The Year in Saskatoon Walking 2019 Part 1

2019 saw some good and some bad for walkers in Saskatoon. New crossing methods were successfully trialled and there was a renewed commitment to fixing existing walking infrastructure. On the downside, provincial seizure of traffic safety money led to fewer investments in new walking infrastructure, admin planning exercises were far more numerous than infrastructure investments and federal green infrastructure money went everywhere but to active transportation. Below is the first part of our series recapping 2019 in walking.

RRFB Pilot has Good Results

Walking Saskatoon has written about RRFB (rapid rectangular flashing beacon) crossing devices before. Over the last year RRFBs were piloted at five locations and will remain at one (Spadina and 33rd). The good news is that three of the other four crossing locations will get overhead flashing lights instead of RRFBs and multiple future locations have been identified for RRFB based on best-practice guidelines.

New RRFB at Spadina and 33rd

WCMUC Path Hits Multiple Roadblocks

While the sad cancellation of the 3rd Avenue bike lane got most of the press over the last year just as big a blow was dealt to the most important piece of active transportation infrastructure being planned in Saskatoon: the awkwardly named West-Central Multi-Use Corridor (WCMUC).

WCMUC route as of fall 2019

WCMUC is meant to improve and formalize a 3km (!) active transportation corridor that’s already in heavy use, the series of alleys, pathways, roads and goat paths that parallel the CP tracks from 11th Street to Avenue D. This is a huge project and will provide great connectivity and safety in neighbourhoods like Riversdale, Pleasant Hill and West Industrial that have a high walk share. The project’s first phase was done a few years ago, it’s the path from Idylwyld to Ave. D just off 25th near the police station.

We wrote about the ambitious early plans for the multi-use pathway last year but it’s been nothing but bad news ever since our last update. Flush with federal money from a rail corridor safety initiative the city was optimistic about getting construction started this year. While the design is done, CP hasn’t entered into a lease agreement with the city for its lands from Ave. D South to Ave. Q South and, further, CP will not let go of its leases for rail-adjacent land from Avenue F to Avenue K so there is not enough space to put the WCMUC trail in that critical section.

In addition, the city ludicrously underestimated of the amount of money it would take to build the pathway, only budgeting $1.5M for 3km of rail-adjacent pathway. In an update this year, the city now thinks it will cost $2.5M to build the trail from Avenue D to Avenue F only, about 2/3rds more money for about 15% of the original proposed trail length! If CP is willing to negotiate for that section. If the federal funding can be extended. If the extra million dollars for the project materializes from thin air.

In reality, this project looks dead in the water at worst, heavily delayed at best. Even taking the city’s assertions about CP’s intransigence at face value this hasn’t been city admin’s finest moment so far and we might end up losing over a million dollars in federal money for active transportation as a result.

Catching up with 2018 in Pedestrian Infrastructure.

Quick updates on how pedestrian infrastructure fared in 2018 in Saskatoon:

  1. Additional Funding for Active Transportation Plan Implementation Denied but at least not Cut Entirely.

Lobbying the city to fund the implementation of the recommendations from the Active Transportation Plan is one of groups’s highest priorities.  As you can read in our last entry, city council didn’t agree with us and voted against increasing funding to the ATP but at least motions to defund the ATP implementation entirely as well as ending all funding to the Meewasin Valley Authority(!) were defeated. We’ll be back on this item next year and we’ve heard the city might have some ideas as well. The vote to defund ATP implementation and the MVA was completely shocking and won’t be forgotten election time.

2. Sid Buckwold Bridge gets some Upgrades to its Walkway

A major link in the city’s AT network, the Sid Buckwold Bridge is hugely substandard for what its role should be and having the city widen its existing pathway and adding a pathway to the west side was a big focus for Walking Saskatoon. Given the nearby Traffic Bridge/Victoria Avenue upgrades and a large bill for upgrades, council decided not to do any additional improvements to the pathway beyond what was planned as part of an already-existing bridge maintenance plan but the existing pathway is getting an additional 30cm in width and expanded walk barriers as part of already planned work.

