Smart Moves to ask residents what the future might look like
Can you picture a London with fewer vehicles on the road, dedicated bus lanes or even electric streetcars?
Any or all of those options – and many more – will be up for discussion over the next few years as city officials begin work on updating London’s transportation master plan through a new initiative called Smart Moves: What Moves You?
Officially launched last week, the study is intended to address the future transportation needs of the city. However, unlike other similar endeavours that have taken place in recent years, the success of Smart Moves depends on the participation of Londoners.
Dave Leckie, London’s director of roads and transportation and a member of the Smart Moves committee, says public participation is what is going to make this plan work for all Londoners.
“Every 10 years we take a look at how people are getting around. We look at the 20-year population forecast; know where the residential population is, where the buses run and where the schools are. We also do a household travel survey where we call five per cent of residents, that’s the traditional way,” Mr. Leckie says. “But if we want to get people out of their cars and into other forms of transportation then we have to make those other options appeal to them. If the only input you get is from the traditional interest groups then that isn’t giving us a complete picture. So we have to get the public involved and I think we are going to extraordinary measures to do that.”
Mr. Leckie says officials have put a lot of thought into how they can get Londoners involved in Smart Moves.
“The first thing was making a big deal about it, doing our public launch of Smart Moves. We have an LTC (London Transit Commission) bus wrapped in our logo, the mayor and members of council have shown their support too,” Mr. Leckie says. “Our website will be live, we want it to be dynamic and changing. It will alert people to the various steps that will happen along the way and how they can be a part of it. One thing is the transportation survey, well a lot of people don’t like doing surveys over the phone so they will be able to do this now online at their leisure, at their convenience.”
In addition to simply collecting data, Mr. Leckie says public involvement helps the development of the transportation plan in other ways.
“We need to remind people that we need to plan further into the future, beyond the 20 year horizon. So that’s why we want people involved, to find out what they think, what their expectations are for the future. We are really sincere when we say we want people to respond,” Mr. Leckie says. “We are going to go up to people on the street and get their feelings, post those online. We are going to be inviting people to our various forums on transportation. We will have one workshop on Nov. 10 and then another in the early spring of 2010 and another probably late in 2011. Their input in these forums will make it easier to plan what the future will look like.”
The forums the city has planned, Mr. Leckie says, will be progressive in nature with the first one asking just what kind of transportation system people want to see. That information will then be used in the second forum.
The second forum will take that vision and ask what kinds of options can be undertaken to make it come true. That information would then be used in the third forum that would select what measures can be used to implement the plan.
“We will build our report on that, get more feedback, do a public participation meeting of some kind, with the input of council, and then I think we could see a final report, optimistically in the summer of 2011. More realistically though, I think it might be the fall of 2001,” Mr. Leckie says.
As for what a future London transportation system might look like, Mr. Leckie says there are numerous possibilities.
“If you want people to use public transportation then you have to give it some advantages,” Mr. Leckie says. “If you are stuck in traffic in a bus or stuck in traffic in your car, then you are still stuck in traffic. So you have to look at the tools we can use.”
Among the possibilities, Mr. Leckie says, would be adapting a system used by the city’s fire service which has a pre-emption system allowing it to change the lights. Mr. Leckie did say such a system, although easy enough to adapt for transit, would only be used when a bus was running behind schedule.
Another option would be adding a lane that buses could use to by-pass a line of traffic that was backed up at a particular light or even adding dedicated bus-only lanes on existing roads.
“The challenge with things like that is that we have so many buildings that go right up to the curb, or trees too,” Mr. Leckie says. “So if you are considering widening lanes you have to think about that. If you are thinking about taking away an existing lane being used for existing traffic, then you have to remember we still have a lot of people using their cars, and what would that do to the traffic flow?”
One suggestion Mr. Leckie has heard in the past would see London follow the example of places like Toronto and Calgary that use light rail or an electric street car system. However, he adds London is a long way from being able to realistically consider that option.
“Electricity is clean, no emissions, but I believe you would need to see a population of around 900,000 to make that realistic and London is a long way from that,” Mr. Leckie says. “We did a long-term transportation corridor study in 2002. It talked about the city’s long-range growth. It would take 50-75 years to grow beyond the 625,000 to 650,000 people. So a light rail transit system seems a far way out.”
Smart Moves, Mr. Leckie says, will help city officials make plans for the future, but he adds it comes down to the choices people are willing to make as to how successful it might ultimately be.
“In Europe, they have successfully gotten a lot of people out of their cars. Car traffic is down to 37 per cent in some cases. They are cycling to work, using public transportation. People enjoy it, and not just in the summer, but in the winter months too,” Mr. Leckie says. “We would like to change people’s attitudes, but that takes time. You look at the Blue Box program, people take that for granted now, but it took time to build it up and make people want to use it as a regular part of their routine. Change is something that takes time.”
And whatever changes might be on the horizon, Mr. Leckie says he fully realises cost will play a role in what can be done and what will be done.
“Cost is an issue. I’ve been a civil servant since the 70s and I know for a fact society can’t afford funding for all its needs. I can’t afford to repair roads at the rate they should be and that leads to them getting much worse. Municipalities have lobbied for years that the tax base can’t deliver everything we need,” Mr. Leckie says. “The federal government has transferred the gas tax which helps with roads and infrastructure. The province has periodic funding programs. The economic stimulus money helps, but we still fall short. Whether it is infrastructure, education, health care, it’s about finding compromise. Whatever comes from the transportation master plan it will have to be developed around the best form of compromise.”
Want to know more?
To find out more about Smart Moves and how you can become part of helping shape London’s transportation future, visit www.london.ca/smartmoves