British Columbia

From hyperloops to hailing rides: North America's biggest transportation conference hits Vancouver

Not a day goes by in Vancouver where people aren't talking about the interaction between transit and real estate development — but that conversation is going to get awfully loud this week. 

Metro Vancouver has one of the largest percentages of people who take transit to work

"Building Livable Communities with Transit" is the tagline of the Rail-Volution taking place in Vancouver. (ANNE-DIANDRA LOUARN/RADIO-CANADA)

Not a day goes by in Vancouver where people aren't talking about the interaction between transit and real estate development — but that conversation is going to get awfully loud this week. 

Rail~Volution is North America's largest conference, which has a self-declared aim of "building livable communities with transit." 

Its 25th anniversary is taking place this week in Vancouver, with over 1,300 delegates sharing best practices by taking in a variety of forums and panels. 

And its CEO says Vancouver is an ideal place to host the conference, for somewhat conflicting reasons.

Dan Bartholomay, Rail~Volution's CEO., said Metro Vancouver has done a good job of doing regional planning around sustainability. It's also developed a "robust" transit system, including bus, rail and biking. 

"So there's a lot of lessons to learn about planning and design," Bartholomay said.

On the other hand, he noted that it's also a place experiencing challenges around affordability.

'Unintended consequences'

Metro Vancouver's successes and struggles with development this century have been well documented

While transit ridership is at a record high — with billions of dollars committed for more projects — municipalities across the region have faced pressure to keep land around transit-oriented developments affordable for those that need transit most.   

"Vancouver is certainly one of the places with what I would call 'unintended consequences,'" said Bartholomay.

"Great planning and development has brought more people into the city, more development, and in some cases left some people behind."

One of the keynote sessions at the conference is called "the challenge of getting it right: success, housing affordability and displacement in the Vancouver context." Among the speakers will be Andy Yan, director of Simon Fraser University's City Program.

"I think that it presents the ability to learn from the strengths and challenges that other cities are facing," Yan said.

He noted Metro Vancouver has one of the largest percentage of people who take transit to work.

"That is an accomplishment but that being said we certainly face sizeable challenges."

"Intercity Hyperloop Technology: Economic and Transportation Implications" is one of the workshops taking place during the conference. ( Radio-Canada/TransPod Hyperloop)

'We have a great story to tell' 

But most of the conference will focus on more general issues beyond Vancouver's borders: some of the panels have titles such as "Community Streetcar Coalition," "Reimaginging Curb Spaces," and "Elevating Cultural Assets in Placemaking."

(To say nothing of more technology-based panels like "Intercity Hyperloop Technology" and "Ditching Diesel"). The hyperloop is a form of high-speed ground transport still under development, which could see passengers travelling at speeds up to 1,100 kilometres an hour.

The event is being hosted by TransLink, which has a number of staff who will be presenting during the course of the conference. 

"We have a great story to tell when it comes to transit oriented development and livable communities," said Sarah Ross, director of system planning at TransLink.

Ross added the conference would be a learning opportunity for decision makers inside the region as well. 

"I think our approach in this region is we need to be looking at any and all different strategies that can help advance that and so that's something I know many local attendees will be keeping an eye out for."