Doomed to Repeat the Same Mistakes?

A well written and reasoned article, with just the right amount of snark, in today’s Star Phoenix by Jordon Cooper:

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In a lot of ways we have already made that choice. While council approves a bridge even before the traffic report that demonstrates a need for it comes out, it spends hours lamenting and micromanaging the “subsidy” that goes to Saskatoon Transit. The result is that we have an inferior bus service and then are surprised that people choose to drive.

The city went through the Saskatoon Speaks process and the resulting report speaks at length about how we value environmental sustainability and public transit. Yet most of the action, and more importantly the money, has gone to more roads, bridges and the kind of projects that will take us away from the city we say we want.

It’s time to just accept that we can’t be both pedestrian friendly and car-driven. Despite what we asked for, council made the decision to go all in and continue to build for cars rather than the people who live here.

It could be time to admit that Saskatoon is going to be about cars, freeways and big box retail. Let’s not even pretend that it is about any of the ideas that Saskatoon Speaks brought forward. Well, at least we had the opportunity to hang out with Peter Mansbridge.

 

Having watched and interacted with City Council’s for the better part of the past 5 years one of the things that has struck me most, regardless of the council or Councillors, is the ease in which public dollars are spent on traffic related projects – it has raised barely a question, let alone a debate, when a 5, 10 or 100 million dollars is tabled for the next road project that is lauded to make driving easier.

Let’s be clear here, I’m a strong proponent of our city ensuring they invest in the maintenance and repair of existing roadway infrastructure (all infrastructure, really), something that remains unfunded to the tune of nearly 1 billion dollars currently in Saskatoon – but let’s not digress to far.

However, when it comes to putting real dollars and planning into alternative modes of transportation – transit, cycling, walking – be it through increased operational spending or capital projects, successive councils of the day have debated, micro-managed, and clawed back the significantly smaller dollar amounts being proposed.

I’ve detailed in a recent post the apparent advent of the “North Commuter” Bridge – as Jordon Cooper re-iterates a bridge that was proposed before any traffic studies were done to prove its need or its impact.  It is also extremely strange that such a significant, new, piece of infrastructure that will have profound implications on future plans for improving transit in Saskatoon was fast-tracked before the Transportation Department at City Hall was able to even scratch the surface of a systematic review and update of the Transportation Master Plan (which will receive significant dollars over the next two years to be undertaken).

There are ample examples across North America and right in our own backyard – Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg – of larger cities that have made mistakes that have cost hundreds of millions and are now spending billions to correct them.  Here in Saskatoon we have a great opportunity to learn from these mistakes, save hundreds of millions of dollars in the process, and end up with the type of city our neighbours are still struggling to re-group into.  What is most frustrating is that our current decision-makers seem fated to make these same mistakes – all the while talking the talk of wanting to build a better city – and we seemingly will have to grow unsustainably until we reach the size of our neighbours before those mistakes are too large and expensive to ignore.

 

Sadly, I’m nearly ready to agree with Mr. Cooper’s closing sentiments – perhaps its time we stop talking the talk of building a city for all modes of transportation and go all-in on our current car-oriented design.  While we ride the high of cyclical resource sector based growth in Saskatoon, we will save money not having to build better transit, redevelop our north downtown or south Caswell, or enhance our downtown and RiverLanding. This money can then be spent building more bridges, overpasses, and arterial roadways that will ensure the scourge of a 30 min commute will never be inflicted on another driver.

This approach worked out well for Detroit, right?

 

Though in the long-run, once the resource boom has gone through a few peaks and valleys we will be left with a 20th century city in a 21st century world