In Summary: The City of Saskatoon needs to prioritise developing the environmentally and fiscally sustainable University Sector neighbourhoods over disconnected greenfield developments. Additionally, the city should completely cancel the development of the University Heights #3 neighbourhood.
Walking Saskatoon spends a lot of time advocating for the retrofitting of pedestrian infrastructure into existing neighbourhoods. What if we didn’t have to?
The true walkability of a city is determined well before any concrete is poured or houses built. Where neighbourhoods are located and how they are designed are by far the biggest influences on transportation choices made by residents. The walkability and sustainability of a city follow inexorably from the area and neighbourhood master plans developed by city planners and housing developers years before construction.
The City of Saskatoon is currently at an important crossroads when it comes to choosing which new neighbourhoods to develop next. Saskatoon is in a unique position for a North American city, in that there are significant amounts of undeveloped land near the centre of the city’s geographic footprint. Critically, these lands are not brownfield or greyfield industrial plots in need of expensive remediation. In addition, the University of Saskatchewan has decided to relocate its research fields and endowment lands outside of the City. The lack of any serious manufacturing history in the city, combined with the University’s massive land holdings have given the City the chance to develop new, truly walkable neighbourhoods close to existing services.
City of Saskatoon University Sector Plan
To increase walkability in Saskatoon, developing the University Sector Plan (USP) neighbourhoods need to be the absolute first priority for the city. They are substantially served by existing road, pathway, sewer and water infrastructure, making them a lot cheaper for the city to develop than greenfield neighbourhoods. Not only is it cheaper for taxpayers, but the sector’s proximity to the University, the Meewasin Valley, North End Industrial and Downtown makes these neighbourhoods ideal for walking and biking. More active transportation means further savings for the City on transportation maintenance cost, while improving the quality of life and health of neighbourhood residents. The University explicitly mentions active transportation as a primary design goal of the University sector neighbourhoods, ensuring that their central location won’t be wasted with car-centric design.
Another infill neighbourhood the city should prioritise for development is the North Downtown/Idylwyld corridor. The area’s location, bridging North Downtown with the Saskatchewan Polytech campus, makes it a prime candidate for student residences and other Sask Poly expansion. The North Downtown area master plan was developed by the city ten years ago, but it clearly has no momentum. This is an opportunity to replace the current plan with a more student-focused one. Replacing the thousands of daily car trips made by commuting students with a walkable route to campus would be a major benefit for both the students and the city.
North Downtown Industrial
While new infill neighbourhoods and infill in existing neighbourhoods should clearly be preferred for priority development, it still may not be enough to house a population of 1 million by 2050, if those projections come to pass. This means we will have to build greenfield neighbourhoods, but we must choose ones that integrate well with the city’s active transportation plan and are environmentally sustainable.
One planned neighbourhood that clearly fails that test is the upcoming University Heights #3 neighbourhood. This neighbourhood is part of the University Heights sector development, which is in the process of building out several neighbourhoods in an environmentally sensitive prairie wetland area. In addition,the Province is planning to build out a major highway through the area, further compounding environmental and financial damage. The last area to be developed(UH#3), is the worst environmental offender of all, planned right on top of the Northeast and Small Swales, two locally and regionally important environmental areas. This is the kind of damaging greenfield development that can be easily cancelled in place of further emphasising the fantastic infill opportunity Saskatoon possesses.
Thanks to Councillor Gough for alerting us to the proposed new rules for walking/biking detours during road construction. Everyone who walks in Saskatoon knows that this has been a huge issue for a long time and we are ecstatic that formal rules are being established.
Had a great discussion with Friend of Walking Saskatoon (it’s a title!) Ward 2 Councillor Hilary Gough about pedestrian issues in her ward, especially focusing on missing sidewalks, beg buttons and the contintued development of the West-Central Multi-Use Corridor rail trail throughout her ward. Check out our presentation below and also see walkability reports for each neighbourhood in Ward 2.
Had a great discussion with freind of Walking Saskatoon Mayor Clark about pedestrian issues in Saskatoon a couple of weeks ago. We heard two great pieces of news: first, that curb ramps on sidewalks will now be automatially installed when regular road maintenance is happening, second, that the Traffic Safety Reserve is still active and available for funding projects.
