Brent Toderian thinks it was actually a transportation plan, as he describes in his Planetizen blog post:
At a book launch party* I had the pleasure of attending this past weekend, our host, Simon Fraser University City Program Director Gordon Price, began the evening by asking each member of the crowd to state an urban design decision that “they loved.” It was a fun and provocative question for a group of city-making wonks like us, and an even better icebreaker than the wine. …
… it came to my turn, my answer took a big picture and perhaps surprising approach, depending on your definition of urban design. In Vancouver, a city often referred to as “a city by design”, the most important urban design decision we ever made, the decision I loved most, is actually usually referred to as a transportation decision.
In 1997, the city approved its first influential Transportation Plan.
Brent makes the case that the most important proactive decision Vancouver ever made was to priorize active transportation modes like walking and biking – with the single-occupancy vehicle not omitted but placed last.
To add to that, I’d say that the most important thing that never happened was the freeway plan, meaning that high-speed, high-volume arterials were not built into the centre of our region.
But the 1997 transportation plan Brent refers to lists something else at the top of its list of policies: No expansion of road capacity.
That radical statement actually didn’t raise any eyebrows at the time, probably because it had been de facto policy since the 1970s, and more likely because it didn’t apply to things like left-hand turn bays justified for sfaety reasons and roads needed for access to new developments, such as the megaprojects.
Nonetheless, it is an extraordinary commitment. And it meant, for instance, that Council would reject the widening of the Lions Gate Bridge to four lanes, or authorize land acquisition for the Alberni-Georgia Connector. It effectively took off the table any plans to increase capacity for cars.
And it meant that we – politicians, planners, engineers, the public – had to take other modes seriously. Especially transit. We had to have serious plans – and funded budgets – for greenways, bike networks, disabled accessibility, new sidewalk designs – all the things that made walking ultimately the dominant mode.
* Dynamic Urban Design – Michael von Hausen’s new opus.