offset by equal increases in licenses from 19-21 year olds. The result is a minor net increase in the numbers of these “young people” getting licenses between 2003-2013.
“Our future will be carbon-neutral (because young people are getting fewer licenses)!”. “US abandoning suburbs for city living!”. These narratives carry a lot of weight, and a lot of people would like them to be unreservedly true. But at present they’re not. They’re not even trending towards those absolute ends.
“Twirling! Twirling! Twirling towards Freedom!”

Minus the bombast, there are some relative truths. There are fewer young drivers of certain ages than before. The ratio of suburban-to-urban home construction is slightly less exaggerated than in previous decades. This is good news.
But middle class white flight has never abated in the US, especially in the northeast. New highway construction still wildly outpaces new transit, especially in Alberta. A lot more new homes are still built in the suburbs than in the city, especially everywhere.
It’s good to recognize sustainable trends, but better not to overstate or misrepresent their significance. Our problems aren’t solving themselves, no matter how badly two reporters from The Province are in need of a paycheque.


  1. You could just as effectively claim that “more and more” Metro teens are worshipping the devil, then interview some goth kids at a mall. Boom. Proof.
    So that explains why the Oakridge Mall development is bedeviled. There are subterranean forces at work there.

  2. Also untouched by the article is how substantive change can happen without an all encompassing shift by 100% of citizens. We tend to frame this as an all or nothing situation. Either we:
    1. Forsake 100% of all motorized vehicles by 100% of the population for any reason and return to rope sandals and eating dirt
    2. We accept motorization as our destiny and use ever bigger vehicles for 100% of all possible movement in every circumstance.
    However if the changes that happened were that the average person put off driving for a few years, drove a little less than their parents, and gave it up a few years earlier, the effects on traffic, pollution, noise and safety would be dramatic. The savings on infrastructure would be similarly impressive.

    1. Very good point. This is a proclivity common of a lot of problems. If something’s not a 100% panacea, it’s dismissed as irrelevant. “That’s not going to solve the problem”. But nobody’s telling anybody that they have to “abandon” cars – only that driving less will be beneficial to everyone.
      On a similar note, endless suburban sprawl did not happen as a result of one thing or one decision. It was hundreds of thousands of small decisions from planners, engineers, elected officials, and ordinary citizens that led us to where we are today. Why some people expect that this outcome can now be revered with one quick snap is just counterproductive.

      1. So true. It only takes a few percentage points of people to change to other modes to reduce congestion.
        I think it’s great that people love how they get around whatever that happens to be and I support everyone having mobility.
        I think the problem is that we’re recovering from a history of single-choice infrastructure that we have to balance. Since we’re used to that being a norm any change can appear to be a threat.
        Fortunately nobody is suggesting that we remove the ability to drive entirely so anyone who relies on it will still be served as we move towards multimodal mobility.

      2. As mentioned above small changes, if applied broadly, can have a large impact. Getting away from single-choice infrastructure and single use zoning are little things that will yield big results for cities. Outside the cities, however, it’s business as usual. The least efficient land use pattern ever devised continues unabated.
        I would argue with Dan that endless suburbia was the result of just two decisions: first to cede ownership of the road to cars, and second to tell the post war population that they could all live like “kings” in big houses on big lots with big lawns, far from anything resembling a place of employment.
        100 years of subsidizing the oil companies, automakers and builders of bedroom communities has gotten us where we are today. It may take 100 years to eliminate the negative changes without throwing away the positive ones.

  3. When Postmedia finally goes under, I won’t miss The Province. In fact, I haven’t read it in years much because of the tactics you described above. It’s with a sense of awe that one witnesses the appalling powers of persuasion tabloid news has over a susceptible public.
    We recently watched ‘Spotlight’, the excellent award-winning movie on the Boston Globe’s expose of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, and the deep cover-up. Highly recommended. The bonus features include interviews with the actual journalists who formed the investigative unit that was given a lot of independence in 2001 on that and other stories in prior years. The journalists talked extensively about how the media was dumbed down since then, and they cited stats on how many journos lost their jobs as the Internet cut into the newspaper business at the same time as notoriously conservative billionaires bought them out, consolidated, laid off staff and exerted control over editorial content and opinion.
    Postmedia and its predecessors are Canada’s most egregious examples, but it appears the business model used in the operations of these business-oriented outlets was highly flawed, based mainly on debt. It’s entirely relevant to ask, What makes the Globe and Mail, the Guardian, the Independent and others succeed in business while maintaining journalistic standards in the midst of these influences?

