A study from location intelligence platform Local Logic reveals the roles that population density and access to jobs and services play in the driving rates of Canadians. When all three factors are high, the driving rate is low, reducing pollution.
Local Logic’s study breaks down locations in Canada — with a focus on Quebec — into those who drive their cars a lot, an average amount and very little to not at all.
The study focused on commuting by car and avoiding car usage for recreation or for errands. Almost four-in-five (79.5 per cent) Canadians commute by car.
In locations where driving rates are below 50 per cent, one of these three variables will be in the 98th percentile.
“For me, the biggest finding was that you need all of those three variables to reach a certain threshold to make people less dependent on using their cars. So if you look at just population density by itself, people won’t use less cars,” said Gabriel Damant-Sirois, Local Logic’s co-founder and chief product officer.
“You need to have good density, good access to services and good access to jobs, which was pretty interesting. You don't need all of them very high, but you need the combination of those variables.”
The Montreal-based Local Logic has utilized over 75 billion data points on its platform since its founding in 2015. It works with commercial real estate, travel and media companies, helping to guide individual projects and strategy for companies like Ivanhoe Cambridge, Sonder and SmartCentres.
Local Logic's car usage study
Even in cities with established rapid-transit systems like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, the car usage rate is still almost 70 per cent. By contrast, smaller areas like Sherbrooke, Que. have an 88.6 per cent usage rate.
For the study, Local Logic sorted 1.9 million street segments – the section of a street between two adjacent intersections – into three groups.
- The first group, classified as urban, has a commuting rate of one-third.
- The second is semi-urban with a rate between one and two-thirds.
- The last is suburban or rural with a rate above two-thirds.
Over 80 per cent of street segments are in the third group. However, the population living on or near these segments comprise only 57 per cent of the population. Conversely, the first group only comprises 1.5 per cent of all street segments in the country, but is home to about 8 per cent of the population.
There are 116 neighbourhoods in the country with at least half of their segments in group one, including Calgary, Kingston, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria and Winnipeg.
Car commuting in Canada
The biggest variable in cities and neighbourhoods was the access to jobs. It was 20 times higher in group one than group three.
The goal for the company was not to make people feel guilty about car usage, but more in the spirit of “you can’t optimize what you can’t measure,” as Damant-Sirois put it. Car usage is even more vital when traversing across the provinces, given the lack of high-speed rail.
Three of the top 10 neighbourhoods with the least driving are in Montreal, including the number one, Milton-Parc with a driving rate of 13.3 per cent. The other seven are in Toronto.
For the 116 neighbourhoods, population density was around 10,000 per square km, with the exceptions of central business districts, university campuses and downtown-adjacent, tourist prone areas.
The biggest takeaway is that all three variables are key to reducing car usage. When all three are high, the driving rate is 29.7 per cent.
“If you've built a very dense environment without access to services and jobs, people will just use their cars,” Damant-Sirois explained. “One of the areas where the modal share for cars is the highest is areas that are very, very dense, but there's absolutely no services.”
Local Logic’s Montreal study
In June, the company published a similar report focusing on understanding the kind of built environment that would be conducive to people using less of their cars. This study focused squarely on Montreal as a benchmark for the rest of Canada.
The company found the average density in places where primary services are easy to access on foot is around 10,000 inhabitants per square kilometre. The car modal share in these sectors is less than 40 per cent compared to approximately 74 per cent for the Greater Montreal region.
When the density drops to 1,780 people per square kilometre, the share of car commuting more than doubles to 83 per cent.
Speaking to SustainableBiz in an earlier interview, Damant-Sirois was optimistic on seeing change in North American car dependency, citing improvements to Montreal’s bike infrastructure as an example.
“I think the mentality has changed, and the dependency on cars in North America is still present. But there's way more openness on alternative modes and the importance to fight climate change, for example,” he said. “So I think the habits are hard, seems hard to change. But when the governments are actually voting (with) concrete actions, human beings are quite adaptable. Way more than we think we are.”
Reducing vehicle use would decrease the greenhouse gas emissions from driving. The average Canadian vehicle emits about 206 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.
Building on the study
Damant-Sirois said Local Logic is working primarily with municipal governments and real estate developers to help them apply the findings from the study. For the former, that may mean pushing for a more mixed-use environment to reduce car usage. For the latter, its about de-risking assets in the face of climate change.
“If you build assets in an environment that is car-centric, you're exposing your assets more risk in the future, because you know that the regulation is going to change to promote environments that are less car-centric,” he said. “Meaning that the value of your asset over time will be more protected if you already invest in areas that are more sustainable.”
In the future, the company hopes to build on the study by publishing insights into different types of driving trips, like for groceries or travel. Local Logic also plans on publishing similar data for cities in the U.S.