Study finds Vancouver close to being a “15-minute” city

The city is close to reaching its goal to have 90 per cent of residents within walking distance of essential services by 2030

About 80 per cent of Vancouver residents live within a 15-minute walk of essential services. (Keet Kailey)

About 80 per cent of Vancouver residents live within a 15-minute walk of essential services. (Keet Kailey)

Last year, more than 100,000 people moved to British Columbia according to year-end data, and it’s considered the biggest migration in the province since 1961. The subsequent rise in population has led to an increase in construction with major development’s underway in Vancouver, like increased transit routes and high-rises. 

A study published last month called Is the 15-minute city within reach? Evaluating walking and cycling accessibility to grocery stores in Vancouver written by Simon Fraser University students Kate Hosford, Geneva Beairsto, and Meghan Winters found Vancouver is close to being a 15-minute city. 

The notion was popularized in recents years by Paris mayor Ann Hidalgo, which supports basic necessities to be within a 15-minute walk or cycle of home. The design is meant to reduce emissions and inconvenience by removing the need to use a vehicle. 

Vancouver is the largest city by population in B.C., and is one of the most amenity dense cities in Canada. 

“Overall, I found that almost 80 per cent of residents had access to a grocery store within a 15-minute walk and almost everyone within a 15-minute cycle,” Hosford says. 

This is close to the city’s goal of having 90 per cent of residents be within walking distance of essential services by 2030. 

The SFU students used OpenStreetMap to figure out the travel time to services like malls, grocery stores, and convenience stores in Vancouver. They also used geographical units from Statistics Canada, the Highway Capacity Manual, City of Vancouver, and City of Burnaby Open Data catalogue. 

According to the study, there is good accessibility to over 10 grocery stores within a 15-minute cycle, and only nine per cent of the Vancouver population under 65 didn’t have access to a grocery store within a 15-minute walk. 

But many areas have only two options for stores, and those that did not have a 15-minute access to a grocery were neighbourhoods that were diverse, had higher portions of children and older adults, and lower employment rates. People who live in less population dense areas like south West Vancouver also have less access to grocery stores within 15-minutes. 

“The city should be walkable, and it should be accessible,” says David Sadoway, a Kwantlen Polytechnic University instructor in the geography and environment department. 

“Not just for people who are able-bodied, but people who are elderly, and people who are in wheelchairs, and people who skateboard, and all kinds of diverse people,” he says. 

Hosford says in cities like Burnaby, Surrey, and Langley, citizens have less access to daily needs within a short walk or cycling trip because those cities are designed around car transportation. 

South of the Fraser river has the highest growing population in the Valley, and with an increase in population, there is an increased need for accessible transit. 

“I think we need more bus rapid transit,” Sadoway says.

Last semester, Sadoway’s students presented research on a Light Rail Transit (LRT) network for Surrey and Delta which found that an LRT would help reduce traffic and increase productivity.  

In 2020, the province began its journey towards building the 16 kilometre Surrey Langley Skytrain extension of the Expo Line along the Fraser Highway for an estimated $3.95 billion. An approved business case is expected later this year with the expected in-service date being late 2028. 

Hosford says there are three main actions the B.C. government could take to improve accessibility to essential services in suburban areas starting with a plan for a mixed density city — a primarily residential area but with complementary commercial and public areas. 

“A second thing is building out the all ages and abilities cycling infrastructure network,” Hosford says. 

The City of Victoria designed an All Ages and Abilities cycling network plan in 2016, which consists of several projects contributing towards a 32 kilometre worth of cycling routes in James Bay to “improve road safety and provide affordable transportation,” according to the plan’s website

“These are like protected bike lanes that would be comfortable for a young kid to [or] an older adult to be concentrated in the downtown area, and throughout the rest of the city,” Hosford says. 

“Expanding that network for people who don’t live within a walking distance to a grocery store they can still cycle there comfortably,” she adds.

Hosford says with public transit being designed around the 9:00 am to 5:00 pm work schedule, we need to start rethinking how transit is planned to be available for more diverse schedules. 

The Vancouver city council approved a Climate Emergency Action Plan in 2020 which set goals and steps to reduce carbon pollution. According to the plan, the biggest sources of carbon pollution are vehicles at 39 per cent and buildings at 54 per cent. 

“The 15-minute city helps move towards climate goals because it means people don’t have to travel as far to get things they need,” Hosford says. “They don’t have to rely on cars as much.”

Sadoway says if multiple modes of transportation are available, parks and natural wildlife in cities might disappear. 

“I’m very supportive of the idea because it encapsulates some of the great ideas in planning like livability, walkability, and quality of life,” he says. 

“The 15-minute city really is about creating a livable neighbourhood that has parks and has recreational opportunities that you can go to,” Hosford says.