Island Voices: Complete streets and parking fees aren’t a ‘war on cars’

Like most Victorians, we often welcome guests to our home. However, we expect them to cheerfully follow our household rules, or they are not invited back. Our city should demand the same from motorists travelling through urban neighbourhoods.

On a typical workday, more than 32,000 automobiles are driven to Victoria’s downtown. Our city welcomes these visitors, but we expect drivers to be responsible by, for example, maintaining safe speeds, stopping for pedestrians and helping to pay for the costly facilities they use. Most drivers are considerate, but like rude guests, some seem oblivious to their excessive demands.

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Bradley W. Cunnin’s recent Times Colonist commentary (“Proposed crosswalk on Blanshard has unexpectedly high costs,” March 2) complains that a new crosswalk would cost motorists a half-million dollars in additional annual fuel expenses by forcing 1,280 (eight per cent of 16,000) daily peak-period drivers to make one additional stop. That is a wild exaggeration.

Cunnin’s analysis assumes that each additional vehicle stop consumes 0.6 of a litre of fuel (750 litres divided by 1,280 trips). Yet a 2001 study, The Impact of Stopping on Fuel Consumption, by Stanford University researcher Victor Miller, indicates that an average vehicle stop consumed just 0.005 of a gallon, about 0.02 of a litre, of gasoline. Vehicle fuel economy increased about 25 per cent between 2001 and 2018, and the portion of vehicles that would actually need to stop at a new crosswalk is probably much less than eight per cent. As a result, Cunnin’s cost estimate is probably 50 to 200 times too high.

Blanshard Street is currently designed as an urban highway, creating a major barrier to pedestrian travel. The proposed crosswalk is about 200 metres from existing pedestrian crossings and so would save up to 400 metres, about seven minutes, per walking trip, a significant improvement.

Cities around the world increasingly apply “complete streets” design principles to ensure that urban roads safely accommodate all users.

There are many good reasons to improve walking, bicycling and public-transit conditions. Solid research indicates that more multi-modal planning increases public health and affordability, reduces local noise and air pollution, and creates friendlier and more economically successful neighbourhoods.

Similarly, cities increasingly charge for parking. A considerate guest cheerfully pays their share of costs, but many out-of-town motorists seem to consider parking a right rather than a privilege, and complain if they must pay or walk a few blocks. Subsidized parking might be justified in suburbs where land is cheap and most trips are by car, but is unfair in cities where a parking space typically costs $50,000 to build, and many households are car-free.

Critics misrepresent these issues. They attack complete-street policies and parking fees as a “war on cars” and “anti-car.” In fact, these policies are no more “anti-car” than a healthy diet is “anti-food.”

Everybody benefits from a balanced transportation system that lets travellers choose the most appropriate option for each trip: walking and bicycling to local destinations, public transit when travelling along major urban corridors and driving when it is truly the most cost-efficient option overall. Motorists benefit directly if pedestrian improvements make it easier to walk between parked vehicles and destinations, and from reduced need to chauffeur non-drivers. Lower traffic speeds increase everyone’s safety.

Yes, motorists are welcome to visit, but please don’t complain about complete-streets policies, new crosswalks or parking fees if you want to be a responsible guest.

Todd Litman is an urban planning consultant and a member of Walk on Victoria, a local pedestrian advocacy organization.

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