It seems inevitable that every time a new infill condo development gets announced the neighbours immediately cry “It will generate too much traffic!” However, according to the team at Bunt & Associated Engineering Ltd. who has completed many “Transportation Impact Assessments (TIAs)” for new condo projects in Calgary this may be more myth than fact.
Here are three of the major myths many Calgarians have about new condos and traffic:
Myth #1: Density always brings more traffic.
Within many inner city neighbourhoods, traffic volumes have actually been stagnant or in some cases, decline over the past 20 years. For example, traffic volumes in Mission (on 2 St SW, 4 St SW and 5 St SW) are lower now than they were in 1987, despite the fact that numerous condos have been added to the community. The same trend is being experienced on Kensington Road where the traffic volumes have remained constant in spite the West Hillhurst population growing by 11% over the past five years.
The trend to static or in some cases reduced traffic volumes is driven by increased transit, walking, and cycling usage in established communities near downtown. Increasing residential density in established communities actually results in overall lower vehicle usage for a number of reasons including:
- Higher density improves the viability of local business and therefore removes the need for community residents to always drive to a restaurant, store or fitness studio.
- Higher density supports more frequent transit, which in turn attracts more transit users from the community as a whole.
- Higher density in close relation to employment cores (i.e. Downtown) makes cycling more viable, which in turn increases the demand for cycling infrastructure which results on more cycling from the community as a whole.
Myth #2: 1 parking stall means 1 commuter trip/day
Having 200 parking stalls does not mean 200 vehicles leave and arrive everyday at rush hour. While there is a correlation between parking stalls and traffic, there are many other factors at play. One is that not everyone leaves home between 7 and 8 am. People have different schedules and destinations, as such some residents leave home before 7am or after 8am, while other residents don’t leave home at all during the morning peak period or return home at the rush hour (working from home, part-time or retired).
In addition, just because a condo owner has a vehicle doesn’t necessarily mean it is used to get to work. Data from Beltline TIAs found many residents who had vehicles left them at home during weekdays and used them only on evenings and weekends.
It is not as simple as saying 200 parking stalls results in 200 trips during rush hour. Data actually shows about one third of residential condo vehicles might leave during the peak weekday commuter period from 7 to 9 am.
Myth #3: Adding a 100-unit condo building isn’t the same as adding 100 houses
Multi-family and single-family dwellings do not have the same trip-making characteristics. Multi-family dwellings are more likely to have a higher proportion of residents under 30 or over 65 years of age. As a whole, these age groups have smaller family sizes (often no family), lower vehicular ownership rates and in some cases, less disposable income, all of which correlate into lower vehicle usage.
Generally, in terms of vehicle trip generation, two single-family dwellings are equal to approximately three three multi-family dwellings in suburban communities. In established communities one new infill single-family home often is the same as three condo units when it comes to traffic generation.
It is critical that as Calgarians (i.e. City Council, planners, architects, developers, engineers of all disciplines and residents in established communities) work together to make our communities better for everyone. It is essential to separate fact from fiction when it comes to urban living in the 21st century.
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