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Can transportation planning and design be equitable?

Peter Caulfield
Can transportation planning and design be equitable?

At the recent Transportation Conference 2020 in Vancouver, a panel of five transportation experts discussed how to make transportation planning and design more equitable.

“The connection between equity and transportation is that the users of transportation are a diverse population,” said panellist Marcie Cochrane, a project leader with The Association of Consulting Engineering Companies British Columbia (ACEC-BC). 

“In order to provide services and systems that meet the diverse needs of the population, we as engineers need to consider diversity in our planning, design and construction of transportation infrastructure and systems,” Cochrane said.

Diversity covers many different variables, she says, including “but not limited to,” gender, age, geography, race, religion and disability. 

“Each person has unique, intersecting identities that shape their needs and experiences,” Cochrane said. “When teams working on planning and design consider these different needs and user experiences, the result is the delivery of projects and programs that better meet the needs of end users.”

During her allotted time in the discussion, Cochrane talked about her experience with Gender Based Analysis Plus (GBA+),  a program that was developed by Status of Women Canada and is now being used by both the federal government and the BC government. 

“GBA+ helps teams consider the multiple identity factors of the users of a program or project, considering their unique needs and experiences to guide planning, design and delivery decisions,” she said. “The objective is to deliver more equitable projects and programs that better meet the needs of the diverse populations that use them.” 

The equitable transportation panel discussion was part of Transportation Conference 2020, a one-day conference that looked at the direction and trends of B.C.’s transportation plans.

The event was hosted by ACEC-BC in partnership with the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and TransLink, which is responsible for Metro Vancouver’s regional transportation network.

The 2020 instalment of the annual conference, which took place at Vancouver’s Hyatt Regency, was attended by 500 participants and 15 presenters.

“This year’s theme was Vision 2020,” said ACEC-BC spokesman Ben Abbasipour. “It looked at new technologies, changing priorities and innovative developments in BC’s transportation systems and where we may be going in the future.”

One of the afternoon presentations featured Annalisa Meyboom, who discussed autonomous vehicles (AVs) and roadway design.

“AVs can operate on our current roads and the companies designing them are trying to design them to drive on any road,” said Meyboom, who is associate professor of architecture at University of British Columbia.

“However, if designers can take advantage of the capabilities of the AVs, we could reduce a lot of hardware, such as traffic lights, bollards, speed bumps, speed limit signs, cul de sacs and stop signs, as well as make our roads much more friendly towards other modes of transportation by reorganizing the space of the street.”

Meyboom says readjusting the space of the street will probably be required if there are autonomous car-share services which need to drop off and pick up, instead of park.

“This will also entail a new approach to monetizing the street, since street parking will not be used as frequently or for as long as street parking,” she said.

Canadian roads are ready for AVs but Canadian legislation is not yet up to speed, says Meyboom.

“We have no way of ascertaining if the AVs are following the rules of the road and no way of enforcing these rules on a car without a driver,” she said. “We also have no way of testing whether the AV software is capable of driving sufficiently safely that we think it’s OK for them to be on the road.”

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