Tag Archives: commuting

Public Transit and Development Levies

In the agenda for the upcoming Saskatoon City Council Executive Committee meeting is a report to council from Hemson Consulting on “Financing Growth” that council commissioned in late 2013. This report indirectly identifies an area in which provincial legislation and the actions of the city can be improved, especially with respect to Public Transit and how it is funded.

Of the ways that a city can fund its operations and capital costs the most obvious and easily identifiable to the average citizen are property taxes, user fees, and funds from higher levels of government. A less well known but significant source are development levies.

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Can Saskatoon Transit walk the walk?

In the City of Saskatoon’s long term goals for Saskatoon Transit is the objective to increase ridership to 62 rides (annually) per capita by 2023 (see Proposed Performance Measures and Targets on pg 481 here). Currently ridership is just shy of 40 per capita, and as I wrote to the StarPhoenix, in 1966 it was 80.

That’s a pretty lofty goal for a city administration and transit system that saw ridership growth of 3.6% annually since 2009, with the City predicting zero ridership growth for 2015 in the recent 2015 budget.

Adjusted for population growth of 2.8%, the ridership increase since 2009 is only 0.8%, yet the City’s not-very long term goal of 62 rides per capita by 2023, just eight years away. To reach 62 per capita, Saskatoon Transit will have to nearly double actual ridership numbers from about 10 million per year to 20 million per year. This assuming the City’s medium-growth population projections. A ridership increase rate of 8.8% annually. Yes, annually.

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University Bridge Repairs, Emergency Services, and Transit

The University Bridge is scheduled for repairs this year and as discussed here the City’s plan (so far) is to keep one lane open to all vehicles, eastbound only.

Based on the presentation at the Standing Policy Committee on January 12, 2015, the City didn’t appear to consider any other options, other than allowing the successful contractor to close all four lanes completely if that meant they could get the work done more quickly and minimize the disruption to automobile drivers.

This decision appears to have been based entirely on the average traffic volumes on the bridge, with the eastbound volume slightly higher than the westbound. So of course the one available lane should be allocated to the westbound traffic only. University has the least seasonal decrease in volume though volume and capacity of the other bridges doesn’t appear to have been considered.

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University Bridge and Les MacPhlawson

I just had to respond to StarPhoenix columnist Les MacPherson’s piece on the upcoming repairs to the University Bridge. So I sent this letter to the editor:

As Les MacPherson is lamenting the necessary repairs to the University bridge, he not only mis-counted the number of lanes on Sid Buckwold bridge, he failed to mention other pertinent details.

 At its peak, Sid Buckwold bridge traffic volume was over 50,000 vehicles per day. Since South Circle Drive bridge opened, volume has dropped 30%, and volume on Broadway bridge by 15%. That covers more than half the volume of University bridge. Even before South Circle opened, volume on Sid Buckwold typically drops by more than 50% in the summer, when the repairs are planned. That covers the remaining University Bridge volume.

 When Sid Buckwold bridge opened in 1966, Saskatoon Transit was providing over 8 million rides per year to a city population of about 100,000 or 80 rides per capita annually with a fleet of 40 buses.

 Today Saskatoon Transit does about 10 million rides annually to a population in excess of 250,000. Less than 40 rides per capita annually with a fleet four times as large.

 During the repairs, the one available lane on University bridge should alternate east and west direction and be restricted to Saskatoon Transit and emergency vehicles only. This would prevent a massive re-routing of almost every single transit route that crosses the river and provide a much more efficient means of moving large numbers of people.

 Les’ “water through a straw” analogy is also flawed. Water cannot change its route, carpool, ride a bike, walk, or take the bus. Water cannot choose.

University Bridge and Bus Lanes

As I was skimming the agenda for the City of Saskatoon’s recent Standing Policy Committee on Transportation (SPC-T) a late item was added just prior to the meeting on January 12 , 2015. It was an update on the plan for the University bridge refurbishment scheduled for 2015. In it the City detailed it’s plan to close the bridge to all but one lane, with that lane only open to eastbound traffic, weekdays from 6 am to 8 pm.

It doesn’t appear that the City considered any other option except for allowing the contractors bidding on this contract to include an alternate price and schedule if they were allowed a full closure. Potentially a viable option, if the work was completed quickly enough.

Another option crossed my mind, resulting a hurried email to all City Councilors on Monday morning, in the hope that at least some of them would read it before the meeting. Councilor Davies was the only one to respond and given his questions during the meeting he was thinking along the same lines.

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Downtown Density

Recently City Council approved a zoning change (really just a variation by agreement) to the proposed City Centre Tower on 22nd street between 3rd and 4th avenue. The proposed development will have two towers, one of which will be an office tower, the other, residential and commercial.

According to the report to council, this development “supports the City’s long-range goal of increasing the population of Downtown to 15,000 people by providing approximately 290 residential units.” The mayor often talks about increasing the number of people living in the downtown, sometimes the goal is 10,000, sometimes it’s 30,000. As I touched on in The Transit Option, and as OurYXE touched on, neither the mayor, or the City administration really seem to understand what a population increase of that magnitude will take.

According to the City’s neighbourhood profiles, there are about 2800 people living downtown. With 1,974 dwellings (1600 apartments in buildings 5 stories or higher), means you have about 1.42 people per dwelling on average. To get to 10,000 people you need to get another 7,200 people living downtown.

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The 4% ?

Given the current lockout of both the users and employees of Saskatoon Transit there has been increasing talk regarding the low level of public transit usage in Saskatoon.

Local journalist Phil Tank ( @thinktankSK ) posted this on Twitter recently.

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The numbers for 2011 match the National Household Survey (NHS) numbers from Statistics Canada. Phil (like many others) seem to make the false assumption that these numbers include “all trips taken in the city, from commutes to Sunday drives.”

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Case for bike lanes

The StarPhoenix must be desperate, this is the second letter of mine they printed in less than a month:  Case for bike lanes is my response to Bike lanes a waste.


After one afternoon’s worth of observation, Harold Kroeger (SP, Sept. 26) seems to think that what he saw is evidence that bike lanes are unnecessary. I would contend the exact opposite.

Is it really surprising that 80 per cent of the cyclists he saw preferred a path that was separated from vehicular traffic, even if that means sharing with other non-vehicular users?

How many of the cyclists he saw were commuters versus recreational cyclists? How many were children? The city and MVA have made the Meewasin Trail an inviting place, so it’s not surprising that people favour it. If I were commuting along that route I would use the road, but if my kids and I were out for a bike ride, the MVA trail it would be.

If you don’t feel safe on the road, you’re not going to use the road.

I commute to work by bike from the time the snow clears to the time snow falls, and I use the MVA trail – though a different section of it – as part of my route. Not because it’s shorter or faster, but because I avoid having to share the road with vehicles. When I do have to share the road, I favour streets with lower traffic volume, such as 24th street or Fourth Avenue.

I don’t mind sharing with vehicles, but if there is an easily available, safe, separated alternative, I’ll use it.