It’s not nothing but it is disappointing that in 2018 the active transportation aspects of major roadways are still mostly an afterthought in Saskatoon, although in contrast…

3. The Traffic Bridge/Victoria Avenue Upgrades were Completely Fantastic

The new Traffic Bridge, with 3M-wide walkways on both sides of the bridge, good connections to the Meewasin Trail and the Complete Streets upgrade of Victoria Avenue from the new bridge to Broadway Avenue is the best transportation project the City has ever done. Kudos all around.

 

 

4. Vision Zero is kind of a Thing, maybe, sort of..

Several years after the city first examined Vision Zero, the urban planning principle to get traffic fatalities to zero that’s had great success around the world, Councillor Bev Dubois led an internal effort to examine the idea more. What will come of this newest push is largely uncertain, but we covered the city’s uneven efforts towards applying Vision Zero ideals and provided a comprehensive look at what Vision Zero brings to a community.

5. As Speed Limit Reduction became a Hot Topic.

One of the core concepts around Vision Zero is the reduction of speed limits (with adequate enforcement). City council took some steps toward reducing speeds on non-arterials to 40 km/h, which would be a good start towards saving lives.

Why do speed limit reductions save lives? It’s simple, the slower a car is going the more awareness a driver has and the less force an impact hits a pedestrian with.

Speed of impact vs. pedestrian survival

 

6. Infill Sidewalks in 2018 and why we might not see New Infill Sidewalks for a Long Time:

Every November sees the announcement of the streets that will receive sidewalks in the coming year. For 2018 the lucky winners are:

North side of Brudell Avenue from Taylor Street to Boychuk Avenue in Lakeridge/Wildwood:

35th St. between Ave. I and Ave. F in Mayfair:

Both of these projects (along with 60 accessibility sidewalk curb ramps) were funded out of the 1.1M Active Transportation Plan implementation budget. In the past few years new infill sidewalk construction has been funded out of the traffic safety reserve. However, this year both the province and the city raided the traffic safety reserve for money on a permanent basis. The province, for general revenue and the city, for Neighbourhood Traffic Plan implementation and ‘controversial project handling’ (see: the 9th Street road closure and the Avalon traffic calming plan). This is disappointing news for the already underfunded infill sidewalk construction program.

7. WCMUC is a Pleasant Surprise but Delayed.

The sprightly-named West-Central Multi-use Corridor is a multi-use pathway that the City is planning to build along the rail lines west of Idylwyld and north of 11th Street, paid for with a rail safety grant from the federal government. We covered it a few months ago.

The most recent news is that construction (scheduled to start Fall 2018) has been delayed while the city does more planning and tries to raise more money to do the complete walkway. The federal grant that is to pay for the bulk of the project has a time limit by which any work done with the grant has to be completed so we’re not sure how the city is going to square this. We hope to report more about this great project next year.

Active Transportation and the 2019 Saskatoon City Budget

Click to see the text of our budget request

Active transportation (AT) is a great way to make connections in your community, as well as to improve your health. Research shows that investments in active transportation infrastructure and supports provides a suite of benefits, including reduced injuries, improved health, and reductions in carbon dioxide and other combustion-based pollutants. Through savings in health care, and with an appropriate cost on carbon, these investments provide a high benefit-cost ratios; this means that by encouraging and facilitating active transportation, the City can improve the lives of its citizens, reduced its overall greenhouse gas emissions, and also save money in the long-run.

Parks and natural areas can be a vital part of an active lifestyle. For example, the Meewasin Trail System offers a beautiful and well-maintained year-round trail for active transportation. The province recently rejigged funding for the Meewasin Valley Authority, leaving it at-risk for chronic under-funding. As providers of cultural, environmental, and transportation connections to the city and its riverine neighbourhoods, we recognize the importance of a well-funded MVA in supporting our connection to the river valley, and in maintaining our pathways.

