Building a city that moves people in a sustainable, logical and efficient manner requires the ability to adapt on the fly.
And it requires a fairness of mind that is sometimes lost on people in a hurry — in a hurry either to reach a destination or to trash the existing model of urban transportation.
“It is not a war on cars,” City of Red Deer divisional strategist Jeremy Bouw told a meeting to discuss the Integrated Movement Study earlier this month. Bouw is also the project manager for the Integrated Movement Study.
It’s also not a war on cyclists and pedestrians, and government spending on municipal transportation solutions.
But how do we find the middle ground that allows cities to grow with a transportation infrastructure that works and is flexible?
At the same Red Deer meeting in early May, American transportation consultant Gary Toth said we should be striving for the “complete street,” designed for safe, attractive, comfortable access and travel for all users.
But we should not necessarily strive to put a bike lane on every street, he said.
“There are streets out there that need to transport goods and a bike lane might not work,” he said.
In part, this perspective offers good news.
We don’t have to rip apart the arterial nature of Red Deer’s people-moving system.
But perhaps we need parallel roads or paths that offer safe routes for bicyclists and ease of movement for pedestrians. And if so, they need to be built in a way that supports the movement of people (which is different from the glorious, meandering park paths that Red Deerians are so rightly proud of).
We need to continue to develop a transit system that is efficient, direct and regular — and reaches into Red Deer’s satellite communities, like Sylvan Lake, Lacombe and Blackfalds.
And we need to understand that one of the transportation challenges of the typical Prairie city is our sheer space. We define urban sprawl, and we are constantly plagued by our lack of density when it comes to finding workable transportation solutions.
It’s also noteworthy that Red Deer’s chief employment centre is not downtown, and transportation most pointedly needs to work to get people to and from work.
The right-leaning think-tank the Frontier Centre for Public Policy recently released a new study, Improving the Competitiveness of Metropolitan Areas, in which Wendell Cox argues against the need for a national transportation strategy (or, more specifically, against federal money being dumped into a national transportation strategy).
Cox looked at commute times in 109 metropolitan areas and discovered that Edmonton’s model is by far the best among Canadian cities. In great part, Edmonton moves people most effectively, Cox argues, because its employment base is less centric than most big cities. Along with a sprawling housing model, its areas of employment are similarly widespread, rather than principally based downtown.
In other words, Edmonton is much like Red Deer.
The advantage for Red Deer, of course, is that we simply don’t have the size, nor the volume of traffic, of a city of one million citizens. And so our problems are smaller by scale.
But they are no less vexing to us. And it is no less important to get the framework for a more efficient system in place now, as we prepare for another round of aggressive growth.
Public transit is not going to get you to work faster. In fact, Cox’s study shows that the average big-city transit user spends 17 more minutes commuting than the average driver.
But it will reduce your costs significantly, reduce the carbon footprint you are personally responsible for, and minimize your driving-related stress.
Toth suggests we’re on the right track in Red Deer, and that our existing model isn’t broken. It just needs to be adjusted to fit changing needs. “It’s not evil but it may become more difficult when the city doubles in size,” he says of Red Deer’s transportation infrastructure.
But talking about it now, and planning for the future, gives us a significant head start — and, hopefully, will help us avoid future gridlock.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.