III. Walkable urban places — Environmental benefits

Concern for the environment may be one of the earliest and most straightforward drivers for increased walking and active mobility.

From climate change to air pollution, loss of biodiversity to green infrastructure, walking provides an active means for people to mitigate and address local and global environmental concerns.1

“The recovery of sprawl to vibrant places is literally our generation’s greatest challenge.”

Steve Mouzon, Architect and New Urbanist

Robert Steuteville, editor of Public Square (a CNU Journal), has been publishing a series of articles based on the 2016 Cities Alive: Towards a walking world report, which shows the benefits of walkable cities – social, economic, environmental and political – and sets out measures for improving walkability.

This post itemizes the list from Steuteville’s article (link embedded in heading below), and includes additional details from the report.

Ten environmental benefits of walkable places

  1. Reduces greenhouse gas emissions
    Fewer cars, fewer emissions.
  2. Improves urban microclimates
    The Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, where denser urban areas are significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas, is a major issue facing cities today. Increased urban vegetation and mature tree canopies contribute to the mitigation of the urban heat island effect by reducing the air temperature and provide pleasant strolling temperatures.
  3. Optimises land use
    Soil is not a renewable resource and is essential to nurture plants and animals. In addition, it is vulnerable to impacts from vehicular traffic, industry and construction. Walkability improvements can help reduce the amount of land required for transport facilities (roads and parking), encouraging denser land use patterns.
  4. Reduces air pollution
    When walkable environments incorporate more trees and vegetation, they will inherently clean the air: 17 trees can absorb enough CO2 annually to offest nearly 42,000 km of driving.
  5. Improves water management
    Reallocating investment from motor vehicle infrastructure into parks and pedestrian environments improves the overall health of city ecosystems and help divert millions of litres of stormwater runoff.
  6. Promotes alternative transportation
    Public transit users are pedestrians or a combination of pedestrian/cyclist. Purposeful investment in walking and active transportation networks encourages increased pedestrian and cycling activity.
  7. Makes cities more beautiful
    Streets that offer a robust, attractive experience can accommodate a variety of diverse uses such as outdoor dining, seating and gathering areas. Additionally, beautification through landscaping, public art, and wayfinding becomes an important feature.
  8. Increases active use of space
    Pedestrian improvements can provide people with more pleasant spaces to stay, and lead to an increase in the active use of public space and the facilities it contains, such as benches, playgrounds, water bubblers, public gyms and skate areas.
  9. Cuts ambient noise
    Plant leaves have been shown to tone down noise by reflecting, diverting and absorbing acoustic energy. Trees with abundant foliage are especially effective at minimizing noise levels.
  10. It makes better use of space
    Street designs that restructure the street network better serve pedestrians and cyclists, often repurposing space reclaimed from vehicle travel lanes and on-street parking to accommodate cycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

“The pedestrian is an extremely fragile species, the canary in the coal mine of urban livability.”

Smart Growth America, nationwide coalition promoting a better way to growth

1 Excerpts from Cities Alive: Towards a walking world, a report published by Arup in 2016.


More on this topic:

Completing Charlottetown’s sidewalk network

Scott Adams, the City’s Public Works Manager, made a proposal for a Sidewalk Master Plan during the Public Works Committee Meeting on Thursday, July 22 (agenda/video).

Currently, the city of Charlottetown has 147 kilometres of sidewalks. To complete the network, the Public Works department identified existing streets that either have a fair amount of traffic and no sidewalks, or are major collector roads that have a sidewalk on one side only, such as certain sections of University Avenue. At the end of the exercise, it was determined that an additional 156 kilometres of sidewalk or multi-use pathway would need to be constructed. In today’s dollars, constructing one metre of sidewalk costs approximately $350 per metre, or $350,000 per kilometre. The cost to build 156 km of sidewalk would be around $55 million.