In November, City Council was set to task to allocate funds and set priorities through the budget process. As advocates for pedestrians and active transportation, Walking Saskatoon submitted a call for Council to increase funding for the Active Transportation Reserve, used for the implementation of the Active Transportation Plan (ATP), as well as to fund a full time manager position out of the Operations budget (you can find the link at the top of this post).

Currently, the manager is paid out of the implementation budget from the AT reserve fund, leaving little for actual implementation. At current funding levels, implementation is constrained to low-hanging fruit, and will never achieve meaningful gains and progress towards implementing and seeing in full the benefits of an active transportation city.

At the vote, motions were introduced to reduce ATP phase-in funding down to $0, and also to reduce MVA funding to $0 (see item 6.14.2, motions 13+14 at this link to see how Councillors voted). Our thanks to Councillors who voted against these motions, which were defeated, at least preserving current funding levels and providing some security to the MVA moving forward. We continue to advocate for a more equitable distribution of city resources and funding towards pedestrian-related infrastructure, safety, and monitoring.

It’s time for Vision Zero Saskatoon. Let’s get it right.

There’s been a lot of talk around town recently about improving the safety on our roads. The city has been trying to balance traffic flow and driver convenience with selective traffic calming measures to address the all too frequent collisions between drivers and vulnerable road users in Saskatoon.

  • The city is reporting that between 2007 and 2016, 69 people have been killed and 12,666 people have been injured on Saskatoon roads.
  • According to the Saskatchewan Health Authority 129 pedestrians visited the emergency departments at Saskatoon hospitals after collisions with drivers between Jan 1 and Oct 31st of last year.  

The City of Saskatoon is in the final stages of completing Neighbourhood Traffic Reviews (NTR’s) throughout the city, in which the discussions concentrated on traffic safety concerns and solutions. The reality is though that not enough is being done at the moment to seriously address the severe injuries and deaths that are occurring on roadways in our community.

The good news is that city administration has seen the light. In a presentation to the Special Policy Committee on Transportation (SPCoT) on September 10th, administrators advised “To address this significant level of injury and death, safety must become a priority over speed and convenience in both the design and operation of Saskatoon’s roads,” and are recommending adopting Vision Zero in principle.

SPCoT, which includes 5 Councillors and the Mayor, endorsed the motion to adopt Vision Zero in principle for Saskatoon!

This is the first step in a potentially monumental shift in the way our city moves.

So what exactly is Vision Zero?

There’s plenty of information and misinformation out there. We’re not get into all the detail and nuances. Simply put, the point of Vision Zero is to take human error and education out of the equation by creating fail-safe systems in the design of roadways.

It is a data-centric approach that shifts the focus away from designing roads for convenience and prevention of all collisions toward concentrating on eliminating the severe and deadly collisions.  Vision Zero Canada is a great resource for those that want to get into it in further detail.

The SPCoT recommendation is huge news, but Councillors and city admin need to continue to delve deeper to understand how if they follow through with this, it needs to be the lens that they filter through all decisions about traffic safety.

One thing that concerns us is that in the same SPCoT meeting admin recommended, and Councillors endorsed, a motion for a survey/voting system for affected citizens when traffic calming measures are being implemented. This is likely a result of the politicized citizen uproar regarding traffic calming measures on 9th St and Clarence Avenue, but it is totally contradictory to the data-based Vision Zero approach. The city needs to realize that you can’t have both at the same time.

Even Vision Zero Canada points out the conflict commenting, “That kind of safety-by-plebiscite—traffic calming based on how ppl feel, rather than on actual data about where and why people get killed or seriously injured—is not a good way to reduce harm or encourage active mobility.”

If the city goes through with the proposed voting system it will completely undermine any ability for Vizion Zero to be successful in our community. We’ve seen this story before elsewhere in Canada where cities have adopted the feel good story about Vision Zero but have struggled to change their mentality to road design or crack under political pressure and fail to implement the approach in any significant way. Graham Larkin of Vision Zero Canada notes here that no Canadian city has successfully shifted “away from the deeply-ingrained ‘shared responsibility’ road safety paradigm, and towards a ‘safe systems’ approach.”

