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BLOG (Rachelle Niemela): A Complete Streets Policy for Sudbury!

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

2014 is the last year of our current Council, and our Mayor and Councillors need to prove to us that they are committed to ensuring the health and safety of all of Sudbury’s residents.

Council needs to step up and implement initiatives that will make our population healthier and happier; our air cleaner; and our neighbourhoods conducive to more and safer walking and cycling.

The number of injuries and deaths that our pedestrian and cyclist populations experienced this year is unacceptable. Even one is too many. We need to do much better to ensure the safety of all of our citizens on all of our roads and streets.

But what about the costs?

This is not about bicycles or pedestrians vs the automobile. It’s not about one or the other. It’s about the realization that we need to encourage all modes of transportation and provide safe infrastructure for those residents who need to, or chose to use options other than the automobile.

Contrary to statements made by City staff, our current infrastructure deficit isn’t all about only car and truck traffic. It’s about pedestrian, transit, and cycling infrastructure deficit too. They should all be part of the whole, and not one at the expense of the other.

So much of our current costs are a result of apparently needing new infrastructure to deal with additional traffic congestion. We need to re-evaluate why we are so focused on expanding our road network, on widening roads, and on encouraging more and more vehicular traffic on our roads.

Instead of looking at decreasing vehicular traffic and therefore decreasing the horrendous costs involved in building and maintaining new roads, we are instead looking to spend upwards of $214 million dollars on new infrastructure within the next few years. That’s the most conservative estimate. And we’re looking at possibly borrowing money to do so.

This is contrary to what most other cities are doing. Other cities are looking at other solutions like better transit and better cycling and walking infrastructure.

We need to change this. We currently can’t afford this path, nor will it ensure sustainability down the road. Especially if we aren’t anticipating serious population growth like other cities are.

The studies have all been made – it makes economic sense, both from an infrastructure and health expense perspective to encourage active lifestyles. We must move towards sustainable transportation choices – we can no longer dispute this need and continue to do as we have been doing.

We need to do what many other cities around the world are doing - we need to switch our priorities and focus on making our streets safer for pedestrians, transit users, and cyclists by building infrastructure that encourages these activities, by cutting down our travelling speeds, by designing roads that reduce crashes and injuries, and by implementing targets to increase pedestrian, transit, and cycling shares of trips.

What is a Complete Street Policy?

Complete Streets is only one of the strategies that should be used to implement and encourage sustainable transportation options. It does not drive the choices of which roads to build or renew, but it does identify the requirements for designing, building, renewing, and maintaining new and existing roads.

The Complete Streets for Canada website has a lot of in-depth information on Complete Streets. “A Complete Street is designed for all ages, abilities, and modes of travel. On Complete Streets, safe and comfortable access for pedestrians, bicycles, transit users and the mobility-impaired is not an afterthought, but an integral planning feature.”

A Complete Streets Policy, as currently promoted by Complete Streets for Canada, has ten elements that “work together to ensure that the Complete Streets policy is comprehensive enough to encourage uniform and effective implementation.”

Originally developed by the the National Complete Streets Coalition in the United States, these elements must all be entrenched in an official planning document for a city to say it has a Complete Streets Policy.

Element 1: Language and Intent

Uses strong policy language such as ‘must implement’ or ‘will implement’ when referring to Complete Streets elements.

Element 2: Users and Modes

Must mention, at minimum, that ‘all users’ includes pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users of all ages and abilities.

Element 3: Applies to all Projects

Must apply to all projects including new projects, retrofit/reconstruction projects, and repair/maintenance and/or other projects for the entire right-of-way.

Element 4: Exceptions

Exceptions to the policy are clear and require a procedure for approval.

Element 5: Encourages Connectivity

Aims to create a comprehensive, integrated, connected network to benefit all users and modes.

Element 6: Jurisdictions

Is adoptable by all agencies to cover all roads at the municipal, regional/county/district, and provincial level.

Element 7: Design Criteria

Cites the use of the latest and best design criteria and guidelines to aid in implementation.