  4. Anyone who had to commute today in the Vancouver area would laugh if someone were to tell them that fewer teens are driving. So? Oh, they’re not. So? The tragedy is that the Metro mayors didn’t want or propose to expand rapid rail transit to the places that need it and would have supported it.
    Today the big bottlenecks are the same; the North Shore, the Knight Street Bridge, The Queensborough, The Oak Street Bridge and the Tunnel and the 91.
    The ends of these routes is where the sprawl is. The Broadway subway is cute and UBC does not operate year round, so concentrate of the ‘burbs! That’s where the votes are.

    1. The North Shore is not the burb (anymore) but the commute destination of many in Surrey and beyond. Transit between the North Shore and Vancouver is good, also to Burnaby isn’t bad. Beyond Burnaby it starts getting sketchy.

    2. Trams running on Broadway would be cute, but hopelessly inadequate. A subway to Arbutus would meet the decades-old unmet demand in Central Broadway (where 63% of trips currently start and end) for 100 years, build ridership to as-yet unrealized levels, make the most effective connection in the regional rapid transit system outside of downtown, influence greater efficacy in urbanism, energy and emissions, and potentially take Broadway into a greater level of pedestrianization than any other road in the Metro outside of downtown.
      The choice has been made to end the subway at Arbutus, meaning UBC may have to wait another 50 years until the political stars align again. Some of us see much higher costs and delays associated with having two contracts over one, and the aggravation of building a major hub station with built-in transfer penalty at Arbutus. But one must accept the cards one is dealt, I suppose.
      Regarding LRT on other Vancouver arterials (like 41st Ave) and in the suburbs, I agree, as long as there is an appropriate land-use response. The funding? Take it out of road budgets. You’ll have a lot of change left over.

    3. OK Eric, let’s have it your way. Let’s spend $20 billion putting rapid transit deep into the suburbs where, as you say, the voters are.
      Are suburban voters really ready for the tax bill on that?
      Even if we miraculously find the money where will the passengers come from?
      Remember that the key feature of sprawl is vast distances between where you are and where you want to be. For most people the train won’t stop close to either home or work so the bridges will likely remain clogged with traffic.
      Central Broadway, on the other hand, already has enough demand to justify a form of transit that can move more people, more quickly at lower cost.
      I disagree with MB regarding UBC. I don’t think the future will see more peak hour, peak direction travel to/from campus. The undergrad population has been stable for quite some time and is unlikely to ever expand at the Point Grey campus. The graduate and research population is growing, but the amount of housing on campus is growing even faster. 50 years from now peak travel to/from UBC might actually be lower than it is today.
      Travel against the peak direction and occurring outside peak hours is more than adequately served by existing transit. The buses run mostly or completely empty when they’re not dealing with peak direction, peak hour, peak season demand. It will take an enormous amount of new housing in Point Grey and Kitsilano just to fill the existing empty seats.

      1. Not so. Living at UBC I can attest that roads are far busier as more people live here and students do not only stay on campus. You add people, you get more traffic.
        Diesel buses, so green. Buses get stuck in traffic, too. This is vision ?

        1. Yes Thomas, campus has gotten busier. Why are there so many cars around campus now? It’s called market housing. Anyone who can afford to live there can afford to drive.
          I don’t believe building a subway station 2km north of Wesbrook Village would take a single car off the roads there.
          The only demand that’s putting strain on the existing buses (one direction, peak hours, Sept-mid Dec, January-March) is unlikely to ever get worse. All other times and directions there are empty seats on the buses. If we have billions to throw at transit, let’s put it toward places were the problem is either much worse already or will become worse in the near future.
          Some day much of Point Grey and Kits may be bulldozed to make way for high density. If/when that happens we should make sure there’s a rail line or two ready to go.
          I’ve got it! Let’s scrap the bike route along Point Grey Road since it’s making Susan and 199 of her neighbours angry. Instead we’ll build an LRT line from Science World to Granville Island, then past Kits Beach and along Point Grey Road to UBC 😉

  5. Broadway Subway to Arbutus.
    LRT/streetcar hybrid from Main Street Station to UBC Via Olympic Village/Station, Granville Bridge Interchange (short tunnel), Arbutus Corridor (6th Ave), Arbutus Subway Station and along Broadway (possibly following an 8th Ave alignment along the Jericho Lands)
    Since the west side will likely never be dense enough to support a subway the above will serve the city for at least 50 years. Deferring the cost of a subway for 50 years is far cheaper than building one we won’t need for 50 years.
    Besides, it rewards a dumb decision to put UBC at the end of the world. Better to have it slowly migrate back to where it belongs.

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