City of Vancouver Transportation 2040 Plan: Market condos disguised as transit policy

Vision Vancouver has recently approved a long-term transportation plan. One of the stated aims of the plan is to increase the percentage of foot, bike and transit trips in Vancouver from 44 to 66% by 2040. Is this one of those “radical plans to attack motorists,” as the editors of the Province claim? Certainly not. Despite a dramatic lack of public funding for transit, Vancouver is already in the midst of a long-term shift away from primary dependence on the private automobile.

The plan is alarming, but not because it represents a “war on the car.” In keeping with the BC Liberals’ premise of austerity and declining public funding, the 2040 plan adopts TransLink’s logic of regressive fees and privatization. Vancouverites should reject the plan first because it accepts the provincial government’s framework of neoliberal financing for buses and trains.

The 2040 Plan is also a developers’ Charter of Rights dressed up as a transportation plan. Under the rubric of transit-oriented development (TOD), the plan delivers a reckless blank slate to developers at the expense of housing affordability. Among other things it builds an umbilical cord between transit funding and new high-priced market condo development. This strategic move by developer-backed Vision goes beyond the policy framework of the BC Liberals pioneered by Kevin Falcon, which ties transit development directly to the private development industry. By approving the 2040 plan the city is positioning itself politically to the right of the provincial government, rejecting the notion of a commercial property tax increase in a city with the second-lowest combined corporate tax rates in the world.

At a time of corporate tax cuts and so-called “austerity” budgets, the report contemplates the idea of channeling development amenity benefits into public transit (see page 36, Section 6.1). Transit-oriented development is a worthwhile goal if it means building affordable density in transit corridors, but Vision has already shown its interest in using the policy to opposite effect. Last spring Vision councillors brought in TOD to justify the expensive Rize mega-projects at Kingsway and Broadway, describing Rize as “a major housing development that supports transit.”

Yet it is the lack of affordability in Vancouver that continues to force people into their cars. The cost of housing in Vancouver is the driving factor for car dependency and longer commute times in Metro Vancouver. One Vancouver resident has rightly pointed out that in the absence of increased public funding for transit, the idea of transit-oriented development puts the “cart before the horse.”

Instead of focusing on an affordable plan for housing development in transit corridors, the 2040 plan is a trailblazer document that paves the way for high-end development in current affordable neighborhoods. By labeling Fraser Street a transit corridor, for example, Vision Vancouver is revealing its cynical objective of using transit goals to further boost the agenda of the development industry. Fraser has one bus — the #8 route — and is not a transit corridor. Rize, not Vision’s lofty rhetoric, is an indication of what’s next for the affordable housing stock between Main and Fraser. Land speculation, renovictions and building demolitions are already forcing working-class renters further eastward within Metro Vancouver, at a greater commuting-distance from their jobs.

The 2040 plan is not a war on cars, and we have to put the Province’s false populism into perspective. The editors of that newspaper have never defended the people of Vancouver against the interests of the richest people in British Columbia. The formula of theProvince is precisely to find wedge issues that obscure the real debate while latching onto the legitimate undercurrents of resentment against the city’s ruling elite.

When the Province attacks “Vision’s holier-than-thou attitude that they should dictate how the rest of us live,” we have to pause for a long moment. There is a kernel of truth lying under the surface of illusion. Vision Vancouver does not represent a war on cars, and the 2040 plan is explicit in its targets: the absolute number of car trips in Vancouver will remain stable (see page 10). If Vision represents a war on anything, it is a war on housing affordability. Deregulated tax-free market condos cannot and will not bring housing affordability to Vancouver.