Our historic neighbourhoods, cultural and business districts are facing changes as our city grows. These city-building efforts are important and necessary, but they must give back and provide clear benefit to the communities affected.
After two years of public engagement and numerous meetings with stakeholders, City Council is being asked to make some decisions about the Active Transportation Plan to support the City’s overall plan for growth. The goal is to increase the number of people who walk, cycle or and/or take the bus, in order to leave more room for those who choose to drive their own vehicles, especially as we grow into a larger city.
*Note: There are NO funding decisions happening at this time. All projects are contingent on programs from other levels of government that are specifically targeted for active transportation. Also, BRT construction would not begin until 2022, at the earliest.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and an All Ages and Abilities (AAA) Cycling Network were identified as key changes needed to accommodate a growing city. I support the city’s growth plan for a few reasons:
- Cost: Every time we build a new neighbourhood on the outskirts of our city, we become a more expensive city. Every metre of pipe, road and sidewalk must be maintained. Add in police, fire, EMS, transit, street sweeping, snow clearing, parks, playgrounds and recreation facilities and it’s easy to see why we need to consider as many efficiencies as possible.
- Congestion: Moving ever more vehicles into the downtown increases time delays, congestion and demands for parking. This will worsen as our population increases, and active transportation helps to alleviate these issues.
Culture: If we want a liveable, walkable, human-scaled environment and a vibrant core, we need to invest in ways to achieve it. Here are some facts about BRT and AAA networks:
- BRT is more like a subway than a bus, and it is not idle. It won’t move faster, just more reliability, efficiently and conveniently. BRT will arrive more often at set intervals, have heated stations, digital arrival information and priority signalling at intersections. Some areas will also have dedicated lanes to improve the overall efficiency of the network across the city. (*Electric buses are being researched in advance of BRT)
- AAA networks are an opportunity to improve active transportation usage, with connected cycling networks being built in cities around the world, including cold cities like Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. The key word is *connection*. According to evidence and data from other cities, when cycling networks are fully connected through downtown and into adjoining neighbourhoods, more people choose this method of transportation.
Here is the link to the City Council agenda, including the BRT and AAA reports, for Monday, April 29th.
Here are a few highlights from the report:
BRT: Downtown has options for 1st and 3rd Avenues. Nutana routing has options for Broadway and Sid Buckwold Bridge. Evidence shows that successful BRTs are designed to be where the people are. Our administration has chosen Broadway as the most appropriate route to downtown, with a phased-in approach that would defer dedicated running lanes and major construction.
In the downtown, our administration has chosen 1st Avenue in consideration of future city-building initiatives such as a downtown entertainment district, including an arena.
AAA cycling network: Our administration’s preferred routing is: 3rd Avenue, 19th Street and 23rd St.
I continue to support the growth plan as the best way forward for Saskatoon. We need to be efficient, affordable and provide more options for people to get around. How we do that, is not as straight forward.
I have been disappointed in the 4th Avenue bike lane project, and believe we can do so much better. Have you seen the active transportation showcase on Victoria Avenue and the Traffic Bridge? Enhancements to the overall public realm are a testament to what is possible when we view change through a lens that improves life for all of us. Urban landscaping, pedestrian improvements, raised cycling track and space for vehicles provide a win for everyone. It makes sense to carry on this seamless traffic flow from the Traffic Bridge, down 3rd Avenue. However, it must include the same standards and consideration. The current options do not.
BRT on Broadway:
I live near Broadway, and have been a supporter of this cultural gem my entire adult life. We must ensure that the character of Broadway and the viability of merchants are protected. I want to see Broadway grow and flourish as our city grows, and I don’t want it left behind. While there are risks to routing BRT down Broadway, there are also risks if it is by-passed. Imagining a city that includes many more of us using public transportation may not be easy today, but what will Saskatoon look like if BRT is faster and more convenient than a car? Do we want Broadway to be bypassed when an entertainment district and arena are built downtown?
We need to build the BRT project with a strong focus on the future, and it must address the legitimate concerns of merchants and patrons. The report going before Council addresses technical elements and phase-in considerations but does not address business, culture or the environment – all vital to the preservation of this historic area.
All of this will be top of mind for me in listening to the debate in Council Chambers. Whatever happens, we need to ensure that these changes provide a clear benefit to the areas where they are built.