London Moves – Part 2 – Market Drivers

Last week I opened my mobility plan by arguing in favour of a substantial, responsible investment in public transportation that:

  • strikes a balance between common good and personal utility, and,
  • enhances the mobility of all users and all modes of transportation.

Today, I wish to focus on the market drivers behind this much-needed investment, and in tomorrow’s post, I shall outline the goals.

1 Mobility Is An Enabler

Every Londoner should be highly vested in a safe, reliable, accessible, efficient, multi-mode transportation network. Mobility empowers our economy, enables our social connectivity, and allows us to experience and enjoy life. Mobility is a necessary means to a better end for all citizens.

Unfortunately, our reality is quite different. During certain times of the day, London’s current transportation network can be quite taxing on our time, patience and pocket book. It reduces productivity, impedes social connectivity, creates a safety risk, and generally frustrates the h*ll out of all of us.

It follows then that a responsible investment in our transportation network (a common good) that maximizes individual opportunities and experiences (a personal utility) must be a top civic priority. The question becomes, “At what cost?”

2 Intensification Makes Sense

A few years ago, our civic leadership recognized the rising servicing cost and tax consequence of spreading our city’s transportation infrastructure too broadly. For example, it is entirely logical to assume that the per capita cost to properly support and service a 10 km stretch of road is significantly less expensive than the cost to service 30 km stretch of road.

So, in an effort to improve the municipality’s ability to provide high quality civic services at a reasonable cost to the taxpayers, the city amended the Official Plan (The London Plan) to try and increase the density and utilization of existing infrastructure while still respecting the lifestyle choices of those who prefer the suburbs. This bias of building our city “inward and upward” was designed to concentrate city services within a smaller footprint, and thus allow the city to provide these services at a lower per capita cost than if they had to serve the same number of citizens over a much larger area.

The intensification strategy, an approach used effectively by cities throughout the world, brings with it several positive outcomes.

First, the concentration of citizens reduces the overall cost to service our citizens, and therefore the cost to all taxpayers, regardless of where they live.

Second, intensification improves community engagement and socialization – all attributes of a healthy, vibrant, and prosperous city. Intensification also attracts young people seeking highly-connected, progressive urban settings; retailers, restaurants, entertainers and culture events all seeking high concentrations of willing consumers; businesses and tech companies attracting talented workers; and retirees and students seeking easy access to services and nightlife.

Intensification also reduces the demands on an expansive infrastructure and allows residents to efficiently utilize other more cost-effective, healthy, environmentally-friendly mobility options such as walking, cycling or transit.  It also maximizes use of existing urban footprints and protects increasingly valuable arable lands for future use.

Finally, intensification helps give a city and its various neighbourhoods an identity, a sense of community and a sense of pride – be it the Downtown, Wortley Village, Old East Village or any one of the emerging Business Improvement Areas or Community Improvement Plans. These “Main Streets”, as listed in the London Plan, serve as gathering places for local commerce, culture and socialization.  It also mitigates the risks associated with urban degradation and preserves the city’s heritage and history.

The bottom line is that intensification is a smart, long term strategy for our city.  It improves connectivity, builds vitality, improves lifestyles, preserves the city’s legacy and assets, and restores civic pride, all at a lower long-term cost to the taxpayer. It is in effect the proper blend of common good and personal utility.

The Challenge

While the long-term upside associated with a robust transportation network and greater intensification makes sense economically, socially, culturally, and for our pocket books, it does come with several short-term challenges.

For one, much of our core infrastructure is aged and in dire need of restoration and repair.  The assets are also often beyond their useful life, lack sufficient capacity to handle the additional demand, and/or often contain heritage value that should be preserved. As such, the initial capital cost associated with revitalizing both the worn properties and the old, undersized assets (water and sewage pipes) that serve them, is expensive.

Another more notable challenge is the fact that increased density creates crowds and congestion as more people seek to move around in smaller area. This concentration causes residents to seek alternative and often more efficient forms of transportation, be it walking, cycling, and/or transit. The market demand for multiple transportation options creates a need for the city to safely and efficiently accommodate all of the preferred modes of transportation into the fixed network of narrow streets and sidewalks that line our downtown and main streets.

In response to this latter issue, the previous City Council engaged in an extensive update of the city’s Transportation Master Plan (TMP) which included a number of recommendations that I support – several strategic road expansions and improvements, an expansion of transit services, the initiation of a rapid transit network, and expansion of London’s walking and cycling infrastructure.

The plan also made the following key observation as it relates to transit services:

“To achieve this new mobility TMP, a significant transformation is required in how Londoners travel. Changing travel behaviours takes time – it will not happen overnight!… The best way to start is with early implementation of transit improvements that demonstrate noticeable benefits.”

The TMP goes on to recommend several cost-effective and immediate tactics designed to introduce Londoners to the benefits of rapid transit services in mixed traffic so that citizens can easily transition to the new mode without sacrificing other transportation options.

This is where the current Shift BRT plan breaks down for me. What caused our civic leaders to suddenly set aside the measured, cost-effective introduction of rapid transit as recommended in the TMP, in favour of the more ambitious but risky and highly disruptive approach tabled in the Shift BRT plan?

The advice I have received from transportation and change management experts and an approach that seems to have worked well in other jurisdictions is “crawl before you walk, and walk before you run”. In my view, that approach makes all kinds of sense, because it blends common good with personal utility rather than pitting them against one another, as the Shift BRT plan does.

More importantly, a measured approach provides our city with an opportunity to attempt and adopt new modes of transportation as market needs evolve.  If we are truly interested in successfully introducing more transportation choices for Londoners, and ensuring that these options are efficient, cost-effective, and well-utilized; then we should be facilitating a responsible transition instead of forcing an abrupt transformation that may actually undermine the intended objective.

Therefore, my plan advocates for a measured approach similar to the one recommended in the TMP.  In tomorrow’s post, I shall begin to outline how.

Tomorrow – Goals and Objectives