How much does is cost to build one kilometre of new road? Roughly three million dollars ($3,000,000).
How many kilometres of road would $55 million build? Eighteen (18) kilometres.
To put that in perspective: 
18 km = Belvedere Golf Club to Brackley Beach  
156 km = Charlottetown to North Cape

Mr Adamsʼs reasons for proposing the development of a Sidewalk Master Plan include the ability on a yearly basis to allocate a portion of the cost in the budget to build, progressively, new sidewalks/multi-use paths, and to respond to residentsʼ enquiries about which roads will have new sidewalks and when.

All in all, an admirable proposal.

In seeking support from the committee, Mr Adams said that other municipalities have such a master plan. An online search found three Canadian municipalities with a Sidewalk (or Pedestrian) Master Plan: District of North Vancouver, BC (2009), Summerland, BC (2019), and Mississauga, ON (2021).

First to comment: CAO Peter Kelly, who didn’t hesitate to inform Mr Adams that the more sidewalks the City has, the more money will be needed to maintain them, and that “we’re already having financial challenges now, be very careful where you want to go with this one because it will come back and haunt you in many ways… ”

Mr Adams replied that the operational budget — were all 156 km to be built tomorrow — would be approximately $840,000 per year. Last year’s budget included $518,000 for community sustainability initiatives promoting a sustainable city lifestyle. Sidewalks could surely be slotted under sustainable city lifestyle?

Committee Chair (and Ward 2 Councillor) Terry MacLeod expressed his opinion that the Sidewalk Master Plan is a good policy, even going so far to say “it’s a great idea”, and that pedestrian safety cannot be pushed aside.

Ward 3 Councillor Mike Duffy thought it a good idea too, stating he agreed with everything Counc. MacLeod said, but – wait for it: “… with the exception of the matter of how long the road is. I donʼt see the economy in sidewalks on both sides of the street … ” using North River Road as an example. He concluded with “so we could save a lot of money if thereʼs one sidewalk on one side regardless of what type of street.”

In response, Mr Adams explained the need for sidewalks on both sides of the road exists in commercial areas and for roads with a high traffic volume in order to reduce the number of pedestrian crossing points, giving Capital Drive, University Ave, Queen St, and Allen St as examples.

Counc. Duffy rebutted with his viewpoint that “you cross the street once … and you stay there. I see it on my street all the time. You never see anybody coming down on Highland Avenue on my side of the street …”. He referred again to North River Road up to Queen Charlotte High School. Itʼs just the culture, said he, to walk on the side of the street where the sidewalk is.

Mayor Brown chimed in with “I think we have to get away from sidewalks and look at active transportation, because sidewalks are for pedestrians, so we can make a more combined system…”

Ward 5 Councillor Kevin Ramsay spoke up to say he agreed with Mr Kelly, emphasizing that “itʼs a lot of coin!”

Yet, whenever new roads are proposed, not one councillor, not the Mayor, not the CAO, ever bring up the cost of construction or maintenance. The 2020-21 budget for Public Works: $15 million.

Contrast the $55 million sidewalk cost estimate over several years with the revenue the city pulled in this past fiscal year alone from building permits: $180 million. Add to that $34 million in property tax revenue. In March, the federal government announced its first national active transportation strategy, with $400 million to help finance trails, pedestrian bridges, multi-use pathways and widened sidewalks.

Citizens pay taxes for services and infrastructure. Sidewalks are infrastructure that benefit everybody. The more sidewalks we have, the more people will want to walk, and will be able to do so safely.

Clearly, Mr Kelly and councillors Duffy and Ramsay believe Charlottetowners can do without additional sidewalks, and would rather not invest in the Cityʼs pedestrian infrastructure.

Not once, during the meeting, did any councillor mention how essential sidewalks are for people living with disabilities or vision loss, the elderly, children, people who use mobility aids, people who donʼt drive and walk or use public transit to get around. No councillor suggested that a good number of sidewalks are too narrow and ought to be widened. Let us hope that, when this topic lands on the next Council meeting agenda, these points will be raised and Mr Adams’s proposal will be approved.

If you support Scott Adamsʼs proposal for a Sidewalk Master Plan, call or write to your councillor; and copy (or call) the other councillors and the mayor.


