Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Alternative Transportation in Greater Sudbury - Past Time for Real Action

The following is an open letter to the City of Greater Sudbury’s Finance and Administration Committee – a Council committee of the whole – regarding the 2015 capital budget for infrastructure.

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Thank you for the opportunity to provide input into the City of Greater Sudbury’s consideration of its’ proposed capital budget for infrastructure. I understand that there has been a public consultation process which preceded the consideration of the capital budget. Through this public consultation process, Council heard from several community groups regarding the need for dedicated funding for cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. I understand that despite these requests, the capital budget which is now being considered by Council fails to incorporate any dedicated funding for alternative transportation infrastructure.

This situation has become intolerable.

Greater Sudbury is being left behind in terms of our economic competitiveness, thanks to decisions made by our elected officials which continue to prioritize the needs of automobiles over the needs of people. Alternative transportation systems, such as cycling routes, pedestrian infrastructure and transit, have long had the appearance of being considered as an “after thought”. The prioritization of people over cars has led to a built-form environment which is affecting our City’s competitiveness in the Ontario, and indeed the global, marketplace.

It has long been known that cities which thrive are those which prioritize people over motorized vehicles. Starting with the works of Richard Florida back at the beginning of this century, the notion of a creative class of knowledge-based urbanites leading the way in job creation and innovation has taken hold in many parts of the province. This creative class is highly mobile, and therefore can be quite selective regarding the locations in which they consider for employment. For the creative class, amenities such as livability are priorities over shaving a few minutes of time off of a motorized commute.

The City of Greater Sudbury is anticipating only modest growth over the next 20 years. The City’s official plan update indicates that only about 10,500 people will be added to our community under a realistic growth scenario over the next 20 years – and even this projection may be ambitious should the global economy find itself in trouble. This trend, coupled with an aging population, means that our City is going to have be that much more careful with how we use our limited financial resources to make the City a better place for all of us to live. Growth can’t be relied on to drive the City’s economic engine. As a result, we can’t afford not to be strategic with spending – we need to spend money wisely.

Other communities in the North, such as Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay, are investing in livability in a way that puts the City of Greater Sudbury to shame. Upgrades to cycling infrastructure, including on-street lanes which connect to transportation nodes, have routinely been made in other northern cities and towns. Walking as a legitimate and healthy transportation choice has been facilitated by investing in infrastructure which provide pedestrians with prioritized access. Yet, in Greater Sudbury, even the smallest connections in alternative transportation systems seem to take years to come to fruition, and then they are often off-set by significant decisions made elsewhere.

We can’t continue to miss opportunities to make our City more livable. We missed a significant opportunity when Paris Street was being upgraded and resurfaced. We missed another opportunity with the Notre Dame / Lasalle intersection. We missed yet another one with the upgrades being made to MR 80 and Main Street through Val Caron. All of this costly infrastructure projects proceeded without due consideration to cycling or walking as a viable means of transport.

Next week, Planning Committee will be considering a motion to partner with the Canadian Urban Institute to develop an age-friendly community planning strategy, which will in turn support healthy and active lifestyles for older adults and all citizens. The basis for healthy and active lifestyles starts with ensuring that opportunities exist for cycling and walking – not just as recreational activities, but as viable means of transportation.

As reported by the CBC last year, Greater Sudbury is now Canada’s second-most obese City (see: “Sudbury second-most obese city in Canada: Stats Can”, CBC, October 20, 2014). Our community continues to struggle with health-related issues for many reasons – but clearly one has to do with the urban design which we have chosen over the past several decades which has favoured car-dependent suburbanization and development in exurban areas over more intense transit-supportive forms of development. Clearly, this has to change. And it has to change now. We can’t afford to lose yet another year before we get serious with the recommendations made to Council through the Sustainable Mobility Plan for the City of Greater Sudbury back in 2010.

The City has insisted that it can’t take action until the Transportation Master Plan has been updated and accepted by Council as part of the City’s 5-year review of the Official Plan. The Transportation Study – which has already been used to justify the widening of Second Avenue for vehicular traffic – is three years overdue and counting. Both the Sustainable Mobility Advisory Panel and the City’s Bicycling Technical Master Plan for the City of Greater Sudbury, prepared by the Bicycle Advisory Panel (since disbanded) have made reports which were previously accepted by Council – both of these reports could and should form the basis of providing additional alternative transportation infrastructure in our community.

Recently, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities held its annual Sustainable Communities conference in London, Ontario. On the agenda were numerous items dealing with creating robust and healthy alternative transportation systems. The City of Greater Sudbury recently voted to invite FCM to hold its 2017 Board of Directors meeting in our community. I fear that our City’s lack of attention to fostering livability through its negligence in developing alternative transportation systems may be on display on a national stage should the FCM come to town – unless significant action is taken by Council on the meantime.

Community groups such as the Coalition for a Livable Sudbury and the Sudbury Cyclists Union have asked that $800,000 of the roads budget – a small fraction of the overall budget – be set aside for the development of new cycling infrastructure. This request is reasonable and ought to be a priority of the Finance and Administration Committee. The allocation of funds for new infrastructure will represent a decent starting point for the City to finally begin moving forward with developing the alternative transportation systems we need to have in place to be competitive in the 21st Century.

Council should follow up this decision by requiring staff to develop a “Complete Streets” policy, in consultation with the public. And if staff are concerned about the costs of developing such a strategy, I hope that Council will look to anticipated budget expenditures for new roads and for expanding existing roads – many of which may not be necessary given the low levels of growth anticipated in our City over the next 20 years. At the very least, projects such as the Second Avenue road expansion, the $3.5 million Barrydowne road widening and the Maley Drive extension could be put on hold while the City prepares a cost/benefit analysis to determine their utility.

At this time in the City’s history, spending money on more roads isn’t what we need. We need to carefully consider how best to invest our limited resources – and focus on prioritizing people over cars. The City’s future economic health depends on us starting to make decisions of this nature. Other northern cities are well ahead of us in this department – Greater Sudbury needs to start playing catch-up.

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

1 comment:

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