Element 8: Community Context

States the context of the roadway and the surrounding community context dictates what Complete Streets elements will be accommodated.

Element 9: Performance Measures

Establishes performance standards with measurable outcomes.

Element 10: Implementation Plan

Includes specific next steps for policy implementation.

Where does Sudbury stand with Complete Streets?

In early 2013, we were one of several groups who began campaigning for the City to adopt a Complete Streets Policy. At the time, we were hoping that the City would adopt the policy as part of the Official Plan and Transportation Study reviews, and in time to drive the 2014 budget.

Yet that did not happen. And we’re not sure why it didn’t.

Edmonton, Calgary, Waterloo, and Ajax currently have a Complete Streets Policy. Ottawa and Hamilton are close to adopting a policy. Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto are currently developing Complete Streets Guidelines. Many other Canadian cities have adopted the approach, although they have not necessarily formalized it.

There are many U.S. cities and even whole states who have adopted the policy as well.

Why has Sudbury not moved forward with a Complete Streets Policy?

It’s time Sudbury gets serious about entrenching what our Roads Department has been theoretically promoting, but not actively implementing. We need to stop just talking about it, and need to adopt a Complete Streets Policy now.

The Transportation Study has been delayed for a year, and we hear that preliminary results will not be released until late 2014. We should not hold up implementing Complete Streets because of the failure to deliver the Transportation Study in a timely manner.

At the June 2013 Public Input Session of the Transportation Study, the Policy Initiatives display board mentioned Complete Streets. Interestingly, a section displayed information on “Goals of Sudbury’s Complete Street Policy”, and one of the statements on the board was:

“When developing a complete street policy for Sudbury, the following goals should be
kept in mind:
• Ensure that the needs of all transportation users are balanced throughout the surface transportation network to the greatest reasonable measure
• Create a balanced, comprehensive, integrated fully interconnected, functional and
visually attractive surface transportation network
• Support the use of the appropriate complete streets design standards, principles, policies and guidelines within the context of the community”

It’s time we did just that.

Why do we need a Complete Streets policy in Sudbury?

The City of Sudbury does not yet have a Complete Streets Policy in place. If if did, and it honoured the policy, we would not be experiencing the current failures in the design and implementation of safe roads infrastructure.

All of our recent major projects, including the Brady Street reconstruction, the Lasalle/Notre Dame intersection, the Attlee traffic calming measures, the Southview reconstruction, and many others, have not been designed for anything other than the automobile.

In 2011, City Council passed a motion that ”…Infrastructure Services consult both the Sustainable Mobility Plan and the Bicycling Master Plan when preparing the capital budget and when preparing tenders for every capital road project.” This is not being done.

In 2007, it passed a resolution to “make Greater Sudbury the most pedestrian-friendly city in Ontario by 2015″. There has been no formal process put into place which specifically spells out how this motion and resolution will be implemented. It is obvious that the City has not delivered on this promise, nor will it do so in 2014.

We’ve done some good things like establishing trails along Junction Creek and in other areas of the city – all driven by Rainbow Routes Association and not the City; putting some isolated (and non-connected) pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly infrastructure in place; and establishing a Sustainable Mobility Advisory Panel to make sustainable mobility recommendations to the City.

But the current 2014-2018 roads capital budget forecasts don’t identify any cycling or pedestrian projects. There are no line items in the budget that clearly identify cycling or pedestrian infrastructure investments. We have no transparency or accountability in proving the words that we’re currently hearing from the City – like statements that they’ve spent $500,000 on cycling infrastructure in 2013.

The city is promoting edgelines (that are not standard cycling infrastructure) on major, busy routes like Kelly Lake Road. They are suggesting signed bike routes on other busy roads like Lorne Street. They are suggesting and implementing sharrows at the Lasalle/Notre Dame intersection – one of the busiest intersections in the city. All of which are inappropriate according to accepted cycling infrastructure standards.

