City of Richmond—Arterial Road Policy


As one of the biggest cities in Canada, Richmond has been under increasing population pressure for a long time. Along with population pressure, many issues arise. Among these issues are rising housing price and transportaiton inefficiency. As one of the major ways of dealing with these problems, densification along its arterial roads policy has been permitted by the City in 1999. Ever since then, the City has tried to revise and improve the policy over the years, while the argument about this policy never ceaces.


Canada has one of the highest levels of urbanization in the world. Approxiamate 80% of Canada’s population are living in cities and towns.[1] Richomond, as one of the largest cities in Canada, has been facing the same situation. Housing intense and transportation inefficiency are two by-products of such population inflation. In response to these problems, the City of Richmond chose to use densification as a way to provide more affordable accommodations while improving the transportaiton efficiency. In 1999, the City officially permitted the densification along its arterial roads policy. And the City has reviewed and refined this policy over the years,including as part of the 2041 Official Community Plan(OCP) Update.[2]

What the arterial roads policy is

The objective of the policy is to “direct appropriate development onto certain arterial roads outside the City Centre”[3]. To be berief, the policy mainly incorporates two parts. One is to strenthen the level of investiment on public transit system in designated arterial road areas. Another is to increase the density of houses along the arterial roads by compacting lots of single-family houses with multi-family houses. The idea is not difficult to understand, because compared with a multi-family house, a single-family house usually occupy much larger land, which is not land-saving.

The areas covered by the policy is shown on the picture below[4](ALR is the abbreviation of Agricultural Land Reserve):

According to the population census conducted by the government of canada in 2012[5], it can be estimated that nearly 40% of total population lives in the affected areas.

Distributional effects and effectiveness in general

There has been two opposite voices since the day the policy was disigned. People who support the policy claim that urban land is not infinite and creating dense neighborhoods with multi-use development was the only option left for us. Compared with low density neighhoods, high density neighhoods are less car-dependent and hence much more envionmentally sustainable. Besides, high density neighborhoods are more lively and vibrant. We can combine mutiple styles of housing with commercial space and public space as well[6]. The move is aslo the part of an effort to alleviate affordable housing issues for low and middle-income families in the city, for multi-family housing tends to be less expensive.

Meanwhile, some people hold opinions highly against such policy. They claim that “ the decision to allow granny flats and coach houses to be built in residential Richmond is the beginning of the end for the city’s neighbourhoods.”[7] They said that the governent should have considered the feelings of the residents more before forcing the policy to go into effect. For one thing, many neighhoods of the City don’t’s have corresponding infrastructure, like community centers and schools, to deal with extra population. And the policy may lead to traffic congestion on some certain roads. For the increasing housing demand issue, they point out that this can be solved by finding a new place, like Langley, where housing development is built to cater solely to low-income families.


The policy has been released for years, while its implementation process proceeded slow because of the frequent protest from the residents and some politicians. Despite many potential benefits that can come from the policy, it seems like an another lively drama of “not in my backyard” is on show. As for me, I believe densification is an good choice to handle urbanlization issue, because this method has been proved by many cities in the world to be effective. However, I think it is better to think twice before jumping into this “city-rebuiding” project. For every city has its unique history and style, one successful model of a city may not applied to other cities. Just like the opponents say, we should calculate the potential benefits, but we also have to consider the potential cost from many different perspectives.


[1]  Densification. TRAC Tenant Resource & Advisory Center.

[2]  City of Richmond Policy Planning Devision. Arterial Road Policy.

[3]  City of Richmond Policy Planning Devision. Specifi c Policies and Guidelines.

[4]  City of Richmond Policy Planning Devision. Residential Redevelopment Along Richmond’s Arterial Roads.

[5]  Population Hot Facts.

[6]  Dylan King, Richmond News. Cities need densification

[7]  Alan Campbell, Richmond News. Densification destroys neighbourhoods


3 thoughts on “City of Richmond—Arterial Road Policy

  1. Hey Mike!

    Good read. As a resident, I have mixed emotions about this. I’ve been living here for a while and traffic over here has clearly gotten worse. It is true that with densification there should be less cars but if the residents of these multi-family homes have jobs that are outside of Richmond, like in Burnaby or Vancouver, if public transit isn’t convenient they will drive their cars to work. In this case densification will actually increase cars in the area instead of lessening it. More families just means more cars in this case and the critics will be right. They have to fix public transit within the city by the very least.

    I don’t think that this will lower housing prices in Richmond either. Sure you add supply but what if demand is greater than supply? Prices are still going to be high.

    Also, I agree that they should think twice before doing something like this here. That map that you showed is a huge area. Further, if I remember correctly there is supposed to be this bylaw in the city that there should be an appropriate open land space per nearby resident. If this bylaw still exists that for sure hinders the chance for this kind of densification.

    I don’t know if this Arterial Road Policy will work or not (personally, as of now, I’m leaning toward the not a fan side) but your blog makes me realize why there are so many town houses and high rise condominiums being built in the city nowadays.


  2. Hey Mike,
    It’s interesting to know of such a policy in the city I am living in. I really like the squared city layout and development in Richmond.

    It’s also interesting when you mentioned that they are trying to “direct appropriate development onto certain arterial roads outside the City Centre”. I guess the city centre is already very compacted and densely developed with mixed of commercial and residential buildings, etc. They are trying to induce densification around and close to the city center. As a result, the housing prices are higher in the zones among the arterial roads. The rising housing prices give people incentive to move outside of those zones and purchase houses in elsewhere Richmond where housing prices are noticeably lower. Vehicles always make things easier. They don’t mind live farther away from the city center with a big chunk of immediate saving. Also, the property taxes will be lower too with lower house prices which represent more saving. Together with the disadvantages you mentioned that residents on the aterial zones complain about the negative crowding effects, I am not sure how effective this policy has been and will be down the road.

    Thanks for the information!


  3. thanks for sharing, Mike.
    we can see the problem easily, city densitification is not just building up the high-rieses, all the other infrastructure should be followed to keep enhacing the quality of life.
    I believe the policy should be more all around but not just increase the density of city and speed of transportation.

    good luck with the exam!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *