Having been to Vancouver twice recently, I was a bit blasé when Clarence Eckerson Jr. sent a note about his new video, Vancouver’s Multi-Modal Success Story. It’s all about how the City was aiming to reach 50 percent mode share for walking, biking and transit by 2020, and in fact hit it in 2016.
It tells the story of how Vancouver did got this far, with electric buses and bike lanes everywhere and the automated sky train and even ferries, there are so many choices. They all make Vancouver just such a wonderful city to be in (helped by mountains and water and views to die for at every turn) and the video is done with Clarence’s usual skill, but I had a serious epiphany at about 6:15 when planner Brent Toderian says:
For me, as a user, I have my transit pass, I have my Mobi bikeshare membership to use if I want but of course have my own bike, if we need a car, we have literally the most successful car share system anywhere in North America, so I’ve got choices, and the best thing is, not just available choices but delightful choices every day.
Delight. This is not a word people use when talking about how we get around. Yet is is a word that we have used when talking about the things we build since Vitruvius 1900 years ago, when he described the three elements of a well-designed building: firmitas, utilitas, and venustas. Usually translated as Firmness (structural integrity) Commodity or utility (efficient arrangement of space meeting the needs of the occupant) and delight (aesthetics, comfort, beauty)
These days our transportation infrastructure is often short of Firmness, thanks to deferred maintenance. It often lacks Commodity, thanks to the politicization of planning, which is why New York doesn’t have needed tunnels to New Jersey and Toronto is building a subway to nowhere. But engineers get firmness and commodity. Delight? It is an expensive frill.
Or is it? In Vancouver, they now have got half the population out of their cars. In Copenhagen, they have half the population on bikes. People don't do this just because they can, they do it because they want to. Because it is delightful. Alternatives to the car are easy, comfortable and safe, throughout their whole system.
Vancouver is so full of delight. When I arrived I rushed to the front of the skytrain to press my nose against the glass of the front window like a six year old as it flew down the guides on its rubber wheels.
I loved riding its bike lanes around the harbour and really gasped running early one morning, coming around Coal Harbour to the convention centres. The views are great, but it is really about the decisions they have made that make it so easy to be delighted.
In most cities, delight is a matter of designing one-offs, like Calatrava’s subway station and Apple store in New York or Foster’s bridge across the Thames. But we don't need one-offs when the rest of the system is falling apart. We need working transportation systems that are actually nice to use. In Vancouver, delight is everywhere, it is part of the program. That's why they have managed to get 50 percent of the population out of their cars. That is something every city should learn.
Here is an earlier video from Clarence, in case you did not get enough: