Priority Based Budgeting – Objective #9

Today we looked at Objective # 9: Complete a Multi-Modal and Active Transportation Network. As noted in this draft Strategic plan (see pages 12-13), this was the most popular objective with possibly the largest number of associated Outcomes and Actions. I have made a direct clip of their Feb 3 discussion of this objective and provided it below.

Objective # 9:

Complete a Multi-Modal and Active Transportation Network

There are three Outcomes for each of the years 2016-2018 identified for this Objective and they include:

2016 Outcome:

  • Improved quality of life, public safety, air quality, placemaking, and pedestrian and cycling trips through implementation of neighbourhood-led transportation planning and “complete streets” lens for all transportation projects.
  • Public transit is accessible to all and rivals private automobile trip duration.
  • Substantial increase in the number of trips by bicycles, with the completion of a skeletal cycling network.

2017 Outcome

  • Extend Government Street Mall.
  • David Foster Harbour Pathway almost completed.
  • Johnson Street Bridge is complete.

2018 Outcome

  • Victoria is a national leader for cycling infrastructure and complete streets planning, having completed six cycling improvement projects at the following locations:
    • Pandora Avenue between Store and Cook Streets
    • Johnson Street between Store and Cook Streets
    • Vancouver Street route (from Vancouver Street/ Park Boulevard, to Fifth Street/Tolmie Avenue, via Graham and Fifth Streets)
    • Off-Bay Street route (Haultain Street/Kings Road between Richmond Road and Douglas Street)
    • Off-Shelbourne Street route (Doncaster Drive/ North Dairy Road to Gonzales Beach)
    • Wharf/Belleville Streets route between Pandora Avenue and Oswego Street
  • Completed Phase 2 of the Belleville Terminal Project. Phase 2 = David Foster Harbour Pathway improvements to Belleville Street public realm.
  • Walking is safe, comfortable and enjoyable.

There are eight 2015 Actions and two 2016 Actions associated with this Objective and they include:

2015 Actions

  • Mandate and create a collaborative neighbourhood process and “complete streets” lens for all projects.
  • Designate location for E&N station as close as possible to the new bridge.
  • Collaborative design and completion of network of 4 – 8 high quality cycling corridors by 2016.
  • Build protected cycling facilities, more bike parking, and start an Active Transportation Advisory Committee. Begin to see all planning and engineering through multi-modal lens.
  • Designate money in 2015, 2016, 2017 and just build it (cycling network).
  • Sign pedestrian-only lanes just as prominently as streets. Distinguish between “No Exit” and “No Exit for Motor Vehicles”.
  • Review policy for desired right of way widths for road dedications and statutory right of ways.
  • Develop task force including Government Street property owners to consider a Local Area Improvement Project. (late 2015)

2016 Action

  • Move to full-time bus lanes on Douglas and fewer stops (in accordance with Rapid Bus plans).
  • Work in partnership with First Nations, Province, ferry operators and others to identify financial opportunities for the Belleville Terminal. Allocate money in 2017 Capital Budget for Belleville Street.

2017 Action

  • Prioritize “special places” along the David Foster Harbour Pathway and identify funding opportunities.
  • Keep the Johnson Street Bridge process moving forward and support staff.

There are five Considerations associated with this Objective:

  • Staff do not believe a bylaw is required for collaborative process and complete streets lens, but more expertise and a coordinated effort are.
  • Staff feel a complete streets and active transportation perspective should appear in all operational departmental reports, where applicable, not just transportation. (Parks, Sustainable Planning and Community Development etc.)
  • Belleville timelines hinge on Province and are likely ambitious.
  • Pedestrian only lanes can be signed in 2015, earlier than 2016.
  • Rights of way widths can be considered in 2015 with recommended changes in new bylaw 

Lastly, as a hallmark of Priority Based Budgeting (the new city of Victoria emphasis), the section for Estimated Resources associated with Complete a Multi-Modal and Active Transportation Network includes:

  • To expedite the design of projects outlined in the cycling network in 2015, civil design consulting services of $500,000 are needed. (Estimate is based on 10% of capital costs of $5 million in approved cycling network.)
  • Cycling projects are candidates for gas tax funding (design and construction).

So What Does This All Mean?

As noted above, this was a popular Objective with Council and it is also a popular one with many community groups, especially the cyclists (Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition and Bike Victoria) who have all joined together and are even organizing a community bike ride to the Monday Budget/Strategic Plan E-Town Hall. Cycling related projects are certainly a major theme under this objective.

Other major themes identified by Council include a commitment to something called Complete streets as a way of enhancing public transport, community involvement and walkability. Completion of the David Foster Way also seems to have made it into this Objective as well as Enhance and Steward Green Spaces etc.

Finally, Council has also included items related to the Johnson Street Bridge with this new strategic objective relating to a multi modal active transportation network, which is a bit odd. But mainly because the reasonable sounding action of Keep the Johnson Street Bridge process moving forward and support staff is listed for 2017 when our latest bridge update indicates that the bridge will be open in January of that year. Fun fact about this latest update is that it recommends moving the E&N further away from downtown contrary to the proposed 2015 strategic Action to “locate it as close to downtown as possible”. 

Regarding the random Government street Improvement Area action for 2017, I’m inclined to think this item was really meant for Objective # 5: Create Prosperity Through Economic Development.

Cycling

For many years, Victoria has been considered by the Cycling Capital of Canada while other frustrated locals just  consider that an accident of climate and not intention, especially in how the City’s Cycling Master Plan was only finally brought to the table for an update when it turned 19 years old. So what exactly is being put forth for consideration in Council’s new draft strategic plan and budget?

As noted above, the primary 2018 Objective is for the city to become a national leader for cycling infrastructure and complete streets planning, having completed six cycling improvement projects. Just recently there was a lot of community excitement when Council endorsed plans for a protected bike lane  along Pandora Avenue between Store and Cook Street. These improvements on Pandora being the top ranked project in the updated 2014 Cycling network approved by Council. Other priority projects within this network are include the following:

  • Johnson Street between Store and Cook Streets
  • Vancouver Street route (from Vancouver Street/ Park Boulevard, to Fifth Street/Tolmie Avenue, via Graham and Fifth Streets)
  • Off-Bay Street route (Haultain Street/Kings Road between Richmond Road and Douglas Street)
  • Off-Shelbourne Street route (Doncaster Drive/ North Dairy Road to Gonzales Beach)
  • Wharf/Belleville Streets route between Pandora Avenue and Oswego Street

I support cycling initiatives and I’m curious to see if any changes get made to the financial plan bylaw to reflect community input provided either at the town hall tomorrow night (March 23) or through the budget/strategic plan survey. As some context to any such input, what cycling related project funds are currently in the budget?

There is $5,060,000 over the next five years for Bicycle Master Plan Implementation (to complete the lanes listed above) and $23,000 for actual plan update this year, as well as $45,000 for bike shelters in parks (see page 805). Additionally, design for the Pandora bike lane is identified as a 2015 Initiative for Engineering and Public Works and the department of Parks, Recreation and Culture will be working in 2015 to integrate their greenways plan project with existing pedestrian and cycling master plans – all as part of a “Complete Streets” approach I suppose.

One thing to note going forwards, is that if Council were to approve for instance spending the recommended $500,000 (identified in the Estimated Resources section of the strategic plan) to expedite work on the identified projects, then I imagine an amendment to the financial play bylaw may be required. Additionally, a very necessary variable to consider is that if cycle lanes get kicked up in this work plan, this will detract from staff resources that are designated for larger projects like Local Area plans for neighbourhoods – another project that Council wishes to expedite.

Decisions will have to be made.

Complete Streets

What are Complete Streets? Well. It turns out that there is a national organization called Complete Streets for Canada and they define them thusly:

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 people with disabilities is not an afterthought, but an integral planning feature.

Council doesn’t seem to want to create a Complete Streets policy (like Saanich) mind you, all they want to do is apply a Complete Streets “Lens” which is worrisome from an accountability perspective because without a policy that sets out basic requirements, its impossible to truly evaluate success.

As a way of illustrating this disconnect, check out the “complete streets” in the 2015 Capital Budget (see pages 831-846) where you’ll see there are plans to spend $4,481,200 in 2015 across 12 Complete Streets project areas. This is in addition to a separate Active Transportation accounting category with plans to spend $3,586,500 across 18 project areas. (see page 805).

Given the Complete Streets definition provided above, I must admit I’m a little confused/concerned about why/how and what parameters may have been used by Victoria city staff to identify these 30 project categories as either Complete Streets or Active Transportation projects. It all seems arbitrary to me, especially in how the only thing Active Transportation related in the draft strategic plan is a proposed 2015 Action to strike an Active Transportation Advisory Committee. 

Why not a Complete Streets Committee instead?

Lastly, a related strategic component under this theme of complete streets is the 2015 Action to Mandate and create a collaborative neighbourhood process and “complete streets” lens for all projects. This notion of working with neighbourhoods was featured in other Objectives including Engage and Empower Communities and Strive for Excellence in Land Use and Planning. And during our discussion  of these objectives, we raised some concerns about Council’s ability to engage in collaborative neighbourhood planning (e.g., due to development concerns and the age of existing plans).

Regarding any actual transportation plans themselves, if we look at the  City’s Transportation page, it looks like Vic West is the only neighbourhood with a Transportation plan – which is to say that there is a lot of work to be done. Fun fact is that this plan was written in 2008 and it was never really implemented. Which is just to say, Council may want to take a step back from their language of “mandate and create a collaborative neighbourhood process” to take some time to listen to what neighbourhoods actually have to first say on the issue.

I also want to stress that transportation for me, is really something that should be recognized within all the objectives (e.g., community wellness, economic prosperity, planning and land use, engage and empower” because when transportation is bad in a neighbourhood, everything else really just dies.