Even worse, the city is not consulting properly with the cycling community, and in particular with the Sustainable Mobility Advisory Panel (SMAP), who are frustrated with how budgets and projects are being developed in isolation without consultation with the community. None of the roads construction projects that we consider failures were ever brought to SMAP for appropriate review and consultation.

SMAP members have spent hours and hours of personal time working on sustainable mobility recommendations, yet very little of the Sustainable Mobility Plan has been implemented. Those recommendations that have been successfully implemented have been done after long, hard-fought battles with City staff who are more interested in keeping the status quo than in making changes to catch up with what the rest of the world is doing.

We sorely lack the policy and corresponding implementation guidelines and plans to mandate a holistic approach to road design – a design which incorporates all modes of sustainable transportation. That is what is needed to put the priority on pedestrians, transit, and cyclists, and to shift away from making automobiles our one and only priority when designing and maintaining our transportation infrastructure.

Step one is to formally adopt Complete Streets as a policy in the Official Plan. And step two is to implement guidelines, implementation plans, and budgets to ensure Complete Streets principles guide all capital road projects in Sudbury.

What happens if we don’t adopt the policy?

Many progressive cities use modal hierarchies to guide the decision-making process around design guidance for road infrastructure projects. We consider the optimal default model to be Pedestrian > Transit > Bicycle > Automobile. In this model, all transportation projects and programs, from scoping to maintenance, favour by default, pedestrians first, then transit riders, then cyclists, and lastly, automobiles.

It is obvious that Sudbury staff do not look at roads infrastructure in this way – its number one concern is motor vehicles and how quickly our roads can move them across the city.

We need to entrench the concepts of Complete Streets into our Official Plan to ensure that there is a policy that dictates how we deal with approved road construction. It will mandate moving away from antiquated engineering standards so we can start addressing the needs of all the residents of our City – all of them, whether they walk, take transit, cycle or drive.

Is Complete Streets all we need?

Complete Streets provide directives re how we build and maintain roads. It does not focus on which roads we build. Nor on how we will implement a network of safe, connected active transportation network.

Over the years, the City has done some disjointed projects to begin building sustainable infrastructure.

They’ve paved shoulders on certain sections of resurfaced arterial roads that connect our communities, but no outlying community artery has a complete implementation to ensure that once cyclists are on the road, there is safe infrastructure that takes them all the way to their destination.

They’ve implementated a short section of sharrows on Regent Street, but these sharrows don’t connect with anything. Nor are they necessarily the best choice for this road.

They’ve put in a short bidirectional bike lane on Paris Street, which again does not connect with anything.

They’ve implemented a few paved multi-use paths, namely the Ramsey Lake Road path, but it is threatened by the City’s plans to widen Ramsey Lake Road.

They’ve extended the bike lanes on Bancroft Drive, which is our one and only success in ensuring that the whole length of a road contains appropriate cycling infrastructure.

Sadly, the Bancroft corridor cycling lanes have been in place for almost 10 years. In a decade, there have been no other roads projects that have implemented continuous cycling infrastructure along the entirety of a major thoroughfare.

And most of our current projects implement dangerous infrastructure, all while the City points to successfully addressing our needs.

Cases in point for 2014 – the Attlee curb extensions that force cyclists into heavy traffic, and the proposed sharrows at one of the busiest intersections in the city – Lasalle/Notre Dame.

City staff have told public media that they don’t anticipate finishing their proposed Active Transportation Network by 2031. That’s because there is no mandated reason to do so.

Complete Streets is only one of many other initiatives that we’ll need to implement to ensure the development of safe sustainable transportation options in Sudbury.

What can you do?

We’ll make our streets safer and our population healthier by implementing a Complete Streets Policy which will ensure that all modes of transportation are evaluated and funded when we design, build, repair, and maintain our roads.

Please consider sending a letter or email to your Councillor or to the Mayor, asking them to ensure Complete Streets principles are used for the now confirmed 2014 roads capital projects.

And that Complete Streets is adopted as a policy in our Official Plan.

And that corresponding implementation guidelines are developed in time to guide the 2015 budget capital road project decisions.


This originally posted on the Sudbury Cyclists Union website.


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