Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Further Comments on the City of Greater Sudbury's Draft Transportation Master Plan and Request for Decision by Council

The following is a letter submitted to Greater Sudbury Ontario Council members for their consideration in advance of a Request for a Decision to approve the Draft Transportation Master Plan.

December 12, 2016

To: Members of Council
Re: Draft Transportation Master Plan

Thank you for the opportunity to provide additional feedback on the Draft Transportation Master Plan (DTMP).  I have previously provided correspondence to Council on this matter (June 24, 2015, available online here: “My Comments on Greater Sudbury’s Draft Transportation Master Plan,” ) and have made a public presentation at an earlier Council meeting.  I thank Council for the continuing opportunity to provide feedback on the DTMP.

With regards to my previous comments, I am happy to see that some of the concerns I raised have, in part, been addressed through revisions made to the DTMP (specifically, revisions to sections pertaining to transportation demand management and the identification of revised cycling routes).  With that in mind, I’ll use this opportunity to provide further comments, rather than revisiting many of the earlier issues that I’ve identified.  I’ll use the following observation as my starting point for these comments.

In Greater Sudbury, pedestrians are being killed at a rate twice the provincial average (see reference here: “Transportation plan a ‘step in the right direction’ – Coalition for Livable Sudbury co-chair,” Sudbury.com, December 7, 2016).

Recently, the Toronto Star called for action on the ‘epidemic’ of ‘violence against pedestrians’ (see: “Crack down on the epidemic of violence against pedestrians: Editorial,” the Toronto Star, December 11, 2016).  It should be noted that per capita, pedestrians are killed at half the rate in Toronto as they are in Greater Sudbury. 

I appreciate the attention that the City is making towards increasing pedestrian safety.  The recent installation of pedestrians cross-overs, along with the incorporation of a new section in the DTMP regarding pedestrian safety is important. 

However, as the Toronto Star editorial notes, along with lower speed limits on our roads, one of the most important things that a municipality can do for the safety of its pedestrians is to design our roads and transportation systems in such a way as to prioritize safety.  Road design elements play a considerable part in road safety – and yet, it’s one which has largely been ignored in Greater Sudbury and in most North American cities.  When it comes to road design, we have for too long sacrificed safety for speed. 

The result in our municipality has been a mounting toll of injury and death, depicted vividly on the Sudbury Pedestrian Collision Map

Pedestrian safety has been compromised as a result of a series of small, discrete decisions made over time, which have led to roads becoming wider, and made available for traffic travelling at ever-increasing speeds.  We’ve done this to ourselves, in the fight against congestion.  To save ourselves a few minutes in our daily commute, we’ve made our City less livable – and less safe – for all road users.

Let’s be clear about this.  The Draft Transportation Master Plan continues this trend.

Yes, there is a new section on pedestrian safety, along with a section of the plan that calls on the creation of complete streets.  Cycling infrastructure, which tends to have a calming effect on traffic, has also been identified along some of the City’s major corridors.  A Transportation Demand Management Plan and a Transit Plan are called for in the DTMP.  Together, these measures should lead to positive impacts for pedestrians in the City.

But it’s not enough.  As long as we continue to build high-volume new roads, and expand existing roads by adding new lanes or just by widening existing lanes, the war on pedestrians in our City will continue.  And that’s the vision for Greater Sudbury contained in the DTMP – from now until 2031.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  In fact, it shouldn’t be this way.  The new roads which the DTMP calls for are not needed to meet long term planning objectives.  As you know, the DTMP was prepared with the use of historic data from the earlier 2005 Transportation Background Plan.  The DTMP is built on the assumption that growth will occur in our City. 

The 2013 Hemson Consulting Plan indicated that the City can expect growth of just 10,500 people up until the year 2036.  With such modest growth projected, what need is there for all of the road projects identified in the DTMP – especially those which are not addressing a current issue of congestion?

Driving around in our City is pretty easy.  I drive almost every day.  I understand that there are some times of the day in which traffic may be heavier, and those driving are faced with minor inconveniences and hold-ups.  However, compared to “rush hours” in other Ontario cities, Greater Sudbury’s rush hour is pretty tame.  Even cities with smaller populations than ours, like Barrie, experience more congestion during their rush hour.

The Ontario Ministry of Finance has projected that Greater Sudbury will grow only by about 500 people between 2016 and 2041.  While any growth forecast is subject to revision as a result of changing socio-economic conditions, planning for the future ought to be carried out in a manner which is sustainable.  That includes the use of current data and an analysis of existing trends.  Not only is our City’s population growth expected to be modest to almost non-existent over the next 20 to 25 years, but the majority of that growth is almost entirely expected to be among those who are seniors.

Seniors tend to have a different set of transportation needs than other demographic groups.  They tend to own fewer cars, and are more likely to use alternative modes of transportation (walking, mobility devices,  transit) for their transportation needs.

Seniors are also far more likely to be killed when they are pedestrians – more than any other age cohort.

The City of Greater Sudbury needs to begin planning for the future that we are likely to have, and not on some unsupported aspirational future.  Sustainability rather than unsubstantiated hopes for growth must form the bedrock of all decisions.  Positive outcomes will ensue, including lower costs to municipal taxpayers by not having to fund expensive future retrofits, or just by saving money on projects which are not needed for the long-term health and welfare of citizens and businesses.

If there is no demonstrable need for a project, it ought not to be funded.  Where need dictates that a project should go forward, it should do so in a way which has regard to socio-economic, natural and cultural environments, while striving to be cost-effective for taxpayers.

If the Draft Transportation Master Plan had been prepared with the above in mind, I believe it would have prioritized the needs of moving people around our city over that of moving cars.  But the Plan we have fails – considerably – when it comes to moving people.  Background work into Greater Sudbury’s Sustainable Mobility Master Plan in 2011 revealed that fully one third of Greater Sudburians did not have access to a personal vehicle in order to get around our City.  Global trends suggest that Greater Sudbury isn’t unique, and that we can expect an ever-growing number of our inhabitants to find themselves lacking access to motor vehicles – especially as we become a more elderly city.

If approved by Council, the DTMP will form the backbone for transportation decisions made for at least the next 10 years – and likely will not be replaced by a new plan for as many as 15 years.  That’s why it’s so important for the City to end up with a Plan which serves our current and future needs.  The decision you are being asked to make with regards to the latest draft of the Transportation Master Plan on Tuesday, December 13, 2016 will be an important one – one which will, for many practical purposes, bind current and future councils and direct that growth and development in our City occur in a certain way – one which prioritizes the movement of cars over the movement of people.

With all sincerity, I ask that Council postpone making a decision on the DTMP.  This isn’t the plan that’s going to help put Greater Sudbury on a course towards sustainability.  It’s not the plan that is going to lead to a reduction in the carnage that occurs daily on our streets.  This isn’t the plan that a City whose only growing demographic cohort is aged 65 and up needs to be safe going forward into the future.

As Council members, I urge you to listen to the many voices you are hearing from the public who are calling for changes to the DTMP.  I understand that you are being pulled in a direction to finally make a decision one way or another on this plan – a plan which has been in preparation for years.  Residents who have spoken up and who continue to speak up have the interests of our communities at heart, and they, like me, recognize that this plan is deficient.

There are a number of practical steps which can still be incorporated into the Plan even at this late date which will lead to better outcomes for all road users.  With that in mind, I ask that Council direct Staff to:
  • Undertake a review of the DTMP’s modelling, based on the use of current data and recent population projections, in order to determine priority needs.  
  • Develop a priority listing for new roads projects, based on existing and planned circumstances.  Such a list may lead to the removal of many of the new roads / widened roads that appear on the DTMP’s schedules (examples: widening MR 80 to 6 lanes; extending Montrose south into the Ponderossa; removal of the 2nd access for Laurentian University; removal of reference to the Barrydowne Extension).   
  • Reducing road lane widths to 3.2 metres so that additional space for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure can be found in right-of-ways, and to increase safety (wider lanes lead to faster moving traffic and more collisions).   
  • Direction to reduce posted speed limits on our streets.    
  • Prioritize safe, separated cycling infrastructure on our main streets as short term projects in order to create a minimum grid for cyclists as recommended by Ontario Traffic Manual Book 18 (example: Paris, Notre Dame, Lorne, Regent, Elm, Barrydowne, Lasalle and the Kingsway).  
  • The use of design elements, such as pedestrian safety islands, square curb cuts at intersections, road diets, to increase safety and slow down fast-moving vehicular traffic.

If Council is reluctant to direct Staff to revisit the Plan at this time, as a fall-back option, I urge Council to consider approving the Plan only if the City pursues the “Do Nothing” option contained in the Plan, rather than the “Sustainable” option recommended by Staff.  The Do Nothing approach will at least have the benefit of providing a blank slate for new road projects, and could form the impetus for undertaking a new Transportation Master Plan founded on the principles of sustainability rather than unjustifiable growth.

I understand that these comments may seem harsh.  I understand that they may appear to be informed by an ideology to which you and your colleagues do not subscribe – sustainability and the use of data in preference to aspirational and – in the case of Greater Sudbury – largely unjustifiable growth.  The truth is that we’re probably not as far apart as we might seem.  I understand that you have the best interests of the community in mind when making decisions – as you will with any decision pertaining to the DTMP.  I know that this Plan has been ongoing and outstanding for years, and I share your desire to move forward with it.

And yet this Plan remains seriously deficient.  I think that we share similar concerns about whether any or all of the new road projects it depicts will ever be implemented – especially since many of these same projects have been on the books since at least 2005.  I understand that you may be wondering what harm there is in approving a plan that includes road projects which may never be built – or that will be built only when the stars align, as they did recently for a part of the Maley Drive Extension.

I understand these concerns, but I am here to tell you that it does matter – that planning for the future in a sustainable way is important – not just for our City’s built form, but for the City’s bottom line.  And it’s important for those who will one day live here as seniors – a demographic cohort that I aspire to join one day here in Greater Sudbury.

Our future is in your hands.  Please, let’s take the time to get this right.

Steve May

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with positions and policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

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