That is also where he sees issues with the documents Saskatoon city admin are proposing related to Vision Zero. There are still too many remnants of the old shared responsibility mentality making their way into Saskatoon’s preliminary proposal. These remnants include the language that it’s the responsibility of “all road users” as well as the “E’s” (Enforcement, Education and Engagement in particular). Vision Zero puts the onus on the design, not the users.


The city’s report does get a bunch right as well and that gives us hope. Right now city staff are working on this off the side of their desks. We’re optimistic that once a full-time employee is dedicated to leading Saskatoon’s Vision Zero charge, they will sniff out the inconsistencies and tighten up our strategy for a legitimate safe systems approach to traffic safety. Then it’s up to Councillors to resist political pressures and do the right thing while leaving it to staff to trust the data and the Vision Zero process.

If this is the case our community can truly achieve the vision statement created by the working group on Vision Zero:

“Saskatoon will become a community with zero transportation-related deaths or severe injuries.”

We believe it can happen. The time for Vision Zero in Saskatoon is now!

 

City of Saskatoon Vision Zero Initiative Timeline

  • Nov 27-28 2017: Council Budget Meeting approved funding, $40,000 for launching the Vision Zero Initiative+education campaign.
  • May 2018: Planning session with stakeholders facilitated by Vision Zero Advocate Institute.
  • June 18, 2018: $100,000 for a Vision Zero Program Manager is recommended during budget deliberations at the Government + Priorities Committee
  • Sept. 10, 2018: Admin present report on Vision Zero to the Special Policy Committee on Transportation, Vision Zero adopted in principle by SPCoT.
  • 2019: Vision Zero Steering Committee to be formed to replace the Traffic Safety Committee
  • 2019: Vision Zero Action Plan Report developed and presented to council.

Saskatoon Reported Pedestrian Collision Map

Exploring Saskatoon’s WCMUC Expansion Part 1.

Amongst the progress of the Bus Rapid Transit, Downtown Cycling Network and the rest of Saskatoon’s Growing Forward Plan, a fairly significant new active transportation plan in the city has flown under the radar: the West-Central Multi-Use Corridor Expansion (WCMUC).

The city has been applying for project money from the federal Rail Safety Improvement Program. One of the requested projects was the ‘Safety Pathway’ program, which details the expansion of the rail-line adjacent WCMUC from Avenue D and 23rd Street all the way to Ave. W and 11th Street. This year, the city received the money from the federal government and will try and complete the project by 2020.

This is great get for the city. The WCMUC expansion is not only a wonderful addition to the active transportation infrastructure of the city but it is almost free to Saskatoon taxpayers. The federal government is covering 80% of the $1.5M cost of the pathway and the rest will come from already budgeted active transportation money.

Follow Walking Saskatoon in the coming couple of weeks as we do a video walkthrough of the projected route and talk about the challenges and opportunities facing the pathway project.

Excerpts of the admin report to council are below:

Rail Safety Improvement Program Project

  • ReportOn April 26, 2018, the City received notification that the Safety Pathway project was approved for funding. The Safety Pathway project is to provide an illuminated multi-use pathway between Avenue D and Avenue W. It is a three kilometre multi-use path adjacent to the Canadian Pacific rail line that will connect the City of Saskatoon’s westerly neighbourhoods to the Downtown area. It aims to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist trespassing on rail right-of-way with a pathway and fencing. In addition, the design of the Safety Pathway incorporates the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles which can help make the pathway less susceptible to crime and enable people to feel more comfortable. Features such as illumination, signage, way-finding, benches, and garbage cans near street entrances will improve the territoriality and image of the Safety Pathway, and promote usage of the dedicated path.Public and/or Stakeholder InvolvementDiscussions are currently underway on the design of the Safety Pathway with the Canadian Pacific Railway.As the design progresses, the Administration will engage the community and impacted stakeholders to provide information and obtain input into certain aspects of the design. The details of this engagement are under development.

