It was 50 years ago that people made a big decision — no freeways in Vancouver.  It fundamentally altered the city, I say for the better. It changed the city’s look, feel, population and shaped its future.
HERE’s a review of the event by Maryse Zeidler at CBC News.
With a quote from PT’s own Gordon Price:

Gordon Price, a fellow at Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue, says freeways were seen as modern and economically attractive — linking cities to trucking routes, trade and the ever-expanding suburbs.
“Freeways have a very bad rep these days but, man, in that period in the 60s when they were newly built, they were astonishing,” Price said.
“Every city wanted a connection with the continental freeway system …  I mean, why wouldn’t you?”

When I am roaming the city, I think of other big decisions, and imagine the battles and back room maneuvering that went on:  Stanley Park, the seawalls, West End’s traffic calming.  Not to mention those little-bitty bike lanes.  All so much accepted now that their reversal or removal would be unthinkable.
Which brings me to upcoming big decisions:  well, how about mobility pricing?

Click to enlarge

In a preview of the local mobility pricing work now underway, consider the story of Stockholm. Their scheme prevailed over fierce initial hostility, got bad reviews early on (36% public acceptance) but, oh my, now gets support from more than 2/3 of the population and all political parties  HERE‘s a 42-page PDF:  a primer and tutorial on the scheme, its design, the decision, the process, its politics, and its results from Jonas Eliasson, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm.

The Stockholm charges went from “the most expensive way ever devised to commit political suicide” (to quote the then‐secret feelings expressed by the Head of the Congestion Charging Office) to something that the initially hostile media eventually declared to be a “success story” (e.g. Dagens Nyheter, June 22, 2006).

No doubt Metro Vancouver can expect similar battles, but a positive outcome on this big decision could change the metro region for the better, in my opinion, for many decades to come.  We can watch and work over the next months as this big decision moves along.
Mobility pricing may not be as big a decision, but just might be as positive as the big decision, 50 years ago, on freeways.


  1. Decision to not allow freeways — Great.
    Doing nothing as an alternative — Bad.
    While stopping freeways was a landmark decision that has altered the course of planning the Vancouver and the region, the lack of an alternative for a few decades (skytrain) really set some other paths in stone. We’re still trying to catch up to that decision. We knew there was a demand for movement, and we stopped freeways (yeah!) but didn’t do something else. The demand didn’t go away.

    1. Vancouver has the best transit in the English-speaking world, Don, so I don’t know what you mean about “doing nothing” as an alternative to building highways through Chinatown and downtown. We move a lot more people through this city than we did 50 years ago with a lot fewer cars.
      Are you suggesting that there would never be any traffic inconvenience at all if a single highway link had been built from Boundary Road to the Lions Gate Bridge? That thing gets built and we’re all getting fanned with palm fronds? Is that your alternative-history traffic equivalent of 9/11 never happening? Man, did we ever shoot ourselves int the foot by not building that freeway.

      1. “Are you suggesting that there would never be any traffic inconvenience at all if a single highway link had been built from Boundary Road to the Lions Gate Bridge? That thing gets built and we’re all getting fanned with palm fronds? Is that your alternative-history traffic equivalent of 9/11 never happening?”
        Ahhh a great example of ridiculous internet discussion right there.
        Disagree with my statement? Link it to fringe conspiracy theories as though it is equivalent with the sole purpose to discredit and dismiss it.
        Disagree with my statement? Make wild, erroneous assumptions about my intent and then show how wrong my point is by arguing based on your inane assumptions.
        Why is this tactic employed in discussion? To what end? Pricetags is *generally* better than most, let’s keep it there and discuss rather than the above silliness.

  2. “Despite the alluring David vs Goliath narrative of Strathcona residents defeating city officials, Price warns there’s more to the story.”
    I agree and I don’t. David stopped the freeway but also did something much much bigger. It changed governments of the day and set us in a much better direction. It wasn’t Strathcona/Chinatown residents alone doing this. But they rallied the troops and got people talking about what kind of city they wanted and what kind of government would help them get there.
    It may be that funding priorities changed. But why did they change? I’d say because it wasn’t the right political move to force infrastructure on a grand scale onto people who didn’t want it.
    The BC Libs found that out last year.

  3. Dan,
    I’ll happily own it and am definitely open to be proven wrong. But if you actually are interested in discussing it, perhaps you should ask some questions about it so we can discuss rather than just resorting to ridiculous assumptions and tired exaggerations.
    My point, should you care to discuss it, is around the need for increased mobility in the region. 50 years ago the demand was there to build something to move people, whether it was a highway or not. The highway was blocked, fine, but nothing replaced it. The demand was/is still there.
    I guess my larger thought is around rapid transit in the region and the need for it now. Despite the numbers in and out of downtown, that’s not the reality for the majority of MV residents.

    1. No, your silly point was that as a region we have done “nothing” to improve mobility in lieu of not building a single highway link. This is the basis of a discussion? Of course not. It’s a throwaway line of frustration. If you have a more robust and engaging point, then you are free to make it. Something like, “what more can we do to improve mobility? I’m not satisfied we’ve done enough.” We can only respond to the words others choose to write, not the ones they don’t.

  4. The graph is very similar to Gartner’s Hype Cycle — which starts with Technology Trigger, goes up to Peak of Inflated Expectations, down to Trough of Disillusionment, then back up Slope of Enlightenment. The Wikipedia article “Hype Cycle” goes into more detail.

  5. I was out along Commercial Drive this weekend. Ask the residents of East 1st and 12th how much of a “win” stopping the freeway was.

    1. Everyone (except those who profit from motordom) won. Including those who live on East 1st and 12th. Those have long been busy roads and nothing would suggest that in a city based on freeways and motordom that they would be any less busy today with or without an east-west freeway into the city.

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