Sustainable Transportation

Transportation planning can help to create efficient transportation choices, and also to reduce GHG emissions.Emissions from the transportation sector have grown 42% since 1990 and made up 37% of BC’s total GHG emissions in 2005. Within the sector, 60% of these emissions came from road vehicles, and most of the road vehicle emissions came from light passenger vehicles (motorcycles, cars, pickups, minivans, and SUVs). [1]

While local governments have limited influence over vehicle fuel consumption, they have significant control over land use planning which shapes street patterns, transportation choices and distances driven for years to come.  They also play a major role in transportation planning, which is closely linked to land use choices.  Well-integrated land use and transportation plans can maximize the benefits of public and private investments in buildings and infrastructure and support energy-efficient choices for getting around. Compact land use is a “permanent climate benefit that compounds over time.” [2]

Linking Sustainable Land Use and Transportation Planning

BC’s explosive 42% growth in greenhouse gas emissions in transportation since 1990 can be attributed largely to more vehicles, higher sales in lower efficiency light trucks over conventional cars, and an increase, peaking in 2002, in total kilometres driven. However, a government report suggests that a recent reduction in total distance driven could be explained, at least in part, by more compact development near public transit service in the Lower Mainland. [1]  

The Conference Board of Canada “recommends that provincial and local governments pursue integrated land use and transportation planning at the local and regional levels [to] accommodate growth through intensification rather than low density sprawl.”[3] This direction is reflected in the Local Government Act’s authority and purpose for a Regional Growth Strategy (Section 849 (2)) and an Official Community Plan (Section 875).

The North Shore Neighbourhood Plan, City of Kamloops, includes a 'before and after' visualization of a green street retrofit, which would encourage active transportation (cycling, walking)./ City of Kaloomps.Sustainable transportation planning involves ‘wearing the shoes’ of a pedestrian, a cyclist, an automobile driver, a transit rider, etc. to understand their needs and preferences. It links a variety of transportation modes (walking, cycling, transit, as well as driving) at several different scales (neighborhood, community, region).

Smart transportation strategies form part of sustainable transportation plans.  Three strategies that local governments can pursue are outlined below:

Transportation Demand Management (TDM)

Transportation Demand Management is a collection of policies, programs, and services that increase transport efficiency by influencing how, when and where people travel; and encouraging more efficient travel patterns. Local governments generally evaluate and then select a combination of TDM strategies for implementation.

TDM strategies strive to reduce traffic congestion, air contaminants, and greenhouse gas emissions while improving air quality and personal mobility. They can reduce the number of people driving alone by shifting demand to carpooling, transit, cycling, walking and teleworking. TDM can also shift travel demand from peak hours and congested routes to times and locations that are less busy.


The Fraser Basin Council's Transportation Demand Management: A Small and Mid-Size Communities Toolkit. The toolkit (download) is divided into reader-friendly sections, beginning with an introduction to transportation demand management (TDM) and what it takes to implement a TDM strategy. There are also 10 TDM case studies of small and mid-size BC communities. These illustrate successful bicycle and active transportation programs, intercommunity transit, carpooling, car-sharing and parking strategies. The toolkit shows how to start a TDM initiative and how to turn it into a comprehensive program, offering helpful resources and contacts throughout.

The Victoria Transport Policy Institute has a comprehensive TDM encyclopedia including strategies for small and rural communities The Central Okanagan (BC) Communities (City of Kelowna, Regional District of the Central Okanagan, Westbank First Nation) have developed a highly regarded TDM program with an annual budget of $75,000 per year; it includes a focus on active transportation, transit promotion and social marketing to encourage mode shift. The City of Kamloops has woven a TDM program into their Travelsmart Program.

Carsharing is designed to replace car ownership for people who do not need to drive to work every day, and to significantly reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. Visit The Carsharing Association for more information.

Transit Oriented Development (TOD)

Transportation Oriented Development includes a mix of public (10-15%), commercial (10-40%) and residential (50-80%) land uses. / IBI Group for Federation of Canadian Municipalities, 2008.TOD locates higher-density residential and commercial development in close proximity to a centralized transit station or transit corridor.  TOD neighbourhoods are pedestrian-friendly and include other design features that facilitate transit use and encourage other active transportation choices.

TOD involves regional, local and neighbourhood-scale planning.  The Central Okanagan Smart Transit Plan, includes transit-supportive planning guidelines for each scale. The appendix includes a checklist of TOD characteristics. 

