In Vancouver, 50% of trips are done by foot, bike, or transit. Here is how they did it.  

Vancouver, British Columbia, has aggressive aspirations for sustainability. Its goal is to be entirely powered by clean energy by 2050 — not just electricity, but transportation and heating as well.  

As part of that effort, the city adopted the goal of 50 percent ‘sustainable mode share’ by 2020 — half of all trips in the city taken by walking, biking, or transit, rather than automobile. 

They managed to this by 2015, hitting their target 5 years early. 

But how did they manage to achieve these targets? Unlike most modern cities around the world, Vancouver was quick to dismiss the idea of building highways and freeways back in the late 60’s while others embraced it. The U.S.’s closest competitor to Vancouver is New York, followed by San Francisco, then Philadelphia. All of those cities are older, with many dense, walk-able row house neighbourhoods developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before the car rose to dominate the landscape and city planning. 

Thus, unlike Vancouver, most cities provided incentives for people to drive cars, and also a lack of efficient public transportation added to the woes. 

Vancouver remains the only major city in North America unmarred by these freeways and since the 60’s, thanks to progressive political leadership, has made alternative mode of transportation a priority. The key is not just to have access to other transportation, but to make it as efficient as possible, thus the creation of the SkyTrain system. In peak hours there would be trains readily available every 90 seconds and it would be able to transport over 100 million passengers a year.  

Even as the Canadian national government backslides on environmental protection, Canada’s more liberal localities are making progress. Ontario banned coal-fired electricity this year. 

Furthermore, the downtown core, along with more and more outlying neighbourhoods, is crisscrossed by physically separated bike lanes, making biking substantially safer and more pleasant. Ten percent of all commutes are now done on bicycles, putting the city far ahead of its North American peers. 

It’s also how they have designed the city in order to ensure that there isn’t a case over populating the city. Vancouver has encouraged building housing upwards in its downtown and along transit corridors. This manages the population growth so that most new residents are living in dense, walk-able, transit-accessible environments.  

Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson introduced a comprehensive Greenest City 2020 Action Plan which lays down benchmarks that each sector of the city’s government must achieve.