KNOX – How do we contain auto traffic downtown without cutting off access?

(Image: Adrian Lam, Victoria Times Colonist)

CALL IT NUMBER NERD Nirvana. Or, depending on your perspective, an alternative to NyQuil.

When Statistics Canada unveiled its first set of findings from the 2021 census Wednesday, it included a whack of data that could be taken as either A) a fascinating snapshot of the changing face of Greater Victoria, or B) daunting enough to cause even an accountant to reach for the bottle.

Here’s what some of those numbers showed.

• News flash: People like to move here. And the builders can’t keep up.

Last year, an Ontario demographer found that Greater Victoria is the only large metropolitan area in Canada (that is, one with a population over 100,000) where the birth rate has fallen below 1.0. It’s also the only one in which, every year this century, more people have died than been born. Were it not for immigration, our community’s population would have dropped.

Instead, Greater Victoria’s population grew from 306,970 in 2001 to 397,237 last year. Some might like to blame the surge in real estate prices on rich Asian speculators parking capital or part-timers from the Prairies leaving homes empty, but the reality is that people keep flocking here to live.

As the TC’s Andrew Duffy reported in January, our residential construction sector broke a 45-year-old homebuilding record in 2021, but still couldn’t keep up to demand. Build it and they will come … and come … and come.

Is there an end to the demand? Is it a case of waiting for the baby-boomer retirement bulge to pass (or housing policies to change)? Or, in a time when working remotely lets people live anywhere, maybe the sky (as in 29-storey buildings) really is the limit.

• Burrowing down, StatCan painted a picture of how many of us live close to downtown.

Of those who dwell in Canada’s metropolitan areas, 4.7 per cent live downtown, 23.8 per cent are in what is called the urban fringe (within 10 minutes of downtown) and 33.1 per cent are in near suburbs (10 to 20 minutes from downtown). Another 18.5 per cent live in intermediate suburbs (20 to 30 minutes) and 19.9 per cent in the outer suburbs.

By comparison, 11.7 per cent of Greater Victorians reside downtown, 36.1 in the urban fringe, 32.4 in the near suburbs, 13.1 in the intermediate suburbs and 6.8 beyond that.

In Nanaimo, it’s 4.7 per cent downtown, 46 in the urban fringe, 44.6 in near suburbs, 3.3 in intermediate suburbs and 1.3 in outer suburbs.

• StatCan also reported on each area’s rate of growth. Between 2016 and 2021, downtown Victoria’s population grew from 41,229 to 46,309, a rise of 12.3 per cent.

Downtown’s growth rate was still lower than that of the area’s farthest reaches, though: It was 15 per cent in the intermediate zone and 13.1 beyond that.

In raw figures, though, the biggest increase was in the near suburbs — 10 to 20 minutes from downtown — where the number of residents climbed from 116,474 to 128,640.

• By contrast, Victoria’s urban fringe, the neighbourhoods within 10 minutes of downtown, had the lowest rate of growth, a mere 1.6 per cent. Note, though, that our urban fringe is among the most densely populated in Canada — 2,616 people per square kilometre, compared with 1,749 in similar zones elsewhere in Canada.

Our close-to-downtown neighbourhoods trail only those of Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Quebec City in density. Nanaimo’s number is 908.

• At 5,709 people per square kilometre, Victoria has the ninth most densely populated downtown in Canada. Nothing as crazy as the leader, Vancouver, where it’s 18,837, but still a bit ahead of the national bigger-city average, 5,385. In Nanaimo, it’s 2,082.

Density is a transportation issue. The fear is that if everybody who moves downtown, or who wants to go downtown, brings a car, we’ll have gridlock. We need bike lanes and other active-transportation alternatives for those who have the physical ability to use them.

Yet Victoria is a place with a disproportionately high number of hills and old people, not all of them keen/able to power their way up Johnson Street on the old three-speed. How do we contain the number of cars downtown without cutting off access for a big chunk of the population?

About Mel Rothenburger (9652 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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