Existing transit-supportive areas (e.g. downtown, commercial areas) are key areas for intensification using TOD design principles.  This could involve the infill of underutilized parcels, or the redevelopment of low-density and/or derelict properties.  More populated streets will support additional transit routes or upgrades. Locating infrastructure like a Transportation Hub in an existing higher density area is another way to build support for transit use. 

TOD principles can be applied in communities of all sizes. Basic transit service requires density thresholds of 6 residential units per acre and 25 employees per acre in commercial centres [4]. Upgraded transit service can be justified at 15 units per acre which equates to a mixture of ground-oriented townhouses and low to mid-rise walk-up apartments. One small town transit successes story comes from Quesnel BC, where transit ridership has increased 20% each year for five years through local Council commitment to transit service.  In Canmore, Alberta, a transit feasibility study using sustainable Transit Implementation Guidelines for Small Canadian Municipalities estimated GHG reductions of 100 tonnes or more per year (10 kg per resident) compared with a "no transit" option.


Central Okanagan Smart Transit Plan.

Grid Street Pattern for Efficiency

An efficient street layout, like the grid pattern, can make trips shorter and more efficient. The contrasting sprawl layout with curvy streets is more conducive to automobile trips, increasing emissions. / IBI Group for Federation of Canadian Municipalities, 2008.A street pattern endures for centuries and greatly affects how people and goods move around. The grid street pattern is an efficient layout that results in lower GHG emissions. It makes trips shorter than those on curvilinear street designs and provides more connections between streets.  A well-connected street network supports transit use and, in combination with other design and land use features, makes walking and cycling more attractive.  A grid is also cheaper to build and maintain than a curved road pattern, as it minimizes road distances.  

By design, a wise street layout cuts down on GHG emissions on a long-term basis: Driving distances are 24 to 50% less in neighbourhoods with a grid layout for streets and mixed uses than in residential neighborhoods with large blocks and cul-de-sacs. [8] The fused grid pattern, a variation on the traditional grid pattern of older North American cities, is recommended as a more sustainable approach than either the grid or curvilinear design in research sponsored by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

To support grid street patterns, opportunities include:

  • Development approvals - requiring a closely spaced grid pattern of arterial, collector and local roads on new subdivision plans, rather than loops and cul de sacs; [6]
  • Transportation planning - continuing arterial and collector roads across and between neighbourhoods; providing direct routes for buses, cyclists and pedestrians
  • Neighbourhood planning - designing or retrofitting the layout of neighbouroods on a grid system for minimal travel distance and convenient routes to transit stops, and walkway connections through or between sites and blocks.

In addition to the street layout, on-street design is important for transportation choice and efficiency.

Community Examples

  • Kelowna put emphasis on sustainable modes of transportation including cycling in the Infrastructure section of their OCP as well added bike network data to GIS system and provided info to Google for cycling trip planner: SmartTRIPS active transportation program
  • Transportation Strategic Plan is the City of Surrey’s long range planning document shows how transport, in its widest sense, has a part to play in key policy areas such as the environment, land use, economy, safety and health.
  • Nelson's Active Transportation Plan demonstrates an understanding that the consolidation of existing policies and guidelines relating to Active Transportation and synergizing the plan with the vision and goals of the new OCP will ensure further progress is made towards creating a healthy, vibrant and sustainable Nelson community.
  • The City of Prince George developed the Active Transportation Plan to guide the development of a continuous, safe and enjoyable Active Transportation Network
    [Use the tabs above to learn WHY this sector is important in GHG management and HOW you can reduce emissions in transportation.]

[1] B.C. Ministry of Environment. 2007. Environmental Trends in British Columbia: 2007. State of Environment Reporting. Victoria, B.C. pp. 152-156

[2] Ewing, Bartholomew, Winkelman, Walters, and Chen. 2008. Growing Cooler: the Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change.  Urban Land Institute.

[3] Natalie Brender and Anne Golden, 2007.  Sustainable Urban Transportation: A Winning Strategy for Canada.  Conference Board of Canada.   

[4] Victoria Transportation Policy Institute, OnLine TDM Encyclopedia,  “Transit Oriented Development”

[5] Sorensen, 2008. Fact Sheet – the Bicycle, from Seven Wonders for a Cool Planet, Sierra Club Books

[6] Master Municipal Construction Association (MMCD), 2005, Green Design Guidelines Manual,

[7] Canadian Institute of Transportation Engineers, 2004, Promoting Sustainable Transportation Through Site Design

[8] Reductions range from 20 to 50 percent in VMT, reflecting findings from a variety of case studies, see: Souza and Hirschorn. 2001.  New Community Design to the Rescue Fulfilling Another American Dream National Governors Association