Page 2 of 3

Rail Safety Improvement Program Project

Financial Implications

The estimated cost of the Safety Pathway is $1,464,900 of which the RSIP will fund up to 80% of eligible costs. The City’s portion, $293,000, will be funded from prior approved funding from the Active Transportation Reserve.

Capital Project #2550 – West/Central Multi-Use Corridor has existing funding of $181,000 that will be used to partially fund the City’s portion of this project. In addition, CP #2550 will be increased by $1,283,900 of which $1,171,900 is funded from the RSIP and $112,000 is funded from the Active Transportation Reserve.

Due Date for Follow-up and/or Project Completion

The Safety Pathway Project is expected to be completed by March 2020.

The full report, in PDF form, is here: Admin Report on Rail Safety Improvement Projects

Fixing 22nd Street Part 2: Dangerous by Design – A Photo Gallery of Neglect

22nd Street in Saskatoon bisects some of the poorest neighbouroods in the city, those that are the least likely to own cars and the most likely to walk or use transit. As discussed in Part 1 of our series 22nd is also among the most dangerous streets in the province, with double-digit pedestrian-car collisions resulting in injury or death in 2017 alone.

Knowing the vulnerable population that relies on this street for access to education, services, groceries, jobs and health care, what care does the city take to ensure safe and accessible conditions along this corridor? Let’s take a look.

The only grocery store in the area is on 22nd and Avenue W. To get there involves traversing streets that look like this:

Sidewalk on 22nd and Ave. W in front of No Frills and Shoppers

 

Pedestrian Island on 22nd and Ave. F with ice and no curb cut.

 

Poorly mantained pedestrian underpass to Confederation Drive

It’s probably best to think of it like a video game when you are pushing a shopping cart full of groceries or a stroller down these streets. Make it fun for youself while you try to avoid slipping on the ice and snow into the street.

The city and media don’t like to acknowledge dangerous conditions for walkers on 22nd, perferring to repeatedly blame pedestrians for jaywalking even though the large majority of pedestrian-involved crashes on 22nd are the fault of the car driver.

However, even when a pedestrian crosses against the right of way can they really be blamed? Not only are the streets on 22nd by and large inaccessible due to snow, ice, dirt, dust, narrowness and lack of curb cuts but even an alternative route through parallel streets is full of dangers:

19th Street and Ave. N with one unplowed sidewalk

21st and Ave. P with no sidewalks

Steep icy desire path on 19th Street and Avenue O. Other side has no path at all.

Saskatoon owes a basic right to its citizens of safe and accessible transportation. This is not happening right now where its needed most, and it’s a shameful and continuing failure of the whole city. 22nd street is dangerous by design and needs to be made safer immediately.

Continue on to our next post where we present immediate and desperately needed fixes to make 22nd Street safer for walkers.

 

 

 

 

Fixing 22nd St. Part 3: Solutions

While the city has embarked on a stakeholder engagement process to “Imagine Idylwyld” not much has been done to improve 22nd.

So what can we do to improve the notorious corridor? The city has been considering making changes to the stretch of road since prior to 2015. They have installed a couple of pedestrian activated traffic lights and have mused about several other interventions; some easy and inexpensive like desynchronizing lights or narrowing drive lanes and some more difficult/expensive/disruptive like installing fences or pedestrian overpasses.

‘Beg Button’ lights on 22nd and Avenue W were part of a recent attempt at fixing 22nd.

Vision Zero suggest some fast fixes to improve places where drivers and people meet. Among them, there are several that stand out for 22nd Street.  Here are are our Vision Zero-inspired recommendations for starting to make 22nd Street safe and accesible for all road users:

  1. Painting crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections and adding rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFBs) is an easy and cheap way to indicate to drivers to watch for pedestrians while providing more points to cross. Existing crosswalks also need to be properly maintained.