The latter is quite important, as it is one of the few dedicated sources of funding for sidewalk construction and pedestrian safety projects in the city. We thought it had been taken fully away from the city by the province a few years ago, but Mayor Clark gave us a great clarification that is was just speeding ticket revenue, not red light camera revenue, that was re-directed. That means there’s still (a small) pot of money available for consistent funding of pedestrian-focused capital projects in the city.
We also asked Mayor Clark to keep the bug buttons off city streets. They are explicitly anti-pedestrian and don’t even work correctly.
Had a great discussion with Ward 6 councillor and good friend of Walking Saskatoon Cynthia Block about pedestrian issues in the ward. She was a great help last term in taking the lead on directing federal funding towards pedestrian infrastructure and advocating for the new 20-year sidewalk replacement cycle, two of the biggest funding wins in years at the city.
Our discussion, as always in Ward 6, focused on the still large number of missing sidewalks (despite several blocks slated for construction this summer) and how and if fees from new infill developments can be directed to neighbourhood improvements where the developments are happening. With five new projects in the Ward this year this issue is top-of-mind.
Check out our presentation below and walkability evaluations for each neighbourhood in the ward.
Had a good chat with new Ward Councillor David Kirton about pedestrian issues in Ward 3. He told us a great story via Moe Neault about Fairhaven residents half-jokingly wanting to keep potholes unfixed to slow cars down on Fairhaven Drive. Ward 3 is full of long, straight, dangerous four-lane roads that encourage speeding and few places to safely cross for pedestrians (“airport runways” quipped Councillor Kirton). The lack of safe crossing and excessive speed on these streets have been brought repeatedly up in area traffic reviews and we discussed this with the Councillor.
While we are talking about Ward 3, check out the walkability evaluations for the neighbourhoods in the ward:
2019 saw the release of the City of Saskatoon’s ambitious Climate Action Plan to much celebration and controversy amid questions about where 19 billion dollars(!!) of money was going to come from in a city that won’t even fund a $2.2 million dollar bike lane.
Deja vu? 2016 saw the release of the City of Saskatoon’s ambitious Active Transportation Plan to much celebration and controversy amid questions about where 250 million dollars(!!) of money was going to come from in a city that won’t even fund a a $2.2 million dollar bike lane (or fund the city’s previous cycling master plan as discussed in the above linked article).
Deja vu Deja vu? 2014 saw the release of the North Downtown Master Plan that would see an multi-use-path and greenway built parallel and above to the CN rail line in North Industrial. Much celebration, controversy, $130M(!!) of city money, blah blah and etc…
Not a fan of the big project plans? Maybe the Neighbourhood Traffic Reviews are more your speed. How about the Climate Adaptation Strategy? There is certainly no shortage of planners, glossy reports, public meetings and consultants over the last several years detailing utopian urban futures on paper.
However, despite all of these great plans for green infrastructure, essentially no money has been spent on actually building any of it. The Active Transportation plan has a small implementation budget, which this year went mostly to a new bicycling bylaw, as do the Neighbourhood Traffic Reviews, but they are a few hundred thousand dollars a year at most, orders of magnitude less money than detailed in the various plans.
Even more damning is that less money is spent on implementing the capital projects detailed in the plans than on developing the plans themselves. Active transportation infrastructure has an incredible return on investment: every vehicle trip that gets converted to an active transportation trip means less civic spend on infrastructure, less provincial spend on health care costs, fewer carbon emissions and less carcinogenic small-particulate matter poisoning Saskatoon citizens.
The amount of money it takes to get these benefits is tiny: the cost of walking infrastructure projects is measured in the thousands of dollars and huge improvements could easily be funded out of the budgets of these endless and futile planning cycles. There are many idealistic city employees and elected officials who believe in the value of active transportation and green infrastructure: it’s time for them to stop imagining never-to-be-realized futures and start improving the present.
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.
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 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 completed 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 the rail company’s lands from Ave. D South to Ave. Q South. 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 heavily 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. City admin is pointing fingers at CP for delays but responsibility for the many missteps in this problems need to be shared amongst all parties. Unfortunately the city might end up losing over a million dollars in scarce federal money for active transportation as a result.