About sidewalks and walking:

  1. Eight Principles to Better Sidewalks
  2. Street design: Sidewalks
  3. Pedestrians First: Tools for a Walkable City
  4. Canada Walks
  5. Continuous Sidewalks
  6. Continuous Footway
  7. Video: Four Ways To Make A City More Walkable (2017 TED Talk by Jeff Speck, 18 minutes)

REVERSE TRAFFIC PYRAMID

Posted: Jul 28, 2021 7:28 AM AT | Last Updated: July 28, 9:25 PM AT

Recent goings-on at City Hall

June 7: Special Meeting of Council

  1. Who bears the brunt of road resurfacing costs?

Moved by Councillor Terry MacLeod, Seconded by Councillor Mike Duffy
RESOLVED:
That, as per the conditions of the Tender for “2021 Street Resurfacing”, the submission of Island Construction Ltd. in the amount of $1,650,356.25 (plus all applicable taxes) be accepted,
And that, the Capital Budget for Street Resurfacing be increased by $555,387.50 to cover all the costs of Asphalt testing services, line painting and street resurfacing.
CARRIED 9-0

Video-recording: starts at 7:21


A 2016 blog post entitled Vehicle Weight vs Road Damage Levels states: “For the one dollar’s worth of damage that a car does to a road, a bicycle, travelling the same distance on the same road, would perpetrate $0.0005862 worth of damage.”

A 2021 blog post entitled Road Damage Fees and Profit asks: “Been on a road lately and noticed how absolutely busted it was? Have you also noticed how vehicles today are far larger than in the past? These two things go together because vehicle weight is the main factor that determines road damage.” The writer also corrects the chart used in the 2016 blog post, because even though vehicle weight is important, even more so is axle loading.


2. Plans for a year-round Victoria Park Roadway active transportation lane

Moved by Councillor Terry MacLeod, Seconded by Councillor Mike Duffy
RESOLVED:
That, as per the conditions of the Request for Proposal on “Engineering Services 2 –Victoria Park Roadway and Active Transportation Corridor”, the submission of EXP, in the amount of $41,482.00 (plus all applicable taxes) be accepted. It was noted that this proposal did not go throughthe Parks & Recreation Committee; therefore, it was moved by Councillor Bernard and seconded by Councillor Ramsay that the motion be deferred so the P&R Committee can review the matter.

DEFERRED 9-0
Video-recording: starts at 10:15


The good news: The City is exploring to have the active transportation corridor available year-round on the Victoria Park Roadway. But this is still in the planning stages, with Public Works Manager Scott Adams stating the goal will be present to three options to present to Council and the public for future planning.

The bad news: One of the options could be fitting in two car lanes, a bike lane, and maintaining the parking within the existing footprint (Scott Adams). It was rather mind-boggling to hear Counc. MacLeod say: “I think that our job is to try and present active transporation in all forms, right, whether itʼs walking, biking, or whether itʼs in the car, itʼs all shared services, right, and why shut off one any more than the other, right… ”


3. In whose pockets does the money from Affordable Housing Incentives really wind up in the end?

Mayor Brown welcomed Robert Zilke, Planning Development Officer, to the meeting and asked him to begin his presentation (27:55 worth listening to!).
Mr. Zilke noted that in September 2018, Council approved an Affordable Housing Incentive Program which outlines policy objectives and initiatives that the City would undertake to incentivize affordable housing in the community. Staff recently reviewed the current program and is recommending the following amendments:
– This Program is valid if and/or when the City’s vacancy rate as determined by CMHC’s Quarterly Market Survey1 is less than 3%.
– Property Tax incentive on all new affordable housing units is decreased from 20 years to 10 years:
90% municipal property tax in years 1-2
75% municipal property tax in years 3-4
60% municipal property tax in years 5-6
45% municipal property tax in Year 7-8
30% municipal property tax in Year 9-10
Mr. Zilke further noted that there are no changes to Zoning & Development By-law Incentives which include bonus density, parking requirement reduction and building permit fees exemptions.
There was discussion related to the 3% vacancy rate. Some Members indicated the threshold should be higher, between 3–5%.
It was stressed that the City does have an important role to play in the process for affordable housing; however, most of the financial support for affordable programs comes from the federal and provincial governments.
Mr. Zilke was thanked for his presentation and left the meeting at 6:38 PM.
Council to provide the CAO (Chief Administrative Officer Peter Kelly) with further direction in relation to the proposed 3% vacancy rate.

