Transportation: Where to go, and how to get there in #YQR

Most of my speech as heard in the video above, and posted to my Regina politics blog:

I’m very pleased to have been asked to speak at Campion College about transportation issues. I got my Computer Science – co-op degree from here a decade ago, and I never imagined at the time that I’d wind up the President of a different sort of “co-op”, the Regina Car Share Co-operative. At the time, I had no idea that “car sharing” was even a thing. I’d heard of car pooling of course, but they are different. It wasn’t until I returned to work at the UofR, that I got an email about a group of people holding a pot luck supper in Regina to discuss forming a “car share”, and I thought that sounded like maybe a good way to use a car without the unpleasantries of maintaining one. A few years later, I was chosen to help guide a remarkable group of volunteers who make organized car sharing possible in our city, as it is in almost every other major Canadian and American city today.

Why am I interested in transportation? Well, I’m interested in nearly everything, but where curiosity meets reality is on the streets. Nearly everyone in the world has a daily need to move about the farm, town, or city they live at, and so modes of transportation are essential to how and where we live. If transportation isn’t timely or fun, people don’t enjoy where they live as much as they should. I don’t think car repair is fun, and feel dealing with SGI is about the worst thing that could administratively happen to someone (short of being charged with a crime). So I’ve set out to make transportation both timely and fun for myself, and it just so happens that I need to make it that way for the people around me too, in order to be successful.

Another big reason I’m interested in transportation improvement, is that it’s a major contributor to air pollution and climate change. These are not small, or easy problems to solve, but our little daily actions collectively point our society in either the right or wrong direction. Right now, Regina is unquestionably pointed in the wrong direction, and among our collective actions pointing us there is how we get around every day. Since public talks are always more fun with interaction (I think so anyway, because otherwise I tend to get sleepy especially if the speaker has a mono-tone voice like mine,): How many people got to University today by themselves in a motor vehicle? How many car pooled? How many took the bus? How many biked or walked?

As you can see, most people took a car. What are some of the reasons for taking a car, even though most of us also recognize that cars are responsible for air pollution we’d rather not create? Is it convenience? Fun? Lack of effective alternatives? Habit? I think there are ways we can make modes of transportation that are not single-occupant cars, the fun, convenient, habit forming alternatives.

Bikes – Regina isn’t known for being a hotbed of cycling culture. That’s changing though, as cycling groups are popping up more often, from the Wascana Freewheelers, to Bike Regina, and they are providing the City with feedback through the Official Community Plan (also known as Design Regina). This Winter, a Bike Regina board member helped clear multi-use paths that were totally blocked by snow drifts, simply by letting City Hall know that there is demand among cyclists for these off-road paths to be available year round.

There is presently a vast network of both on-street, and off-street cycling infrastructure in Regina. Yet most of it is not well connected to each other segment. If you’ve driven down Wascana Parkway, and get to just before the Broad St. bridge, you might recognize a sign that says “Bike Lane Ends”. Well, when I see it, I imagine a cyclist getting to the end of the bike lane, and then popping out of existence, only to pop back into existence on the other side of the bridge. This is the logical thought process of the person who designed that street and bike lane. The only other possibility is that they expected the cyclist going 30km/h to join the vehicle traffic decelerating from 70km/h to 50km/h, while the two motor-vehicle lanes narrow down to a lane and a half in Winter.

This sort of thoughtless, car-centric street design encourages fair-weather cyclists to make good use of their car instead of trying a bike. Regina presently has mostly fearless cyclists I’d suggest, who are willing and able to intermingle on the streets with cars, trucks, and buses. This sort of rider does not describe most people, however. Without a street design that makes a separate (or visibly different) space for bikes and cars, it’s really not possible to convince a large number of people to commute by bike and make it their primary vehicle.

Car Sharing – If you’re not familiar with car sharing, it’s basically a way to share vehicles that are owned by a business, through an online booking system, and self-serve car rental model. The end result is supposed to mean that you can book time in a car from your smart phone, go about your driving task, fill up the car if the tank is under half full, and return the car before your booked time runs out so the next person with a booking can use it. The fuel, insurance, repairs, everything is paid for collectively, so your monthly bill represents the total cost of using the car for the time that you book it and the distance you drive it. People who don’t drive more than about 12,000km/year, can save thousands of dollars a year by sharing a car instead of owning one for private use.