    Existing suicidal pedestrian right of way at Avenue D is one of many that needs crosswalks and RRFBs

    “Crosswalk” at 22nd and Idylwyld with faded markings and non-ADA compliant sidewalk widths

    Correctly painted crosswalk with RRFBs and maintained pedestrian median
  2. Bring sidewalks up to code and make them passable in all seasons.

    22nd Street and Ave. F non-ADA compliant and actively hostile sidewalk

    New Saskatoon sidewalk in Wildwood

    Ideal sidewalk with planted medians (bonus storm water control)

    The city has a legal and moral responsibility to build sidewalks to code and maintain them in a passable state in all seasons. This means increasing the size of sidewalks to conform with ADA code, shoveling and de-icing in winter and removing water and dust in summer. Even better would be added treed medians to shield walkers from traffic.

  3. Enforce speed limits and traffic infractions with automated cameras that would be used as dedicated funding for streetscape improvements. Reducing speed limits would help but be tremendously unpopular and likely unsuccessful based on the road design.

    Speed of impact vs. pedestrian survival

Enforcing current traffic rules on speed, pedestrian right-of-way and red lights would make the street much safer and the fine money raised would be used to fund streetscape and safety improvements.

Vision Zero is much more than a few guidelines; It is a fundamental approach that many European and North American cities have adopted with great success. New York City has recently cut it’s pedestrian deaths by 32 percent through this approach.

Saskatoon has had Vision Zero on its radar since its strategic Traffic Safety Action Plan (TSAP) in 2013. It’s been almost five years without any significant commitments to follow through. It’s encouraging to note that two city councillors and Mayor Charlie Clark have confirmed via Twitter in early January that they “are seriously looking into Vision Zero”. Here’s hoping they put their words into action soon.

With the city currently engaged in planning for the future bus rapid transit along this corridor, along with the Transit Village near the Confederation Drive intersection and on the heels of the city’s “Imagine Idylwyld” stakeholder engagement and design, Saskatoon has a historic opportunity to re-imagine 22nd Street as a place for people – or at the very least a place where people can cross the street without fear.

 

Fixing 22nd Street Part 1: The Problems

22nd Street is a major roadway in Saskatoon in need of a fundamental rethinking, but first we need to stop the bleeding. The wide street used to function as a thoroughfare for highway and truck traffic making its way through the city, but with the opening of Circle Drive South, 22nd Street’s core function changed. Now it is an ultra-wide arterial street connecting the city’s westernmost neighbourhoods to the core while bisecting some very walkable neighbourhoods.

The city is also planning a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system and has identified 22nd Street as a key corridor making it exist currently in a state of flux. We are at an interesting moment for 22nd Street providing us with an opportunity to re-imagine the corridor into a great street. This is an excellent idea that will take time to bring the vision to fruition. In the meantime there are some serious concerns that the street is not safe for pedestrians.

There were at least 10 collisions between drivers and pedestrians in 2017 resulting in several serious injuries and one death prompting MD Ambulance to urge citizens to be careful on the street. Some interim measures are needed to try and prevent similar stats from occurring in 2018.

The 25 blocks of 22nd Street between Idylwyld Drive and Whitney Avenue is about as bad as it gets for vulnerable user design. There are some critical issues with the design of 22nd street. It is a major west-central arterial roadway that has some similarities to the major north-central arterial road, Idylwyld drive. Both streets are anchored by car centric businesses in their commercial zones but they also bisect residential neighbourhoods for long sections.

 

On Idylwyld there are generally a maximum of 5 lanes (4 driving + 1 left turn) to cross at any given time, 22nd St has an average of 7 (6 + 1 left turn) from Idylwyld through to Whitney Ave. There are only eight controlled points to cross the street between Idylwyld and Whitney. At these points of crossing, there is only a small median that limits the pedestrian clustering area mid road. The wide road width and few controlled intersections encourage faster speeds making collisions between drivers and vulnerable road users more dangerous.


Check back in a few days for our suggested fixes to make 22nd St. safer for all road users