Video-recording: starts at 19:55

CAO Peter Kelly reminded Council that the current incentive program offers a property tax exemption of up to 100% for a period of up to 20 years. The City has approved the 144 housing units under this program and will therefore forego $4 million in taxes over those 20 years (and permit fees of $152,000). He concluded: “… and weʼre trying to go forward, Your Worship, being more realistic and affordable for the City”.

1 Does he mean the information found on CMHCʼs Housing Market Information Portal or the Rental Market Survey Data ? Either way, the most recent data is from October 2020, that is, at least nine months old at this time.


Tonight, starting at 7 PM, is the second public meeting for the Angus Drive/St Peters Rd roadworks. Watch live stream online.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: The Great Societal Equalizer

Original text published as a Guest Opinion on November 9, 2020, in The Guardian and Journal Pioneer.

Public transportation is the most sustainable and equitable form of transportation that exists. Richard A. White, President and CEO of American Public Transportation Association, observed that public transportation is the original “shared-economy” form of transportation.

The advantages of riding a bus are many. It provides independence to people of all ages and mobility to people living with a disability, it is inexpensive (or free in many cities nowadays), it is healthy because the user walks or cycles to/from the bus stop and it is less stressful than driving.

A lack of public transportation can have a disproportionate impact on working and low-income individuals and immigrants. According to an article in The Atlantic, “Access to just about everything associated with upward mobility and economic progress—jobs, quality food, and goods (at reasonable prices), healthcare, and schooling—relies on the ability to get around in an efficient way, and for an affordable price.” Education and jobs are often cited as the key to overcoming income inequality, while the means to achieving either of these goods remains overlooked.

The automobile’s pervasive presence has been normalised so much that we now find ourselves living and working in places that do more to serve the needs of cars than of people. A well planned public transportation system serves as an effective way to combat automobile dependency. Over-reliance on cars takes a toll on humanity: their emissions increase the likelihood that a healthy person will develop serious diseases, including heart disease or lung cancer, later in life, causing a similar number of premature deaths as traffic collisions. Public transit tends to produce less pollution per passenger-kilometre compared to personal motor vehicles. It is a climate change mitigation opportunity that has been shown to decrease air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Using public transportation is far more affordable that owning and operating a vehicle. A car costs between $8,600 and $13,000 a year, including insurance, gas, maintenance, tires, and depreciation. A T3 Transit monthly pass currently costs $58.50, or $702 a year (Greater Charlottetown Area). Who wouldn’t want to save at least $8,000 a year, or put that money towards better housing, healthier food choices, or education?

A publicly owned, managed, and operated transit system is usually cheaper, more likely to provide good service, and is more accountable to riders than privately run transit*. It is the great societal equalizer, granting everyone universal access to transportation. It’s a known fact that mass transportation makes cities more just, environmentally sustainable, and economically vibrant. On PEI, a public transit system would have to include the unique needs of rural and small-town residents. They, just as much as urban residents, have a right to mobility and a “right to the city” (slogan coined by Henri Lefebvre).

It is time for PEI’s political leaders to make a commitment to create car-free streets and spaces in our cities and towns, to de-prioritize the automobile in their transportation funding allocations, to charge drivers the full cost of their bad habit, and to use the revenue to fund not only a public transit system, but also infrastructure improvements for walking and cycling.

Barbara Dylla of Charlottetown has submitted this article through the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women and the 10 Days for Transit initiative.

*Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars? ©2020 James Wilt, pp 189–191