Regina has had a car share, Regina Car Share Co-op, since 2009, and is still one of the smaller ones in Canada, with only 1 shared car. There are more than 30 drivers who use that one car, however. This isn’t even as efficient as it can get, since the American average is toward 50 members per shared car. This is why one shared car is estimated to replace between 8-13 parked cars. Imagine how big a parking space you need for a dozen cars, now re-assign that space for some other purpose. Do those possibilities excite you? If not, you’re probably not an urban planning geek.

Transit – I’ve lived in several cities across Saskatchewan and also in Ottawa. I’ve used buses to travel to most provinces and 2 dozen states. Regina does not have the most inconvenient transit system I’ve used, but it’s close. It doesn’t surprise people when they typically see buses that are nearly empty at random times in the day. There are several reasons for this, but one of the reasons is urban sprawl. Regina has subdivisions that virtually empty out during the daytime, and fill back up in the evening as tens of thousands of people commute downtown. Without having a neighbourhood designed to meet mixed purposes of residential housing, commercial business, and recreation opportunities, transit cannot be cheaply provided. Or rather it can be cheap, but not also convenient.

Bus stop times in Regina tend to be spaced in intervals of half hours, and on Sundays and times after 9pm, intervals of an hour. I don’t know about you, but if I was told that I could only get into my car on the hour, I’d find it pretty inconvenient. You’d have to plan whether to be very early, or very late when arriving at your scheduled destination. With that kind of restriction on car use, you’d see people seeking another way to get around on their own terms. This is why many people don’t consider using the bus, and instead opt for purchasing a car which costs them on average $8000/year to own and completely maintain.

Regina has chosen to make Transit cheap, over convenient. We’re getting what we pay for; we’re steering people toward automobile purchase.

How do we get to a different transportation system? What will change so we can accommodate people who don’t feel comfortable with the “car is king” style of city? We have to make some decisions based upon where we expect people like us to live, and where we will work and play.

If we were to spend more of our money on buying buses, opposed to subsidizing parking to keep it artificially cheaper than its real-estate value, we’d see increased transit ridership. More buses mean more frequent stop times. It also means more direct, intuitive routes where someone can predict where they will end up by getting onto a bus, without the need for a pocket computer with a snazzy app.

Parkades can cost $33,000 per stall if built at the UofR. Parking in Los Angeles two years ago was valued at $31,000 a stall. Parking spots are more valuable than cars, but often we give away parking, especially in sprawl zones populated mostly by big box stores with no sidewalks or bike lanes to residential housing not very far away.

These sort of city design issues are central to how the transportation situation shakes out for a given city. That’s one big reason I got involved in the last civic election, and why I’m still actively involved in bringing ideas to City Council about how we can make progress in how people can get around in fun and healthier modes. I’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of people actively involved with Bike Regina these past few months; the car share co-op is picking up new members even with our static number of vehicles and still manage to keep members happy with availability, and the Transit system is promising some route improvements for Sunday and other times this Summer.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s possible to make big changes by simply letting City Hall know you’d like a little action to make your walk/run/bike/ or car pooling experience a little easier. If you’re thinking something isn’t right with Regina’s roads, don’t stay silent, let your City Councillor, or Service Regina know. If it’s something really big, write your MLA and MP too. When politicians see that letters and phone calls are coming in about an issue, there’s a much better chance they’ll take steps to fix a shortcoming, than if you remain silent. If you’ve been feeling left out of how your city works, be Idle No More, and idle your car no more too ;-). There are friendly groups looking for your support, and you can have a lot of fun in the journey. It’s not just where you’re going, it’s also how you get there that counts.

Once again, for those who wandered in late, I’m John Klein, and those were some of my comments on the state of Regina transportation.

Other subjects?
– Self-driving cars
– Combined payment RFID cards for easing multi-modal transportation
– Uber cabs
– Peer to Peer car sharing
– Bike sharing
– Car pooling

One question was about bus stop advertising, and how it blocks the drivers from seeing if someone is in the shelter, and blocks riders waiting in the shelter from seeing an oncoming bus. One solution I suggested was to have slots in the ads for people to see in and out from.

Another was what we could do about improving a downtown bus station or transfer point. One idea would be to close part of 11th Ave. to motor vehicle traffic, or create a pedestrian underpass with connected shelters that extend almost up to the street. This idea may be harder to implement with 12th Avenue already obstructed for through-traffic.

Interesting links:
Taken For A Ride: documentary describing the downfall of public transportation in North America in the mid 20th century.
Boulder, CO Hop Skip Jump buses: how they transferred busing from a social service, to a more inclusive city feature.

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