Calgary: Time to think outside the car?

It seems everyday for the past month or so there have been one or more articles on my Twitter or Flipboard feeds dealing with how car ownership in North America is declining and the impact this will have on cities in the future.

It started in mid September with a Flipboard headline that read “Lyft’s President Says Car Ownership will ‘All But End’ in U.S. Cities by 2025.”  While it is hard to believe car ownership will end by 2025, it does make one think – what if car ownership was to shrink by 15% by 2025 and by 30% by 2050 from the current level of approximately million vehicles.   

A 2016 GasBuddy Calgary poll (22,044 voters) indicated 16% of Calgary households have 4 or more vehicles, 20% three or more, 40% two vehicles, 21% one vehicle and only 1% no vehicle.

What if some Calgarians were to decide they could live with one less car and use car-sharing to replace it? Could this already be happening?

Research says… 

In July 2016, Elliot Martin and Susan Shaheen, of the University of California, Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Resource Center published, “Impacts of car2go on vehicle ownership, modal shift, vehicle miles travelled, and greenhouse gas emissions:

An analysis of five North American cities. ” Calgary was one of those cities.

The Calgary findings for 2015 were enlightening:

  • Car2go removed an estimated 6,058 vehicles from Calgary roads (existing car owners who sold their car or individuals who were planning on buying a car but decided against doing so.
  • Car2go reduced overall vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by up to an estimated 52.9 kilometers for the year or 6% reduction in VMT traveled per car2go household.
  • Car2go prevented up to an estimated 8,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from polluting Calgary’s air. That’s an estimated 4% reduction. 
  • Car2go resulted in a slight increase in walking and bicycle ridership frequencies (10% and 2%, respectively). 

These findings are based on a sample of 1,498 Calgary car2go users. Similar results were found in the other four cities studied – San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver and Washington DC.

Link: Impact of Car2go...

 The Times They Are A Changin’

Obviously some Calgarians have already or are now making the decision to live with one less car  - or without a car at all. This number is going to increase as car-sharing programs expand the geographic area they operate in. As well, new competition will result in more cars and better pricing, which will make car-sharing even more attractive to more Calgarians. 

In addition, services like Uber and Lyft are sure to become commonplace over the next 5 years in Calgary and Calgary will probably have a bike-sharing program in the near future (over 500 cities world-wide already have programs), making living without two cars, more feasible especially in the inner city.

And then there is Calgary’s multi-billion dollar transit expansion plans like the Green-Line and several cross-town Bus Rapid Transit routes designed to make transit a more viable option for Calgarians’ everyday transportation needs.  

In addition, the Calgary Regional Partnership is piloting (October 2016 to October 2018) a regional transit system for Black Diamond, High River, Okotoks and Turner Valley, which may be expanded to Strathmore and Chestermere in 2018.

Little by little, Calgarians are being offered more options for commuting to work and other activities. 

I suspect many Calgary households would be willing to give up one of their cars if offered a viable alternative - especially for their Monday to Friday commute.  Who wouldn’t want to save some of the $10,000+ per year it costs to drive a car in Calgary, not counting parking fees and hassles if going downtown? Money that could be used to buy a bigger home, take a vacation or save for a child’s education.

Looking ahead…

Is it possible that we could return to building houses with just a single garage?  What impact would that have on how we build new suburbs?

Could we see more condos and apartment buildings with no parking (like N3 in East Village)?  Will the next generation rather spend $50,000 (the cost of an underground parking space) on a bigger condo than a parking stall for a car that sits idle 95% of the time?
Could we see downtown, hospital, post-secondary and airport parkades being converted to new uses?  
Could driving around looking for a parking spot at Chinook Centre, Market Mall and Southcentre at Christmas all but disappear?

With fewer cars on the road, could gridlock on Deerfoot, Glenmore and Crowchild Trails become a thing of the past?

And heaven forbid we might even see lower downtown parking rates as supply exceeds demand?

Fewer cars and less demand for parking would also make it easier to create wider sidewalks and more bike lanes where appropriate.  

Never Say Never…

I remember in the early ‘90s when the City of Calgary’s GO Plan set a goal of a 50/50 modal split for downtown commuters by 2020 i.e. 50% would use transit and 50% would drive many said it would never happen. Today the Downtown modal split is 49% transit, 10% walk/cycle and 41% drive.

Link: City of Calgary, 2016 Calgary Downtown Cordon Count 

While Calgarians love their cars, they are also young and highly educated, the ideal demographics for car and bike sharing programs, as well as services like Uber and Lyft (90% of Uber users are 16 to 44 years of age and 80% have a post-secondary degree). 

LInk: Rideshare Passenger Demographics 

Indeed, Calgarians have already demonstrated they love car-sharing with 99,000 car2go members, second only to Vancouver (118,000 members) in North America. 

Perhaps we don’t need to spend billions on Crowchild Trail, but rather fast track bigger and better car-sharing programs and private transportation services like Uber and Lyft?

Last Word 

Maybe it is high time to think outside the car!

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Car2go A Game Changer?

Ferrari Fun

East Village: No Parking No Problem