Which is a point and a business case, that the cyclists really like to emphasize and it is one that I believe in as well. Walking along busy car centric roads is unpleasant for many reasons, and because this is such a long standing trend (e.g., that Victoria is a vehicle centric city), I’m fairly certain that any efforts to reverse such a trend require more of a response from Council than just a 2015 Action to Sign pedestrian-only lanes just as prominently as streets. Distinguish between “No Exit” and “No Exit for Motor Vehicles” and or create more walkways away from cars such as the David Foster Way, especially since such walkways are often pedestrian only.

Public Transit

During my student years, I rode my bike for exercise and also because it was often quicker than waiting for the bus, especially when I wanted to go on random trips or travel anywhere late at night. In particular, I have many fond memories of biking up and down Quadra before my partner and I moved in together. And that is on a road that is supposed to have excellent transit service. But anyhow.

Regarding buses, there is a 2016 Action of Move to full-time bus lanes on Douglas and fewer stops (in accordance with Rapid Bus plans – by which I assume they mean Transit Futures?and a 2016 Outcome of Public transit is accessible to all and rivals private automobile trip duration in the draft strategic plan (see page 12). Living in Vic West like I do, this Action doesn’t help me much because traffic moves quite efficiently between downtown and Bay Street. If anything, full time bus lines on Douglas are primarily a benefit for residents of other municipalities commuting too and from Victoria are they not?

Once again for me in Vic West, it is often just faster to walk downtown than it is to try and take the bus, especially since the #14 is only so very rarely on time – frequently running way ahead or behind schedule. If the City is actually serious about transit rivalling personal automobile use, they need to do some serious work both about cost and trip duration. And as an example of why I say this because, I initially thought about busing to UVic last month to attend a day long workshop but then I ended up driving because parking was only $2 more than my bus fare  and driving only took 20 minutes compared to 50 minutes for the bus.

In sum, I really need to learn more about the Victoria Regional Transit Commission – we all need to pay more attention to it for that matter. Mayor Helps now has a voice at this table and it is up to us to make sure that she has good and practical things to say. What she should already recognize mind you, is that you shouldn’t be committing to promises like Public transit…rivals private automobile trip duration without actually putting some though to how this may be accomplished.

If we look through the budget for the phrase “BC transit” all we find is an account code for installing bus shelters. Fun fact within this account code is that “Approximately 85% of transit activity (passenger boardings and alightings) occur at 25% of transit stops” and so 2015 budget figures are focused on the busiest five shelters (see page 811). There is also an entry for the Complete Streets plan on Douglas that is apparently being financed by BC Transit (see page 837).

So what got missed?

We’ve talked about plans for cycling, public transit and walking but have we said anything about cars, cruise ships, ancient buses full or tourists or our downtown airport? And I mention this because there are a lot of cars on our roads. The very same 2011 Stats Canada data table that crowns us the Cycling capital of BC also indicates that 71% of all our trips are made by car.

And to help support such a trend here in Victoria, Council recently completed a series of parking system upgrades to make it even easier told drive and park downtown – thereby revitalizing the downtown economy is what they were told. Who needs good downtown air quality when the parking is cheap and the parkades are no longer dodgy?

What about the air planes in the inner harbour (e.g., Harbour Air and Kenmore Air)? I learned today that certain groups in the City have been waiting since the year 2000 and have continued to lobby for necessary updates to the Canadian Aviation Regulations regarding water airport such as our inner harbour.  And until these updates become part of the larger regulations there cannot be any actual community debate or discussion regarding our downtown airport. Nice eh!

What about the Cruise ships that come to town? I suppose one could argue that part of the rationale behind the David Foster Way is to provide the Cruise Ship tourists that actually walk off the boat onto some attractive pathway that is safe, comfortable and enjoyable. But what about the pollution from the ships themselves as well as the army of buses that are required to drive all the tourists around? What about complete streets and safe opportunities for walking in James Bay the neighbourhood that lives the day to day of  this industry, not to mention all the environmental impacts?

With respect to Active Transportation items related to improvements at Belleville Terminal, these are also part of the David Foster Way (see page 11). Additionally, improvements to this terminal carry great economic implications for the City (yay more tourists) and as a result were recently recognized in the 10 year transportation plan announced by the Province of BC.

With respect to city funding of cosmetic upgrades, Council made the following motion at their February 17th GPC meeting:

Action: It was moved by Mayor Helps, seconded by Councillor Thornton-Joe, that Committee recommends that Council direct staff to assess the possibility, as outlined in the letter from the Province dated January 28, 2015, and to report back to Council with information on including infrastructure work related to the Belleville Terminal Phase 2 Project in the 2017 Capital Budget.

CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY 15/GPC127

Long story short, lots of transportation related activities occur in our harbour and a major priority of Council is to tie it all together in a nice walk way (e..g, David Foster Way). Perhaps the 2017 Outcome of Extend the Government street mall should be considered a final deliberate active transportation piece to reward these tourists for their efforts? Because I don’t know about you, but when the tourists are in town, I tend to stay away from the downtown core.

TL:DR

Lots of words were written, many similar intentions were expressed various ways. Everyone agrees that we need to Improve quality of life, public safety, air quality, placemaking, and pedestrian and cycling trips but no indication is given of what this looks like, how it will be measured going forward, what it will cost, and or how much it will cost going forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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